We untied the lines and pushed off from Isla Cristina at 6am (5th March). It felt so good to be moving on again, to new places, and especially before first light as its always amazing to see the sunrise. There wasn’t much wind but we were keen to get down towards Gibralter and into the Med, as Mum and Dad are planning to visit at the end of the month!
We had an 11 hour sail to Rota and as the wind wasn’t up to much we got a chance to play around with some sails downwind and had the genoa, spinnaker, mainsail, staysail and mizzen up at one point.
We’d also bought a second hand genoa whilst back in the UK at Christmas and as our furler has two grooves we ran it up the second and flew two headsails.
It worked perfectly and is really good to know it can be done in light winds, however we’re a bit worried about the extra force on the forestay and Ben has bought parts to fit a solent stay so we have the ability to run the second jib up on that one if needed. We also flew the mizzen staysail for the first time and we love it! It fly’s really nicely between the two masts and sort of fills the gap, making the most of light winded conditions.
We had a one day stop at Rota whilst waiting for wind. After failing to muster the energy to cook we treated ourselves to a meal out and I had a dish local to the town called Urta a la Rotena which is the locally caught catch of the day cooked on top of sliced potatoes, with a kind of vegetable and tomato sauce. Really delicious.
The next day we sailed to Barbate. A couple of hours out we heard some massive explosions and knowing this stretch of coast is a military firing range weren’t too worried at first as we’d not heard any warnings to stay clear on the usual traffic channels. However we kept seeing the smoke trails in the air as whatever target they were aiming at was shot down, and it was hard to see how close it actually was! The bangs were incredibly loud and after a while we decided to head inland and away from the ‘firing zone’ just to be on the safe side! There wasn’t as much wind as we would hope, but rounding Cabo Trafalgar brought gusts of 30kts from nowhere, bringing a 2.5mt swell and as it was on the nose it proved to be quite an uncomfortable passage from there on, and to make matters worse a tuna net right near Barbate entrance wasn’t well marked so we had to detour. After a 10 hour passage we finally entered the harbour, as the waves were breaking across the entrance, and were glad to tie up.
Barbate was a strange place, the marina at least, which seemed a cross between half finished and run down, but had a fantastic beach.
We walked the next day right to the top of the cliff and sat to look South at the distantcoastline of Africa…a real eye opener and time to reflect on the distance we’ve sailed so far.
The sail from Barbate to Tarifa was longer than anticipated as we had to tack to a headwind, but we were flying along at 6+kts for much of it. You can see why Tarifa is a kitesurfers paradise as apparently the wind blows a nearly constant 30kts down here for the most part, and is a reason it has a high suicide rate due to the relentlessness of it!
We anchored on the west side of the mole to shelter from the east wind, which felt really weird as it’s exposed to ocean swell, but the Gibralter Straits generally have easterly or westerly going winds funneling through the narrow gap between Europe and Morocco (hence the name Windy Alley), usually for around three days each way with a lull between the change of direction, which is what we were waiting for.
Due to the unique wind patterns and complex tidal flows of the area, transiting The Straits is not generally considered to be easy. There is a constant 1kt of current flowing eastwards into the Mediterranean, with a 300m deep sill between Spain and Morocco restricting outward flow (the Med is almost landlocked and the majority of the water is lost through evaporation, as opposed to outflow). Through the Straits tidal streams at springs can reach in excess of 3kts, half this rate at neaps, with a change in direction every 6 or so hours…but there are three streams each flowing at different strengths and often in opposite directions! I came to think of it kind of like motorway lanes. However as the middle part is taken up with the shipping lanes you generally stick to your inner ‘lane’.
We had some lovely sailing going through and before we knew it the rock of Gibralter loomed before us.
In our eyes Gibralter is a weird place, full of typical ‘Brit bars’ and fried breakfasts, good for replenishing the marmite supplies and filling the tanks with duty free fuel, but we wouldn’t want to spend any longer there than necessary.
You’re not allowed to anchor in the Bay and our marina was within spitting distance of the runway, behind us loomed a huge cruise ship turned Casino Hotel.
However, we did walk all the way to the top of the rock to see the Barbary Macaque apes that live wild. I absolutely loved it! We took a pic nic and were pretty tired out at the end of the day as we walked for about five hours and it’s bloody steep!
When reversing out of our berth in the marina the engine stalled and we realised the stern mooring line hadn’t sunk like it should and had got caught around our propeller. Cue sideways drifting and running around ready to fender us off the other boats. Thankfully we were right below the office so one of the guys came in a boat and towed a line from our bow back in. This was our first experience of Mediterranean style moorings and we hadn’t been looking forward to them for reasons like this! Ben had to get his wetsuit on and dive in to untangle the massive knot.
