Zen and the art of coarse sailing

September 12, 2009

You may remember a book called ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ (J’s stunning comment of the day – always useful when playing charades).  It told the story of a bloke exploring life, interpolated with bits about Zen Buddhism and how to keep an ancient motorbike on the road.

Over the past few days, I’ve started to feel that perhaps I should emulate the chap, especially in view of our need to summon patience as we wait for the wind to stop/move round/abate to a reasonable level.  There’s a limit to the number of times one can visit the local café for a coffee, walk to town to do the shopping or simply loll about on the boat watch videos or reading.

The internet offers some relief but it can be a frustrating business.  At present, we rely on picking up wifi networks in the marina.  In Coruna, for example, it was pretty good with a nice strong signal and it functioned most of the time and it was FREE.  Other places, there was a cracking signal but the marina was trying to charge 5 euro an hour for access – hence a break in communications. 

Anchorages are the most problematic, as there is rarely an insecure network we can get into.  Most places, you just live with the fact that you can’t get online but occasionally we did find a wifi site in a café or bar in the town near where we’d dropped anchor.  But, you know, for the most part we’re really not too fussed about being on line, as it doesn’t matter too much if we don’t update the blog for a few days.

Here in Barbate, we have the state of the tide to thank for our access or not.  There’s a pleasant little café in one of the buildings in the port which has a wifi net up and running.  We’ve been there quite a lot and have the log in details for the net.  However, we’re tucked away about 150 metres away from the café with a quay wall in front of us.  At low tide, we can’t get the wifi antenna high enough up the rigging so no internet but at high tide the antenna is able to ‘see’ the café and get access onto the wifi net.  I suppose I could add another USB extension lead into the system and get it a bit higher but the signal loss along yet another lump of wire would probably defeat the object.

Last night we were having a glass of wine after supper when Rose and Brian came round to return a bit of chart plotting software we’d lent them.  One thing led to another and we enjoyed a convivial evening putting the world to rights.

Today we aim to leave at about 4pm, as the wind has moved a bit to the north and has dropped to manageable levels.  No point in going earlier, as the tide will be against us in the straits, so we’ll be arriving at Gibraltar about 10pm.

J & I had some good news yesterday.  James Aiston from Strutt and Parker, our letting agents, has found us a tenant for Chapel Cottage.  James has had a struggle to find someone to rent the place but has now come up trumps.  We’re delighted, not just because it will give us a bit of income but also just to get the place occupied again.

The wait of the past week has been interesting in that it has given us the opportunity to just sit and do not a great deal.  We’ve cleaned the boat, had the genoa repaired, gone for walks and read a fair amount.  The limitations of living on board a yacht have begun to emerge and be dealt with.  J and I have started to do things on our own, rather than living constantly in one another’s pocket.  You will be aware that there isn’t a lot of space on the boat but most of the time that’s not a problem.  Once we’re stopped somewhere it can, however, be a little irritating not to be able to establish a little bit of your own space.

To counter that, J has been for a long walk round the nature reserve, as has David.  I’ve avoided any such hasty actions but have done the shopping on a couple of occasions and spent time contemplating the whichness of why in the saloon whilst the others were doing their own thing in the cockpit.  No doubt, if I hadn’t had to remain on board yesterday waiting for the sailmaker to bring the genoa back I might have felt obliged to toddle off somewhere on my own.

Instead, I’ve been able to write this sort of drivel for the blog.  Perhaps one could call it the maunderings of a lonely skipper but I prefer to dignify it by calling it philosophical reflections on the art of waiting for the wind. 

Saturday 12 September

Ah well, it’s as well to be philosophical about things, as plans seldom come to fruition as we hope.  We left yesterday afternoon at about 4pm, aiming to catch the tide through the straits.  The wind was still from the east but had dropped in the area of the harbour to about a force 4, which we could reasonably expect to make ground into by tacking.

Our first tack took us down to the area marked on the chart as having a flow to the east from 3 hours before high water Gibraltar to 3 hours after it.  This 6 hours of flow would let us reach Gibraltar……

In the event, we made our first turn on to a northerly tack and managed to get the boat heading north east, making ground towards our goal.  Our next tack saw us running back down to the south, holding our ground but not making any headway to the east. However, the wind was increasing and we didn’t seem to be picking up any help from the tide; looking at our positions plotted on the chart, we were not really gaining any ground at all.

Our next tack to the north should have seen us gaining a good deal of ground but the wind was such that we couldn’t hold a course with much east in it at all.  All in all, we decided that whilst we could happily spend the night beating back and forth, we probably wouldn’t make enough ground to be worthwhile, so at about 7pm we set course for Barbate again, coming back on to our old berth at about 8pm – having covered the ground we’d taken 3 hours to make in just over an hour.

Now that we’re back alongside again, we think that we’ll wait until Sunday morning at about 7am before setting off again, as the wind is forecast to drop to nothing or slightly westerly.  We shall wait and see if the forecasters have got it right, as they haven’t been spot on so far, at least as far as the Straits are concerned. 

I use a website called UGRIB which provides wind forecasts in the format of GRIB files.  These files are based on ‘cells’ which are 20 – 30 km squares and the wind inside each square is predicted in both direction and speed every 3 hours.  Put together on a map overlay, you can see what the wind will be at any position at any time up to about 5 days ahead.  On our trip across the Bay of Biscay and down the Atlantic coast, the files were pretty accurate, both in terms of direction and strength.  However, the local winds through the Straits are proving to be more than the software can cope with (same as our sails).  The direction is correct but the speeds are all to pot; the forecast yesterday was for 10 – 15 mph, but the actual speeds were in the region of 25 – 35 mph, just too strong to make much headway against.

Today, the frustration of not being able to get on the internet when and where I choose has become too much.  I’m going into town this afternoon to visit the Vodafone shop, where I understand I can get a pay-as-you-go mobile broadband dongle for a reasonable price.  Hopefully, this will mean even more of this level of stuff on the blog in the future.  I’ll let you all know how things pan out by putting a post up on the blog once I’ve got the new bit of kit.


One comment

  1. Hope you got through the straits today. Hope the angel/dongle Gabriel works for you. I’m enjoying the nautical musings, but don’t know one part of a boat from another so don’t expect much except washing up assistance in Barcelona! x

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