Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fog Run To Gibraltar

 Hello to Everyone,
The Rock of Gibraltar, from the top
  Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol, Granada, famous names in the world of travel. We're in Gibraltar after having a little sample of what those places have to offer. And Gibraltar is very nice if a little more crowded with tourists than we expected. It seems the "season' is approaching full swing. And we did our share of tourist stuff today. 

Gibraltar, Queensway Quay Marina is left center
 We wandered the streets of the "town", the oldest part of the city. We took the cable car to the top of the rock, took many photos and played with the famous apes. These guys were a lot nicer than their cousins in Bali. We walked back down in the sun and after fifteen hundred feet of steps down the old knees were a tad shaky. We like Gibraltar.

Lots of very tame Macaques on the rock
Getting here from the point of our last blog update in Alicante had its moments of boredom and frustration, no shear terror, happily. Our luxury night at the Hospes Amerigo in Alicante proved to be just as nice as we had hoped and if that hotel is a fair example of what the Spanish 'Hospes' chain of hotels has to offer they are very good, if a little on the expensive side. We left Alicante with a very positive feeling about the city and the marina.

Alicante from the castle above
Cartagena was the next logical stop down the coast for a sailboat with no wind, another  nice, very historic Spanish coastal city. I haven't been going into the history of these places much because most of it is the same old thing. Prehistoric man, Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, religious wars, Napolianic wars, modern civil wars, world wars, etc, etc. How the human race manages to continue is sometimes beyond me. Cartagena has seen more of that then most places but still manages to be a very friendly and civilized city that was not over run with mass tourism. The city has one of the nicest pedestrian areas of town we've seen with lovely well preserved architecture.

On the street, Cartagena
From Cartagena the next stop was Garrucha about sixty miles down the coast. Garrucha proved to be no more than a place to stop for the night. The town has nothing to offer but the worst form of tourist ticky tacky and the 'new' marina should be considered the 'almost finished but probably never completely finished' marina. It was OK for a calm night or winds from the north but I wouldn't want to be in there with a southerly blowing. The 'old' marina is better protected but full of local boats and a few long term expat type yachts. We left early next morning without regret. It is relatively inexpensive at least.

Around the corner of the coast, the Cabo de Gata,  and into the Costa del Sol was Almerimar Marina and another convenient stop. But Almerimar, even though its main effort is real estate development, is a very well run and well protected marina that's really oriented towards cruising boats. It was a very good place to leave the boat for couple days and drive up to visit Granada and that's exactly what we did.
Miles and miles of plastic green houses
The drive itself was the first revelation. The roads were absolutely first class new divided highways. The coast seems to be a narrow plain that just a few miles inland rises steeply into the the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains which are the highest in Spain and, we were told many times, the highest in Europe other than the Alps. And that plain along the coast is almost completely covered with plastic green houses. Hundreds, maybe thousands of square miles of plastic green houses. I've never seen anything like it anywhere. They're growing fruit and veggies for all of Europe here and the place almost looks like its covered with snow. What a really big storm does would be interesting to see. Most of these green houses look pretty sturdy but I bet there's a lot of plastic lining the sea bottom along the Costa del Sol.
Girl stuff, Granada
Granada was a great visit. In 1492, the same year they commissioned Columbus to set out for the "Indies",  Ferdinand and Isabel took Granada back from the Moors finally ending seven hundred years of Moorish occupation of much of Spain.

Monument to Isabel and Columbus, Granada
They set in motion the building of the massive cathedral in Granada and are buried next to it in their own  church where the bodies are still interred in  the crypt beneath their monuments. The cathedral and other sites in Granada are well worth the visit but the reason to go to Granada is the Alhambra, the old Moorish castle and fortress above the city. 

The cathedral, Granada
The Alhambra is one of the most visited tourist sites in the world. We were told Spain gets sixty-eight MILLION tourists a year and more than two million a year tour the Alhambra. With good reason, it is a lovely palace/fortress complex in a lovely setting.The Moorish architecture and decoration is beautiful. The tourism is pretty well regulated and although it was very busy it wasn't completely over run and we could enjoy the tour. Get tickets in advance and get them for early in the day before the sun really does its thing. 

