Tuesday 3rd August 2010

It was 3:20am and my watch was all going sweetly as we motor sailed towards Tunisia. Standing watch in the cockpit, without warning a loud squeal and a reverberation come up from the back transom; as if some monster from the deep, or worse, was about to board my yacht. My slumber gave way to a rush of adrenaline as I spun around to confront this invader, instantly my peaceful world was shattered in a heartbeat. As I turned, already coiling to attack my unidentified adversary, I saw the fishing line vibrating as the line raced out of the reel. My world was shattered for a fish!!! A FISH! “Fish On” I thought as I grabbed the fishing rod which was teetering on pulling out of the rod holder. I sat on the back transom wondering what to do. Cheryl was asleep and we were still motoring forward at about 6knots. I started to wind in the fish, but within seconds, with a bang, the line went loose and I know my first fish was lost to the depths, along with Nick's birthday present lure. Thinking about it, the first thing I should have done was to stop the engines, so the boat would slow, but in my excitement, I grabbed the rod instead. Sadly, our first fish was gone.

We arrived in Sidi Bu Said around 4:00pm, tired but glad to be in Tunisia. Rico and Jackson from “Apparition” were waiting for us, having arrived earlier in the day. They helped us tie up at the fuel pontoon where we filled up out tanks with fuel. Diesel here costs around 0.50 euro cents per litre, so we filled every tank we had, glad to finally get some cheap fuel. While it was great to see “Apparition” again after last seeing them in Turkey, they bore the bad news that the marina was full for tonight, so we'd have to anchor out. Reluctantly we motored back out into the bay to find a place to drop anchor. The bay is shallow and unprotected and with strong winds predicted for the night, we needed to find somewhere secure to anchor. If I said we were looking forward to a night in a marina it would have been an understatement. We were both tired and the winds that were forecast weren't going to be comfortable in the exposed bay. Tired and now downcast at the prospect of anchoring out, we set about dropping anchor. Sometimes anchoring goes without a hitch and we can bed in on the first attempt – this time however we spent nearly two hours motoring, dropping anchor, testing, retrieving and repeating the whole process again. The sea bed was hard, and our attempts to anchor always failed. At one point we thought we'd bedded in well, however when I dove on the anchor I saw that we'd tangled a rope. Around 6pm, we had a call from Jim on “Wind Machine” advising that he'd completed his check in formalities but that the customs police were asking when I'd be in to complete my check in. Reluctantly, we pulled anchor yet again and repeated our frustrating ritual. At whits end, we finally got the anchor to hold just off the front of the marina entrance. I quickly dropped the dingy, collected my boat papers and passports and, feeling the exhaustion mounting, motored into the marina to clear into the country.

In the customs building, I was queried in French why I hadn't obtained my visa before arriving. I pleaded that I was advised that I could get a 7 day visa upon check-in. The officer called his boss and I was advised that he would come out to see me personally – this wasn't shaping up too well.

The boss arrived 5 minutes later and much to my relief spoke pretty good English, if he was gruff and a little short. He offered that if I wanted a 7 or a 30 day visa then he would arrange it for me. A 30 day visa would cost EUR20.00, while a 7 day visa would cost EUR10.00. Not knowing the weather situation coming, we decided to pay the extra for a 30 day visa. The officer demanded passport photographs for the visas; when I replied that I didn't have any, but could arrange them if necessary, he grabbed the passports from me, sat down at his computer and started scanning the photographs off the passport. All the while telling me that this was highly irregular and not permitted – but he would do it for me. Somehow, the ease with which this otherwise computer illiterate man was able to scan, crop and paste the photographs from our passports to the visas told me otherwise.

