Planning for our longest single trip yet…and knowing that we had David Heane, maiden voyager extraordinaire, arriving to assist once more, we intended to provision at the nearby Mercadona supermarket. Unfortunately, it took us hours and miles of walking due to catching the wrong bus!
Anyway, we finally arrived back at the boat (by taxi) and unloaded just in time for David’s arrival. Before any beers could be opened we had a serious job to complete. The fitting of the fog horn. (Foghorn, Leghorn!). David and I
hauled Ian up the mast to the first set of spreaders, a second time so he could fit the refurbished fog horn. But this time he also wanted to be pulled all the way to the top of the mast so that he could inspect it completely. A lot of effort for David. I was on the safety lines.
Beers were opened but not too much as we had to be up at 0430 to leave enough time to get to Ibiza so we could rendezvous with Angela.
We negotiated the busy fishing area outside Altea. By sunrise we had passed most of the fishing craft around us. We had a good days sailing, even Genevieve made an appearance but she broke her shackle around the bowsprit so had to be put away again! But whilst she was up, we saw dolphins on about three occasions. Large pods of them that came to play around the bow. It was fantastic to see them. We arrived in San Antonio, Ibiza at about 1730. Our first impressions were good.
We were tied up in a nice space near the toilets and the Capitania. David and I had put the boat to bed before Captain Moulding came back from booking in, with his free handy zippable folder, useful lanyard and, most importantly, drinks vouchers.
We spruced ourselves up and set off for the bar. Three beers and three cavas later we headed back to the boat for dinner. Next day, would be a quick hop round the island to Sant Miquel where we were to pick up Angela.
We arrived early afternoon and anchored over sand.
We took the dinghy to the beach to suss it out and peruse the menu of a beach front restaurant – possibly one of the the most expensive ever! And then we were back at the boat for tea. Sleep by 2130 so that we would have a few hours kip before Angela arrived from her flight to Ibiza. The boys got up to go and collect her from the beach. The taxi driver was most perturbed to be leaving her alone on the beach at 0130. She assured him that the lights heading to shore were indeed coming to collect her.
We were up and at ’em by 0500 hrs and off to Mallorca in a very wallowy sea; whether motoring or sailing. We made fair progress. Mostly motoring because of the swell. We arrived in Andratx in the afternoon and parked on the floating pontoon stern to next to a friendly Frenchman. No sign of the Ports IB marineros so we set off to the bar and were delighted to meet the gang from T’Shire. The Daggets and The Vyvyans. How special!
We had made it! 790 miles over the course of 7 weeks. They had provided the incentive to arrive at a certain place by a certain time and we had done it!
Saturday, 9th April brought more gentle weather and winds so we set off for Benalmadena for a second time in rather less fraught circumstances than before. The winds were so pleasant and light that I was able to cook coq au vin en route!
Predictably, by the time we arrived in the enormous marina the wind had picked up to a healthy 20 knots however, we managed to park on the waiting pontoon without incident. Half an hour later we were squeezing into the smallest space between two motor cruisers, juggling fenders on either side.
What a strange marina. It is an enormous basin within which are islands with apartment blocks topped with turrets and rounded edges, covered in twinkling tiles and bits of broken mirror; with arching road bridges so that cars can drive directly into the garage areas underneath. It’s very Disneyesque! It does mean that just to walk out of the marina onto the main road for banks, supermarkets and so on takes about 25 minutes.
Similarly, a walk to the Capitania’s office takes about 20 minutes so when I went to pay I was dismayed to hear that I had to go back to the boat to retrieve the receipt for the key in order to be given my €20 deposit back. It’s all good exercise.
We set off to Caleta de Valez.
The minute we rounded the breakwater the wind was strong. The shelter of the marina giving the impression that it was a calm windless day. Sneaky! The waves soon got up and we had three reefs in the sail again. This time the wind didn’t abate and as we neared the marina we came across an unmarked fish farm ahead, which we just managed to avoid. The height of the waves making it difficult to see the yellow buoys marking the four corners of the farm.
I can explain the strength of the wind at this point by telling you that there were wind surfers everywhere! One of whom found himself on the wrong side of us! Luckily, he was able to steer away. I was on the helm as Ian pulled down the last bit of mainsail, and I had no idea what to do to avoid him! Phew! Next thing..how to get into the marina with a very strong following wind and no clear idea of where we were to go.
