The cost of waiting

The marina and the anchorage at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Drone photo by Emmie and Tim of Shadowfax (www.chasing-contours.com)

 

Everybody’s waiting.

That’s what you do in the Canary Islands at this time of year. The boats have to get across the Bay of Biscay by the middle of September to avoid the equinoctial gales – but they mustn’t reach the Caribbean until the end of the hurricane season, and that means not setting off until the middle of November. So, for two months, they wait.

A lot of them are just parked in marinas – their crews flown back to the office. The rest exist in a peculiar sub-tropical limbo of cold beer under awnings.

The first week I was here, I stopped in a different place every night. That’s what you do when you’re cruising. Now I haven’t moved for two weeks. It took a while to realise the Canaries are not like Essex.

Well, of course not: The temperature is in the 30s. From twelve until four, nothing moves. I’ve given up soap – instead, I dive over the side before breakfast…

But, there’s more to it than that. Essex is full of rivers, so you can creep in around the mudbanks and find a sheltered spot whatever the weather.

The Canaries are extinct volcanoes (actually not so extinct – the one on La Palma is blowing off at the moment). Anyway, it means there are no estuaries. The only places to stop are open bays where the Atlantic swell rolls the onions off the chopping board or marinas where the man behind the counter shrugs sympathetically and tells you it’s high season. Not only does this mean high prices, but you might have to move on tomorrow because he’s got someone else booked in.

So there’s a great tendency for everyone to stay put – particularly the ARC boats.

The ARC is the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers – a massive event in which 200 boats with 1,200 crew sail across the Atlantic from Las Palmas to St Lucia all at the same time. It is one of the great mysteries of the sea that they don’t all bump into each other like a regatta of seven-year-old in Optimists. The event is massively social and hugely expensive, which means that most of the boats are seriously posh. This year, some of the catamarans have three decks, like wedding cakes.

It does seem rather a waste that they leave from Las Palmas, because – for some reason that nobody seems able to explain – the capital of these islands boasts the cheapest marina in Europe. They quoted me €55 for eight days. It’s like being in Southampton’s Port Solent – but the only time I stopped there for a night, it cost me £40. I could have stayed in a hotel.

Ah, but wait: In Las Palmas, this municipal generosity extends not just to the marina but also to the anchorage next to it. So that must make it the cheapest anchorage in the world!

Well, obviously, most anchorages are free. But it is one of the cruising yachtsman’s perennial moans that over the past 20 years, harbour authorities have sought to cash in on their local topography. For instance, halfway up the Truro River in Cornwall, where seafarers have sheltered for nothing ever since the first caveman stopped to fish from his coracle, the harbourmaster now turns up in his launch to relieve you of £7. There is no landing stage, no water tap. Nothing has changed in a thousand years – except for the introduction of “Harbour Dues”.

Yet here I am, securely anchored just off the popular Playa de las Alcaravaneras – high season and all that – and paying €1.42 a night. That doesn’t even cover the cost of the paperwork (there’s plenty of that). Also, they let me leave my dinghy in the marina and fill up the water can while I’m at it.

For a small additional charge, I could queue for the showers with all the ARC people. But if the sea is free and about the temperature of bathwater anyway…

13 Responses to The cost of waiting

  • As an even older man (78) I loved your book and blogs which I have just discovered. As a late covert to sailing after crewing for Frank Mulville in 1995 I have sailed a 22ft Catch22 across the channel for 20 years but have now been encouraged to venture further afield.

  • Great wordsmithing: “The rest exist in a peculiar sub-tropical limbo of cold beer under awnings.” I can see and hear it all.

  • I just discovered your blog and thank you very much. I am sixty two years old, I am a little French Auvergne who has exactly the same dream. I am preparing my departure for Mangata, my Cheoy Lee offshore 38 from 1979 based in La Rochelle. Sorry for my bad english.I use Google traduct . Is your Book tra’slated in french?

