Archive for dolphins

Summer 2014 Part I – dolphins galore!

Posted in Cornwall, Photographs, Sailing, Walking with tags , , , , on August 11, 2016 by maidofmettle

(Yes, the date at the top is right – realised I had various drafts saved and have finally forced myself into getting up to date!)

It took a while to get Maid of Mettle into the water in 2014 – it turned out that moving house, being flooded with work and doing a fair amount of maintenance on Maid were even more of a hindrance than living in Grimsby.

Still, it seemed I wasn’t the only one a bit behind on things – there are normally four posts marking the channel across the ‘Bridge’ in Plymouth Sound (actually a shallow ridge between Drake’s Island and Mount Edgcumbe, further cluttered with old anti-submarine defences), but one seemed to be missing. It might not actually be a bad thing if it stayed that way – the bright yellow buoy in its place is easier to spot!

2014-08-15 #02

Having got out of the strong tides in the Narrows and into a bit more wind I set sail and headed out round Penlee Point and Rame Head towards the anchorage off Looe. It was tempting to head off course when I spotted dolphins leaping inshore off Rame Head, but I prefer to let them come to me if they want to.

It was a beautiful sunny day for tacking towards Looe..

2014-08-15 #03

and admiring the rest of the coastline – much of the area between Looe and Rame Head is very pretty, but with little shelter and being off the direct route between harbours and anchorages I don’t often see much of it.

2014-08-15 #05

And here we are anchored off Looe – fairly full beach but deserted anchorage, easy to sail in and drop the anchor on sand. The north-westerly wind had required a fair amount of tacking to get here but having done that it was nice and sheltered..

2014-08-15 #07

..and even calmer when the wind dropped later in the evening.

2014-08-15 #10

The tide wasn’t due to be fair for a while the next morning but with beautiful conditions I decided to get going anyway – first running down past St Mary’s Island..

2014-08-16 #01

and then tacking along the coast again. There was a fair amount of company, from this little coaster carrying a digger..

2014-08-16 #03 some more dolphins!

2014-08-16 #05

Tonight’s anchorage was a new one for me – Gorran Haven, just between the Dodman and Mevagissey. It was once a larger fishing port than Mevva but is now a lot quieter, though there are a number of small boats moored within the harbour wall and hauled up on the beach.

As I expected with a north-westerly wind it was nice and sheltered again. This time I did launch the dinghy and rowed ashore for a wander around the village.

I also started to figure out why I kept seeing dolphins – there were fish swarming so close in that people could just grab them out of the harbour!

2014-08-16 #09

I decided to go for a walk out to the Dodman the next morning while waiting for the tide. The walk up from the harbour is pretty steep to start with!


It got rather windier as I got round to the more exposed part of the headland – enough that the gulls were starting to find it heavy going at times in the gusts.


At ground level this little fellow was probably less affected..


The cross was instituted by a local rector – besides the spiritual aspect it serves as a very useful daymark for navigation. Many shipwrecks have been partly attributed to one headland being mistaken for another, especially in poor visibility.

This was of course a very prominent location – signalling stations have been located here in medieval times, as well as the Napoleonic War and both World Wars.


There were plenty of boats coming the other way around the Dodman with the tide behind them. I was hoping the front would pass and give nice weather by the time I started heading the opposite direction.


A bit more local history – you can also still see medieval strip field boundaries here.


Going further back to the Iron Age the earth embankment on the right here, known as the Bulwark, was constructed to form a ‘cliff castle’ on the promontory – the other sides are naturally quite secure!


(I just like this picture. There’s nothing like a good cow to improve a foreground.)


The weather was indeed clearing as I walked through Penare back down to Gorran Haven, now showing definite signs of life.


With a fair tide and sky it was time to head on, into the same chilly north-west wind  – again gliding gently out of Gorran Haven before tacking along the coast.


The next big headland west of the Dodman is Nare Head (though it doesn’t stick out enough to get a line in ‘Spanish Ladies’), looking nice and dramatic here in the afternoon sun.


A fine sail got even better when we were joined by a school of dolphins while sailing into Gerrans Bay. With Maid sailing beautifully they had a great time playing in the bow-wave..


..occasionally doing laps of the boat..


..and generally having a good time as far as I could tell, and I was delighted to share in it, both taking pictures and just leaning on the forestay and grinning wildly (no, I didn’t take a picture of that).