After a few shouts down the radio and incomprehensible responses because of static, we saw a man in hi-viz waving at us. We parked up at 1715 in gusting winds, bows to on a pontoon near the boat yard. Fantastic. By 1815 all the wind had completely disappeared! Typical.
So, trundled off to the showers and thence to a bar for a drink and wifi and sat there catching up with the world whilst gradually becoming more and more aware of the unpleasant conversation unfolding between four Brits behind us in the bar. The content of their conversation became more vulgar, graphic and inappropriate and finally Ian, in his own inimitable style, called across to them to ask them to stop.
One of the men thought that Ian was threatening them and suggesting a fight. He made as if to stand up but his friends pulled him back into his seat and calmed him down. However, minutes later he was up and out of his seat and moving towards Ian with his fist drawn back. I grabbed his sleeve to stop him punching and his friends, two Spanish men, and the bar tender were all trying to hold him down. Ian’s woolly jumper had a huge hole pulled right out of it. It was all very horrid.
As the man was dragged away by his friends, disappeared into the early evening night shouting about how he was going to kill Ian
Minutes later, the friends came back and said that they had put the man on his boat and that he was fast asleep. They explained that he was ex SAS soldier who had fought in Iraq. Further, it transpired that he had been given an antidote to Anthrax, which was a biological weapon that was thought to be in use in Iraq. This antidote had caused great problems with the psychological and bodily health of the soldiers. Even now, this man was having monthly blood transfusions and psychological counselling to help him. The cocktail of drugs that keep him alive and relatively functional can cause great disturbances in the delicate chemical balances in his brain when mixed with alcohol! Great! We just happened to be on the receiving end of his complete lack of inhibitions and his excessive aggression.
We left Caleta as soon as we could; firstly to be sure we didn’t bump in to Crazy SAS Man and secondly because a pneumatic drill had started up in the boat yard next to us. After a brief altercation with a lazy line of the boat next to us, we were clear and setting off by motor as the wind was non-existent. All the upset of the night before disappeared as we saw loads of dolphins near one of the fish farms.
Soon, the headland of Marina del Este came into view. We were given a bottle of wine on arrival at the waiting pontoon, which slightly softened the blow of having to re-park. We had another snagging of a lazy line on the way in but the calm and relaxed assistance of the Brit on the yacht next door made it bearable.
We met up with our Dutch friends from Ceuta on their boat Skadi for a quick drink, which was nice, and then the next day had a visit from Pim, the previous owner. He was in the area looking at flats to rent and very kindly offered to come over to answer our queries about the boat now that we had sailed her a bit.
Later, we walked, the long way round to Herradera the nearest town, where we saw at least thirty para-gliders
bobbing about above the headland. The marina and its setting is certainly the prettiest we have stayed in, with cute little white apartments gathered all around the edge and a huge limestone outcrop protecting the seaward side.
We left Marina del Este at 1000 in light winds and swapped the Genoa for Genevieve, the large genaker sail, which is about as big as a tennis court. With the wind behind us it is a fantastic sail to push us along quickly in light winds. However, we should have realised that the winds would only get stronger. Having run through a verbal ‘what would I do if Ian fell off now’ scenario, I tried to pull down Genevieve’s snuffer myself from the front deck. In the strong winds that had built up, this is like trying to pull a narrow tube over a plate. The power in the sail is massive. At the point when my entire weight was being lifted up of the deck, I decided I just didn’t have the strength!
So, Genevieve has gone away in her cupboard; only to be used in LIGHT winds.
Arrived in Almerimar in 23 knots of wind from the SW so surfed into the marina! Parked in a quiet and windless corner only a few boats away from our Dutch friends on Skadi.
Had a day in this massive marina for shopping and chandlery. Ian spent €75 on a bow fender which took the both of us two hours to fit!
On Friday 15 April we set off for Aguadulce. The winds were wonderfully light in the morning so we tried a little fishing and within five minutes had caught our first fish. A spiked little orange thing with a wide mouth! I unhooked it from the rusty hook, and threw it back in and then I dropped the lead weight and hooks back in to the water. Unfortunately, Ian had only a lot hold of the fishing line and the swivel stick. So the whole lot was pulled out of his hand and plunged down into the sea below!
