Oh, the bliss of being back at sea

Saturday 20 June 2020

After one of the worst nights ever on anchor, the alarm went off at 0430 and the crew was up and ready for sea almost instantly.  Once the engine was on and the anchor up, the first lightening of the sky was appearing in the East and we motored for eight hours solid, as the promised light Northerly never bothered to blow.  Mate gave in to the idea of her favoured anti-seasickness remedy, a French drug called Nautamine, and was soon able to prepare soft-boiled eggs and Marmite toast soldiers, eaten at the cockpit table!

On schedule around noon, the afternoon breeze stirred into a delicious Southerly, the mainsail and genoa relieved Trevver, and BobbyCool took over from Jeanny to steer us ever onwards.  Unusually, and a real treat for our first passage in three months, we were able to sail the course we wanted, and I maintained a steady five to six knots on a close reach, even when the wind built to the forecasted F5, and we dropped to staysail and then first reef in the main.  The skies remained blue, the clouds were swept away (unlike in Northern waters, where cloud = wind, here no cloud = more wind) and the sea was the most beautiful shade of azul – Spanish blue.  The crew took turns to nap on and off through the day, and we completed a heavenly passage of 81 Miles in time to drop the anchor onto clean sand in Cala Bassa, on the West side of Ibiza, before sunset.  The day was rounded off with a quick stir-fry supper in the cockpit and a blissfully peaceful night, fragranced with warm pine and under a velvet blanket of stars.

Cala Bassa, West coast of Ibiza

We cashed in the ‘Get Out of Jail’ card!

Friday 19 June 2020

Well, the crew has turned over my engine a couple of times in the last few months, and got me all excited…for nothing.  But TODAY, eventually, my water tanks were topped up, my fridge is groaning under the weight of all the fresh food they’ve crammed into it, and my mooring warps have finally been loosened – are we actually going somewhere again??

My fuel tanks have been topped up as well, apparently not as cheaply as could have been hoped for, considering the reported crash in oil prices caused by the CV-crisis, and we pottered out of the marina – all the way to the beach on the other side of the harbour wall, maybe two miles.  The plan was sound enough: to avoid paying for another night in the marina amidst the Friday night noise of the locals enjoying themselves, and to be ready for an early start the following morning.  Unfortunately, the beach faces East, the direction of the prevailing wind and swell, and when the wind eased overnight, I was forced to lie parallel to the swell, meaning I rolled through about 40˚ all night, shaking and rattling the contents of every locker, along with the nerves of my poor crew.

North-east to Almerimar

Saturday 8 – Tuesday 11 February

Having finally worked through all the last-minute jobs necessary before actually being able to leave port: return the key fob that gives access to the facilities and pontoon, and reclaim our deposit; dispose of rubbish, disconnect the power supply and stow the cable, fold away the bimini so we’ll be able to see the sails, ensure everything below decks is safely stored etc etc, we finally slipped the lines and slid gently away from our rather tight berth at 1100.  As always, it took us a further 30 minutes to remove and stow the mooring lines, and all the fenders that had done such a good job of keeping us from becoming too intimate with our nearest neighbours during the nearly three weeks of our time in Fuengirola marina.

The sea was calm and a light high haze didn’t totally prevent the sunshine from filtering through.  Being weekend, there were several other sails already out and about, welcome company this early in the season.  By noon we had hoisted the main sail, and added the gennaker to enjoy a comfortable broad reach, which would have been peaceful without the engine, except Skipper replaced its vibration with that of the watermaker – for the next several hours.

At 1415 we were joined briefly by two large dolphins cavorting in the bow wave; the rest of their pod remained at a safe distance, but seemed to be centred in one area, perhaps feeding.  As the wind increased, Mate felt it would be prudent to furl the gennaker and set the genoa – a good decision as the gusts soon reached 16+ knots, now with much thicker dark cloud blanketing the sky.  The wind created a little swell, and we were able to sail goose-winged, or as our German friends in Gibraltar called it, butterfly-winged, which is so much prettier, for the remainder of the 33 Miles to our chosen anchorage off the beach and just outside the marina in Puerto de Caleta de Velez, just East of Málaga.

Caleta de Velez

The sky was clearing during the last hour, and we enjoyed a stunning sunset, with the full moon rising in the opposite quadrant, but sadly, having well and truly blown our mooring budget already this month, our parsimony meant a very bouncy, rolly, uncomfortable night, as the swell was slow to dissipate, even without any more wind.

