Category Archives: The Med

Winter in Gibraltar

We spent last winter in Gibraltar. We knew little about the place, except that it was a big rock with some famous apes, and British.

Of course, we also knew that it was outside the EU, and outside of the Schengen zone, and both were needed to keep me and Rocket Science from getting sideways with the authorities. So, we had the good fortune to find a spot in one of the two marinas.

It’s important to understand a couple of key things about the place. First, being outside of the EU, it is an attractive place to folks looking to find some tax advantages in banking, properties, and such. Also, being a low-tax zone, it also attracts people for whom cheap booze and smokes are a major selling point. Turns out, the latter is a little more problematic in daily life.

We arrived in our slip, a little surprised that our neighbors took no interest in our arrival, nor did they offer to lend a hand, adjust their fenders (when med-mooring, all the boats are in contact with each other most of the time, so you need to mind that your fenders are actually doing something), or even really offer a friendly word after we got all tied up. No matter-we had by then become rather used to aloof Europeans. We didn’t mind.

However, it turns out these folks, we’ll call them Klaus and Kunnigunde, were firmly in the booze and smokes camp. The party raged until the wee hours, glasses clinking, raucous laughter, smoke billowing into our cabin. We said nothing, and hoped we just arrived on a special occasion.

The next night, we discovered this was our new normal. How awful. The marina has a ‘quiet after 2300’ policy (as does all of Gib, incidentally), but this mattered nothing to these folks and their buddies from down the dock. Finally, at 0130, Jenny respectfully asked if they could just please take it inside? 30 minutes later, after turning off the music, but still smoking, laughing, and yelling, she popped back out to ask a little more forcefully to please show some respect to the marina rules and us. This was met with some seriously furious anger, and a suggestion to put in ear plugs. Great. This was supposed to be our spot for 6 months, and the marina was completely full, so we couldn’t find another spot. What a nightmare.

Of course, Klaus and co. were pretty overtly hostile any time we saw them for quite a while after. They did tone it down, but it was never comfortable there. Fortunately, we weren’t there the whole time, and the cooler weather kept the outdoor partying to a minimum as the fall wore on, but it still sucked.

Of course, the terrible surge and damage to the boat did little to enamor us to the place as well. RS still bears some nasty scars from our winter in Gib.

Anyway, we made the best of our time there, taking every chance to hike up to the top of the rock. It was always a welcome reprieve to get around the back side of the rock, and away from the constant noise and bustle of the place. We were also happy to be able to get some proper British goods at the local supermarket, and we had a fine Indian restaurant nearby, and even some decent Thai and delivery pizza.

But, the place is really chaotic. The traffic’s a nightmare, with cars and especially scooters blasting around like mad. A bike ride was always a roll of the dice, one which Jenny had the misfortune to lose one one occasion. She got hit by one of the nutty drivers in a roundabout, pitching her off her bike and onto the pavement. There were only minor injuries to her, but she was definitely shaken up. Shortly after the accident, a cop rode up and asked if she needed to go to the hospital, and when it was determined that she didn’t, he rode off. No reports, no ticket for the driver. Just another cyclist run over, no biggie.

Ultimately, we didn’t make it the whole winter. Gib has a limit of 6 months before taxes are due. You just have to go to Spain with the boat for 5 minutes to reset the clock, so during my week home in March, we set about getting this done, booking a slip for a couple of nights just across the border in La Linea. We had a nice T-head, and a view of something other than concrete and the hulls of the boats on either side of us. We had already booked our stay in Gib, though, so we were planning to head back.

In the end, Jenny quietly let me know that the thought of going back to Gib was just too much to bear. So, with great relief, we stayed in La Linea, settling in to our new digs contentedly. For about 12 minutes.

On minute 13, Baxter saw a dog on the quay behind the boat, and let out a single bark. Immediately, a very hostile, tattooed Brit popped his head out, and said: “In all seriousness, am I going to have to listen to that shit all day? I come down here for quiet, and I don’t want to hear your damn dog barking!” He muttered some more pleasantries, and went down below.

For god’s sake, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I decided to nip this one in the bud. I stood outside his boat, and told him rather loudly and sharply that he really ought to come out and introduce himself properly, and civilly. We did manage to become friendly-we assured him that we were responsible dog owners, and while little B would never be absolutely silent, we wouldn’t just let him run amok. He informed us that he was Ă¡ miserable bastard´and on those grounds he turned out to be pretty ok in the end.

