Med Bound Blog 13 (Andalusia, British and Spanish enclaves, the Costa del Sol and fun with the boys)
22 September 2016 | Marina de Est
Mart the Fart/They say the Costa del Sol has 300 days of sunshine a year and I think they are right
When you travel like this places start to blur into each other, I just needed to check the pilot guide to get some memory joggers on Mazagon, clearly it was fairly unremarkable. There was a fishing competition dominating the quay with many drunk Spanish celebrating some impressive Mahi-Mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) catches, the heat was on and we trudged up the hill searching for a Supermachardo. It was not a place worth staying for long and we decided the next day to push for the Bay of Cadiz rather than stopping at Rio Guadalquivir. The aforementioned river is the conduit that connects Seville with the coast. It is navigable for 55NM to Seville for pretty large ships, so it is a busy entrance. We passed it 5NM off, through a cloud of large boats anchored in the roads. We stopped at Rota in the north of the Bay of Cadiz, it was a fantastic marina with an impressive old city and nice beaches. We did some washing, no actually, I did all the washing, much to Veronica's delight. We had time to kill now to accommodate Veronica's departure, from Jerez. Veronica was going back to London to sort the kids out, as they returned to University, and to go on her girls walking week. We prepared for our major crossing, all 5NM across the Cadiz Bay to the anchorage next to Puetro Sherry. It was a very pleasant refuge off a beach, frequented by locals. Before settling there we took the big boat up the river to Santa Maria. The marina up the river was uninviting; we were scouting and trying to investigate logistics for getting Veronica to the station and how Andy and Tom would join the boat from the same station.
In a serious error of judgement, I decided to take Veronica to the station early the next morning in the dingy. Two of us and 3 bags provided excess ballast and the tide was racing out in the river, so progress was slow. On the map, it looked like you could get within 500m of the station up the river, you could but what was not clear was that it was a muddy crumbling wall and a mine field of floating but rotting fisherman's rowing boats on long lines, strategically placed to ensnare an intrepid station seeking dinghy and it's occupants.
I dropped Veronica on a slippery stairway and left her to face a barrage of Spanish from the restaurant owner. I caught none of it but it was loud and emotive, with much waving away. Veronica tagged me, walking along a long and crumbling quayside looking for a take-out point. The heat was intense and the air was close bringing the mood close to ignition. In the end we performed an operation that seemed akin to sending 3 suitcases up the Hilary Step. Miraculously nothing was dropped and only minor mud was gathered. Veronica was not amused but much later, was happy to be back in London.
I stayed on the anchorage for a two days and a night on my own. It was oppressively hot. Hot enough to thwart my attempt to catch the ferry across to Cadiz, which is meant to be beautiful city. It was a 4km walk to the ferry but half way there, the thought of traipsing Cadiz in 40 deg C, killed the idea and I sat down at a beach restaurant to rehydrate, with a poor rehydration fluid that glinted in the sun with an amber tinge.
I solo sailed the boat the 2km into the marina to make things easier for Andy and Tom. I radioed in and they sent help. Still, although self-praise is no recommendation, when Andy arrived, he could not believe that I had put the boat into the tight berth we were in on my own. 3 years ago, I would never have attempted it.
Andy and Tom, arrived, a new chapter with different overtones opened. We had dinner in a local restaurant, with free flowing catch-up conversation. The next morning we motored out of the bay of Cadiz and turned left (south) we were blessed with a following wind and it was truly fitting to have such a magnificent sail while passing through the waters that hosted the Battle of Trafalgar. Thoughts were with all those on both sides that lost their lives in the battle. We had the parasailor up and had some drama of our own. We picked up a thick mooring hawser on our prop. Fortuitously we were sailing at the time and the rope was thick. Nonetheless, it took a wrap on the prop. Tom Jakins was our hero as he put on some snorkelling gear and freed it but not without taking a knock on the nut as the boat surged in the swell. I will not relate the full story of the Battle of Trafalgar here but suffice it to say that I did not realize that Nelson had chased the combined Spanish and French fleet to the Caribbean and back before he engaged them at Cabo Trafalgar. Also, the British had 27 ships versus the 33 in the combined fleet and did not loose one ship. Unfortunately Nelson went back to England, preserved in a barrel of rum. There is a photograph of the inset in the pilot guide that tells the full history. It is in the blog gallery and is worth a read.
