Our Quota Of Rota
So, the ‘Levanter’, what’s that all about then?
First some background.
The Straits of Gibraltar are one of the worlds best known maritime passages.
At the narrowest point, Tarifa, you’re as far South as it’s possible to get on the European mainland. It’s just 8 miles away from North Africa.
The stretch of coast we’re on now, near Cadiz, is well into what is known to sailors as ‘windy alley’. The lie of the land plus the mix of Atlantic and Mediterranean weather systems mean that it’s nearly always blowing. Tarifa is a wind and kite surfing mecca for good reason, it’s reputed to blow 30 knots or more 300 days of the year.
When it’s blowing it either blows from the East, The Levanter. Or from the West, The Poniente
It’s no surprise, this weather is well documented and I fully expected that when we got to Rota we’d have to wait 3,4, maybe 5 days for the right conditions to get to Gibraltar. What I hadn’t expected was for our arrival to coincide with an exceptionally long and strong spell of Levanter. It’s blown for the past 11 days and even in the marina it’s rarely dropped below 15 knots. Out in the Straits it’s been up to 40.
The marina has been quiet, a few locals have braved the choppy bay for an exciting couple of hours, but pretty much the only other movement has been a French 30 footer towed in by the lifeboat the other day. Mainsail wrapped roumd the mast, skipper looking like he was mighty glad to be in.
It’d be easy to get depressed being stuck here. 12 nights in an expensive marina has knocked an unwelcome hole in our budget. The money we’d set aside for a trip to Seville had to go towards filling that hole. The marina is OK but it’s a marina, high stone breakwaters keep us safe but they can start to feel like prison walls. Listening to wind howling through rigging accompanied by manicallly tapping halyards 24/7 amounts to psychological warfare. It was getting to me. Seeing that French skipper being bought to safety reminded me to get things in perspective.
There are far worse places to be stuck I’m sure. Rota is quite a nice little town. It’s a holiday resort for the Spanish, there are few foreigners around apart from those from the marina and a few Americans from the Naval base.
There are beaches and a long wide promenade.
The streets are narrow, shady and full of character, it’s a hard place to find your way around. There are some beautiful old buildings and the wonderfully named ‘Castle of the Moon’. On out second night we watched some live flamenco under its walls. The music and dance wasn’t for tourists, it was authentic, traditional, Andalucian. It was Spain.
Walk around town in the afternoon and it’s deserted, but by the late evening the place is buzzing with families eating at the numerous street restaurants, 11:30pm and it’s hard to walk down some of the little streets. Crowded tables, hurrying waiters and waitressess, plates of steaming sea food, a babble of voices and laughter. Amazing.
On one of the few days that the ferry has been running we took a trip over to Cadiz.
The same narrow streets as Rota but scaled up hugely. Big open plazas, an impressive Cathedral and a fascinating collection of buildings mixing hundreds of years of history and North African influences. It makes for an interesting skyline.
We had lunch at a simple looking street cafe and ordered tapas. Pork in pepper sauce, spicy chicken strips, a potato salad flavoured with onion and garlic. Absolutely delicious and not expensive. Tapas could well become a favorite meal over the next year.
Cadiz was fun but after our months in the Guadiana the sights and sounds of a big city came as somewhat of a shock, it was great to see but I was ready to escape after a few hours of exploring.
It looks as if the Levanter will finally die out tomorrow. If all goes to plan we’ll leave at first light and head towards La Linea marina on the border with Gibraltar.
It’s a challenging coastal passage. Some 75 miles of natural hazards such as offlying shoals and tidal overfalls. There are man made hazards as well, huge tunny nets, fish farms and lobster pots. There are large fishing fleets along this stretch that’ll undoubtably be at sea after such poor weather. Our passage should keep us well clear of the large shipping transiting the Straits, at least until Gibraltar Bay, but by then the fast ferries from Africa will be added to the mix. I’ll not be dozing.
All the pilot books say it’s easier going East than West, we’ll see.
I’ve planned as much as I can, we might stop at Barbate, we might anchor near Tarifa, we might keep going for La Linéa. It’ll all depend what we get and how we feel once we’re out there.
Once past Cadiz our next waypoint lies off Cabo Trafalgar. On board ‘Gleda’ I have a small box made from oak and copper taken from Admiral Lord Nelsons flagship H.M.S. Victory, a gift from my daughter. We’ll be sailing close by the scene of the historic battle for which the ship and the man will be forever linked. It’s cool to think I’m bringing part of that iconic ship back to the place that made her famous. I keep a dry ship at sea. but once we’re safely in harbour I shall place my hand on that box, raise a glass of Nelsons Blood, and toast the men of the Royal Navy who sailed and fought on these waters all those years ago. ‘Hearts of Oak’ every one of them.
Next up, Gibraltar, the gateway to the Mediterranean .