March 2002 – Adventures in Spain

Having arrived back at San Antonio Abad, the next two nights were spent at anchor but our idyll was soon shattered. Late on Friday 1st we were puzzled why, when the evening was so still that the harbour was like a mirror, there seemed to be a bit of a swell working its was in. In the early hours we began to find out, Temptress began to rock and roll as the wind blew in from the North West (the open direction of the harbour) needless to say it wasn’t forecast. By 6:30am it was blowing F6 and gusting more. We weren’t dragging our anchor at all but to say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement. The Skipper said we should head for the Yacht Club pontoons across the harbour as at least they offered some protection by the ferry quay to the north of them. As we approached rather cautiously, the only spot was bows-to on the north side of pantalan 4. Boats, like planes, need to “land” into the wind otherwise you approach the pontoon too fast with no real means of braking so the approach was hairy.

A word of explanation for those unfamiliar with boating in the Mediterranean: here bow-to or stern-to moorings are the norm so the boat is a right angles to the pontoon rather than alongside as is usual in the UK. A usually barnacle-encrusted muddy line attached to the pontoon enables you to pick up a mooring line. Once this is attached to the end of the boat furthest from the pontoon and pulled tight it holds the boat away from the pontoon. So here we are backing into the berth with wind blowing us in, fenders out on all sides (our new neighbours are two large steel motorboats), including one on the stern. Fortunately all Med Yacht Clubs have marinaro’s (bosuns) who assist every berthing and are generally helpful with info on laundrette, restaurants and more.

Here was no exception; the Marinaro waiting on the pontoon spoke some English and immediately became part of the team, handing Susie the pickup line and taking the stern lines from Will as Kevin fought to control Temptress’s backward motion with the engine (dodgy as the pickup line and the propeller are rather too close for comfort). Despite our best efforts we veered off sideways to port so Will & Susie had to fend us off the large white motor-cruiser, leaving Kevin to go forward and tighten further the mooring (the pickup line had led to a very heavy chain which needed our anchor winch to pull it tight). Meanwhile Temptress skittered backwards once more towards the pontoon, Will dashed to the engine controls and surged us forward again. The Marinaro asked for a line from our starboard midships cleat which he tied further down the pontoon – at last sideways movement was prevented and with the front and back secure we were safely in the berth, it was blowing F7 by now. It had taken us only about half an hour but it seemed like a lot longer. The weather was predicted to get worse.

Friday had been one of those public holidays that seem to catch up on you at the worst moments in Spain. Despite knowing that Spain does “Bank Holidays” without any announcement we were unprepared for March 1st! Early on in the morning Kevin took the dinghy to visit the Finnish couple (we had jokingly asked ourselves on our way in whether they were still here see Feb above) only to find that March 1st is a National Holiday in the Balearics. There had been no sign of the impending holiday although our Spanish calendar does actually have the day in green as “Balaerics Day”. Unlike the UK, holidays here mean a complete shut down of businesses, schools and shops.  A walk round “San An” resulted in a copy of the Daily Mail (it was either that or the Mirror) a loaf of bread and three meat pies for lunch plus two birthday cards and a gift wrapped present. It’ll be UHT milk on the cornflakes in the morning.

Therefore on Saturday, once we’d recovered from our struggle to tie up, we headed off for first the Yacht Club office (where we found a group of members discussing the recent VHF weather forecast which was at complete odds with what was actually happening) and then a supermarket. As we arrived back we bumped into, on the pontoon, crew from a “200 a 2” committee boat which had retreated from the worsening weather off the south of Ibiza. Soon after a race boat came in – they had decided to retire rather than do the return leg to the mainland. We definitely were not going to go anywhere today. Kevin took himself off to the “British Pub” (yes that really was its name) to watch the rugby.

