Fenix II ARC
Liz/Steve Rakoczy
Mon 25 Oct 2010 07:35

Barcelona 18/10/2010                        “41:22.73N 2:11.1E”


First of all I’d like to apologise to all of you for falling off the map for two and a half months. But from now on I’ll try to make up for it and with our imminent departure from Barcelona let you know what is happening on our boat, Fenix.

Our Barcelona stay has been an extremely busy time for us. We are having good laughs when people ask us about our suntanned looks and having fun. Yes, we are having fun, “whatever it means”, but this is an active adventure holiday not the G&T type lazing around the pool. I have been working regular hours, so the idea that, since I am in Europe I might as well accept invitations to speak at two prestigious conferences, turned out to be quite foolish. The preparation took up quite a bit of time and added unneeded pressure to my daily existence. But against all the odds most the boat work, the dreaded LIST, has been completed and we are ready leave, so I give a short summary of the events leading to the start of our sailing adventure. The next week we will have to sail 830km to reach Malaga,  where we meet the two sailing buddies from Perth. Unfortunately we won’t have an opportunity to get to know the towns or visit nearby places.




02-7 August, 2010


I was excited to arrive back to Barcelona. For three months last year in this city, inspired by the surroundings, in my imagination I travelled back and forth between centuries. I expected to see it the same way, seeing only its beauty, majestic looks, and ignoring the never ending flocks of tourists flooding the streets, the pick-pockets, the choking heat and the sometimes incredibly impolite shopkeepers.

 I was thinking about the wonderfully rich architecture, the little discoveries one can make looking at every square inch of the monumental buildings. The playfulness of their decorations, the colourful tiles brilliantly shining in the yellow rays of the sun that gilds the city until 9.30 at night. The smell of the Jamon (the best smoked ham is made from the meaty leg of black pigs raised in the wild, fattened up on acorns), the strong flavours of Rioja wine, the bubbly cava in long flute champagne glasses, the tolling bells and colourful street performers.

Barcelona is a city with rich history and incredible architecture. Its history reaches back thousands of years and many buildings are the result of construction work over centuries.  The fortifications of the roman city got converted into the bishop’s palace by the practical Catalans. A strange combination of bricks and stones can be spotted all over the walls of medieval buildings, including the famous Roman flat long bricks used to build their civic buildings, entertainment centres, Colosseums and even used for housings the average folks across the Mediterranean whenever there was no stone mine nearby.



But my eyes remained blind to the beauty of the city, the colours of its streets my ears were deaf to the wonderful samba supplied by the busking musicians at every corner; everything seemed to be dull and uninspiring.


What happened? Where had the excitement gone? Is this the same Barcelona?


I realised that while Barcelona - in spite of Spain being ravaged by huge debt and unemployment - more or less remained the same, I became different. Last year my new sabbatical work, called somewhat cryptically “Systems Biology” – no one knows what exactly it means, it’s supposed to be a mixture of everything we know about biology thrown into a computer to be analysed by its forever promised higher intelligence, in the hope of delivering a better understanding how things work - and of course coming from our calm, caring, clean and trouble free town, Perth, the excitement of living in one of Europe’s most thrilling city kept both of us delighted.

This year we arrived with a big plan. The aim of our stay was not only to complete the second half of my sabbatical but also to prepare Fenix for crossing the Atlantic. Something I was secretly hoping for from that day when we declared on that late night at the brokerage in Palma de Majorca that we need a blue water yacht to sail home to Australia.





Our holiday started in Rosas where Fenix spent the winter. After three days of preparation we sailed from Rosas to Barcelona, normally a two day easy sailing South. But it was not to be.  Had no wind, we were motoring into choppy seas and ended up having an honest good fight about the subject “what sailing was about”.


It was the ultimate fight between a purist (Steve) and someone (me) who was ready to make compromises. For me sailing is about moving, the boat is nothing else but an exciting, versatile vehicle. One can use it to have incredible adventures fighting the elements or one can have “KitKat”breaks while lazing on the deck. It is also our mobile home for months on, taking us to new exciting places.  But for Steve the boat means something different. The fight happened because of the wind or should I say the lack of it. The day started quite well. It was a sunny day with a light breeze in the Bay of Rosas. After leaving the cape we turned South and within an hour or so the wind died. Full stop! Full of optimism we adjusted the sails and drifted painstakingly slowly towards Barcelona. But around 15.00 our luck appeared to change and we got a nice 15-20 knots breeze. The wind was blowing head on but at least it was wind. So we started beating, sailing out to South-East and back to South-West. This was sort of an interesting exercise for a while as it was our first sail on Fenix this season after all. But the wind has this strange behaviour that it changes its direction as it hits land. And the change is almost always not favourable for the sailor who wants to “get to somewhere”.


