|First touch of the water|
|Away at last|
On 29 April I flew back down to Marseilles, accompanied by Christoph my crew member for the coming season, and by 2 May she was back in the water; by 4 May we were off, heading westwards on the first sail of the season.
With a brisk NE wind blowing we motored upwind for the first 4 miles out of Port Saint Louis to give the engine a reasonable trial (checking my workmanship on the winter maintenance) and then as we exited the bay we set full sail and enjoyed a three hour reach along the sand dune lined beaches of the “bouche du Rhone” and along the Camargue coastline. By 1600 we were anchored in the bay at Beauduc, enjoying afternoon tea, and contemplating dinner. The wind was offshore and we were looking forward to a quiet night.
|First swim of the year|
Next morning the sky was somewhat overcast but the wind remained light to moderate, south easterly, making it an ideal day to make some ground to the west. A review of the available anchorages along the coast showed that we were missing nothing if we cut across the bay directly to Cap d'Agde, about 40 miles, where we planned to spend a couple of days at anchor, winds permitting. Before leaving we rigged all of the spinnaker gear in anticipation of a spinnaker run across the bay. We were not disappointed! Having sailed off the anchor, under mainsail alone, we quickly dragged the new spinnaker out of its stowage and within a few minutes it was set and looking splendid. A stroke of good fortune had had me discover a “second hand” spinnaker, of exactly the right size, available in Chichester, not far from home. On the pre purchase inspection it was obvious it had never been out of its bag and was still covered in small lengths of cotton from the sail-making loft floor; as further confirmation of light/no previous use it also had no sail numbers on it. With the addition of Kurukulla's sail number it still worked out at 60% of the price of a new spinnaker and came with a free “Spee squeezer” (a device for hoisting and lowering spinnakers without getting them twisted or caught up in the rigging) the worth of which I am yet to be convinced! The day passed with a single gybe when the wind shifted to the north east but was otherwise uneventful. The spinnaker proved to be a very stable sail and a considerable improvement on its predecessor!
We anchored at Cap d'Agde at 1900 in a light onshore breeze but with a forecast that it would turn offshore during the latter part of the night making the anchorage somewhat safer. There are no bays or islands along this coast in or near which you can to go and find shelter! The wind prediction proved correct and by 0900 next day there was a healthy offshore wind blowing; what was not expected was a significant swell running against the wind onto the beach. To call it an uncomfortable night would be an understatement! The wind against swell combination meant that we spent the night rolling heavily every time we turned across the swell with all the contents of the boat that could move creating a symphony of noise. By 0700 the swell was crashing heavily on to the beach and the curling crests were initiating not far ahead of us. We decided to keep watch, sit it out and stay put, waiting for the wind to calm the swell; it eventually did so, by mid afternoon, but not before providing us with an uncomfortable morning.
|Sunset at Agde|
By evening the swell had all but gone and we remained at anchor, in flat water, some 75m from the beach. All we needed now was for the temperature of the water to rise 10 deg C and we would be able to swim ashore. At this time of year the climate here in southern France is noticeable colder than that of Greece and Turkey! Cap d'Agde may be one of the largest naturist resorts in Europe but it would be a brave soul who bared all to go swimming today.
Next morning dawned bright and clear; a good day for round two of the French Presidential election! The previous night had been the complete opposite of the night before, calm sea and light to moderate offshore breeze keeping us stable and silent. Needless to say both crew members slept like the dead after the disturbed sleep of the night before! Notwithstanding that it was Sunday the plan was to have a maintenance day and tackle some of the niggling items that always reveal themselves when you first go to sea. As the day went on the wind got up in strength again but remained off the shore, the temperature however did not, hence the majority of work was done below!