I cracked on with jobs and covered three fenders with neat and tidy fender socks. Ian did some polishing. See my other blog regarding ‘Routine’.
Soon after this incident, the winds picked up from a nice 10 knots to 20+ knots. We arrived in Aguadulce and had a bump with the fuel jetty putting a bit of a dent in Linea’s side and stretching the top guard rail. Oops!
Nice and safe in Aguadulce, and after phone calls to Andrew Lowrey and a lovely chat, it seems unlikely that we will be able to get together this time. So we caught the bus to Almeria and visited the most fantastic municipal market. There were polished vegetables and fruit, hams, olives and fish. It was an absolute education watching the fishmongers, fillet, de-scale and de-bone the fish. There were astonishing displays of sword fish swords, whole tuna and massive lobsters, langoustines and prawns and glistening examples of every kind of edible fish.
Almeria also has an amazing Moorish Castillo,
which is the size of a park, complete with gardens, rills,
rivulets and fountains. Beautiful, but VERY windy at the top of the Castillo.
After our sightseeing day we departed fairly promptly for a big sail to Garrucha. With decent winds predicted we were sure we could make it.
We put the second reef in the mainsail and with the wind right behind us we sailed on a perfect run with the sails goose winged.
Garrucha is a commercial port and has the most enormous breakwater surrounding its Northern and Eastern extremities. It can shelter the huge cargo ships that come in to load up with enormous quantities of concrete, sand and gravel. There are around 60 lorries an hour delivering quarry loads of stuff to an area at the end of the breakwater. A team of ten man-sized diggers scoop the stuff on to conveyor belts that pour the piles into the holds of the ships. Gradually, the water line creeps up the sides of the ship and they are not so towering after all.
Anyway, I digress, as Ronnie Corbett would have said. This particular day the waves were crashing against the breakwater and spikes of water were firing right over the top and jabbing into the piles of stone. I imagine that the wall must have been four, or even five stories tall. It dwarfed the lorries as they beetled back and forth along the road towards the loading area. And yet the sea was so big that waves were crashing up against it and coming right over!
We left Linea in her sheltered position and took a trip to a little hilltop town down the coast. Mojocar.
We jumped on a bus but it was only going to the beach. We walked back to another bus stop and found the right us to take us up. To the top of the peak…Mojocar. Hmmmm a funny kind of place and most definitely a tourist attraction. But why? A beautiful ancient tree, a church, a statue, a peak with views, narrow streets, but other than that, not a great deal.
We took a bus back down and walked along the front, with waves crashing to our right, back to the marina.
After a day of jobs, we set sail again, this time to Cartegena.
Another big day’s sailing heading for Yacht Port Cartegena. The entrance was most confusing; we were directed by the Guardia Civil, in their motor boat, as to the correct course to take to enter the harbour. It appears that the cruise liner pier is being extended and the preparatory work is to drop tonnes of rock and debris in the harbour. Unfortunately, it is not clearly marked off and we skimmed the very edge of it! How pleased was I to have completed 49 miles and parked up in strong winds, next door but one to Skadi! I needed that hug from Peter and Annelies!
More culture was to be had in Cartegena. We visited the superb museum of Sub Aquatic Archeology and then walked around the city and up to the castle. It is the most amazing collection of eras.
Moorish, Roman, Christian. There is an incredible amphitheatre,
a bull ring (being renovated), and loads of fantastic buildings in the historic centre. There is much clever and considerate renovation going on, where the facades of numerous houses have been preserved and the building that used to support it is about to be replaced with a modern equivalent.
It’s probably a city to visit In another five to ten years. They are on a mission. The museums are interactive and impressive. No expense has been spared in the presentation of artifacts and information. The centre is compact and attractive. The views are amazing. The history, incredible. You can imagine the hive of activity that there must have been years ago when Cartegena was the hub of commercial activity of ships from all over the world and also an important port of refuge for war ships.
We left Cartegena for Santa Pola, Marina de las Salinas.
We had to motor today as there was virtually no wind. We arrived and as directed in the Pilot Guide and we headed for ‘the cheaper of the two marinas’. Where we paid €50 (!) including electricity, water, wifi and car parking space! Oh, and the added privilege of being directly under the flight path of the local airport. Ouch!
After leaving San Pedro we headed further north to Altea, our final stop on the Spanish mainland We knew that if was a fair way and that if we got there today we would have two days to provision and do jobs before David Heane’s arrival on the Monday.
