Preparing to leave Gibraltar
During the 1-week lead up to our departure to Malta from Gibraltar Simon, my cousin Loryn and I worked non-stop to prepare the boat for a 7-day non-stop sail. Our activities included buying groceries and cooking meals to freeze, checking all our systems (generator and engine), cleaning and stowing away the few possessions we sent down on a pallet from England. We also did a few loads of laundry and tried our best to organize our living space.
Loryn volunteered to be hoisted mid-way up the mast to sew up a sail protector on one of our spreaders. I was quietly pleased that she was up for the task. I’m not sure if I’d be able to control my fear of heights!
Additionally, every evening I spent a few hours answering emails, updating my website, posting on Facebook and Twitter while Simon and Loyrn connected with friends and family on Skpye or email. Two days before departure, we were greeted with our guests Skipper Mike and friend Ene.
Time out for a quick tour of Gibraltar before departure
Fortunately, a friend I met on Twitter offered to take us for a tour around Gibraltar. Stephanie, a Meterologist, and I have been connecting on Twitter for the last couple months so it was so nice to put a face to a name. Steph took us up to the top of Gibraltar, introduced us to the cheeky monkeys, showed us some absolutely awesome caves and drove us around the various areas of Gibraltar. After all the hard work we’ve been doing, it was a wonderful break. I’ve added the experience to my top 10 life experiences ever.
Not only were the sights amazing but I was overwhelmed by Steph’s generosity. On her day off she took us around, joined us for lunch and helped us get diesel and gasoline for the boat. Since landing in Gibraltar it seems as if everyone we’ve met has been kind and helpful.
The combination of stress, fear and anticipation contrasted with a day out seeing beautiful sites, spending time with friends/family and chilling out was noticeable.
Slipping lines with excitement and anticipation
The day after our tour or Gibraltar, we finally prepared to slip lines. Several marina residents congregated to wish us fair winds as we left the jetty. On board, we had Simon, Sienna , Loryn and I in addition to Skipper Mike (a professional skipper to help us on our first leg), and my good friend Ene (joining us to Malta only).
With all of us wearing our Sailing Britican polo shirts, we waved to the people on shore and slowly pulled out of the marina. I felt very anxious and excited. With smiles on our faces we all felt as if the adventure had truly begun.
The picture above shows the marina we were moored in. Once we entered the main waters we all put heavier clothing on. Although the sun was shining it was cold on the open sea. We navigated out past the Rock, with both Spain and Africa within our sights and weaved between the several tankers spotted all over the Straight. With the wind on our nose so we had to use our engine but reports indicated a change in wind the following day. We knew that it was only a matter of time before our sails would be propelling us forward on our journey.
Over 50 dolphins joined us to wish us fair winds
Not long after we passed most of the tankers we were greeted by a pod of dolphins. I think they were common Atlantic Dolphins. There must have been around 50 of them. I grabbed my camera and took a video of them swimming under the bow of the boat. There must have been 10 or more just around the bow with several others all around the boat. In my usual fashion, I became super excited and squealed with delight in my high-pitched voice. I don’t think I’ll ever tire from seeing dolphins – they are so amazingly beautiful.
While admiring them I noticed that some of them turned their heads and looked at me with one of their eyes. I truly felt as if they were just as curious about me as I was them
Simon walked Sienna down to the bow of the boat so that she could get a better view of the dolphins. She smiled and said, ‘wow – they are amazing!’
That evening the crew enjoyed a hot bowl of rice and chili while motoring over relatively calm waters. The cloud coverage was heavy but we did get a glimpse of the moon every now and then.
A night watch system was instigated
From 7pm to 10pm, Simon and Ene were on watch. From 10pm to 1am, Mike and Loryn took over and then from 1am to 4am it was Simon and Ene with a final switch at 4am back to Mike and Loryn.
