When we were planning our four day jaunt west along the Spanish coast from Almerimar although the wind was a consideration, uppermost in our mind were orcas. You may or may not have seen headlines about yachts being ‘attacked’ by pods of orcas over the past couple of years with some serious consequences. Rudders are their prime target and even fish boats have not been immune. Vessels have needed a tow into harbour though thankfully no crew have been injured.
Orca are large members of the dolphin family and hunt in pods for tuna. Off the Atlantic coast the orca follow the tuna as they leave the Med after spawning and head north. As the summer progresses interactions are reported further up the coast and into the Bay of Biscay. The Spanish set nets at right angles to the coast south of Cadiz to catch the tuna, which in turn attracts the orca in May and June. The Iberian Orca Research website plots the so called interactions that have been reported month by month for the past couple of years and makes worrying reading. There is a FB group too where yachties report their experiences, many pass through the area without an issue but even half a dozen major incidents a month is enough to cause us to worry and plan.
Over recent months the cruising community has formulated a strategy to avoid the orca. The tuna feed in water deeper than 20m so by avoiding the tuna and sailing inshore of the 20m contour line boats have successfully passed through the area from Cadiz to Gibraltar. The only obstacle to this are the nets which force boats to pass around their offshore end with the exception of the one at Barbate where it is possible to sail around the inshore end close to the harbour wall. One look at the chart for the whole of this coastline tells a navigator that this entire route from Gibraltar around Tarifa and Cape Trafalgar to north of Cadiz is full of sandbanks and other obstacles – it’s a route to do in daylight hours with good weather under engine.
Thursday 1st June
After delayed flights for all the crew and a patient taxi driver who drove us at the speed to light along the motorway the 200km from Malaga to Almerimar so we would be in time to get a very late supper, the three of us, Kevin, myself and daughter Maddy tumbled into bed at gone midnight. The next morning we hoisted the genoa, dashed around the supermarket and claimed back the €20 deposit on toilet keys. By 11:30 Temptress was motoring out of the marina heading west to Portugal. Gibraltar is 130 nautical miles or about twenty four hours sailing away, Lagos, Portugal another day or so beyond.
The weather forecast not the orca danger was uppermost in our mind. Though initially the morning had been hot and sunny, high wispy cloud was covering the skies rapidly forming a halo round the sun, wind on the way. By early afternoon chilly wind and seas were building directly from where we were headed. Despite having the mainsail up with a couple of reefs for extra drive in addition to the engine, lumpy big seas and a headwind from the southwest made progress slower and slower until Temptress was making just one knot over the ground. Time to find a refuge. Motril was a further 25 nautical miles west and we’d just passed Adra. The decision was easy, a night in Adra it was.
Friday 2nd June
After supper, we set the alarm for 2am and 4am in case the wind calmed down overnight as it had during our last passage making a month or so ago. At 2am it had but not much so the alarm at four was turned off and the crew slept soundly until seven. The new day had much less wind and in turn we were less ambitious than the day before, Motril or possibly Marina del Este a further 15 nm along were our goal.
We set off motoring a couple of miles off the coast on a SW’ly course. During the morning the wind built and the sea began to get a little rougher. Having hoisted the main with a couple of reefs to get some drive through the waves, we tacked onto starboard and headed out away from the headland. The land here is so high that the acceleration effect on the wind is felt a long way out. With less wind and beyond the point a better wind angle we were able to tack again and lay Marina del Este whilst still making a reasonable average speed. From time to time a rogue wave would stop the boat and send water flying back along the deck, sometimes crashing over the sprayhood, ensuring at least one unlucky crew got a soaking. However the sun shone and we remained in good spirits. By mid afternoon we were tied up along side the reception pontoon where we remained overnight as there were no suitable berths free in this narrow marina. Expensive at €65 (it did include a bottle of cheap white wine) but a pleasant enough spot.
Temptress has been here before, twenty years ago. Back then there were mostly sailing boats tied up, today it’s mostly small to medium motor day boats in amongst the palm trees and bougainvillea. Many of shops and cafes are vacant as is the hotel on the waterfront. There are a couple of pizzerias, a fancy Spanish restaurant where we had supper, a chandlery selling towable toys like doughnuts but not useful bits like the loo pump Temptress needs, and two diving schools.
Some of the buildings that are arranged in terraces up the steep hillside appear to be in the process of a renovation but many are tatty, their peeling plaster exteriors red with Saharan dust. Overall the place has an air of decline though the waterfront is pretty. There are new builds going up just to the north of the marina entrance overlooking a tiny beach, a small but busy boat yard by the marina entrance and everyone we’ve met has been friendly.
