Spain - Gibraltar - Morocco

July 6, 2008

At 0500 hours the alarm clock signaled the end of sleep and time to go. We prepared DoodleBug for departure and while groggily swigging the first cup of coffee of the day, we were amazed at the heavy techno-rock music emanating from a yacht that was moored about three boat lengths away. That mooring had been unoccupied when we retired last night and we had heard nothing. We typically close the windows in the stern cabin, as we charge the batteries and simultaneously cool and dehumidify our sleeping area with its air conditioner. It was pitch dark at 0500 hours but we could see 10 or so people on the well-lit party "yacht", dancing and taking photographs of each other. The rest of the anchorage slumbered on, or at least tried to.

We dropped our mooring at 0530 hours and eased our way through the darkened vessels, on course for the bay
of El Rinconet on the Spanish mainland. At 0645 hours we were under full sail and close reaching in 12 knots of wind, when we received an updated weather forecast. The forecasts have been varying significantly every 12 hours and the current forecast predicted that our destination anchorage would be untenable. We changed course accordingly and headed close hauled for Punta del Sardinero.
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The great sailing wind held for two more hours before dropping away and swinging to a light headwind and putting us back on engine. The highlight of the passage was seeing a swordfish jumping. This is the first time I had seen one that was neither mounted on the wall nor in the form of a grilled "steak".

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Our destination anchorage appeared rather small and we hoped that we would find no more than a couple of other boats there. As we approached the Spanish coastline, a heavy stream of high speed traffic presented itself. There were dozens of power boats being driven at high speed in seemly random patterns and superimposed on this mess was a swarm of even higher speed skidoos. A few kayakers risked life and limb by calmly paddling through the middle of this maelstrom. The crew of DoodleBug added our wake, while feeling like pedestrians crossing a freeway during rush hour. As we turned behind the protecting headland of the anchorage, we could now see approximately forty vessels crammed into the tiny space, most on flimsy looking moorings. We did not trust the moorings and dropped anchor near the back of the pack at 1415 hours, position N 38 45.8' E 000 13.0'. The balance of the afternoon was spent wondering if we would be hit while at anchor and pretending to ignore the copious supply of bare breasts.

 

July 7, 2008

Position N 37 35.8' W 000 59.0'

Last night the wind had been blowing and gusting from the southeast, making the fleet of small vessels strain at their moorings. This weather pattern was the reason that we are anchored here, as the bay at our original destination of El Riconet is completely open to the southeast. Around 1800 hours, the fleet began to lift their swim ladders, cover their naked bodies with clothing and fire up their 400 horsepower motors to head for home. I had been a little concerned that we were on 30 meters of chain, versus the fleet's fixed moorings and we could possibly swing enough to hit someone. By 2100 hours there were only a couple of other boats left and we raised our anchor and grabbed the biggest mooring we could find - based purely upon the size of the buoy. Over the next thirty minutes it seemed that we were now dragging the mooring. The last boat was leaving and with the last scrap of fading light from dusk, we dropped our mooring to re-anchor in our original position . The anchor did not set well and the wind was now changing direction and gusting. Reluctantly we decided it would be prudent to maintain an anchor watch and set the alarm timer for thirty minute increments. After a couple of checks, we appeared to be settled and decided to forgo the anchor watch. At 0230 hours I was awoken to a different boat motion and different wave noise. A glance from the cockpit showed that the wind had reversed completely and was now blowing from the north. We were on a lee shore with the waves building. The bow of DoodleBug was plunging with the waves and we were already bumping into the plastic mooring buoys near the beach. Time to go! We raised anchor at 0250 hours and set sail, destination as yet undefined. The anchor had been retrieved way too easily.

As we cleared the cape that was supposed to shelter us, the wind switched to the southeast, where it was to remain for the remainder of the day. The several weather forecasts gave variously "southwest winds", "northeast" and "north winds". Throughout the day they never did get close to the actual wind direction. We motor-sailed, close hauled under main sail and occasionally were able to include the Genoa in the rig. At 0553 hours local time, DoodleBug passed the prime meridian and the GPS display switched from E 000 degrees to W 000 degrees. We are back in the western hemisphere!

