Tuesday 11 December 2012

Keeping ourselves amused on the Rock


  We really had to do a blog post today just so we could type in the one two, one two, one two dateline. After all, another date like this won't happen again until January First 3001 (01.01.01) which is certainly a long way past our use by.

We've now been in Gibraltar for five weeks as we sit out the northern winter. This is the longest we’ve been in one place since we went home to Australia for a similar period last year and it is taking some getting used to. Our original idea was to spend four months here through to the end of February but we’re already getting itchy feet so we may end up heading back east along the Spanish coast a little earlier than expected if the weather gods are amenable. We will probably stay put at least until late January however.

Gibraltar Registry Office hours - Not sure what difference 15 minutes makes in summer
It would be very easy here to hibernate like a lazy bear and do very little over winter but we are deliberately trying to keep a bit of discipline in our lives and get things done. This means allocating at least one or two days each week to working our way through a long list of boat jobs we put together to achieve during the winter break.  Most involve routine and annual maintenance items of one form or another with the intention of having Alcheringa in tip top condition for a packed summer of sailing next year.

There's a small but friendly group of live aboard cruisers here in Queensway
Quay Marina. We're also surrounded by very upmarket appartments and
penthouses priced in the millions of pounds.
The rest of our time so far has been spent going for long walks keeping the exercise up and to more fully explore our temporary home on the rock and getting to know more of the people here around the marina. Then of course there's also our weekly international shopping trip to Spain for the cheaper groceries (and wine).  
Rob about to cross the runway with a bag over each shoulder and dragging the granny trolley
after loading up with cheap groceries and wine in Spain. The 10k round trip is a good workout.
Karen checking the prawns in Spain. Cheap at 9.90 Euro a kilo ($12.20)
and so big you only get two to the kilo. Mmm! Might get one each for
Christmas lunch,
It’s far from all go however. Karen and Mark are both churning through books at warp speed while Rob is spending more time writing than reading. In addition to keeping the blog ticking over, he’s been working on some magazine article ideas and procrastinating about starting the draft for a book about our year crewing on other people’s boats. The book may not get statrted for a while now though as he’s had the very first article he sent off to a publisher accepted. It should appear in the March edition of ‘Cruising Helmsman’ magazine in Australia. They’ve also requested he get on with a number of his other story ideas and forward them through as well. It was nice not to be the expected rejection slip. 

As we fast approach Christmas, so far the weather here has been quite a bit milder than we had anticipated. While it has cooled down since we arrived in late October, a normal day at the moment is fine or thin overcast with temperatures still in the mid to high teens centigrade. The nights have been getting down to nine or ten but even on the boat, that’s quite liveable, particularly when we fire up our little fan heater to cosy up below decks. If the breeze blows however a wind chill factor certainly kicks in and a few days have felt far colder than the thermometer showed.

Despite this being the low season, a surprisingly large number of tourists are still to be found in Gibraltar every day. It’s seems rare for there not to be a least one large cruise ship in the harbour most of the time and the three British airlines fly in every day don’t seem to be suffering a lack of passengers.

The fuel dock and one of the marinas here in Gibraltar are right beside the
runway so you do need to be careful not to get a lot more wind than you
expected if you sail near the flightpath when a jet's coming or going.
The Gibraltar locals are proud of their history
- and know how to make a buck out of it too
A constant stream of mini-vans take the camera wielding masses up the rock for the obligatory barberry ape experience while lower down in the retail area centred on ‘Main Street’, ‘Irish Town’ and ‘Casemates Square’ the city trades on its significant historical interest and well preserved buildings and fortifications. Not to mention the tax free booze and ridiculously cheap cigarettes of course.

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Tuesday 4 December 2012

Gibraltar - Winter wanderings and tracking the Vendee Globe

December 4, 2012

The nights are certainly cooling down here on the Rock but thankfully many of the days have been sun filled with quite pleasant temperatures in the mid to high teens zone. We’ve been making the most of the good days doing plenty of walking to explore our winter home. Not only have we found some great little spots on our wanderings, but we’re also enjoying the chance to get some regular exercise which can be difficult at times when you live within the confines of a boat.