He finally finished the visas and held his hand out for the money. I paid him the EUR80.00 for the visas and he took the money – pocketing it straight into his trousers, somehow I felt I wasn't getting a receipt. After pocketing the money he asked “and money for me?” I enquired what he was meaning when he turned even more gruff and demanded “Do you think I came down here to do your visas for free? You must pay me for my service” This caught me off guard since I wasn't anticipating having to pay anything more than the EUR20.00 per person for the visas (and even EUR20.00 of this I had to borrow off Jim). I got the impression this was going to be a bribe. I explained that I only had the EUR80.00 that I had paid him, but he wouldn't accept it, and wasn't going to be giving me my passports back until I'd paid him. I told him to wait and I went off to see Jim again, feeling guilty to be asking for another loan. Jim gave me his last EUR20.00 and I walked back to the officer. He met me out the front of the building, and as I was about to pay him, he motioned “not here, not here” and walked me to a shady corner where he said “ok ..here”. I gave him the EUR20.00 and told him I would offer him EUR10.00 for his services. Waiting for him to give me EUR10.00 change, he instead handed me my passports, pocketed the EUR20.00 and walked off into the night without another word. Great – there goes the budget I thought as I walked back to my dingy. I still hadn't checked in “Connect4” with customs and from what I'd been told they wanted to visit my yacht; not so much to check for anything illegal, but rather to receive their “gift”. Basically a bribe for them to sign the paperwork. They'd boarded “Wind Machine” earlier, walked down into the cabin, then stood there asking for a “gift”. Once they'd been given their EUR10.00 each, they completed the paperwork and promptly left. I have trouble stomaching this sort of thing as it's so foreign in Australia, and basically it's nothing more than a bribe to do something they should do anyway. As I was in the harbour and not the marina, it made it harder for the customs guys to come aboard, so playing their game a little I walked back into the customs and started insisting I wanted to complete the paperwork for my yacht. After 5 minutes of gesturing and pretending that I didn't understand when they intonated they perhaps would come visit my boat tomorrow, I finally got my way and was ushered into a small room where I was presented with papers to complete. I filled in the paperwork and handed it back to the officer. He looked over it and then signed and stamped it. He placed it on the table stating that he'd bring it to my boat tomorrow when he and his friend would come to “check” the boat when it came in. This blatant grab for money is so annoying. Not wanting to play his game I got assertive and decided I'd had enough. I stood up, shook his hand and gave him a gift of EUR5.00. I thanked him for completing the paperwork, then picked up my signed papers from his desk and walked out. As I walked out he called that he may visit me tomorrow on the yacht. I turned and in my authority voice said “Not necessary – we are finished!” I stood and stared at him for a minute until I saw realisation in his eye that I was onto his game, then I strode from his office.

Back on “Connect4” we put the kids to bed and we're just about to drag ourselves into bed when the squeal of the anchor alarm went off. I checked the alarm and noted that it was set to 100m radius. With 50m of chain out, the alarm shouldn't have gone off. We climbed into the cockpit and looked out into the dark, trying to get reference points to confirm or deny the alarm. Looking back at the row of lights at the marina entrance, we could see that clearly we were dragging, back out into the middle of the bay. Exhausted and fed up, Cheryl and I sat in the cockpit watching, waiting, wondering. If we pulled anchor, we might end up spending another couple of hours trying to get the anchor bit in again. Weighing that up, we were only dragging slowly, so the anchor hadn't released totally and we were dragging away from land, so the risk of hitting something wasn't high. We watched and waited, knowing we'd need to do something soon, but not having the energy or motivation to move. I increased the anchor alarm radius to 200m and waited some more. Ten minutes later, the anchor alarm again went off, confirmed visually by the fact we were now well outside the marina entrance. I started up the chart plotting software on the laptop and monitored our progress. I drew a 50m circle and a 100m circle around our location and sat and watched as the trace route tool coloured in the circle. It appeared we may have stopped dragging. I went back out in the cockpit, where Cheryl was sitting, watching the landmarks. She confirmed that it looked like we'd stopped dragging, but we couldn't be sure for how long. Reluctantly, since we had 20knot gusts racing through the harbour, we decided that we'd need to be on anchor watch duty for the night. Cheryl offered to take the first watch and we agreed that if we set the watch alarm to 30minutes, we should be alright to doze in the saloon and check every half hour. If we did drag, the anchor alarm should wake us, but if it didn't, then we'd only be dragging out into the harbour which would be safe. I fell asleep almost the instant my head hit the pillow. It felt like only a few minutes later Cheryl was shaking me awake for my watch. The night finally passed and the sun dawned without further event.