On Sunday we pulled ourselves together as the day came bright and sunny, lifted the anchor and set the sails.  However, with almost no wind we motor-sailed out to clear the fish farm and try to find better airs further from the shore.  We were joined briefly by three dolphins, and by noon had given up on the genoa and were making water while the engine was running anyway.  At lunchtime the log notes “the wind didn’t read its forecast” as it persisted very light and variable, but to make up for it, the scenery was stunning: light clouds along the ridge of the mountains behind the coastal fringe, which is less built up on this particular stretch.

Eventually at 1430 the wind filled in enough to reset the genoa, F3 from ESE, and we were able to complete the day’s passage of 21.5M under sail.  The only boat in the village, we dropped anchor in seven metres of clear water, and were soon settled comfortably in the Ensenada de la Herradura, sitting in the afternoon sun in the cockpit.

Ensenada de la Herradura, looking East

This is a lovely bay, with options to shelter from most wind directions, and a town that looks almost interesting enough to prepare the tender and go ashore, but we didn’t quite muster enough enthusiasm for this much activity, and didn’t even get going until after lunch on Monday.  We knew there wouldn’t be any wind to sail, so we settled down to an easy motor on a flat sea, racing along at seven knots at times!  Of course, in the last ten minutes before we stopped, the wind rose to a respectable 12 knots – the day’s excuse for afternoon thermal breezes, which are surprisingly frequent, even at this time of year.  However, we understand that the weather is exceptionally mild and calm for the Winter, and has been since the Autumn – evidence of global warming?

We looked at a couple of options for anchoring, according to the pilot book, but the first is now laid with moorings and too deep by the time the boat is the requisite 200 metres from the shore.  Just around the rocky corner of Punta del Cerrón, we found a small cove, attractive except for the ubiquitous graffiti on the wall behind the beach, to enjoy a beautiful sunset and moonrise, and a calm night.

On Tuesday, our last day of this leg, we set off at a more respectable 0930, noticing some curious bright orange growth on the rocky wall fringing the bay, just below the high water line.  Finding a pleasant WSW breeze F3-4 outside the shelter of the cove, we set the gennaker, but the wind was creating a slight swell that met our hull on the starboard stern quarter, making us roll uncomfortably, so we replaced the gennaker with the genoa, and settled down to a steady 5 knots’ progress.  Once again, the weather was lovely, sunny with good visibility, a light haze at sea level and light high cloud over the snow-capped ridges of the Sierra Nevada, now visible as a spectacular length of mountain range.

After lunch, Mate decided to changed the angle of roll by gybing into the bay created by the ‘junction’ of the Costa del Sol with the Costa Blanca: suddenly, the rolling foothills encased in plastic, that enables the production of much of Northern Europe’s demand for salad during the Winter, give way to low cliffs of pale rock face, a little like the SE coast of England.  The wind eased back to a F4 SW, and we were able to fly the gennaker almost into the port of Almerimar, dodging wind- and kite-surfers near the shore line.  Today’s passage of 31M brought us back to land, another Med mooring neatly tucked into by Skipper with a marinero to take our stern lines ashore.

Almerimar port control tower at sunset

Out and About from Fuengirola – Part III: THE ALHAMBRA

Tuesday 4 February

We hired a car and set out in thick fog to head inland again.  Local sea fog, known as taró, is a type of sea advection fog and has been recorded since Phoenician times.  It is not uncommon at this time of year, when a warmer South-easterly wind evaporates the much colder surface of the sea to create high humidity.  The local English language newspaper reported flights diverted from Málaga airport, a fact we found ironic as we had been told that it is not uncommon for flights to Gibraltar to be redirected to Málaga, when the Rock is shrouded in its own private weather system.

Anyway, we took on the challenge of driving a left-hand drive car, on the right-hand side of the road, with unfamiliar road signs, and the unknown quantity of local driving habits, through thick fog.  Where we came out of the murk onto higher ground, we had the eerie experience reminiscent of looking out of an aeroplane at 30,000 feet, a view down onto a cotton wool blanket.  How unfair did it seem, then, to be caught speeding by a traffic camera – probably as Mate was driving the only vehicle slow enough to be photographed…

Eventually the road climbed high towards the snow-dusted peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and far enough inland, for the taró to be replaced by a dirty grey smog as we left behind the pretty trees of almond blossom and approached the city of Granada, home of the world-famous Alhambra Palace.  On Mate’s ‘must see’ list of all time, this greatest surviving monument to Islamic architecture and art did not disappoint, in spite of a few ill-mannered tourists and the gardens in their Winter baldness.  We were glad to have taken a packed lunch, which we ate in the car before entering the site to avoid carrying it; there is no café anywhere within the walls: refreshments are available only from vending machines.

