During the last three weeks we have begun to wind down and relax. We arrived in Smir, on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco at 4.30pm on the 1st May. It was a good shake down sail taking a total of seven hours from La Linea. The speed was slow as the wind was variable and we had to turn the engine on early in the afternoon for an hour when it died away completely, but we were happy just being at sea again.
Marina Smir was the first to be built on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. Smir is a Spanish Enclave and the Marina is owned by the Spanish. It has a reputation as a smuggler's haven and normal visitors have in the past been harassed by officials, however, we had no problems and once the formalities had been completed we berthed Sareda and went ashore. Apart from the Marina shops and restaurants there is very little in Smir itself as it was built on a deserted beach between Ceuta and M'Diq, but we enjoyed a pleasant hour strolling around the immediate vicinity and enjoying a cup of coffee in one of the many restaurant/cafes within the marina.
The next morning we were up bright and early to taxi into M'Diq. M'Diq is a very busy fishing port but in 2009 the King of Morocco initiated a new extension to the harbour. This was expected to be in use by 2012 but was still not completed at the time of our visit. From the glimpses we had it promises to be a very comprehensive complex but we were quickly shooed away by guards when attempting to investigate further.
We made our way to the fishing harbour which was a hive of activity. On our approach we noticed several men walking away from the harbour area with carrier bags full and one elderly man pushing a very heavy handcart laden with fish. Later in the morning we saw several fish stalls in the market - whether they belonged to the fishermen themselves or whether they were purchased when the fishing boats arrived we do not know.
The first thing I noticed as we entered the harbour was a cat with a fish in its mouth scarpering away behind some buildings, as we approached more and more cats were seen including full families of kittens all looking very well nourished, hardly surprising considering the amount of fish lying on the ground squashed beneath the feet of people milling around.
We went into a fisherman's café right on the water's edge and had two coffees - we had to remember that French was the language to use here, not Spanish, and although we had only sailed 30 miles, the culture could not have been more different from Spain. The ladies were covered from head to foot including having trousers under their long floor length coats and heads were covered.
We were recognised as tourists and one of the ladies with a toddler swathed in a carrying blanket on her back asked by hand gestures if we would like to take a photo of her, of course we did, and paid her a euro for the privilege. Dirhams are officially the currency of morocco but they will accept euros. We later asked some fishermen if we could take a photo of them mending their nets and they were happy to oblige and did not ask for payment.
After we had our coffee we wandered into the town. We purchased some lovely vegetables very cheaply at one stall in the market and bread at another. By this time we were feeling peckish and began to look for somewhere to eat. I was going to have sardines but the places that sold them did not have vegetarian options and I wouldn't eat without Paul although he was happy for me to do so. Eventually we found a lovely café that had vegetarian pizza on the menu. We hadn't had pizza for some time and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was grateful that the weather was not too hot, as, in order not to offend I had worn jeans with a long sleeved cotton top. We only had the one full day in Morocco and left early the following morning to return to La Linea, but after we have visited the Azores we have decided to return to the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Morocco on our way down to the Canaries as we found the people of Morocco so friendly and welcoming.
We had one full day in La Linea before leaving at 7.30am on the 5th May to head for Puerto Sherry in the Bay of Cadiz, initially there was not enough wind to sail but by 10am both wind and tide were favourable in the straits of Gibraltar and we were making 6 knots. In the next hour we averaged 7 knots due to the very strong tide and it was a little hairy passing Tarifa where the overfalls were very strong. At lunchtime there was a strong wind over tide but by 2.30pm the wind had picked up and we were making 5/6 knots.
By 5pm the wind had dropped but we were still sailing at 2/3 knots and we were visited by hundreds of bees. They were all over the gantry and the wind generator and when I went up on deck I had to be careful not to tread on them and I found the life-raft and ropes at the mast were covered in them. Luckily neither Paul nor I are inclined to panic about bees so we just ignored them and they didn't bother us - they were however with us for a couple of hours and when I went below I had to capture at least 10 that had found their way into the saloon and release them outside. We couldn't believe that a swarm of bees would travel so far from land and I was convinced that they had overwintered in the mast and had just awoken!! We found out later however, that I wasn't correct in my assumption as our friends Harry and Val from Gibraltar who had travelled to Rota at the far side of the bay of Cadiz the day before were also visited. By 7.30pm it was obvious that we were not going to make Puerto Sherry before dark and so I cooked a meal whilst on passage and we finally anchored at Puerto Sherry at a quarter to midnight.