Sunday’s NAVTEX forecast was for NW F3-4 with more northerly winds or even north easterlies later. As, after some debate on our next port, we’d decided to head north-east to the mainland rather than east to Mallorca, it seemed a good time to leave. In fact in the harbour at lunchtime it was blowing from the South-east. A supper of chilli con carne was prepared before we left and it was a good sail all the way with 2 hours watches started at 7 pm. By 6:30 am the following day we were tied up snugly in San Carles de la Rapita. Entering the harbour had given the Skipper a few worries though – he took a look at the map in the Pilot book and decided it was too shallow to enter safely, a view not shared by the navigator who had read the text in the Pilot book. In fact a well-lit channel to the cement works a mile or so west of the harbour and good lights on the harbour wall made the approach simple despite depths of only 5-8 metres over most of it. What a huge harbour it was once inside; acres of sheltered water with the only occupants a few yachts, four deep-sea tugs and a lot of fishing boats looking rather lost in it. They obviously didn’t get that many visitors and were surprised to see us. The marinaro woke us up and took our papers at around 8am then left us to sleep, “come to the office when you are ready”. The town was pleasant without anything of note.  On a grey and overcast Tuesday morning after filling up with diesel and water we left heading towards Barcelona.

The log records that we left at 11:46 and at 13:00 we made the decision that it was too cold and wet to spend a night at sea so the naviagator made a quick update of the course on the chart plotter and we headed instead for Tarragona. It was pouring with rain but little wind. The waters from the Ebro Delta had turned the sea an odd creamy turquoise colour only returning to a more normal Mediterranean blue north of the actual river mouth. As we headed north the wind rose and we sailed. After 30 mins of so they died away and we resumed motoring. By 3 pm the wind was sufficient to sail again, by half past we had the 2nd reef in and had rolled up a bit of the jib as it was gusting F7. An hour later and we worked to let the sail out again only to have to reef again within 20 minutes as the wind rose to a F6 and veered northwards. By then it was obvious the wind was coming from almost the direction we needed to go so we rolled up the jib and motor sailed.  Soon the winds were gusting over 30 knots and life became uncomfortable as the 1-2 metre high waves were coming in from the East and breaking over the beam wetting anyone who dared venture aft of the sprayhood. The wind was cold and the black clouds ahead were ominous. Then it rained, we put in the 3rd reef which reduces Temptress’s huge mainsail to storm-sail size and altered course slightly to give a better angle to the ever growing waves. Will had long ago retreated to his bunk with a good book leaving Kevin and Susie on deck in lifejackets and their harnesses clipped on. The wind rapidly reached F8 and our speed over the ground was reduced to under 4 knots – progress past Cabo Salou just to the west of Tarragona was painfully slow. Beyond the headland the waves eased a little and we slowly motored along the outside of the huge harbour wall peering into the murk for the lights of the Puerto Esportiou (the marina for visiting yachts which is outside the main docks). The entrance being very narrow and with little room inside we decided to take what remained of the sail down outside – we simply tied it quickly to the boom using an oddment of rope rather than struggle with the zipped cover that usually keeps it tidy. Tied up alongside and showered three relieved and hungry sailors devoured pizzas in a restaurant all of 30 yards from the boat then retired to bed.

Tarragona is a wonderful city. In addition to the usual churches and Moorish remains it is absolutely full of roman ruins including an ampitheatre, a roman circus (an indoor chariot race track) and the forum (main square). The marina is on the other side of the railway (station announcements can be heard from the cockpit) to the city. Relatively new. it has restaurants and night clubs on two sides, a very high sea wall on the third and the outer wall of the docks across the bottom.

The following morning we discovered that the other boats on the ‘pantalan’ were two Brit motor-boats and a Canadian catamaran (47 feet of catamaran which dwarfed Temptress who is the same length but only a third of the width). They were a friendly bunch who had been there all winter and, we suspect, were desperate for someone new to converse with.  Temptress’s crew were invited to join them for a birthday supper at the pizzeria. A great night was had by all and the following day we bade adieu to our new friends and headed off for Barcelona. The forecast was for North or North-Easterly F3-5 with showers. To begin with the winds were light from the West so we motored and eventually motored all day in the same light winds. The coast was rocky with little of interest except the trains running in and out of tunnels on the coastline to Barcelona. It was grey and a bit damp so all in all we were glad to see the harbour entrance.