Late night Sunday the news broke that Monsieur Macron had secured the French presidency and the wind dropped giving us a quiet and calm night at anchor. I am not sure which event we welcomed most! Monday was again to be spent at anchor doing odd jobs and sheltering from the wind which had again gotten up from the west holding us safely offshore in flat-ish water. That lasted until Wednesday when we woke early and move into the marina at Agde. Just in time to avoid an onshore wind later in the day. From here we spent until Sunday morning doing various jobs around the boat and exploring Agde which I have to say is like the town that time forgot. Full of shops and restaurants that are struggling to survive on one or two clients per night. Fortunately we had all we needed onboard...
|The tow off the beach at Leucate|
Sunday dawned bright but overcast. By 1030 we were manoeuvring off the jetty and heading for the Capitanerie to pay our dues before heading out of the harbour and setting off en route south making our way towards Spain. For the first hour it was a light airs fetch on starboard tack and we were making a respectable 4.5 knots; by mid day however the wind had dropped to near zero and we were forced to resort to the use of the engine if we wanted to make more than a knot or so. Fortunately the lack of wind didn't last too long and an hour later we were on Port Tack, laying the course, for Leucate, our destination for the day. By 1730 we were anchored off the beach, outside the harbour, in a flat calm sea and enjoying a Gin and Tonic, whilst watching the spectacle of an earlier arrival being towed off the beach by the local lifeboat; either his anchor had dragged (which seemed unlikely in the light winds) or he had anchored too close to the beach and was caught out by a change of wind direction. When we arrived we had noted how close to the beach he was but sadly there was nothing that we could do for him in the short term, he was smaller and of a shallower draught than us, such that getting close enough to tow him off would have been impossible without first getting the dinghy out, inflating it, and taking a very long line across. Fortunately for us the lifeboat arrived before we had even started preparations!
|On the mooring at Collioure|
The next morning was sunny and warm with light south easterly winds. After a slow start we made the decision to carry on south and head for Collioure on of the last towns in France before you hit the Spanish/French border. It is famous for being a haven for artists in the early 20th century. With two hours to go to sunset we ghosted through the harbour entrance and picked up a mooring. If we had but known it we could have gone alongside but we were convinced that the inner port was too shallow to take Kurukulla. As it was it our ignorance saved us starting the engine and we made a silent arrival on the mooring under sail. Collioure is a spectacular town, especially when viewed from seaward. The fortifications and remains of the old town are picturesque to say the least. Just as the supper was being served and the sun was setting we were entertained by the sight of a fishing boat towing in a motor cruiser who had obviously suffered engine failure or run out of fuel. Having put him alongside in the inner harbour the fishing boat immediately returned to sea. When one thinks of the number of times fishermen are criticised for not obeying the Collision Regulations this was a real act of kindness, to tow him in, interrupting the activity on which their livelihood depends. Our second rescue witnessed in two days!
|Hotel des Templiers|
The following morning we made a trip ashore using the dinghy and visited some of the sights including the Castel Royale (so named because it was in its turn the home of the Spanish royal family and the Majorcan royal family before finally falling to the French after a long siege) and the bar called Les Templiers where many of the artists who made the resort famous paid for their board and lodging with early paintings that still adorn the walls. An art enthusiasts dream. Our last port of call By 1330 we were ready to leave and using a light south easterly breeze we sailed off the mooring, slightly to the surprise of our neighbours, heading out of the harbour and onwards on our southerly route. The winds remained light and somewhat variable but by 1620 we had crossed into Spanish waters and by 1830 we were just outside Cala Tabellera but that was to be when the wind dropped to nothing. We eventually had to admit defeat and motor the last 400yds into the anchorage which proved to be an ideal choice. We anchored in 5m of water and the only sounds were the wavelets lapping on the shore and the birds singing in the surrounding trees. A fantastic place to spend the night; in fact so good we decided to spend a second night there! That was before the gods decided otherwise!