Barbate was as described, barren, run down and nothing more than a bleak staging point for the Gibraltar straight. The next day was one of those sailing days to be remembered. It was after all the day we were to meet the objective summarised in all of the titles of these blogs. Moreover, it was a downhill run of note (literally, see later). With a wind from behind or on a favourable quarter we blasted along at 7 to 8 knots all the way, probably with 2 knots of assisting current.
There are some fascinating facts about the Straight of Gibraltar that are worth sharing. The body of water that comprises the Mediterranean Sea has a huge evaporation rate and is a net loser of water. I guess not a great surprise, as it has the Sahara on one side and the fresh water from the European rivers is not enough to replenish the water lost to evaporation. Incredibly, this results in a net inflow from the Atlantic, through a 15NM wide straight. Over 30NM the sea level can drop 2-3m; that is truly remarkable, in my book. This is water flowing in to replace the evaporation loss. Making passage eastbound is often accompanied by a 2-knot current. This is over-printed by the tidal currents which are not insignificant in The Straight but quickly become insignificant in the Med where there is no tide to speak of. Deep down in The Straight, there is a salinity driven current. The (relatively speaking) super saturated and salty Med is forced to seek equilibrium with the normally salt saturated Atlantic. All fascinating stuff, well it is if you are a scientist or an engineer and the boys on board had much lively discussion on this topic. Interestingly many of the scientific papers that were written on this were focused on a theory that the building of the Aswan dam on the Nile would further increase the salinity in the Med and the resulting larger salt tongue that sticks out into the Atlantic would change the climate. Modern computer models have shown that this was an unfounded fear.
As anyone who has approached The Rock knows there can be some focusing of the Levante and its counter wind, the Poniente, by the impressive topography. A German flagged catamaran slogging westwards under motor called us and warned us to reduce canvas, which we duly did. As we rounded into the bay, we had a direct run into La Linea marina. Well there was a lot of ship dodging on the way and I have never seen the AIS screen so busy, although luckily most of the ships were at anchor. On the way in we stopped at the marina in Gibraltar next to the airport runway for some cheap tax free diesel, 43 pence a litre, incredible, and to make the bargain more worthwhile when we went up to the office to pay there was a duty free shop in there selling decent whisky for about GBP8.00 a bottle.
John and Clive arrived that evening and we ended up in the local Club Nautica for dinner, unsalubrious but cheap. The next morning, we set off to conquer The Rock. John was hopeful that he could sneak in on his Schengen visa but alas, he was turned away at the border and spent the day getting red on a beach. We had picked our day, by serendipity it was Gibraltar's National day. All were dressed in red and there were some quite politically charged but peaceful rallies going on. We broke out of the red mayhem (see pictures) in the lower town and trudged uphill to the Moorish fort with views over the famous runway. From there we made our way slowly upwards in the heat, tackling the last half of the climb on the 45 deg staircase close to the cable car. The stairway is on top of the Charles V wall and is a slog of note in 30-40 deg C temperatures. It was worth it. We got to the top and met the Barbary Apes and were rewarded by stupendous views across toward Africa and deep into Spain. At the summit cafe London Pride, quenched the parched throats of the expedition party. There was some talk about taking the cable car down but that was deemed to be for whoosies. Back in town the throngs in red were in an advanced state of inebriation. We had a salad at the local Pizza Hut, which had a lovely balcony deck on piles that extended into the Marina. On the way back we were accosted by a gorgeous scantly clad premonition in a red dress. She was trying to lure people onto the permanently moored cruise ship casino. We said we were not interested in the casino but still got invited on board for a drink. It was worth it just to see the swank and the views from the top deck, the drinks were of course double the price they were outside.
The weather looked perfect for sailing over the next two days and because we are defacto African's we decided to go on a box ticking exercise, crossed the Straight of Gibraltar tick and sailed to Africa tick. Ceuta, is a Spanish enclave in Morocco, just 15NM from Gibraltar. We reached across there and reached back the next day in idyllic sailing conditions. The harbour was not brilliant but the place was interesting with an impressive Castello divided by a sea filled canal and a Spanish history dating back to the 1400's.
We had a brilliant sail back to Sotogrande, which is a spectacular marina with prices to match. The staff were about as friendly as a bulldog chewing a wasp and the pettiness of charging small change euro's for water and electricity on top of already expensive 60 euro berthing fee was irksome. The restaurant was good and the showers warm.
