Onwards & Upwards

Onwards & Upwards

 We were caught in such a problematic and expensive situation. On one hand it made logical sense to sell Troskala three years ago and claim back some of the money we had invested into her, but on the other hand we could not cut the emotional ties we both shared and on the final day of closing a deal to a Canadian who wanted to buy her we pulled out.

Troskala provided us with the dream of escape, she gave us the possibility of sailing to far away horizons. For that dream we have paid heavily in marina fees over the past three years not to mention the cost to re-fit her ready for another ten years of sailing.

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Carlotta looking her best and Troskala not so.

Although I managed to perform basic maintenance over the three years of her being on the hard I was unable to give her the full attention she deserved and she quickly deteriorated in the Caribbean sun. In hind-sight I should have paid to have her professionally covered to try and protect her from the harsh sun and 30*C+ temperatures.

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Preparing for a full varnish

We found that after three years all of the upholstery and curtains had perished. I only had to touch one of the curtains for them to fall apart in front of me. Our beautifully varnished interior also took a hit and faded in most areas internally and our external varnish no longer existed. The cost to rectify the upholstery has reached $3,700 and the varnish $4,000. We could have protected ourselves from these costs better if we had hade her covered.

We are now coming to terms with the expense of a yacht. I don’t think you ever truly realize how expensive it is to run a yacht even a small one at that. But we had no choice and we both knew we did not want to sell her. It was time for a new adventure; a chance to pass my Ocean Practical exam, a chance of a new career on a new island and the only vessel I wanted to begin this journey on was Troskala.

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It is hard to think that she will be launched in ten days.

Improvements were needed. We had managed to put away some money and I was happy to spend some of it upgrading Troskala for the next ten years. I say ‘I’ as I believe Carlotta would spend the money on better things than a boat. Anyway, it was clear she needed some attention and this was the time to get some things completed that we had failed to complete before leaving London.

It is always a good idea to compromise in any relationship and when it comes to a boat Carlotta had to have an input in the improvements we were about to undertake. All work on Troskala has been carried out by Work Bench Virgin Gorda. At the moment we have to say the quality of their work is outstanding.

Carlotta decided that we needed a fridge, so this was the first upgrade. We have now installed a top-loading, keel cooled Penguin fridge. This is not a bad idea and something we really needed whilst in the Caribbean and it will make food on passages easier.

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New Seacock 

My big change was to finally remove the old fuel tank, check it, clean it and re-fit, but this time with a fuel gauge. I decided to have all windows removed, cleaned, resealed and re-fitted as most of them had started leaking and all the sealant had perished in the heat.

 

I decided to replace all the electrics onboard. We were still running Troskala with her original wiring and after over thirty years it was time to have a full refit. I have had installed LED lighting throughout Troskala and have installed extra lights in the heads, engine bay and lazerette. We have installed additional 12V sockets near the navigation table and fans to cool the forward cabin and saloon down. I decided to replace all our instruments and have to moved to a full set of Raymarine navigational aids, which consist of a chart plotter and two multifunctional display. (photos to come). All transducers were replaced at the same time.

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Our New Racor Filter.

We have upgraded our Rutland wind generator from the 913 to the 914i, as the bearings had failed on our precious one and it cost nearly more the replace them here than buy a new one.

I had our engine mounts replaced. This was not a necessity but more of a safety procedure. One of the mounts was beginning to look slightly worst for ware and it is not something I want to have to think about in bad weather on our passage.

I have replaced our old fuel filter with a racor filter and water separator. I hated the old CAD296 filter and I am pleased with the new one and its ease of use.

We have fitted an electric bilge pump to supplement our manual one. This is something I always wanted but never managed to get round too, so this was a good time to get one installed.

I have had all my seacocks replaced. I had installed DZR’s three years ago and all of these had started to show signs of corrosion. I decided to install Marelon plastic seacocks through out Troskala. I have become used to these seacocks as they have been installed on the past two yachts I have worked on and I am now more than happy in taking one apart blindfolded.

We have ordered a new light-weight spinnaker pole, which arrives this Wednesday. Those of you who have read a previous blogs can probably remember the amout of curing associated with our current pole.

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Old windows removed ready for the new ones

That is about it. It goes without saying that within the next couple of weeks Trosksla should be polished and her bottom painted. I believe she will look and feel like a new boat. There is only two weeks to have her completed before we start her sea trials so the stress is mounting and my faith lies with Work Bench BVI.

I will try to keep you all posted on the progress and I look forward to sending you photos of some of our new kit.

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On Sofia, trying to get our Sat phone working.

P.S. My gratefulness goes to Antonio Alvarez who has kindly offered us a new SSB radio in exchange for a day sail on Troskala. Words cannot express our gratitude to you and your family.

 

New Plans & New Adventures

It gives such pleasure to be writing to you all and to be embarking on a new adventure that we would like to share with you.

It would take such a long time to write about all that has happened to us in the past three years so I will save you all the boredom and try to sum up three years of our lives very simply.

