N 39° 55' E 03° 03'

Catching up

August 01, 2012

It’s a windy day and an opportunity to catch up with the blog as we are disinclined to go ashore. It’s been unsettled weather during June and July, some days have been 38 deg. C., hot and sunny, others overcast and barely making the high 20’s. There hasn’t been much rain though, which is a mixed blessing for the islands.

We spent quite some time in Majorca before flying back to England for Ross and Kate’s wedding, visiting various calas including Formentor (where we went to the apparently world famous hotel of the same name for morning coffee), En Gross alba, Murta, Font Salada, Molto, Nao, Bonaire, Porto Colom, Porto Cristo and Porto Pollensa. The north coast of Majorca is spectacular with steep rocky cliffs and hidden calas quickly giving way to the mountainous interior. It’s beautiful and we can see why it’s so popular. However, despite it now being July it is nowhere near as crowded as we had feared but suspect that is a sign of the times.Muskrat at anchor in Cala En Gross alba

We were unsure where to leave Muskrat while we returned to England as marina prices in the Balearic Islands are very high (we were quoted 2,600 Euros for a month in Palma). Our friends Ann and Tony had left their catamaran, Razzmatazz, on a buoy in the Bay of Pollensa last year, and were planning to do so again, so we thought we’d look into that possibility. The buoys are all unofficial so it’s a bit of a gamble one will be available and theoretically at least the authorities could stop them being used. However, Joe, a Brit who’s been there for seven years is prepared to look after your boat in your absence, checking mooring lines, etc., for a reasonable charge (the buoys are free). The cost saving made that an attractive alternative to a marina so we got there in good time to be able to go onto a buoy as soon as a suitable one came free. The risk proved to be worth taking as Muskrat was perfectly ok when we returned despite one night of over 60 knot gusts (thankfully, we knew nothing about it at the time!). We’d made up a long rope/chain/rope warp specially for windy conditions on a buoy when we went to Ireland a couple of years ago. By taking a turn round the bow cleats and leading it back to be made off on the centre cleats it provides a good degree of shock absorption.

A cafe in the square in Pollensa, where we had coffeePorto Pollensa where we left Muskrat, on a still morning The day of Ross and Kate’s wedding was blustery but dry for most of the day allowing them to enjoy the church service and open topped classic car and the photographs to be taken outdoors. The service was one of the happiest we have experienced with a jovial and friendly vicar encouraging the guests to enjoy themselves.

We had agreed (try stopping C!) to stay on for a couple of weeks after the wedding to help Adam look after Adam and Stacey’s two boys, Jack and Sebastian, while Stacey accompanied her mother on holiday to Cancun in Mexico. You forget how exhausting it can be looking after small children. I found it hard enough without having the cooking, washing and cleaning to do as well. How C. coped so well I don’t know – I found it helped to go to work for a few days to relax!

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N 39° 55' E 03° 03'

Shafted in Majorca

July 31, 2012

How it happened we don’t know. One moment we had drive to our propeller the next we didn’t. We’d come into Cala Molto to anchor for the night and were pleasantly surprised to find our friends Nigel and Sue on “Bodic” there. They were leaving soon because their weather forecast predicted on shore overnight breezes. Our forecast had them starting the following morning so we took a chance and stayed put and had a peaceful night.

After breakfast the wind direction changed as our forecast predicted, so we prepared to leave and carried out the routine engine checks only to discover that our propeller shaft was no longer connected to the gearbox!! It must have become detached at the end of the anchoring process when we engage reverse gear to set the anchor. Raising a query on an internet forum it seems we most probably hit something in the water but we weren’t aware of it. My fear, of course, was that it was caused by something I did or didn’t do when I refitted the propshaft after all the work over the winter.

It was a potentially nasty problem as the cala was narrow and with the wind on shore it would have been difficult (impossible?) for us to sail out and we had no drive to the propeller (afterwards I thought we could have towed Muskrat out with the dinghy). The sprung roll pin holding the shaft to the coupling had sheared. On some boats it could be disastrous as the shaft could come right out leaving a hole through the hull where it had been. On ours, thankfully, there is a sacrificial zinc anode like a collar round the shaft that only allows it to slip out about 100mm. We were still faced with the problem of how we could pull it back as we could only see about 4mm of it inside the boat, not enough to grip it with anything without damaging it.

