The sheltered bay just north of the entrance to Mar Menor is an ideal stopover when heading along the Spanish coast. The anchor had just been dropped when I accidentally caught my best and most valuable sunglasses catapulting them onto the deck, where they flexed and sprang into the deep blue briny. I needed to secure Gianti before donning snorkel and face mask and starting the search.
Minute after minute slipped by as I fruitlessly attempted to locate this critical item of personal protective equipment. Life can be so cruel. I was getting cold and visibility wasn’t improving so I begrudgingly gave up my search, accepting that this was now an expensive offering to the sea gods.
The grieving process would likely be lengthy as I was still chuntering about the loss when we moved around to Cartagena the next day. It was a mixed sail that took a longer than planned though we made light work of mooring when we arrived. On the second attempt. And I was still whining about the tragic loss of my sunglasses. They were nice. Best I’ve ever had.
We had sufficient fuel to see us to Almerimar, which was a relief as I didn’t want a repeat of the previous disastrous encounter between the concrete fuel quay and Gianti’s bow (see Captains Blog 19 – Bad Day at the Office).
After a few days we had a fairly good weather window to take us towards Almerimar, 114 miles away, so set off into some big seas for an overnight sail. We made good time and at one stage I thought we might have to slow down to arrive in daylight, but the wind faded with the light so no worries there.
Almerimar hadn’t changed since our last visit, so after fuelling up and mooring we set out to reacquaint ourselves with the town, its surroundings and catch up with some friends. We’d not explored much beyond the main access previously so this was the ideal time to visit the salt water lake within the nature reserve, just behind the beach.
As we drew closer, I caught site of a familiar outline, one that I’d not seen since Licata! Could it really be? Martin the lonely flamingo? I wanted to call out but knew this would only startle him/her and I needed to get a better look. It wasn’t long before he/she took flight and although I called out “Martin” ……………. “Martin”…………… “Martin” ………….. “Martin” he/she refused to look back. It was a long shot, I know, though relocating to Spain may not have been such a bad option. At least there’d be some company until the others got bored and flocked off again.
We’d put up the folding bikes while we were moored for a few days so one afternoon I set out past the nature reserve to explore further along the coast. The area surrounding Almerimar is given over to fruit and vegetable production with thousands and thousands and thousands of acres blanketed with polythene sheeting. I cycled along a track behind just one of the polythene greenhouses. It was huge and took around 15 minutes to cycle its length. On the opposite side of the track was scrubland that ultimately led to the sea. Discarded polythene debris littered the area. It was soul destroying knowing that all this waste would, at some stage, simply blow into the water and this was from just one production plant.
A few days later we had favourable conditions for a blast West, so we set out at dawn hoping to make it through the Straits of Gibraltar in one solid sail, if the wind and swell were with us. They weren’t.
Winds were very light when we set off, just as forecast, but that was as good as it got. The light Easterlies predicted didn’t materialise and we ended up motoring into Westerlies blowing between 10 and 20 knots. An awkward swell continued to roll in from the South East causing us to lollop from side to side.
The swell eased over time, but we still had a frustrating trudge towards Europa Point and the opportunity to go through the straits in one go was fading quickly. As the daylight turned to dusk, dolphins appeared playing at the bow of the boat. We were both tired and their visit gave us a real lift. All through the night we had dolphins splashing and swimming alongside. I tried to see them with a torch, but it was hopeless. Even at sunrise we still had dolphins by our side!
As noon approached it was clear we’d lost the opportunity to make it through the Straits today. As we closed in on Europa Point the water appeared to be boiling. It was as though the seabed was being agitated and the surface water was leaping skyward. Maybe I needed to sleep. Best thing for it, head around Europa Point, past Gibraltar and drop anchor just off the beach at La Linear, get some kip, then try again tomorrow.
There’s a very specific time slot to head West through the Straits and we’d planned it meticulously to maximise our chances of getting through without having to battle an incoming current. All was good as we sailed out of our anchorage past the numerous tankers and freight liners on the approach to Gibraltar. We entered the Straits and the water appeared to be boiling again, with lots of small fishing boats taking advantage of this peculiar occurrence. We motor sailed to Tarifa where, true to form, the winds started hitting 30 knots. We rapidly went from battling currents to flying along under headsail alone at 6 to 7 knots as we sailed towards Barbate.
Barbate tends to be a stopover rather than a destination, but we enjoyed our stay and it was really popular with Spanish tourists. Once you get into the town there’s some interesting meandering to be had, just along the coast you’ve got Trafalgar and the beach here has beautiful talcum powder soft sand.
