Thursday, August 27, 2015

Once Again We Cheat Death

That's aviation humor folks. Best said whilst hoisting a cold  libation with fellow pilots at a favorite water hole, in a great hotel,  nearly half way around the world from where they all started about sixteen hours previously. But it can apply in the cruising world as well. The camaraderie is a very big part of the pleasure.
The Rock of Gibraltar on departure
So we made it to the Canary Islands pretty much as planned. Four days, twenty hours and twenty minutes enroute, docks lines off at Queensway Quay Marina in Gibraltar to lines on at Pasito Blanco Marina on Gran Canarie Island. Seven hundred and sixty two miles at an average speed of 6.6 knots. All in all a nice passage with no problems. Sorry, I take that back,  a slider failed on one of the dodger window zippers. We're not complaining very much.

Departure traffic
Leaving Gib was interesting. Currents and tides through the strait are a major factor. I used the waypoints recommended in Jimmy Cornell's books and that was fine. In conjunction with those I took the advice of all the guides and we departed Gib two hours after high tide. That also worked well. We had adverse, but not too strong, tides for the first half of the strait and positive tides for the later portions. I think if I were doing it again I might, after clearing Punta Carnaroo where there are some shallows, hug the north coast a lot closer.  There seemed to be local traffic on that path that may have been in a counter current or at least escaping the main flow. Then I'd go out at Point Tarifa  and cross the strait towards the waypoints Cornell recommends. I certainly would not leave against a west wind, wait for an easterly. As it was we had no problem and escaped the strait easily. There is traffic but its of little concern to anyone who's experienced the traffic around  Singapore. 

Passing Point Tarifa into the Atlantic Ocean
We had light air and actually were on a close reach with main and genoa for the first day.  Then the NE trades filled in and we had 15-20 knots most of the way. The acceleration zones around the islands are very real and we encountered that phenomenon at four in the morning approaching Gran Canarie. We may have had thirty knots in gusts that morning. Be advised! Most of the trip was done flying the full main alone but we did set the asymmetrical chute for several hours one afternoon, went wing on wing with the poled out 150 genoa for the last afternoon and had a reef in the main for a day or so as well.
GPS screen enroute
The Hydrovane did almost all the steering while under sail and worked very well as usual. The only time it needs help is when going fast  down wind in light air. We were doing seven knots boat speed in twelve knots of wind, wing on wing, dead down, and that adds up to only five knots of relative wind over the wind vane, it needs more in those conditions. That, and motoring, is why we have an auto pilot.
Under chute and main'sl
Bill Norton joined us for the trip. Bill and I have been friends and have flown together since university days forty years ago. He also did the NZL to Fiji voyage with us back in 2009. Bill was great crew and great fun as always. Thanks Bill! 
Thanks Bill
We've been in touch with Agustin' Martin' of the Seven Seas Cruising Association for several years. Agustin' lives at Pasito Blanco and has been a fun and valuable contact. He even arranged for someone at the marina to meet us when we arrived in the dark early on the morning of the 26th. Janet was very surprised when someone answered our radio call once we were in range. Much more surprised that someone spoke good English and was there to help us moor. Entering a strange harbor at night is not something we usually do but this place seemed so well organized and well marked it was reasonable.
Pasito Blanco Marina view from the beach
So now we're quite comfortable and learning the ropes around Gran Canarie. We have rented a car for the duration. We took Bill to the airport. We drove up to Las Palmas today and got our passports stamped. We'll explore the island. We've got the usual jobs to do putting the boat to bed for a few months. We haul it out on the 2nd and depart the 4th of September to visit Dennis and Janet Knight in South Hampton for a couple days. We're looking forward to that and to getting home. Its been a great summer, two thousand seven hundred and sixty six miles under the keel this season.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet Wickman
SV Airstream

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gibraltar, Day Trippin'

 Hello to Everyone,
Nobody uses these but its a good photo!
We're in 'Gib' at least until our planned departure on the 21st. The weather for the passage to the Canaries is shaping  up very nicely, light NW winds increasing and veering more to the north as we get further south, a following current of about half a knot and following seas. What could go wrong?
Bill Norton, an old flying friend who goes so far back neither of us can quite pin down when we actually met, will be joining us for the trip. Bill did the NZL to Fiji voyage with us so he knows Airstream and has plenty of experience in his own  boats. Should be great fun.

