Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rota to Cartagena, Spain

First there were easterlies. Then the westerlies were blowing at gale force. Finally, on Friday, October 23rd, we left Rota after two weeks and headed east into the Mediterranean. It was bittersweet to leave our old friends (Richard and Andrea on Saeta) and new friends (Peter and Danielle on Second Lady) behind, but we were eager to get to our winter home in Cartagena and get settled.

By the time we left we had only light wind, not enough to sail but enough to boost our motoring speed. We planned to get all the way to Gibraltar and anchor in La Linea, but unless we could average more than 6 knots, we knew we would arrive after dark. With radar and AIS, plus having scouted the bay on our road trip, we were OK with going in at night. Our backup plan was to anchor at Tarifa, west of Gibraltar, if a change in the weather made that prudent. As it turned out, we never got enough wind to help much, and it was already after dark by the time we reached Tarifa, so there was no point in stopping before La Linea. In fact, we did get enough breeze after dark that we lamented our need for fuel—VAT-free at Gibraltar—because it would have been nice to keep going.

West of Tarifa without wind

It was a little spooky trying to find the other boats in the anchorage in the dark. I could see their mast lights but couldn’t really judge the distances that well. There was plenty of shallow water, so we dropped the hook fairly far offshore, just out of the way of the tankers and cargo ships. And at dawn (not that early so late in the year) we headed for the fuel dock and filled all tanks and jerry cans with diesel at a bargain price of 71 pence/80 euro cents/$1.19 USD per liter. At this point, our European friends are thinking, “Yes, that’s very good.” And our American friends who have just converted to dollars per gallon (about $4.50) are going, “Holy shit!” Having been over here awhile now, we’re with the Europeans on this subject. Plus the attendant gave us a couple of small bottles of water, which probably cost more per liter than the fuel.

It was a beautiful morning to be heading into the Mediterranean, and although there was little wind and none of it favorable, the current was with us most of the way, so we made good enough time. The scenery was nice, and the sunsets were spectacular.

Europa Point lighthouse

The Rock of Gibraltar from sea level in the Mediterranean

Our first Mediterranean sunset with Morocco barely visible in the distance

The last cape before Cartagena—almost home

We docked at Yacht Port Cartagena yesterday morning, about 48 hours after we left Gibraltar. The people who run the marina are extremely helpful and friendly, the location is beautiful, and the price is good. We can’t figure out why it’s so empty here. Maybe because the Mediterranean Almanac 2009-2010 still says that yachts should go to the other marina and super yachts to this one. At 12.5 meters we are on the small side here, certainly no super yacht, but we feel very welcome. If there’s some other reason, we’ll probably discover it later, and we’ll be sure to report it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The rest of our photos from Portugal

I just posted what John tells me are all of the rest of our photos from Portugal—at least until the next time we visit there. As always, links to the new photo pages appear under "Recent Updates" on our home page and under "Latest Additions" on our Photos index page.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Road trip!

It became clear soon after we arrived in Rota that the wind would be against us when we were ready to resume our eastward voyage, so we enjoyed the days we had planned to spend here and then rented a car to drive across Spain to Barcelona and see nephew Joel. That’s why there have been no blog posts: we’ve been busy!

Richard and Andrea have been great about introducing us to Andalusian food and culture. We’ve been out for dinner with them and to a sherry bodega tour in Jerez. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve also gotten acquainted with our Dutch neighbors across the dock, Peter and Danielle on Second Lady. They’re spending the winter here, and we hope to see them in the western Med in the spring.

Sherry bodega

Driving from Rota to Barcelona is like driving from San Francisco to Portland. It took us two days because we first had to take the bus to Seville to get the car, and then we had to come back to Rota to get the dog. We knew we’d be getting a late start, so we reserved a hotel room near Valencia to break up the trip. We readily sail overnight, but driving is a lot different.

We set off with directions from Google Maps, which were quite good until they told us to take a highway in a direction that it didn’t yet go. Once we figured that out, we drove to a gas station to buy a paper map. The only one they had was a huge two-book guide to Spain for more than 20€. We needed a map, so we bought it. The first thing I did was look to see if the map showed the highway as complete; it did, so Google came by the misinformation honestly. Nonetheless, I was able to plot a course on existing roads, and we continued.

