15. The Hotel California, Barbate

On the basis we had entered our third week in Barbate, we thought a post was probably due so we could update you on exactly what we’d been up to! Barbate is a very small town; no tourists, no train station, no car hire opportunities (as we were to discover), no hospital, few people who speak any English, the marina is essentially a tuna fishing port that you have to walk through to get to town…. So what had we been doing all that time?!

Well, the weather guides both our departure days/times and how we actually get to places so, on the basis of the forecast we got after our arrival, we knew we were going to be here a few days, we just hadn’t really appreciated that events would conspire against us a bit to keep us here quite a bit longer than we’d expected!!

We walk a lot, and there is plenty of good walking around here – a lovely forested National Park, which has trails leading to watchtowers.

The Cultural Heritage Trail (you can just about see one of the forts on top of the headland, left)

The watchtowers are part of a Cultural Heritage Trail that runs from Tarifa to Cadiz on the Costa de Trafalgar. They were erected to control the entrance to the Mediterranean and defend against any pirates and potential conquerers of this valuable area of water. The towers were originally built by the Arabs and, later on, several more were built by the Duke of Medina Sidonia for the dual purpose of defence and sighting tuna (abundant along the coastline here). The tuna in this area are fished in Almadraba nets, to which the Duke generously granted himself sole rights. The Almadraba is an age-old Andalucian technique of circular netting and boats that has a large base in Barbate Port, just across from the marina. The entrance to the harbour is laid with Almadraba nets between spring and autumn (marked by cardinal buoys, so large is the area), and all the tuna is brought into the canning plants etc that line the port waters.

Anchors from the almadrabas. Our least sunny day, but still over 20 degrees luckily…!

Aside from walking, we spent time relaxing; reading, going to the markets, trying to learn Spanish, doing some jobs on the boat – those never-ending jobs that are not essential but need keeping on top of. We have been doing bits of sewing (by which I mean me… Jamie has clearly never been a squaddie!), cleaning out the bilges (engine and hydraulic oils, fuel, coolant, water, spanners, screws – all kinds of stuff in there, but at least none of it’s rusty!), fixing the toilet (again), and trying to rig the self-steering wind vane (different to the auto helm (RIP) as it steers to the wind, rather than a compass heading) – it also works in heavier weather, etc. We certainly didn’t get bored!

Market t-shirt: is this a true statement, ladies?!


Fixing the toilet. Again.

The weather started to improve after a few days, and on the 11th everything seemed to ‘align’ so we got ready to leave! The weather forecast from our three normally-reliable sources was good, we felt ready, we felt we had sufficient fuel (more on this later…), the tides were in our favour (a recommended departure 3-5 hours before HW Gibraltar gave us a very reasonable ropes off time of 0920), so off we cast for the final leg of our journey for a couple of months.

We looked at our fuel calculations from the last hours of the passage to get us to Barbate, we had used far more fuel than usual, but we had put this down to horrid seas for the last few hours before we arrived. It was also a bit rough as we left the entrance, but the forecast was good, so we ploughed on. Unfortunately, it never got any less rough, and the wind had also increased a good 15kts above the forecast. We normally add between 5 and 8kts to the forecast, but 15 suggested that the forecast was plain wrong…. We were a bit concerned about this, and we were also concerned about the fuel. The wind was going to be on our nose the whole way (also not forecast), and the last thing we wanted to do in the Strait of Gibraltar was decrease our options of propulsion towards La Linea!

We had been going over 3 hours and had covered 12nm, all of them uncomfortable and rough due to the incorrectly forecast wind direction giving us another bout of wind against tide. We also didn’t seem to be picking up the current that was supposed to be with us and helping us along. The wind was fairly strong now though (22kts+), and the area does pick up a surface current from the wind, so it was likely that this had overridden the tidal current we had hoped to take advantage of. We decided to turn back. The first time on our trip that we had done so, but it turned out to be a most fortuitous decision. We had wind with tide on the way back in, but still didn’t make fast progress despite the increased comfort, and we arrived back on our pontoon at 1630, a bit frustrated. We dipped the fuel and discovered that we were again way, way down on our normal fuel consumption. We half-heartedly tried to put this down to the rough seas again, but we both knew sub-consciously that it was something a bit more interesting than that….We were getting a bit moany, so we decided to investigate to take our minds of it. This was when we discovered the fuel leak. Fuel spraying everywhere out of one of the (what we eventually worked out were) injector pipes…. Aha. Well, one new thing learned already. We were certainly becoming familiar with our engine!

We were already familiar with our hydraulic leak, which needs some serious attention when we arrive in Gibraltar, and we also knew we had an oil leak – we knew this partly due to the state of the engine which, painted red, shows up the oil nicely. The fuel leak, however, was uncharted territory. How exciting….