    • Bonjour Jean Claude, Non, j’ai bien peur que le livre ne soit disponible qu’en anglais. (J’espère que vous pouvez comprendre cela. Moi aussi, j’utilise Google Translate !) Cordialement, John

  • Hi John, just a suggestion, why don’t you post your stories on instagram with one of those lovely pictures you take? Thanks, take care, love your blogs even though I don’t usually comment, I read them all 🙂

  • Thank you for the latest ( the cost of waiting) it’s dull and very still here in Alresford Hampshire. and the leaves are turning golden. Take care. Ursula j Weller

  • I’ve been watching the developments at La Palma for a month. Quakes have been building steadily over this time from daily average of 2.5 to current average 3.5 with a couple of >4.0 thrown in. The possibility of a big quake with ensuing landslide leading to tsunami from La Palma has been written about for decades as you might already know. I use an iPhone app called Earthquake to monitor the developments. It is unlikely the UK would be unaffected by such a tsunami, which could impact the whole Atlantic. Take care.

    • I can see Earthquake Alert and Earthquake Checker etc. But nothing just called Earthquake. Also, I seem to remember from the Christmas Day Tsunami that boats anchored in deep water hardly noticed anything. The trouble only started when the surge hit the beach.
      I am 370metres from the low tide mark and anchored in 11metres (at low tide). Does this mean I can stop worrying – before I start…

  • Now, here is some useful information!

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Antifouling

The Swan Inn at Noss Mayo on the River Yealm – the perfect place to dry out for a scrub.

Like most of the world’s great discoveries, the perfect solution to the antifouling problem turned up when I was looking for something else. I could tell you what it is right now – in a few words, as it happens.

But that would be a waste of a good story – and it is a good story…

When I bought Samsara, I had a lot of money left over and thoroughly enjoyed spending it – there was the fancy feathering propellor, the new solar panel, upgraded electrics – all the things that usually spend years on the wish list.

And there was Coppercoat antifouling. If you look it up in the search box, you will see I have written about this elsewhere. It has not been a great success (which is the fault of my hull,  not the stuff itself). Anyway, I’m stuck with it now. I’m certainly not going to pay all over again to have it taken off. Instead, a couple of times a year, I lean the boat up against a wall somewhere and spend three hours underneath with a bucket of water and a packet of scouring pads cleaning off the weed  while green slime drips in my eye.

It’s not something I look forward to. Never mind, at least I can choose a nice place to do it. The River Yealm is a nice place, and if you’ve got a little boat, you can dry out in front of the Swan Inn which does a very nice pint when you’ve finished.

Except that I couldn’t get started. Do you think I could find the scouring pads? I knew exactly where I kept them (stuffed down behind the seacock under the galley sink). But this time, they weren’t there.

That was how I found myself pedalling all the way up to the bridge and then down the other side of the creek to the Co-Op at Newton Ferrers. You would think a Co-Op would have a pack of scouring pads. Not in Newton Ferrers.

Instead, they suggested the garage at Yealmpton. Seeing how far that was, I phoned ahead. They didn’t have any either.

Having gone to all this trouble, I asked in the craft shop (what do you think they said) and the deli…

Eventually, since I had tried everywhere else, I tried the chemist. Oddly enough, they had some of those half-sponge things. Apparently, they used them for cleaning the chemistry set. They were only £1, so I bought them – not that I thought they would be much good for cleaning the bottom of a boat.

By now I was so obsessed by the whole nonsense that I explained it to the man behind the counter.

It was a moment as significant as Moses getting to the top of the mountain and saying: “Actually, I was looking for some tablets of stone. I don’t suppose you’ve got any…”

Because then the man behind the counter divulged the best-kept secret in the history of boat maintenance. He did it with all the sense of occasion that he would employ in taking a tube of hemorrhoid ointment off the shelf and sliding it across the counter.

Here is what he said: “Why don’t you do what the fishermen do?”

  • Why, what do the fishermen do?

And here it is. This is what the fishermen do: They put half a bottle of bleach in half a bucket of water and get a garden spray – the sort of thing you use for greenfly – and they spray the bottom of the boat with bleach. That kills the weed. Then, over the next few weeks, it falls off. Fishermen don’t want to pay for expensive antifouling. Bleach is cheap.

I didn’t believe it. I mean, who would? If it was that simple, why didn’t everyone know about it?

All the same, if there was a chance of avoiding three hours scrabbling around under the boat with the green slime…

I didn’t have a garden spray in the cockpit locker, so I used the brush that goes with the dustpan. It turned out to be ideal for slapping on the bleach. Instead of three hours with the scouring pad , it took me just 30 minutes – although I suppose, I should also count the other two-and-a-half hours watching it dry from the pub terrace.

