God must be looking down on all the charter companies in Croatian ports and wondering what took them so long. After all, chartering must be what He made them for. Although the country is less than 300 miles long, its tortuous indentations offer more than a thousands miles of coastline, protected by nearly a thousand islands.
Summer conditions are normally benign, the biggest winds – the north easterly Bora, which blows from the mountains – is rare in high season and in any event is usually well-forecast. Even when strong winds do blow, the string of offshore islands offer protection which prevents large seas building up. Add to this Croatia’s largely undeveloped coastline, and we have all the ingredients for the ideal charter destination. Jeremy Tutt, General Manager of The Moorings, says it’s been the most popular charter destination over the past 3 years and shows little sign of slowing up. “There’s lots of variation, with true charm and character, and there are few natural hazards. Although it can blow a bit outside the season, most of the time it’s quiet.”
The main cruising area is in Dalmatia, in the south of the country, (Croatia actually lies north west/south east, but mentally most people straighten it out to a simple north/south). The high, impassable mountains have always formed a barrier that has separated the coastal people from the interior, and Dubrovnik, down at the southern end, is even further removed and for many hundreds of years was an independent state. Dalmatians have traditionally worked on the sea, not just as fishermen or ship builders, but as seamen and even today the merchant fleets of the world would probably be unable to function without their Dalmatian crew.
Dubrovnik is an unmissable place. The image of the city’s walls rising almost vertically from the sea to protect its tiny harbour, is one of the best-known sights of the world. Because straight-line distances in Dalmatia are small, most charter companies based in Dubrovnik offer one-way charters between their bases further north – typically to Split, about 100 miles away, whose airport can also be used for the return or outward journey. This allows even one week charterers to cover the best sights of the region. Dubrovnik’s marina is also one of the prettiest anywhere. Built in the grounds of an old summer palace, some five miles up-river, it’s more like a resort than a marina. The Old Town is a short taxi or bus ride away, and if time allows there’s a detour to the top of the mountain overlooking the city where the best photographs can be taken.
The cruising ground around Dubrovnik is incomparable. The lush green Elaphit islands are just a few miles apart and the furthest, Šipan, has one of Croatia’s best restaurants on the seashore of its northern bay – Kod (“Chez”) Marko. Opposite Šipan, on the mainland, is the walled town of Ston, which used to be the limit of the Dubrovnik Republic, but time doesn’t usually allow a visit and instead boats head for the island of Mljet. (Providing further justification for the old joke that one of Croatia’s biggest export is consonants.) This has been established as a National Park, with the bay of Polace offering complete protection, as well as a base from which to explore the nearby fresh lakes and the old Benedictine Monastery on the Island of St Mary’s.
The island is opposite the 60-mile long peninsula of Pelješac, behind which is a protected cruising ground, rarely entered by visiting yachts. At the head of the peninsula is the ferry port for Korcula, (commonly principal towns in Dalmatia have the same name as their island). One of the many walled Venetian towns of the Eastern Adriatic, Korcula is one of the most dramatic, jutting out into the narrow straights between the mainland, it was an important Venetian trading post, and has the most glorious cathedral. The fish-bone layout of the town’s streets is unique and is said to channel cool air into the houses during the summer. There is a large ACI marina just by the town, which often becomes full in high season, but charter companies can often arrange a booking in advance. Korcula is best seen either by sunrise or sunset, when town becomes dramatically highlighted by a low sun.
Beyond Korcula, on the way to Hvar, is one of Dalmatia’s secrets. The island of Šcedro has an official population of just one. The redoubtable Mrs Kordic lives here year-round while her son, the island’s official gamekeeper, commutes from nearby Hvar island. Although most visiting boats anchor in the bay of Lovisce, where there is a choice of anchorages and restaurants, those in the know get to Scedro early and go to Monastir Bay where the Kordic family has their home. Their little cluster of houses was built next to the old monastery which is now abandoned, and they rent out some of the buildings for the summer. But be warned there is no electricity on the island, and the Kordic’s restaurant is lit by a 12v lamp, powered by a wind generator. They produce their own vegetables and wine, and take a boat out in the morning to catch fish for the evening’s meal, which is taken on their little terrace overlooking the water’s edge.
Hvar has now once again become fashionable, and in high season is packed with boats of all sizes. Rather than tangle with them, the best bet is to leave the boat in the marina on the nearby island of Palmižana, and take the ferry in. But my own favourite is a secret harbour just to the north of town, which used by the Yugoslav vice-President, whose villa is nearby. It’s the only time I’ve felt as though I had my own private berth.
There is a narrow passage between the islands of Brac and Solta on the passage towards Split on the mainland, and if time allows Milna on Brac is worth looking into. It’s a typical, unassuming Dalmatian town, with a long and attractive public quay, and a peaceful and relaxed place to moor after Hvar. On the mainland itself, although Split has a marina at its centre, an alternative is to go to Trogir which is very close to the airport and where it’s possible to moor just outside the walls of this pretty fortified town. The town has many shops and a magnificent cathedral, along with a wide range of restaurants and bars to choose from. Split in contrast, is Dalmatia’s largest city and is a bustling, working town, which has grown around the old Roman palace built by Diocletian at the end of the 4th century AD. The huge palace grounds have been adapted over the centuries and is now an integral part of the city’s centre. It’s quite extraordinary to see almost perfectly preserved Roman structures jostling alongside modern additions.
North of Split is a second Dalmatian cruising ground, served by a number of marinas where charter companies have bases. The biggest attraction of this are the offlying Kornati Islands. These virtually uninhabited islands have almost no trees, and their profiles have been worn down over the millennia into barren outcrops rising gently out of the sea. There are a number of ‘oases’ in some of the more protected bays where restaurants operate during the summer and ACI have even built a seasonal marina here, which is like a large summer camp. But the best areas are where there’s no one else around, and peace descends with the night.
Opposite the Kornatis, on the mainland, the ancient city of Šibenik stands guard over the deep Krka river. It’s been an important trading centre for centuries and its 16th century cathedral is now listed as a World Heritage Site. One of the area’s premier tourist attraction is upriver from Šibenik. Passing through a large lake, ACI has built an inland marina around the waterfront at Skradin. From here ferries take visitors into the National Park to see the Krka Falls, a stretched out series of waterfalls, where swimming is allowed. It’s a great place for a picnic.
Recent government changes have required charter boats to be registered as Croatian. This has transformed the chartering scene and the UK companies operating there have had to reorganise their fleets. Fortunately most have managed this, and offer a wide choice of base and cruising area. One holiday is not enough.]]>
When my Norseman 447 Shakti and I left California in 1997, the Red Sea was the passage I feared most. By 2002, the World Trade Center had been attacked and I realised that when we finally arrived at Salalah, Oman, after our passage from Thailand, in addition to the list of strong winds, hidden reefs and pirates, we would now be sailing directly up “the axis of evil”.
Word on the cruising grapevine was that we would most likely encounter “pirates” during our passage through the Gulf of Aden, particularly off the coast of Somalia. To counter this, we formed a flotilla of seven cruisers and established defensive strategies: minimum use of VHF radios and lights, establishment of reference waypoints and communication protocol, minimum boat speeds, intended routes, and boat formation strategies in the event of an unwanted visitors. In the event, our precautions proved unnecessary. A few fishing boats altered course to check us out and we had close encounters with some freighters, but otherwise saw no other craft. A helpful French aircraft flew over daily to inform us of any suspicious boats in our vicinity and several military boats on exercises in the Gulf added to our sense of security. We duly arrived safely in Djibouti six days later, having motored 32 hours to maintain our minimum established speed of 5 knots.
Djibouti has a strategic location as a portal to Red Sea. Ethiopia had recently lost a hard-fought war with Eritrea and with it their access to the Red Sea. This old French colony has experienced a strange renaissance following the influx of foreign military anxious to establish a foothold at the entrance the Arab World. We anchored in front of the yacht club, a beautiful colonial building which provided both excellent hospitality and cuisine to the transiting yachtsmen. The town was still untamed and raw under a thin veneer of propriety. We ate exotic meals with Muslim extremists and shopped for vegetables at midnight in an open market with Bedouins from the desert. What the city lacked in security it made up for in its vitality, which only emphasised the contrast between the colonial past evidenced by European style architecture and the current state of chaos and decay.
We took a van into the countryside through the desert where despite the fact that nothing grew, we could see several small settlements with houses made from low walls of piled rocks and corrugated iron roofs only four feet above the desert floor. The women’s dress was more colourful than the tropical fish offshore but the rest of their world was the dull grey of the desert sand. They had a few animals – donkeys and camels – but little else could survive in this arid wasteland. Government trucks brought them water and one person from each settlement would go into town once a week for provisions. As we continued along the road, it eventually rejoined the southern extremity of the Red Sea until it ended in a salt lake several hundred feet below sea level. It was here that we saw camel trains from several neighbouring countries coming to load salt and carry it back to their respective markets. Along the way, there were huge rifts rivalling the Grand Canyon, volcanoes with fumaroles, boiling hot springs, and other signs of the earth being torn apart by imaginable forces. The Red Sea is where the African and Asian continents meet, and where they are separating at the rate of an inch a year.
