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Ladies and Gentleman

Paula has for many years taken holidays on Hejira and her predecessors with her two friends that go all the way back to Southampton University. These holidays have always been static and invariably in my absence. They have included locations like the Canaries, the Algarve, the Riviera and various UK destinations like central London! This current visit was to break new ground in that they have joined me in Ajaccio in Corsica.

Massive cruise ships continually come and go in Ajaccio, look at multiple decks of balconies

Our itinerary is to sail to a bay and anchor overnight and then on to Calvi from where we are to make the 100 mile overnight crossing back to Baie des Anges near Nice.

Take 3 girls.

Something of a spanner was dropped into the works however. A courtesy Email to Baie des Anges marina notifying them of our return was met with the news that they don’t have a berth available until we take up our winter berth on the 1st of September. Apparently, no amount of juggling could make anything available sooner and I couldn’t expect Paula to move Hejira around in my absence when I return to Blightly and leave her on board with her girlfriends. Thankfully, Sonia in Baie des Anges used her contacts and influence to secure a berth in Saint Laurent du Var which is between BDA and the Airport. My Cruising Association app notes ‘There are plenty of bars and restaurants alongside the marina so it was a little noisy but not too bad’, ideal then for 3 ladies on holiday! It goes on to note that it is a 30 minute walk from the Airport so ideal for me back and forth.

Our overnight in Girolata was universally enjoyed with a trip ashore in the complimentary water taxi.

Unusual beach visitors

At €64 for the privilege of being packed into the bay with fore and aft mooring buoys it seemed a little steep but the crystal clear water was a joy to swim in

Crystal clear water.

.

A post swim Aperol spritz.

An evening game of dominoes in the cockpit became surprisingly competitive and argumentative – apparently it is my influence!

Our passage to Calvi took us along the stunning Scandola Nature Reserve with its rugged cliffs and no sign of habitation or human interference.

The stunning coastline of the ‘Reserve Naturelle De Scandola’

Paula, Kate and Marie write:-

After our initiation into knot tying, {three new types learnt} we managed to not lose any fenders or mooring ropes, we received our level 1 knot tying badge which we all are wearing proudly on our official crew chests!

Rope coiling practice.

Having a great time, weather lovely, calm sea {thus far} wish you were here.

Au revoir

Our passage to our overnight stop at Porto Pollo was only 30 miles but was memorable for the size of the swell left over from the previous gale in the Gulf du Lion. Keen to tuck ourselves out of the undulations we opted to pick up a mooring buoy behind a reef and close enough to the shore to swim for our beer.

The swim ashore. Hejira moored in the background.

So, with money and shirts in a Tupperware, we emerged amongst the rocks and walked to a beach bar for our traditional libation.

The bar on Porto Pollo beach.

With a 20 mile passage to our booked berth in the old port marina in Ajaccio and with no wind, I will be badgering the crew to start on the clean up so we may have some time in hand to seek out the rugby in the afternoon.

Paula and her two girlfriends arrive early tomorrow morning with the current crew leaving on the return flight so this will be the last missive from the ‘Beetham boys’. We have had a very memorable 12 day cruise since they joined Hejira in Malta 575 miles ago taking in Comino, Tunisia, Sardinia and Corsica. In truth, it was an excessively ‘bullish’ itinerary but that has been a feature of my sailing this year and I never seem to learn. I justify the ‘whistle stop’ nature of these cruises on the basis that they are tasters and I will return to indulge in the coming years. Carl has produced the most exceptional meals, sometimes in difficult conditions and we have only taken one meal ashore and that was on the day they arrived in Valletta. Tom has been great company and has picked things up very quickly. His blog inputs have been very entertaining and embellished the accounts with a more ecologically and socially responsible perspective.

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! Here, in no particular order, are my maritime musings from the poop deck:

Sailing’s great fun but, within the Med, it happens surprisingly infrequently as there either seems to be too much wind, or not enough. Furthermore, no amount of Nick’s attempts to fill the sails with his own ‘wind’ seemed to do the job. Didn’t stop him continually trying though.

And irrespective of the direction we were travelling, why was the wind always on our nose?

When the skipper puts his life-jacket on it’s sensible to follow his lead.

Scopoderm anti-sea-sickness patches are God’s gift to the seafaring community.

Nothing about ‘the heads’ (wc) can be described as comfortable but when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Serve the crew anything comprising onions, garlic and chilli and they’ll go to bed happy. Mind, fail to plan the meals beforehand and you’re planning to fail.

Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ novels really are gripping page-turners.

Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. We saw dolphins, flying-fish and a turtle.

Sailors are a friendly, welcoming bunch but woe-betide any other skipper who clatters their fenders a little too forcefully. Also, was the phrase ‘one-up-man’s-ship’ coined by the sailing fraternity as they seem extremely quick to criticise and take the mick out of others’ vessels?

Irrespective of the supposed yachtsman’s code concerning where/how to pass and who exactly has right-of-way, ‘might is right’!  Choose to argue at your peril.

Hejira is no gin-palace and she’s a well-equipped, fine sea-faring vessel. Pity the same can’t be said of her scurvy, malingering crew!

Live and let live on-board. Three men and a boat will result in three very different opinions but remember, you’re all in it together and there ain’t room for petty arguments and sulking. Ultimately, what the skipper says goes, goes.

As it transpires, it’s not Job but Paula, long-suffering First Lady of the good ship Hejira that has the patience of a saint. The girl deserves a medal. And a divorce!

Technology seems to play a great, and increasingly prolific, role on board. Or perhaps that’s just in Captain Hook’s daily life? The sextant remained in its box for the duration.

Keep things shipshape and Bristol fashion or it’s going to be a messy transit. Do the job once and do it right.

Our very own Captain Smollett’s blood pressure does tend to rise by several notches the closer we get to a mooring…

The coastal landscapes of Sardinia and Corsica are truly stunning and I would want to return to both at some point in the future. Having said that, both islands have extremely dubious ‘four-headed, blindfolded sailing’ flags that would undoubtedly fail muster with the PC brigade.