Admission tickets must be booked in advance, and give a timed entrance to the inner sanctum of the Nasrid Palaces, so visitors need to organise their tour around this point.  We began by strolling up the cypress-lined path into the Generalife, the terraced gardens on the opposite side of the valley from the Alhambra itself.  These are formally laid out following the principles of Moorish garden design, and feature an open-air concert arena, paved walks between pools, fountains and geometric beds for planting.  Lower terraces accommodate orchards and vegetable gardens.  A series of interlinking courtyards, each centred around a water feature, lead upwards to the beginning of the irrigation system that sustains this essential element of Islamic architecture.  Even in February, warm sunshine and fewer visitors allowed us to appreciate the elegance of structure and the peaceful harmony of tinkling water.

Having completed the loop, we found ourselves back at the bridge across the Cuesta de los Chinos, one of the tracks that lead from the city of Granada.  Entering the Eastern boundary of the Upper Alhambra, we first came across archaeological remains of the Secano, the ancient Medina.  The only building still standing is the Palace and Friary of San Francisco, now a state-run Parador hotel (which has a restaurant with a terrace looking towards the Generalife).  This borders an area leading past a bath house adjacent to the church of St Mary of the Alhambra, which was itself built on top of the mosque.  Next is the square palace of Carlos (Charles) V, built around a circular courtyard but never actually finished during that Emperor’s reign.  It now accommodates the Alhambra Museum and Fine Arts Museum.

Beyond the palace to the West is the Alcazaba, the Old Citadel, the original part of the Alhambra that dates from the Ninth Century.  To the Northwest are the Nasrid Palaces, a series of three interlinking royal residences built for three sultans of the Nasrid dynasty, which ruled between 1314 and 1391.  The tour route follows the chronological order of their construction, and for independent visitors there is no time limit imposed, apart from closing time of the whole site. 

No words I can find can begin to do justice to this incredible place, and I was so glad I bought a good guide to read and learn so much more after our visit.  Having explored Marrakech in Morocco some years ago, I thought I knew what to expect of Muslim art and architecture, but the Alhambra is on a whole different level.  Even keeping in mind that the lavish and intricate decoration of all surfaces was designed to reflect the mighty power of the sultan, I found myself musing on how often he actually looked at any of it, and if so whether it rendered him cross-eyed.  Much of the detail is incredibly well preserved, beautiful in an eye-boggling way and an undeniably magnificent feat of engineering and craftsmanship of its time.

I was fascinated by the sophistication of aspects of the architecture: some windows were unglazed (because it rarely rains, and any breeze needs to be able to pass into the buildings), some have stained glass, which ‘paints’ the internal floor when the sun shines through it, and some have a decorative fretwork to retain the privacy of the (female) inhabitants while they can observe the happenings of the court.  Courtyards are surrounded by arches on slim pillars, a little like cloisters, which allow the low winter sun to warm the walkways beneath, but give shade from the intense heat of the high summer sun.  The abundance of water, a symbol of hospitality, is cooling and soothing, while the wide range of tiled designs offer a wealth of patchworking inspiration.

Postcard from the Alhambra

Out and about from Fuengirola – Part II: MIJAS PUEBLO

Friday 31 January

We took a local bus a few miles inland to the white village of Mijas Pueblo, from where we followed a walking route in the Sierra (mountain range) de Mijas, one of a network of “signalized hiking trails” according to the map gleaned from the very helpful Tourist Information office in Fuengirola.  On arriving in the town centre, it was not immediately obvious how to find the main road that runs between the town and the mountain, but we followed a street that led upwards and soon spotted the beginning of a trail.  It is true that the routes are well “signalized”, with bands or dots of that track’s colour placed strategically and frequently on signposts or rocks, but they didn’t always seem logical, or necessarily to coincide with the map.  Also, what we hadn’t allowed for was the recent spate of very heavy rain, which had resulted in patches of erosion of the very dry, thin, dusty soil and some landslips of loose rocks and scree.  After struggling across a very steep hillside for a few hundred metres, it was obvious we’d lost the path, and we turned back – to find it almost immediately.  I really don’t know how we managed to go wrong, but thereafter we were careful to look for the yellow dots, and we enjoyed a stretching walk with stunning views and beautiful countryside.  The scent of pine resin was strong in the bright sunshine, and sweetly accompanied by yellow gorse and wild rosemary in full bloom.  The highlight of the day was spotting a herd of wild mountain goats on the opposite side of the valley we were descending, and we stopped to admire their agility for some time.

Postcard from Mijas Pueblo

At the end of the route, just before we rejoined the main road, we skirted a disused quarry, from which a rudimentary road had been laid in concrete.  Unfortunately this was very steep and some loose gravel lay on top, on which Mate’s boots failed to find a purchase, resulting in a rather abrupt sit-down.

