Greetings from Aremiti currently anchored in a tranquil spot off Ibiza.
This month we have travelled 626 miles. In comparison to our 21.7 mile total for last summer this feels like a magnificent achievement. After the woes of last year, we have to keep pinching ourselves to believe that everything is now going according to plan.
Last year we got only half way down the 50 mile River Guadalquivir from Seville where the boat had spent the winter, before suffering from an engine breakdown which eventually proved to be terminal, causing us to return home with tails between our legs. However, Gelves marina proved to be an excellent place to install a new engine and in November Chris went back to Aremiti to take out the old (35 years) engine, together with Ben, French yachtie based there, brilliant master of all boat trades and friend. This April they installed the new engine and various associated parts. Julia arrived for the final week of anti-fouling, launch and testing and also Feria de Abril - a huge festival in Seville involving much posh Spanish horse riding and flamenco.
Last summer all we wanted to do was to leave Gelves, but after 21 months we had developed quite an affection for the place where people had been so kind and helpful to us. It was almost a wrench to leave our friends there, but the day came to make our farewells and exchange gifts ours to Ben an electronic digital caliper, and his (and his girlfriend's) to us (Julia) a flamenco dress, which Ben suggested would make a good drogue anchor! Hard to say who was more pleased! Finally we symbolically put up our ensign and Spanish courtesy flag indicating we were once again in action - and set off.
First test was to get down the river which we managed in one day, thumbing our noses at our nemesis - Buoy 30 - on the way. The new engine performed perfectly as it has done ever since. The only blip of the passage was within 5 miles of where we had planned to anchor, when Julia on the helm found that the wheel was suddenly completely slack. Luckily we were in position to anchor with no shipping bearing down on us, while Chris coolly and calmly found and fixed the problem - a steering cable which had come undone. We then continued on to spend a peaceful night at anchor just off the little fishing port of Bonanza near the mouth of the river. Next morning we completed the passage out of river quite a long channel entrance leaving muddy brown river water and out into the blue sea and freedom! We made course for the Bay of Cadiz and anchored outside the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria.
After a couple of days we set off on the 60 mile passage to Tangier. We weren't too sure of the weather, but as an excellent wind kicked in, we sailed on past our continency port, zoomed on past Cape Trafalgar and across the to western end of the Gibraltar Strait at a point 10 miles beyond the big ship separation scheme (area where shipping is divided into parallel lanes for each direction. In these lanes ships have right of way over any vessel crossing the lane) Not sure whether we hit rush hour or if it is always so busy, but the flow of shipping was constant in both directions.
Approaching the west-going stream there were five ships heading for us. As we were sailing, technically it was for them to give way to us not that we would push that to the limit. The AIS (instrument to receive information transmitted by ships on their position, course, size, etc.) is most helpful in establishing other ships' changes of course. Most gratifyingly the cruise ship Oriana, in exemplary fashion made a clear change of course so early that we thought she was heading off in a different direction until she resumed her original course. Others passed peacefully ahead and one quite close behind. Then came the east-bound stream which caused some anxiety but all was well.
We arrived into Tangier not knowing quite what to expect but that we would probably be directed to the Yacht Club Chris was envisaging smart drinks in the club house that evening. However, we were instead sent to a far corner of the fishing harbour to moor up as best we could between a huge defunct catamaran ferry and the ferry ramp, along with about 4 other yachts a mix of nationalities. A police van arrived and took Chris off with our passports. Luckily, before too long he arrived back, with shore passes in place of passports, and we settled in. The other yachts all left the next morning so we were on our own for the rest of the time we were there.
We spent another couple of days exploring the fishing port, medina and kasbah. We found Tangier fascinating, derelict and filthy - run down way beyond picturesque. Downright squalid, but extremely friendly and cheerful though we narrowly missed being converted to Islam by one of the policemen at the port gate preferring to remain 'illogical'. Rather bizarrely, in contrast to the current 'facilities' for visiting yachts, an enormous new marina to take over 1,000 boats is currently under construction alongside the port.
