I arrived on the night train in the village of Eze-sur-Mer, as the sun raised is head over the Maritime Alps. Always a breakfast pleasure as the coast is flooded with colour off the red cliffs that drop into the Mediterranean Sea when the last coffee is served in the restaurant carriage.
I had travelled over from the west coast of France. Sadly five days before my departure, somebody had decided that they needed my passport more than I did and had run off with it, plus my savings for the next trip. My passport was no dilemma after ordering it on the Internet and took only five days before it appeared in the post box. The savings on the other hand were another story; they would have to take a bit longer to recover!
Elvire was now ready to be put back into the water; her rebuild at last finished. Ian and a team of Italian chandlers had worked throughout the last twelve months to bring her back to her original beauty; new teak decks, new sails, the lists had seemed immeasurable in preparing a yacht capable of sailing around the world. But now she was ready. All we had to do now; to terminate their year of hard work was to collect the EPIRB and our third crew member.
With our goodbyes completed in Eze-sur-Mer, Ian and I set sail for Saint Jean Cap Ferra to capture the last two missing pieces: Didou, a French sailing and skiing instructor who I had met five years previously in the alpine village of Val Thorens and the distress beacon.
The timing was clockwork; both were perched on the quay as we pulled into the port to top up Elvire’s fresh water tanks for the traverse. The emitter had already arrived by taxi, while Didou had made a more dynamic entrance sitting on the back of his fathers motorbike, with his duffel bag thrown across his legs as if trying to protect his knees from taking a scraping on the tarmac.
Finishing the final goodbyes to my adopted homeland, we set free the mooring wraps from the quay, letting the twelve tons of Elvire slide gracefully out of the port to follow the setting sun. The wind was blowing off shore; a light Mistral, giving us a straightforward introduction to find our sea legs and to unlock the rusty actions that we needed to recover to navigate Elvire efficiently across the open waters. This was a time for training and moulding the fragmented group into one team, the only choice if we wanted to complete our journey in safety. But it was going to be difficult; one divorced and two never married, all bachelors with energetic personalities on fourteen metres of yacht for seven weeks, we were all going to learn some new tricks.
For two nights and two days favourable winds kept us moving south, the North East wind pulsing up to force five was showing us the ideal speed to identify with the yachts power. With over two hundred and fifty metres of sail we were regularly hitting twelve knots. Elvire was now fully awake, the new sails driving her with a power that she had not exploited in twenty years, as we engaged in our first crossing to the Beleares archipelago, situated one hundred miles off the Spanish coastline.
With the sunrise of our first morning transforming the water an oily blue, one of the fishing rods that we were trailing started to shriek as the line was ripped from it’s nest. Our first bite, Ian unlocked the bowed rod from its support and started to pump, the upward action forcing the catch slowly to the surface, half an hour later, lots of pumping and some tired arms we had thirty kilograms of red tuna quivering on the deck.
For the next seventy-two hours the wind propelled us south and onwards to the island of Menorca. The bond was now developing between man and material as my memory worked over time to get my head around components that I had not touched in over two years. Winches, swivel blocks, kicking straps and a “French cuisine”: Easy in the harbour but not the same story at forty-five degrees in another language. It was a time of learning with bruises and cuts to show for the experience.
With the sunset of the third day we had our first glimpse of land; on the horizon we could just spot the lighthouse of Cape Caballeria giving us the orientation for our first night on Spanish soil. The Bay of Fornells is a natural harbour over two miles long and half a mile wide, protected from all points of the compass by the surrounding hills, a picture postcard, with the village of Fornells being the focal point.
We had moored up five hundred metres from the village late the evening before, so surrounded by the electrical storms that were giving us our morning’s entertainment, we lifted up the anchors and motored over to the village with the idea of replenishing the pasta and water supplies. After we had secured Elvire and filled her freshwater tanks, Didou and myself took shore leave and went in pursuit of the local supermarket. The plan was some ice for the tuna that was lying motionless on the deck and if possible sort out a beer fund for the weekend by a quick tuna steak sale on the side.
Doing a reccy of the harbour restaurants, we formulated our scheme; I would leave Didou on the other side of the road, uncover the manager, and then whistle for Didou to show the goods, in theory it was a great idea, in practice we were to late in the day. Sadly the word had got out; a tourist attraction had been created. Having our photograph taken holding the fish was the price for trying! So it was back to the boat for lunch to find Ian in stitches over our attempt to cash in on our luck before cooking up a few more of our favourite… tuna steaks.
The next morning a favourable wind bearing gave us the message to move on. Gliding out of the harbour between the other watercraft we traced the coast to the town of Ciudadela, the ancient capital of Menorca located on the west of the island. Passing the tower of St Nicolas that has guarded the access against unwanted custom over the centuries, we tracked the winding estuary to the port that lies sheltered below the Spanish colonial walls and their secreted streets.
The incentive for the stop off was fuel and a mooring for the night. So leaving Ian in charge to arrange the two issues, Didou and myself took a stroll through the picturesque town, to enjoy it’s out of season atmosphere and buy a few postcards.
Getting back to Elvire two hours later, Ian had bad news; the fuel station was closed for the next twenty-four hours due to a national holiday and there was no room in the port! It was time to move on..