From when the girls left.......Boys time. Benalmadena to Mar Manor
19 September 2021
From when the Girls left. It's BOYS time!
So, Donna and Sarah left for the airport on Friday 3rd Sept around tea time. There was an air of peace and tranquility along with the excitement of some boys time at last.
After the first 2 beers, the phone rang and we both looked startled. Our concerns were confirmed by Sarah stating that her passport had disappeared and that she would likely be re-joining us within a couple of hours. Kettle went on and the beer time ended swiftly.
Sarah indeed joined us after her passport was not immediately found and her 2130 flight had taken off. Typically these things are guaranteed to happen on a Friday when nothing can then be done until working hours, meaning it would not be looked into until at least Monday.
Sunday 4th September:
We left Benalmadena at 1145, making as much distance as possible whilst there was no wind. At 1244 the main sail was raised to steady the rocking. Marina Del Este was our target. It was small and very nice and as we had not booked there was no room at the inn. We tried anchoring off the beach which due to the shingle we could not get a good hold, which was probably a good thing as it turned out to be a nudist beach. We found a good anchorage further up the coast at Almuncar. Although during the day it looked ugly, due to the dated flats, at night it looked quite pretty.
We left for Almerimar at 0755. This coast is where the winter produce is grown for Europe and it's covered in white plastic to protect it from the heat of the sun.
At 1159 there was a loud thud under the boat and Pete realised we had picked something up on the prop. Pete picked the short (only) straw, so jumped overboard to see what the issue was. A plastic bag had wrapped itself around the prop and stopped it from doing its job. See the picture taken of Pete in the water with the bag; just look at the colour of the water!! There was no swell and it was very calm and we all wished we had managed a quick dip before moving on as the water was apparently extremely warm. This did give Pete the chance to have a wee. At 1550 we were 2 miles from a special beacon, an hour and a half later we were on our approach, arriving at 1710. The Capitaniere was a beautiful old converted windmill but the service was still the typical manana style and it took about 45 minutes to sign in.
We had a berth on the NW side of the town square part of the marina, which was lovely until the wind died and it became unbelievably stiffling. Pete cooked on board as we had planned a romantic meal for two but we were happy to share with Sarah. I think we played it well as Sarah obviously felt a bit of a gooseberry and even suggested we go out for a beer, which we took advantage of, as we could not remember the last time this happened, if it ever had at all.
Sarah completed an online form for an emergency passport with the British Embassy in Spain, under strict supervision from the captain and his first mate, to ensure there was no further problems with Sarah getting home a.s.a.p. We were unsure as to timescales but the Gov site suggested 2 working days but we could not book flights, Covid tests, passenger locator forms etc. until we were sure we could get Sarah her required passport. The plan was that we would let Sarah stay on the boat to Almeria and from there she could get a flight either on Thursday or Saturday, depending on when the passport was ready.
We had the engines on at 0930 and headed off. The sails went up by 1100. We did not have far to go to Almeria and the sails were down again at 1355. We had moored by 1430, having fuelled up.
The plan was to stay here to ensure Sarah's second departure was more successful than the first. We paid our dues and went for beer and really nice tapas. We realised the address we had provided to the Embassy for the delivery of the passport was incorrect and actually two addresses in one, one of which was not open and the other which was private. This added to the tension, and we wondered whether we would ever get Sarah back to Blighty. The girls in the marina were great and made a few calls to try and help. It was now a sit and wait, crossing fingers, toes arms and legs.
Tuesday to Thursday - 7th/8th/9th:
The next 3 nights we stayed in Almeria, for 2 reasons. The first to await Sarah's passport and the second was that Friday looked the best weather to round Cabo de Gata. We all went shopping to provision the boat for when Sarah had left, so we topped up with beer. Sarah did get some fabulous Iberico ham, manchego cheese and bread which made a fabulous light meal back on board in the heat of the afternoon.
About 3.30pm we had a knock on the boat; it was DPD, asking for a signature! The passport had arrived, less than 2 working days from completing the form, It had been produced at the Embassy in Madrid and delivered to the yacht in Almeria, via Valencia, within 48 hours, fair play, very impressed. This allowed flights to be booked and tests to be completed, ready to fly back. The Saturday flight booked was not now needed as we got Sarah on the Thursday flight back to Gatwick. Sarah caught a taxi at 7am for Almeria airport, which was supervised by myself, so I know she did actually go. Later that day we caught up with the washing. Captain Cariss had decided to take the trip round the notorious Cabo de Gato on Friday which then meant we had a day to finally have our boys time, but this time we waited a few hours just in case we had another phone call due to a delayed / cancelled flight. Sarah confirmed she had arrived home around 4pm, safe and sound. We were so pleased for her we opened a beer to celebrate.
Friday we were up at 0730, washed, breakfasted and set off. At 0755 we reached the south cardinal, 6 short flashes and 1 long meaning we were in safe water and would avoid the reef. The wind was variable at around 5 knots which is not enough to sail. The weather was so calm at 1005, we rounded Cabo de Gata under engine and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Our destination was San Jose but this being a popular spot and a small marina they did not have any space for us, so we carried on to an anchorage, arriving at 1240 at Ensenada de Rodalquildar, a beautiful bay, with clear water, where you could see the anchor on the bottom at 6m. It had a lovely beach, quite busy with lots of kayaks investigating the many coves, caves and interesting coastline. It was a lovely calm anchorage. We had a swim and showered off the back of the boat. We sat and watched the sun go down and the stars come out and as there was no light polution, we could see the nebular gasses around the planets; fantastic! Just before the sun set, a rescue helicopter came over, searching the rocks for something and hovering so low over the sea you could see the sea being dispersed by the rotor blades. It stayed for a good 20 minutes, occasionally putting its spot light over the area.
