Argyll to Africa

I Thought It Was Tangiers I Wanted

I know now
That Notre Dame is in Paris.
And the Seine is more to me now
Than a wriggling line on a map
Or a name in travel stories.

I know now
There is a Crystal Palace in Antwerp
Where a hundred women sell their naked bodies,
And the night-lovers of sailors
Wait for men on docks in Genoa.

I know now
That a great golden moon
Like a picture-book moon
Really rises behind palm groves
In Africa,
And tom-toms do beat
In village squares under the mango trees.

I know now
That Venice is a church dome
And a net-work of canals,
Tangiers a whiteness under sun.
I thought
It was Tangiers I wanted,
Or the gargoyles of Notre Dame,
Or the Crystal Palace in Antwerp,
Or the golden palm-grove moon in Africa,
Or a church dome and a net-work of canals.

Happiness lies nowhere,
Some old fool said,
If not within oneself.

It’s a sure thing
Notre Dame is in Paris, —
But I thought it was Tangiers I wanted.

Langston Hughes

“How do you fancy a wee jaunt over to Tangiers instead of going straight to Gibraltar? It’s only 25Nm, so a morning’s sail really?”

Now this was an exciting and romantic prospect and not one we had included in the planning but seemed a good idea.  We upped anchor from Barbate bay, having moved out the marina before staying overnight, once we had filled up with water, rested, grabbed a Mojito at the marina bar and showered. The marina was grim, rubbish floating in the water, the town’s dogs were walked along the sidewalks to relieve themselves and the boat next to us had a really noisy wind generator. Lying at anchor is always more peaceful, quieter and free.

We set off full of Eastern promise and I sat on deck gazing out to the south hoping to see a first glimpse of the African continent. We had visited Morocco before for a friend’s wedding and had fond memories of it – apart for my initial near meltdown – and had often talked about returning. I never anticipated sailing there.

The sail over was nice and I spotted a pretty large shark cruising the surface with its tail fin sweeping side to side and dorsal staying straight on course.

Hmm, it says in the information we must display the Moroccan flag and Q flag  to be allowed entry. We don’t have them” J stated. “However, I do have a red t-shirt and some black electrical tape!”

We Googled the flag and within minutes had created our version of the flag and with sewing up the Spanish flag to hide the red bands and create the yellow only Q (quarantine) flag, the captain proudly raised them on the spreaders. It would have taken a force 10 gale to made the t-shirt flag actually fly but from a distance it looked ok. I hoped they would receive it well and not take it as an insult instead!

“I can see land!” I smiled. It did look different, houses all bright white and different design fishing boats with high prows roving across the bay. I called the number for the marina and we were told to wait at the clearance berth. Here goes?

A uniformed marinara met us on the immaculate pontoon and instructed the captain to go to the customs and police offices.  I was to wait in the boat. I suddenly felt a bit inappropriate in my vest top and skimpy shorts so went below and changed into tunic top and long trousers. I remembered from our last visit, feeling better being respectful of the host country’s customs.

Well the t-shirt must of worked as the captain returned beaming

“We’re in!” He announced. The marinera came with us and we were personally shown to our berth, only another 6 sailing yachts in the large, brand new marina. We were given a tour of the facilities which were luxurious and pristine. It was like a high end marina in Monaco with a security guard at every entrance, cleaners out daily polishing the railings, hosing the pontoons, shooing the seagulls off the decking in case they poo and even scooping the feathers out the water! However it was also the cheapest berth at the equivalent of £15/night, half price of anywhere so far and comparable to a mooring in Tobermory Harbour!

We showered, changed and headed out hand in hand, to explore the town which was right at the end of the marina walkway. The urban, shiny, seafront complete with fountains soon gave way to cobbled streets, tiny alleyways, souks and street vendors in the medina. We made our way uphill to the Kasbar and valiantly avoided being given a tour by a persistent man, who of course had lived there all his life and knew more than anyone about Tangiers.

Perusing a small boutique built in the walls of the Kasbar I spied a pretty necklace , its design reminding me of an ocean wave. On seeing my hesitance, a well dressed and elegant French lady, bent over and said

“Ziz is very nice shop you know. Monsieur Alaoui is a very well-known scholar about Tangiers, he is in the newspaper for his knowledge. His things are good things.” She indicated a newspaper cutting lying on the stone shelf. He was also very knowledgeable about a lot of things and we had a very in-depth discussion on Scottish independence and the history of Stirling castle!

J negotiated “ a very good price” and left with it proudly around my neck.

Sitting outside at one of the 20 small tables along the front of the “Salon de The” we sipped on the delightful , sweet, mint tea, I happened to look around to realise I was the only women in the café outside or in! It appeared the form was the men sit around drinking tea or milky spiced coffee and chatting while the women shopped, cleaned and prepared food – well not this woman!

As it was getting dark we decided to find dinner and found a streetside café serving tagines. It took some negotiation to order a vegetarian one for me and much discussion ensued between the waiter and the chef and I think they were basically saying “Give her the chicken one and tell her not to eat the chicken!” Simple? And that is what they did. I term myself a “flexitarian” and at times this is the way it has to be. It was delicious and the bottle of Fanta accompanying it cost more than the meal, £3!

Back in the sanctuary of the marina I lay listening to the rhythms and sounds of the city, the melodious call to prayers and staring up at the stars through the bedroom hatch. Although we were only across the water from Europe, it was definitely different.

Next day, after we cleaned the inside of the boat, much to my husband’s amusement I could only survive cleaning the floor on my hands and knees in my underwear as it was sweltering, I elected for a swim at the beach across the lawn from the marina. While J sat and observed, I waded in fully clothed as there were not many other women swimming. It was difficult swimming in full length cotton trousers and they kept dragging down my hips, so my attempt to keep my hair dry failed as I had to keep yanking them up with one hand and swim with the other! I emerged refreshed but hardly like Ursula Andress in Dr No from the surf, more like , well a 55 yr old Scots woman in soaked clothing clinging to me, my trousers now grown an extra foot in length due to the weight and dragging through the sand behind me . My husband shook his head.

You’re mad!” Probably but I was cool.

The captain decided he would treat himself to a hammam and he took himself off to one we had noticed the previous night in the old medina, I was tempted but it was male only and I was not  brave enough to go find a women’s one, so after a shower and dressing in dry cloths,  I relaxed with mint tea up on the terrace of the marina watching the Moroccans enjoy this seaside location.

He returned clean and slightly subdued.

“I don’t know if I have been invigorated or violated but it was great!” he announced.

Stravaigin had also been “cleansed”, its little nooks and crannies also exfoliated and hosed by the marinaras at a “very special price for you, my good friends” but it certainly was and I think they were gentler on the boat than the large Moroccan  in the hammam!

Feeling clean, relaxed and it being the last night in Tangiers we strode off into town again that evening for a “nice” meal. I had found out about a little bistro up by the kasbar, 10 mins walk, where you can sit on soft cushions and rugs out on the roof top terrace and watch the sun go down . It served veggie food, cheap and sounded perfect. However on leaving the marina we told the marinaras where we intended to go and they recommended a different place and gave us directions. Well it was a much longer walk and when we got there, found it was very western coach tour like hotel serving western food and much dearer than the tagine places we had found previously. We gave it a miss and tried to walk to the other place I had found out about but the evening unravelled big time due to being tired, hot, sweaty, frustrated = “hangry”.  We ended up walking for over an hour and the evening ended with me having a bowl of cornflakes in my cabin while the captain had a pizza on the deck!

