2010 on Two Choices – In a nutshell….

19 Oct


Winter walking - February 2010

JANUARY & FEBRUARY….made me shiver!!!!
After bemoaning the fact that Barcelona was a little chilly aboard Two Choices, a return to Scotland came as a sharp reality check. It was bloomin’ cold! Big snow drifts, frozen water supply, power cuts & high winds. There were good times too… long walks, bike rides in the cold, catching up with friends & family and appreciating being on home turf.

Marking milestones with friends.....

MARCH….saw us head back to Badalona for a quick trip to get the boat hauled out, anti-fouled and a few other minor jobs done. We took the Scottish weather with us and flew into Barcelona in the middle of a snow storm that brought the transport system to a grinding halt, necessitating a long walk through 10cm of slush to get to the marina. The snow was short-lived though, and in no time we were basking in Mediterranean spring sunshine.

Nice 'n' easy does it!

Our underwater garden....

Two Choices was lifted out by the very efficient guys at the yard at Marina Badalona; a very smooth operation indeed. We had contracted someone else to do the planned work (aaah! those were the days, when decadence ruled ;-)), so apart from trying to organise to have a much more effective rope cutter fitted to the prop shaft (PT’s efforts were in vain, as it turned out. The stern tube had apparently been altered at some time in Two Choices’ life and fitting the super-dooper cutter would be eeeemposssible!), we had time to do some sight-seeing.

Spring sun in Sitges

APRIL…..back home. More walking, cycling, socialising. PT still hard at work on his little oil rig, although he’d had quite a bit of time at home last year, he was firmly back into his normal work schedule by now. The issue looming fast on the horizon was my return to work as my sabbatical year was due to end at the end of April. Should I stay or should I go??? Not an easy decision. Although a leisurely life is great, I also loved the job, the team and the client group….not to mention the trifling issue of a regular income! However, after much deliberation, I decided to continue with the cruising life and gave in my notice.

I was now officially a layabout! 😉

PT also had some decision-making to do. To retire in June or keep slogging away on his little oilrig? After much deliberation (about 5 seconds!), he decided to keep his nose to the grindstone for a little while longer. The plus side of this choice was more pennies in the bank, the downside was a delay in proper liveaboard cruising, as I wasn’t too keen on spending much time on the boat on my todd. So the compromise that we opted for was to move the boat to a suitable location further east and use it as a holiday home for the remainder of the 2010 season. With a timescale of 5 weeks to cruise eastwards, we decided that Malta fitted the bill.

MAY….back on board. Our winter contract at Marina Badalona ended on 5 May, so on cloudy day, with all preparations completed, engine serviced and provisioning done, we cast off the lines for pastures new. We headed south east for the 120 or so nautical mile passage overnight to Menorca.

Hasta luego Barcelona!

We made landfall at Fornells, a sheltered harbour on the north coast of Menorca. We had hoped that mooring buoys would be available, as we had read that anchoring was prohibited in order to protect the prairies of Posidonia Oceanica or seagrass, which is an important part of the maritime ecosystem. However, it seems that we were too early in the season… there were no buoys, so instead we sneaked a night on a massive private mooring which involved some nifty lassooing and rope work as there was no ring on the top of the buoy. Because of the mooring buoy issue, we didn’t linger the next day and headed round the coast to the tiny sandy cove of Arena de Castell. This was our first anchorage with our brand-new sooper dooper Rocna anchor so we were very keen to test it out. Alas, rather than the ‘guaranteed to hold in a hurricane’ experience that we expected, we encountered great difficulty in getting the anchor to set, even in only 15 kts of breeze.

"I'm sure the anchor's around here somewhere..."

We eventually settled for the night, but, having re-assessed the Rocna size chart, we concluded that the size of anchor that had been recommended to us by the chandler was just not big enough. Not very chuffed!

Next stop was Mahón (or Maó), one of the most impressive natural harbours in the Mediterranean, at 5km long. We moored on the Sunseeker quay, where we were well-placed for exploring the narrow alleyways of the town and soaking up the history. We’d always wanted to visit Mahón since reading Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey & Maturin series, but found it to be a bit disappointing, with not quite the atmosphere that we’d expected – Ciutadella (the former island capital on the west), on the other hand, was far more evocative of the Napoleonic Wars, subterfuge and intrigue and was definitely our favourite.

