Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Arrived in Morocco.

We arrived in the town of Port Larache, Morocco from Tarifa, Spain on September 22nd, 2011 after a short passage of 60 nautical miles that took us across the Strait of Gibraltar and from Europe to Africa. While crossing the strait we encountered two species of marine mammals. First was a group of pilot whales that at first looked like dolphins but were way too black, too slow and had a round head. They were very social and we were able to approach them but unlike dolphins they didn’t come to play at the bow. A few minutes later we indeed met a group of dolphins of what may seem to be bottlenose dolphins for they were simply huge. They came and swam at the bow for only a couple of minutes, too short to take a picture of them but long enough to realize they were the largest dolphins we’ve encountered in this trip. We see dolphins quite often but somehow it is always a treat to watch them crisscross in front of the bows.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gibraltar: The Rock!

There are many places in the world that make one dream such as the Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt or the Panama Canal and whose reputation and history are relegated more to legend and myth than real personal knowledge and Gibraltar is one of them. What I mean is that everyone heard about Gibraltar and its famous rock but who could point it on a map or say why it is significant? In fact, before getting there Danielle and I, and other people with whom we spoke, thought it was an island when in fact it is a small peninsula with a large rock on it.

To fill the intellectual vacuum of the club for the geographically challenged which we are part of, I present here a small map of the region and some info I found here and there. The first thing to see on the map is that Gibraltar is not an island but an appendage of Spain and more specifically of the peninsula of Iberia. The second thing to notice is that this Lilliputian kingdom is so small that without a microscope it is not visible on a world map. Add to that its proximity to the only entry to the Mediterranean and therefore it’s obvious interest to the British, a rock several hundred meters high that is totally impregnable for an invader and a main street full of English pubs and you have Gibraltar. A population of about 30,000 and the currency is the pound of Gibraltar pegged at parity with the pound sterling. Now, how can such a small population support a currency in itself is a great mystery to me especially that since it is pegged to its big British sister so why not just use the British pound? Well let’s not try to understand world finance or we will have to understand how an American can mortgage his house to 110% of its value! The day we arrived, Sept. 10, happened to be Gibraltar’s national day and the people here were truly patriotic, all dressed in red and white which are the colors of the flag of Gibraltar. Notice that the same clothing could be used for the Canadian or Peruvian national holidays when you think about it.

A passage in Gibraltar is not without a visit to the famous rock which covers over 90% of the area of the country. But in addition to the tunnels, caves and monkeys the feature that strikes the most during this visit is the view that one has of the only airstrip in the country. The problem that the British had to deal with is that there is not enough flat land here to build a long enough runway. So they took the only flat part of the country, have filled in the missing part and spread the asphalt over it. But as the runway covers the entire breadth of the country so how do we get out? Simply by passing on the airstrip. A system of traffic lights on each side and we’re in business. Run a red light and a plane lands on top of you! It sure makes you think twice. Now back to the rock itself. Over the centuries it seems that everyone wanted this piece of rock then the English or Spanish depending on who owned the land at one time have dug tunnels in the interior of the rock for shelter in times of siege. This is more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) of tunnels that are now found in this mineral gruyere. Think about it for a second, 48 km of tunnels dug into the rock bed! And you found that our work at the office was hard! But on top of all this is found the only tribe of monkeys in Europe, more than about 300, which bask and enjoy absolute protection and food that their cousins Homo sapiens give them. Obviously there is no such thing as a free lunch, even between primate species it seems, and these favors are given at the price of being photographed all day long with ugly tourists. Of course we can ask ourselves the existential question of which of the two species is the smartest? The one that works his ass off all day long to satisfy his irrelevant taste for consumer goods or the one that basks in the sun of the Mediterranean and eat the food given by the other? Just look at the last two pictures and the answer becomes pretty obvious!

