Three Costas on Hobo


Hobo heads south

Outward bound

The sales of Mediterranean Spain had been going so well that I found myself obliged to re-visit that
long and multi-faceted coast in order to make the next edition not just a reprint. My previous
recconaisance had been by car due to lack of use and the subsequent failure of my Westerly
Corsair Hobo to proceed. This had been fun but I felt that a little poking about in the Calas (coves)
of the Costa Brava would add lustre to the tome. Also because I had intimated that I would be
exploring by boat a significant sum had been added to my emoluments, too good to waste!

Over the summer I had been fettling Hobo and would even have had it painted were it not for a
tumble and a subsequent wonky knee. So, I returned from the Isle of Mann after the Manx Grand
Prix, and, with impressive synchronicity, practicaly run Eidothea onto its trailer and into winter
quarters. This done it was heigh ho for the South of France for Deirdre and I. On day two John and
Wendy, old friends from many Mediteranean cruises in company arrived and on day three we were

Not actually at sea you understand but down the Canal du Rhone a Sete to historic and familiar
Aigues Mortes where the traditional bottle of Rose was consumed alongside the quay
unambiguously signed "Commerce only" The town square was delightful as always and a passable
meal was enjoyed by all. I slept badly, spending most of the night wondering whether this was a
good idea and whether I should have gone by car...

The next day was frenetic. I had made a date with the chantier to raise the mast so rocked up there
early. Loic was there sitting in his crane with a motly crew of longshoreboys raring to go. So fast did
things move that the girls did not have time to get ashore so spent the next hour or two in the
cabin half expecting the mast to join them in the ensuing confusion. Hobo's mast is an impressive
piece of kit, 40 some feet in length, massive in section and boasting double spreaders, all designed
to round the world in safety, which it has.

By eleven we were weak with stress and heading down the canal for the next worrisome detail, the
lifting bridge. It did not open on schedule and nobody seemed to know when, if ever, it would
open again. Hope was raised when the boom of a cannon was heard. This could only mean an
abrivado, (running of the bulls) this meant a fete and a mere disruption, not the end of life as we
knew it. Sure enough, about three, the bridge man turned up and having passed that obstruction
we could not pass up the swinging bridge some minutes later and arrive, unready, on the bosum of
the sea.

It was only 20 miles to Sete and sans sails we set off. There was a worrisome banging from the
prop area so I was obliged to strip off and plunge over. Nothing wrong with the prop or bearing so
shelve that worry pro tem. The autopilot didnt work, mainly because I had forgotten how to use it,
solved that one.

The afternoon was glorious, sunny, warm and no swell to upset delicate shore tummies. We
cruised into Sete and tied up on the cruise terminal quay. Strangely one is allowed to do this.

Sun once more greeted us as John set off on his mission to fetch some baguettes. There was a
boulangerie not 100 metres away but John managed to explore the whole town before he found
one. This happened often, I think he did it on purpose being like me a bit of an explorer. The girls
were leaving today so after breakfast and some sail shifting and after the farewells were over we
puttered out of Sete and headed south. Once more the weather was good and late evening found
us entering Port Leucate. I had determined to chance my luck and anchor off the beach but was
delighted to find moorings laid in exactly that spot! Tied up, the evening passed into night and
John and I reclined in the cockpit and enjoyed the silence with only a bottle of wine and a lantern
for company.


The incomprable John

Seven am next morning and John found a cup of tea being waved in his face, a regular occurance
as he was to find out. Curbing my enthusiarm we had breakfast before leaving, an arrangement
John regarded as normal. Today had special significance as we would be starting work on the book.

With bated breath we closed the coast at Cap Bear and shortly after hoisted the Catalunya ensign
as we entered Spanish waters. Game on!

Port Bou was the first harbour to come under scrutiny and then others as the afternoon
progressed. The calas were mainly beaches hereabouts but some showed the difficulties to come
in the way they were hard to find, hard to identify and once found hard to enter because of rocks
and shoals. Late afternoon found us as planned in Puerto de la Selva, one of my favorite places on
earth. A white town against a backdrop of mountains in a bay of rare smoothness.

So encouraged were we that before long John was cleaning off the hull, mainly underwater. By
now his tour of the boat from truck to keel was complete as he had scaled the mast the previous
day to tidy up some loose wiring. Meanwhile I solved the banging problem, it was a loose engine
mount. We dined ashore on the balcony of a restaurant that gave us a fine view of Hobo by night.

Selva was equally inviting next morning, overnight several more yachts had joined us in the
anchorage. Not one had picked up a mooring buoy which is reputed to cost 30 euros a night. Some
shopping, some baguettes and once again we were underweigh and immediately hunting for
elusive calas. The whole day was spent sounding our way in and out of holes in the mountains,
some large some small and lots, unfortunatly blocked off by beach bouys. I would be in the bows
with the camera poised for the perfect shot while anxiously scanning the seabed for rocks, John
would be at the helm awaiting directions. It was utterly delightful to round a rock and see a narrow
beach reveal itself, not exactly for the first time in human history but the first time for us who had
so often skimmed the bays where these delights were to be found. By early afternoon and in the
vicinity of Roses we peeled off to catch a fair wind and with the motor silent sped over the
seascape to find anchorage in L'escala between the marina and the beach. Before the hour of the
sacred apero John once more was at one with the fish in the constant search for speed by means
of a clean bottom.

The days followed with much the same pattern, the calas became more difficult as we moved
south on the Costa Brava as shelves and shoals ran out a hundred metres of more from the elusive
cove with no markers on their extremities. We had two close shaves, one as a result of not reading
the pilot and one because we did! The first was after leaving St Felieu and rounding Punta de
Garbi. I was surprised, as was John when the keel touched on a rock when we were at what
seamed like a good offing. "Aha!" said I "something for the pilot" only to find that what I would
add was already there in black and white. The second scare was when approaching Tossa de Mar
from the north and following the directions for passing inside Isla de la Palma. When well
commited to the approach the seas parted and a fang revealed itself! There was barely enough
time to make a hasty exit...