After a lovely calm night, I was rudely awaken by thieves, not on our boat but a rib being closely followed by the coastguard rib. The thieves decided the only way to escape was to beach the rib, which they did in such a way that they left the rib pointing almost 90 degrees skywards on the beach, having kept the engine on as they went up the beach. The two men in the rib then ran away. A very large Guardia boat turned up to help. Captain Pete slept through it all. An hour later, Captain Pete awoke, then again the large Guardia police boat returned, chasing another rib, together with the smaller coastguard rib. They took no prisoners, the massive Guardia boat completely rammed the small rib and dived on the rib and did not hold back with the batons. Within half an hour there was once again silence as all the other boats in the anchorage had decided to leave too. It was obviously a popular spot for people trafficking from North Africa, only 85 miles away.
We departed at 1030 and the wind was variable so the sails were up and down as often as a whore's drawers. By 1500 hours the sails were up the engine was off. Eventually the wind died and the sails came down and we had arrived in Aguilas at 1825. Again they did not have any space which meant we had to go alongside in the fishing port. We had no electricity or water but it was free and we had chance to go ashore and enjoy a glass at the nearest hostelry. This was a pop up bar on the quayside, brilliantly positioned. Aguilas was not a pretty place but you could feel the energy and love for life.
There were plenty of eating and drinking venues and the place came alive when the sun set.
We had another early start, leaving at 0735, again having a mixed bag of sailing and motoring. We had spotted a potential anchorage just before Cartagena which looked fascinating and that was our first call. We did have a plan B, as it was a very small cove which we did not think we could get into depending on what we found when we got there. We arrived at Playa calla Caerrada at 1150 and there was one of two buoys free, which was a bonus and very lucky, as it turned out that boats and kayaks were in and out all day, particularly as it was the weekend. We managed to beat a catamaran in but only because Captain Pete was so eager to get in that he gave the orders to raise the revs in order to close in without it looking too obvious. As the sun set, all other boats and rafts left, leaving only us to enjoy the small bay to ourselves. Again no light pollution, we played some music and relaxed with some tapas, wine and beer.
A drizzly day today, not many boats came in as it was a weekday, only a few dive boats came in to share the cove with us for an hour or two. It was a great chance to totally chill as we had no signal, no electric, no water. We were away from the norm of life as we know it and it was bliss. A swim here and a swim there with some nibbles throughout the day. Pete set his scuba gear up and went over the side to scrub his girls bottom; how romantic. Another night of watching the stars. We intended to stay for 3 nights and although we were coping with no water, electric and no text messages from our other halves, we had run out of beer, tragedy!
Left this wonderful haven of peace at 0950. We had been cocooned in isolation but felt free at the same time. We had just got outside the mouth of this wonderful spot when the engine warning for overheating sounded loudly. We were still close to the rocks of the coast line so Captain Pete stepped in and guided the recovery of the engine and the safety of the valuable crew member, without hesitation. During this excitement the wind increased sufficiently to get the sails up and we made our way to Cartagena, arriving at 1330 or so we thought! We had actually arrived at a very swanky private yacht club, with a fab bar on a balcony, looking over the marina, looking very posh indeed. Fortunately we had decided to put our shirts back on before entering the marina, lol. After investigation we were politely asked to leave with immediate effect as our shirts were not of the required quality which the club would expect from their professional sailors. We eventually found our rightful place back in the standard marina, adjacent to the club. We showered, provisioned and settled down for the night. They wanted us out by 12pm or they would charge another night's fee. Not particularly sailing friendly if weather or tides were against you and you had to wait for an afternoon window to move onwards.
We left at 1045, mainsail went up with 2 reefs together with the foresail. We goose winged (one sail out on one side and the other out on the other with the wind directly behind us). At 1524 we realised we only had 35 minutes to get to the bridge in time for it to open which only happened on every even hour. Missing it by 5 minutes would mean waiting for 2 hours for the next opening time. We decided the pull down the sails and motor from this point, as tacking was losing us time. This proved to be the right decision as the bridge arrival was perfectly timed 1550 ready for the 1600 opening. We did have a laugh as the French sail boat Grace Elizabeth, who charged in by dropping sails early and motoring ended up having to forward and reverse for 40 minutes as they were too early. Again Captain Cariss had done his calculations and got it spot on. The bridge opened and we motored through into the Mar Menor (Ba baah ba bah ba, mar menor, da dah da dah...... mar menor....) and motored to the north side of one of the islands to avoid the southerly winds and anchored in about 4 metres of water. The night was surreal, as we had a few showers on our journey and the night settled into an incredible vision.
For the first time in a long time we were sitting in the middle of a lake approximately 10 miles long by 4.5 miles wide. We had a 360 degree view of la Manga and the surrounding towns and villages, that lit up the shoreline throughout. We had clear sky directly above us but around the land was covered by cumulus nimbus (anvil/storm clouds) and for around 3 hours we sat on the back of the boat listening to classics from John Williams and Hans Zimmer along with war of the worlds whilst watching the sky filled with lightning, rainbows and a little thunder, before retiring to our berths.
We left at 1010.... (cowboy time), heading towards Marina los Nietos but we could not make ourselves understood, so we headed to our final destination, Mar de Cristal. We arrived at 1115.
Both the captain and I were impressed with the choice for the 6 month Winter stay. It feels like we have hit the jackpot. Really friendly people, beautifully kept marina, lovely bar and a Sunday afternoon atmosphere.
We caught up with the washing; it was a 1.6 mile cycle ride to the next village. We did the shopping and then I had to do my Antigen test, book a taxi to the airport (we had to call Donna to assist with that), complete my passenger locator form and check in for my flight. All that done, we decided to try the wonderful bar at the club.
