Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tunisia to Gibraltar

24th May 2009

Yesterday, the winds appeared in our favor and were set to be at least favorable or calm. There is a big high appearing over Europe with a low over North Africa that is set to produce strong NEasters by early Wednesday morning all the way through Friday to the South West of the Balearic's. We were hoping that we might manage 5.5 to 6 knots if we kept going with engine and then only catch part of the strong winds as they build behind us.

Not so. This morning, the current built to over a knot against us and the wind has headed us such that we are only doing 4 knots. I dialed a higher resolution GRIB for the area affected by the strong winds and it confirmed 30-35 knots in a swath between Cartagena, Africa and Ibiza. Knowing the Gribs, you can always add a few knots to the forecast and we don't want to go there (I checked an old GRIB against the recorded windspeed for our trip across to NZ as a little exercise - for 30 knots please read 35 gusting 40+). So, after much umming and ahhing, we have decided to set a course for Majorca and keep an eye on things. This decision started to materialize when we read Jimmy Cornel's routing guide that suggests keeping off the Algerian coast to keep away from the worst of the Eastbound current. So, hopefully, we will start to lose the current against us and will be snugged in an anchorage waiting to catch the tail-end of whatever is blowing towards the West once it has abated a bit.

It will be a bit of a battle up to Majorca for the next couple of days and we will probably use a lot of that diesel that we bought. Never mind, a bit disappointing but par for the course. Having got rid of the Red Sea, we really want to get the Med over and done with. It is not enjoyable for those on a tight schedule. Then it will only be headwinds and adverse current up the Portuguese coast and we will then be able to get more favorable conditions!!

The Aries seems to have responded to my repairs. I had to hang over the back of Naz after we had got under way to re-mesh the cogs more accurately but it now seems to be working ok. The wooden bit that allows the tiller pilot to operate the aries has been glued together with securing pieces of plywood and also seems ok.

25th May 2009

The weather does not know what it is doing. Or maybe it does and we are the ones who haven't got a clue.

There was no wind to speak of last night and we motored NW to get some Northing in away from the African coast currents and to line ourselves up for a better angle for the next leg. Our destination is still dependent on the winds and we have very mixed information on that front. The GRIB Files show light Westerlies tonight and light Northerlies tomorrow followed by breezy NE Tuesday night. Just right for heading West and aiming for Ibiza and on to the Spanish coastline where we would stop to let the gales die out that are predicted further West.

Navtex has a different spin on things. South of the Balearic's shows NW 4-5 and the outlook says that there is a threat of Gale or severe gale from the NW from Gulf of Lyon to the Balearic. This must be the Mistral effect, a build up of high pressure releasing over the mountains of Europe and flushing into the Med. We are hoping that this threat does not materialize since we would be catching the bottom end of it.

So our plans are changing by the minute and we have a number of options from Mallorca (couple of likely looking anchorages there), Ibiza (some good protection from any direction) and Spain (not many great anchorages but well endowed with marinas). We do not want to go South since we cannot stop in Algeria and we do not want to get into the gales that are forecast to the West of us. These have increased in the GRIB forecast to 35 knots (read 40++).

26th May 2009

Thankfully the gales didn't reach us but it's kicking off in Menorca. Thank god we didn't go there as it's forecast for gale 9 till tomorrow at the least.

At the moment we have light'ish headwinds but it is slowing us down. Thoughts for the moment...

We have 34 miles till a small island South of Mallorca where we could drop the hook & wait for the winds to come around which are due later on today or carry on burning fuel to Ibiza. It's all dependent what the weather forecast says which is due in 50 minutes.

We motored hard all yesterday and today with light winds that were not really sufficient to even motor sail with. So, we bashed the oncoming swell that always seems to be our fate and managed 4-5 knots with loads of revs. Luckily, the current in this part of the world is about 0.3 of a knot in our favour and we felt truly blessed.

We have just arrived at Isla De Cabrera and have decided that it is not worth pushing on until the winds that are promised to us actually arrive. We will pick up a new GRIB file this afternoon and decide how soon we can leave here without running into the back of the severe gales that are forecast towards Gibraltar. With any luck, we MIGHT be able to ride into the back of the strong winds and carry the lessening winds all the way to Gib before it all turns into a Westerly (probably around Sunday Lunch). The threat of gale from the Gulf of Lyons has been lifted but we pretty well know for sure that conditions where we are headed will be rough - The GRIBS have been forecasting it for about 4 days.

We have been trying to avoid marina's and we would rather not use them since anchoring is much easier especially when we may want to leave at short notice and in the middle of the night. Also, in the Med, they Med-moor - this is very dangerous:

  • Damage to rear nav light and banged Aries when a boat hit us in Gib.

