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.