My time to leave came around, as always too soon. My taxi was booked for 1450 so we had a couple of beers and some nice food to send me on my way. Pete can now relax on his own with his girl. I know he has a few jobs he must do before he flies home on Monday the 27th.
10 September 2021
I (sarah) joined as an "incompetent crew" member of Yacht Muirgen for a 10 day break, encouraged by hubby, as I'd not had a holiday in 18 months, thanks to Covid; not that I needed any persuasion to see good friends, Donna and Pete. Apart from cycling the odd pedalo and a cruise from Hartlepool to Runswick Bay, in the calmest weather ever, I've not been involved with sailing. However, Tim (hubby) has recently got the sailing bug and was keen to practice his new found skills, having sailed with Pete from La Rochelle to Porto last year and completed a day skipper theory. He therefore wanted more sail time, so he is sailing from Jerez (well the nearest port to) to Mar Menor to help store the boat for the Winter.
We arrived at Jerez airport and caught a taxi to Puerto Rota, which is well worth a stop. I'd happily go there for short break. It has a nice harbour, loads of locals and wide sandy beaches and warm, shallow sea. The town has tourism (where doesn't in Spain) but it is traditional, mainly low rise and it's certainly not the hideous meccas to English tourism that the more well-known parts of the Costa del Sol have become. I'm sure Donna has detailed the stops so I won't go over them again but more focus on how I found sailing! Well, it's a bit like horse-riding (my main passion), with lots of constant prep and hard work for a bit of fun, but worth it. We got up to 7.5 knots of speed one day, which was great. The peace and quiet out on the ocean, away from everyone, soothes the soul and I've become much more aware of the weather and how quickly it changes. I also found, as we anchored or pulled into harbour, the simple acts of tidying up, provisioning the boat, prepping meals, just about allowed for some relaxation, although Tim and I haven't done too much cooking as Pete and Donna are mine host and much the better cooks!
I ended up staying a bit longer than anticipated, having to have an emergency passport created when mine went missing, so as Donna went home I stayed with the boys to sail from Benalmadena to Almeria. Once you get out of the main drag of the Costa del Sol, you return much more to the Spain we'd all like. We followed the coastline for miles and miles of covered vegetable market gardening - apparently this part of Spain provides vegetables for a lot of Europe - next time you're shopping your "from Spain" avocado or whatever may well come from this area. There was quite a lot of beach resorts but mainly inhabited by Spanish. We did try to anchor one night in a cove but the sea bed was shingle and Pete wasn't happy but it did give us a good view of the nudist beach and its inhabitants whilst we tried!
Another purpose-built Marina was Almerimar, which had a beautiful marina and lovely seafront bars and restaurants right onto the beach and a lovely evening promenade. The beach was weirdly like ballast but the shallow sea bay was pure sand. Again for a lovely low key stop and would make just a nice holiday sans boat even.
Well, I fly back tomorrow, probably much to the boys' relief, and they are sitting in harbour likely to sail out on Friday round the notorious Cabo de Gata where we were advised to wait for a westerly wind and the tides in the right direction. From there they are on the home run to winter mooring, in the Mar Menor.
We met the lovely Robin, a RYA instructor, in Gibraltar and Tim will likely go and do his day skipper practical there and likely I will try and convert from incompetent crew to the competent variety.
Must go, have a few more knots to practice tying!
Thanks for reading.
The Costa Del Sol
03 September 2021
After a lazy start, we headed to a lovely bar, for soft drinks before lunch. The toilets were amazing, when zen like music playing and lovey scents. You could have had a peaceful nap on the baby change table. Tim went to the gents and disappeared for 15 minutes. Had he fallen asleep? We headed back to the boat for a quick lunch and started the engine at 1430, having decided not to drop into the fuel berth in Gib to fill up cheaply and buy booze in the duty free shop there. We hadn't used enough fuel to make it worthwhile and we didn't have a need for spirits on board. It had been blowing hard all morning, pinning the boat against the pontoon but eased just before we left, making departure much easier. We skirted the exclusion zone, off the end of the runway and raised the foresail only, as a strong wind was expected at Europa point (southern tip of Gib). We wove our way in and out of the ships at anchor and approached the point. The wind was around 16 knots at the point, so nowhere near what was expected. Once we were clear, Sarah took the helm for the first time and not on an easy point of sail. The wind ws almost directly behind us, making it difficult to avoid a gibe. The wind dropped, making it even more difficult but then picked up and came round onto the beam, giving Sarah her first taste od helming with power in the sails. She did a great job. The wind was on the edge of us needing a reef in but we didn't have too far to go so carried on. We were 'racing' a big racing yacht called Godspeed. They must have wondered how a 37 foot Westerly was matching their pace. They came across the stern and we notice that their mainsail had a big rip in it. They had obviously pushed it too hard somewhere. We arrived on the reception pontoon at La Duquesa at 1835. Pete went to check in and pay and came back with a 'free' bottle of wine with the marina label on it. Staff from the marina were going to meet us at the berth, which has lazy lines and stern to mooring. They even provided us with a plank for transitting from the boat to the harbourside and vice versa. Duquesa marina is situated in the middle of a new apartment complex, with lots of restaurants. We were advised to head into Castillo la Duquesa (the old town) to eat but it was getting late and Tim was struggling a bit, so we went and got ripped off with rubbish food, high prices but a lovely view, in an Italian restaurant. The following morning we provisioned at the little supermarket, which had a wealth of English brands, including Yorkshire tea. Pete and then walked down to the old town to pick up a few bits that weren't available in Arkwright's. The old town was very pretty and quiet and would have been a great place to eat authentic Spanish food. We left Duquesa at 1205, for the 5 mile trip to Estapona but anchored en route to spend the afternoon swimming and listening to music on the boat. The water was cold, a product of the Atlantic current. A bit of hard swimming was required to keep warm in the water. We stayed in for quite a while, having acknowledge that we probably wouldn't get in for a second dip. It was a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon and we didn't set off again until 5.20pm, arriving to more lazy lines at Estapona and another bottle of the wine, which we now knew to be just about drinkable. We didn't make the effort to walk down the coast to the old town in Estapona either but ate at a taverna off the main strip. There was no menu, just a display cabinet of food to select from. The boys went in to order and overdid it by at least a couple of dishes, if not more. The bill was extortionate in comparison with the tapas bar in La Linea and the food was nowhere as good. We decided to eat on board for the next few nights. Estapona's high rise hotels were not for us.