  • Damage to Cap rail when a boat hit us in Turkey

  • Damage to Aries when a policeman hit us in Tunisia

Plus the hassle of trying to maneuver and trying to get on and off Naz plus the extortionate charges for zero service

And, we have only Med moored seven times!!

Unfortunately, there are only a few anchorages along the Spanish coastline so we might have to do it again.

It is nice to stop and turn the engine off. The island here is quite pretty and is a local nature reserve - no other boats or signs of life but the bay is full of mooring buoys and we have attached to one of these. I think that we must have motored most of the way from Suez and a bit of sailing would be a blessed relief if we can find the right conditions that take us where we want to go. We hate motoring but love the engine!

27th May 2009

We did not stay long at Cabrera. We had dinner (Pizza again) and, by 20:00, the wind was coming from the East with enough to get us along and so we dropped the mooring and set off towards Ibiza. For a few hours, the going was good but eventually, the wind died and, when we got down to 2.5 knots, I turned the engine on again and it has been on ever since. We got a new weather forecast this morning and decided to carry on past Formetera and Ibiza towards a little anchorage just past Cartegena . The plan is to stop there overnight on Thursday and leave Friday morning to ride the back of the gales towards Gibraltar. If we are lucky, we will get into Gib on Sunday morning just before the forecast tells us of a switch to Westerlies. All great in the planning and we shall see what transpires. If the weather is not too strong when we arrive at the anchorage, then we might plough on regardless just to make sure we cover the distance.


We only stayed at Cabrera for 3 hours in the end. The wind changed to the North East so Pete suddenly wanted to leave just after dinner. I must admit to being totally fed up. I was looking forward to a nights sleep then going again.

We are now 25 miles from Ibiza and we'll have a look at the weather forecast as to what we do, we don't want to go too far west as it's kicking up a right pong, 33 - 40 knots of wind, so it's either stay here for 12hours & then carry on to Carteghena or just carry on straight there. It's another overnighter if we carry on. Today is 10 days at sea with a 36 hour break in Tunisia. So I'm very tired.

But from here it's only 380 miles to Gib and it looks like maybe, maybe subject to the weather we might get to Gib Sunday or Monday.

It's about 760 miles after Gib to the UK and we're planning on slow hopping it back so it's still scheduled for arrival in the UK, 7th July'ish.

28th May 2009

Welcome to the Western Hemisphere!!!!

Formentera as we breeze past

We had light winds coming away from Ibiza but the wind picked up a a bit around midnight and we were able to set sail properly and turn the engine off. Overnight, we varied between 3.5 and 6 knots and the breeze properly kicked in this morning giving a good speed of about 6-7 knots. Fliss got me up to put a reef in at about 09:00 and we stormed along towards the Spanish coast. At about 11:00, I got up and we reviewed the looks as though the wind is in our favour for a good three days and so we decided that, since the weather was starting to get a bit frisky, we would head for shelter in a likely looking bay. We saw three boats going the opposite direction, either they are completely mad or we are getting very soft. The first one had only headsail out, a very nice scimitar-style piece of kit and was trying to tack. Each time he tried, he either did not make it, or he had his sail so pressed against his rigging that he could not budge the sail onto the opposite side. We watched as he attempted this 3 times and then he was over the horizon bound, unintentionally, for Africa.

We are glad to have a brief rest and will probably set sail for Gib at 02:00 tomorrow morning to catch the rest of the Easterlies. Hopefully we will have not lost the wind (it was about F7+ when we came in here).

If we get to Gib on Sunday morning, then we are 12 days ahead of schedule and we can relax a little bit. Not too long in Gib but we can at least release the pressure of "Go, Go, Go...." all the time and maybe save some fuel as a result. It will be nice to have a holiday for a while!!

29th May 2009

We set off this morning at 05:00 and motored for a short while until the wind assisted. It died off again later and we had to double reef the main to stop the flapping from shaking Naz to bits. At about 10:00 the wind returned and has been steadily picking up again so that we are now back to two reefs and are just thinking about furling a bit of jib.

The wind is behind us and the current is giving us almost a knot of lift in the right direction as we head for Cabo de Gata. I assume that it will die off after the cape but it is giving us a welcome speed of 8 knots SOG.

We are hoping that the winds decrease a bit as well so that we can have a more peaceful night, the increase is probably afternoon breezes plus a bit of acceleration from the steep coastline. Still, no complaints!

The weather looks like it will calm down over the next couple of days but remaining in the right direction. Landfall in Gib will hopefully be late tomorrow night or early Sunday morning and we will drop the hook there and wait until daylight to see if we can get a berth in a marina.

I am not sure where any adverse current might get us. The predominant current is Easterly but there is a West going stream along the coast of Spain. As we approach Gib, we are going to keep North and hopefully catch an eddying current there to carry us to Europa Point at the tip of the Rock. With our current speed, we will hit the tide in the wrong direction but only for a short distance we hope. We are hoping that the winds have eased there because we don't want a lot of wind over tide as we arrive. The weather files suggest 10-15 knots which would be fine.

