By George Millar
This article was originally published in the Royal Cruising Club 1954 journal, which notes that the RCC’s Romola Challenge Cup was awarded for this cruise. With thanks to the RCC for granting permission for the article to be included here.
Coastal passage to Falmouth
Offshore from Falmouth (2nd June)
Arrive Ria de Vivero, Spain
To Cascais, Portugal
Cascais officialdom, 18th June
And on to Seville
28th June, Guadalquivir to Gibraltar
Along the Costa del Sol
Alicante to Ibiza
On to Palma and Andraitx
2nd August: Soller, Minorca and on to Sardinia
A 45 knot Mistral in Bonfacio
To Girolta, 16th August
On to Cap Ferrat
12th September: to Elba
Onward to Amalfi
To Sicily and on to the final destination of the Summer: Malta
When my wife and I became owners of Amokura (50.3 feet, 37.7, 12.0) at the end of 1953, we brought this handsome yawl, designed by Shepherd and built by Moody’s in 1939 for Ernest Harston, back into the fold of the Cruising Club. Such was not, I admit, our reason for the purchase. Amokura fulfilled our requirements as to size and shape (reasonable overhangs, good freeboard and beam, a flush deck of teak, 1,000 square feet of working canvas) for myself (5 feet 10 inches, 11 stone) and Isabel (5 feet 3 inches, 8 stone) to cruise in; she will eat up to windward with the best of them, which is the only true insurance policy afloat; further, with her yawl rig and reasonable length of keel she is a good one for self-steering both on and off the wind.
We completed our fitting-out—so far as the appalling weather allowed—at Cowes and on the Beaulieu River, where we put her on the grid for a coat of Kobe Green, she being unsheathed, I am thankful to say, except on such surfaces as cannot be reached by the antifouling brush. We lay then for a while next to Edwards and his Selamat, and in the cruise ahead we saw no lovelier anchorage, no better neighbours.
Apart from making the accommodation lighter and more roomy, with fewer berths, fitting a paraffin refrigerator and a new 15 b.h.p. diesel engine, abolishing the gas cooker, and buying new sails of a somewhat different pattern from the originals, we did little to change Amokura. Our white Bermudian mainsail and mizzen are cut on the mitre, according to the advice of Chris Ratsey, and have no battens (abominations to the cruising man who cherishes his canvas and who fears chafe only after God and a leaking hull). We carry fourteen sails in all, four of them spare headsails from the original outfit.
Having decided to strike off for Spain or Portugal from Falmouth, we sailed there enjoyably by short day stages: from Bucklers Hard to Lulworth Cove; inside Portland Race to Dartmouth; then Salcombe, Plymouth, Falmouth. How fresh and companionable is cruising in English waters! how steady the breezes, how green the low hills that cradle the estuaries! The best of these anchorages—though Dittisham up the Dart, with its sombre fringes of woods, ran it close—was near Plymouth, where we lay, with a spinnaker boom rigged as a bowsprit, to one of the three buoys in the deep Pool under the trees of Mount Edgecumbe. At Falmouth the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club gave us a warm welcome and a powerful mooring.
On June 1st we took eighteen shirts, twelve towels, and fourteen linen sheets (I do not hold with sleeping in blankets) to the twenty-four-hour laundry, which has an Italianate name, and that morning we entered the docks to fill our two 20-gallon tanks with gasoil. The engine, burning only ½ gallon an hour, will give us 5 knots in a calm; so our range is about 400 miles under power (though in practice it is bad policy to risk airlocks by running diesel tanks too low). We also took paraffin (8 gallons), fresh water (125 gallons), distilled water, lubricating oil, linseed oil, and turpentine. Galley stores had previously been loaded at Cowes. In the afternoon Mr. Warren swung our steering compass. I had contrived to break my “chronometer watch” off Portland Bill; I therefore purchased in Falmouth for one guinea a new timekeeper, or turnip.
JUNE 2ND. Cleared Customs for Spain. We took no bonded stores, as Isabel rarely drinks spirits, and I had enough to keep me going. Under main, Genoa, and mizzen, we beat out to the Manacles buoy. Thick there, and gloomy, with the bell. Streamed P.L. The new Genoa, not too low-cut and quite perfect, hauled us on, the speed variation indicator showing now 7 now 8 knots, the breeze S.E. light. At dusk, 43 miles from the Manacles, we were well enmeshed in the Western Approaches, which provided a long, effortless swell, a splendid and romantic movement. I considered handing the Genoa before night, but could not bear to lose it. Isabel, coming up to do her 2-hour reliefs, had not yet got her sealegs. At 0300 on
JUNE 3RD, we handed the Genoa in the glow of the spreader lights. The big sail, with its extra-size hanks and supple single-part halyard, came hissing neatly down as Isabel edged off the wind and blanketed with the main, but it and I got a little wet from spray flying off the roaring bows. Not a bit of sky to be seen. 0315: Got out the ratchet reefing lever (suggested by Henry Denham and kindly made for us by John Dymond) and took three rolls in the 690-square foot mainsail without the slightest effort, the sail full of wind all the time. (The lower, or reefable, section of the luff has a wire instead of a boltrope, and is not on slides, but held round the mast with a lashing.) 0330: Two more rolls. 0345: Handed mizzen. Grand sailing, though dark and noisy. All went well (especially Amokura) until 0930, when we were over the Kaiser-i-hind Bank, some sixty miles S.W. of Ushant, and the wind headed us. I experimented until she sailed herself closehauled, the boomed foresail sheeted in very hard, the mizzen rather free, the main trimmed for efficiency. She needed one and a half spokes to hold her off, and thus she seemed to travel better than with my tired self fussing over her. That day, the next, and the intervening night, we touched the wheel no more, except when putting about. I enjoyed the dryness and peace below, slept a lot, cooked a lot, and took a sight on the rare occasions when we saw the sun soon after a time signal. My new watch gained five minutes one day, lost five the next, but the wireless was in good fettle. There was a good deal of rain, and the sea was a choppy confusion. The teak bung was at first a bad fit in the navel hole; otherwise not a drop found its way below, and there was nothing in the bilges; God’s truth. We had three hours calm on the 4th, which I used to charge batteries with the main engine. Fitted with a big dynamo and a voltage regulator, the diesel is cheaper and more efficient as a charger than the small generating set.