Next stop was due to be Marbella, avoiding Peurto Banus, Peurto Deportivo and heading to Bajadillo, the old fishing port. However, the wind got up and we were having a great time sailing, albeit tacking out to sea and back in along the coast. The starboard tack was especially exhilarating. We opted to carry on towards Fuengirola. We didn't get that far. The wind died just before the headland. We were in a beautiful bay, with little houses and occasional beach bars and we decided to drop anchor. It was warmer here for swimming but there was a strong current, so we put 2 lines out the back with fenders on, just in case anyone couldn't make it back to the boat. I swam a lap round the boat, 29 strokes to get to the bow and 9 to return to the stern. You could literally swim on the spot behind the boat. We decided to stay here overnight, so Pete inflated the dinghy, for the first time this year and we rowed ashore for a drink. One drink led to another and then to eating, despite having food on board. The experience was just so enchanting. Tim and I both had mussels. We returned to the boat before dark, put the anchor light on and had a drink in the cockpit, playing music and looking at the view onshore. All was very calm, with no wind expected overnight, or the next few days. We retired for the night and went off to sleep very quickly. I awoke just before 3.30am and had to run to the loo. Must have been a bad mussel. It seemed Tim was similarly affected. The boat was also rocking in a swell. Perhaps the fishing fleet was out. The rocking continued for the rest of the night and that was the end of sleep and comfort. We left early, under engine, to escape the rocking but had to anchor in another bay, so I could complete my supervised antigen test at 10am. The rocking here wasn't quite so bad but we were underway again as soon as my negative result had come through. We saw a bait ball, with many fish, birds diving and dolphins jumping, in the distance but didn't change course to get a closer look. We passed by Fuengirola, a monstrosity of wall to wall high rise hotels. We were happy not to spend a night there. Sarah went below to lie down, feeling a bit tired and queasy and missed the dolphins, on approach to Benalmadena. It wasn't a close encounter, as a catamaran was following them and we couldn't get very near. We hadn't pre-booked a berth in Benalmadena, that not being something we would usually do. However, they managed to squeeze us in as we were staying for 3 nights, until Sarah and I fly home from Malaga. We were surprised to see lazy lines here too. The marina is quite old and surrounded by an apartment and shopping complex. Some of it was reasonably nice but some of it extremely tacky. However, it was also cheap, at €30 a night. No free wine this time though! Time to catch up on washing, before a shower. We would be eating on board tonight, so went out around the marina for a cocktail beforehand. Another evening was spent on board, with Spotify and the Bose speaker.
Thursday was a day to clean the boat and avoid the sun. We did a bit of shopping for food and drink, including buying a bottle of Domaine Pontefract, a rose from Provence. Late afternoon, we headed to the beach intending to have a dip but there was a foot high ring of seaweed along the shoreline and more in the water, the beach was crowded and there were tab ends in the sand. Not our cup of tea, so we headed to the showers and Sarah and I spent an hour drinking the rose on a bench under the palm trees opposite the boat. Pete did a great job as waiter. Eventually, Tim returned from the shower, probably half an hour after us ladies and he hadn't even had a shave. Dinner on board was a long, drawn out affair, starting with cheese and jamon crisps. We followed with a warm chicken and bacon salad, with new potatoes and garlic croutons. About 2 hours later, we hit the shop bought tiramasu. It was a lovely, relaxed final evening, listening to tunes, singing and getting slightly tipsy.
Friday, our final day, dawned hot and sticky, as usual. First job was to strip the beds and get the washing done. By 11.30 the boat looked like a chinese laundry. Next job was to provision the boat for Pete's and Tim's onward journey, so more lugging of heavy loads in hot weather. Just after 2pm, we headed over to a popular looking bar and restaurant by the dinghy sailing school, well away from the tourist strip. We ordered a jug of sangria, which was very refreshing, sitting in the shade. We noted that the place was frequented only by the locals, so decided to order a late lunch - 2 types of croquettas, followed by a meat paella and a seafood paella, accompanied by a bottle of Albarino. It was good but there was far too much and we took away doggy bags, which the boys will have for supper and probably for lunch tomorrow too. Just time now to bring in the washing, finish packing, complete this blog, before showering and changing for our journey to the airport.
We have had some great times over the last 3 weeks, as well as some trying times. The places we have visited have varied greatly and we now know that the Costa Del Sol is not for us, the Algarve is pretty but too many tourists and the places in between are fabulous, authentic Spain, where the locals live and holiday, away from the madding crowds. Top of our list is Ayamonte, with Rota and Chipiona vying for second place. La Linea was also a pleasant surprise.
May Pete and Tim enjoy their continuing sail to the Mar Menor.