Our weekly shopping trip to the supermarket across the border in Spain provides a good ten kilometre workout. We’ve added to this the good walk through the streets and tunnels along the western side of the Gibraltar to Europa Point with its great views across the water to Morocco and another route around to Catalan Bay on the eastern side of the rock.
On one of our walks to Point Europa with North Africa across the water
There are many tunnels through the rock. This one's on our walk to Point Europa

Catalan Bay has quickly become our favourite. It has a completely different look and feel to the rest of Gibraltar. The cafes offer a great range of food with no sign of the ubiquitous ‘British Pub Grub’ which is the staple offering of almost every establishment in the main town. Even the prices are much more like Spain instead of London. The beach itself is wide and well protected and we can well imagine it would be extremely popular in summer. Unfortunately the walk to reach Catalan Bay takes us through some of the least attractive parts of Gibraltar including the city dump. It does encourage us to set a cracking pace though which is good for the exercise plan at least.
Catalan Bay has become our favorite part of Gibraltar
Gibraltar winter weather - cool but clear
Catalan Bay is extremely beautiful
Compulsory chessy tourist shot at Catalan Bay

We’ve settled into our winter base at Queensway Quay Marina pretty well. There is quite a serious surge here in the Marina on occasions. We’ve got Alcheringa trussed up with eight mooring lines in all but we still dart about a bit at times. The boat will be pushed quickly in one direction or another all of a sudden then stop sharply when the lines pull tight. It’s like being in a bus with the driver constantly jumping hard on the brakes and not a bad recipe for motion sickness if you’re cooped up below. Fortunately our big salon windows make the boat feel a lot more light and airy than most which really helps a lot in that regard.
Ropes, ropes and more ropes to battle the surge in Queensway Quay Marina

We have got to know a few of the other live aboard cruisers hosting guests aboard Alcheringa and socialising on other boats which has been great. Sunday night is Quiz Night at ‘The Lounge’, our local here in Queensway, and we’ve put together a team the last couple of weeks which has distinguished itself by not coming last. We’ve struggled a little when all the famous faces and news questions are UK-centric. How are Aussies supposed to name ten British Cabinet Ministers just from their photos for cripes sake? Good fun over a couple of reds though.
Now the Formula One and Australian V8 Supercar seasons are over we’ve kept ourselves from getting too bored by following the progress of the Vendee Globe, an amazing solo race around the world on high performance 60 foot yachts. We were lucky enough to get up close and have a good look at many of the boats when we stopped over in Cascais, Portugal on our way to the UK on Curious in May. The fleet completed one of their lead up races while we were there and stayed in the same marina. They are amazing boats and even more amazing athletes that sail them.

Francois Gabart heading into Cascais when we were there
The Vendee Globe Open 60s are incredible single handed flyers

The race started from France on November 10 with over 100,000 spectators lining the canal and breakwaters from the marina to watch the twenty boats leave. The course for the Vendée Globe is very simple. You sail around the world from west to east via the three major capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn. There is a long slide down the Atlantic, the perilous voyage across the Southern Ocean with firstly the Indian Ocean and its massive waves, then the Pacific Ocean, the world’s biggest body of water. Finally, there is the climb back up the Atlantic to head back to Les Sables d’Olonne, which marks the start and finish of the Everest of the seas.
Alex Thomsen getting a huge send off heading out to the Vendee Globe start
Modern technology makes it possible for us to follow the progress of the race with constant updated news including live video reports by the skippers direct from the boats along with fantastic satellite tracking where you can see the progress of the whole fleet. Their speed is unbelievable with a new 24 hour single handed record of 502.53 nautical miles (914.6 kilometres) set last week. That’s an average of 20.9 knots (38.1 kph)

We love underdogs and Alex Thomsen is sailing an incredible race in an
older boat to be nipping at the heels of the leaders in the Vendee Globe
We’re barracking for a Brit, Alex Thomsen, who’s sailing Hugo Boss. It’s a survivor of the last Vendee Globe and not quite as light and modern as the newer generation boats yet he’s been able to stick with the leading pack and has been as high as second position on the run down the southern Atlantic. He constantly has to play the game of looking for alternative strategies as if he just follows the leaders they’re superior boat speed will leave him behind. After only 24 days the leaders have just passed the Cape of Good Hope and Alex has headed further south than the four other leaders looking for more wind. It must have worked. He hit a top speed of 31.2 knots (56.8 kph) today. That is flying. It’s also absolutely frightening.

The fleet is now headed across the Indian Ocean towards Australia. Take a look at the Vendee Globe's excellent website http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en/ to see what’s got us excited or check out the fleet tracking at http://tracking2012.vendeeglobe.org/en/ . It’s well worth a look.

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