Unfortunately after tacking in and out for 3 hrs or so I looked at the chart plotter to see that we simply did not get much closer to our destination, Barcelona.

As a practical person I suggested that we should switch on the engine. Hearing the dreaded words of engine my other half went berserk.


With a single breath he declared that he hates long distance sailing with set targets, he would rather do 20-25 NMs a day, which we can complete under sail whatever the conditions are and above all he dislikes sleeping at night on a moving boat.


Now this announcement was great to hear. Not only that we had to get to BCN within 2 days for me to start work on Tuesday but we were preparing for crossing nothing less but 2,700NM across the Atlantic Ocean! So, we had a problem! Last time I looked there were no Marinas between Las Palmas and Saint Lucia.


Just to make it clear he was not against sailing in whatever wind conditions but against trying to get to somewhere on time. What he likes is “cruising” in its real sense.

Remember the meaning of the words? Just cruising?


At this case we did not have a choice so after hearing all the arguments for and against switching on the engine we simply had to do it to get to Barcelona. But as a result of the revelations heard my head was full of negative thoughts and doubts on our arrival.  Was my stupid initiative about crossing the Atlantic such a great idea after all? So, for days Barcelona remained a dull colourless city. And I was wondering what on Earth I was doing here.


But one morning during my ritual run around the stunning modern port suddenly the colours returned and I looked up on the man standing on the famous Column and smiled at my hero Columbus who without hesitation pointed his finger to the West. I could see he was not wavering in his decision, he was convinced that there was something beyond the horizon and that he had to see it. So was I! My enthusiasm returned and again I could not wait to see the world that lies beyond the setting sun in the distance.


My daily run was around the new port Vell, from the sea towards the famous Column of Barcelona where, in case any Barcelonans waver about the direction they should take - literally or spiritually - Columbus convincingly points to the West! The Column dominates this part of the city; you can see it from everywhere. Columbus is of course well known by every schoolchild (or at least it used to be when I was at school) as the discoverer of the Americas. From my point of view whether he was the first ever human after the original exodus from Africa to enter onto its soil is irrelevant; as his arrival, for better or worth, changed the future of the continent. What is lesser known is how he raised funding for his trip. Even in medieval times fund raising was an essential part of all big plans. Thus - something like grant writing, so much part of my professional life - was also on the agenda of adventurers. Christopher Columbus (c. 31 October 1451 – 20 May 1506) was a navigator, sailor and above all and adventurer from the republic of Genoa.  In his time spice trading was the get-rich-quick scheme of the day, the equivalent of today’s share market flash trading, as the daylight robbery practiced by financial institutions is called, the speculation share price changes within 0.001seconds! By his time the distance between the desired riches of the West Indies (Spice Islands, today’s Indonesia) was quite correctly calculated and it was obvious that the vessels available at the time were unsuitable to sail the calculated distance. While for the average folks in the XVth  Century the worry was falling off the Earth, for navigators and sea merchants  the problems were very practical and apparently unsolvable with the technology available. The issue was that the vessels could not carry enough food and water to sustain life on board. According to some historians Columbus simply did not know his math well enough and stuffed up his calculations. He severely underestimating the circumference of the Earth,  as he estimated that a westward route from  Spain  to the Indies would be shorter than the overland trade route.  In my opinion though he knew what he was doing but was overly keen to present a plan that was at least in theory viable.  So he stated to the Spanish Queen, Isabella of Castile, that if everything went according to his calculations the trip was feasible. His far-fetched scheme won the attention of Isabella who ruled a bankrupt kingdom after fighting to retain control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. A shorter route to the Spice Islands was incredibly tempting to the bankrupt queen who agreed to finance the adventure.  We all know that following his plotted course, Columbus instead landed in San Salvador in the Bahamas in 1492, and changed the world as we know it. The relevance to Barcelona is that he was received with great fanfare in Barcelona by Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand, a Catalan. The city commemorates this event with a magnificent column reminding us of this great moment in history.


Although Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that each degree represented, by this time some sailors, particularly the Portuguese, have been sailing up and down the African coast for centuries, so he did possess valuable knowledge about the trade winds which proved to be the key to his successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called “Easterlies” propelled Columbus's fleet for five weeks, from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas. This is more or less the trip we will take with our boat, Fenix. Although we are equipped with more knowledge and endless gizmos to make the trip safer (or to report our demise!) fundamentally we will face the same elements and our struggle will be the same “man versus nature”.  

To be continued. I am not sure when. We have to travel 466 NM (830 km) to get to our meeting place near Malaga by the 26-27th October. So, here is a small selection from our favourite photos.  Liz