I the Miss am the new idiot abroad.
It’s easy to get stuff wrong. It’s really stupid to get the big stuff wrong. The error I’ve made has been a game changer.
I confess my mistake. I failed to understand the rules of our visa and the rules just aren’t that difficult.
Visas are those important documents outlining all the conditions that allow us the privilege to move around somebody else’s country.
It was early in the morning and I was checking, counting numbers and dates, reading the small print and realised my error. I thought we had plenty of time left on our visas but I was wrong.
What to do if you are visiting The European Union.
You get 90 days in every 180 days to visit all the countries in the EU.
The clock does not go back to start if you step out of the EU and then come back in.
The misconception is you can renew your visa after leaving EU for a day or so. I thought this and I was wrong.
You get 90 days in which you can visit EU countries all tied together by a coin. You then get 180 days to use the 90 days on offer.
The EU visa is a pretty cool one.
It just needs to be clearly understood..
We had 10 more days to enjoy our boat in the EU.
If people tell you otherwise check the website, don’t trust them or me. You may recall my last post included the fact that we had just spent 8 weeks swanning around Canet being patient and getting stuff done. I should have been going “fast” instead. When I worked it out we had 10 days to leave.
From that moment on we were looking for a new home.
What To Do, Where To Go
We saw only two choices. Morocco one way, Tunisia the other. We spoke to one sailor Jacque, and Tunisia it was. We talked to Cyril from Catana and Morocco it was. You could say we were a little unsure of what was best for us. I just felt hurried. Our plans based on 180 days, taking each step slowly, had just vanished.
I was in a tiss. Looking up countries, which are safe? how long could we stay? asking others what they thought. It was 3.30 pm when the decision was made to sail to Morocco!
Morocco was the longer of the journeys but the favoured course. It appealed to me as it did not involve night sailing. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that, The Captain was happy to go either way.
(It was by good fortune we had already made plans to sail to Spain that day, so leaving was no great drama).
Helping our decision was very settled weather, forecast for the next 7 to 10 days, showing light winds, probably too light, but good weather all round.
We were on our way.
First night at Paullies France was calm and an uneventful. No shouting, no drama and no sleep for the Miss. ( a post to follow to explain)
A new sunrise and we were quickly moving over the border into Spain.
The First Day Sailing
It was a of day of motoring, no wind but the weather was hot, the water was like blue grey silk, we had begun our adventure in earnest.
Later it became a frustrating affair. Genoa sail up, genoa sail down then repeat. Yet in the back of my mind was the anchoring incident, just how quickly weather can change in this area. There was a time before we arrived, where we mistakenly believed the waters of the Mediterranean would be solid, calm, dependable and safe.
It seems every time I talk to someone who sails here, they tell a nightmare version of how the winds have gone from 15 knots to 60 knots, then stayed for days in the Med. (Thanks for the share by the way. Always reassuring.)
Who Does What
When working out who would do what, I nominated myself chief radio and navigation officer. My new passion is understanding the charts, dials and communication systems of the boat. The where are we, where we are going instruments now had my full attention. (I need to do it better than keeping the visas in check.)
I did know that each day we needed to do a minimum of 50 nautical miles and all calculations were based on a conservative 5 knot per hour average.
Night one Spain we anchored off a beach called Port D’Argo.
Port D’Argo appeared to be the Spanish cousin of Canet France, a large camping ground and holiday high rises. I had a crap nights sleep. I kept waking up looking at the buildings on the beach, these being massive ugly developments that dominated this pretty beach. I found sleep elusive, as my mind continued to wander and kept getting up to check our anchor. At 4 am we awoke for an early start, we could be in Barcelona in time to look around.
I had wasted my sleep with worry because we weren’t going anywhere in the night. An entire beach to ourselves, we put our anchor down between some old mooring pylons. It was still dark and it took about 30 minutes to get our anchor up.
Thank you sweet baby Jesus. The anchor finally locked into position and we were able to leave.
As we moved away from the beach lights, I realised how dark it actually was.