Wednesday 4th August 2010

Feeling tired but a little better now the wind was abating, we got up and had breakfast, before dingying into the marina to check availability. The good news was that there was a spot for us, rafted up next to a large power boat near the entrance. Not the best location, but we were grateful for anywhere where we wouldn't need to keep anchor watch. We motored in and tied up with help from two marinaras, plus “Apparition” and “Wind Machine”. After tipping the two marinaras EUR5.00 each (why I'm not sure – but I was advised it would be prudent) we settled in and then I went to the marina to pay for my stay. I was running short on money, and the ATM adjacent the marina was out of order, so with my last euros I paid for the first night only, assuring them that I'd be back with more money later in the day. I owed EUR36.00 for the night, but when I gave him EUR40.00, he took the money and offered me no change. I was beginning to get an idea here that they don't hand out change and they like to pocket anything additional. Kind of - “Rip off the rich yachtie” mentality. After leaving the marina office, I decided to walk up the hill into town to get some money from the ATM so I could pay my marina fees. I got the distinct impression they may be likely to claim they were full and expect another “gift” to find a spot for me if I wasn't paid up. I got some money from the ATM and promptly went back to the marina. I owed 132 Dinar for the remainder of the stay, so I paid the marina guy 140 Dinar and waited for my change. He printed me a receipt, handed it to me and then said “ok – you may go, you are paid up”. I couldn't believe my eyes - Even in local currency don't these guys ever give change! No Way! I picked up the last 10 Dinar off the pile and put it back in my wallet. He got wide eyed and said “You owe me 2 Dinar – you must pay 2 Dinar!” I said “I don't have change of 2 Dinar” I retorted “I paid you EUR4.00 extra earlier – EUR4.00 covers 2 Dinar! – we are square”. In the moment he was contemplating this conveniently forgotten fact, I turned and stormed out the office. Back at the boat, I wondered if everyone in Tunisia is as crooked as the marina and police?

In the evening “Connect4”, “Wind Machine” and “Apparition” went out to dinner in the town of Sidi Bu Said. Rather than walking the 200 or so steps up to the town, given that it was dark, we decided to catch a couple of cabs. Jackson asked the first cab driver how much to take us to Sidi Bu Said, he informed up 5 dinar, so we climbed aboard and went into town. He dropped us off and promptly raced back to collect the other half of our group. We ate a dinner in the open air restaurant, enjoying the view and reacquainting ourselves with each others adventures and stories. After dinner we caught a cab back to the marina. I didn't bother asking how much the cab fare would be, figuring that it would be the same as the trip up. The driver immediately turned on the meter and when we got back I was pleasantly surprised to see the fare was only 2.500 dinar. Looks like we were ripped off yet again.

Thursday 5th August 2010

We caught cabs into the city of Tunis today for a look around. It was a beautiful sunny day and after a good sleep the world looked so much brighter. Also given the fact that Tunisia is on GMT+1, whereas the rest of the Mediterranean in this area is on GMT+2, gave us another hour of sleep – beautiful.

Again we caught two cabs. Jim, Michelle, Rico and Jackson in one cab and us in another. The first cab with the others in it agreed to take us into Tunis for 15 dinar per cab. This first driver spoke rapidly in Arabic to our driver and they seemed to be having a slight disagreement. In the end the first driver went back to his cab and our driver started off with the meter running. When we got to town our fare was 9 dinar. We guessed the previous conversation was trying to convince “our” driver to not use the meter and rip off the tourist again. Luckily for us he declined. When we left we gave him a good tip and he was exceedingly happy.

Before we could stop Jackson, she'd arranged for her driver to come back with a second cab at 3pm to collect us and take us back to the marina, again for another 15 dinar per cab.

In Tunis we were confronted with a bustling array of shops, people and smells. We walked through the streets soaking in the atmosphere as each shop owner tried to convince us to come into his shop – “just for a lookie lookie”, promising “best prices” and “top quality”.

We had a map showing a walking trail around the town, pointing out the places of interest. At one place we were given a tour of an old school where boys used to live 5 days a week while they got their schooling.

Girls, up until 1948 weren't educated, but rather took on the role of wife fairly early (often one of many). The man showing us the school told us the history of the place and the history of “his town”. Listening to his stories you could easily picture what life would have been like here. Jackson had marked out a “traditional house” on the walking tour that she wanted to see, but our self appointed “guide” told her that it was shut for renovation – however he knew of one nearby that was ¼ the price for entry that he would gladly take us to, which was much better than the closed one.

Smelling a rat, but not being able to shake the guy who seemed so sincere, we reluctantly followed him and listened as he gave us a personal tour of the house. The house was indeed traditional, and was also part museum, so we saw the old clothing, the old implements as well as the house fixtures.

Our guide recounted how the women of the house weren't allowed to be seen by any visiting men, so when guests came to the house, they were locked away upstairs. There were many rooms upstairs for the wives to live and sleep in. In the centre was one large lavishly decorated room for the women to recline in, until the man of the house selected his wife for the night and retired with her to his master bedroom.