Our intention was to head into the Guadiana River, where Spain meets Portugal, the only problem being it was tide dependant. So, change of plan, we’d head further West to Faro, where there’d be less tidal trouble and we’d actually be in Portugal where we planned to winter.
We set off under motor to cross the gulf of Cádiz. There was very little wind, but it was expected to build as we progressed. We were about 30 miles out when we saw a small rib pass in front of us, full of people. They were too far away to see clearly and we couldn’t make out if they were men or a mixture of men and women, but we reckoned there were 12 or 13 onboard. At this stage there were no other vessels around and we were discussing whether to contact the coastguard when the VHF radio burst into life. The coastguard was calling us. They’d received reports about a boat, possibly full of refugees in our vicinity and they’d spotted us on the AIS system. We passed on what information we could and were instructed to standby. They contacted us shortly after to verify if they were still in sight, which they weren’t, so thanked us for our time and we continued on our journey.
You can’t help but wonder how bad things must have been for them to set out in a small rib to cross from Africa to Europe with no guarantee of success and a less than friendly welcome if they made it. It makes you realise just how lucky we are.
Through the night, a large Spanish naval vessel appeared about 1 mile off our port side. It stuck with us and we thought we may be boarded, but after about 20 minutes it moved away to patrol the waters ahead of us.
Winds built as the night wore on and by the early hours we were reaching 7 knots as we heeled over on a course to Faro. We trimmed sails as the wind veered ending up on a nice beam reach as the sun rose. The fishing line went out and was quickly made up again as the sea birds took the lure for a tasty squid and kept trying to pluck it from the water.
We soon arrived into the anchorage at Faro and got settled. The wind was still up so any chance of heading ashore was remote. The next morning, we headed to a small pier where we could tie up the dinghy and explore Faro. We knew were back in Portugal when we heard the familiar clatter of a Cegonha (stork) chatting to its mate from a nest precariously perched on top of the church tower. We spent most of the day exploring and shopping, I even brought myself to look at a few pairs of sunglasses, though quickly realised it was far too soon, I was still in mourning.
Our final stop before Lagos was Vilamoura marina. It’s a very large, impressive marina surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops. You’d expect to see a lot of bustle with people filling the bars and restaurants or wandering the perimeter of the marina basin, but I suspect covid has made a significant difference to visitors as there’s no lack of holiday accommodation.
We explored the coast either side of the town by bike. The are some good bike tracks so it was an ideal way to get to know the place. We stumbled upon some exercise stations on our ride and couldn’t resist a go. It was then that I realised the first mate’s dream of becoming Portuguese monkey bar champion 2020, was just that. Her attempt consisted of reaching up and holding onto the “apparatus” momentarily, before losing grip and plummeting to earth in a fit of giggles. Shameful!
The season really was almost over and we’d been lucky to achieve what we had in light of the global pandemic. We set off for Lagos. A fairy big swell with very little wind set us up for a very disappointing last leg beneath overcast skies. We shouldn’t grumble, we realised just how lucky we’d been and knowing that we’d be at our winter home within a few hours was both comforting and sad at the same time.
Ah well, nearly there. “Do you remember the last time we sailed into Lagos” I asked the first mate. “Yep” she replied “surfed in at 10.9 knots.” “Well, no chance of that again eh” I responded.
The Atlantic Ocean had other ideas and as we came towards the entrance, it was clear that I’d need to line up our approach. We were repeatedly lifted and shot forward with increasing force. Our final surf into Lagos recorded a speed of 11.5 knots so probably the most fitting and exhilarating way to finish this year’s big boaty adventure.
Right then, that should stop the first mate nagging me about writing this piece. It’s like being at school again. I didn’t like that much either. Anyway, time for a break. Wish I had me nice sunglasses!
A bumper dolphin video is available for your delight https://youtu.be/b2bbbEMyEY4
Captain Mac, out.
5 Replies to “Captains Blog 40 – AlmeriMartin”
Great blog, we really enjoyed reading it in gloomy old U.K. with so many restrictions just now.
Hope to catch up again one day, on the water
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Hi Ethna, lovely to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed it! The 2nd batch of Welsh Cakes was a definite improvement in the 1st!! Thanks for the reminder of how delicious they are 😀
I’m sure the sea gods are very grateful for your offering, you will be rewarded 😁👍x
Loved your last two blogs – what an amazing adventure – sadly we won’t get to see you on the dock in Lagos this winter – ENJOY EVERY MOMENT – CONGRATS on your new yacht – looking fwd to hearing what it is so we can check it out-
Hi both, great to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the blog😁.
I’ve put the link to the boat we’re in the process of buying below. She needs some tlc but should be up to some serious ocean passages.
Hope all is good at the farm and you’re still enjoying the snow. 👍