JUNE 5TH. Winds still contrary, mainly from S.W. Reefed and unreefed four times, and passed through nasty line squalls in the evening, easing her by luffing or running through the worst of it, but there was really no need. She stood up with power, no vice, and dry speed.
JUNE 6TH. From 0230 came through four more alarming line squalls. Among the rain was hail, very big stones; this in June and south of the 44th parallel. She was bucking over a breaking sea and our leeway into the Bay was increasing with the strong westerly that confirmed the B.B.C.’s predictions. At dawn a very sharp drop in the barometer and the wind backed to S.W. strengthening. We decided to ease the sheets a little and make for anchorage near Punta de la Estaca. 0930: Isabel sighted high land ahead, and soon we identified Estaca on the starboard bow. The sea very confused, progress difficult, the sky and all signs pointing to a south-westerly gale. 2200: Darkness falling as we beat into the maw of the Ría de Vivero. A gale warning for Finisterre on the B.B.C. So we ended that stage, close-hauled as we had begun it and as we had sailed four-fifths of the way. P.L. 489¾ . We anchored in 4 fathoms abreast the village of Cillero, but on the far side of the inlet. Although extremely disappointed with our first hop from England, we felt entitled to blame the weather, and were delighted with our ship, her stride, comfort, and steadiness. Neither of us was tired. It was midnight when we had dined and were in bed, and at 0100 we were wakened by a full gale blowing off the hills. Put on oilskins, veered another 5 fathoms, making 30, and took shore bearings.
Next day and night the gale persisted. Nobody could put out to us, nor could we land. On June 9th, after the wildest of nights, we crossed to Cillero with the outboard. A body of men at once lifted our “duckling” from the harbour, and carried it to the safety of the fish factory, and one of them drove us to Vivero where in the street we met a courteous stranger who insisted (his own house being in the hands of decorators) on giving us 100 pesetas with which to buy luncheon in the hotel. When we had eaten he took us to his café, where the dominoes-singles championship was in full rattle, and the wireless rattled the coffee cups. As well as coffee and brandy, he pressed on me two vast Havanas. Would two Spaniards receive such disinterested kindness and attention if they blew up to our shores? I hope so, but I doubt it. Back at Cillero, where the road is sand and fishbones, Señor Antonio Fernández Albo loaded our dinghy with gifts, tinned tunny and sardines. Later we saw in the R.C.C. JOURNAL of 1953 that our Vivero host, Señor Don Carlos Cortiñas Riego, had earlier befriended Dr. John Ives and his party in Harrier.
We beat out of Ría de Vivero next day, and having had enough after only eight miles, anchored in the lee of the hills running out from Río Barquero to Punta de la Estaca, and after a good night’s sleep pressed on round Estaca with four rolls down and into Ensenada de Santa Marta, anchoring off Cariño among sheltering tunny fishermen and coasters. The wind fierce offshore. Could not land until the following morning, when, after lunching excellently in a bodega we enjoyed the hospitality of Señor Don Gilberto Segade Rosewarne, an English-speaking director of Cariño’s fish factory, which goes so far as to tin calamares en su tinto for those who, like us, enjoy such delicacies. I had the hardest row of my life to get back aboard Amokura.
JUNE 13TH. Having decided to flog on, if only as far as Cedeira, we set her self-steering and beat out to a twelve-mile offing, where we were able to shake out the reefs, set the Genoa, and point for Candelaría, the headland before Cedeira. The breeze slowly freed us. At teatime we were clear of Cabo Prior; by nightfall the Islas Sisargas were under our lee, and we had rounded the north of Spain. Wind increasing, handed the Genoa. At midnight steering, even with reefed main and the boom guy, the wind on our quarter became wearing, so hove-to on the starboard tack with spreader lights on. Surprising comfort. Much sea traffic, mainly in the sea lane outside us, so took watches all night, and early the following morning I set both running sails on their 18-foot booms. When all was done the wind was not enough, so hoisted the main, guyed it, and sailed to Bayona with it and both running sails, a bizarre rig, but it worked. Passed through clumps of the good fishermen of the great bays, handling their dories with spectacular nonchalance. We tucked ourselves behind the mole at Bayona, that Koh-i-Noor among anchorages, and were alone there.
JUNE 15TH was a day of calms. We motored down the coast, steadying ourselves with the balloon spinnaker and mizzen staysail, since we could not keep the main boom quiet. Still cool. Leixões at 1800. Anchored off the Club Vela Atlantico, stern lines to the lifeboat’s mooring hawser. Meet the health authorities and those dear delightful little monsters, the International Policemen, blast them! Calem Holzer was away, alas, but the club secretary came off with many kind messages and invitations, and the Visitors Book in which good old friends figure.
JUNE I6TH. Experienced three hours of dangerous white fog off the mouth of the Douro with sudden terror, sardiners of the “Three Seas” class rushing at us out of the blank, swerving and jinking like Sir W. W. Wakefield going for the line; sounding their foghorns far too seldom, infinitely less than we did. Then picked up a good westerly, Force 3, and romped off under Genoa etc. Fearing fog at night on so straight and busy a coastline, we edged in, and after dark, with 93 on the P.L., we nosed our way into Ensenada da Nazaré, which seemed to promise some shelter from north-westerly swell. The anchorage is very deep, and unlit fishing boats were moored far offshore. A line fisherman guided us under the cliffs where there were no nets, and I dropped in 9 fathoms. Rolled all night.
In the fog of morning Nazaré, just seen and no more, was stupendous. Powerful wenches leading white oxen thronged the beach to haul out the painted fishing boats of sons, husbands, and lovers whose shirts flamed with tartanish colour against the sepia-and-white background of houses. We motored on a compass course for the channel inside Burling Island, and after one of the most disagreeable mornings I remember at sea the fog lifted to allow us a warmer afternoon of ghosting down to the Tagus with the big spinnaker, and much annoying and tiring sail-changing. However in the evening our old friend the Nortada (or Portuguese Trade) caught us with our pants down (and luckily the easily-handed Genoa, not the spinnaker, up). So we tore into Cascais Bay at top speed, and dropped in 2 fathoms in our old anchorage, facing the second beach from the right. There, for the first time, the wind was hot and scented and the landscape glowed with sunlight; hundreds of bathers, parasols, fishing boats, and three Portuguese yachts.