Back in the old quarter of the pretty town, we wandered along the Calle Campos, peeping into the tiny Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies, and the Caves of the Old Forge.  These were effectively basements to the houses built above, clinging to the steep hillside, which held a consistent temperature year-round, making them useful stables or storerooms.  On Plaza de la Libertad, at the foot of Calle San Sebastian, it was time to pause for a well-earned beverage and a chance to chat with an interesting fellow British couple at the next table.  Suitably refreshed, we enjoyed a visit to the Folk Museum, which depicts “the old trades and traditions of the village”.  Distinctly quirky in style, this was very interesting nevertheless, especially the testimonies of agricultural workers that had been translated into perfect English.  We had fun trying to work out how the olive press would work; no helpful description we could understand, here, and all for one euro each.  We strolled a little further around the edge of town, pausing briefly to consider the donkey taxi rank: apparently this service came about in the early 1960s when workers and their animals earned more for less effort from a few minutes with tourists than a day in the fields; and then we found our way back to the bus stop via a tempting heladería for a delicious ice cream treat.

Out and About from Fuengirola – Part I: RONDA

Tuesday 28 January

We rode in a comfortable inter-city coach up into the high country to this historic city perched atop a deep gorge, El Tajo, which carries the Rio Guadalevin, the volume of water a rare sight in semi-arid Andalucía.  The new city dates from around the 15th Century, and is linked to the old Moorish town, by the ‘new’ bridge, Puente Nuevo.  Along with the iconic bullring, Plaza de Toros, this dates from only the 18th Century, and was the second to cross the 100-metre-deep chasm.

Ronda is famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, where matadores stood to face the raging animal, instead of challenging him from horseback.  Narrow cobbled calles open out into attractive squares surrounded by varied and interesting architecture, and there is a curious museum, called the ‘Centre for the Interpretation of the Brotherhood Culture’, which holds artefacts belonging to a number of these Catholic organisations that are based in Ronda.  Brotherhoods date back to the 14th Century, when they began to be established as voluntary organisations of men who took on responsibility for maintaining order on behalf of the nobility.  Members are still recognised as leaders and ‘pillars’ of the local community who embody values of social responsibility.  During Holy Week (that leads to Easter), they process through the city wearing monk-like habits and sometimes tall conical hats with fabric covering their faces, carrying huge plinths of lifesize Biblical characters and saints.

Postcard from Ronda

Ronda was made famous by travellers of the Romantic age, becoming popular as a stopping point on the gentlemen’s Grand Tour of Europe.  The city has been written about by numerous well-known names, including Washington Irving, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway.  We enjoyed spectacular views from a number of vantage points around the city, and treated ourselves to a piece of locally-produced cheese and a bottle of olive oil to take home.  Although a little breezy, we sat at a pavement café for both lunch and afternoon tea before rejoining the coach for the spectacular ride back down the steeply wooded mountains to the coast, occasionally spotting flowering almond trees.

L’Escale in Fuengirola

Monday 20 January – Friday 7 February

L’escale in her Winter topcoat

After a promising start to this season’s cruising, we ended up staying three weeks in Fuengirola, sitting out a number of bouts of stormy weather.  However, this was nothing compared to what the UK was to endure throughout February, and the wet and windy days gave us the perfect excuse to show off our lovely cockpit enclosure (tent).

Passerelle Mk I
(hoisted away from quay to deter unwelcome boarders…)

Meanwhile, we greatly enjoyed a visit from British friends we met in A Coruña who [whisper it] have a large motor boat and were looking at possible marinas on this coast for next Winter’s layup.  Skipper purchased and installed a passerelle (drawbridge) to enable us to step off the stern of the boat on these Med moorings.

Second Mate’s brother flew over to spend a few days in the sunshine and enjoy some quality R&R …during our most wintry weather so far, but we managed a pleasant paseo along the promenade to a castle that now hosts a range of events and performances, a bar lunch nearby and another wet visit to Málaga, where we explored the Roman amphitheatre that was moonlighting as a swimming pool, and found a very good tapas supper at La Plaza nearby.  The train journey was much more pleasant than the bus ride of our earlier trip, too, so overall a successful day.

Roman amphitheatre, Malaga
Fuengirola Castle

We did have some lovely weather to explore a few of the famous sights in this part of Spain: Ronda, the Alhambra Palace in Granada and a rugged walk from one of the ‘white villages’ up in the hills.