Obviously the cruising life would not be the same without the never-ending list of boat repairs that extends as quickly as we managed to reduce it. So every time we enter a port of importance on the one hand we spend hundreds of dollars for our pleasure but on the other thousands for the boat! Here, among others, the main sail had to be mended and we also installed a new windlass, which is used to winch up the anchor, and thus put an end to two weeks of exhaustion for me after raising the anchor by hand. A 10mm (3 / 8'') chain it is heavy, very heavy! And talking about windlasses one might think that installing such a device would be quite a piece of work but it wasn’t the case at all. The old one we had was almost the same so the installation turned out to be trivial. However, Danielle had to work very hard to actually get the part delivered to the boat. The story is too long to be described here but to make it short let’s say that we ordered the device in Spain while dealing with customer service in England then it was shipped from The Netherlands and delivered in Gibraltar. And without the commendable dedication of Ian in England we would have long finished our trip before receiving the device! But when I say that it is virtually impossible to empty the list of things to do I'm not kidding. When I finish mending the sail, our list was completely empty of any essential repairs. Well, that lasted two hours and then poof! The container of one of the watermaker’s filters cracked in half pouring all our water in the bilge. Why this container, I had just installed in Turkey, decided to die at that very moment? The only possible answer is that it heard us talking in the kitchen and saying that we managed to complete all essential repairs hence creating a paradox in the maritime parallel universe and the container such as a Palestinian martyr has voluntarily sacrificed itself in order to rebalance the normal order of things.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Arrived in Gibraltar

We arrived in the country of Gibraltar on Sept 10th, 2011 from Puerto de José Banus in Spain. Our plan is to get the boat and ourselves ready for the Atlantic crossing that is to come soon and before leaving the civilization to go back to the Caribbean but wait… not right now. To be continued…Morocco…Canary Island and maybe Cape Verde who knows!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

La Costa del Sol

The coast of Spain is full of very pretty towns and instead of sailing directly to Gibraltar we took the time to wander along the Costa del Sol and stop here and there. Probably the most charming town we stopped would be Cartagena. The architecture speaks for itself on these pictures but as you can see Spanish can be very elegant and romantic but also modern and artistic. This mix of old European classic and bold modern styles was omnipresent everywhere we went. Cartagena was warm and pleasant and we sure took the time to enjoy the place during the five days we spent there. It was the right opportunity to try good paella, this rice dish that holds almost the place of an emblem in Spain, and an Asiatico which is a special coffee with brandy unique to Cartagena we were told. I don’t think I have to say that both were very good and contributing to the steady weight gain we suffer since we are in the Med!

Still in Cartagena we would find statues everywhere representing people in different position such as this poor soldier who seem to find his bag quite heavy and needed to rest. Of course I’m always available to cheer a poor fellow in need. Not too far from there we came by this interesting device. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out quickly that this is a submarine but a closer inspection shows many unusual aspects such as the shape of propellers and rudders, the thickness of the hull, the small size of its hull and the top hatch. Well we just had to read the sign telling us that this is the “Peral” submarine built in 1885. All the weird design features can be excused by the fact that this is was one of the early submarines to be built and was the first to use electric battery powered motors and a chemical process to regenerate the crew’s air supply. It was never used in battle but made a nice display item for the tourists a century later!

The cruising life wouldn’t be what it is if it was without having fun with other cruisers which is usually not what you are used at home. For instance when was the last time you had dinner and all your guests arrived bare foot or bringing their own dishes for a potluck? But my favorite was from Roger Hayward on La Palapa who actually swam to Chocobo with his glass of rum in hand! Besides being totally crystal clear with over 15m (45ft) of perfect visibility the water temperature was 20°C (68°C)! If you’re used to swim in the Canadian great lakes this wouldn’t a problem but when you spent the last two years in tropical weather this is quite freezing. Sometimes though things are more “normal” so to speak such as this nice dinner we had at a restaurant in Aguila with, from left to right, Carla & Sebastien sailing on their boat Begonia, myself and Danielle of course and then Roger & Karli from La Palapa who you must be familiar with by now if you read this blog regularly and with who we’ve been sailing on and off since Suez in Egypt.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pursued by security guards in Spain