We spent 19 days in the bay of Cadiz some of the time anchored at Puerto Sherry, some at the Marina in Rota and two nights in the marina at Santa Maria, up the river from Puerto Sherry, sheltering from gale force winds. We visited Rota a few days after arriving to meet with Val and Harry who had recently managed to secure a permanent mooring there. We left the boat safely tied up and caught the ferry to Cadiz for a day.
We found Cadiz enchanting. It truly is a beautiful and fascinating city and this opinion concurred with that of Lord Byron who declared it to be the most beautiful he had ever beheld. The architecture is superb and we spent a lot of our day in the cathedral, which was vast and more like a mausoleum, and we also found the museum fascinating. For many years Cadiz handled most of the profitable trade with the New World which gave them great wealth that can be seen within the city and which is portrayed by the impressive architecture. We were also impressed with the magnificent gardens and the cleanliness of the city as a whole. It was made easy to explore as we visited the tourist information office who gave us a map with the routes of various points of interest displayed on it in different colours and you just followed the colours painted on the roads to reach the point of interest you wished to find. Following these lines was very informative and far more useful and nicer than the double yellow lines littering the UK!!
We returned to Rota for a further two days whilst in the bay. Rota was one of the prettiest towns we have ever visited in Spain, and we have visited several now! It had its own unusual and spectacular architecture and the squares where people gathered for wine and coffee were invariably full of colourful flora. Whilst in Rota I explored the shopping opportunities, and bought a long cotton skirt and light long sleeved top for when we visit Morocco again.
Whilst anchored in Puerto Sherry we were visited by Jacque, from France, on La Gageure. Jacque is an artist and engraver and his wife, an authoress, had remained in France aboard their 40 metre home moored on the river Seine just below Paris, and was coming to join him in Seville. Jacque had some interesting tales to tell - he was sailing alone off Sudan in the red sea as part of his solo circumnavigation when he was captured by pirates and held for 12 days. He was released in exchange for a Sudanese prisoner but although his situation was scary he said he was generally well looked after.
He was leaving to sail up the Guadalquiver river to Seville some 55 miles to meet his wife at the airport, he was then heading for the Algarve and intended to spend some time on the river Guadiana, which divides Spain and Portugal. As it is also our intention to visit the Guadiana we hope to see him again and maybe meet his wife.
Val and Harry who we met in Gibraltar and who now have a berth in Rota drove over to see us for the evening ashore. We had a lovely catch up and will see them again as they will be heading for La Rompido and then the Guardiana river.
At last we are at sea again, on our way to Morocco from La Linea after three weeks in the Alcaidesa Marina preparing 'Sareda' for our 2013 voyage.
Paul has done so much work to the boat that he positively puts me to shame. He has re-wired and fitted a new wind generator, put a new water pump on the engine and changed the fan belts, fitted a new stainless steel bow roller and serviced the out board motor which subsequently started first time - he still isn't convinced that he could manage car engines, even though I promised to buy him the appropriate manuals!!! He has also repaired the satellite antennae and replaced the Navtex wiring, so it is now working again, and replaced the jib halyard which was almost worn through in one place, updated the fresh water system and repaired a leak in the tank.
The valves needed replacing in the Avon inflatable and we managed to source new ones in Shepherds, the main chandlery in Gibraltar, but Paul felt the repair needed to be done by someone more capable than he and we were fortunate to meet up with Eric and Claude in the marina who are experienced in boat repairs and completed the job at a very reasonable cost.
Meanwhile, I have cleaned and polished the outside of 'Sareda' and re-oiled the teak inside and out for another season.
Between us we have done all the usual preparation works needed to put Sareda back in commission such as putting up the sails and dodgers and stocking up with food including sourcing the best vegetarian options for storage. We did try to pace ourselves with these chores, making sure we took our coffee breaks either in the little marina café/bar or wandering into La Linea for coffee in the small square there that we enjoyed so much last September.
I was delighted to be in La Linea during the Spring season as the flora and fauna was so different - when we arrived the wisteria and the 'birds of paradise' flowers were in full bloom.
Paul and I still laugh when we see the 'bird of paradise' flowers as on our first trip to Madeira, many years ago now, we stayed in a beautiful hotel in Funchal and much to Paul's disgust attended a welcome party laid on for tourists. The tour rep was an elderly gentleman, new to Madeira, and started to tell us about the beautiful 'bird of prey' flowers that were so popular with the tourists. Noticing titters of mirth in his audience he quickly apologised, backtracked and corrected himself to 'bird of paradise', but it was too late, they will always be 'bird of prey' flowers to Paul and I.
Now, three weeks later the wisteria and bird of paradise flowers are past their best but the deep red hibiscus is almost in full bloom. However, I love the wild flowers growing on the road verges and around the edges of the marina. I don't know their names - I need to look them up, but the bright reds, different shades of purple, yellow and other coloured flowers make an outstanding show.