The Lounge, our favorite marina hangout.
For anyone interested in following our progress here are two websites that are convenient. The first is:  This site displays the position of all vessels equipped with Automatic Information Service,  AIS. Since almost all commercial vessels are required to have AIS and since many pleasure craft now have it, including us, it gives a real time position, track and other information on almost everything out at sea. Just go to the website, click on 'vessels' , type in our boat name "Airstream", click on the name and you'll see the most current position and other data. Maybe a simpler way if you know roughly in the world where we are is to just start scrolling down on the world wide map which starts as listing the number of vessels in a given area. As you scroll down it starts displaying individual vessels and if you click on 'vessel names' it will name them. Just keep going on down till you find the craft you want and click on it and all available info is displayed. Very cool once you learn the site.

The second site is the Pangolin webpage at:  This is the list of boats reporting their position by HAM radio to the Pangolin yotreps site. Just go to the page and you'll see a long list of boats by HAM call sign alphabetically. Our HAM call sign is:  KI6IKE, Kilo India Six India Kilo Echo. Scroll down to our call sign and you'll see our boat name, click on 'track' and you'll see our position displayed. This is only a position we have reported by HAM to pangolin and usually just once a day.
At Europa Point, furthest point south in Gibraltar
So we've got most of our boat jobs done. We've done a lot of exploring around Gibraltar and a few days ago we did a day trip over to Morocco which was 'interesting'. There are no fast ferries from Gib to the Moroccan ports across the straits but a gazilion each day from the Spanish city across the bay, Algeciras. So when we saw a travel agency advert for a 59 Pound Sterling day trip to Ceuta, Tetouan and Tangiers we inquired within. 59 pounds got us a fast ferry to and from Ceuta, the Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, a bus tour to Tetouan and Tangiers, lunch, etc, etc. We knew there were a few little 'issues' here but decided to do it anyway.

Market scenes from Tetouan
It involved a cab ride over to the ferry terminal at Algeciras, 30 EU each way, and a lot of time on the bus which was comfy enough and not crowded. We had a nice tour guide and an amusing if not particularly tasty lunch in an old palace in the market at Tetouan.  

Lunch in the medina
We were led around the market areas of Tetouan and Tangiers. Arab rug merchants tried to sell us the usual stuff. The perfume guys were out in force but not as bad a Cairo years ago. And the bus ride through the Atlas Mountains was a nice view of the rugged coastal Moroccan countryside. On the way across the border from Spain into Morocco we saw the line for the border crossing back into Spain stretched for many miles. By the time we got back in the afternoon it was still at least as long. Our tour bus apparently had special powers because we went around most of the line but still waited over two hours to get through customs. 

Mosque in Tangiers
Cat heaven, Tangiers
I'm sure there were people in line that morning who were still there when we went past them in the evening, amazing! So we left the boat at seven in the morning and got back about eleven in the evening. Long day. Was it worth it? Maybe, but we wouldn't do it again. We spent more time on the bus than we did in Tetouan and Tangiers. Those cities are worth a visit as is much more of Morocco I'm sure. But it needs to be several days of planned out travel and we didn't feel like making that effort
Camera shy Berber women, Tetouan
So soon, 'the good lord willing and the creek don't rise' , we'll be off to the Canaries, Posito Blanco Marina on Grand Canary Island to be specific. I'll probably send a short update to the blog via SailMail while we're enroute but no email notifications. Please wish us a "bon  voyage"!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Train Trip To Madrid