Sadly, topless bathing on the beaches of Southern Europe appears to have fallen out of favour.

Radio Four’s ‘Today’ programme remains the mainstay of daily news. Closely followed by Ed Reardon’s Week, Cabin Pressure, Dead-Ringers and Desert Island Discs. Thankfully, I’ll never be old enough for The Archers. Or golf.

Write drunk. Edit sober.

 

Wee Tom writes:-

Well what a time it’s been. We’ve had many highs and very few lows and I come away having learnt and experienced a great deal upon the bonny blue. Here are just a few reflections from the last 12 days.

Sailing is like S&M. It requires rope, knots, close-proximity and it ain’t for everyone.

Luckily, I get it!

Like a cow with a calf, woe betide the person that gets between Nick and his blog!

The coats that invented Scopiderm deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

Malta is nice, Sardinia is nicer and Corsica has croissants. No brainer.

Unless you want Captain Jack Sparrow’s judgement crashing down on you, look up what a lazarus locker or a transom is before you arrive – it’s like being bossed around by someone speaking tongues!

Heading west into a setting sun as the stars begin to twinkle in the fiery purple hues, is pretty special.

Who knew there were so many billionaires?

There’s few better way to travel than on calm seas with big winds.

Boats = freedom

If under sail, one has right of way, in theory…unless they’re bigger than you…or Italian.

The French and the Italians have got a lot of things right, socially we can learn a lot.

Plastic waste is bad, especially in the sea.

If encountering officialdom in Tunisia, be sure to brush up on D Trump’s ‘Art of the Deal’, beforehand.

If Captain Hook offers you passage on the Hejira, snap his hand off (just leave his keyboard finger intact!), you won’t regret it.

Piracy

Development Costa Smerelda style
Sardinian courtesy. 4 Moors.
Corsican courtesy. One bandit.
Bonifacio, perched on the clifftop overhanging the sea.

Before I forget this story, I have to tell you about our arrival in Bonifacio. We had pre-booked and were allocated a good berth on the ‘active’ side of the harbour next to a nice but old Halberg Rassey. The very tanned and clearly seasoned Italian owner ran around deploying fenders as we came in but we made not even the remotest contact with his pride and joy. Once we had moored, he beckoned me to him in a conspiratorial way to hear what he had to say. He said behind his hand “I am so pleased you are not a French boat”. I shook his hand!

Bonifacio as we approach.

Carl and Tom were ‘made up’ with the destination as I knew they would be. We were not made up however with the price of our ‘dirty beers’ at a monstrous €10 each – we had run up a bill of over €60 before realising.

A view of Bonifacio Citadel from the marina.

Having been thus ‘stung’ Carl, with a ‘bee in his bonnet’ refused to stop for a beer when we climbed up to the citadel and I failed to find any bars with substantially cheaper beer. Strange chap, Carl!

Hejira is down there somewhere.

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! Move over, Marbella. Au revoir, Port Grimaud. Sayonara, St Tropez. Push-off, Puerto Banus. The new-kid-on-the-block, beautiful Bonifacio, certainly lived-up to Captain Nemo’s billing and proved to be as ‘bonny’ as a harbour could be. With its entrance miraculously hidden until you’re right on top of it, the most-natural of marinas opens up to be the Koh-i-Noor of the Corsican coastline.

We had arrived following a relatively short and energetic, enjoyable sail and Nick skilfully guided us into a tight, narrow berth with n’er a fender touched. Sadly, he then less-skilfully guided us to the aforementioned quay bar where we experienced piracy of the highest order – ten pieces of eight for each proverbial tot of rum. I was only disappointed the maitre d’i wasn’t tottering about on a wooden leg with a parrot perched on her shoulder.

A very tasty vessel-cooked chorizo & vegetable risotto saved the day, not to mention our rapidly-dwindling ‘whip’ and a lovely inexpensive evening was enjoyed by all. You can take the boy out of the north…

Wee Tom writes:-

The last 48 hours have been the ‘days of the supers’. Since leaving the Sardinian coastline we have seen a vast array of floating hardware that looks more P&O than personal transport. These floating behemoths loom out of the seas, all chrome, no conscience and one can’t help but wonder about the owners of said ships. From my very limited experience, seafaring sailing is a bit of an old boys’ club, and a well off boys’ club at that – but these floating hotels take all that to a different level.

Take our sighting of what we now know to be ‘Yacht A’ (see previous blog). A cursory nosey on the internet informed us that the boat itself was built for an estimated £360 million, thus making it the most expensive, sail assisted motorboat in history. Along with this you were talking about a crew of 54 men and women, significantly more than most small/medium businesses in the UK. Given that a superyacht is very rarely lived on full time by the owners and how high the ongoing costs, it must be purely pocket money for these tycoons – an outlet for people who literally have no idea what else to spend their obscene assets on.

But fear not, the owner of Yacht A, a Mr. Andrey Melnichenko is described online as an ‘industrialist and philanthropist’, so I’m sure that the world’s poor are over the moon at his little treat to himself. He would really have had to graft as it’s well known that the Russian economy is open and honest and not dominated by ex-KGB and soviet elites that don’t operate in a completely corrupt and croney-esque manner, dangling the baubles of prosperity in the form of lucrative government contracts to those most in favour. Probably.

I can almost hear those metaphorical corks popping in Oxfam’s HQ as we speak!

Blow

The wind was due to pick up so we modestly put the main up with a reef and let the full jib out as it is easy to reef. It wasn’t long before we were furling the jib to be replaced by the staysail and putting a second reef in the main. This did at least mean that we had a spirited sail and even with this sailplan, with gusts of over 30 knots, we made very good speed.