At the end of a long day we arrived in Port Olympic in Barcelona. There my distaste for marinas
was exemplified by the 40 minutes spent in merely checking in... But what a town! I did not see a
single soul over 40! What energy! Can I have some?


A better class of cala

More days of exploration followed but with diminishing returns. With no more calas to explore we
were merely ticking off the harbours as we sailed by and checking for changed infrastructure. As
Valencia drew near I found my ambitions change in the course of one day. By now we had sailed
more than half the distance to Gibraltar, it was far easier to carry on than to return, but, as the day
progressed I realised that from here back to Beaucaire was 300 miles, via Gib it was 900.

Also, and here was the deal clincher, I had the unequaled John for the next four days and if we
sailed directly back to Sete we could do it in three days and nights... I realised it would be a hard
sell for John, the idyllic days and the peaceful nights in harbour replaced by a long slog back to
France. John rose to the challenge and very generously agreed to the plan so next morning it was
fill up the larder and head out to sea.

Homeward bound

It was Sunday and miraculously the fair wind that had accompanied us south now shifted direction
and became fair again! We started the day motor sailing and as evening approached found
ourselves under sail alone as we made our way up to the Ebro Delta. Dinner was enjoyed in the
cockpit with the table up and the carafe of wine steady on its moorings, a state of affairs I have
never managed to achieve in the Irish Sea! We arrived off the delta after dark. This feature is
interminable, especially if you are not offshore. Once more luck favoured the brave in that we did
not get headed until safely past this magnet for fishing boats. The wind went from SE3 to NE5 in
about 10 minutes and exactly on a change of watch. The autopilot had been acting up and could
not be relied on so I was clinging to the wheel when I should have been reefing. Fortunately John
had the right idea and set about getting a slab out of the mainsail, the jib having been reefed

I awoke to find that the wind had eased but the sea was vile, lolloping in from every direction. We
had managed to regain our course as the wind veered a little and slowly, as the long day
progressed, Barcelona drew close, another milestone. The autopilot was steering a hideous course
and I wondered whether the anchor winch handle, which was missing from its bracket could be
the cause. John went to inverstigate. It wasn't the winch handle but by moving a box of screws the
pilot regained its uncannily human characteristics. Evening found us off the Costa Brava where,
surprisingly, a cruise ship passed inshore of us as we sipped at our aperos. Who, we wondered,
could truly say, "This is the life!"

I came on deck to find we were off Palamos, and, if the gps was to be believed, amongst the
plethora of shore lights was the beacon on the infamous Las Hormigas. I have always passed
between this group of islets and the mainland so to imagine myself outside them in the black of
night required one of those feats of imagination that navigation so often requires.

Shortly after, and having rounded Cabo de San Sebastion the alluring mass of Cabo Creus defined
the horizon. By now all the swell had been ironed out of the sea and it was nice work to draw up to
this last outpost of the Pyranees and wonder whether we would arrive before dawn.

We did and it was by far the busiest spot we had seen on our Med meanderings. Fishing boats
were heading offshore from Roses, yachts were heading hither and yon and dive boats were up
early trying to claim the only mooring bouy off their underwater beauty spot. We steered north in
perfect conditions, the only flaw a slight worry about a forecast Mistral. Our misgivings were
misplaced, as John and I congratulated ourselves on how well things were going a yacht shot out
from under our bow from port to starboard. Nobody was at the helm and for as long as we could
see it that remained the case. The fault was shared. This boat must have been in my blind spot for
a long time. With Hobo heeled and the small genoa pulling one cannot see the horizon under the
sail, the only way to scan this quarter was to go up to the bow or change course...


Islet of Cabo Crus at dawn


Once more night drew in and once more it was an evening of fine food, warm winds and flat seas.
Sete was drawing nigh and the prospect of a night in bed alluring. The last five miles are the
longest of any trip and I frankly ignored the harbours speed limit after entry and raced across to
our old berth to finish up with a handbrake turn parallel to, and three inches off the quay, whew!
The plan next day was flexible. With only 20 miles to the Grau de Roi there was no pressure. The
swinging bridge opened at 1300 and after that, who knows? Indeed we sailed every inch to the
Grau as the NW wind gradually picked up, good job we were not further south!
Once in we began to strip off the sails, this done and with the lifting bridge due to lift we bowed to
the inevitable and shot through it. I had promised John that the mast could wait but arriving in
Aigues Mortes at 1700 we found Loic and his team lurking by the crane, what could we do? By
1800 the mast was down and we were free to go anywhere on the French canal system.
Exhaustion and Johns train being due at 1915 meant a night in the basin with Liverpool John from
Beaucaire joining us for a last apero.
Camargue pony takes a swim

Sublime peace defined the run back up the canal to the lock at Nourugier broken only by the
untimely swim of a Camargue pony. A specialist team of Sauveteurs Animaux were on the scene.
This lock lay only five kilometers south of Beaucaire but had a broken gate and opened only once a
week, luckily the next morning. Tied up for the night it was hot so I went for a swim in the canal.
Afterwards, as I hoovered up a strange meal of odds and sods left over from the cruise I reflected
on the trip. I was glad I had overcome my misgivings at Aigues Mortes on the way out, I was
grateful for the sterling service and companionship of John. I had a head full of memories and a
notebook half full of good things to know but mainly it had been a great cruise, varied and full of
interest, everything a good cruise should be.

I was back on my quayside mooring in Beaucaire by 1100 the next morning.