Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cartagena to Gibraltar

Our almost two weeks in Cartagena were productive and relaxing. We got some boat things taken care of: John polished the fuel in the starboard tank, I washed the boat, and we hired a mechanic to replace two pumps that had been leaking (we had the spares). We also had Toldos Segado ( do some repairs to our various canvas accessories and make us a sunscreen for over the salon or doghouse or whatever you call the main living area of a boat. Finally, the pup needed a good health certificate for Morocco, so we also had her teeth cleaned since we knew an English-speaking vet in Cartagena.

As we were finishing up these projects, we were looking at the weather and watching our window of favorable winds shrink. West winds were forecast for Saturday evening, and we're very tired of sailing into the wind. We decided to leave on Thursday, as soon as I got back from the vet's with the dog. There were a couple of little delays, but we did set out for Almerimar marina early Thursday afternoon. We almost went right back to Yacht Port Cartagena because we hadn't even left the harbor when our engine alarm went off. John tracked it down to a loose connection left by the mechanic.

After that we had a very nice afternoon. The mountains along the coast are beautiful, and we had good wind at first and could even sail for a few hours. When we reached our waypoint to turn off for Almerimar the next morning, we were several hours ahead of schedule, so we decided to push on for Gibraltar. The westerlies were still forecast for Saturday evening, but John had spotted an anchorage on the chart where we could duck in if need be. So we plotted a decision waypoint and kept going.

When we reached the decision point, we were still hours to the good, but we were going pretty slowly with current against us and no wind to help. The grib files now showed the westerly wind arriving mid-afternoon rather than evening. We decided to chance it. The anchorage didn't sound very attractive, and the forecasts said we might be there for days.

And we almost made it. After an excruciatingly slow night (2-3 knots, sometimes almost 4), we finally got some wind and picked up the pace. We were just over six miles from Point Europa just after noon when the wind, which had been easing and changing from east to southeast to south, suddenly moved to exactly against us and kicked up to 25 knots, gusting to 30. Cursing ensued. We brought in the jib and started zigzagging to get enough off the wind to maintain a little forward momentum. When the wind switched, it also started raining, so the Rock of Gibraltar, when it cleared enough to see it, looked very British in rain and clouds. Fortunately, the wind soon eased back down to 10-15 knots, and we were safely anchored at La Linea, Spain, just on the other side of the airport runway from Gib, shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday.

Our first night in the anchorage got exciting when a squall blew through in the pre-dawn hours. Our anchor alarm went off. We weren't dragging, but John was up to see another boat dragging down on us. The alarm went off a second time, but both alarms were due only to major shifts in the wind direction, not any problem with the holding.

We don't know how long we'll be here. It depends on the wind. Several boats left this morning, but, of course, we don't know which way they're headed. I'm guessing into the Med. We're thinking we'll spend a few days, so we'll at least get a little rest and check the forecasts before we go. We want to stop in Rota, Spain, before we go to Morocco to say good-bye to our friend Richard, who lives there now. We met him when we first reached Europe (Flores, Azores, July 2008), and it seems symmetrical to see him as we leave.

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