We continued heading along the Spanish coast to the southwest and now the bulk of the shipping we passed were fishing boats. These are puzzlingly huge vessels, bigger than American shrimpers and more the size of oil company service vessels. The only evidence of active fishing is that they troll one or more lines from the stern. I don't know how successful they are but we passed dozens of these vessels only a mile or so apart and they seem an expensive vessel to operate just pulling a trolling line.

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The wind held almost the same angle all day and at 1725 hours we entered the marina at Cartagena and tied up at the dock. This is the ancient base of Carthaginian European endeavors and where Hannibal staged his assault across the Alps (not "Hannibal Lector" - I am referring to the guy with the elephants! No fava beans!).

 

July 8, 2008

When we first arrived in Cartagena we had observed that the dockside is decorated with a large submarine, very hard to either miss or ignore. The submarine in question is a prototype that was developed and launched by Spanish naval officer Isaac Peral in 1888. The submarine carried three torpedoes and would have been viable even by WW II standards. Cartagena is a training base for the Spanish navy and remains an active submarine base. Because of this, the Maritime Museum had a distinct submarine flavor but contained a wonderfully eclectic smorgasbord of marine exhibits and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Just adjacent to the submarine is a statue to the "Heroes of Cavite". I suspected this was the Spanish American war of 1898 and Encarta confirms this.

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By now we were beginning to work out that afternoon tourism is not possible in Spain. We retired for lunch and a siesta before heading to the other museums which were re-opening in late afternoon. We began with a visit to air raid shelters built for the Spanish Civil war in the 1930s. Cartagena was heavily bombed by German / Italian / Spanish aircraft and this was perhaps the first time that civilians were targeted from the air. The shelters used and expanded upon existing caverns under the citadel. The exhibit had a wonderful sound and light show of the bombing and the subsequent misery of the population but very little information about the conflict itself as to it's causes and resolution. We next rode a panoramic elevator from the shelter level up to the base of the Castillo de Concepcion. The tour of the castle's subterranean reservoirs was austere but livened up by a display to give the effect of a pool of water and the sound of a drip. The castle above had similarly been stripped over the centuries but the panoramic view from the ramparts was great. We could clearly see the submarine pens that had been on our port side when we entered the harbor but had not noticed as we motored inbound.

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Next stop was the internet cafe to check on the weather. The forecast showed a closing window of 36 hours before strong headwinds set in and trapped us in Cartagena for the week. We checked the time. We had 40 minutes before the marina offices closed. We rocketed across town and got inside the supermarket as they were closing the doors. Loaded with necessaries we then dashed for DoodleBug and the marina office. We made it! We are cleared out and will sail at first light along the Spanish coast. Cartagena is an interesting town and we enjoyed our stay here.

 

July 9, 2008

At 0620 hours we dropped our docklines and motored out of the darkened marina, westbound. I was very glad that I had changed our Racor diesel filter upon our arrival in Cartagena, as I prefer to sip a cup of coffee in the dawn, rather than perform hurried engine maintenance. The weather forecast called for light tailwinds and we soon had the sails rigged with poled Genoa, winged main and mizzen. Our weather window is but 36 hours and although we normally carry a large margin of diesel fuel, we had allowed our tanks to become low. The rationale was that we could easily buy fuel along the Spanish coast and that Gibraltar boasted tax free fuel. With 11 knots of wind from behind, the sail configuration would not provide enough boat speed for this time window and we added the engine, at low throttle, into the mix. Our original intention was just to move further west along the Spanish coast but the light winds might just allow us to reach Gibraltar before the forecast strong headwinds set it. Was the forecast accurate though? We changed course for Gibraltar and headed onwards.

1300 hours: The tailwind had dropped and we were now motoring with just the mainsail set, passing dozens of fishing boats. Most of these were cruising at right angles to our course and would inevitably stop directly in our path, forcing us to detour around their stern, while we wondered what they were towing and how far behind their vessel the tow extended.

By 1800 hours we were passing Cabo De Gata and as we gazed at the spectacular, multi-hued rock formations of the cliffs, we wondered where the "cat" formation lay. We headed into the night and a half moon arose behind us, revealing a layer of high clouds to the west. At 2215 hours (2015 hours UTM) our position was N 36 35.5' W 002 44.9'.

