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Falmouth to Portugal and Gibraltar

Monday 18th July 2011 - Our intended departure date of Saturday 16th July has come and gone along with our next planned date of Monday 18th July.  The weather forecast over the weekend was awful and is lingering a day longer than originally forecast on Friday so we will now depart on Tuesday morning early to a kindlier forecast for a sail across the Bay of Biscay.  Tonight will be our last fish and chips dinner along with a local beer whilst enjoying the view across Falmouth.  All the jobs on the boat are complete with safety gear in place and passage planning complete.  All we need now is a good nights sleep, a last hot shower and we are off.

The marina has been full over the weekend with yachts and boats rafted (tied up together) three deep at times due to the bad forecast.  Most were headed East and were able to leave this morning but for some (like us) the drive into the head wind (Force 7) was not a kindly thought and with time on our side there is no reason to push on.

(Dazcat Catamaran - made in Cornwall)

Over the past week we have had visits from Family and Friends.  Peters cousins (Tim and Judy) came through to Falmouth for a week.  Judy was brilliant and helped us with our ever increasing laundry.  Tim was a superstar and lent his elbow grease to that of Peter and Allan with jobs on the boat - including putting on the new main sail (three times!). 

(celebrating putting on the new main sail)

Robert and Caroline sailed over from Gosport for a couple of days.  We enjoyed their company on Aragon with a dinner and a taste of local beer and cider at The Front before they left.

We have been real tourists whilst here, enjoying a trip to St Mawes on the ferry, Helford river and of course - shopping at Tescos!  St Mawes and Helford are beautiful places.  Rumour told us that Madonna had a house at St Mawes but she wasn't home when we called for tea! 

(St Mawes Castle)                               (Ferry to St Mawes)

On Wednesday the super yacht 'Maltese Falcon' came into Falmouth.  We found out that it is valued at £110 million - if we had won the lottery we would still have had change!  The local press advised that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are to be in Falmouth during the Fal week in August so I was hopeful that as they had been filming in Malta there may be a slight chance that I'd catch sight of Brad out doing his exercises on the deck - I guess I missed him (if he was there).

pic: Maltese Falcon

The marina has a constant flow of yachts arriving and leaving.  This week we saw the Transatlantic Race yachts arrive.  Some were only tied up for 20 minutes whilst the crew landed.  One or two stayed a bit longer and had some lunch and a shower leaving only one racing yacht still remaining in the marina.  What a cosmopolitan place it was with Australians, Hong Kong Chinese, Brits, Americans and others all vying for a hot shower.  We left them to it.


We arrived in Cascais, Portugal after a 7 day trip. Before we left many sailors told us that we hadn’t sailed until we had been on the Atlantic or done this or that. It is however advice that cannot be borne out until you actually experience it yourself. We certainly had more than a taster on this trip.