The only other boat in the cala was ‘Mira’, a sail training boat. We thought the crew may know of a local diver who may be able to help and dinghied over to ask. The skipper, Michael, very kindly offered to have a go himself by free diving. I gratefully accepted his offer and, together with one of his guests, who just happened to be a marine engineer, we returned to Muskrat.

Amazingly, he succeeded at the first attempt. Unfortunately, he had to partially withdraw it again as a key should have been inserted into locating slots first (which couldn’t be done until enough of the shaft was visible inside the boat) to prevent the shaft from simply spinning round inside the coupling. He then had to push it back in again when it was all lined up. After a few more dives it was more or less in position. I then had to remove the remains of the old pin from the shaft and tap a spare one that we had on board home. We were back in business within a couple of hours of finding what could have been a really serious problem. Talk about relief!

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N 40° 36' E 00° 36'

Cruising again: Soller and Cala de San Vicente, Majorca

May 21, 2012

The time came to say goodbye to Sant Carles and the friends we made there. We left at about 11:00 a.m. bound for Majorca (again) about 120 nautical miles away. First we spent a few hours trying to sail to windward in very light airs and almost gave up but motored for an hour instead after which time the wind built and veered and we were able to sail a course to Soller, the only port of refuge on the dramatic but inhospitable NW coast. Most of the night we were accompanied by schools of porpoises – cute. At about 2:30 a.m. all the shipping seemed to converge on us but again, thanks to AIS and RADAR, we could navigate safely through.

After about 30 hours of gentle sailing and a bit more motoring we arrived and dropped anchor in the beautiful, almost circular, bay of Soller. We forgot to look for a nice sandy patch in which to anchor (not having done it since last year) but our new ‘Spade’ anchor bit straight away and held fast. In fact, it grabbed so positively we felt it could hold anything – brilliant!

Soller is best seen from the water but is worth a trip ashore to see (and catch) the wonderful vintage wooden tram that runs regularly from the port to the town (which was built a bit inland to avoid attack by pirates). The town is has some lovely, shady, narrow streets filled with small shops and cafes and a large church with a square in front with more cafes. The local beef and pea pies and ice creams were particularly good.

Wandering around we heard mainly German being spoken with some English (I wonder how the Champions’ League final was viewed there!).

The Bay of Soller


Vintage tram in Puerto de Soller

A shady street in Soller

After our first night we woke to find our friends Tony and Ann from Sant Carles on board Razzmatazz, their ex-racing catamaran, anchored next to us. They had left Sant Carles the previous morning and arrived at about 2 a.m. after a spirited sail.

We left Soller after a few days. The forecast was for a decent breeze which failed to materialize so we motored to nearby Cala de San Vicente and anchored for the night. The cala itself is very pretty, surrounded by rocks and cliffs populated with goats, but is overlooked by some architecturally questionable holiday developments and some fabulously situated villas.

Cala San Vincente

There was already another sailing boat at anchor and it turned out to be John and Maggie on Lazy Pelican whom we had been in contact with over the previous couple of days through the Cruising Association. We were invited on board for drinks and found that we had more in common than sailing – we’d all worked in Doha in the 80’s on the University of Qatar and had friends in common. It is a small world.

By the way, I may have mentioned it before, but the photo quality is much better viewed under Photos than in the Blog section. Don’t know why.

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N 40° 36' E 00° 36'

Sant Carles de la Rapita

May 21, 2012

We were fortunate to find such a friendly, convenient and comfortable place in which to winter at short notice (not to mention reasonably priced). Although on the hard, it wasn’t that bad. Most of the time the shower and toilet block was our own and a grey water tank (hose to a large plastic can) enabled us to cook and wash up on board without making a mess of the immaculate yard. You can get fed up with climbing up and down a ladder though, especially with heavy shopping although the folding bikes made shopping trips very easy and once again proved invaluable. To think we were unsure when we bought them.