 

July 10, 2008

At 0600 hours the grey dawn revealed a mixture of haze and fog banks. The wind was just behind the beam but at 4 knots provided no detectible boost to the engine's efforts as we motored to the west. I was concerned about our fuel situation and tested the tank with a dip stick. 130 liters left! This meant arriving in Gibraltar with about 10 percent of our fuel tank capacity remaining. Very tight margin.

0900 hours we timed the passage of a piece of flotsam as it passed DoodleBug and was no longer visible, thirty seconds later. Converting boat speed from knots, to miles per hour and then to feet per second, this elapse to invisibility computed as 100 yards. As the day wore on the fog lifted slightly but there was no horizon. The oily, grey blue of the sea merged seamlessly with the sky. We had the radar on a six mile range setting so that we could spot small objects. When large ships passed, we would first see their ghostly outlines at two miles distance.

I checked the forecast several times during the day but the prediction of the onset of strong westerly headwinds remained "evening", whenever that was. The wind direction dodged around the compass but remained in the range of 1 to 8 knots and only slowed our passage slightly when it would kick up some chop and veer into a headwind before dropping away again.

As we neared Gibraltar we saw nothing of the famous rock as our world remained circumscribed by a hazy ring of fog banks. We were visited by several pods of dolphins and their exuberant presence must mean we are nearing the Atlantic with it's supply of fish. At about ten miles from the rock, our world contracted dramatically to thick fog. The water droplets would condense on the rigging and then drip onto the windshield as bird sized splashes. Cleaning the windshield was a fruitless task as it was opaque again after a few seconds. An instrument approach then.

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Several yacht sized targets passed by but well clear of us. At four miles from the rock a line of strong echoes appeared. These had to be ships at anchor. We adjusted course to pass just south of the end of the line of echoes. We did not want to go too far south because the harbor entrance lies to the north and the main shipping lanes were south of us. The big boys would be trucking along, inbound from the Atlantic and we really did not want to be in their way. Then we heard the moan of foghorns around us plus the sound of ringing bells. The foghorns sounded loud, urgent and close by. When closing a large vessel, the radar becomes almost useless as the return is filled with false echoes due to the strength of the reflection. By switching the radar to a shorter range setting, we automatically drop the gain setting on our set and briefly see the uncluttered radar picture as it's strongest returns, before the screen again fills with clutter and false echoes. The fear was that by looking only for the largest radar targets, we will overlook smaller targets such as other yachts, pilot boats, fishing vessels and tugboats. It would ruin our day to hit any of these. The short range radar setting provided a more useful picture of what was nearby but did not provide sufficient warning of approaching vessels. We were therefore alternating displays between the close range and distant range settings. The third criterion was that we navigate to the Gibraltar harbor and to do this meant monitoring the GPS chart display. The procedure for sailing in fog includes reducing speed. We had throttled back of course but the instruments showed that we were being sucked out into the Atlantic by the outgoing current and were approaching the mysterious radar hazards at better than eight knots. At less than a quarter of a mile range, I finally twigged that the large radar target that seemed to be coming directly at us, really was in motion and not anchored. We spun at 90 degrees to our inbound course and hit the maximum throttle, shooting off to the south. The good news was that the huge ship we were about to collide with had no idea what idiot had been ignoring his fog horn warning. We again turned onto our approach course and the line of really big radar targets slid by to the north along with a cacophony of mournful moans of foghorns, plus enough bells to handle a Greek Saint's day celebration. The fog briefly lifted to show the topsides of two giant vessels lit up by the sun before closing in again. The surface of the water was boiling with current and the chart showed whirlpools and overfalls off Europa Point. Here too were confused multiple radar echoes where there should have been clear water. We edged the unseen hazards and began to turn north towards the harbor with the radar echoes of the land to our starboard and more lines of anchored ships to port. This was going to get tight. At the critical moment, the fog lifted slightly and we could see the Gibraltar cliffs under our lee. The echoes off the point resolved themselves into a recently wrecked freighter with multiple salvage vessels in attendance. We followed the breakwater north and dodged the small power boats with laughable ease now we could actually see them. At 1725 hours we tied up at the dock at Queensway Quay Marina, Gibraltar at position N 36 08.1' W 005 21.3'

 

July 11, 2008

A slow day in Gibraltar. The yacht next to us is heading east and we had joined Alain and Danielle of SV Pheidippides IV last night for sundowners. Today we joined them for lunch in a pub off the Gibraltar main street. Danielle is from Paris

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and she and her husband Alain have adopted the delightful tradition of splitting a bottle of champagne at sunset. How civilized! As a symbol of solidarity perhaps, Alain joined Ed drinking beer aboard DoodleBug, leaving the two girls to handle the day's champagne. Hardship everywhere!