Day 1 (19th July). After leaving Falmouth and passing the Manacles Buoy we experienced north west winds of 25 knots gusting to 30 -35 knots and building to sustained winds of 30 knots. The sea however had a 5 to 7 metre swell with waves on top. The day was spent in a total blur. Most of us were fighting great waves of sea above decks and great waves of nausea below decks. The boat was safe and coping well with the weather and the seas with a fully reefed main and the stay sail out. 
Day 2 (20th July) was less of a blur, more a haze with a continuation of both sets of great waves. A pattern of watch rotation emerged from those of us able to take over with ‘hot bedding’ in between watches. The wind was cold so a maximum of about 2 hours was the norm for the day. Peter had a heavy cold when we left Falmouth which was turning into a chest infection and with his asthma this was tiring him out but he kept up his turn at the watch.
Day 3 (21st July). Things settled down and everyone was feeling a bit better. We had a good sunny day with settled seas, which helped a lot, and we even managed to have a shower. We had some shipping from the stern that passed by either on our Port or Starboard side – except for one or two. I have a bit of a thing about these huge tankers and ships and drive everyone spotty when they get close. 
I had occasion to call Peter to assist with one that worried me. It was on a direct collision course with us from the stern. By the time Peter came on deck I could see its anchor which reminded me of flaring nostrils just like a giant bull. Just as we made moves to change course it altered direction and passed off our port quarter (Thank you Pantonia). A bit later on Peter and Allan had to take evasive action as another ship didn’t see us at all. The crew of the tanker could be seen and heard talking on deck to each other as they passed us. At about 10pm the engine, which had been on for an hour due to a brief period of no wind, suddenly released a great whoosh. Peter called us all to attend as he believed the fire extinguisher had gone off indicating an engine fire. Jo and I took over the helm and kept the boat hove-to whilst Peter and Allan opened the engine compartment and inspected the damage – No damage and no fire! They did a thorough check of all elements just to be safe and found nothing wrong. We started the engine again and kept an eye on it but nothing untoward occurred. We assume that the new extinguisher fitted had been faulty. Jo and I stayed on watch until about 2.30am when Peter took over. At 3am he called Allan up on deck as we had been approached by a very fast moving boat. This boat had not been visible on the horizon at 2.30am when we did hand over so it must have been very fast. It was on a direct collision course with us and despite evasive actions it continued to head towards us, circling and shining a bright light on us before zooming off again. Peter could not see any identification marks so we are marking this one up to our first and hopefully last encounter with Pirates. More than likely it was the Border Control checking if we looked like a ‘dodgy bunch’. Just as well it was dark!!
Day 4 (22nd July) saw us celebrating Johannes birthday. Allan produced a coffee and walnut cake. The Seagull Post arrived with some birthday cards and good wishes. We had another nice sailing day although the weather forecast for Finisterre was not good so we altered course to avoid it. An attempt to get an up to date forecast from Navtex failed  so after various attempts we gave up and I called a couple of fellow Cromarty Boat Club folk on the Satellite phone who gladly obliged with the information we needed. Just goes to show that CBC members will reach out to help each other no matter where in the world you are. Many thanks to George Selvester and Robert Jollye. The wind continued as predicted to stiffen so a further reef in the main was put in and a course change effected to bring us very slowly closer to land.
Day 5 (23rd July). Overnight was a fantastic sail with the boat reaching over 9 knots at times and maintaining 8 knots. We covered good mileage and reached the Cape Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme at 6am. As we have to avoid this our course brought us to a downwind sailing position so things were a bit rocking and rolling.   This was all superseded by the arrival of a pod of whales which swam up at our stern, turning to go alongside the yacht for an hour and a half. We were all so excited that the drama of having huge tankers approaching from behind didn’t faze me at all. By approx 4pm the wind had increased to 35 knots (gusting 40 +) with big seas again and the decision made to take the main sail down, putting up only the stay sail secured in the centre of the boat for stability. This worked well but the need to go forward to the mast to secure the main sheet was a bit of a drama. The conditions continued to deteriorate with a half hour helming rota in place by night fall. 
pic: whale spotting - there is a whale under all that froth!
Day 6 (24th July) We decided to head for landfall in Leixos, Portugal (God knows how to pronounce this!) where we arrived at 1045am. On our way in to the Marina we were called up on the VHF by two other yachts asking us if we had received a recent weather report.  Both yachts were experiencing similar conditions to that we had gone through and stated that none of this weather had been predicted.  It was a great relief to be tied up to land, eat some food and have a good sleep. After browsing the town we had a lovely meal in a local restaurant to celebrate Jo’s birthday. 
Total journey 688 nautical miles to date.
Day 7 (25th July) Departed Leixos for Cascais. We had some trouble hoisting the main sail as the sheet had wrapped itself around the mast steps. We sorted this and set sail. The sun was out and the weather was warm. At about 2pm we put 2 reefs in the main and motor sailed with the wind and swell increasing directly behind us. The overnight part of the journey was clad in fog with visibility less than 500 metres. At about 8.30pm we heard a hail on the VHF. With the high winds and the constant chatter on channel 16 it took 2 or 3 calls before we realised it was us that was being called. We responded and heard that ahead of us there was a large vessel travelling at 4 knots and towing seismic sonar cables which were 4 miles out from their stern and which we were heading straight to. In the conditions we couldn’t see this vessel on our horizon nor could we see the flashing buoys on the ends of the cables. As we were travelling at 6 knots we needed to take avoiding action. As night fell we were able to distinguish very faintly the flashing strobes at the end of each cable. At about 9.30pm we confirmed with the towing vessel that we could return to our original course.   