So, where do we start? Well firstly, we did not sell our beloved Troskala. It is true that we got close but we pulled out last minute due to so many emotional ties. Well she ended up sitting for three years deteriorating in Virgin Gorda and costing us a small fortune as yachts tend to do. The decision however felt right and now I know that is was the correct one and we get to set sail again on our pride and joy.

So, back to our three years charting large yachts in The British Virgin Islands.

We worked our first year on a 48 foot Robertson & Cane catamaran (Kokomon), which was based out of Tortola., Carlotta as a chef and I as a Captain. After one year any too many charters we promoted to Sofia, a brand new Leopard 58. We were joined by Jose, Carlotta’s brother who worked as our additional crew- member.

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Our first charter yacht – Kokomo

We did many charters offering ten guests the opportunity of renting out a very luxurious yacht for up to a week.   We have so many stories and are contemplating writing a book based on our experiences within the luxury charter industry so watch this space. The one thing is that the job financially benefited us. The wage was standard but what you could make on tips was sometimes mind-blowing. It was the easiest way to put some money behind us and that we did.

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We found time in between to finally get married after thirteen years together in August 2015 in Oviedo (Spain). I have attached the video below for anyone who is interested. Thank you to all our friends and family and fellow cruisers who made this day so special.

Password: carlotta2015

So, what is the plan now and why have I started blogging. Well, for us there is only so much chartering we can do and around December we decided that enough was enough. We had been living on Sofia full time for over a year and the thought of completing yet another full season in the charter industry was too much. It is never a good idea to continue doing a job where you are unhappy or have doubts in what you are doing, so we looked to the horizon for new challenges.

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During a night of many vinos with Carlotta we discussed the future and what we wanted from it. It was easy in a way to keep on earning good money in the charter industry but it was clear we were both becoming more unhappy with our job and at that point the decision was made to leave the charter business.

Originally we had planned to leave in 2017 but 2016 is our year and Troskala is now undergoing a major refit to get her back to the state she was three years ago before the 02nd May.  When making our decision, we expected that I would find a job in the Super Yacht industry and go from there after taking eight months to cruise.

Whilst planning our future the subject of children always seemed to come up but if we wanted this we would have to settle and this time not in a boat.

As luck would have it I was recently offered a job to set up and manage The Moorings charter base in Palma Mallorca. We could not have been happier with the offering however the need for me to now be in Palma has put pressure on getting Troskala over the pond. Palma will be our new home.

So, the clock is ticking and we need Troskala ready to be launched by the 1st of May 2016.

Troskala has spent the past three years on the hard in Virgin Gorda and I have to say that these three years have been very unkind. She is not in the best state and in order to get her back to previous condition a lot of work and a lot of money are needed.

So, why am I writing this blog? Well, unfortunately we will not be completing the circumnavigation we had planned four years ago when leaving London. Instead I want to complete the Atlantic circuit. This has now become a passage of timing and endurance. We need to make Palma by the 08th July and to undertake this will mean that the timings need to work well without being dangerous. We very much look forward to completing the 5,500 miles on Troskala and returning her back to Europeam waters.

I would like to share with you all the upgrades and changes we will be making to Troskala over the next few weeks. I want to share photos and right about our successes and failures. I also want to share with you the planning I undertook prior to departure so that I am hopefully able to assist those of you who are panning a similar journey in the future.

I plan to make the journey solely by using celestial navigation. I hope to video every aspect of the journey and write about the various destinations we visit although our time in Bermuda, Azores and Gibraltar will be short. I hope to detail everyday of our trip and share with you the logs that we make and the lessons learnt

The following crew has decided to help me undertake certain passages with me:

William Bates – British

Ollie Campbell – British

Jovita Sarpnickaite – British

Jordan Bennett – American

All of the above have sailed with me before, some more than others. I thank all of you for your support and for supporting the crazy notion of sailing a 32 foot yacht across an ocean.

As always the blog is designed to receive questions so please feel free to ask me anything and question what I am, doing; I love the feedback.

Enjoy and thank you for joining in on our adventures.

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Twenty Days until laugh and just a little work to be done.

 

 

Rival 32 for Sale

Good Morning / Afternoon to you all.  It has been far to long since I have written. I apologise from the bottom of my heart.  Carlotta, Troskala and I are back in the British Virgin Islands working for The Moorings Charter Company.  I am now the Captain of a luxury Catamaran with my first mate and chef Carlotta. We have been so lucky and so busy.  I have a lot to write about and within the next week you will all receive a blog highlighting what has happened to us in the past 5 months, which I think you will find very interesting.   For now though we have some distressing news. I have already mentioned this on Facebook but it is only fair that you all are part of this new development.   Please see the below and feel free to ask any questions.  All the best for now and we shall speak soon.