Of the notable incidents, we saw what looked like a volcano erupting with smoke emanating from the top of a mountain. As we approached downwind, we smelt burning vegetation so it was clearly a fire. We then had front row seats to an aerial display by two firefighting planes which continually circled picking up sea water and dropping it on the fire. As we left the conflagration behind us there was no diminution in the level of smoke so it may have been a long job..

Smokey mountain with the firefighting plane approaching the water pick up
The plane banking into another pick up approach.

We chose to press on, into the teeth of the gale and anchor overnight. Carl had prepared much of the curry using the dubious meat (?) balls in the foreign tins and it was OK – ish.

The blow is due to diminish overnight then increase again in the straits of Bonefacio in the afternoon. Mooring in Bonefacio can be something of a lottery (I have made an on-line application…) so we are planning to arrive soon after lunch (and before the next blow) hopefully after the exodus and before the newbies arrive. Bonefacio is a stunning destination with the citadel standing on the promontory, it’s a must do for anyone who has never visited before. I remember being there on the 14th of July many years ago and witnessing all the fireworks against the background of the battlements. What a privilege this sailing lark can be.

I posted pictures of two ‘stink pots’ in Corfu a few weeks ago claiming them to be the most ugly boats I had seen. I now have to accept that they have been eclipsed by an even uglier vessel anchored off Porto Cervo and to make matters worse it is a ‘quasi’ sailing yacht. It needs to be drubbed out of the fraternity! It seems that Carl disagrees and Tom is diplomatically sitting on the fence – we need a vote on this – please leave a comment with your opinion so we can decide – Carl or me !

Undisputed winner of the most ugly boat – in my opinion….
What had they been smoking?

Carl writes:-

The proverb ‘be careful for what you wish’ came home to roost with a vengeance yesterday. Having spent the majority of the journey gently chiding Captain Codswalop that we seem to go everywhere under motor, he decided to dial in some wind from the Gods. And my word, was that wind or what!

Gusting at over 30 knots, Nick, informed us that this, if it continued, would be a Force 7 gale, and we should all don our life-jackets without delay. Wee Tom & I dutifully followed our orders but only after depleting the stomach-saving Scopoderm stock yet again. Torrid stuff but such fantastic fun as that’s what we’re here for.

Furthermore, a free-anchorage in amongst the superyachts of Europe’s establishment elite and dinner courtesy of several out-of-date Spanish cans, reminded us that we don’t always need the expensive pampering of gilded harbours and marinas. Mind, I think one was cat food.

Also, what on earth is Nick going on about wrt the boat that needs drubbing-out of the fraternity? Are we looking at the same vessel? Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder and to these eyes the boat is drop-dead gorgeous, very possibly the most stunning piece of brutal, Bauhaus-esque, slab-sided minimalist design I’ve ever cast mine upon. He sees Kathy Burke where I envisage Bridget Bardot. His Mrs Doubtfire to my Ms Hepburn. Theresa May or Carla Bruni? Settle the argument for us?

Wee Tom writes:

In our salt-encrusted clothes, sailing-stubble, matted hair and understated Southerly 135 we represent, in my eyes, the new upstarts on the block – the beatniks of the briny.

Who exactly am I kidding, we live in Sunningdale for heaven’s sake! But even so, the sentiment is important to me. Before this trip I had no idea how easy it was to anchor off a sheltered cove or beach and feel more isolated and upon an untrodden path. As a man that has recently called-time on the steady, professional ‘career’ to venture into the wilds of the self-employed ‘gig-economy’, who owns a campervan and hasn’t paid for any overnight spot in two years, I am always on the lookout for my very own ‘The Beach’ location. I love the mystery, the intrigue and the feeling of doing something ever so slightly frowned upon.

We’ve stayed in some stunning marinas where you can plug in the AC, use the hot showers and go for a number-two without your knees round your head. Nonetheless, maybe because of my campervan background, or perhaps my northern blood, for me the true adventure is found outside of these oases of the ocean.

Freedom is a powerful feeling and you only need a second to consider the history of ships to know they have always represented the ultimate freedom – freedom from the law, freedom from taxes, freedom to rob, to claim distant lands and to pillage. We spend our lives adhering to static convention: put your roots down, build an extension, commute on this train to be on time for this job, for this boss. Keep focused on the family and filling-up the fridge as song-writing bard, Justin Currie once told us. Well I say f*ck ‘em. I’ll drop my anchor in the blue waters and for a week at least, write my own damn rule book – it’s a pirate’s life for me!

Rock

How can you extract interest or humour out of bliss? Windlessness apart, our passage to Santa Maria Navaresse was just thoroughly enjoyable passing the stunning Sardinian coastline and the approach to our destination was spectacular backed as it was by a colossal mountain.

Spectacular Sardinian coastline.
Stunning coastline

Along the way however, my bureaucracy paranoia was not eased by the presence of an official boat from the Guardia di Finenza running parallel to us at the same speed. This went on for some time until they blasted off into the distance – Phew!

Being followed.

We had another curious experience picking up an abandoned orange ships life-ring along the way. We handed it in to the Marina Office at our destination and we will never know if there was a story behind its deployment.

The recovered life-ring next to Tom’s comfy perch on the dinghy.

Despite a slightly challenging berthing (crew did great) the marina was one of the best. The pretty village was busy with Italians on holiday and there were no ‘tat’ shops that we saw. A swim off the beach, a very passable local IPA beer or two in a bar and the best meal Carl has produced (and that’s saying something) topped out a really great day.

Refreshing swim.
You would have to be really desperate for WiFi to persevere with this password

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! OK, put your hand up if you thought Hejira was, pretty much, just a common-or-garden 46ft ‘Southerly 135’ yacht? Yeah, me too, but we’d be wrong. As it turns out, Hejira, at the mere touch of a few buttons, is able to transform itself into…a time machine.

