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We left Menton on the first of September under a cloudy sky and motor sailed west for Spain. The wind increased and we had to tack backwards and forwards all along the French coast.

We arrived in the bay of St Tropez for an overnight rest and continued towards our first destination the following day. Our crossing from St Tropez to Sant Feliu(northern Spain) took 2 days with light winds and a calm sea. During the first afternoon we were approached by a small plane that buzzed us. The plane came back in the early evening and we saw the crew taking photos of Trifon.  Mireille was ready with the camera and took photos of the plane which we later identified as a French customs plane. Just before midnight one of the alternator belts started slipping , I shut down the motor and  with the help  of Magali stripped the main cabin to access the motor. Fifteen minutes later we were on our way and both belts were charging their separate batteries.

 

  

We arrived in Sant Feliu with gusty conditions and a chaotic choppy sea. The port has two sections and the seaward side of the port is run by the local private marina and yacht club. Our stay here lasted  two weeks as we had the standing rigging changed by FastMast. These are the only people in Spain that can manufacture rod rigging. The firm was very friendly and highly professional and we had many laughs with Joaquim and Jordi. The work was not only finished on time but I also took the opportunity to have the guard wires replaced, a new mainsheet, new fibre running backstays and a second set of navigation lights installed. I inspected the old rod rigging and confirmed that that there was no damage or other problems with the rods. Joaquim proposed to us a Saturday regatta on his boat, a quick and twitchy Sydney 38 with a jib boom and a roller spinnaker on a bowsprit. Magali and I were the crew. The Spanish start was different to the normal start procedure where each boat is given a start time by the committee based on its handicap and with the slowest boats starting first it is both easy to tell if you are doing well and avoids congestion on the start line. The first boat across the finish line is the winner and there is no need to calculate the handicaps after the race to see who won. I guess they still all go to the bar after and argue about the start times but this is local yacht racing. We were just moving into fourth place on the run back to the finish when the wind died and we wallowed around for twenty minutes. The wind came back from the opposite direction with a vengeance and we eventually finish fifth with 25 knots of breeze. It was a good natured event and Joaquim seemed reasonably happy with the result.

Whilst we were in Sant Feliu we visited Barcelona and several of the small fishing villages around the region. The city of Barcelona is vibrant and our favourite sights were the Gaudi temple of  the Segrada Family and the other Gaudi houses in the centre of the city. The town of Sant Feliu is small and dominated by the port. They have several fishing  boats and there is intense activity with boats entering and leaving the port every few minutes. The Club Nautico has a good restaurant and excellent facilities for visiting yachtsmen. The town itself was owned and controlled by the Abbey and there are still many vestiges of the religious history visible today.

  

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Our next destination was Valencia however an incident during the afternoon of our departure altered our plans. We were motor sailing in calm conditions just off the coast of Barcelona when the motor stopped with a large bang. There was a large green puddle behind the boat and my first thought that this was the engine oil of the motor. If this was correct we would have a very serious problem because it would mean that the hull was holed and that the motor was broken. My next thought was that the new propeller had parted company with the drive shaft… serious but no imminent danger. We checked that no water was coming into the boat and that the drive shaft was both attached and not leaking. I tried turning the shaft by hand and there was some movement and then started the motor out-of-gear which worked normally. The next step was to go for a dive under the boat and with 30-40 large jelly fish around the boat a full wet suit, gloves and boots were required. We have our scuba gear onboard and one of the tanks was full but getting all the pieces together took some time. The current under the boat was such that we rigged a cord from the bow to the stern and passed it under the boat. It was immediately clear that we had run over a submerged builders bag that wrapped itself round the drive shaft and propeller. Twenty minutes of cutting, tugging and rotating released the bag. We anchored several hours later close to Barcelona.

The following day what should have been a gentle sail down to Valencia turn into a 14 hour non-stop helming stint for me as we hit squall line after squall line.

 Our radar showed us where the heaviest rain was but as these squalls were fast moving it was not always possible to avoid them. This gave us the first test of our Musto wet weather gear which worked well in torrential rain. By early morning we broke through the squall lines and into bright sunshine and a windless sea. Eight hours later we were moored in Valencia.

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We arrived in Sant Feliu with gusty conditions and a chaotic choppy sea. The port has two sections and the seaward side of the port is run by the local private marina and yacht club. Our stay here lasted  two weeks as we had the standing rigging changed by FastMast. These are the only people in Spain that can manufacture rod rigging. The firm was very friendly and highly professional and we had many laughs with Joaquim and Jordi. The work was not only finished on time but I also took the opportunity to have the guard wires replaced, a new mainsheet, new fibre running backstays and a second set of navigation lights installed. I inspected the old rod rigging and confirmed that that there was no damage or other problems with the rods. Joaquim proposed to us a Saturday regatta on his boat, a quick and twitchy Sydney 38 with a jib boom and a roller spinnaker on a bowsprit. Magali and I were the crew. The Spanish start was different to the normal start procedure where each boat is given a start time by the committee based on its handicap and with the slowest boats starting first it is both easy to tell if you are doing well and avoids congestion on the start line. The first boat across the finish line is the winner and there is no need to calculate the handicaps after the race to see who won. I guess they still all go to the bar after and argue about the start times but this is local yacht racing. We were just moving into fourth place on the run back to the finish when the wind died and we wallowed around for twenty minutes. The wind came back from the opposite direction with a vengeance and we eventually finish fifth with 25 knots of breeze. It was a good natured event and Joaquim seemed reasonably happy with the result.

