Saturday, November 05, 2011



Day 1: Chicken with cargo ships

After postponing our departure due to some nasty weather, Friday October 28th at 2:30 saw us weaving out into the straits of Gibraltar under blues skies, zigzagging among the massive tankers waiting in some kind of line to drop their loads in Algiceras.  Once out in the straights we dodged a shipwreck and while motoring hoisted the sails in the moderate winds to scoot across the crowded shipping lanes. Once across the other side we followed the mountainous Algerian/Moroccan coast which brought into view a massive Arabic slogan engraved into the mountainside (“God is Great!?”) Though perhaps the writing on the hillside was trying to warn us of the ‘Banca del Fenix’…

The first sunset of the voyage. Straits of Gibraltar.

Higher temperatures inside the Mediterranean than out, leading to much more evaporation, result in the sea level outside the straits of Gibraltar being about 3 metres higher than in the Mediterranean. Besides having to sail up hill (joke), this leads to some pretty heavy inflow of ocean through an already small gap. Just east of the bay that is home to the Moroccan city of Tanger lies the Banca del Fenix, a massive shallow bank (banks anywhere near Spain are nothing but trouble it seems) that magnifies the effects of the tide and the incoming currents, all in all making for some pretty rock’n’roll action. After an hour of going in all directions at once, very nearly including backwards (up to 5 knots of current against us, with the tide on our side), we made it out of the blender in time to marvel at the prefect crescent moon hovering over Tanger in the cloudless orange and purple of twilight. Herve is about as French as they come, but he was in fact born in Morocco, and he made the call of pulling into Tanger for some cous cous. I was tempted (it’s f**king Morocco!), but the somewhat wishful suggestion was shot down by captain Dusty under the premise that with all the booze we had on board we’d probably get done for smuggling…always thinking, that man.
The inaugural night watches all went by smoothly, a million stars and the strangely meditative rumble of the engine for company, as well as about 35 massive cargo ships. But the Atlantic is pretty big and they kept their distance. We were on our way…

The portside steering wheel, showing the compass and navigation equipment. Gets us to where we wanna go...already a few nights have been spent behind these babies.

Day 2: Invisible

A cloudless and largely windless morning.  A time for reading and snoozing in the sun, that seemed somehow warmer after escaping that little bit of England off the bottom of Spain. During the afternoon the wind picked up enough to allow us to cut the engine (thankfully, with half the fuel gone and only one day in). Lures were attached and the fishing began, a dinner in the Caribbean ‘on the line’ for the biggest fish caught, due to a bet with another yacht we met in Gibraltar on a similar course. The evening sky made me think Michelangelo might have been a yachtie, and the swell had grown and evened out into large, gentle lines and walls that made me want to go surfing. Perhaps in the Canaries…


A couple of boats that didn’t show up on the AIS (navigation and ship ID system) gave me a little surprise during the night. Being the diligent sailor-in-training that I am, I though I’d mention it the next morning:
Me: “Some boats don’t show up on the AIS then?”
Capt. Dusty: (nonchalance) “Yeah, if they don’t have a transmitter. Actually, we don’t have one either.”
Me: “Sooo, those 900 foot long, 15,000 tonnes of steel out there can’t actually see us?”
Capt. Dusty: (yawning) “Well we’d show up on their radar, but no one looks at that anymore really. Don’t worry, just keep your eyes open at night.”
Me: “That shouldn’t be a problem…”

Day 3: Fishing – c’est  la vie!

A smooth night’s sailing thanks to mostly steady winds and Harry the hydrovane (wind-powered auto steering system that basically connects a mini-sail to a second rudder), gave us a steady 6 or 7 knots, which almost made up for the apparent lack of interest in our lines by the fish.  The next morning we were visited by a school of at least 50 jumping and swerving dolphins, giving us all a little bit of a high.

This guy and 50 of his mates came to make friends with us. It's hard to have a bad day when this is how it starts...

Meanwhile some nasty storm far, far to the north had starting heaving rather large, but tranquil hills of water at us that later would give Herve plenty to think about as he prepared the day’s dinner of lasagne in the galley, (yep, lasagne, on a yacht!) punctuating the refreshing sea air with the occasional merde! But it was still early in the piece when the only coffee plunger took a tumble and broke into the sink before the captain had had his morning cuppa. Ordinarily a flogging offence, the author quietly thanks Christ we were only two days out of the Canaries. Bloody landlubbers and their landlubbing dish placements…
All thoughts of coffee were soon forgotten as the first bonito hit the line. A moderate 5 to 6 kg according to resident fish (among numerous other things) expert Herve.  Game fishing skills being a bit rusty, or non-existent in my case, that bonito and another escaped before I hooked on to a beautiful looking and excellent-eating mahi mahi; sky blue on top, silver underneath with bright yellow fins and tail.  Following a good fight we had it close enough to taste, when due to some excessive zeal it got tangled in the rope of the newly installed water-powered generator. Watching the biggest fish I had ever nearly caught floating gently away, face mangled by the generator, I thought to myself – fuck. To add insult to injury, the line potentially damaged the seal on the water generator and broke our best lure in the process, obtained upon unambiguous advice from a brawny fisherbloke in a fishing warehouse over the border from Gibraltar in Spain (i.e. across the runway and past all the Spaniards lining up for tax free smokes, somewhere in the dusty back streets of La Linea and next door to a Chinese thrift store called Super Chino). After briefly pondering whether fishing was in fact a shit sport, I cast my eyes eastwards to the distant glow emanating from Casablanca to the east (yes, that Casablanca!), and decided that it probably was a shit sport, before wondering how we were going to fix that lure. If anyone can, Dusty can…

This is a mahi mahi. I didn't catch one...

We left the shipping lane that night which was a relief. No more super tankers to contend with. The wind picked up to around 18 knots in the night, all in all pushing us 150 nautical miles closer to La Graciosa, our first anchorage.

Day 4: Let there be coffee!
It’s amazing how your concept of time changes on nightwatch, surrounded by 50% ocean (heard, not seen) and 50% starry sky. On land, waiting 30 seconds for the wifi to login basically has me ready to kick my laptop overboard, but a 3 or 4 hour watch just ‘sails’ by imperceptibly, kind of like trying to time how long a dream is.

Looking sailorish yet?

The curious and playful dolphins once again paid a visit, as if to signal the end of the dawn watch, and Dusty rigged a coffee maker from a teapot. The day had started well, was there to be a fish or two? Alas, not even a bite. So it was that we had to contend with 8 knots of sailing under blue skies with nothing to do but read, nap in the sun, snack, and occasionally change sails. What a bum deal. Not even Harry hydrovane’s general reluctance to ‘loosen up’ could put a dampener on things. In the end, a plastic bag and a couple of pegs worth about 8 eurocents got the thousands of dollars worth of equipment to cooperate.
Changeable winds from the night watch onwards made sail selection a bit of a chore (to pole the genoa, or not to pole the genoa, that is the question). Waiting for the sun to rise and bring the Canaries into view, all was good. If dolphins could talk, or if we knew how to listen, perhaps that’s what they would’ve said as they did their morning rounds of the boat…

1 comment:

  1. Looking sailorish? Not really....just looking more and more like your old man!