We left Djibouti in late March and headed through the Bab El Mandeb (the Gates of Sorrow or Tears) into the Red Sea. Increased boat traffic, along with winds funnelling through the narrow opening, make the straits difficult to navigate. The freighters are easier to locate and board in this area, which also leads to more incidents of piracy. The boats that left a few days ahead of us had full gale conditions, but fortunately our conditions were better.
We rejoined forces again in Shamma Island, 30 miles south of Massawa in Eritrea. The island has an old but operating lighthouse, watched over by a herd of camels, but we saw only their footprints. Since the island is small and flat, we couldn’t imagine where they were hiding. This was our first introduction to the undersea world of the Red Sea – an amazing variety of tropical fish, colourful coral reefs, and not unlike a large, well-stocked aquarium. The fact that there are so few visitors (or fishermen) makes the fish even more plentiful and less frightened.
After a few days relaxing in the protection of the reefs, we ventured out and reached Massawa by late afternoon. The first impression of the village is startling. The town was built during the Italian occupation in the early 1900s and its architecture rivals the best in Europe. Instead of stone, however, the buildings are made of coral blocks and closer inspection reveals that nearly all of the buildings have suffered extensive damage during the thirty-year war with Ethiopia. The city is in ruins and yet occupied as if nothing had happened. Despite the seemingly desperate situation, the inhabitants seem almost jubilant – having won their war against Ethiopia, the city vibrates with hope and renewal. Like Djibouti, the port was abuzz with activity and, once again, large cargos of basic food items from the United States were being unloaded at the docks. Security was tight but appeared to be unnecessary. We were able to wander around the town at all hours with no sense of danger. The people were extremely hospitable, inviting us on several occasions to join them for a meal or a cup of tea.
While there is a large Muslim population, the majority of the people in Eritrea retain their Christian faith imported by the Italians a century earlier. The European influence was even more in evidence in the capital city of Asmara, which we visited a few days later. It’s a three-hour car ride that starts across an arid plane dotted with abandoned tanks and other remnants of the recent war. The temperature cooled and the landscape turned green as we approached the mountain capital that rests atop a mountain nearly a mile above sea level. Where the occupants of Djibouti seemed out-of-place in the European surrounds, those in Eritrea appeared right at home with their outdoor sidewalk cafés and Italian restaurants. The city is a bustling metropolis that, due to its remote and easily defensible location, escaped the ravages of the recent war. We could easily be in Europe except for the African faces. Hearing them speak in fluent Italian would normally seem incongruous, but somehow made sense in this continent of stark contrasts and ambiguity.
We left Eritrea for Sudan a few days later and made our first stop 185 miles north at Khor Nawarat – a large complex of islands and reefs just over the border. We were met by an unmarked, open boat approaching with four armed men. After a few moments of alarm, we learned that they were the Sudanese border patrol and only wanted to check our passports and ship’s papers. After untangling the spinnaker from the rigging caused by the impromptu “take-down”, we were on our way again. We enjoyed two days of extraordinary diving before continuing to Long Island, a little further north, where a large lagoon was home to flocks of pink flamingos and other estuarial birds. We had planned to visit Suakin in Sudan on the following day, but gave up after hearing that the two boats in the anchorage were stuck and unable to leave due to bureaucratic delays. This was a shame since we had heard that the local market is a vision from the Arabian Nights with white-robed Bedouins coming in from the desert with their swords strapped to their backs and curved, bejewelled daggers in their belts.
It is in Sudan, the approximate mid-point of the Red Sea, that the winds in mid-March change from being mainly from the south to the north. Here the easy downwind sailing ends and new strategies had to be devised to continue against the headwinds that can reach gale force. Some boats decided to leave extremely early in the morning before the winds filled in, and motor as fast as possible to the next anchorage, perhaps 30 miles away. Others let their voyaging be determined as much by the sights they wanted to see as by the weather. Although good weather information was scant in the Red Sea, careful observation and an on-board weather receiver that downloaded infrared satellites images enabled us to predict with some accuracy when the winds would turn, and we managed most of the last 500 miles from Sudan to Suez with favourable winds.
Marsa Shinab, 40 miles north, was reportedly the most spectacular of the many “marsas” along the African coast. The marsas are inlets surrounded by the desert sands, which can extend up to several miles inland, and it was in the glow of the late afternoon sun that we approached the edge of the Sahara desert for the first time, with camels silhouetted against the rose-coloured mountains beyond. The abruptness of the break between land and sea was unexpected. The aquamarine waters of the Red Sea with their coral reefs teeming with life, ended at a small sand cliff of perhaps ten feet before becoming a barren, arid plateau fading into a haze around the distant mountains.
In daylight we explored our strange surroundings from the vantage point of the surrounding hills. The earth was scorched and yet showed evidence of severe flooding during the rainy season. The surface layer of sand had been blown away, exposing the rocks that lie just below the surface. The effect was that of a surreal lunar landscape. From the higher elevation of the hills, we could see distant mountains, but no signs of life. Looking out towards the Red Sea, we could follow the meandering path of the Marsa back to where we had arrived a day earlier. It was from this lookout that I noticed that the winds had diminished and we decided to take advantage of the respite and leave that afternoon. Our luck didn’t run out until the sun was setting the following day when we experienced what I had until that point only heard about – Red Sea northerlies. We fought our way against the wind for most of the night, but even using the full power of the engine and sails, we made only three knots. After twelve hours of this, we finally reached the next reef anchorage in Egypt – Gezirat Wadi Gimal.
After we arrived, we heard that we were not the only ones fighting the sudden shift in wind direction. Two yachts ahead of us had experienced the same change in fortunes and had decided to find protection on one of the Marsas,without waiting for daylight. The first yacht was able to use their radar to locate the markers of a planned marina and find their way into the protected waters. The boat behind inadvertently “cut the corner” when they passed what appeared to be a central channel marker on the wrong side. After a seven-year circumnavigation they lost their boat on the reef, just miles from their starting point in the Mediterranean.
The anchorage at Gezirat Wadi Gimal is reputed to have the best diving in the Red Sea, although we had now passed from the tropics into the subtropics, and the air and water were noticeably colder. We stayed for three days, diving a few times each day and thawing out in between. On the fourth day, the wind again became favourable and we sailed the remaining 200 miles to Abu Tig Marina with only a brief stop in Hurghada along the way. Now in Egypt, we passed numerous developments, either completed or under construction, and by the time we reached Hurghada, they formed a continuous line along the shore. A few hours later we were moored safely in the largest of them all, surrounded by a cartoon representation of Arabian architecture. This is where the upper crust of Egyptian society comes to get away from the same Egyptian life that we had come to see. I guess the wind direction and weather aren’t the only things that changes mid way up the Red Sea.
El Guona lies approximately 200 miles south of the Suez canal and covers I don’t know how many square miles with innumerable hotels, condominiums, golf courses, and even its own downtown. The architecture is well done, but the overall effect remains more like “Arabland” than anything Egyptian or African. It’s already a huge success, even though security is a major issue. Like all tourists in Egypt, we had to travel in an armed convoy on our excursions. I hope this is not the future of tourism – travelling in armoured cars to “Disneyland” style representations of the original sites.
After a visit to Luxor, we began to understand the attraction of this ancient country and to experience the true nature of the place. After a five-day trip down the Nile, we took a train with sleeping cars back to Luxor, and then to the marina where we found Shakti as we had left her. Thanks to a government promotion, we had spent three weeks in El Guona at no charge. With the first weather window, we headed out for Shab Umm Usk, an island twelve miles offshore from Abu Tig, where we were told that a pod of dolphins seek out the company of visitors. We anchored in the protected bay and within a few minutes were surrounded by their smiling faces, anxious to play. We joined them in the water and rather then flee, they swam circles around us for several minutes. I’m not sure who it was that was more curious in this unique meeting of the species.
Leaving Abu Tig, we were still 160 miles south of Port Suez. The winds were light but favourable, and we were able to sail most of the way. The cargo traffic was now directed into shipping lanes which we had to cross a few times as we ventured north. We were also passing several oil platforms for the first time along our route. When night fell, the stars joined with the rigs and the boats at sea for a display of a thousand points of light.
We arrived at Port Suez in the morning and after tying to a buoy in front of the yacht club made arrangements with a local agent (Felix Agency) to arrange for our transit of the canal. Based on a complicated formula of boat measurements, the cost at that time (April 2002) was $285. The next morning our pilot arrived but we left late and when it became dark he became disorientated, and nearly ran us aground before I realized he had us heading south again. I decided that it was best to do our own navigation, and double-check his directions and not relinquish complete control of the vessel.