So, we decided to crack on which meant another night sail. We passed Benidorm and noted the high rise skyline, reminiscent of Hong Kong. We managed to clear the headland to Altea Bay as the sun went down so we could see where we were heading. Our French friends on Moriannee were anchored in the bay….we contemplated a drive by… briefly.
We motored straight to the marina by now in pitch dark. We radio-ed in and asked for a berth. We were allocated P12. Which is fine, if you know where P12 is. By now, the wind had completely dropped so we were able to hover until we saw a man waving a torch. We headed to that spot and parked up bows to. We were handed lines to attach and a lazy line to fix the stern: Proper!
Altea is pretty; narrow streets, hills, churches with blue tiled rooves, quaint squares, stunning sea views, a long promenade, yellow beach and cute shops. Well worth a wander round the steep and narrow streets of the historic centre.
So glad we are here for a few days of jobs and recuperation before the next big leg to Ibiza and Mallorca.
Well, just in case you think this adventure is all about G and Ts on the deck before the sun has even gone over the yardarm, I thought I’d fill you in on the general daily sailing routine on board Linea.
First, obvs, Ian brings me a cup of tea and immediately my first work-out commences. Twenty vigorous pumps up and down and I can feel the pressure mount. Some lubrication is necessary. We use olive oil on the advice of other seafarers. Suddenly, flushing is a lot easier and the toilet (heads!) is squeaky clean. Frantic, but necessary exercise and then we have breakfast!
We set off to shower in the marina shower block, if there is one, and, afterwards, I go to the marina office to return the key and go through the obligatory paperwork. (At least eight pieces of paper, sometimes twelve!). Since the offices are at the arrival pontoon this usually involves a fair hike to and fro.
Whilst I have been away, Ian has been checking all the weather reports. It’s no good just checking the one, since the weather is so unpredictable in the Med at this time of year and each one predicts slight differences. We take the average and add ten knots!
He has re-attached the main sail halyard and unzipped the sail cover. The navigation has been done the night before, putting all the crucial waypoints into the computer so that we have a clear course to follow. We have the paper charts and pilot guide to hand, having read up, in detail, about where we are heading, obstacles along the way and the destination port.
Whilst waiting to depart we hear a Pan Pan message going out on the VHF radio to all ships in the Straits and Alboran sea. There is a dinghy adrift with 50 souls on board and we are asked to keep a sharp look out and report any sightings. We gasp at the thought of people being stranded in those waters with no means to steer or propel themselves in such a busy traffic area. Hopefully they will soon be found and taken to safety. These messages have become a daily occurrence.
Gathering ourselves together, we remove the heavy mooring lines from the bow and any spring lines we have set up. Once we are ready, we start the engine and Ian drops the stern mooring line. I then pull in the slip lines and we back out carefully from our spot trying to avoid the mooring lines of other boats next to us.
‘Clear!’ I yell, and off we go out of the marina. My first job is to remove all the lines and coil them up to be stowed. For short slip lines this is relatively easy, but lifting and coiling heavy mooring lines presents serious weight lifting for the arms
I carry them back to the rope locker tucked in the curve of my elbow and lying across my hip, like naughty babies and gently lie them in the locker until they are needed again.
Then, I undo all the fenders – one by one – that’s usually eight, sometimes nine. I carry them to the cockpit and lob them bodily down the companionway. Next, I have to climb gingerly down to the saloon and push the fenders under the table, wedging them in like sausages in a Tupperware box.
Back up on deck, I check that the cockpit is ready for the hoisting of the sails. Reef lines (three of them) need to be placed in even figure of eights so that they uncoil without interruption.
The main halyard needs winding round the main winch in preparation for hauling up. The topping lift needs winching in tight, the vang needs releasing, as does the main sheet.
Soon, we decide the time is right for the main sail to go up. I head the boat up to wind so that her nose is dividing the air neatly and evenly. Ian stands at the mast. I engage Pedro the auto pilot and dart to my position near the halyard. Ian sweats the halyard, I pull in the slack. Teamwork! So we go on, until the main sail is almost at the top of the mast. I then begin to winch in a centimetre at a time! Ian appears from the mast and continues. Then takes the helm to turn us away from the wind. He urges me to winch a little more. I make a tiny adjustment, which he accepts as ‘fantastic’ and, thank god, the thing is up.