So this is it, a sad day for Carlotta and myself but the start of a new life for someone else. For one minute of this day open your minds to the opportunity of sailing the high seas, living a dream and experiencing an adventure that far exceeds a two week vacation in a mundane resort. Think about changing your lives for the better, sell the car, the house, pay off your debts, put the children into care and buy this yacht. What would be better than a 32 foot yacht, strong, reliable, safe and beautiful in every way (sorry Carlotta). It is not all about size (as Carlotta informs me daily) but about and safety and design; Troskala ticks all the boxes in regards to stability (AVS) and displacement. This is your chance to buy what is probably the best Rival 32 in the world as mentioned by people far more experienced than me. Incredible enhancements have been made to Troskala and no expense spared throughout. She comes with a new engine the latest in navigational software and much more (please see the below inventory. I hear you ask the meaning of the name. Well Troskala means beautiful curves and she certainly carries them well. You will be the proud owner of a classic sailing vessel. Troskala has sailed over 10,000 miles in the past year. My worries throughout all of my passages between the UK to The British Virgin islands were to do only with my capabilities and not the capabilities of this fine sailing vessel. Troskala currently lies in paradise on the small island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. So, get on a plane and sail her back to European waters or why not keep her in the most idillic location in the world that is the BVI’s. She is ready for an ocean crossing and I cannot meet the needs of my other women so she needs a new man / lady to keep her looking good. There is a world out there and a world that needs exploring before it is two late. Troskala has given me a new career, many adventures, unbelievable friendships and the joy of escaping the ‘rat race’ and living a life that exceeds even my wildest dreams. So, this is your chance. She will sell and she will sell quick so take the step get the courage to improve your life and see the world. Please see inventory below and feel free to ask any questions. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity so do not let it pass.

Troskala – Rival 32 MK2 1980

LOA – 9.70m
LWL – 7.47 m
Beam – 2.95m
Displacement – 5,300kg
Ballast – 1891kg
Sail Area – 45.4 sq m
Sleeps 6 in two cabins

Engine –

Complete engine refit:

New BETA 30 hp installed 2011
New propeller 2011
New Shaft 2011
New Throttle 2011
New BETA instrument Panel

Instruments and Systems –

Standard Horizon Chart Plotter – CP180 with updated charts for US waters 2013
Digital Yacht AIS overlaying data on Chart Plotter
Sterling Pro Charge Battery Management System
Clipper Depth Gauge
Clipper Wind Gauge
Furono Marine Radar – Model 1715
Furono GPS – GP-31
Rutland 913 Wind Charger – Installed 2011 with charge regulator
Clipper Navtex
Autohelm ST 4000
Hydrovane installed 2012
Icom VHF Marine Radio – IC-M505
Plastimo Compass
MB Quart Nautical Stereo
Webasto Diesel Heater – Installed 2011
New Battery Monitor installed 2012

Deck –

Delta Anchor with 40 meters of 10mm chain and 40 meters warp
New rig installed in August 2012 (Z-Spar) this included: New Mast, tricolour and anchor light, New Boom, complete renewal of both standing and running rigging
Spinakker pole
New Spray Hood – 2011
New Life raft installed 2012 – 4 man
New Henderson Manual Bilge Pump operated at helm
Emergency antenna
Danbouy
Emergency ladder
2 domestic batteries and one starter battery New 2013
Avon Dinghy with Honda 2.3HP outboard
Distress Flares – In Date
SL Manual Windlass
Furlex 200s
New Crusader Sails 2012 – New Genoa, Main and sail cover. Heavy duty sails with UV resistant material all in excellent condition
Ghoster Sail
Spinnaker Sail with sock

Cabin –

New Quick Boiler installed 2011
New hot / cold pressurised water system installed 2011
Shower with hot and cold mixer
2 X 210 litre Tek Tank water tanks installed 2012 with water gauge under V Berth
New Marine Bedding double mattress with memory foam and fitted sheets
New Plastimo 200 cooker 2011 including grill, oven and two hobs. Gas system also updated to be Gas Safe registered
Salt Water Tap
McMurdo GPS EPIRB
Jabsco Marine toilet
Hew Houdini Hatches replaced in 2012

Jack-stays – New 2013

Sailing Again – Chichester to Dover

This post comes after the rest of the Spain trip but while information is still fresh in our heads I thought it was best to post it first. I am back in the UK and we fly back to the British Virgin Islands next Wednesday to start work.  It will be strange working after 18 months off but we both need a challenge and as the weather begins to take a turn for the worst it is probably the right time for us to find the sun.

I had been asked by my friend Tim to help sail his 30 foot yacht from Chichester to St Katharine’s.  Of course I was eager to re-live sailing on the south coast and agreed to assist, plus Tim is a great friend and we both looked forward to a few drinks in Ramsgate.  I do not think I have feared for my life twice in any week but our trip proved to be challenging in many ways.  Many lessons were learnt.  Tim has completed is log and thoughts about the trip, which I include here.

Excalibur
Excalibur

Last week myself and a good friend Oliver planned to take Excalibur up to London for the winter, however the forces of nature did it’s best to scupper our plans.

We learned many lessons last week and experienced some some pretty awful conditions. I thought I would write up our trip mainly to keep a record for myself, and perhaps it will be of interest to others. Certainly there are many things we will both do differently in the future.

