The accidental wind intruments of Chipiona

Chipiona at high tide

Keeping the obligatory two miles from the coast, I motored the 17NM from Rota to Chipiona in calm seas with Force 1 to 2 winds. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze was short lived and for the next three days I found myself weather bound. It seems I only ever get to play tourist in bad weather!

Chipiona is an interesting town and the days passed relatively quickly. Apparently it’s population of about 20,000 triples in the summer as Spanish tourists flock from Sevilla on mass, to enjoy the beach life (though it’s more like rock life when the tide is out). Not that this migratory phenomenon was evident in March.

The center has plenty of shops and restaurants, a pleasant seaside promenade and a few architecturally interesting buildings, but what really captured my imagination was the haunting sound coming from what must be one of the most unusual accidental wind instruments I’ve ever heard.

It took me a considerable amount of time to identify the source of the towns pervading and eerily haunting music, but I finally narrowed it down by the tedious process of elimination, to the resonating of a steel railing running the length of the foreshore. How bizarre! I bet that was also what the locals were thinking of me as I set my ear to a number of unlikely candidates in the course of my auditory investigation.

Barbate to Rota in turbulent seas.

Weather west of the straits

Just 5 miles west of Barbate I found myself sailing around the many shoals off Cape Trafalgar. Yes, this is the site of the famous, or infamous, (presumably depending on your nationality), 1805 naval battle between Villeneuve and Nelson.

I’d checked my almanac and Imray pilot to time the departure for a complementary tidal stream, but after an hour of speeding west at 7.5kts I realized my northerly stream was not altogether northerly! If only the disclaimer printed beneath the tidal stream extract was given more prominence, I might not have taken it as gospel. Lesson learnt.

The wind was now gusting to twice that predicted in the “windguru.com” and “windfinder.com” web site forecasts and the direction was anything but favourable. I was obviously in for another rough trip. A brief glance at the brevity of my ships log (one entry 6hrs after departure) is testament to this.

So why was I stubbornly heading North toward the bay of Cadiz instead of just heading out to sea on a direct route to Portugal?

For several reasons:

  • Firstly, I found it was difficult to trust the weather forecasts for one day, let alone the two to three that I’d need for a longer leg;
  • I also wanted to take advantage of the promise of smoother seas further north (clearly shown in my weather forecasts an example of which is posted above).
  • A degree of wanting to play tourist also had to be taken into consideration.

Ugly but functional

By sunset I was bouncing my way into the bay of Cadiz. No torn mainsail this time, but the bronze rail at the end of my boom (tensioning the mainsail), was dramatically ripped from its fastenings. For now, I have decided to do without it, and have come up with this (see photo) elegant solution. OK, I’ll admit it isn’t pretty, but it does work!

Of Rota, I saw nothing but the refueling pontoon by night. Fascinating. So much for the argument of heading north to play tourist. :)

I sailed to Barbate

Church in main square, Barbate

My Atlantic Spain and Portugal pilot refers to Barbate as a practical stopover in a somewhat soulless town. The marina certainly isn’t packed with nightclubs and restaurants. It has two of the later and none of the former. More distressing, for any slothful sailor like myself, is the 2km hike into town to buy provisions. Despite this, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Barbate soulless. I’d settle for a tad dull.

I wandered aimlessly about the town for days, took the obligatory snapshot of the white sandy beach, church and town hall (all very nice if you frame the photo well), and loitered suspiciously for hours at venues offering Internet access (both restaurants at the marina have WiFi, and in town there are two “cyber-cafes”. The coin operated one near the beach is probably your best bet).

Despite enthusiastically delving into the myriad of touristic offerings (attempt at dry humor here), I couldn’t quite get accustomed to Barbate and eagerly awaited an opportunity to depart.

The regular jogger set, dog and power walkers, passed by frequently as they made their daily pilgrimages between downtown and the marina. I lived in fear that they’d move beyond our now customary brief nod of recognition, and stop to converse.

