August to October 2009 – Spain>Gibraltar>Spain

3 Feb

It’s such a long time ago that it’s almost impossible to give an account of where we went, what we did & what happened from August to October 2009….particularly with a sieve-like brain such as mine! But I’ll give it ago, even if it is a bit fuzzy. (This will also not be helped by the fact that the boat’s log, containing dates, places, prices etc is where it should be – on the boat…and, as I write, we are in Scotland for the winter.)

12th August 2009 found us in Chipiona, Andalucia. We were keen to get moving east as we had arranged to meet Elaine & Gordon in Malaga on 25th August and it would be a complicated and tedious process for them to travel to us if we didn’t manage to make it into the Med in time. The plan was to get to Barbate quickly before the next hop to Gibraltar. However, the wind had other ideas! It only blows east or west down there and, unfortunately for us, it was blowing a hooley from the east. We weren’t particularly keen on Chipiona so, rather than hang around, we headed a short distance to the next port of Rota, just across the bay from Cadiz.

Junk rig off Spain

Rota was charming: we ended up staying for 4 days. This was entirely due to the weather conditions and the fact that there were no boats leaving Barbate because they were as stuck as we were, so no berth for us. It was a lovely place to be stuck though. Just a small coastal town with lovely beaches and a myriad of hidden alleyways and plazas to explore. It’s not particularly touristy, but we heard a lot of English being spoken as it is home to a joint Spanish and U.S. naval base. This didn’t detract from the visit šŸ˜‰

With a bit of time on our hands we took the opportunity to hop on the ferry to visit Cadiz across the bay. Even though it was scorchingly hot it was worth the effort. We climbed to the top of the camera obscura for an aerial view of the city and then rewarded ourselves with lunch & a cold beer – it was too hot for anything else!

Cadiz Cathedral

We eventually did get to Barbate, and blustery, bumpy ride it was too! It was made even more interesting when the bow-thruster fuse blew just as we were manoeuvering into a tricky berth! We managed without mishap and it certainly put PT’s boat handling skills to the test (not to mention my ability to keep my mouth shut!).

Big boat ...... little boat!

After a couple of days in Barbate (which involved a departure, a reassessment of the conditions and a hasty retreat back to the marina!) we eventually headed through the Strait to Gib. It was still pretty breezy on the nose, so we decided to motor rather than tack back and forth on the ‘hard shoulder’ of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

There were some ‘proper’ sailors out there that day though! šŸ™‚

Strait Sailing

Our arrival in Gib heralded the start of Med mooring. We’d got reasonably slick* at mooring alongside (i.e. parallel to the quay or pontoon) with just the two of us to steer, jump ashore, tie up ropes etc. (*We’d managed not to crash the boat!) Med mooring is a different set up completely. In the Western Med it involves berthing the boat at 90 degrees to the shore, either bows-to or stern-to, and picking up a thin (& usually very smelly and mud-encrusted) “lazy line” which is attached to the a laid mooring which is, in turn secured to the outboard end of the boat; the inboard end is attached to the quay with warps. Luckily, most marinas have staff to hand who are not only very helpful, but are also usually expert at keeping a straight face when it all goes Pete Tong!

Two Choices in Queensway Marina, Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a funny kind of place, a love-hate kind of place. I found it less touristy & tacky than on my last visit in 2004, but, at 2.6 square miles, it’s a bit claustrophobic. It was nice to stock up on familiar UK supermarket stuff and to be speaking English, and we had 4 pleasant days of sightseeing, walking and even an early morning run to Europa Point before it got way too hot! A further bonus was getting my poorly bike fixed for the bargain sum of Ā£18 šŸ™‚ However, we had a rendezvous planned and 4 days of Little Britain was plenty for us.

Halfway up the Rock

After Gibraltar, we belted up the coast towards Benalmadena (the nearest marina to Malaga) via Puerto de la Duquesa and Marbella. We soon found out how busy the Costa del Sol marinas can be when we surfed into one marina in Marbella in a rapidly-rising wind… only to be turned away. The next marina was also full, but the staff were much kinder and let us stay overnight on the fuel berth (at no charge!) until they could find a space for us the next day. We stayed put here until the forecast was more favourable and still managed to reach Benalmadena in plenty of time to meet up with Elaine & Gordon, who were flying out from Scotland to accompany us up to Alicante. In fact we were far enough ahead of ourselves that we were able to fit in a visit from Caroline, who came all the way from her house in the hills bearing gifts of scrummy wine and freshly-picked figs from her garden šŸ™‚ Ace!!

Relaxing with Caroline

Meeting up with Elaine & Gordon at Malaga Airport was easy, thanks to the efficient & value-for-money Spanish railways – RENFE could certainly teach our lot a thing or two! We took a short jump up the coast to Marina del Este at Almunecar. One night here involved a thrashing at cribbage for me…I’m sure PT, Elaine & Gordon made up the rules as they went along!