Our plan was to break the journey up into 3 legs. Chichester to Brighton, Brighton to Dover, and then Dover to London with a stop in Ramsgate if time allowed.

Chichester to Brighton

We left Birdham Pool Tuesday evening on a clear starry night, and stayed on the visitors pontoon at the Itchenor as we planned to make the most of tide the next morning to Brighton.

We left Wednesday morning at 5:30am, and due to the early start we left before making a cup of tea or having breakfast. The weather forecast was a force 4-5 South Westerly which would give us a nice downwind sail to Brighton, and comfortable conditions to get a brew on etc on the way. There was barely a breath of air as we motored towards the entrance of Chichester Harbour.

By the time we got out of Chichester Harbour and to West Pole the wind had picked up to 30-35 knots, it then became apparent that the wind was infact coming from a South Easterly direction, meaning the wind was on our nose and we would have to motor to Brighton.  We let a bit of genoa out to steady Excalibur and continued to motor on. We discussed whether or not to head through the looe channel to save time, and although it was wind against tide we decided that the sea would not have picked up sufficiently by the time we reached the channel.

Although uncomfortable, the looe channel wasn’t too bad and once we passed it we thought the biggest challenge was over. Soon after Oliver became uncharacteristically sea sick, to the point that he was incapacitated and had to lay on his back in the cabin to try and quell it.

I spent the next 4 hours or so helming, no water, no tea no food, big mistake. I was unable to leave the cockpit and thus couldn’t make a brew or more importantly any log entries. I took a good few waves in the face and Excalibur slammed spectacular over some waves on the way to Brighton which probably sounded 10 times worst down below.

I generally felt safe in Excalibur but found she was wetter than I expected. Having covered quite a few miles as crew onboard Oliver’s Rival 32, I hadn’t experienced as many waves into the cockpit as I did in Excalibur. Perhaps the point of sail was to blame, but I was surprised nonetheless and a litte bit disappointed. The wind was a steady 30-35 knots and gusted to 42 knots a few times.

The scene that unveiled as we approached Brighton Marina was enough to bring Oliver out of his sea sickness, and for my jaw to hit the floor. The waves were rolling in from the South East and crashing up against the long concrete breakwater, rising straight up into the air and being blown over the wall into the marina behind. The tops of the waves were being blown off and the wind was gusting to about 35 knots. The concrete high walls are pretty imposing, and even more so as we watched wave after wave ride straight up the face of the walls.

The pilot book warned us against entering Brighton in a South Easterly, but by the time we had entered through the looe channel we were short of options and the only other choice now was to carry on to Dover, an unpleasant thought given the rough passage we had already been through.

I took Excalibur in closer so we could have a look at the entrance. Oliver said to turn around as we saw a large wave roll past us. A brief quell urged us to have a go, so I started to head for the entrance, Oliver then took over incase I broached the boat (Oliver being the more experienced, I didn’t argue). As we rode the waves in, our worst fear was to broach the boat as you have a large concrete breakwater to port and a sandbank marked by green buoys to starboard. For what seemed like an eternity we eventually got around the buoys and motored into the safety of the marina.

Needless to say we needed a strong drink afterwards.

Things we learn’t or were reminded of

  • Weather forecasts are not gospel, and can have serious consequences (ok so first point is not rocket science)
  • Always prepare a flask of tea before setting sail, whatever the weather
  • For longer passages prepare lunch beforehand, it was impossible to make any food once we realised the wind had shifted.
  • Seasickness tablets are a must, it was lovely and serene in Chichester Harbour and we expected a nice downwind sail, but before we knew it the conditions had changed and we could have both done with topping up.
  • Most importantly take heed of the pilot book! We knew it wouldn’t be pleasant by the time we arrived at Brighton, but our main focus was getting through the looe Channel. After 4 hours of a force 7-8,  the seas around Brighton were in full swing. Now we know to take more notice of the pilot books, we wouldn’t have attempted it otherwise.
  • Most people talk about bolt holes, ie where to tuck in if you can’t make your final destination. But what if you can’t get into your intended destination? do you have a plan B? It would have been a good idea to have continued the passage plan to Dover incase we couldn’t get into Brighton.

Brighton to Dover

The next day we readied ourselves for the next leg of the journey, but this time we would be ready. 1 flask of tea, 4 pre-prepared wraps and 4 hand held flasks pre-filled with tea bags and sugar!

Our plan was to sail through the night and arrive at Dover early the next morning. Oliver’s theory was that it’s better to arrive somewhere as it’s getting light than the other way around.

HW @ Dover was at 23:11 BST, which meant we had to leave at 6pm. With a quick stop at the fuel pontoon we started to make our way out of the marina. Earlier we met David Wheatley in the marina, as we motored past he was there to wave us off and very kindly relayed that he would follow us on AIS. The AIS transmitter has been a good investment, aside from the obvious additional safety benefits, giving friends and family the opportunity to follow us online has been a great reassurance. For those wishing to follow me in the future, the site you need is http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/ and you will have to select the general area that I will be sailing in to avoid picking up boats with similar names in the states.