 

July 12, 2008

We shrugged off yesterday's lethargy and headed for the cable car to ride to the summit of the rock of Gibraltar. What a difference a day makes! The wind was now from the west and there was no hint of fog. We could see the Gibraltar sea approaches, with Africa across the straits and ships zipping by in all directions. Lines of ships lay at anchor on both sides of "the rock" and we gazed upon the objects that we had previously only seen as ghostly electronic blips on the radar display.

We walked over to St. Michael's cave which is an extensive natural formation within the limestone of Gibraltar. The caverns were remarkably undamaged, considering the millennia during which they have been explored. One of the largest rooms was prepared as a hospital during WW II but never used as such. It was instead used as a cinema for the garrison troops and today, the area is still used for plays and presentations.

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Our next destination were the tunnels dug from solid rock during the "European phase" of the American War of Independence. Spain had entered the war against the British and began a three year siege of Gibraltar (1779-83). The Spanish troops on land formed a line of fortifications along "La Linea", whilst the British high above their heads had batteries of cannon in placements within the rock. This was definitely the place to be and we could look through the narrow gun ports at the imagined Spanish positions on the far side of today's runway. We had toured these amazing tunnels some 15 years ago and discovered that their acoustics favor the Dwarves march from "Snow White". Hi, Hoooo!!!

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Gibraltar is home to the Barbary Ape, a tailless Macaque monkey and the only native monkey found in Europe. It was almost certainly introduced here by passing wooden sailing ships (DoodleBug has none living on board). The numbers are controlled at around 30 individuals and the surplus population is shipped off to zoos around the word. Annette found an infant monkey playing with a blanket on a wall. She sat on the wall to get a good photograph and sat in fresh monkey-piss. This provoked complaints on the scale of the time she put her hand in an inch of animal excrement when climbing onto a Djibouti dock. Spouses tend to be more amused than supportive.

Just beyond the monkey hazard were WW II tunnels that have only been opened to the public during the past few years. We took a guided tour and our guide was recently retired from the British military and was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The tunnel system was home to some 5,000 troops during WW II and all services were represented. We visited dormitories, cafeterias, ablution facilities, power generation plants and the like. The men who dug out these tunnels worked shifts of 16 hours on and 8 and hours off and "hot bunked" with two other soldiers. (That is: three men sharing one bunk in 8 hours shifts). Portions of the tunnels are still in active use for storage of ammunition and for training in "tunnel warfare". The latter has become very popular since the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan.

By this time us sailors, unaccustomed as we are to real exercise, were beginning to drag and we bummed a ride from the tunnel tour guides, back to Gibraltar town. Here we visited Casement Square to test the quality of the fish and chips and beer.

 

July 13, 2008

After a champagne induced, slow start to the day, we walked from Gibraltar to the bus-station in Spain. We could have taken a bus or taxi but Annette likes the novelty of walking across an active airport main runway. We stopped to take photographs from the Spanish siege point of view, before catching the bus to the port of Algeciras. An hour later we

 

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bought tickets for the high speed ferry to Morocco and then searched for some place which would feed us lunch before the seemingly mandated restaurant opening time of 1:00 p.m. By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Tangiers and headed for the ancient walled city, within a city, the "Medina" or "Kasbah". Amazingly, inside the narrow warren of streets, we found the same hotel that we had stayed in some 15 years ago, when we visited Morocco with son Matt. Either our sense of adventure has declined somewhat or the hotel has declined even more. Nevertheless, we decided it really sucked and decided to move on to a four star hotel, the InterContinental. The InterContinental was marginally cleaner, certainly more expensive but did offer air-conditioning.