Our guide explained that the wedding preparations took 5 days, and was followed religiously. Each day had different preparations ranging from a day of pampering and massages to a day where, barring the head, all body hair was removed from the woman – he can remember hearing the cries of the women enduring the pain of a complete body waxing. Each day the woman was dressed in a different outfit that she'd made in the time leading up to her wedding, in preparation. Each of these was elegantly designed and reflected a different purpose. Of interest was the typical wedding dress which weighed almost 40kgs – he joked that after she'd worn this all day, when the newly married couple got back to their bridal suite, she would be all but begging for her husband to take her clothes off!

The front door of the house had two door knockers, if you knocked each in turn you'd notice that one sounded a note slightly higher than the other. In this way the women of the house knew if a stranger was at the door or the master. When the master of the house came home, if he was alone he would sound his presence on one knocker and he would be let in. If a stranger called, or if the master was with a stranger, then he would sound the other knocker which was a warning for the women of the house to hide themselves away and not be seen. Our guide recalled how when he was young his father would hear a knock and send him to answer the door with a message of “Please answer the door, there is a stranger come to visit” Only when he was older did he discover how his father always knew if it was a stranger or family at the door.

Our self appointed guide, despite our concerns about ripping us off, was one of the few gentlemen we found in Tunisia. He was genuinely excited to share his culture and history with us. He was true to his word – he told us he had a small perfume shop where after he'd take us. If we wanted to go in he would be happy to show us his perfumes, however if we declined, he would accept that and we'd owe him nothing. He walked us back to his shop, and then said farewell to us and went inside. He left us on the street and we had the option to walk off if we'd wanted. We'd collected a tip for his services, figuring we should give him something, but since he'd not even hinted for one, we decided it was probably safe to go into his shop for a look.

Inside the shop we were greeted with four walls filled from floor to ceiling with perfumes in glass jars, each labelled with a simple name. We sat down on benches and relaxed our aching feet while our guide explained the ancient process of making perfume. His shop had passed from generation to generation and had been making perfume in the traditional way in Tunis for around 120 years. He explained that he refines his perfumes using only water and never has alcohol in any of his perfumes. On she shelf was bottles with names such as “Channel No.5”, “Hugo Boss” and “Opium”. Interestingly our guide said that Hugo Boss approached him for rights to use his fragrance many years ago. So the fragrance is his invention, rather than his being a copy. Who would ever know – but I guess it's a possibility. I'm sure the perfume companies don't invent all their own fragrances.

We ate a lunch where the locals eat and paid 7 dinar for three chicken salad rolls (a bit like a yiros in a roll), a large bottle of water and four cans of soft drink. I just love getting cheap eats when we're out. We stopped in at a few shops and had fun watching Michelle get dressed up in some traditional attire. I bought a t-shirt that was embroidered with some camels and “Tunisia”, so when I wear out my other t-shirts, at least I'll have one new one for good.

As arranged, the taxi driver and his friend turned up at 3pm. Rico, Jackson, Jim and Michelle hopped into the taxi with their guy and we got the other driver. Once inside I insisted that the driver turn on the meter. He said “I will take you for 15 dinar – is good price” “Take me” being the operative words! I declined and asked him to turn on the meter. The first cab then pulled alongside ours and the two drivers started shouting to each other in Arabic. My driver was torn between his mate's shouting and my requests for the meter to be turned on. He kept yelling to his friend, then turning to me to haggle not to have the meter on. He kept saying “I will take you to the marina for 15 dinar”. I told him I'd just come from the marina and only paid 9 dinar with the meter on. He acted shocked and tried to tell me it was impossible – but that 15 dinar was a good price. In the end I put my hand firmly on his shoulder and pointing at the meter said “Does your meter work?” He replied “Yes”, so I told him “Then Turn it on!” He argued some more with his mate, turned on the meter and took off. A minute later his mobile rang and he started arguing again, presumably with the first taxi. Our guess was that the first taxi driver had struck a deal with our driver to charge the 15 dinar, and we were foiling his plans! After a minute or two he hung up, then pulled into the curb and said, “I will be only one minute”. I reaffirmed with him “I will give you one minute” to which he answered “perhaps two minutes”. We sat in the taxi and waited. I noticed he'd left the meter turned on, so our bill was still accumulating. After 5 minutes, we were getting hot in the taxi and were wondering where our driver had gone to. We decided to get out of the taxi and wait in the shade, watching the meter clocking up our bill and wondering where the driver had gone to. After a few more minutes, we decided enough was enough, so we walked off, leaving the empty taxi – meter still running. Sometimes you just can't help wondering if everyone's on the take here. We found our way to a large shopping complex and bought some food and other bits and pieces for the yacht, then caught a cab back to the marina for a total fee of 7.500 dinar. Back at the marina we chatted to Jim, Michelle, Rico and Jackson and discovered that shortly after our taxi had stopped, their taxi driver had turned on them and demanded that the new price to the marina was 20 dinar. When they refused to pay it, he stopped the taxi and demanded they get out of his cab. They caught another cab and paid the metered fare which was less than half what the first taxi driver had been asking for.