After a frosty start, not due to the weather, we left Morocco and made the tricky crossing over the straits of Gibraltar, holding our course across the shipping lanes as is the form but captain had to radio one of the enormous cargo vessels steaming ahead of us to ascertain what he wanted us to do, best to ask as he was a lot bigger than us! Having been requested to go astern of him we finally came out the ship’s motorway and breathed a sigh of relief. A huge pod of dolphins welcomed us into Gibraltar bay, leaping clear of the water and splashing on their backs, obviously hunting in a large shoal of fish. Enormous sun fish leapt out the water too and landed awkwardly on their sides in a random fashion.

The large rock loomed ahead and seemed so out of place in this otherwise flattish coast line. I was quite excited about it having childhood memories of geography picture books of the rock with its resident apes and now I was sailing right beneath it! J too had an association as his old man had been here in the 70’s with the RAF as he was air crew on the Avro Shackletons, carrying out sorties in the Med while he was stationed on Malta and had told him fondly about La Bayuca and the “best onion soup I have ever had!”. And the great nights out of course with his crew members, drinking G&T in the bar.

We fuelled up as recommended as it is tax free, then quickly scooted over to the Spanish side to get a berth at La Linea, leaving the pumping tunes blasting out the floating Casino hotels and motorboats razzing about, behind.

Alcaidesa Marina was in contrast much quieter, calmer and continental, so suited us fine.

Next day, all pals again, I had a morning run while J built up the bikes we had brought with us and we cycled over the border to Gib, basically for a look and to buy some cheap booze, also tax free. (1lt of Gin, £5!) Crossing the border was weird, we just flashed our passports at them and then walked across the runway of the airport. There are traffic lights that stop the traffic if a plane needs to take off or land! We took pictures of the RAF base to send to J’s dad and explored the tiny, strange enclave that is Gib, England in the sun by the sea with its “Best British Fish and Chip” bars, Marks and Spencers and The Horseshoe Pub serving steak pies and spotted dick for pudding. However we did find 21 Turnbull Lane and La Bayuca, the scene of fond memories for Papa J and then beat a hasty retreat, even deciding the E30 to go up the cable car was not worth it.

Back on the boat, we relaxed on the deck watching the cloud condense on the summit of the rock and all cuddly having agreed our earlier “frostiness “ was silly but understandable given our, at times intense and stressful, new living arrangements.

60’s tunes wafted over from the boat across the pontoon and we realised the retired couple next to us had joined the retired single gentleman on his new boat and the conversation appeared to focus on the swinging sixties and the rock groups they followed and had seen in concert. The single guy had been a rock group agent/journalist so was busy boasting about who he had interviewed and made arrangements for and the ladies who he had , well , “met?” The hours went on, the music got louder “Love, love me do “ playing merrily and laughter emanated from the cockpit.  More hours later I noticed the little blonde gal like Babs Windsor striding off down the pontoon and mournful wails coming from the cabin of the neighbouring boat, “Karen. Karen” he wailed.

Shall I tell him she’s gone for a walk?” I suggested to J. “Nah, he’s rat arsed” stated J.

A pantomime followed starring the poor, inebriated guy, searching the boat in his boxers, wailing “Karen” intermittently, then throwing up and disappearing into his cabin again. Karen aka Babs returned in the dark and sat on the deck, arms firmly crossed. Inebriated guy passed her on the other side of the boat in the dark and stumbled over to the party boat and called the single guy up from his bunk who appeared in his boxers, belly overhanging substantially and a shaking of his head – speech not enabled – told him she wasn’t there! However, before I went to bed I noticed the couple sitting on the deck, his arm around her and at least 5, I’m sorry,s and 7, But I luv you Karen, s were heard. I smirked, well at least our little tiff was not that bad then.

“Morning” a sober and spritely gent hailed over to us “ You missed the party last night! I believe I was a little giddy, I hope I did not disturb you? “ he raised his eyebrows innocently.

“Never heard a thing” I lied, smiling innocently.

It was nice to have a couple of days to get active on the bikes, swim and run, shop, laundry and catch up with family on Skype before the next crew arrived for the next adventure, off to the Balearics.

“..,And the night-lovers of sailors
Wait for men on docks in Genoa. “

And I’m pretty sure also in La Linea and hopefully Palma too!

Ships Passing


Sometimes when the night comes on
and Venus rises bright over the river,

I think I can see a boat floating white
in the mist, and my heart opens

with a fainting motion, laying back
on its bed of flesh.

Oh, to see the boat, going its way
towards the great, unfathomable sea.

L.L. Barkat



“I’m not really a sailor, only bought ve boat a year or so ago and fought, how ‘ard can it be?” Admitted the tall, amiable, man from Coventry.

“I’m on me own and fancied a winter in Spain so I’ve brought her dawn ‘er and hope I’ll make it to Spain!”

“Well you seem to have managed so far” I added encouragingly.

“Yeah but only because I ‘ad some 70 year old bloke what ‘ad been rand the world, telling me what ta do! An’ he’s goawn now so I’m trying to work it all auwt” He sighed and drew deeply on his fag.

He ambled along beside me as we went up to the marina office in Sines to check in.  I marvelled at his bravery and wondered how on earth these folks manage to get this far unscathed, when we seem to spend most of our time alert and trying our best to execute every manoeuvre safely and correctly.

“Awwh, ve’ve got a pool, fantastic, I could do wiv a swim!” He beamed, as we got to the top floor of the building, which opened out through glass doors to a piazza type frontage.

I giggled. “Erhm I think it’s a fountain but I dare you to swim in it” I challenged. He grinned at with a glint in his eye that made me think, oh jeez, I think he just might!

I love meeting these eclectic bunch of sea farers wherever we go. Most are couples like ourselves, usually a bit older, semi-retired but some are like us taking time out to follow a passion before health deteriorates or grandchildren appear and make the prospect of being away less appealing.

I smiled at the elderly English couple walking slowly along the pontoon, arm in arm, she with her walking stick and he dressed in his whites, including cap and knee high socks. How lovely that they are still able to travel like this. Then there is the Scandinavians, always annoyingly good looking, boats elegant and immaculate, blonde, tanned female, reclining on deck in stylish white and navy knitwear, like a brochure for healthy living.

The Brits, usually sailing in small flotillas, who seem to get very stressed when they come in to tie up then shuffle about until all the group end up on one boat and the drinkies appear with the Ipads as they research what the local area has to offer, usually reading all the bad Trip Advisor reports first.

And then there is the animals. The sea dogs are an assorted bunch, some are huge hounds that woouf at passer byes, while wagging enormous bushy tails that serve as deck sweeps, the yappy terriers sporting neat little lifejackets, that cock their wee legs on the deck regularly, exerting their territorial rights. And a couple of sleek grey hounds who glide along the pontoon with matching collars and leads and a most aloof look. I did wonder about a hound on a boat but they were headed for the beach to stretch out their long legs and race across the flat firm surface. I remembered our wee cross-breed dog, who would come sailing on our small boat with all the kids and spent most of her time standing in the saloon, looking as green as a black and white collie dog can and patiently waiting until we rowed her ashore for welcome relief and solid ground. Her only issue was, unless you kept a tight hold on her collar in the dinghy, she would leap ashore from a great distance before we had time to dock, usually ending in her submerging and remerging to scrabble up the rocks and shake vigorously, at which all the kids would yell unanimously,

“She’s not sleeping in my bunk tonight!”

