Monday, November 4, 2023.
Sunday, December 3, 2023, North Atlantic, sailing off the coast of the Kingdom of Morocco.
This morning the sunrise, now the sunset, heading west to get away from the Moroccan coast.
Saturday, December 2, 2023, sailing the North Atlantic towards the Canary Islands (in position 34º 33' north and 7º 31' west at the time of writing, 18:49 hours, Coordinated Universal Time).
Yesterday, Friday, it started raining in Barbate at dawn, and continued raining throughout the morning while the southwest wind was in its last throes. With virtually no transition, around noon, the wind shifted from southwest to northwest and gradually died. The clouds began to disappear and patches of blue sky emerged. The forecasts were correct.
While all that was going on I was preparing Kif Kif for departure. Then, after a good shower, I went to the harbormaster’s office to pay for the port, to the supermarket for some fresh groceries, had something to eat on the way and at 14:35 UTC I released the moorings and went to the gas station, which had just opened. It didn’t take me long to fill up the 108 liters of diesel I had calculated I would need to face the long periods of calm announced by the weather forecasts and at 15:18 UTC I finally released the moorings and left the port of Barbate in my wake.
The heavy swell from the southwesterly gale persisted, but the northwesterly breeze managed to propel us at over six knots in a south-southwesterly direction.
My first scare came at 19:00 UTC. I had just turned on the generator (and the watermaker) an hour before, and the generator suddenly shuts down. By it self. It leaves me an oil temperature alarm message. I check the oil level (which I changed minutes before leaving Palma, just over three weeks ago) while I wait for the generator to cool down a bit, then I proceed to start it again and notice that the sea water in the cooling circuit is not circulating well. I turn off the generator, blaming the problem on the heeling of the boat, which must be preventing the water from circulating properly, and I ignore the matter until the sailing conditions change and the heeling stops being a problem.
This morning the wind died shortly before seven o’clock (UTC). The heavy swell calmed to swell and the sunrise was spectacular, if a bit somber because of the gloomy clouds on the horizon. I quickly started the engine and checked the generator’s seawater circuit, discovering a plastic clogging it. I managed to remove the plastic and started the generator. Water flowed abundantly through the circuit.
The rest of the day has been spent motoring, with the mainsail up, managing the fuel, the battery charge, the fresh water, my meals, the breaks, all accompanied by the untiring roar of the engine in a sea that is getting quieter and quieter. And so we will probably continue until tomorrow morning at 4:00 a.m., when the forecast calls for a bit of a tailwind. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
Barbate, Thursday, November 30, 2023.
These are gray days. Last night it even rained.
The weather is unpleasant, although at times the southwest seems to be decreasing in intensity, but the sky remains gray and the mood contracts. I take the opportunity to walk and rest. I sleep a lot. And I also think a lot. These days…
I will probably set sail tomorrow afternoon, after refueling. Not the best forecast, lots of calms in the offing, and even headwinds, but I can’t keep waiting here for conditions that will be a long time to come.
We will see along the way how things shape up, but for the moment I am seriously considering a direct route to the Canary Islands, to the port of La Restinga, on the island of Hierro. I am sincerely sorry to miss the visit to Madeira, which I reserve for my return, and from here I send a big hug to Joâo Vieira, but the winds and my own timing advise me to continue gaining south. It will not be an easy task.
Tuesday, November 28, 2023, Barbate, province of Cadiz, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
Gone is the Strait of Gibraltar, gone is the Mediterranean Sea. Since last Sunday, Kif Kif has been floating in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the North Atlantic. This is the real beginning of this adventure. The above can be considered as a sea trial, the sea trial that I did not have time to do before leaving.
During this first sea trial several little things appeared, some of them more important than others, of the most serious we have already mentioned some of them. We have more sea trials ahead of us, more breakdowns to solve, and probably also some issues that will be difficult or impossible to solve. It is part of sailing, part of life itself.
This morning, the first thing I did was to clean out the engine bilge of the used oil that was spread on it yesterday. I had put enough paper under the filter to prevent it, but when I unscrewed it, the weight of the falling burnt oil destabilized the paper, which turned into a channel, directing the oil flow directly into the bilge. The next time I change the engine oil and filter, I will place a plastic tray at the vertical of the filter to collect the used oil. But that’s it, the engine is serviced and the bilge is clean.
November 28, 2023. Continuation.
Barbate Marina, Province of Cádiz.