For someone as poorly versed in Spanish as myself, (my conversational repertoire is currently limited to boat talk and the weather), the mere thought of engaging in serious small talk is traumatic! Mind you, I did plan to take it in small steps… starting perhaps with a few words to the dogs and slowly working up from that. ;)

Barbate beach in March

I needn’t have worried. No one ventured to go beyond the briefest “Ola”. Perhaps I’d already outstayed my welcome. This paranoiac notion grew as staff at El Espigon, (where I visited daily for a morning espresso and tostada), suddenly appeared reluctant to provide me with Wi-Fi access (it’s mysteriously switched off when customers linger for more than the briefest of sessions).

Even the restaurant at the other end of the marina has started using the “silently switch it off” strategy to ration Internet usage. It’s a Barbate conspiracy. True, I’m no big spender, (I can only drink so much coffee), but I’m also very unlikely to seriously impact their bandwidth quotas by writing my blog.

To add insult to injury, they’ve only given me one packet of jam with my toast today! Simply outrageous! It’s clearly time for me to move on, but where is that weather window when you need it?

What a difference a day makes.

Ships bridge doublethink

It’s a fine day for motor-sailing, the sea is tranquil and my new sail is performing beautifully. I slip by the bizarre collection of ships anchored outside Gibraltar’s breakwater and wonder at their form and function.

Some are obviously oil carriers but others defy explanation. I’m not the only curious one. The radio (VHF channel 16) is alive with requests from Tarifa traffic control for ships to identify themselves and declare their cargo and intentions. One small mystery is resolved as I overhear a ship (bound for Hamburg) state they are carrying “non hazardous” palm oil (how curious).

On closer inspection I see that many shipping companies have taken to having slogans painted under the bridge. Alongside the traditional “No Smoking”, which kind of makes sense for an oil carrier, are contemporary phrases such as “Protect the environment”, “Avoid pollution” and my favourite; “Dedicated to improve our environment”. Is this a new medium for propagating George Orwellian doublethink? I’d never noticed it before…

Overtaken by a larger yacht

I make for Punta Carnero at a brisk 5 kts determined to make the most of the calm conditions. Hugging the coast (as suggested in the guides), I attempt to extract the most from the westward tidal stream. Moments later I find myself overtaken by a larger yacht. It’s crew choses a course a mile or two from the coast but I stubbornly maintain my puny 2 to 3 cable offing. Within minutes the tables are turned as my impromptu racing opponents encounter the east flowing surface current while I accelerate to over 6.5kts SOG in the shallows. I make the most of our little victory and dance a brief jig in Eileen’s pushpit (Ah, the things you can get away with when sailing alone..). Besides, it’s not every day that a Yarmouth23 gets the better of a larger yacht.

Our speed is so impressive, we reach Tarifa well before my original estimated time of arrival. With plenty of daylight hours remaining there’s no point in stopping so we round the lighthouse, wave to an assemblage of tourists and push on to Barbate.

Through the straits… NOT

Sailing in rough seas

I took care that evening to check up on the weather forecast using my personal SMS weather service and double checked this against NAVTEXT transmissions (via my laptop and HF radio receiver).

I find I can only trust the forecasts on Internet web sites for two days, and sure enough, the situation had changed considerably from my three day old predictions. The heavy rain in what should have been fine weather was what tipped me off ;-), though F5 to 6 instead of 3 should also have given me a substantial indicator.

Near gales despite the weather predictions? Not as unusual as one might expect.

Another forecast check, first thing in the morning, assured me that the conditions would rapidly improve and smooth seas with F3 winds in just the right direction would prevail. I should have paid more attention to what my eyes were telling me and not just what was in the idyllic forecast. It took a full 24 hours before conditions approached what was forecast, and there I was merrily making my way to Tarifa in what turned out to be increasingly turbulent seas.

