Thursday, September 29, 2011

From Alicante to Almerimar

We left Alicante on sunday late morning with the idea to sail to Mar Minor. It is a inner sea protected by sandy dunes and sailboats must wait for the bridge to open to get in. From looking at the area on the map we had this romantic idea that it is wild and pretty. Before noon the wind was weak, so we motored for an hour, then it was time for gennaker and as the wind was getting stronger and stronger, we soon pulled the gennaker down and sailed with small gib and the main. And it was good sailing, speed up to 9 knots, so we reached Mar Minor in good time. We were lucky to get there just in time for opening of the bridge at 5. 

Bridge looks very modern, especially with the "space shuttle" style command tower. Unfortunately our idea about the area wasn't right, there were masses of tall buildings and tourist development again, straight on the dunes separating inner and outer sea. What a pity.

Night was peaceful, we slept very well and were up early to sail under the bridge at 9. We had very good wind most of the day so we reached Cape Tinoso before 3 in the afternoon. Which was great since the bay behind the cliffs is quite pretty, no skyscrapers around, and the water was green and clean and with temperature of 26 degrees. We had a nice afternoon bathing and lazying around.

Next day we started at around 10 and headed towards Garrucha, where we were hoping we could anchor behind the breaker. With the constant wind from NE there were quite big waves from E so we tried to find sheltered bay or port for each night. Sailing was again very good, with very good speed after lazy start. The wind was better off the coast so we were sailing some 8 miles from the coast when we saw couple of army ships in front of us.  We immediately checked if we were in some zone where we shouldn't be, turned the VHF radio on if there are some announcements, but couldn't find anything. Three army ships sailed by quite close, without any sound or sign from their side, so we thought nothing of it. There was some conversation going on on VHF but all in Spanish. After a while we saw helicopter flying our way, and made three circles around our mast, one so close we thought the rotor will shred our mast. There was again some talking on VHF in Spanish and then they took off. So we thought they were just curious or included us in their drill. After some time the helicopter came back and this time they spoke English on VHF. They told us we are in the area that they are using for exercise and we should not be there and they want us to go back north. We did a tack and sailed NW closer to the coast until we decided we are far enough from them so we proceeded towards Garrucha. I would so much like to have a photo of that helicopter on our mast, but it happened so fast and i have a feeling they would not be very happy to see me taking pictures of them. After we moved away we heard on VHF how they tried to convince an Spanish fisherman to move from the area and although it was in Spanish, it was clear by the tone of the voices that the fisherman was not happy at all and he told them so with very many loud words. From what we could understand he was telling that he has some fishing to do to make his living and that army should go and play their games somewhere else.

Without further disturbances we reached Porto Garrucha at 7 in the evening. The anchorage behind the breaker at the beginning of the port was less protected than we hoped so we tied our boat to the fuel station for the night. The price was very reasonable, water and electricity included. Only one boat came in the port after us, a 42 foot Sun Odissey with a Spanish guy alone on it. We went to bed early, we wanted to make early start next morning.

We left Garrucha at 8.45 next morning and the Spanish guy on Sun Odissey left some 30 minutes behind us. He was sailing in the same direction, so after a while he caught up with us and we were sailing less that half a mile away from each other the whole day. Our original destination for the day was Almeria, but sailing was so fast that we decided to sail further to Almerimar. We thought Spanish guy is also going there and that we will have a beer together in the evening. After talking to him on VHF we learned that he is going to Malaga and then to Africa. What can i say - a brave guy and i wish him all the luck and good weather. 

We reached Almerimar at 7.30 after making almost 60 miles that day. After the dinner (i'm sorry to say that we had one of the worst pizza ever) we made some changes to our plan again. We decided to make a use of good wind while it's still lasting and sail directly to Gibraltar. We want to start this afternoon and will probably be there some time tomorrow afternoon. We checked the weather forecast today, it has changed a bit - the wind will be less strong in the night, which is ok with me, but might slow us down a bit, but there are some brutal winds forecast for tomorrow around Gibraltar - hopefully it will not be to bad. So, cross our fingers that all goes well.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The second night on the anchor on mainland was rolly, but not extremely. We decided to wait to see the bays around Alicante before we decide wether to go on anchor or in the marina.