OMG its dark and we are moving.
It was like driving a car on a wide highway without any lights. I was freaking out for just a moment. Yet nothing happened. Our boat just kept going forward and we didn’t run into anything or anyone. I stared to feel calmer. Then I started to take notice.
It was peaceful. It was quiet. There was a lighthouse long in the distance blinking at us every few seconds.
I found reassurance knowing how far you can actually see light in true darkness. I had the AIS and radar working, plus every few minutes I was scanning the horizon with the binoculars. I knew this type of intense vigil was not sustainable. Dawn was due in a couple of hours I was looking forward to it..
The sunrise was a magnificent ball of red across the calm blue sea.
Not as bad as I thought.
Our journey continued down the coast southward bound.
The lack of wind continued, as I watched the landscape of development, homes and high rises. Is there no end to this mass of people? Coming from Tasmania means I don’t normally live up close and personal with large numbers of people. I find the population density in Europe, rather challenging.
Night time sailing did mean we were alone. Privacy is a luxury here.
Another day motoring, in the early afternoon we arrived at our destination – Barcelona! This was our first time to use the radio to find a Marina, wonderful.
Port De Vel – Our Barcelona One Night Stand
Port De Vel had come recommended, it was right in the city and our time was limited. It wasn’t until we actually motored into the port, past huge cruise ships and magnificent yachts that we started to worry we may be in the wrong place.
I was blown away by the mega yachts around us.
I had so many questions
Who has this type of money?
What do they do?
How can you employ so many to be at your beck and call?
How do they justify?
Where are they going and why?
Then I stopped. As those tricky questions could be asked of us, as we travel the world.
My first check in at a port was “how not to arrive”.
I rocked up to the port desk. Oops I had to do the kilometer round walk to return with all the paper work to complete the process.
Baracelona was a whirlwind. Enough time to bike ride and get lost finding a data card for our I-Pad, then a quick dinner. It took us 2 hours to find the right shop to buy a Spanish data card. So crazy. The Captain and I had added a game to the I-pad which complicated the whole process. Until we found a data card, there was no stopping for a cold drink. It was hot. I was gasping by the time we got to the big cat below. The first three shops had run out of cards, we struck gold with Vodafone.
The highlights of Barcelona include almost everything. I love, love Barcelona! We had a meal at a tapas bar where The Captain was sure we were sitting next to Mike Tyson the boxer. I laughed out loud as he had no facial tattoo’s and B. He was shortish for an American and not very fit looking.
He did have a name starting with a T, Terrence. In American style he said “to call him T”.
Having been up since 4 am with little sleep, I just wanted to eat and get back to my bed, so we left T to his solitary dinner, walked past two amazing dinner parties, on board the fancy boats next door and went straight to bed.
Barcelona low point were the smells. As you walked past each corner there was a grate which lead to open sewers, it was disgusting. I tried to predict the next grate and hold my breath, if I got it wrong I was dry retching in the street. I’m sure the locals thought I was a drunk tourist.
We departed early, it appears not many Spanish are early risers, the streets were mostly empty.
Now For Two Turns In The Tale
Barcelona is the major shipping port of Spain, with a constant stream of huge ships carrying all manner of goods from around the globe. We left the world of super yachts and beautiful looking staff in black and white aprons. (I know!!) and we were now sailing in the business end of town.
Moving into this traffic with no great understanding of the road rules, except for knowing where the shipping channels are, had us both on high alert. It was an impressive line of container ships and tankers waiting to come in. Their bulk made them look like the elephants of the ocean. Sea elephants that are massive, powerful and surprisingly fast.
I started biting my nails. Was I nervous? Very. Yet we had to leave so we pressed on.
We must have looked confused in our little catamaran among all the big boy professionals. Our first horror was when we headed for the shipping lane on the right. We noticed no other yachts going that way so turned around. A right to left turn. Then I suggested maybe we should set our course via the AIS, so the shipping world would know our destination.
Great idea, bad execution. As soon as our boat was pointed towards the bearing we wanted to go in, I turned on the auto pilot.