Here is a copy of the full transmission:

ZCZC GE41
21 0710 UTC MAR 10
WEATHER BULLETIN

NR/ESTF8707/10
ROUTINE

SPANISH METEOROLOGICAL AGENCY
WEATHER AND SEA BULLETIN FOR HIGH SEAS ON 21MAR10
1.- NO GALE WARNINGS FOR OUR ZONES
2.-GENERAL SYNOPSIS AT 00 UTC AND EVOLUTION.
LOW OF 982 SOUTH OF ICELAND ALMOST STATIONARY LITTLE CHANGES.LOW OF 1014 AT 35N 45W MOVING EASTWARDS AS FAR AS  SW OF AZORES.NO CHANGES.HIGH OF 1026 CENTERED BETWEEN AZORES AND MADEIRA, MOVING NORTHEASTWARDS AND DECLINING.HIGH OF 1028 CENTERED IN N OF LIBIA MOVING SLOWLY EASTWARDS AND DECLINING , SPREADING AS FAR AS WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN, AT FIRST WITH 1022 BUT 1018 AT THE END.
3.-FORECAST VALID UNTIL 21MAR10 AT 2400 UTC.
SAO VICENTE:IN NW , N 4 TO 5 ELSEWHERE VARIABLE 2 TO 3 INCREASING TO NNW 4 LOCALLT N 5 BY AFTERNOON.SMOOTH INCREASING TO SLIGHT .SHOWERS.
CADIZ:VARIABLE 2 TO 3 BUT IN EASTERN SE 3 TO 5 AT FIRST, DECREASING TO VARIABLE 2 TO 3.SLIGHT TO MODERATE IN EASTERN AT FIRST DECREASING TO SMOOTH IN ALL THE AREA.SHOWERS AT FIRST.
ESTRECHO:E 3 TO 5 DECREASING TO E 3.SLIGHT DECREASING TO SMOOTH.SHOWERS AT FIRST.
CASABLANCA:N AND NW 4 TO 5 BECOMING NE, WITH VARIABLE 2 TO 4 IN NE UNTIL NOON.SMOOTH TO SLIGHT.SOME SHOWERS.
AGADIR:N AND NW 4 TO 5 BECOMING NE INCREASING TO N 5.SMOOTH TO SLIGHT INCREASING TO MODERATE.
ALBORAN:NW 3 TO .&&)0/+**.8*(*SHOWERS.
PALOS: VARIABLE 2 TO 4 BECOMING WBY AFTERNOON  AND INCREASING TO W AND SW 4 TO 5 AT THE END.SMOOTH LOCALLY SLIGHT.MODERATE IN SHOWERS.
ARGELIA:VARIABLE 2 TO 4 BECOMING  ELY BY AFTERNOON AND SLY AT THE END.SMOOTH LOCALLY MODERATE.

Things went slightly amiss just past Punta Carnero. There is a cardinal marker approximately two miles offshore from the aforesaid headland, and rounding this, under stay-sail and double reefed, my mainsail gave way, unexpectedly tearing itself to shreds.

There is a hole in my mainsail...

Well not quite shreds… two big shreds is perhaps a more accurate description, but not to belabor the point, I can assure you that the sail (in two large shreds or several) was as effectively out of commission. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that bothered by the loss of the sail, (I’d normally be in tears…), after all, it was almost ten years old, and besides, I had a spare… but I really would have appreciated a more opportune time for its demise.

Auxiliary on, new trysail hoisted (it sounds so easy when I write it…), I bounced my way back to Gibraltar.

Below decks, everything that could, had dislodged itself, littering the cabin sole. Outside was no better, as Eileen of Avoca was ‘slipping it green’ and I in turn was slipping all over the place and turning blue from the cold… make that blue-green as I was also feeling decidedly queasy.

Still, matters could have been far worse, I reasoned that all the mess would be sorted out in Gibraltar and since I didn’t have far to go (10 miles at most), I’d soon be ashore finding someone to mend the sail and sourcing parts to repair the now defunct reefing system… Four unpleasant and thoroughly sopping hours later I found that this was an erroneous assumption.

Queensway Quay Marina sent me away, stating they had no room for boats of my dimensions (all taken by permanent residents) and Marina Bay wouldn’t or couldn’t acknowledge my frequent calls over VHF.

So be it… Back to the anchorage at La Linea, where I set about lacing my reserve mainsail and putting matters on board in some semblance of order.

I’ll just give it all another go tomorrow…

Sailing to Gibraltar?

