Finally I was closing in on Gibraltar, and another milestone! But first I had to get there, and leaving Barbate was like many mornings – windless. I started motoring out towards the sea, to get away from land and hopefully have some sea breeze. But as usual, I was disappointed. So I turned the boat directly towards Gibraltar instead, so that I would gain some miles before I set sails.
After nearly two hours I decided it was time to test the wind, that was as always coming pretty much straight from aft. I made about 3 knots to begin with, and over time it slowly picked up to 5-6 knots. So it was a pleasant sail in the end.
A routine I have when I get up from below is to check the horizon, usually following land if it is present, and doing a full 360. I’ve been sitting in the cockpit for some time, and this time when I got up I wanted to check so that my course wasn’t putting me in jeopardy of hitting land. There is a peninsula at the very beginning (or end, depending where you come from I guess) of the Gibraltar straits, and according to the chart plotter there was a slim chance that I was going straight for it.
So I let my gaze follow the shoreline from about midship, forward towards the bow and then switching to starboard, continue to follow the shoreline to the west. And it never stopped. It was as if I was sailing straight into a bay! I checked the chart, what is wrong? No, there it was, the strait. I zoomed out.
Yes, it was the Moroccan coast that I saw, disappearing into the distant haze! I mean, I know that the strait is kind of narrow, but that narrow was a surprise to me. I smiled. First time I sail so that I can see a totally different continent. How awesome isn’t that? I spent some time, looking at Africa for a while. The coastal line is filled with mountains, just like the European side, but higher. It was reddish black and I was really thrilled to finally have seen it like this.
The thrill subsided some the closer I got, as did the wind. But I was determined to sail trough the strait, as I had the wind perfectly aligned with it, so I started gybing back and forth. So once more, the wind was on the stern, even if I had changed course to an easterly course straight through the strait. But considering that there were reasonably high mountains on both sides of the strait, I wasn’t that surprised. But as usual, having the wind like that I was more than willing to get my hands on a large, round, beautiful spinnaker to really put all the wind to good use. Now it mostly flapped my jib around, to the point that I had to be rolled it in, since it didn’t do any good.
My main issue though wasn’t the jib, but another sailboat. It entered the strait not long after me and it was slowly gaining on me. I know, it’s not a race, but… Arrgh! So, I let out the main sail as much as I could, but to no avail, they kept getting closer. They had AIS, so I checked their speed. 8.4 knots! It’s not possible! I bet they are running the engine at the same time. Bastards… I mean, they had to be cheating in some way, right? It was a smaller boat, maybe 38′, and they should, at least theoretically, not be able to gain on me. My speed was a reasonable 7.2 knots, which I was happy with until they showed up. *Ghnnff*
As they were next to me, I saw it was a Hallberg-Rassy. Oh, well then, it was a Swedish built boat. That explains everything. I was content. (Even if I got out the binoculars to see if they were running their engine. I couldn’t really say).
After some time, they were quite ahead of me, to the point that I had to alter course to get into the harbor area of Gibraltar, which they didn’t. They were of course not on my mind any more, I just occasionally by accident checked if there was any boats in front of me, and there they were. Until I couldn’t see them any more. They must have been using the motor…
Turning into the bay, also called Mar de Isidro, the oh-so-calm-why-are-people-talking-abut-gibraltar-being-such-busy-strait turned hectic. There were boats everywhere. Ev-ery-where. And at the same time, the wind dropped, and I was once again sailing at 3 knots (they must have used the engine!). Being so close, and as I told the marina I estimated I would be there by 18:00 I felt an urgency to get moving. And having all those huge ships around me I felt I would be safer running the engine. So, I turned up against the wind, dropped the main and turned on the engine. As I did a thought crossed my mind. I had not refueled since Ireland and I have been motoring for quite some distance now, how much diesel did I actually have?
I went down to the switch board quickly, and pressed the switch to check for fuel. The needle just flinched, as in you are running on fumes. Ah, crap. So, I had about an hour before I could reach the marina, and I wasn’t sure I could actually get there with the amount I have in the tank. So… Back to sailing. Well, to be honest, there were so many sailing boats going in every direction and the wind had picked up, so I really didn’t have an excuse really, and it felt a bit embarrassing running the engine among all the sailboats. But I wasn’t that keen on raising the head sail again, since I still had the wind coming in from astern, so I just rolled out the jib and let it pull me at 5 knots.
When I say that Gibraltar is a busy place, I really must emphasize that. My AIS was constantly beeping for collisions (even if it wasn’t so, they were just close enough that I would have had a look out on the ocean) and they were pretty much ignoring my existence. One ferry just ran straight at me and didn’t show any intent of changing course. I was under sail, but who cares, right? So I had to tack. Unfortunately that put me on the line of a huuuge container vessel and they were blasting their horn every now and then. Not sure if it was at me or not, but they were coming in at 18 knots, so they did close in quite fast. As soon as I saw their starboard side I felt a little more safe, just to see a tug boat aiming straight at me. I thought, a “small” tug should veer off course just a little to go behind me, right? No, not really. It was some chatter on the radio in Spanish that I didn’t understand, could have been for me. I kept my course. “Change course, please.” – Alright, I could understand that.
Since I was sailing, my estimate to arrive to the marina got a bit off. And since I was trying to find somewhere to refuel at the same time, I wasn’t going straight to the marina. I did find a spot on the chart where there was diesel, but apparently it was for the big boats, not for me. Over the radio I could hear the marina calling to me, saying that it was not the right place. Well, thank you, that was intentional. Having an AIS some times gives your small secrets away, haha!
So, I motored the last stretch to get into the marina, and as I arrived I could see that they had fuel as well. Irony. Well, obviously they have, duh. It’s a reasonably large marina. So I tried to keep the boat steady close to the fuel dock, but there wasn’t anyone there. So I called on the VHF for assistance, no answer. And then I saw the sign that they only man the pumps until 18:00. And by now the clock had passed 19:00. Oh, well. Time to dock for check in and then get to my slip for some food and sleep. Docking high docks made of stone in some wind always makes me a bit stressed, especially since there wasn’t anyone around to help. As I got closer though an guy that just left the office helped me and I was docked. Great!
I wasn’t actually in Gibraltar, I was on the Spanish side of the border, which of course was a bummer. But I did have a great view from the boat over the oh-so-famous cliff (it’s hard not to, really). The next day, after a very appreciated and long shower, I decided that I should cross the border and at least visit Gibraltar by foot. Well, the second day went past so fast so when I was about to go, I realized that it was food o’clock. So I decided to take the walk the next day instead. Which I did. The border is very relaxed, I just showed my passport and I was through. Crossing a commercial air strip isn’t something that you do everyday, so that was kind of interesting, and as I got to the other side I realized that it was warm and I didn’t have a plan, so I just got into the nearest gas station, got some supplies and an ice-cream and crossed back over the border. I had said that I would stay three nights in the marina, and just like in Lisbon most of the time was just relaxing and sleeping so that I could continue my travels. The day after it was time to check out.
But more about that, and when I sail to my final destination, in the next post.