Had we been afloat in the marina the problem would have been horrendous fouling on the stern gear (funnily not too bad on the hull). The local tip is to dive and put a plastic bag over the prop. However, the marina is safe and sheltered from the sea and never threatened by any bad weather (unlike Juan Carles in Valencia which can be dangerous).

Once warmer weather arrived other boat owners returned and we made new friends of different nationalities: British, Dutch, American, French… Our only criticism (and it’s our failing) is that, apart from the staff at the marina and clubhouse and local shops, we didn’t mix with the locals or learn much Spanish.

The small town is not very touristy and all the better for it. Although a holiday resort with fine, safe beaches it’s not really on the package tour scene and is still a working town. It provides the needs for daily life, has a vibrant fishing fleet and you can watch the catch being auctioned. It’s also another ‘Port Velcro’ – we’ve met a number of people who only intended to stay briefly and who’ve now been there a few years.

The marina is well run by MDL Mediterranean and it’s popularity was helped by the deals that could be had on long term leases when the marina first opened. Its downside is that it’s not a direct journey to either Valencia or Barcelona airport and Ryan Air only operates from the local airport, Reus, during the summer.

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April 24, 2012

We couldn’t wait to get the boat back in the water. It seemed as if we’ve been on the hard for ever. Our work rate increased as the launch date drew nearer. Suddenly time seemed to run out. We’ve achieved just over 60% of our planned winter jobs and have accepted the rest will have to wait.

Although there were a couple of access towers in the yard, after a woman fell off one a couple of months ago, customers are no longer allowed to borrow them. She was knocked unconscious but fortunately suffered no lasting damage (her husband bravely said that she had a catscan but they couldn’t find anything!). So we hired one to carry out small gel coat repairs and polish the topsides (the shiny part of the hull above the water).

We’re chuffed with the polishing. The topsides and the coachroof (the cabin roof) have come up really well after compounding. We used four grades of rubbing/polishing compound: coarse, medium, fine and ultra-fine. We couldn’t have done it without our new polishing machine but it’s the rubbing compound that’s really impressed. It’s made by Rupes, an Italian company. It’s the best I’ve ever used and I’ve used a few working on cars, motorbikes and now a boat. She was the shiniest boat in the yard. In fact, I said to C that it would be good if Robert (the boatyard’s professional painter and finisher) asked what we’d used and lo and behold the next day he did and complimented the finish saying it looked “fantastic”. It’s certainly the best since we’ve owned Muskrat and what with the new Treadmaster she looks like a new boat. In fact, the owner of a neighbouring boat seriously asked if she was new. We’re really proud of her. Here’s a link to C putting the final touches to the polishing – she had to wear sunglasses to do it: and here’s one of Muskrat with the anti-fouling finished:

A job we hadn’t looked forward to was cleaning out the diesel tank – yuck! We got the local engineers to pump out the diesel oil. We’d tried to run the tank down last summer but still had 200 litres left and finding a large enough container was a problem for us, hence the engineers. It was a blow when the engineer told us we couldn’t put the fuel back because it was contaminated with water (about 300 Euros worth – ouch!). How the water got in we don’t know. Otherwise the tank wasn’t too dirty and had only minor sediment on the bottom. But then I thought we ought to bleed the fuel lines to remove any trapped air resulting from emptying the tank. I also thought we should change the in line fuel filter which hadn’t been changed for a while. That was on the day before we were due to be lifted back in. Of course, we couldn’t get the air out and it was a Sunday so we had to call the engineer early the next morning, the day of the launch.

We were anxious whether the engine would start and whether all the work to the through hull fittings and stern gear had caused any leaks. We needn’t have worried, the engineer bled the fuel supply pipes and started the engine within a few minutes and there were no leaks apparent. After re-fuelling we left the fuel pontoon and headed for our temporary berth where we will get the sails back on and generally prepare Muskrat for passage (and have a bit of a rest). We were both impressed at how quiet and smooth the engine ran – all our efforts seem to have been worthwhile.