There was an air of apprehension as we drew closer to the entrance. Spray was still appearing at the top of the wall and blowing over, but of course we were  inside  the marina so gauging what the conditions were outside would not become apparent until we got out there. The sea state turned out to be perfectly fine and apart from wrestling with my halyards and my mast steps (a reoccurring theme here), we got the main up and with a WSW wind blowing at 16 knots we started to head to Dover downwind.

We had a lovely quiet sail, clear skies and nearly a full moon. The white cliffs seemed almost luminescent in the dark, and every so often a seemingly innocent lobster pot would drift past. The areas around Brighton are full of lobster pots as per the pilot books states. We passed a few fishing trawlers, giving us a chance to refresh out lights, though from a distance they just seemed like something out of close encounters of the third kind. 

Eventually the wind died at 23:00, so we reluctantly put the engine on, and Oliver went down for a kip.

The Skipper
The Skipper

The above pretty much sums up how I felt.  I have never come across such challenging conditions entering any harbour.  I will certainly never attempt to enter Brighton in a force 8 from a southerly direction.  Our  choices were limited and I do believe that entering Brighton was my only option, but it does make you realise how dangerous the waters are around the South Coast of England.

I am sure Tim has more to add on this trip but we both did not expect to have another close call the day after.  The next step was to sail from Chichester to Dover.  We left in the evening setting off from Brighton around 19:00.  We had a great sail under main past Beachy Head and into the darkness beyond.  Upon reaching the Royal Sovereign buoy the wind decreased and we had to motor.  We motored into thick fog but this seemed to lift as we approached Dover. It is nice to see that some lobster pots around were now lit, displaying a red and blue flashing LED light; I wish this was standard practice for all lobster pots.

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We came into Dover around 05:00 and settled in to the Tidal Harbour.  The trip was a success and we settled into a lovely sleep before preparing for the sail from Dover to London.

We departed Dover at 23:00.  We had timed it so that we had a great spring tide running North East, which would push us up to North Foreland through Goodwin Sands at great speed.  The wind was forecasted to be no more than 25 knots from the South, which would give us a nice broad reach up to the Thames.  All was set in our favour and so we set off expecting to reach London at 13:00 the next day.

Never underestimate what can fly on a boat in rough weather.  A multimeter managed to switch it self and fly to the forepeak.
Never underestimate what can fly on a boat in rough weather. A multimeter managed to switch it self and fly to the forepeak.

What greeted us outside Dover was sheer hell on earth.  We strapped ourselves in when we saw a few white crests but then we approached unbelievable conditions.  The wind had suddenly increased to force 8.  With a fast ripping tide moving North East and a Southerly Wind the water was a cauldron of confusion.  Excalibur was tossed side to side, listing as far as her windows.  The engine would rev higher after a bout of tossing.  We were both worried.  We decided to head out further to try and escape the confused seas but this was no good.  We could not see where the next wave was coming from and all we could here down below was the smashing of items.  Then the big one got us.  A wave crashed over the port stern quarter.  The shock of it was enough.  I had water up to my knees.  Was I scared; yes.  We turned excalibur to make a run for port.  I called Dover Port Control to advise that we were in difficulty and making our way back.  By this time we were hitting a tide against us so now were only making 1.5 knots.  It was horrendous.  Then Navigation Lights then decided to go down, so this only helped us agree that going back was the right decision.

Terry.  Troskala's Mascot before leaving Dover
Terry. Troskala’s Mascot before leaving Dover

 

Terry, after coming back into Dover.  He is mentally a broken bear.
Terry, after coming back into Dover. He is mentally a broken bear.

We made it back into Dover 30 minutes later.  We were both in shock.  It took 3 bottles of wine to calm us down and send us to sleep without nightmares.  Unfortunately we were unable to complete the voyage to London and Excalibur remains in Dover.  You never stop learning and the sea can test some of the most experienced sailors.  I still agree that crossing an ocean is sometimes easier and less dangerous than trying to navigate ports in poor weather.

I believe we made the right decisions but there are numerous questions to answer not to mention why we did not expect the conditions to be so poor outside Dover.  Anyway, the boat, Tim and I survived with some interesting memories to take with us.

Thank you Tim and thank you Excalibur

Madrid

I am realising how complex human nature is.  When we were in the British Virgin Islands we were desperate to go back to Europe and now I am in Europe I am desperate to get back to paradise, why is it that we are never happy with our current surroundings.  Something has changed in us and the more I stay in one place the more depressed I am getting. How can it take 8 weeks to sort a visa out for the British Virgin Islands?  I need to go back, I need to be around inspirational people who share the same love for the sea and adventure.  I am tired of living out of a  bag and relying on peoples kind hospitality, I need my freedom and not to feel like I am constantly taking but also giving.  I was so happy being back in Europe for the first few weeks.  The culture, food, family and friends, convenience and adventure all seemed quite agreeable but the time has changed, I have changed and there is no going back.

