To Gibraltar slowly

28 September to 7 October 2020

Almerimar to La Herradura, 36° 44′ N 03° 44′ 8″W, 46nm, 7 hours 30

to Estepona, 36° 24′ 8″N 05° 09′ 4″W, 71nm, 12 hours

to Puerto de la Duquesa, 36° 22′ 3″N 05° 13′ 7″W 30nm, 6 hours 30

I will openly admit that after being in a harbour for a while I get a horrible bout of anxiety when it is time to leave again. It’s part the unknown of going back to sea and never being entirely sure what conditions we’ll find or where we are going to end up.

But a much bigger part is leaving friends behind. The friendships we make in this life are so important to us. We might meet and spend time with people for just days or weeks but, such is the intensity of the time we spend together, it feels like we have known them for twenty years. We still can’t believe that when we first met Oda and Onno back in Turkey we only spent a week with them. Such incredible memories of that time cemented them so firmly in our lives. And so saying goodbye is really hard. Some people we know we might simply never see again. Some people we know will crop up in our lives again one way or another. We can never be sure which. Every goodbye is like a last goodbye and I, particularly, feel each one deeply.

Our time in Almerimar had been so special. Getting into a routine of yoga on the pontoon, haring around with Jasper, dips in the sea, drinks and tapas, fixing stuff together, inland adventures, getting to know the Pickles. It was very hard to make the decision to go.

The pull to return to sea, to be on the move again, is stronger with Stefan but that doesn’t mean he’s not sad too. “I didn’t really want to leave the marina but I’m glad we have now” as we motored away from the plastic coated landscape around Almerimar. And it’s funny, as soon as we have thrown off the lines my anxiety fades and I too am glad to be back heading who knows where.

This departure was slightly more anxiety inducing for a number of new reasons. We had already started to feel the pull and push of the currents that run through the Gibraltar Strait. We haven’t had to worry about tides for 4 years and frankly have forgotten how inconvenient they can be. Not being able to just get up and go when we want, having to wait for the right tide or risk a slow push into it. As we think about our return to Gibraltar we start to have to think about when high water is and what way the current will be flowing to get us there.

But the Straits of Gibraltar have recently thrown up two new dangers. In recent months sailing yachts have found themselves under attack from orcas. This previously unknown behaviour has caused damage to the rudders and engines of boats coming through the Straits. And whilst seeing orcas in the wild would be amazing we didn’t much fancy encountering them quite so close. And then just before we left Almerimar there was a story of an attempted piracy of a catamaran being delivered by a German couple near the Bay of Cadiz. Definitely not the kind of thing we wanted to run into.

We tried to put these things to the back of our minds as we left Almerimar and were determined to see a bit more of the coast to Gibraltar than we had before. If possible we were determined to anchor along the way despite the Costa del Sol not being blessed with great anchorages.

About 40 miles from Almerimar around Motril there were a number of potential places to anchor. In the conditions we had – very little wind but a persistent low swell – we plumped for the one that seemed to offer the best protection from what could be a rolly night. And in La Herradurra we lucked out. Tucked behind a headland we found calm water.

The water might have been calm but it was freezing. I have never seen Stefan swim for the ladder so fast and I only managed to stay in long enough for this photo to be taken. We both knew that this short dip was going to be the last of the year! Instead we made do with watching the sun set as the canoeist fished.

We had hoped to catch up with SV Off Course somewhere around Gibraltar but we were still 130nm away and a wind shift was coming which made it ideal for them to push on towards Portugal.

After another 12 hours of motoring in no wind we decided to go into Estepona. We had stopped there briefly to meet Jackie, Pintail’s original owner, on our way into the Med in February 2017. It had been a rainy couple of days so thought we would be able to see it in a, literally, better light. We went in for one night but stayed a week.

It is such a delightful place, full of floral displays in every street and a friendly atmosphere. We could have stayed longer and if it weren’t for Brexit would have even thought about wintering there. Our only regret is that the pandemic has kept Jackie in the UK so we couldn’t catch up.

In the heart of the old town we found ourselves a regular haunt for coffee in the aptly named Plaza de las Flores. We returned every day to join old men, families and even a wedding party stopping to enjoy the atmosphere and a drink and some tapas.

We weren’t ready to go in to Gibraltar just yet but decided we would kill some more time by crossing the Strait. Close enough to see over on the other side, Morocco was still closed to visitors because of the virus but Spain has its very own overseas territory opposite Gibraltar, Ceuta. We had sailed there on our training courses but not explored it properly. So purposefully we set off for Africa.

We got only half way across the Strait and found ourselves with 30 knots on the nose. As we reefed the sails we both got drenched to the skin by the big waves and quickly decided to turn around and head back towards Estepona. Africa clearly wasn’t ready for us just yet.

In the lee of Gibraltar the wind reduced and on a better point of sail it was a much smoother and drier ride back. Instead of returning to Estepona we chose to go in to Puerto de la Duquesa. It would after all be somewhere new to explore for a day or two. Except it turned out it wasn’t new to one of us! “I’ve been here before” Stefan said as we approached the harbour entrance. He had stopped here on his Day Skipper course in 2012.

We had sailed 30nm to make the 5nm trip from Estepona to Puerto de la Duquesa but chalked it up to experience. All tied up and with the boat washed down after salty bath, Stefan said “well, at least we didn’t use any diesel!”

Not much more than a tourist resort set around the marina Puerto de la Duquesa did offer us our first Indian meal since Margate and a castle to explore. Stefan seemed to have been cured of his castlitis, first diagnosed in Mystras. There was not much to see in this 18th century defensive bunker than a fencing display.

Spain’s love of moasic tiles was, however, abundant in pretty Duquesa, on walls, fountains and street furniture and even on the pontoon to alert us to the location of the fire extinguishers!

We woke up on planned day of departure and just didn’t fancy leaving. It was a decision vindicated when we went up to the showers at the harbour entrance and could not see Gibraltar or Africa for fog. All day we heard the sound of fog horns.

Africa was going to have to wait again…

One thought on “To Gibraltar slowly

  1. Hi..lovely to meet you the other afternoon..shame we didn’t meet up earlier..loads of things we didn’t ask!!
    Been great reading your blogs on Instagram
    Hope you have a nice rest in gib
    Lots of love
    Emma and Steve xx


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