Archive for April, 2011

Preparations part 1, and having a go with gofio

Posted in Cooking, Fitting out and maintenance, Fun, Music, Photographs with tags , on April 29, 2011 by maidofmettle

I’ve now finished installing the AIS system. This recieves signals from all ships with AIS transmitters – large ships or deep-sea fishing boats, and some yachts – and tells me where they are.

It uses the same kind of aerial as my VHF radio but I’ve added a separate one so they can both be used at the same time without having to swap cables around as soon as I get hold of the right adapters.

Here it is working. The visual display is centred on my boat, and the other icons are nearby ships. The information on the right shows the details of the ship I’ve selected.

It’s useful to see the track and the names of ships, but the handiest thing will be the ability to set an alarm when it picks up any ships approaching within a given range (say a couple of miles).

I had to drill a hole out a bit more to get the cable from the aerial into the boat but otherwise it went fairly smoothly, though I had to move a lot of things out into the main cabin which is giving the boat a distinct tilt to one side.

This makes it a fairly high priority to work out how to secure the AIS display box, as it currently swings half-open and obstructs the hatch…

While I have everything out of the quarterberth I am installing a water tank underneath it again. I’d got rather fed up of flexible water tanks and chucked the last one out when it failed rather than trying to fix it, thinking I just didn’t trust them enough.

I’m still not that keen on them, but I do regret it – eventually I realised that replacing it with bottled water just wasn’t going to be appealing when getting to it would require moving all the stuff I just had to move to deal with the cable, plus the dinghy.

So I bought a new one. Grr.

Replacing water tanks isn’t going to do that much good if the water filter isn’t working properly, so I’ll be replacing that too, as I’m getting quite a taste of charcoal at the moment.

This should be quite easy as I had everything out of the galley cupboard (yes, the boat is a mess at present) to do work in that. We’d been putting up with lots of things wanting to fall out of it if Maid was heeling to port or rolling significantly for quite a while.

However, going to the Azores is likely to entail one or both of those conditions the entire way, so I decided it was time to deal with it. So I now have nice holders for various food containers..

(hmmm, need to refill the flour)


and plates / chopping board.

I’ve also replaced the irritating bits of string for securing the hinged  worktop in bad weather with some buckles that won’t hang down getting in the way of the cupboard door below.

The tape round the handle of the buckle is to stop them from rattling when the boat rolls. As you can see the paintwork on the top edge needs redoing, but isn’t that high on the priority list. I have managed to sort it out in the seating area though, as the paint tended to sneak onto people’s clothes when they leant on it.

There’s still a bit more work to do, especially in the galley – not only are self-raising flour and lentils still a flight risk, but I’ve realised I should buy some containers for bread flour and gofio and incorporate those.

What’s that? What is gofio?

Tricky question, actually – it’s defined quite broadly. It’s basically a type of flour, made by grinding roasted wheat, corn, barley, fern seeds, rye, lupin beans or chick peas. I’m not sure if there is an equivalent available in England or not, but if it is I suspect it’s rather harder to find. This is the gofio section of quite a small supermarket…

There are even more uses for it than types of gofio. One I was intrigued by was making a bread-like dough that doesn’t need cooking. Field workers would often make this for their lunch in a bit of goatskin.

Mine wasn’t quite authentic, but tasted pretty good for a first attempt. The flavour was quite strong so I was glad I’d used smallish balls of it in my salad. Recipe to come when I’ve carried out some more trials.

It’s also very handy as a nutritious thickening agent that doesn’t seem to form lumps – for example making a red wine sauce (in different proportions that’s another a bread recipe, possibly for vineyard workers!)…

or a very easy white sauce with some cream that needed using up:

So, when you see it proclaimed as a ‘superfood’ by all and sundry, remember you read it here first!

Experimenting aside, I’ve had a few people round for dinner – Dave, Sarah, Bethany and Bryn from Cape, and Hampus and Lotta from Ingeborg (on separate occasions, or that would have been a challenge!), and forgotten to take photos on every occasion.

I’ve also got to enjoy other people’s cooking as well – a very fine curry with Hampus and Lotta and another Chris who got in the other day:

and a very tasty barbecue cooked by Chris on his cob oven the other night.

On other evenings our music group have been practicing quite a lot, getting ready for tomorrow night’s charity concert at the Sailors’ Bar. We’ve got about 30 or so songs we’re happy with, and at least one other bloke is going to play a bit, as well as the owner of the bar singing a bit, so it should be a good evening.