Gibraltar from La Linea anchorage

An 8am start on yet another misty day. Apart from checking the almanac for high tide (in order to catch a complimentary tidal stream), there was not much preparation required (from a navigational standpoint ), to reach Gibraltar. I aimed for the big rock to the south and tried not to get hit by, or run into (as vessels are mostly anchored), any shipping.

Taking the compulsory snapshot of ‘the captain’ with Gibraltar in the background, I then headed for the anchorage at La Linea, bypassing Gibraltar to forgo clearing customs.

I don’t like the smell here… What with the Spanish refinery to the west, the airport jet-fuel vapors to the east and an armada of tankers surrounding Gibraltar, it’s no wonder the air and water is thick with the scent of odoriferous chemicals.

The view of “the rock”, is, by contrast, superb.

On to Estepona

Life vest found at sea

On a smooth gray sea I motored to Estepona. Visibility was poor, but I did manage to see enough to catch a discarded life vest as it drifted by. No markings anywhere and thankfully no shipwrecked individual still clinging to it.

Eileen motored on through the mist, at one point emerging amongst a ‘flotilla’ of resting sea gulls. Taking flight, they squawked angrily, and circled with what appeared to be the express intention of bombarding me with excreta. I managed to dodge most of it, but Eileen was less fortunate!

Arriving at Estepona’s visitors quay, I was courteously met and assisted with securing Eileen. The staff then accompanied me to the marina office where I completed the usual formalities (passport, insurance, boat registration papers), and paid what amounted to twice the daily rate of Fuengirola. Their saving grace however, was the welcoming gift of a bottle of local table wine. Aha!, an obvious ploy to win me over and trivialize the price hike. :)

Estepona is well serviced with chandlers, sail makers, night clubs and restaurants. Supermarkets are also just a short walk away, but I did not need or care to venture into town. Having made the most of my complementary gift, I opted instead for an early night.

Something to write home about

Smartly dressed dog

While many of my emails to marinas on my route (requesting the availability of a berth), are either ignored or given short thrift (i.e. “go away.. you are too small a boat to bother with”…take note Italy and Gibraltar!), it was an unexpected pleasure to deal with the small boat  friendly and professional staff at Fuengirola.

For what it’s worth, the marina gets my enthusiastic recommendation. It’s inexpensive (7.45 a night with electricity and WiFi), secure, well managed, and situated in a real town!

And while I’m unashamedly giving plugs for the city:

If you see this smartly dressed dog, be sure to say hello to her very simpatico owners for me!

If you fancy dining on authentic Italian pizza (not the popular Spanish equivalent that’s made of cement and seemingly flattened by a steam roller), then seek out this establishment.

Best Pizza in Fuengirola

I admit to having cravings for pizza while cruising. If I could fit a pizza oven on Eileen, I’d be in gastronomic heaven, but alas I have to make do with a plastic box for germinating alfalfa sprouts… Not quite the same, but I’m trying to convince myself that it’s a far healthier substitute.

Oh, and if you’d rather frequent a locals establishment (for drinks and tapas), go no further than ‘La Fonda’ (opposite the bus station). You will undoubtedly be well looked after.

All of which made my stay in Fuengirola grand. I liked it so much, I went to fetch my mother and inflicted a weeks holiday (with me) on her. I even bullied her aboard Eileen to endure a day-sail / fishing trip and have the photographic evidence to prove it!

Where are the fish?

Our amateurish attempts to harvest the seas bounty here were however, frustrated by one small issue. The complete lack of fish to be caught anywhere near La Costa del Sol.

I’m told by a reliable source that the local ‘sports fishermen’ now often resort to accidentally having their lines stray into fish farm enclosures to guarantee that catch. Is this so that they can return home with enough bounty to justify the cost of taking out the diesel dollar guzzler… I mean… the leisure cruiser?

No surprise given that trawlers by the dozen sieve the sea of everything edible, leaving nothing but plastic bags, bottles and assorted junk in their wake.

I might have to wait until I reach the Atlantic before I can catch another meal, but the lure goes into the water despite the dismal prospects.