Saturday, 2 September 2017

Pelagia cruise 2017 final part, Malaga to Lagos

 After three nights in Benalmadena and Catherine had left us to fly home, Pat and I set off for Estepona, a sail of about 35 miles. There was still a large swell left over from previous winds but the winds were light and we were now experiencing a little tidal flow in our favour as we neared this end of the Mediterranean. So we logged 32 miles and berthed up safely in the now brisk afternoon breeze. Estepona was heaving with holiday makers and the walk along the promenade was crowded as in all other Costa Del Sol resorts. There was a local food fare on the front selling cured ham but in the heat of the day it did not seem appetising. The weather patterns looked right for a passage through the Gibraltar straights in the next couple of days, as were the tides, so the next day we set off to round the Gibraltar rock and berth at La Linea for the night. As we left, a brisk  east wind came up and we sailed fast on a broad reach towards the rock. From 25 miles away we could see the rock was covered in a thick black cloud that was crawling over the crest and down the west side. 

We had a fast sail up to the Gibraltar rock in the now force five wind and gybed the sail as we rounded the south end at Europa point to head more north up into the bay. It is interesting to note that the Europa point lighthouse is the only one outside the UK which is managed by Trinity House.The seas were large and confused as we rounded the point. We were sailing well up the west side into Gibraltar bay through the dozens of anchored ships when vicious gusts of wind in excess of 30 knots peeling off the top of the rock hit us side on. The humid air from Morocco was driven west by the wind over the rock causing cloud to form on the top and violent gusts to cascade down the west side across the bay. We still had our largest Genoa jib set and  I had to run off downwind sharply to avoid being laid over. As we tried to reef the Genoa it got fouled with the spinnaker halyard at the mast top and refused to roll!  We flew westward, luckily with still enough sea room in the bay, until I got the tangle sorted and we could safely reef the Genoa. The sky was black and foreboding as we headed for La Linea marina in the Spanish area just north of Gibraltar airport. There is a sandy bay at La Linea and rather than try and enter an unknown marina in these conditions, I anchored off the shore hoping things would calm down. The wind still varied in strength and direction from 10 to 30 knots and it was uncomfortable in the bay even though it was out of the biggest of the seas so we decided to go for the marina for a night. We had logged 24 miles.
    La Linea was an uninspiring town of blocks of flats as far as the eye could see and bordering the Gibraltar airport runway. The marina was ok for a night but their Wi Fi was not working so we decided to go anyway the next morning without an up to date forecast. That morning the cloud was still over the rock and it was grey but with lighter winds. The predicted favourable tide did not start until 11.00  so we set off about 10.30 and headed across the bay towards Algeciras to go into the straights . Many ferries operate between Algeciras and Ceuta in Morocco and we stayed on engine negotiating the anchored ships and ferries until we had cleared the bay. One high speed ferry coming from Ceuta direction appeared to be heading to pass us astern as we had right of way and I could see there were no anchored ships that would cause him to deviate so was confident of our safety. He continued on course to pass astern until some 100 feet away when he turned to his port side deliberately towards us. For a few seconds I thought he would turn back then when collision looked likely I turned sharply to starboard away from his path only feet away. As he passed us I had to continue my turn a full 360 degrees so that my bow faced the wash as I did not want the massive wave to come over the stern. As it was the wave washed right over our deck and up the windscreen as he receded into the distance at about 30 knots. I have no doubt that he was laughing as we shouted obscenities at him unheard of course. He then turned back to his original course to starboard that he would have been on had he not aimed at us. I believe there is a lot going on around Gibraltar between the British and the Spanish which causes such dangerous and unnecessary behaviour on the shared water between them.
    Once out of the bay we set course for Tarifa some 15 miles away and with the now easterly wind we made good progress sailing west as the tide started to run in our favour. Tarifa is almost at the narrowest part of the straights and making seven knots over the ground we got there at about 13.30 and turned north west to head for Barbate . 