Since my main priority was Sienna I had watch over her! I’m not sure who had the better deal, as Sienna is such a light sleeper. Throughout the night she gets up either crying or giggling. She is often still sleeping so I just have to get her to lay back down. The worst is when she wakes up at 5am saying, ‘I’m hungry!’ With so much change her sleep is unsettled but I’m sure she’ll get into the swing of things.
Sleeping was an impossibility!
The first night’s sleep while under engine was torturous. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get into a position that was comfortable. My body was rocking back and forth and the only way to stabilize myself was to either lay on my stomach or my back. I couldn’t help go on my side only to realize that it was impossible to stabilize. Making matters worse was having Sienna roll into me. I kept pushing her up to the higher side of the boat using my back as stability for her so she could sleep.
Every time I drifted off I’d be woken by a sudden shift in my body. Additionally, the noises were abrupt and loud. There was the murmur of the engine, the spray of the waves, the wind and various creaks and what sounded like droplets of water. Around 5am I finally fell asleep and woke around 8am feeling like a zombie.
After waking I got out of bed, made some coffee and some porridge/oatmeal for everyone. I poked my head up on deck to survey the view. Africa was gone but I could still see a bit of the southern tip of Spain. I felt fine as far as my sea sickness was concerned so I was pleased that the medicine I was using seemed to be working. I am using the round patch that is placed behind the ear.
Finally – time to get our sail out!
Coming from behind us we put up our genoa (front sail) and that’s all we needed to hit 7 to 10 knots. We all yelled, ‘Hurray – we’re sailing!’
Throughout the day I’d sit on deck talking to everyone and then I’d spend some time playing with Sienna – we’d either play some educational games on the iPad, watch a movie (The Croods) or attempt to color in a coloring book. Simon and Mike spotted a long fined pilot whale – about 10’ in length. After they saw it I watched for a ½ an hour to catch a glimpse but didn’t see anything. I’m sure they’ll be more opportunities for that!
As the day wore on the seas increased in size and the wind started to howl
Eventually the boat sunk between the rolling waves. When looking towards the back of the boat the waves where higher than the dingy (held up on davits). When the wave rolled under us we’d quickly surf downwards. Skipper Mike estimated that the waves were 30’ in height. With the increasing waves and blowing gusts both Sienna and I started to feel green.
Sienna couldn’t hold down any food and I wasn’t able to move around. I was unfortunately restricted to the bed with my head down. The whole boat was rolling, pitching, surfing and it got worse throughout the day. Things started to fall into the main living area, stuff started to fall on Sienna and I from the couch, Jars were rattling in the cupboards, and dishes were clanking. It was a cacophony of irritating sounds
I went to bed around 7pm with Sienna, hoping that sleep would do her good. I kept giving her water and juice to make sure she was hydrated. Luckily, Sienna kept drinking and seemed fine after she got sick. I forced myself to keep hydrated and wished I had Sienna’s ability to recover quickly.
The noises increased. The boat was banging, crashing, lashing and bashing. Helming the boat was a constant fight with anticipation as your only guide. I’d turn the wheel to the left, hold it strong, hold it strong and then as you surfed down a wave, turn it the right…hold…anticipate when the boat was going to swing back and then adjust accordingly. We have autopilot but it takes a lot of juice from the batteries so we tried our best to use people power.
Throughout the night fears started to creep in
What if we hit something – like a whale? What if one of these waves tips us too far over? What if….we die!! As soon as the fears popped up I’d tell myself to think about something else. At one point I forced myself to take a mental tour of the Seneca Park Zoo – a zoo in my hometown of Rochester. I just need to get my mind off the situation.
I’m not sure if anyone slept for more than a couple hours – we were in a full blown storm
The storm increased in strength with gusts of 50 – 60 knots of wind, the genoa ripped, we found a stowaway, and started to look for a safe refuge
It had now been 2 days with Sienna feeling unwell. I was starting to get worried. Her spirits were fine – she acted fine apart from puking within ½ hour of eating. Luckily she was still drinking fluids. Regardless, I asked Simon if would could consider making a stop. I was feeling more and more green so a break from the rolling and crashing and bashing was an interest for me too.
