The sounds of sailing

5 12 2010

Any one can take the helm when the sea is calm. – Pubilius Syrus.

the old girl stretches her legs

Silence. The sounds of silence.

After three days with the engine running, there’s an eerie quiet once it’s finally switched off.

At first it seems silent, anyway.

Then you notice the steady creak of the mast, the gurgle of waves on the hull, and the occasional curse as someone totters across the saloon which suddenly features a 20 degree slope.

The sounds of sailing, in fact.

There are other noises too.

The sound of salt water gushing through another leaky hatch.

The odd thump as 100 tones of yacht slams off the back of another wave.

The beep of the alarm signalling that another bilge is full of water.

But all these things are OK. Because we’re sailing.

Surging smoothly southward towards Las Canarias, borne by the wind alone.

Pretty cool really, and I’ll tell you why.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret about these flashy giant superyachts: they rarely sail.

What? Yes, it’s true.

For one thing there is often not enough wind. In anything less than 15 knots, Bolero wallows.

And then the wind is rarely out of the right direction.

The modern superyacht has schedules, deadlines. If sailing conditions are not optimal, they don’t bumble along in the approximate direction- it’s sails away, motor on, full speed ahead.

And then finally – and this one is a little embarrassing – there’s the convenience factor.

Bolero’s mainsail does not fill with wind at the touch of a button. And it sure doesn’t come down without a fight.

It took the captain and I a solid hour of dicking about in the freezing pre-dawn rain before we were ready to raise sail.

So if conditions look like they could change any second, we’ll probably just motor on.

But now and again, the elements play the game.

We unroll some canvas.

And shoot away to the south, smiling in the winter sunshine.

loving it

Hef and I fetch some sushi


summer lovin’

14 09 2010

The white yacht was anchored off the beach again.

For more than a week it had sat there, occasionally disappearing at sunset, only  to reappear the next morning.

And like clockwork, the yacht discharged its British guests to the beach daily, where they crammed in amongst the plump brown Greeks and Italian families on holiday.

But in the same way the British distinguished themselves with their pasty skin and Cockney accents, the yacht and its passengers were never truly a part of this carefree holiday scene.

The yacht’s position off the beach was far enough to deter nosy swimmers and only just within the reach of the most determined locals on pedal boats.

Because even from the beach, it loomed huge.

And the curious holidaymakers couldn’t help but be drawn in by the size, the gleaming white hull, the assumed importance.

“Whose is the yacht? Is it a king? Hollywood?”

Those same wondering locals might like to have imagined the visitors added a degree of glamour to their beach, but truly, the yacht added nothing.

vessels changed to protect the innocent

Staying actively apart from their fellows, the British had meals delivered on gold trays to the beach, even going so far as taking their own drinks ashore. To the beach bar.

Each morning a dinghy would slip ashore and quietly dump another dozen bags of garbage into the roadside bins and every night, when everyone was in bed, clouds of filth would quietly seep out of the yacht into the clear Aegean waters.

Even the cheerful delivery of the Brits to the beach was a lie.

“Have a great time, sir. Enjoy the beach, guys. Byeeeee…”

Smiles hid grim faces as the crew returned from the beach run to set about preparing the yacht for the return of their owners.

Yes, the ‘owners’ effectively held possession of their crew along with the yacht.

Ever cheerful on the outside, each white-clad worker secretly despised their employers for their sense of entitlement, ignorance and neediness.

The reality was that the British had rented themselves 16 friends for the summer, friends who were apparently only too pleased to work 14 hours a day for 90 days straight.

So the British could have a holiday in the sun.

But luckily, summer doesn’t last forever.

Soon the sun would be gone and with it, the British.

Crossing Oceans

1 03 2010

action stations

One of the best parts of being a yachting fellow is occasionally being required to take part in an ocean crossing.

And it’s hard not to feel like some sort of tough guy pioneering naval explorer, pushing off into the big blue under sail, just you, a few pals and 3000-odd kilometres of sea to tackle.