Saturday 7th August 2010

Sunday looks like a good weather window to leave Tunisia. Our original plans had been to sail to Sardinia in an available weather window, then wait there for the next window to sail west to Menorca. Typically at this time of year a two day weather window is all you'll normally get between the Meltami's (or the Mistral's as they're called in this part of the Mediterranean). The weather window, starting Sunday afternoon was for three days of easterly winds, very rare and perfect for us to sail directly to Menorca. Knowing this, we made the most of Saturday, exploring the markets and trinket shops. In one little shop, Cheryl found a nice light weight cotton top with an elegant embroidered blue design. Clothes like this are perfect onboard when lounging around in warmer weather. The added bonus is that they're easy to wash and dry – a huge bonus when all your washing gets done by hand in two buckets. Cheryl tried on the top and we checked the stitching and seams. The seller was keen to get a sale, so he reduced the price 15 dinar on opening. It was normally 95 dinar, but he'd do us a special deal for 80 dinar – a deal of a lifetime! We were staggered at the price he was asking and quickly gave him the garment back, apologising that the price was much too high, much higher than we expected. He told us that this garment was best quality and was all hand made, that the cotton was good quality and worth much more. He asked me what I thought it was worth, so offered him a paltry 10 dinar. He stepped back, shocked that I'd offer something so little for such a quality garment. He dismissed my offer as not being serious and countered with another offer. This game continues for a further 5 minutes. My final offer being 15 dinar and his being 50 dinar. We turned and were walking away; he was still calling out for my best offer. Just as we were about to go out of earshot I heard “Alright – 15 dinar!” We smiled to each other and walked back to the shop to pay for Cheryl's shirt. After that we found a little store selling trinkets. Cheryl wanted a small bronze lantern, so we haggled. The guy wanted 25 dinar – we walked out of the shop with the lantern for a princely sum of 5 dinar. I think we probably paid a little too much for that lantern, but Cheryl, whose never been a haggler, was told to offer the guy 2 dinar to start with, then haggle up to 5 dinar. When he asked her for her best offer she blurted out 5 dinar – I quickly stepped in, but I didn't have much room left to manoeuvre! Oh well – I was promised that if I rubbed the lantern a nice girl genie would appear, so I guess 5 dinar isn't a bad price after all.

Sunday 8th August 2010

We departed Sidi Bu Said Sunday morning and motored out into light winds. Prior to leaving “Wind Machine” and “Apparition” set up a SSB (HF) radio net so that they could contact each other at pre designated times. All the yachts sail at different speeds, so over even a short journey of three days, we'd likely get outside of the 25NM range of VHF. Sad to say, “Connect4” has a SSB radio installed, but still no antenna, so we'd be dependant on relays from either yacht, so long as we stayed within range.

The short story of this crossing is that it was boring, windless and we burned all the cheap fuel we bought in Tunisia motoring the whole way. On the bright side of things, we were never more than 5NM from each other, and could clearly pick up each other on the radar at night and visually in the daytime. Life consisted of chats and friendly banter on the VHF about anything we found amusing – especially on the grave yard shifts. We even heard a rendition of “We are sailing” by Jackson on “Apparition” when they turned off their engine and actually sailed – for a brief hour, much to our disgust. We had our spinnaker out for a while, which helped us pick up a little speed, but we never got to turn off the engines for very long. In our log Cheryl made an entry: “Wednedsay 11th August 2010 0300hrs – ENGINE OFF, WE ARE SAILING!”. Sadly the 0400hrs log states “Stb Engine Running”

We alternated engines on the motor over, but towards the end I noticed a noise not dissimilar to that of a dry bearing coming from the port sail drive. I decided to shut down the port engine and motor using only the starboard engine for the remainder of the journey.

We arrived safe and well in Mahon, Menorca, around lunch time Wednesday. We were offered to tie up to a floating pontoon marina in the main section of Mahon, however at EUR100.00 per night we declined and anchored with the cruising crowd in a little cove just outside of town.