Most vessels spend only one night in Imsalia, a large lagoon mid-way through the Canal. There they pick up a new pilot and leave the following morning for the Mediterranean that lies just 45 miles further north. Instead we decided to use Ismalia as a base to return to Cairo and do some more sightseeing before leaving Egypt. It was a short train ride away and the boat was secure in this small Muslim town that has its own quaint character with few tourists and many friendly locals. Three days later, after a memorable tour of Cairo and the pyramids, we were underway again. This time with a more experienced pilot and an early start, we had no problems, reaching Port Said by 12:30 pm.
As we finally entered the Mediterranean, we looked back on our Red Sea adventure with relief at having completed it successfully, but also with regret, knowing that we would probably never make the trip again. We discovered that the Red Sea is not just a passage between the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean but is itself an excellent destination. It offers an unspoiled cruising ground with some of the best diving in the world, and a completely different cultural experience, with many exotic places to visit both along the coast and inland. During the month that I spent in the Red Sea my ideas changed dramatically from being the most dreaded parts of my circumnavigation to being one of the most enjoyable.]]>
For Mediterranean yachtsmen, the Straights of Bonifacio, separating Corsica from Sardinia, are notorious for their regular appearance in Navtex gale warnings. Winds from the west – especially a Mistral – funnel through the ten-mile gap creating awesome seas. Add to this the profusion of tortured reefs scattered around, and it’s hardly surprising that the seabed is strewn with wrecks. Fortunately for us the strong winds of previous days had subsided, and although it was still fresh, the extensive fetch of the western Mediterranean still carried a significant swell.
It was an exhilarating crossing. Chris, our son, refused to surrender the helm as we surged towards Italian waters on a close reach. It was bright and clear, and the spray flung from our bows across the sparkling blue water, conditions that make the area so popular for regattas. But once across the shipping lanes, amid the rocks of La Maddalena archipelago, pilotage suddenly became a serious matter. The pink rock formations and the numerous intertwined islands, provide secluded anchorages with aquamarine shallows ideal for snorkelling, but even with a large scale chart, the reefs are still difficult to identify. We anchored for lunch in a bay recommended by Rod Heikell’s Italian Pilot, but it was only when we found the passage blocked on trying to leave, that we realised we were actually somewhere else and heading directly for Passo Secca di Morto: “Deadman’s Reef”.
The archipelago, which gives its name to the local sea area, has been militarily significant since Napoleonic times. Nelson kept his fleet here in 1803 while waiting for the French to leave Toulon. He recommended to the Admiralty that they annexe Sardinia instead of Malta, but he didn’t live to push it through. In recognition of the island’s independence, he never set foot ashore for the entire year he was based here. On Maddalena itself there is a large US naval base and it was odd to hear the American accents amid the Italian chatter on channel 16.
Following Rod Heikell’s intricate route through the rocks, we found a wonderfully deserted anchorage on Isola Caprera, but as we settled down to watch the sunset we heard a shout. In the fading light we just managed to make out a teenager rowing towards us in a small dory. We could see that he was exhausted, and since he was wearing only swimming trunks, we insisted on giving him something warm and took him below where he explained that he was trying to get back to Maddalena, but his outboard had broken down. After he’d warmed up enough, I towed him behind our tender and headed carefully for the road bridge in the distance. It was dark by the time I’d dropped him off, and I had a scary run between the rocks back to our anchorage.
The glamorous Costa Smerelda is apparently what most people associate with Sardinia: a luxurious development along the “emerald coast”, and home to pop stars and the super-rich. Unfortunately, being irredeemably unfashionable, I had been only vaguely aware of it, but we got a taste of it when we put our nose briefly into Port Cervo. A swarm of smartly uniformed marina staff buzzed around us in their dories, but we told them we were only looking around.
The setting is magnificent, if overdeveloped. Much is made of the planning restraints which require all the architecture to blend into the landscape, but we weren’t prepared for the sheer density of development. Estates lined the coastal belt like wall-to-wall carpeting and I haven’t seen so many yachts since St Tropez – but what yachts! Imagine the most popular anchorage in the British Isles. Scale it up by a factor of ten, and you have the extraordinary Cala di Volpe: literally hundreds of boats anchoring a bay lined with multi-million pound properties. Most of the motor yachts were well over a hundred feet, and many more than two hundred – one would even have served as a cross-channel ferry, it had five decks.
Costa Smerelda is serviced by the unprepossessing Olbia airport, but people pass through the town itself as fast as possible – as we did. We were there to meet my mother, due to arrive on a flight from Gatwick, and to search for a new impellor for the generator. Amazingly we managed to do both within a couple of hours. Since the rusty old concrete quay was desolate and the nearby yacht club didn’t welcome visitors, we decided to leave immediately.
While Corsica slopes down from west to east, Sardinia’s east coast south of Olbia is the reverse, consisting of sheer cliffs plunging vertically into the sea, with just five ports offering secure refuge. With my mother now safely on board, we decided to retrace our steps and head for the west coast. Sardinia is highly unusual in the Mediterranean since it has little tradition of fishing, and before the development of Porto Cervo in the early 60s, there were virtually no facilities for boats or visitors. Although facilities for visiting yachts are growing, apart from the Costa Smerelda, the island’s distance from the mainland keeps it relatively unpopulated, and away from the main tourist routes.
Once around the island’s north-east corner, opposite Maddalena, we found an almost deserted anchorage in the Golfo di Arzachena, a quiet creek immediately to the west of Cabo Ferro. After putting into the little village of Canningone at its head and filling up with water and wine, we anchored across the bay. The swell of the past few weeks had finally subsided, and we spent a peaceful night with an unusual backdrop of adjacent fields. My mother was entranced.
One of the high spots of cruising is discovery. The pilot books are, of course, invaluable, not only in pointing out any dangers, but in providing information to help get the best from a coast. They can, however, take the edge off the surprise of a first visit. With time in hand, we motor-sailed slowly close inshore, putting into each little bay and nosing around before moving on to the next. We were intending to spend the night at Santa Teresa di Gallura, but when we finally reached it, it was far too crowded, so we went back to a small bay we had explored, which didn’t appear in our pilot. We anchored close to the deserted beach and were entirely alone, until half a dozen young people arrived in Hobie catamarans. There was barely enough wind for them to move, but they turned down our offer of a tow and ghosted slowly towards the beach where they set up camp for the night. It must have been unique, we heard nothing; no stereos, no guitars, no singing; nothing but a warm silence and the occasional crackle and hiss from their campfire.
It was now time for Chris’ girlfriend Lucy, to leave us. Never having been on a boat before, she had suffered from the swell of the first few days but had coped well. We devised a complicated bus itinerary for her to reach Alghero airport, starting from Castelsardo, further along the north coast, and a place highly recommended by the guidebooks. We reached there in early evening, after a stop-over anchored among the rocks of Isola Rossa, but although there appeared to be plenty of room, we were directed instead to the public quay by the ormeggiatori – every port has someone who is responsible for allocating berths to visiting boats. Italy has a wonderfully egalitarian attitude to its harbours. The majority of the water frontage is leased out to private operators and clubs, who install pontoons and services which can be used by visiting boats for a suitable fee. But part of the harbour is always kept as a public facility with no charge. Rarely, however, were they equipped as this was with water and electricity, and not for the first time we wondered why people preferred to pay for what they could have for nothing. Boats continued to arrive during the evening until the private berths were full – just as they told us, and we learnt later that Italians normally book ahead by VHF or phone, a lesson we usefully applied later. Castelsardo is an ancient fortified town built on top of the hilltop overlooking the sheltered bay. It’s famous for its baskets, which are woven by hand by the local women. The sight of them sitting in rows down the narrow cobbled streets is the staple of the local postcard shops. It was, however, a very long and tiring walk up from the public port and my mother wisely decided not to attempt it.
Having seen Lucy onto the bus for the airport, we headed the next day to round Isla Asinara, off Sardinia’s north-western promontory. It was unclear from the pilot book whether we would be able to get through the inshore Fornelli passage, but as we approached the wind suddenly veered and freshened, making it unwise to attempt such a narrow and shallow channel. Instead we diverted into Stintinto, a village just to the south, and were delighted to find a huge harbour with plenty of space to anchor, although it took us quite a time before we could get the anchor to hold properly. We were not the only people to be caught out, and soon the harbour was full, although not all of them troubled to check their holding. The sight of boats being blown on top of each other provided entertainment for the rest of the evening. Stintinto is a charming place with two separate creeks running deep into the town. One had two small boatyards building traditional dhow-rigged fishing boats, which they now use mainly for local racing. The place was full of colour and was comfortable and unpretentious.