No rest yet. I then have to pull the Genoa as Ian releases the furler and finally we have both sails up! Still more tweaking to do, so that they are set and I can sit. But not for long. This has probably taken the best part of an hour.
All the while we are both keeping an eagle look out, using our fantastic binoculars (affectionately called ‘knockers’) for Cardinal marks, lobster pots, fish farms, other boats, dolphins and huge pieces of floating plastic sheeting that can blow off the thousands of huge ‘greenhouses’ along this south facing part of the Spanish coast line.
After being head to wind for so long it is also necessary to check where we are in relation to our course and the chart. I nip down below and look at the Open CPN navigation charts on the computer.
I send the latest activated waypoint information to the helm.
Back up top I go to see how we are getting on.
Perhaps now it’s calm, it’s a good opportunity to pop to the loo, (sorry- heads!) and it is, of course,at this precise moment, that a huge pod of dolphins decides to make an appearance. Ian shouts with delight. I rush up top with the camera and glimpse loads of dolphins in small groups chasing and herding the fish and having a feast but quite far off. There are a number of seagulls flying along in their wake. They have discovered that where there are dolphins there surely must be fish.
The dolphins do not grace us with any close up, dip-diving today.
Surely, it’s coffee time now. I go back down and put the kettle on. Coffee and biscuits appear, as if by magic, in the cockpit and we have a quiet minute whilst Pedro carefully steers us along our course.
Suddenly, Ian is digging in the locker for the stainless steal polish. He sets to, polishing and buffing, around the boat.
Not to be outdone, I decide that this is a good time to start pulling the new dark blue nylon socks onto our scruffy old fenders. Back down the steps I go to retrieve the sewing stuff. Pulling the socks over the fenders requires remarkable strength and is akin to pulling tights up wet legs! Once they are in position, an over-stitch with shearing elastic creates a rope effect and keeps the collar and cuff of each sock in place on the fender. They do look smart!
The wind remains light and constant, so we decide to get out the mackerel fishing line. We are sailing over a fishing haven and there are bound to be fish.
Ian dangles the hooks and feathers over the side and within five minutes, he has a bite. He pulls in the line to reveal the smallest, spikiest fish I have ever seen. I put on the gloves and detach the fish from the hook and chuck it back in. Poor thing looks the worse for the experience. Having detached the minnow, I throw the lead weight back into the sea, but Ian has only a light hold of the rest of the line so the whole thing is jerked out of his hand and we watch it drop to the bottom of the ocean, helplessly.
Well, that’s the end of fishing, for the time being but there’s no peace for the wicked!
The wind is picking up and we decide to put the main sail away and use just the headsail as we are on a run and the wind is right behind us. (It’s safer and a lot easier to put away if the wind builds further.) We turn into the wind, which by now has increased to more than 20 knots, and release the halyard. The sail drops down almost entirely into the sail bag, just needing a hand to fold in the last metre or two.
We sail along at about 8 knots. It’s relatively peaceful on this point of sail and we are well-balanced. I rustle up a quick lunch.
The arrival port is in sight.
Then the foresail needs pulling in. Ian does the winching and I ease the genoa sheet so that the sail doesn’t get tangled around the forestay.
Then the engine goes on, and we are motoring towards our destination. I edge my way along the boat to pull up the motoring cone, which lets other boats know that we are motoring. Once that is done it’s time to put out the fenders, ready for parking. I have to go down to the saloon and push all the fenders back up on deck. I climb up behind them and push them into the cockpit and emerge like a hatchling amongst eggs.
One by one, I carry them down the side of the boat and tie them on to the rail. Back and forth I go, methodically. Next, it’s time to get the lines ready for mooring. Usually we need a stern line from the back of the boat and a bow line at the front. I dig them out of the snake pit and scurry around to attach and coil them so that they are ready to throw to the Mariners who are on shore. Of course by now it’s blowing a hoollie to bring added spice to our manoeuvres and I know within thirty of minutes of turning the engine off there won’t be a breath of wind.