Gordon, Lu & Elaine

Next was Almerimar. We’d heard a lot about this marina from friends who’d overwintered here a couple of years before and I was interested to see it for myself, particularly as we were putting thought into where we would park up for the winter. My impression from our brief stopover was that it seemed to be rather soul-less, perhaps due to its size (1100 berths) or maybe it was the surrounding barren landscape – it sits on the edge of Europe’s only desert.

Almeria moonscape

We only stayed overnight, but it could easily have been a little longer….We were all set to leave on an overnight passage of 110 nm to Cartagena.
We cast off the mooring lines, put the engine in gear and ….THUNK!!

After a brief moment of head scratching and general puzzlement, it became obvious that the reason for our sudden stop was due to something wrapped around the prop. Troy Tempest & Marina (aka Gordon & Lu) quickly got to work with mask and knife and managed to free some of the offending rope, but after an hour of lung-bursting activity, it was apparent that the rope was well and truly embedded around the stern gland and additional help would have to be enlisted. The marina staff duly summoned the local diver and promised that he would be arrive without delay. We were keen to get away (and not to have to pay for another night’s berthing) and anxiously scanned the horizon for the arrival of our rescuer – we would, of course, recognise him by his scuba gear. Wrong! After an hour or so, a portly-looking fella chugged across to us in a dinghy. I can only describe him as a cross between Borat and Super Mario, he was sporting bright canary yellow speedos and the biggest gold medallion that you ever did see! Yes, you guessed! This was the diver! :-0 His attire was obviously a cunning disguise though! Literally within minutes, he emerged from under the boat, holding the offending rope aloft and disappeared from whence he came…success! We scarpered quickly after that, making VERY sure there were no ropes lurking around before we went forward, but not before we’d coughed up an extra ā‚¬108 (ā‚¬8 for a replacement lazy line! Pffft!) Es la vida!

The remains of the rope

COSTA CALIDA – Cabo de Gata to Mar Menor

Sunset over Cabo de Gata

Midnight meditation...or maybe just a fag break?

The overnight passage to Cartagena went by uneventfully, just lacking in wind. On the advice of the pilot book, we berthed in the Puerto Deportivo de Cartagena because the marina to the east was exclusively for superyachts…except it wasn’t! Never mind, apart from the decidedly rickety pontoons and the temperamental shore power, we were fine for a day and a night.

We had a wander round the town, an interesting meal (including a steak tartare for the skipper šŸ˜‰ ) and a parade of Spanish naval might, including a submarine. (Cartagena is a naval port nestling in one of the few natural harbours on this coast). However, I don’t think we really had much of chance to see what the city has to offer, I have a feeling that there’s more to Cartagena than meets the eye. Maybe we’ll have a second look one day…

Street sculpture, Cartagena

From Cartagena we nipped round the corner northwards to Mar Menor, an inland sea. We were making for Marina Tomas Maestre, which involved going through a short canal into the Mar Menor and negotiating a lifting bridge. We arrived at the bridge just before the apparent opening time given in the pilot book. There was also a huge sign instructing vessels to call the bridge control on the VHF to request passage. So we optimistically hollered on the radio….nothing! And we optimistically crept up and down the narrow canal expecting imminent action from bridge control…until we were nearly mown down by a UK-flagged gin palace! Still no bridge opening šŸ˜¦ . We retreated to the slightly larger outer bay (but with still very restricted manoeuvering room) to figure out what to do next when…..crunch! No going forward, no going back, we seemed to be aground! Thankfully, some fast thinking and quick burst to port with the bowthruster just about did the trick and we were saved from the ignominous fate of having to be towed off!

The bridge eventually did open and we spent a night in the Mar Menor. Apparently the bridge was now only opening twice daily, so it was an early start the next day to make sure that we were on time for the morning opening and our planned passage to Torrevieja.

COSTA BLANCA – Mar Menor to Denia

We join the morning stampede from Mar Menor

TORREVIEJA, known as ‘Torry’ by the ex-pat residents… 1 night… ‘Nuff said.

Torrevieja....not impressed....

The final stop on the McKechnie cruise came around all too quickly as we made port in Alicante. We were sad to wave them off, not only did we miss their company, it was also quite nice to have doubled our complement of crew when it came to pulling ropes and jumping ashore etc. Life was SO much easier for the first mate! šŸ˜‰ I think Elaine was probably glad to head back to colder climes though, having had a nasty encounter with a mutant ninja mozzie!

Gordon, Elaine, PT & Lu - Alicante

We loved seeing that, in Spain, the older generation are very much part of the community and seem to have a great social life...unlike the situation in the UK where some older folk are lonely & forgotten behind closed doors and may not see a soul from one week to the next.

Even at the eye-watering cost of ā‚¬84 per night in the marina, we had an extra day in Alicante. The city has a good vibe and it was a trip down memory lane for us as we had had a stopover here in 2004 when we brought our previous boat, Escapade back to Scotland from Greece. We climbed up to the castle in the blistering heat and then chilled out with wine & tapas, before heading back to the boat to plan the next leg of our journey to Valencia.