The next day the wind had eased sufficiently for us to attempt the Passage. Two sets of intersecting leading marks marked the “deep” water, but since this never gave us more than three metres and often less, it would have been hair raising had it not been such a perfect place to run aground. In traditional Italian style, although anchoring was forbidden in the approaches to the passage, this was universally ignored and dozens of boats were spending the day here. The shallow bottom varied from bright white sand, to dark seaweed-covered rock and the effect in the hard sunlight was a stunning rainbow of colours from deep emerald green to the clearest of turquoise. Fleets of dinghies racing were circling the bay off the private Ancora Yacht Club, and it was all the most cheerful sight, marred only by the gruesome history of Asinara Island itself (it’s home to a rare breed of albino donkeys) which has been variously a quarantine hospital and penal colony. Its promontory is known as Excommunication Point.
Once through the passage we headed south past the sheer limestone cliffs of Sardinia’s north-west coast, which is threaded with miles of natural tunnels. The unimaginatively named Neptune’s Grotto is one of the]]>
In the early 1970s Mediterranean sailing was considered the privilege of the rich. Few UK boats ventured as far, and the concept of bare-boat chartering still seemed implausible. Against this background the idea of flotilla holidays emerged – economical sailing holidays in locally-berthed boats, where a crew was always on hand to help, and eyeball navigation in warm, tideless waters took away much of the risk.
The Ionian Sea was the font for many of today’s charter operators, and one of the oldest is Sailing Holidays, run by Barrie and Heidi Neilson. Their offices are in Willesden, a residential London suburb where the improbable location is made almost surreal by a sign on their door advertising vacancies for flotilla engineers and crew. Barrie is a large, friendly New Zealander, who in true antipodean style, raises outspokenness into an art. Even after thirty years in Britain, he still considers the British as “you”. When I suggested that such a leafy suburb was an unlikely place to find suitably qualified staff, he immediately laid out his stall. “Kiwis and Aussies live in the flats down the road and they’re the only trades people left. You don’t train them in England. You’re giving people certificates, whereas down there they still have apprenticeships, marine engineering electronics, fibre-glassing – you name it.”
Barrie sometimes appears to regard his business almost as a crusade against the establishment. “One of the classics I had three years ago was this guy rang up and said he’d love to do one of those flotilla holidays. So I said: ‘Have you got any sailing experience?’ and he said, ‘Well I used to sail dinghies as a kid but the whole of my working life I’ve been too busy to think about sailing’. So I said: ‘What did you used to do during your working life?’ He said: ‘I’m a ship’s captain’. I don’t believe what I’m hearing! This guy had been conditioned that one can’t go sailing without a certificate. If people turn up with a certificate, what does it really say? If people turn up and say, ‘I’m a tradesman, I can fix engines and can do this, and can do that’ it says: ‘skilled man’.
“When I started we were all new; all green as grass. Our clients were very much English people, couples, families, and lots of singles. The other thing that we got on our kind of sailing was women. All sorts of women. Most practical people can do it quite easily – there are no tides, there’s no compass variations, no complications like you have around the UK of bad weather, none of the difficulties. But the combination of blazer brigade, the weather in England, the whole general scene didn’t encourage any women to go sailing at all – it actively discouraged them.”
Barrie regards his clients almost as family – hardly surprising, perhaps, considering that he married one of them. “In the early days it was a younger group of people, and the same people are still coming with us twenty years later, but bringing their kids. We reckon between 67 and 70 percent are repeat business.” With typically robust confidence he adds, “They only go to the other one once.”
In spite of the company’s steady growth for more than two decades, Barrie still gives the impression he’s a pioneer, but his story is the story of chartering, and is one worth telling. He settles in his chair and starts fiddling with a ruler. “I used to road-race motor bikes, that was my big thing until I realised I was mortal. Then a mate of mine asked me to sail round the world with him in an old concrete boat – that was 1974 – and I thought: Why not? We didn’t go round the world, but had a great trip for a year. Up the east coast of New Zealand, we sailed out of Bluff – no one sails out of Bluff – then across to Australia. In those days we didn’t have any money. We couldn’t find enough girls to volunteer to steer the boats, so we borrowed a welder, shaved down a plank with a plane and managed to get some mild steel and made it. We made everything. Mini tyres painted white for fenders.” He laughs at the memory. “Mini-tyres are very under-rated because they made terrific sea anchors – a couple of holes in the bottom to let the water out and just a rope through the top. We only ever used them once but we really needed them. We were going backwards at 4 knots and had eight of them off the bow. It was survival.
“Then I came to see what was happening in England. I was only 28 and I didn’t have any plans. I built a ferro boat down in Dorset and taught swimming to raise the funds. I used to commute down to Wimbourne and raid the skips for hardwood – everything was acquired from skips. So it’s my first boat and I wrecked it in the end in France, which was an excellent job application advertisement. I wrote it off in 1978 and then got a job as a flotilla engineer with Flotilla Sailing Club in Gouvia. In those days it was just a swamp. It’s only become a marina in the last 15 years.”
He shows me the company’s pilot notes, of which he’s very proud. “In a way, Rod Heikell’s manuals came from this era, and his have evolved for the general public whereas as ours has evolved specifically for our clients. Rod was our opposite number in Falcon, and Joe Charlton was there as well. Frances [Frances Burdett-Coutts Barrie’s General Manager] started the same day as I did, in 1979, then he went on to work for Sunsail in Corsica and Sardinia, and came back about ten years ago. So there’s quite a gang of ex-flotilla crews from that era still involved in the industry one way or another. It was a great adventure: I literally had to look up where Greece was on the map: remember I’d just come from New Zealand.”
Flotilla Sailing was started by Tom King, a businessman who was looking for something for his sons to do. “They didn’t care what it was as long as it was on a yacht and down in the Greek islands,” said Barrie “They had visions of getting a 80 footer and swanning about with lots of girls and living happily every after. But Tom wasn’t stupid. He came across a fella’ called Des Pollard down in Southend, who was building Jaguars and said to him: “Right, I want twelve this year and twenty-four next year.” Des nearly fell off his chair. Tom called his sons and told them there were twelve boats going to arrive in northern Italy on such and such a day; go and get them and sail them down to Greece.”
Over the next three years the fleet increased from twelve to thirty-six boats. But then Des Pollard, Jaguar’s builder, decided to have a go himself, and gave Barrie a job running a flotilla along the Florida Keys. “I used to get £80 a week, so it was twice the money. It was fantastic; I really enjoyed it. In those days you’d fly over, have a week’s sailing, and then go up to Disneyland for a week.” But the owner couldn’t make it pay and when Tom King asked Barrie if he wanted to take a fleet of Jaguars up to Yugoslavia, Barrie responded in true Kiwi style and replied: “Where?”
“So I went down to Greece and picked up seven Jags and took them up to Yugoslavia. A lot of fun. I met Heidi there in ’83. She came on holiday and decided I needed sorting out. We ran that through ’83 and ’84 then Tom sent us to pick up some new Bénéteaux. Heidi and I ran this whole flotilla up and down the whole Ionian for a year.”
GRIB files - what are they?
With the vast amount of information now available from weather satellites, the World Meteorological Organisation set a standard to allow such information to be gridded and referenced to latitude and longitude. Until recently analysis of this information was a very expensive business and the compiled information was only available to heavily sponsored ocean racers with huge budgets. But almost without noticing, this information is now accessible through the Internet at minimal or even no cost.
GRIB files (GRIdded Binary files) provide a standard format in which weather data can be archived and exchanged. A range of meteorological information, including wind, pressure, temperature – even wave heights – can be downloaded from satellites and buoys. By extrapolating a series of readings taken over a period of time, the data can be used to produce forecasts for up to seven days ahead. Although earlier suppliers of GRIB data used professional forecasters to interpret the data manually, systems have now reached a stage where, once established, the software is entirely automatic. “Other companies used to use forecasters,” says Clive Hepper of MovingWeather.com. “But this involved an enormous cost which made it uneconomic for the end user. At Moving Weather we use our own software and a very high level of skill to sift the data and get it down to a manageable size.”
Although the GRIB information itself has achieved a high degree of standardisation, the format in which the resultant information is displayed varies widely from a very simple superimposition over geographical outlines, to integration into complete charting systems. Euronav, one the earliest entrants into computerised charting, introduced a facility to handle weather information into their SeaPro programme in 2001. Their system, in common with others, including Raymarine’s Raytech charting software, then takes the information a stage further allowing it to calculate routeing suggestions of considerable sophistication. The user first enters what is effectively the boat’s polar speed diagram – a record of boat speed at different points of sailing in different strength winds. From the forecast calculated from the GRIB files, the software can work out the likely wind strength and direction to be encountered, calculate the theoretical boat velocity which results, and then work out which route is likely to offer the fastest passage.