While leaving our anchorage i had to made some pictures to document this incredible view - i mean incredibly ugly of course. To prove my point ....

Not that there aren't any quite beautiful parts of coast - there are great cliffs .....

... even waterfalls .....

... and just around the corner - there it is again - the brilliant spanish architecture. If you enlarge the photo, you could see how tall those buildings really are.

Sailing to Alicante was not very comfortable, there were big roller waves coming from east, so i was pushing to go directly to marina. Tomaz wanted to see the only bay suitable for anchoring 3 miles before Alicante first, so we made a quick stop there. I used some gentle persuasion (like threatening with divorce) to made my point that bay was to open to the waves and so we headed on to the marina - Real Club de Regatas in Alicante. 

We stayed there for three nights and it was very nice. The club is real club with big room where gentlemen smoke cigars and drink gin&tonic, with all the trophies from club members on the wall. There is a big storage room for rowing boats, smaller sailboats and stuff in the club building on the ground floor. It has nice atmosphere and not least important - it is much cheaper than Marina Alicante, that is located in same bay only to the opposite side.

The most prominent sightseeing point in Alicante is Castillo de Santa Barbara, sitting on top of a hill in the middle of the town. We went up of course, but we cheated - we took the elevator. But we then walk quite long through the town - to get used to firm ground under our feet again.

There is a nice view from the castle. The Real Club is the smaller marina on the right side, and i'm sure by now you can tell which boat is ours.

After arrival of the third crew member and then stocking up the boat supplies, this morning we started next leg of our journey to Gibraltar. Today we had a great sailing day with not much waves and right amount of wind in right direction, sailing around 7 knots of speed in the afternoon. We are crossing our fingers that it stays like this over next few days. We are planing to reach Gibraltar in 6 days. It means quite a lot if sailing every day and even one night, but it is not to aggressive, so there will be time for eating and sleeping also - every day :-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Energy on Heron

Energy on Heron

This will be technical blog entry created by a Captain/mechanic, not by Admiral, so may not be interesting for everybody. I will add some pictures to this entry later.

I believe that a sailboat energy management consists of three basic components:

- Production or purchase of energy

- Storage of that energy

- Usage of that energy

The aim is to keep consumption below production/purchase and to have enough storage to bridge time gaps between production and consumption.

We wanted to make Heron as self sufficient as possible covering our own needs for electricity and water - two reasons why many yachts go to marinas to resuply with water and electricity.

We never lived under illusion to have fully energy self sufficient boat - that is almost impossible. We still rely on fosil fules for main diesel engine, for dinghy outboard and for cooking gas. We want to have enough capacity of diesel, gasoline and propane to be able to venture to remote places without fuel stations, but that is a topic for some other time.

Today we look at electrical system.

Main aim is to keep consumption as low as possible.

Major loads are: refrigeration, producing water, navigation (including radar, autopilot chart-plotter, AIS and other electronics), computers, lights, power tools and there is more.

Lights: We have replaced standard light bulbs with LEDs, including anchor light and sailing navigation lights. This reduced out total needs of Ah for ligths drastically and having a ligth is no longer a problem.

Making water: We use one of the most efficient water-makers available on the market and can we produce 54 l of fresh water in one hour using only 216 Wh according to manufacturer brochure. Reality is very close to this numbers.

Last remaining hog and biggest of them all is refrigeration.

The boat came with a strange refrigeration system:

It is a combination of 12V and 220V "megafrost" system with holding plate in each fridge (we have two fridges) designed to run only when the main engine is running or when shore power is available. An excellent system for charter use. Two hours per day is all what is needed to have beer always cold. Run it longer and you have frozen beer.