Into the Mediterranean

Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 January

Feeling refreshed from our extended stay in Gibraltar, we were keen to begin this season’s cruising as soon as possible.  Second Mate flew into Gib in the afternoon of Tuesday 14 January, and after the briefest of forays around the town before dark (she didn’t even get acquainted with the monkeys!) was ready the following morning to crew out into the bay and onto the fuel dock to top up the diesel tanks.  We were given a rousing send-off on the ships’ horns of Svala and Tendrel-Aurelie, which was a lovely farewell gesture from our new friends.  They also dashed down to Europa Point to take photos of our passing, with Africa in the background, but with no wind to fly sails and a heavy haze, it was doubtful whether there would be any good results.

We were able to hug the coast around the Rock to enjoy close-up views of Gorham’s Cave, with its discoveries of evidence of habitation by Neanderthal man, and visits by Phoenician traders, as well as the very different landscape of the Great East-side Sand Slopes and former Water Catchment project.  As we cleared the runway into Spanish territory, the courtesy flags were changed and we motored on, pausing briefly to puzzle over a large creature drifting past nearby: possibly a ray?

Sunset in Sotogrande

After a tedious four hours, we arrived in Sotogrande, and tied up near the stone tower that houses the reception office of the marina, without power or water.  Having completed the usual formalities, we decided not to move berth, but to go for a walk to discover the town.  We failed miserably, finding only a tiny chapel with a congregation preparing for mass, and a tower on the hilltop that looked like the base of a windmill.  The marina is part of a currently almost deserted holiday resort of golf course and children’s entertainment areas.  To add insult to injury, we were charged 42€, even on Winter rates, and when Skipper and Mate arrived at the facilities around 2300 for showers, the door was firmly locked.  Not an auspicious beginning to the season, but the sunset was pretty, and after dark the floodlit North face of the Rock of Gibraltar was clearly visible to the South.

Thursday morning was another calm day of motoring, 26 Miles further Northeast to Marbella.  Apart from Gibraltar itself, this was our baptism of fire regarding ‘Med mooring’.  In short, this manoeuvre is hell for boat crews, and an endless source of entertainment for the onlookers.  The theory sounds simple: line up with bows or stern pointing at the quay, drop an anchor from the end furthest from said quay, motor in gently until crew can step off with lines and secure them.  In reality, there are as many variations as there are brands of vessel filling up marinas, and any number of things to go wrong.  Any tide/current or crosswind hinders the helmsman’s ability to steer straight at slow speed; there are often lazylines to avoid a litter of anchors on the seabed of the harbour – which inevitably get tangled – but these are only reachable from the quay; if harbour staff are on hand it is not always easy to understand their instructions, guidance or actions in trying to help; and when the boat is finally safely tied up, stepping ashore is a whole other challenge.

L’escale has a beautifully-designed stern bathing platform, wide and broad, but it is fairly close to water level, and too low from which to step up to the quay.  The step into the cockpit is too far inboard to be a launch point from which to stretch across to the quay, and in the middle is the base mounting for the wind vane.  The solution, as seen on most yachts that cruise the Mediterranean, is a passerelle: a horizontal ladder that creates a drawbridge from vessel to land…but we hadn’t yet organised the installation of this essential piece of kit.  So, as usual, we improvised, with a folding lightweight plastic two-step, and a 1.8m x 4”x 2” plank, usually a barge board to protect the hull in canal locks.  This worked, to a degree, as long as one remembered to duck to avoid banging the head on the arch as one stepped up to cross the bridge.  Next time you’re bored, recreate this party trick for yourself: stretch both arms above your head, to steady yourself on the arch above, and bend over almost double, at the same time raising one leg to above the height of your other knee, whilst extending the standing leg at least a metre forward to minimise the number of steps needed to gain dry land – and do send us the photos!

The inside of Marbella’s harbour wall is decorated with paintings of the signal flags, in alphabetical order, which we followed around until we reached the line of waterside restaurants, most of which were empty out of season.  The exception sounded like it was hosting a stag party, or perhaps a rugby post-match knees-up.  The facilities were opened especially for us by the night watchman, and were most pleasant.

On Friday morning the high pressure and lovely weather continued, but with just enough wind to unroll the gennaker and sail gently along enjoying the view.  The coastal strip is very developed, but the backdrop of high, rugged mountains remains unscarred and spectacular.  Knowing yachts are unwelcome in Málaga itself, we had decided to head for Benalmádena as the nearest port for the city and airport.  In a now familiar routine, we tied up alongside the waiting pontoon that doubles as the fuel pontoon, and Skipper was invited immediately into the office to present the ship’s papers and be allocated a berth.  As the pilot book warned, he was told the only berth available was 18 metres in length, and that we would be charged accordingly, not (as is usual elsewhere) by the size of our boat.  He asked several times for a 15-metre berth, but to no avail.  Meanwhile, Mate and Second Mate prepared the remaining lines for the anticipated Med mooring, and began ‘happy hour’, tidying the decks of the paraphernalia of the day’s passage, and organising supper.