I remember reading numerous books before we began our adventure of how when you get back you are somewhat different especially when it comes to sharing conversations with certain people who do not know what you have done, the challenges you have faced and the beauty you have seen.  I remember reading that when undertaking a conversation with someone who has not shared similar experiences that their attention lasts for approximately 5 minutes before their eyes glaze and you can see that they do not give a shit; basically the conversation is turned to the last episode of Downton Abbey, or the school that their children attend, or the hemorides problem they have or the aunt that has back trouble.  It is true, this actually does happen and now after numerous conversations such as this I have switched off, I have nothing to say but to nod, smile and try to take in what they are saying.  Only the people have completed such an adventure show eagerness to listen, learn and open their mind, it is sad but true and this is why human nature is so complex.  I certainly cannot relate the above to all the people we have been with in the past couple of months. We have been with some amazing friends who have not only listened but have made us feel welcome in their homes and have given more than expected – thank you.

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I have certainly had my fair share of Cities and City life as you will see below. The other day I was minding my own business walking towards a zebra crossing. I approached it and looked left and right, as you do, before crossing.  Just as I was walking across some Muppet, who was more concerned with her mobile phone than what was going on in front of her, walked in front of me.  I could do nothing but head-butt her accidently.  The pain was intense and I now have a cracked bone in my nose that clicks at night.  I only hope that her head still hurts and maybe I smashed some sense into her brain.  Why do people walk around looking at mobiles, Ipads and IPods instead of where they are going?  This put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

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Anyway, back to far more interesting things.  We had to go to Madrid as we had an appointment with the American Embassy and finally get our B1 and B2 visa’s.  Those of you who have read previous blogs will know how stressful and annoying this process has been and we were certainly not looking forward to it.  If we did not get our visa, we would not have a job as we will be sailing in and around American waters.  Plus, we had heard stories of applicants being taken into a dark room and questioned for an hour or two why they wanted the visa’s and swearing on the bible that they would not want to settle down and live in the United States; strange but true.

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So we left Oviedo on a sunny afternoon and began the 5 hour drive to Madrid.  Asturias is really quite stunning.  As soon as you head inland you are confronted by high peaks, sheer cliffs that rise dramatically, beautiful woodland, small villages and yet again empty roads.  If we had a stereo in the car, I would have been playing some Toccatta in D minor by Widor or Bachs Fugue, but as we did not I just had to imagine it whilst savouring my dramatic surroundings.  As you drive further up endless mountains you come to a tunnel spanning 4 miles and when you pop out the other side it is as if you have been transported to another country.  The landscape becomes flat, yellow, hot and dusty; this is the Spain I had imagined before I had properly visited the north.

We arrived five and a half hours later in Madrid. After parking up we met Carlotta’s friends Astrid and Roberto, who would be kindly putting us up for two nights in their stunning apartment.  Both Astrid and Roberto are kind, generous and intelligent people who speak excellent English and have a great take on life.  Astrid is a Scientist and Rob an IT expert.  We spent the evening eating dinner in a lovely Italian, talking about their recent wedding, our adventures, the state of Spain and the problems faced by the young generation here.  It was a superb evening.

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The next morning we had to wake up at the crack of dawn and head into Madrid city centre to the American Embassy. We managed to get to the tube but understanding the map was a different story.  Luckily Carlotta’s Spanish saved the day and an hour later we were outside the Embassy.  We queued for a short while before being ushered in to their security section.  It was like boarding a plane.  All bags were taken away and all metal removed under the watchful eye of an eager security guard with a big gun.  We were sent to another room that resembled a doctors surgery.  The place was packed even at 07:30 in the morning with all sorts of characters hoping for a chance to visit, or move to America.  We were sent to one window, then another and yet another.  More papers shuffled and numerous coffees drunk we were sent to the final window where a large American lady sat and looked at us with devious eyes.  We smiled and answered the ridiculous questions that were asked like: why do you want the visa, why have you not worked for so long, what did you do before, why did you do that before, what is your new job, why have you changed career, why is the sky blue and how many states does America have.  I may have made the last two up but I suppose you get the idea.  After this we were granted our visa’s and our passports were taken away to be updated.

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We were both tired after our ordeal and the fact that it was still so early.  It is never good to see a new place when you are tired and I think that my state of mind may have had an adverse effect on how I saw Madrid.  Yes, Madrid is a big city and it has some lovely buildings.  Please bear in mind that Madrid were applying to host the Olympics in the next few years so you would have expected to see a city embracing cleanliness, sport and culture.  I have never been to such a dirty city.  I compare this to all other cities In have been to, which has been lot in the past couple of years.  Everywhere you walked you saw dirt, the streets were black, the smell of urine filled the back streets and there was graffiti everywhere.  The city felt so unloved.  I hate to say it but Wolverhampton is cleaner, Lisbon is cleaner, Seville is cleaner.  After dodging some vomit pools we decided to get a coffee in a lovely square opposite the ME Hotel Madrid. Maybe a coffee would sort me out.  As we sat there enjoying the morning sun you could again see unbelievable amounts of grime.  Glass panels surrounding the square were covered in phlegm, bird shit, and graffiti. Whilst sitting there for 15 minutes we were approached by seven beggars; yes seven.  Carlotta went to the toilet in the café only to be greeted by the biggest cockroach she had ever seen.  We left hastily to try and recue our already damaged impression of this historic city but it did not get much better.

