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In Gibraltar...

Gibraltar is a very interesting place… It is a big guardian rock protecting the whole peninsular. It doesn’t matter which part of the peninsular you are living in; you can see the guardian rock. I feel like Gibraltar has male energy… I couldn’t feel here is a place you can come and relax… Maybe because of the big Casino, maybe because of all the big ships… It is not a quiet place even in these COVİD days…

Last January I had researched RADAR equipment for boats. I mean really got into the detail until I felt a little like my father choosing HIFI. Maybe it’s because I am a man, maybe I have an autistic part, maybe I am really a nerd at heart. The best price was Gibraltar because they don’t charge tax unlike the rest of Europe. It saved 20% but did mean we had to sail 600 miles from Barcelona in the summer to pick it up and fit it. So not exactly a bargain but it did lock us into a more challenging adventure than we would otherwise choose. 

So now we find ourselves about to pull into Ocean Village Marina, Gibraltar, a new complex with luxury flats overlooking the bay, casino, restaurants and a permanent cruise ship hotel permanently moored to block everyone’s view. Welcome to capitalism, we sell you a dream view and then block it because we can make more money that way. 

Gibraltar is a sliver on the back end of Spain. Totally misplaced, interesting, dramatic and British.  I think two days and we are gone. Three weeks later we are still there. I had bought industrial grade RADAR suitable for a deep ocean fishing vessel heading for Greenland. No WIFI wireless installation for this bad boy. I stripped out the old RADAR but had decided the only place to put the monitor was in the cockpit so it is easily visible when sailing. 

It turned out it would have been easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than thread that cable across Karisma’s bulkhead. It took the best part of a week to find a solution that worked. Meltem sat in a corner working patiently at her courses whilst each day I took Karisma apart one piece at a time,  trying to find a route for the cables. I learned a lot about the boat, slowly dismantling what had happily remained intact for 20 years. 

The new system had to plug into the old and now out of date existing equipment and getting this to work took hours of reading, scouring the internet and then trial and error. Nothing was simple from identifying the model of the old equipment, finding wiring diagrams, identifying the right cables, testing them, trying them and then trying something new. Then there were the sea trials going in circles and trying to figure out why the AIS on the RADAR was intermittent along with a myriad of other questions raised whilst trying to get it all to talk to each other and work as advertised. 

In Gibraltar, I feel Karisma is undergoing vein surgery and Andy was very busy. In two years I have never seen her like this… Every part of her body is open and cables are rolling everywhere… Untidy, broken and melancholic Karisma… And this surgery wasn’t finished quickly. Day by day Andy needed to discover more things to fix, lots of other things…  Everything is falling apart and Andy is working very hard but he was so happy to do all these things with himself. 

I was amazed and immensely grateful for Meltem’s patience and understanding whilst I tried to figure it all out. She was doing courses in everything imaginable from Autism to shamanic healing to Jungian psychology whilst I was lost in a new world oblivious to anything else. But Meltem’s eyes became inflamed with dust and dirt, partly from the dismantling but also because several Airbus A320’s per day were landing about 200 metres away as we were moored alongside the runway. This added some needed urgency to the process. After several trips up the mast and with help from Mike the technician, we finally got it working properly. However, using it is a whole other skill set to be learned over the months.

As an autistic, it was not easy for me to handle what was going on inside Karisma so I created a corner for myself. My computer, my artwork, my headphones and I spent all my time in my corner… I finished one of my full-year courses here.  I started in the morning and only stopped before sleeping.  I only have a break for cooking and some-nights we stopped, came together and watched White Collar on Netflix.

I always like working with my hands on the boat but it does become all-consuming making it important to get off the boat each day. I enjoyed Gibraltar, a taste of home with a weekend atmosphere. In these Covid times, the bars were full of rowdy Brits and football, hen weekends and an English high street mixed with tax-free everything. But a prolonged stay would not be complete on Karisma without the electric toilets making paradise a bit shit, literally. They had not had any maintenance since Barcelona six weeks earlier and I was now grumpily fixing them again. As I poked a long pole into the holding tank I watched the guy next door on his turquoise boat, everything from halyards, hull, masts, crew and even the hose pipe was turquoise.  I contemplated this whilst trying to unblock the holding tank wondering how I ever got here.

In these three weeks, I only went four or five times to the centre… Gibraltar likes tax free shopping. You can see a lot of tobacco, watches, perfume and drinking shops and of course other British brands and fish and chips restaurants. Gibraltar is a very cosmopolite place but not very colourful mostly you see grey… 

After Karisma surgery finished and she became happy and calm, we have a one-day holiday. Our destination was the top of the guardian rock.  People said that “if you are not fit it could be not easy. And be careful because the monkeys there are very aggressive. Don’t eat, don’t take very colourful bags and don’t try to touch them” We are fit enough to climb this rock so we definitely wanted to walk and not use any touristic car or cable car. 