I changed the sail drive oil in both sail drives and was dismayed to find the oil milky, which means its got water in it. The sad thing about this type of sail drive is that there's really no good way to drain the oil completely from the sail drives without removing them from the water, so I had to be content to remove just over half the oil from each sail drive, add some flushing oil then repeat the process. This didn't get rid of all the bad oil, but at least its got some clean oil in there now. My plan at this stage is to haul the boat and replace the sail drive seals at my earliest chance but to watch the oil closely in the mean time. I'd hoped to wait until we got to the Canary Islands before hauling the boat, however I may need to schedule something earlier if the oil gets milky again. Sadly the noise in the port sail drive is still there, so the plan is to sail as much as we can in the mean time – yeah right!!! Hasn't worked to date.

Thursday 12th August 2010

We've had a couple of days looking around Mahon, which is the capital of Menorca, and I have to say the town is so beautiful, friendly and relaxed. Although it is quite a tourist destination for the English to escape the cold, out of all the three islands, it is still the most unspoilt of the three islands. They say that Menorca is the first point in Spain to receive the sun's rays. The island is in a strategic position, as much from a military point of view as a commercial. This has made Menorca an island coveted through the centuries by civilisations which tried in their time to dominate the Mediterranean. For this reason her history is basically a succession of invasions, the rich legacy from which can be seen today.

The first settlers landed during the second millenium BC and developed the pretalayotic culture, an age from which the first architectural structures, the “Navetas”, still remain. The second wave of settlers, the talayotic culture, arrived towards 1400BC and built , many cave systems that are still found today.

In later ages, various races attacked the island, such as the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, for whom the importance of the region for their trade routes had not passed unnoticed. The Romans arrived later for one of the longest occupations, lasting from 123BC to 902AD, a period which saw several attacks by the Vandals and which ended with the Moorish invasion, following which Menorca became part of the Caliphate of Córdoba.

In 1827 there was another conquest, by the Crown of Aragon which, with Alfonso III in charge, restored Christianity. Centuries later, under the reign of Carlos I (Charles I) and Felipe II (Philip II), Menorca went through one of her darkest periods due to the constant threats from Turkish and Berber fleets. In 1535 Maó was sacked by

Barbarossa and in 1558 the Turks razed Ciutadella. During the 18th century, the island belonged to the British Crown on three occasions and was also under French and Spanish rile. In 1802 Great Britain and Spain signed the Treaty of Amiens, under which the island was returned to Spain. In more recent history, the year 1979 was outstanding to the Menorcans, being the date, during the democratic period when the Consell Insular (Island Council) of Menorca was constituted as the top municipal governing body.

Sunday 15th August 2010

Today was Chelsea's 12th Birthday. I'm not sure how she got to be so old so quick – surely it wasn't that long ago I was having my first cuddle in hospital, holding her in my arms for the first time. It kind of makes me feel old, because I can remember my 12th birthday and how old my parents were - surely Cheryl and I can't be that old!! Now there's no way we could have a birthday without a birthday party, so as is the emerging tradition onboard “Connect4” the cockpit was decorated with balloons, and a fancy birthday table cloth. Upon the table was laid out all manner of brightly coloured and tasty party food, not of least which is the birthday cake made with love by Cheryl. Jim and Michelle from “Wind Machine” and Rico and Jackson from “Apparition” were invited to join our birthday festivities and so the afternoon of games began. I'm not sure who enjoyed the games the most, Chelsea and Nick, or the adults. We played pass-the-parcel, and the chocolate game. It was amazing, but our American guests had never heard of either of the games, a fact we found astounding since they're the main stay of children's parties all around Australia. Needless to say, the games were a roaring success.

As the parcel was passed around in time to the music, each person took on a new personality and became a rock star guitarist, a drummer, a sax player and any other assortment of characters; with the poor parcel bearing “played” by all and sundry. When the last layer of wrapping was taken off the parcel, the poor chocolate bar had not one square of chocolate still attached to the next and the wrapper looked like it had been dragged around the yard behind a dog for the afternoon.

Next up was the chocolate game. The idea is that you take turns rolling a die; when a 6 comes up, you have to get dressed in the clothing allocated (in this case a dive mask and a life jacket) then use a knife and fork to start eating the chocolate. You continue to eat the chocolate until another player rolls a 6 at which point you must put down the knife and fork and pass the clothing to the next fortunate player. Well, not only did we get a sugar overload, but the sight of the adults clamouring for the dive mask and life jacket was a sight to behold.

