2018 Year in Review

Yes, its March and I’m reviewing 2018: it’s never too late right? And I started writing this on my birthday; what a better time to reflect on the past year.

What went well in 2018

Travel

This year we went on one of the biggest adventures of our lives. We bought a catamaran overseas and sailed it 4000nM down the Atlantic coast of France and Spain into the Mediterranean. It wasn’t without its risks from a lifestyle and financial perspective. Suffice to say, it was worth all the risks and challenges. We created incredible memories and learned new skills from the experience.

You can read more about our boat here and our sailing adventures here.

Writing and photography

I rediscovered my interest in writing and photography while sailing. With limited time and materials to pursue my usual creative interests of painting and art journalling, I turned towards blogging, photography and videos as a creative way to share our sailing and travel experiences. As with any creative practice, its a continuous work in progress and often just a matter of showing up at the keyboard or with the camera. I’ve been particularly enjoying the post processing. Check out our latest photo blog here. 

What didn’t go so well in 2018

Health

Without going into details, I had a health shock towards the end of 2017 – which meant dealing with it in early 2018.. I was so lucky because surgery and treatment did not prevent us going sailing; in fact it consolidated my belief that life can be short and that you have to grab opportunities when they stare you in the face.

Moments/dates that are etched in my memory

29 October (it was actually 2017) – the day of the diagnosis. This day was the longest day of uncertainty, disbelief and shock. I’m not alone; many women go through this nightmare, and it takes ages to adjust to the new reality

5 March – we first saw our new boat “Wild Heart” in France, all shiny and ready to go sailing. She was (and is) beautiful.

17 May – it was a milestone moment sailing out of La Rochelle at sunrise towards the Bay of Biscay

25 September – spending a few hours alone at anchor during a Bora which gusted up to 50kts. It’s a longish story for another time

28 September – arriving in Bari, Italy at sunrise with good friends after a peaceful overnight passage from Croatia. We’d checked out of Croatia the previous day and headed across the Adriatic towards Italy. This arrival marked the end of our sailing season. It was partly relief to finish happy and safe but mostly so proud to have achieved what we did together.

There were so many other moments, small pieces of joy that I’ll remember and too many to list; small moments like landing a tuna during our crossing from Menorca to Sardinia, arriving in southern Sardinia to the prettiest sunset, having the most turquoise bay to ourselves in Menorca, crossing the Bay of Biscay and sharing the experience with friends and family. All priceless.

The biggest achievement

The whole commitment and process to buying a new catamaran and deciding to sail in the Mediterranean. We had little experience of sailing a catamaran, let alone doing it half way around the world. Any way you look at it, the end of the season was a big deal for us. We have travelled 4000nM and multiple countries in 6 months from France to Croatia.

The biggest challenge

Remaining relatively calm in 50kts winds and managing the boat for a few hours during a storm while I waited for the wonderful crew to get back on board.

Illnesses or injuries

Apart from managing the aftermath of my diagnosis and treatment from the previous year, I managed to fall off a dodgy pontoon in Spain when securing the boat in 30kt winds. I half fell into the water and onto a steel support and was lucky not to break a rib.

What do I want to do less of this year

  • worrying about things I can’t control (good luck with that)
  • buying more than I need
  • using less plastic

What do I want to do more of this year

  • spend time in nature – walking, swimming, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding
  • work consistently on creative projects; painting, writing and photography

2018 kicked my arse. It was a year of challenges and change. It pushed me hard to let go  of control and lean into uncertainty. Onward into 2019, we’re off sailing again.

(Thank you to the bloggers who gave me the inspiration for this post).

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


Is Sailing the Perfect Way to “Slow Travel”?

My love of “slow travel” began in my early 20’s when I spent eight and a half months on the back of a truck, bouncing around on the dirt roads of the jungles and deserts of Africa. We free camped under the stars listening to roaring lions, crossed the deserts of Sudan and the Sahara and trekked through the Ugandan jungle for hours to spend time with the mountain gorillas. I had the time to visit places once relegated only to my imagination; towns with exotic names like Agadez, Timbuktu, Kisangani and Khartoum.

