We finally got away from Rota before dawn on Tuesday 16th August. The forecast was less than perfect. The winds were still coming from the East but they’d be easing through the day to fall light and variable by evening. I knew we’d be motoring, but at least we could make some progress.
All went well to start with, in fact there was little wind at all. Sunrise was spectacular.
As we progressed towards Cabo Trafalgar though the wind picked up, as did the seas. Nothing to worry about, just uncomfortable and wearing. The Sahara dust being blown up by the Levanter made visibility hazy. I’d been looking forward to seeing Trafalgar, in the event we could only just make it out.
The tidal stream and overfalls around Trafalgar kicked up the seas even more. The wind had strengthened to F5/6 and we had both right on the nose.
We stuck with it for a while but pretty soon I decided it was time for Plan B. We were being slowed close to 3 knots each time ‘Gleda’ pitched into a wave trough, I’d had to open the throttles more and so fuel consumption had gone up. We were looking at another four hours of the same to get near Tarifa. In the end it was a no brainer, I turned Gleda North and we headed to Barbate.
We got in at 14:30 having taken 8.5 hours to cover 43Nm, all under power and using 30 litres of petrol.
Barbate town looked a bit bleak as we approached, the marina is, as everyone had told us, pretty soulless. We moored ‘Gleda’ to the reception pontoon until the office opened after lunch, then, after checking in, motored to the fuel dock on the other side of the harbour to replenish our supplies, then back to our allocated berth.
It was a good job we got in early, not long afterwards there was a steady stream of arrivals as boats that had left Cadiz Bay behind us decided, as we had, that they weren’t up to slogging on into the wind and waves.
Barbate may have been soulless but it did the job, we slept safe, and the next morning we were on our way again. Dawn this time was even more spectacular.
The wind stayed light as we approached Tarifa. We were fighting a foul tide, but we managed to keep the speed up to 4knots without too much effort. Before long, out of the haze, distant mountains began to appear. The Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Africa.
Then Tarifa, the most Southerly point in mainland Europe, the most Southerly point in our voyage so far.
Now we were in The Straits of Gibraltar, things started to get exciting.
This is one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes, they posed no problems for us though as we were sailing in the inshore traffic zone well away from them. I did alter course once though to keep clear of a fast ferry inbound from Rabat. She was doing 26 knots! The VHF was buzzing with traffic. we got a reminder of the troubled world we live in when Tarifa Radio broadcast a Pan Pan message. It was asking all ships to keep a lookout for 10-12 persons in a rubber dinghy reported as being adrift somewhere in the vicinity of the Straits. I can’t imagine how desperate you’d need to be to try crossing that stretch of water in a small dinghy.
By now, as per forecast, the wind was picking up from the West rapidly. I was able to haul the engines up and get ‘Gleda’ sailing, it felt great.
We had a super downwind sail along the coast and before long Gibraltar loomed into view.
Gail was disappointed, it didn’t look like the iconic rock we see in all the pictures. As it turned out we just needed to be patient.
As Gibraltar Bay opened up to port the wind was up to F6. I got the jib and foresail down as we came onto a reach and headed up towards La Linea. The next 30 minutes were exciting to say the least.
Here’s a view of my plotter screen showing the AIS tracks. For those that don’t know AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. Basically all big ships have to have a transponder that sends out information including position, course, speed etc. The red triangles you can see are ships, the lines in front show their direction, the dotted lines show where they might cross with ‘Gledas’ course. ‘Gledas’ position is shown by the red ship shape close to the word ‘Bay’.
I was beginning to feel like a fighter pilot tracking missiles locked on and aiming to wipe us out.
As an aside you might be able to see the speed indicator over on the right hand side. It’s reading nearly eight knots and remember we only had the main up.
Anyway I managed to avoid everything, although we did have too close an encounter with yet another fast ferry. He was approaching our bows from the port side at well over 20 knots, it looked as if he was turning astern of us but I wasn’t happy. I turned to port so that he would pass ahead of us and so he did, but only at about 1/4 mile distance.
The wash off these fast cats is scary. I immediately turned ‘Gleda’ bows on and we just had time to shut the main hatches before crashing into at least 3 waves, each about 2 metres from trough to crest and very close together. Gail was hanging on below, I was hanging on to the wheel. The bows pointed skywards then fell into the trough sending green water right over the foredecks before rising again for the next. It was a real fairground ride for a few seconds. No damage done, ‘Gleda’ just shrugged the water off and kept going.
We moored up to the reception pontoon at Alcaidesa Marina, La Línea de la Concepción just after 3pm. Another 8 hour passage, another 40 odd miles covered.
Two Marineros helped us into our berth, it was tricky. Despite their help I still managed to put some of ‘Gledas’ white paint on an adjacent boat, I could blame the crosswind, or the fact that the engine didn’t go into gear when I selected, but I’m the skipper and I’m responsible. I felt bad about it, but the paint polished out OK, there was no damage done, and I’ve since met the owner to make sure they were happy.
So, here we are. Gibraltar, the Mediterranean. A new dawn.
Oh, and remember me moaning about how marina walls can make you feel like you’re behind prison walls?
Well here’s the view from our cell. Gail’s happier now 🙂