In Tarragona we were warned that Barcelona harbour has a new bridge that isn’t in the Pilot Guide. The harbour is several miles long with the marinas in the northern end, furthest from the entrance. Off the entrance the main sail was taken down whilst waiting for a couple of large ro-ro’s to enter and then we followed them in. Yes, there was the bridge gleaming white with just 17.5m clearance – we need 23m minimum. Kevin called Barcelona Port Control on the radio as we had no idea how to get it to open for us. They said to call the marina. The Pilot Guide advised use VHF 9 for the marina – no reply…Kevin called Port Control again – ‘It’s changed to VHF 68’. Eventually a nice lady at the Bridge Control told us that the bridge opens at 16:30 for 10 minutes everyday and as it was now 16:20  we hung around just off HMS Fearless (whose crew gave us cheery waves on spotting our red ensign). The road traffic stopped, the bridge opened on time and Susie steered us through. A team of marinaros met us on the pontoon so we were soon tied up and plugged into both electricity AND telephone. Although we don’t actually have a telephone on board, the latter item meant that we could plug in our laptop and spend some time updating our website (ED 2010: now sadly defunct).
Barcelona – how to describe it? – full of tourists, sophisticated, elegant, loads of beautiful buildings. Both Kevin and Susie have been here with work and it is one of our favourite European cities. The locals know both how to work hard and how to party; many go straight to work on Monday morning from the night-club. There are hundreds of restaurants and night-clubs – between Port Vell and the main esplanade is a peninsular containing two yacht clubs and a huge modern complex with IMAX, aquarium, cinemas, trendy shops, eateries and night-clubs. A short walk through Barcelonetta (the old fishing quarter) is Port Olympic, another marina surrounded on three sides with yet more places to eat, drink and dance the night away. Barcelona has its downsides as with any big city, Barcelonetta is not a place to walk at night and Port Vell is not only currently upgrading its security gates but has the most obvious security guard presence we’d seen in any marina; truncheons and radios hanging from their belts. One of the handy phrases on a marina handout is “Ladron en mi barco” = “there is a thief on my boat”.

On Friday the three of us did a bit of sight seeing and visited the Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s masterpiece. Only in Spain could a building site become a world-famous tourist attraction “the cathedral” was begun in the 1880’s and today is only just half finished. The front which Gaudi lived to see almost completed (he was run over by a  tram in 1929) has several huge towers like upside down ice-cream cones. Climbing the 400 or so steps up inside these gives the most wonderful views over the city. Kevin was not so keen though when he found that the route included a walkway high up between the two tallest towers!

After partying over the weekend (Maddy, Phil and Will managing to stay out until 6am), on Monday we decided to go sailing. Well more of a drift really until even our new crew decided that it was too frustrating. On with the engine again motoring westwards to Villanova i la Geltru home to a large Pirelli cable factory. Having walked up past the factory and wondered what sort of town this could be – a tourist map in the marina described it as “romantic” – we discovered a lovely old town with elegant squares and narrow streets. It was around 7pm so everywhere was bustling, the shops open and the locals just walking and gossiping as is the Spanish custom. We bought new chopping boards and some bread before returning to the boat for supper. The following morning Maddy & Phil found a supermarket and acquired the makings of a BBQ then we motored west again finding a quiet bay some 16 miles away to drop the hook in. Our first BBQ lunch of the year. Later we decided it was too rolly to stay the night and continued on to Tarragona. As the weather didn’t seem to offer anything more than motoring for a few days and as it was rather overcast too, our visitors decided a trip inland was called for. We browsed through the guide books; on the train line to Llieda were a couple of monasteries and the countryside was recommended. A quick trip to the station revealed that the only train from Tarragona didn’t leave til 13:00 and the next one back was the following morning! Valencia was chosen instead – Will decided not to come, so four of us hurried down to the station. “Sorry sir the train is fully booked” crestfallen faces,”however you can take that train leaving in two minutes, its slower but it is going there”. Boy was it slow – 3 hours including a trip up a branchline and back. We took the precaution of booking seats on the 20:00 express back as soon as we arrived. It was Fallas time. The Valencians spend all year building 30-40 foot high papier-mache statues which they set fire to on March 19 – during the week before these are assembled on street corners and every afternoon there is a ten minute “display” of noise in the town square (large bangers are set off) – the city comes to a halt for a couple of hours as a result.