The Orca Run
02 September 2021
We departed Cadiz at 0900 hours for the trip to Barbate, remaining just outside the dredged channel, until we cleared the island. The weather was warm but overcast and there was a bank of sea fret on the horizon. There was no wind at all but a little bit of swell, which rocked the boat from side to side. The rocking eased as we headed in a more southerly direction and moved towards the misty horizon. At times, we could see rain falling on the land in the distance. We had a refreshing mizzle, from time to time and it was comfortable without the sun beating down on us. We were staying close to the coast today, due to the continuing threat of Orca attacks. The latest intel showed five attacks during August in the area south of Barbate but none since July in the area we were sailing today. We passed by beautiful golden beaches and pretty, local holiday resorts, which were far less busy than those near the major resorts. About four miles out from Cabo Trafalgar, the sun broke through, shining like a beacon on the ligthouse in the distance. With the sea as flat as a pancake and no wind to speak of, we opted to cut through the narrow inside passage rather than head out the mile and a half to clear the reef. It is always windier and rougher around a headland and today the wind topped out at around 10 knots, with that and the tide creating little overfalls as we cut through the narrow gap in the reef. It was neither uncomfortable or threatening and was over in minutes and we emerged again into flat calm water quite suddenly. It was great to pass through such a historic place at sea. Sarah spotted a flying fish and then Peter another, the first ones of this trip. I am happy to say they were the only wildlife we encountered today and we arrived at Barbate unscathed by Orca, at around 1530. We relaxed in the cockpit for a while before checking in and decided to sample the cartons of wine that Pete had picked up the day before for 89 cents a piece. Both white and red were foul and ended up in the bin. We needed more bottled water so strolled into town to buy some, along with some decent wine. Once showered and fed, the lightweights decided an early night was in order, so here I am writing the blog while they are snoring gently in their bunks. Night All!
Next morning, we were up and off just before 9am and heading into the Orca danger zone. We decided to stick close to the coast, rather than cut across to the headland where we would enter the Strait of Gibraltar. We put the genoa up but the offshore wind soon died and it was back to the engine for 3 hours. The journey was uneventful and we passed by Tarifa, known for its strong winds, still without enough wind to sail and doing up to 8 knots with the engine on and the current carrying us. There is a constant current from the Atlantic into the Med, to replace the water which evaporates due to the heat in the Med and the current overcomes the tide for much of the time, making it far easier to travel east then west. Tarifa Radio kept putting out a relayed pan pan, regarding a small boat with a sole person on board, that had left the Spanish coast and was missing. We kept an eye out but spotted nobody who looked to be drifting. We eventually had some wind, directly behind us, allowing us to sail through the Strait and into Gibraltar Bay. The Rock was a sight to behold. The wind died here so we dropped the sail and put the engine back on. There were many ships at anchor, lots of pleasure boats and small ferries darting about, making it a very busy place. The wind picked up strongly but we remained under engine, as we hadn't far to go to Alcaidesa marina, where we would be berthing for the night. We weren't allowed into Gibraltar, even in the event of a berth being available, due to Covid restrictions. We could enter only if we had been in Spain for the last 10 days but we had crossed from Portugal only 7 days prior. In the bay, we were joined by a pod of dolphins, playing in our bow wave. Pete took Sarah up to the bow to watch them. The sea had developed quite a swell and was a bit confused, so Sarah remained at the bow, gripping the forestay until we made it into the marina entrance. She also spotted a sun fish, which everyone saw but me. Having checked in at the reception berth, we had to spring off, as the wind was blowing strongly and pinning us against the wall. It was going to be interesting getting into the berth. Pete reversed in, so the wind would blow the bow round and we moored up without any problems. We had completed the Orca run without being attacked! There were lots of British yachts moored in Alcaidesa (La Linea), including several other Westerlys. We also spotted Blue Swan, owned by a Dutch couple whom we had met back in Ayamonte. We had a great view of the Rock of Gibraltar and could see the aeroplanes taxi-ing down the runway and taking off.
Following a much needed shower, we had a drink on board and got into conversation with two English gents on a nearby yacht. Paul (Breen-Turner), who owns the boat, is a sports commentator for Gibraltar TV, commentating on football, boxing and women's tennis and has been out in Spain for 30 years. Robin is a RYA sailing instructor in Gibraltar. We were invited on board for a beer and the two guys gave us a lot of information on where to go and not to go on our way from Gib, through the Costa Del Sol. They also recommended a tapas bar for this evening. Robin said he would show us the way on his way home. In the end he joined us for dinner, followed by Paul 20 minutes later. The food was excellent - iberico ham, oxtail croquetas, venison in red wine, salt and pepper steak, prawn crackers, to mention a few dishes. The food for 6 people and 3 bottles of good rioja was €140, a steal. That was followed by tiramsu, coffee and shots, at an Italian restaurant where they also knew the proprietor. Robin headed home and we all went back to Paul's boat for a final drink, before heading to bed at 0130 hours. Luckily we weren't due to leave until 2pm the next day.