Chelsea did very well in the present arena, receiving an embroidered Tunisian t-shirt from “Wind Machine” and “Apparition”, a beautiful hand made bracelet from “S/Y Samira” a Swiss family we met in Tunisia, who were sailing with their three daughters for 6 months. Dad and Mum gave Chelsea a horse shoulder bag which we'd collected in Turkey and secretly stashed away until now. It's so much harder finding hiding places onboard “Connect4” than at home. All the spaces are already filled. In addition to the bag, we also bought Chelsea some tickets to go and see a Spanish Horse show called “The Somni” (The Dream). Oma and Opa were the most organised and gave us a birthday card with some money in it before we left, which we hid away.

Tuesday 17th August 2010

The highlight of today was going to see “The Somni” which was a spectacular Spanish horse show. The whole show was incredible to say the least, but the best person to describe the show itself is Chelsea who is the resident horse show expert in our family. In her words, here are the highlights of the show:

The night we went to see the equestrian show, our family caught a bus to Ferreries then a taxi to Son Matorrelet where 'The Somni' was held. We arrived early so we could see the horses in their stables. While we were waiting for mum to buy our tickets we walked over and saw the foals in their paddock. Just as I was reaching out to pat one that had poked it's head through the fence, dad stopped me saying Chelsea stop, that sign says do not pat the horses! I was so disappointed. At that moment mum came over saying come on the stables are this way. So off we tramped. The first paddock was for the yearlings. They came over to the gate and mum decided it would be okay to pat them.

They were very funny and when dad tickled his nose he sneezed all over dad. Dad said “I'm not used to being eye to eye with my pets!” The next stop had all the mares and pony's along with one donkey called Nacho. (It was funny as I'd just had nachos for tea). Further up was a Fallabella called something along the lines of liquorice. Up a bit further were 2 men washing the horses to get them ready for the show. After seeing the rest of the horses in their stables we went for tea. When we arrived back at the stadium, it was packed full of people, excitedly waiting for the show to begin. We took our seats then waited in anticipation.

Some of my favourite parts were when the stallions stood up on their hind legs, rider and all, and walked for about 7 steps and then came down again. It was amazing how well trained they were and how patient they were, all being stallions. In another act, Uriner, a beautiful black Menorcan stallion was made to sit down on its hind legs, like a dog sits, then made to lie down like a dog. Mum said that this is a difficult thing for a horse to do because it doesn't come naturally. Half way through the show we were given a 15 minute interval. During this time we met a friendly couple from England, Gareth and Helen. They were on holidays in Menorca. The first act after intermission was a Gray who came out and did a little dance. His hind legs hopped from one to the other and his front legs marched. Dad was absolutely amazed by this act, and you could see the concentration on the horse's face as he struggled to keep co-ordinated. Everynow and then he would give an excited little hop as the concentration got too much for him. I was amazed - it looked like it took so much effort and concentration. As the finale the Gray came out once again, but this time as the mythological Pegasus complete with beautiful white wings and all. He was gorgeous.

When the show was finished, the horses remained in the arena and we were allowed to take pictures of the horses and pat them. After I'd finally finished crooning over the horses and mum and dad could finally drag me away we went to the souvenir shop and mum said they would go halves on a movie of the show. I was delighted.

Overall it was one of the best days of my life.

We'd planned to catch a taxi back to town, then a bus back out to Mahon, however Gareth and Helen, whom we'd met earlier in the show had a hire car and kindly offered to drive us back to Mahon. We accepted, grateful to not have to catch a slow bus back. On the way back we exchanged stories – both Gareth and Helen are school teachers, and it was interesting to hear that one of the compulsory school texts in the UK is a story about some children living aboard a yacht as it sails around the world. What a great text to inspire children towards the opportunities they can create for themselves if they dare to dream and live outside the square a little.

We got along well with Gareth and Helen and exchanged emails to keep in touch. We invited them to come visit us onboard, however, sadly, we had to cancel when it appeared we had a favourable weather window to leave early the next morning.

Thursday 19th August 2010

Wind Machine” and “Apparition” headed off for a three night sail to Cartagena in mainland Spain Monday gone, but we decided to stay for another night or two since as part of Chelsea's birthday we'd bought tickets to see the “Somni” Spanish Horse Show. We went to leave Wednesday to sail to Cartagena, but when I went to raise the anchor it refused to work. Without wanting to add too many expletives to this blog, I spent the next 4-5 hours upside down in the anchor locker, again, pulling out the windlass contactor and trying unsuccessfully to repair it yet again! In the end despite my best efforts at jury rigging something temporary to bypass the contactor itself, my efforts were in vain and the contactor was wrapped up in a plastic bag and put in the tools locker. From now until I can get a replacement, Nick and I will be raising the anchor chain by hand. At least that'll get my pecks toned up!