Bloody hell !!!!
We were now going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The Captain is shouting at me, “what the hell is going on”as if I’m an expert. Soon the helm is back in his full control, he was not happy. He had his steely, I won’t look at you face on. Was he not happy with me, or the ridiculous autopilot, I wasn’t sure. Soon we had passed the elephants of the sea, we were on the open water sailing in light winds.
“The Miss Is Allowed To Change Her Mind”
As we sailed for 5 hours towards the south of Europe, I continue to contemplate whether we were going in the right direction. Why did we come this way, when we intended to spend the winter in Turkey. How could I get something so important like a visa so wrong. Sharing my thoughts with my Captain, he thought it was now or never to change course and head to Tunisia if that is what I wanted to do.
Confusion Set In
I had no one to ask, no world web to research our decision, a new direction felt too hurried, too rushed to instill confidence. We’d been told Tunisia was easier to gain a 3 or 6 month visa, that people are friendly and the country perhaps a little safer. The other major winner for Tunisia is the majority of the country speaks French, although my French is limited it can only get better.
The big BUT. (There’s always a But)
If we do this it would require overnight sailing and quite a long passage from the Spanish islands to the African coast.
The decision was mine.
The idiot aboard the boat was having a Damascus type moment, so I did what any rational sailor would do. I asked the Captain to stop the boat.
I needed to think.
First action, get off the boat and get into the ocean, to think of nothing. It was the bliss moment of the day.
Next I got all maps out and took measurements on direction and distance to compare A to B.
My third and final action was to cry.
I am not ashamed to say I sat outside on my own (as much as possible on a boat) and cried. Not big bawling like a baby, that crying we don’t do often as adults.
I was crying scared.
Night sailing and storms have always been in the dark fears that hide under my bed. I didn’t know if I was ready. I also didn’t know when I was meant to be ready.
This direction change would mean over 500 nautical miles on on top of the 140 we’d already done and me taking responsibility on my own in the dark. The two hours of coastal sailing in the dark wasn’t the best build up to go it alone. Plus our ability to access weather conditions was limited to data downloads when internet was available. I had nothing prepared for heading east.
I was tired. I was overwhelmed and I was required to make a decision NOW.
I asked my Captain to be kind to me.
He had a perplexed, slightly annoyed look, I could tell he was frustrated by my delay.
How do I describe my thoughts and anxieties to a man, who presumes I am capable and ready for whatever is needed. How do you voice your insecurities without sounding stupid and weak. So much of this journey has been so new, so big, so challenging. In the past 80 days I have been way out of my comfort zone. Right at this point I was siting like a rabbit caught in the headlights. This current emotional state and raw intensity was boiling quietly within me.
I have always anticipated that on this journey I would be facing my fears. Fear of sailing in the dark. Fear of running into storms on the Mediterranean, I keep hearing about them. Fear of being in new countries with cultures at odds to mine. Fear of missing out while not at home. The greatest fear – waking up to find my Captain missing.
Now Was Time
It’s just the way it is. To have fear is part of being human, we all have fears. It is rising to the challenge of fear that makes us humans special. Overcoming fear is how we risk falling in love and moving forward in the world. My fears would pale into insignificance compared to the fear courageous Captains, think Columbus, Cook, Dampier and Drake for example, who discovered the new world by sea, must have felt in their primitive vessels.
I think this adventure is as much about overcoming fears, as enjoying seeing the world.
These thoughts just didn’t make me feel any better right at this moment.
How lucky is my Captain – not only is his Miss an idiot she is a scared idiot. I took a few deep breaths and agreed to the direction change.
The Conditions Of Entry For A 90 Degree Turn
The Captain had to be kind to me (this is stating the obvious but I still said it)
The Captain had to sleep upstairs so at a moments notice I could call him – one night only
The Captain was to be happy if I woke him regardless of how trivial it may seem
The Captain and I had to go through safety procedures prior to nightfall
The Captain must wear a life jacket on night watch at all times if I did sleep
The Captain was not allowed to wee over the side. (I shouldn’t even have to ask)
The Captain still must continue to cook and I will still be happy to do the dishes
Obviously the list is very weighted against the ever patient Captain but they were the rules of engagement.