Twenty years ago Temptress’ crew made a second visit here without our boat, to sail friend Richard’s boat to Barcelona. He had left Dolfjin here for a few winter months and whilst onboard been entertained by the antics of a foursome who frequented a quayside cafe. Quite what the relationship was Richard hadn’t exactly worked out. One couple were from a boat just along from his, the other from a villa up the hill. It took Will a morning sitting in the cafe (for Wi-Fi access), to fathom it. One former husband and wife sipping their coffees, were arguing over the ownership of a cat. Basically from the four of them, it appeared two new relationships had formed. Forever more Marina del Este has been referred to by us as that “wife swapping marina”.
Saturday 3rd June
By lunchtime on Saturday, we’d bought a couple of litres of UHT, missed off our shopping list in Almerimar, and Kevin had braved the chilly water (17 Deg) to scrub the log’s paddle wheel. Then, having consulted as many weather sources as we could, we assembled a plan for the next day or two. Maddy is flying home from Malaga tonight being the safest option to ensure she is in work next week, as if we only reach Gibraltar, there are no seats on flights to the UK until Tuesday. As for Temptress we will attempt to leave late this afternoon as the winds are forecast to become lighter overnight. More importantly the forecast remains light through Sunday which all being well, will see us through the Straits of Gibraltar and able to traverse the ‘Orca zone’ by the inshore route in daylight hours on Sunday. From north of Cadiz we plan to head west to reach Lagos by the early hours of Monday morning.
After lunch in one of the pizzerias, Maddy packed whilst the naviguesser finalised waypoints for a bit of coastal hopping as the winds may even be a light north easterly inshore overnight. Then the mince was cooked with some veg into a sauce for pasta, enough for two meals for two. We said farewell to Maddy whose taxi is due at seven and by half three were motoring out of the marina.
Beyond the headland the sea was lumpy. The wind was as forecast from the south west, F3-4. We alternated tacks roughly averaging progress towards the first way point trying to find a more comfortable angle to the waves. It’s wearing to be constantly bumped around, moving about below decks is a challenge and though the aft cabin provides a snug space for the off watch, sleep is often broken by the rough movement. We were thankful the evening meal had mostly been prepared prior to going to sea.
Sometimes the waves relented, other times Temptress was bashing into them at a snails pace but somehow by midnight Malaga and Torrmolinos were behind us. Once around the corner at Punta Calaburros, just forty odd nautical miles remained to reach Gibraltar’s Europa Point where Temptress would leave the Mediterranean and be in the Atlantic for the first time since 2013.
Sunday 4th June
Sunday morning 6am, on watch again. After a few delays Maddy arrived safely in Dublin and is now boarding her second flight of the night to Birmingham. It seems we will be making a similar journey shortly as the weather is all wrong for us. Overnight except on brief spell off Malaga when the wind whistled down between the mountains as a north westerly, it’s been south west becoming more westerly as we sailed south. Now off Sotogrande some eight nautical miles north of Europa Point, the seas are flat as we are only a couple of miles off the coast, the main is cracked off a bit and Temptress’ speed is a respectable 7.5 knots through the water. Dawn was spectacular with red skies, not a good omen. The forecast according to Windy (and most other sources) is for a minimum of Westerly F3-4s through the straits and winds from the north down the coast on the other side! This may well be the end of the trip for us but we remain optimistic.
Finally a decent sailing breeze arrived but we have under an hour to go til Europe Point! I can’t be bothered as watch keeper to unfurl the jib for such a short time so Temptress will continue as a motorsailer for the time being. Lovely flat seas too.
It’s been a challenging few days, around 160nm covered, most of which was over the last eighteen hours. The weather has been warm and sunny but the wind almost continually a force four from the west or south west kicking up big and often confused seas. Last nights passage tactics worked as by following the coast we benefited from the lee of the land and eventually after midnight the seas moderated, though being in shallower waters, fishing pot markers posed a risk at times.
By 09:00 we were checking in to Alcaidesa Marina, La Linea, just north of Gibraltar where we received a friendly welcome. Afterwards we replenished the 120litres of fuel we’d used and motored round to Temptress’ berth for the next few weeks. Our first task after breakfast was to book flights back to the UK; though both EasyJet and BA fly from Gibraltar, the former had no seats left at all for several days and the latter was far too expensive at over two grand for return flights. The skipper eventually managed to book one way EasyJet seats direct to Belfast International from Malaga for Wednesday afternoon. All that remains is to find transport to the airport. The extra few days will give us an opportunity to consume the remaining fresh provisions onboard though we intend to walk into Gibraltar one evening for a meal, for old times sake.