Another night of partying on Friday, this time in Tarragona’s night clubs and then on Saturday afternoon, after our guests had caught the train back to Barcelona for their flight home, Temptress set sail once more. We had fancied a couple of longer passages reaching Gibraltar for the weekend. Well, we did arrive in Gib on Friday evening but not exactly as planned. Our first planned stopover was supposed to be Cartegena two days sail south. As it was, Sunday afternoon found us motoring straight into the wind and the waves – it was only F2 but very uncomfortable so we altered course and headed into Calpe for the night, having sailed for some 24 hours and covered 160 nautical miles. The next morning we filled up with diesel and headed onward. All morning the wind was up and down; now full sail and half an hour later 2 or 3 reefs in. Eventually in the afternoon the wind became more settled and guess what? It went round to dead ahead with waves to match. The slapping and banging was just too much so we put into Alicante – unlike our last visit and despite only being there for one night we were given a berth, so had to move from the reception pontoon. Early (7am) the following day it was totally still; time to go. By 8 am we could sail and did so most of the day. Off Cabo Santa Pola it was gusting F7 but soon dropped again as we pulled away from the headland. Late afternoon found us motoring round Cabo Palos some 50 miles south of Alicante. Cabo De Gato was on a course of 230 degrees now so we carried on motoring south-west passing Cartegena. That evening we lost our fishing gear – a brand new lure in the shape of an 18cm silver and red fish that we had been promised virtually guaranteed a big tuna – well it probably did but we never saw it!

In the wee small hours of Wednesday the log records “FOG” – what an understatement. All day the greyness lasted. The sun beat down on us but apart from upwards we were surrounded by pale grey, damp wallpaper. Sun-bathing in the fog in shorts and t-shirts is very odd.

At night we usually have one watchkeeper and two asleep, swapping round every two hours giving the sleepers 4-hour stretches in their bunks. The watchkeeper wears a lifejacket and harness at all times, clipping on to the boat before leaving the safety of the companionway. If sail handling is required or the watchkeeper simply needs another pair of eyes, they wake up the new watch early. In fog however, it takes two to watch – one on deck listening every often (with engine in neutral) and sounding the horn if shipping is close, one long every 2 minutes unless we are actually sailing. The second watchkeeper (usually the Skipper) stares at the radar screen, tracking objects around us and uses the remote for the auto-pilot to steer us. Briefly during the day the fog lifted, snowy mountain tops came into view as did villas along the beach. A glance at the radar as the fog closed in again showed four or five small boats stationary directly ahead of us. As we altered course around the first of them the visibility improved momentarily, a white object attached to a round pink fender; what on earth was a small boat doing fishing out here? Closer inspection revealed not a boat but a very large white plastic canister. The next dot on the radar proved to be similar and then we spotted a rather tatty day boat with two occupants in white oilies (including sowesters!) hauling in another canister. It looked rather fishy (pardon the pun) – drug smuggling or simply cheap tobacco, we didn’t stop to ask.

Eventually that afternoon we gave up the battle. After over 24 hours at sea the prospect of another night with visibility less than 100 yards seemed rather grim. Changing course we headed for Marina Del Este somewhere on the Costa Del Sol. By following the 40 meter contour we thought we could find the entrance regardless of the fog. In fact the fog lifted as we closed the land to reveal a fishing boat slowly motoring across us from our port side � he was trawling. We altered course to starboard � no joy so we stopped and waited for him to pass, he stopped � impasse. We altered course massively to port and as we started forward once more the �Maria Lopez of Motril� began reversing! There was no way we could get round behind him so we stopped again. The seagull flock that had been following the trawl settled down on the water ahead of the trawler. Will pointed out that he was probably pulling in the trawl net � resulting in backwards movement � correct. Eventually we turned again to starboard and passed ahead relieved that at least we�d been able to see him and weren�t relying on radar and our ears for navigation.