Although Euronav doesn’t produced their own GRIB files, both they and Moving Weather claim a high level of accuracy from the forecasts. But the two are fundamentally different. Clive Hepper explains that their own system is a stand-alone, dedicated weather provider. It does not offer route planning and is not reliant on expensive charting systems. For just £59 they will provide unlimited downloads for 12 months (15 months if purchased at the Boat Show). A new product that they’re also launching at London is a GPRS connection for an on-board laptop. Instead of using a standard mobile phone, they’re offering a PCMCI card (that’s the one that goes into the slot in the side) using its own pre-paid SIM card which will allow up to 1megabyte of downloads per month, with a typical GRIB download of 7kb. Moving Weather also offer an amplifier which will double the range of a mobile, making few places in the Mediterranean out of reach.
Euronav’s standard charting software starts at £450.00 which includes a simple route planning system , although a performance sailing module is available for a further £200.00. Charts start at £100.00 for a complete UK and Eire waters pack.
www.MovingWeather.com; Tel:0870 8610032
www.euronav.com; Tel: 02392 373855
Many people will never forget the shock of their first bill after using their mobile for international roaming. Subscribers not only pay for the international cost of incoming calls, but they can also pay for three international calls if they don’t turn off their voice mail before leaving home. The EU has recently announced an investigation into the high cost and comparisons can be seen on their website www.europa.eu.int/information_society. Many cruising people recommend buying SIM cards locally, with the main advantage being that the caller carries all the charges for the incoming call, but such a purchase can often be a cumbersome and time-consuming procedure.
GYM Yacht mobile is offering a new pre-pay SIM card which they claim is ideal for international roaming. Registered in Lichestein, there is no tax to pay and no recurring charges. In most countries their standard charge for both local and international calls is Euro 0.39 and incoming calls are charged to the caller. They also provide free voicemail and message recovery is charges at the same rate.
For Mederrranean boaters, another product of interest is Moving Weather’s mobile amplifier. Details of this company’s weather products can be seen opposite, but the recently-launched amplifier doubles the signal of mobile signals, which can mean that most Mediterranean passages can remain mostly within range.
Tek-Dek takes on teak
The sparkling teak decks admired by the new owner at a boat show soon become a distant memory. The bright planking quickly fades to a dull grey and within a few years can even start to shrink. In hot climates they become too hot to walk on, and there’s always the lingering knowledge that the whole deck might need replacing within 10 to 15 years.
When so much of a modern boat is made using synthetic materials, which should decking be any different? After all, on a GRP boat it’s not as though it still performs any practical function since it’s laid over the fibreglass, rather than being a structural element laid over wooden supports.
Tek-Dek introduced a man-made alternative several years ago, but has recently upgraded its flexible composite to become almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It is impervious to seawater, sun and is impressively non-slip. It is also a fraction of the cost of real teak with no environmental effects. Tek-Dek has now launched its new “Professional” range which is aimed at the boat builder, and has carried out a number of trial installations. Will teak decks on a production boat go the same way as wooden hulls?
Tacktick has been producing collar-powered wireless instruments for nearly a decade now, but somehow it’s taken that long before their advantages have come to a wider market. Imagine replacing your masthead anemometer without having to replacing the wiring. The Tacktick wind transmitter needs no connections and has its own built-in solar panel.
Launching at the Boat Show is the new Micronet remote unit which can display all a boat’s functions in a choice of format. A new wireless NMEA interface can transmit data e even if the boats central systems are by another manufacturer. Apart from the ease of installations and no requirement for batteries, the units leave the factory completely sealed , to offer exceptional reliability.
www.tacktick.com; Tel: 02392 453351
Although Israel and Egypt have had a peace agreement for many years, this has been less effective on the ground than on paper and our neighbours, both to the north and south, have been simply out of bounds. But sailing and sailors have different agendas to those of politicians. The MedRedRally was to take us from Tel Aviv into Egypt, down through the Suez Canal and then back up to Eilat in Israel.
Charts were ordered, Pilot book purchased, GPS programmed and there in front of us were 600 miles of excitement, challenge, new- and old-worlds. The mayor of Tel Aviv set off the cannons, and we headed off for Port Said, the entry point to the Suez Canal. The seas were rough but the sailing was good until later in the day when we eventually found ourselves forced to motor.
We berthed at Port Said, all 50 yachts together, on anchor and tied stern-to, and found a wonderful reception committee. The authorities couldn’t have been more helpful, the paperwork was completed in record time and before we could say “Salam”, we were in the city, wandering through the market place. This was a real surprise for all of us. The people could not have been friendlier and were amazed to hear that we’d come in from Israel, by yacht. We bought falafel, hand-made in a huge vat of boiling oil, served in freshly baked pita bread, baked on the premises, and all for next to nothing.
A problem with the paperwork meant that we couldn’t leave the next day as planned, but we got a slot for sailing at 07.00 the following day. The canal doesn’t allow sailing at night and yachts have to stop at Ismailia for the night, but the authorities realized that we’d lost a day, so they closed the canal to other traffic and allowed us to continue straight to Suez where we arrived around midnight. We must have been the largest number of yachts to pass through the canal at one time.
After a fascinating visit to Cairo and the Pyramids, we returned to tackle the Gulf of Suez. Although there are defined sailing lanes for up and down passages, there is so much activity in this narrow gulf that a careful lookout is needed. There are oil rigs, shore lights, huge tankers and container vessels, as well as tugs and oil service vehicles, not to mention the multiple coral reefs on both sides of this gulf. If all this were not enough we had the storm of the year. Winds were gusting up to 50 knots, with four to five meter waves, sometimes as short as two boat lengths. Unfortunately at this point I made a novice’s error by not reefing in time, and found myself struggling with the roller jib in total darkness. The reefing line had somehow become jammed, and suddenly one of the stays of the main mast vibrated itself loose and began to swing violently in the wind. Knowing that I was about to lose the mast, I secured all the free halyards to support it, but it was here that the confidence of being in a rally kicked in. I knew there were boats close to us who could help if necessary. At Sharm el Sheikh we cut the away sail, and were able to spend the next day snorkelling at Sharks Bay where the abundance of fish and the beauty of the coral are simply fantastic.
We now faced the 100 mile trip through the narrow straits of Tiran and up the Gulf of Akaba to Eilat, where we were met with huge waves and 40 knots of wind on the nose. Suddenly we saw a red distress flare about 300 meters to our right. Almost simultaneously we heard the mayday distress call, and saw a further flare burning on the stern of the boat in trouble. Linda our lead boat, a 52ft steel-hulled vessel, went in to rescue the crew, who had already evacuated to the life raft. The whole operation was over in 20 minutes. Dragon Lance, their 45ft home-built wooden boat couldn’t take the pounding of these seas, and had split apart in one of the violent down thrusts.
A second boat Smadar reported water entering where the bow thruster had dislodged in the heavy seas and punched a three-inch hole in the hull. Immediate assistance was offered, and a heavy duty bilge pump kept her afloat until they were able to staunch the water flow. The seas continued to pound us, so 25 yachts decided to seek refuge at Dahab for the night, where we anchored safely. The next morning, with the seas much calmer, we finally made our way to Eilat where our reception was outstanding. In a flash the whole sailing saga was forgotten, and the tale of the sail began.]]>
Sea views and property news
Of all the Caribbean islands,Grenada is one of the least commercially developed. So beguiling are its palm fringed islands, turquoise seas, azure skies and tropical air that many are keen to buy into their very own “island in the sun”. The island’s haunting beauty and its welcoming population, has encouraged a sizeable number of foreign nationals, largely from the U.K. and North America to become permanent or part-time residents.
The island boasts mountains, forests and a dazzling coastline, but it is the many indented bays of the South Coast that are the star attractions. The prime residential areas are Lance aux Epines, True Blue, Fort Jeudy and Westerhall Point where building lots go for around U.S.$2.00-5.00 (£1.15 - £2.90) a square foot or about $44,000-98,000 (£26,000 - £56,000) for half an acre depending on location and proximity to the water. The large individually built homes in the area tend to be in “colonial tropical style”, often in wood with large wrap-around verandas. Most are painted in gentle pastels but a substantial number are decorated with the locally popular bright colours from deep turquoise to hot orange. Those currently on the market are for sale by private owners rather than developers such as the 5-bedroom fully furnished property set in ¾ of an acre with breathtaking views over Westerhall Point at US$390,000 (£230,000). Prices have risen following Hurricane Ivan, but are now stabilising.
Tapping into local knowledge is the best way to get the most attractive properties at the keenest prices but for visitors that is easier said than done. Unlike many other Caribbean islands at present there are no purpose built condominiums or gated developments although several are either under construction or in the planning stages. One such is Virgin Bay next door to Horizon Yacht in True Blue Bay. The new marina will have 80 berths and the developers plan to cut through from the beach to create a lagoon with further berths for residents in the proposed encircling houses and apartments. At Prickly Bay a popular area with easy access to the capital St George’s, the area around the marina is being developed by Prickly Bay Waterside Limited. The development will include extensions to the berthing, allowing space for 120 boats. Jutting out into the bay will be 7, 5-bed 5-bathrooom “Marine” houses designed to look like boat prows thrusting into the water. Phase 1 is due for completion in 2006.