We endured next morning at the hands of the Portuguese police such humiliations and unnecessary discomforts that we were driven from our many friends at Cascais. We sailed up the Tagus in a peculiarly strong Nortada, reaching, sometimes close-hauled, right up to the Belem narrows, and only under staysail and mizzen. This was the wettest sail of our whole summer. The waters of the river were flung across us to a height of ten feet above the surface. Cockpit dodgers did not save us. Anchored just above the entry to Belem yacht harbour, and were further apostrophised by policemen ashore, who insisted that we must at once continue upstream some two miles to their headquarters. Hung up the riding light and went to bed, but morning could not be delayed and we then motored up to their quay. I had to leave Isabel aboard in a dangerous situation, with an onshore breeze and much rough water from passing ships, while I bent the knee and bowed the head to International Policemen who grow no kinder but more stupid and xenophobic with the passing of the years and to less disagreeable but equally dense health officials. Then, done with horrors, we sailed gently across great Tagus and over toward Seixal by the well-buoyed channel. We anchored by No. 12 buoy, sand and mud, and landed to meet Tony and Annabel Reynolds, two of the best people on earth (as the Pyes and others can testify) at their house, Braamcamp. This was one of the happiest days of our summer, but unfortunately I had an appointment in Seville, so next morning saw us reaching down the Tagus under trisail and staysail at some 9 knots. It is inland, I think that the Nortada is strongest, and at the river’s mouth we were able to set twin Genoas on our running-sail booms and bring the wind aft. The trisail was sheeted amidships to soften our roll. That night we lay comfortably anchored in the lee of the hooked promontory of Sines, and at dawn we went on under the same rig, making great speed to St. Vincent, where the Nortada again was savage. Down came our good Genoa, hanked to the forestay, but the other one, poor old thing, took punishment before I managed to hand it. We then reached at maximum speed, about nine, for 30 miles under trisail and storm jib. Somewhere off Lagos Bay the Nortada dropped us like a stone, and shortly a head wind came up so I hove-to under main and staysail, handing the flax sails that had served us well. The trisail has its separate track, and its heavy wire sheets run through quarter snatchblocks, the tackles lying along the deck, forward, an excellent arrangement (not of my devising, but Harston’s). My appointment in Seville being almost overdue owing to our delays in northern Spain, we worked hard with light canvas all the following day and averaged some three knots with S.W. airs. Dusk found us reaching comfortably under Genoa, main, mizzen, and mizzen staysail, and we carried these sails until 0300 on June 23rd, when we reduced to working canvas, and then reefed down. Twice we passed through fishing fleets without difficulty, all of the trawlers being well lit. Isabel, who had done most of the day steering, slept until midnight, when she took over for four hours, and it was she who did the reefing while I slept. When I went on deck Punta del Perro was on the starboard bow and our landfall was assured.
A peculiar hot smell came off the land, an unpleasant, faded, foetid smell, with dung in it. With the Admiralty Chart of the approaches, all is easy, the buoys being both lit and numbered. I think the wind tends to blow up the Guadalquivir however it may blow outside. When we had beaten over the Bar we picked up a soldier’s wind, freed the sheets, shook our reefs, and settled in the cockpit to enjoy the river. We realised that we would be expected to call at Bonanza to discuss official matters, but we had no intention of forfeiting fair wind and flood unless there was insistence from Bonanza, until four rifle shots, some of the rounds not far distant from our sails, acquainted us with the desire of those ashore that we should act otherwise. Their desire was compelling. We came about and hove-to off their line of buildings and scattered jetties. With Spaniards we have an advantage: Isabel speaks their language about as well as she speaks English.
“Where are you bound, Senorita?”
“It is very hot up there. You require a pilot?”
“Certainly not, thank you.” “All right, all right. Keep to the middle and go from buoy to buoy. Adios.” Their shots had been a joke. They were all smiles. Thus we understood that the port- and starboard-hand buoys above Bonanza are sited as direction marks. Go from one to the other and all is well. What a river, historical, passionate, and wild! In the forest above Bonanza are deer and wild boar; higher up the swampy plains with herds of wild fighting bulls, both black and tawny, of horses, of sheep; eagles, ospreys, egrets, snipe, and wildfowl; crumbly banks and now and then the gush of water, the throb of a diesel reclaiming-pump. The information in the Sailing Directions seemed out of date. Push boldly on. For once (and is it an exception after all?) boldness will have its reward. It was an overpoweringly hot sail. The following wind blistered, the sun made our pores sizzle. At noon we anchored to let the heat and the strongest of the ebb go by, but in the evening we carried another fair breeze right to the big lock below Seville. We had then sailed, without a turn of engine, some fifty-four miles upriver. The downcoming traffic was fairly thick in places, but very considerate. In the lock (no charge) we were told that two bridges, one lifting, one swinging, barred us from Seville. We had arrived “after hours”, and electric current was rationed. The two freighters with us drew into quays, but turning on our spreader and masthead lights, we motored on, giving three brays on the foghorn. The joys of inexplicable Spain! Vehicles accelerated, pedestrians and mules ran and trotted, the town lights dimmed, the bridge lifted and we passed gingerly under, centreing our mainmast. The second bridge was equally accommodating, and we were soon abreast the Torre del Oro, where the Commodore had lain in Diotima. No berth there now: public works, rubble, and dust; but half-way between there and the ice factory we secured to a high concrete jetty. A surprisingly comfortable berth. The quay is guarded from the public by police posts at either end, the ice factory is a joy, and there is abundant fresh water on the quay—our tanks were filled with a hose. On the debit side the night places at Triana, on the right bank, give undiluted Flamenco melody until the early morning, except when they give American melody, which is worse; full awnings and a side curtain were here needed for the first, and almost the last, time, it being an unusually cool Mediterranean summer, and despite them the saloon thermometer was never below 100° F. I need say nothing of Seville except that its dignity and its beauty took me by the throat and the heart, and that the trip up the Guadalquivir must be one of the most rewarding on earth.
I severely maimed my wife when we were leaving Seville by dropping upon her right foot and ankle a huge block of ice. I dropped it from the quay, some ten feet above the deck, where she stood. Her grim comment, tight-lipped, was:
“Missed again, Crippen!”