On arrival at the pontoon we were warmly greeted by our friend Jane who kindly invited us to join her and some others from the same pontoon for drinks and nibbles on her boat to celebrate our return to life afloat. We gratefully accepted the invitation and quaffed a few bevies to help us unwind.

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N 39° 31' E 02° 21'

Progress at last!

April 05, 2012

Completion of the work to the stern gear has allowed effort to be directed towards other jobs on our list. It’s great being able to tick off a few at last.

Unfortunately, C succumbed to the dreaded lurg and had to stay in bed for a day and took a few days getting over it. The lengths some people go to to avoid a bit of honest graft!

The new Treadmaster arrived (quicker delivery from the manufacturer in Cornwall than from the local agent in Bilbao!) but due to the wind we weren’t able to make a start on making the paper templates that we need for cutting out the Treadmaster panels for a couple of days. The templating proved to be fairly time consuming what with all the cuts around the various deck fittings and complex shapes. We cut out the panels as went to make sure they all fitted together. Sticking them down with the epoxy adhesive was easier than we feared. Though we’re a bit concerned that we’ve got loads of resin, hardener and fillers left over. Maybe it was just the local agent over-estimating the quantity required so that he could sell more. Still, rather that than running out half way through the job. Although we know there are areas we could have improved on they aren’t obvious and overall we’re delighted with the job we made of it. Here’s a couple of before and after shots:

Old Treadmaster showing where it had begun to wear through and the start of the removal (towards the right hand side)  Aft section of coachroof with new Treadmaster

Forward section of coachroof with old Treadmaster (looking down and forward)Forward section of coachroof with new Treadmaster (looking aft)

We’ve bought an electric polisher from England which should speed up the process of cleaning up and polishing the topsides (the part of the hull above the water) which are looking a little grubby just above the waterline and have just started the polishing.

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N 39° 31' E 02° 21'

Happiness is a New Cutless Bearing

March 06, 2012

Sad but true! After months of emailing, pondering, worrying and toiling we now have a new, inboard cutless bearing. Hooray! Eventually, we sought help from a local marine engineering firm. We should have done so sooner but you know how it is… Using their marine engineering knowledge they sidestepped the problem of having to remove the forward part of the stern tube so as to remove the old and insert the new bearing (and risk breaking the watertight seal around the main part of the tube in the process) and devised an elegant alternative solution. By turning down the outside diameter of the new bearing shell (it’s a cylindrical bearing comprising a metal tube with a rubberised insert) they were able to install it in the forward part of the tube without having to remove it. Not only did that simplify the installation but, should the bearing ever need replacing again, it will be a straightforward job, avoiding the need to break out any fibreglass (which I now have to reinstate as I’d already exposed the front part of the stern tube ready for removal before calling in the experts).

We’ve been in communication with a fellow Oyster 406 owner who had the same bearing replaced on his boat but were unable to ascertain exactly how his was done. I suspect they came up with the same or very similar solution.

The installation now looks like this: 

The irony of it is that we only renewed the cutless bearings as the propshaft had to be removed to replace the stern tube hose, which in itself was only precautionary. None of it was essential at this time. Now all we’ve got to do is put it all back together again! And re-align the engine, which is miles out of alignment and couldn’t have been properly aligned when the engine mountings were replaced a few years ago.

The other milestone reached is that Carole has finished removing all the old ‘Treadmaster’ from the coachroof. I hate to think how many hours she’s spent doing it. But the coachroof has been prepped and sanded ready for the new Treadmaster which is coming from England and should be here any day. To stick it down we sourced epoxy resin and fillers locally. If we’d bought the epoxy adhesive from Treadmaster we would have incurred a hazardous shipping surcharge of over £200.

Will had to go back to England for a business meeting but as it was out Thursday, back Saturday, there was little chance to see anybody. Still the meeting was fairly successful and made it worthwhile going. Ross and Kate very kindly put me up and made me feel very welcome.