What more can I say that has not already been said about the port of Barbate in the off season? In the middle of the summer season, surely it is something else, but since I arrived at this port only two days ago, it seems dead. Apart from the fact of being totally far away from the town of Barbate, more than two kilometers walking, half an hour at a good pace, is that even in the village all businesses, bars and restaurants included, are closed. And in the port, not to mention! Apart from the restaurant “El Capitan”, also closed, except on weekends, there is nothing. It is very simple: in the port of Barbate there is nothing, nothing at all. Nothing at all.
I guess it’s good for me to get used to the idea: I’m in the Atlantic, I’ve left the Mediterranean behind. Paradigm shift.
The beaches of Barbate in the autumn of 2023.
It has been four days since the criminal explosions of Israeli genocidal bombs stopped sounding over the civilian population of Gaza. The cease-fire is extended today for forty-eight hours more, but I think… I have to move further away from Mediterranean Europe for this paradigm shift to be effective and have a relaxing consequence in my mind. In the meantime, Ukraine continues… And Gaza.
However, I can’t move until Friday. The weather conditions are not advisable. I have to wait. In open ocean I rule out using the engine, it would not take me anywhere and would deprive me of generator hours. So now I’m waiting in port for a few days. On the high seas, five days of waiting, in calm seas, can pose a serious threat to one’s sanity. I hope to avoid that. My sanity is at stake.
No, I cannot end this way with Barbate, with the extraordinary kindness of its inhabitants, with the magnificence of its extensive white beaches, with its particular vision of the African continent… Africa, right there, in front. On the other side of that narrow, but deadly, tongue of sea. And the Atlantic Ocean knocking at its doors, at its whitewashed houses, at its legendary tuna industries.
The Barbate marina, besides being isolated, due to its remoteness from the town, is a bit old, but overall it is a clean and safe place, as are its toilets and showers. I am glad to be here at this time, and I enjoy it, while I wait for the wind shift and give the boat a few tweaks. (Note: The third reef in the mainsail, solved).
Thursday 23 November 2023, Fuengirola, Malaga, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
Thursday 23 November 2023, Fuengirola, Malaga, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
Water coming in!
Setting sail from Benalmádena at that time was perhaps not the best decision I made. Trying to force a passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in those contrary sea and wind conditions was not the most appropriate thing to do. However, I released the moorings at 08:07 hours (local), thinking that I would reach Marbella after midday, and then tacked southwest towards the Strait with winds that should be relatively less harsh, and even favorable according to some forecasts.
At eleven o’clock in the morning, after having sailed under motor and sail for three hours, at an average speed of just over three knots, I was just off Calaburras Point, nine nautical miles from the port of Benalmádena.
An hour later I was already wondering if I would make it to Marbella that night, trudging along at two knots against a sea with increasingly faster, shorter and deeper waves.
Kif Kif would sink its bow against the waves and tons of water would rush over the deck, sweeping it away. The sailboat would stand still for a few moments, pitch hesitantly and then slide back into the sea until a new wave would slow it down, submerging it entirely. Despite the noise of the engine, the sea and the wind, I listened to the water pounding in the stern locker and looked through the hatch. A good fifteen liters of seawater were dancing at the bottom of the chest. I bailed it dry. It didn’t last long. I had a leak.
Every ten minutes I had to bail the chest. The fuel intakes, poorly glued to the deck, had become detached, opening a gap through which the waves would happily enter every time the ship dipped its bow into one of them.
At 14:29 hours of that fateful Tuesday (note: Tuesday) I made a much better decision, appropriate to the situation, and steered round back to the nearest port, Fuengirola. Less than two hours later I was moored at the dock.
Yesterday I spent the day studying the best way to carry out a definitive repair, stratifying the fuel intakes, sealing them hermetically to the deck, and looking for the necessary materials to stratify: putty, resin, fiberglass… And I also disassembled the intakes, cleaned the area, sanded, and left everything ready to continue working on it today. It’s going to take time.
Thursday, November 23, 2023, continuation.
The putty I found at the marine hardware store in the port is a polyester resin, and I would have preferred to use an epoxy resin, so I went to the port slipway, and there I met Alberto, who introduced me to his brother José, from Yachting Pro. I explained my breakdown and asked him if he had epoxy resin, to which he replied positively.
At just after two o’clock in the afternoon, José arrived with the two bases of the fuel intakes already prepared and liberally smeared with epoxy resin. It took him five minutes to get into position, while I went back to dusting and degreasing the work area with acetone. He put the pieces in place and pressed without exaggeration for a couple of minutes on each of them. He sat up and looked at me: “The resin cures in seven days, but you can start working after 48 hours. Don’t touch those pieces until the day after tomorrow.”
