Sailing West along the coastline of Southern Europe - France to Gibraltar
Day 1 (2022-04-20)
We left Porquerolles hours before sunrise, 5am local time.
This was an easy anchorage where we didn’t need any light to navigate our way out despite being shallow all over around these islands. It is also a natural reserve so we didn’t need to worry about fishing pots on our way, hidden by the darkness.
As we passed the gap between mainland and the island the wind filled in so we opened the Jib, dead downwind again. We had decided even before leaving the anchorage that we would not even bother hoisting the mainsail.
When passing in front of Toulon we had a funny interaction with a ferry over VHF, he was making 20+knots speed over ground, we were doing 6, he was in course collision with us so I called him on VHF. And asked if he could alter his course to starboard a couple of degrees so he would pass on our stern, the guy asks me if I "could turn to port instead and this way avoid him having to do anything because he was on his way to enter port and meet the pilot boat". "Ahhhh….. yeah sure I could turn to port but that would not solve anything, I’m under sail and only making 6 knots, you would still have to change course no matter what I do", I replied. His reaction was: "oh, a sail boat? Ah ok I’ll change to starboard". That's how much attention was he paying to the whole thing! I identified myself as a sailing boat when I hailed him on VHF, our AIS clearly tells him we are sailing boat and what speed we are doing at the precise moment and bloody hell we are right in front of him in a calm sea state in daylight! He turned 30 degrees to starboard when 5 would have been fine.
No more hiccups in Toulon. A few fishing vessels, a few fishing pots nothing to be stressed about up to the big mountainous cape we could see in the distance.
As we approached the cape the winds didn’t accelerate as one would expect, it was after the cape that they started picking up progressively not as it usually happens on acceleration zones. The 16 knots of true winds became nearly 30 and when we were no longer be in the area affected by the cape they remained much the same as we wondered: "f…. is the weather running hours ahead of the forecast??", couldn’t quite tell if that was the case or not because only when we adjusted our course closer to shore again it seemed the winds went back as per the forecast but then they kept getting lighter and lighter all the way down to 6 knots, so definitely not as per the forecast.
So engine still on, after all has its been habit on this journey to Portugal from Turkey on such short period we seem to always either be running ahead of weather systems or behind them trying to avoid the next one.
There’s a reason most people only start the season late April or even May.
And this is why, the weather is still quite unsettled and it’s still quite cold.
A bit later the wind filled up again just a little bit, but enough for us to get to the next waypoint where we would then turn towards Marseille. We would do a little short cut through the islets by the cape and in less than 1h we would find ourselves at anchor in Port de La Pointe Rouge just south of the city of Marseille, protected from the forecast Gale we had been running ahead of.
The anchorage proved a good choice for the winds but we could see that the swell caused by these Easterly winds was finding its way around the cape and coming in. That meant that this would not be a good option to ride out the next weather spell, a much stronger storm with winds of 45 knots from south. With that forecast the swell would definitely come in. And with waves of 5 meters forecasted that meant we needed to find another option.
Day 2 (2022-04-21)
A quick run to the supermarket and a quick check of the diesel price at the marina (we decided not to get fuel here, it was a lot more than we expected) and we were on our way further within the Gulf of Lions general area, to a place called Gulf de Fos, a super industrial area that seemed to have an anchorage with good prospects and several well protected marinas in case we weren’t happy with the anchorage.
We set sail and between motoring and Jib sailing (with the fluky forecast we decided not to hoist the Mainsail and avoid further slamming of the boom), we got there mid afternoon with grey sky’s and drizzle.
On the way into the Gulf of Fos several big tunas jumping out of the water hunting around us.
A bizarre view given the industrial setting, the huge cargos at anchor and moving and the intense smell of hydrocarbons, it turns out this is one of the biggest fuel refinery’s in Europe.
We decided just in case to go fuel up in one of the marinas, hoping also for a better fuel price but no luck on that department. The price of diesel was jaw dropping!