Spring must be approaching as an impromptu game of boules was organised last Wednesday with five other boaties. C hasn’t lost any of her skill over the winter months and the ladies team easily coasted to victory amid cries of cheat against the men who still lost.

On Sunday (partly to celebrate the bearing replacement) we had an excellent lunch at Bar Maria, a popular local tapas restaurant with a great atmosphere. We ate a kind of fish and potato croquettes, baby clams in garlic butter, baby octopus in an onion and tomato sauce all washed down with a couple of local beers. It was all tasty, very fresh and beautifully cooked.

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N 39° 31' E 02° 21'

Wind, Wind and More Wind

February 12, 2012

No, not the beans but the Tramontana, the wind that sometimes blows in this part of the world. It blew continuously for five days. It comes from the north west and brings with it fairly cold (max. 8–11 deg. C.) temperatures. Our wind instruments recorded a maximum gust of just over 48 knots and a fairly steady F6-8. The noise in the boatyard had to be heard to be believed, with frapping halyards and wind howling through rigging for days on end – very wearing. Carole thought it sounded like an approaching express train.

The crews from two ketches lying at anchor outside the marina had been confined to their boats but at least their anchors held. Another, smaller yacht, has been left at anchor with nobody on board for months. We think it may be owned by one of the yard staff but even so it seems a bit risky. Mind you, we met someone in Nazare last year who had left his 55’ ketch at anchor for two years unattended but he did admit he was surprised to find it where he’d left it!

Boats at anchor outside the marina

Unlike in England, windy weather doesn’t seem to stop boat lifts. The manager said that’s because the boats belong to fishermen who are used to handling them in all winds. Also, there is no requirement to remove sails from boats on the hard and they had to secure some that had started to come loose. I hate to think what might have happened if a watchful eye had not been kept.

Although bright and sunny, due to the wind and chilly weather, we’ve not progressed the jobs much. However, we have reassembled most of that we’d dismantled before Christmas, having brought back the necessary spare parts.

Around the outskirts of the town, we saw plenty of birdlife including a lovely pair of kingfishers by one of the many streams. The almond trees are in blossom and the orange and lemon trees are still laden with fruit. Large areas of land are devoted to fruit and vegetable market gardening.

An almond tree in bloom

Walking into town from the north, we passed blocks of mainly empty flats and some that had been abandoned at various stages of construction. Some with just the frame and external walls completed, others more advanced with windows and balcony screens installed. The standard of construction was generally poor with badly poured concrete frames and floors, uneven and loose brickwork and on one block the thick tile cladding was falling off and shattering on the pavement below, having been fixed in some cases with just a single blob of mortar. The pavement was not cordoned off as a safety precaution.

Cladding tiles falling off  

People are beginning to return to their boats and it’s even rumoured that the Thursday afternoon boules will be starting again soon. However, some of the restaurants and many of the bars are still closed, some for good because of the state of the economy.

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N 39° 31' E 02° 21'

Christmas New Year 2011/12

January 23, 2012

Now I know why I stopped work. It’s just not as interesting or nearly as satisfying as the cruising life we lead. I know that now because I was given the opportunity to spend a few days working with the chartered quantity surveying practice mine merged with. It helps, of course, to top up the cruising fund and I hope it made a worthwhile contribution to the practice, over a busy period, especially as people were off ill. I was however, particularly pleased to find that the ‘little grey cells’ can still perform. The work doesn’t get any better though. Clients still happily change their minds with little regard to the effect it has on programme or, when you’re on a lump sum fee, the additional hours of work.  It occurs to me that the disciplines and skills learned in construction could also benefit the marine industry, particularly with regard to the time and cost management of complex refits.

Apart from work and a stinking cold I picked up in the office, our trip back to England to see everyone over Christmas and the New Year was marvellous. The grandchildren are growing quickly and are delightful, especially as we can hand them back and avoid any of the nasty bits. As usual, we failed to see far too many of our friends. We’ve promised ourselves that next time we’ll arrange dates and times before we get back.