Gardens in the Alhambra
Interior courtyard
Ceiling decoration
The Alhambra at sunset
 It was over one hundred degrees in Granada that day and we were back in our hotel after the tour for a nice siesta well before that temperature occurred. We stayed at the Hotel Casa 1800 which is a 17th century mansion renovated very nicely into a lovely and very comfortable boutique  hotel in a great location, the Albayzin. If you go,  stay in the Albayzin, the old part of the city below the Alhambra, the area is worth the trip in itself.
The Albayzin
Entrance to our hotel

We returned to Almerimar and the weather looked like a flat calm motor to Gibraltar. There was nothing that interested us along the coast  and in a few days the wind was supposed to pick up and blow like stink directly on our nose. So it was either leave or wait another week in Almerimar. We left. And we did have flat calm conditions for most of the run, perhaps the flattest ocean I've ever seen. But we also had two to three knots of current against us most of the way. And that night we had FOG! The first fog we've seen since leaving the coast of California eight years and almost twenty three thousand miles ago! And there's plenty of shipping traffic coming through the strait into the Med so, since the visibility was often about zero, we were pretty much glued to the radar and AIS all night. The hope is always that there's no small craft out there with a poor radar return and no AIS. We certainly wouldn't have seen them until the last second. For those who don't know what AIS is, its a GPS based position reporting system that all commercial vessels are now required to have and many yachts use as well. There are several levels of AIS but we have one that sees other vessels, their course, name,speed, destination, type of vessel, etc, etc and gives a computed point of closest contact and warns if the vessel is likely to come within a selected warning zone. Other vessels see the same info on us. The greatest thing since radar!
The rock, rounding Europa Point
It all worked out, we didn't hit anything. As in aviation that is very important. We got into Gibraltar at the very nice Queensway Quay Marina where we intend to relax for a few days before setting out on a some more land travel in Spain and maybe Morocco. Thanks for following along.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Monday, July 13, 2015


It seems I've been neglecting the blog. The past couple weeks have become a bit of a blur. I once quoted a favorite book title to describe our Pacific travels,  "One Damned Island After Another". Here in the western Med it might be called, "One Damned Marina After Another", even though we have been doing some anchoring out most of the anchorages seem rather like marinas.
Janet, north coast of Ibiza
But there have been a couple significant milestones. First, tomorrow is the 14th of July,  Bastille Day, better known as the birthday of Janet Ryan Wickman back in 1955. That's right folks, please wish Janet a happy birthday for the big SIX-OH! Having  been there myself almost eight years ago I know how it feels. Nobody ever looked better or is sweeter than my lovely spouse.
Arriving Alicante, western hemisphere
And yesterday, about noon,  enroute from Denia to Alicante we crossed the prime meridian. We're back in the western hemisphere after seven years in the wilderness. The faithful old boat has crossed about two hundred and forty degrees of longitude since we departed Humboldt Bay,  most of it under sail, much the past couple years under power  and across the some of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea on the deck of a ship because of the pirate problem.

Modern palma
 We left Barcelona for what was an easy over night motor job back down to the Balearics. I especially wanted to see Palma since that was where my first European experiences began back in 1981. Unfortunately Palma was pretty much what I expected, very crowded and very touristy. Nothing except the cathedral was recognizable from thirty-four years ago. The cathedral itself is very large and some of it is very good but its not quite right in proportion and Gaudi did some stuff as part of a restoration  that just doesn't work. Its worth a visit someday but go in the off season. 

The cathedral, the good stuff, Palma
We did visit the town of Deia, the home for many years and burial place of one of my favorite authors, Robert Graves. Even at the height of the season Deia is still relatively unspoiled and very beautiful. Graves would be pleased.
Scholar, soldier, writer, poet. RIP Robert Graves
 From Palma, Mallorca it was a short day trip over to Ibiza, the main party island in the Balearics. We had a decent anchor out in Cala Portinatx and then, since Ibiza town was exposed to the prevailing southerly wind and since the marina wanted THREE HUNDRED EUROS a night for a berth for our boat, we went to Puerto San Antonio and anchored out. This town is the other big party place on the island. The bay side strip is rather a low life zoo. The sunset strip area is  nicer with some very expensive disco clubs and a rather chick scene. But things don't really start until midnight and then they go until everybody drops or ten in the morning, which ever comes first. We had dropped by ten in the evening and luckily the anchorage wasn't too noisy. I will say the north coast of Ibiza is spectacularly beautiful but we left Ibiza for the mainland without a tear

Cala Portinatx, Ibiza
So the port city of Denia seemed the most convenient place to start down the Costa Blanca. Denia is a nice town with a modern new marina. We did luck out and see the annual Denia parade which was quite an event. Miles of floats and marching bands with no particular theme we could ascertain. Just everyone having a good time. From Denia we motor sailed down here to Alicante yesterday.