To make things more strained, we had to motor all the way downstream against a strong wind that raised much dust. Morning of June 28th saw us emerge from the Guadalquivir and head for Gape Trafalgar. The swollen foot was at the centre of a great cocoon of cold compress. Wind S.W.; our course, E. of S., could only just be laid, and with some worry because steel tunny nets reach out at right angles to that coast for six miles. Genoa, main, and mizzen. We gradually eased out from the coast, and I set Amokura to self-steering, then went below to immerse myself in the cooking. Isabel, lying on one of the cockpit seats watching the compass bowl, began to ask me about some bangs that she insisted were less distant than I supposed. Looking ahead, I sighted a gunnery target on our port bow, and as I looked two shells straddled the target, raising fountains. I started the engine at full revs, and before long the target was a cable astern, when two more rounds fell near it. A naval tug was hanging about to southward, but he made no signal. The firing appeared to come from a shore battery at Leon. We had to beat, an hour later, to round the outer end of a well-marked tunny net (a moored boat carrying flag and light) but before evening Trafalgar was abeam.
Having sampled a full Levanter in Serica, I fear those waters even more than others, but this time we were lucky enough to have a full-gutted westerly blowing through the Straits and the weather darkening with much greasy and inflamed cloud, a broken sea. The tide had set against us, but that wind gave us full power. We fled on, soon bringing Africa out of the murk to starboard. We gybed to pass close off the mouth of Tarifa harbour; the water inside was a cauldron. The Rock nobly appeared (what an actor!), blue-grey, sparkling with lights. Rounding Punta Carnero in the gloaming, we beat into Getares Bay, opposite Gibraltar, a very pretty and clean anchorage, and dropped in 3 fathoms for the night. Ninety-three miles in under fourteen hours.
Partly to give Isabel’s foot another day of rest, partly to get the yacht really clean and respectable, we stayed another whole day at Getares while the wind came over the mountain at us half a gale from the S.W.; and on the last day of June we sailed over to Gibraltar under staysail and mizzen, the lazy man’s rig, and went to our prearranged berth in the Torpedo Camber, now renamed the Auxiliary Camber, which, in our opinion is about as perfect as any harbour berth can be. Bill Barnes, still secretary at the Club, was waiting to see us, and David Williams, whom I had known in prisoner-of-war camps, was A.Q.H.M.; if Diotima had been alongside us in her old berth, the Commodore ever casting a demanding eye toward the not-too-distant water tap on the quay by the police box, our happiness would have been complete. I make no bones about my love for Gibraltar. Apart from its amenities for the small-yacht traveller who has reasonable manners and little bounce, apart from the pleasure of being the guest of the Royal Navy and of the keen and gay Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club, apart from great Spain lying pulsing over the frontier, the Gibraltarians are among the most fascinating of the world’s inhabitants.
We stayed ten days, doing much painting and varnishing. The weather was agreeably cool for those parts in July, and on the 11th, to our delight and surprise, we found a southerly air off Europa Point that carried us gently as far as the bay under Torremolinos, where we anchored in 3 fathoms for a night in bed. But at midnight a fierce wind brought me on deck; it was offshore, so I turned in. Half an hour later I awoke to realise that we were sailing. The cable was up-and-down, and Amokura was reaching under bare poles with the Calaburras light already nearer than I liked. Turning off the wind under the staysail I winched in the ten fathoms of cable. This was the first time I had dragged a C.Q.R. on adequate scope out of apparently decent holding, and it shook me. In another climate the experience might have been physically trying, but for the rest of the night we ran on at seven or eight knots under staysail and quite comfortable in the cockpit each with one jersey over pyjamas. At dawn, alas, the wind died for an hour, and then headed us while a great swell built up against us. We put in that evening to Adra. There is still a shoal patch in the entry, to port. Adra has more character than I remembered, with its low cube houses, its rock-bun moles, its wailing eastern music. The harbour master and the chief of the Guardias came over in separate rowing boats to say good evening, but no more, and I take pleasure in declaring that at no port in Spain were the authorities other than helpful and delightful. (Italy and Portugal were another matter.) This constitutes a splendid change, which may in large part be due to the conduct and influence of such sailing men as Denham and Somerset. No dew on deck that night, so we resigned ourselves to an easterly, and spent July 13th beating round Cabo de Gata. The breeze was light, and we were proud of 76 on the log when in darkness we slipped into San José Bay, just north of the cape, hoping for shelter from the swell that had turned north-easterly. When the anchor was down the mainsail refused to follow suit. Between Isabel, the Genoa halyard, a mast winch, and my own efforts, I got two-thirds up to the truck and sorted out the trouble, jammed shackles; but I collected a score of bruises, for we were rolling like fury.
The San José anchorage did not please us one bit, and we left it at 0400 in a north-easterly so light that at 0900 we were only eleven miles offshore, when we were just able to lay a course up the edge of Almeria province. At 2300 we crept into Azohía Bay at the eastern end of Mazzaroón Gulf, where there is a village called Subida. Tunny fishers were busy round their nets at the horn of the bay; the cottages slept, like so many moonlit tombstones. Sand and weed, 3½ fathoms of crystal water, no swell. A perfect night. Morning brought a stiff dead-noser, so we beat only as far as Porman Bay which, despite its interesting egg-shape on the chart, is a sordid anchorage stained by iron ore. Several visitors that day, including a lieutenant and soldiers from the battery on the eastern point. They invited us ashore to inspect their guns and quarters, which was indeed civil, but we did not feel like landing.
After beating hard in the early morning to clear Cabo Palos and its off-lying stones, we enjoyed a perfect reach in a full-mainsail breeze up to Alicante. Amokura disdained the high beam sea. We passed inside Tabarca Island, finding the passage easy. There is plenty of room to sail into Alicante, and we rounded up, foaming, in front of the yacht club, but soon had to move because it was the fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen, and there was to be a regatta. From our quayside berth we were treated to a fine exhibition of fixed-thwart rowing. The Spaniards struck a beautiful rhythm and a high rate, the sweatrags like sponges over their flaming eyes and distended nostrils. After four laps the five boats finished in one striving bunch, and the rowers flung themselves into the water. About midnight the saint passed, the crowds dispersed, and after hauling out from the quay we turned in for a few hours, then at dawn burst our way past the vile onshore swell at the harbour mouth and sailed closehauled past Cabo de las Huertas, bound for the Balearics. With twenty-five miles sailed, all closehauled and into a filthy swell, we were a lot south of our course with, it seemed, little prospect of seeing the islands that night. Hardening the sheets, I motored for two hours, when the breeze died to come again from the S.E., and soon with Genoa and mizzen staysail we were hissing away from the still all-too-visible mainland. In the evening, with Ibiza quickly rising through our pulpit, the halyard block of the mizzen staysail gave with a report. It was one of those newfangled blocks, the only one on the ship. No more of them for me.