Madrid is a lovely, graceful city. After returning to Gibraltar from Seville and Cordoba we knew we were going to do some more land travel before departing for the Canaries. The question was, where? We had considered going down into Morocco to Casablanca or Marrakech. We looked into ways and means for a short, easy and inexpensive way to see what we wanted to see. Nothing seemed to quite work. And Madrid beckoned. We had enjoyed our travels in southern Spain, especially Seville, so it was just right and proper that we visit  Madrid.
The Plaza Major,  Madrid, equestrian Philip III
The train seemed the way to go. It would have been a long drive and we were tired of rental car logistics. Flying would not allow us to see the country and for both of us seeing the countryside is half the fun of a journey. For those who might be contemplating a little travel by train I very highly recommend the website, "The Man In Seat Sixty One":  This is really an amazing site with very comprehensive and detailed info on train travel anywhere in the world. We've used the site as a starting point for travel to a lot of places and it is a great resource. A more specific resource for those interested in train travel in Spain is:  which is a little easier place to buy tickets with a foreign credit card than the official site of the Spanish rail company Renfe.
Madrid, Fountain of Cebeles, protector of the people
There are no trains out of Gibraltar so one takes a cab to the border, walks across,  is waved through by customs on both sides, grabs a Spanish cab to to Algeciras, the Spanish city across the bay from Gibraltar and takes the train. In this case our taxi driver knew a little better way and took us to La Linea, between Gib and Algeciras, which was closer and more convenient and where we caught the same train we had purchased tickets for out of Algeciras. Saved us some time and money. First Class costs little more than tourist class and gives you a quieter and more spacious ride.
Lions in front of the old Council of Deputies building
The trip was five hours and the first the two and one half hours were spent at less than 50 miles an hour on an old road bed through the coastal mountains north of Gibraltar. But then, at some point in the country side after leaving the mountains,  we switched engines   and moved onto a new roadbed and things speeded up a lot. 200 km per hour (120 mph) was more like it and we were whizzing right along through country that, more than anywhere else in the world, reminded me of the American west. The mountains could have been the foothills of the Sierra and much of the interior plain could be western North Dakota or Eastern Montana. The more agricultural areas seemed much like the Sacramento Valley. True, there's generally more population than in high plains of the western USA,  but the countryside is amazingly similar, big sky country, very appealing to my western sensibilities.
Old Madrid, Plaza del Toros
New Madrid, stadium of Real Madrid soccer team
Modern business Madrid
Steven and Carol of Seabird had made plans to come in from Barcelona and Carol arranged hotel accommodations at a lovely hotel, the Catalonia Las Cortes, in a great location near the museums and the city center. She also booked us all on a guided bus tour so that the first thing we did was get the lay of land. Very handy in a city the size of Madrid. So for three nights we enjoyed lovely Madrid from a very nice hotel. I had expected to find a bustling, crowded,  probably rather dirty but interesting city, perhaps a little shabby but with great art and museums. I was right about the art and museums but central Madrid is far more elegant  and cleaner and more specious than most cities. The architecture is beautiful, the settings historic. 
Puerto del Sol, big Apple store on the corner
We did a serious visit to the Museo del Prado and the Museo Thessyn-Bornemisza and  a quick trip to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to see Picasso's "Guernica". Of course I knew the reputation of the Prado, which is very well deserved, but knew nothing of the Thessyn before planning this trip. It may be the finest private gallery in the world. I certainly enhanced my appreciation for Goya, and asking Janet, the Goya's and Gauguin's impressed her most.
Statue of Goya at the Prado
So we prowled the city center in the morning before the museums opened. Did museums until our feet were worn out and relaxed out of the heat until getting together again for dinners. Early dinner in Spain for the Spanish is around nine in the evening. Luckily many places are used to heathen foreigners and open earlier.
We loved Madrid. We had great fun with Steven and Carol. The trip back to Gibraltar went as planned. Now we're back on the boat and beginning to get into passage mode. Its cooled down a little and forecast to stay that way, the 'eighties' sure beats the 'one hundreds' as a temperature to live in all day. We had about given up on the idea of going over to Morocco but this morning we saw a travel agency ad that got our attention. We'll investigate that tomorrow.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Seville and Cordoba

Hello Everyone,

 Land travel! I know this supposed to be a sailing blog its really a travel blog. We're just using the slowest, most inefficient form of transport known, a sailboat. The plan has been for English speaking rather homey Gibraltar to be a base for some exploration of the Spanish wilds. And that plan is in action. Yesterday we got back from a car trip north to Seville, then east to Cordoba and back south to the coast and Gibraltar.
Road trip Attire?
Great trip. But very hot! It was one hundred and four degrees in Seville one day and over one hundred  every day we were inland but at least it was also very dry. Driving north from Gibraltar the  excellent highway took us through a low pass in the mountains and then down into the broad valley that forms the interior of Andalucia. It reminded us very much of coming out of the coastal range into the Sacramento Valley of central California. Its a rich agricultural area. Lots of wheat and corn. Huge fields of sun flowers and some form of bean. Some orchards and a few olives. Lovely, well tended and productive country. 
Old Seville from the cathedral bell tower
And Seville is a lovely city. Of course there are modern blocks of faceless apartment housing but much of the  wonderful architecture is preserved, especially in the inner part of the city. We were only going to scratch the surface of what's to see in Seville but the the cathedral and the old Moorish Palace area, the Alcazar, were our main interests. We had also had the very nice treat of having Steven and Carol Argosy of Seabird  use the train from Barcelona to be in Seville at the same time so that we could run around together. This is great fun for camaraderie starved Mediterranean cruisers.
Gardens of the Alcazar
The Alcazar started as a fort in the ninth century and was gradually, over the next few hundred years,  turned into a palace and garden residence complex for the Moorish rulers. When Seville was reconquered by the Christians in 1248 it was kept in use and the gardens and structures continued to be enlarged and modified. Its a beautiful conglomeration of Moorish and Spanish medieval art and architecture.
Cathedral exterior
But there were two real highlights for us on this short trip to Seville. First is the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede, as the Seville cathedral is officially known. Its the largest gothic cathedral in the world and the third largest Christian church. Its colossal in size and the the art work displayed throughout is simply beyond priceless. The exterior is so huge and it is sighted in such a manner that its difficult to get any one view of the building. The interior is stupendous and individual aisles and chapels are beautiful.
Cathedral interior, part of one aisle
As a whole it still doesn't work as well, doesn't inspire the awe of Chartres or Notre Dame or Canterbury (my favorites) but it is a bigger work and in many ways equally impressive. One thing, amongst many, that I particularly like is the tomb of Columbus. In the south transept the bones of the great navigator and explorer, one of my personal heroes, are appropriately encased and held aloft by the  kings of arms, in bronze, of the four original reigns of Spain, Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre.