Day 8 (26th July). The mist continued throughout the morning. The local dolphins came alongside for a swim and a play in the bow wave for about half an hour. Peter and Allan played with the wind vane, setting it and re-setting it. The wind picked up as we approached Cabo de Roca and we had a great sail up to the approach to the marina. The sun came out eventually as we approached land and at 3pm we tied up in Cascais Marina. As we tied up we could hear the cars racing round the Estoril race track which is not far away. 

The Marina is very busy but sheltered and quiet. The staff are extremely helpful and arranged for us to have a service wash done as we didn’t want to spend any of our time here watching the washer going round and round. The preparations for The Americas Cup, which starts here on 6th August, are in full swing. At the time of writing the Artemis, Emirates New Zealand and Oracle teams are in situ. Korea and France are further up the river towards Lisbon and the camp is ready for the Chinese to arrive. We are hoping to see some practice rounds before we leave. The town is lovely with good transport links to Lisbon. The sea food is outstanding as is the hospitality of the locals.
Both Allan and Joanne left us in Cascais to return to Rome and work.  We appreciated their company, help and assistance on the journey and hope that the weather conditions experienced didn't put them off sailing with us again.
2nd August 2011 – 10h00 Depart Cascais for Sines after paying our dues and taking on some diesel. The weather was warm and calm with flat oily seas. We had all sails up with an apparent wind of 5 knots so we put on the motor to give us some forward propulsion. About ½ hour out of Cascais the mist came in so we travelled for half the journey with limited visibility. At 38°33’N 9°20’W we were again visited by whales and were able to identify them as Minke whales. As we approached Cabo Espichel we could hear the fog horn blasting out but as we rounded the point the mist lifted and we came out into the sunshine. (pic)
I contacted the Sines Marina by satellite telephone as there was no response to VHF. They confirmed that they had a berth available for us and would have someone waiting to meet us. True to their word, as we arrived the Marina staff were on the pontoon waiting to take our lines. Formalities were completed, taking only a few minutes with very pleasant officials and staff. We determined from the Marina staff where all the necessary shops were in town, including a local restaurant.
3rd August 2011 – a lazy day today with a walk around the town. Sines is the birthplace of Vasco Da Gama the navigator/sailor who discovered the route around Cape of Good Hope to India, opening up the commercial trade routes. He is highly celebrated in Portugal as you would imagine. Whilst we are here a food festival is being held on the seafront with preparations underway for the Festival of the Assumption on 15th August. We ate at the local restaurant in the evening (Restaurant Bestinguinha) – truly Portuguese, with not much English so we were not sure what we would end up eating! It turned out to be a really nice meal with a wonderful view across the bay. As we were eating we watched a half dozen yachts arrive in the marina from the North. On our return to the boat we met our neighbours from Cascais (Mattias and Jennifer in SV Dolphins, a Hans Christian 33). 
(pic: looking out over Sines Harbour and Marina)
4th August 2011 –The marina has emptied of all the yachts that arrived last night. We got a bit concerned that they knew something we didn’t but after a further check of the weather we are going to stick to our plan to leave at first light tomorrow morning to round Cabo Sao Vicente on the rising tide and before the afternoon sea breezes get up. As per yesterday evening, as dusk approached a handful of yachts arrived. We were pleased to see a Siri, a Moody 44 centre cockpit yacht, arrive with Dave and Penny on board, whom we had met earlier in Cascais. We then spotted another Rustler 42 arriving – Quivira 2 – with Mike and Trish. We all got together for a ‘cup of tea’ and a chat.
5th August 2011 – Time for us to keep moving, so we were up at 4am, out of the Marina by 5am and heading for Lagos. Dave and Penny were heading the same way so we are sailing together. There wasn’t much wind on the south leg down to Cabo Sao Vicente so we mostly motor-sailed. The sea was a bit roily early in the journey which left me feeling a bit queasy but after a Travel Calm and some wind in the face it settled down and I could get on with the journey. We tried out the Hydro Vane which worked well. As we rounded Cabo Sao Vicente the wind picked up to a North Westerly wind 25-30 knots on our beam so we had a great sail into Lagos. The Marina staff are friendly and helpful with good humour, despite being exceptionally busy. Dave and Penny invited us to join them for dinner which was a lovely evening with a meal of Sticky Pork Belly and fresh veg. 
