After “doing” Porto Keith and I decided we needed to go it alone. PJ stayed on to meet some friends arriving that day and Keith and I set off early morning into the breach - literally as it was blowing 30kts++ We had several legs planned with just the two of us, including 1 overnight. That would get us into a routine of managing the boat together, and set the scene going forward.
We had all kinds of conditions along the way and it was great to get to know ITIKI a lot better as well as trying out her lovely wardrobe of sails. She took a pounding across the Gulf of Cadiz, with big, confused seas and falling off some sizeable, backless waves, but handled it well. Sorry ITIKI, I was feeling your pain! We were also able to get into a routine of working together, particularly on the longer stretches, and to drop anchor in a bay and decide to stay a couple of days if we felt like it. Certainly helping us relax and get into cruising mode. There are still plenty of odd jobs to do on the boat as well, so as conditions permit this is keeping Keith amused while I do the photos, blog and website. Apart from a couple of quirks Mr G (the autopilot) works very well along with the hydraulic steering so keeping watch for fishing pots and other boats, as well as dolphins of course, is the main activity on watch while we are underway.
Living the dream, not the nightmare...
I woke at 3:30am with half an hour to spare before my watch. I think what woke me was the reasonably strong, cool breeze coming through the cockpit into the saloon where I was sleeping (not as noisy as the master bedroom...) In the moonlight I could see Keith dart across the cockpit to the Port gennaker winch and from the motion of the boat I could feel us getting along at a fair clip downwind. I left Keith on watch at 1am having just unfurled the Gennaker so it seems he had been having some fun keeping the boat moving while I slept and even had a goose wing happening at one stage. I am unlikely to go back to sleep now so I might as well get up and join the fun! I put my warm gear and PFD on and stood up but picked the wrong moment to cross the dance floor, so to speak. Just as I got up the boat lurched to starboard and I found myself rocketing headlong towards the open door to the master cabin, arms flailing! Somehow my right hand managed to grab hold of something, possibly the TV, but my momentum towards the open hatch continued in a clockwise direction and only stopped when planted my left buttock firmly on the corner of the cabin door frame (expletive!) - that’s going to leave a lasting impression for sure! OK could have been worse, my first “boat bite” (yes it drew blood) but I avoided a potential head injury. Now lets try that again and see what’s going on up top...
While I have total faith in my husband, his sailing ability and commitment to safety, and we all know the rules about keeping watch alone, when sailing at night (PFD on, clipping on etc). My ultimate nightmare would be to wake up with ITIKI powering along with perfect sail trim on autopilot, but I am totally alone... Of course I know what I have to do in that situation, its written in our Safety and Risk Management Plan, but a situation to be avoided at all costs. I always feel a sense of relief as I see Keith sitting at the helm station when I come back up on deck. Seriously though our safety management plan is a very important part of our operating procedures. It includes our mitigations and contingencies around a number of different scenarios, from the everyday to those less likely, and is always open for review as we learn more about how ITIKI (and we) handle different situations and conditions. Now we have some experience under our belts its a good time to review and update it.
A stark reminder
As we came into the Straits of Gibraltar the African continent was clearly visible, with Tangiers in Morocco on our Starboard side. Europe must seem tantalisingly close from there. We started to hear the Pan Pan calls around Tarifa with reports of disabled vessels with unknown persons on board. Another yacht radioed to report life jackets in the water and a deflated dinghy floating nearby. The professional people smugglers having been thwarted by the Italian authorities have moved west looking for softer targets. A stark reminder of the desperate situation many others find themselves in through an accident of birth, and literally days before reports of a now rare arrival in FNQ in Australia. We listened to reports of rescue operations for the next few hours, watched the rescue boats for a while and heeded the requests to keep clear. As we entered the Med in the next few days this pattern would continue with half hourly pan pans along the same line
Your know you are in the Med when...