Eventually they headed off to gobble some more fish and I dropped anchor off Portscatho – another relatively exposed coastal anchorage, but perfect in these conditions. It also happens to be the home of my friends Si and Cat, who I first met on Maid in the French canals a few years ago, and it’s nice to try and surprise them – this time I found Si outside the Plume straight away.

As an extra bonus he was planning on taking their fishing boat Kensa out the next day and there was space to me to join them. I was especially keen to go having followed their blog of her construction after we got back from our respective voyaging.

The next morning dawned golden, with Nare Head standing out against the Dodman in the background and Gull Rock offshore on the right.


Here is Maid with the little harbour in the background – again a short wall sheltering an assortment of fishing boats and dayboats.


..and here is Kensa..


It was a very good day out on Kensa with Si and their friend Debs – chilly wind but plenty of sunshine and even more importantly plenty of mackerel. I had left my camera behind though, so we have a bit of a gap on images until later – this is the colourful view down across the beach from the top of the slip later on (probably after the post-fishing pint).


I have very fond memories of drinking champagne stood knee-deep in the water celebrating Kensa’s launch the last time I was here, but the sou-westerly wind and swell at the time made the anchorage rather rolly when I eventually rowed back out to the boat. With the wind now seemingly set in the north-west spending a while here and exploring nearby anchorages seemed very appealing.

(yes, this kind of thing is part of the reason why I never actually get as far as the Scillies despite them being a nominal target for most of my holidays… They’ll still be there for a good while yet.)

Looking back in Angra

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , , on September 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

since that’s where we left off in the Azores, and we wouldn’t want to miss anything, would we?

I didn’t actually leave the capital while I was on Terceira, but Angra is well worth exploring. It’s a beautiful city, and especially so considering that it was devastated by an earthquake in 1983, causing many casualties and severe damage to nearly three-quarters of the buildings in some of the central parishes. If a roof looks shiny and new, it was probably replaced..

The title of World Heritage Site was actually granted a little later, while the city was being rebuilt, and presumably the effort towards and achievement of guided the restoration of the many old buildings – there’s certainly not much sign of the destruction now. This is the main street leading up from the harbour…

…and this one of the streets leading off it, clearly in festival mode for something or other.

It’s quite impressive by night as well.

There are some attractive gardens as well as beautiful old buildings..

….yet more mosaic pavements and paths…

..and an unusual drinking fountain.

I also went to one of the main museums on the island, and attempted to get my head around Terceira’s role in Portugal’s long and complicated history. It’s certainly featured quite often – the island was the last part of Portugal to be conquered by the Spanish, and was prominent in later internal Portuguese conflicts. The appellations of Angra do Heroismo (of heroism) and Praia da Vitoria (of victory) were granted after one of these.

It’s claimed the local touradas a corda, or bull-running events, date back to a skirmish when an invading force was repelled from the island by the poorly armed but determined inhabitants driving their cattle down from the hills at the landing party. Whether that’s true or not, it’s an exceedingly popular spectator sport today, with a few events being held in remote villages while I was there.

Rather than a dedicated arena, they take place in the streets , squares or beaches, with the bull being somewhat restrained by a team of men pulling on ropes attached to a harness.

I suspect I’d have gone if one had been handy, to see what it was like, though you can get a fair idea from the videos which are on sale and on display in many shops. And I did like this drawing in the museum, which rather reminded me of a Hogarth print – I’d have been very tempted to label it something like The evils of bull-running in the middle classes.

That and the videos certainly show the best and the worst of it – it’s obviously a popular event with a great atmosphere, but while there’s certainly bravery I couldn’t really say there’s sport in a man lying in one end of an inflatable dinghy tapping a bull on the head with a paddle, while the ropes stop it doing anything more than shoving it’s head into the near end – more depressing than exciting.

And the man who managed to get his foot caught in one of the ropes at the same time as the handlers lost control of the bull got rather more excitement than he bargained for, and I’d guess several broken ribs…ouch.

In between looking around ashore I was also getting a few jobs done on the boat, in particular a routine servicing of the winches. This one has just been cleaned and very lightly greased and oiled again.

And I was spending a while looking at weather forecasts, and at what seemed to be happening locally. There generally was quite a difference – no wind forecast, but a fair amount in the harbour – quite frustrating for trying to work out when to leave for Sao Jorge with the best chance of a good sail, rather than it dying away after a few hours or a mile or two away from the coast.

In the end with no wind forecast for some time I decided to just go for it.

It was a beautiful sail away from Angra at first…

…continuing into the evening.

