Passage to the Straights of Gibraltar
So. The best laid plans go awry…
With clearance from Spanish customs and Schengen exit stamps, the weather window looking good, we departed for Gibraltar with a planned stop in Barbate. It all started well. We left the dock without a bump or scratch. The winds in the right direction and steadily pushing us along. Faster and faster… and faster. The wind shifted so we motor-sailed. Then shifted again and we were under full engine, sails put to bed. The wind and seas continued to build on the nose. Our destination less than 15 miles ahead, almost in sight. We were just off Cabo Trafalgar (they had a big war battle there with Admiral Nelson the victor, but was killed in the battle) but Inishnee was taking a beating, barely doing 2 knots with hammering waves stalling us to under 1knot… It would be after midnight before making Barbate. We had to turn around. With the wind at our back and blowing over 25 and nearing 30 we were flying… There are few ports or anchorages suitable for a sailboat with a draft of 6 feet (2 meters). We would have fro go all the way back to Cadiz or Rota… Feeling much defeated, Jim studied the guide books and charts and found a sketchy solution… if we dare. Sancti-Petri harbor is NOT to be entered in adverse conditions or at low tide. Though it seems St. Brendon had abandoned us we were to discover otherwise… As we entered the channel with great hesitancy at on a rising tide, another boat ghosted in ahead of us. If they can, we can … right? We followed the markers (red on right returning TO THE SEA!) the buoys are reversed from the U.S. system. The other sailboat steaming ahead of us. We slipped easily through the skinny water and up the very narrow river / channel past the moored boats. We quick dropped the hook and backed down to set it with he wind still howling at 20+ knots. Salt flats clearly visible to each side of the channel, disappearing with the rising tide. Darkness soon followed, the winds still rippin’. Around midnight the winds diminished so Kathy climbed in the v-berth to sleep, Jim on cabin sofa, just in case. Our heads barely hit the pillow when a light passes by the hatch window… a plane? a satellite? ? A BOAT! It’s steaming light! are we dragging… ? GET UP!!!! We quickly discovered the light was attached to another boat sailing in and trying to anchor… a single hander. At the wheel, back on the bow… anchor down, back at the wheel… repeat…he only has a head lamp for visuals. No moon. UGHH . His anchor not holding he has to haul it and reset; at low tide! Which he does. Incredible.
Morning has us up and gone shortly after sunup. No wind, an easy passage to Barbate. We drop the hook in the harbor and take is easy for the afternoon.
Up with the sun again to make the window for the Straights of Gibraltar with an ingoing tide. All is good, we motor easily along. We should be in and secured at the marina by early afternoon… should be… with in 2 hours of the 6 hours passage we encounter the forwarded (per guide book) occasional fog as we enter the narrowest, most bust stretch of water within thousands of miles. Approximately 80,000 vessels a year…. We could not see a boat length ahead of the bow. The fog horn was engaged and Kathy was on the radar. Boats all around us, ships, fishing vessels, coastguard, pleasure craft… and rafts. Today would turn out to be the busiest rescue day of so far this summer for migrants trying to cross into Spain. The coast guard / VHF continually warning of people in the water, raft sighting etc…
We saw NONE of it. The straights are 10+/- miles in width for many miles. We saw nothing of shore, mountains or ships. Oh, except that one boat that was going 15 knots and broke through the fog less than a boat length ahead. Having seen it on radar, Kathy alerted Jim, the throttle was cut back to only a couple of knots, all four eyes straining to see anything other than white. The fishing boat zipped by us and were out of sight in seconds. Too much stress today! As we neared the Pillars of Hercules we could still see nothing, only blips on the radar. A few boats blasting their fog horns somewhere out there. As we turned toward Gibraltar’s harbor we could just make out the fast ferries transporting to and from Morocco. A glimpse of land, but no ‘rock’ that should clearly be in sight by now. We alerted the marina, asking for assistance; our first ‘med moor’. The shore came into view and the lower portion of the Rock of Gibraltar off to starboard. Lines were tossed, caught and secured. What an incredible 3 days.
Our berth immediately off the marina building, and 2 steps from the head / showers. The laundry 10 steps. Closely located to everything Gibraltar, but then when the “Rock’ is 6.8km sq nothing is too far.. unless it’s blistering hot and you want to hike up the rock. A very unique piece of real-estate. Everything built with multiple stories.