We entered Cala Tarida in the dark, the wind now Force 5. The western coast of Ibiza is a dangerous one, but I had the lights on Vedra Island, Redonda, and Cabo Blanco for crossbearings. A deserted and lovely anchorage. Next morning we motored round to Puerto San Antonio, a pretty bay, but tame, for it is a holiday place, with hotels and villas. As San Antonio happened to be keeping the Carmen fiesta two days later than Alicante, we dressed ship, put up awnings, washed down, and chamoised the topsides. French and Spanish holiday people, and a few British and Germans, came out in small white boats to look at Amokura. A young Spaniard told the ladies with him that our dinghy was like a saucepan. Isabel asked him in Castilian which was the best restaurant ashore, and he answered with some embarrassment, but his name for the “duckling” was a clever one, and stuck in our minds all summer. At San Antonio the water was perfect for swimming, warm and elastic. So was it at Cala Binarrás, where we put in next day after beating very hard into wind and sea for sixteen miles. Binarrás is the eastern curve of a double cove, the western being dignified with the name of Puerto San Miguel. The contrary wind was stronger than ever the following day so we stayed there, Isabel landing at the head of the cove to buy tomatoes, onions, lettuce, garlic, eggs, and a kind of spinach. The people were poor; they had neither beds nor tables; yet they refused to take payment. That afternoon some of them came aboard and tasted whisky and English cigarettes. As all of them, even two fishermen, felt seasick, they did not linger, and Isabel made them presents from our stores. The woman did not know what butter was, but her husband explained to her that the golden tins from Mr. Brown in Cowes contained an unusual delicacy. She can have relished it no more than we had relished her own unquenchable Spanish generosity. That evening we landed with the outboard, managing to beach the saucepan in a quiet corner behind a jutting rock at Puerto San Miguel, which was largely open to the sea. This part of Ibiza is well-watered and bright. Even the weeds bloom like Moyses Stevens, and the fields are miracles of neat skill. Slender aqueducts everywhere, and the noise of red earth drinking its daily potion of water. At San Miguel, four kilometres above the “Puerto”, we found a courtyarded, painted church and a hospitable bar where we were invited to share the family’s excellent meal of soup, wine, and vegetables with saffroned rice. A rough walk down, as the wine had been strong and the paths were complicated, and a rougher ride in the dinghy to the madly-rolling yacht.
The roll had not abated by dawn, so we left for Palma, Majorca, which we only reached at midnight after a very tiring sail, sometimes with engine assistance, in a heading swell five times too big for the breeze. At the mouth of Palma harbour the mainsail again refused to come down, and it took us, tired as we were, some time and trouble to put things right. A boatman from the magnificent Club Nautico took our stern lines, though he made them fast too near the sewer (which eviscerates by the iron fence that approximately bisects the yacht club quay). Gibraltar is first-rate for laying in liquid stores such as gin and whisky; and yachtsmen visiting the Mediterranean will do well to remember that whisky with water or soda and ice is now the favourite aperitif of most Latins, with the possible exception of champagne: but Palma is even better, wines, aperitifs, brandy, and Spanish champagne, being drinkable and most reasonable in price. Palma is a big and busy town, and after four days there we went to Andraitx, where we had the good fortune to find Bobby Somerset with Iolaire. At Andraitx I removed, pig by pig, each heavier than its predecessor, all of Amokura’s inside ballast, nearly a ton of it. Neither of the former owners had had occasion to carry so much gear as we do, and this lightening greatly improved both her appearance and her performance. On the Solent a painting firm had given me an estimate of about £100 to paint our black topsides. At Andraitx (supplying the paint myself) I had her cleaned off, rubbed down, stopped, and painted for £3. Prices are boring things, but I instance this to show how iniquitous are the charges at our British yards, sated with their Admiralty contracts. Incidentally our black topsides were a great success in the Mediterranean, and were much admired (black being the favourite colour there just now); we kept them in good order through the season by washing the salt off when we had time and energy or using the chamois when the heavy dews were on them. Our synthetic English varnish, also wiped off nearly every morning, was an equal success. Bobby Somerset showed me the neatest, cheapest dodge for doing away with shackles and abolishing chafe on our mainsail luff. All that are needed are some U-shaped brass wires with an eye at each end of the U. These are passed through the slides and are frapped to the bolt-rope, so that there can be no chafe although there is still some play in the slide. This made a vast difference in the ease of hoisting and lowering the sail. I had no more trouble with it.
Bobby, tall and lean, was on the end of the quay to see us off early on August 2nd. After beating through Dragonera Passage, we had to motor to Soller where, astonishingly enough, a strong southerly was gusting off the hills into the harbour. We anchored in midharbour, but were asked by a naval petty officer to move, securing our stern to the quay alongside Avante, a powerful Spanish yawl. Our refusals to comply, on account of the cross wind, were overriden, so we did our best. But for the generous and skilful assistance of Avanteh owner, Señor Don Clemente Verdaguer-Subira, a well known member of the Barcelona yacht club, and his two hands, we might have damaged ourselves and Avante. In the evening it blew up so strong that both yachts put out kedges, and the harbour master had our stern warps carried along the quay so that we lay angled to it, but more into the wind. The town of Soller, above, is as beautiful and attractive as the curtained trams that take you to it from the harbour. Dined well.
In calm sunshine next morning we managed to sail out of harbour, but then had to motor in a heavy head sea, no wind; so put into Cala Tuent after five miles. We went deep into this most lovely of small coves and dropped in 2½ fathoms, sand, with room to swing. A few cottages and one shaded country house at the inner apex of the cove. The bathing superb, and good underwater sport round the rocks. Incidentally, I saw through the mask that there is a big submerged rock to port going in, and some thirty yards from the visible shoreline. We stayed there all night and left at dawn rejoicing in a brisk soldier’s wind that took us with three (intended) gybes as far as Cabo Formentor, the end of Majorca. From there, in swelly calm, we had to motor to Fornells, that exciting “bottle” anchorage in the N.E. corner of Minorca, meeting Loel Guinness’s big Calysto, R.Y.S., doing about fifteen knots toward Formentor, and also a Blue-Ensign craft whose occupants were as turgid, rotund, and topheavy as its ugly and bulbous hull. They had not the politeness even to return our friendly salute; so they shall be nameless. What hell these new motor “cruisers” are! There is a bad infestation of them in the Mediterranean, but mainly centred round the gluepot, Cannes.