Later that day..........................

I did have to go and reef the headsail. After that, we reefed it still further and we prepared to gybe past Cabo de Gato onto our direct course to Gibraltar. By the time we had .... headed towards the wind, taken off the gybe preventer, moved it to the other side, gybed, reconnected the gybe preventer, corrected course, furled in the headsail and disconnected the jib pole ...... we decided that it was now blowing so hard that we did not need the jib and so I was spared the effort of having to pole it out the other side.

We careered off on our new course at 7.5 knots (8.5 over ground) and it was not too long before we decided that 2 reefs in the main and no headsail was a bit unbalancing for Naz, especially as the waves were short and steep. Moments later, I was back on deck fighting to put the third reef in the main which is not that simple when you are blasting along downwind at speed and trying to pull the third reefing clew in against the strength of the wind. So, by the time I had spent 15 more minutes messing around on deck and had returned to the cockpit, the wind had increased and we were still doing 7-8 knots boatspeed. Luckily, by this time, the waves had been blown flat and the ride through the water was relatively smooth.

It was not long before we decided that the mainsail was a little too much for the conditions so we pulled a small amount of jib out and dropped and secured the mainsail. This had the desired effect of slowing us down but the little hankie of jib was snatching backwards and forwards and shaking the forestay too much. More deckwork later and we had the scrap of jib poled out, pulled taut and unshakable. Fliss told me that, whilst I was messing with the jib pole, we were doing 4.5 knots boatspeed without any sail - I'm glad that we had been slowing down a little over the last couple of days to allow the gales in this area to pass by!!.


It ended up quite comfortable and stable even though we reckon that we were having the strongest winds we had ever encountered (with the exception of Cape Melville). This morning it was very quiet then about an hour or so later the wind picked up. The weather forecast was force 4-6 so we weren't worried actually what it turned into was a severe gale 9 with short & steep waves. We took in our headsail & took in even more main sail. We ended up with a scrap of main out & we're still going too fast. Jesus we thought what do we do next? the only options available was to take all the sail down & get blown by the wind or chuck a drouge out the back to slow us down. We don't think we've ever seen conditions as bad as it was today.

I called up Almeria Traffic on the VHF to ask if the forecast had changed and they were brilliant. The guy told me that conditions were due to ease & that we must contact them immediately if there was a problem, It's comforting to know that someone knows were out here.

Bloody hell this place packs a punch! Anyway it's 11pm and the wind switched itself like a light bulb, we've still got left over seas but no wind, thank the lord for small mercy's. Tomorrow's set to be light, here's hoping as we don't want to go around Europa Point in screaming winds which will be against the tide, it would be nasty!

You can't fault the Spanish marine support, they broadcast forecasts every two hours. Pete reckons that it's better for a women to call them up than a male as they are more sympathic. It has been proven.

So we are set to get to Gib either late tomorrow night or1st thing Sunday...


Fliss went off watch and I kept an eye on things. It wasn't too long before I was able to unfurl another scrap of jib, and then another, and then another until we had full jib and were being picked up by short, steep tumbling waves and being surged forwards erratically whilst dipping alternate gunnels. Why is it that, when the wind is blowing furiously, the seas are blown flat and then when it calms down a bit, they rear up short, steep and breaking??

By 10:30, the sea had calmed a bit and we were only managing 1-2 knots with full jib so we stowed the jib pole and turned the engine on. Back to motoring AGAIN.

So the old saying is true...In the Med, there is either no wind or too much.

30th May 2009

Gib is now beckoning enticingly with the thoughts of re provisioning. No more tomatoes left on board, a few slices of dried bread, mustard running low, cheese sparse, no salad or greens and the last carton of milk. We are down to dried foods, canned foods, potatoes and onions - not a lime in sight! Morrison's awaits with fresh veg and salad cream, cold meats and mustard, Stilton and Hovis biscuits, gin and limes and much, much more. Unfortunately, the chips that we had the last time that we were in Gib were greasy, soft and tepid and turned into a homogeneous grey sludge in the paper wrapping before we even attempted to eat them - we threw them away. However, this time we will go on a hunt for decent chips with Egon Ronay avarice.

31st May 2009

After yesterdays fun & games we motored gently towards Gib. At approximately 6:30pm we spotted Europa Point! What a great sight! We've done it... circumnavigation complete. Mixed feeling really, we are excited about getting to Gib but now it's all down hill to England and we both feel a certain amount of anti-climax.

We are totally exhausted and looking forward to hitting the supermarkets to pick up all the foods we have been lusting over but tonight we'll crack open a bottle (or two) of fine wines given to us by generous cruisers to toast our completion.

Nothing like a pint of English Real Ale