She was such a sport, as long as she was with us, she didn’t mind. In fact I recall one time she definitely used up one of her many lives when the captain went sea kayaking with another couple, down at the shore in front of our house and was not aware she was sniffing around the shore along from him.

I got a phone call from him from a mile or so down the coast asking me to come and get the dog!

A fishing boat, by sheer luck, had passed them and asked them if they knew there was a small black dog was swimming after them! She had to be hauled across the deck of the kayak and paddled back to shore for collection, I hate to think what would have happened if that boat had not spied her.

A nice retired couple from Ayrshire came over to chat to us and warned us we may find their black cat on our boat as she tends to wander, in fact she announced, it was the only time they argue as to whose shot it was to go and find the cat in the marina. To avoid this they usually anchor out however they  have to pay the price when they return to the boat having left her for a couple of hours, while they shop or sight see.

“She is a wee besom, she curls round yer ankles aw nice then when you bend down tae pat her, she sinks her teeth inti yae! Look at my erms”

Right enough, she was fairly lacerated. The ancient Egyptians thought cats were gods, they have never forgotten this.

It certainly is part of the fun in staying at a marina when we are forced to live next to all kinds of people and share the usual,

“Where are you from, where have you been, where are you going?”

Most folks are pretty impressed we have only taken a month to sail from Oban to Andalucía as it seems the general form is to leave Northern Europe in May and meander down. However, we did not have that luxury having work commitments preventing us from leaving until mid August so we are pretty much on the move every day. It’s fun though as you never know what the next day will bring and where you will be spending the night.

We left Sines stuffed. Literally, stuffed. We had wandered into the lovely wee town for lunch and happened across a tiny taverna, Adega de Sines, plain tiled walls inside and marble benches with wooden stools. A smiley lady gesticulated to us to come in and sit down, then a performance began! As we had no Portuguese and the delightful staff no English, I was taken over to the ancient BBQ built into the wall serving as a window onto the street where the ash spewing out of it covered the parked cars in front. The similarly ancient chef gave me a toothless grin as he deftly flipped the fish over, something I reckon he had been doing since a boy. I was shown there was only two options, Sardines or Chicken legs. No problem. Then I was taken by the hand into the tiny kitchen which was full of smiley ladies stirring bubbling pots and pans, she raised the lid on one and showed me a bean soup/stew and picked up a huge, what looked like a dog whelk, shell and waved it about. “Boa, boa”

Ok I agreed, “Boa!” =  good and it was brought out in stages. First the salad, bread, beer and potatoes, then the whelk bean stew which was delicious but very filling. I did not want any mains as this was enough but J had ordered his favourite sardines so when the man came to clear our plates he gesticulated for him to keep his cutlery and said something about his plate, we though he meant he’d give him a clean plate but no – he appeared back with another helping of stew! Poor J, he hates waste so insisted I had to eat it so he could have his sardines! Boy did I struggle but I did my best. Then she appeared with a tray of homemade creamy desserts or slices of melon and insisted we choose something.  I thought the lesser of the evils was the melon until she slide two huge slices onto my plate! All these, plus drinks for 12 euros each!

I tried to swim it off when we got back to boat but failed and lay in bed that night, groaning. Was glad to leave Sines though as the petrochemical fumes were intoxicating. Nice sail on to Sagres which was lovely at anchor off a small beach. Our former crew mate Stewart had been there a few days previously with Amy and gave us lots of great recommendations however we arrived late in the day and had to anchor off making getting ashore tricky. Pity as I had fancied the smoothies he told me about and the launderette with yoga while you wait!

There was a great commotion going on over at the fishing port and it turned out the world championship spear fishing contest had been held that day but was just finishing and the weigh in was going on, hence the cheers every time a weight was announced. There seemed a party going in that night and our neighbours, two gap year looking lads ardently rowed over to see what they could catch at the lively marquee.

A lovely morning swim from the boat to wander along the beach refreshed me but had to up anchor and leave after breakfast to get to Faro in time. Great winds so had a nice sail but was a chunky push up against the outflowing tide to get up the estuary to anchor in a nice bay south of Faro. It was so peaceful, you would not know there was a city across the bay.

Early start again which is becoming a bit of a routine to make the long hours at sea to reach our next anchorage before dark as there are not many along the coast. Reached the river estuary that is the border between Portugal and Spain and took a berth at Ayamonte Marina on the Spanish side which was ok but a but smelly due to a low tide exposing mud flats. Made use of the facilities and treated ourselves to a lovely meal, only now actually feeling like we could eat again! Pulpo a la Gallega was amazing and had been recommended by my Catalan daughter-in-law-to-be! It was sublime, soft sweet slices of octopus in light oil and paprika. Nice little Andalucian holiday resort town with the usual mixture of cafes, tapas bars, fiesta squares with ride-on kiddy cars and souvenir shops.

Having had our fill of that, we made our way towards Cadiz and anchored across the breakwater from a Naval base, not sure how happy they were with the captain skinny dipping but as he posed no obvious threat to national security, we were not asked to move on. These ships were happy to pass us in the night.

All At Sea




..,One of the great early explorers his legend is still living today
The one who died in Cochin in India from Portugal so far away
He risked the wild waves fraught with danger in his quest for fortune and fame
And he discovered the sea route to India and Vasco Da Gama was his name.

Francis Duggan

And I thought it was a Glasgow thing, these sweet buttery tarts filled with thick set custard ,that are my delight and diet downfall, however it seems they are a speciality of Portugal, oh dear! However as we had actually walked today I decided I had earned one – it was so worth it! Figueira da Foz was a pleasant wee place, functional but fit for purpose and supplied all we needed including pastries! Daylight had revealed we were in a much bigger place than appeared last night in the gloom. Showered, filled with water and fresh supplies bought, we carried on our journey, realising now we had a fairly tight timescale to get down into the Med and over to Sicily for the winter approaching.

Headed out in lovely sunshine, I took advantage by some sunbathing and was later joined by an enormous gathering of dolphin who seemed to take it in turns to head up the bow and endlessly streaked along, diving under the keel and leaping off the sides. The water was crystal clear and calm and I could see every mark on their shiny bodies and teeth as they smiled up at me.

We realised we had left a bit late as by the time we approached  Nazare down the coast, it was dark, not the best time to navigate the coastline renowned for the biggest surf waves in Europe! Portuguese surfer Hugo Vau surfed an incredible 115ft wave known as “the big mama” in January this year, yet to be authenticated by the Guinness Book of records as the biggest ever recorded surf! We crept in, me shining a torch to pick out buoys and fishing rafts and finally dropped anchor beneath the towering cliffs on one side and the breakers surging on shore on the other.

After a long day we nestled in the cabin but I could not sleep due to the noise of the waves and the swell.