The major roads and highways in Spain are excellent and have really good signs—once you know that all roads lead to Madrid and learn to see what other places are listed on the sign. Unfortunately, once you’re on the city streets of any city, you’re left with signs that are ambiguous at best. And that’s if you can even find them. Many streets have more than one name, and the street names are posted on the sides of buildings, sometimes not on the corner, and sometimes there are simply no street names to be found. That made it very difficult to find our hotels in Valencia and Barcelona. In Valencia I had to call the hotel at one o’clock in the morning for directions. We just couldn’t figure it out in the dark. Thanks goodness they spoke English!

Once we got to our hotel in Barcelona, we parked the car and bought a two-day pass for the metro. Our first priority was to meet up with Joel, who is a chef and is in Spain to see what’s going on with the food scene here. We had fun wandering around with him looking at restaurants and the market and eating and drinking here and there. The second night we went to Cerveceria Catalana, one of the oldest tapas bars in Barcelona. It was excellent! Since we were unfashionably early, arriving well before 8:00 p.m., we were able to get a table without a wait. When we left, the line was out the door.


Cerveceria Catalana

Earlier in the day John and I visited Sagrada Familia, the famous, as-yet-unfinished church designed by Gaudi. We splurged and did the audio tour and rode the elevator up one of the towers. It was pretty spectacular and, yes, a bit gaudy (no relation). Later when we went to meet Joel in front of Casa Batlló, another Gaudi-designed building, it was easy to spot it on the block. Next to much Spanish architecture, Gaudi doesn’t really look gaudy at all—just different. I think I’ve become a fan.

Sagrada Familia

The next day we started back to Rota along the coast route. We’ll return to Barcelona and spend more time—a day and a half isn’t close to enough—but we had other stops to make while we had the car. Our next stop was Cartagena, where we’ll be spending the winter. We wanted to meet the people at the marina and see where we would be docked. We got to pick our place, and we’re pleased to have a side-tie near the amenities and facilities.

From Cartagena we drove to Gibraltar—technically to La Linea, Spain, since it is recommended to walk over the border rather than face the long lines at the border trying to drive back to Spain. When we sail through the Strait, we will stop at Gibraltar for tax-free fuel, but we plan to anchor and won’t take time to sight see. That’s what we did over the weekend. We did the whole bit: Europa Point at the tip, the cable car to the top of the Rock to see the monkeys, and a walk through the city center. Because it was Sunday most stores were closed, including the Gibraltar Chart Agency where we needed to pick up our Mediterranean Almanac and Cruising Guide. We found the place, though, so that we could dash in Monday morning on our way out of town. (Dash is a relative term for walk-bus-walk-walk-bus-walk.)

The Rock as seen from the beach outside our hotel in La Linea

Family of Barbary apes (actually macaques)

On Sunday we also had a typical “carved buffet” Sunday dinner at a pub we picked because it was overflowing with British navy people in uniform. We thought it must be good. Originally we were just going to have a pint, but then we saw the buffet sign and figured that was why it was so crowded. We were mightily impressed when we were offered chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and lamb, plus vegetables and potatoes and brown gravy. And now we understand from personal experience why English food is so maligned. All of the meat was dry and all of the vegetables were overcooked and mushy, except the peas, which were only half cooked. I went back twice for more gravy to moisten my turkey. We saw signs for similar Sunday dinners further into town, and our pub had the best price, so I guess that’s really why the navy was there in force.

From Gibraltar it was a relatively short drive back to Rota along the coast. We stopped at Tarifa to check out the anchorage. Tarifa is famous for being one of the windiest places in Europe, and it’s a big kite and wind surfing destination. It was definitely windy, and we hope we don’t have to stop to anchor there, but it’s good to know what it looks like.

Eastern anchorage at Tarifa

John took more pictures in Barcelona, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, but there was only one viewpoint along the highway the whole trip, so he wasn’t able to get photos of most of the scenery. We traveled through some amazing country, though, and since we’ll have almost six months and a great map set, I hope we get to explore more of it.