Well, of course, it didn’t work. A week later, there was still a fringe of weed a couple of inches long all around the waterline. I’d gone to all that trouble for nothing. Serves me right for being so gullible. I expect the chemist dined out on that one for the rest of the summer.

But wait. It is now fully two months later. I am in the Canary Islands. The water is warm. I have been swimming off the boat and, as you do, I dived underneath to see what was going on down there.

Would you believe it? There was not a scrap of weed to be found anywhere – not the fine green beard that grows on the waterline. Not the barnacles around the prop and the rudder – just a light dusting of algae that came off in clouds when I brushed it with my hand.

Of course, I do have to quieten my conscience about adding half a bottle of bleach to the world’s oceans a couple of times a year.

On the other hand, my saucepans have never been so clean.

One Response to Antifouling

  • Genius! Thank you so much for this eye-opener. Who could have thought of such an elegant solution to a major pain in the ass problem? Turns out the local fishermen could! No more spending tons of money on various concoctions. No more spending hours on various sailing forums arguing which antifouling stuff works well in a particular location, but does bugger all in another place with different water salinity. It’s all about bleach! That stuff has been around for ages, it is cheap, widely available and it works. And most importantly it is so easy to apply!

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Adjusting

Sunset over the anchorage at Playa Blanca – and it’s still 26°C in the cabin

Every year up until now, October has been the turning point. Time to start making my way home for Christmas – three months holed up in the Walton Backwaters with the seals and the geese, slowly poisoning myself with carbon monoxide as the charcoal heater leaked more and more smoke into the cabin.

Out would come the long underwear, the winter-weight sleeping bag – until, sometime around January, I would put the winter one inside the summer one … and still not take off the long underwear.

Maybe you don’t wish to know this. Anyway, this October, I am anchored off Playa Blanca in Lanzarote. The temperature in the cabin is 30°C, but with the breeze blowing through the open hatches, it’s cooler than the cockpit. Anyway, you can’t read a laptop screen in that kind of sunlight. Also, there’s enough sun and wind to keep the cheap little fridge going 24hours a day. Before lunch, I had a beer that was every bit as cold as it would have been ashore in the Sailors’ Bar.

Of course, things didn’t start out like this. My first attempt at leaving Falmouth lasted just 90 minutes. That was how long it took to realise that all the freshwater had leaked into the bilges where the automatic pump dumped it with the utmost efficiency straight over the side.

I considered carrying on, reasoning that I had enough water in bottles, beer in cans and the liquid content of tinned food to keep me going for three weeks. All the same, it wasn’t sensible. Also, it was easy to go back.

Anyway, one of the gas burners had packed up – not a disaster, but if I needed a gas engineer, Falmouth was the place to find one, not the Bay of Biscay.

As it happened, no sooner had I dropped the sails than the engine overheated. Abandoning this trip was turning out to be an excellent decision. So I sailed to within ten metres of the Falmouth Haven Marina pontoon and then motored for the ten seconds it took to reach the berth – and still the alarm went off.

Falmouth Marine Services came out that very afternoon and left me overnight with a heat exchanger full of neat descaler – whenever I had used this powerful acid, I diluted it as per the instructions. But then instructions are written for wimps. The next morning, the water flowed where it should.

The gas problem turned out to be a simple matter too. I managed to fix that myself (oh, alright then, the Facebook community told me what to do).

The water was another matter. Over the next three days, I made five excursions to the out-of-town trading estate at Penryn, home of Screwfix and B&Q. According to Google Maps, it is 2.5 miles on a bicycle. But I wasn’t on a bicycle. Half the time, I was pushing the bicycle uphill. The trip took 50 minutes (only 20 coming back, though).

Each time I made it, panting, to the top of the hill, I thought this would be the last. But, after the new components didn’t fit or weren’t compatible with the old ones or just dripped for no apparent reason, I had to cheer myself up by going out for dinner – something that should be a reward for getting it right.

By the time I had two water tanks that didn’t leak separated by an isolation valve that didn’t leak either, I was so pleased with myself, I went out to dinner again – to celebrate.

Finally, on the Friday (I’ve given up being superstitious), I completed the new Brexit paperwork a second time and headed out past Black Rock feeling that, at last, the adventure had begun.