We could see that the sea further out in  the straights was covered in white crests as was the sea ahead and it looked like wind over tide effects but that should not be with the tide with us. We were soon to find that we had at least one knot of tide against us caused by the enormous amount of Atlantic water feeding  into the Mediterranean at this time of year to replace evaporated water. The tide remained stubbornly against us all the way to Barbate but the wind strengthened to force five to six behind us and we had a superb sail all the way for a logged 40 miles as the blue water changed to the green Atlantic waters. All day we had heard on the radio distress messages about missing boats with maybe 30 people aboard. The narrow straights has become one of the favoured routes for refugees from Africa to Europe and we hoped not to see any. One ship, the Zenith Spirit, picked up a life raft just 15 miles from us with five survivors in it. They claimed to have come from Morocco and had been adrift for five days with no water food or engine! A Moroccan war ship made course for the rescuing ship and said they would take the survivors back to Morocco to who knows what fate. Poor souls had endured all that time for nothing but at least they were alive as they could have drifted well out into the Atlantic with the easterly wind and never been seen again. Our port of Barbate was a well sheltered transit port where we rested for the night before moving on to Cadiz.
   Cadiz was about 35 miles northwest around Cape Trafalgar. This Cape, so famous in our history, is treacherous as the cliffs and lighthouse of the Cape look so easy to pass but beneath the surface shallows and rocks abound making it necessary to stay well offshore. 

How Nelson and his ships navigated safely around here is a miracle. The wind was very light and we motored nearly all the way to Cadiz bay still experiencing the tidal stream effect of the day before with a tide of one to one and a half knots against us. Approaching the entrance channel to Cadiz we saw what appeared to be a block of flats being towed in front of us. We still have no idea what it was but something that big was very daunting in front of you. We rounded the buoys and entered Cadiz harbour late afternoon after a logged 48 miles of very tedious motoring. 
  It was time for a couple of days rest after our exit from the Med. The old city of Cadiz was only a short walk away from our harbour and we set off in early morning mist over the sea which cleared by the time we reached the old city walls. The old city dates back to 16 th century although much was rebuilt in the 18 th century. We managed to walk all around the walls in  the morning by which time it was getting very hot and we ducked into the Cathedral for a tour in the cool. 

The Cathedral is huge but quite plain and uninspiring inside and much of the sandstone roof is starting to crumble. The notable features are the fine carvings, statues and paintings by many famous Spanish artists over the centuries. Walking then through the middle of the town you wind through narrow streets lined with fine houses and an assortment of interesting small shops beneath them. A huge market building occupies a central square and it is filled with fish sellers exhibiting a massive range of Atlantic fish. Many plazas were planted with trees and flowers creating shady walks through the town

We looked for a decent restaurant but many seemed very touristic with  fast food but we did spot one near the town main beach which was small, clean and seemed well presented. After looking in amazement at the numbers of people on the beach squeezed onto a small patch of sand we retired to the restaurant for a late lunch. It was a good choice and we enjoyed a superb meal with a grilled tuna steak for main course. Our desert of course had to be accompanied by local sweet sherry which was fabulous. Cadiz was said by Lord Byron to be one of the most beautiful cities in the World. What it was like in his day I do not know but now it is certainly well worth a visit.
    After three days rest in Cadiz it was time to move on to what would be our last Spanish port of this year. The town of Chipiona at the entrance to the river that goes up to Seville was about 20 miles north and said to be a pleasant holiday town. Light westerly winds gave us reasonable sailing speed until later when a foul tide set against us again and we motored into the shallow estuary. We berthed in the marina which seemed well maintained but later we found it was not all as clean and good as we thought. We had logged 22 miles. The town was packed with Spanish tourists spread across the beaches but the town itself was scruffy and full of litter. The interesting features of the town were the lighthouse built in1862 which is surprisingly very tall considering the land here is totally flat. I guess it acts as a guiding light from far out to sea towards the river estuary for the many ships passing up to Seville. 