We motored a little further into the marina to our allocated spot, and being another high quay wall, Skipper opted for a bows-to mooring this time.  A marinero was waiting to take our lines and indicate the lazyline we were to use, and soon left us to it.  Unfortunately, going in forwards was to prove equally difficult, as we have a ‘dolphin’ configuration at the bow, a sturdy aluminium extension that supports the anchor (and could be said to look vaguely like a dolphin’s nose).  This is safe to stand on, whilst hanging on to the gennaker halyard or furled genoa, but it is still a leap of faith to step across onto the quay, and requires us to be much closer in than is safe in any wind, as we were to be reminded that night.  Having gained the shore, facilities are a bit of a walk, but acceptable once you get there.

Meanwhile, Skipper had been given an extension for our power cable, as the tower at this berth had been fitted with a 32-amp five pin three phase connection, appropriate for the size of yacht for which the berth was designated, but far too large for our modest 16-amp three pin requirement.  Instead of this being ready to plug in, however, he was also given a diagram, and expected to rewire our connector himself.  Of course, this was perfectly possible, and as it happened, Second Mate is also an experienced electrician, from her work in technical theatre and stage management – but that really wasn’t the point, and Mate, for whom anything electrical is something of black magic, was most perturbed that many yachties would be singularly unqualified for such a task, with potentially serious consequences.

Anyway, with power connected and dinner ready, we settled down for the evening.  During the night, the wind blew up from the Northwest, and we were being pushed hard sideways, away from our neighbour but slewing in the gusts until, inevitably, the anchor up front smashed into the quay wall for a rude awakening for the residents of the master cabin, mere centimetres from the action.  In no time outdoor layers were donned and the engine was stirred from his slumber to pull us further from the quay so we could ease the bow lines and tighten up the lazyline on the stern.  Only half noted at the time, but a further point of concern on reflection, Mate (at the bow) noticed the night security man drive along the quay ahead of us, pause to see what was going on at half past three in the morning on a boat in his care, and drive off as quickly as he’d arrived without leaving the shelter of his van.

On Saturday morning a protracted conversation ensued between Skipper and the weekend staff in the office, where it transpired that plenty of 15-metre berths were available, along the far wall of the marina – a longer walk to the facilities, but we were not given the choice, and always enjoy a stroll  to stretch our legs at the end of a passage at sea.  Furthermore, the person Skipper spoke to on arrival, who gave him the connector and instructions for wiring, was supposed to have come and wired it in for us.  Despite Skipper’s best efforts, she remained unable to offer any gesture of refund, and suggested we write to the owners of the marina – which we did, at some length.

Stained glass window in the market hall

Eventually we trudged up the hill in the damp and cold to find the bus stop for a trip into Málaga – cheap enough at 1.70€ each one way, but not particularly comfortable or scenic.  The architecture in the old city is attractive, and we enjoyed the atmosphere, but stayed only long enough for a lunch of paella, grilled vegetables and hot chocolate with churros.  Feeling revived enough for a brief sojourn along the smart shopping street on the way back to the bus station, we resolved to return – in better weather.

Not prepared to spend around 40€ a night for our intended 10-day stay in Málaga, Second Mate was delighted with the unexpected chance of an extra passage when we sailed an extra ten miles back to Fuengirola on Sunday.  At last the wind was sufficient to set the main and genoa, NW 3-5, but shifty in the gusts which made for a challenging session on the helm for her, as she did a brilliant job of keeping us moving, if not always in the desired direction.  It’s delightful to watch her enjoy it so much, and see that she hasn’t lost her touch and has such natural instinct.  She was thrilled that the sun and wind brought out her freckles, so she returned home looking surprisingly healthy from sailing a total of 80 Miles in January!

On arrival in Fuengirola, we were directed to the waiting pontoon until the weekday staff could allocate us a berth the following morning, and we settled happily to a delicious brunch, accompanied by proper English fat chips from one of the restaurants on the harbourside.  We then enjoyed a leisurely stroll to the train station for a much more pleasant ride than the bus to deliver Second Mate to the airport for her flight home.

Postcard from Gibraltar

December 2019

No sooner had we settled into Queensway Quay Marina, the Southwestern-most of the public berthing areas on the East side of the Rock, than Mate jumped onto a plane for a two-week visit to the UK, leaving warm sunshine and 23˚C.  A week later, Skipper left 17˚C and heavy rain to join her.

