Arriving at Gibraltar marked the official start of our preparations to cross the Atlantic. After a leisurely two-summer cruise around the magnificent Mediterranean, everything from this point forward is focused on readying the boat for the crossing. (OK apart from a sweet side-trip to Morocco, but more on that in a later post!)
The guys have been busy fixing and fitting new gear such as wiring new house batteries, purchasing additional safety equipment, installing and activating the Iridium GO! (new technology for satellite communications at sea), major engine servicing, running a replacement spinnaker halyard through the mast, minor repairs to the Parasailor and a host of other small projects and maintenance.
For several weeks we’ve been based at Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea, on the Spanish side of the border near to Gibraltar. After a relatively solitude summer at anchor, it’s a pleasure to be around other serious yachties that are preparing for their crossings or wintering (not white-collar weekender sailors and stinky boats in the Med).
The photo below was taken from atop The Rock. In the left of picture is the main town of Gibraltar, some of which is built on reclaimed land. The runway for Gibraltar’s international airport is obvious and to the right, the border with Spain controlled by customs and immigration. Our base at Alcaidesa Marina is the large marina at top right of picture.
Gibraltar has long operated as a key preparation and launching base for yachts heading across the Atlantic Ocean (usually via the Canary Islands and/or Cape Verde to catch the trade winds). Opened summer 2010, Spain-based Alcaidesa Marina helped to ease the burden of limited space in Gibraltar’s three small marinas. The facilities, service and price at Alcaidesa have been excellent and we’d highly recommend the marina to any cruisers headed here.
From our berth we have a clear view of The Rock which, when a strong easterly wind blows, is crowned by a peculiar peeling cloud. Warm air rises sharply from the Mediterranean Sea, up and over the sheer rock face meeting cold air from the Atlantic at its peak.
On a bright, calm day with no wind, the cloud dissipates – bathing sunshine on the poms living below The Rock!
Gibraltar is a peculiar place. After months of fumbling along with multiple foreign languages and Euro currency, landing in Gibraltar was like taking a massive wrong turn and bumping into familiar England. Cliché pommy-ness abounds with thick British accents, red telephone boxes, bobbies (policemen) on patrol, union jack flags strung over Main Street and typically gloomy weather. Perfect for lingering in cosy old English pubs called The Piccadilly or Lord Nelson (who, after dying during battle at sea, was famously pickled in a barrel of brandy for his return home) with pints, fish n chips or a hearty Sunday roast lunch.
Dominated by a 436-metre Rock, this tiny headland controls the entrance to the Mediterranean – a key trading route. The strategic outpost has long been fought over (at times seized by the Moors, Anglo-Dutch and Spanish), with the British retaining control from 1713.
Heeding recommendations to avoid the overpriced gondola ride and downhill hike; we joined a private ‘taxi tour’ of Gibraltar’s famous rock with a knowledgeable local driver.
Again my lack of attention during school history studies was exposed, with an in situ lesson explaining one of the world’s greatest legends. It was the vast horizon beyond the two Pillars of Hercules (the tip of southern Europe and tip of northern Africa) where the European civilisation of the Ancient World believed the Earth to end. In 1492 from Cadiz, just outside the Strait of Gibraltar, Italian-born but Spanish-sponsored Christopher Columbus and his crew set off on a courageous exploration with intentions of finding a new trading route to Asia. He would return nine months later having instead discovered the Americas, first landing in the Bahamas and naming them San Salvador. His original exploration consisted of three ships. A second voyage, just three months after he’d returned, contained 17 ships laden with people, supplies, animals and weapons to establish a new colony for Spain in the palm-lined Caribbean Islands of the New World. Columbus made a total of four passages across the Atlantic via the Canary Islands and trade winds. (soon we’ll retrace his route!)
Theory also exists that today’s common dollar sign originated from the Spanish coat of arms, which includes the two Pillars of Hercules and the banner scrolled between them.
Imported across the strait from North Africa during the 18th century, Barbary macaques (apes) are today synonymous with Gibraltar’s Rock and a star attraction with stuffed toys, postcards and paraphernalia sold in the shops below.
I anticipated we might see a few on our trip up The Rock, but they were EVERYWHERE at various points of interest and certainly had no reservations with humans. Plenty of playful youth helped to keep everyone’s cameras snap-happy.
Below, Mum making friends with an inquisitive young macaque that mimicked her hand movements. Too cute!
Tourists are repeatedly reminded not to carry food or rustle plastic bags. Two oblivious British children were left in shock and tears when they were pounced upon and their chocolate bars swiftly stolen outside the kiosk.
These wee siblings were intrigued by Mike’s tongue poking antics; pulled in just before a cute but grimy little hand could latch on.
The Rock is riddled with an extensive tunnel network stretching more than 70 km. Britain retained control of the land and Rock in 1713, though for centuries the Spanish have continued to fight (physically and politically) for its return. Spain’s boldest attempt was during The Great Siege of 1779-83. British troops retreated up The Rock constructing a series of tunnels, bunkers and gun batteries from which to defend their territory.
St Michael’s Cave is an impressive grotto dripping with stalagmites and stalactites; perfect acoustics for opera plus a dramatic setting for fashion shows and theatre.
How many places in the world can you walk or drive across the landing strip of an international airport?? This has been our regular commute from La Linea’s marina on the Spanish side, across the border to Gibraltar. With a plane landing every couple of hours, traffic would be halted and when the boom gate rose, a gong show ensued with scooters, cars, lorries, bicycles and pedestrians buzzing across the runway with the plane still taxiing to the terminal. The actual immigration and customs side of crossing the border is somewhat dubious (their primary concern appears to be duty-free cigarette smugglers).
Celebrating another crew birthday (that’s all four of us now over two months), we hosted new and old yachtie friends on board for drinks and an awesome jam session of guitars, saxophone and vocals. Happy birthday Captain Col!
We collected three new (massive – 78kg each) AGM deep-cycle house batteries in Gibraltar. Installed by Dad and Mike they are now, along with the replacement 3,000-watt Victron inventor (installed in Mallorca), working perfectly and fingers crossed our electrical woes are finally behind us.
Below, making minor repairs to the Parasailor; a sweet downwind sail that we hope to fly regularly once we reach the trade winds. Plus a few other snaps of the captain tinkering over the last couple of months; doing what he calls ‘relaxing’.
For the sake of safety and two-person night watches, we’ve picked up a new crewmember for our impending (four to six day) passage down to the Canary Islands. Ausrine (below) is a young backpacker from Lithuania, who is adventurous, keen and quickly learning knots and boat terminology, and will be a strong and valuable extra set of hands and eyes.
We were originally hoping to depart for the Canaries last weekend but a series of low-pressure systems travelling towards Spain and Morocco have delayed our plans. Currently we are patiently awaiting another decent window to make our exit through the straits of Gibraltar (the narrow current-affected entrance to the Mediterranean) and sail south along the North African coast.
Below, our view over the last few days – angry skies bringing rain squalls and wind gusts from the same direction we need to travel.
Our tans are quickly fading so we are eager to get back to warmer climates and regular sunshine. Though more specifically, to begin our most significant passage yet (first time sailing finally my darling in the true open ocean) and a perfect ‘shakedown’ preparation for our Atlantic crossing. Our first landfall will be the island of Lanzarote and we’ll spend Christmas and New Year in the Canaries before making a big leap across the pond in early January. If you are interested in following our progress to the Canaries (and beyond), you can view live updates of our course via Vessel Finder (search ‘finally my darling’).
Please check back soon for memories from mystical Morocco!