Inland Menorca, surprisingly green....

Before we move on from Menorca memories, there is a post-script to add to the anchor fiasco. When we first encountered the problem, one or two carefully worded emails had been fired off to the chandlers in Barcelona who sold us the anchor and to Rocna in New Zealand, expressing our digruntlement. Shortly after arriving in Mahón, we received a very positive response from the chandler. Within 3 days, not only did we have a bigger replacement Rocna delivered from Barcelona and the original one swiftly taken away, the only cost we incurred was the price difference between the 2 anchors. Top class customer service from Watertight Marine!!!

We liked Menorca and would have loved to get to know the island much better, however we had a deadline to stick to; we had flights booked back to the UK from Malta on 8th June. So, in the early hours of 13th May we slipped out of Port Mahón as the sun rose, bound for Sardinia.

Heading East from Port Mahon

32 hours and 200nm later and we screamed into Carloforte in a rising mistral…just in time, as the wind blew and blew for a further 5 days, keeping us in port for a week.

Goin' nowhere....so time to relax and explore.

Carloforte is a small town on the Isola di San Pietro on the south west corner of Sardinia. We were in Marine Sifredi, and felt nice and snug in there in the howling wind. The town has a nice feel to it and the people were helpful and friendly, despite the fact that not much English was spoken and our Italian leaves a lot to be desired. Apparently, the town of Carloforte was founded in the 18th century by a group of Ligurian fishermen who were originally from the Ligurian suburb of Pegli. They had been transplanted in Tabarka, Tunisia by the Lomellini, the lords of Pegli, to exploit the rich coral beds that lay close to the Tunisian coast. Once the coral was exhausted, they were granted the feudal title to the island of San Pietro by Carlo Emanuele III, King of Piedmont and Sardinia. The name Carloforte (Fort Charles) was given to the town they established in his honour. The population still speaks a variant of Ligurian language, which is very different to the language spoken by the rest of the Sardinian population and many street names bear the bi-lingual versions No wonder we had trouble making ourselves understood!

Our stay in Carloforte was good, particularly the ice cream! Again, it was a huge shame to miss out on further exploration of Sardinia but…flights to catch and all that! We had met another British couple in Carloforte, Ron & Hazel on NAIVASHA, a Hallberg-Rassy 36, who were also heading for Malta so we agreed to make passage in company for at least part of the way, via Sicily.

NAIVASHA - Watching us watching them.

After a quiet night at anchor in the isolation of Porto Malfatano on the south coast of Sardinia, we set of toegther at first light on 22nd May for Sicily, with a plan to make landfall Favignana in the Isole Egadi off the north west coast – a passage of around 180 nautical miles. The trip started out uneventfully, with a bit of proper sailing and a bit more motor-sailing. However, through the night suspicious signs from the engine (dropping revs and increased smoke) indicated that all was not well. A change of fuel filter seemed to improve matters for a while but it was only a temporary measure. By the time we sighted land we were limping along with a sick engine – contaminated fuel suspected. Boy, were we glad to reach Favignana harbour! Our relief was short-lived: it being a Sunday, there seemed to be no one knowledgeable around to direct us to a berth of suitable depth, the pilot book indicated that the harbour is shallow in places. There was no response other than blank stares from the port police who were lounging & chatting on the pier However, a very helpful chap encouraged us moor alongside the pier, “Si, si, c’è abbastanza acqua!” We duly manoeuvred alongside. Yes, it seemed to be deep enough for us…until I looked over the side and noticed a nasty ledge jutting out under the waterline, just about to make contact with the hull. Eeek! We made a sharp exit and quickly decided that, despite the rapidly failing engine, we would have to make for the next nearest port of Marsala.