After a day in Fornells and a shocking meal ashore (even the lobster was burned) in the friendly village, we sailed for Sardinia with a Force 4 southerly, a fast reach all day, and a good sleep in the night calm. Next day we had rather fluky north-westerlies, and by using all our light canvas we made the northern tip of Asinara Island in a big following swell just 30 hours (sailing time) after getting the anchor at Fornells, 210 miles away. We intended turning down some seven miles to Reale Roadstead, but noticing smooth water in the cove by Arena Tower, we went in, avoiding the foul ground to starboard, and sounded to a well-sheltered corner. The land scents were headily strong and clean in this deserted anchorage.
AUGUST 8TH. After a bathe in water much colder than that washing the Balearics, balloon spinnaker, main, mizzen staysail, to Bonifacio, averaging 5 knots and finishing at 9. We explored the impressive fjord under staysail and power. The inner quays were crowded and dust-swept, so we chose Catena inlet, where we secured to the inner mooring buoy and took stern lines to a ring in the cliffs. A stupendous berth, and just as well, for next morning the mistral came like a demon. It kept us three days in Bonifacio, which might be another world from the Balearics, so different are scene and inhabitants, so infinitely less cheerful, so aloof by comparison. Prices were at least four times higher, and it was impossible to cash cheques. Although the old town is at first view breath-taking on its overhanging cliffy ridge with the glowering empty barracks, it is, as Denham observed, very depressing, and on August 12th we were glad to beat out against the tail end of the mistral with four rolls down. Despite contrary current and short head sea we managed to keep the speed indicator on 6 knots, and once we were clear of Les Moines lighthouse the weather cleared, the sun came through, and we sailed up to Porto Pollo anchorage, where we were surrounded by underwater fishermen from the French camp ashore. No dew on deck, and next morning, clouded, with a falling barometer, when we entered Ajaccio the harbour-master said he had warning of a “45-knot mistral”. He put us stern on to the misnamed Quai des Plaisances. We were alongside our friend Guy de Maillé on Corinne, but were already far too crowded when a heavy and ugly German ketch moored on our other side, dropping its cumbrous “fisherman” with only some five fathoms right across the line of our cable. Ajaccio was more agreeable than we had anticipated, the best of it, including the markets, being by the harbour. A paquebot a day keeps the ennui away. Fresh water bad but plentiful. W. H. Snook, Esq., our Consul, is as unsparing of his services as he is efficient. The mistral kept us there, as well as a wait for three guests flying out from England. At the quay the surging, particularly at night, was severe, and French yachtsmen, thinking of their stern gangways, usually have their warps bar-taut. One night Corinne parted six stern warps. Our own 2½ inch treated Italian hemp, doubled and well parcelled, came through unscathed. The German dragged a little and rolled against our fenders. What agonies men endure in harbour!
AUGUST I6TH. After the German had very decently moved from the quay to release our cable, we sailed in company with Corinne for the celebrated Girolata Bay, up the coast. Under Genoa, main and mizzen, we were closer-winded than the bigger ketch and more than held her until the wind dropped and her powerful engine sent her past us. There was a huge swell, and we had been driving Amokura with all the canvas she could take, then reaching with it abeam. Two of our brave passengers were desperately ill, and all was chaos below. Sounded into Girolata, whose immense cliffs made darkness darker, shortly before midnight. Finding conditions dangerous there, we hove-to while we did our best to bed down the suffering ones and make them comfortable. This done we sailed on to Calvi where at 0300, in shelter at last, we anchored just beyond the pretty little town. Isabel and self at once set about cleaning up the yacht which, for the first time, had arrived in a bad mess. We had not finished when dawn broke showing us, among the other yachts stern on to the quay, Serica, our former pride and joy. She was immaculate, her brasses gleaming, her brightwork a dream, and best of all her new owners, Amedée and Joseéphine Seguin were both aboard. We dined with them that evening in Calvi’s one half-decent restaurant and then watched them leave for France, admiring the sweetness of the Clark hull that in its day had served us so well. She seemed small after Amokura, a toy boat.
We had very bad weather from the S.W. in Calvi, and the C.Q.R. did well because of the five yachts that lay anchored off (including M. de Grandchamps’ smart number, Dahu III) we were the only one that did not drag. While there we made many excursions by rail, bus, and car.
Spectacular as it is, I could not get away from Corsica’s overhanging depression, a depression as clinging as the cloud masses over its mountains. Its gun-dogs are fine, its inhabitants superbly handsome; its towns and gorges are photographer’s meat. There we met our first flies and mosquitoes of the summer. On the day that our guests left us I had a cable from my publisher asking me to go to St. Jean Cap Ferrat to do a little work, so thither we sailed on August 27th, and after a calm night at sea that was only disturbed by the noisy and overdose attention of a sperm whale we had fallen in with during the evening, we raised the French coast in light airs at lunchtime. Overcrowded and spoiled though the Cote d’Azur is—and much of it is horrible—seen objectively from seaward after the other Mediterranean landscapes it is staggeringly beautiful, at any rate the stretch from Nice to Menton. As we slid in toward Cap Ferrat a ketch came motoring out from Monte Carlo, rolling, with bare poles, and crossed us. This was Corinne whom, by fortunate chance, we had met that summer in Gibraltar, Palma, Bonifacio, Ajaccio, and Calvi. Her energetic owner was now on his way back to the home port, Lisbon. Corinne is German-built and a rattling good cruising model.