As we turned the corner at Europa Point we were officially into the Med, and its a horse of an entirely different colour, quite literally. With the sun out I am sure I could see a deeper, cobalt blue to the water and definitely felt a different pattern to the swell. In shallower water, over sand, the water is a beautiful turquoise and crystal clear. Oh and the temperature has gone up significantly! I think my next swim will be longer than 15.5 seconds! The Mediterranean is a large body of water and apparently the rate of evaporation is greater than the rate at which water flows in from rivers etc. That means water only flows into the Med from the Atlantic (not out again) so going through the Straits of Gibraltar you really want to pick your wind conditions and avoid doing it in a strong Easterly with a wind over tide scenario. Tides within the Med itself are negligible with 0.3m being a really big one, unlike some of the places we have visited on the Atlantic coast, (so we wont need to worry about leaving the dinghy high and dry!) With a lack of tides there is no need to have floating pontoons and nice neat pens in marinas and often we will be tying up to concrete walls. Which brings me to the much discussed and often maligned “Med-style mooring”... There is a dearth of good anchorages along the Costa del Sol so a few nights in marinas ensued and our first med mooring awaited us. For those who are not familiar with this procedure this involves (usually) reversing towards a concrete wall, tossing your windward stern line to a (hopefully) waiting “marinero” who will pass it through a rusty and disintegrating iron ring installed in medieval times, and pass it back to you to tie off on your stern cleat. (The first hazard here is taking out the utilities post, or the marinero, with your stern mounted dinghy.) Then he will pass you (or your boat hook) the end of a “lazy line” which you will take in your bare hands and walk forward pulling more and more of it out of the water, hand over hand, fondling its coating of slime and shellfish, dripping filth down the side of your boat until you reach the bow. At this point you need to pull forward on it until it is tight and you have either dislocated your shoulder or slipped a disc. Then you can tie off on your bow cleat. Then repeat on the other side. Really easy right? Yes especially when the distance between these lazy lines is best suited to a ‘70s style monohull and your fat catamaran is straddling 2 or 3 of them, and you are wedged in between 2 even fatter and more expensive catamarans. The other hazard of course is getting one of these lazy lines wrapped around your prop as you manoeuvre the boat. We thought it best to get both of these hazards out of the way early on... Once you have finally secured all the lines, then follows about half an hour of fiddling around, adjusting the lines, fore and aft, adding extra lines across the stern and trying to ensure the distance between your stern and the concrete wall is far enough that you wont drift back onto it, and close enough that your passerelle will reach so you can actually get off your boat without having to take a leap of faith. You may have seen our passerelle in the kite flying video, strapped on top of the RIB davits on the rear of ITIKI, its basically a teak plank with aluminium sides and wheels on one end. On the other end is a rod-like thingy which you insert into a hole-like thingy on the transom so the whole arrangement can swivel and you can deploy it. Our plan was to use the main halyard to ceremoniously lower the outboard end of the passerelle onto the dock, much like lowering a drawbridge, and stroll across to the applause of onlookers appreciative of our mooring skills. The first attempt did not go quite so well though, the angle was all wrong and this big hunk of wood was swinging around fit to take someone’s head off! Also the lines were not long enough to lower it onto the dock. Needless to say we stayed aboard that night and reworked the concept!
This is what I came here for!
We had originally planned 30 days to get from La Rochelle to Gibraltar and into the Med and that worked out pretty much spot on. We could have taken longer and seen more of Atlantic Spain and Portugal as we really enjoyed it, but we had a good taste, and our fill of Portuguese tarts...) and some of the highlights are captured under “The Tour” section of our website. We had enjoyed some lovely towns, bays, anchorages and marinas. People have been amazingly helpful and friendly, particularly to sort out a few teething problems with the boat. We have also met a few characters along the way. Our ultimate goal was always to get into the Med though and enjoy the last couple of months of summer here in our short, first season. Turning the corner around Point Europa was a great feeling, however the Costa del Sol did not hold much attraction for us, it was very built up and beaches were solidly packed, with a lack of good anchorages. Marinas were nothing special, just a place to get some shelter from the swell and a good night’s sleep after a long day on the water. I got chatting to the marinero at Almerimar about where we could go next and he recommended an anchorage about 7 hours away that would suit us for the night. “It’s full of hippies...” he said with an bit of a smirk “but its a lovely bay and safe in these conditions” Sounded perfect so I checked it out on Navily, where reviews promised naked, young people living on the beach and playing bongo drums all night! Cala San Pedro did live up to expectations (except for the drums). A beautiful cala with high cliffs around, run down forts and buildings occupied by squatters, makeshift bars and tavernas on the beach, lots of tents and yes naked hippies. The water was a balmy 29C and so clear we could see the anchor glinting in the sun. Needless to say we stayed for 2 nights, calling a well deserved “rest day” from the early starts that have earned Keith the nickname of Capitan Sparrow Fart. We spent the day swimming SUPping, resting and doing a few odd jobs. Welcome to the Med! Bring it on, this is definitely what I came here for.