19 Sept - The Pillars of Hercules
‘Call the Hands’ was actually in the dark on Sunday morning as we faced quite a long passage from Puerto de Santa Maria down to Gibraltar with not much wind forecast. By the time the sun joined us, we were clearing out of the Bay of Cadiz and turning south towards Cape Trafalgar. I always think of Nelson and his Band of Brothers when in these parts, but today we were quite busy avoiding sports fishermen making the most of a glorious Sunday morning. Most of them were on their own, so I wondered if their wives were at home making lunch, sitting in church or shepherding the grandchildren whilst the hunter-gatherers crossed swords with a few mackerel…
We were off Cape Trafalgar around lunchtime; roughly halfway and fortunately the wind had strengthened and veered enough for us to be able to hoist the spinnaker and dispense with the engine. From here, we had a glorious close reach all the way to the Straits of Gibraltar. It’s a great moment when Africa appears on the starboard bow and then the land on both sides closes in, forcing you into a gap which you can’t quite see.
Spain to the left, Morocco to the right…
See… I told you it was just around the corner!
There were plenty of ships heading west, so we needed to keep to the north of them, but south of some interesting shallow patches off the Spanish coast. The current flows quite strongly into the Mediterranean in this area and at one stage gave us a splendid 11 knots over the ground with just 12 knots of wind. As we approached, the wind increased to around 20 knots and we fairly screamed past Tarifa (the windsurfing capital of Europe) getting our first glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar behind a lumpy bit of Spain west of Algeciras. We carried the spinnaker all the way into Gibraltar Bay, hoisting the Gib courtesy flag as we dropped the sails, manoeuvred round the merchant ships at anchor and focused on the pilotage into Marina Bay at the north end of the Rock, right next to the runway.
The berth at Marina Bay requires you to ‘Mediterranean Moor’. Instead of a personalised pontoon, you back into the concrete jetty, nudging other boats aside as necessary, hand your stern ropes to a friendly chap who then passes you a rope (known colloquially as a ‘slimeline’) which has been lying on the seabed for an indeterminate period. This is attached to a large anchor somewhere ahead of you; you heave it in (note to self: don’t wear a white t-shirt again) and middle everything up. Then wash your hands. Then wonder how you are going to bridge the gap between the stern of the boat and the jetty. Fortunately, we had bought a stout plank in Portimao on the basis that it might come in handy for something and here was its chance! After half an hour of subtle adjustments to lines and plank, a suitable test weight was passed and we stepped ashore at Gibraltar at 1900 on 19th of the ninth month!
So ends quite a significant ‘First Act’ of our Big Adventure. We’ve visited France, Spain and Portugal and covered over fifteen hundred miles in just over four months. The back half of our copy of ‘Reeds Almanac’ is in tatters and we have a growing pile of charts and pilot books that we won’t be needing for a year or so. The boat has been brilliant; very few defects apart from the drippy outboard motor which will be replaced with a modern equivalent (I eventually decided that portability was more important than power) but above all, Julie and I have really enjoyed ourselves.
Med moored in Gib
The plan is to remain at Gibraltar for a couple of weeks, conducting some maintenance of man and machine before setting off to explore Morocco, the Canaries and Cape Verde between now and mid-November. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria we are watching the Caribbean closely. The plan to spend Christmas in Grenada still stands, but our meandering after that might need some adjustment.