Whilst Ian calmly steers the boat against the Arrivals Pontoon, I prepare to fling the lines ashore and onto the outstretched arm of the patient mariner. He attaches the rope to the shore and hands me back the end of the line. I pull this through the fairlead and on to the cleat as quickly as possible so that the boat can’t drift. As soon as that line is fixed I move to the bow and repeat the process so that we are balanced. We both breath a sigh of relief and whilst Ian sorts the paperwork out with the Marina Office, I have a quiet five minutes.
Now that we have been allocated a berth we will have to perform the parking exercise all over again. I fix another bow line. We untie from the waiting pontoon and motor on over towards our berth. We usually go bows to with a concrete pontoon because with the dinghy on the stern it means that it is impossible to climb off the boat when the tide drops.
I fling the bow lines again and fix them. Then I reach back to grab the boat hook and lean over the side of the boat to scoop up the lazy line and take it back to the stern so that Ian can heave up and cleat off the hefty mooring line to which the lazy line is clinging.
Phew, we are all sorted! No not quite.
I lug the huge mooring lines, that I put away this morning, back up to the bow and throw the ends to Ian who attaches them to the bollards on shore. They will take most of the weight of the boat, rather than the thin slip lines which are easier to throw but not as strong.
Then we tighten everything up, Ian ‘sweats’ in the line and I pull in the slack and tie it off. Knuckles are at risk of rubbing raw against the rough surface of the deck, fingers can be trapped by the force of the lines and we are still not done.
The halyard has to be pinned away from the mast so that it doesn’t clank in the wind and keep everyone awake. The sail cover must go on to protect the sail from rain and ultraviolet light. All the lines from the sails must be tidied up and placed in figures of eight around the winches or coiled on the rail to keep them neat.
The wheel is covered with its canvas cover and everything that can be stowed away, is.
Now, and only now, can the kettle be put on for a well deserved cuppa and a quick shower.
But, hang on….we were alongside the Arrivals pontoon at 1500hrs. How can it be 1820hrs already?
We need to cook some supper and then it’s nearly time for bed!!
Anyone interested need only make the briefest of brief applications to be crew on our next leg!
Our first visitor came to stay this week. We were delighted to welcome my great friend, Paula Vickers, aboard. Staying for one night only after a busy working week for Dial an Exchange in Portugal. Paula arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and all too soon was jetting back to Blighty. It was great to catch up.
Over the preceding few days we had spent all our time prepping the boat for sailing. We checked the life jackets, took back the serviced life raft, fire extinguishers and the new EPIRB; refitting the VHF, washed some of the lines to get the salt off, deep cleaned the deck and polished the chrome, translated labels from Dutch to English and hoisted the dinghy. We also sorted the rope locker, marveling over the impressive collection of hose pipes and fittings, filled the tanks and stowed everything away safely, including Ian’s bike, which was shoe horned onto the bunk room.
Saturday brought the arrival of ship mate David Heane who was to assist as crew in delivering the boat to Gibraltar, one hundred and eighty miles away. Priorities, though, first we had to find somewhere to watch the rugby. So, we grabbed a taxi into Monte Gordo and found a strange little sports bar where the rugby was in full swing and beer was on offer.
We were up bright and early on Sunday morning and the Marinera came to help us with the turning of the boat in the marina. It was a beautiful morning with bright sunshine and flat calm which really helped us manoeuvre out of the restricted space.
We gave our new friends Tristan and Sue of SY Minerva a wave as we passed by and headed off down the long channel of the Guardiana River and out into the Atlantic.
First stop, Mazagon Marina about 30 miles off. We had very light winds initially but they built until we were able to deploy Genevieve the genaker, which quickly became Ian’s favourite sail.
This huge sail pulled us along at almost the speed of the wind. We made much better progress. We realised that since we were now in Spain protocol requires that one should change the courtesy flag on the starboard spreaders. We successfully removed the Portugese flag and attached the Spanish flag. Somehow, the string to which it was attached had become jammed in the pulley and nothing was happening to lift the courtesy flag to the required height. We added it to the list of jobs for the skipper to do the following morning.
Winds dropped so we chugged into the marina and were finally berthed by 2000hrs; a long day, but we all agreed it had gone very quickly. We headed for beer and wifi and then quickly rustled up a spag bol and collapsed into bed. Next day, we were up fairly early and the first job was to hoist Ian up the mast so he could fix the pulley. He was trussed up tight in a harness and attached to halyard. We pulled him up to the first set of spreaders, winches creaking disconcertingly as he rose high above the deck. Mission accomplished. He fixed the problem and we were sorely tempted to leave him up there on the naughty step!