Whilst we were in Sant Feliu we visited Barcelona and several of the small fishing villages around the region. The city of Barcelona is vibrant and our favourite sights were the Gaudi temple of  the Segrada Family and the other Gaudi houses in the centre of the city. The town of Sant Feliu is small and dominated by the port. They have several fishing  boats and there is intense activity with boats entering and leaving the port every few minutes. The Club Nautico has a good restaurant and excellent facilities for visiting yachtsmen. The town itself was owned and controlled by the Abbey and there are still many vestiges of the religious history visible today.

  

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We spent several days in Alicante which is busy port and tourist spot. The marina facilities were very good and there were 30 restaurants in the port were everybody comes to eat. A British family had organized a wedding in the port on a large motor yacht and the bride and groom arrived in separate launches to the massed applause of the crowd gathered to watch the ceremony.

  The bride was a young woman of African descent that by her size had probably not encountered hunger during her lifetime. She wore a red sequin dress that looked like it belonged to Diana Ross and the groom…… ..……The groom was in his late sixtys , small ,white and I suspect rich.  

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The passage from Alicante to Almerimar was uneventful and we pulled into the Marina which is a Port Grimaud style bungalow/villa /marina development. The people were very friendly on the surrounding boats but it was obvious that the marina was suffering from the housing and economic downturn in Spain. Many of the shops were for sale, there were few people in the restaurants and most of the apartments were empty or for sale. 

 

We stayed two days in order to try and visit Granada however the Spanish organized a general strike and there was no way to hire a car use public transport. Before leaving I replaced my alternator belts in order to avoid problems in the strong tidal streams that surround Gibraltar. I also decided to replace the fuel filter as this is much easier to do in port then at night in a howling gale. The fuel filter has a glass bowl under the filter so that you can see if any water or particles have got into the fuel. I was retightening the glass bowl with the new filter when it exploded in my hand.  This was now an issue as the motor was out of action until a new bowl was sourced. Now you might think that all fuel filters must be standard on boats but you would be wrong as there are several different types. The CAV system on Trifon is common and the local ship chandler confirmed this to me, he also confirmed that he had sold the last one in stock only 1 hour before.  Normally ordering one would take two days but because of the general strike and the up-coming weekend this would be extended to five or six days. My immediate thoughts were to change the entire system for another one however the shop did not have any other complete systems but they could order them  ……..five or six days! This marina reminded me of Hotel California….. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave. I then asked for some metal pipe to “hot wire” the fuel line and miss out the filter completely.

This is not a long term solution but with clean fuel and a little luck it would get us to Gibraltar where hopefully they would have shelves full of CAV glass bowls.

We left the Marina the following day to amazement of the residents that somebody dared to leave…. destination…….the big rock of Gibraltar.

Our trip to Gibraltar was eventful  and with tidal passages and with hundreds of large vessels entering and leaving the Med everyday it promised to be a long and busy night for our radar. All these vessels converge at Gibraltar and squeeze through a twenty mile stretch of water that changes direction each six hours with the tide. The tidal stream can be around 3 knots which does not sound a lot but if you arrive at the wrong time with head winds you will be going backwards for six hours.

As we approached the Atlantic you could feel the sea change with a strange chop to the waves as the tide ran into the Med. We saw dolphins, whales, flying fish and many large sea birds. Around seven in the morning I was alone on deck waiting for sunrise when a strange bird circled the boat several times trying to land near the mast. After a few seconds I realized this was not a bird but a large brown fruit bat. It eventually succeeded and I thought it had gone into the sail cover(lazy bag) near the mast. The only way to dislodge it would be to hoist the main sail which is much easier with two people. I waited until the rest of the crew was awake, explained to them about our new passenger and hoisted the main while passing close a large tanker. The plan was that the bat would probably prefer a huge black petrol tanker to our little white yacht if we got close enough. The main sail was hoisted and there was no bat…….. On closer inspection the bat had lodged itself between the lines (halyards)that run up the outside of the mast. To be bitten by a large fruit bat before breakfast is very low down on my “must do” list and so I went and got a long boat hook and poked it. Understandably the bat was not happy with this treatment and promptly bit the boat hook and protested by squeaking.

After several more prods the bat left…….temporarily…… and then it circled the boat at deck level trying to land. Both Mireille and Magali were armed with boat hooks and it was not until Magali wacked it with a boat hook that it decided to change address. We have a video of the event which we would put on YouTube but we may be accused of bat assault which I presume may be a serious offence in Spain.

The weather forecast was for light winds all the way to Gibraltar and as has happened several times on this trip……they were wrong. Three hours out of Gibraltar the wind increased to 20 knots then 22 then 30. I ran off Trifon at 55° under a heavily reefed jib and looked for some protection from the wind shadow under the rock of Gib. As we approached the wind turned and no protection was found. We crossed the tidal over-falls in front of the rock with dolphins leaping in and out of the water and the tide running at three knots in the right direction. One hour later we were securely moored in Queensway Quai Marina.