Before we started walking, I ask Andy what we need for walking. He said nothing there was a cafe there. And I said but we only have small water with us.  I think it’s not enough he said “no it’s enough if we need anything, we will buy it from cafe… I listened to him but I put one small chocolate and small biscuit in my bag for an emergency.

The water was so hot and walking on the edge of the rock was not very comfortable, especially if you are in menopause… I got hot. Non-stop sweating. Our water finished in the
middle of the climbing…  And I felt dizzy. I hate these feelings and put myself together but it is impossible. My heart was running. My breath is not enough… It is impossible for me to walk… We stopped. I ate my emergency food and felt a bit better. I was able to walk 10 minutes then again… This time I have nausea… Everywhere was turning around me… I felt as if my feet were in the air… I said ‘I have to stop’ I feel so unhappy and feel guilty as if I should control these feelings… After a couple of minutes I push myself more… Slowly slowly we reach the top and no cafe… Nothing… Sun is shining… We have to get back and it takes hours and no Café is around. It was not a good feeling. I thought I should have not listened to him and take more water and food with us... But luckily, after half an hour heading back Andy found the cable car operator and bought water from him… This was the best water I drank in Gibraltar…

We finally and a little sadly left Gibraltar for Spain, stopping at Estepona to wait for favourable easterly winds to blow us across the Alboran Sea for the 4-day non-stop trip to Ibiza. 

Leaving Estepona I got ahead of myself too impatient to fly our Ballooner, a huge sail as big as the side of a house with serious power. It would be perfect for the next four-day voyage with the wind directly behind us. It had never been flowing and on her maiden outing, I got excited and let her go when the wind was not quite in the best direction. The huge sail was out of control, wrapped around the main forestay and ripped. 

When we make our plan to go Ibiza. Our plan was non-stop sailing for four nights. I was excited about it. I love night sailing but I have a bit of anxiety about the ballooner. Andy was very excited to use it these four days and I told him please do this in calm weather and he said don’t worry we will try it in a very safe way… I trust him… I trust him always…

It was windy and late afternoon and the weather was getting dark. Andy told me he wants to put up the ballooner. I feel so anxious about it. I said but the weather it’s getting dark… He a bit annoyed, no everything is ok… You can’t understand it’s perfect time… I didn’t say any words and my nausea is started. I was shaking. I said to myself be calm he knows what he is doing… I started chanting silently to be in control of myself. I did what Andy said to me but the wind was getting strong, the waves getting bigger and it’s dark… I have an anxiety attack and something happen I couldn’t see Andy, I only see the balloon and couldn’t hear… I know something was wrong… I feel dizzy… I couldn’t hear him… He shouted to tell me something I have to do… I couldn’t understand… red line… red line… I hear the red line, that is all I am able to hear … I did what he said to me, shaking… After that I see he controlled the situation but I cried. I was so afraid because I thought he would fall in the water…  That moment affected me so much… I had a balance with myself and that moment distorted this balance. It took one week for me to feel safe again. I told Andy that “if he wants to try new things again, he should do this when we are out for the day in calm conditions.  I know he feels sorry about all this situation. 

It was getting dark, Meltem could not lower it and I was trying to calm the flailing monster
with my hands. We went from calm in control to an out of control problem in minutes. Meltem went quite so I knew she was worried. After 20 minutes we got it down and back in the locker and continued our voyage. It was dark and I was working by head torch. The wind had strengthened since we had first started out so by the time we ran into problems both the sea and wind had built up and it was dark. 

Once we had everything under control again I felt frustrated with myself as I worked out where I had gone wrong and how to avoid making the same mistakes again. I now call this my ballooner moment and now remind myself of the UDA loop system. Understand, Decide, Act. 

After this frightening experience, our night sailing was very quiet and peaceful.  Night sailing allows me space to really appreciate the world around me. Just lying under the stars watching the milky way and feel the wind in my face… It was very calming… Listening to Andy when he plays his ukulele, I enjoy a lot. I remember being young and my friends play quietly on the beach on summer nights… When Andy is sleeping I listen to the wind and waves, it is my other enjoyment. I believe sometimes the wind and waves come together and tell a story. I
have to say again it is not easy but I really enjoy it when we are sailing. To discover new places, new experience and discover a new relationship with nature. Even the wind touching your face differently. Nature has a different attitude in the sea than in the mountains.

To fly the ballooner I had assembled the unique pole system which on an Amel holds the genoa and ballooner out when sailing downwind. Assembling and using this pole system was another first for me. These are two aluminium poles around the width of a soccer goal that is suspended bylines at 90 degrees to the length of the boat. They look unwieldy and you need to run them on boat sides to balance the strain on the mainmast. But they hold the big sail at the front of the boat (the genoa) out nicely making the sail much more efficient when the wind is behind. We sailed in 10 knots of wind at 7 to 8 knots which is fast for Karisma or any sailboat. We sailed through the night and well into the following day with this rig before the wind finally dropped. So ironically we didn’t really need the now ripped ballooner in any case. Understand, decide, the act is now engrained in my psyche. 

All the words in italics have been written by our captain Andy Parker


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