Moonshadows and mistakes

20130624-004900.jpgThe gentle northerly breeze has made a little swell, maybe 10 centimetre high waves rolling with heartbeat regularity through silky black water. Each rise  heels theboat a little so that the wake rippling down her hull is punctuated as if by the  even breathing of an athlete focused on a long, long run.

The full moon is directly behind us, her beam so bright that the loosened topping lift waltzes with its own shadow across the curved white belly of the mainsail. Clouds drift like uncarded wool, so the stars marking their own slow wheel across the sky also dance in and out of sight. We are sailing north east, making a steady 4.5 knots. Ibiza lies 66 miles ahead, below the horizon. One ship’s lights are bright about four miles to the south. Otherwise, we have the stretch of the Mediterranean between Algeria and the Balearics Islands to ourselves. It is one o’clock on Monday morning.

Sunday’s sailing was beautiful too. We hoisted the cruising chute and then decided we would go one better and fly it as a spinnaker. This new trick enabled us to sail a steady 6.5 to 7 knots, so fast that this swell didn’t rock the boat at all. She settled into a groove needing a light (but constant) touch on the helm and we rode a smooth and noiseless magic carpet for hours. Santana, The Travelling Wilburys, Pink Floyd, Thai curry. The promise of proper showers and wine tomorrow after a week at sea.

Of course we shouldn’t be here. Ibiza is by no stretch on a reasonable course from Malta to Gibralter. This serenity and beauty are an undeserved reward for a major booboo. i am all the more humbled and grateful.

I made a huge miscalculation on fuel use and we ran out of diesel about 60 miles north of Bejaia on the Algerian coast early on Saturday morning. (We left Valetta early on Tuesday and saw no wind at all until we were past Tunis.) It gave us a pretty problem, like one of those exercises in practical seamanship in the yachting magazines.

Algeria is generally not for visiting, as the UK Foreign Office website sets out. At the very least, you need visas and some vague idea of the current political situation. We had neither so the nearest fuel was not available to us. We did not have brilliant weather information (as Italy appears to have stopped using Navtex and its usually reliable forecasts on channel 68 gave us nothing but static and nobody else was broadcasting much of use) but our older forecasts predicted a useful 15 knot easterly later in the day. This would give us a great lift to the eastern coast of Spain. Cartagena lay 292 nautical miles exactly westward, while Almeria was just 16 miles beyond Cabo de Gato, actually on our route but 350 miles downwind on the fitful breeze. Ibiza, about 140 miles north east, looked like a big diversion from our destination.

For 220130624-084256.jpg4 hours we worked on this plan. We covered 94 miles, which was extraordinary in the lightest of airs. We were uncomfortable on the port tack as we kept rolling and grinding on the swell. All three of us were fractious, hot and damp from the squally edges of the thunderstorms raging along the African coast. So at dawn on Sunday, I decided to turn away and head for the nearest source of our requirements rather than stick to the Gibraltar line. We have been rewarded with this amazing voyage.

We should, if Neptune continues to smile, reach Ibiza on Monday, and will leave Tuesday. That should get us into Gib about Saturday, but who knows what other delights my mistakes may open up for us.

(I will be posting this from my ipad once we get enough signal off Formentura, so apologies in advance for messy formatting. Once my laptop and I reach wifi, I can tidy it up.)

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About Sarah Tanburn

I'm a writer, a sailor and a strategic adviser to public organisations. Visit my websites to find out more.
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6 Responses to Moonshadows and mistakes

  1. Fair winds, Sarah — with any luck at all you won’t need the Iron Spinnaker before you make port.

    • Hi Richard. We had a whole 5l in a jerry can so we turned the engine on about 20m from the breakwater and puttered in. But the last hour was very fast – 7 knots under full sail on a beam reach. So much for ibiza in June – grey skies, rain, clawing north wind and is in oilies. Now having a wee siesta before tackling boat jobs.

      • I’m amazed. That doesn’t even sound like a close call unless you have a high hP engine -=- if you were motor sailing at close to seven knots, your destination was only two and a half hours out, unless you had a head current. Are you sure you don’t have a fuel leak, maybe the return line? What size engine/number of cylinders? Be sure to bleed the fuel line/pump/injector line when you get new fuel. Oh, just shoot me, there I go offering uncalled-for advice! Sail on!

      • We weren’t motorsailing! Just that wind and those big white things and lots of bits of rope working hard. I have two crew wit me both of who are too sailors and. E is a manic sail trimmer. They got RG (12 tons of heavy blue water cruiser) doing 8 knots downwind in about 12 knots of breeze. The last 5l of fuel did us for the manoeuvre to the fuel pontoon but otherwise we have just done 250 miles under wind power alone and never with more than 12 knots of wind except the last two hours. Now we have a very full fuel tank (150l) and another. 40l in cans.

      • pS – 5l means 5 litres of diesel, or about 3 or 4 hours at 4 i
        Knots on a calm sea.

  2. Pingback: Experimenting for speed | Sarah Tanburn

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