It works like this: A dedicated 80A alternator (in addition to main 80A alternator) supplies 12V to inverter/control unit, which runs very powerful compressor on 220V (more then 500W - 10 times as much as normal domestic fridge in Europe), plus supporting pumps running on 12V. The fridge is sea water cooled, which is great in the tropics as it does not heat up the boat. This works fine in charter use as most clients motor out of the marina and return into marina under motor. Two hours per day under engine and beer is cold. To me it was not OK as I do not want to run the engine every day - and specially not for two hours, so a powerful alternate generation was needed to feed the fridge with energy.

Electricity production:

We decided for solar power and we have two large (240W peak power each) solar pannels controlled by an MPPT controller.
The solars are mounted on a stern arch/radar mount/dinghy davit. The stainless steel arch is a work of art and was done by an excellent welder in marina Portorož, Slovenia: Janez Ovčak. I reccommend this guy. Very nice and professional work. He and his father needed the whole week to finish it, but is is worth.
The solar pannels are from Slovene manufacturer Bisol.

They are not marine solar panels, but they offer best power per area and they work great. I wired them into series, to get more V and less A, so my cables can be smaller and power loss is smaller too. My advice: calculate power looses and voltage drops carefully. You do not want to loose most of the power on heating the cables and possibly make a fire on a boat.

I am using TriStar MPPT controller from Morningstar to convert 60V into whatever the batteries need at the moment.

The MPPT controller a 4 stage charger/solar controller and is essential is you want to use high power solar pannels to their maximum capabilities. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking and boosts the energy produced by solars - in essence it is an DC to DC converter with a lot of smart SW to maximize solar energy and preserve the batteries at the same time.

The system works great in Mediteranian summer in Adriatic, Greece, Italy and Spain. In 3 months we never needed to run the engine just to produce electricity and we keep frozen stuff in the freezer and produce all the water we need.

About Electricity storage: We stil have a relatively small battery bank which came with the boat 220Ah for "house" and 55Ah for engine. Some cruisers with 1000 Ah would laugh at this, but my trick is in usage - I use energy when there is plenty and not much during the night. I make water on a sunny day from solar energy directly. I cool the holding plates of both fridges while the sun is high and they keep the fridges cold during the night without using electricity.

On a normal day at anchor the batteries are fully charged before 10 in the morning as my night drain is so low.

We only use few LED lights during the night and some for water pump. Other stuff is turned off: Computers run from their own batteries, we do not make water during the night, navigation is off and fridge is using accumulation from its own holding plates.

This means I can start recharging small appliances (computers, cameras, phones, ... already at 10 in the morning and I am not even draining my main battery bank at all, as production is bigger than usage. We can also start producing water at this time or have a laundry day (we have a camping 220V washing machine we run from inverter). At about 11 I can turn on the fridge.

The fridge is a major hog with 40 A of draw at 12V, which is more then we can produce at any time, but the solars are producing 20 to 30 A between 11 and 15 hours, so I drain the batteries while the fridge compressor is running, but that energy is replenished with solar panels when the compressor is not running.

We have spare energy for power tools, mixer, vaccum cleaner (yes we have a vacuum cleaner, there is a lot of dust on the boat and boat is full of tiny little corners hard to reach with a broom).

This means: While at anchor we do not need to run an engine to produce water or electricity and we do not need a large battery bank as the biggest consumers (fridge and watermaker) can be run when energy is available. If we run into rainy, foggy, cloudy days our production is a lot less, so we would need to run the engine to produce electricity. But we went cruising to avoid rain and fog in the frst place, so we would probably move out of fog and rain and follow the sun anyway.

While underway (passage) our energy consumption is different: less watermaking, less laundry, less power tools and other things which can wait until we are at anchor, but a lot of power consumption by autopilot, radar and other instruments. Major difference is, that we use a lot of energy during the night.

Autopilot - we cruise under autopilot 99% of the time and we only hand steer in the harbors or when I want to squeeze a few degrees more to windward. Our powerful Raymarine with linear drive does use a lot of power, but this is unavoidable.

Radar: We use radar most of the time and definitely at night. We have a new generation broadband radar, which uses very little power, but produces excellent target identification on close range.