A long day at sea followed, not much wind so unfortunately had to motor which is noisy, expensive and against how we like to travel with as little impact on the environment as possible. However needs must. Next landfall was west of Peniche at some rocky islands, Ilha da Berlenga, doubling as a bird nesting reserve and a day tripper resort. The coastal geography was fabulous with lots of arches, stacks, caves and wave cut platforms but the human geography less impressive. We explored the suggested anchorages but one was too narrow, the other too scary at the entrance to a huge cave like Fingal’s Cave on Staffa with rocky skerries all around. Luckily the captain decided we would anchor off an amazing looking medieval fort. It was still a bit swelly but better than the night before. We decided to explore this intriguing place so J rowed ashore deciding he needing the exercise and we looked forward to visiting the fortified monastery however it was a weird place inside resembling a lap dancing club with scantily clad beatniks, lounging about on futons or gyrating to a Latino beat! We left them to it and made the steep climb up the stone steps to the top of the island, the path winding among sea bird nests and I wandered over to look down on the “village of fisherman”, hmm, was more like a refugee camp with tents in square walled areas of dirt and the ubiquitous tie dyed pareo strung out for shade. Glad to be rowing back to the sanctuary of the boat, we settled in for another bumpy night – the sea state, not the effects of the Latino beat!

“You stay in bed and I’ll take her out” ordered the skipper as I was suffering with a third night of little sleep making me a bit off, weak and nauseous, and with a 9hr day at sea ahead I was grateful to try to gain a bit of strength back. The day was punctuated by leaping sunfish looking fish that leaped clear of the water in a random fashion and a shark, not a big one maybe 1.5m but a shark never the less.

Days at sea are very different from days ashore, we settle into a routine of cups of tea or hot chocolate, chatting – I do marvel that even after 37 years together we never seem to run out of conversation – checking the charts, napping and food prep. But mostly I just sit on my comfy cushion, keep watch, watch the sea go by and think. I have always enjoyed thinking time and now I have oceans of it, it is such a luxury. I dwell on the past, my friends, my children, funny things that have happened and events that have taken place. Just as well I have a love of silence and space as I am getting plenty of it.

“How desperate are you for a marina tonight, as it is very expensive and for super yachts?!” the captain posed the rhetorical question.

“Oh not really, anchoring is fine” I lied, fantasizing most of the day about a fresh warm shower and a calm night. Even though we have showers on board we are always careful with water usage when out at sea for some time. As it turned out Cascais was a lovely anchorage and as soon as we have set the anchor I lowered myself into the cold water to freshen up. It was lovely though once I had acclimatised and reminded myself it was a lot warmer than Scottish west coast water! The beach looked busy and fun but we were too tired to go ashore so had a nice meal of veggie bake and an early night as another long day was expected the next day.

Still no wind which is frustrating but not much we can do about it however was an enjoyable trip down the coast across the big bay and finally into a small well appointed marina at Sines. We were met by a Scot from Ayrshire and his wife who had sailed down in the spring and were wintering here with their wee black cat. At last a shower, hair wash and laundry then we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We wandered along the beach front very reminiscent of Rio de Janiero with its tiled pavements and beach side bars though when I tried to order a Caipirinha, the young lad looked at me quizzically and suggested a cidre, oh well, not quite Rio. He also told us there were restaurants along the front and to keep walking. Well walk we did, for ages, getting darker and colder and nearly at the smelly petro-chemical plant along the coast! I’m sure we were on a motorway hard shoulder at one point until we rounded back into the outskirts of the town that looked like a ghetto with burnt out tyres lying around mangy dogs prowling about. With the help of good old Googlemaps we navigated finally to the centre of Sines and we stumbled, literally, across a fabulous restaurant with a restricted menu of meat or fish, perfect! We enjoyed plates of delicately fried mussels, dorado and sea bass accompanied by rustic bread, salad and sweet buttery potatoes, a staple with every meal here making us feel quite at home. Replete we strolled back down the short walk to the marina having now found that the restaurant and old part of the town was practically above the non-Caipirinha serving bar! Anyway, it meant we came across the fabulous fort, its walls covered in pretty fairy lights and a statue of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer standing proudly surveying the bay.

Sliding into clean, fresh sheets, with clean hair, clean body, with Stravaigin calmly tied up, I fell fast asleep at last. Exploring is hard work. Dreams don’t work unless you do.


Porto Night

From door to door until the light,

players cruise the Porto night.

Endless streams of cat dance haze,

private like their secret stays.

Loose and warm and smooth and sweet,

magic merges into body heat.

Oxana dances on her private stage,

Daniella lures them into her cage.

The Porto river pulls out to sea,

and drains the anger out of me.

The music flows into my ears,

and calms the storm that rages here.

Through these doors I am revealed,

my twisted heart is washed and healed.

James Fredholm




“And would you like fresh bread delivered to your boat in the morning?”

“Erhhm, yes?”

“And we can book you in for a free Port tour and tasting at the best Port producer in Porto, just let us know an hour that suits you and I will arrange”


“There is a free shuttle bus that will collect you from the Supermarche and bring you back here with your shopping when you like plus a lovely wood fired Pizzeria 5 mins walk from the marina. And we have a gym, showers, laundry and a nice seafront bar all for you!”


“And the old fishing village of Afurada is 5 mins away along the Douro river side, full of tavernas with fresh seafood BBQ and small cobbled street alleys, the prettiest in Porto. Now how long would you like to stay?”

6 months!!!

“Oh just 2 nights thank you”

Douro Marina was a delight and just the perfect introduction to our couple cruising. We sorted out the boat now we had it all to ourselves, spreading out into the now spare two cabins. I found my “nice” clothes in a locker, it was like catching up with old friends! I also unearthed my shoes, “Imelda Marcos collection” J had labelled them! This all proved to be quite therapeutic as I had experienced a real dose of the blues that morning as we left Bayona and sailed south down the Portuguese coast. It was pretty lumpy and I had a collision of headaches, fatigue, aching back, mosquito bites and homesickness. I retreated to my cabin to give in to it. I was enjoying the trip of course but three words from my Mum in our phone call the night before resonated in my head “I miss you”.

A chat with J later in the afternoon resolved the blues and we decided I would either pop home as soon as feasible or fly her out to join us. I know how important I am, we are, to her as she is on her own having lost Dad over 20 years ago and my brother 6 years ago and part of deciding to go on this adventure, was that we would return frequently to visit so as to make the 11 months away not seem so long. She had urged us to go and follow our desires, she has never stood in my way in any of my ideas, proud of the trips and travels I go, but never stops being a Mum that worries about me. “Keep your wits about you” she advised. Having three adventurous sons, I know where she is coming from.

Cleaned up and dressed in nice clothes – and shoes – we strolled along the Douro river under the huge bridge that is the trademark of Porto and admired the alleyways slipping off up the hill, winding their way to hidden residences of terracotta roofs and creamy walls. We found a workman’s café serving a set lunch of homemade soup, bread, salad, rice and grilled meat or fish plus beer or  wine for 5 Euros! It was nice to get out the baking sun and we sat in the cool cafe, the staff joking with a toothless local while they cooked and we used the WIFI to sort out a rental our youngest son was taking on with his girlfriend back in Glasgow. A new adventure for him as he commences University and she a career in law, exciting times.

