Thursday, 14 March 2013

Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar

14 March 2013

 At 10.30 this morning we finally escaped from Gibraltar after hiding from winter for four and a half months in Queensway Quay Marina. As we motored away from our berth and towards the busy waters of the Bay of Gibraltar, marina staff and cruising friends we’d made during our stay made a point of waving us off. We were not sure whether to take this as a lovely gesture or a sure fire sign we’d been here too long but we enjoyed it either way.
Clive, Chris and Dave wave us off from the Queensway Quay Marina

Our first passage of the cruising season involved leaving Europe entirely and sailing to a whole different continent, Africa. It sounds incredibly adventurous but was actually only a trip of 16 nautical miles,(29.6 kilometres). It may have been a short trip, but it proved to be quite eventful none the less. Our destination was Ceuta, a small Spanish enclave on the North African coast across from Gibraltar. That sixteen miles comprises one of the busiest waterways in the world, the Straits of Gibraltar.
Definately one of the busiest waterways in the world
Marc was taking it easy enjoying the sunshine as we passed Europa Point

Initially we had a light 10-12 knot nor-north westerly breeze which saw us getting along quite nicely at 6-7 knots with the full mainsail and asymmetric spinnaker flying. It was a very enjoyable sail down the bay in the sunshine, past Gibraltar’s southern extremity at Europa Point and out into the straits. The wind gradually strengthened the further away from the rock we got and by the time we crossed the line of choppy, disturbed water where the westerly flowing counter-current rubs against the huge volume of water flowing east into the Mediterranean  it was a steady 15-16 knots.
Gibraltar slides far into the distance - at last

All our eyes were fully engaged keeping a watch on the mixture of high speed ferries, tankers and container ships plying their way in all directions as we made our way across the traffic separation lanes in place. A Royal Navy warship passed close by and we even listened in on the radio to a little argy-bargy between it and a Spanish naval vessel over who was going where.
Having a Royal Navy escort was totally unexpected

We’d fully expected the current to be quite strong towards the middle of the straits but weren’t prepared for just how powerful it is. To maintain our heading of 175 degrees (almost due south) towards Ceuta, Rob was kept busy on the helm steering as much as 230 degrees (south-west) to virtually sideslip our way across the fast flowing water.

As we passed the centre of the straight, the wind suddenly swung 90 degrees to the south west and got stronger. It was definitely time to put away the spinnaker so now it was Karen and Marc’s turn to be busy. The spinnaker was furled away, the jib unfurled and set then the spinnaker dropped and stowed below just in time for Rob to ask for a reef in the main as the wind was now constantly over twenty and continuing to strengthen. By the time this was all done Marc was complaining of a distinct lack of fitness after four and a half months sitting around in Gib.
Reefed jib and mainsail in 25 knots and up as we approach the North Africa coast

From here we had an upwind slog against the current, rising sea state and now 25+ knots of wind which pushed us a little further east. The boat really handled the conditions beautifully though and before long we furled the jib and dropped the mainsail just outside the breakwaters of Ceuta Harbour and motored into Marina Hercules. Even in the protection of the harbour there was still 15 knots of wind blowing. This was more than enough to make Mediterranean style stern to the dock mooring without a bow thruster a little interesting to say the least.
Considering we spent much of the day sailing sideways across
 the strong current our track was fairly direct

A little after 2.00pm we were all secure with engine off and a cold beer in hand to celebrate a successful first passage of the season.
The first passage of 2013 down with many more to come

We plan to spend a few days exploring this historic part of the world then head east into the Mediterranean.  Bring it on!

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