Unlike last year, the winter in England was very mild with frost on only a couple of days and no snow. In fact the temperature was only a few degrees below that here in Spain. The main difference was the sky, so grey and bleak in England, so bright and blue here.

We would like to wish you a Happy New Year and to apologize to all of our friends for failing to send a Christmas card or present. In these more difficult economic times we’ve cut out presents to all except children and weren’t organized enough to send electronic cards or emails. Sorry and a big thank you to those who sent us a card/email.

It was interesting that we were able to bring all sorts of spares back on the flight including: new EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), windlass parts, copper pipe and fittings, tools, nuts and bolts, batteries, rubber hose, etc. without anyone raising an eyebrow (although the paperback Carole was carrying was checked for traces of explosives).

We bought a new EPIRB because our existing one needed the batteries replacing! The unit had to be returned to the manufacturer, ACR, for battery replacement but due to its age the manufacturer no longer services them and even if they did the cost would be over $300 plus postage, not far off the cost of a new one! We bought an Ocean Signal, with a user replaceable battery so we can do it ourselves in the future, despite being told by one supplier at the London Boat Show that they don’t exist.

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N 39° 31' E 02° 21'

Winter jobs

December 12, 2011

We haven’t done much lately except work on the boat so this entry is a bit technical, I’m afraid. Why does the list of jobs grow from one winter to the next? I think they fill the available time, a bit like possessions fill the available space. This winter, as we’re on the hard for a fair while, we’ve included a lot of ‘nice to do’ as well as ‘must do’ jobs.

We’re keeping fairly well on schedule. Inevitably though, unexpected things crop up. For instance, on stripping the anchor windlass to clean and grease it, we found the clutch wheels and woodruff key were damaged and have to be replaced. Shouldn’t there be some correlation between the cost of the item initially and the cost of spares parts? So often, as in this case, the parts represent about 5% of the whole but cost 20% of the original purchase price.

The propshaft cutless bearing in the shaft log (where the shaft exits the hull) is a bit of a mystery. So far, nobody’s been able to tell me how it was fitted originally, or how it can be removed without damaging the hull. We’ve had some pretty good ideas from knowledgeable people (internet forums are a great asset, aren’t they?) but no definitive answers. The problem is the diameter of the aperture through which the shaft exits the hull is less than that of the bearing shell and so is the forward end of the shaft log, meaning the bearing is trapped inside. It looks like the fibreglass shaft log may be sleeved with bronze to reduce the space around the propshaft, in which case the sleeve must removed, but how? There’s a sketch below of what we think the stern tube looks like in section.

It also appears that a sea water lubrication supply to that bearing has been removed (but why?) which will probably cause the propshaft to wear prematurely. The consensus is that it should be reinstated, another job to add to the list!

C’s done amazingly well getting the old Treadmaster off but was frustrated at having to wait for new blades for the MultiMaster to come from England. The Treadmaster comes off fairly easily, it’s the epoxy adhesive that’s hard. What’s left has to be sanded off. The cost of the new Treadmaster is increased considerably by us being abroad, well not the Treadmaster but the epoxy adhesive which carries a hazardous goods surcharge of over £200 (regardless of quantity) for carriage abroad. If we’d known that we would have bought it before we left.

There was a split about 9” long in the fibreglass cover to the chain locker. We thought it must have been caused by waves bashing the anchor up into the cover when we were rounding Cape St Vincent as we hadn’t tied it down but on removing the teak decking from the cover and grinding back to sound fibreglass it was apparent that it had been repaired before, mainly with filler, which is why it failed. So we’ve ground it right back with a long taper, and re-glassed it with a good overlap to make it stronger, gel coated it and replaced the teak. Hopefully, it will last this time.

The number of participants in the Thursday afternoon boules game has declined as most have returned to England and the whole marina is now much quieter. The birbdlife continues to amaze. We watched a spectacular aerial display of thousands of starlings, swooping and swirling in incredibly tightly packed amorphous flocks, just like in David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes. And there are so many different kinds of birds – we’re going to buy a decent field guide to Mediterranean birds.

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