Wednesday 17th June
What a fantastic day we had yesterday.
The story really started on Monday evening, we’d spent the day sightseeing in Cadiz and were planning to spend a final day in El Peurto de Santa Maria to enjoy the beach and sample the sherry made in the town. My first job, however, was to create a passage plan and I started by downloading the weather forecasts for places en route – Barbarte, Tarifa and Gibraltar. As I swiped through the pages my heart dropped, the predominant colors as the week went on were changing from greens and yellows – F2-3’s to oranges and reds -F5-7’s. Now we have done plenty of sailing in such winds and the boat is more than up to it but for this trip there were two differences, firstly the wind direction and swell were both from the east which meant we would be sailing right into both, which translates into a hard and wet sail. And secondly, and most importantly, we have Phil and Julia onboard neither of whom have ever sailed before and we were keen not to put them off from the first day.
We decided if we sailed Tuesday and Wednesday we could make it to Gibraltar in two hops and beat the weather. So it was all hands on deck as we prepared the boat and new crew. We went through the safety checks and the procedure with the fenders and lines when we leave and arrive in port, Phil and I created the passage plan and we tidied and stowed everything downstairs. By 10.30pm we and the boat were ready. With our alarms set for 5.30am, timimgs dictated by the tides as always, we went to our beds.
As we set off for our first stop, Barbarte, it was still dark. A surprising fact is that Gibraltar, at 6 degrees W, is further west than Plymouth at 4 degrees W, with the clocks being I hr ahead this makes for dark mornings and long light evenings.
As we motored out of The Bay of Cadiz a fantastic sunrise accompanied us. Phil and Julia apprehensive about the day ahead, Rick and I a little downhearted about the lack of wind and the prospect of another day motoring something we have had to do a little too much of recently.
Well we did end up motoring most of the way but that was the only downside of the day. We started off in fleeces and ended the day in t-shirts always warm enough and never too hot. We had clear blue skies and apart from a small swell the sea was calm, almost glassy at points. It was even calm enough for Julia and I to sit and enjoy the view on the forward deck.
We were having a great time enjoying the sunshine and the back drop of the Spanish hills and beaches, we were much closer to land than we have often been because the coastline is deep here and with the motor on (absolutely no wind!) our route was not dictated by the sails. Everything was going so well and we were making such good progress that we decided not to stop at Barbarte and push on straight to Gib. For a couple of hours we managed to get the sails up, we had perfect conditions, I’m afraid Phil and Julia may have got the wrong idea about this sailing lark.
But the real excitement was yet to come, as we approached Tarifa, Rick spotted a large dolphin off the starboard bow, it was odd for a dolphins to be swimming alone and not to approach the boat and we quickly realized it was in fact much further away and actually a whale. Then the whole pod revealed itself, about ten members we think, including a mother and calf that swam and dived in unison. They gave us an incredible show for about half an hour, at one point one was only 50m from the boat, we couldn’t believe our luck. A quick look at our Sea Mammals of the World identification book revealed them as a pod of killer whales and in fact the Straits of Gibralar is a hot spot for sightings. Almost impossible to get a good photo, below is our best attempt.
On our right we spotted land – Africa, the first land we have had out at sea to starboard since we left Plymouth, the huge cliffs and mountains of Morroco. And then the Straights of Gibraltar came into view an impossibly small gap from afar. We negotiated a stream of fishing boats returning to Tarifa and entered Gibaltar bay.
The dreaded stern to mooring was achieved without drama by Captain Ricky and the well earned cold beer drunk. Quietly we congratulated ourselves, stage one completed. We always, when explaining our route, would say glibly “we will hop down the south coast to Plymouth, across the Bay of Bicay, down the coast of Portugal and around the corner to Gibraltar before entering the Med”. Never could we have imagined what an adventure it would be and this is, very much, just the beginning.