Safety being my greatest concern, fear being my motivator.
It was a ninety degree turn, no longer south, we were now heading east. It was just after 2 pm so plenty of daylight hours to get ready for the first night watch.
Tunisia here we come!
My First Night Of Sailing
It never ceases to amaze me how making a decision and acting on that idea, produces both calm and energy. Once we were underway I started to feel better. The longer the night progressed the more I realised that yes, I can do this. Luck was also on my side. I was blessed with the world’s best and most perfect first night of sailing conditions.The water was totally calm. It was the first night of a full moon and there was no wind so motoring was our only option. This meant I didn’t have to worry about the sails. It was warm. A comfortable 25 degrees all evening.
Plus I found peace sleeping on the table settee, and not one storm came our way.
My First Night Was Not Without Drama
First drama was a tanker called Smaragd, measuring 100m long and 19 m wide. Smaragd had a course that was the exact opposite to our own. I mean exact. I called for the Captain and said check this out, quizzing him as to who moves first, them or us. We both quickly agreed us but before we could go the ship had taken a few degrees turn.
Then I sat in stunned horror. Everywhere I looked all I could see was ocean. There is a lot of water out here. What are the odds of us having the same bearing, in the opposite direction at the same time, on the very same day.
Was I awake?
You bet I was awake. I was awake, I was alert and I was alarmed.
Drama number two was in the wee hours whilst on my own. Across the airwaves I heard a Pan Pan call.
A Pan Pan call is not an all out distress in imminent danger of death call, but the next level down. Pan Pan is I need assistance type of call. The Spanish chap on the end of the line sounded pretty stressed like he needed some form of help. Yet he was Spanish so I could only listen holding my breath hoping someone else was listening aslo. I did consider waking the Captain to interpret the Spanish, then I remembered at no point did I hear the sailor mention sangria or grassy arses so best leave him sleeping.
This sailor called twice and soon the airways were buzzing with activity that did not involve me.
His call did affect my heartbeat. It had risen dramatically throughout the call and the moments following. As I sat in the dark, I tried to imagine what would make me pick up my radio and call out in distress. I tried to cast these thoughts from my mind as it was not helpful.
The night continued without any other drama, as I watched the full moon move from the port to starboard. The cloud display was spectacular, I surprised myself by spending so much of the night looking up and out and doing nothing except contemplating the world around me and not running into anything.
Then it was over.
The dawn had come as dawns always do. I had survived and even enjoyed my first night sailing.
Surprise – It wasn’t as bad as my fears had led me to believe.
Crickey This Is A Big Place
The idiot aboard continued to sail.
When we changed our mind to go East, I set a course for a straight 90 degrees heading to the port of Gros in middle of Mallorca. In my mind we would reach the port and then move around the corner.
Now I know.
I now know how ridiculous popping around the corner is as a concept when sailing around the Mediterranean.
Everything is a long way from the next point. It just looks close on the map.
WARNING there is an Idiot Aboard.
At dawn I actually said to The Captain, we should be at the bottoom of Menorca and the large protected port of Mahon around mid morning. Try 9 pm that night for actuality to happen.
Life in Tasmania has distorted my view, it needs to expand. This place is ginormous. Good thing I guess, as the Mediterranean supports up to 120 million permanent residents. That is a lot of people who wan to live near the water.
In regards to sailing, the wind came, the wind went but we continued our journey toward our Tunisian destination. It was an ongoing game of sail out, sail in, motor on, sail out.
The second night motoring we had wind which had not been forecast. OOOH, Bliss to have the wind and the noise from sails and ropes rather than the loud rumble of Diesel engines. We sailed between 7 and 10 knots. I was so happy.