At 1700 the following day I decided to take a quick look at the weather forecast, it had previously shown a brief period of strongish winds from the north west during the coming night with the majority of the winds coming from west or south west. As we were exposed to the north this could have caused a bit of rolling around but was not a serious cause for concern. However, the latest forecast gave a somewhat different view. Winds of up to 68 mph from the north west, i.e. force 9 to 10 for up to 9 hours! This put a totally different complexion on the anchorage! By 1800 the wind had gone round fully to the north and was building, and by 1830 it had reached 20 kts; time to go! We set off for Cala di Port Lignat, 5 miles south and on the lee side of Capo Creus. A wet, lumpy and unpleasant hour later we entered Cala di Port Lignat and picked up a mooring in the roads where we spent the night listening to the protests of our mooring warps and keeping a watchful eye on the anchor alarm!
|The anchorage at Port Lligat|
Dawn the next day brought more of the same, strong northerly winds but with some sunshine. We decided to stay put, leave Kurukulla on the mooring, and visit Cadaques, the village half a mile south. In part our decision was made for us when the mooring authority arrived to collect their dues, €45 for one night! The only advantage was that it came with a free water taxi service until 1800 allowing us to get ashore dry; i.e. without using the dinghy. Cadaques is the home town of Salvador Dali and derives most of its income from tourism associated with him. The museum is at the landing stage in Port Lignat and from there on everything was labelled Dali this, that or the other! We toured the town and stopped for an afternoon beer on the waterside before visiting the Church of Santa Maria.
|Sta Maria church, Cadaques|
To call the altar OTT would be doing it an injustice, it was at least 40 ft high by 20 wide and totally encrusted in gold. So valuable was it that during the Spanish Civil War the locals built a wall in front of it to prevent it being seen and the gold vandalised. Two hours later we were back onboard Kurukulla for an early supper and a second, rather more tranquil night, (due to our late arrival the boatman had not charged us for our first night!).
Saturday dawned sunny but cold with an almost icy easterly wind blowing. By mid day the temperature had hardly improved but we decided to go anyway and head the few miles south to L'Escala where, one mile to the north, there are the remains of the Greco-Roman city of Empuries which we wanted to visit. By 1230 we were ready to go, sailed off the mooring (somewhat to the surprise of our neighbours), and reached gently out of the harbour. The original plan, given that “Weather on Line” was forecasting westerly winds for all of the day, was to anchor off the beach directly opposite the remains but as we made passage south this became increasingly unlikely to be feasible as the wind remained firmly in the east; only later in the evening did the promised west wind fill in. Thus we eventually anchored in Playa del Rach del Moti, somewhat closer to the town of L'Escala, where shelter from south-easterly and westerly winds was available. Here we anchored under sail, in 4m, and settled for the night.
|The ruins at Empuries|
As planned we set off next morning for a walk around the remains; the flat sea and light winds allowed us to use the dinghy for the visit rather than up anchor and motor Kurukulla the half mile to the north, up the coast, necessary to reach the entrance. The remains were impressive in that they were a mixture of the original Greek town (albeit they came from what is now Turkey) with its Roman successor partially obliterating the earlier Greek settlement; indeed at one stage it is believed the Greeks and Romans co-habited on the site. To my mind there was rather too much pre cast concrete in evidence to give a good impression of how the remains should look. Although the Spanish authorities have not gone for wholesale reconstruction (as the Parthenon in Athens) there is a very considerable quantity of artistic largesse in evidence where missing or lost parts have been filled in. That notwithstanding it was worth the visit and the beer at the beach bar, before our return onboard, was equally enjoyable. At 1300 we set off south for a brief sail to the Cala at Montgo some 5 miles south. This we had chosen for the night as it is one of the few places where half reasonable shelter could be found from the forecast south-east winds. By 1430 we were entering the Cala and anchored in 5m at the eastern end of the beach. The only other occupants of the anchorage were another yacht and two motorboats. An hour later I had summoned the courage to go for a swim (even in late May it is still very cold – what has happened to global warming?) only to discover that our anchor cable was lying across the far side of a sinker from a redundant mooring. Rather than risk it being trapped under the sinker we were forced to start the engine (for the first time in three days) and re-anchor clear of the obstruction. These things happen! The evening was quiet and calm so perhaps it would not have been a problem but better safe than sorry!
