Monday, 16 November 2015


The straight of Gibraltar certainly has a sense of drama.  The impressively high mountains on both the European and African sides make for spectacular scenery but also make for a well known wind acceleration effect.  The wind almost always blows due east (Levanter) or due west (Poniente) and is often pretty stiff.  Tarifa, at the western entrance to the straight, is not the wind surf capital of Europe for nothing.

 It is the meeting of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean of course, as well as the almost meeting of the continents.  The flow of shipping in and out is constant and the water swirls and eddies Eastwards, replacing all the evaporation from the oversized bathtub that is the Mediterranean Sea.

Unusually, a Levanter had been blowing uninterrupted for several weeks, so it was at the first break in this that we headed out from Cadiz, where we'd sat out our fourth 40knot gale of the summer, and motored into the mouth of the Mediterranean with no wind whatsoever.

I feel bound to say that the town of Gibraltar is somewhat less impressive than its suroundings.  No offence to Gibraltarians but it really is an odd place.  We had anchored just over the border in the shabby and run down Spanish town of La Linea, so crossed the land border into the province which bizarrely involves crossing the airport runway.  Immediately on crossing, there is an immediate sense of slightly frenzied bustle and rush.  For me, the place also seems to be full of  the worst kind of graceless Britishness.  We bought lunch from a bakery which was overpriced and stodgy and eventually retreated gratefully to Sula.

On the positive side, this was a chance to meet up with friends Nick and Karen and their boys on Yacht Pilgrim.  Not seen since Baiona, it was great to catch up on their adventures.  

Kindness of Strangers

One of the aspects of how different our experience of Portugal has been this time around is the friendliness of the local fishermen. Now, professional fishermen are generally a fairly hard bitten bunch and it seems to me that they have every right to be a bit disdainful of us amateurs swanning about getting in their way. However, in Spain and Portugal while we have had the odd instance of grumpiness, the reverse of this attitude is commonplace.

Such it was when we returned to our dinghy in Olhao on the Algarve, to find the gate down to the pontoon locked. Fortunately, well - fairly fortunately, a local fisherman was returning to his boat after a clearly protracted liquid lunch. He saw we had no key, and indicated in slightly slurred mime that he had one in his dinghy.....which was also behind the locked gate.

No problem. He climbed around and wobbled down to his dinghy, sat down in it and promptly rolled smoothly back into the water. I climbed around the gate as well but he managed to haul himself out and started stripping off his dripping clothes.

We headed out at the same time as him and he kindly offered to tow us. An offer which we thought it prudent to politely decline in the circumstances, but he was still sober enough to guide us through the shallow passage between the mudflats safely back to Sula.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Double Feature – with intermission

We've been avoiding overnight passages quite successfully this season.  While they are quite enjoyable sometimes, with the occasional treats of phosphoresence, spectacular starry skies and meteorites, the novelty does wear off.  The one and two nighters are generally too short to settle into a good sleep pattern and we now of course have the extra crew who loves it...  sleeps exceptionally well and is up early waiting to be entertained by us bleary eyed adults....  bless her.

So at the moment, we find ourselves 5 miles off the coast of Morocco in the Alboran Sea. It wasn't really part of the plan to be here.  At least not at 4 in the morning.  We had crossed  to North Africa from Gibraltar a few days ago with the plan to avoid the bulk of the Costa Del Sol and to have a brief change of culture before we stop for a few months near Almeria.

All was going well.  We stopped in Smir, which in spite of the amusingly off-hand Moroccan girls in the harbour office who made sure not to let the distraction of paying customers get in the way of their texting, was clean and safe and tranquil.  The harbour area wasn't all that interesting for us apart from its setting at the foot of the beautiful Rif Mountains, but Beatrice was delighted to spend almost all our time there hanging around the Customs post, chatting with the officials and playing with Echo, their Alsatian puppy and trying unsuccessfully to stroke any of the numerous daggy stray cats.

We visited the city of Tetuan and were surprised by how relaxed it all felt and also by the fact that we appeared to be the only foreigners in the whole place.  So, encouraged by this pleasant and relaxed start we decided to press on to El Jebha.  We'd been assured by the police in Smir that it would all be fine but on arrival just before dusk we found the harbour stacked with fishing boats and the locals, including at least one armed official making it pretty clear that we weren't welcome.

In a mixture of sign language and broken Spanish, they seemed to suggest that we could anchor around the corner in a little cove, but the weather wasn't really right for the anchorage so we took a deep breath, switched on lights and pressed on.

Now, cruising along the North African coast at night does carry some concerns.  The Rif mountains are the centre of Morocco's kif (marijuana) growing industry and a significant proportion of it seems  to be shuttled across to Europe by boat.  This, combined with the migrant smuggling trade combine to make this piece of  water somewhat busier by night than we would have wished and was making the crew a little jumpy.

As usual, I took the first watch. So from 9pm through 'til midnight I sat out in the warm darkness. I didn't see many lights and whether this is because there were no boats or just that they weren't lit I guess we'll never know.  Anyway, I plugged the hard drive into the navigation computer, cranked up “Bladerunner- The Director's Cut” and settled in.

Come midnight, after a few interruptions, I was still watching.  We had hit an eddy in the normal East-going current that runs perpetually from the Atlantic into the Med, so our speed was down to below 4 knots.  When I finally called the relief watch for our switch over at 12.30 I sensed a certain grumpiness at the lack of progress, but I wasn't going to let that stop me crashing out.... until 1.30 when I was shaken awake to look at the boat (lights) that had apparently circled around behind us and was now shadowing us, matching our speed.  There was a slightly nervous half hour while we watched and waited, and wondered exactly what action to take if things went downhill.  Happily of course it turned out to be just a fishing boat doing the apparently random stuff that fishing boats often seem to do.

So, it's now 4am and I'm up again with another 3 hours 'til dawn.  It's looking like it's going to be a two film night.