Several bays to the East is Egmont Point, a beautiful peninsular reached across a new bridge. An infrastructure of roads and services has been laid out allowing access to the lots dotted around the bay and on the hillsides amongst the trees. As all seashore in Grenada is public property the developers have chosen to create a landscaped walking and jogging track along the seafront. A protected inner bay provides a calm, if shallow anchorage for boat owners. Egmont Point is intended to be not just a winter haven, but as a year round community. The developers have negotiated special deals to help qualified purchasers finance their chosen lots.
Foreigners are able to buy property in Grenada upon payment of the Alien’s Landholding Tax (currently 10% of the selling price). The procedure is simple, but is usually undertaken by a solicitor. Whilst the formalities are minimal, the process can take up to 3 months to complete. All property owners must pay an annual property tax as well as a transfer tax on the sale of the property.
Swansea Bay may not be tropical but it’s a hot spot for property. The new Swansea Point development located in the Maritime quarter next to the marina in an area with many shops, bars and restaurants, has attracted a lot of interest and substantial sales. Some of the properties engage with the town whilst others have spectacular views of the River Tawe and Swansea Bay. Once completed the 5-stage development now in its second phase will offer 600 new homes. All the apartments in St Christopher’s Court the first stage of the development have already been sold, with only 6 town houses remaining. 50% of the apartments in St Catherine’s Court the next stage have already been reserved off-plan even before their prices have been released. St Catherine’s also includes a stylish row of townhouses. “ The number of purchaser buying off-plan and even before they know how much the property will really cost is testament to the unique nature of this development, ”says Sharon Robinson, sales director for Persimmon Homes Wales. “It’s particularly surprising since we don’t have a show home at present so visitors have only been able to view a model of the development.” A show town house will open in January. Prices currently start at £160,500 for a 2 bedroom flat and £242,000 for a four-bed townhouse.
Those seeking a smaller scale more exclusive development should look at the carefully designed Dart Marina just along the riverside from Dartmouth. This delightful town has terrific restaurants and speciality shops and is a centre for sailing. There is a great variety of day cruising as well as easy access to the Channel Islands and Brittany. Importantly for yachties, Dart Marina has 110 pontoon berths. The development of 10 town houses and a range of apartments overlooks the Dart and its myriad of boats. Whilst the exteriors are designed to blend with local architecture using local slates, flagstones, granite sets and cobbles, the interiors are modern and are Smart Home Enabled, using sophisticated domestic systems to control lighting, telephones, computer and network entertainments, security appliances and heating. A one-bedroom apartment starts at £435,000 and a 2-bed townhouse at £945,000.
No Man’s Land Fort
For those who seek even more seclusion No Man’s Land Fort in the Solent is once again on the market. One of 4 forts built following the 1859 Royal Commission, it was designed to defend Portsmouth from the French. Made of massive granite blocks, the upper walls are covered in armour plating. In the 1990’s the fort was bought and converted into a private residence, but was then transformed into a 21-bed room hospitality venue of over 65,000 square feet. There is a fully glazed observatory with spectacular views of the Solent, dining areas, indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, gym, and a roof garden. The fort is served by its own water supply, generator and 2 heli-pads, as well as a landing stage and a winch for certain scale marine craft. “It could,” says Luke Hawkesbury of the agents Savills, “depending on planning permission once again be transformed into as private home. It is truly a world of its own.” Savills is inviting offers and despite enormous interest it has not yet been sold.
Grenada Egmont Development
For individual properties
Prickly Bay Waterside Development
0870 111 0047
020 8605 9530
Marketing suite 01792 465 002
No Man’s Land
020 7499 8644
Oyster Chairman dismasted in ARC
At the end of the first week of this year’s ARC Richard Matthews, owner and chairman of Oyster Marine, was dismasted when taking part in his new 72-foot Oyster, Oystercatcher XXV. He was sailing with a crew of 11 in a confused sea when, at 2.00am, there was “a loud bang, a sound like a thunderclap,” he says. “We could see a massive structural failure. We were reaching in 15 knots of wind and the mast was swaying and we could see that it was going to come down. What we didn’t want was for [it] to come down on the boat with the potential damage to the boat and the crew. We furled the genoa, let go the back-stays clevis pins, cut both sets of shrouds with an angle grinder and let the mast go over the forward port side of the vessel. We did think of trying to save it but it was too dangerous and not necessary. We knew we had enough fuel, so we motored back to the Cape Verde Islands. Fortunately no one was hurt.”
Oystercatcher XXV is still down in the islands and will be shipped to the Caribbean shortly. The carbon mast was made by Formula Spars of Lymington. “The jury is still out on what happened to the mast,” adds Richard Matthews, “but Formula are making a new one which will be shipped out to Antigua and we hope to be sailing again by the end of February.”
Oystercatcher was one of a number of boats taking a more southerly route to avoid the effects of tropical storm Delta. “It’s been a rally of two halves,” said Jeremy Wyatt of World Cruising, organisers of the Rally. “It was very light at the beginning, with lots of motoring for the 224 starters, but after the first week the trade winds settled down and boats are now finishing with a flourish.”
Richard’s namesake, Mark Matthews, also had severe problems when he faced the anguish of abandoning his Sweden 42 Caliso after problems with her keel box. Following discovery of the leak, he changed course and started motoring for Cape Verde, but in a freshening breeze the skipper became concerned that the keel might suddenly fall off and capsize the boat. He made the decision to abandon ship and several other ARC competitors stood by until the crew were taken on board by a bulk carrier, Endless. The crew has now arrived safely in the US while a tug has since towed Caliso to Cape Verde.
The competition in our last issue, held in association with La Perla Living, was a great success. The prize, a week for two in Antigua, was won by Sue Drew of Somerset, who reacted with delight when we told her the news.
“I picked up a copy of Cruising World at the Southampton Boat Show and thought I might as well enter the competition. It’s quite a coincidence that I work at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office where I edit three of their cruising and communication guides. This often involves telephone or e-mail contact with marinas in some beautiful parts of the world, but I never expected to be visiting any of those places for real. As the prize is for two people, my husband, who also works at the UKHO, was equally delighted when I told him where our next year’s holiday would be.”
Sue edits the Hydrographic Office’s cruising guides for the UK and Mediterranean, Baltic and the Caribbean, so she should have a pretty good idea what to expect when she arrives in Antigua.
Hope still alive for red diesel
There was relief in the UK’s boating world when Gordon Brown announced in his Pre-Budget Report that he “is minded” to extend the existing regulations to allow continued use of red diesel for pleasure boating. The special arrangements permitting the use of low-duty fuel have been an important boost for the domestic boating industry, which has been lobbying the Chancellor to keep the arrangements against opposition from Brussels.
In a joint statement, the RYA and BMF welcomed the Government’s statement but added, “We are conscious that this battle is not over yet. The next step is to persuade the EU Commission to accept the UK’s application to renew the derogation and that is a significant challenge. We will continue to work together with the UK Government to put forward the strongest possible case to win the argument in Europe.”
Red Sea update.
The high profile given to the recent pirate attack on a cruise ship off Somalian coast has revived concern about yachts in this region. Although the attacks were off the east coast of Somalia, considered a no-go area for yachtsmen, there is some evidence that pirates are now operating anything up to 100 miles offshore. The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur deals principally with commercial shipping and yachts do not often make contact. Much of the information is therefore anecdotal and many people make the passage without incident, thereby giving undue prominence to people who do experience problems (see Thane Roberts’ article on page 26). Confirmed reports form the waters off Venezuela suggest that these waters are, if anything, more dangerous than the Red Sea passage.
Noonsite.com has recently announced that it will help co-ordinate convoys assembling in Salalah, Oman.
2005 SailAsia Rally
The new SailAsia Rally has been guaranteed sponsorship by Tourism Malaysia for the next ten years. Building on the previous success of the Darwin-Indonesia rally, SailAsia’s new management have extended the route to end at Telaga Harbour Marina on the island of Langkawi, on Malaysia’s north-western coast. This year some 32 of the yachts arrived at Telaga in time for for the official welcoming ceremony (above), provided by the Rally’s joint sponsors, Telaga Harbour Park.
“We hope the Rally will become an automatic choice in the cruising calendar when considering visiting South East Asia,” said Alistair Campbell, Director of SailAsia. “There’s a need by cruisers to have an organised infrastructure which gives them a focal point. We’re also looking at the possibility of extending the rally to Langkawi from other parts, perhaps even the Mediterranean or Middle East.” Many of the cruisers were starting to plan their next passage across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, where they hoped to be able to form a convoy (see opposite).