In the end, it was a necessary stop, but not really the greatest experience for us. Compared to N. Europe, and our delightful winter in England the year prior, we did find the place a little bit of a disappointment. But, the beauty of cruising is that one can always toss the lines and sail off to greener pastures. For our part, we were pretty happy to leave the rock in our wake.

Cartagena to the Islas Canarias

After our welcome foray into the mountains, we returned to sweltering Cartagena to handle a few small maintenance items before the last 900 or so miles to the islands. The plan was to make this run with just a single stop in Gibraltar.

First, though, we had one last bit of business to take care of while in Europe- Barcelona! I’d never been there, and Jenny had only been there once as a teen, so it was high time for both of us to head over there.

Joining us there were Bob and Cheri, another Alaskan fishing couple. I’ve known Bob for 25 years or so, and he’s a valued ally on the fishing grounds, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to spend time outside of a work setting. Nice.

Barcelona was great. We hit as many of the highlights as we could in the couple of days we were there. We had planned to spend 3 nights there, but only managed 2-Westerlies were expected to fill in our our route to Gib, so we had to cut it a bit short to avoid that. Such is the life of a sailor.

Next up was the 275 mile trip to Gib. The 4 of us had a fine time of it, even managing an 8 hour uninterrupted spinnaker run, which is pretty rare in the fickle Med. Good stuff. We motored the rest of the time, of course. The trip took a little under a day and a half.

We had a couple of days with our amigos in Gib, Jenny spent one day hiking up to the top of the rock with them-13 miles and 1400′ of vertical gain. I stayed home with B, and after seeing them drag themselves back home, I was pretty happy to have been nominated babysitter.

The following day was a little trip to Cadiz, which mostly involved a little walk around and lunch in this ancient city. It’s reckoned to be the place that’s been continuously inhabited for longer than about anyplace in Europe, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Finally, we bade Bob and Cheri farewell, and enjoyed a couple of quiet weeks aboard before our passage to the islands. Finally, the weather looked light but favorable, and we chucked the lines for the 600 mile ride to the islands. The first 24 hours were basically windless, contrary to the forecast, leaving us motoring uncomfortably in a big swell. Finally a bit of breeze filled in, and we had some really spectacular, fast sailing. It was nice to be back out in a proper ocean swell again, surfing away on our trusty ride. Jenny hit 16 a couple of times while I was snoozing at 3am. I came up for my watch to find her grinning away, claiming to have been nervous during the fastest runs. I’m not so sure, it looked like she’d been having a ball to me.

So, thanks to our little speedy part in the middle, we arrived in Lanzarote in just a few hours over the 3 day mark. We’re settled in here now until the hurricanes stop blowing, and the winter trades get established, and then we’ll head for the Caribbean via the Cape Verde islands.

Cruising the Med in summer, being written from the Alps

I finally got home from my epic stint at work during the first week of July, rejoining Jenny and RS in Gibraltar. On tap was a mini-cruise of the W. Med. A few stops in the Islas Balaeres, then some cruising in Corsica and Sardinia.

We had been warned by those who had gone before us that July and August were pretty awful in the more popular areas. Boats crewed by folks of little to no skill, chaotic anchoring, heat, and super high costs for marinas were all mentioned.

But, how bad could it really be? We certainly weren’t going to be going to Ibiza or Palma de Mallorca in July, but we figured that we could get off the beaten path enough that it would be pretty much ok. In most cases, we did ok.

So, we slipped the lines and headed East shortly after getting RS stocked up with provisions. Our first stop was Cartagena, Spain. We spent a few days in this attractive town. This is a really popular place for folks to winter on board, and it’s easy to see why.

So far so good! We enjoyed our time in Cartagena, but were sad to say goodbye to our dear friends Judith and Poppy on Just Browsing. They had been our across the dock neighbors in Gibraltar and we had been very happy to see them again in Cartagena.

Next up were a few days in Alicante. This was our first taste of the marina pricing we’d been warned about-about 140 USD per night. It’s a nice town, and a pleasant place to visit, but headwinds kept us there for longer than we would have liked at that price.

Then, we sailed direct to Menorca, the least crowded of the Balearics. On the way there we were enjoying a good, fast sail with our Code 0. The wind was gradually increasing. Just as we were discussing that the sail was loaded up and maybe it was time to furl it there was a tremendous bang. We both watched in mild annoyance as the top of the sail flew down wind into the water. We hove to, fished the sail out and discovered that the halyard shackle had broken right in half.