Chart plotter and instruments: At night one runs the screen in night mode to preserve night vision, so it uses much less electricity. AIS is not that energy hungry and it is on all the time. Running lights in sailing mode (on top of the mast) are LED as well, so they are not a concern.

We finish the night with batteries in a very good condition - at about 12,5 V, but it takes solars a little longer to fully charge them again. So we start the fridge later.

So far we did not need to run the engine to produce electricity. But we needed to run it when there was no wind.

And if we run the engine anyway to propel the boat we freeze the fridge very cold, make a lot of water and sometimes wash laundry while underway.

We have no experience with shorter days in fall and with rainy cloudy days. We will see. In worst case (no energy from solar at all) would mean we need to run engine one to two hours per day. We will see. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Ibiza to mainland

First night on Ibiza was pretty wild again - it wasn't Ibiza's fault, there were no loud parties on the beach, no techno music from clubs. But the wind has changed direction again and got stronger and big waves started to roll directly into the bay where we anchored. Another night with little sleep .... 

Next day we visited Ibiza city, this is the fortress on the left side when you enter the port.

The old part of town looks very pretty. We first made a tour around the port with the boat, then anchored the boat under the fortress and went to town with dinghy.

Some impressions from the old town.

This is how port and part of old town look from the fortress.

Anchorage under the fortress - ours is the boat on the right.

Ibiza still has some of the shabby hippie atmosphere that made her famous, although with a high class touch. It is very different to Menorca or Mallorca, probably more international and less Spanish. I rather liked it. How can you not like a city where even street cats are fat :-) Of course she was looking away when i politely ask her to pose for the photo ....

Towards the evening the wind turned to NW and got stronger, by the time we left the anchorage in front of Ibiza city it was blowing with more then 20 knots. Forecast said the wind direction will not change during the night, so we picked Cala de Port Roig for out next night stop. It is on the south side of the island and  part of it is even protected from the south so we figured we would have a good night there. We had two hours of adrenalin sailing first to get there, with wind picking up to 33 knots at the moments, we were sailing only on a severely reefed gib (small genoa) and still reaching speed up to 8,3 knots. When we got there the anchorage was pretty full - obviously other people also pay attention to weather forecast! Thanks to good advice from fellow boater we picked a buoy on the south side of the bay and slept long and good that night.

Next morning most of the boats left, and we decided to postpone the passage to mainland to next day. And it was a great decision. The almost empty bay looked wonderful, water inviting and the summer feeling was back. There are some cliffs around cala, some villas on top of cliffs and a couple of old houses.

I found these "garages" for boats very interesting.

I truly fell in love in this beautiful sleepy bay and i wish we could have stayed longer. Next morning we left at about 8 and the sun was just coming up from behind the cliffs. We are still on the same mid-european time but already so far to the west that day starts later, but also ends later.

Passage to the mainland could have the title: another passage - another laundry day. There was almost no wind, so we motored almost all of the 54 miles to the mainland. We did 3 loads of laundry and a bit of cleaning and we both agreed that this passage was a hard one! 

The strong wind from two days ago has cleared the air and the Spanish mainland was visible almost the moment we left Ibiza. The wind also "arranged" for some big roller waves coming from north, it wasn't to bad but we were glad we waited one more day in Cala Porto Roig, the day before the rollers must have been huge.

This impressive cliff is the outer side of our first anchorage Puerto de Morayra. The inner side is by far less pretty - lots and lots of villas and hotels, and the surrounding is even worse - hundreds of tall apartment buildings and hotels, built straight on the beaches. So - no pictures. How i want Cabrera and Port Roig back!