At the World Travel Mart in London, Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism, Dr. Leo Michael Toyad, told Cruising World that his government is now taking cruising income very seriously and hopes to encourage visiting yachtsmen by sponsorship such as SailAsia. They are also working on plans to upgrade and expand the country’s marina facilities in the hope that Malaysia will soon become established as a recognised cruising area.
The ceremony also gave the opportunity to the German members of the rally to present a cheque for RN17,000 (£2,600) to the head of the nearby Langkawi fishing village that was severely damaged by the Christmas tsunami. The money was raised by a series of auctions held in Germany, and was handed over by the organiser, Hans Schubert, of the catamaran Cinderella.
The 2006 SailAsia Rally will leave Darwin on the 22nd July and is expected to arrive in Telaga by the 27th–29th November. Although the final itinerary has not yet been fixed, registrations of interest can be emailed to www.sailindonesia.net]]>
I started sailing myself just fifteen years ago – hitching a ride on yachts was simply a way to travel. Eventually I started employing people, although it’s hard to define exactly at what point it became a business. We’ve now been a limited company for nine years, when we probably had around half a dozen skippers. Four years later we had over a dozen and now I find it incredible to think that, as I write this, we have more than fifty crews at sea in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans – an all-time record.
Our business is now an integral part of new boat sales and 60% of it involves delivering a new boat to the customer direct from the builder’s factory. The rest is split between brokerage sales and relocating a boat from one cruising ground to another for private owners. Our deliveries to North America probably account for nearly fifty percent with the balance split between the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
Sailors sail for the sheer joy and thrill of sailing. Our delivery skippers and crew must therefore be the luckiest people on the water, earning their living doing what they do best and delight in most. But professional yacht delivery involves a great deal more than simply getting a boat from A to B. For many private owners, their new boat will be the first time they’ve owned a vessel of its type and there will be much to learn about its handling and individual personality.
When we deliver a new yacht, we prepare an exhaustive checklist of every part of the boat. Depending on the nature of any faults, some repairs may have been carried out on board and the boat is often delivered in better condition than when we collected her. The rest will be reported to the factory to enable replacement parts to be fitted before final hand-over.
Manufacturers also benefit from early recognition of even the slightest design flaw and can modify future production accordingly, resulting in longer-term improvements.
Most of these problems are small, but very occasionally a monster crisis occurs. One professional skipper will never forget the day when, a third of the way into his Atlantic crossing, he investigated the source of a faint noise from the stern which didn’t sound promising. A less experienced sailor might have ignored such early warning signs; thankfully he didn’t. Instead he discovered the rudder fixing disintegrating fast and was able to construct a jury rig as an emergency measure to prevent the rudder from being lost into the ocean. The yacht was still in dire straits however, so continue the crossing or turn back? Our guy decided to turn back and also set in motion a rescue alert with the UK coastguard. He, his crew and the boat all returned safely.
Although it’s said that worse things happen at sea, land operations aren’t immune to unforeseen circumstances. Only recently the skipper in charge of a delivery from the UK to the Mediterranean broke his leg while ashore in Portugal. Fortunately we located another one just three hours away, who was able to continue the voyage.
Reliable contacts and support are key to successful deliveries. For example, we know the procedure for expediting passage through trickier areas such as the Panama Canal. We also depend extensively on an independently operated weather routing system, which allows us to plan departures to coincide with the most favourable conditions. This system is unaffected by commercial pressures to deliver a boat quickly. If it tells us not to go, we don’t.
Owners are welcome to accompany the crew for the full trip or just part of it and can often gain invaluable knowledge about the handling of their boat. They can also receive expert tuition in navigation and meteorology, all of which helps build confidence and skill for their future sailing adventures. If sharing the delivery doesn’t appeal, then owners can follow the daily progress of their pride and joy from home. Advanced communications technology means that our Internet tracking feature usually works extremely well, although it has sometimes had its drawbacks when occasional ‘blips’ cause owners to panic that their yachts have sunk!
Sailing will always involve the ingrained pleasure of mastering wind and tide in the exploration of new horizons. Yes, delivering a client’s yacht is work, but it’s also the gateway to infinite possibilities, memories and magical experiences, like being tightly escorted by a pod of three humpback whales at seven knots. Give me this job any day.
Nick Irving can be contacted at Reliance Yacht Management:
Tel: 01252 378239; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the last day on our chartered catamaran in Grenada. Moana Rua lay calmly at anchor just off the palm-fringed beach of Petit Bacaye, and we were sitting among the hibiscus in the garden of this tiny hotel, indulging in the most popular local pastime: doing nothing much in particular. After a week’s energetic navigation around the southern Grenadines, we’d gone local and were simply liming.
But Jacqui, our host at Horizon Yacht Charters, might not have been so relaxed about the scene. Although the south coast of Grenada consists of a string of wonderful bays, largely protected from the prevailing wind and sea, they are also protected by a labyrinth of unmarked coral reefs. Although these are generally quite easy to see in the right light, in bad weather some of the bays can be quite dangerous to enter, and charterers are generally only allowed to venture in after a detailed briefing from an experienced skipper. Our weather, however, had been almost perfect throughout the week. In late November the rainy season still wasn’t completely over, but we’d had only a few heavy showers, and otherwise the wind had stayed between 10 and 15 knots with a calm sea to match. The strong winds of late December (the so-called Christmas Winds) had yet to arrive, but the breeze was sufficient to keep us comfortable in spite of temperatures of around 30ºC.
Jacqui and her husband James established the Horizon operation in Grenada just 5 years ago. Working with the new owners of a small hotel in True Blue Bay, they built a dock with access to the floating pontoons directly from the hotel restaurant. Their initial fleet of three boats has now grown to fifteen, ranging from 38-foot Bavarias to 42-foot Fountaine Pajot catamarans. The setting is exceptional. True Blue resort is located in what used to be the mangrove swamps fringing the old sheep farms which made up Grenada’s south west tip where the international airport on Point Salines is now situated. A night in this peaceful hotel allowed us to recover from the flight before moving onto the boat the next day. Moana Rua is a Venezia 42 catamaran with generous accommodation for six in three cabins. It was the first time we’d been on a catamaran and we became increasingly impressed with her as the week wore on. But first: the briefing.
Horizon takes this aspect of chartering very seriously: filling in a sheaf of forms recording previous experience, along with a detailed summary of the boat’s condition. After the paperwork is completed, a briefing on the cruising area can either be given while still moored, or for a supplemental charge, they offer what they call an express check-out service where a local skipper carries out the briefing while underway to Carriacou (pronounced Ka-ra-coo) – a day-long sail north to Grenada’s second island. Our skipper, George, was not only highly knowledgeable about the local waters, which he had sailed from childhood, but had extensive experience throughout the Caribbean as well as having a number of transatlantic crossings to his credit. To comply with the increasing trend to formalised qualifications, three years ago he’d passed a Yachtmaster course, which, rather perversely, I thought, he took in the Solent. He told us that he’d only recently warmed up again.
George was also experienced in knowing how to leave the charterer in charge, while at the same time keeping control over the boat. At no time did I feel that I wasn’t participating fully, and was allowed to choose my own inshore route so that we could inspect Grenada’s west coast from closer to. With the prevailing winds between north and east, this offers the island’s longest and most protected beaches, including Grand Anse Bay, just south of the capital St. George’s. The centre of St. George’s is the Carenage, a wonderful Georgian waterfront surrounding a protected basin which is sadly underused. There were plans at one stage to turn this into a Caribbean St. Tropez, allowing boats to moor stern-to the quayside with associated waterside bars, restaurants and shops. Sadly nothing came of this, and the main anchorage for visiting yachts is the adjacent lagoon beyond the commercial shop dock. This is the home of the Grenada Yacht Club, which welcomes visitors, although dock space is limited and most boats anchor off. The Lagoon has a rather run-down feel, although this is likely to change if plans to redevelop the site and build a full-service marina are approved. Certainly the area has great potential to become an international yachting centre of considerable charm.
Overlooking both bays is Fort George, established initially in the seventeenth century, it changed hands several times between the French and the British until the end of the Napoleonic wars. It also played its part in Grenada’s more recent history. Following Maurice Bishop’s Marxist coup in 1979, it became the headquarters of the People’s Revolutionary Army. Four years later, Bishop himself was overthrown and put under house arrest by factions of his own government, but a popular uprising stormed his house and freed him. Later, Bishop was recaptured and taken back into the Fort’s central citadel where, along with half his cabinet colleagues, they were lined up against the wall and shot. For those with an interest in the macabre, the bullet holes can still be clearly seen below the plaque commemorating the event. This led directly to the US invasion which restored Grenada to democracy, but the people still remember Bishop with fondness and respect, and are grateful for the significant improvements he made to the country’s educational and health systems, which still endure. Ironically on top of Richmond Hill, facing the fort, is the jail which houses the 17 revolutionaries convicted of murdering Bishop and his cabinet colleagues.