We looked initially for a place to anchor, but found anyplace that looked good totally packed with boats. I wasn’t too happy to try to wedge in, so we went dockside in Mahon for a few days. They have some floating pontoons out in the harbor, and we used one of these.

We liked Mahon a lot. The dinghy saw a lot of use, Baxter found a great beach to hang out on, and the town itself was a treat.

Finally, it was time to go, and we sailed direct for Cagliari, Sardinia.

This is a port of entry, and we understood from the cruising guide that we needed to register with the maritime authorities. Having duly performed this duty, we did some shopping and got out of there as soon as we could The marina we stayed in was really a dump, and we weren’t digging it that much. It seems to be a place where boats go to die-a big portion of them were in a seriously derelict state.

Leaving Cagliari, we headed back SW to sample some of the anchorages. Our first stop was Pula. It’s a bit of a rolly anchorage most of the time (as most seem to be on that coast), with a long beach behind. We’d gone there mostly to meet Ryan and Elena from SV Kittiwake. They’re planning to join us on our upcoming Atlantic crossing, so we wanted to meet up and get to know them a bit.

We had our first clue that all was not well in Pula shortly after we arrived. We took the dink off to an unoccupied corner way off at the end of the beach, and we were promptly surrounded by glaring Italians. We pulled the dink up the sand, and took B for a little walk on a trail back away from the beach. Upon our return, a new set of hostiles surrounded us and kept staring daggers at us until we were nearly back to the boat.

What the heck was going on? We made sure we landed well away from anybody-just like we’ve done on beaches in many parts of the world without anybody taking issue with it. There were no makers, no buoys, no signs-we didn’t get it.

Anyway, we figured we must be doing something wrong, so the next time we went ashore, we went about 1/4 mile from where we could find anyone, landing through the small surf onto a rocky beach. This was better.

The next day, we got together with the crews of 2 other boats, Kittiwake and Songbird, and took 2 dinks in to the beach on the other end of the bay from where we’d been anchored. We had seen dozens of dinghies going ashore by this point, motoring right up to the shore, leaving them on the beach while the crews were in town or in a restaurant. We figured that we were fine to do the same. Wrong.

Anyway, we motored slowly, relatively close to shore, and then shut down our engines and paddled in the last bit, as there were folks on the beach. As soon as we got ashore, a couple of local cops were there, ticket books in hand. Fortunately, Elena’s Italian, so we could at least figure out what was going on. Turns out that every single one of the dinks that we’d seen were operating illegally. We just happened to show up at just the wrong place at the wrong time. When we pointed out that we were operating more responsibly than anyone we’d seen, it didn’t matter a bit. We had to head back to the boat in one dink while teenagers threw rocks at the other one to retrieve passports and boat papers, and then received a summons to the police station for the following day. We were really pretty gobsmacked by it all-even with our native Italian researching the rules, we couldn’t find any rules published-there was simply no way to find them.

But, you can’t really fight city hall, and we turned up at the appointed hour to face the music. 160 euros lighter, the matter was settled. The cops were pretty apologetic, really. We also learned that it was illegal to put your dinghy ashore, if you want to go to a restaurant on the beach, for example, the dink needs to be anchored 200m from shore, and then you can swim in. Dogs weren’t allowed anywhere on the beach we couldn’t even carry him across without risking a fine of 500 Euros.

Wow. Time to get out of Pula.

Together with Kittiwake we visited a couple of other anchorages which were a little more remote, and they were fine.

But, during all this, we came to a realization. We were in the least congested part of Sardinia, and we were already feeling like it was too crowded. Further north? Chaos. Everyone we had contact with further north was pretty traumatized. One boat had a superyacht anchor right on top of them, and then had the same yacht wind their chain up in its propeller, causing extensive damage to their boat. The national park was stuffed, no moorings available. The marinas? Huge money-if you could even get in. It really didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

The solution? The Alps!

We decided that we’d bag our little cruise a couple weeks early, head back to Spain, and enjoy some time in the blissfully cool mountains.

I’m writing this from Chamonix, and it’s GLORIOUS up here. We’re going to spend 10 days or 2 weeks up in the Alps, then will resume cruising after Europe’s vacation time is mostly over. Most experienced Med cruisers tend to hide for July and August, and we now understand why.

This isn’t to say that it’s all been horrible, but we both felt like our time would be better spent doing something completely different than sweltering with the masses during the high season. So far, it’s been great.