Spanish Border to Cadiz
27 August 2021
The pilot book advised not to attempt an entry to the Guadiana with less than half the tide, which worked quite nicely for us, as we were at two thirds of the tide on arrival at the channel. There were some strong currents and eddies outside the piers and in the early parts of the river but these eased as we progressed. On the west side (Portugal) there was a long sea wall, which was wide enough to park cars and it was nose to tail with them. On the east side (Spain) it was much shallower and there were a number of small sand banks, where people had moored small boats and erected their umbrellas and barbecues. Some didn't look like they had long to go before they were submerged by the tide. We approached and passed by the marina at Vila Real de Santo Antonio, on the Portuguese side. The town looked quite colonial and very picturesque. It was rebuilt in the 18th century, following destruction by an earthquake and tidal wave, which decimated Lisbon in 1755. The town follows a strict grid pattern of wide avenues and squares, paved with black and white cobbles in intricate patterns. Unfortunately we wouldn't get to see this. We continued up river, with the expansion bridge in front of us, with nothing much but sand and shallow bays on our starboard side, until we reached the entrance to the marina at Ayamonte. Turning in we had our first sight of the town, all pretty white buildings but we needed to locate our allocated berth (F31). We spotted F pontoon easily enough but couldn't see any numbers, so headed slowly down the nearside of the pontoon. Eventually I spotted 27, so we were on the right side of the pontoon but had gone too far. Time to reverse out and try again. Pete brought the boat in lovely, reversing into the berth but I made a hash of securing the midship line to the forward cleat and stopped the boat too hard, causing the bow to swing out. Luckily there was no other boat beside us and no damage was done, other than to my pride. We headed to the marina office to check in, a rather laborious process with a lot of form filling, then we were off to explore the town and grab a beer. Ayamonte is a village of Greek origin, with lovely tiled squares, decorated with colourful, mosaic tile walls and seats, surrounded by bars, cafes and restaurants. It's not a touristy place though and everywhere is filled with locals shopping, eating and drinking. There was a market on, with the stalls in little white huts with a red roof. Come the evening, everywhere was decorated with fairy lights too, making it a magical place. We chose a bar down a side street to have a beer, two in Pete's case and to watch the world go by. An old gentleman had fallen asleep in his seat against the wall and was lolling with his head on his chest, waking every so often before nodding off again. We returned to the marina to have a shower and get changed to go out for dinner. We wandered through the streets and the squares for an hour, perusing menus and outlook, much to Pete's annoyance. Our first choice never opened, strange for a Saturday night, especially as it had been open in the afternoon. However, we later learned that it's common for the Spanish to go out for dinner at 9 or 10pm, so perhaps the restaurant just opened later. Our second choice was fully reserved so we plumped for a place on the corner of the main square, with a view of the market and fairy lights. We ate iberico ham and croquettas to start with, then I had the iberian black pig cheeks in red wine and Pete had paella and we shared a bottle of excellent albarino, once Pete had drunk his obligatory grande cerveza. We struck up conversation with a French couple at the next table. She was very chic and she was trying to get her husband to smile for a photo. I laughed which made him laugh and she captured the moment, thanking me. It turned out that they also have boats, although motor ones, as she had suffered sea sickness when they tried a yacht instead. They gave us advice about places to visit, or not and about traversing the Straits of Gibraltar. Pete and I finished our evening sitting in the cockpit, drinking a little more wine and listening to our sailing playlist on spotify. A pleasant end to our first day in Spain. This is what we have been searching for, authetic places, frequented by locals, not tourists, where people don't speak much, if any, English.
Next morning we slept a little late, believing that we were restricted in leaving the Guadiana in the same way as we had been on the way in and that we wouldn't be leaving th marina until at least 1.15pm. However, the Dutch couple berthed nearby had already left. We needed to get diesel, in case we ended up having to motor and there is no fuel pontoon at the marina. Well, actually there is but they have never got round to putting any fuel pumps on it! The nearest fuel station, open on a Sunday morning, was about 1km away, quite a way to carry 2 x 20 litre fuel cans when full. We noticed that the boat next door had some wheels, so we borrowed them, making the refuelling task much easier. We managed to return the wheels about 15 minutes before their owner turned up. Pete did own up and the man was quite happy about it. It was now just after low water and another yacht departed the marina, so we decided to go for it too, gaining ourselves a couple of hours. We were down to 0.6m under the keel at one point leaving the marina but after that it was fairly straightforward and there were no eddies at the river entrance either. We had the sails up quickly after passing the breakwater but the sailing only lasted for 8 minutes before the wind died. We didn't really know where we were heading today. The more picturesque places were too close by and Mazagon sounded rather industrial. We were hoping to find an uncharted anchorage to settle for the night. For an hour, we headed out across the bay under engine and then the wind increased to 7 knots south easterly, enough to beat into, on a starboard tack. With the sails up, we were now going where the wind allowed us to go, which was the right general direction, if not quite as far to the south as we might have preferred. The wind slowly came round to the south so we could gradually pinch up. However, it seemed we were heading for Mazagon, like it or not. We sailed by all the tankers sitting at anchor outside the port and deliberated whether to go into the marina, anchor in the tidal river, beyond the marina, or look for a place off a beach. We were into the channel and heading for the anchorage upriver, where we could see a number of yachts already settled, before spotting another yacht (German) at anchor well off the beach, south of the marina and decided to join her, although somewhat closer inshore. It was 1815 and we'd had 5 hours of great sailing. The cockpit was facing the beach, not the port, so it wasn't as unpleasant as anticipated. I cooked a chicken and bacon risotto for tea and we had a little beer and wine, as the sun continued to shine down on us. It was fairly comfortable at anchor until around 4am, when the local fishing fleet headed out, causing a swell and the boat to rock. As a result, we were up at first light and off. We counted no less than 30 boats trawling an area of 2 x 2 miles, up and down and they do this every day. It's no wonder fish stocks are decimated and the sea bottom is being destroyed. If you want to know more about this, there's a very informative documentary on Netflix called 'Seaspiracy'. It's something of a horror story. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise as we left the bay.