We located the area of leakage – the nut at the end of one of the high pressure injector hoses. We tightened the nut, which slowed the emission of diesel from an all-out spray to a fast drip. We then took out the L-shaped stem between the hose and the engine and looked at it for a while…. Nothing looked broken. We looked at each other. We looked at our large selection of manuals on diesel engines. We looked at each other again. We decided to call a mechanic. The mechanic wasn’t around, but would be around in a day or two – mañana, one might assume.

The answer should be in one of these, surely…..?

By sheer luck, two British boats had arrived that day, and were joined later by a third.

This provided us with not only a bit of new conversation (you may laugh, but no matter how well you get on, it is quite nice to have a bit of a change of conversation when you speak to the same person constantly for 4 weeks solid! – all the more so when the conversation is with native English speakers), but also some on-tap experience with diesel engines!

Jo and Steve had a fancy Jeanneau called Mystic Star (which despite Steve’s assurances, we suspected didn’t go wrong too often… and at least they had a much better selection of mod-cons than us!), and were travelling with their friend Nick on Sovereign of Liege. We enjoyed an afternoon with them talking boats, marinas and anchorages, fishing, Mr D’s cookers etc. It’s that sort of thing that we really enjoy about this boating lark – we have met some really great people. They are also heading the same way as us; into the Med, so we will hopefully catch up again on our travels. We realised we had struck mechanical gold when John and Babs on Lawan, a Rival 36, arrived the following day. John clearly knew old diesel engines far better than us and offered to come and have a look. Under his direction, we got the pipe off and discovered that the olive on the end had completely sheared off.

The broken part being removed

We took it up to the chandlery, who told us they could maybe get the engineer to make one up in a couple of days, or we could order one (ironically from the UK) that would take a week. We walked into town via a large metal fabricators/engineers in the docks. If we could get it anywhere, surely these guys could do it – it was a huge shed with all kinds of old engines stripped down, parts everywhere, the four fabricators in overalls covered in oil etc. The guy looked at it, agreed it was broken and couldn’t be repaired, then tasked one of his colleagues to help him find one – which he did on a shelf full of random engine parts. He showed us how we could bend it ourselves (he clearly didn’t know us) in a clamp and using a spanner and off we went, feeling very grateful that at least we had something!

We also contacted an agent dealing with Perkins engines in Gibraltar who were very helpful. They told us that unfortunately the part is no longer made, but they could get one made for us in a day if we could get the pipe we’d taken off to them. ‘Excellent’ we thought; ‘we’ll just hire a car and drive to Gib’. That would be quicker and more likely to be correct than ordering one here. Now. Where to hire a car? We quickly discovered that there are no car hire firms in Barbate, but there is one in Conil (about 20km away). How do we get to Conil? Train? No trains. Bus? Yes, but it goes from the other side of town, and you can’t take dogs on the bus. It all started to get a bit complicated. We tried to persuade ourselves that over-wintering in Barbate wouldn’t be too bad…

We eventually decided that we would get the local engineer to make one up and go from there, and we were surprised when it arrived the following day!

All three of the British boats were leaving for Gibraltar that day as the forecast was good, so unfortunately we would miss both the good window and sailing with some other folks, but we had enjoyed our couple of days with our new boat buddies, and at least we could get our engine fixed and catch them up!

The part fitted fine, and we fired her up – nothing flew off, blew up, sprayed out etc. Success! We did notice a couple of other drips though – had they been there before?! We look at the paintwork that had peeled off below them and decided that they had, and that they could wait until Gib to be examined! We felt proud of ourselves that we had learned a bit more about the old girl, and that we had managed to install the new part successfully. We celebrated in the usual fashion of €0.35 beer. And home-made (by us, believe it or not) ginger cake.

The new hose fitted

Now all we had to do was wait for a good weather window.

We decided that we would stick with the local and NavTex forecasts as they seemed to be far more accurate than the three that we had used to get us this far. The Strait of Gibraltar is quite a particular area, weather-wise, so we didn’t want to make it harder for ourselves. The wind around Tarifa reportedly blows at over 30kts for 300 days of the year, so the area is not somewhere to be messed with. The other factor is that there is essentially nowhere to run to if you get caught out. You can anchor either side of the Tarifa peninsula, but they are both very exposed to wind, so you would have to be confident that the direction wasn’t going to change while you were trying to hide out. It’s only 35nm, so better to wait a few days and make it in one go. So we waited….