The prisoners were amongst the few for whom Hurricane Ivan in 2004 appeared as a good thing. In common with 90% of Grenada’s buildings, the prison roof blew off, allowing nearly half of the inmates to escape. Although Ivan devastated the island at a time when the country was slowly starting to recover, Grenadians have fought back with remarkable resilience, but after 49 hurricane-free years, there is no doubting the trauma that Ivan and this year’s smaller hurricane, Emily, caused. The more optimistic say that it was just the jolt that the country needed, and that it has emerged the stronger for it, although nutmeg production, which gives Grenada its soubriquet, Spice Island, will take several more years to recover, as will much of the local agriculture. Fresh fruit is still difficult to find.
George warned us to expect a lively passage as we left the shelter of Grenada heading for Carriacou, the country’s second island 30 miles away. First we had to pass ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ where the combination of wind and tide can get up a particularly nasty sea, of which the locals are justly proud. So much so, in fact, that when recent volcanic activity produced an underwater eruption just to the west, they also named it ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ and placed a 1.5 mile exclusion zone around it. Our own passage northwards, however, was uneventful as we grew accustomed to the easy movement of the boat, astonished that George made little effort at stowage. “It’s a catamaran,” he explained insouciantly.
The main anchorage in Carriacou is Tyrrel Bay, where dozens of boats were anchored for stays of varying durations. The bay is very sheltered and a new US$ 14 million marina developed is being built on the north shore. This will have space for 150 boats and associated facilities, and developers estimate that it will eventually provide jobs for over 100 people. The bay already has a small haul-out facility with a substantial 50 tonne travel lift on its southern end, with space for about 17 boats. The local yacht club is next door, and has an all-day restaurant, as well as a small shop, and it was in provisioning that we faced our first test. We had read so many reports about the nuisance of boat-boys that, as the brightly-coloured local boats approached, we were anxious that we would soon feel under siege. We need not have worried. The first offered ice and drinks, but we were well supplied with both and our refusal didn’t put him out at all, and he went away with a cheery wave. The second offered to catch a lobster for us the next morning. After a brief haggle we agreed a price and after that we were more or less left in peace. George’s favourite restaurant was shut for the day, but we were happy to eat on board, relishing the warm, starlit night.
Although the country always used to be known as Grenada and the Grenadines, perversely most of the Grenadine islands actually belong to neighbouring St Vincent. When planning for independence, the British bureaucrats simply drew a line along the top of Carriacou which still leaves some of the island in St. Vincent’s territory. The problem, if you’re on a boat, is that the officials’ love of paperwork is indulged at considerable inconvenience to a speedy passage between the two, and separate forms are required for clearing both in and out. The Grenadian Marine and Yachting Association has been lobbying the governments, and have now persuaded the authorities to accept a single form, which should be introduced shortly. As it was, we needed to call in to the adjacent Hillsborough Bay to clear out, but were glad we did so. It’s a genuine Caribbean town, with a leisurely pace and few concessions to holidaymakers, apart from a small tourist office. Dexter Lendore who runs it, made a particular point of asking me to mention the island’s annual regatta held at the end of July (www.carriacouregatta.com) which is an important and eagerly anticipated local event. The large wide bay is considerably more attractive than Tyrrel, but offers less shelter, which is a shame since it has a much greater feeling of community.
Armed with our departure papers from Grenada, we headed off for Clifton Harbour on Union Island where George was to clear us into St Vincent and then make his own way home. Having anchored in the small bay, we took the dinghy to the Anchorage Yacht Club next to the island’s airport. With commendable pragmatism, the Customs and Immigration offices, situated just at the end of the runway, deal with both boats and planes. Afterwards we sat at the Cub’s terrace and enjoyed our first fresh-fruit punch, before heading off for an anchorage by Petit St. Vincent, one of the many private islands of the Grenadines – Mustique being the best-known example. Rather than creating resentment among the locals, the visitors to these high-priced resort islands are seen as a source of employment and are made welcome. Their exclusivity is fortunately diluted by laws in both countries that permit public access to beaches up to a chain above the high water mark. This allows complete access to what must be one of the smallest islands, also owned by Petit St Vincent: a tiny area of sand looking like an upturned saucer, with nothing on it apart from a small thatched umbrella. We were told it had once been the location for an early Bounty Bar advertisement, and if it hadn’t, then it should have been.
Our anchorage was next door to Petite Martinique and George had reserved a table for us at the Palm Island, a family-run restaurant on the island’s sandy beach. Theoretically this involved going back into Grenada, but it appears that the position of Petite Martinique makes it an exception to the normal immigration requirements. Although the restaurant was easily accessible by dinghy, Brian, one of the owner’s sons, collected us in their locally-built speedboat. I imagine that the journey back to the boat has claimed a number of victims – if not of the reef in the middle of the channel, then of too many rum punches. Brian’s wife also works in the restaurant and he was obviously very proud of the family involvement and still had fresh memories of their wedding reception. “Here on Petite Martinique you don’t send out wedding invitations,” he told us. “Everyone on the island considers they’re invited and so we had several hundred people to feed.” His main preparation consisted of bringing a cow in on his boat from the Grenada. “It took me nearly four hours just to get her out of the boat and up the beach.”
We were now heading for the jewel of the Grenadines: the Tobago Cays. A horseshoe arrangement of coral reefs, several miles across, they lie just to the windward side of Mayreau Island. Mayreau itself is renown amongst cruisers for its extraordinary Saltwhistle Bay where the row of palms fringing the narrow isthmus at its head are seen in relief against the deep blue sky, and once through the reefs, the clear sandy bottom is lit up as though by aquamarine floodlighting. If you aren’t at anchor by lunchtime, there won’t be any room left to enjoy it. We were anxious to get to the Cays as soon as we could and skirted around Mayreau to enter the reefs from the north – the recommended passage. In fact we found pilotage very easy, not just because of the good light, but mainly because George had left us a palm-top chart plotter, which might have taken away some of the fun, but also made it much less likely that we’d have to fill in a damage report upon our return. Although there were dozens of boats, the anchorage was by no means full and we found a place just inside the horseshoe reef to windward. Having secured the anchor in the sand, we immediately jumped into the water while still putting on our snorkelling gear, and what a transformation! What from above the water appeared as rather muddy-green patches, was transformed into a luminous seascape of fantastic coral heads teeming with the most extraordinarily diverse marine life. We lost track of time until the light started to fade and we had to return reluctantly to the boat. Later that evening, with no land between us and Africa, we ate our lobster dinner under a star-filled sky of incomparable brilliance.
Just outside the horseshoe reef, we had admired what looked like God’s model for a desert island: Tabac Island; protected by its own boomerang-shaped reef, it appeared irresistible. The next morning, with one eye scanning the reefs and another the chart plotter, we edged our way carefully out through the south entrance to the Cays and turned towards the most pristine beach I’d ever seen. A narrow passage through the coral led us into a small sandy lagoon where we anchored in luminous water. We had not just the lagoon, but the whole island entirely to ourselves and if we hadn’t had a deadline for this article, I’d be there still.
Sadly, though, it was time to head back to our Grenadian base and we retraced our passage back to Union to clear out of St Vincent. After nosing around a while looking for a suitable anchorage, we spent the night just off Petite Martinique. Like Hillsborough on Carriacou, the island makes few concessions to tourism; the people here live and work on the sea: fishing, boat building, and – who knows? – even smuggling. Douglas Rourke is one of the island’s boat builders and the frame of a substantial boat is now almost complete, propped up literally yards from the beach. He told us that he’d only just started building when Ivan hit and blew all his timber out to sea. He then had to spend nearly a year mending his house before re-ordering all the timber and starting again this year. Just a few days later the second hurricane – Emily – once again blew away all his wood and he’d had to start again for the third time. He told us all this with a smile – it was just one of those things.
We returned to the boat and headed back south towards Grenada’s eastern coast. This was a run almost dead downwind, something catamarans don’t appear particularly fond of, but we were in no particular hurry and we treated it as a lazy day, reading and watching the mountains and rainforests of Grenada pass us by. By evening, we pulled into St. David’s Harbour, a protected anchorage on the island’s southern coast, we were had arranged to visit the customs and immigration office in the morning.
The Grenada south coast is a wonderful micro-cruising ground, with two bays, Port Egmont and Calvigny harbour, offering secure shelter and a hurricane hole in the mangroves. George told us that he and James brought the Horizon fleet here just before Ivan hit. Most of the bays were empty, although development increased as we approached Prickly Bay, which offers easy access to Grenada’s facilities, and has now become the island’s yachting centre, and base for the dozens of boats anchored here.
Following our explorations of the bays, we couldn’t resist spending our final few hours at the entrancing cove of Petit Bacaye. As we sat doing nothing on the beach, breathing in the rnage of scents and perfumes which pervade the island, we wondered for how long this string of glorious southern islands would remain so unspoilt and friendly. Grenada is the Caribbean as it used to be.]]>