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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Life gets easier: Vilamoura to Barbate

Saturday  October 6th to Sunday October 7th 2018

Well rested by our stay in Vilamoura, we made our plans to head back to Spain.  Our intention was to get through the Straits of Gibraltar by mid October and then find a place on the Costa Del Sol to spend the winter. The last big passage was going to be 24 hours across the Bay of Cadiz. We thought about visiting Cadiz itself but rejected that because it was a bit of a stretch from there to get past Gibraltar in a day and because we'd easily lose a few more days exploring Cadiz whereas we wanted to crack on towards the Costa. We found a well protected harbour positioned perfectly to help us get through the Straits and into the Mediterranean all in daylight. Barbate would be our destination.

We slipped our lines in Vilamoura shortly after midday and raised sail. We knew the wind was not going to be strong and would be pretty light after midnight. But I was optimistic that we could sail for most of the way, maybe with a little bit of help from the engine during the night.
goodbye Portugal (the vague blob on the horizon)

So, of course the wind dies in the middle of the afternoon and the engine has to go on to make any progress towards Spain.  I'm not one to complain but, you know, really...? Did the wind really have to just fizzle out? Are we really going to have to motor the next 100 miles? Don't I deserve to do at least one passage under sail, this being a sailing boat that I've taken special care to set up to sail as best she can, buying new sails and ropes and everything?  Apparantly the respective answers are yes, yes and no, get over yourself.

Whinge over.  To be honest, there's not much to say about this trip.  The wind came and went, we plodded on under a mixture of sail and engine for about 20 hours. We kept an eye on a couple of ships but they didn't come that close. We kept a look out for Dolphins and Whales but none showed up.  We watched three Coastguard or Naval vessels buzzing around, hoping to watch them catch smugglers, but they didn't. We fretted about fog but the visibility was clear enough to pick up lighthouses nearly 30 miles away.

Well it was until we got close to Cape Trafalgar. Now, I d been looking forward to closing on Cape Trafalgar: sailing the waters that Nelson's fleet did in October 1805;
Turner's 'The Battle of Trafalgar'
passing over the battle ground where the two fleets lined up and engaged; pondering on the excitement and terror, the smell of gunpowder and blood, the victory and the slaughter.  All utterly spoiled by a nasty little fogbank blanketing our destination, the harbour of Barbate. Everywhere else was perfectly clear. We could see the cranes and suspension bridge at Cadiz fifteen miles to the North. We could see ships approaching the Straits ten miles to the South. But our destination five miles to the East was shrouded in a thick white blanket of fog rolling down from the mountains around it. Fog. Oh great, we love fog. Nothing bad can happen when your heading towards a harbour that's busy with fishing boats, that is surrounded by cliffs, rocks, lobster pots and mile long Tuna nets AND YOU CANT SEE A BLOODY THING IN FRONT OF YOU! Yeah, I might have slightly lost the plot for a while out there. There might have been a lot more swearing involved too. A lot more. But once I'd vented, I did what any skipper has to do. Calmly assess the risks, the options and safest plan of action. Then remember that the booze is only available when we get ashore, so head in anyway.
Parker's 'The Terror of Trafalgar'
To the right Cape Trafalgar lighthouse
To the left, a fogbank sitting right over Barbate

We pressed on and noticed that the fog seemed to ebb and flow from the mountains.  We put the engine on at full speed and went for it as the harbour appeared, cliffs bathed in sunshine a few hundred metres to one side of us, fog creeping back in from the mountains on the other side.  We made it into the harbour before the fog returned, secured our lines, reported in to the marina and completed the customs form (something that you have to do when arriving in a new country), secured our lines and cracked open a bottle of wine to toast a thankfully uneventful passage.


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