Note to non sailors, that picture in your mind of a boat sailing, having no noise and a quiet gentle roll is not the reality. Waves are loud and noisy as they hit the hulls as you are going fast. The boat is in constant motion and this motion can be dramatic and occasionally uncomfortable. This depends on what you are trying to do. Sitting on the toilet which is forward of the boat is the noisiest place to be. Having a shower whilst holding on and then washing you hair, made for interesting bathroom gymnastics.
Yet wind equals speed and I have become speed greedy as one or two knots an hour is a huge time difference.
The final day of sailing was eventful for all the wrong reasons. The Captain had completed the late morning shift and woken me around 8AM to do the morning shift, then we would have lunch together. At some point mid morning I was listening to a radio announcement regarding weather, I heard the words thunderstorms, gale force winds and Tunisia. At the time were motoring, as the water was almost like glass it was so calm.
My final big ugly unknown for the trip is once again raising it’s head and I wasn’t sure what to do.
Do I wake the Captain?
By this point in the journey we are both tired and weary as it has been constant with little sleep for both of us. I decided I wouldn’t wake him. Then I decided I couldn’t not wake him as my anxiety levels were now starting to go through the roof. I was teary all over again.
I woke him, we went about preparing the boat for a potential storm. All unnecessary items were stored away, (we made the sail as small as we could without putting it away) we discussed sailing strategies for storms and tested the handheld auto pilot and finally the Captain cooked and prepared for lunch, not dinner as the main meal of the day. We were ready my Captain told me. All we could do was wait and see.
One of the worst aspects of the whole process was not having up to date, clear and concise weather information.
We waited. We watched. We sailed and motored and nothing happened. If anything the weather got quieter and calmer.
Being on high alert can only be sustained for so long and after a few hours even I began to wonder if I had misheard the details. I continued to scan the horizon every ten minutes and the hours continued to tick by. That night I did the watch from 8 pm unitl 3.30 pm it was such an amazing evening. It was as though our boat was skating across ice the water was so flat.
Still it was nice to see landfall.
We had made it. We were no longer in the EU but in Tunisia, Africa. (This fact was astounding)
A Grey Ship Welcome
After six and a half days of almost constant moving on the big blue, we finally arrived at Tabarka. This is the nearest entry point from Europe, and almost a stones throw from Algeria. Our detour had saved us an additional 4 days travel and given me 3 night sailing experience.
I had called the port authority at Tabarka to let them know we were almost there. As we approached, we had one of those rare moments that come about in all relationships. We stood united and pondered the validity of decisions made in times past. We discussed how this place was the first port entrance to our long planned journey, This port was to be the first among many we would visit. We also discussed whether the Captain should actually go and put on underpants. I insisted yes.
Our welcome was one we could not have imagined in our wildest dreams
Out of the breakwater at the port came a Tunisian navy war ship.
Bloody Hell. !!!!!!!
Did we go to war in the past week, has the world gone mad and oh no my mother was right, the world is a dangerous place. I was shitting myself. The boat came along side and then went around us. Forget the fears under the bed, these guys had guns. Big very real guns. I actually thought about Schapelle Corby and wondered which one of my sisters would come and live in Tunisia to support me while I was in jail. You can bet I was wearing my nicest smile even if I was squeezing the Captains hand very tightly.
As they approached one of the soldiers had his hands up with his fingers spread wide. The Captain thought he was asking for our surrender, obviously, and put his arms up immediately. I laughed because the chap was asking us to go to channel 10 on our VHF radio. As I said my French is getting better. It felt good to laugh even if I was still worried.
They asked questions such as who are you, how many, where from, what is your boat for and why do you come to Tunisia. Similar questions I asked of the super yachts. Once answered they seemed content to let us go. You can be sure as the pope being a catholic that we were both very happy to say goodbye to our welcoming party.
I don’t know if this visit was standard or more of a Smaragd moment but either way it was a moment I will not forget for a while.
PS When we finally got to sleep that night after a day of other small dramas I slept like the dead. I don’t think I moved once in the next 6 hours. I had earned that sleep.