The six years we spent aboard our 39 foot sailing catamaran Icarus–from 1998 to 2004–were some of the very best of our lives, and we thought it would be worthwhile to put together some posts which would recount those years, from Gibraltar to Syria, Lebanon and Israel.  We recommend that you have a look first at our posting on Icarus by clicking on the underlined boat name.  There you can have a ‘tour’ through the boat and will have a much better idea of what our experience was living aboard, for Icarus was truly our home for that period of time.

We found Icarus in a marina in San Raphael, France, midway between Cannes and St. Tropez on the French Riviera in June of 1997, and he was in pretty sad shape for a boat only seven years old.  He had been raced a good bit, and had been chartered for part of those years, but except for his sailing gear, critical to racing, he had been largely neglected.  Never waxed, his teak never sanded and oiled, both of his engine compartments awash in seawater and motor oil, his rigging showing ‘whiskers’ (broken wires which together make up the cables holding the mast steady)–he was a mess but looked to be salvageable and the price was certainly right.  Since we were returning to the U.S.A. immediately, we hired a charter captain to sail him to Gibraltar and get him into Sheppard’s Marina for the winter.  There he sat unattended until Dave finished a consulting assignment in Silicon Valley in January of 1998 and in March flew to Gibraltar to begin the restoration.

Between then and July Icarus was significantly enhanced:  new rigging for the mast, new sail cover, new bimini (the largest they had ever built at Sheppard’s), a new dingy and outboard engine, a complete new set of electronics including a SSB radio and radar, even a gangplank.  And we, of course, did a huge amount of the labor ourselves.  That included cleaning up the engine compartments, outfitting the boat with everything for the galley and sleeping quarters, and building a totally different anchoring system which simplified the entire process of dropping and retrieving the anchor.  We carried three hundred feet of chain and used it all frequently, so this innovation made a significant difference in what that experience entailed.

Here’s a shot of Bonnie, at that point called ‘Bonnie the Buffer,’ as she polishes the side of the main cabin.  Note the sanded teak handrail prior to oiling.

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We rented a motor scooter for most of the time we were in Gibraltar and Bonnie loved running around doing errands and grocery shopping in town as evidenced by the Safeway bags she is carrying.

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We came to love Sheppard’s as well for its history, its chancellery which seemed to have every boater’s every need, and the great collection of workers who were all part of our efforts at some point or other.  Here’s a shot of Ollie who made all the stainless steel that went into our bimini cockpit cover and whose welds were absolutely beautiful.  What you can’t see is the huge hunk of his left hamstring muscle that had earlier served as a shark’s lunch.

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And this one shows us unpacking the jerry can for the dingy, partly inflated in the background, as a couple of the guys work on a modification to the railing stretching across the stern between hulls.

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Because there was no way of lifting Icarus out of the water for servicing under the waterline in Gibraltar, we motored about twenty miles down the coast to a marina at Sotogrande, Spain.  The travel lift there picked us out of the water easily and motored us to our spot on shore where we cleaned and repainted the bottom.  Note how little of the hulls are painted black and thus in the water; our draft was just under three feet, much shallower than monohulled sailboats.

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Finally we were ready to go, and with our California flag flying we set sail up the coast of Spain.

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Sailing up that coastline proved to be a bit of a task, since we continued to have engine problems.  It seemed as though every twenty miles or so we had to put into a marina and Dave would climb down into one engine compartment or the other to repair something, each a learning experience about some new aspect of the boat.  The upside to having two engines?  Hard to imagine ever having no engine power.  The downside?  Breakdowns are twice as likely as they would be with only one engine.

But by the time we reached Valencia, Spain, where the harbor was undergoing a complete redo for the America Cup planned in a couple of years, we had things pretty well under control and were confident enough to leave the coastline and venture out into the Mediterranean itself headed for the Balearic Islands.  We stopped at Formentor, a small island famous only for its warm mud baths and beach, then on to Ibiza, the big party island, particularly for debauched English vacationers who were so out of hand the summer we were there that the British Consul on the island resigned in embarrassment at the conduct of his countrymen.  We stayed only one night on Formentor as a gale came up after midnight and we spent the rest of the night on lookout.  The anchorage was very small and full of boats, many of which had their anchors pulled out and were in danger of drifting into us.  A couple of days on Ibiza was enough.

We then headed for the island of Majorca further to the east and, we are convinced, one of the great islands of the world.  It has all the sandy beaches and palm trees one could ask for, but as well has beautiful and rugged mountains, towns dating from medieval times and filled with narrow streets, a cathedral begun in 1229 with the second highest nave in all of Christendom, an exceptional cuisine, particularly famous for its paellas, and a wonderfully friendly people speaking a version of Catalon unique to the Balearic Islands.

We arrived on Majorca sometime in September and were initially given a place to tie up in the marina at the end of a dock, then moved to a real spot the next month.

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Note the ancient windmills in the background.  Oh, and that’s Dave up the mast doing a little repair on a sunny afternoon.

Once in the marina in Palma de Majorca, we had planned to fly back to The States in October, but loved it so much that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.  The social life in the marina was endlessly fun, full of new friends and dinners aboard an assortment of sailboats.  And the beauty of the island itself just held us, even enthralled us.  The coastline on one side of the island is full of small coves with sandy beaches like this one,

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and villages nestled into its larger bays.

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The other side of the island is typically lined by towering cliffs that look down upon the sea,

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and are often dramatic since the sun set on that side of the island.

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We found a trail from the town of Deia which followed that coastline for miles and we hiked repeatedly.

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It passed through countless ancient olive orchards, some separated by stiles we had to climb over,

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some lined with walls the stones so tight they look like something out of Inca ruins,

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and almost all with olive trees a thousand years old and still producing olives.

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We also loved a number of the towns on the island, particularly Deia, an outpost along the rugged coast high above the ocean and filled with beautiful old buildings

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and quiet, shaded streets.

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Richard Branson had recently restored an old finca, or farm estate, now in the town, and the poet Robert Graves spent most of his adult life living there in a small house and walking down to the little harbor each day to swim.  I know that the term is overused these days, but Diea is a magical place.

I mentioned that there was a pretty active social life in the marina, and there we met so many who remain friends to this day.  We held several parties on Icarus, one of them with twenty-three people on board, not counting the children who spent the party bouncing on the trampoline between the hulls in front.

Halloween was also a big event and growing as a favorite in Europe as well at the time.  We managed to find a couple of pink pig suits and had a great evening snorting around several parties in the marina.

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But the highlight was probably Thanksgiving.  Our sailing friends Eric and Laura were staying in a beautiful restored finca in the country and invited us and others to celebrate with them.  Here ‘s the front of the finca

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and the view across the valley from there.

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Inside it was quiet and warm as this outside area in the finca demonstrates,

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and it included a small olive press as well since the owners still pressed their own olives at harvest.

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There was lots of laughter and fun, as Dave and his pals Daryl and Eric seem to be demonstrating,

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and things got a little crazier in the kitchen as Dave tries to see if the turkey can still fly, much to Laura’s horror!

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We finally had to call it quits and leave the island, only because we had Christmas plans with family back in the U.S.A.  So on December 10th we drove our little rental car back to the airport and left it, then climbed aboard an aircraft for home.