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There were no cycle lanes in the city; there was traffic everywhere all fighting for a small space on the roads.  Even pavements were scares in areas and when you found one it was littered with cheap postcard stands and tourist crap; is this really a city that thought it had a chance to host an Olympic event?  As the day progressed things got better.  Some of the architecture is amazing, the Palace and Cathedral square are imposing and clean.  The old fish market has been refurbished and made into a gastronomic centre.  Madrid does have a wonderful park located in the middle of the city.  We also found a great little tapas bar and sat for an hour resting and enjoying the old part of the city but shortly after we left.

I will visit Madrid again in a better frame of mind and to give it another chance.  I hear so many people say positive things about the city and I intend to experience these positives later on but whoever is responsible for the city needs to get a mop out occasionally and take some pride in what could be a fantastic place to visit and live.

In the evening we met with Astrid and Rob who took us into the financial district of Madrid for dinner.  We were surrounded by tall skyscrapers and new buildings, a stark contrast from our earlier experiences.  We were taken to a lovely Mexican Restaurant and whilst sipping copious amounts of Margarita I saw Madrid in a more pleasant state of mind, it was not such a bad place but then I believe people make a place and not necessarily the architecture or pools of vomit.  We walked back to the car slowly and full from our dinner; I even saw several cyclists, maybe there is a small chance of Madrid hosting the Olympics sometime in the future.

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Oviedo, Villaviciosa, Luanco, Candas, Cabo Penas

Looking out at the Bay of Biscay  - Cabo Penas
Looking out at the Bay of Biscay – Cabo Penas

 

To be honest not a lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks.  We have, however, been enjoying some glorious weather and this has given us the opportunity to visit places in the north of Spain that we missed whilst sailing.

The other day we found ourselves on the edge of Northern Spain, Cabo Peñas.  We had finally managed to wake up early enough to experience the fog lifting over land and the views over the Bay of Biscay with absolutely stunning. Cabo Peñas rock consists of Armorican Quartzite, which has a very strong resistance to abrasion, therfore the make-up of the cliffs is stunning.  The lighthouse at Cabo Peñas is the most important and far-reaching on the coastline of Asturias and was built there in 1852.  It is a magnificent structure.

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We had taken one of Carlottas’s good friends with us and spent the rest of the morning visiting several wonderful bays and getting slightly stuck down a farmers track.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the wonderful beach of Verdicio before the fog came back and we made a quick departure before we lost the car.

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It still amazes me how cheap food is in Spain.  We spent a day travelling with Carlotta’s Mum (Maria) and visited the lovely town of Villaviciosa, where you can get a menu of the day for only eight euros.  The meal comprised of Paella, Beans and Chorizo, half a chicken, ice-cream and a bottle of house wine.  For around about £6 we ate like Kings and Queen’s, as you can so easily do in Spain.  We needed a walk after the heavy lunch, so decided to investigate this historic town. Villaviciosa played an important role in the Peninsular War against France.  The town suffered numerous attacks as it was the occupied territory of the French Troops until they were expelled.  Currently, Villaviciosa is the most important municiaplity of Cidre and you could not escape the smell of Cidre as you walked down the cobbled streets.

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A very good friend of mine (Pedro) decided to drive from Portugal (Figueira da Foz) to Oviedo for one night, a drive of over 640 kilometers.  Those of you who have read the blog before will know that Pedro is the gentleman who introduced Carlotta and myself 11 years ago and he has been a good friend to us since.

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While he was here we decided to take a trip to visit the very pleasent fishing villages of Luanco and Candas.  Luanco is a fabulous place and although they contructed a fake beach it still brings in the crowds of tourists and locals.   We enjoyed roaming the quite streets, savouring the history of this small place and enjoying abouth 4 course lunch for £12 each.  We ended up sipping coffee into the late afternoon and putting the world to rights as we have done since university days.

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After Luanco we drove a few miles to Cadaz, which was not a nice as Luanco but did have a certain small-town charm.  I would recommend visiting Candas before visiting Luanco to not experience any disapointment.  There is nothing more satifying that drinking iced coffee and watching the day go by and Candaz is the perfect place to execute such a past time.

I have still not adjusted my body-clock to Spanish Time and in the evening we found ourselves out with a few of Carlotta’s friends and Pedro.  An evening out here starts around 23:00 and can easily carry on until 07:00, which it did; I was destroyed all day Sunday and swore never to partake in a Gin & Tonic drinking Medley again.  Thank you Pedro and to all who put up with my brocken Spanish.

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I am still trying to get around being able to speak Spanish.  I am three weeks in and with the help of Peppa Pig cartoons (in Spanish) and Michel Thomas’s Spanish course I am making very little progress.  Being in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language fully is hard. I can only imagine that it is being similar to being in a coma.  I can understand most things but find it difficult to speak.  It is depressing as you cannot eaily show your gratitude to the kind people we meet and Carlotta’s parents.  The good thing is that I am constantly persisting in the learning side and I hope that after another month I will be able to string a sentence together.