Fingers crossed for the weather though, looks like there might be a depression heading this way..

Do dogs like helicopters?

Posted in Fitting out and maintenance, Fun, Photographs, Unfortunate events, Walking with tags on April 20, 2011 by maidofmettle

It seems the answer is yes. At least, more than they like being in rough water trying to climb up their owner’s lifejacket.

Every so often stories like this come up in the news about emergencies at sea. Obviously it’s not nice to read, but it usually feels quite remote – after all, I didn’t panic about my walk to work every time I read about someone being knocked down crossing a road.

It’s a bit different if the helicopter is going 15 miles offshore to someone you were having a goodbye meal (rabbit and chicken paella, very tasty) with in the Sailors’ Bar the previous night and airlifting him, and his dog, back to dry land after a dismasting and engine failure.

After the inital ‘haven’t you left yet?’ and hearing what had happened we were very glad to see them both safe and well. I won’t write much more here – it’s Mark’s story to tell (and Sheila’s, though her yaps are rather less eloquent).

We were all very concerned about his documents and things which were still aboard (he’d been preparing for a tow rather than an airlift), as we weren’t sure if the boat would be retrieved or not. She’s obviously worth a fair bit, but some of the bits of paper were probably worth more in terms of getting on with his life.

Even if you live in a nice solid house – if it burns down are all your qualifications and references replaceable, as well as things like photos? It’s very easy to make copies of things.. when you think about it. We all are now..

Rather like the hospital situation, it was very difficult to get information at times, and we were all very relieved a couple of days later when he heard the boat had been recovered.

After all that thinking about peril on the sea it was  a nice change to get up into the hills for a walk with Bjorn and Caroline. It a generally upward climb from La Culata, near the head of the valley of Tejeda, to the top of the ridge overlooking it.

As you may have guessed from me forgetting to mention it in the last blog entry, my leg is pretty much fine for walking now, so I was quite confident this walk wouldn’t be a problem.

You can just see some of the roads around La Culata on the bottom left of this picture, with the very distinctive Roque Nublo towering on the skyline above it, and the rest of a huge old crater wall stretching away into the distance.

The countryside is clearly beginning to dry out a bit, but there are still some beautiful patches of wild flowers.

It doesn’t show up too well on photos, but it was our clearest ever view of Mount Teide from Gran Canaria – mostly bare now, with just a little snow left around the top.

On the way back we stopped in San Mateo for a look around, and were surprised to find that Bjorn has a hitherto undiscovered talent for walking on water.

As you may well have guessed, this was actually an effect of heat haze on stone paving – quite impressive though, especially the reflections.

On Friday night Giorgio and the other Italians on the pontoon had decided to have a party  – I think it was at some point thought of as a leaving event, but they are having ongoing problems with their steering system.

Their cooking, however, was excellent – and in quantity as well, managing to make most people from ‘R’ pontoon and several others as well feel pretty full.

The night was capped off rather well by Mark making a surprise return from the south of the island in his now mastless boat – it will be considerably cheaper to keep her here, and probably better for selling her too, but we hadn’t been expecting him to make it this soon.

On Saturday the weather was beautiful, and unusually calm, so I was able to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while – hoist the mainsail, check over the stitching and wash any salt spray off it.

Maid is looking quite impatient in that photo. I’m not really sharing it at the moment – it still feels like there’s quite a lot I want to do on the boat before going. It’s actually quite good to have to stay till the 29th when I should be fully recovered and ready.

Work on the boat is certainly progressing though. I am gradually re-learning lots of things I used to know, like the easiest ways of working out where to drill, and cutting out reasonably neat holes.

Also, that the Drill Chuck Key Fairy does not exist, and despite the accumulation of considerable circumstantial evidence and laying of numerous traps I have still failed to prove that the Drill Chuck Key Imp does.

My first project was this – a box to mount a shiny new AIS set which will pick up signals from big ships and tell me where they are.

The other hole are to incorporate the burglar alarm, which didn’t have a good place to go otherwise. Fat fingered burglars need not even attempt to enter the code….

It’s quite nice to hide the white plastic as well, and I’ll re-route the cable to the alarm so it’s not as simple as it was to just rip it off the wall..

The box is mounted so that it swings out just below the handrail, so that I can use the AIS set from outside too.

It needed to be as close as I could get it to the handrail, or else it would restrict headroom above the toilet… ah, the challenges of designing things in small space..

On Sunday the weather was rather different – still clear, but some rather strange clouds heralded the arrival of an rare southerly wind, with some pretty strong gusts.