Cala Montgo was so enjoyable we decided to stay a second night and hence we set off mid morning of the third day. On weighing anchor we found another pile of debris caught round our anchor cable; having re-anchored to avoid the sinker we now found a heap of fishing debris wrapped around the anchor chain; 5 minutes saw it freed but it is always a bit nerve-wracking freeing the tangle not knowing how many hooks are buried in it waiting to bury themselves in your hands. From here we set course for Cala de Sa Tuna which the pilot described as three Calas round one bay with a few moorings for local boats off Sa Tuna village. On arrival we sailed in to be greeted by a bay saturated with moorings! Our first effort to pick up a mooring was in the small bay in the SE of the anchorage where we secured ourselves, dropped the sails and contemplated whether this was actually the best available spot. The nearby moorings were so close we risked swinging into them thus getting ropes fouled round our rudder or propeller, and that notwithstanding the swell was running into this arm of the harbour causing us to roll around more than was comfortable. Cala de Aiguafreda looked calmer but here the moorings were even more tightly packed.
|Kurukulla surrounded by moorngs in Cala Aiguafreda|
Eventually we found a point in Aiguafreda where we could pick up two moorings in two adjacent rows such that we were held head to the swell and clear of the other moorings around us. Where do all these people come from who have boats less than 10m long such that 100 moorings are needed in this harbour. There is nothing available for a boat Kurukulla's size (12m) let alone anything larger. By nightfall two other boats had taken their lead form us and moored in a similar way close to us. We decided to go ashore and walk over to Sa Tuna for an evening drink and to look at the village.
|A quiet drink ashore in Cala Porto Tuna|
The pilot book promised a local shop where we could obtain a few provisions. This was not to be. Several bars, a “gift” shop and nothing else. After a beer on the waterfront we walked back to the landing in Aiguafreda and rowed back to Kurukulla.
Friday morning saw us underway again as we sailed off the anchor and onwards south-westwards towards Barcelona where we were due to pick up a new crew member in four days time. The sail was a brisk one, with up to 15 kts over the deck as we barrelled downwind. Cowardice I know but we resisted the temptation to give the new spinnaker a strength test and stayed with full main and genoa. By 1300 we were berthed in the marina at Blanes, a vastly enlarged marina from that which is described in the pilot, which is well protected and easy to enter. The town itself is unassuming but pleasant enough and the lunch in the Yacht Club of Blanes was 5*, five courses for €17! A trip to a yacht chandler, plus a local supermarket, was followed by a G&T at sundowners and a supper onboard; all of which culminated in a relatively early night.
The next day we set off at 1030 for a sail westwards towards one of the marinas at Barcelona. The sail was initially a close reach but increasingly became more downwind. By mid-day it was spinnaker-able and out came the new spinnaker. For the next six hours we enjoyed a beam reach in up to 10 kts of wind and doing 6 knots, that was until the wind died on us. For most of the trip we had been debating whether the sea had calmed enough to spend the night at anchor in the very exposed anchorage just SW of Barcelona Airport. If we were able to it would make picking up our next crew member from the airport very much easier. We decided to give it a try. Wrong!
After a night rolling in the swell every-time the wind failed to hold us head to wind and swell (yes I know, I should have put out a stern anchor to hold us head to sea but it seemed a lot of trouble for not much gain; especially if the wind changed in the night) we decided that a few nights in the marina at Porto di Vilanova looked much more attractive and so it was we sailed the extra 20 miles to Vilanova arriving there just after midday. On arrival we were greeted by an unmistakeable American voice instructing us where to berth, unusual in this part of the world but we found out later that he came from Boston but of Spanish descendency and had a Spanish wife who could not tolerate the climate of Boston; too cold in winter!
It was here we were to stay for the 72 hours, waiting for Yorgos to arrive on the 30th of May. The town of Vilanova is ideal being only 30 minutes from Barcelona by train and one of the more economic marinas on this coast. That said the town has little to offer architecturally!