But unfortunately the wind kept dropping… and dropping…

At least it was a very peaceful night. Even though it was frustrating, it was probably better than more waiting in Angra wondering if there was wind out to sea or not. And it was so calm I could hear dolphins breathing, even if I couldn’t see them. Or they might even have been whales. It’s a nice thought, since I never saw any!

The next morning Sao Jorge wasn’t looking much closer than it had the previous night.

Because it wasn’t. Time to get the engine on then. At least with the sea this flat I had very little steering to do, more just a matter of keeping an eye on things.

This was great, because I could spend most of my time watching dolphins – there were often some around the boat, but even when there weren’t the flat sea meant I could see several different schools within a few hundred yards.

The ones playing under the bow are always the most fun to watch though.

With them to watch, it didn’t actually seem all that long till I was passing down the channel between Sao Jorge and Pico.

I took a glance at Calheta, the first possible place to stop on Sao Jorge, but it looked a very small space to anchor in with some jet skis buzzing around, and there was suddenly a nice breeze.

I decided to continue on to Velas, nearer the western end. The breeze died about 5 minutes later, but I decided to continue. I motored around the anchorage checking depths, but it was very deep – I had enough chain if I combined the lengths for both the main and second anchors, but I didn’t really feel like doing that after the overnight trip and motoring for most of the day, so I headed in and got a very warm welcome in the marina.

By this time the sun had come out – you can see Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, in the background on the island of the same name.

Into the Atlantic!

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, Wildlife with tags , , , , on April 16, 2010 by maidofmettle

Maid of Mettle left Gibraltar!

We had a good forecast for plenty of wind going in the right direction and having spoken to a few people in the marina  decided to go for it or risk staying there forever…

Our route

Getting up far too early to even consider it being morning, we disassembled the gang-plank and finished our last preparations  to leave just as it got light again.  We motored out into calm seas at about 8am and travelled towards Tarifa where we  planned to anchor for a few hours and await the promised wind to blow us right out of the straits.

our short anchorage in Tarifa

Tarifa was nice, if a bit scary when there were big ferries coming in and out of the main harbour.  I had my first successful  anchoring experience, tentatively exploring the depth so we didn’t run too close to the bottom.  After a certain encounter  with a rock in Cruas, that we’d all like to forget, these things are important to get right. The water was very clear with loads of fish, so clear in fact that you could see the anchor chain running down to the anchor  at the sandy floor.  We were joined by another boat that was being sailed by some New Zealanders (Joe and Trudy) we met at  the marina in Gibraltar so we left Tarifa in convoy which was nice.

So leaving Tarifa in the early evening we motored for several hours and awaited the promised wind…We were finally in the Atlantic.

I did shift 1 until about midnight.  Being only my second proper night shift alone I was a little bit nervous but I knew that  I could ask the other two for help if I needed it.  For the most part I didn’t need to ask anything until I suddenly heard a  message on the radio from a Spanish person speaking English saying “the vessel going from west to east, there is such and  such somewhere or other please alter course and follow the other boat…”

It was quite a hard message to understand late at night and no one was answering them either which made me panicky.  Given  that there’s a big shipping lane coming out of the straits of Gibraltar I hoped someone would answer.  The message was  repeated so many times (each time sounding more panicky than the last) that I began to wonder whether it was a message for  me!  Then,in my slightly tired, 1st night shift alone-type state I couldn’t remember whether I was going from West to east or  east to west! ‘Ahhhgh’I thought.  ‘ok so there’s nothing in front of me that I can see and as far as I can work out this  can’t be for me, but I think I should ask someone given the panicky person giving the message’.  Eventually I woke Pete up and asked his opinion on the matter.  We decided to carry on given that we weren’t in the shipping lane and there was nothing  obvious.  A similar message occured later in the night this time with “There is a fishing boat in front of you…” I double  checked with our big flood light just in case, almost blinding myself with the reflection of it on the boat, but saw no fishing boat…phew.

By the end of my shift I was shattered from the exciting radio messages and running around on deck putting some sails up when it looked like it might be getting windy and taking them back down when they were being annoying.  By the time Chris took over I hadn’t had time to look much at the chart and the quick and roughly packed sails (much harder on your own) were a bit messy but we were sailing all the same!   We will have to look at the misbehaving main sail that seems not to want to go up every time any more.

Chris napped a bit on the floor during his shift and did a few whilst Pete and I tried to sleep.  It was quite noisy and starting to get a bit rolly so that was a bit difficult.  I think the excess adrenalin might not have helped either.  He also did some clever stuff with poles and the jib sail (at the front) to stop it making a racket.