We returned to the boat together, and have since enjoyed exploring this curious British outpost at the Southern-most point of Europe.  One pleasantly warm sunny day, we walked up paved roads into the Nature Reserve that is the Upper Rock, paid our £5 each entry fee, and admired the Pillar of Hercules, the pair of which is the peak of Jebel Musa across the Strait of Gibraltar on the North African skyline.  Together they form the gateway into (and out of) the Mediterranean Sea.  We marvelled at the views towards Spain from the ridge line along the top of the Rock, and stood gazing across a stretch of sparkling water at Africa, the Atlantic, the Med and Europe stretching away to the North.

Warned by amusing road signs, we kept our eyes peeled for signs of local wildlife, and were rewarded with sightings of lizard, butterflies, ‘tête-a-tête’ narcissus growing wild everywhere, and…yes, all of a sudden, the famous Barbary Macaque tailless monkeys.  Much as Mate is uncomfortable observing wild animals confined to cages in zoos, the reality of being right in among these strong, wily and unpredictable creatures is more than a little unnerving.  They are completely unfazed by the proximity of their human cousins, out for what they can snatch from uncautious tourists, and rather threatening in their speed, strength and bared teeth.  One leapt onto the rucksack on Mate’s back, its weight and unexpected attention surprising her, but thankfully it soon sought more lucrative pickings elsewhere.

The path back down into town from the Northern end of the ridge is steep and covered in loose stones in places; the total distance covered was 12km!  There are several alternative routes up on the high ground, and the opportunity to visit a number of points of interest, but each entry into the Reserve would cost £5, and there is really no other walking away from busy roads and built up (literally: most of Gib is high-rise blocks) urban ‘scenery’.

Routine provisioning is mainly in Morrisons, that well-known British export.  We have learned to time visits for when they’ve just emptied wagons driven overland from the UK, as stock disappears swiftly and replenishing is unpredictable.   A Spanish Eroski supermarket just this side of the frontier carries a good selection of Waitrose products, so all is not lost.  Our bikes have proved invaluable here, for this task, and also to explore the rest of the peninsular at sea level.  One ride took us South on the West coast, along two tiny ‘beaches’ and through two short and one longer tunnel – not a pleasant experience to cycle even without much traffic.  We emerged between one of the city’s mosques and the university: sports sciences department, including a rugby ground; students wishing to study anything else travel to the UK, having been educated up to age 18 according to the British system, including the wearing of school uniforms.

The goal of our visit was the lighthouse at Europa Point, and we also came across the Sikorski memorial, to a Polish Prime Minister in exile who died on 4 July 1943 when his plane crashed into the sea near Gibraltar’s runway; only the pilot survived of sixteen others aboard.  After some moments of quiet reflection, we followed Europa Road uphill, past the Rock’s institutions for mental health and dementia, built high on the cliffs with amazing views of the Bay and sunsets.  We found another entrance to the Reserve near the small Catholic church dedicated to St Bernard, the patron saint of Gibraltar, and the ‘Glen Rocky Distillery’, once a water treatment works in a deep cleft of the rock.  We wound our way carefully down steep roads around many military buildings, eventually completing our circuit back at the marina.

On Christmas Day, we took advantage of almost no traffic (there is very little cycle safety provision here) to ride North and East, around the inland edge of the Rock, past the quiet airport and runway, to Eastern Beach and the pretty village of Caleta.  Although in the shade of the Rock for much of the day at this time of year, the beach here is clean and attractive, and backed with a few terraced restaurants, a cluster of colourful Italian-style villas clinging up the hillside, for this is known as Little Genoa, and each property is named for an Italian town.  Centuries ago, this was one of the landing places of the Phoenicians, and it retains a strong sense of community today.

It is not possible to circumvent the whole Rock on foot (at sea level) or pleasant to do so by bicycle, as a longer tunnel, too low for even single decker buses, pierces the Southeast flank, in the area of the UNESCO heritage site of Gorham’s Cave, where evidence of Neanderthal habitation has been discovered.  On the way back around the North end of the Rock, therefore, we found the main cemetery, a multi-faith burial ground with an interesting history of its own.  The separated Jewish cemetery is solemn, understated and serene, a stark contrast to the typically flamboyant Catholic tombs and the simple white crosses that mark war graves.  As elsewhere around the Rock, the lack of subsoil is very obvious, as the majority of the memorials sit very much above ground.

Thanks to the veritable fountain of useful information that is Mate’s new friend Lorna, a Glaswegian honorary Gibraltarian, we have indulged in a range of culture during our time here, including an unforgettable evening in St Michael’s Cave for the 7th International Jazz Festival in the company of the best saxophonist we’ve ever heard, an Italian by the name of Stefano Di Battista, accompanied by his trio of extremely talented musicians.  The warm-up acts were local artists Levanter Breeze and Surianne Dalmedo.