Soon we were tying up just three boats from Dolfijn. Quiet at last without the engine on. As we approached the land the fog had cleared to a slight haziness and in the marina it was glorious sunshine � too hot even. In 32.5 hours we had (mostly) motored some 208 nautical miles. The pretty marina was 2 miles over hill from the nearest shops and several more from the nearest town, Almunecar. We spent two lazy days there doing little beyond walking to the village market over the hill to buy some veg, meat and fish, Kevin took a swim and we just generally rested in the warm sunshine. Snuggled at the bottom of a rocky hill with a large lump of rock some 80 or 90 feet tall forming part of the sea wall we had found ourselves a friendly suntrap that was difficult to leave even though we discovered on Thursday morning that the mains water had been �cut off� (by builders working further up the hill) at about the same time as Temptress� water tanks ran dry. Fish Stew al la Temptress � soften some onion, thin sticks of carrot and courgette in a little olive oil with some dill, freshly ground black pepper and garlic. Add half a pint or so of white wine and a seafood stock cube and bring to the boil � simmer for 5 minutes or so until the veg is almost cooked. Add one firm white fish fillet cut into chunks and simmer gently for a few minutes more. Add half a kilo of clams and then quarter a kilo of fresh prawns. Stir and add a little water and salt if necessary. Once the clams and prawns are cooked (5 minutes is probably all they�ll need) serve on a bed of spaghetti.

Friday 22nd March dawned bright and still � there was still a residue of fog to sea so we stayed fairly close to the coast. No wind meant motoring again � no problem except that mid-morning George (the autopilot) took ill � very sick. At first it beeped occasionally saying �no main power� an intermittent problem we have had on and off since our first Bristol Channel passage. Eventually despite turning George off and on, resetting the trip switch and other usually helpful things we gave up. Susie took over the helming whilst Kevin started a hunt for the problem. Will resigned himself to having his cabin turned upside down again. Temptress� starboard aft cabin is home not only to Will and his two guitars but also to the batteries and any cabling running to things at the back of the boat � autopilot, stern light, GPS and Navtex aerials, wind generator, engine controls and more.  Only the night before he�d had to vacate whilst Kevin packed away a newly acquired dive tank and wet suit in the space under his bunk. Now his bunk mattress and lee board were removed again as was the panel to the service area under the cockpit plus the cupboards emptied�. The saloon looked like a complete mess. Eventually the problem was located � the power cable from the �computer� of the autopilot to the control and display box in the cockpit had come loose. Everything was put back together and George took over the steering once more. Without an autopilot life on board would be so much more difficult � at night we�d need two people on watch one to helm and one to keep look out and navigate – with it one person is sufficient. Helming on long passages is monotonous and very tiring, even more so when motoring � that said we all like to take over when it is exciting.  �Exciting� can mean different things to different people � sleigh rides down wind in force 7�s brings Kevin or Will to the helm, Susie enjoys beating in moderate breezes when trying to get the best possible performance is a challenge for a boat with a large fixed propeller and some of our guests have insisted on helming under sail in almost flat calms � very odd!

Mid afternoon and still no breeze � the diesel is beginning to get low and a quick calculation shows we�ve probably not enough to get us to Gib as we are fighting 1 or 2 knots of current now we�re closer to the Straits. (The myth that the Med has no tides is untrue � it does but they are very small. What does make a difference though is the wind and the Straits of Gibraltar, both of which set strong currents). We check the charts and the pilot guide � Marbella, heart of the Costa del Sol is close so we alter course by 50 degrees to starboard and head north-west. An hour or so later and we�ve 100 litres more diesel. A casseroled chicken supper was eaten at sea (this followed on from chicken pies for lunch � we know how to eat a varied diet!) and we eventually anchored a hundred yards or so north of the Gibraltar runway soon after 11pm. Saturday brought washing, replenishing stores of fresh food and bread plus stocking up on things we know will be difficult to find before we return to the UK � Ribena, catering size piece of Cheddar cheese (�6.50 for 2kg), Hellmans mayonnaise, Dettol and IntensiveCare Hand and Nail Cream. The laundry we took for a service wash (3 machine loads � how can three people create so much dirty washing in just eight days?) and the shopping took two trips � the little Tescos just behind the marina and then a walk to the huge Safeways on Queensway for the things they didn�t have. It was HOT � too hot to stay in the sun for long and so hot that the decks couldn�t be walked on barefoot � Kevin went to watch the rugby whilst Will and Susie retreated to the shade of the saloon (the latter after a trip to M&S for a shopping fix). We have a new gadget � a windscoop � a tall triangle of spinnaker material that is hung over a forward hatch (a length of doweling holds it in place) and set facing the breeze to direct it into the boat� it actually works and cools the interior nicely. The only problem on Saturday was a lack of breeze until early evening. After Will cooked supper we settled down to a game of mahjong.