We'd missed our weather window to run to mainland Spain, so we decided to take our time and wait for the next weather window. The best made plans of mice and men ...

We'd heard the south coast of Menorca was beautiful, so this morning we headed off west along the southern coastline, to anchor in a little bay called Cala Trebaluger. The bay was a beautiful sandy bay with caves and cliffs on each side and a creek that ran to the beach in the western corner of the bay. Although there aren't any roads to the bay, tourists appeared by the scores every morning and stayed until the sun threatened to drop below the ocean, at which time they'd begin their migration back to their respective abodes and the beach would again become ours.

Now one thing we've noted about these coves in Menorca is the fact that at all the beaches clothing seems to be optional at best and oft forgotten all together. Perhaps we're getting used to it after the Greek Islands, but it rarely raises an eye with us anymore. Not to say we're taking our clothes off anytime soon (and if we do, we won't be posting any photos - we promise!), but when everyone is topless, you soon take it as the norm – Its amazing how quickly you just accept it and it seems normal so you pay no attention. So far, we've seen topless snorkelling, paddle boating, sunbaking, swimming, paddle ball and even topless kyaking.

Saturday 21st August 2010

After two nights in beautiful Cala Trebaluger, we pulled anchor (yes - by hand) and set off for the long journey to the next anchorage of Cala Galdana, a distance of approximately 2NM. Truth be told, we needed to empty our holding tank, so we actually had to head out to sea a couple of miles, then back in again, tripling our journey, but something quite necessary as the smell was getting a little heady. For those not familiar with our setup, we've two toilets (heads) on “Connect4”. One dumps directly to the ocean and we typically reserve this one for when we're sailing offshore or for liquid waste. When we're in shore, we use the second head for all the solid matter, which we then dump when we're sufficiently far offshore. If we haven't been offshore in a while, the tank can fill up and the odour from the vent, when we pump the toilet, can be quite overpowering – our queue that it's time to move on!

We arrived in Cala Galdana which is quite touristy in comparison to the other bays we've been in, having it's own high rise beach side hotel complex, complete with hire paddle boats and water front restaurants. They also have a couple of small supermarkets and shops, so we got the best of both worlds. The peace of retreating to our waterfront house at night, and the bustle of a tourist town, not to mention the chance of WI-FI by day.

We picked Cala Galdana, because when we were chatting to the ticket lady at “The Somni” she told us that the village of Ferreries was having their Sant Bartomeu Fiesta on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, something we were told not to miss. The whole town was decorated in preparation for the festivities, the highlight of the town calendar.

Sant Bartomeu is the patron saint of Ferreries and the three day fiesta is held in celebration of this saint.

This is a highlight of the village's year and a time when they decorate the whole town for the festivities of the three days. Included in the ceremonies is a time when they ride the stallions through the crowded streets, making the horses rear up while the cheering crowds reach out to touch the horses and riders. This was a spectacle not to be missed.

Tuesday 24th August 2010

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with our time in Menorca. We decided it was time to move on to the next island in the Baelaracs, Majorca. Tuesday afternoon we downloaded the latest GRIB file, pulled anchor and sailed off towards Majorca on an easy overnight sail. We'd been told Majorca is the chandlery island of the west Mediterranean, and here we would find everything we needed to repair the windlass, the sail drives and anything else we could desire or need. We set off sailing in light winds; while progress was slow we weren't complaining as we were happy not to be running our engines for a change. Now you know you've been sailing in the Mediterranean too long, when you can't sleep at night because you can't get used to the sound of the boat sailing without at least one engine running. That's really sad!

We arrived safe and sound in Santa Ponça, Majorca just after lunch. We anchored near a beautiful beach in company with about 15 other yachts. The town of Santa Ponça is set up primarily for British tourists – and there were loads of them. Nearly every restaurant offered “Sunday Roast”, and “Yorkshire Pudding”. Even the traditional “Big Breakfast” could come with “English sausage” and “Black pudding”. Still, it was nice to be somewhere that had big supermarkets with labels in English.

We caught a bus into Palma, which is the capital city of the island. There we gorged ourselves on British Department Stores – multi story even! Cheryl got some mattress protectors for the beds and some new sheets. I revelled in the chandlery stores, browsing all the latest toys and trying to find parts to fix the windlass amongst other things.