We anchored for the night in the charming bay of La Paloma, inside Cap Ferrat. Accordion music for the diners on the beach. Around us Lady Kenmare’s villas with their green lawns, the Singer villa, the Chateau de Madrid glittering like a diamond brooch among a sea of diamonds. At dawn we entered St. Jean, the nicest little harbour, and the cleanest, on all that coast, but now one of the most overcrowded. I got the nylon hose to the nearer of the two taps on the quay and we drenched the whole ship and all the sails in sweet water. We lay next to Jan de Hartog, the Dutch writer, who is one of the world’s most entertaining talkers. His splendid sailing barge, Rival of Amsterdam, is the most comfortable of floating homes, and in her we had everything from dinner in a proper dining-room to hot baths in a proper bathroom. Rival is aesthetically satisfying because the Dutch still found their craftsmanship on tradition. I wish all English yacht designers were as wise, and did not persist with hogbacked sailing horrors and motoring bulbs that roll your teeth out in any seaway.
SEPTEMBER 12TH. Sailed for Elba, at once setting Genoa, main, mizzen staysail, and mizzen, to a reaching westerly. The easiest day’s sail I remember, for there was no sea, and almost all day we did 8 knots dead on course, the yacht self-steering. Sighted Corsica at 1600. In moonlight drenched with the aromatic airs from the maquis, we sailed between Cap Corse and its island at 1945, a wonderful passage. Thinking the dying breeze had only been blanketed by the cape, I greedily pressed on, and as a result we had a beastly night of rolling fairly near the island of Capraia.
We anchored off Porto Ferraio next day, to have our first taste of Italian officialdom. A person in a shirt came to us, rowing, and demanded the surrender of the ship’s papers, our passport, and 800 lire. Our refusals were met with snarling threats. Later a motor boat dashed itself against our side and a petty officer came aboard. Diving at him in my pyjamas, I eagerly shook his unoffered hand before he could speak. This dazed him, and he was satisfied with our promise to visit the Capitaneria at 0700. There we luckily found a dignified and elegant officer, who had the “necessary” documents drawn out for us, and made no charge. He told us that southerlies of gale force were predicted, and these we found after a splendid reach along the north coast of Elba to its western tip. Little relishing the stiff head sea, gusting wind, and falling barometer, we put back to a small, uneasy cove, to await improvement. We were driven out at 0100 by gusts strong enough to drag us on the poor holding, and went into Marciana Marina bay, letting go in 2 fathoms, sand. There we lay in a high offshore wind until evening when, with the radio advising a shift of wind to the west, we sounded our way in behind the small but solid breakwater, finding no less than 5 fathoms where we anchored and 2 when we had drawn our stern to the quay with 25 fathoms out.
Next morning, fine and calm, we sailed, motored, sailed again to Marina del Campo, in the south of the island. There we anchored off the harbour, which has less water than is claimed for it. A pleasant little place with bad food. We passed next morning through the danbuoys and sweepers that were part of the vast effort to find out why the Comet came down. A horrid squawl of boys persecuted us that evening in Giglio harbour, which is now more fashionable, but still as beautiful as ever. The hotel keeper and his seamen sons were warmly hospitable, for they remembered us and Truant in 1946.
A nice offshore breeze took us on in the morning, but only as far as Giannutri, where we anchored in Denham’s small cove and after swimming lunched at the cockpit table. We intended to land and visit the Roman villa, but, fortunately before we had launched the dinghy, a strong breeze made the cove untenable, and we got out of it. When dark came we were again becalmed, and lay rolling with Civita Vecchia’s light on the port quarter. The following day was my birthday, and quite ideal, all spent on the sunlit sea. After working our way now with the engine, now with light canvas, past Anzio, we rounded Cape Circeo in darkness lit by the tossing flares of a thousand fishing boats, and came to without sail up, Zannone Island abeam. I took accurate crossbearings before going to bed, and in the morning these were identical; we had lain all night as though set in glass. A gorgeous day followed, hot, with light favourable airs, hours of ghosting and swimming. The saloon temperature was 82° at 1600, and this seemed cool. We sailed through the Ischia channel in darkness, and meeting a dead-noser in the Bay of Naples, hove-to for the night, promising ourselves a splendid panorama at dawn. Dawn, however, was cold and misty, and letting draw, we had a very stiff beat to the Marina Grande of Capri. There the authorities were tiresome and the whole island, flooded now with paper-bag tourists, most of them German, was not recognisable as the place we had known in 1946, before the civilian aeroplane and the char-a-banc really got busy. Yachts now lie at the short mole to port as you enter, so we had a swelly night, and were glad to sail out in the morning, which we did easily without the engine, as a smart breeze blew at us straight over our anchor. The Roman and Neapolitan ladies on neighbouring yachts and their attendant cavaliers watched the manœuvre as though they thought us mad. I had grown so used to the mainsail that it went up like a dinghy’s, and Amokura will turn on a pinpoint. I now dislike a boomed foresail, but for such work, shorthanded, it pays a dividend. A smart sail to Amalfi in a following sea, the wind all over the shop. Carrying main and Genoa we used a drill we had now developed when there was too much following wind for the big spinnaker, setting up both runners, keeping the main well pinned in, and generally sailing with the Genoa goosewinging, but now and again turning on a reach. I do not suppose all craft would do this, but it suits Amokura.
A few miles before Amalfi the wind came too strong for the Genoa, so we flapped it down and went to the harbour mouth with main alone. Two men, one young, one elderly, were waiting for us and shrieking from their boat, “Piloto! piloto!” They helped us to moor diagonally to the outer mole, anchored off, with two stern lines and a bow line. Such precautions were necessary. The pair acted as ferrymen and helpers during our two-day stay. They brought us bread, fresh water, gasoil, wine, meat, vegetables; they were ungrasping. Best of all, they were amusing. Their names are Giuseppe Adriani (piloto) and Antonio Gappucino, and if you enter Amalfi you can trust them with your life, your ship, and your wife (a strange recommendation for Italians—I am not sure that Adriani would agree with it). Amalfi used to possess the finest harbour of the inland sea, and now the townspeople, jealous of Capri, intend to improve what is one of the worst. Even the tourists, mainly German, cannot smudge entirely the astonishing town with its passage streets, its burn, its dark corners, sudden markets, its cathedral upstairs. The harbourmaster, like he of Capri, was a nuisance. We refuse to give in when such people demand the ship’s papers in order to lock them away. Such weakness only makes things worse for those who follow; and it is unseamanlike, since harbours are dangerous, and the master of a small craft with much windage and little power should be ready to clear at shortest notice. It is surely time that the Italian harbour officials were told from on high where their duty lies and where they are exceeding it. Personally, I never want to go near another Italian port until this stupid byblow of the Fascist administration has been brushed away, and I hope next summer to make straight for Greece without touching Sicily or Italy. We made interesting trips on land around Amalfi and to the Gulf of Naples; strangely, it had been easy to hire a two-seater Vespa (motor scooter) at Porto Ferraio, but it was difficult at Amalfi.