Sunday morning dawned a little misty. We weren�t certain whether the clocks had gone back � our only info says �last week in March� which we technically were now in. By 9 am it was calm and the sun was beginning to peep through the Levanter cloud hanging round the Rock. A nice Easterly to blow us through the Straits and up to Barbate, the first marina on the Atlantic coast of Spain. We hadn�t even reached the Spanish shore of Gibraltar Bay when Tarifa Traffic Control broadcast their routine weather message. Current weather at Tarifa (the other end of the Straits) � East Gale 8 with fog patches. Huh? It�s only blowing F2 where we are (less than 10 miles away) � we carried on sailing. The Straits funnel the wind � the hills of Spain to the North and the Rif mountains of Africa to the South. By the time Tarifa Lighthouse came in view Temptress had very little sail up and we were still travelling at over 8 knots � it was blowing F8. The sea was a mass of white horses although the waves were actually not that high despite the tide flowing strongly in the opposite direction. It was a glorious downwind sleigh-ride in the sun. We turned the corner and gradually over the next few hours both sea and wind subsided � the last mile or two requiring the iron sail to take us into Barbate. As we motored to a vacant pontoon trying to remember how to moor to a finger berth (our first for several months) familiar voices shouted �Temptress�. There was the crew of Zeehound � they had finally escaped from Sevilla � it was great to see the three of them again. We caught up on the news and met some of the other boats from Sevilla over a few games of cards and wine that evening. Monday morning dawned clear and sunny so it was decided to hold a BBQ on the pontoon that evening inviting everyone to bring some meat and some salad plus what ever their preferred tipple was. Viola and Susie set off on Zeehound�s bikes for the Mercado and a spot of fresh food shopping for the BBQ. David and Kevin later walked to the supermarket armed with rucksacks for wine and beer.

The afternoon was very quiet – Will went gone off with Rene somewhere (Town?) and Kevin visited the American cat �Double Up� to sort out Captain Trish�s PC. Susie prepared food ready for the pontoon BBQ – marinading chicken in orange juice and mango chutney (tastes lovely) and a job lot of veggie kebabs plus some tomato and couscous salad. As artichokes are very cheap (it must be the season), Susie had bought a bag of little ones whilst at the market – cut in quarters and roasted in oil and garlic they were great, cold with the BBQ.

The following morning we hoped to head further up the coast to a little river called Sancti Petri – it is quite remote and the entrance shallow but we wanted to give it a try as it is supposed to be very beautiful. There is a village there but mostly uninhabited. Our guide book says the cause is unclear – either lack of tuna to fish or Franco may have cleared it for military purposes during the 50’s. After that we planned to head for the Portuguese border to meet Annie & Nick on Easter Monday. When we awoke a little late after a BBQ which began at 5pm and ended sometime close to 1am, the Levanter was blowing strongly once more. We returned to our bunks. Will and Rene were sent to replenish the beer supply which they and the American girls had demolished the night of the BBQ, 20 Euros bought 20 litre bottles of Superbock. Later at around 10pm Viola and Susie cycled off to see the second Semana Santa parade in Barbate. A group of us had been to see the first the night before. Two large passeos are carried by 40-50 men each, in a procession accompanied by a group of costumed people looking for all the world like members of the Klu-Klux Klan who’ve forgotten to starch their hats! The priest and some incensor swinging choirboys head the whole procession. The passeo’s start off inside the church, explaining why all the churches in this town have doors thirty or more feet tall. Behind each passeo is a group of penitents in everyday clothes and behind them a brass or wind band. Each passeo is different, the first night a plain wooden one depicted Christ’s suffering on the cross and the other was a silver platform with the Virgin Mary surrounded by candles. The second night the first depicted the Transfiguration, complete with a real tree and the other supported another ornate Virgin surrounded by white flowers. Each night virtually the whole town turns out to follow the procession taking around four hours to slowly follow a route around the parish. One amusing oddity is that in front of each passeo are two costumed people bearing long poles with a V at the top, their job is to lift the power cables high enough for the passeo to pass underneath!

The Hurricane