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From Barcelona to Cabo de Gata...

First of all, sailing is hard work. When you are sailing you have to focus on it. You have to give your full attention. Saling is not always comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I'm living on a roller coaster. You have to consider how you use water, electricity and food. İf you are sailing in the night you have to do night watch every two hours. You have to get used to wind, sea and engine voices. You have to learn that your plan can always change…  As an aspie, this part is not easy for me to handle but I get used to it.  So I understood why sailing is not everybody's cup of tea. But I love it… I enjoy it... 

Monday 17th August and our work on Karisma is as complete as needed to take us safely the 600 miles to Gibraltar, which is where we are now heading. Karisma leaves her berth for the first time in 9 months and heads South. I had forgotten how rough and rolling the sea can be and have to get used to a queasy stomach and lurching around for hours on end. Tea as always is the answer, lots and lots of tea. The sun is burning, the wind is slight and we are free.

After 12 hours of sailing, motoring, sailing again we arrived at our anchorage in open water just south of the Ebre delta 80 miles south of Barcelona. The waves are running perpendicular to the wind causing Karisma to roll up to 30 degrees side to side making it difficult to lie in bed without holding the sheets or side. Quite a miserable night's sleep but a happy heart in spite of the discomfort. Once again I am reminded sailing is not for everyone. Like cycling or running there is quite a lot of pain. I have learnt that planning a sailing trip is more about a series of options than setting predetermined routes at a specific time. You are at the mercy of nature in the form of waves, wind and visibility and also the state of the crew when the sea is unkind. It can feel like spending days in a 53ft washing machine. But it brings me close to nature and reminds me I am just a conscious witness to everything around me. Very yoga.

This first sailing is not very enjoyable. When the sea gets rough my body automatically goes to sleeping mode. As a person who suffers from insomnia, this experience is so interesting for me. I can’t open my eyes. I have to sleep. The other thing is  I don’t like it that I can’t read but I’m able to crochet and by the way, thanks to audiobooks, I have been listening to a lot of books. 

I was so glad I cooked several different Turkish meze and when we anchored I didn't need to
worry about cooking. Everything is already ready to eat. Andy told me I have to make a workshop or open a video channel and teach all these delicious recipes to the other sailors. I always cooked five days of fresh meals on the day before sailing. We always have hand made ginger biscuits, cornbread with spinach and börek...

The first night, we anchor in what feels like the middle of the sea, no land close around, nothing. I asked Andy a couple of times are you sure this place is safe, he said “definitely”. I have no idea what is the difference if we anchor one place or one kilometre ahead. Everywhere is the same in the middle of the sea. I trusted him. I secretly hope maybe my family friends dolphins will come there. But they didn’t come that night.
I think because of my autism, if I feel safe then the waves make me calm. I feel I’m in the hammock or swinging. I sleep very deeply and feel rested. But sailing in the rough sea is very tiring. The best thing for me when the sea gets rough is how Andy gets very calm and it makes me calm too. So the first day’s sailing is not fantastic but it’s ok for me. Best thing about anchoring is in the morning… You can jump in the sea after waking up… It’s amazing... The next morning I spotted Isla Columbrete Grande on the chart whilst planning a route to Valencia. It is a caldera, the outside remaining ring of an extinct volcano. The anchorage was inside the outer ring. I felt we had to go there although it was unclear if we would be able to stay. It was truly amazing and peaceful. Then around 9.00pm a fishing boat anchored with lots of men on board, I think they were commercially diving for shellfish all night and left in the morning. I can’t help feeling humans care only about themselves without concern for wider consequences, as though we trust ourselves too much without considering it will be our downfall.