Tomb of Christopher Columbus
As a last remark on the magnificence of the cathedral Steven suggested that since Spain has economic problems, since the art work in the cathedral is so priceless and the building so huge, that the art be sold off and the building remodeled into condos. hmmmm……….I suggested that the Spanish have probably not forgotten how to draw and quarter a heretic………oh well
The bell tower
And the second highlight of Seville was a little unexpected, that was Flamenco! I had said that before we left Spain, since the timing wasn't right for a good bull fight, I wanted to see some real flamenco. And since Seville is considered by many to be the heart of flamenco, Seville was the place. We asked around and got the same recommendation from multiple sources and it was that unless we waited until after midnight in some smokey flamenco bar the very best, maybe the very best anyway, was to be had at a flamenco museum or institute fairly near our hotels. So we made reservations, wondering what to expect, and went to the show.

 I think we all a little over whelmed by the quality of what we saw. I had thought it might be a rather sterile display of the 'art'. Far from that the setting was small and intimate. The guitarist wonderful and the singing and dance was full of all the passion and intensity one could ever hope to see. Great show! I would still like to see those same people in some smokey bar at two in the morning just for what their interaction with that audience might be but  it was clear they got to everyone in our audience pretty well. Unforgettable.
Tapas bar
 We also hit a nearby bull fighting bar for tapas and drinks afterwards. We knew we had a good place when the flamenco group we had just watched came in to unwind after the show. It was nice to thank them in person.

 Steven and Carol stayed in Seville another day and we were off the next morning to Cordoba. The main reason being to see the Mezquita, the huge and unique mosque/church in the oldest part of the city. And the Mezquita did not disappoint. It was very, very nice and made especially nice in that as we entered the relative cool of the the building, it was 103 degrees outside, we began to hear a magnificent organ in full song.
854 pilars in the Mezquita
 Bingo, we went through the wonderful 854 pillars with their red and white painted arches and into the the central Christian cathedral where the organist was just beginning to work with a technician on some factor in the centuries old and very huge pipe organ.
A very special treat from this guy!
 And most of what he did was just play and play beautifully. So for about an hour we got a wonderful concert in a wonderful setting. I think its only the second time I've ever been in a great cathedral and been able to listen to the music that's possible there.
Christian church in the Mezquita
The Mezquita was very cool. It was first constructed as a Christian church in about 600 AD. Became a mosque in 785 and was reconverted into a Christian church when Cordoba was recaptured in 1236. The huge floor plan is unique in the 854 pillars supporting a relatively low roof with horse shoe shaped red and white painted arches. In the center of it all a renaissance style cathedral was built in the 1520s. And strangely enough, for me at least, it all works. In general I'm suspicious of the over ornamentation of renaissance or baroque churches but here, for some reason, it seems to come together and it is very special. Maybe the music helped??
Arches in the maksura area of the Mezquita
We had to make an early departure the next morning for the drive back so we really gave Cordoba a short shift. I would say, if you're traveling in Spain, don't miss Seville or Cordoba. But go in the spring or fall when temperatures are lower and crowds are not a factor. Neither the cathedral in Seville of the Mezquita in Cordoba were over crowded but the streets were full and the area around the Mezquita was very touristy.
Ceiling of the maksura
We're now back on the boat in Gibraltar. The drive was up into the rolling big sky country of southern Spain before entering the coastal Sierra Nevada. As we got out of the valley and into the hills the countryside became almost entirely olive orchards. Olive groves, carefully planted, well organized, well tended with drip irrigation and every modern tool for mile after mile after mile. Most of this is relatively new planting. It has the look of cattle country that has been turned by modern techniques into olive country. Very interesting and impressive. Then it was through the mountains and along the coast and 'home". Again we were very impressed by the Spanish infrastructure and the roads. It made for an easy trip.

Next week we're off by train to Madrid. Carol and Steven will be there as well and we're looking forward to the trip.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream