PALMA, MAJORCA TO PORTUGAL
 

Palma, Mallorca, Spain
On July 9th we flew to Palma, planning to arrive two days before the ship arrived, we wanted to get our bearings on the docks (both commercial, for the unloading and the one where we would be putting the boat) and check customs regulations. Yet again the ship was delayed, this time because of the lack of stevedores in Palma. We could see the ship (and Kelly's Eye) anchored in Palma Bay but could do nothing about it, very frustrating.

With time on our hands we visited the huge Cathedral, the old Royal Palace and the Castle de Bellver. The building of all three was started in the 1300's, and all are spectacular, the workforce must have been of epic proportions. The Cathedral is monster size, we counted twenty one spires of different sizes but think there were more (couldn't tell from the angles we were looking). The palace had a lovely inner courtyard and frescoes in some rooms. Bellver castle had a double moat system that we have never seen before, plus a tower linked by an air bridge and a museum of Palma. All three are 'must see' if you are in the area.

Kelly's Eye was eventually unloaded at 09.00 on the 13th July. To our great relief she hadn't been damaged, the crane driver was extremely careful. Dan (who runs LateSail) had kindly organised a berth for us on one of the charter company's docks. We then worked hard for four and a half days putting the boat back together, reprovisioning and checking systems.

Illetas (Palma), Espalmador, Torrevieja
We left the dock at 11.00 on Friday 17th, stopped at the fuel dock, and motored-sailed (little wind) a few miles to a pretty bay called Illetas. During the day it was full of boats out for a day of sun and swimming, at night it became much quieter. We stayed there for two nights and left at 16.30 for an overnight sail to Espalmador (south of Ibiza). The bay had a sand beach and a few palm trees, it reminded us a bit of the Caribbean.

We spent one night there then left at 08.30 for another overnight sail to Torrevieja on the Spanish mainland (south coast south of Alicante). By now a pattern was emerging, even offshore and out of sight of land the ship and boat traffic was incredible. At one point we had one big ship passing down our port side, another passing on our starboard side and two more directly in front of us. I guess it was living proof that one quarter of the world's shipping traffic passes through the Straits of Gibraltar. We had some really fast sailing on the trip and eventually had to slow down to reach Torrevieja after dawn. By this time we were very tired and decided to stay three nights that turned into four when the wind forecast was for westerlies (we wanted easterlies, so we didn't have to beat our brains out). Torrevieja was not a particularly pretty place and it was full of Spanish tourists. However we had a chance to do laundry and shop and for it to start to sink in that we were really back in Europe.

Torrevieja to Almerimar
On July 26th we left Torrevieja heading overnight to Almerimar (c.140 nautical miles). We had light winds, then no wind, then headwinds and around dawn low cloud and thick mist hiding the land. Apart from the traffic I mentioned earlier you also have to avoid big fish farms and fishing nets, most of which are well lit. Another pattern had now developed: arrive go to bed, pass out; next day wash boat, fix anything that has broken on passage, general maintenance (clean water filters, change engine oil and filter), go shopping; next day more shopping (food, spares), prepare boat for next passage. This time however we stayed for six days waiting again for the wind to switch from west to east.

At this point it still felt a bit strange to be in the Mediterranean after over four years in the Caribbean. We were also finding it extremely hot during the day. The temperature was much the same as the Caribbean but without the humidity, so we expected it to feel cooler. However, in the Caribbean it's windy all the time, which makes it feel cooler, in the Med there is often no wind. Mind you our first taste of fog occurred in Almerimar!

Almerimar to Gibraltar
On Monday 3rd of August we left Almerimar heading for Gibraltar, an overnight passage of one hundred and thirty miles. The highlight of the trip was dolphins, hundreds of them. They came during the day, during the night and we were often surrounded by them coming at us from all directions. One pod would arrive and play on the bow wave, then another would arrive and they would play together for a while, then the first pod would move on. Then another pod would arrive...and so it went on. Absolutely magical.

We arrived in misty Gibraltar at 20.15 the following day after a slow windless passage. It was also a bit tense as we had a lot of current against us at times and were getting concerned that we wouldn't make it in in daylight. There is no anchoring in Gibraltar (although you can go to La Linea) and the marina we were going to puts a boom across the entrance at 21.30 each night blocking entry. Luckily we kept just enough speed up to make it.

We had always wanted to take a boat into Gibraltar partly because of its maritime history but also because I (Jane) used to live there as a teenager. One day we went for a walk to get some tap parts and I showed Mike where my father worked, where my friends lived, where we used to meet etc. When we sailed up the east side we could see where we used to live. Lots of wonderful memories. We also visited the Trafalgar Cemetery. I don't suppose people call a cemetery nice but this one certainly is. It's set against the town fortifications, with wonderful palms and other trees making it shady, cool and very pretty. You will see what I mean in the picture section. It is of course also very sad. Those who were killed at sea in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 were buried at sea, some of those injured were taken to Gibraltar. On the gravestones it says they died of fever which we took to mean wound infection. One of them was only twenty years old.

We also took a three hour trip round the Rock. We stopped at a high point near Europa Point to take pictures of Africa. Then we went into the magnificient St Michael's Cave, a natural cave system. One of the chambers is so big it has been turned into a theatre. The setting is wonderful, surrounded by huge stalagmites and stalagtites. They were playing classical music so we could tell how good the acoustics are. Then we moved on to see the Barbary Apes near the highest point, the little babies are real sweeties. Next were the caves built by the military during the Great Siege. These are quite extraordinary, it took a team of men roughly four weeks to blast out five metres of cave. The various cave systems in Gibraltar (including the one built in the Second World War to provide shelter, a hospital and ammunition store ) are longer than all the roads in Gibraltar! Many men died building the Great Siege caves because of the bad air in the caves, so they decided to blast holes in the side of them to let air in. It was only then that they realised they had the perfect place(s) to mount cannons. Finally we saw the Moorish fort which still bears the scars of being hit by hundreds of cannon balls many centuries ago.

The roads up to Gibraltar heights all have big metal rings set into the rock. These were used to haul cannons up using a block and tackle. Most cannons weigh between two and three tons so it must have been hard work given the steep gradient. The largest cannon, which you can still see, weighs an incredible one hundred tons.

We stayed in Gibraltar for five days and had a really good time. There is a huge Morrison's supermarket there and we found lots of goodies not found elsewhere! One thing we had to do there was plan the next passage carefully. The Gibraltar Straits are renowned for gales, overfalls and strong tides/currents. Numerous boats trying to get through the Straits have had to turn back and seek shelter. The problems are caused by the wind funnelling through the Straits; the permanent current that runs into the Mediterranean fighting the tides; and the tidal height difference between Gibraltar (one metre) and Cadiz (three metres). Tarifa, at the west end of the Straits is one of the wind surfing capitals of the world, which says it all. In some weather conditions it's not a passage for the faint hearted.

We checked all the tide/current data and the weather forecast. Our cunning plan was to leave Gibraltar two hours after high water in light winds from the west, forecast to go east after twelve hours. This would mean motoring against a small current and wind for two hours, then a current behind us for six hours. This would get us past Tarifa.

Gibraltar to Cadiz
We left on Sunday 9th of August and it mainly went to plan. There was no wind in the first half of Gibraltar Bay but it picked up to twelve knots in the second half of the bay. As we rounded the first point it increased to seventeen to nineteen knots gusting twenty four. Then it dropped to no wind a few miles before Tarifa. The only small issues we had were the wind never turned east, it just stayed calm and there were overfalls that had such powerful cross currents that it was difficult to keep the boat on heading. Note: the strongest winds we had were at the eastern end of the straits because the wind was in the west. When the wind is in the east the western end (Tarifa) gets the strongest winds, which tend to be higher.

On the way to Cadiz we passed Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson fought probably the world's greatest sea battle - a place to let your imagination run wild. Strangely we had very little ship/boat traffic once we had rounded Tarifa. Since we would have arrived at Cadiz in the dark we slowed down, finally tying up at 08.25.

The following day we walked from the marina to Cadiz's old town. The walk is along a seawall the latter part of which is part of the original wall of the walled city. The old town is charming in a sort of slightly battered way with narrow streets and five storey buildings each side. Cadiz is another seafarers city, starting with the Phoenicians who settled in 1100BC - which makes it western Europe's oldest city. We visited the cathedral (Nueva), another monster. Building work began in 1722 and took one hundred and ten years to finish, it has an austere interior and a 52 metre high dome. In the crypt is a very large shallow domed ceiling, so shallow that it's difficult to see how it stays up. Also in the crypt is the grave of Manuel de Falla who wrote 'Nights in the Garden of Spain', popularly known as 'Music of the Mountains'.

Cadiz to Rota
On the 13th of August we left Cadiz and sailed six miles to Rota. Unusually Rota is an original Spanish village - no nasty high rise buildings that despoil most of the Spanish coast. There is a wonderful old church and castle next to each other and narrow streets with many cafes and small shops. We were now getting into the rhythms of Spain. In the Caribbean it gets light about 06.00 and dark about 18.00, thus you get up early and go to bed early. In Spain it gets light about 07.30 and fully dark at 22.00. The locals work from about 08.00 to 13.30, then take a siesta and go back to work at 17.30. Some restaurants don't open until 20.30 and the Spaniards don't come out to eat until at least 22.00. So were getting up late c.08.00, don't shower until c.20.00 (it's too hot before then) and go out about 21.00. It's a very pleasnt way of living although for us at first rather odd after so long in the Caribbean.

On the first night in Rota we walked into the village and passed a stage that had been put up, but had no idea what the event might be. After eating we made sure we went back via the stage to see what was happening. The square between the castle and church I mentioned earlier - a beautiful setting - was packed with locals watching Flamenco dancing. We had never seen Flamenco live before and were mesmerised. The troupe was made up of mainly females of all ages, some very young. Interestingly this was proper Flamenco where the dancers don't use castanets (they are for tourists). Then a group of men turned up in the most amazing costumes - Robin Hood knee length boots in camouflage colours with 'leaves' attached; camouflage trousers; green shirts with a big octopus tentacle on the shoulder (err...); and camouflage helmets shaped like a shell. We wondered if our drinks had been spiked. They turned out to be a magnificent choir and two of the tenors were outstanding. The whole show was fantastic and we didn't get back to the boat until 00.30.