The people in La Linea are still friendly and welcoming and we soon picked up our rather basic Spanish again, at least - 'Quiero la café con leche y un café solo, por favor'.
We also met some lovely people in the marina - Sid, Harry and his wife Val who live in Gibraltar but keep their boats in La Linea. Sid and Harry are both retired pilots having handled the numerous large ships which come into the port to refuel and bunker. They have many fascinating and humorous stories to tell about their experiences and we have enjoyed listening to them over cups of coffee.
We met Debbie and Luke from the Guyana and Germany respectively who built their own steel Bruce Roberts designed boat and have lived aboard for a number of years and had overwintered in La Linea. We also chatted with Peter on his Holman & Pye yacht from Falmouth, Rod and Lin on Lively Lady, Flora and her Dad on their very modern yacht and a number of others - every one very friendly.
Good to be back!
09/10/2012, La Linea
The night before we left Portosin was the final night of their Fiesta celebrations. At about 10.00 pm we wandered into town out of curiosity and were very glad we did. There was a fantastic band playing consisting of 12 musicians and 3 singers including full brass section, sax section and 2 excellent percussionists playing on a stage in the town square where we joined the locals in dancing under the stars to their very professional playing - this was followed by a marvellous firework display. We were sorry we hadn't asked someone to take a photograph of us dancing in the open air - a very rare occurrence - especially for Paul!
I had decided I was beginning to put on too much weight and had cut right down on my cheese intake - a great sacrifice as there are some very tasty Spanish cheeses! However, we weighed anchor the morning of 20th August after the final Fiesta celebrations to set sail for Cascais, Nr Lisbon in Portugal.
We were at sea just over three days arriving at Cascais at 2pm on the 23rd August. Despite encountering very rolly, uncomfortable seas during the last day I was not sea-sick at all. We remembered that when sailing to the West Indies in 2007 Paul was trying to maintain his vegan status for as long as possible so we had very little in the way of dairy products and are wondering whether it was co-incidence that since reducing my intake of cheese I was not sea-sick.
We had a wonderful two days in Cascais. Unfortunately the vegetarian restaurant we had hoped to visit was closed for refurbishment but many more café and restaurant outlets were offering vegetarian options since our last visit five years ago. We had a fantastic vegetarian lunch at an Indian restaurant, not at all like the restaurants found in the UK as the main course was a lot less spicy, but the most delicious vegetarian food we have found whilst eating out for some time and all enjoyed while sitting in the sun with a glass of wine or two.
On the 25th August as the winds were still favourable we decided to weigh anchor and head for Faro on the Algarve coast. This meant rounding the fearsome Cape St Vincent and, although we had reasonable weather, the sea was rough and we had strong winds but as soon as we had turned round the cape we sailed into the calm and gentle waters of the Algarve.
We again had a good passage and arrived at the anchorage at the mouth of the River Faro at 11pm on the 26th on the coast of the Isla da Culatra.
The next morning we set off for the old town of Faro, about 5 miles up the river and well away from the tourist enclave that we passed the night before. The buoyage reminded us of the river Exe and we had a winding passage through the sand banks Paul steering whilst I looked for the next buoy through the binoculars. We arrived at the anchorage and spoke to Bruce a retired single hander. He had overwintered in Faro last year and after attempting to go through the Straits of Gibraltar and head up the coast of the Costa del Sol, he encountered a strong easterly 'levanter' winds, turned around and headed back to Faro again.
We spent the day in Faro town exploring the old streets and saw the nests of the Storks on the roof of the cathedral. It was a pleasant day and we were glad we visited but just before low water we set off back to the anchorage at the mouth of the river as we were leaving in the morning to head for Cadiz - we had gone upriver on the flood but coming back the depths were very shallow at times, but we made it ok although it is scary when the depth sounder drops to 0.1 metres below the keel!
We were anchored off the Isla da Culatra by 6pm and decided to go ashore and explore in the dinghy. The little island was a holiday haven for the Spanish, many of whom lived there in the summer and returned to the mainland in the winter. Some only lived there for a 2/3 weeks in the summer and let the properties for the remainder of the time. The only vehicles on the island were two tractors used to distribute supplies to the small shop and a couple of restaurants and a beach bar. We stopped for a drink at the beach bar. The proprietress was a Spanish lady who spoke very good English having had a long term English partner, and it was from her that we learnt of the history of the island. For us it was reminiscent of Graciosa the little island at the tip of the Canary Islands that we found so charming in 2007.
The next morning on Tuesday 28th August we left the anchorage for Puerto Sherry in the bay of Cadiz where there was a good and well protected anchorage. We had a calm sea and good sailing throughout the night.