Yesterday, as he took control of the musical selection, we were transported back to the teenage times of Captain Scarlett, and let me tell you, dark days they were too. Having assaulted our ears for much of the trip with his too-tooty modern jazz, Nick decided to go one step further and subject us, his loyal and long-suffering crew, to an afternoon of prog-rock. Exactly what misdemeanour we had committed to warrant such treatment remains unclear.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer were followed by Blood Sweat & Tears, King Crimson morphed into Spooky Tooth, and Steve Winwood featured heavily in his Traffic and Spencer Davis periods. The coup d’grace was an eight minute organ solo by the caped-keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. And all these choices from a man who, the previous day had genuinely enquired which band were playing one particular classic song, as he seemed to recall it. The song was only ‘Hotel California’ from The Eagles. Go figure.

The other thing we noticed about Nick’s behaviour was the calming nature the world’s longest running ‘soap’ had on it. From the very opening bars of ‘Barwick Green’ (aka the theme for The Archers) Nick adopted a more relaxed and compliant persona. A veritable dose of Ritalin for the recently-retired. Gone were the barked orders and thinly veiled threats of the lash, all replaced by an almost loveable quasi-Joe-Grundy-esque character. Mind, I can see him trying to cadge a free pint in The Bull as well as The Nag’s Head!

Wee Tom writes:-

In the still greyness of the approaching dawn, a meandering manatee began crashing around the Hejira in what Mr. Mines later claimed in outrage was ‘me being quiet as a mouse’! The gallant crew were ordered out of their hammocks tout suite and as the sun crept out from below the horizon, HMS Nag’s began to edge serenely out of its berth. In my sleep-ridden state I proceeded to circle the boat in a daze as Captain Mainwaring gleefully barked incomprehensible orders and strange nautical terms at his bemused home-guarders.

Thankfully, having completed a number of lengthy solo sails it has become woefully apparent that this particular crew are essentially just the deck eye-candy – and boy have we been giving these Italians an eyeful of our pasty, Pict, pecs.

Upon arriving at the stunning port of Santa Maria Navarrese, we convinced Nick (who had more than one eye on the local IPA), to come for a soothing dip in the sea and this then panned out to be a truly pleasant evening.

Carl’s best yet, excellent cottage pie.

Blagging

Leaving Tunisia and completing all the very laborious formalities, we were rather pleased to be an EU yacht arriving in the EU with 3 x EU (currently – uuugh) citizens and hoping for a certain relaxation of the very petty and superficial regulations we have experienced since my departure from Venice, seemingly so long ago. I was hoping to be able to check the necessary formalities as we approached Sardinia but could not pick up any mobile signal. Successful connection required a ‘re-boot’ after having tried, unsuccessfully to connect to the phone systems in Tunisia. Too late to adjust our plans, we were committed to the marina at Villasimius at the SE tip of Sardinia from where we could scoot up the sheltered east coast as we need to ‘crack on’ to achieve our next rendezvous and crew change in Ajaccio, Corsica.

With a certain trepidation regarding formalities, we managed to check in for one night at a hefty €120 which didn’t include the showers which were an additional €2 (would you credit that) but at least in the following ports of call, we can now show that we were previously at Villasimius and brandish a receipt. We just HAD to run the air conditioning all night – after all, electricity was included.

Assuming that Carl regularly ‘cocked a deffun’ when being spoken to and it was just one his many idiosyncrasies, it would appear that ain’t the case, he is actually partially deaf. When challenged about it he readily admits to it. Why didn’t his parents warn him ‘it makes you deaf’!

Having slipped our berth soon after 06.00 at first light, we have a 60 mile passage today to Santa Maria Navaresse where we have a marina berth booked. The sea is flat, the wind is currently light but I am hoping for a little more later and from a favourable direction so we may be able to sail!

The attractive Sardinian coastline.

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! Many of you will be aware of the common vernacular that an army marches on its belly and I can now confirm that a yacht’s crew are similarly predisposed. My job for the duration is to keep Hejira’s happy-campers in the style that they have grown accustomed to, and let me tell you it ain’t been easy.

Initially, I thought I had been chosen for the role due to my enviable skill with a paring knife, spatula and wooden-spoon, but no, it’s nothing to do with any of that. The only reason I got the gig was that I’m the only person, at a vertically challenged 5’2”, that fits in the galley. Thanks, boys. Needless to say it’s a bit tight in there, and I feel more like a hobbit in his hole with every passing nautical mile.

With both space and utility being at a premium, planning and preparation is certainly the name of the gastronomic game in this town. And, with Captain Fantastic having already demanded to know what was on the menu for later tonight, and it’s all of 9.15am currently, the planning and preparation starts early.

Mind, they are an appreciative crew and, so far, precious little has gone to the fishes. For the record, to-date we have enjoyed a hot & spicy chilli con carne, creamy spaghetti carbonara, a whole roast chicken with chick-pea & cannellini-bean curry, pasta puttanesca and last night’s tremendous (though I do say so myself) chorizo, tomato & cheese pasta bake, served with a fresh green salad. Tonight’s dish-of-day is currently envisaged as some form of spicy Cottage Pie concoction with mixed veg. Nice. Anyway, gotta dash as those spuds and carrots ain’t gonna peel themselves…

Tom correcting his fathers grammar.

Wee Tom writes:-

After a full day sailing (motoring), we entered the harbour of Villasimius. In the build up to entering said port, Captain America had been frantically getting his budgie smugglers in a twist about various customs arrangements. Our fun-filled fiesta with the Tunisian authorities had left us a little light on paperwork and Nick was already making his mental notes of how to conduct his defence in an Italian court of law. In contrast, his crew were busy dishing out vast quantities of blasé reassurance and talking up our powers of persuasion (we don’t speak a word of Italian between us), should any strange customs loopholes arise.

I also floated the idea of dodging the seemingly extortionate mooring fee of €120 (showers extra…naturally), embarking under cover of dark and becoming something akin to the Bonnie & Clyde of the central Mediterranean. This was frowned upon so I guess that clearly highlights the difference in moral stature between myself and our illustrious Nelson!

