On Monday, 23rd November 2015, we slipped Barbate for the sea trial and however far we could make beyond that…
The forecast was good: W4-5 overnight, decreasing 2-3 backing SW, sea state moderate decreasing slight. We were also – by luck more than planning – leaving at a fortuitous time, tide-wise (3 hours before HW Gibraltar), which should give us a good bit of current most of the way, especially round Tarifa. This could be it!
It was pretty chilly that morning – only around 16 degrees (!) and the wind made it feel like 10. We moaned about it until we checked the weather in Brighton and London…..
We set out dressed for the cold with jackets and gloves (Jamie, the toughie, was still wearing shorts) but a little apprehensively – there was a lot we wanted to check: the engine (for obvious reasons), the fuel (ditto), the wind vane we had been playing around with over the weekend, etc. The sea was calm, and we made it well clear of the marina with no overheating. A quick peek (via the stairs) showed us that the belt was a) still on, and b) running, so all good there. There was also no fuel spraying out of the previously-knackered injector hose.We dipped the fuel – no dramatic losses there, so the new injector pipe was working. Excellent.
We set to playing with the wind vane. Our friends Pip and Kevin back in Brighton had offered to take us out for a sail to show us how it all worked as they have the same model as us (Aries), but of course we ‘never had time’, did we?! How we rue the day. We couldn’t seem to get it quite right! We managed to get it to take us in repeated circles quite well, but we did also want to make progress, so it wasn’t ideal. Great for tight corners though, I suppose. We got the vane to fly, but the rudder wouldn’t play, then we couldn’t get the adjustment tight enough; maybe we should have tied the steering lines tight before dropping the rudder? Well, after an hour, we decided that we had exhausted our possibilities on the wind vane for this trip, and we should really start getting some mileage (in the right direction) under our belts.
We followed a Belgian boat who had left just ahead of us, and thus deviated slightly from our plan. They cut inside the Bajo de Los Cabezos (a shallow shoal area just west of Tarifa) whereas we had actually planned to go around the outside. John and Babs had emailed us to say that they had also stayed in close to land to cut off some miles, and had made the journey in under 5 hours! We checked the charts and decided to do the same and follow the Belgians.
We were flying along – 8.3kts at one point, on a wonderfully calm sea. The sun had warmed us up a bit and we were soon back to the shorts and t-shirts we had become accustomed to sailing in! We passed the point we had reached three hours into that first painful passage attempt in under two hours (and that includes all the 360’s we did with the wind vane!). Nobody had been sick, Bella had had plenty of cuddles, Walter had been bribed with a pouch of wet food, Dita was…. Dita… It was all going so well! We decide not to mention this for the time being…. Just in case!
We could see Africa – the northern coast of Morocco – the visibility was so good, we could actually see it as we left Barbate marina, but it only just starts to sink in: We had sailed to Africa! We were 7nm away! We could see Tangier!
Jebel Musa is the highest point (it lies just on the Moroccan side of Cueta), and we get out the camera and take a LOT of photos! We consider that if we didn’t have our animal crew on board, we would sack Gibraltar off and head straight into Tangier… We were not entirely sure about the regulations there though, so we resolved to check it out with some other sailors with pets first, and maintained our course for Gib!
Tarifa looks like a fairly big town and, although the island at the southern-most point is now owned by the military so there’s no public access, it’s an impressive sight.
Now we are in the Strait of Gibraltar… along with a lot of other traffic! We receive a radio message (repeatedly) on Channel 16 telling us to look our for a small inflatable with 10 people on board and to radio the position if we spot it. We initially wonder how hard it can be to spot something like that with all the patrol boats and helicopters these days, but we see so many small fishing vessels that we quickly understand! It is quite something to imagine these 10 folks crossing the Strait in an inflatable dinghy between the enormous tankers and container ships we see.
The weather holds as per the forecast. We had apparently hit on one of the 65 days of the year that Tarifa does not have 30kt+ winds! We didn’t even spot any kitesurfers or windsurfers out in the bay! Soon we would sight Gibraltar; pretty exciting stuff!!! The wind had dropped completely by this point – less than 2kts, so nobody was sailing. We saw plenty of fishermen out enjoying the sun and calm seas – we should have got our rods out, but we’d been too busy marvelling at the sight of Africa and chatting!
Soon, we spotted something around the next headland…. Could it be….? Gibraltar!!! Definitely the most exciting part of the trip for me! It is an impressive sight – as if a mountain just snapped off the mainland and drifted out, dragging a little bit of land behind it. We understood immediately why this has been such an important piece of land for centuries; we enjoyed a moment of unbridled jingoist colonialism.
As we entered the port area of Gibraltar/La Linea/Algeciras, we realised it was an incredibly busy bit of water! Like the Strait, but in a smaller area! We had to weave our way through large ships at anchor from exotic places like Panama, Liberia, and Barbados.
We headed for La Linea, just north of Gibraltar (the Gibraltar airport runway pretty much defines the border between Gib and Spain) where we will stay until the end of February before heading into the Med. We arrived at the visitors’ pontoon which seemed to have been made for massive trawlers judging by the height of it and the fenders and cleats available…. We had long warps prepared, but had it not been for two guys on the pontoon (a German guy who was staying a year, and a young Russian lad looking to work his passage to the Canaries), we would likely have made a bit of a hash of it. It was a good metre up from our deck to the pontoon, so we had to make use of winches, guardrails and the rubber pontoon fenders to step up to it! We got ourselves checked in, and were pleased to find that Jo, Steve, and Nick, our new boat buddies from Barbate, were here too, and on the same pontoon as us. Babs and John had moved on that day, so we had probably not long missed them, but we are sure we’ll see them somewhere in the Med. We got our berth and parked ourselves up – we overlook the Rock, and it is spectacular to open the hatch in the morning and see that looking down on us! We are close enough to the runway to see the tail fins of arriving and departing aircraft, but for all that, it is very peaceful here. Unfortunately, we have landed a berth between a guy who is allergic to cats and a couple who simply don’t like them, so we have already made plans to change to another berth as soon as Jo, Steve and Nick move on. After Barbate and our anchorages, it also seems quite crowded here – pretty much every berth is full of either semi-permanent liveaboards, or cruisers like us. It feels a bit like Brighton. But warm.
So, we made it…. 1322 nautical miles and two and a half months from Brighton… This is where we will close out 2015 and kick off the new experiences of 2016!