I met him again, totally by chance, at El Rinconcito Andaluz. He was just finishing his meal. “You eat very well here”, he said. (Which is true, as I soon found out). And he explained to me that it was not necessary to fibrate, that it was enough to replace the screws “roscachapa” by metric nuts with their corresponding washers and that was it. I hope it works, because I will do it as he said.
Later, returning on board, I see a sailing ship with a sky-blue hull docking at the pier. Spanish flag. Oronol. Minutes later, one of the crew members of the Oronol approaches me at the dock and, pointing to the flag of the Cofradía de Navegantes Anarquistas fluttering under the port spreader of the Kif Kif, asks me: “Are you in Recla-Mar? I am Raquel, Raquelarre. I just joined the group.”
Both she and her companion Gina are heading for the Canary Islands, where they will disembark to return to the mainland, while the owner of the Oronol and his crew will receive a new group of passengers/friends with whom they plan to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean. It looks like a fast boat, the Oronol. A Belliure, with a recently modified stern. She rigs a good mast and should be able to wear a lot of rags.
Raquel and Gina went for a walk to take some pictures in Mijas, but they are called on board at ten o’clock in the evening. They plan to leave at 23:00 hours, to pass the Strait of Gibraltar at dawn. How envious they make me! Fair seas fellows!
I have no choice but to wait for the resin to cure before I can reassemble the diesel intake and connect it to the pipe going to the tank. I will probably be able to have it done by Saturday afternoon. In the meantime, rest. And, above all, don’t even look at the forecasts…!
Tuesday 21 November 2023
Monday, November 20, 2023, Benalmádena, Málaga, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
The truth is that I was very worried about the solution that would be given to me for the mainsail, whose cut, from the beginning, seemed great to me, with that luning, that modern, almost Boterian (*) roundness of the leech, gaining square centimeters to the sail area and therefore, giving power to the boat.
Marc did not even bother to reply to my messages asking him for more information about who would come, when, and how to pick up my mainsail, which would leave me naked in this inhospitable port, populated by tourists from all walks of life.
I will not transcribe the messages between Marc and me here because it may not be pertinent, but his way of understanding customer service, at least in my case, has left much to be desired. However, I recognize him as having a specific efficiency in the final result, although I doubt that it has much to do with his dedication. I don’t know for sure. And there is still an open question: How long are new first-class sails under warranty?
In any case, this morning, at 11:05 local time, I received a call from Paloma, sailing technician of the company Velas Petrel, from Malaga, warning me of her arrival on board in 45 minutes. And so it was, indeed. Minutes more or less.
Despite being short and stocky, a little younger than me, I saw her coming from far away among the crowd of tourists crowding the promenade between the terraces of the bars and the boats moored bow to the dock. It could not not be she, the folder in sailcloth, the agile gait, the blue of her sun-scratched jeans, the technical look looking for a boat with the mainsail unfurled. I went out on deck and waved to her from afar. In less than an hour, she helped me fix the mainsail problem and, unbeknownst to me, awakened in me reflexes forgotten by years of hindering motor sailing. I learned, from this great sailing professional, in less than an hour, I learned, or re-learned, or began to remember, or whatever – what difference does it make what it is called – I repeat, in less than an hour, a whole millenary wisdom. Great woman, Paloma.
We even remember together Isidoro Arias, who set sail for a solo round-the-world trip, more than twenty years ago, from this same port of Benalmádena, aboard his sailboat Islero (named after the bull that killed Manolete, as he liked to say), a splendid 47-foot Swan, whom I met in the Canary Islands, at the time of his farewell, organized by Rafael del Castillo Morales, whom I visited those days at his home and, therefore, in his radio studio, presided by a picture of the satrap Francisco Franco Bahamondes, from where he broadcast La Rueda de los Navegantes, which, it must be said, on more than one occasion saved a life or contributed to the recovery of a ship in perdition.
The Islero was found by a fishing boat, according to the press of those years, in the Gulf of Guinea, adrift, with no one on board. The dinghy was missing, but the life raft was on board. It had come from Cape Town and had passed through St. Helena on its way home. Shortly after it was found, his son recovered the boat and brought it back home. Isidore was never heard from again.
Tonight I will quietly approach the gas station pier, dock Kif Kif there and wait for the marina crew to open tomorrow morning to refuel the consumed diesel and set sail for Gibraltar, hoping to get out into the North Atlantic ocean at once.
(*) Fernando Botero, Colombian figurative sculptor.