As it turned out, all the stress was misplaced (told you so), and questions regarding our previous adventures were notably absent. In his relief I was half expecting Nick to present a ‘Hejira sailing business card’, without which he never leaves house nor boat, from behind the administrator’s ear in a magic circle-esque flourish. This would have blown our cover out of the water but given the lengths he goes to spread his gospel, nothing would surprise me!

To round off proceedings and much to my dismay, we even paid for the berth. I need to ditch this lily-livered crew of mine and find a captain more in line with my swashbuckling ways – Somalia, here I come!

Tom returning from a foray ashore.

Island

To the east of our course, Graham Island, known also as Isola Ferdinandea, was a volcanic island that magically arose from the Mediterranean depths, just off Sicily’s SW coast during 1831’s well-documented submarine volcanic eruption. Its sudden and unexpected appearance created something of a Klondike gold-rush as every country within the proverbial spitting-distance, sought to pitch their flag and claim title.

The monarch of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, immediately claimed sovereignty of the outcrop, which he wisely named after the King Ferdinand II, hence Isola Ferdinandea. Furthermore, the French Navy, along with the country’s most famous geologist, Constant Prevost, who was keen to get in on the act, named the island Île Julia since it appeared during the month of July.

Not wishing to miss out on such a territorial hot-spot, our very own Royal Navy Captain Humphrey Fleming Senhouse claimed the Island for the British Crown on the 1st August. He planted the Union Jack and named it after Sir James Graham, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Even without social media and Twitter taking sides it was about to get understandably very messy.

Arriving a little too late to the party didn’t prevent Spain, who recognised the island’s key strategic position, from also declaring its territorial ambitions and both battle-lines and political argument were now drawn.

Realising the furore it had caused, the island itself was having none of it and, as quickly as she had arrived, she subsequently vanished back beneath the waves. Here today, gone tomorrow could have been coined by its appearance and disappearance! Formed of unconsolidated and fragile material, the island was washed away by the unrelenting waves of the Mediterranean Sea.

The dispute remains?

The underwater volcano, Empedocles, which gave birth to the ephemeral Graham Island, or Isola Ferdinandea, or Ile Julia, dependent upon your flag, has recently shown signs of increased activity (2000 and 2002), prompting The Times to publish a short pointed article under the headline “British Isle rises off Sicily Coast”. Intentionally provocative it succeeded in reigniting the tri-partite state of affairs and the war of words resumed in earnest. Thankfully however, as of 2019 the shy and retiring volcano remains a relatively safe 6m (20ft) below sea level and is shown an my chart as ‘Graham Shoal’.

Tom, apart from being a conventional teacher, is also an ‘outward bound’ instructor so I guess it is no surprise that he took to the knot tying disciplines like a ‘duck to water’ which is more than can be said of his father who appears to suffer from ‘knot dyslexia’.

Knot like that dad, like this. Is there such a thing as knot dyslexia.

Carl was far too engrossed in the Jack Reacher book which has been consuming his time and attention all passage. Not surprisingly the heavyweight political tomes that he was clutching on his arrival in Malta remain untouched!

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there Shipmates! Our final night-time crossing has now been put to bed and, thankfully, it proved to be a wholly uneventful affair for all three of us. A placid sea, little or no wind and an almost full-moon all played their roles with aplomb.

Hand-on-heart, nothing really happened yesterday other than the dispatching of a great number of nautical miles and neither my actions nor thoughts amounted to much. They certainly don’t warrant any further explanation that’s for sure.

Sardinia’s Villasimius is our next berth and it’s, allegedly, an exclusive resort where both the hoi-poloi and ‘beautiful people’ of Europe now decamp to. Three unwashed, unshaven, uncouth salty-sea dogs turning-up on their catwalk promenade demanding ‘a sh*t, shower and shave’, will certainly put that assumption to the test.

Wee Tom writes:-

After another baffling wild-goose-chase with Tunisian officials, that saw me follow them unrelentingly all the way back the police-station so that I could keep my beady eye on our passports – we cruised off back into the Med’s cool blue waters.

What a difference 48 hours can make! After what could be put diplomatically as my ‘unravelling’ en-route to Tunisia, I was glumly resigned to feeling low-level nausea for the ensuing week whilst dragging on the morale of even the ever-effervescent Captain Underpants.

As the craggy Tunisian headland fell away on our port side, we nosed northwards. The slight breeze over the bow of the Hejira morphed into a delightful 11-15 knots off the starboard bow and we veritably skimmed along under sail for the best part of eight hours – fantastic!

Tom’s last view of Tunisia as we commence our crossing to Sardinia.

As the day wore on and I stuffed my face with my second chocolate brioche, I also realised that the calmer seas had restored my appetite with gusto. Nick, I’m a convert! Au revoir, mes amis.

Baksheesh

Our destination in Tunisia was fluid and we finally elected to opt for a fishing village with the necessary officials for clearing in but with only basic provisions for yachts in preference to a concrete Marina further south near the holiday destinations of Hammamet, Monastir and Sousse. So it was that we fetched up off Kelibia, an entry in my Captains Mate app stated “We found Kelibia to be rustic but real Tunisia, honest and friendly” and this has influenced our decision – little did we know…

Even with binoculars, we didn’t distinguish the low lying Tunisian coastline until we were only 10 miles out when the fortress built on the only hill in the area and some of the coastline loomed into view.

Failing to raise anyone in Kelibia on the VHF, we entered the harbour which was absolutely stuffed with gaudily painted fishing vessels.

The advice was to raft up alongside the ‘pleasure’ dock but it was smothered in a multitude of small (12ft) speedboats all rafted out and a couple of official boats which shooed us away.

Nowhere to moor. The fortress in the background

At over 45ft, there was no way we could moor there. A seemingly friendly Customs official hailed us from his vessel and directed us to the travel lift bay explaining that this was OK as it was Saturday and the following day was a holiday.