After filling one tank we moved to the anchorage. Quite a pretty place when looking south but probably one of the ugliest places we have ever anchored in when looking north. The constant noise from the cargo ships at anchor and coming and going from the loading docks was impressive despite the distance.
Upon looking at the latest forecasts we decided that the protection given by the very low lying land strip was not enough, given we had the chance to seek protection in an inland marina. Where we were we would be protected from the seas (we believed) but not the strong winds at all and we would potentially get also lots of sea spray.
Day 3 (2022-04-22)
Got up close to 8am, the marina we would like to get in to wait out the storm only opened at 8.30am and we needed to confirm they could receive us before heading up the channel to get there. If they didn’t have a place for us we would have to trace back a couple of miles and find refuge on the marinas cluster where we had refuelled the day previous. This was not our preferred option as Port Plaisance St Louis du Rhône offered much better protection being an inland marina. I called them and they had a spot for us, we could come immediately!
We upped anchor and negotiated cargo vessels at anchor, small fishing boats and many fishing pots until we entered the channel that gives access to the marina and to the Rhône river (navigation to the river needs to go through the marina basin due to constant silting at the river mouth).
For the first time we tied to the pontoon stern to using a mooring ball instead of the usual mooring lines we need to pickup using the slime lines (there’s a reason for them to be called slime…). A much easier manoeuvre (had not been for the extremely tight spot for The Dreams fat bum) given the marinero just pulls the mooring ball sideways as we reverse in to the spot and then he tied the bow.
Coming to the marina turned out to be a good decision, two sailboats broke their mooring/anchor and ended up on shore during this storm at a nearby anchorage.
The town however was boring as all. Being a satellite town that supports the hydrocarbon industry area nearby, nothing to do, nothing open over the weekend… a great opportunity to do some forced rest!
At least we had the occasional entertainment of watching the big barges coming up the channel, turning slowly in the marina basin to pass the swinging bridge and lock that gives access to the river Rhône.
Whenever the locks opened we would be impressed by the rush of current waters flowing in, certainly a couple of knots in strength!
We had to stay here for 4 nights.
Day 4 (2022-04-26)
We had planned for an early morning departure but the weather had a different schedule planned for us and as we were about to get ready to cast lines a thick blanket of fog rolled in. We could not even see the opposite side of the marina, where the swing bridge and lock that give access to de Rhône was. Back inside and to our coffees for 1h or so until the fog started lifting as fast as it had rolled in.
We hoisted the Code 0C just in case, although we didn’t had that much hope that we could use it.
The winds forecast after such storm were very light and erratic until the next round of heavy weather was due to roll in.
Once that was done, we adjusted some of our fenders to defend our stern as we squeezed ourselves from our tight spot without any assistance.
I removed the port side mooring line, then John released the starboard one while I went to the bow to get ready to remove the mooring ball line. The trick here was to let the weight of the mooring ball chain slowly pull us forward and maybe give a gentle aid with the engine, then as the ball was almost at its original position with the heavy chain nearly held vertical, quickly release the bow while the yacht keeps sliding forward in slow motion with the mooring ball touching the hull side without going under, keeping the keel, rudder and saildrive safe from getting snagged on anything.
There was a super gentle breeze behind us helping.
We entered the channel and made way to the Gulf of Fos where we needed again to negotiate the cargo vessels at anchor and coming through the different channels that give access to the industrial areas, the small fishing boats and their many fishing pots. While keeping good attention to the depth sounder and charts to avoid the shallows and shifting sandbanks that have claimed several boats. The most impressive one being a double master that seems to have sunk nearly vertical against one of these banks. Masts still visible above water as if they were a piece of art.
Once we managed to go around these sandbanks, exit the Gulf of Fos and turn west we were in the infamous Gulf of Lion, where several of the big storms that affect the Western Mediterranean make their way through the low lying land between the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
The home of the famous northerly winds called Mistral. (Not the case of this last storm we had that was a southerly).
We found ourselves with some current in favour of us but very fluky winds. We managed to sail for a bit with the white sails, then a bit with the Code 0C but in the end had to stick to some old motorsailing when the wind completely died on us.