 

July 14, 2008

This morning we headed back to the Kasbah to visit the museum. This is located within the Sultan's palace and the latter is deep within the maze of the old city. At first we were the only visitors to the museum and had difficulty shaking off our self-appointed guide. We boggled him by each walking off in opposite directions so he really did not know who to chase. A third tourist arrived, also declined his services and he retired to sulk near the entrance. The most memorable exhibit for me, was a huge cedar chest that was studded with iron bolts and used as a safe for the Sultan's valuables. The key must have weighed several pounds but was not on display.

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We followed our museum visit with an exploration of the Kasbah. Navigation was by checking the direction of the sun inside the canyons of narrow passages. The area is home to several thousand people and teems with gift shops as well as tailors, grocery stores, butchers and the like. I am always fascinated by the gift shops and wonder how any of the owners can make a living, since they all seem to sell the same stuff.

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We emerged from the dim recesses of the Kasbah into sunlight near the port and stopped for a couple of beers. I had shaken off a persistent tout here yesterday when we arrived. He insisted he give us a tour of the Medina and I in turn stated that I was going to buy a beer at the nearby restaurant. He had insisted that those restaurants did not sell beer, to which I had replied, "No problem, I will just sit over here next to the Heineken sign". He had given up and the following day we were back at the same Heineken sign. While we were sitting there we met "Big Steve" and "Little Steve". They were visiting from a cruise ship that had arrived that morning. Big Steve is a British national who runs a beach bar in Goa, India and Little Steve is his four year old son. They were both absolutely charming and Little Steve was a bundle of precocious energy but nevertheless very well behaved, since he would rather have been playing in the sand on the beach than talking to old people like us.

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That evening we were back at the ferry port and visited with a delightful Dutch couple from Amsterdam as well as a couple of American students from Madrid. The Dutch couple were the age of our children and thus we core-dumped life advice over the poor innocents, just as we would our own kids. It was really a compliment guys!

 

July 15, 2008

We have studied the weather patterns for transitting the straits of Gibraltar and checked the tides and currents. We have researched marinas in both the Madeira Islands as well as the Canaries. Our departure is set for the 17th. and thus today was laundry chores and shopping at the one large supermarket on Gibraltar. By evening we had put in a full day and headed for a restaurant we had been recommended called, "Quattro Stagioni". The restaurant is on 16/18 Saluting Battery, Rosia Road. It was world class and one of the most delicious meals I have eaten anywhere. Well worth a trip to Gibraltar in itself. We had been sitting outside the restaurant people watching, when a nearby table applauded a particularly pretty girl who was passing. We nodded our agreement and were soon talking to five Petty Officers from HMS Gloucester, a type 42 guided missile destroyer. We joined their table and had a really great visit with PO (HWT)

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Greg Ursell, PO (HWN) Pat Paterson, PO (MEM) Brad Bradley, PO (ETWE) Clive McGing and PO (WEM) Jules Andrews. (If I misspelled your names or ranks - it was the beer, fellas!) We chatted with them about everything and it was really hard to drag ourselves away. Fascinating group of guys.
 

July 16, 2008

This morning we stowed DoodleBug for passage and moved over to the fuel dock, near the airport runway. Gibraltar offers tax free fuel and we took the opportunity to fill our tanks to capacity. Just before noon we dropped anchor at N 36 09.4' W 005 21.9' behind the La Linea breakwater. We are back in Spain. We need to transit the straits on an easterly flowing current and this means leaving at dawn. The marina entrance is blocked by a boom until 0830 hours, too

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late for us, so we will bob about here for the night. When we first dropped anchor, we were assaulted with power boats and jet-skis zooming around us. We finally decided to move closer to the lee shore of the breakwater. Not the safest place but at least out of the way of the speed-boats. Thirty minutes later there was a cacophony of horns and engines. When I looked across at our previous anchorage, it was occupied by some forty runabouts, jet skis, RIB's and motor boats of all kinds. Had we been occupying their assembly point or did our departure provide the gap they needed? They eventually dispersed and we lay at anchor for the remainder of the afternoon, listening to warnings from the airport loudspeaker system, for pedestrians to clear the runway as there were aircraft on approach. You don't hear that much in the USA.