However, we decided to let him down so we could continue the trip to Chipiona. We made good progress and were berthed early enough to grab a shower and head into town to replenish food stocks at the Allimentacione.
Moments after completing our provisioning duties, we walked down to the delightfully un-touristy town centre where we spotted a brightly lit bar on a street corner. Serano ham legs were hanging from the ceiling like a collection of upturned, day-old, party balloons. We suddenly noticed that we were all exceptionally thirsty, so we piled in and plonked down at the scrubbed Formica table and ordered beers. We were presented with a menu by the friendly Spanish waiter and tried to match the overflowing and delicious looking tapas dishes on display with the names of the dishes on the menu.
Los Faroles turned out to be absolutely fantastic. We were the vanguard of a run on the place and within ten minutes of us sitting down, the place was packed with Spanish families, couples and workers on the way home. All chattering nineteen to the dozen and enjoying the tapas. Fabulous evening, scrumptious food.
Next day, we set out to Puerto America at Cadiz. The wind was strong today and we were tied up on the arrival pontoon by 1600hrs. Absolutely shattered.
The port staff asked us to move to another berth just in case several 20 metre yachts might arrive and want to moor for the night. So we had to un-tie and go through the trauma of parking all over again. My least favourite part of the day!
By this time, the wind had really got up and was 18 knots and gusting much more. In a confined space this makes manoeuvring tricky, because big areas of the boat tend to act like a sail and make steerage challenging. As we pulled up alongside the pontoon a particularly big gust began to push the boat away. The breast line that was ready didn’t quite make it to the pontoon first time. Suddenly, the stern was being blown across and with no other boat in the pontoon there was nothing to cushion or stop our progress horizontally into the berthing bay.
With the bow being the only place to get ashore I was commanded to leap to the pontoon in order to assist David who was already there. I prepared to make the leap from the pulpit, the highest point of the deck, calculating my trajectory so as to avoid the anchor and the bow spirit sticking out insolently in my way. It was at least four feet down to the pontoon far below. As I rather nimbly, I thought, began my descent, my left ankle kicked up hard against an errant spinnaker pole with enormous force. Since the pole was firmly strapped on to the rail, it did not budge and my ankle received the most tremendous clonk. By this time I was airborne and cat-like somehow managed to land on the foot of my one dodgy, previously broken, ankle and judo roll to my feet. Now, I was aware of a tremendous pain in my left ankle and realised that I now had two dodgy ankles to contend with!
Finally, we managed to sweat the boat I towards the pontoon and get her sorted.
After a medicinal snifter, whilst applying an ice pack fashioned from a frozen chicken fillet to my elevated limb, we all decided we needed a nap to get over the trauma of the berthing.
Awaking at 1930hrs we set off for Cadiz town, me limping on both sides, where it soon became apparent that something was happening. There were people everywhere. We followed a group down a maze of streets off a huge square and came across a little bar on a street corner with a free outside table. We descended and abandoning any attempts to say more than ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’ ordered a range of tapas by pointing at plates of food on other people’s tables.
It was delicious! Swordfish, anchovies, sardines, potatoes and sea bass. All the while the crowds were building up along the street adjacent to us.
We heard drumming and a procession of people marched past us clad in white robes and hooded headgear, topped by an enormous point; like extended dunces hats with a KKK mask attached, swiftly followed by three crosses. Ahhh! Now we could see that it was an Easter Passion Procession.
The file of people continued to go past down the narrow street. A huge and ornate wooden sarcophagus was carried by, then finally an elaborate silver one with a model of Mary Magdalene perched on the top. Everyone clapped and then almost immediately started to disburse as the heavens opened.
Luckily, we were kept dry by the huge umbrella above our table. We waited for the shower to abate and then headed back to the distant marina.
Next day we set off to Barbate. The last, most Easterly port of call in the Atlantic. We left after an engine check, hoping to complete the 37 mile trip in good time.
There was very little wind, however, and quite a moderate swell, so we wallowed about making slow progress. Eventually, we pulled up at the visitors pontoon at dusk. The light drops very quickly here so by the time we had negotiated a berth via Google translate with the security guard, it was really quite dark. The marina was well sheltered and so we smoothly slipped along side the finger pontoon, no heroics today, to park quietly there for a few hours.