Today (Monday) we were heading for Chipiona, a small town one headland north of Cadiz and about 30 miles south of Mazagon. There was no wind all day, so we had to motor. After only 25 minutes a man overboard alert came out on the DSC radio. Pete plotted the co-ordinates on the chart but the incident was 13.8 miles south of our current position, so there was nothing we could do to assist. The sea was flat calm, no swell and no wind, so we assume the MOB wasn't spotted immediately, as it would probably have been a fairly straightforward recovery. We could still hear search and rescue helicopters 2 hours later though, at which point we could also see the search and rescue boat, so it wasn't looking good, a depressing thought and a reminder that, as sailors, we always need to be vigilant. Motoring can be boring and I took the opportunity to go below and catch up on the blog and write some reviews for Captain's Mate (Cruising Association app). We arrived at Chipiona at 1320 hours and erected our canopy as soon as we were in the berth. It was 37 degrees centigrade and we needed somewhere to hide from the sun and the intense heat. We hit the marina bar for a cold one before returning to the boat. We eventually resorted to lowering the swim ladder and getting in the water in the marina, to cool down a bit. Around 5pm we took a walk to a Carrefour Express to buy beer and tonic water. As we entered the marina, we met another English couple and chatted to them for a while. They have managed to get Portuguese residency, so are able to avoid the 90 in 180 day rule, which is dogging most British cruisers since Brexit. Anyway, it was time for tea on board. There was a German boat 3 berths away from us and they actually had a grey parrot on board. I have seen plenty of dogs and a few cats on yachts before but it's a first for a feathered friend. After tea we deemed it cool enough to bother going for a shower, after which we went out to explore the old town. The English couple had said it wasn't of interest but we should walk along the seafront. How people's opinions can differ! We loved the old town, with its narrow, bustling streets, bars, restaurants and shops. We walked around for a while before taking a high stool at a barrel and eating langoustines (Pete) and iberico jamon (me), washed down with rioja, even though we had already eaten our tea on board. It was just too appetising to resist, especially in such an atmosphere. The lady who served us couldn't speak a word of English but we ended up having a great time with her. She asked us to stay for flamenco but it was going to start too late for Pete. We headed back to the boat, via the seafront, which held nothing for us and relaxed in the cockpit for half an hour before retiring. It was still uncomfortably hot but we eventually managed to sleep, on and off until the air cooled in the early hours. We then slept until 9am and still appeared to be the first people to wake in the marina.
Tuesday was but a short trip, round the headland to Rota, which is on the north side of the bay opposite Cadiz. We refuelled the boat and eased our way out of the marina, at low water. It was refreshingly cloudy today, with a light breeze, which would allow us to sail, if not quite in the required direction. We set out on a port tack, to take us a way beyond the west cardinal buoy. We had about 7 knots of wind and were maintaining 4 knots boatspeed. We then needed to tack to bring us back towards land. The wind dropped and we were only doing 2.6 over the ground. We held our patience and eventually increased our speed to 5 knots, much more satisfying. There was a call for us, Muirgen. on the VHF, which turned out to be another British yacht, coming towards us, requesting that we pass starboard to starboard, as he was struggling to hold his line. We happily obliged and waved as we crossed. After 4 hours of sailing, which is a long time for a 10 mile straight line trip, we dropped the sails and motored across the bay to an anchorage off the beach, between Rota marina and the Naval base. We could just make out the silhouette of Cadiz and the suspension bridge in the distance, through the haze. We had lunch at the typically Spanish time of 3pm. I lowered the swim ladder and dipped a toe in the water and was pleasantly surprised by the temperature, which had increased dramatically since Lagos and our last swim. It was perfect, refreshing but not so much as to cause a shock when getting in. There was a strong onshore current, so it was hard work swimming to the bow of the boat and a breeze coming back. We spent a couple of hours dipping in and out of the water, between sunbathing and Pete scrubbed the boat's bottom and checked the prop. A lovely day, all in all. Now we look forward to the arrival of our friends, Tim and Sarah, tomorrow. The anchorage was fairly comfortable until around 4am, when the swell increased and the fishing boats went out from Rota. We didn't get much sleep from then on and departed the anchorage as soon as it was light and headed into the nearby marina, to await Tim and Sarah's arrival and do some washing.
In the afternoon, we headed to the beach, mainly to swim and cool off. The beach wasn't busy at all and the water was lovely. Tim managed to drop his phone in the sea, after taking video of us all, so we had to conduct a circular search with our feet. I was just about to give up when my right foot landed on top of the phone. Pete dived down to pick it up and it was happily still working. Something nipped Sarah on the leg, probably one of the many small fishes. Then the same happened to me, twice. We went to dry off on the beach but it was too hot, so we were soon back in the water again, sitting up to our waists or lying down. We called for a beer / gin and tonic, on our way back to the boat and then went for a shower, discovering that our swimwear was full of sand. We dressed in cool clothes and headed into the backstreets of Rota to find a restaurant. We avoided the modern promenade and beachfront on the west side of Rota and explored the narrow streets and little squares. We found a little place, La Silla Azul, with outside tables, who kindly removed a reserved sign so we could eat. Sarah and I had a refreshing aperol spritz and the boys had their usual beers. The food was exquisite. Tim and I had mussels, very plump ones, served cold in their shells and topped with finely chopped onions and other items. It was almost like bruschetta topping; delicious. Sarah had burrata with roasted vegetables and Peter had octopus cerviche. We all tried each other's dishes and they were all equally tasty. For main course, Pete had grilled octopus (yes, he loves octopus) and the rest of us had pork cheeks braised in Jerez wine. Back on board, we went straight to bed and were all soundly asleep in seconds. It was a very slow start next morning and it was after 10am when we went back into town to provision, before motoring over the bay to the marina at Cadiz.
It was seriously hot in Cadiz, so we decided to remain on board and undercover until the early evening. We put the swim ladder down and had a dip in the marina to cool off. Ourswimming pool area increased when the neighbouring boat went out to moor up in the bay. Around 6pm, we walked into Cadiz and wandered around the old streets, taking in some of the sights, including the cathedral, where we paused for a refreshing beveridge. We stopped at a tiny, on-street tapas bar to eat and share a bottle of wine, before locating a taxi for the ride back to the marina. When we arrived, there were blue flashing lights everywhere, with several police cars and buses. We walked by the search and rescue boat and could see about ten young African men on board, wrapped in red blankets and sipping hot drinks. There had obviously been a migrant boat intercepted or rescued. We returned to the boat and went to bed, only to be awoken around 3am by the departure of the migrants on a bus and their boat being towed away. We noted in the pilot book the phone numbers to call if we see a migrant boat in distress, as we proceed from Cadiz through the straits of Gibraltar.
