Pushing through the Pillars.
04 September 2014 | SW Atlantic Spain
Aqua Blue has escaped the Med after 25yrs!! Rather delayed this year, I returned to Cartagena on 1st July and worked on Aqua Blue in this attractive city for two weeks until my wife Stella joined me. The morning of the 15th brought a fresh northeasterly, nearly trapping AB in her winter berth, the fouled rudder and prop preventing me from rapidly spinning AB in the confined space between pontoons. We eventually extracted and rotated her with the help of the skipper of Zacharia, which is such a well maintained steel boat that not a speck of rust is visible anywhere! We ran down the coast for several hours and later anchored on the east side of Aguilas bay with a few other yachts. I immediately jumped in and spent an hour removing weed and shell, especially from the rudder and Kiwi prop, who's hub needs to be clean to fully engage the powerful reverse blade configuration (which is actually a broader pitched version of forwards, it's complicated!!). That achieved we stayed onboard, M&S chicken curries are so good!
Motoring out in the morning AB was turning and moving better thankfully. And in fact we motored to mid afternoon before another very fresh northeasterly suddenly came up and the engine was silenced for an hour or so before we turned in to Cala San Pedro. There's only a small calm sheltered area available in this rather exposed anchorage, but we joined several earlier arrivals off the nudist beach with it's very high cliffs and had a quiet night again not venturing ashore. Cocktails were enlivened by the naturists strolling about. Stella unearthed a tin claiming to contain "saucissons in lentils and foie grasse", and very good it was too! As was the first episode of Breaking Bad, we'd finally started on the boxed set of the first four seasons.
Although calm it was a katabatic windy night. But that meant we could surf down to Cabo de Gata under headsail alone in the morning, see Stella steering in pic above. Whereupon the wind disappeared in the lee of the cape and we crawled across the Golfo de Almeria. We pottered on to Almerimar marina where AB had spent the winter of 89/90, where it was now so calm we joined a few other yachts anchored outside. Of course a light SW wind then disturbed our sleep and there was even light rain at dawn.
Before breakfast we motored into the marina to top up the fuel tanks. The marinero and HM were both interested that we'd last visited in 1990 since that was the year they'd both started work, needless to say we had no recollection of each other! We continued motoring west but soon were close hauled into a rising wind. We still made good progress motorsailing fast under a reefed main and staysail, and I was learning to use the new SmartPilot X5 which operates the auxiliary tiller inside the rear cabin. Despite not being fully calibrated it would just tack AB and was easy to control plus being more powerful than the earlier belt driven wheel pilot. We reached Motril by 7pm but were not allowed to anchor in the large harbour due to a nearby helipad. So we retreated to anchor between the east harbour wall and another groyne even further east. It was calm initially but a swell rolled in during the early hours resulting in a disturbed night and an early departure.
Leaving at 8am we motored over the swell to Almunecar but rejected the anchorage indicated in the pilot book and continued, to anchor outside Marina del Este. A SW7 was then forecast so I called up the small marina on Ch9 and to my surprise they had room for a trimaran! So we entered and paid for an expensive berth for two nights. Stella was pleased, pointing out she had not been ashore for over four days! We had a good meal ashore after a long siesta. The local shop was permanently closed though. However we reached Almunecar by taxi in the morning and had a pleasant walk round the ancient town's fort and Cuevas, followed by a pavement lunch. We were back on board by 3pm for siesta again, followed by another good meal in "David's" restaurant. Then more Breaking Bad, we were already addicted!
On Mon 21st July easterlies were forecast again, but they were too shy to appear, so after filling the tanks we motored all day to reach Benalmadena, parking initially behind a 61ft Privilege cat. We were then directed to the quiet outer wall at only 38euros and had young angler couples for company into the early hours. So much Spanish activity seems to start at sunset. We reversed out at 8.30am and headed south but soon encountered a fog bank and to our amazement this lasted all day and was sometimes very thick. Even with attentive watch keeping we still had a close encounter with a large trawler, spotted only a few hundred feet ahead! Without the GPS we would never have found Sotogrande entrance, the light on the end of the outer wall appearing above us out of the mist at tea time. We anchored outside again, the harbour seemed full of giant gin palaces. Fortunately it remained flat calm with a light land breeze and by the evening we could clearly see the Rock.