After taking care of immediate needs: showers, groceries, making a boarding ladder (to the envy of many boaters) we were set to be tourists. A taxi tour took us to the upper most reaches of the rock the public are allowed to explore.
The WWII tunnels were of great interest to us. We toured 2 different sections, one guided one self. The rubble from the tunnels was used to expand the current airport runway to accommodate large aircraft.
The runway dissects the isthmus between the border of Gibraltar and Spain. The tunnels encompass around 60 miles of interwoven corridors and rooms excavated largely by British and Canadian engineers and troops.
Lookouts are spaced closely together allowing for ventilation and viewing. Many housed cannons for defense prior the end of the war.
A cable car takes passengers to the upper reaches of the rock, return trip on foot or cable car.
The rock is 426 meters tall, enough to create its own weather. It was engulfed in clouds most mornings during our month long stay. Winds cascading off the ridge send breezes down toward the city and the sea.
With plenty of time while waiting on crew, we walked across the runway to Spain and took the bus / train to Ronda, Spain. The public bus and trains are efficient and modern. And, inexpensive. The trip to Ronda took several hours to reach. A mountain top city dating to 15th century. We left our backpack luggage at the hotel and set off in the chilly (60*F), rainy weather. The city new (El Mercadillo) and old (Moorish) is separated by the ‘new bridge’… built in 1783!! over the El Tajo gorge. We walk along the Camino de los Motions which skirts the outer city walls and the gorge.
The Plaza de Toros is the oldest (1785) bull ring in Spain and the first purpose built ring. 5000 spectators. Though seldom used for fighting there is a museum within to tour; guns, equestrian artifacts, and bull fighting memorabilia.
The Mirador de Aldehuela and Balcon del Cono viewpoints along the gorge are breathtaking. Some ledges justing out over the steep gorge walls.
A former Mondragon Palace now museum gave glimpses into the lifestyle of the rich. Courtyards, winding staircases lead to numerous floors with chambers for sleeping, eating, relaxing…
The rain lifted as the afternoon wore on and more and more people came out. Many girls / ladies wearing the iconic Spanish Flamenco dresses… A quick pregunta to a local informed us of a parade that evening… 8pm… or later, on the main streets through town.
As darkness started to set in, the parade began… well after 8pm of course. People lined the streets as the music funneled down the parade route. Large fabric floats operated by riding-lawnmower type contraptions swung back and forth bopping people with their ‘extremities’ encouraging onlookers to bop them back.
The people part of the parade featured multiple groups from many nations playing music and dancing in traditional custom. Intermingled through the international groups were floats carrying the Flamenco dressed dancers, mostly female.
Just another unexpected treat amount the many wonders already experienced.
Having returned from an amazing vaca’ in Spain we decided to venture south to Morocco next. 4 days, 3 nights. The city of Chefchaouen came highly recommended, a short bus / taxi ride into the interior after a fast ferry from Tarifa, Spain to Tanger, Morocco. While asking for directions to the bus station we happened upon 4 travelers also going to Chefchaouen. It was quickly decided we would share a ‘fast’ taxi instead of the slower public bus… $7 each.
Our hotel was situated in as far from the medina possible. The city, built on the steep sides of the Rif mountains means there is an uphill climb at least once a day. With temperatures in the 90’s, long pants and sleeves ( a Muslim country) we were dripping in our own fluids soon after arrival. We took rest in an open air restaurant and ordered food….
not sure what would arrive other than water and soda (universally understood). We lunched on fried egg, cheeses, local bread and olives. Simple but tasty. The restaurant was situated in the new part of town on a busy corner, we had yet to locate the old part of the city. Smells wafted through the area, us trying to decipher their origins. Across the street we discovered the source for at least one… a small shop selling fresh chicken: housed, butchered and dressed on site. Farm to market with out taking a step.
Night one in town coincided with a big soccer game. Every restaurant was packed with men watching the game… no chance for food. Only soda (no alcohol of any kind) or moroccan tea… hot, sweet and full of fresh mint. We settled for drinks then cookies from a street vendor.
Up early to explore…
Chefchaouen is famed for the blue city walls of the medina (old city). The Jewish settlers began painting the walls multiple hues of blue in the 1920's. The jewish settlers The steep narrow streets wind a maze through the ocean of blue. Interspersed with sandstone adobe type walls the effect is mesmerizing. Nearly any color delightfully contrasts next to the soft blues. Scarves, blankets, dresses, umbrellas etc. from the countless shops selling everything Moroccan.