Mike and Simon surveyed the map and came up with two options. We could go to Ibiza which would take 25 hours or got to Algeria which would take 8 hours. My first question was, ‘how safe is Algeria for us to stop?’ After a bit of discussion we slightly altered our course to Algeria and once we got closer we decided to survey the situation.
While Sienna and I were in bed, Skipper Mike took the opportunity to teach Ene and Loryn how to do a traditional Scottish dance on the aft deck. Hopefully I’ll be able to upload the video that Simon took. What are the chances of sailing the Med and learning how to dance?!
A motion-sickness music app on my iphone cured Sienna from her seasickness!
As a last ditch effort to help Sienna and I feel better, I asked Sienna to listen to an app I downloaded from the App Store called Nevasic. The app was designed to help people reduce or eliminate motion sickness or morning sickness in pregnancy. It’s an audio offering that lasts for 20 minutes. When listening to it just sounds like a variety of music clips.
Would you believe that Sienna stopped puking after she listened to it? I couldn’t believe it. I wish I could say that it did the same for me, but due to the medication I was already taking I’m not sure if it had an effect or not. Regardless I wasn’t puking. I just didn’t feel good. For the most part, I had to put my head down and then I was okay.
Forget stopping, we can make it to Malta!
I told Mike and Simon to keep going. Since Sienna was eating I felt much better and as far as I was concerned, I have to some how make piece with this seasickness. So, we carried on.
At one point during the day, Simon alerted me to a stowaway he found! Apparently a bird was struggling to cross the sea and decided to relax on our boat. The bird stayed with us all day and I’m assuming that once we came close to Africa it had enough energy to make it to land. We also had a bee, that we named Colin, who stuck around for a few days!
Errrr…Malta will have to wait
Two hours outside of Algiers, Algeria, Loryn came down to my bedroom and announced that we’re going to Algeria now. The gusts of wind were up to 60 knots, the genoa was ripping and the overall strength of the crew wouldn’t be able to keep going. The storm was relentless. We all needed to sleep and to feel stable!
As we approached Algiers, Mike radioed the harbormaster 3 times and received no answer. He also called a marina. Up on deck we all looked at each other and thought perhaps they won’t respond to us. We made it to the opening of the port and a man from the marina got on the radio in responded to our calls.
Mike explained that we were in need of safe refuge. The storm was too much for us and that we had a little one on board that was a bit sea sick. The marina attendant then asked us the size, length, weight and all the particulars of the boat.
He then came back on the radio and said, ‘Algiers welcomes you. You are welcome.’
We all signed in relief and though ‘thank God!’
Our instructions were to go to Customs and Immigration first. We entered the port and pulled up to a concrete wall next to a light house. We were greeted by a man dressed in Navy with Immigration Police badges on his very handsome uniform. Behind him were two army men, both carrying semi-automatic riffles.
Thankfully, when we tied ourselves off we received lots of smiles and nice greetings. As soon as the officials saw Sienna’s smile, they immediately want to her and gave her kisses and cuddles. Thankfully, Sienna was happy to get showered with a bit of love.
Once on our boat, the immigration officer had us fill out a 1-pager full of our details – name, passport number, etc. Luckily he spoke enough English for us to figure things out. If only we spoke French we would have able to have a conversation! Mike had a bit of knowledge on French so we managed to work things out. The official then said we needed to wait for someone else to come to give us clearance.
The official looked at Simon and said, ‘you have made a very big mistake!’
And Simon sunk in his seat. We failed to fly an Algerian courtesy flag. Whenever you enter a new country, you need to fly a small flag off the side of the mast shrouds. We have over 50 flags, but never in our wildest imagination did we think we’d need an Algerian one.