Mediterranean: view from the one viewpoint

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rota, Spain

We actually sailed a few hours yesterday for the first time in weeks, it seems. That was great! The big news is that we’ve hooked up with our friends Richard and Andrea on Saeta. They live here most of the time now, and they’re going to show us around town later this afternoon. We had planned to spend four nights here, but the weather forecast looks like we’ll be spending at least a week. I’ll post more about Rota and Andalucía later. For right now, I just want to let everyone know that I’ve posted more photos from Portugal on the Web site.

Geography lesson: Lisbon to Barcelona

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First days in Spain

We reached Mazagón, Spain, just before sunset because our departure from Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal, had to be delayed until slack water. Vila Real is a little way up the Rio Guadiana, the border between Portugal and Spain here, and there is definitely current in the marina as we discovered when we docked. We wanted to exit with a little more dignity than we entered. It was another day of motoring, boring and tiring at the same time.

This morning we left Mazagón, after having seen nothing but the marina, with plenty of time to get to our next stop, Chipiona, in time to explore a bit. Alas, some Spanish dudes in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) had other plans for us. Instead of following the most direct route we got to participate in a military exercise that seemed to consist of giving sailboats bearings to clear the military practice zone, multiple times with different bearings each time. With us they got to practice in English. We noticed that the sailboat ahead of us changed course several times too. By the fourth course change the poor guy on the radio was apologizing somewhat profusely. The guys in the RIB disappeared after the second visit, which was to tell us what radio channel to monitor to get our instructions. We never did see or hear any evidence of military activity in the area, but we were taken several miles out of our way.

Military practice areas line the coasts of Europe. When we first started planning routes here, we stayed out of them even though the shortest route usually crossed them. After watching many other boats cut through, we decided not to worry about them unless we were kicked out or saw signs of military activity. This was the first time we've been diverted.

Tomorrow we get to sleep in a little since we're less than 20 miles from our next stop, Rota. We've been sailing to a schedule since Lagos because we had to make reservations for the marina at Rota where our friends Richard and Andrea Black on Saeta are moored. We have reservations for three nights there, but John wants to do some boat jobs, so we're going to see if we can stay a fourth night. We expect Rota to be our last stop before Gibraltar, but there is one marina in between where we could stop if we need to.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saying good-bye to Portugal

I thought that I'd be posting this from Spain, but we decided to stop at the marina in Vila Real on the Portuguese side of the river Guadiana for one last night in Portugal. I'm playing catch-up on our time on the south coast of Portugal, the Algarve. Other cruisers we met on the way here raved about this coast, and now we understand why.

From our anchorage at the cape, we proceeded to the marina at Lagos. There we were able to replace the broken reef outhaul and get a new inline blower for our engine. We also managed to make reservations for the winter in Cartagena on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, south of Barcelona. Our first choice, Rota, was fully booked for the winter, but we were able to reserve three nights so that we can spend time with our friends Richard and Andrea of Saeta, another Sceptre 41 from California.

Chores done we treated ourselves to a guided tour of the grottos on the point outside Lagos. We could have taken our dinghy and followed one of the guides, but then John wouldn’t have been able to get as many photos. Once we got around the point we were especially glad to be in a bigger boat since the afternoon winds had kicked up some chop.

Looking out of one of the grotto caves

Shirlee enjoying the ride

The next day we took care of our insurance for the coming year and then explored the town. Once you get away from the marina and the street along the water, it’s pretty interesting. The Romans were here in their time, and a big piece of city wall is still standing. We don’t know if it’s Roman, but it certainly looks old.

Municipal market

Old city walls

Public art

Since we left Lagos, we’ve been anchoring out. The first night was at Portimão, the second near Faro, and the third up the river Guadiana, which forms part of the border between Portugal and Spain. The cruising ground reminds us a bit of the Pacific coast of Mexico with warm weather, diurnal winds, cruisers at anchor, and snippets of music drifting from the beachfront bars. It’s a pretty nice place to be in October.