“I prefer the Ruby” I decided after hearing all about the Port making and sampling White, Tawny and Vintage as well. I still could only think of this drink at Christmas with Stilton and it seems to linger around for a few weeks while the cheese hardens and is usually the last to go once we decide the eating has to stop and we need to be in bed before 2 am and up before 10am as the routine of work rears its head in early January.

“We’ll take a bottle of White” states the Captain, as we are converted by the smiling tour guide, that it is perfect served cold as an aperitif with some salted almonds. Just need to buy some almonds.

After the softest and best tasting bbq squid, plus falling off the bones sardines, we have ever had at a pavement cafe, we sat out in the cockpit finishing a glass of red when an attractive, tanned couple wandered over.

“Ve are trying to vork out what flag dat is?” The tall gentleman mused.

We had cheekily made our version of the Red Ensign incorporating the St Andrews cross instead of the Union Jack, in the red surrounds.

“Scotland” states the Captain proudly.

This lovely Danish couple came aboard, joining us in the red, they were on a similar trip as us but had 2 years to spend, he was a fine wine importer (hearing this J hurriedly moved the cheap bottle of Chilean red from view!)   and had worked out he could run his business remotely so could take longer away if needed. She was lovely, with a cute upturned nose that wrinkled in disapprovement when she told me of her friends’ plans to join them but had changed their minds as “ Ver too busy!” They gave us some recommendations about Porto as had been there 10 days, the lure of fresh bread deliveries hooked them! They also marvelled at our speed of 20 days from Oban to Porto, they had left Jutland 5 months ago, however they were coastal hopping the whole way down, avoiding long sails as much as possible. They had crossed the Bay of Biscay on a short crossing of 3 days but she sighed ” It vos ‘orrible, big big waves and scary!” I was glad we stuck to our plan of staying out the bay, beyond the Continental shelf to avoid these conditions.

I did envy them a sighting of a blue whale though.

We left Douro, after the morning bread delivery, and made our way ever south to Aviero, accompanied by dolphins leaping inches from my toes as they dangled over the bow. They stayed for ages, their inquisitive eyes meeting mine. I could smell them, an oily fishy but strange pungent odour – unique to them. Their puff out of breath, synchronised with my giggles. What wonderful creatures they are, choosing to come and interact with us. We would often see a small group of them some way off and then realising we were passing they would turn and career headlong towards us like a pack of farm collies seeing a car speeding by their place and run, barking and yelping to chase it along at the tyres side. Game on! Running, swimming, leaping, jumping, splashing.

Evening anchor at Aviero, a small lagoon just off an air force base, my plan to get a swim thwarted by the enormous Lion’s Mane jelly fish, cruising around the boat like intergalactic aliens, trailing their stingy tentacles metres behind them!

The military bugle from the base sounded evening meal time and I served up a risotto of grilled peppers. The area around was a nice mixture of local industry, salt pans and fishing with a large cargo dock, cranes towering over the huge container ships.

It is always a pleasure sitting at anchor in the evening watching the sea birds feeding, delicate terns dipping in the surface and gulls constantly squawking over someone’s catch.

Morning sun beckoned us to get moving and we enjoyed a strong sail along the beach lined coast. I was unaware how much beach there is in Portugal, it is endless and unspoilt looking.

Lying back enjoying the sun, my legs crossed over the sides, I was suddenly splashed by a large tail fluke of a big dolphin as if to say  “Hiya lazy bones, come and play!” This group were much bigger in body size but still the common variety and raced across the bow until they bored of the game and shot off as quickly as they had arrived.

I called home and had an upbeat conversation with Mum and we decided on her coming out to join us in Sicily for her 90th birthday in November, perfect. A happy chat with my middle son and his fiancé made me feel right at home with tales of a hazy BBQ the night before with the local mountain rescue team and home made decorations for the forth coming wedding in Catalonia coming along nicely. All is well, so am I.

The sun began to fade as mist gathered and I felt a coolness and dampness  necessitating a wee cardi. The mist thickened and the wind died until we were in a thick fog bank. Visibility was down to 10 m and we slowed right down keeping a careful watch as fishing buoys appeared suddenly through the gloom. For an hour or so we crept along, fog horn at the ready until I spied a dark shape on the port side, the break water at last.

We edged in and up the river, small fishing boats looming out the fog every so often, until we saw the entrance to the marina at Foz.

Tied up next to a Netherland boat, heading across the ocean to Suriname ( I smiled as I remembered my youngest son spending new year there while on a year’s charity project ) on our port and an English boat, cruising like us, on our starboard. We breathed a sigh of relief safe in harbour, I was pretty proud of the skipper navigating our way here in such conditions. Time for that chilled glass of White port – still think I’d prefer Ruby.

R and R



If I were a ship on its maiden voyage

I would invariably face south, only if you were there

I would float west, whatever climatic weather

I would turn east, forge or even bear North West

I would forsake the compass, and its trusted North

Just…to have your wind in my sails

Silvi Silva

“Its like Millport on a wet Sunday” sighs Paul as we huddle under the parasol, now doing a feeble job as an umbrella, our feet splattered with muddy spray from the raindrops dotting all around us.

“You’re on yer holidays, enjoy it!”

We all laugh and finish up our Estrella Galicias at this campsite bar and decide it’s time to make a dash for the beach and dingy back on board before the lightning and thunder make this foray a little too risky.

Stravaigin is anchored off the beach at the pretty little Cies Isles, a nature reserve visited by hoards of visitors disgorged from relentless passenger boats from early morning and sweep away by evening to leave it peaceful and relatively quiet save the ardent campers at the campsite, the distant funky tunes from speakers and faint whiff of accompanying “herbal” tobacco, drifting over the bay.

We had spent a delightful day or so in Vigo, restocking, washing, eating squid, peppers padron, drinking wines and beers and generally relaxing. The captain haggled with a smiling Senegalese for a wide brimmed sun hat for me and I felt quite chic strolling along the esplanade. “Fancies her barra” my mum would day!

It was sadly time for Stuart to leave and return to his fascinating life between Toulon and Cambridge. I so enjoyed meeting this lovely, calm, appreciative, kind and intelligent gent. I had looked forward to my night watches with him when he would tell me stories of his life. We were fellow Glasgow University graduates and I shared stores of my childhood holidays on Islay where he had lived for a while. He talked into the night, his gentle voice wandering over the silvery waves, of early jobs in Texas as he was in petrochemical engineering, later times in Dubai with his family, the Congo, Muscat, Abudabi – all so exotic and classy sounding but I knew from his basic tastes and unmaterialistic ways, he would be happy with a good cup of coffee and a decent paper to read. We chatted about mutual experiences of the North Sea oil rigs as he had worked out there, just like the Captain who did a spell in the early days. I recalled the shifts patterns, the canteen meals he told me about , the disappointment when his back to back did not appear so he had to stay on, shortening his time ashore with me. Then the hedonistic days when he did come home, a fistful of dollars to spend on me! A man’s world out there, with a girl waiting at home.  Stuart smiled knowinly.

“Good times” he nodded wistfully, his eyes closed.

He clambered ashore and bade us a fond farewell, he stated it was one of the most enjoyable voyages he has taken, with some of the best company and good food he had experienced – pretty good accolade for a mariner with 60,000 miles at sea on his log.