Simon groveled a bit and the official said, ‘you can go to court for that.’ Afterwards, however, the official lightened up and said. ‘Don’t worry.’ He asked if we had any pets, drugs or alcohol and he then took all our passports to take photos.
We all sat in the cockpit thinking that they’d leave us there for hours
Whenever you watch documentaries about people going to Africa they are inevitably held up doing paperwork for hours.
Contrary to our thoughts, the 2nd official arrived, and both came aboard to do paperwork for the boat. They sat down in our saloon and had a great time teasing Sienna. They took turns holding her and pinching her cheeks. Thankfully, Sienna kept in good sprits and played along with everyone.
Within ½ our passports were returned, we were through customs and directed to moor up on a ferry mooring. As we approached a concrete jetty, there were two more immigration police. They helped us tie Britican down and then entered the boat for us to fill out a 2-pager on the boat. They were very pleasant and one of the officials announced,
‘You are welcome in our country and it is free for you to stay here.’
Wow. I couldn’t believe how generous and kind everyone was being to us. Part of me thought, ‘is there a catch’? Well, only time will tell.
The official then explained that we need a pass if we want to leave the boat. I asked if it was safe for us to walk around the town and he responded, ‘you are very safe here.’
We all sat around the saloon after the officials left thinking how fortunate we were to be greeted in such a welcoming way. I took time to look around and noted that there was not one sailboat as far as the eye could see. We were surrounded by fishing boats and tankers. Right outside our mooring was a huge warehouse that looked like a processing area for imports. It’s a bit eerie.
Not long after our chitchat we all went to bed and sleep like logs. I woke in the morning and noticed a policeman near the warehouse. After mentioning him, Ene remarked that she saw him last night. I think he’s our protector! Either that or he was our watcher! (The picture above is us moored in Algeria!)
Simon brought our Algerian bodyguard coffee
Simon brought him a coffee this morning and he seemed very grateful. Not long after sipping our coffee a police van drove up and we had two more visitors. They greeted us kindly and gave us a bit of information. They said that we could get a pass to enter the city however nothing is open today – it’s a Friday, their day of worship. They said that if we need anything to ask the man outside and he will send for it. He even mentioned someone going to the chandlery for us.
Ene asked if we could take a photo of them at our table and they said, ‘sure.’ Ironically, however, our generator had stopped working. Simon and Mike have been trying to fix it. They think there’s an issue with the fuel getting to it. Mike is now on the VHS radio talking to someone about a Westerbeke supplier.
I can’t help but feel proud to be human right now
We’re in Africa with a bodyguard outside our boat and various people visiting us every few hours. The officials simply can’t do enough for us. Thus far, every generalization I’ve ever heard about African states has failed to materialize. At one point our police friend asked if I was European. Reluctantly, I said ‘No, I’m American,’ thinking that perhaps I should have lied. His response was, ‘Oh – Americans are good people!’
So our priority turned from avoiding the storm to fixing the generator!
Skipper Mike proceeded to change every fuel filter on the generator. He located and exchanged three of them. Each time we ran the generator it would run for a while and then cut out after 5 or 10 minutes. The problem was definitely intermittent.
During our second or third visit from an official, and after discovering we had an issue, he offered to get us some help. Soon after, a mechanic from a nearby tugboat came over to have a look. After a bit of fiddling we thought the generator worked only to eventually cut out. An hour later, the chief engineer of the same tugboat came over. They covered a wire that looked exposed and once again the generator seemed to last longer but it eventually cut out again.
With one final attempt, Skipper Mike, the mechanic and the chief engineer finally discovered a solution (pictured above). The generator was turned on and we eventually turned it off ourselves rather than it cutting out. Everyone celebrated with a big hurray and we were able to cook our dinner! One of the tug boat helpers kept trying to get Mike to join him for couscous but Mike kindly declined.