22 August 2021
After the exertions of the previous two days we were ready for something more relaxing. We departed Sagres at 9am and had the genoa up straight away, doing 5 knots. After 50 minutes the wind was easing so we put up the mainsail and had a lovely sail for half an hour before the wind died completely and the engine had to go on. We passed by small resorts with pretty white buildings reaching down the cliffs towards the sea, wherever there was a cutting. The cliffs were magnificent, all red sandstone, eroded to produce stacks and caves. There were quite a few boats anchored around the caves as well as trip boats coming from Lagos, our destination, just around the corner. We anchored off Lagos beach in 5 metres and settled down for lunch, before donning swimwear to relax in the cockpit. A quick dip in the sea to cool down, freezing again! We dried off in the sun and put up the canopy to keep us cool and prevent any burning. The Nortade (northerly wind) picked up again in the afternoon and continues to blow as I write this at 6pm. Hopefully it will ease before we settle for the night, as a decent night's sleep is well overdue. Tomorrow we plan to make the short trip to Portimao, where we may spend a night in the marina, do some washing, shopping and perhaps have a meal out.
I can now tell you that the wind, in Lagos, didn't drop overnight until the early hours and I didn't get the greatest of night's sleep, listening to the wind and halyards clanking. We departed Lagos at 0930 and managed a gentle sail for 35 minutes before the wind died and we were back to the engine, for 2 hours to Portimao. The approach was very pretty, with a small castle and old town on the eastern bank and the marina, with its colourful hotel rooms on the western bank. The staff in the marina office spoke excellent English and were very friendly and welcoming, even printing off extra copies of our insurance certificate for future use. We moored up in our allocated berth without incident. Time to do the washing then and have a shower and wash my hair, which was definitely ready for it. The washing was nearly done by the time we headed for the showers, as we met another English couple, Nigel and Janet and ended up chatting to them for half an hour. They had been crewing a yacht from Torquay to Portimau for a couple who were relocating there to live on their yacht but lacked the experience to cross Biscay. Nigel and Janet do this, free of charge and even pay for their own flights, as a way of getting sailing holidays. They never accept though if there is a strict timetable. After some lunch, we headed to the grocery store, close by the south end of the marina, to replenish our drinking water supplies. That was our only glimpse of the rather brash beach resort of Rochas da Mar. Not really our cup of tea! Around 5pm, when the worst heat of the day had subsided, we cycled to the Continente supermarket, about 2 miles away from the marina, to re-provision for another few nights at anchor. On the return journey, my baseball cap blew off and I nearly crashed the bike stopping to retrieve it. Earlier in the day, I had been on Google maps looking at restaurants for dinner and had identified L'Interdit as my favourite. It was situated in a more residential area, away from the tourist resort and beachfront. We walked the mile and luckily managed to get a table. I started with an aperol spritz, which was long, cool and refreshing. Pete had a large beer (no change there then!). We both chose the duck breast, with raspberries and risotto, which was beautiful. I couldn't resist having dessert, not that I am really a pudding girl but the limoncello ice cream with vodka was up my street. If you are ever in Portimau, I can recommend this restaurant and it was really quite cheap at €58 including a bottle of wine. We had a steady walk back to the boat, where we were joined by Janet and Nigel for a drink. Their friends didn't make it, unfortunately, as Mark had stubbed his toe and it looked to be broken.
After the late and boozy night, we didn't depart Portimao until after 1030 hours. We managed to sail for just over half an hour before the wind completely died and we had to resort to the engine again. Just after a lunch of bruschetta, I spotted something glinting in the sunshine, which kept disappearing. I pointed it out to Pete and we watched as it came closer. At about 250 metres, it was clearly a pod of Orca. Usually this would be a cause for celebration and a move in for a closer look. However, last Summer and this season, Orca have been approaching yachts and causing considerable damage to the rudders. There is a boat exclusion zone in the bay of Cadiz, for boats under 15m, to try to reduce the number of incidents. The Orca are not attacking the boats, as such but in an environment where they are now competing for food with humans, they have learned that fishing boats have long lines which catch tuna and that's an easy meal. Yachts have become the victims of that. So, having seen the Orca quite close by, we switched off the engine and the autohelm and sat quietly for ten minutes while they moved away and a few motor boats passed between us and them. We then continued on our way, keeping an eye open. We passed the resorts of Albufeira and Villamoura, with their high rise hotels and expensive marinas and headed towards the Cabo da Santa Maria, where you can head north west to Faro or north east to Olhao (pronounced 'ol ee how'). The tide was running through the entrance, creating a chop and many whirlpools and it was slow going as we headed round the Ilha da Culatra to anchor. The pilot book described the area as a nature reserve, which stunning bird life but also sail it was popular in Summer and there could be as many as 100 yachts anchored there. I am sure there were three times that many, as there were masts as far as the eye could see. Despite that, the place had a certain charm and the sunset was stunning. We didn't see any of the promised birdlife though. We sat in the cockpit and had a bit of an 80's music night and a couple of glasses of wine. Pete couldn't remember 'Wishing' by 'A Flock of Seagulls'!
We left quite early next morning, to catch the tide out of the river and through the piers. It was three hours before we had enough wind for a brief 30 minute sail. We were approaching the end of our sail through the Algarve and had a short ceremony to lower the Portuguese flag and raise the Spanish one, on the starboard side, as a courtesy to our host nations. Pete called ahead to confirm availability of a berth at Ayamonte, the marina on the Spanish side of the Rio Guadiana, which forms part of the border between Portugal and Spain. We chose the Spanish side because the marina on the Portuguese side is in the river and subject to the tidal currents, whereas the Spanish marina is not. Both marinas and towns looked beautiful and historic, on approach but more about that in the next instalment of the blog.