The next morning we scampered for Puertro de Marbella. We had a brisk following wind that built and built all afternoon. As happens in downwind conditions, unless experience has taught you otherwise, it has for me, you underestimate the wind strength. The boys did not realise the challenge we were facing as we arrived at the marina and the wind was 22 knots. I know that above 20 knots the bow-thruster will not hold the bow in the wind. It was a lee shore and a messy narrow marina entrance. I told the crew to leave the fenders until we were behind the breakwater, as the conditions were those that suddenly catapult those engaged in fender duties overboard. We got into the harbour and with some struggle got onto the fuel jetty. There was no place for us they claimed but soon relented with a compromise (or an old trick), we would have to pay the extra for a 20m berth as there were no 15m berths. We gladly accepted. By this time the wind had built to 30 knots. Going stern to and picking up a lazy line in a cross wind was going to be tricky. Twice I reversed in, losing the bow to the wind and having to run to get way on again. Eventually we got into the shelter of the harbour wall and were blow down on the big motor boat next door. Fenders were down and all was well but we could not get tension on the lazy line as the wind blasted and tossed us with straining fenders. Then another boat came in, with two non-crew members and a skipper with eyes like saucers. He struggled too, getting hung up by the rudder on the lazy line of the big boat next to us. He was lucky to get free. It was raining, miserable but warm rain and our crew were offering him encouragement and advice whilst at the ready with roaming fenders for when the inevitable happened and he was blown down on us. His crew, his elderly mother and his wife (we think), were about as much use as tits on a bull. He did a sterling job in the end and we were grateful to accept his gift of beer for our help.
Marbella was interesting, some lager louts but not too many to spoil it. A classy water front area, excellent landscaping, with a Salvador Dali park with interesting pieces of his sculpture. Apparently he was born and lived there but left when he was very young. The jewel was the old town, with it's narrow passageways, squares and quaint restaurants. Sadly Andy and Tom left the boat, they had been great crew. Richard arrived from London for a reunion with his dad John. We hired a car, with a sewing machine engine and climbed the spectacular road to over 1000m amsl to visit Ronda. Ronda is a beautiful cliff edge city, where Ernest Hemmingway spent time before and into the Spanish Civil war. It is most famous perhaps for the spectacular bridge that spans the ravine that dissects the city. We took the air, it was nearly cold enough at that altitude to need a jersey, despite the sun. It was well worth hiring the car for the day and visiting is highly recommended.
Next was Benalmadena, an impressive marina with strangely gaudy architecture in the part that had private accommodation and hosted the waterfront restaurants and shops. I guess gaudy made it interesting and different but I am not sure who it catered to. This was our jumping off point to see Malaga. They have a large harbour in Malaga that can accommodate cruise liners but not yachts. We took the local bus, wandered the town taking in the magnificent cathedral. Then the boys went on a Segway tour up the hill to the castle, with great views over the bay. Segways were fun and the guide was chilled, read the audience well and well suited to his job. We had an excellent lunch in a local hang out with a charming old man that served us, it was so excellent that it became a long lunch soaking up more than just the Spanish late lunch culture. The train took us home on a trip that involved enough walking to counter the effects of the lunch.
No wind and a long motor past Malaga to Puetro Velez. Friendly, basic and greeted by the Saturday afternoon blues band outside at the quayside café. It was a place for locals, a fishing community eking out an existence but with a fairly pleasant beach. Richard departed the boat here and we made our way to Marina del Est, the most attractive marina so far this side of Gibraltar and we had now clocked into low season pricing. Clive and John left us here to return to Cape Town, thanks for the help and fun guys. It was a good place to get stuck, soak up the locals and get on first name terms with the restaurant owner whose establishment overlooked the boat. The Sierra Nevada is now leaning into the sea and the coast line is steep and spectacular. There are many wonderful properties overlooking the sea with views to infinity but closer inspection reveals that there are also a lot of properties that stand empty from the economic crisis post 2008. So I am waiting here for Veronica to return to the boat and we will probably spend another day here after that, it is one of those places. This morning the Nav computer did not boot, it starts initializing and then lots of interesting computer code comes up on the screen. I have phoned for help and a hard restart, did not help. Challenges with electronics again, so it looks like we will hand steer with chart and iPad navigation to Almieramar, where we hope to leave the boat for winter.
This has been a long one, sorry, there was no time to write blogs while I was looking after and having fun with the boys. Until next time.