Having a rest after a hard climb!

Looking out from Castillo de Santa Barbara, Alicante

By ourselves again, we headed north. It was now September the days were getting shorter, the summer crowds on the beaches and in the bars were starting to thin out and our thoughts were turning to settling down for the coming winter. Having been unsuccessful in being able to reserve a place in any of the three main marinas in Barcelona, we had opted for a marina just north of the city at Badalona. The plan was to arrive there at the beginning of October and to stay put until the Spring of 2010. However, in the meantime, PT was due back at work (he hadn’t set foot on an oil platform since July!) so we figured that Valencia would be a good place to stop for 2 or 3 weeks while he went and topped up the coffers.

We made our way to Valencia, with brief stops at Altea and Denia, and quickly settled in at the Marina Real Juan Carlos I (formerly known as the America’s Cup Marina). The marina is a strange kind of place, stuck out on a limb with a bit of a white elephant feel to it. After the razzmatazz of hosting the America’s Cup in 2007, it seems to have sunk into obscurity and has the atomosphere of a movie set after the cast and crew have long since moved on. Having said that, the berthing prices were EXTREMELY reasonable for the Spanish Med, the basic facilities were OK and, most of all, the charm of Valencia more than made up for the drawbacks of the marina.

One of the best features of Valencia is its transport system. Not only is there a cheap, efficient and pristine metro system, the city is also criss-crossed with very useable cycle lanes. Whether it was for shopping or sight-seeing, getting around couldn’t have been easier.

From the marina, it was a 5-minute walk to the nearest metro station, Neptu, from which anywhere, including the airport, was a simple journey. However, when we chose to bike instead of train, the cycle lane started right at the end of our pontoon, took us part-way along the Formula 1 race track and then right up into the city. Our favourite route followed the old riverbed of the Rio Turia. Apparently, the river had always been prone to flooding, and after a particularly devastating event in 1957, a decision was made to divert the river to prevent further floods and thereby keep the population safe. The old course of the river is now dry and has been turned into a series of sunken parks that snake their way under the old bridges through the heart of the city almost as far as the sea.

Jardin del Turia, Valencia

Unlike other places in Spain that we had visited, Valencia is busy with cyclists and the local council seem to do a lot to encourage people to get on their bikes.

XIII Dia de la Bicicleta en Valencia 2009 - A Get on Your Bike Event

There was a definite feel of summer drawing to a close and of autumn blowing in in Valencia while we were there. The bars & restaurants were all moving onto winter opening hours and the temperatures were cooling down. Before PT headed back to Aberdeen for a spot of work, we took time to sample the culinary heritage of Valencia – paella & horchata. The lobster paella that we had in a plush restaurant overlooking the marina was ok, but nothing to write a blog about. Great atmosphere though as the place was full of huge, multi-generational Spanish families taking Sunday lunch very seriously. However, the horchata (orxata in Catalan) was worth the metro trip out to Horchateria Daniel at Alboraya. Horchata is a cold drink made from water, sugar and tigernuts and is served with long buns called fartons for dunking.

Horchata & Farton

The autumnal feel was accentuated as storms rolled in from the sea. PT was there to cope with the first squad of storms, which involved lightning crashing down all around the boat, rather too close for comfort!

All seemed to have calmed down & PT headed north. Then the weather really ramped up, with 50+ knots of wind, biblical rain and yet more thunder & lightning. I was not a happy camper, particularly when the lines started parting again and the stern was crashing against the pontoon piling šŸ˜¦

Stormbound in Valencia

However, the marineros were very helpful, as was Steve from the catamaran along the pontoon, undertaking a lot of warp alterations & general reassurance. My finger had a very close call when it got trapped between the stern line and the cleat under load…. but I survived! And so did Two Choices. The Beneteau across the pontoon wasn’t so fortunate though, it ended up with a big chunk taken out of its transom and a rather large ketch on the next pontoon had all its sails shredded.

Apart from the storm, it was a great 3 weeks in Valencia but, all too soon, it was time to continue heading north before winter.

Our route to Badalona took us to Castellon de la Plana (shiny new yet empty marina, forgettable town), Vinaros (we were ambushed by a massive swarm of house flies on passage to Vinaros…2 miles out at sea! Yuck!), Tarragona (where we heard the LOUDEST bang, apparently on deck and thought we were under attack or about to be dismasted… turned out to be an exploding frozen Coke can in the fridge!), and Vilanova i la Geltru (where we executed a copybook departure from a very tight berth….except for leaving the gangplank dangling from the bow! šŸ˜³ Ooops!)

And so it was, on Tuesday 6th October, we arrived in Badalona at the end of our first summer of cruising on Two Choices. Four and a half months aboard & over 2000 nautical miles sailed (& motored!); scary bits, interesting bits and, most of all, lots of fun šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚


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