After a lovely meal around the table eating beef stew we all went for a walk. We were restricted to the length of the ferry pier with a guard in front of the boat and at the end of the pier. It was a nice little walk and Ene took some photos of what we could see.
It felt so strange to be restricted
We felt as if we were quarantined and being watched at all times. All the immigration, customs and police officers we so nice to us and I believe the government restricted us from leaving the boat rather than the officials.
Overall, I felt as if I needed to sleep with one eye open at all times but that’s because of my fears rather than the treatment we received. I’ll be happy to get to Malta and cruise around Europe where I feel more familiar.
The evening of the second day in Algeria the girlies had a conference in the front berth and the boys had a meeting in the saloon. It was nice to just chill out for a while. We talked about our desire to shower, our thoughts of being in Africa and of course food came up! We loved talking about food.
And of course we had a tiny bit of wine. Considering that we were in a country that prohibits alcohol we all felt like little kids wanting to break the rules a bit. It was a very nice opportunity to relax and recharge our batteries.
The Algerian Police ripped down an Algerian Flag for us!
Before leaving Algeria Skipper Mike felt it was important to fly the Algerian Flag. He went up to the police office at the end the pier and enquired about buying a flag. The policeman turned around, stood on a chair and ripped the Algerian flag bunting off his wall. He then cut one of the flags off and gave it to Mike.
We were all very proud to hoist the Algerian flag.
While waiting for our departure clearance, an Algerian policeman joined Sienna to point out the animals native to Algeria using one of her animal apps. He then gave us a brief outline of Algerian history, rule under France, independence and telling us about the desert. Over 70% of Algeria is desert! For all those nay-sayers about Sienna’s education, I want to ask them what could be better than an opportunity for her to learn about native African animals by a true African!
Clearance to leave Algeria was granted very quickly and we said good-bye
Even though we were treated very well in Algeria I couldn’t help but worry a bit. Part of me wondered if they’d let us leave or if they’d come up with a way to request money. I was also worried that we’d leave and a random boat might come out and take it over. I was afraid they’d want to take Sienna. I’m a mother so I suppose it’s normal to worry about these things. I once again told myself to focus on the end result. Focus on enjoying a glass of wine in Malta! Contrary to my fears, they wished us well and we enjoyed an easy departure.
We were starting to stink by day 4
We only had one tank of water and when it was gone, it was gone. We used the water for cooking and washing dishes. And then we had bottled water to drink. All us girls had hair that looked terribly greasy. Moreover, our heads itched. It was so gross so we decided to put French braids/plats in our hair. At least that way it didn’t looks so ghastly!
As for personal hygiene, we used wet wipes to clean under our arms and of course we did our normal brushing of our teeth and so forth. Thankfully, no one really smelled too bad.
All our Christmases came at once – Skipper Mike got the water maker to work
As us girls were sitting up on deck, Mike came up and announced, ‘Girls – we’re making water! That means you all can now take showers.’ Never did a shower feel better than the one we had on Britican. Afterwards we all commented that we felt human again.
But our enthusiasm was short lived. Not long after getting the watermaker to work, our main sail got stuck ¾ of the way up. It was totally jammed – couldn’t go up or down.
The seas were calmer than the storm but there was still a very noticeable swell. Simon was hoisted half way up the mast and just couldn’t hang on. The mast was swaying so drastically that we had to pull him down and come up with another plan.
Tunisia – here we come!
After a lot of thought, Skipper Mike decided to enter the Tunisia port so that we’d have enough shelter from the swell and waves to get Simon to the top of the mast.
Based on our experience of Algeria, I quickly got to work at creating a courtesy flag. Luckily, I had a children’s atlas for Sienna and could easily find the Tunisian flag. I spent a good hour drawing, cutting and gluing a flag out of construction paper. Once I was finished I lined the edge with scotch tape and a bit of duck tape where I planed to put the holes. Unfortunately I didn’t have red construction paper – only orange, but I figured it was better than nothing.