One thing you notice as you move west of Gibraltar is that you have entered real Spain. In the Costa del Sol (east of Gibraltar) you can walk one hundred yards and hear people speaking English and many of the locals speak English. The 'All day English breakfast' abounds and it's like little England. West of Gibraltar, the Costa de la Luz, you don't hear English and few of the locals speak it, however there are still many tourists. For example, Rota has a winter population of thirty thousand increasing to sixty thousand in the summer. But almost all of the visitors are from Madrid and Seville. The other change is that the Costa de la Luz (the Coast of Light) lives up to it's name. It's difficult to describe but the air is crystal clear so everything is much brighter to the extent it can hurt your eyes and sunglasses are needed.

Rota to Olhau lagoons
We left Rota on Saturday 22nd of August heading to Olhau lagoons in Portugal, an overnight sail of seventy two miles. The trip was uneventful except we had to slow down again - we wanted to enter the lagoons at low water. If you don't enter at low/high water you can get some very nasty wind against tide overfalls, as we learned the first time we went there. On the way Mike hooked six mackerel, two of which threw the hook, so we ended up with four for dinner. The strange thing is that we had two lines out one with a red and white lure and one with a green and yellow lure, all the mackerel took the green and yellow lure.

We stayed four nights and on a couple of days we walked over the sand dunes to the Atlantic side where there is a wonderful unspoilt beach. We also collected cockles on the lagoon side of the dunes and saw six Storks.

Olhau lagoons to Lagos
On the 27th we day sailed to Lagos in light winds that increased to twenty knots gusting twenty five as we approached Lagos. All sailors know that if you can't keep boat speed up then a strong wind will take over - but you can't dock a boat doing 3 knots. So when we slowed down alongside the reception pontoon the strong cross wind slammed the boat into the pontoon and then started to push the boat backwards, making life difficult for Mike to get the lines on the dock cleats. We felt like a swan crash landing. Later another cruising boat and a sailing school boat (with a large crew) came in and did exactly the same thing. We didn't feel so bad after that.

The first few days were spent reminding ourselves about Lagos, looking our some warmer clothes and a heater (it was pretty cool when the northerly wind blew). We also met some of the other cruisers in Lagos which was fun. I also packed my bags for a three week visit to the UK, the annual tax form preparation, Boat Show visit, see family trip. I had a good if rushed time, but managed to go down with my first cold for five years (all these tourists around I reckon!). While I was away Mike met more fellow cruiser and did loads of odd jobs on the boat. So now we're tucked up waiting for our first cold winter since 2003-2004. It rained with thunder on September 26th, the first rain we have seen since mid-July in St Thomas USVI - horrible.

Kelly's Eye is up for sale so we have loads to clear out and sort. We also hope to take a trip back to Spain, by road, this time. The plan is to go back to the Coto Donana, the nature reserve we first went to in 2004 and also to Jerez and Seville and maybe farther afield.

Odds and ends
Smells. When you sail offshore you are in a sterile environment (no smells) and this has some strange effects. Some people find the smell of some foods (that they eat at home) so strong that that they can't eat them at sea. Another effect is smelling land. As we approached Torrevieja, about ten miles out, there was an overpowering smell of pine trees. It hits you like a wall in a split second and seems to be much stronger than the same smell on land. Approaching land in the eastern Med the smell wall is wild herbs.

Ships anchored offshore. When we were on passage to Gibraltar we passed a number of ships, all in ballast, anchored over twenty miles offshore. To say we found it weird would be an understatement. Only when we read a newspaper in Gibraltar did we find out why. The Spanish have intoduced anchoring charges within their territorial waters and the Gibraltarians recently introduced the same, so the ships anchor offshore.

Gibraltar (commonly known as the Rock). Gibraltar was part of Africa but 'stuck' to Europe when the continents parted. The strange thing is that the Rock is actually inverted i.e. when the parting happenened it was tipped upside down. The force required to do that doesn't bear thinking about.

Eyes, brain and speed. Humans estimate speed by the time it takes an object to travel it's own length. We're all quite good at it because we see many small moving objects. Because we don't see many very large objects on the move we are not good at estimating their speed. Many of the modern ships are over one thousand feet long and when you look at them they appear to be crawling along. Often they are doing around twenty knots. If you see enough of them your brain adapts to their size and you can judge their different speeds.

In all the marinas in all the world... We sold our Avon dinghy in Curaçao last year. It was therefore much to our amazement when we saw it on a yacht three berths down on the other side of our pontoon in Rota.

Sailing. Since we left the UK we've just passed a sailing milestone with Kelly's Eye - we've sailed over ten thousand nautical miles (eleven thousand five hundred and sixty statute miles). To put that into context it's the distance from the UK to Cape Horn plus about five Biscay crossings. During that time we've spent eighty six nights at sea.