Algarve, Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea!

Algarve, Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea!

After leaving Porto, we had two alternatives in mind when trying to decide the next chapter of our journey – to continue south, and spend the winter in the Canary Islands, or to turn left at the corner of Portugal, and sail through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. We had to consider things like finding good anchorages and safe harbours, marina prices, living expenses, places of interest and variety, weather and weather forecasts, and so on. We very nearly had to toss a coin – both have plenty to offer, but both have their own limitations. Now that we’ve made the decision, we can rejoice or regret it every other day, so maybe it’s all in balance. And we can always change our minds later, as the winds surely blow both ways in their turn.

Portimao, s/ Aina first on the right by the breakwater

So, here we are floating in the Mediterranean Sea! But let’s go back a little way, to our long leg from Porto to Portimao, the Algarve, in the southern Portugal. We sailed this 330 nautical mile journey all in one go, and it took us almost three days and nights. Once in Portimao, I – Inka – was in for a special treat. A good friend of mine was there enjoying her holidays, and we had a wonderful reunion. We had a lovely day on the most photographed beach of Portugal, Praia da Rocha, went shopping and had lunch together. Meeting childhood friends is so special – the familiarity is always there, despite time and distance.

We experienced our first slightly challenging anchorage, just inside the great breakwater of Portimao. The afternoon winds blew strong, and there was constant wake from tourist and fishing boats. It was impossible to launch the dinghy, but then there wasn’t really anywhere you could ride it, except the local marina for a high price. There was no town quay to welcome visitors. Later we moved a little way up the river and anchored in front of a smaller town called Ferragudo for the last couple of nights. It was much more peaceful, and in the evening we went out to dinner and tied the dinghy on a slipway as we didn’t think it would bother anyone after dark. I think we found the best fish restaurant in Ferragudo, with delicious grilled seafood.

Then we continued towards the Straits of Gibraltar. We had been doing a lot of homework with the tide tables, as it’s not easy peasy sailing through that particular stretch of water. There’s always a base current flowing into the Mediterranean, and then there are tides that turn every six hours, as they do. It makes no sense trying to go against the tide, and tide against wind should especially be avoided. And no matter how light the wind, it will strengthen gradually, until reaching near gale force almost every day at the narrowest point – where Europe and Africa are only 15 km or 10 miles apart.

Straits of Gibraltar – calm before the wind. In the horizon a yacht heading to Africa.

Our timing was spot on, again – we’ve had a few places along our journey where it’s really important to time the passage with the tides, such as the river Elbe, and rounding the headlands of Normandy and Brittany in France. As we were approaching the strait, it was dead calm and there was a thick fog that lasted several hours. We were going faster and faster, as the tide started to flow in – six knots, seven, eight, and made our record of 9,7 knots! The wind blew stronger, too, so that in a matter of a couple of hours we went from calm to a very brisk weather.

The Bay of Gibraltar is a hectic place full of cargo ships and high speed ferries shooting in and out in a seemingly random manner. The strong wind made our landfall at the marina a bit challenging, and the climb up a high concrete pier, invitingly called the “reception quay”, just about killed my knees. After 30 hours at sea with little sleep and much excitement, even a very temperate sailor may come up with some descriptive language she wouldn’t normally use, when addressing marina staff. Luckily, we were given a very easy spot to moor our boat, and so we settled down in the marina of La Línea de la Concepción. It’s on the Spanish side of the border, just across the airport runway from Gibraltar.

We spent a week in Gibraltar waiting for suitable winds to sail east. It finally seemed like we had found the social part of the cruising life, the “cruising community” – at least a very nice part of it! We met a lovely British-Swedish couple, Philippa and Håkan, with their cute dog Älva, and spent quite a lot of time with them. They are getting ready for their own great journey, and are probably untying their lines as we speak. I’m sure we will hear about them again!

Naturally, we had to visit Gibraltar. The Rock is such a strategic place, there have been numerous battles over it since the dawn of history. It’s actually a part of the Atlas mountains of Africa – a little piece that got left behind when the continental shelves separated. Britain has ruled it since 1713. The densely built town is a strange mixture of many cultures, glass walled office towers and confusing traffic. The Rock is a nature reserve, best known for its Barbary macaques – the only monkeys in Europe. Sadly, we didn’t see any, as the day was too hot to climb the mountain. But we flushed down our Fish & Chips with English beer and cider, so it turned out to be an exotic adventure nonetheless.

Then began our Mediterranean adventure – a whole new and wonderful chapter! We filled our diesel tanks and jerry cans with tax free fuel, rounded the Rock, and pointed our bow northeast. The wind was light, but better winds were forecast. The next morning, as we briefly found internet, we checked the weather again. It looked different now, much stronger and more against us – our first encounter with the inconsistent Mediterranean weather. We diverted to the nearest reasonably priced marina, which happened to be Almerimar. There we spent a couple of very swetty days – it was +38°C (+100°F) and the air stood still. We sat under our yellow boom tent and kept all our fans running day and night. This area, Almería, is the driest in Spain. The coastal plains are covered in greenhouses, where more than half of the fruit and vegetables consumed in Europe are grown, in gruesome heat by migrant workers. The white plastic landscape is a striking thing to see.

From Almerimar, we headed offshore – towards the Balearic Islands, swimming in turquoise waters and meeting more lovely people!

Our shady yellow tent in Almerimar

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