Sunday, November 19, 2023, Benalmádena, province of Málaga, Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
I arrived at the marina of Benalmádena at 02:21 hours (local) this Sunday, November 19, convinced of the coincidence I mentioned yesterday, when Marc Patiño, from North Sails, indicated this port as the best alternative to correct the error in the leech of my mainsail. Superstition? Magical thinking? Or a simple error of memory, induced by the surprising coincidence experienced in Moraira and fatigue? I am more inclined to the latter hypothesis, especially considering that I have not yet been able to complete my cycle of adaptation to this environment, constantly interrupted by breakdowns of all kinds.
It was not in Benalmádena where my daughter Alba’s mother, Alba, from the moment of her birth, and I lived. No. That port, that bar, that Bavaria, all that happened in Fuengirola, a little further southwest of Benalmádena, but the mental mirage I suffered allowed me to remember Alba and now, by the way, my granddaughter Lluna, Asturian like her paternal great-grandmother. How things are! Well! The magic spell is definitively broken, reason reigns again and fear vanishes. That false information is therefore disproved. My apologies.
Saturday, November 18, 2023. Motoring in position 36º 34' North and 003º 37' West, in the Alboran Sea, more or less halfway between Motril and Almuñécar.
Can we really call this a coincidence? Last night, after passing the Gata cape with very light breezes and thick fog, I made a quick stop at the Club Náutico de Agua Dulce, province of Almeria, in order to refuel and rest for a while. The weather forecast looked encouraging, promising me, from six o’clock in the morning (local time today, Saturday) force three to four Beaufort easterly winds, which suited me perfectly to reach the Strait of Gibraltar and finally leave the Atlantic Ocean sailing placidly under sail. So, after loading all the diesel consumed by the engine from Moraira, I decided to take a shower at the Club facilities, have some typical Andalusian tapas for dinner and sleep a couple of hours moored to the dock of the gas station. And that’s what I did. At a quarter past four this morning I started the engine, released the moorings and headed out into the starry night over a sea as flat as a plate. The first thing I did after leaving the harbor behind was to hoist the mainsail, which always helps. Then I quietly prepared my breakfast, a coffee and some fruit, which I enjoyed on deck looking at the stars. Venus was already shining high in the sky and I decided to write a message to Muriel, which she would read when she woke up at her mother’s house. Then I went back out on deck to wait for the promised easterly breeze. The promised breeze never came. Here I am, motoring along, with all the sails taken down, including the mainsail, having discovered a measurement error in its construction. The first batten, the tallest one, when tacking, rests on the starboard aft forestay, threatening to break the sail at that point or, at the very least, precipitating its usury. It did not take me long to send an email to the technician who sold it to me, who replied immediately, proposing a technical stopover in Benalmádena, a few kilometers southwest of Malaga. Textually, when I proposed several alternatives that did not force me to modify my project much – Gibraltar, Funchal or the Canary Islands -, he answered back: “Benalmádena is the best place! They will come to pick up the sail there on Monday”. It was so many years ago that I never associate Benalmádena with my daughter Alba, born in the maternity ward of a hospital in Malaga more than three decades ago. I was looking for the port in the nautical chart when I realized that it was there where we lived, already separated, her mother and I, waiting for the birth of the child. Benalmádena. I was working there part-time for an Asturian, owner of a bar in the marina, on the first line, right in front of the boats. And so, besides sometimes taking tourists out during the day in a twelve-meter Bavaria, at night I served drinks on the terrace of his bar. I don’t remember if his name was José, or Luis, or both. The fact is that when Alba was born, who had to stay with me -that was the deal her mother and I had reached the day she announced her pregnancy and asked me for money to have an abortion, since she did not want to be a single mother-, her mother told me that if I wanted to take the girl with me, I had to carry her too. A few weeks after that I left everything and returned to Chile, with my United Nations political refugee passport that expressly forbade me to travel there, but Pinochet had lost his referendum and the murderer no longer ruled the country, so I could return freely. (The first thing I did when I arrived in Santiago was to get my Chilean identity card and passport). First Moraira and Tadzik. Now Benalmádena and Alba. Does anyone really believe this is pure coincidence? I have Jupiter shining on my stern, and on my port side at half height the moon completing its first crescent quarter. Does all this mean something? Or, as Muriel says, do I look as superstitious as a sailor?
Friday 17 November 2023
Sailing in the fog.
Wednesday, November 15, 2023, Moraira, Alicante, Comunidad Valenciana.
Tuesday 14 November 2023. Moraira, Alicante, Valencian Community.
Tadzik decides to visit his father in Moraira. They spend two days together in an emotionnally charged and intense reencounter.