A month later we enjoyed the European Sinfonietta at John Mackintosh Hall, performing a delightful repertoire of Mozart and Strauss.  In between we have made several visits to the cinema, hidden in the King’s Bastion that has been cleverly converted into a leisure centre housing various entertainments including an ice rink and bowling alleys.  We saw the live streamings of the concert version of Les Miserables and the ballet, Coppélia, and also enjoyed Cats and Little Women.

We have crossed the border into Spain on a number of occasions, to visit the market in La Línea (de la Concepción), where we partook of a Spanish custom, a glass of local sherry with a small tapa of cheese – before lunch – and for Skipper to try to source various items of chandlery, usually more successfully than here in Gib.  There is also a branch of the French supermarket, Carrefour, within cycling distance.

Epiphany, Twelfth Night, 6 January, is an important festival in the Spanish calendar, and was celebrated here with a cavalcade of carnival floats, flatbed trucks decorated in a variety of themes and accompanied by a cacophony of music and a marching band.  The winning floats were a Harry Potter – Hogwarts theme, and a Save the Planet message.  The cavalcade gathered in Casemates Square before processing along Main Street to ‘deliver’ the Three Kings, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior, suitably regal on red velvet thrones, to the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals in turn.  Mate has enjoyed regular Sunday morning church services in English once again, and a lovely Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in the company of our new sailing friends.

Exactly a month after we tied up in our new home, berth A4 in Queensway Quay, an unusual Ovni 455CC arrived to slot in two spaces from us; unusual because only seven of these centre cockpit boats were built.  Tendrel-Aurelie is the same length as us, and being an Ovni is built of aluminium, like us; her hull is not chined, but curved smoothly like ours.  Dörte and Jens, a German couple based in Kiel, have matured from delightful acquaintances to good friends, who generously hosted a pot luck supper on Christmas Eve.  During this we were introduced to their Swiss friends, Manuela and Christian on steel boat Svala.  They’d met in Portugal, and followed the route to overwinter on the brink of the Mediterranean.  We took our turn to host another pot luck supper on New Year’s Eve, before wandering down to the waterfront to enjoy extended firework displays up and down the Rock and around the bay into Spain.

In case this sounds like just an(other) extended holiday, Skipper has squeezed in the fitting of a watermaker, including a successful test run. Safely into a new year and new decade, 2020 started busy and has yet to let up.  Suddenly we’re preparing for a visit from London friends, she newly retired and keen to experience a new destination for a weekend break, followed closely by time with both our children one after the other as we begin a new season along the Andalucian coast.

Happy New Year!

Final passage of the year

Friday 8 – Saturday 9 November

With ship’s time now back in sync with local, we left Cádiz after lunch, under a clear sky and in a cold wind of around F4-5 from the NW quadrant.  We set a prudent second reef in the mainsail with the staysail to balance, making steady progress to the Southeast.  At 2100 we were just South of Cabo Trafalgar, the site of the famous sea battle where Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British Royal Navy convincingly trounced Napoleon’s combined Spanish and French fleet.  It also gives its name to the Southernmost of the sea areas for the UK shipping forecasts.  It has to be said, for somewhere so important, it is somewhat unremarkable, as the land on which the 34-metre-high lighthouse was erected in 1860 stands only 17 metres above sea level.  Nevertheless, across the dark seas, the land lights of Morocco, the Northern coast of the great continent of Africa, were clearly to be seen, with Spain lying quietly off our port, and around 3000 Miles of the Atlantic Westwards to America.

At midnight the log records “lovely sailing; in sight of Tarifa light”.  Indeed, it is the lighthouses that punctuate coastal night passages, encouraging us ever on our way.  As usual, conditions did not remain constant for long; by 0200 the wind was down to a mere F2-3, and we were in sloppy seas, but at least the strong current was carrying us in the right direction.

Gibraltar at dawn

Now, you may recall from the previous blog that we prefer to arrive in daylight; so it was just as well the lighter wind was slowing our progress, but nonetheless we were well into the Straits of Gibraltar by 0400: us and half the shipping of the known world, it seemed.  As ever, Skipper piloted us manfully and safely to shore-ward of the main shipping lanes, and we wove our uncertain way around a plethora of anchored vessels in Gibraltar Bay, all lit up like the proverbial Blackpool, and into a safe anchorage just North of the prohibited area at the end of the runway North of the Rock, to await daylight for our final approach.

The other reason for the stop was that our chosen marina, Queensway Quay, has a boom set across the entrance overnight to limit swell and debris entering the marina.  After breakfast and a cursory tidy-up, we were able to radio the marina office and make a safe entrance into our allotted berth, where we shall lie safe and sheltered at the foot of the Rock, until the New Year.