As he went the bonny Aimee arrived. Stewart’s pretty girlfriend joined us having flown from Scotland to meet her boy the day before and had already explored Vigo. A self-assured and brave little lady, although she had recently returned from kayak guiding on the Amazon, she was delightfully unpretentious and had a beguiling innocence about her. It was nice having another girl aboard and I enjoyed seeing nice toiletries and pretty shoes lying around – a change from Lynx and smelly socks!

We left Vigo restocked, explored the greater bay area, the islands and spent the final night in Galicia anchored off a delightful remote beach, so calm and uninhabited. The first BBQ off the stern was a success, had to be meat for the gang and peppers for me as despite the gallant efforts by Paul to catch, trap, barter, buy, cajole local fisherman, no luck.

Next day meant the departure of the rest of the crew as the happy go lucky, always upbeat Paul reluctantly had to return to “real life”. I hugged him goodbye but knew we would meet again back in Alba, future sailing trips surely to come. I felt I knew his sassy American wife and active kids from all his stories. His humour and self deprecating style had been a real tonic and we would miss him. He left a really touching note in the chart table and I felt privileged to have met such a lovely man.

The young lovers took their leave as well, having enjoyed the time onboard but obviously eager to spend time alone, discover, explore and build their own memories as a couple. I smiled as they walked off, heavy bags on shoulders, but the lightness of life buoying their steps.  I envied them in some ways to have their  future lives ahead pf them. They will have such fun, such adventures, already having a home together and planning careers, who knows maybe even children someday – the greatest and most rewarding adventure of all.

I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Then it was just the two of us. We smiled at each other. “Its just you and me now babe” smiled the Captain as we headed south to Bayona.

I called wee Mum once at anchor and she told me all about when she and her dear late friend from Art School had cruised there and how she had bought not one but three pairs of designer sun glasses and a lipstick, of course.

How I adore her, her memories of travel are always highlighted by fashion, shopping and elegance. If I am half the women she is, I’ll be happy.

Morning light brings northerly winds to push us to a new country – Portugal.

We up anchor and set out, just the captain and me.

Dolphins in the Moonlight

I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant

 gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the

 wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing


And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long

trick’s over.

John Masefield


The warm, fresh water streamed down my legs and I watched the suds as they trickled down my body and pool around my feet. I stood under the constant spray of fresh water, my eyes closed, the water pouring over my hair and washing the salt clean from it.

Four days, 5 hours and 10 mins since I had stepped off land and now alighted from Stravaigin onto terra firma again. Four and a half days of constant sailing, the northerly winds pushing us further and further south, four and a half days of rationing fresh water, cooking while braced against the galley, of night watches starting at 6pm each night through to 10.30 in the morning, of filling the hot water urn for hot drinks in the night, of topping up the snack bag in the cockpit, of checking the AIS for other shipping, of camaraderie and one of the best experiences of my life.

I needn’t have worried about the infamous Biscay Crossing, it was beautiful, serene yet solemn. We set off in thick fog off the southern Irish coast, calm seas and a steady wind which allowed us a constant reach. The first night on watch was magical as the sun went down and the seas turned a golden sheet all around us. Now that I had made the decision I didn’t worry about heading out and actually was keen to get on with this voyage. As we headed out into the Atlantic, the seas took on a different mood, they somehow seemed thicker, more viscous, more serious, not the playful waves that break gently on our golden Hebridean beaches, not the foamy inlets that gather at the cliff edges on the Argyll coasts. This was an ocean.

We were out of sight of land pretty soon, mostly due to the fog and we became our own little floating island in the ocean. It was mild air and we sat out in the cockpit chatting a lot during the day and eating regularly. The days took on a rhythm and we settled into a regime, the sea was never boring, always changing, 50 shades of blue.

Suddenly a cry went up,

“A whale!”

We all came up on deck and watched an enormous whale rise and glide along the surface showing its smooth black back then a small dorsal fin before submerging gracefully. Time and time again it rose blowing out a tall shower of spray, 100m off our starboard side. We watched mesmerised by this leviathan of the seas. It seemed surreal, I’d seen them on our favourite Blue Planet documentaries but nothing compared to being alongside this fellow rover of the seas. It was at least 30m long on the back that it showed so maybe 60m in full length. A beautiful, gentle wild creature and we were travelling alongside in its habitat. It felt unreal, like I was experiencing this through someone else , I had to make myself believe it was really me.

Days were punctuated by eating and turns on the helm, trimming the sails then on the third day the winds died a little which meant putting the engine on to maintain our speed. We had hit a predicted lull in the winds and the gang decided it would be a great idea to go for a swim mid way across the Bay of Biscay! I was not too happy about this having spent the last 48 hours paranoid about no one falling overboard, now they were diving into the deep blue of the Abyssal Plain! It was fine of course but much as I love to swim in the sea I  was too nervous to join them.

Standing on the helm, rising her over the crests of the wave and laying her down gently on the other side to avoid banging, a small, grey and white creature leapt at my side and looked at me – dolphins! These playful pretty creatures joined us often and stayed sometimes for hours riding the bow wave and diving underneath the hull to reappear on the other side, with a leap and splash.

The stubby, cute faced fulmar glided by regularly, countless shearwaters flying just as they are named and occasional petrels looking so tiny and vulnerable in the vast watery plain.

We had a firm rule of lifejackets at all times when out of the cabin and lifelines on at night and when going on deck, everyone took this seriously. Along with double checking the gas was off after cooking and the waterpump off when finished with water as we couldn’t risk losing water only having a finite amount in our tanks. We were pretty sure we had plenty in our 2 tanks but wanted to err on the side of caution. Food was plentiful and amazing,  chilli con Quorn, pasta bolognaise, roast Argyll leg of lamb with roast potatoes too, spaghetti carbonara and chicken salads! Accompanied  by fine wines of course!

Evening shifts took on a different tempo. Geared up for an outdoor session, seaboots, hats, windproof layers and red-light torches at the ready we had 3 hour watch systems in place. These were magical times, silent but for the hissing and streaming of the waves against the hull, wind in the sails and our tunes playing over the waves. The moon appeared quickly and shone her light over the seas, so full you could make out the seas on her surface. Above the sky sprinkled with stars, below the phosphorescence  echoing the sparkles in the stars.

I glanced up at one point as a jet flew over slowly, heading west to the Americas and I mused about the passengers choosing their films, ordering their snacks and drinks, settling bored children and absently thumbing through the inflight magazines, do they know below them is  a little boat with five people sailing the ocean, passing through the night, filling each hour with conversation and stories. We shared stories of raising children, travels, careers, places we had stayed, places we had visited, places we wanted to visit.

Watch change was always welcome, peeling off the outer wind proof layers and clambering into bunks and the rocking motion of the boat soon meant we were fast asleep for our 4 hour break.

I never tired of watching the waves, the swell not too big at 3m, the foam streaming by as our bow broke the surface. I felt safe and secure and very privileged to be out on these seas, something not many people get the chance to experience.

I awoke on the last morning after my early morning shift and glanced at the chart plotter to sea land marked at the edge of the screen. We are getting near! We finally changed tack and headed east after days of sailing south, the air warmer and the shipping now more regularly which started to get scary. These supertankers are like solid islands surging forwards at speed and we did feel quite vulnerable despite having AIS.