Around us we could again see the big tunas jumping out of the water hunting.
John put a rod out but no luck, we had dolphins a couple times and it was already quite late in the day.
Eventually the current turned against us and the journey became a not so exciting slow progress in the right direction.
The highlight of the day was going to be late in the afternoon when John spot a big splash in the water to our starboard while I was preparing a snack.
Eyes glued on the water, Ella going crazy and there it was a huge whale surfacing 50-100 meters to our starboard!
We could see it’s head bump, it’s dorsal fin at each surface. What we could not confirm was if it was only one or two because sometimes it felt it was much smaller when the surfacing was a bit shy, like if it was a mumma and it’s calf. John believes we saw both surfacing together.
For maybe 15 minutes we saw it or them gently surfacing and then disappearing.
According to the Mediterranean handbook it was a Pilot whale of around 10-12 meters.
The day would not be over without a few more visits of Ella friends but they never stayed long much to everyone’s sadness. And another visit of the Pilot whale’s late in the evening just before dark! This time much closer just 50 meters of our starboard aft quarter, as if they had been following us for the last 4h, which they probably did given that Ella went bonkers a few times without us understanding why (usually this signals dolphins nearby way before we notice them)
Day 5 (2022-04-27)
The forecasted light winds never showed signs of kicking in. We did have some light fog banks threatening to roll in but they never really descended on us staying always in the distance.
A crazy number of fishing boats everywhere. Specially at sunrise when all of a sudden a huge number of them just left the little harbours that punctuate that section of the coast at a million miles an hour. All heading to the area where the bottom drops off from not even 100 meters deep to deep deep waters, an area that is not even 5 miles away from the beach.
It’s clearly tuna season!
Since Siracusa we have seen the hunting frenzy tunas up close pretty much on every sail, particularly near the Gulf of Lion and Gulf of Fos and now in the Spanish coast between France and Barcelona. Huge schools of big tunas splashing and jumping out of the water creating a huge stir with sea birds in the mix, as they hunt throughout the entire morning quite close to shore.
John tried is very best to catch us one but I guess this must be a specific feeding season where they are so focused on the schools of bait that none of our usually successful lures caught their attention.
Ah the suffering of seeing such beautiful catch right there and not being able to get one!
By lunch time the frenzy was over and it was possible to see all the birds that had partaken in the feast just sitting in the water in huge flocks barely moving to give way incoming boats, the tunas resting at the surface with their full bellies and also a few sunfish resting at the surface despite not being a sunny day.
Eventually we got to our anchorage just pass Barcelona city and its commercial harbour and by the airport. Not stunning but good enough for us to spend the night.
As we were dropping a stern anchor to minimise the swell effect a few of Ella’s friends came and visit, jumping right next to our boat.
Once again surprising given the industrial and noisy surroundings, but we are not complaining we do enjoy their visits.
Day 6 (2022-04-28)
Another early start day, still in pitch black had it not been the close proximity to the airport and all it’s lights.
First task was to lift the stern anchor. Without the dinghy in the water the process is a little bit different.
I started the engine, went to the bow to remove the snubber, returned to the helm station and dropped 10 meters of chain while clicking reverse at the same time John that was on the swim platform started pulling the rode of the stern anchor up. There was a very gentle breeze from the stern. I went and help because we didn’t want the rode to go under our stern and foul the rudder and saildrive. One extra pull between the two of us together and the anchor was free. Return the engine to neutral while we brought the stern anchor in and stow it. Then John went to the bow and we lifted the Mantus.
John we t back to sleep while I took us out of the anchorage and opened the Jib to take advantage of some of that breeze before it disappeared again.
1h later a bit of rain and the wind was nearly gone, the Jib didn’t collapse so I left it unfurled hoping the wind returns.
I kept a lookout for the fleet of fishing vessels I know will depart the little harbours at a million miles an hour the moment day light hits. No hiccups with any of them.
As we were having breakfast a pod of porpoises hangs at our stern maybe 50 meters away, Ella was also having breakfast so she doesn’t even notices her friends presence.
