Sunday, April 15, 2007

Around the Rock

We’ve made it – into the Mediterranean at last. We’re at Puerto de la Duquesa, a small purpose-built area of apartments and marina, on the Costa del Sol. From here, the boys and I fly home from Malaga tomorrow (Monday) and Sam stays another week to tidy up, maintain a few bits and pieces and generally enjoy being retired.

From El Puerto de Santa Maria we had a slow and uncomfortable beat into an easterly to reach Barbate, which is pretty bleak, especially when the winds blow strongly (which they usually do), but it does have a lovely, deserted beach and a decent supermarket. After two nights there the wind went around into the west and despite initial misgivings about the sea sate, which was pretty choppy, we stormed around Tarifa, through the Straits and into Gibraltar, covering 42 miles in exactly six hours – at an average seven knots, our fastest-ever passage. The current flows easterly almost all the time through the Straits so it wasn’t all Kalessin’s doing, but the wind was good too.

Gibraltar is a very odd place. It is quite British, you spend pounds sterling, and everyone speaks English, although they do seem to alternate randomly between English and Spanish. It feels a bit like a larger and cheesier St Peter Port (on Guernsey). We did the tourist bit, walked all the way along Main Street to the cable car and went up to the Top of the Rock to see the apes, walking part of the way back, which gives a good feeling for the geography.

Wierdest of all was shopping in Morrisons (still branded as Safeway on the outside) for very English-type food, and somewhat steep English prices too. We stocked up on instant noodles and proper teabags; fortunately we still have plenty of Marmite on board. Sam and the boys fell on the produce as if they hadn’t been home since June last year – it does feel a bit like that, since this is definitely a continuation of the previous journey.

The marina in Gibraltar was not fantastically well-equipped, and in a westerly the swell comes straight in which is uncomfortable. A new marina is being built next door and there’s another one in the main docks area which didn’t have a berth for anything as small as us. There are some jolly big yachts in Gib.

Leaving was a bit traumatic, as the winds sweep around Europa Point very fiercely. Gibraltar Bay was very choppy, with bigger waves as we got towards the point, and wind building from 10 knots up to 25-plus – just as well we had a reef in. Then as we hurtled around into the Mediterranean the sea flattened out, the wind gradually died down and we had an excellent sail in glorious sunshine the 20-odd miles to Le Duquesa. Welcome to the Med!

Coming around the corner does make a difference, and not just in the tidal range, which now less than half a metre. This morning we were woken by swifts, swallows and sparrows instead of seagulls, it’s definitely warmer, the sea is slightly warmer, the sand is grey instead of yellow and there are far fewer fishing boats about. Also, dare I say it, the place is full of the kind of Brits you might expect to find on the Costa del Sol. So, just as well we’re going home really…

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