We may have autopilots and watermakers and satellite navigation and dvd players, but it’s pretty neat to trundle across such a big slab of the globe borne by the wind.

Braveheart’s ‘meagre’ 1400L fuel capacity meant we had to sail most of the way and luckily, we had reasonable winds with only a few calm days of motoring.

We also enjoyed a fishing bonanza, enjoying mahi mahi, tuna and wahoo almost every day.

best mahi mahi of the trip. super glassy conditions too.

As I write this, we’ve just hauled in the fourth fish of the day, before knocking off a lunch of fresh seared wahoo on a bed of mushroom pasta, washed down with some cold Rosé. Jodie sure looks after us.

Yellowfin tuna ceviche and wahoo sashimi were further fishy highlights.

Days are spent mostly lazing about the yacht, secure in the knowledge that most cleaning can be done on arrival (plenty of powerboats have their crews work 8hr days on the way across. Ick).

captain stupid

There’s a healthy supply of novels, fresh dvds, backgammon tournaments, ongoing poker battles and general relaxation.

As I said, crossings are a good time.

But you’re always glad when you arrive somewhere tropical.

The Heffernator kills again

halfway celebrations - 1200nm to go...!


Notes on Mallorca. Part II

8 06 2009

My stay in Mallorca was made especially fun due to two main factors:

A] the fantastic west coast of the island, and

B] my gang of international drunken misfits.



A] West Coast.

Heading north from the city, Mallorca looks fairly unremarkable until you approach the Sierra de Tramuntana mountain range running diagonally along the north-western coast.

As the road winds upwards, ploughed fields make way for crumbling terraces of olive groves and pine forests.

Further on, the road tracks through the clouds, even on summer days – not that surprising considering 10 peaks are more than 1000m high.

After dodging the multitudes of lycra-clad masochistic cyclists, and navigating numerous hairpin turns, you eventually emerge on the dramatic west coast.

FormentorSheer cliffs plunge hundreds of feet from tree-lined ledges and expensive villas line impossibly picturesque coves, blending – for the most part – quite tastefully through the use of local stone.

Highlights here include Cap de Formentor, a rugged peninsula of limestone stretching north-east toward Menorca and Sa Calobra – an ancient riverbed which has carved a towering ravine through a tiny gap to the sea.

The west coast also houses various tiny settlements such as Pollenca, Valdemossa and Deia – the latter an oasis of green perched on the side of a valley. Pretty, but also pretty expensive.

Prices for basic two-bedroom apartments in Deia start at around 500,000 euros. It does have a lovely beach though.

Pretty Deia

Pretty Deia

valdemossa panorama

valdemossa panorama

B] Yachties.

Love ‘em or hate em’, yacht crew now make up a significant number of Palma’s year-round residents.

And who could blame them for staying? The city offers world class restaurants, a multitude of late night bars, cheap accommodation, relaxed drinking laws and a climate more in line with northern Africa than the Med.

Sure they get drunk and stupid, but they also have ridiculous disposable incomes and not much else to do, except spend it.

double-exposure Lomo shot. goodtimes.

double-exposure Lomo shot. goodtimes.

I don’t know any figures, but I’m sure a huge part of the city’s wealth can be attributed to the yacht industry and crew.

The majority of Spanish pretty much ignore the yachties except the clever few who have opened bars and restaurants catering specifically to them.

The Palma gypsies arguably cause far more trouble anyway.

Placa Drassana where I lived was the epicentre for regular beatings and muggings, yet more than once I the local dealers casually leaning in the window of a police car for a chat.

another refined poolside bbq

another refined poolside bbq

The mix of young Antipodeans, English, South Africans, Scandinavians made Palma an always interesting place to live and if nothing else, I left the city with some fantastic new friends.

Like any gathering of irrepressible youngsters, most of our fun did centre around getting loaded, but we were just having a good time.

We always have a good time.