Getting back out of bed and outside at about 6.30am I saw the sun rise behind the clouds (a bit like that time in Derbyshire when we waited and waited to watch the sun rise and then it just got light 😉 ) Anyway, the morning proved to be much more exciting after that.  At about 7am, just after Chris had gone to bed I was helming and not a lot was happening.  The waves had got slightly bigger but not too big.  I heard a bit of a splash and saw a dolphin really close to the boat – much clearer than the one I saw on the way to Ibiza.  It went on to swim with the boat at the bow and knowing how much Chris had always wanted to see one swimming at the bow I rushed to wake him and Pete up to see it.  On getting back out to the cockpit one dolphin had turned into about 10!  They were amazing.  I couldn’t believe how fast they could swim or how close they got.  They seemed to be enjoying following us and some were clearly loving jumping out from the waves back towards us at times.

Our escorts

The wind got gradually stronger and the sea rougher as the day went on and we realised that we were travelling too fast to arrive at our planned destination of the Guadiana river in Portugal to get the tides right.  This meant slowing down for a bit.  We decided to try to ‘heave to’, which means setting the sails and tiller turning more into the oncoming waves and drifting slowly sideways with the wind.  This succeeded in making us almost side on to the waves and slightly nauseous (Pete having been struggling with sea-sickness even before this), so not completely successful.  However it did slow us down which was the main thing.  During this time we quickly realised that the idea of sitting like that for another 8 or so hours to wait for our chance to get into the river in the light would not be good.  After an uncomfortable hour and a bit of food we made the decision to aim for a different port, facing the fact that we would probably have to go into somewhere in the dark.  The options for that were quite limited especially since all but one or two places in the pilot book warned against entrance at night “unless familiar with the area”.  So the Guiadiana was out on two counts: because it was too risky to enter in both the waves and the dark.  Mazagon in Spain was really our only option as it had quite a lot of depth and reasonable night entrance.  We hoped to get there in the early hours of the following morning.

Pete helming

The afternoon and early evening is a bit of a blur.  Chris and I took turns to helm and rest whilst Pete tried to recover from the dreaded sea-sickness inside.  It really was much nicer outside until it started to rain heavily.  That in itself was impressive as it created a sort of mist over the water and seemed to dampen the waves a bit.  It looked a bit like a computer generated sea at that point if that makes any sense.  I needn’t have worried about getting a bit wet from the rain.

We had to change our course to go toward Mazagon which meant having the waves more on our side.  As they were beginning to get larger and splashy this was not an appealing thought.  The waves were the biggest we’d seen yet, possibly up to about 4 metres and some of them were pretty steep.  The hardest thing to work out is whether they will be annoying or not.  Some of them looked big when you first saw them but then turned out just to be gentle rollers, others that looked small decided to whack into the boat and send a lot of water crashing over your head and over the boat.  Though we were clipped in all the time this was quite disconcerting, very wet and made quite a loud bang when you were inside the boat.  I woke up with a start quite a few times whilst in the cabin.  It was worrying really to see the walls of water coming towards you whilst helming and not being too sure what they might do.  In fact, when they were at their largest I was so concerned I turned away from them so they were behind us so we could think about what to do.  I really didn’t want to turn back towards them.  We had no option really but to find a way of dealing with them.  The best way was to turn with them on our side when they looked harmless and then keep an eye out for the bigger more potentially nasty ones and then steer away from them and surf!  That was quite fun but fairly tiring and occasionally damp!  Our life-jackets got so wet that two of the automatic lights got activated causing them to flash on and off…not good.  That will be a phone-call to Baltic for advice or a new set of lights…boo!

The entrance to Mazagon was tricky.  Chris skillfully sailed us in with the waves being a bit of a pain, though by then they were smaller.  Seeing the lights to get in the correct way through the channel required 3 sets of eyes and even then was quite difficult.  We arrived at about 2.30am and were soon pounced upon by the Spanish Gardia who made a much better effort of searching the boat than the ones in Barcelona – even asking to see under the floor and amusingly shining a torch through a hole in the cupboard without opening it.  They even had the cheek to say the boat was a bit messy.  How rude!

Spanish police complete with utility belt...Chris was impressed!

The important things...Chocolate stash (in pink bag) and our faithful biodramina

Our new cupboard fixings, step securing bolts, sealing of the main hatch and cup holders had passed the test at sea.  The crew were left feeling worn out from all the excitement.