The parade, Denia
Alicante seems very nice. The marina is very large and well organized. The city is a modern provincial capitol but has a large 'old town' with nice architecture and a lovely esplanade along the waterfront. It also has about the best hill top castle we've seen since Naphlion. And there's even a lift to the top, we'll go up there, maybe this morning. 

First evening in Alicante
And tonight we have a very nice hotel booked for a little luxury and a birthday celebration. Air conditioning! An endless shower! Maybe a tub! Happy Birthday Janet!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Plan 'B' to Barcelona

Truly an elegant city. That's our take on what we've seen of Barcelona in the past four days.
Along the Rambla, Barcelona
And we hadn't planned on coming here at all. Plan 'A' had been to work across the Balearics almost directly westwards to mainland Spain and then south along the coast to Gibraltar, eventually. But Barcelona beckoned only ninety miles to the north of Mallorca. And we had heard so many good things from family and friends who had visited the city, and Seabird was heading this way as well,  that it  seemed a good time for a little change of plan. After all, that's one of the 'joys' of this way of life, we can change our minds about things.

Departing Mahon
 So we're very comfortably berthed at Marina Port Vell in Barcelona. Marina staff are especially helpful and the facilities are down right fancy with one exception. This being that so far, in four days, the very new and spiffy marina club house hasn't been able to supply hot water to the men's showers. But I have hope, they seem concerned, we'll see. We're also getting a little outboard motor work done. After eight years the fuel supply hose and fittings are getting rotten plus the thing didn't want to run below about one thousand RPM. Barcelona, a city of several million with a very active maritime scene seemed like a good place for a little outboard overhaul. After two days of struggle with the marina contract outfit who handles all work done here I'm beginning to think I should have done it myself as usual. They promise results today. Again, we'll see.
Monument to Columbus at the city front
But enough whining. Its a great city with a culture that goes back to the Augustan age of Rome and has transitioned beautifully into the modern era. The marina district is a perfect location from which to enter the most beautiful part of the old city. The architecture  is lovely. From the wonderful and huge monument to Columbus on the city front to the marina district to the broad avenues full of very modern traffic to the narrow byways of the old city its mostly 13th-19th century stonework. 

Placa del Rei, where Fernando and Isabel received Columbus after his first voyage
Even the occasional recent structure is usually well integrated. We walked over ten miles around the city the first day we were here and haven't slowed much since. There are two very nice large Gothic churches and many others on a slightly smaller scale.

Interior, La Catedral
 There are many museums including the very excellent Picasso Museum dedicated mostly to his early work in Barcelona. The Rambla is considered the greatest street in Spain and is a wonderful  pedestrian avenue. The market off the Rambla, the Mecat de la Boqueria, is one of the most wonderful food markets we've ever prowled.

At the market
And Barcelona was the home of Antoni Gaudi's greatest obsession, the Expiatori la Sagrada Familia (Expiatory Temple of The Holy Family). The church is yet unfinished but is colossal in a very strange "Gaudi Gothic" and has to be seen to be believed. Much of the interior is finished, the central tower is yet to be completed to its full 170 meter height,  but its still a huge structure. Do I like it? Well……….hmmmmm……….it is unforgettable. It is awesome. I have to admire the man's vision and force of personality.

Facade, la Familia
Janet likes it. I sit in the nave and stare up into the arches and think that it would be better without the foo foo stuff. I love Gothic cathedrals. Chartres is my favorite. I cannot think other than that Gaudi just a little toooo egomaniacal or that he was not well served by those who took over the work after his death. There is lots of other Gaudi work in Barcelona. You come to this city, you need to visit his work. 
Interior, la Familia
We'll be here a few more days. The weather is against us leaving until about the fifth. In a week we can only begin to  know any great city. Barcelona is worth the visit on many levels and we did good coming up here. 

Landfall, Cabo de Formentor, Mallorca
The plan now is to head back to Mallorca and spend a couple days in Palma. It was a Mediterranean motor job on the way up and probably will be on the way down. Could be a lot worse. We did a couple anchor outs on Menorca and and Mallorca in nice bays, here called "calas",  before bailing for Barcelona and we'll do some more anchoring out after Palma before heading over to Ibiza and then the mainland
Taken from Seabird's drone, our anchorage at Cala San Vincente, Mallorca
Tonight its dinner with Seabird, we always enjoy their company, and tomorrow and the next day and the next day, we'll see some more of sweet Barcelona.

Sunrise enroute Barcelona

Love to all,
Bill & Janet