Next day was a perfect sail to Valencia, it took all day and was exhilarating. The city was grubby until we discovered the cycle lanes and it then became the perfect city. They have built a fully integrated cycle network with lanes, lights and routes crossing major intersections and then intermingling with parks and paths of the old river bed and botanical walkways of lush vegetation. That’s the Spanish for you. In London we have Boris bikes, we are easily pleased.
The next Marina was Valencia and mooring for me is a bit stressful. If someone helps us it’s easy but sometimes nobody helps and then I feel anxious. I’m glad some gentleman helped me with that mooring. We love eating in Karisma but after we arrive at new Marina it’s really nice to go out and eat something delicious and different.
Valencia is a very interesting city for me. One part of the city very desperate but the other side is very content. Valencia is fantastic to cycle and we make a decision to cycle around the city. Andy put our cyle together and after 5 minutes later I think I’m dying, my arms not strong enough, I started sweating… I walked, run and make yoga and now I can’t cyle… I feel so bad because I know Andy will think I’m not fit enough and this idea makes me so sad because I know I’m enough fit even if my performance says to the opposite. We cyle more than an hour but we didn’t reach our target because I said ‘I can’t cycle further’ at the same time some noise came from my bicycle and Andy control it. I feel so frustrated myself and feel shame as if I did something wrong. He discovers I cycled all the way with my brake on … At that moment I feel relief but at the same time a bit angry with Andy because of my emotional turmoil. It was a big turning point for me because after Andy fix them I cycle easily so we decided to stay one more night and next day to cycle all around the city and we did it. It was amazing… I love cycling and the cycle in the city was really pleased for me… And good news I’m fit enough for cycling...
Valencia marina was big and like most places, it has a number of people living aboard their boats in the Marina. After a few days, we headed for Alicante but not before stopping to meet an old friend of mine, Steve, in Moraira first. We arrived Friday afternoon and the place was rammed with families in boats with Jet Ski’s and motorboats, swimmers and overall water chaos. Whole families in boats enjoying the sun and sea. By 8.00pm they had all gone and it was the most peaceful beautiful bay to spend a night. The next day was a mission to simply get ashore and meet Steve for a couple of hours. It was not really allowed so we got out the dinghy and moored it in the yacht club. The official came out to tell us to go but with the warmth of the Spanish and the pragmatism of a caring human, he let us tie up and have our meeting and a few beers before heading back.
Sailing is really hard work and Andy is doing all these works happily. He lost himself in his
world and it’s given me time to do my courses and my artworks. Moraira is a very nice small village. When we met Steve I went to walk around the village and they talked about their past. It was nice to see them very excited and happy.
Meeting Steve was especially emotional for me as we have known each other through work for 25 years. And like me his past is chequered with the ups and downs of an eventful life, I guess I admire him for that. I had not seen him since he moved to Spain but was struck with how much had changed in his life but how little had changed in the person. He was smiling, happy and it warmed my heart.
After the commando-style landing on Moraira, we motored in the searing hot sun and no wind to Club Real Alicante, a very old and smart Spanish Yacht club. I expected Blackpool but got something closer to the French Riviera. I love the Spanish, even when they are formal I can’t help smiling. That may change one day but it hasn’t yet and hopes it won’t. We had a simple meal of seafood Tapas I guess you would call it, only decent sized portions. Sitting in a warm evening in the middle of the street with beer, sunset and people out for the atmosphere of the place. Very nice.
Alicante is a very nice and crowded marina and the city is the first place I feel they are not very effective COVID. Restaurants are crowded, you can see a lot of people on the street like an old day…
Whilst there I got a message from another old friend of mine, Chuck. I met him in Venezuela 40 years ago when we both worked on the oil rigs there. I was so happy he emailed, you don’t hear from people for years and then two in two days. I am hopeless at keeping in touch but love it when it happens. I make a mental note to learn from this trait and think about why I do it. Being under sail is a little like travelling in a car if you read or concentrate on anything close for too long you get sick. So plenty of time to think and reflect. I send Chuck a short message and think about all the things to tell him to catch up. He is a great thinker, reader and reflector on life. Very laid back in a Yorkshire kind of way.
I’m observing myself… I’m observing Andy… How sailing affects us, our reality… Sailing makes two people more closed. You understand yourself and the other one better. Because of the distance in your daily life, you are able to understand and see how other people can be two faces and how honesty is very important for the relationship. Being in nature without anything and to handle every situation together shows you who the other people and you really are. We saw a lot of dolphins and sometimes they played with us, sometimes they were busy hunting. We saw a lot of flying fish trying to escape from dolphin attacks… In nature, everything happens in a very natural way but in human life… After Alicante, we sail through the night to Cabo de Gata on the south-east corner of Spain.
Strong winds were forecast from the West and this was the last safe anchorage for a long way. When we arrive there are several other boats with the same idea. This is the first-night sail for Meltem and the second on Karisma for me. My preference is to sail at night, maybe because of the novelty or the contrast with the day. We rely on AIS which allows us to see the larger ships on the iPad. I realise we are not alone with over 100 boats within 50 miles of us at 2.00 in the morning. We take turns to sleep for 2 hours and watch for 2 hours. The time passes quickly, after which it is so good to lie down and sleep before repeating the process. We ate dinner at dusk sailing at a brisk pace enjoying the quiet of the boat without the engine and watching the sunset over the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Tabernas Desert. The wind dropped with the sun, we started to motor and once again I thought about what I would do if the engine failed.
Night sailing is a fantastic experience for me… Like meditation or finding inner peace… To see reality, to understand what life is and feel relaxed… It’s a big relief to be aware of your loneliness and accept that.. To understand again and again how nature heals… In night sailing I listened to the ‘Misfit’ and ‘The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a Fuck’ for night sailing these are really good books... All the words in italics have been written by our captain Andy Parker


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