Mid morning we started having the occasional dolphin showing up and then disappearing, by late morning we start seeing in the distance well ahead of us big splashes, several of them. A big pod is rushing in our direction, they surround us and jump all over racing us, showing off. This pod must be at least 50 individuals and they don’t all arrive at the same time, they came in small groups, all of them doing that spectacular race where it seems they spend more time jumping out of the water than actually swimming, when they get to our bow they all gather right in front of it, kind of like rolling in the water just bellow surface taking turns showing of their skills. Maybe 10 minutes later they leave us.
The remaining of the day was boring until we started approaching Sant Charles de la Rapita, our stop for the night. Not only we would be sailing in very shallow water for a few hours we would be dodging lots of fishing pots or nets with the added difficulty of having the sun setting in front of us making it quite difficult to see the little sticks with flags in the distance.
Boy were we happy to be doing this still with some day light, in the dark would have been impossible.
We made way to the anchorage and anchored in 4 meters of mud, just before sunset. Although not a difficult anchorage to arrive by all means it’s very well chartered it seems but with such low lying land (maybe just 1 meters above water in general) it was very difficult to gauge our position against the charts, glad they were digital ones. The level of confidence on the approach would have been even lower if we were using paper charts.
The town was clearly having a party, we could hear drums playing low and they would stay doing it until quite late. As for us early bed because the following day we carry on with our journey.
Day 7 (2022-04-29)
No alarm for an early rise. We allowed ourselves to wake up naturally, although in our case that still means early.
7am coffee made, halyards tie downs removed (we tie down the halyards for the night to avoid them making noise during the night specially if we were lazy and didn’t packed up the mainsail properly), anchor up and we were off on our way.
Started with a frustrated downwind sail pointing towards shore. Way to many channel markers and fishing pots to be playing with the fluky winds. Engine on to round all this crap and surprise surprise the "box" delimited by yellow danger markers (shown on the charts) that seem to punctuate the entire coastline this time actually has things inside it that are dangerous to us. Usually there’s nothing and we often go through them. But this time they are full of buoys and we can imagine fishing nets or pens. We go around them.
Once we clear them the wind is just perfect to open the Code 0C. We have only been waiting for that opportunity for nearly one month but the winds when light have always been on 150 degrees or more. we had very briefly opened it a few days back to double check the repairs and maintenance job done by the UK Sailmakers in Turkey before our departure and to pack it snug like we like but had not sailed with it.
1h of blissful light upwind sailing. Could have done it the whole day and according to the forecast that should have been ok but of course the wind started gusting to 15knots and we really didn’t want to be flying so close to shore. We were sailing in 15 meters of water maybe 1 nautical mile from the beach.
Change back to our trusty Jib. Apparent wind angle between 90 degrees and 110, apparent wind speed 11 to 12 knots and there you go back to blissful sailing, not too slow, not too fast just my current favourite speed of 6 knots over ground. Wind feels cold.
Of course that if the morning was blissful the afternoon was just a giant pain, with open Code0C then furl it, then open Jib then furl it, center the mainsail, send it full starboard, send it full port. The winds simply had decided to be anywhere and nowhere.
Eventually, towards the end of the afternoon the wind finally decided to set itself on the nose at 8 knots and literally it felt the only way of making way in a significant speed would be to go to the Balearics or motor disgracefully against the wind.
We decided to stop at Puerto Burriana to wait for the wind to die of for the day, as it usually does in the Med at night, so then we could at least motor more efficiently.
The next couple of days the winds would always be against us although reasonably light.
After that the next blow was expected and we needed to be somewhere protected. And in this area there’s not much in terms of protected anchorages… So motoring it is tonight.
But dinner first.
Just before sunset we upped anchor and started making our way to Dénia, where we would stop to get some fuel. We hoisted the mainsail opened the jib. Before dark we took the jib down and motorsailing the rest of the way. The night was not as cold as previous ones the wind barely nothing.