As we entered the port, Loryn and I went up front to prepare the anchor. I saw something huge come out of the water near us. I pointed it out to Loryn and we kept looking. After a couple seconds, there were bottlenose dolphins all around us and they were huge! I’m not kidding when I say that one of them was at least 10’ long. Trying to be serious and get the anchor out, we couldn’t help but keep an eye on the dolphins.
After a bit of messing around, we got the anchor out. Mike was in communication with the Tunisia port control so they knew why we were there. Simon was then hoisted up to the very top of the 80’ mast. What a brave soul!
He took pictures of the problem, alleviated the jam and the main sail came down. We all yelled out ‘hurray’ and brought Simon down to the boat. Sim was a bit battered and bruised but he got the job done. The problem was a broken pulley wheel causing the main halyard to pop out and jam between the two pulleys as the top of the mast.
Otherwise…some random stuff
I discovered little bubble like creatures on the surface of the sea. They looked like a bubble with a baby fish inside. There were 1000’s. If you have any idea as to what they are, please let me know! I tried to catch one with a broom but my efforts failed! Other than that all we could see is open sea with tankers passing us every so often.
During the middle of the night, our engine alternators cut out. Luckily they came back on after a re-start. Hopefully that was just a little gremlin messing with us.
Girlie discussions about food
For 70% of the trip Loryn, Ene and I discussed cakes, desserts, cooking, and our love for food. Everyone super happy during meal times. Constant reference to getting a cannoli was mentioned.
My first night watch with Mike (8 – 11pm) was fun! After a few days making sure that Sienna was settled, I was ready to join in the night watch sessions. From 8 to 11pm we had various discussions, did exercises like squats, leg lifts and running in place. Additionally, we monitoring ships in the area and used our computers to look up AIS information about who was in the area.
It came out that Loryn thought the storm was normal sailing conditions!
By day 5 or so Loryn admitted that she thought the storm conditions were ‘normal’. Apparently, none of us acted strangely or panicked so Loryn assumed that the high winds, huge waves and rocky conditions were standard sailing experience. She questioned to herself, ‘why do Kim and Simon love sailing so much – this is ridiculous’
We all laughed when we discovered Loryns thoughts and explained that we’d never sail in the current conditions on purpose. The forecast called for 5 – 6 but when we got out there it was more like storm force 7 – 8. Thankfully we were sailing with the waves rather than against! Once we explained to Loryn that the sailing conditions were not normal and we didn’t envision sailing in these types of winds I think she felt much better!
The below picture is Ene and Sienna enjoying the nice sun!
It wasn’t cold for the whole trip!
We had a few days where we were in t-shirts enjoying the warm sun. And the below picture is proof!
Our last meal
Enjoying our last meal while sailing – inspired by Skipper Mike and made by Loryn! Jacket/Baked potato with butter, herb blend, fried onions, peppers, kale, bacon, a poached egg on top. With 4 hours left until we arrived in Valetta, Malta we all enjoyed a small glass of wine and sat around looking at the coastline.
Around 10:30pm we directed the boat towards the Valletta port entrance. The marina was closed however we were instructed to anchor right outside and moor up in the morning. Loryn and I dropped anchor and then we all sat in the saloon talking about the highlights of our trip. There were loads of laughs accompanied by a strong closeness. We were a unit – all of us became a family. There was also a tiny sense of sadness. We knew that our time together was about to end.
Overall, I know that we have a huge learning curve and part of me feels overwhelmed…but another part of me knows that there are loads of people out there to help us on our way. I have to admit my absolute gratitude for having Skipper Mike, my cousin, Loryn, and good friend, Ene, with us. Boy, did we need a lot of extra hands. We couldn’t have picked a better crew.
Here’s a photo video of the trip that Ene made…
Stay tuned for our next adventure. For now, we’re all enjoying the hot sun in Malta 🙂
Read my next entry here: Recovering from our week long sail from Gibraltar to Malta