Monday 22 September 2014

Mistral brings the fish

The saying goes that sailing in the Mediterranean largely involves motoring from storm to storm, but as we motor across the mirrored surface it’s hard to believe that a big Mistral is on its way.  We slide through the shallows of the Fornelli Passage in the flat calm of dawn, saving us a 30-mile journey around the northern tip of Sardinia, and enter the harbour at Alghero to wait out the Mistral in the marina at Ser Mar, owned by the charismatic and charming Federico.

As I double up the dock lines, Fedrico smiles, shakes his head and tells me that the Mistral from the north hits the mountains and is deflected over the top of Alghero, missing the town altogether; ’15 knots, 20 maximum’ he says. But he still adds a third lazy line to our bow as we scan the sky for the early warnings signs. Our ensign hangs limply, the water is like glass, but I have learnt that the Mistral comes out of an electric blue sky like a thunderbolt, with little warning, and I continue my preparations into the evening.

Andrew, Consuelo and Katie are joining us for the 250 miles to Palma, and by the time they arrive at midnight, there is a change in the air: unseen fingers pluck at the flags on the pontoon and the temperature starts to drop as the advance guard infiltrates the alley ways of the walled city.  We awake the following morning from the air-conditioned sanctuary of Juno's cabins to find that the beast has been unleashed and on deck the wind is howling: Juno strains at her lines as the gusts climb above 35 knots and I am glad that we took precautions.  After a blustery day in the marina the wind starts to abate but we decide to delay our departure by another day to allow the sea state to ease. The forecast is for up to 5 metre waves in the Menorca channel and as we are in no rush we have a lazy day in Alghero, exploring the town and doing jobs around the boat while the girls catch up with their news. Fatty is relieved, having tired somewhat of the companionable silences that she has endured for the past few days incarcerated alone with me on Juno.

The sail across to Mallora proves to be a bumpy one.  A twenty-knot breeze on the bow adds a new short chop on top of the long rolling swell of the mistral, creating a confused sea and the worst conditions that we have encountered in the Med. With a reefed main and jib, Juno ploughs through the night at speeds of up to 10 knots until dawn breaks in the east and the warming rays of the sun subdue the ocean and stifle the wind; by mid morning the engine is on for the final run into the sheltered harbour at Porto Colon on the east coast of Mallorca.

Having dragged various unlikely lures around the Meditreranean without event a hint of a fish, we hook two big tuna. The first one snaps the line as I try to hand it up on deck so I use the gaff on the second fish and it lands on the deck thrashing its tail and spraying dark red blood over Andrew, my precious teak deck and me. After a brief and bloody struggle on the aft deck our fish is filleted and zipped into plastic bags in the freezer, but the clearing up operation is extensive and for days after I continue to discover morsels of tuna adorning various parts of the boat. The photos below have been heavily censored for the delicate eyes of Katie and Saz but they demonstrate the harsh realities of the process that brings tuna to our kitchen tables in neat little tins.

In Mallorca we are guests at Son Mas, a lovely traditional stone house built by Andrew and Jeannette 30 years ago, where the Milland Mob meet for a glorious weekend in the sun before returning to the UK for the long run into a British winter:  morning swims in the Calas, barbecued Juno Tuna on the terrace and dancing around the pool to the strains of disco music from the seventies. Back on the boat I resume my preparations and some of my misgivings over our Pacific adventure start to fade as the List shortens and the prospect of the Polynesian Islands starts to beckon. Brett and Dee who are crossing the Pacific on Spirit of Phantom have very kindly posted me their charts from a post office in Fiji and slowly, very slowly, the reality and scale of our looming adventure starts to dawn on me.


  1. Wow... the charts made it! Soooo much to look forward to out here. Nice Tuna by the way :-) xx B&D

  2. Thanks for the censorship,Frewie! Absolutely loved the wealth of experiences you and Caroline packed into my memorable Juno sailing trip! Bon voyage! Much love Katie xoxox