I was a bit premature with this. After four days, here is a list of what didn’t work:

  1. The heat exchanger: Although it had been fine after its dose of descaler, evidently another little crab had crawled out of its home in a corner of the water jacket to block another tiny channel.
  2. The water-driven generator. Despite its new bearings, this refused to turn until the boat was doing five knots and, even then, didn’t charge.

Of course, that might have had something to do with…

  1. The solar panel failed to charge the battery. This goes through a regulator which also deals with the water-driven generator. The panel was certainly generating electricity – yet, even when I connected it to the wind generator’s completely separate regulator, nothing reached the batteries.

The worst of it was that all of these things exacerbated each other to produce an electrical crisis: My sole means of charging was now the wind generator which, of course, is least efficient when sailing downwind – which is what I hoped to be doing for the next thousand miles.

I went round the boat switching things off. I didn’t need the VHF – there would be no fishing boats out here. That was 0.2 amps. The instruments could go too – another 0.2 amps. I could always switch them on when I needed to look at them.

I discovered that the autopilot on standby still consumed 0.1amps – what a waste! I could turn off the AIS and the GPS because I was the best part of 200 miles from land, and so pilotage was hardly a concern – and as for being run over by a supertanker; well, I could keep a lookout – I should be doing that anyway.

I did switch on the masthead tricolour when it got really dark. This uses 0.2amps. Was it really necessary? I was well out of the shipping lanes since I was heading for an arbitrary point in the ocean 150 miles west of Finisterre, and I couldn’t think why anyone else would want to go there. Besides, a ship ought to pick me up on radar. The tricolour would be just to confirm I was a sailing boat – and I have noticed that ships in the open sea avoid me by at least a mile.

The switch panel looked very strange with only one clothes peg on it.

You may think that clothes pegs on a switch panel would look odd anyway, but I use them to show me what I need to turn off sometime.

At this point, I felt some sympathy for Tom Hanks and his crew in Apollo 13 when they’re trying to get back to earth on battery power that wouldn’t run a coffee percolator.

Anyway, I only needed to spend one night stumping around the boat saying: “Failure is Not an Option”. After breakfast, when the neat descaler had had its 24 hours in the heat exchanger, I started the engine and delighted in the sight of water pouring out of the exhaust. Also, now the batteries had drained all night, the solar panel found the oomph to charge them – so I wouldn’t need the water-driven gizmo anyway.

And finally, after a week of what I had calculated to be a two-week passage, the Portuguese Trades kicked in. These are supposed to blow north to south down the Iberian peninsular. Sometimes they do. This time, they did.

It was my first experience of trade wind sailing – albeit without the flying fish (although I did pass a turtle going the wrong way). For seven days, I ran under twin headsails, the main furled on the boom. In all that time, I only touched the sheets once – and that was to reef. A couple of times a day, the course would need adjusting but apart from that, Samsara ploughed along in a welter of foam reeling off, on one occasion, my best day’s run ever – 155miles distance made good.

I read, I ate, I listened to my 47hours of Spotify playlist – which, thanks to the fancy new phone, would actually play for 47 hours instead of stopping inexplicably in the middle of every third chorus.

And every day, it got warmer. By the time I had reached the latitude of Casablanca, I had stopped worrying. I was starting to enjoy myself.

***Track the old man at: https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/5260073720872960

4 Responses to Adjusting

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Cats and the cost of insurance

This is a story about the eighth wonder of the world – and , in the process, a lesson on how to get afloat on a budget.

Years ago, when the children were small, we gave a home to two kittens – a black one and a ginger one. We called them Treacle and Custard (what else?)

Being responsible pet owners, we had them vaccinated and microchipped. Next, we looked at pet insurance. It would cost £15 a month for the two of them – and that was only up to a certain age. Once they reached the stage of “old cat” ailments, the premiums would shoot up.

Instead, we opened a building society account and set up a standing order for £15 a month. They were never ill, and we never had to call on the “Cat Account”. In due course, Treacle was run over, and Custard simply disappeared. They were old. It was sad. But the children were teenagers, and by now, we had a dog. We got another pair of cats, too – and a hamster and two bearded dragons called Norbert and Kreetcha… and the rest….