In the morning we resumed droning south and rounded Europa point, identified by both a lighthouse and a mosque minaret. Threading through the anchored freighters off Gibraltar we initially anchored outside La Linea for lunch and a swim. But then entered the marina and had some difficulty mooring AB at reception, with her windage in a fresh seabreeze blowing us off the wall. No help from the marinero, altho a SA yottie eventually took our lines. After topping up the tanks and paying 30euros for the night, Stella eventually lassoed a bollard on a deserted pontoon, altho it was close to the good shower block and wifi/bar. Alcaidesa is half empty but not expensive, especially for wintering. And overlooking the marina is the bar/restaurant AQA which we can recommend.
The following day we stayed put and walked past the queuing cars to the Gibraltar border post, where we immediately boarded a bus to cross the runway and reach the centre. Gib is much improved from my last visit in '87!! We saw the sights inc the Trafalgar graveyard where the mortally wounded were laid to rest. The dead were of course "consigned to the deep" at Trafalgar. We decided against joining the queue for the expensive cable car and retreated from the afternoon heat to the shade of AB's bimini. Followed by another good meal at Aqa. There's also a good restocking supermarket in La Linea altho it's quite a walk.
I had of course been following the weather online and there was no early prospect of easterly winds. So on Fri 25th we returned to the reception berth at 8am to pay for our second night as the staff arrived, and set off across calm Algeciras bay, weaving again past the many freighters at anchor, to round Punta Carnero. As advised I sought out the rougher water which identifies the west going tide and used a lot of the Yanmar's power to make progress. The incoming westerly wind peaked at 31kts, at which AB's speed over the ground was precisely zero knots!! But gradually it declined as we crawled west to anchor outside Tarifa harbour after six hours of very slow progress! The alternative is to raise sail and tack over towards Morocco, but this means leaving the tidal "travellator" and incurring a multihull's leeway in strong winds, with the result I suspect being counter productive. The ancient Greeks and Carthaginians must have been very determined to row and sail through the Pillars of Hercules. There was already a Dutch boat anchored off the beach (yachts are not really welcome in the harbour) and four of us by nightfall at europe's most southerly point. Huge cat ferries maneuvered nearby since Tarifa is a very active port, and unsurprisingly the beach immediately west is the continent's windsurfing capital.
We continued in a now lighter northwesterly the following morning, with AB back in the Atlantic after 25yrs in the Med, already enjoying longer seas. Passing the Trafalgar banks instigated reflective thoughts about who and what had lain beneath us since 1805. Nelson asked not to be thrown overboard and was pickled in a barrel to receive a state funeral in London many months later. Attended amazingly by some of his opposing officers!! The peninsular war continued of course under Wellington, but England no longer feared invasion by Boney.
We identified and entered the tortuous channel into Sancti Petri by tea time, but found the place very crowded with weekend visitors and had to continue some distance inland to find an anchoring spot. Too far to visit the village by dinghy, but that was compensated for by the birdwatching on offer. We just relaxed onboard, only disturbed by the occasional kamikaze speedboat.
We awoke to curlews calling as though we were in Chichester harbour. And a Spoonbill strolled by on the mudbank at low tide. We swam in the warm murky water and then proceeded back to the village, but the marinero would not let us stay on a vacant buoy this Sunday morning. So we motored slowly up the coast to round Cadiz, giving the many reefs a good offing. Continuing round until we were heading south again we passed under the impressive new bridge and anchored off the small Club Deportivo, full of anglers motor boats. They will tolerate yachtsman's dinghies for a small fee and indeed there is an onsite restaurant/bar where we had a good fish dinner.
On the Monday morning we easily caught a bus into the fine city centre and joined a short guided walking tour of the old town. We had an excellent tapas lunch outside the market and continued admiring the many fine streets and houses not returning to AB till 8pm. We repeated the process the following day, museums, market, lunch and general sightseeing. Cadiz city seems improved since our last visit in 2005, and we could have continued for a week!!