Day 8 (2022-04-30)
We arrived Denia with sunrise, we dropped the mainsail right in front of the port entrance, prepared our fenders and mooring lines and went in to find the petrol station (there’s 3 in this port). Luckily fuel was at a more reasonable price than in France but still very expensive. We filled one tank and kept going towards Calpe and Altea where we were going to stop for the day.
The morning breeze was running parallel to shore just a gentle one, not enough to sail in any direction. Despite that annoyance at least the view of the cape and cliffs was stunning.
As were approaching Calpe, we started reminiscing about when we stopped here back in 2018 on our way to the Balearics. On that moment it hit me that it was more or less around this time of the year. A quick check on the log book and surprise, surprise, we had been in Calpe precisely 4 years and 2 days ago.
It was official, we were now backtracking our route entering the Mediterranean!
We carried on to Altea to anchor by the beach protected from swell and from the southeast winds that would mark the afternoon.
Finally an afternoon off from sailing and motoring. Just rest and sun to enjoy.
Day 9 (2022-05-01)
Left Altea with bright sunshine day, bent the cape and started making our way to Torrevieja, just passed Santa Pola where we had stopped on the way into the Med 4 years ago. Another blissful Code 0 sail with a few moments of the no wind.
The highlight of the day was a big tuna that followed us for 1h at maybe two meters from the helmstation position just 1 meter below surface.
A beautiful yellow fin tuna, probably between 1 and 1.2 meters.
Ella was going crazy seeing it just there, John tried his very best to catch the tuna interest and get us some yummy dinner but nope, the tuna belly was clearly full and he was just hanging out teasing us and showing off his beautiful colours.
We passed Santa Pola and the wind went weird on us, very light and without a definitive direction. We could already see Torrevieja in the distance so didn’t bothered much. John commented on the low haze style clouds forming to our starboard wondering if they carried some nastiness.
As we approached Torrevieja we started getting a reasonable swell coming from Southeast, at around 2 metres and on the nose, pretty much in the direction we were going. It was the swell created by the big blow currently affecting Gibraltar…
Westarted wondering if our chosen stop anchorage was going to be feasible, the swell would no doubt be as strong there as we were feeling it. A quick check of the chart and we decided to push a bit further and anchor near the Mar Menor entrance towards the north side behind a little sandbank, protected from this swell.
In the distance we started seeing several local monohulls coming in at high speed with some very pronounced heeling. In our mind these guys were having the last blast before returning to their marina spots for the end of the day (it was Sunday). A small breeze started blowing steady from our stern, slowly increasing, again we thought that these locals really plan it well to have one last great sail at the end of the day taking advantage of the winds we call “the last fart of the day”.
The wind kept filling in. Then one of the last monohulls of the pack, the very last one already way behind all the rest was coming heavily reefed just with a mainsail but still coming fast. We commented hmm that´s strange…
Then John that was at the helmstation at that point says "drop the mainsail now! Now!", and he very fast turns to the wind, we accelerate and heel crazy as the wind catches on the beam and the moment we are into the wind I drop the mainsail all in one go without any control and run to the mast to catch it all and pull down the very end. By the time I grab and lock the halyard on the mast base with the sail safely secured we get hit by the winds all these guys had been running ahead off. John quickly turns us again downwind and bam, 30 knots true wind! No wonder that guy was coming so heavily reefed and moving as if it was a train full steam ahead. Down wind sailing can catch you out if your not watching out.
Ok, now we had a situation in hands!
Where the heck were we going to anchor?
W meters swell coming from southeast and 25-30 knots of wind from northeast.
The new spot for sure would not be even safe to enter in these conditions let alone comfortable, the same applied for Torrevieja.
I quickly downloaded the weather again with our nearly non-existent internet. The forecast had been updated just 15min before and none of this crazy wind was there, so how long was this going to last? Was it just a front of some local weather event? The clouds in my opinion were not that threatening to even give us this but they were indeed suspicious as John had cautioned.
Glad John picked up immediately what was about happen!