In double quick time, we rustled up a supper of ham, cheese, salami salad and potatoes; showered and set the course for the following day’s sail to Gibraltar.
We decided to leave at 0500hrs the following morning.
(Poor David would be glad to get back to work next week, for a rest!) The distance was at least forty miles on a straight course and was further complicated by tidal streams and currents with which we needed to coordinate as we squeezed through the Straits of Gibraltar. (Dire Straits?)
Not only that, there were the usual plethora of man made obstacles to avoid, such as; massive tuna nets laid over vast areas, military exercise zones, underwater cables suspended two metres below the surface. All of these are charted so routes can be planned accordingly, however, we would be sailing in the dark for that added extra challenge! We would need to be able to identify all the different flashing, occluding and constant lights in our sight lines so we would know where we were in relation to the chart. Also, in coastal waters, car headlamps can be a bit off-putting too!
In addition to that, there are the veritable mine fields lobster pot floats to keep an eye out for and skirt round.
During the week we had become accustomed to being alone on the wide open sea. Sighting another sailing boat was unusual. We spotted the odd ship in the distance and checked their identity on the AIS tracker.
So, as we approached Tarifa, the part of Europe closest to Africa, we were interested to see things becoming distinctly busier on the traffic front. There is a traffic separation scheme, for large cargo vessels, operating in the Straits. We saw it in action. We checked the details on the AIS of one of the ships as she passed us by some two miles away. 345m long and 50m wide! Yes, that’s correct! 345m long! The circumference of her deck being almost a kilometre! And then there’s us – 13m long. Definitely don’t want to get in the way of one of those.
There are entire books written about transiting the Straits, with warnings about overfalls, currents and counter currents as the Atlantic squeezes into a narrow eight mile stretch of water. For example, it is said that the wind blows at Isla Tarifa at 40 knots for 300 days of the year. It is also said that, ‘If the wind is light at one end of the Straits it will be blowing hard at the other.’ This is exactly what we experienced as winds built during the course of the day. Luckily for us it was one of the other 65 days on which we passed Isla Tarifa, our half way point, and although we had planned to anchor in the lee of the island to eat lunch and have a nap we decided that with the fair wind we should just crack on. By the time we reached the mouth of the Bay of Gibraltar the wind had reached 30 knots.
We tonked on with the wind behind us, gybing three or four times. Exhausting work, winching in the main sheet each time on a powered up sail. It was precarious to put the preventer on the boom each time we gybed but somehow we manage to do it all whilst cooking and eating scrambled eggs on toast. The skipper was on the helm so David had to feed him!
Suddenly, we saw The Rock of Gibraltar ahead. There were vessels everywhere, travelling in every direction, at ridiculous speeds! I was detailed to keep track of them all. A large red vessel crossed in front of us and we skirted her stern. A huge cargo ship surged past our starboard beam at twenty four knots. Ships lay at anchor on both sides of the bay, either waiting to off load cargo at Algeciras or Gibraltar. Fuel ships hugged up against other vessels to fill up their tanks. We bravely sail in amongst these giants. The wind is strong, the waves moderate and the current carries us along. We make good progress even with two reefs in the sail and half the head sail in.
Before long, we spy the breakwater up ahead. We head for the reception pontoon and two mariners are there to help. Wonderful.
We complete the copious paperwork for the fifth time this week and are allocated our berth.
We limber up for the gymnastics associated with parking our boat by rearranging the fenders and recoiling our lines. We complete the calisthenics necessary to to kick our legs over the rail, mooring lines in hand, and perch, precariously on the rail. The finger pontoon looms ever closer. Notoriously thin and wobbly, they are not the greatest thing to try to jump on to. Their minimal width does not allow an extra step to counter forward motion. It must be a standing landing. David jumps with the grace and delicacy of a man half his size and age. He makes it, with barely a wobble and hooks us on. The wind pushes us away. We utilise another cleat and manage to pull clear of the boat next door. A bow line is attached and all are sweated in against the wind and current to sit us fairly close up against the pontoon. No damage done, except to David’s finger which is scraped, bruised and bleeding all over the pontoon.
So happy to have survived the Straits (not so dire, after all), sailed 180 miles, and to have arrived in this spectacular spot, under the Rock, tucked into the marina of the appropriately named town of La Linea.