A priest and a flying rubber ducky

Fri 21 Sep 2007 17:57
Just a little after three years to the day we are tied up to the sea wall at the town of Cartagena, a pleasant city on the south-east coast of Spain.Like so many coastal towns we are revisitng on our way west to Gibraltar, Cartagena has been considerably spruced up since we were last here, but the locals still do their paseo past the yachts every evening, and the disco still bares out until 7am. This time we are prepared and sleep with ear plugs and a fan running to drown out the noise. As we tied up some locals told us were lucky that it was Roman Week, with a big fiesta planned for the weekend, so of course we'll stay a couple of extra days.Cartagena was an important town for the Carthaginians (Hannibal and all that), and they had big punch ups with the Romans, who won, just. Evidently there has been a lot of excavation since we were here last, so it's going to be fun exploring and revisiting some wonderful restaurants.Cartagena was also one of the last hold outs of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, so we're immersed in Beevor's wonderful history of that dreadful time. It's really astounding the progress that has been made in just a few decades since Franco died. Spain is now a very sophisticated place that has caught up with the rest of Western Europe, and we've had nothing but good experiences here (except for our run in with the Guardia Civil in Ibiza, where there is now not a single yacht anchored in the harbour, despite the fact that the marina is always 'completo').
After a hectic couple of weeks meeting up with our crews in London and in Scotland and preparing Storyteller for crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific, we're on our way to Gibraltar where we're due on September 28th, just in time for a big weekend of Rugby World Cup matches. It's a pity England are playing so badly, because there's no fun beating them when they are so hopeless. I have my All Black cap to wear in the pubs, plus a French one, but they're not looking too good either. John will have to make do with my Australian cricket cap. We're due to leave Gibraltar on 8 October for the Canaries, hopefully via Madeira. We'll be joined in Gibraltar by our Scottish friend Derrick Classe and our English friend, Peter Beloe. Derrick and his wife Bernadine crossed the Atlantic last year in a boat the same as ours, so their advice has been invaluable, especially about the need for a large Spanish ham.
When we got back to Palma Mallorca we had only a day to prepare the boat for our Maltese visitors, Edward and Natalie Bencini and their good friend Father George Bencini, a priest who is a yacht owner and a wine maker. Our sort of priest, really. We soon discovered that George has a fund of naughty stories and a wonderful voice in the Mario Lanza tradition. He's also a church lawyer, so had many fascinating stories about marriage annulments, as there is no divorce in Malta. Those who know me well can imagine how riveted I was to his stories. It was awfully useful having a priest on board, as well as Edward who is an architect, especially when exploring Palma's massive cathedral.
A highlight of our few days back in Palma was the purchase and installation of an enormous jamon, the Spanish ham that is rather like prosciutto in that it is cured and doesn't need to be refrigerated. Fortunately Edward was with me to sample the different kinds of ham and to visit the "cuchilleria" the specialist knife shop where a male presence was a definite must. Then, with the pig's trotter poking out of the shopping trolley, and a special jamon stand and knife, we made our way back to the boat for a sampling. But first we had Father George perform a blessing of the ham, the boat, and all who sail in her.
In Palma we met up with several Aussie friends, including Diane and Greg Snowball, who are just beginning their time in the Med. We also spent many happy hours with Christine and Terry from Sedna who we first met in Sydney before leaving for France to take delivery of our new boats. It has been great catching up with them in Turkey, Greece, Mallorca and Ibiza. We had a very long lunch with them, accompanied by Father George's singing which was applauded by the young people on the yacht anchored next to us. This, followed by a rather more abstemious dinner of tuna that Terrry had caught together with Chrissie's excellent couscous salad, made for a big day before our 2am departure for the Spanish mainland. I'll hand over to John now to give you the technical details of the most amazing sight we have seen in the three years of our trip. Better even than the water spout!
We'd noticed a run down looking steel yacht anchored near us, with the Flying Kangaroo flag. Not a feral Aussie, we groaned. Seeing that his rubber dinghy had what looked to us like a swamp boat air propeller confirmed in our minds that this guy was a real eccentric. However when we then saw that he was assembling a hang glider we realised that he had a home made, powered hang glider that took off and landed on the ocean. He taxied out of the anchorage, powered up the motor and pilot, passenger and rubber dinghy climbed steeply and flew around the area for about an hour before landing. We, and the crews of the other boats in the bay were astonished, and relieved that a rescue mission was not needed.We joked that Father George might have to have given the last rites.
Now that all our visitors have departed and we're working our way westwards along the south coast of Spain, we feel that we're beginning the next, and most challenging, stage of our journey--the passages across the Atlantic and the Pacific.We certainly know a lot more history and geography than we did three years ago and have made some wonderful friends. There's an 'end of season' feel in the air, and the prices and temperatures are dropping as we move away from the 'hot spots' of the Med.
Unless something dramatic happens between here and Gibraltar I'll update the blog before our departure for the Canaries.On our ocean passages we'll try to write a daily blog reporting fish caught and other adventures, sea state permitting. For there's nothing as sure to set off a bout of sea sickness as working on the computer in a rough sea!  

JPEG image