Paul woke me at 6am to help him spot the relevant lights on the shore and approaching buoys. We were proceeding well hoping to drop anchor in an hour or so when suddenly we found ourselves in a thick fog. One moment we could see a large ship anchored nearby and the next she had disappeared. We were thankful again for the AIS which warned us of approaching vessels and we slowly crept into the anchorage, arriving after 4 hours of staring into the thick fog.
On our way in to Porto Sherry the AIS kept signalling a sailing yacht called 'Iponema' but it was at least five nautical miles away and when we checked her position co-ordinates we noted she was in the anchorage we were heading towards. We finally anchored at about 10am but 'Iponema' was nowhere to be seen - she must have gone into the marina. We saw her again in Gibraltar and spoke to the American owner who was most pleasant and introduced us to his cruising family.
We weren't sure how much longer the favourable winds would be with us so we went ashore for a drink in the afternoon and prepared 'Sareda' for an early start to Gibraltar the next morning. Porto Sherry is a huge modern Spanish marina but the infra-structure of houses, hotels and shops have never been finished although started some 25 years ago, so parts of the marina were rather like a building site.
We left at 7am motoring out of the bay of Cadiz and into a strong wind and heavy swell. We switched the motor off at 8.15am when we were able to sail a good course towards Gibraltar. Paul had to steer clear of a big cruise ship on its way into Cadiz and by 8.30am we had two reefs in the main and half the jib unrolled. At 2pm we rounded Cape Trafalgar, where the famous battle was fought by Nelson and made our final course for the Straits of Gibraltar. At 3pm the wind began to drop so we switched on the engine to ensure we arrived at Tarifa, the entrance to the Straits, in time to make use of the favourable current.
The journey through the Straits was uncomfortable with strong overfalls, strong winds especially off Tarifa, and very strong current which at times gave us over 9 knots over the ground - faster we than I think we have ever sailed before.
We reached the bay of Gibraltar in daylight but by the time we dropped anchor in La Linea on the Spanish border it was about 10pm but it was a glorious sight sailing past "the rock" and through the many large ships anchored in the bay.
Over the previous ten days we covered a total of 582 nautical miles, almost doubling the distance we had covered since leaving the River Exe two months before making a total of 1285 miles so far this year. It was interesting that the Mal de Mer experienced earlier in the voyage completely disappeared after I cut out the cheese on passage!
We had hoped we might have reached the Balearic islands during the following week to meet up with Lucy, Jake and family who were holidaying there, but strong Easterly 'Levanter' winds persisted for the next nine days and we didn't even leave the anchorage although we did spend 3 days in La Linea marina so that we could catch up with showers, washing and refill the water tanks. After some research it seemed sensible to consider leaving 'Sareda' in the La Linea marina for the winter and catch a flight home from Gibraltar airport which was only a walk of about 10 minutes away from the marina.
La Linea is a pleasant Spanish town in which we enjoy shopping. Gibraltar itself we find not so appealing but hosts a 'Morrisons' which we are sure will assist us in our re-stock of UK items on our return which are not always obtainable in the Spanish mercadonas.
There has been a fair amount of socialising since we have been here and we have met some lovely people. We were very pleased to meet up with Kit and Belinda on 'Quilcene' whom we first met at Northern Spain in 2007. They have been cruising the Med for the last five years and are now in Gibraltar before heading down to the Canaries for their Atlantic crossing this year. It was great to see them and they came over to Sareda for a "curry night" along with the inevitable sundowners and we met them in Gibraltar for lunch 2 days later.
I doubt we will see them again for some time as they will be heading for the West Indies and America and we shall be exploring the Mediterranean - but I am sure we will keep in touch with each other, either through our blogs or by e-mail.
Last night we were invited onto Time Bandit for a 6.00 sundowner. Anne and Stuart are on an Island Packet 45 anchored next to us and hail from Scotland. Also invited were Helmut, a German single hander on a Moody 31 and Jeff and Lelia from New Zealand and Australia respectively - also on an Island Packet cruiser in the anchorage.
Anne and Stuart on Time Bandit fly the flying fish pennant of the Ocean Cruising Club, as we do and it invariably makes for good introductions as you know they are genuine long distance and experienced sailors. A jolly evening was had by all and as everyone had a good sense of humour there was much laughing and telling of stories over drinks and nibbles all in their rather spacious cockpit on a lovely, balmy, moonlit evening.
We have now been in the bay for ten days and feel fully rested after our rather hectic cruise from the UK but before we get too port bound we plan to head for a few days in Morocco before returning to La Linea and our subsequent return to the UK on the 3rd October.