We were dying to get out of Vilamoura by this point – or, as some graffiti we saw told us: ‘Vile-moura, Hellgarve’ – that we took a punt on the weather not looking too bad (despite some more rain), and set a course for Cádiz for the following day.
The following day came. Still no let up on the precipitation front… however, we are British! We laugh in the face of rain! Ha! We don the oilskins and leave our berth, topping up the fuel and paying our final berthing fees on the way out. One marina we probably shan’t return to – not least because we can’t afford it. Allegedly the most expensive one in Portugal, we’d blown our entire month’s ‘marina berthing’ budget by the time we’d paid for a week! Still, if we ever need an overpriced fry-up and a pint of Guinness, we at least know where to find them!
So off we went ‘once more into the rain, dear friends’, to paraphrase etc. It was, we can’t lie, pretty damned rough when we got out there. And it didn’t improve when we’d cleared the entrance. In fact it got worse. Within 90 minutes I’d vomited twice (there was a partially digested sea-sickness tablet clearly seen in the resultant – too little too late I’m afraid), and Jamie’s stomach threatened to join the rebellion. The next hour saw another 3 head-over-bucket moments for me – Walter nearly got caught in the crossfire, but managed a tactical escape in time. Jamie was almost translucent (despite the tan) and we decided that Cádiz was not for us today – nobody on RR looked happy, and Cádiz was another 16 hours away. For the first time, we used one of our ‘run to’ ports (these are places that you include in the passage plan – places you can take refuge in if the weather turns, or you have any other issues). We used our first run to: an anchorage at Canal de Olhão, just by Faro. Yes, 19nm away from where we’d started. We felt a bit sheepish at this mileage tally, until we realised that this was actually equivalent to the longest distance we had sailed in one go before leaving on this trip (that would be Brighton-Eastbourne for those intrigued…)!! So, we shrugged our shoulders, cracked open a beer, and had some spag bol. Jolly good.
We were both exhausted – the rough conditions, driving rain, and vomiting bouts had really taken it out of us in the previous 5 hours – only 5 hours, yet we felt as drained as we did doing the 36 hour passage to Nazaré! It’s amazing what a difference a couple of factors combining can make (divers amongst you, think incident pit!). Jamie had also hurt his hand while running out the anchor (we realised our comms weren’t quite up to scratch on that operation and did a run through to prevent it happening again). All in all, we were in rag. And to that end, asleep by 8pm!
Anchoring is great – it’s so peaceful and so much less hassle than being in a marina: no fenders and lines to put out (‘hmm, will we be port or starboard to?’ – and you’re *never* the same side on your berth as the fuel or reception pontoon!). Best of all, it’s also free (in most places). We much prefer it – there is nothing to beat getting a good spot near a nice place that you can row ashore to.
We awoke to another rather nice sunrise (and a bit of wash from some very eager fishing boats), had breakfast, made a quick check of the weather, and decided to try again! This time, we set course for Barbate, just a bit further south of Cádiz; that ‘let’s just get there’ mentality again. We are so close now though, and it will be nice to only have a few hours underway to reach Gib, rather than 20+ as we have often been doing. Some of the weather that sweeps through the Straits at this time of year is also nothing short of nasty, so a big window and a small distance to go sounds good to us!
Luckily, the sea was on our side that that time, if not the wind (back to its familiar strength of 3kts – on our nose) but it enabled a good bit of progress in comfortable seas and some fabulous sunshine. 24 degrees for any of you Northern Europeans wondering 😉 I even did a bit of helming in my pants (a bit like those mechanical jobs about the boat; some of my best work is done in my pants)… Hopefully it wasn’t related, but it was around this time that Ray the Autohelm took (what we hope is only) a sabbatical… Jamie, the ship’s techie, was straight on it – as soon as he woke up, anyway (techies!) – while I continued helming (my least favourite job…apart from fixing electronics – it’s a patience thing, you see [or lack of with such items]?). He tried the spare we have, which didn’t work, so immediately set about taking both units to bits, swapping the compasses, rewiring them etc, but alas and alack, Ray really had left the building. We would have to helm manually for 16 hours to Barbate… We discussed the other run-to ports; Mazagón, Cádiz, but eventually decided to stick to the original plan. The weather was with us, it was good progress, and Jamie somehow managed to rig the autohelm in a kind of Frankenhelm way that meant we didn’t have to helm all the time, just every 5 minutes or so to re-set our heading. This at least took a bit of the tiredness factor out of the 3-hour watches.