It must have been ten years later when Lottie’s rabbit fell ill, as rabbits tend to. It was a weekend which meant the vet was on emergency rates. The bill, when it arrived, was something like £350, and the Thumper died anyway. The cats, of course, had never had a day’s illness in their lives, so it was decided they should bequeath some of their fortune to the cost of the dead rabbit’s treatment.

I had not paid much attention to the Cat Account over the years. Certainly, I had no idea how much was in it until I went into the Building Society with the passbook. This was the first indication of how long this story had taken to play out: The girl behind the counter had never seen a passbook. It was all cards now.

Never mind, the manager showed her how to print the transactions into the little book – and then, when it was full, to issue a new one – and then another when that one got filled up… and then a third…

The total, after something like 16 years years of £15 a month and the magic of compound interest, was somewhere north of £3,500. The cats had never seen a penny of it.

And that, as any financier will tell you, is the eighth wonder of the world – compound interest.

So what has all this to do with OldManSailing?

I am writing this from Lanzarote, the most northerly of the Canary Islands. If I go any further south, I shall be below 28°N – which means I needed to call the insurance company  to increase my insured cruising area. I called to tell them I was heading further south – The other Canary Islands, the Cape Verdes, Caribbean – all that.

They came back with a package that stretched from the Dardanelles to the Gulf of St Lawrence.

“And how many crew?” asked the sales associate.

“No crew.” I told her. “Just me.”

“Ah, but we can’t insure you for singlehanded…”

This did not come as a surprise. I had heard that new customers were being limited to 24-hour passages if they were on their own – even in UK waters . After more than 30 years, they seemed to accept me as a special case.  But even so, the premiums were going up and up.

All over Facebook, singlehanders were grumbling. How were they supposed to get anywhere if they had to keep stopping every 24 hours? Anyone would think they were driving heavy goods vehicles…

I can understand an insurer wanting to see a survey (despite my very low opinion of yacht surveyors) but look where the trend is leading: In the USA, insurance companies have started refusing cover for any boat more than 25 years old.

Think about it: They are assuming that a heavily-built and well-maintained yacht from the 1960s, cruised extensively by an experienced couple is somehow a greater risk than something mass-produced in a factory miles from the sea and then bought and sold through a succession of indifferent owners who kept it in marinas, unused, while running a maintenance schedule limited to not much more than antifouling every year.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Insuring the boat – what they call “hull insurance” – or, as the motor trade would put it: “Comprehensive insurance.”

If you go for just third party and wreck removal, everything gets much simpler and a whole lot cheaper.

That was why, last year, I took the plunge and cancelled the hull insurance. It was a big decision – like not wearing a harness all the time. If I lost the boat, nobody would give me a cheque to buy another. If I was dismasted or struck by lightning, I would have to bear the cost of repair myself.

How much I will be able to afford depends on how soon this happens. You see, instead of hull insurance, I now have a “Cat Account”. If it happens this year, I will be looking for a very cheap boat indeed and a very short wish list for her. But don’t forget that Shane Acton went round the world in an 18ft Caprice…

On the other hand, if I get away with it for 16 years like Treacle and Custard, then maybe I won’t have to paint the deck anymore.

But then, I was lucky. If instead of falling in love with a £14,000 boat, I had set my heart on a ten-year-old 40ft steel cutter, costing £80,000, I wouldn’t be able risk this option.

One other thing: Just as not wearing a harness makes the singlehander very careful on the foredeck, so “cat insurance” concentrates the mind on setting the anchor properly and giving a decent berth to that lee shore…

3 Responses to Cats and the cost of insurance

  • I reconise what you say. I had been with a liverpool based ins co 30 years no survey needed then last year they want a full survey. I had to shop around.
    I actually got insurance fully comp for half the price i paid with …jm insurance but with restriction like no more sailing than 24 hrs single handed and any claim made single handed 25% off the value of the claim on top of excess.
    Third party was half the price of fully comp about 60% .
    My motto is its better to have insurance than not having it as long as it does not have too many restrictions and not too costly.
    Insurance companies can vary but i think many small yacht owners are becoming more concerned about the risks involved of an insurance company not paying out! than they are concerned with the risks of actually sailing.

  • Makes sense. As Treacle and Custard had nine lives I trust you will too. Safe passage and keep writing.

  • There’s more than a smidgen of sense here. ‘Tis pity thee and me are both a tad ‘old curmudgeons’, otherwise I’d be tempted to go share a beer or three with ‘e….

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