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Rota to Gibraltar
We left Rota marina very early Tuesday morning with the plan to head straight for the marina in La Linea, next to Gibraltar. A trip which was expected to be 14 hours of mainly motoring. I thought that we had woken the couple on the French boat next to us as one of them stuck their head up just after we started the engines. We headed out across the Bay of Cadiz in the dark. Well the sky was dark but the lights from Rota, Cadiz and the surrounding area gave a lot of light. It took a little over an hour to motor across the bay and the sea state wasn’t too bad. That wasn’t to last. The sea state was really lumpy and the wind strengthening on the nose and we were losing speed motoring against the wind in the choppy waves. Unusually for us we had both engines running at the same time and where we had started off with about 6knots of speed this was starting to regularly drop to under 4knots with the same power.
We sailed through the water where the Battle of Trafalgar had taken place but the Cape was shrouded in a haze. At least it wasn’t fog.
After about 7 hours, we were level with Barbate which was where we had originally planned to break our journey before deciding to try and do it in one hop. Neil decided that with the lower speed and the sea state that we would be better heading in to Barbate for the night and resuming our trip again in the morning. It was frustrating having to stop but it was the right decision. We moored up against the visitors pontoon and waited for the office to open at 3.30pm (after siesta) then we moored up at the fuel pontoon then again in the berth. I don’t like mooring, as I may of mentioned before, and had now done it 3 times in a couple of hours. I guess practice makes perfect and all that but doesn’t make me like it any less stressy, certainly not yet. We did have help though mooring into our berth from Nigel off Relentless who took a line. Nigel and Tracy had arrived just after us and had come from a marina in Cadiz. They had the same notion to get to Gib in one trip but like us had come in to Barbate to wait till the next day. It turned out to be a popular decision. As this was the first day in 11 days the Levanter wind had dropped (the easterly blowing out of the Med) a lot of boats were on the move both ways. We counted at least 14 other boats that came in the marina after us, including the French couple who I thought we had woken and 3 other boats from Rota. The French couple were obviously up already, or decided to leave then as we had woken them. We didn’t get off the boat at Barbate and after dinner had an early night, even early for us, as we’d been up at ridiculous oclock. that morning.
Wednesday morning was a bit more leisurely. We were up at 6.30am and followed another catamaran out at 7am. Again, we were followed out by a couple of other boats including Relentless and a catamaran called Tangaroa. The sea was like a millpond compared to the Tuesday and we had a very pleasant motor down to Tarifa, the most southerly point in Europe and only 8 miles from Africa. Although a bit hazy, we could just make out the Atlas Mountain range on the African coast. Turning the corner at Tarifa, we went astern (behind) a big ferry heading in and Tangaroa overhauled (overtook) us. That was another milestone; sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Around the corner and heading East, Neil was able to haul the sails and raise the engines and we had a pleasant sail at around 6knots along the southern coast of Spain towards Gibraltar. Amazing really to have Europe only a mile or so one side and Africa only a few miles the other. This is also where we started to see large shipping at fairly close quarters. Little did I know at this point that ‘fairly close quarters’ was nothing like we were about to experience in the Bay of Gibraltar.
As we turned around a headland, Neil pointed and said “that’s Gibraltar ahead”. I have to admit to huge disappointment. I have never been to Gibraltar before and this bit of headland looked nothing like the pictures I had in my head of the Rock of Gibraltar. It looked just like “another bit of headland”. As we turned into the Bay of Gibraltar, now just sailing with one sail as the wind had picked up, Neil was disappointed that I was disappointed with Gibraltar but it still didn’t look like I expected even close up. However, the Bay was to prove exciting enough to take my mind of the Rock. The Bay was packed with shipping and craft of all shapes and sizes. Huge container ships, gas holding ships, car ferries, fast passenger ferries, supply ships, tugs, other sail boats …… You name it and it was in the Bay. Neil had to keep his wits about him as some of the anchored ships were raising anchors getting ready to move. You also have to stay out the area of water at the end of the runway for Gibraltar airport. You don’t want plane tyre marks on top of the boat! We had a very near miss with one of the super fast ferries coming out of Algeciras. We were under sail doing nearly 7knots and heading for a gap between 2 anchored large ships and the ferry was coming straight at us from port (left side). I kept saying to Neil that he’s heading straight for us and Neil was saying he can see us and see we are under sail so will turn astern of us. It didn’t. Neil had to turn to port to go astern of him and the wash from these ferries that have massive engines and move them along at more than 20knots was huge and we were close to. Neil steered bow first (forwards) into the wash and we took 3 big short waves over the bow. I had gone down to the galley to ensure nothing fell over and held on to the hatch handle while we tossed about. Not nice. I’m not sure if that ferry would of moved over or not and don’t really want to think about what would of happened if we hadn’t. Neil said that if the ferry had left it till the last second to turn astern of us then the wash from the stern would certainly of done some damage to our self-steering and if an engine had been in the water, would of damaged that too. Luckily we didn’t have an engine in the water even though I had been asking Neil to drop one as I feel more confident if they are down and ready to use when in close quarters to so much traffic.
Anyway, no damage and we were just berating the ferry and it’s road hog skipper when a British police boat flies out of a harbour in Gibraltar across the bay. I’ve never seen a boat move so fast on the water. While Neil is still sailing and keeping his eye on the traffic in the water around us I’m watching the police boat looking as though it is going to intercept a rib travelling just as fast and heading into Spain from outside the Bay. They rush alongside each other for a minute or two then the British police boat slows and turns away. I’d love to know what it was. Did the other rib reach Spanish waters before the British boat could intercept it? Was it drug runners/people traffickers or the Spanish police playing? We had heard some radio chatter on our way down. There was a “pan pan pan” (help needed but no imminent danger) to be on the lookout for a dinghy with 10 people on board and twice we heard Gibraltar ‘coastgaurd’ warn boats that they were in UK waters and in contravention of some law or other and to leave or be action would be taken. Most exciting radio we’ve heard.
Neil has also covered this trip on his blog www.thegledaproject.com (I have used some of his photos).
Then all peace and quiet and we headed into Alcaidesa Marina which is in La Linea, Spain. Berthing was a pain in the wind that was blowing from the west but Neil managed and with help from some mariners and Keith, we were in. We were berthed facing Gibraltar with a view of the rock across the border and runway. This was it. This was the view of Gibraltar that I had been expecting. This is the tallest and steepest side and obviously the view that is most photographed, which is why I didn’t recognise the view from our approach. If we had headed in from Spain on the Med side, then I would of recognised it.
By now it was late afternoon. Neil took time sorting the boat and putting the sail covers back on etc and plugging us into the electric. We intend spending a good few days here and having a holiday. Yes I know you think it is one big holiday!
We have seen a couple of the boats here that we saw in Barbate including the catamaran Tangaroa. A lot of cruising boats follow the same courses and we end up seeing boats we have seen elsewhere. There is another boat here called Chateau de Chasselas (Monty Python fans may recognise the name) with Keith and Sarah on board. They were in Lagos for a few days in the winter. Neil recalls seeing the boat.
We saw Nigel & Tracy again twice since we have been here although they are in a marina in Gib and we had a really nice meal with Keith and Sarah at an Italian place in La Linea, Perejilgrill. The chef has worked with Gennaro Contaldo, Antonio Carluccio and Jamie Oliver. As a big Jamie fan, and I love Gennaro too, I was really pleased to hear that Jamie is a nice chap “in real life”.
I’ll save for a separate post our trip to do the historical sites on the Rock. I have to say, so far (4 nights in) I’m really liking it here.