Tuesday 15 September
Our current position is 34 degrees 40 minutes N, 7 degrees 21 minutes W, 40 miles off the Moroccan coast. The log reads – Tuesday 15th, 2pm, sea calm with 1m Atlantic swell, wind F1-2 from NW, engine plus sails, no other boats within 10 miles. We are relaxed, but despite the African sun we have socks on, it was a cool night and we are only slowly stripping off as the day gradually warms up. Rick is reading while I write, we both keep watch of this deserted piece of ocean for any boats not appearing on our AIS. There is nothing, just us at the centre of a wide open disc of undulating blue.
We pulled away from our berth at one yesterday afternoon and headed for the fuel dock. We had enjoyed our time in Gibraltar, Queens Quay Marina turned out to be a very sociable place and it was nice to leave with many wishes for a good trip. Our plan was to leave Gibraltar Bay at about four, an hour before high tide, to give us a bit of assistance against the current running into the Med.
When we were in Gib in June the fuel dock was a nightmare with at least a two hour queue of boats milling about, too much hassle, we sailed on. This time around we were keen to wait it out, to ensure, with our record lately, that we had enough fuel to get us to the Canaries if necessary and to take advantage of the ridiculously low prices. So it shook up our plan slightly when we arrived to find all three docks empty, a polite and efficient attendant to take our lines and a super quick service. By two pm we were heading out to sea, dingy safely on the davits, emergency Magnums purchased and in the freezer and both our tanks topped up with 36p/l diesel. We were to have an eventful first twelve hours.
We emerged from the behind the fuel wharf straight into the path of the huge cruise ship Aurora, who had also just slipped her lines. We took a quick right turn only to be confronted by two 600 ft tankers, Gibraltar Bay was very busy. Cargo ships on the move and at anchor, tug boats plying back and forth, motor boats and sailing boats all milling around the same small bit of sea. To complete the picture, the Rock dominating, stood high above us on one side, the mountains of the African coast loomed on the other and a pod of lively dolphins leapt between it all.
We, of course, paid for our efficient departure with at least 2kts of current against us all the way out of the straights. At its worst we were battling against 4kts racing around Tarifa point. We emerged only to be met by an area of overfalls – a phenomenon created when wind, current and tide combine to produce, sometimes, very rough water. Luckily today they were reasonably benign and it was more entertaining than anything else, a bit like sailing through a boiling cauldron.
However, we were on our way and we did manage to cross the busy traffic separation zones while it was still light. TSZ’s are enforced in narrow or busy parts of the ocean to create motorways for large ships. They run in places like the English Channel, around prominent headlands such as Finestere and here in the narrow Straights of Gibraltar. Marine rule states that you should cross at right angles so everyone is clear what you are doing. Raya suddenly feels very small and a bit like the squirrels that dodged between our car on the roads in Biddenden. Rick’s brow is furrowed in concentration, calculating when to press forward and when to turn around the stern of the oncoming tankers.
Just as we got across and were breathing a sigh of relief our chart plotter suddenly started to scream at us – vessel position lost! We reset the system and all was well for a few minutes before it failed again, this happened repeatedly for about half an hour. There was no obvious reason, we were passing a Morrocan Navy vessel who was sat monitoring the Straights, possibly he was emitting something that was interfering with our GPS signal. Whatever it was, our back up systems all seemed thankfully to be working OK. It did, however, highlight our dependence on our electronic systems and made us think how we would cope without them, it even stimulated me to break out my Astro Navigation book – not holding our breath on that one.
The next challenge was rounding the northeastern corner of Morocco and its infamous fishing fleet. They drag long nets, hundreds of meters in length between two trawlers, scooping up everything in their path, including unwary yachtsmen. It was nightfall by the time we saw our first couple, they were better lit than we had expected and the fishermen had powerful torches to warn you off if you came too close but still the lights were difficult to fathom as you approached in the dark, we needed to keep focussed. During his watch Rick spent the whole three hours battling with them and was relieved to see the sun rise.
Things have calmed down now and we have survived, one day down, three to go.
Sorry to put in another sunset photo but Tuesday night’s was truly spectacular, the whole 360degrees of sky were lit up. Far from the sun the clouds were a soft baby pink gradually turning to this incredible flaming scene where the sun had just set.