Happily this is a very well sheltered harbour – Maid was rocking a bit at times, but there was nothing to worry about.

Right, time to get on with work again, less than two weeks to the time when I could leave!

Taryna’ birthday party, and back to Bandama

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Walking with tags , , on April 14, 2011 by maidofmettle

I’ve been trying to work out  the last person in whose honour I’ve attended two birthday parties in a row is, and failing.

It’s quite a surprise that it should occur now while living a fairly mobile lifestyle – I’ve ended up staying here much longer than I planned, but many other boats have come and gone.

Last year Taryna’s birthday party in Gibraltar, held on the jetty between Heymede (Taryna and Dave’s boat) and Maid of Mettle.  We were very lucky with the weather and had a great time, ending up with music lasting quite a while into the night, including Caroline and Chris playing mandolin and guitar, a couple of other guitarists and our neighbour Mark with his bongo drum.

It was a nice surprise that Mark arrived from southern Spain in time for this year’s party on the beach, and also that it stopped raining just in time!

His dog Sheila was certainly happy to be there. We felt we had to try and tire her out before we could start a game of cricket, but didn’t have much luck..

There was a bit of a sandstorm going on in the background as we started, and the ball was threatening to split in half (even without any canine assistance), but it was still an entertaining game.

We do need more bowling practice though. A ball that’s whole, reasonably heavy and bounces would be useful too!

I had a slight panic moment when I was making food to take round to Heymede for the continuation of the party that evening. I had thought I had bought some interesting-looking local chorizo sausage, but I’d been in a hurry at the time..

It turned out to be interesting-feeling cream of chorizo, in a sausage-like skin. I didn’t really think squidgy lumps of pig product would work in the tomato salad I’d been thinking of making.. Fortunately I had some bread to hand..

We ended up saving most of the food for the evening rather than taking it to the beach and getting sand in it.

The party went very well – those of us sat in shelter on the boat with the food and drinks definitely had fun, and it looked like those on the pontoon did too.

Carolyn and I had both been tempted by the floor of the volcanic crater at Bandama when we’d walked around the edge of it with Jon a couple of weeks ago.

At that time I didn’t feel ready to go down 200m and climb back up again – the relatively level circling of the crater had required taking quite a few breaks.

This time it was much easier, and the meadow at the bottom was well worth the descent – beautiful in springtime.

The next day we went to the market – or rather the nearest one. I’d been intending to go for ages, but never got around to it as I don’t need to buy that much fresh food for just me, so it’s quite easy to pick it up on the way back from doing other things.

I’m glad I finally made it there though – it’s significantly cheaper than the grocer’s and supermarket nearer the marina

This lot cost about 5 euros..

.. and these about 1.50 each. The snacks are churros, basically deep fried batter, dipped in sugar. Mmm, healthy.

Mind you, churros and hot chocolate seem to be the Spanish version of the late night kebab, so we probably shouldn’t expect any less.

Talking of late nights, there have been some beautifully calm and still ones lately..

It’s just a pity the pontoon Maid is tied up to doesn’t lend itself to pictures with flat horizons..

Past and future (?) visits, and catching up on photos

Posted in Fun, Music, Photographs, Walking with tags , , on April 8, 2011 by maidofmettle

So, what did Jon (pictured) and I get up to when he was here? Quite a lot..

(credit for most of the photos in this entry goes to him, by the way. Obviously excepting the one above, which he’ll probably berate me for)

On Sunday we went for a walk along Las Canteras beach on the north side of Las Palmas. You’ve seen plenty of photos of that before, but not any of people being able to surf so close in – it must have been very near high water.

The waves weren’t big but some of the surfers were pretty impressive nonetheless.

On Monday we travelled down to Maspalomas – one of the biggest tourist developments on the island, but also home to some impressive sand dunes. The town itself is a big sprawl of holiday apartments and restaurants offering every type of cuisine you could want, with a full supporting cast of people pushing jewellry and stuff – quite a shock having been staying in the north which is much less touristy.

Having got away from that the dunes themselves are pretty impressive – it only takes a few minutes walk to be away from all the noise of the beachfront kiosks and into a very different feeling world of sand and scrub. It’s quite something – especially when you’ve worked out which bits offer the beautiful scenery without the naked men wandering around.

On Tuesdaywe had a more restful day, with a little more sightseeing in Las Palmas, wandering around one of the parks near the marina.