Whatever is the opposite of inviting is the word to be used for the travel lift bay. It was crumbling with exposed rusty reinforcing bar sticking out threateningly from what remained of the concrete sides, I feared for my topsides so we fendered as best we could.

Fearing for my topsides with the threatening exposed rusty reinforcing bar.

On top of that, there were no mooring cleats or bollards to secure to and we had to improvise using abandoned rope loops that had been passed through holes in the walls.

No cleats or bollards so we had to improvise.

We were joined by the customs official and an immigration official who took our passports. Rudimentary forms were filled in as the paperwork disintegrated under the copious perspiration. The Customs official said he could secure a place for us on the pleasure dock with electricity and water. He also said, nod nod, wink wink, that he could arrange for diesel at the preferential fishing rate. When the immigration official had gone, he took me to one side and demanded a fee of 50 Euros which he said he would share with all the other officials and then asked for a bottle of scotch for himself. I gave him the cash but not the scotch.

I found the bribery exceedingly unpleasant but I have to confess that it turned out to be money well spent as the 163 litres of fuel that we shipped cost 82 Euros which must represent a saving far exceeding the cost of the bribe. I just hope it is good clean fuel.

Having left our rusty berth to take on the diesel, we hovered off the pleasure dock waiting for the promised space to materialise. Isn’t it typical that in such a situation, everyone disappears and nothing happens. There was no alternative but to return to the travel lift bay and we moored so as to prevent being blocked in so we could make an escape in the morning.

Back on the smelly travel lift dock.

Our brushes with officialdom were not over and I was cornered by a chap from the Port Authority who demanded a fee (only 15 Euros as it happened) for our presence in the port despite having no facilities in the worst berth I have occupied in my life. On top of this, he demanded a bottle of wine! I found a small bottle of airline wine but he wanted more. Carl saw an opportunity to dispose of the remainder of the wine in the Famous Grouse bottle but even the official turned his nose up at this and settled for the miniature.

Having completed the formalities for ‘checking in’, it was necessary to ‘check out’ and the officials would not hear of doing the two processes in the same exercise – we would have to go through the whole procedure again in the morning!

Photos never paint the complete picture – this was like mooring in a refuse dump.

With the smell of dead fish and diesel, swarms of flies and with Carl and Tom having fed the stray cats some frankfurters from the fridge that they didn’t relish eating, we closed up, sprayed for the flies, ran the generator and AC for a while and with the life-saving fans, we all enjoyed a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

Tom feeding the scavenging cats.

When Kelibia officialdom finally emerged in the morning on this festival day we embarked on another long winded procedure but, a bottle of wine later, we were finally on our way.

Father and son following me to the Police Station.

Would we come back?

Certainly not for a 24 hour stay but the country has promise and I am sure that once officialdom is satisfied and with a smattering of French, one could have an interesting experience as the locals are certainly friendly.

On our departure, passing along the coast we saw the tourist side of Tunisia, the white beaches with loungers and sunbeds backed by large hotel complexes. What a contrast!

Tourist Tunisia.
Abandoned tourist construction presumably after the sharp decline following the Hammamet beach shootings

Carl writes:-

Arriving in Tunisia under motor and following a 36 hour ‘choppy’ overnighter made me cast my mind back to last year’s sailing adventure where Nick & I cruised leisurely from Barcelona to Marseilles. The daily routine had been arise eight-ish, cast-off ten-ish and motor along for about twenty-five miles before grabbing a mooring or buoy late afternoon and hitting the town for several cheeky cold-ones. En-route we took in the fantastic ports of Cadaques, Montgo and Cala Satuna. Man, you only miss things when they’re gone!

Disembarking this morning on what is planned to be another 185 mile overnighter makes me realise that this time, Captain Cook has sold us the dream and is delivering the nightmare.

Mindful of the fact that I need to be grateful for small mercies, I am released from the ‘below the waterline’ galley where I’ve been restrained for the last couple of days and initially think we’ve detoured to Syria and pitched up at one of the more desperate refugee camps. Cannes it ain’t. Thankfully, a fulsome and thoroughly enjoyable nine hours’ kip refreshes our senses and sees us all return to our old selves.

What is also becoming apparent is both the time and serious nature that Nick dedicates to this blog, not to mention the level of editorial control he exercises over the content. He is Paul D’acre to my Owen Jones. Each morning I am no longer awoken by the sound of the sea lovingly lapping upon Hejira’s hull, but the frantic tap-tap-tapping of Captain Kirk’s sausage-fingers on his laptop.

Following the completion of the next chapter of his proposed tome, wee Tom & I are, in a scene reminiscent of Charlton Heston on the slave-vessel in El Cid, then shackled to keyboard and not released before we have either finished our pieces, or passed-out through heat and exhaustion.

When complete, the subsequent sea-bound communication is duly posted with all the precision of David Davis’s TA military jaunts (soldiers’ f2f across the pinch point of a proposed ambush) and dispatched to an inbox near you. Please send help. Please.

 

Wee Tom writes:-

Fear ye not dear readers, your brave and illustrious deck-hand cum lifestyle guru is back after a particularly torrid 36 hours at sea!

After sharing my breakfast with the fishes I grasped the anti-sickness treatment that Captain Birdseye was waving at me tantalizingly. With quivering hands, I slapped on said patch before peering at the instructions. When I read ‘will take 5 to 6 hours to come into effect’ leaping into the inky blackness of the Mediterranean had never seemed more tempting! Against my better judgement I persevered and after what seemed an eternity and a short sleep akin to lying down in a ride at Thorpe Park, the seas becalmed.

With the prospect of a few days exploring the sights and sounds of Tunisia, things were on the up. As it turned out our stop in Tunisia was to be a fleeting one. With the two ‘Kevin the Teenagers’ on board engaged in low level, fatigue-induced bickering, the teacher in me once again decided to intervene. Luring Nick off the boat with a vague promise of WiFi and a beer led to rapid movements and off he trotted like a bloodhound after its favourite prey! As the looming hulks of rotting ships and piles of fishing detritus fell away to dusty streets awash with stray cats and children walking their sheep, it became evident that Tunisia (this part at least), was very much still a developing country.