We poured our attention on the charts and the apps with comments on the anchorages and decided to anchor just south of the entrance to Mar Menor. A small anchorage that should be protected from this north wind by the channel protection wall and hopefully just off the area of influence other waves that were bending at the cape originating from the weather system in Gibraltar.
We just needed to navigate the shallows, the charts that don’t match each other (on markers, buoys, wrecks, for the last two days we noticed my navionics charts and Johns aren’t matching and we don’t know which ones are the most recent ones) and the fishing pots!
We make our way in and although the southeast swell is still rolling in but not so strong, we drop anchor and breath…
We are in for the night.
Day 10 (2022-05-02)
It seems the Mediterranean is not willing to give up on us so easily and let us go. Today we will be running ahead of another localised system it seems, there’s forecasts of thunderstorms pretty much everywhere.
We lifted anchor with the first light and so did our neighbours that had arrived late the night before.
As soon as we passed the little island in front of our anchorage and all the mooring balls and fishing pots that surround it we hoisted our mainsail for stability and headed for the cape Cabo de Palos.
We round the cape easily, there’s no wind or significant swell so we can go close to shore and save time. Shortly after we see the first of a reasonable number of monohulls coming in the opposite direction. This one comes a very heavily reefed main, 3 reefs but a full Genoa and he is motoring fast, strange combination we think given the current conditions.
We do wonder what does he know that we don’t, he is a local Spanish flagged boat.
Looking at the forecast and the already building up clouds I had a girly moment and we decided to reef the mainsail (1reef) although the general forecast shows light winds (don’t forget that often with thunderstorms on the forecast the wind shifts they bring are not reflected on the wind forecast).
Since the winds are so light we decide to proceed motor-sailing as best as we can taking full advantage of the apparent wind created by the engine power. Potentially we could have played with the Code 0C, the wind conditions at the moment were right but with thunderstorm forecast and the clouds we had around us we decided to motor-sail the fastest we could to beat the weather system and arrive the anchorage before we got hit by the nastiness. Taking advantage of the apparent wind generated by the engine we could push the boat faster by nearly 2 knots (we had current against us).
4 hours to our destination and we started feeling the swell coming from the second day of the blow out of Gibraltar.
2 metre waves on our port side again as they were bending at the cape Cabo de Gata.
During the night the blow had calmed down and so did the swell but it was now back in full force and the swell was reaching us this far away.
To our starboard side we could see the weather system we were running ahead growing and creeping in. We kept pressing but prepared to drop sails, this system was way bigger than the one the day before, it could easily bring winds well above 40 knots.
Then the wind started calming a bit and veering, we knew it was just a matter of time we were going to get hit so we packed the headsail, 1h later all of sudden the wind it started increasing progressively, 10,12, 15, 15, 17, 18 knots….
We decided to turn to the wind and drop the mainsail right there and then. We could see white caps caused by the system to our starboard rolling over the 2 meter waves we were experiencing coming from starboard. This had all the potential to be really nasty!
As we finish dropping the sail the wind was blowing 25 knots, we turned back to our course and tried to keep going to our chosen anchorage.
The clouds in front of us kept on growing in height, I think I’ve never seen Cumulonimbus going so high and so close to us. To our starboard Altocumulus and Cirrocumulus.
I believe this meant the two fronts were really close, the low pressure system right on top of us.
We decided to go to a different anchorage, and divert our course, 1h closer and protected by the harbour wall. We should arrive there quite late in the day so the chances of being kicked out were reduced (the comments on Navily said this was not exactly an authorised anchoring spot given it is almost inside the commercial harbour and that the Coast Guard occasionally came to check if the seasonal buoys were not in place blocking the beach).
Some how the winds didn’t go over 25 knots and we would have been fine without dropping the sails and we made it to the anchorage without even getting much rain.
We sneaked in, dropped anchor and as we look forward in to the harbour there’s a big Guardia Civil patrol boat berthed right there…, we grabbed the binoculars and have a closer look, the door to the cockpit is open, there’s people on the pontoon.
It’s now 30 minutes past sunset and we just hope darkness comes fast and that the patrol boat is staying in the port for the night.
We prepare dinner and go to sleep. No one came.