Our next passage was 29 miles through the Gibraltar Strait along the southern side, clear of the shipping, to Ceuta. This passage into Mediterranean waters was an excellent sail all the way. Ceuta is a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast situated directly opposite and with great views across to Gibraltar 15 miles to the north. The town is somewhat more 'classy' than Gibraltar, but nothing like as interesting - no barbary apes for a start. Our attempts to query the anomaly of Spain's attitude to Gibraltar while itself owning two similar territories in Morocco proved not as controversial as we might have expected in that the only two people we asked about it saw our point entirely which was a bit disappointing.
Next came our longest passage for quite some time 169 miles to the Spanish resort of San Jose. This involved first getting back across the shipping interesting to hear them on the VHF radio negotiating how they would pass each other and even more interesting to overhear a British warship telling some hapless vessel that it was in contravention of UN Regulation xyz and firmly ordering it out of British waters! Unfortunately we couldn't hear the other side of that conversation. We enjoyed good sailing for the first half of the passage until the wind died overnight. En route we passed a curious little group of drifting merchant vessels presumably waiting to bunker in Gibraltar and we enjoyed several visits from dolphins.
Overnight we had a large group cavorting around the boat for some time, magically trailing bio-luminescence.
After 29 hours, we rounded Cabo de Gata - the south eastern tip of Spain where the coastline turns north and arrived off the beach in San Jose. This is not a very yacht friendly area Cabo de Gata enjoys a reputation for high winds and the only marina for miles is expensive and usually full. We heard tales from a couple of boats which had been unable to get round on first attempt. However, a group of (non-sailing) mates were on holiday there in a rented house and we wanted to join them. There they were waiting for us on the beach, and we hit the ground running, becoming 'trip boat' for the next few days. Mostly this involved gin and tonics in the cockpit and motoring to fabulous beaches without enough wind to sail. After a few days though, a breeze picked up and everyone wanted 'a little sail'. The forecast seemed OK, so we set off. With wind from the north, but hoping it would abate, we set off south to beaches on Cabo de Gata. However, the wind increased in strength and we had to go right round to find somewhere to anchor for lunch. With the wind by now howling, we set off to return. However, when we found ourselves sailing directly into 30 knots we became concerned both that the short trip would take several uncomfortable hours and also that conditions at San Jose might not allow us to enter the marina and anchoring off the beach would certainly be untenable. With 5 passengers with no experience of sailing onboard it seemed prudent to abort the idea of getting them back by sea and so we decided to go back round the cape to drop them off at a small village where they could get a taxi back to the house. However, the wind there was blowing strongly offshore, gusting up to 40 knots. It would have been impossible even to get the dinghy off the deck, never mind ferry people ashore. So in the end Aremiti spent the night there with five unexpected overnight guests! It was all great fun and, as the wind died down, lovely to share the experience of sunset and a couple of bottles of rioja and the stars of a night 'at sea'. Next morning we made a dawn departure, motoring back in a flat calm!
Our next objective was the Balearic Islands, via Cartagena, 80 miles north, a city of Carthaginian and Roman origins. We stopped en route at Garrucha where a forecast for very strong winds over the next couple of days kept us in port for an extra day and a wonderful seafood lunch. We then motored most of the way to Cartagena. The reputation of either too much or too little wind in the Mediterranean is so far proving right. In the naval museum in Cartagena we saw models of ancient ships with sails and huge crews of oarsmen apparently twas ever thus. We spent a little longer in Cartegena than planned to allow time for an overdue substantial repair to our dinghy, using the time to check out the Roman remains, a couple of museums and a delightful flamenco festival. By the time we were ready to leave, the wind had turned strongly north-easterly making a direct passage to Ibiza impossible. We decided to inch further north up the mainland coast, which gave us the unplanned opportunity of an offshore view of the Costa Blanca which was rather astonishing. Against a magnificent mountain backdrop, the shoreline centred on Alicante is an almost continuous sprawl of high rise blocks culminating in the awesome Benidorm with its multitude of blocks many of which top 20+ storeys. Apparently Benidorm has the largest number of high rise buildings per capita in the world the highest being 46 storey twin towers. We spent a night anchored off Calpe in distant sight of the Manhattan-like skyline of Benidorm. The following day we made the 66 mile 'hop' across to the islands relaxing on a flat sea mainly motor-sailing but also some delightful sailing the highlight of which was the sighting of a turtle. We have just arrived at Isla Espalmador between Formentera and Ibiza ready for our Balearic Island cruise during July.
Julia and Chris