It was blowing briskly out of the Gulf of Salerno, and Piloto Adriani would not let us go until I had promised to hug the shores of the gulf. However, we went straight across under full main and staysail, though there was a heavy beam sea at the bottom end. But for roller reefing I would have given myself unnecessary work, but knowing the mechanism to be there if needed, we carried on unreefed until suddenly, though wind and sea were still visible just astern, we ran into calms beyond the gulf. Chugged into Palinuro anchorage. A charming young lady came out to invite us to dine ashore at the Castello, now a pensione, but we had eaten an enormous lunch, and could not face more food. A quiet night, and so was the next one, which we spent within ten miles of Stromboli, hove-to after a day of head winds and some good sailing. The volcano was smoking and growling. Next day, when we sailed in company with a long shark, the first we had seen with Amokura, we had a slow sail to Scylla, passing through one nasty squall that gave plenty of warning as it came, black and wet, out of the nest of the Lipari islands. This was our first rain for 107 days, apart from one shower while we lay at Calvi. We spent that night in the clean, restless harbour of Scylla, and next day, with a fair breeze and the Scendente, rushed through the Straits. We covered the ground between Scylla and abreast Messina at 11 knots, some five of these being current. As we cleared the Straits we saw a Bermudian sloop come dancing out of Messina and give chase in the stiffening wind. We could not see any ensign, but told each other she must be British. We soon lost her astern, for she was small, and we were doing the Genoa goosewinging trick. The north-easterly sea was pounding into all the Taormina anchorages (such as they are) except the roads, where we found a patch of sand and weed among rock abreast the new church near the railway station. The cross on the facade of this church is picked out with blue neon at night.
Early in the morning we motored round the point to Mazarro Bay (called Casteluccio on Admiralty Chart 180, which chart is necessary, there being a sunken rock in the entry). Anchoring well out, we took stern lines to the rock-cum-diving-platform. I found when I swam out with the underwater mask that in going astern we had taken a half hitch round a pointed rock with the anchor end of our cable, so knew we were secure enough. All the bottom there is foul, and it is known as a graveyard for anchors. Mr. and Mrs. Trewhella at the hotel to port as you enter were more than kind to us, and we watered ship from the hotel kitchen. Trewhella is a Cornishman, and the sea is his blood. Our second night in Mazarro was uncomfortable. By then Saluki, the game small one that had chased us out of Messina, was anchored very near us. She is an ex-German 30-square metre, and was well sailed by Major Freddie Borda and two other sportsmen of the Royal Malta Yacht Club. In the early hours we watched Saluki beat out with five rolls in her main. Having various appointments to be cancelled ashore, we did not get away for another two and a half hours and then, with Amokura bullocking about as the varying gusts caught her mainsail, I found the lines of three lobster pots entangled round our anchor. At last they were untwisted and we shot out of the bay under full main and staysail. A splendid romp, dry as a bone and very fast, as far as Syracuse, 50 miles, which we entered at dusk. We had passed poor Saluki north of Augusta, wallowing under the smallest of trisails. How size counts, in anything like hard weather! They arrived hours after us, with everything on board drenched. Next day both yachts put out from Syracuse, but meeting a dead-noser off Murro di Porco, put back again, and we met the universal Warden Baker, whom we had last seen in Athens and who is now, of course, H.B.M. Vice-Consul in Syracuse. Just as well too, for it takes a Warden Baker to keep crooks off your ship in a port where Edwards had Selamat’s sails stolen and where thieving is the primary art. Here the harbour authority was kind, for a change.
As the next morning was completely windless and Saluki has no engine we towed her round Murro di Porco and across the great misty bay for twenty-five miles to the Malta Channel which, belying its reputation, was calm. Saluki cast off and left us astern, for those boats are very fast in light airs, and Borda is an artist at the tiller. Twenty-four miles out from Cape Passaro we hove-to for the night, and on October 3rd had a gentle Genoa sail to Valetta Harbour, where we cleared Customs before motoring round to secure to the cable company’s buoy off the yacht clubs, with Samuel Pepys, red and cocky, astern of us. Malta is at first a bewildering place, but the Royal Navy, as always, was most kind to us, and so was the R.N.S.A. A few days later the Commodore arrived from England to live aboard Diotima and the boom and crackle of his voice seemed to bring the winds and the roll of greater oceans into the fortress harbour that he has known for so long and so well. We slipped Amokura (at great cost) on Manoel Island to give her two coats of Kobe, stripped her, and left her moored fore and aft to buoys in Lazaretto Creek, near Diotima. Next spring, God willing, we shall sail again, bound for Constantinople.
Both of us reached the end of the summer fit as fleas, and stronger than at the beginning. We found Amokura much less tiring to handle than either of our previous yachts, the first of which was a motor-sailer, the second a fast and handy 16-ton sloop. We were lucky throughout in our weather, and in the Mediterranean had, I think, more than a normal Mediterranean allowance of wind, and less of heat. Apart from blowing out our old Genoa, there was no visible damage to our canvas, no chafe, not the smallest of tears. Our air-cooled diesel was a miracle of absolute reliability and economy. My expenditure on gasoil abroad was less than £5. Isabel, who has suffered greatly from seasickness on other cruises, was not ill more than five times; she occasionally used Drammamine to good effect. We contrived, with the help of the refrigerator, to live entirely off fresh food, though keeping a reserve of tins. We eat more vegetables than meat, and drink more wine than tea or coffee. We cooked on two primuses, one in gymbals. Before we left England a friend made up for me a lot of small soldered tins of Vitaweat, and these were of great value between ports, or when we did not bother to launch the dinghy just to buy bread. We hoisted the dinghy aboard easily with a short boom derrick to a spinnaker boom cup on the after side of the mast, which excellent contraption was on Amokura when I bought her. I must acknowledge my debt to Miss Maria Blewitt: I learned how to navigate by sun and stars from her small book, Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen, and hence found a new degree of freedom from care on the sea.