We didn’t know what kind of very weird adventure awaited us when we stopped for one night in Puerto de José Banus at this port that could easily be called the St-Barth of the Mediterranean with megayachts lined up at the main dock in front of the most expensive stores and where Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porches are as common as the low class Mercedes, Audis and BMWs! We, poor sailors with no revenues, came along in our dirty dinghy, attached it at the wall of the marina and dared walking these streets paved by the money of the higher castes. We even were bold enough to have dinner with Karli and Roger on La Palapa at a nice seafront restaurant. Dinner and company were charming but when we came back to the dinghy at the end of the evening a security guard was waiting for us on the dock. We didn’t notice him in fact until he tried to stop us from getting into our boat while calling for some backup. He didn’t speak English or French and clearly wasn’t something good for us so we ignored him and yelled at him when he tried to prevent us from untying the line. Usually, men from authorities such as police officers use firm and directing tones of voice in order to control us but in this case it was us who were talking down the poor security guard who probably only received two hours of training before getting his oversized uniform. The scene was happening right in front of two amused bystanders sipping their drinks on the waterfront. We left the dock and the poor powerless guard while the two bystanders were sending us thumbs up with big smiles in approval of our defiance. But we were totally unsure of what he wanted from us and it was obvious that they would be looking for us along our way out of the marina so we had the brilliant idea of hiding in the dark behind a dock for a moment which tactic has the same effect than an ostrich burying its head in the sand. We tried calling Karli and Roger, who came back to their boat about 45 minutes before us, on the VHF radio to know if they had any problems with the marina security but got no answer. Then we saw a boat leaving its berth in the back of the marina with huge search lights at its bow. Hidden in our little corner we felt like two teenagers who had done something bad and would get grounded as soon as they get busted.

After a moment we decided that it was better to leave fast then to wait for them to get too organized and we moved at normal speed toward the entrance trying not to attract any attention. But the boat seemed to follow us while guys ashore were shouting at us to stop. It became very clear that they really were onto us and that our tactic of leaving unnoticed was a miserable failure hence relegating it to the archives of dumb ideas. Following the same genius reasoning Danielle said “Come on, go go go!” and I pushed the motor at full throttle as we passed the fuel dock and with a very calm sea around us we planed immediately and left the entrance of the marina at full speed. At this point we thought “Oh my god, oh my god we are fugitives now!” even though we were pursued by security guards not units of the Marine Corp! For some reasons the other boat behind us didn't accelerate immediately and because the breakwater wall of the marina had a dog leg shape we had to turn south to exit the protected area and this made that for a short moment we were out of sight of the pursuing boat but not really of the guys ashore shouting at us. Going directly west toward Chocobo anchored not very far would have been obviously stupid so as soon as we were passed the breakwater I turned south-west toward the sea until we were well passed Chocobo. With no lights we were probably hard to see on the water, even though it was a near full moon, because by then the boat with the searching lights was out of the marina and flying at full speed due south. At this point we taught that this was probably just a boat leaving the marina and went somewhere else and we slowed down while turning toward the shore were it was clearly dark. We came back slowly to Chocobo hidden by the darkness of the night and with the music of “Mission Impossible” in our mind while the other boat was getting further south. But as we were raising the dingy on its davits it turned back and returned toward the marina with its search lights moving in all directions. They were really chasing us down We thought of leaving the anchorage immediately and go back to Marbella about 3 miles east but revised our decision when we saw that the boat had turned and seemed to have lost our trace. It would be less suspicious if we stay and just leave at 0700 am the next morning as planned and that’s what we did. We never heard of them afterward. Of course we still have a zillion unanswered questions from that story. What exactly were they expecting from us? Paying 50 Euros for using their holy wall? How much did it cost us in fuel to chase us at full speed with their big boat? How can the guys on shore be so stupid not to be able to follow us under a full moon as we ran away and tell the guys on the chasing boat? Did the guard on the dock get shit from his boss for being such a puss and letting us go so easily? How come they didn’t come investigate the only two sailboats that were anchored outside the marina? I mean, where did they think the dinghy was coming from exactly? Everybody managing a marina or a port knows that sailboats use inflatable tender boats to get ashore but these guys flew straight due south thinking we would sail directly offshore in the Mediterranean Sea aboard a ten foot inflatable boat! Do they recruit their security personnel directly from the Spanish Institute of Graduated Morons or what? But the real question that remains a mystery is what was wrong with those guys anyway? Everybody attach their dinghy to the main port walls when going ashore and no one ever bother us for the simple reason that we are not really a nuisance. I think those guys really need to get a life because they seem to have way too much time on their hands. But this whole story has the merit of having put some excitement in our cruising of the Med. After dealing with the corrupted officials of Central America, crossing the largest oceans of the world, sailing through blood thirsty pirate waters and dealing with Egyptians our trip was getting pretty dull and this poor security guard had as much chance to control us as a sardines, found in great numbers in this part of the world, to eat us alive!