Read More


Arriving in Lisbon, Portugal

After a long, tiring sail down the Atlantic Coast of Spain and Portugal, we took a break and explored the vibrant city of Lisbon. Bypassing  Marina de Cascais, popular with yachties, we chose to be closer to Lisbon city itself. After researching the city marinas options we settled on Marina Parques das Nacoes, as it was well protected, reasonably priced and able to accommodate our catamaran.

To get to the marina, we travelled about 7 miles up the Tagus (Tejo) River, an experience in itself. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy the colourful city from the river and pass under the spectacular Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, 70m above the water level.

Arriving at the marina entrance, we had to wait for the appropriate tide to enter the sluice system to berth. As the width of the lock was not much wider than Wild Heart, we held our breath and relied on the guidance of the marinaros to squeeze us into the lock. You can see our entry in the video below.

Owing to the sluice system and the tides, we stayed for a couple of days longer than planned which proved to be a delightful enforced rest.

Where we stayed: Marina Parque das Nacoes (Marina Park of Nations), built on the former Expo’98 exhibition site. A welcoming, sheltered marina. It’s 7 miles upstream from the Belém Tower and 1.5 miles downstream from the Vasco da Gama Bridge.

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The Belem Tower from the Targus River on our way upstream

It operates on a sluice system, which makes it sheltered but subject to tides for operation. The marina staff help you in and out of the marina through the sluice gates.

Public transport, a supermarket and petrol station are all within close walking distance. Lisbon is a 20-minute bus ride away.

Boat jobs first

As usual boat jobs need to be done after check-in to the marina. So before sightseeing, we reprovisioned with food at the nearby (well-stocked) supermarket, washed down decks and topped our jerry cans (for spare fuel) with diesel at the service station.

Exploring Lisbon

We were excited to explore Lisbon as we hadn’t travelled to Portugal before. We chose to see what we could on foot but to go further afield we took the following tour: Hop on/Hop Off bus, including the Hills Tram . This bus is a perfect way to get oriented around the city. The old tram winds it’s way up the narrow, cobbled streets up to the top of the Sao Miguel district where we hopped off to enjoy the view over the city and the river while listening to some music from the local street band.

Lisbon has so much to offer. The Art Nouveau architecture and signage of the old town is a delight. The Portuguese are relaxed and helpful. Local specialities such as grilled sardines and Portuguese tarts are a treat. There are a number of open-air bars and restaurants to choose from. For a livelier atmosphere go out later in the evening, as the Portuguese (like the Spanish eat late).

For more sights of Lisbon look for our upcoming photo blog on this lively city.

 


Sailing Coastal Spain and Portugal

A sense of foreboding followed us down the Atlantic Coast after we passed the Coast of Death (Costa del Mort). It was still early May and the weather in the Atlantic Ocean is notoriously fickle and changes quickly throughout the day. To minimise getting caught out in really bad weather, we quickly sailed down the coast of Spain. The weather, coupled with the fact that my time in the EU (specifically the Schengen area) was limited due to my Australian passport and Schengen visa. So, we were keen to spend our limited time in the EU in the warmth of the Balearic Islands.

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Enroute

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Sundown – Sagres anchorage

The Atlantic was true to form. it was cold with prevailing high afternoon winds and unsettled seas state which added to our determination to push on.

We determinedly travelled long days (covering 70 – 100+ nautical Miles), until we really needed some rest, reprovisioning or refuelling. We found few suitable, easy access anchorages and so sheltered in boat/fishing harbours where possible or stayed in the occasional marina. Many anchorages down this coast involved bar crossings into rivers. While we’re used to doing these in Australia, the weather and high tides, pushed us on. The one port, I’m sorry we missed was Porto, Portugal.

Late one evening after a long day of gusty winds, the port in Adra we had planned to anchor in was smaller than anticipated and badly affected by swell. We made the decision to attempt a sketchy entry into the nearby marina; in fact, we pretty much surfed in. We found a hammerhead pontoon and managed to dock the boat in the gusty conditions. As I jumped off onto the small, dodgy pontoon, I found it was unstable, dropped to my hands and knees and tied up the stern. As I crawled to the front, a Marinaro was yelling and waving as I completed the bow tie off. As he came to help and in the midst of the confusion of placing fenders and moving around the narrow pontoon, I half fell off the dock on to my ribs on a metal strut. Ouch. No serious damaged but I certainly was shellshocked for a couple of days.