There were many restaurants for tourists in the city square with the sandstone walls of the kasbah (castle / fortress) as a back drop. It’s all hustle and bustle as you sit and watch the comings and goings.
Tourists (dressed outrageously in skimpy clothes!). Workers delivering goods on back, wheelbarrow, or donkey. Hawkers try to part you from your dirham (aprox d10 to $1). Restaurant hosts plying for your business. We had our first Moroccan tajine! flavorful (figs, walnuts, currants, spices and lamb) scorching hot from the oven.
Our second and final night in town was much livelier with the absence of a game… the streets were crowded with locals and tourists milling about and chatting. The women here appear to be given much freedom. They come and go as desired. Walk independent of men. Hold positions as merchants and service staff, although it is clearly a male dominated society. We NEVER felt threatened or unwanted. Kathy was comfortable walking and shopping alone.
The final morning meant a long, steep walk up hill to the taxi stand. We quickly secured a taxi / driver and agreed on a price, we would just need to wait for 4 more passengers. The taxi driver passed the time cleaning and polishing the fairly new taxi. A family a 3 joined our tribe, then a lone male.
The mother grudgingly gave he father a shawl and we gave him our water bottle. The boy had a few drinks, the father motioned for us to take the bottle back (not on your life!) which we declined. The driver continued on… after a few more kilometers we pulled to the side of the road and the boy and father exited and cleaned off as best they could. The driver (remember how he spent a lot of time polishing his car) did his best to wipe away the remnants of the incident and sprayed the area with a citrus air freshener… PLEASE, let the boy only be car sick! He slept the rest of the way to Tanger. The family exited at a cross roads, we continued on to the taxi station where we hired a local taxi to take us to our hotel: Dar Rif.
Dar Rif, a quaint, 6 room guest house with tiny rooms (toilet / shower ensuite), and a winding staircase. We continued up to the top floor and entered our room. The next floor the roof top with seating and spectacular views… if only we had (of could get) a bottle of wine!
The proprietor served steaming hot moroccan many tea with a couple of pastries and circled places of interest on a map we should see. The medina was much smaller than in Chefchaouen, easier to find our way. Very quickly we were accosted by hawkers… “ i make you good deal…name your price… what your best price?” Within minutes we were in possession of several souvenirs we didn't intend to purchase. Although annoying for a westerner, bartering is the way to purchase many items.
We wandered around the outer city walls and up near the kasbah where we stumbled on a group of young African men with very authentic instruments: calabash, goat skin, leather and wood. We were serenaded which of course meant a tip for their trouble. We continued on wandering being lead by a ‘guide’ (we tried to ditch him) before insisting we would NOW part ways…
Returning toward the city center we discovered the painted walls… an era within the medina in which several blocks have been painted with folk like murals. Colorful and interesting.
Back in the city square we opted for a late lunch before napping and more exploring.
Wandering about as evening fell, most of the restaurants were filled with men enjoying tea after the workday… We were told the women prefer to stay at home… hmmm
Spying a western type restaurant with a great perch overlooking the square we sat back to watch the evening unfold. Moroccan tea, bottled water (of course), and couscous. A local favorite. It was served cold which surprised us, but very tasty. Topped with cooked vegetables and chicken for Kathy, meat (lamb) for Jim. Full bellies and aching feet told us is was time for bed.
After a lovely breakfast provided by the hotel, we set off to explored more of the area. Jim toured the kasbah while Kathy haggled with shop keepers. Reunited, both happy with memories and trinkets. Noon, the restaurants claimed it was too late for breakfast, too early for lunch so we made due with tea. We snatched up our traveling bags and headed for th ferry where we purchased a VERY expensive lunch in the only place available. A quick ferry ride, free shuttle bus, a short walk and another bus took us to the border and customs. Now it gets tricky. Upon arriving back in Spain both our passports now have an entry stamp for the EU / Spain… Kathy is back on the Schengen clock! She has to get an exit stamp. The board crossing does not do that… check with the policia, next building. With the help of an interpreter we were able to get the much coveted stamp and continued on our way to Gibraltar crossing the runway between planes landing.