Day 11 (2022-05-03)
A short day because despite the protection of the harbour breakwater the night was quite rolly and uncomfortable. We were so tired that didn’t even bothered hoisting the mainsail or unfurling the headsail. We made way to the last anchorage before bending the Cabo de Gata.
Spent most of the day getting under and out of the rain clouds, always on its edge.
As we entered the anchorage there’s a catamaran already anchored there. We pick our spot, drop the anchor, set it and turn the engine off. It starts raining heavy at that very moment.
We appreciate the beauty of this wild anchorage and realise that we know this catamaran!
We spent two winters in the same marina in Hammamet, this couple has a beautiful Doberman called Galbor. Unfortunately we don’t get the chance to say hi to them, they never pop in the cockpit . We can only guess they are resting because their mainsail bag is still open and the sail not flacked nicely, just like us they must be just having a stop to rest and waiting on this weather spell to pass.
Ella has her last swim in the Mediterranean in between a gap of rain.
We go to bed early and our neighbours leave a couple of hours later in the night.
Day 12 (2022-05-04)
We wake up to the motion caused by the thunderstorm rolling in, the wind picks up from northeast and the waves follow suit. We know that the wind will shift east and this anchorage is totally exposed to that direction, at this moment we are not too exposed so we prepare to up anchor and leave to round the cape and put this spell behind our back.
Of course as we are already lifting anchor the front hit us full force and the waves immediately pickup to a bit more than 1 metre. Luckily this is not our first rodeo and there’s no hiccups lifting the anchor despite having the bowsprit deployed with the Code 0C hoisted adding to the challenge.
It’s belting rain, the winds are now 25 knots on the nose.
We round the cape of Cabo de Gata and in less than 30 minutes from lifting anchor all is behind us, except the rain, that will stay with us for hours.
We open the Jib and just keep going wet as all through, cold again despite all our gear. The wind on our wet gear makes us really cold but under our foullies we are crispy dry although it doesn’t feel like that.
On the forecast there’s a rain bomb to our port side, we keep close to shore in the hope to avoid it. We can clearly identify the clouds that carry that amount of rain. We escaped just with our heavy drizzle.
As we approach Almerimar, and dolphins show up. Every single day since leaving Sicily we have visits like this. They don’t stay long this time but make the delights of Ella.
Shortly after the water changes colour, it looks a light milky green, very much like river storm water. We start seeing lots of rubbish floating in the water. Didn’t take us long to identify the river mouth where all was coming from just by looking in the distance and seeing how far this water patch was extending. In the distance the line between the dark blue sea water and this milky green brackish water is clearly visible. As we pass again over the "boundary" between the two it’s quite cool to see how the two different salinity waters don’t just mix together.
We arrive to our stop for the night in front of a little beach by a fishing harbour.
Another horrible night caused by the light swell and winds. The last 3 nights would have benefited of the use of a stern anchor but unfortunately the weather was too unsettled and with sudden wind shifts making the use of it is risky and tricky considering the quality of the anchorages we have been staying.
Day 13 (2022-05-05)
We wake up with the motion caused by the fleet of fishing boats leaving harbour. It’s still dark.
We start getting ready to depart and by the time we start upping anchor there’s just enough light to see the beach and the small breakwaters.
Our anchorage is so exposed that we can literally set our course straight to our destination was it not for the two fishing little boats we need to avoid.
1 knot current against us.
As we discuss another nearly sleepless night we decide there’s no point to head for our next stop. The swell will roll in so we won’t sleep anyway, might as well pull an all night sail and go straight to Gibraltar.
We confirm the forecast with the last megabytes we have from the Italian internet, adjust our course and keep going.
We see a big pod of dolphins feeding to our starboard. We can see them for at least 30 minutes before a fleeting fishing vessels probably already returning to port passes on our starboard still trawling nets. The dolphins leave before the fishing vessels reach us.
2 knots current against us, no wind.
We are literally drying our sails. We have been leaving the sail bag for the mainsail open every night and let’s just say that when we hoisted the sail early morning the water was sheeting down the sail!