We spent 3 nights in Marsala, mostly trying to get the engine problem sorted out. This involved emptying the diesel tank and servicing the injectors. A costly stay in addition to 50€ per night in the marina (CN Lilibeo), but a friendly place to visit nevertheless…and the Marsala wine was tasty too! Naivasha departed a day ahead of us on a direct passage to Malta as they had a deadline to meet. We took the more leisurely route of day-hops down the Sicilian west coast, calling at Sciacca (nice) and Licata (not so nice), followed by a long day sail to our base for the year in Malta.

We had a smooth 13-hour crossing to Malta from Licata, arriving just as the wind and waves started to build. However, my emotions were far from calm. This was quite a momentous occasion for me. I was brought up in Malta and for many years it was the only place that I called home. My parents lived out their lives on the island, but I hadn’t returned since my father’s funeral in 1988. Finally, the 22-year cushion betweeen a mass of memories (many good, but some painful) and the reality of the present, ‘grown-up’ me was going to evaporate.

I encountered the first of many reality checks before we had even stepped ashore. As we headed south past Dragonara Point towards our berth in St Julian’s, I spotted my childhood home, still intact, cowering in the shadow of the monstrous Portomaso Business Tower and a forest of cranes. I can’t tell you how excited I was! But, apart from the familiar indentations of the coastline and some still recognisable landmarks, it seemed like a completely alien environment.

76 Wilga Street, Paceville - where I grew up.
Amazing that it still stands, given the horrendous development all around.

In the months preceeding our arrival in Malta I had been in contact with a few faces from my youth, with promises made to meet up if, and when, we finally made it there. I must admit, I was more than a little anxious about reconnecting with the past. I needn’t have worried. Warm and enthusiatic welcomes abounded and within hours, we had a diary full of reunions planned. Three decades of news to catch up on and almost the whole of the 70s & 80s to relive involved quite a bit of wine and loads of laughter!

St. Dot's reunion - Jess, Lu, Frances, Bi & Carole

Afternoon tea with Marc & Alé

With Bibo and her boys

Taking life seriously...with Paul & Daryl

The 10 days in Malta flew by. In addition to renewing friendships, we also spent time exploring the island by car & bus and, more importantly, settling Two Choices into her marina home for the next year. Portomaso is, on the face of it, a very swish marina, nestled amongst exclusive apartments and fashionable bars & restaurants. What it is NOT is an ideal spot for living aboard a boat. The list of rules & restrictions is endless and the management is ruthless in ensuring that plebs like us don’t lower the tone of the place through any enfringements. Thank goodness our trips out there would be fairly short and that I hadn’t planned to stay aboard full time!

The summer passed swiftly with two further visits to Two Choices in July and September, the latter accompanied by Sally & John.

John, about to be engulfed by tarmac……

The Three Musketeers…

Malta is great place to holiday, it buzzes with life and there are plenty of places to visit, particularly in relation to the island’s rich history. It isn’t that great for cruising though. The archipelago of Malta, Gozo, Comino & Cominotto is tiny and only has a handful of overnight anchorages. During the summer months, every available inch of space is taken up with hoardes of craft, both motor & sail. So, with this in mind, we decided to take Sally & John on a trip to Sicily, only 55 miles away.

We spent a night each at Porto Palo, Marzamemmi and Siracusa. Siracusa was definitely our favourite. We took a berth on the west side of Ortiga in Marina Yachting, pricey but handy for getting into the town. The atmosphere and architecture make the old town well worth exploring, but the jewel in the crown is definitely the morning market.

The dazzling colours of the fresh produce and the sights and smells are absolutely amazing – we loved it! Even a torrential downpour that trapped us in a restaurant couldn’t dampen our spirits. However, the weather forecast suggested that the rainstorm was only a taster for more vicious weather to come, so we decided to cut and run earlier than planned. We high-tailed it back to Malta on an overnight passage, just beating the storm but enduring another soaking once safely back in Portomaso. Before we could blink it was time to tuck Two Choices up and head back to Scotland for the winter. Sad to leave the boat but looking forward to spending time with friends back home before we finally moved aboard on a more full-time basis, once PT retired….whenever that might be!!

So…that was some of our 2010 in a medium-sized nutshell. 2011 to follow very soon 🙂


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