We had to leave that day as strong easterly winds and big swell was forecast for the next few days, which would mean we were stuck there. We had a pod of curious pilot whales just behind us as we left the Straits which was a really special moment, and a rough and gusty 8 hour passage to Fuengirola, which meant much reefing of the sails. We spent that night on the waiting pontoon as it was too late and windy for us to be found a berth.
So now we were stuck here for four days. We were found a berth between two huge boats and the swell even inside this marina was crazy.
We were bashed around so much that both the fairleads at the bow were ripped off with the violent jarring, and one of the snubbers snapped.
The swell offshore was over 5 metres but even so it shouldn’t have been that bad inside and we had three nights of hardly any sleep. Ben managed to get a surf in on the third day and I sewed covers for our spare diesel containers and the windlass out of leftover sail cover material, but with the weather raging we didn’t get a chance to do much else. We were really glad to be able to get out of there, especially as were being charged 28 euros per night for the pleasure!!
This area is only good for transit sailing and not for cruising, which we can see why being the land of the Irish Bar and All Day Breakfast and we’ve come to refer to it as Costa Del Boy, but it so far has provided us with some challenging sailing conditions and therefore experience, which is why we are here.
We’ve actually had to get our full wet weather gear on..I mean what’s all that about?!
The wind had now dropped to a near nothing but there was still a bit of a swell left over, with the occasional big lump, but we pushed off and after 6 hours our next stop for one night was Caleta de Valez, before leaving next morning to find an anchorage.
We are well and truly sick of marinas, and usually avoid them at all costs, but since we are transiting ‘off season’ our options have been zero to limited.
After much mooching over the charts we decided on the most secluded looking beach we could find, which was near Almunecar, roughly two hours up the coast. It was a pretty uncomfortable nights sleep being an exposed spot, but we had the most perfect evening with a fire on the beach. THIS is what we live for.
Our next stop from here was Motril, best avoided if it can be helped. We anchored outside of the harbour, protected by the breakwater with a view of the oil refinery and scrap heap. We had to go ashore to get food and had to wade through oily run off from said refinery, going straight into the sea. It’s so upsetting to see this sort of thing can still go on, and we’ve seen so much plastic either floating in the sea or washed up on beaches. Much of the coast here is covered in sheet plastic for some sort of crop, and I’m sure with the high winds this is partly to blame, but we’ve noticed Spain in particular doesn’t usually employ the 5p levy on plastic bags and supermarkets force you to use plastic bags for all fruit and veg. Such a waste and so unnecessary, which is another reason we try and seek out the local markets.
The swell picked up overnight and made its way around the breakwater so we hardly slept at all. If you imagine trying to sleep on an seesaw, you’re getting close to what it’s like.
The Navtex predicted force 6-7 next day, but we couldn’t face being stuck there so braved it and headed for Almerimar, 6 hours away, reasoning if it got too bad we’d pull into Adra only four hours away. We had a 3.5mt swell and winds gusting over 30kts, but as we were going with it, it felt manageable. We averaged around 7.5kts speed and surfed down some of the bigger waves at 10+kts…it was a great day and gave us a lot of confidence in ourselves and the boat. Entering either of the ports in those conditions just wasn’t feasible, being that they were exposed to the swell, so even though we were massively tired we made the decision to carry on another few hours to Aguadulce which was protected as east facing. As soon as we’d tucked in closer to shore ready to enter the harbour the seas were nearly flat in comparison, so really glad we made that decision. A very salty boat and two salty sailors, we slept like logs.
So that was yesterday and now we’re anchored in a cove just south of San Jose. It’s still super windy but we’re well protected from any swell in here (SO glad we’ve got our new anchor!).
We had a 6 hour sail, again with BIG waves and strong winds, especially rounding Cabo de Gata (Cape of Cats?!). The colour of the water is stunning and I can get lost in watching the crest of the waves as they fold over themselves, changing from deep blue to bright aqua, and back again in a mass of fizzing bubbles.
We want to get to Cartagena on Saturday to give us time to source some teak for repairing the capping, and get a few other jobs ticked off the list, so we figure with the best sailing wind forecast for tomorrow we’ll try and make an anchorage at Garrucha or Aguilas, then one more stop before Cartagena.
From what we’ve seen so far the Costa Blanca has many more anchorages, seems less populated and less ‘Del Boy’ than the Costa del Sol. Happy days.