We mourned Ray’s passing, but we promised to bring him back to life when we reach Gibraltar (we shall treat him to a new compass), and we wanted to keep going! We lowered the Portuguese courtesy flag and raised the Spanish one again. Luckily Bella wasn’t quite so excited this time, so everyone got a nice smooth (and more importantly clean and dry) transition across the border. We had arrived in Andalusian waters!
We hand an amazing moon to guide us along (a red, upturned crescent moon), as well as a ringside seat of the Galaxy, with virtually no light pollution!
Night watches are pretty amazing – it’s so peaceful, and aside from the moon, and some occasional phosphorescence, you get to see the most amazing array of stars – incredible to think that there are boffins around that have already identified and plotted everything that we can see up there, there are just SO many once you get away from the lights of the land.
On a less cerebral note, we are both night watch singers. Which is the best-kept place for our singing. For everyone’s sake really. I also enjoy having a little seated (for health and safety reasons, obviously) dance to take my mind off the seas if it’s rough – I stick The Baseballs on, or my specially selected ‘nocturnal seafaring’ playlist and have a little light entertainment… I know. I’m extremely uncool. I don’t care; you all knew it already.
In our customary way, we approached Cabo Trafalgar as dawn was breaking. Another sunrise opportunity! Still a way to go before turning for Barbate though and the swell got worse and worse, which meant another round of vomiting for me. Jamie felt fine so stayed at the helm, but it’s a tiring job, no matter how sunny it is. Without the autohelm, it was necessary to steer to the waves and swell as best possible, and I alternated looking into a bucket with shouting headings out to Jamie. Early on, Jamie got soaked by an absolutely enormous wave broadsiding us, but luckily this was early enough in the conditions for it to be classed as a comedy moment – it probably wouldn’t have been a few hours later! There are a few shallow areas and shoals to look out for, so we were both on watch (I had brought my stomach under control by this stage, or just run out of ammo, I’m not sure) for the final 10nm as we navigated around them to enter the small harbour. We also had a lot of current against us, so we finally pulled into Barbate late afternoon, just in time to see the…yup…sunset! It was exhausting again – it never ceases to amaze us how draining it is sailing in such conditions, and not having the autohelm made it more so – fixing Ray is definitely a priority job!!
We will wait here until we get a good weather window to enter the Strait of Gibraltar for our final destination of La Linea (yes, we know, everyone mocks it). It is cheap though, and only a 15 minute walk to Gib… so we get Gibraltar at La Linea prices. Result, we reckon.
Barbate is a really lovely little town – there is very little tourism here at this time of year, yet the weather has been amazing – 22-26 degrees and sunshine every day we’ve been here so far!
There are two beaches, both with lovely fine white sand – one of which Bella is allowed on – and the town beach is lined with restaurants and bars where you can sit outside and enjoy all kinds of local fish specialities – just walking along the beach makes you feel hungry!
The town itself is a typical ‘warm country’ sort of place – a bit dusty and looks a bit run down – but it is beautiful. The architecture has quite a strong Moorish influence, and there are lots of narrow little alleyways with tiled features and climbing plants, interspersed with plenty of places to eat and drink, all of them economically viable for a small town (as opposed to several more touristy places we have been).
We found Portugal to be quite expensive (it’s all relative; it still wasn’t Brighton or London!), so it was nice to wander round shops and supermarkets and see that things had become a bit more economical! The walk out of the marina is quite long (and beset with stray cats – and extremely cute kittens), but it is close to town, supplies, restaurants, and lies between both the beaches, so there is plenty of walking and things to see and do around here.
The marina itself isn’t the most inspiring, but it is friendly, it has kittens, and also lots of local colour (it seems to be a regular evening/night hangout for groups of all ages, from rollerblading kids to late-night bar singers (or so it sounds like). That said, it feels very safe walking around here. It is well-sheltered from anything that whips through the Strait of Gibraltar, so an ideal waiting port. We have about 8 hours of sailing to go before reaching Gib, and the weather looks like it will allow us a passage before the weekend, so we are stocking up on Value Cerveza, checking the weather, ensuring we have plenty of Stugeron, and we’ll be off in a couple of days!