That evening we (or rather Jon) rowed over to Pax Nostrum for harmonica practice  for me, photography for Jon and then chatting till the usual ‘how did it get that late?’ finish.

It looks as though none of us know the words to this one yet!

Jon sent some photos when he got back which everyone is thrilled with – thank you again!

By this time I was keen to get out for a proper walk and show Jon some of my favourite parts of the island. This is the view down into the volcanic crater at Bandama – we chose to go round the edge for a relatively easy walk – the farm on the crater floor is about 200m below.

That said, I’ve not found many walks on Gran Canaria I’d call flat (the word ‘strenuous’ is frequently used in my guidebook), and the southern edge of the crater rim is pretty narrow as well – here are Caroline and Jon walking along the start of that section:

At the end of the walk they were rather surprised by the way we popped up next to a golf course – it seems rather out of place here, though it dates back to 1891 and is in fact the oldest golf course in Spain!

It also seems a little odd that the green pictured is very near the edge of the crater – anyone driving a bit too far is going to land in the world’s biggest bunker.. It seems like it might be a health hazard on the crater floor as well!

On Thursday we made the rather shorter bus journey to the hospital (I had to finally post a picture of it), and sat around a lot waiting to get my results and have my stitches taken out. It was definitely good to have someone to wait with, and share the frustration of not actually getting the results that day..

Afterwards we crossed the main road to the old fishing quarter. Unsurprisingly there are several fish restaurants there with very nice views out over the sea, and being well away from the tourist areas of the city it’s quite cheap. The fish were good, and the coffee was very nice as well.

If you’re wondering about the layered effect these are the traditional ‘leche leche’, which I suspect I’ve mentioned before – condensed milk on the bottom and then coffee on top – the uppermost layer is just the milk froth.

After that we got a bus back as far as the old town centre and walked around there before returning to the marina. It’s an area of real contrasts, from the patchwork colours of houses piling higgledy-piggledy up the hillside:

to the grander architecture of the town centre

and back to the marina along the bustling main shopping street

Later that afternoon we went over to Las Canteras beach on the other side of Las Palmas to admire the sunset and dusk from the promenade.

And of course to admire the slightly intimidating sand sculpture (there was a dinosaur as well for those who prefer less polemical beach art).

On Friday we went for another walk. I’d come up with one plan for a short walk from Cruz de Tejeda to a viewpoint on the opposite side of the ridge but after some time poring over bus timetables we decided it wouldn’t really work that well. Thankfully Jon spotted the improbable sounding option of walking to Lanzarote, which we duly did.

It worked just as well – to start with we had slightly views over one of the biggest valleys in the centre of the island, and then crossing the ridge and descending the other side, we had views of Las Palmas and the northern side of the island as well as the scenery closer to hand.

This is another abandoned farm set in a crater – again impressively remote-feeling like the one at Bandama, though this one does have road access.

We also passed some basins where water draining down from the hills was used for washing clothes by the people of the village.

Some of the tourist information claims it’s still in use but it looked like it might turn things a bit green – it certainly must be a while since it was this busy!

Having got back we went for a quick swim on the beach by the marina to cool off, and also for me to see how it felt – a week or so before cold had made it very hard to move my left leg, but as with most things this seemed to have improved significantly.

It felt good enough that on Saturday morning we went over to Las Canteras again to swim inside the reef at the near end. The water is quite clear, so with goggles on we could see lots of fish swimming around the reef, and surprisingly right up close to the beach as well, ranging from brightly coloured to jet black with blue fins.

Then back to the boat for lunch, and then to the bus station so Jon could go to the airport for his flight back. It was a great week – great to see him again, and also nice to have someone around to give me a reason to get out and about more while being very patient with my walking speed (especially at the start of the week) and tendency to sit down a lot.

I’ll get on to future plans a bit more in my next entry, but I will mention one thing here – having thought everything was done for a while I got a call from the hospital to say they want to do an ultrasound scan at the end of April.

The scan is presumably just routine follow-up – nothing to worry about, but I’ll obviously stay for it. I think it’ll also work out quite well in terms of getting jobs done on the boat to be here till then.

So if anyone else is looking to come out and visit, within that period would probably be easiest to arrange – it’s rather short notice, but then any trip would probably have to be once I get sailing again in May, and travel will get rather expensive when / if I make it to the Azores.

Let me know if you’re interested and we can try and sort something out, either sooner or later.

Of course, I’m hoping to see most of my friends again on returning to the UK, hopefully in August – it doesn’t feel like all that long now!