At least the mainsail is helping with balance, while the Jib is literally on the verge of collapsing, the apparent wind created by the engine is not enough to even keep its shape as an illusion of sailing, the sail is just there hanging, gently swinging in the wind, not flogging. By lunch time it’s dry so we furl it.
The closer we are getting from Malaga the stronger the current against us.
We are motoring at 1900RPMs, speed over water 6.5knots, speed over ground knots
3 to 4 knots of current against us and still no wind.
For a moment we wonder if we should just head to shore and call it a day but the reality is that tomorrow will be the same so might as well save the fuel used changing directions.
We check the tides change and our best scenario seems to be when tide is going down at Malaga we might just have 2 knots current against instead of 3. This only lasted 4 hours tops and then back to 3 knots current.
The parade of boats going in the opposite direction is unbelievable, all motoring, all with 3 knots current in favour, they are absolutely flying while we are slugging it out painfully heading out of the Mediterranean.
I start doing mental maths on our fuel reserves… do we have enough to get us to Gibraltar fuel dock if things keep like this? John assures me it’s all going to be fine.
There’s another sailboat going our way on AIS, a 49 footer, he is just a bit forward of us and we can see he must be desperate, he is doing only 2.5knots and clearly checking our progress and heading as he tries to get on in front of us to see if there’s less current than where he is.
We are both struggling with the currents and our autopilots look like they are drunk, it’s not uncommon for the discrepancy between our heading and course over ground to be nearly 20 degrees. We are literally being pushed backwards and sideways.
At the of the afternoon we have a pod of dolphins passing behind us but they don’t stay with us.
Night falls and is stunning to see the orange and gold tones of the skies reflected in the water. It is a great last sunset in the Mediterranean.
I take the first long night shift of the night.
The VHF becomes very entertaining and noisy with lots of swearing, threats from British navy to Spanish Guardia Civil for invading their territorial waters in contravention of blablablha, and for not displaying navigation lights as demanded by the Colregs (Collision avoidance rules that are part of the maritime international law).
Day 14 (2022-05-06)
I wake up from my off watch it’s around 3am, I just had maybe 2 hours sleep and I’m now on my second long shift for the night. We are coming close to Gibraltar, already in the area between Marbella and Estepona, the current against us starts getting weaker.
By the time we are passing Estepona it’s only 1 knot current against us, I can start seeing the telecommunications tower lights at the top of the Gibraltar Rock in the distance.
We are looking to bend Point Europa (southern point of Gibraltar) 3 hours after high tide Gibraltar time. To add to the confusion for some weird reason Navionics uses Moroccan time for Gibraltar. It takes as a while to understand the problem as our math is not adding up against the tides on the Mediterranean side. We use Sandy Beach (still Gibraltar but on the Mediterranean side) to have a more accurate calculation.
Remember tidal sailing?
I barely do. It’s a foggy memory and knowledge not used that much.
I steer us around the cargo vessels at anchor on the Mediterranean side, I wake up John so he can see our momentous approach to Gibraltar and our exiting of the Mediterranean.
I also like his assistance identifying the vessels moving in this sea of lights.
We bend the point into shallow waters, 20 meters. No tide, we must have somehow nailed the calculations and it’s 3 hours after high tide, 0 current. Better than this could only be at 6 hours after high tide when there’s 3 knots current in our favour but that was too late for us to wait for.
On the Atlantic side of Gibraltar it’s 6am and a city of lights with all the cargo vessels at anchor, the refuel barges, pilot boats and local fishing boats moving around.
A speed boat comes towards us at an insane speed, I barely have time to even act. They avoid collision with us and has they pass I click on their AIS icon, for the first time in our sailing life we just witnessed a “Law Enforcement” identified vessel on AIS. We was going well above 24 knots!
We make way to the La Linea marina anchorage and drop anchor.
It’s just before sunrise and we are finally in Gibraltar after 31 days of sail in 40 calendar days.
1798 nautical miles.
The Mediterranean chapter is closed.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.