The water was nice though and we went swimming right after throwing an anchor. I was a little worried since the bay was not fully protected from the south side and indeed we had some swell in the night and we both woke up several times. Today we moved to next good anchorage, only 6 miles away to Porto Calpe - this stretch of coast to Alicante doesn't have any very well protected anchorages, so let's see how tonight goes. I have a hunch that tomorrow night we are going to stay in a marina, although they are pricy ..... I am starting to develop a nostalgia for Adriatic sea, where wind is not to strong, waves are not to high and there are so many well protected bays to choose from. And where boat people can sleep well and long ... every night ...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

From Porto Colom to Ibiza

We stayed in Porto Colom till thursday and made a good use of time, manly doing maintenance on boat. One day we disassembled all the winches, cleaned them, greased the parts and put them back together. And surprise surprise - no parts were left over after we finished!

This is 53 Harken on left back side - for genoa, flock and gennaker.

This is 40 Harken on left inside for main.

These are some parts of the smaller winch.

The day after (on tuesday) we rented a car and drove to a couple of marine shops in Santa Ponca and near Palma to buy all we needed for maintenance on our Yanmar engine. Unfortunately after we got everything not much time was left to do sightseeing. But we both have already been to Mallorca twice. So on wednesday we changed oil and oil filter in engine and also Racor filter for fuel. Not everything went completely smoothly, but at the end we had a working engine that purred like a cat.

We managed to reserve a buoy (last one!) on Cabrera for the thursday night. We both like Cabrera very much, already from our previous visit. So we started very early (well ...) on thursday and were on Cabrera by 2 in the afternoon. And it was again absolutely beautiful - the old castle sitting at the entrance to the bay, the tranquility....

The castle - view from east

Lagoon with buoys - little boat on the left is Heron.

The water was perfectly clear with millions of fish. It was great to snorkel and to bathe and we used the two days we had to the fullest. We decided we will do a night crossing to Ibiza on friday night, since 73 miles are to much to do in one day.

On the other side of the bay with the buoys this sleepy creature is watching the entrance ....

... but it only looks sleepy - it is actually watching your every move ....

The passage was without any surprises, except that wind died at around one in the night so we motored the rest of the way. We started on Cabrera at 6 in the evening and dropped anchor on the SE corner of  Ibiza at 8.30 in the morning.

Sunset on friday ....

... and sunrise today.

 Now all we need is a good night rest - hope this "party" island will let us sleep.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Menorca and Mallorca

 This post is going to be long one, there's so much to tell.

 So, we spent last night on Sardinia near Isola Plata on north west corner. The water looked so beautiful, we could clearly see our anchor.

We were sailing through the narrow pass between Sardinia and Isola Plata, that is guarded by an old tower. It was a little nerve wracking, since on some places water was only 3m deep (our kiel is 2,1m).

First day of passage was not so bad, except for the fact that there was no wind. So we were motoring the whole day, expecting for the wind to start blowing any minute. In the evening there was a gentle breeze, so we put out the sails and were sailing miserable 3 knots. It wasn't until 9 that the wind finally picked up and we were able to sail with around 6 knots of speed. It was my watch and i thought i was doing more than fine, until i spotted few storms with unbelievably lots of lightnings on horizon on south west. At the beginning they stayed on horizon, moving towards NE, so i hoped they will not cross our path. I have never seen so many lightnings, there wasn't a moment that at least one part of the sky wasn't lit. At around  midnight i realized that storms were coming closer and closer to us and that we will have to go through one or two.  So i woke up Tomaz, explained the situation and we started reefing the sails. I also told him i don't want to be out alone any more, so he took over the watch and i went in to try to get some sleep. Which didn't happen. Before storms arrived, big waves came and with reefed sails we did not have enough speed to sail through them comfortably. The waves were also very weird, 2,5m high, but very narrow and close to each other, so the boat literally fell down from the ridge of first wave into the valley of second one just to be kicked by another wave again. Needless to say the waves were hitting us from the side, although the wind was almost from behind. Every time i opened my eyes there were series of lightnings all around us. Tomaz managed somehow to avoid both of the storms, the rain areas were visible on radar so he changed the course and let one pass in front of us and second one behind. It was still scary. Towards the morning the wind died all together, but the waves of course remained. I started my watch, but Tomaz also couldn't sleep. So after a daybreak we were both out, staring into grey sky and grey very choppy sea. And without sleep the gray looked even murkier. 