“I’m pretty sure that’s land” stated Stewart with a huge smile on his face.

I peered at the hazy horizon but wasn’t convinced.

However I soon smelled land before I could make it out properly by sight, a herby hay-like smell. By late morning a faint outline of hills make itself apparent and I stared at it, feeling so self-satisfied inside – we’d done it.

The silhouette of the hills and ridges became more and more discernible until I could make out relief and forests. We were sailing down the coast of Galicia, avoiding Cape Finistere and the “death coast” thankfully!

Making that easterly turn into the bay of Vigo, I felt like Columbus on the Pinto returning to port. We still had to keep our wits about us as shipping was everywhere until we got right into the pretty and wide bay of Vigo, pleasure yachts all around, zipping this way and that, motor boats speeding by with tanned locals on deck. Back in civilisation.

We sailed right into Real Club Nautico and tied in at 2.10pm – we,d done it.

16 days since leaving Dunstaffange  we were in Spain. The champagne cork flew over the marina pontoon and we hugged each other closely. Fellow rovers.

This journey had been so special, not only for the physical voyage but also the voyage we had all made with each other as companions, crew, friends. We had all looked after each other, made sure each other was safe, warm ,fed and comfortable. Also we had all learned together, we were a team and we had successfully achieved our goal.

Achieving this goal was not least due to the strong leadership of our captain. I felt a little kist deep  inside of me open up and more love than I knew possible flowed out for this man , who had planned this entire journey and had got us here not only safely but enjoyably.  He is the master of my fate, he is the captain of my soul.

I walked, staggered, up the steps of the quay, wash bag in hand, towel over my shoulder and revelled in the luxurious, abundant water, cleaning off the 4 days , washing it out my hair and into history. This would be an experience never to forget.

I returned to the boat, empty glasses strewn all over the place, dirty clothes abandoned, life jackets draped over seats and the crew gone to the town to enjoy well earned Cava and Calamaris.

I peeped into our cabin to see the captain, fast asleep in our bunk.

Sweet dreams,  the long trick’s over.

A Change in The Wind


Twenty years from now

You will be more disappointed 

By the things you didn’t do 

Than the ones you did do.

So throw off the bow lines.

Sail away from the safe harbour.

Catch the trade winds in your sails .




Mark Twain

Throwing off the bow lines at 0830 tomorrow morning. Next stop Baiona, Galicia. I’m ready.

And Then There Were 5

F5F8B42E-13E0-4B05-9646-F3D588DA6FBAWhen I was nine, I was feeling fine.

The day I went to sea

I climbed aboard a pirate ship

And the Captain said to me

“We’re going this way, that way,

Forwards, backwards,

Over the Irish Sea.

A bottle of Rum to fill my tum

A pirate’s life for me!


Wednesday morning looks like the perfect time to go” states the Skipper. We all agree as we sit round the table, examining the screen that John has put up of the winds over Biscay. Northerlies all the way and all going well the crossing would take 3-4 days, we’d be in Bayona by Saturday/Sunday. It makes sense, the safest and most comfortable situation, something we promised each other we would always make the decision around.

However, the downside means we would have to say goodbye to Karl, he had taken a chance and booked his flight home for Saturday morning in the slim hope we would be crossing straight over after a night in Kinsale – not to be. He is upbeat though and takes away all the positives of what he has experienced, we are all sad though as he is so nice, kind, funny, appreciative and sound.

“Girlfriend is happy I’m coming home early” he states, once he has called home with the news and that’s a good thing. A single Dad having raised his three sons, enriching their lives with day trips to historical sites and camps out in Derbyshire and the Scottish Highlands. His voice danced as he spoke of his boys and I just knew they were proud of their Dad, he’d soon be telling them of his new adventures on the Irish Sea. His sailing experience had been dinghies in Leicestershire lakes and a few forays on the Clyde coast with Paul, so this had been a huge experience for him. We hug goodbye and he heads to the pub with his large rucksack, Ukulele tied on the back.

“Just one for the road “ he smiles.

We are likely to be in Kinsale for a few more days, plenty time to get know to know one another better.

This big girl and I are getting to know each other better too. John has formed a close and loving relationship with her, he knows her capabilities, her nuances, he reads her moods and pushes her only as far as he knows she will go. He has explored every tiny part of her, knows how everything about her works and what she likes and does not cope well with.

She and I glance suspiciously sideways at each other.

“You can’t handle me “ she challenges.

“Well you don’t know me “ I retort.

I’m left alone with her as the lads go to enjoy the Hurling on the big screen in the beer garden with most of southern Ireland.

I potter about sweeping her cockpit, cleaning her galley and tidying her ropes. I’m beginning to see what she needs done, a tighten to that warp, a release there. A pull at that sheet, a freeing of that clutch. Repairing her frayed straps and reinforcing work on her fabric, she seems grateful for looking pretty and I lie back on her in the sun. She’s feeling more like my boat. I’ll look after her and she’ll look after me. I’m slowly falling in love with her too.


“Yes Madame we actually have a cancellation, I can do your colour at 2pm”

There is a God after all, Halleluiah Halleluiah!

“ so are you goin’ anywhere nice for your holiday?” asks the pretty, red haired stylist.

“Ehm, well I am on holiday sort of for a year, here and on my way to the Mediterranean hopefully. I was so busy with all the planning and preparation I forgot my own personal admin and my roots are driving me mad!”

“Oh well no problem at all, I’ll sort it all out for you and you’ll feel grand”

And feel grand I did indeed. I lay back looking at the ceiling, getting my hair washed and listening to the best craic ever between the ladies of Kinsale.

“I was down at the White Lady on Saturday night and saw Sheelagh’s two, they’re not even 18 yet and one of them had a piece of cloth on barely covering her Mary!”

I had spent the morning cleaning the inevitable mildew off our cabin walks, then went for a wee run along to the other fort before a nice shower at the club. This proved to be quite fortuitous now the affluent offspring of the real yachty brigade had departed, the International Optimis series finished and the girl’s changing room had a ‘free to good home box’ of left belongings.

I showered with Clarins body gel, moisturised with L’Occitane lotion and strode out sporting a groovy pair of designer sunglasses. Get me!

Wandering back to the boat I kind of feel I am ready to move on now. Tomorrow is all about shopping, laundry, packing, preparing, stowing away and early night. Then we’ll be ready to leave.

With nice hair.

Bare feet and Pancakes

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Edward Lear

We lie three in a row, an unoccupied Nauticat on our starboard and a newly arrived steel hulled ketch on our port. She looks well-travelled, lacy curtains drawn over her hatches and the ubiquitous towels pegged out on the guard rails.

“It ez over” sighs the small, bearded guy, tanned, wiry and despondent “She as ‘ad enough, we are going home and I must sell her”

I wasn’t sure if he meant sell his wife or the boat but his saddened mood told me it was the boat.

The small Polish gentleman and his wife had just sailed in from the Azores where they had been for months and then The Canaries for a few years before but she had had “enuf”. Well fair enough I thought, better to know when to call it quits than be forced into a situation that there is no decision making to be made.

I am beginning to settle into this watery world, its feels like a parallel universe. I had spoken to my Mum back in Argyll that morning , hear of how cold it was now, the fire was on and all the gossip about her neighbours and friends. Then there is here, foreign car registrations, strange accents, heat, showering in the yacht club, sewing new webbing on the pram hood. Different world.