Fun for all the family, take the sheep for a walk

In the blistering sun we engaged in a fruitless search for the Mines’ kryptonite but alas, the Holy Grail combination was proving hard to come by. After entering an increasingly seedy number of establishments that smelt of stale-cigarette smoke and mild hostility, I convinced Nick to settle for an OJ down the road. Mission apparently a success, we ordered and sat down. It was only then it dawned on us that we were bereft of the local currency, Doh! With our school boy French in full flow we somehow ended up with two ‘peach coolers’ free of charge. As our very own William Gates plonked himself down, booted up his computer and contently slurped his juice it seemed like the world had been put to right. Reintegration was now possible and my pastoral work here was completed – I’m expecting a promotion anytime soon! Over and out.

Refugees

It was interesting to see Blue Lagoon coming to life after a pleasant night at anchor, grateful for the fans producing a welcome stream of cooling air during our slumbers.

First a boat arrived and took all the refuse away from the previous day. Then the catering vans started to park up on the headland and by 08.00, visitors began to arrive. By 09.00 the first of the bigger tripper boats was manoeuvring into position so we took that as our cue to lift the anchor and leave.

We motored out in little wind, past the anchored cruise ships and the Gozo town of Mgarr while we debated the weather forecast and the prospects for our 24 hour passage to the Italian island of Pantelleria. The crew were not impressed by the Pilot Book entry which stated “The buildings of the town, particularly a number of skyscrapers, are easily identified”. My Cruising Association app ‘Captains Mate’ also featured some pretty negative comments. So, instead of an attractive, off the beaten track ethnic pearl, it would appear to be thoroughly unattractive with a propensity to ‘rip off’ the hapless sailor (something I am familiar with in Italy) who is totally captive and committed after a long passage.

Our attention then turned to the possibility of a 40 hour passage direct to Tunisia, winning a day and allowing more time in Africa. I did point out that although we should have a reasonable sail during the second half of the passage, the first half was likely to be a bit ‘gutsy’. The new crew being hardened sailors by now, poo pooed my reservations and thought that a direct passage to Tunisia was a better idea…  By midday, they had both applied scopoderm patches behind their ears and were refusing to go below.

Carl not too chipper having only just applied the ‘patch’.

It is quite a revelation to experience silence from Carl and I have to say that I quite like it, he was just not responding to the leg pulling and that is unknown. I resigned myself to doing the cooking for a while.

We heard a VHF exchange between a cargo ship and a Royal Navy Vessel reporting the position of a boat with an estimated 80 people on board not wearing any buoyancy aids. The Navy responded that they would mount a rescue mission and soon after reported that they had recovered all of the individuals and that they were being assessed by their medical team. I wonder what happens to these poor souls now?

Miraculously, the patches did their job and both Carl and wee Tom bounced back to do their watches through the night but as a precaution, I put my head down in the saloon so as to be on hand as required.

Since leaving Nice, I have experienced tides and currents that you would not expect in the Mediterranean. A 4 knot tide induced current in the Messina straight, a circulating current in the Adriatic (which opposed me on both sides) and on this passage, an adverse current of nearly a knot caused by the prevailing NW wind direction which changed into a slight favourable current towards the end of our passage with a back eddy behind the headland.

I have a concern as we approach the Tunisian coast in ‘Hejira’ that the officials might consider the naming some sort of blasphemy or insult (see ‘History’ on the home page) because of the Islamic connotations. I need to look out a copy of the Joni Mitchell CD by that name to help deflect any criticism.

The Joni Mitchell CD in case it might be helpful.

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! A lesson Captain Ahab has yet to learn is that sometimes less is more. Nick is definitely of the persuasion that four words, rather than one, obviously have greater resonance with his adoring public.

As you’ve already gleaned from Nick’s post, yesterday was a bit of a wright-off for his crew and, from where I was sprawled, precious little seemed to be happening. Ah, other than normal Hejira service returning with a bang: yes, the whole journey was completed under motor (this is a gross misrepresentation of the truth – ed.) with nothing more than the occasional jib to help us on our way. Phew. Furthermore, for all you commodities brokers out there, buy diesel stock as, if Nick has his way, the price can only rise.

So, today’s marine missive is consequently short & sweet – God bless the inventor of sea-sickness wonder-drug, Scopoderm, and if they have not already been awarded some form of Nobel prize for services rendered to the chunderingly infirm and deliriously incompetent, then I’m going to start an internet poll to get them where they deserve to be!

The yellow ‘Q’ flag denoting new arrival from another country with the Tunisian courtesy flag underneath.

 

Wee Tom writes:-

As the first crew member to serve-up his breakfast to the fishes of the Mediterranean, I’ve duly written wee Tom a sick-note and his daily Millennial musings have been postponed until further notice.

Needless to say this went down like the proverbial bacon-butty at a Bhamitvah with Captain Pugwash, who, along with the expected mentions of keel-hauling and removal of the obligatory tot of rum, is threatening to ‘go legal’ if previously agreed responsibilities and commitments are not honoured…

Blue Lagoon

As it turned out, Leilane really wanted to go to Sicily and as that is not on our itinerary, we agreed that she would be better advised to find another yacht sailing in her preferred direction. We wish her all the best, what a brave and resourceful lady!

Needing to ‘clear out’ from immigration with the new crew list, we made our way to the police station to complete the formalities.

Crew ‘clearing out’.

It transpired that with our destination being Tunisia, we had to clear customs as well which meant going into the city waterfront to the main customs office. It seemed prudent to split our duties so I made off to do the formalities while Carl and wee Tom tried to find the supermarket for the shopping. I am not sure who drew the short straw but I climbed so many steps as to put Tom’s HIIT regime to shame.