Sunday, November 12, 2023. Moraira, Alicante, Valencian Community.
I set sail, as you all must already know, last Monday, November 6th, at noon, three days late concerning my forecasts, because of the Ciarán storm and a subsidiary front that followed with strong southwesterly winds, leaving behind an unpleasant swell that made my exit from the bay of Palma and the crossing to the Freus between Ibiza and Formentera quite tricky, most of the time under engine, supporting it with the sails to gain some speed. Perhaps, that afternoon, I will have sailed for about four hours, no more.
Before midnight, the engine had already stopped three times. Two of the three times, I had to bleed the motor to make it start, and the third time, I changed, just in case, the primary filter of the circuit (although it was clean) before purging the engine again and starting it again.
On Tuesday, in the early morning (more precisely at 03:09 hours UTC), the engine stopped again with no wind. My position then was 38º 54′ North and 001º 35′ East, about ten nautical miles off the Freu Grande between Ibiza and Formentera. I purged the engine again and restarted it, crossing my fingers that it would not stall just passing between the Bajo de los Ahorcados and the island of Los Cerdos. Just in case, I set the anchor ready to be thrown.
At 06:10 UTC, I motored across the Freus and encountered a pleasant northwesterly breeze of 15 knots, allowing me to turn off the engine and sail a southsouthwesterly course towards Cape Palos at six knots. Shortly after nine in the morning, I took a reef in the main and genoa. In the afternoon, a Spanish Navy ship forced me to change course because of some missile exercises. An hour later, the wind disappeared and forced me to start the engine, which stopped again after more than two hours of running. I purge again, with such bad luck, that the bleed screw of the injector pump remains in my hand, broken.
I cannot repair this mess with the means available to me on board, so I put my bow to land, trying to sail ahead without wind. At five o’clock in the afternoon, I notified the Navy ship of my problem, and they promised to monitor my position to avoid a nugget. I drift, rather than advance, at 0.6 knots, although at times, I manage to reach 2.8 knots, drunk with optimism, before dropping back to a depressing 0.7 knots.
At four o’clock on Tuesday morning, I managed to get within 6.4 nautical miles of the port of Calpe, but the little breeze I had disappeared completely left me inert, drifting aimlessly. Two hours later, bored at six o’clock in the morning, I contacted Salvamento Marítimo and requested a tow to the nearest port. At 08:30, the Salvamar Diphda, based in Jávea, executed an impeccable maneuver and threw me its tow lines. At 09:26, I was moored at the waiting dock of the Moraira marina, just over four nautical miles from the port of Calpe. And at that moment, I swore to myself that I would not move from there until I had definitively solved the air problem in the engine supply circuit. Yesterday, Saturday 11, after having had the engine running without any sign of fatigue for more than seven hours straight, I considered the problem solved. We’ll keep an eye on that.
It would not have been possible without Luis’s tireless support. Luis Huelmo, from the Palma de Mallorca-based marine mechanics company Hermanos Huelmo S.L., is probably the best marine mechanic in the western Mediterranean. Thanks to him, we found the source of the problem: an air bubble plugging the vent of the engine’s diesel tank. Modifying the vent pipe routing from the halt to the tank solved the problem. Definitely.
The anecdote of this episode was when Luis, on the phone, giving me instructions on how to reassemble the bleed screw of the injector pump, told me: “You have to put it in by hand, very carefully, until it no longer turns by hand. Then you give it the final tightening with the wrench. To tighten it, you turn it to the right”. “Of course,” I replied, “the right hand tightens and the left hand releases. I’ll never forget the sense of tightening the screws, it’s elementary politics.” He laughed. We don’t have the same political ideas, Luis and I, but beyond political ideas there is humanity, mutual help, respect and affection.
On Monday, Patricio, Pato Carvajal, a fellow Ecuadorian navigator, will bring me some parts I need to finish assembling the modified engine return circuit from Calpe. And in the afternoon, hopefully, I will pick up Tadzik in Alicante. Tadzik is my oldest son. Although he lives in Madrid, his maternal family has a house here, in Moraira. An apartment overlooking the Ifach rock that his mother and I enjoyed long before he was born and that he now enjoys when he feels like spending some quiet days by the sea. Curious, isn’t this a coincidence?
How can I understand it? The engine breakdown, the sea that doesn’t want to let me pass, the Salvamar Diphda, that without my asking for it, leaves me here, right here, in this very port… I don’t believe in coincidences; I never believed in them. So, how do we understand all this? Does anyone out there have any idea?