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Carlotta, on the hand has been transformed into the new Master Chef.  As I sit here typing away she is creating unbelievable dishes with the assistance of her Mum.  I think we have all put on some weight, but I am certainly not complaining.

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So, what are the future plans? We need to see Southern Spain and so our next journey begins on the 23rd of Septmeber.  We will drive down to Salamanca and then onto Madrid, where we have our B1 and B2 American Visa Interview for the new job.  We will then head to Valencia, Alicante, Mucia, Granada, Seville and then up the Portugal coast making sure we stop at Porto this time.  We have a lot to fit in and I look forward to sharing the experiences with you.

Best Wishes,

Oliver & Carlotta

P.S. Troskala has now dodged several tropical storms and is doing well.  We miss her and look forward to returning in a month and half’s time.

Oviedo Old City
Oviedo Old City

Driving to Spain, Asturias, Oviedo

The Town Hall Oviedo
The Town Hall Oviedo

A quick reminder of the last post maybe needed.  We have been kindly loaned a car and have decided that instead of wasting money renting a car in Spain and paying for flights that we would drive from the UK to Spain; a trip we have made in the past and are happy to complete again.

We departed Wolverhampton around 16:00 as we had to make our ferry from Dover at 02:30 in the morning and due to it being a Friday it was suggested that we gave at least seven hours for the journey and to expect long delays.

We met only a couple of delays and stopped off for some dinner off that boot of the car before setting off again and reaching the check-in at Dover by 00:30.  We had two hours to kill and apart from adding our headlight deflectors there was nothing much to do except trying to sleep as we had a long journey ahead.

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The cruise over to Calais came and went; luckily we managed to get some sleep amongst the torturous screams of what seemed to be 100 children.  Before we knew it we were called back to car to continue our journey through France and onto Spain.

If you have ever driven through France you will probably agree that it is a somewhat drab experience and it is not until you reach the border to Spain that the land scape becomes interesting.  I know that France is a stunning country and it is a shame that whilst passing places such as Boulogne-sur-Mer, Abbeville, Rouen, La Mans, Nantes and Bordeaux that we could not stop, but we had already experienced how uncomfortable it is sleeping in the car and we just wanting to make it to a bed and the comfort of Carlotta’s home.

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Tiredness crept in 3 hours into our trip as I had not slept for nearly 24 hours. I have found through experience that the first 5-6 coffees may make a difference to alertness but after that there is no point in drinking more as all you feel is sick.  We had covered 400 miles before pulling over at a French service station and sleeping 4 hours.

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After a much needed break we carried on through France looking at the same monotonous land scape with only the money grabbing tolls to distract / upset us.  It cost us over £100 pounds in French tolls alone.  I may complain but actually the roads are good and can you believe that we hit no traffic at all?  Take a look at the below photo.  Can you spot the difference?  One shows rush hour into London and the other shows rush hour on one of the main roads into Oviedo, the Capital of Asturias.

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We enjoyed greatly our drive through the North of Spain.  Nothing had changed since the last time we drove these beautiful roads.  The scenery is stunning.  You follow the Picos de Europa though out your journey  with dramatic cliffs on your left and the Atlantic on your right.  The roads are empty, smooth and dotted with spectacular bridges that cross sleepy winding rivers.  Apart from unbelievable fatigue I felt happy and at piece.  I love this part of Spain, I love everything about it and we have not got to the best part.

Entering Spain
Entering Spain

We made Carlotta’s house by 16:00 Spanish time and were kindly welcomed by her father (Carlos) and her Mother (Maria).  There were a few reasons for coming to Oviedo, one: to spend time with family and friends, two: I need to improve of my Spanish and three: to look for a house / apartment for the future.

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Since I first arrived in Oviedo I knew it would be a city I would be more than happy to call this home in the future; maybe the time is nearly right.  It is nice to know that since my last visit nothing has changed.  Oviedo is immensely historic, founded as a city in 761.  It is a clean city being awarded several times as Europe’s cleanest city.  You can still get a coffee for 0.78p and a pincho for the same price.  I have breakfast out every morning and it costs me no more than a small Starbucks coffee in the UK and tastes much better.  You can walk around the city at any time at night and not worry when you here footsteps behind you.  The food and wine are exquisite.  Life is based on the streets and it is not uncommon to see young children playing without supervision; why would they need it, even at 23:00hrs? Girls between the ages of 7 to 13 are still allowed to be children and not dressed up in clothes that make them look like 18 year old mini whores and that is so prevalent in other western Cities.

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I could carry on listing why this city is so spectacular but it is better that you come and see it for yourself.  Outside the City the sea awaits only 20 minutes’ drive away  at Gijon.  The Picos de Europa creates a stunning back drop and offer unbelievably walks and other outdoor pursuits.

Anyway, I hope the photos do this fantastic city justice.  We also travelled to Avilez and Gijon; a few photos are included.  Enjoy.

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