FW: leaving Gibraltar

Fenix II ARC
Liz/Steve Rakoczy
Wed 10 Nov 2010 13:43


Gibraltar-Las Palmas Passage                      Distance: ~750 NM


02/11/2010      Distance: ~134 NM               “35:03N 07:51W”     


At last the morning has arrived of our first passage. We have been impatiently waiting for it, as the extra day in Gibraltar proved to be a little too long. But we all knew that the previous day with a three knot current running against us and a 20kn head wind we would have been standing still. At least we could have enjoyed the traffic: more than 200 ships cross the strait every day.


Tuesday morning finally arrived and we were ready to leave our berth at 8.15am. Why not earlier? The conditions would have been favorable 2 hrs after high tide at 5.20am. So why the delay? It is hard to believe but the Queens Quay Marina is actually physically closed for the night with a floating boom gate. The marina is an entry point into Gibraltar with customs, passport check etc. thus it is treated like one: without customs officers present no one can enter. The authorities in their wisdom came to the conclusion that the best way to prevent illegals getting into Gibraltar was to prevent yachts entering the marina. Of course the fact that 99.99999% of the island’s coast remains open does not seem to bother anyone.




At 8.30 on the dot (we were in Britain after all) a dinghy arrived and painstakingly slowly pulled aside the floating boom gate. Soon we were motoring towards the cape and turned into the strait. The first 10 NMs were quite quick but after Tarifa we made the fatal decision of crossing the strait. This had two unexpected consequences. We were crossing the water version of Champs Elysee thus the traffic was humongous.

 The AIS (Automatic Information System) which gives us the details of all ships in the neighborhood was beeping almost constantly, warning that we were just about to run over by a container ship, a fast ferry or an oil tanker. We were definitely in the way of the Tarifa-Tangier ferries that made three good efforts to run us down at 35 knt speed. Now, while I cannot say that ferries are commissioned to hunt for sailing boats, they are known not to change their course, so it’s advisable for anyone in their way to run for their life. Eventually with skillful maneuvering and some luck we avoided the ferries and couple of large container ships like the one called New Delhi carrying all those containers full of saris and curry powder. I swear I could smell it in the air.


But our main problem was that we slowed right down. There are all sorts of beliefs associated with the Gibraltar strait. In the old days people thought that it was the end of the world. A more current myth is that the cause behind the strong current from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean is the fast evaporation of water in the Mediterranean sea. All that evaporation causes the level drop thus there is need for a constant flow of water from the Atlantic. Wrong. Actually the main reason is that the Atlantic is tidal with a predominantly Westerly swell. This produces a standing E-going surface current of between one or two knots. At the Gibraltar end of the strait the range is only half a meter but few miles south in Tanger( Morocco) it reaches 3ms. And to further discourage Westward sailing there is the wind that blows at 30knts or so from the West for 300 days a year around Tarifa (Spain). I almost forgot to mention that the current flows in different parts of the Strait in opposite directions at the same time. But we put our faith in the excellent British Admiralty tide tables and carefully planned our departure over couple of beers on the quay next to Pepe’s rip off joint and came to the conclusion that the optimal departure time was the opening of the boom gates. According to our weather routers we were late by at least two hours but other than sabotaging the boom-gate we did not have many choices, did we?


On this day the current disregarded the theories about flows in an out of the Med and definitely did not follow the rules of the tide tables. The wind, straight on the nose, was also uncooperative. Thus, with full steam we were just crawling across the Mid-stream section for 4-5 hrs. Around 3.30 finally we cleared Cabo Espartel and slowly the 100HP Volvo started to make a difference and we slowly accelerated. The wind slowly picked up and we started to motor sail. By 18.00 we were flying at broad reach with 8-8.3 kts!


We have all heard and thought about “Sailing into the sunset” so much,now, here we were doing it. The reddish low sky with the glowing sun was so inviting that we followed it without hesitation until the sun disappeared on the horizon. Mark cooked a great curry. We were so busy with sailing and admiring the sunset that it was pitch dark by the time we served the curry.


 It was a moonless night. Incredibly black. Against this background the stars put on a great show and our home galaxy, the Milky Way was clearly shining above us. The satellites and airplanes, usually the brightest objects on the night sky, were faintly glowing among the millions of brilliant winkling stars. The night sky looked like a dazzling Tiffany store decorated with sparkling diamonds. Somehow the guys did not like this comparison. I cannot imagine why?


We started our “official” watches: 23-01 Liz; 01-03 Steve; 03-05 Kynan; 05-07 Mark. It was a great night sailing until 02 am when the seas became very confused and the wind direction changed. We were thrown around quite a bit with the main sail up only and but were reluctant to do a full down-wind set up in the dark on our first day at sea.


One newly installed water hose developed a leak and sprinkled water all over the engine room and as a surprising, very disappointing development our 800 Ah battery bank was struggling to cope with Fenix’s night show: lights, computer chart plotter, Navman chart plotter, radar, instruments, navigations lights, VHF radio, fridge, and auto pilot. Probably it didn’t help that during the winter the batteries went flat though we paid the yard for charging them. So we had to start preserving electricity. What a pain! But, changing the Giro compass fixed our autopilot.


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