On our last day we just visited the convenient and well stocked local shops and left by late morning. We motored past the very shallow and unmarked River Pedro entrance, supposed to be a sheltered spot if a Levanter arrives. We also toured the rather open anchorage just east of Puerto Sherry before continuing on past Rota and along the beach to round the reef off Chipiona. Whereupon we crossed the bar of the river Guadalquivir and ran down to Sanlucar de Barrameda, where we could find no space to anchor. So we spent the night on the north side of the river just before the turn up to Bonanza. And a bumpy night it was too, with the wake of the constant trawler movements in the early hours.
However we found we could safely leave the dinghy on the Guardia Civil pontoon, conveniently close to the Donana National Park visitor centre in the brightly tiled ex ice factory on the front. Upstairs is an interesting display concerning Magellan who apparently left from here. We continued into the old town and had great tortilla camerones (crisp fried shrimp crepe!). Stella bought some Manzanillo de Barrameda, a very dry sherry, best served ice cold. Back on board by mid afternoon we then spent two hours walking the Donana beach front. A sign prohibited landing by dinghy, walking off the beach and almost any other human activity. Needless to say the park employees had four 4*4s parked on the beach and the general message was "you paid for this but you can't enjoy it"!! In the evening I topped up the tank and we settled down for more Breaking Bad and another bumpy night, trawlers streaming past at 8pm, plus 3 and 6am!!
It was quite windy too, not at all a sheltered anchorage despite being several miles up river. Next time I'd round the corner and anchor north of Bonanza for the night. We hauled anchor and took the early ebb down river in the late morning, over the surprisingly rough bar. It helps to leave the channel but you really have to watch the depths. It was already too late to tackle the thirty mile beach west so we eyeballed the multihull anchorage immediately NE of Chipiona but agreed it was too open to the northwest. So we entered the marina for the rest of the day and night. The reception staff made us welcome and had just wide enough berths, but the paperwork took an hour during which fifteen A4 sheets must have printed!! After a siesta and good showers we walked into Chipiona of which I expected little. But we were pleasantly surprised and walked down to the Sanctuary to Madonna de Regla, where unusually you can ascend steps behind the altar to closely admire Madonna! There are also two Moscatel bodegas and in the smaller of the two we enjoyed ice cold Manzanillo, 80cents a freezing glass!! And we enjoyed swordfish and chicken in the square overlooking the smaller town church.
I updated myself on the weather via my ancient Blackberry while lying in my bunk from dawn. And at 8am I walked up to the windy balcony by reception to watch waves breaking across the marina entrance. However the overnight blast started to go down and since there was little promise of improvement to wait for, we elected to leave by 10.30am. First we had to motor again over the bouncy Guadalquivir bar straight into the prevailing northwesterly. I raised the reefed main to steady the motion and gradually the wind started to back, freeing slightly. Next up was the staysail for motorsailing. But by lunchtime we really got a lift along the beach and the genoa was unrolled and the Yanmar silenced. The heavy old bus was now maintaining over 7kts parallel to the beach and the miles to Mazagon really started to come down rapidly. In fact AB amazed me by sailing up the entrance channel behind europe's longest sea wall on calmer water at 8.5kts, as we strained to identify the faded skeletal buoys. We anchored just west of Mazagon marina, next to two neglected yachts! Sherry plus M&S chicken again restored us, while listening and laughing to Count Arthur Strong, before we then further followed Walter White's descent into Hell.
Overnight I received an email from Francisco Vargas at El Rompido with the latest position of the fairway buoy and the times of high tides which were now two hours before Cadiz. We'd already missed the 8.45am high tide so pottered onboard till lunchtime, enjoying the weather which had in fact improved. We set off again as the sea breeze arrived and spent a few hours tacking west, keeping an eye on the many fishing buoys. But we still managed to wrap one round the centreboard and had to stop to free it. Crossing Rompido bar at half tide AB had little more than 4ft under the main hull! The flood tide swiftly carried us the four miles west inside the long La Flecha sandbank up to El Rompido marina to claim our pre-booked winter berth. I'd missed out the western Andalusian Costa de Luz from Tarifa to the Guadiana on both my previous journeys east, so this time we made a point of enjoying Cadiz and the Sherry ports, after the overdeveloped Costa del Sol. Within three days we were back in Brighton, but we look forward to seeing more of SW Iberia.