It seems almost blasphemous to say so but in 2013 after nine years in the Mediterranean, we were eager to get out. Not that we hadn't enjoyed the experience. We had visited many wonderful places and made a host of good friends; but deep down we knew it was time to move on.
The previous blogs in this series represent the first stepping-stones in our retreat. During the summer of 2013 we sailed westward towards Gibraltar. On the way we visited Sicily, the Lipari Islands, Sardinia, Menorca, and Mallorca where Shindig spent the winter.
Next spring saw us heading west again. After revisiting favourite haunts in Mallorca we crossed to Ibiza and Formentera -- in no particular hurry to eat up the miles -- before heading to the Spanish mainland. Shindig spent the next winter in Torrevieja while we returned to the UK. We are now in Puerto de la Duquesa.
At this point we should talk about the weather -- more specifically the weather in the western Mediterranean in mid-July. In this region at that time of year I'm sure you'll agree that it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be hot and sunny with the lightish winds one feels are one’s due.
And, so far for us, nature has delivered to specification. For the most part it really has been hot and sunny and the winds are negligible, inclining towards lethargic. The two-hundred-and-fifty odd miles between Torrevieja and Puerto de la Duquesa, our last Spanish port, were done almost entirely under power, occasionally allowing us to raise the main and shake out the genoa if only to dislodge the moths.
However, nature – obviously in one of her more impish moods – has also decided that we should have morning fog. Even in Duquesa as you can see on the heading photo. Apart from the absurdity of holiday heaven attempting to disguise itself as the North Sea in November, this is not what you expect in sunny climes. Yet this is quite a common occurrence in this region. The days dawn windless, building slowly to light easterlies – not at all ideal conditions for negotiating the manic levels of traffic converging on the Gibraltar Strait. Visibility almost always improves as the day draws on but the delays associated with waiting for this process to unfold may cause you to miss the favourable tides.
This was what happened to us. Twice. Our departure was scheduled for Sunday but the fog didn’t budge till getting on for lunchtime; not enough time to get safely through the Strait in daylight. So we paid the marina for another night and re-scheduled for Monday. After all, tide times advance some 50 minutes a day so a later departure does allow more time for the fog to disperse.
On Sunday it didn’t. It came close but the timing was still marginal. Another thirty euros changed hands and we resigned ourselves to Tuesday…
And made it! By 1030 we were clear of our berth, motoring generally southward dodging pot buoys – often no more than empty plastic water containers, some flagged, others not. The visibility was still no more than a mile or two but good enough to distinguish the ‘buoys’ from the fat white gulls taking their rest upon the water.
Then, from tiny threats to great big ones. As we closed the bizarrely fog-covered Rock itself (see photo below) the massive shapes of anchored ships emerged. There must have been a dozen at least, some fully loaded, some in ballast, all no doubt waiting their turns to come alongside to take on or discharge their cargoes.
The Strait of Gibraltar is a magnificently melodramatic place. In my days as a Merchant Navy officer I passed through it dozens of times and this was to be the third occasion I’ve run its gauntlet under sail. The obvious star of the show is the Rock itself and the knowledge that much of it has been tunneled and hollowed out to house all sorts of covert paraphernalia gives it a decidedly edgy atmosphere.
It’s also very busy. Indeed, in terms of its surface activity it’s like the Solent on steroids. Ferries whizz between Europe and Africa. Tourists take tripper boats to make friends with whales and dolphins. And there are the inevitable pleasure craft – a flotilla of sailing and power craft.
Of course we made it through. But there’s a sting in this short tale. The Atlantic greeted us with a rising easterly wind and mounting seas. After a long day and now facing an adverse tide we decided to anchor off the west-facing beach at Tarifa at the western end of the straits.
For those that don’t know the area, Tarifa is the southernmost tip of continental Europe and also considered to be its windiest spot – a favourite for windsurfers and the like. Fortunately for us, the holding in firm sand is excellent – a good thing since it’s blowing a lusty F8 and it looks like we’ll be here for another night. Or maybe two.
Maybe it’s just the Atlantic’s way of welcoming us home. We'd better get used to it.