Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sardinia to Barcelona

View from our temporary berthing spot on the wall

Ahhhh...Spain!  A new country for us.  Neither of us had visited Spain in the past and we were very much looking forward to it.  And for the first city to be Barcelona was a plus.

As I have mentioned in previous postings, we had been watching weather for this region for a couple of months.  Not daily; but we would check it a couple times each week; just to get a feel for how frequently the calms might occur.  And knowing that the frequency of calms would change with the summer season.  But...more frequent or less frequent?  More or less severe? For the past month we had checked weather for this stretch of sea at least every other day.  

What we saw was not encouraging.  I had been dreading this short passage.  Especially with a third person aboard.  I prefer just the 2 of us if we have to deal with bad weather.

We do not know this part of the world as well as we know the weather patterns of the Caribbean.  And the Gulf of Lion (or the Gulf of Lions as our sailing guidebook refers to it) can produce storms of hurricane force.  Not circular-patterned storms but straight-line wind storms of often 60 knot strength, 35-40 knots being typical but 60-knots not uncommon.  Which causes the sea to rise quickly and can be more than uncomfortable; this can be downright dangerous. These strong winds typically last 4 to 5 days each time.  This is caused by fronts coming off the North Atlantic into the North Sea and then down the land mass of Europe, funneling through the Pyrenees mountain range and exiting through the Gulf of Lion(s).  Those winds are strong like lions so this is a apt name for this small gulf.

Getting the weather right for this passage is important.  Most of the sailors we know who have gone westward before us have skipped this area.  Most boats go from Sicily to the southern tip of Sardinia and then to the Balearic Islands, never venturing as far north as Barcelona.  Those people we know who have ventured to the north of Sardinia usually continued farther north up the western coast of Corsica and then sailed SW to Barcelona during a calm in the Gulf of Lion. They do this because when the wind is not blowing stink from the NNW down out of the Gulf of Lion, then it is blowing medium strength from the west; placing Barcelona right on your nose if coming from the northern tip of Sardinia.  Occasionally, very occasionally it appears after watching weather for a couple of months, the wind blows from the S or SE.  That would have been ideal -- and sailors rarely experience ideal weather for long.

We were willing to visit Corsica and sail up the western coast awaiting good weather to shoot over to Barcelona.  But did not feel any compelling desire to see anything on Corsica.  Bonifacio is supposed to be beautiful and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte is a tourist draw.  But, honestly, seeing Bonifacio would be no different that seeing any of the many other beautiful cities already visited in Europe.  And Napoleon has never been my idea of someone to be admired so why visit his birthplace.  By the way, Napoleon was Corsican and almost was considered to be Genoese (Italian).  The Republic of Genoa had transferred the island of Corsica to France just the year before Napoleon's birth in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. Today, just as the Sards and Sicilians feel loyalty to their islands more than loyalty to Italy, Corsicans continue to feel loyalty to Corsica more than loyalty to France.  Corsicans first; French second.  France has a flimsy claim for Napoleon to have been French.

Porpoises came to play a half-dozen times during
our 45-hour trip
While on the northern tip of Sardinia our weather research revealed the perfect weather window to go straight to Barcelona.  Wind was predicted to be very light from the W right on our nose; then back to SW at 12 knots for 12 hours; then die completely as a strong front would begin blowing down through the Gulf of Lion(s).  This would be perfect!  If we hurried up and departed the westernmost tip of Sardinia (that national park where we had to sail right up to the mooring buoy, no engines allowed) around 08:00 we should be able to motor 1/3; sail 1/3; and motor again 1/3.  We would be close enough to Barcelona that the 35 knots blowing down from France would be behind us.  This plan worked perfectly!  And we actually ended up sailing 52% of this dreaded passage.  It was all very pleasant.  We had worried all those weeks for no reason.  All it took was taking advantage of the perfect weather window even though this put us arriving in Barcelona on 8 July and we did not plan to arrive here to meet visiting family until 29 July.  Luckily, the marina had space for us.  And gave us a monthly rate that was only 200 Euro more than we originally were to pay for merely 12 days.  Win-win!

Another 25-lb Big-eye Tuna

During the first third of this passage we caught another large big-eye tuna.  Guestimate it at around 25-lbs or 12 kilo.  The poor thing fought so much as Bill was trying to bring it aboard that it caught the gaff in its eye!  That was a bloody and sympathy-evoking mess!  All that distress also called up sharks.  A larger one, maybe 6-7 feet, circled just within sight beneath the stern of our boat as Bill brought in the tuna.  And a smaller shark circled round and round just below the surface until the tuna was hung up by a line on our stern arch to bleed out.  That shark was not much larger than the tuna.

Tail section removed; ready to butcher (or whatever
one calls cutting up a fish)
As Bill was dealing with the tuna Elisabeth and I saw something quite weird off the port stern.  Neither of us could figure out what it was.  It was large, maybe 8 feet by 6 feet and was white with flashes of silver.  It was stationary, just came up near the surface.  Then it lowered back down deeper again.  It did not move in any sideways motion or closer or farther away, just up to maybe 6-ft below surface and then back down.  We watched it for about 5 seconds before it disappeared into the depths.  Elisabeth said, "I'm going back into the cockpit.  I have seen enough marine life for one day.  That is scary."