We were motoring again the whole day, both of us getting nervous as our fuel tank was getting emptier by the hour. We were so sure there will be some wind (as was forecast), we didn't refill on Sardinia. Finally at about four in the afternoon we caught a glimpse of Menorca through clouds and morale improved a bit. Shortly before seven we anchored in Cala Taulera near city of Mahon. The bay is very secluded and calm so we slept good and long the first night. Next morning two more boats came from Sardinia, both crew complaining about storms and waves.

One of the boats was Musketelle from New Zealand, with Barbara, Peter and WiFi on board. As you might assume Barbara is the lady of the boat, Peter is the master of the boat and WiFi is their cat. Here it is (the cat) sitting on top of their boat. WiFi is a famous cat, she has her own gmail address and is quite well known on internet.

Next day they came for the visit, first Barbara and Peter, then in the afternoon Peter came with WiFi.

She was right at home on our boat, first made a round to check if all is ok.

Our bed was comfortable enough - even for a cat.

While Peter kindly lend a hand, a hammer and some advice to Tomaz while connecting together two pieces of anchor chain, WiFi decided she needs to monitor what was going on from much closer. The best place seemed to be our main's lazy bag.

Later she joined our roud in the cockpit.

Having WiFi over made me sad - i was thinking of my own cats. Luckily, good people are looking after them.

On our many visits to Mahon we found the most important tourist attraction in town - gin factory (the building with a yellow sign). And guess what - you can taste their products before buying - no limits :-)

On tuesday we finally moved from our cala, we sailed along the rocky south side of Menorca. We decided to spend the night in Cala en Porter. It looks interesting from outside (later we learned there is a restaurant and the disco on this side) .....

... and also from inside.

The guys were really jumping from the cliffs.

Unfortunately, in the night the waves came and our bout was rocking like crazy. Our neighbors,  an English sailboat, lift the anchor and left at 3 in the night, and we did the same at 4. When turning around the corner there were still techno beats coming from the disco on the outer side of the rocks.

We sailed further along south coast towards west, until reaching Cala Galdana, that seemed calm enough for anchoring. It was in the day, until in the night the waves started rolling in again. It wasn't to bad, i was able to go on sleeping, Tomaz spent one hour tying our dinghy. We stayed another day and another bad night - this time rollers came in the evening and it was well past midnight till sea was calm enough to go to bed. So next day we decided to sail to Mallorca - even if the forecast said there will not be much wind. This time we were lucky, there was enough wind and we were able to sail almost the whole time and we made over 40 miles to the town of Porto Colom on east coast. We chose this one over many beautiful calas (bays) that were nearer because this port is very closed and calm and we were hoping finally to have a good night sleep again.

We had very good night and today woke up in a nice bay near charming little town (if you ignore some hotels at the east end of bay).

After breakfast we made a ride around the bay with our dinghy before going on shore. On one beach in more shallow part of the bay we saw a guy with a fishing pole, trying to pull out something rather big that was splashing in the water. We slowed down to see what will happen when he started to cry out to us if we can help. With his spanish (actually he was Russian, so there were couple of russian words in the mixture) and our english we managed to find out that the fishing line broke and fish got away with the float (cork) and piece of line. And the guy wanted it all back - with fish of course. So we took him into our boat and went after the fish. And what do you know - we managed to track the float (luckily it was pink and visible very well), and the guy managed to grab it and to pull the fish into the boat. It was a beautiful dorade (sea bream), well worth going after. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


So, we finally got Spanish Internet yesterday and managed to activate it today. This technical stuff ....

We've been anchored in Cala Tauleara near city of Mahon all the time since our arrival. The weather was really funny, lot of clouds, rain, wind from all directions, and i'm afraid that the summer is gone. Today we are moving to the south side of Menorca, don't know where yet. This cala is well protected but the water is not very clean so it's not to good for swimming. 

We've been to city several times, although it's quite a long ride in the dinghy. 

And this is Cala Tauleara.

More on our first days in Menorca in next post.