We read, we walked on the beach (I did my eco warrior bit by collecting some of the large amounts of discarded plastic packaging that had washed up) and in the nature area, we did boat stuff, we went to the market which, although small, had an excellent selection of fresh local produce. We bought a tuna empanada and a giant magdalen from a small bakery stall to eat while wandering round, and enjoyed watching the extended conversations that seem to surround everything in Spain! We bought huge amounts of cheap local fruit and veg, a whole chicken (this was to christen our Cobb barbecue – bought on recommendation before we left, but yet to be used), and some cheap mince for a cottage pie! We saw several people outside with bags of twiggy-looking greens. We asked the guy what it was and didn’t understand, so then we asked how to cook it, which was a bit more successful! He said you could put it in tortillas (Spanish omelette, rather than wraps, we had discovered this a few weeks ago; imagine our surprise when our order arrived…), scrambled eggs, or just fry them up with some oil and salt. We decided that this was worth a go as we’d never seen it in the UK before, so we bought a bag from him. A bit of Googling later, we discovered it was wild asparagus! We tossed it in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and popped it on the Cobb barbecue with our roast chicken – it was delicious! Not at all bitter; really tasty! It’s obviously in season, so we’ll definitely be getting some more of that before we leave! We also bought some local tuna pâté (from the Almadrabas) in the port for a snack lunch.

The Cobb BBQ in action!
Wild asparagus!
The local tuna pâté. The picture on the paper is of men dragging in the almadraba nets.

Another week went easily by – we were quite shocked when we realised we’d been in Barbate two weeks already!

So, the second departure occurred on 20th November….

The forecast was good, the new high pressure injector was fitted, all the oils and lubricants were topped up, we had paid, we had refuelled, and we were off! This time, we got about 0.5nm out of the marina when the engine started overheating! Seriously?! So. What does the cooling system consist of? Sea water. Right. Water was going in. Water was coming out. Hmmm. We cleaned the raw water pump and put it back, checked all the connections, tried again. Same thing. Now it was time for the steps to come off (we need to take the steps down into the cabin out to be able to get a good view of the whole engine; we normally try and peer in through cupboards if at all possible, as it’s a bit of a pain in the arse!). Hmm. The alternator belt has come off. Does that affect the water pump? We had no idea, so it was time to empty the lockers and see what it was connected to!

Another pain in the arse job, so we decided to return to the marina to investigate. The marina ladies had seen so much of me over the last couple of weeks, that they laughed quite a bit when I walked in again and asked if we can tie up to the reception pontoon and try and fix something. Although not as much as they laughed when I walked back in an hour later and asked if we could go back on our old berth as we couldn’t fix it after all…

This gives you the idea of the sort of spaces we have to work in to fix pretty much anything on the boat. And this is a large space as they go!
The contents of one locker in the cockpit – you can see why it isn’t ideal trying to fix stuff out at sea….

Turned out that the belt drives the raw water pump, which is basically the engine cooling system. Which explained the overheating. The belt had gone; it was utterly knackered – and possibly the wrong size to boot. There was so much play (a good 2”) on the belt, and the chandlery provided us with one that was even longer…. They had to order the correct length one and it would not arrive until that evening (we ordered two, just in case…), by which time, we would have lost our weather window as there was a nasty gale due to blow through the Strait from Saturday.

Yup, pretty knackered.

The belts arrived that evening around 6pm. We knew from the forecast that we wouldn’t be leaving the next day, so we decided to eat and watch films instead… There was rain forecast the next afternoon, so we got up early(ish), didn’t spend 2 hours over breakfast, and fixed the belt and associated bits before trying the engine and re-packing the locker before lunchtime – such productivity in the ante meridian has rarely been known on Rose Rambler!! All seemed to have gone well, and even the forecast rain failed to show, so a nice long walk in the afternoon before self-congratulatory beers and dinner. The weather was too rough to go for a sea trial, so we decided that we would wait until Monday before taking her for a spin and checking everything was right.

New belt fitted and ready to go!

So, more walking, reading, cooking etc while we wait for the weather! We set the topic ‘what are you most looking forward to about arriving in Gib?’ Me: Sighting the Rock for the first time, and finding a cinema to watch ‘Spectre’ in. Jamie: Pizza (there is a Dominoes there). It looks like we have different priorities!!

The wind blew through over the weekend, two Belgian boats arrived to escape the weather, but Monday 23rd November finally looked good! The sea trial may turn into the final passage of our 2015 leg! Would the forecast be correct? Had we really managed to fix the engine? Would it be third time lucky for Gibraltar?!

3 thoughts on “15. The Hotel California, Barbate

  1. Hey you two …what a great blog… you really capture the frustration and joys of cruising…. a great read I am there with you … the old cliched description of cruising life being “mending the boat in exotic places” is so true.
    Arriving somewhere… then spending a couple of days walking through the light industrial area looking for a specific washer from a random mechanic speaking another language with drawings and photos of your engine to try and explain where it came from…. this is the cruising life … real connections with real people with real purpose.. so glad you are enjoying it.. still so jealous…Kevinx
    ps persevere with the Aries I am sure it will become your favorite bit of kit.


    1. The next blog will be more stuff getting fixed in the sunny locations of Spain and Gibraltar, along with the light industrial estates of La Linea!! We are still waiting to hear your departure date, you know..!!!


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