Freezer is filled with tuna, all cut into steaks and cooked, vacuum sealed into individual meal servings, half with brine and half with olive oil.  Looks like many tuna salad sandwiches in our future.  As well as creamed tuna on toast and tuna casseroles.  Seared tuna steaks are only good on the day it is caught.  And those are the only 3 ways I know to cook tuna. We were afraid to put a line back into the water after catching 2 of these large big-eyes.  We cannot handle any more tuna for now.  Was hoping for a mahi-mahi (dolphin, dorado).  

We arrived at Marina Port Vell in Barcelona at 08:30 after 48 hours passage from Asinara, Sardinia.  Elisabeth handled the 2-night passage nicely.  No complaints and she never gets the slightest bit seasick.  She did find it boring but managed to do the first half night watch with me just fine.  Once it was dark she could play on her DS to pass the time.  Could not do that during daylight, so she tended to sleep most of the day.  The passage could have been shortened by several hours but we kept the boat speed slow so that arrival would be during daylight when marina staff were working.  

Bill wanted to fill up with diesel so that we can leave here whenever we want, but this very nice marina does not have a fuel dock!  THAT was a surprise!  They directed us to proceed to Olimpic Marina a mile or so farther north.  There was a boat still docked in our assigned berth so we motored over to Olimpic and fueled up.  Upon arrival back at Port Vell we learned that the boat was still docked in our assigned berth.  So they docked us on the far wall temporarily.  It was a long walk from there to the marina office but they kindly offer cart service.  Just hail on the radio and they come pick you up.  And deliver you back.   How nice!  We have never stayed in a marina with this service. 

Another view from our berthing spot.  This marina
is right in the heart of Barcelona.  Great location.

A nice surprise!  Steven and Carol on M/V SEABIRD, the couple on the lovely Nordhavn whom we met in Siracusa, are also berthed here.  We had just missed Bill and Janet on S/V AIRSTREAM.  They had departed south for the Balearic Islands while we were sailing over from Sardinia.  Just missed each other.  We joined Steven and Carol for dinner at a local restaurant one night to sample that paella for which Spain is so famous.  They will be here awhile so maybe we can get together again.

A few nights ago we met up with Dennis and Virginia who own a sister-ship Amel called LIBERTAD.  They left LIBERTAD in the boatyard at Olimpic Marina for the winter while they traveled back to California and had arrived back on the boat just hours before we fueled up there.  Small world!  It was great to catch up with them again.  We might be seeing one another again as we both make our ways to the Canary Islands to cross the Atlantic next winter.

All we have heard from everyone is how very hot it gets around this part of Spain in August and how very crowded it gets in the Balearic Islands and elsewhere during the month of August when everything in Spain shuts down for the month and everyone goes on holiday.  They do not spread employee vacations out over the year as businesses do in the USA.  Over here they just shut the businesses down and everyone goes on vacation for the entire month of August.  We are not inclined to fight for anchorage or marina space with all the vacationers.  

This is right next to the marina.  The granddaughter
was more excited about this (and McDonald's and
Burger King nearby) than the grandeur of old Barcelona

As a result, we have decided to stay here in Barcelona for another month.  It is wonderfully pleasant to sleep with the air conditioning and we are not in a hurry to forfeit that luxury.  The marina moved us to our 'permanent' berth on a floating pontoon a couple of days ago.  It actually has finger piers!!  Have not seen those in a long time! 

First thing we did was put up the shade awning.  That awning that we have not used since Turkey.  It helps a lot by keeping direct sunlight off the deck; thereby keeping the interior several degrees cooler.  Fans make daytime tolerable; nights are blissful with air conditioning.

We are taking the opportunity of this prolonged stay in Barcelona to have the main saloon reupholstered.  We had purchased the fabric months ago and received it in Sicily via an Italian pilot friend, a fellow Amel owner who graciously offered to bring this fabric from Houston to Sicily for us since he regularly flies to Houston.  We obtained quotes and decided this morning which company to use.   The upholsterer hopes to have the work finished before he closes the shop on 7 August.  We are looking forward to a fresh new look inside the boat.  The old upholstery is okay.  It is worn only on the settee where people tend to rest their arms -- and an arm cap (I have the fabric) would solve that.  But we are ready for a new look.  Hope it turns out as we see it in our minds' eyes.  Photos next month when completed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bill and Judy,

    Greetings from Cream Puff. We hope you enjoy Barcelona. We were there for a couple of weeks a few years ago and really enjoyed it. We stayed at the Hotel Arts not far from where you are now. From there we rented a car and drove over the Pyrenees Mountains to Foix France on the E-9. It was a stunningly beautiful drive! If you chose to do it, we can recommend the Hotel Lons in Foix.
    Be sure to check out Sitges, just down the coast from you. It is a beautiful coastal town.

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff


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