It is hard to describe how we felt when, on our approach to Gibraltar, we first spotted the African coast and passed through the most southern point of Europe (Punta de Marroqui or de Tarifa). Unbelievable. Overwhelming. Joyous. To think that our family in our small boat had reached a new continent was mind-blowing to say the least. In our modern everyday world of airports, ferries, passport control and visas we had become blind to the reality of how closely situated countries and continents can be. It was a new and proud feeling; we were really seeing the world. In particular sailing by the iconic Rock of Gibraltar, as per the photos and video below, was a highlight.
However on a more practical note and prior to this point, reaching the tip of Portugal had jolted us into mission mode. We had spent so much of our planning time, pre-trip, concerning ourselves with the Atlantic run that we had not had the time nor head space to work out how we would reach Sicily ahead of the winter. This now sounds underprepared on our part but it really was a case of taking each step at a time. We had passed the Atlantic test; it was now time to get to grips with our next steps into the Med.
On leaving the Algarve we undertook a 12 hour night trip to reach the beautiful Spanish city of Cadiz, which lies approximately 70 nautical miles north/west of Gibraltar. We spent two nights in Cadiz and although we visited this vibrant town, visited its very cool fish market and watched flamenco dancing in the town square, our thoughts were often focused on making headway to Sicily. What was the best approach to get there by November? Where did we really want to spend time en route, if we had time to spend? What were the crucial passages of the trip where we needed to get the weather right?
Our voyage so far had highlighted the fact that our family is happiest in quiet places; on the beach or swimming from the boat at anchor in a bay i.e. cruising in its simplest sense. This criteria strongly guided our route planning; motivating us to push ahead for the Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Formenterra, Majorca and Menorca) with their clear waters and abundant sheltered bays. This meant sacrificing visiting the southern and western coast of Spain. With the decision made, we set out on the 2.5 day leg (310 nautical miles) sailing from Cadiz through the Strait of Gibraltar and on to Cartagena on the south/east coast of Spain.
Many friends have asked about our routines during these long legs. Firstly, Filippo watches the weather, wind and sea state like a hawk in the preceding days. We are cautious when sailing and only go out to sea when the conditions are favourable for a comfortable passage with some wind from the right direction. As we sail continuously during these legs, Filippo and I divide the night watches between us. Two hours on, two hours off from 8pm to 8am. We sleep when off watch. When on watch, the main job is to make sure that we follow our course (which is plotted on the chart plotter), avoid other boats ( fishing boats, ferries, tankers, cargo vessels, other cruisers etc), adjust sails if necessary, drink tea and eat lots of chocolate. We use the auto pilot extensively on the boat, so it means that night watch can often be a pleasure; sitting under the stars in the peace and quiet (children are in bed!). We also listen out on the VHF channel 16, as standard, listening to any warnings from the coast guard etc. Daytime is passed sailing, preparing food, fishing, kids playing Lego, listening to audio books etc.
On this, our first trip into the Med, we came to understand that weather forecasts in the Med are not as reliable as those in the Atlantic. We had been forecasted 20 knots from behind after the Strait of Gibraltar, the reality was more like 30+ knots with big waves. The presence of so many land masses in the Med, with differing coast lines (mountains, plains etc) create a very changeable wind landscape. The Atlantic with its broad reach and treaceable low pressures, in hindsight, provided more precise forecasts. Thirty plus knots with 2 to 3 metre waves and coupled with a very busy shipping channel (vessels coming and going through the Strait of Gibraltar) made this a challenging leg. Furthermore on rounding Cabo da Gata near Cartagena, deep water meet shallow waters in a short distance and this also further deteriorated the sea state. For the first time in our adventure we had to put 3 reefs in our main sail. Therefore arriving in the bay of Cartagena, sheltered behind majestic rock faces was a relief. We were tired; we anchored up for the night in the bay, we swam off the boat and congratulated ourselves on another big step taken. Our video above gives an idea of our sea passage.
Nestled behind those imposing rock faces and surrounded by mountains, it was easy to imagine why Cartagena had such a powerful merchant and military presence in the Med throughout the centuries. Founded by the Carthaginians in 220 BC, the city boomed in the Roman period. The city is beautifully kept and preserved: think marble lined streets, amphiteatres and a population who often dress up as in Roman times to reenact important battles and debates from centuries ago. We felt as though we had been transported back to the Roman times- it has a unique history and atmosphere. Well worth with a visit.
It was here that we also met with other cruisers and cruising families. It was lovely to hear each other’s stories, adventures, trials and tribulations. Boat repairs is high on that list! The families we met were aiming to cross the Atlantic this year- so as we had just entered the Med, they were on their way out into the Atlantic and the Canaries islands, gearing up for a 20 day sail to the Caribbean in December. It was through such conversations that we were advised to register Tabasco on a range of social media and boat tracking sites of the sailing community (No Foreign Land, Kids for Sail etc). These are vibrant, self supporting cruising communities and they are proving very useful in getting cruising advice and meeting others.
We left Cartagena on 26 September for Formentera and Ibiza, dreaming of the warm, clear waters of the Balearic Islands.
Most recent update: we finally arrived in Marina di Ragusa (Sicily) 2 weeks ago where we will spend the winter months.