On the same day, fellow Helia44 owners we met in La Rochelle, who were travelling close by, continued sailing that night and ended up with a wave in their saloon. I’m pleased we made the decision to take shelter.

You can see the route we travelled and where we stopped here.

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Sines, Portugal, Vasco de Gama’s hometown. The morning after a midnight arrival.

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Sines, Portugal. Many ports we sheltered in were mainly for fishing boats, were often small and subject to swell

It wasn’t until we reached Lisbon that we finally relaxed, stayed for a few days and enjoyed this vibrant city. More about that in a later post.

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Wild Heart in Marina Parque das Nacoes, Lisbon. Behind the lock gate.


Let’s talk about plastic and sailing

Yes, this the latest “hot topic”. Everyone seems to be talking about single-use plastic; from plastic bags to plastic straws. Having spent several months in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, I can tell you, the problem is real. And it’s not pretty.

Plastic debris littered the water, beaches and shores, to various degrees, in every place we visited. The more popular and populated the anchorage, the more rubbish there was. We often saw plastic bottles, the remains of plastic bags, balloons, styrofoam and inflatables. There was even a plastic coverall floating in the Atlantic Ocean (alarmingly looking very much like a floating body). In Sicily, I pulled pieces of a partially disintegrated plastic bag from one of the propellers. Bays that looked so idyllic from the water had shores scattered with plastic and other rubbish. It was often a shock when the environment looked pristine from the boat. For example, the stunning bay we were anchored in (Solta, Croatia) above, had litter on the pebbled shore below. These were just quick random snapshots as examples of the shoreline.

The seabed, sadly, also was often littered with rubbish and remnant parts from boats and marinas.

While it may not be too surprising that where there are people, there is litter. What is surprising is that on ocean passages, miles from nowhere, we would still see a stream of plastic waste floating by.

I’ve become hyper-aware of the amount of plastic that surrounds any food bought from supermarkets, especially the processed foods. Everything from cheese to prosciutto to UHT milk. In many places in Europe, fresh fruits and vegetables are often placed in plastic bags to be weighed, priced and labelled before checkout. My experience of trying to change that practice was interesting and unsuccessful. Then there are the other items such as  shampoo and liquid soap containers, dishwashing and cloth washing liquid containers.

When you store your garbage, it becomes obvious how much single-use plastic you buy and discard. On an optimistic note, many marinas have implemented recycling and waste separation stations. Other sailors in the Med are actively picking up trash in their anchorages on particular days eg “Trash Tuesdays”, and taking it ashore for proper disposal.

I’ll be honest, this season I wasn’t prepared. No excuses, but we had a lot on our plates commissioning our boat. However, the things I did were:

– shop with a trolley and reusable bags

– use beeswax wrappers instead of cling wrap (they keep food fresher anyway)

– use reusable storage containers

– buy supermarket items in glass rather than plastic if there’s a choice

– recycle cardboard and bottles where possible

– picked plastic out of the water

Some of these things actually made life on board simpler and easier.

Could I do more? Absolutely, much more. So next year, I’ll be working on researching and trying products that reduce waste (including plastics) and are kinder to the environment in general. Some of these include:

– trying shampoo and soap bars with minimal or compostable packaging

– using reusable bags for fruit and vegetables (weighing and costing etc)

– increasing beeswax wrapper on board

– trying calico bags for storage of fresh fruit and vegetables

– shop in bulk when possible (especially for dry goods), this includes buying from the deli instead or prepackaged meats and cheeses

– using bamboo toothbrushes

– researching an eco-friendly alternative to clothes washing liquid

– declining plastic straws when ordering drinks

– using washable, cotton cleaning cloths

I’m sure there are many, many more actions I could take. Let me know if there are things you’ve done on your boat to be kinder on the environment while sailing. I’d love to hear about it.