There was an air of anticipation on board Carina last Sunday morning as we prepared for our passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean. The previous day as we sailed from Cadiz to Barbate, the mountains of Morocco appeared on the horizon to the south. Africa!! We briefly toyed with abandoning our plan and setting a course for Tangiers. We imagined a few weeks in Morocco before getting back on course. But in the end we settled on our original plan. Morocco’s not going anywhere. Maybe we’ll pay a visit later in the year or next spring.
We were delighted to meet our friends aboard Mallemok again. They arrived in Barbate a couple of hours after we did and next morning we set out together for the Straits and the Mediterranean, maintaining radio contact as we went.
It was a calm almost windless day with no possibility of sailing, so we motored along, watching our speed over ground outpace our log speed by one and a half knots, as the current through the Straits caught hold of Carina and sped us along.
Before long Mallemok called to tell us a pod of dolphins had just passed and were headed our way. It had been a long time since we’d last encountered dolphins and these were particularly active. They leaped and splashed, but paid little attention to us, merely passing us going in the opposite direction. It seemed the fishing was good, and a great number of seabirds were diving too.
The mountains on the Moroccan coast grew ever larger and I felt the thrill of seeing Europe and Africa together, in the same view. The wind picked up as we neared Tarifa. Wind speeds at Tarifa, where the Straits narrow to only eight miles, run at 30 knots for three hundred days of the year! We caught it on an only slightly less windy day, passing Tarifa on our northern side, with one of the Pillars of Hercules looming majestic to the south.
There was quite a lot of traffic through the Straits – container and cargo ships – but I had expected more. We were far from the shipping lanes, close to shore, and once we passed Tarifa and entered the Mediterranean the wind abated, as we expected it would.
It is strange to say, but once we were in the Mediterranean the colour of the sky changed. Suddenly, in every direction, the atmosphere close to the horizon was yellow – dust, we assume, from the Spanish Costas or the Sahara Desert or both.
With the current in our favour we sped along and within a couple of hours the Rock of Gibraltar came into sight, appearing more jagged and grey and strange the closer we got.
Traffic in Gibraltar Bay was heavy – fast ferries linking Tangiers to Algeciras in Spain, massive cargo ships, tug boats and pilots, and British naval vessels. We had to slowly pick our way through these, having to stop dead in the water at one point while a cargo ship passed in front of us and a speedy catamaran ferry from Morocco passed behind. At the same time a pod of playful dolphins decided to come and check us out!
As well as the excitement of reaching the Mediterranean, we were also feeling nervous about the passage. For me it was nervousness like the first time I drove a car in Dublin, or around the M25 in London, or the first time I night sailed. Passing through the Straits of Gibraltar we were nervous about the current, about the shipping, and about the traffic in Gibraltar Bay. We needn’t have worried about the first two, and the traffic in the Bay merely required vigilance and patience. But we had one final concern.
Since leaving the UK we’ve known at some point we would have to berth fore and aft, rather than alongside a finger pontoon, as we are used to. There have been marinas where we expected to have to do it, but upon arrival have discovered different berthing arrangements in place. But in Gibraltar we knew there was no escape.
Carina kicks to port when going astern, so reversing is difficult, and reversing into a tight space between two other boats was not something we relished having to do. But when our moment came, we did it. Or rather, Julian did it – I can’t reverse (car or boat) for toffee. Slowly he eased Carina into a space not a foot wider than she is, while I tied us on astern and we quickly picked up mooring lines to the front. Phew. Well, that’s that done and hopefully we’ll feel less nervous about doing it in the next place.
So here we are in the Mediterranean, a mere one hundred and eleven days since leaving Plymouth. We could have flown here in two and a half hours. But that wouldn’t have been half the fun.
As the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote, ‘Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home’.