Archive for Straits of Gibraltar

Into the Atlantic!

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, Wildlife with tags , , , , on April 16, 2010 by maidofmettle

Maid of Mettle left Gibraltar!

We had a good forecast for plenty of wind going in the right direction and having spoken to a few people in the marina  decided to go for it or risk staying there forever…

Our route

Getting up far too early to even consider it being morning, we disassembled the gang-plank and finished our last preparations  to leave just as it got light again.  We motored out into calm seas at about 8am and travelled towards Tarifa where we  planned to anchor for a few hours and await the promised wind to blow us right out of the straits.

our short anchorage in Tarifa

Tarifa was nice, if a bit scary when there were big ferries coming in and out of the main harbour.  I had my first successful  anchoring experience, tentatively exploring the depth so we didn’t run too close to the bottom.  After a certain encounter  with a rock in Cruas, that we’d all like to forget, these things are important to get right. The water was very clear with loads of fish, so clear in fact that you could see the anchor chain running down to the anchor  at the sandy floor.  We were joined by another boat that was being sailed by some New Zealanders (Joe and Trudy) we met at  the marina in Gibraltar so we left Tarifa in convoy which was nice.

So leaving Tarifa in the early evening we motored for several hours and awaited the promised wind…We were finally in the Atlantic.

I did shift 1 until about midnight.  Being only my second proper night shift alone I was a little bit nervous but I knew that  I could ask the other two for help if I needed it.  For the most part I didn’t need to ask anything until I suddenly heard a  message on the radio from a Spanish person speaking English saying “the vessel going from west to east, there is such and  such somewhere or other please alter course and follow the other boat…”

It was quite a hard message to understand late at night and no one was answering them either which made me panicky.  Given  that there’s a big shipping lane coming out of the straits of Gibraltar I hoped someone would answer.  The message was  repeated so many times (each time sounding more panicky than the last) that I began to wonder whether it was a message for  me!  Then,in my slightly tired, 1st night shift alone-type state I couldn’t remember whether I was going from West to east or  east to west! ‘Ahhhgh’I thought.  ‘ok so there’s nothing in front of me that I can see and as far as I can work out this  can’t be for me, but I think I should ask someone given the panicky person giving the message’.  Eventually I woke Pete up and asked his opinion on the matter.  We decided to carry on given that we weren’t in the shipping lane and there was nothing  obvious.  A similar message occured later in the night this time with “There is a fishing boat in front of you…” I double  checked with our big flood light just in case, almost blinding myself with the reflection of it on the boat, but saw no fishing boat…phew.

By the end of my shift I was shattered from the exciting radio messages and running around on deck putting some sails up when it looked like it might be getting windy and taking them back down when they were being annoying.  By the time Chris took over I hadn’t had time to look much at the chart and the quick and roughly packed sails (much harder on your own) were a bit messy but we were sailing all the same!   We will have to look at the misbehaving main sail that seems not to want to go up every time any more.

Chris napped a bit on the floor during his shift and did a few whilst Pete and I tried to sleep.  It was quite noisy and starting to get a bit rolly so that was a bit difficult.  I think the excess adrenalin might not have helped either.  He also did some clever stuff with poles and the jib sail (at the front) to stop it making a racket.

Getting back out of bed and outside at about 6.30am I saw the sun rise behind the clouds (a bit like that time in Derbyshire when we waited and waited to watch the sun rise and then it just got light 😉 ) Anyway, the morning proved to be much more exciting after that.  At about 7am, just after Chris had gone to bed I was helming and not a lot was happening.  The waves had got slightly bigger but not too big.  I heard a bit of a splash and saw a dolphin really close to the boat – much clearer than the one I saw on the way to Ibiza.  It went on to swim with the boat at the bow and knowing how much Chris had always wanted to see one swimming at the bow I rushed to wake him and Pete up to see it.  On getting back out to the cockpit one dolphin had turned into about 10!  They were amazing.  I couldn’t believe how fast they could swim or how close they got.  They seemed to be enjoying following us and some were clearly loving jumping out from the waves back towards us at times.

Our escorts

The wind got gradually stronger and the sea rougher as the day went on and we realised that we were travelling too fast to arrive at our planned destination of the Guadiana river in Portugal to get the tides right.  This meant slowing down for a bit.  We decided to try to ‘heave to’, which means setting the sails and tiller turning more into the oncoming waves and drifting slowly sideways with the wind.  This succeeded in making us almost side on to the waves and slightly nauseous (Pete having been struggling with sea-sickness even before this), so not completely successful.  However it did slow us down which was the main thing.  During this time we quickly realised that the idea of sitting like that for another 8 or so hours to wait for our chance to get into the river in the light would not be good.  After an uncomfortable hour and a bit of food we made the decision to aim for a different port, facing the fact that we would probably have to go into somewhere in the dark.  The options for that were quite limited especially since all but one or two places in the pilot book warned against entrance at night “unless familiar with the area”.  So the Guiadiana was out on two counts: because it was too risky to enter in both the waves and the dark.  Mazagon in Spain was really our only option as it had quite a lot of depth and reasonable night entrance.  We hoped to get there in the early hours of the following morning.

Pete helming

The afternoon and early evening is a bit of a blur.  Chris and I took turns to helm and rest whilst Pete tried to recover from the dreaded sea-sickness inside.  It really was much nicer outside until it started to rain heavily.  That in itself was impressive as it created a sort of mist over the water and seemed to dampen the waves a bit.  It looked a bit like a computer generated sea at that point if that makes any sense.  I needn’t have worried about getting a bit wet from the rain.

We had to change our course to go toward Mazagon which meant having the waves more on our side.  As they were beginning to get larger and splashy this was not an appealing thought.  The waves were the biggest we’d seen yet, possibly up to about 4 metres and some of them were pretty steep.  The hardest thing to work out is whether they will be annoying or not.  Some of them looked big when you first saw them but then turned out just to be gentle rollers, others that looked small decided to whack into the boat and send a lot of water crashing over your head and over the boat.  Though we were clipped in all the time this was quite disconcerting, very wet and made quite a loud bang when you were inside the boat.  I woke up with a start quite a few times whilst in the cabin.  It was worrying really to see the walls of water coming towards you whilst helming and not being too sure what they might do.  In fact, when they were at their largest I was so concerned I turned away from them so they were behind us so we could think about what to do.  I really didn’t want to turn back towards them.  We had no option really but to find a way of dealing with them.  The best way was to turn with them on our side when they looked harmless and then keep an eye out for the bigger more potentially nasty ones and then steer away from them and surf!  That was quite fun but fairly tiring and occasionally damp!  Our life-jackets got so wet that two of the automatic lights got activated causing them to flash on and off…not good.  That will be a phone-call to Baltic for advice or a new set of lights…boo!

The entrance to Mazagon was tricky.  Chris skillfully sailed us in with the waves being a bit of a pain, though by then they were smaller.  Seeing the lights to get in the correct way through the channel required 3 sets of eyes and even then was quite difficult.  We arrived at about 2.30am and were soon pounced upon by the Spanish Gardia who made a much better effort of searching the boat than the ones in Barcelona – even asking to see under the floor and amusingly shining a torch through a hole in the cupboard without opening it.  They even had the cheek to say the boat was a bit messy.  How rude!

Spanish police complete with utility belt...Chris was impressed!

The important things...Chocolate stash (in pink bag) and our faithful biodramina

Our new cupboard fixings, step securing bolts, sealing of the main hatch and cup holders had passed the test at sea.  The crew were left feeling worn out from all the excitement.