pic: Red Ruth rounding Cabo Sao Vicente - courtesy of Penny
6th August 2011 – The usual visit to the supermarket to re-provision some basic fresh items, then a look around the pontoons. We spotted another Rustler 42 and went to investigate. It was Alan Dobson on Carrick, whom we had met in Falmouth. We had a cup of tea with him and a ‘blether’ before heading back to check the weather and make some decisions. The weather report shows that the Straits of Gibraltar will have high winds (F7) blowing easterly through them from Tuesday to Friday. This is exactly when we need to be heading into Gibraltar and as we will be travelling west to east the thought of a Force 7 on the nose, against the current and the tide isn’t the greatest outlook. We decide to leave later this afternoon and press on to arrive in Gibraltar on Monday before the weather sets in. By 18h00 we are out of Lagos marina and heading towards Rota in the Bay of Cadiz. 
pic: sunrise on the way to Rota
7th August 2011 – we arrived safely in Rota at 13h00. A journey of 128 miles and 18 hours. As we are now in Spain we have to put our clocks forward an hour. We cleared in without any problems although our limited Spanish did cause some confusion at times. The difference in temperature is amazing with a sudden jump to 31°C. We found the showers and then headed off for a cold beer. Rota has a large Naval Base, right next to the Marina which is used by the Spanish and the American Navy. The town looks like it would be very interesting however as we are on a push with an early start planned we didn’t have time to explore. We met Jack, who has a Southerly 42 which he sailed over from the States. He stopped by to chat from his surf board and managed to stay standing on it for a good half hour – an amazing feat in my view as I can’t even stand up straight on a roller skate! Another couple from the states tied up next to us later in the evening in their Ovni 435. They were good enough to tell us about a website called Buoy Weather which gives you predicted weather around your passage plan positions. This site confirmed the expected conditions for the coming few days.
8th August 2011 – departed Rota early in the morning (6am). As we are an now one hour ahead of Portugal the sun didn’t come up until 7am. It was interesting and stressful navigating Cadiz Bay in the dark. The lights of Cadiz illuminate the sky so much that you don’t see the huge ships lumbering out of the harbour until they block out the town lights. It was another rolly start to the journey and proved to be so most of the way as there was no wind to speak of. The stay sail went up for some stability and we attempted a few times to sail but every time we took out the Yankee the wind abandoned us. 
As we rounded Tarifa we could clearly see the standing wave of disturbed water indicated in all the almanacs. This leg of the journey was punctuated by DSC calls from Tarifa radio requesting all ships look out for a man overboard. The incident had occurred on 6th August which we had heard that day also on the DSC. We did keep a lookout but I didn’t hold out any hope of seeing anything that would be of any use. On nearing Gibraltar the shipping increased and my anxiety of large ships increased with it. I’m quiet happy with them passing up either side, its when they are passing across us. Peter did a fantastic job of keeping his cool and dodging fast ferries, lumbering tankers, fast tankers and anchored tankers. The Almanac and the charts had differing information for the Marina which wasn’t useful but we found our way in to Queensway Quay and were welcomed by the marina staff who assisted us to tie up on our first Med Mooring. We have to tie up bow-to as we have so much on the stern. 
Impression of Gibraltar – from my perspective I like it here. Its bustling with a huge variety of people from different parts of the world. There is a strong ‘britishness’ underlying everything. The Rocks history is everywhere and is fascinating. As you walk around every corner, buildings and street names remind you of the history. We took a tour of the Rock and went up by cable car, walking the rest. The views are spectacular from everywhere. We visited St Michael’s Cave which was just wonderful. This was my first visit into a cave full of Stalagmites and Stalactites. The cave has an auditorium carved into which is used for concerts. We decided you would need your umbrella or a raincoat as the water drips constantly. We then walked across to the other side of the Rock and visited the Seige tunnels. These are very interesting with lots of plaques telling you all the stories of the siege and how the tunnels were created. 
 pic: Queensway Quay Marina from the Cable Car to the top of the Rock
pic: The famous Gibraltar Apes


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