There are only 2 eggs left for 6 of us so I decided on pancakes for brunch and the gang are very grateful as plates of sausages, bacon and a stack of warm Scotch pancakes appear from below, mushrooms for me, which I have discovered go well with a drizzle of honey!

I had hoped to lose more weight when away on this trip, I had managed to work off a fair bit of winter gathered layers and get pretty fit but I am sure in the last 3 weeks I have gained it all back! I am on the go the whole time and am told to eat to keep my energy up and sea sickness at bay but at this mid life time of my life it seems to convert to fat very efficiently and attach itself to my hips and tum like wadding. I glance over at the lean, toned and agile live-aboard ladies all around me and sigh. Hey ho, still a while to go so maybe I’ll transform into one of them – I can dream!

I am also finding out that keeping a routine is helping me adjust to this new way of life. Its strange, I am not finding it easy to relax and do nothing. I have lived my life so fully with deadlines, timetables, dates, diary events for so long , a rare day off feels great but with endless days off ahead of me I actually feel a bit lost.

Also I am not a quick reactor. I reflect on the traumas of the stormy, black night and try to rationalise my fears. I decide to write a list of pros and cons, as the spectre of the “crossing” raises his horned head every night as I go to sleep and pricks me every morning I awake and I need to quieten him. I am not really scared, I don’t think I am risking death but I have this unexplainable dread. I realise it is a fear of the unknown. I am not good in a situation I know nothing about, I like to know all the facts, taste the experience then make a decision but have a bail out option. This is different. I do not know how it will feel, I have never experienced a situation like this before, I cannot bail out once we head out. It will be 5-6 days on the open ocean and we will need to be self-sufficient.

I was mindful of feeling like this before, I recalled many years ago visiting Morocco, my first time in an exoctic location and after walking round the souks and visiting Dar El Fina square with all its new  smells, noises, strange foods, colours toothless men and snakes, I totally freaked out when back at our Riad. Ever patient and understanding John cuddled me and told me it was fine, we could fly home the very next day. Morning brought sun, creamy yogurt and pistachios, musical calls to prayer and I was on camel and loving every minute! I just need time to reflect, be in the present and live through things slowly.

I reminded myself of 7 years ago leading an expedition on Mongolia, I did not sleep the night before departure sick with doubt and almost phoned the company to say I’m out. However that month proved to be one of the most rewarding times of my life. I learned more about myself and what I was capable of, by myself than I knew possible. I recalled the dark night not far from the Russian border, days away from any help, deep in the Kentii Mountains, sitting by the campfire , my turn to keep watch over the horses, watching the strikingly beautiful but sinister yellow eyes of the wolves across the river from me as they paced slowly up and down the river bank, the scent of horse sweat drawing them closer. I was responsible for 11 vulnerable young people from Fife and I was damned sure I was going to bring these kids safe and well back to their families. And I did.

I reminded myself of the freezing night lying in my tent on the Himalayan ice, my head pounding, my face almost numb with cold and knowing I had to move down the mountain to recover from the altitude that was affecting my body. And I did.

So I do what I urge my students to do when faced with a dilemma, make a list of pros and cons. John sits with me supporting my thoughts, it is a good idea as I can air all my reservations and be honest with my fears and also my desires.

After a good exploration and chat, the “Ayes” have it! I can do this.

I feel relieved, now the decision is made I can stop worrying and it works.

I go for a run along the coast out to Charles Fort, interrupted by bramble eating – much sweeter than home, I guess it is the warmer temperatures and sunshine. I take off my trainers and feel the warm grass under my feet. Standing by the Fort looking back across the bay at the marina I feel far more at ease. Life is good and I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity so will make the very best of it.

Third Time Lucky


“I’m not enjoying this!” I cry, clutching a plastic bowl, shaking with fear and fatigue. Time and time again I throw up, my head pounding, my legs weak. The noise surrounds me as I lie curled up in my bunk which has been transformed into a black hole spinning, lurching, thumping, banging. I brace myself as I feel the rise and await the inevitable bang down. Why did I agree to this, I’m scared. I hear the shouts from the cockpit, the urgency, the gravity. It goes on and on, my 3am watch time comes up but gratefully one of the crew is happy to stay on with John and let me stay below. Hours pass, all night I lie, not able to sleep. I can’t do this. I’ll book a flight from Cork to Vigo. I cry softly, what was I thinking, I so want to be strong but I’m not, I’m weak, stupid, a failure. This amazing trip is doomed, my game is over.

The constant noise of the engine gradually sounds louder as it overtakes the howling of the winds and the crashing of the seas, things seem to quieten, the cabin levels off. I hear the rattle of the anchor chain going down, relief washes over me as John’s face peeps into the gloom of the cabin.

“We’re pulling in here to ride out this storm darling”

After making sure everything is secure he climbs in beside me and I snuggle against his strong warm body and feel safe. Within minutes I am deeply asleep fully clothes, seaboots still on, hair damp with sweat and sea salt.

“Good morning!” I’m greeted by one of the crew as I pop my head out the forward hatch into the morning light. Smiling I scan this sheltered bay, rocky shores, sea birds nesting on a cliffy headland, smart houses with the normality of life evident in washing hanging out and newly mowed lawns.

“You alright?” enquires a cheerful Karl.

“I am now” I reply

We tidy the boat, though there is not really anything out of place, a couple of pots that spewed across the galley from the pot cupboard and dishes needing cleaned in the sink from the nights watches of hot chocolate and Ginger Nuts.

I clean myself up, change into fresh clothes and make breakfast for everyone. I clean off the stern, oops.

The stormy afternoon passes as we watch films and I make cream of mushroom and spinach soup with soda bread. The hell of the night long behind me, I set about making a veggie chilli for dinner and the plan is to set off in the evening once we’ve rested and gained our energies back for Kinsale – again.

It’s getting dark as we head out once more and everything is stowed away as we push out the sheltered bay and point south. The seas start rising again, the wind heels Stravaigin and she starts the pounding again. The crew take turns to helm and try to keep her from banging but its difficult. After an hour of making no progress in the dark seas, I question why we are out here now? John agrees and he decides to turn back to the bay, we’re going nowhere fast and wasting fuel plus stressing the boat – and me. I know we have to go through some grief to attain our objective but we are not in a real rush to make Kinsale, yes it will be good to get there and hope the weather is favourable for the big crossing soon but a day doesn’t really matter. We turn around, lay the anchor down again and everyone goes to bed to sleep sound.

Morning brings bright weather, better winds and spirits are high. I chatter away with the guys up on deck, we play who am I and work it out games while we munch on healthy energy bars and sip Cup a Soups. A nice wee group of Common Dolphins join us, dancing in the bow wave as we edge forward, beating in. Everything seems so much better in the day light though it still takes 10 hours to finally reach Kinsale and it is such a welcome sight as we round the headland and calmly motor into the bay. We tie up alongside other boats and decide we have earned dinner out.

Fishy Fish serves us up a lovely meal of chowder and mussels, sitting in the convivial atmosphere of the restaurant, sipping Irish Gin, this sailing lark seems just fine! We stroll back to the boat and settle down to marina life for a few days before contemplating the ocean crossing to Spain .