Despite paying for the water from the tap on the dock, we were advised that it was not suitable for drinking. Was this just an ‘arse cover’ or was it bad? We have a filter on the drinking water tap and I dosed the tank with purifier liquid so we topped up as it was unlikely that we would be able to fill with good water in Tunisia.  Fingers crossed that we don’t feature on the news in the next few days.

Whilst doing my laundry the other day, I fell into conversation with a charter skipper and I quizzed him as to the viability of the anchorages in the Malta archipelago. I told him that I had read that the pretty Blue Lagoon on Comino was overly popular and unviable as a result. He considered that when the tripper boats and day boats leave, it can be deserted so we focussed on arriving late and anchored in the ordinary ‘Little Armier Bay’ on the west coast of Malta for a swim until we thought it was timely to move onto Comino.

Anchor interlude and a swim in Little Armier Bay.

When we arrived at 6pm, it was still buzzin’ but the many boats were moving on so we enjoyed watching the revellers depart churning up the bay as they left.

Blue Lagoon, mid exodus.

Carl cooked a fine chilli con carne which included chocolate which is apparently ‘de-riguer’.

A veritable feast.
Wee Tom chillin’ in Blue lagoon after the exodus.

Comino lies between Malta and Gozo and our 135 mile passage to the isolated Italian island of Pantelleria necessitates going around Gozo past the main town of Mgarr. So we will leave before the bay fills up and sail overnight to target a lunch time arrival. I had never even heard of Pantelleria so we are looking forward to an island unspoiled by the holidaymaker blight.

Carl writes:-

Ahoy there, Shipmates! We enjoyed a novel experience on Hejira yesterday – sailing! But more of that later.

On arising, Nick didn’t seem his usual loveable, jovial self. He was quiet, distracted, a little distraught, forlorn even.  And then he let the ‘Leilane’ bombshell out and everything fell into place. Ended before they’d even begun:  The heartbreak of Hejira. In these situations we did the only decent thing true friends can be expected to do: mercilessly take the p*ss out of Jilted John, reassure him that he’ll never get over her, she’s better-off without him and his life is not worth living.

As the galley-b*tch of the journey, it fell upon me to pop along to the waterside greengrocer and restock with fresh fruit and vittles.

Carl gathering produce on tiptoe.

Fresh is a term that one stallholder, Patricko has yet to really understand. I suspect the scurvy scoundrels of The Bounty would’ve turned their noses up at the majority of produce on display, which included a whole basket of fresh snails.

Mind, Patricko, can certainly read an audience and sucked me in with the lure of ‘the island’s most fantastic natural red wine produced from his father’s award-winning vineyard’. Deal done and it was only when said internationally-acclaimed pinot was produced, in a ‘Famous Grouse’ whisky bottle, that I realise I’d been had. Again.

Famous wine.

Larder stocked, customs satisfied and ablutions abluted, we hit the metaphorical road, Jack, and we ain’t comin’ back, no more, no more, no more. And then it happened. Twelve knots of wind, the big sail in the middle is hoisted, the triangular one at the pointy-end of the boat shortly follows (I never claimed I knew anything about this jolly-jape), and for the first time in several jaunts on Nick’s pride & joy, the motor is turned off. No, really! I feel like an extra on Howards’ Way. Great fun and almost makes all the sh*g & hassle worth it. Almost.

I had sworn Nick to silence wrt the secret ‘family’ chilli recipe so, with his earlier indiscretion of letting the chocolate-cat-o-nine-tails outta the bag, I now fully expect to make it into his will, and above Ollie & Becky. The other ‘secret’ ingredient is cumin, lots of it. Thankfully, my ravenous crew members appeared delighted with their sustenance and, as the sun-sets in party-town-central, an early night was enjoyed by all. Or it would’ve been if the earlier-rejected-and-dejected Nick hadn’t suddenly rediscovered his teenage-mojo and proceeded to subject the entire harbour to his delightful  desert island discs of too-tooty (modern-jazz) ditties. Night-night, Smashy & Nicey.

PS The aforementioned libation proved to be soooo bad that Captain Nick could only stomach half a bottle during the whole meal. Who’d a thunked it? One down and only eleven more steps to go!

Wee Tom writes:-

Day two of the Hejira’s workout plan was cardio. Nick set off on a solo marathon adventure round the bay that saw him return so wet that I assumed he’d upped the ante and morphed his outing into a biathlon. Amazingly this was not the case and the PTSD means that Nick is cutting up his bus pass as we speak!

Dad and I sauntered over the supermarket, feeling quite smug about our cushty posting. Alas it was not to be, as after going through his normal ritual of ‘what’s your name’, ‘your English is very good’ and ‘I don’t follow football, I support Preston North End…boom, boom’, punctuated by a few ‘d’accords’ and ‘mercis’ for good measure (go figure?), we were informed that we had spent enough get a free 6 litres of bottled water. One mile later through the sun-baked Maltese streets meant that any other personal training plans were swiftly knocked on the head!

Sticking to what I know and continuing on in the vein of a teacher, seeing our buoyant captain go from harbour to the high seas was a revelation. Like watching an unruly student go from maths to break time, he was suddenly in his element. Gone were the bureaucratic stresses and the customs officers agreeing gleefully that his passport picture resembled ‘Saddam Hussein’s uglier cousin’ (their words, not ours – pictures to follow). Gone were the close berth encounters of Captain Bouncy and his frantic-fendering. With the wind in what’s left of his flowing locks and the spray on his weather-beaten face (behave), it was down to business.

Keen to make a good impression and begin to earn my passage, I promptly staggered into a control panel and put my fat arse through a 5mm thick sheet of Perspex.

Wee Tom’;s modification.

Great. Ever the gentleman, Nick said he would only present the bill back in Blighty! ATOM marine division, expect your instructions forthwith and Paula, don’t bother with that spare dress you thought you might pack – Nick’s going to be hijacking that hand luggage faster than he can scurry into the hold at the mention of ‘HIIT’. Adios amigos!

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