001 - We've only just Begun....
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
So ever since I was in my mid 20s I’ve wanted to see the world. I first decided I’d buy a Cessna and fly myself round… so I learned to fly! After getting my licence I realised that flying myself was not the best way to see the world. The local airports are rarely next to where you want to see, they have virtually no accommodation nearby and the carrying capacity of a Cessna is limited. Yep, that was a bad idea, but I never forgot the plan. So I decided from that point to never chase the latest gadgets and to save for an early retirement (I didn’t want health problems with old age get in the way of enjoying my travels)
Some years and a divorce later, I was idly browsing the internet when I saw a Sunreef 62 in Breitling livery for sale. I immediately both fell in love with it and decided sailing on Gods free wind was the way to go. Now initially I must admit, my browsing of sailing gave me many ideas above my financial station. I read about Wing Sails, Auto Pilots, electric winches and Sat-Nav systems; and decided to buy a Sunreef 62 with a wing sail and autopilot system that could take me from A to B without me needing to lift a finger! What's more I discovered a UK company were developing a Quadski. It was a cross between a Jetski and a Quad bike. I saved the information and decided if it ever came into production that’s what I would have to get ashore and see the place I'd decided to stop. Perfect!!!
I met Pookie around this time and whilst we were getting to know each other I told her of my plan to retire as early as possible and sail hands-free around the world - She said Yes!
Not long after we became serious, I reminded Pookie of the need to learn to sail. I had read some more by this point and found out that it might not be as simple as point the boat and sit back. So we decided to learn the theory first. After a year in evening school we had our theory certificate and decided to follow this up with some hands on experience. Rock Sailing were offering a 2 week Competent Crew and Day Skipper licence training course. Despite it being late November we decided we should do it.
We packed some soft bags with clothes we thought we’d need and flew the 3 hours from Birmingham to Gibraltar.
We’d never been to a marina before and eventually found the boat we’d been assigned to. We were going to do our competent crew course with a Swiss chap who came from Davos. The boat we were going to learn on was a Jeanneau 36 and as we were the only couple we got the cabin at the front. They said it was a double but we felt like sardines in a tin. It turned out we shouldn’t have brought as much clothing and a lot of clothes were simply not needed. But it was clean and the trainer was very friendly.
The first week was about learning to help, have a go at steering and trying not to be too sick. Pookie is less agile than I am and struggled with some of the tasks and preferred (when it didn’t upset her tummy too much) to make cups of tea or help prepare meals. Our training partner was a very likable chap who had lots of stories to tell about his skiing, surfboarding and previous sailing experiences. In Ceuta in Morocco we jumped at the chance to go out in the evening and taste the wine and food on offer. We went to a small restaurant and tried a Tagine. The food was filling and quite tasty but not much more could be said about it after that.
As the weather had turned it was decided that we should travel further down the coast to M’diq. The trainer said that if we liked Moroccan cuisine we could go into Tetouan and see the Souk walled areas and buy some traditional Moroccan items. We thought this was a great opportunity to see the country more. The evening was booked and at the last minute the trainer (who we’d expected to be our guide) handed us over to a local taxi driver and explained that he would show us around.
The taxi drove us along the coast road and into Tetouan. He led us through the narrow streets and into a couple of “shops”. Pookie was a little intimidated as all the men we passed looked at her as though she were an alien, they would walk over to us just to get a closer look at this unusual looking visitor. We didn’t buy much from the “shop” as it was little more than a large display in what could have been a front room in someone’s house. After eating another meal the taxi driver took us back to his cab and, after fighting off a drugged up tramp, he set off back. It was very dark at this time and I noticed straight away that instead of heading down hill back towards the coast road, the taxi driver went further into the hills. As the lights behind us disappeared, only to be replaced by dark mountains I could feel Pookie’s arm grip mine. The Swiss chap in the front spoke French and asked the taxi driver where we were going. He explained it was a different way back that was all. This didn’t stop Pookie being nervous and I think she only relaxed a bit when we turned off the road and headed back into M’diq.
Back safe in Gibraltar and by the time the two people arrived for the second week of training we thought we were quite advanced. 😁 We had a few days off and managed to go up the mountain and also take a few bus tours around Gibraltar. During this time we also went over to the Spanish side of Gibraltar, the life there was very different, much more relaxed, less commercial and less cosmopolitan. We found a fantastic tapas bar whose name now escapes me!!
As the 36 seemed a little small for a trainer and 4 people we moved onto the Jeanneau 39 as it had a little more lounge space. The two trainees who were joining us were very enthusiastic. One was a personal assistant to a high up cabinet minister in London and the other worked for Vodaphone. She was very intelligent and agile around the boat getting stuck into everything and spending all her free time reading how to tie knots or what the sailing laws were. We’d already done this so were spared this task.
Our first trip was across from Gibraltar to Ceuta in Morocco was to be used to give me experience in Captaining the boat. The journey over was very pleasant and the plethora of freight ships sailing in this busy area was an ideal opportunity to learn about right of way. We only stayed the one night in Ceuta and as we’d been here a couple of times already we felt like we were expertsJ The weather once again seemed to be encouraging us further down the coast towards M’diq and we set off early for that. The weather was very bad, both Pookie and the girl in training were both sick, I certainly did not feel well and was amazed that the trainer could happily walk inside and make drinks whilst the boat shook and leaned over in the wind. The wind picked up some more and the boat was about (in my view) to capsize and drown us all. The chap training had sailed on the lake a lot and was very used to the lean of the boat and loved trying to “get the best out of the sails”… but the weather was so bad the trainer decided we should head back to Ceuta for refuge. We arrived shattered, sick and fed up.
That evening the trainer decided instead to head back to Spain and asked Pookie to be Captain. I think he expected her to choose Gibraltar but instead she chose Puerto de la Duquesa… he clearly didn’t know her very well as I’m sure if we’d have had time she’d have chosen Malaga! Despite the dark, crossing a busy shipping lane was handled by Pookie very well. We all managed to keep a good watch for freighters and sailed back to Spain. In the morning, Pookie went to sleep and we sailed on up the coast in nice weather to Duquesa. Duquesa was a small pleasant little port and had a much nicer feel to it than M’diq.
The other two trainees were getting on really rather well by this point and went for a jog together… over two hours later and both looking like they’d had a rumble in the hay they returned… explaining something about getting lost in a field.
We beat back to Gibraltar the next day with me as Captain again. After several hours against both wind and tide I asked the trainer why I couldn’t just turn the engine on. He said that as Captain I could do what I wanted! So the engine went on and we motored around the tip of Gibraltar back into port.
As you can see from the top photo, Gibraltar is a busy marina and full of some fabulous boats.
Whilst we were in Gibraltar a beautiful catamaran pulled in as it was just getting dark. On board were a family of four setting places to eat their dinner and what looked like a skipper helping get everything organised. In the darkness it looked fabulous and I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk to someone else (I'd been asking the skipper all week, but he seemed a Monohull enthusiast) about my plans. He explained that a Sunreef 62 was probably not a great boat to choose to sail as a couple and instead recommended the one he was on - And so my interest in the Antares 44i was borne.
All in all it turned out to be a wonderful experience, Gibraltar is a very nice place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to stay there for much more than a couple of weeks at best as its size limits what there is to do and see.