Tuesday 8th to Saturday 12th September
We eventually left Cadiz at 10am. It was another glorious, still and sunny morning. By noon we were motor sailing through a glassy sea when dolphins appeared off our starboard bow, a group slowly approaching like slow motion synchronised swimmers, gently lifting themselves out of the water and gracefully diving back under. They swam under Vega and continued their path towards another yacht a way behind us for whom we were most peeved to see they did some spectacular leaps out of the water. You can go off dolphins.
By the afternoon the wind came up enough for us to sail, as is the pattern of winds along this coastline. Little wind in the morning, stronger in the afternoon and dying off again overnight. We passed Cape Trafalgar, site of the famous sea battle, from a distance. We had the option of turning left here to spend the night at the marina in Barbate, but the wind was still good and we were both happy and relaxed, so we kept going. By sunset, which was spectacular, a fabulous red sky, the wind had dropped and we arrived at Tarifa at 10pm, the southernmost Spanish town on the Straits of Gibraltar and windsurfers paradise because, well, it’s usually very windy. Although we had some headwind from the east Vega just happily motored on through the dreaded straits and we watched out for the Tarifa to Tangier passenger ferry as it hurtled out of Tarifa in the pitch black night at 20 knots.
As we approached Gibraltar Bay a 1,309 foot container ship, Madison Maersk, slid past us in the dark at 18 knots on its way to Felixstowe. From ahead a 620ft cargo ship emerged from behind the six huge ships at anchor on our port side, to starboard another large cargo ship neared on us, and then the passenger ferry from Algeciras to Tangier headed out towards us. One of the more terrifying moments of my life. It makes you feel very small indeed to know you are only 37 foot and there are 600 to 700 foot cargo ships entering and leaving the bay when you need to cross it in the dark, pass the entrance to the docks, weave around anchored cargo ships, at the same time watch out for all the different ships on the plotter and on radar, and work out where each of them is going and which is about to collide with you. But at the same time it was also enormously exciting, passing the giant ships which really weren’t quite as near as they looked on the plotter, the anchored ships lit up like christmas trees, and the lights of the docks like a fairy castle. Hopefully the other vessels have you on their radar, and Hugh did radio up one of the cargo ships which was getting a bit too close. We made it but instead of being able to stay in one of the marinas in Gibraltar which were both full, we carried on another few hundred yards to the marina in La Linea back in Spain, arriving at 1am.
In the morning we phoned the Marina Bay marina in Gibraltar and they had room for us for the next few nights, so we finally left Spain and motored back to Gibraltar. We were waved into our berth and told quite firmly to take down the Spanish courtesy flag which we’d inadvertently left flying. The marina not only has a great view of the Rock but is next to the airport runway. There aren’t many planes and when they do take off it’s quite thrilling. They motor to one end of the runway, within 500 feet of where we are berthed, rev up the engine to a crescendo, then power off down the runway to take off over the sea. We had a wander into town, down Main Street, a proper mug of tea outside a proper pub, and went to Morrisons supermarket where Hugh bought marmite and a pork pie and we stocked up for the next few weeks.
Thursday 10th was Gibraltar National Day. A celebration in white and red. We did our best and dug out red and white t-shirts. People were wishing each other ‘happy national day’ and the police were out in force watching for infringements of the dress code. It was great fun with young, old and dogs in red and white, union jacks and the Gibraltar flag hanging from buildings everywhere. In a referendum in 1969 Gibraltarians voted 12,138 to 44 in favour of British rather than Spanish sovereignty. Gibraltar feels a mix of British and Spanish, with people speaking both languages and sometimes both in the same sentence. In the evening we went to an outdoor concert in the central Grand Casemates Square featuring local band, the Jet Streams, and a UK reggae band Maxi Priest, with all ages bopping around.
The next day we caught the cable car to the top of the Rock. The Barbary apes were hanging around the tourist centre, obstructing the stairways, but seemingly ignoring the tourists whilst squabbling amongst themselves. Later we would see a solitary ape sitting at a vantage point quietly watching the evening view. We took photos of the view from the top, from which we could see the marina with the airport runway behind it, and slowly walked back down the road into town.
On our last day we walked along Winston Churchill Avenue, the road to the Spanish border that crosses the airport runway, and went to the Spanish supermarket that stocks Waitrose products. When a plane lands or takes off this road is closed and everyone waits the 20 minutes or so whilst the runway is swept and the plane arrives or departs.
I’ve enjoyed Gibraltar. Friendly, fiercely patriotic people, a place with a strange mix of British, Spanish and Mediterranean.
So now the proper adventure begins. Tomorrow we cross the Straits to Tangier in Morocco on our way to the Canaries. Longer sails involved, few if any marinas with good facilities, a very different culture.