At low tide you can see areas off the beaches that are enclosed by rock walls that are ancient fish traps. Some are believed to be from Roman times or earlier and are now preserved as part of the ancient history of the area. Fish would come into the area at high water and could not escape as the tide went down although the water would slowly recede through small gaps in the walls leaving only small pools where the fish could be collected. We felt extremely hot in this town as the strong breeze over the land was about 37 degrees and it was like being in a fan oven on slow roast.
  We had reached the last leg of this year, a straightforward sail of 110miles direct to Lagos in Portugal. A simple overnight sail due west along the Algarve and we had a good forecast for weather, wind and swell. We left mid morning from Chipiona because we did not wish to arrive too early at Lagos in the dark. We started with a wind astern of force four to five and were skipping along with only a slight swell. The winds decreased during the day as forecast and we had a mixture of sailing and motoring as the evening came on. Nearing the coast at Faro at dusk the wind died and we motored through a smooth though undulating sea. We had not seen much shipping traffic apart from some anchored off the Spanish port of Huelva but more fishing vessels appeared off Faro and we were kept occupied trying to work out what each craft was doing and how to safely pass them. We were ahead of plan on time and so we were going slowly as we watched many aircraft coming into Faro to land against the backdrop of lights on a very clear starlit night. Suddenly I saw across our path a row of plastic buoys that could only be floats for a net. They were totally unlit and only showed up in the glare from our navigation lights. As they noisily hit the bow causing much alarm to Pat, I hit the stop lever for the engine dreading a net entanglement on the propeller. Pelagia continued to drift forward amongst a gathering of the buoys on either side and we both thought we would be caught ourselves in the dark 5 miles off shore of Faro at about 11.00 p.m. We let the boat drift on and gradually the net and floats drifted away to our stern. It was some time later and with baited breath that I started the engine and found it ran sweetly. We had indeed had a lucky escape. The ships log however was not reading anymore and later I found the impeller underneath the bow was smashed beyond repair by the ropes of the net. This was a small price to pay for what would have been a long hard job to extricate ourselves. Unmarked nets are a curse on the Portuguese coasts and we certainly cursed them that night.
   Very sensitive to fishing boats , the next hour was spent avoiding many as much as we could until their numbers diminished and we relaxed a little and had a cup of tea. Pat suddenly spotted a black cloud approaching and before she could ask what it was we were enveloped in thick damp fog unable even to see the end of the yacht. We resorted to radar and AIS to see if anything was around us and proceeded slowly into the disorientating gloom. Luckily there was not much shipping but one small fishing vessel passed very close after we saw him on radar and this misty apparition of lights glided down our starboard side only yards away. The fog came down at just after midnight and we had 30 miles to go to Lagos so we were both stressed out for the next six hours. None of the coastal lighthouses were visible and no shore lights until very nearly at Lagos when a mile away the town lights showed hazily through the gloom. A group of dolphins decided to accompany us on the last stretch and they were blowing and diving in the gloom right the side of Pelagia, as if to say we will guide you safely in. Relying on chart plotter and radar we steered for the harbour entrance encountering numerous small fishing boats on route. We saw at least two fishing floats pass a foot or so past our stern and we could do nothing to avoid them but trust to luck. Entering the harbour channel we slid slowly up channel in the dark to the waiting pontoon for the marina which was almost full but luckily we found just enough room on one end to tie up at 0600 hours Spanish time or 0500 Portuguese time after six hours of strain in the damp cockpit. We dropped into  our bunks after a heavily whisky laced drink of tea and slept for a few hours.
   That was not the ideal ending to our 2017 cruise but we and Pelagia had arrived safely after another leg of 276 miles making a total of 2062 miles for the season. We will now give her some well deserved attention before flying home and leaving her in Lagos until next season.


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