Wednesday 21 November 2018

Bienvenido a Estepona

We arrived in Estepona on Wednesday 10th October. We're still here. And were staying until at least the end of March 2019.

It wasn't our intention to stay this far south, our original plan was to sail round to Aquadulce in the Granada province.  But, from the moment we arrived at the marina and saw the naff office building shaped like a Disney princess wedding cake, the hustle and bustle of the marina promemade, the polite and friendly welcome of the marina staff and the welcoming bottle of wine, we fell in love with Estepona.

There was just something about the place that got to us both.

It's one of those towns that has something for everyone.  It is a working town with a flourishing fishing port, thriving spanish community and a tourist hotspot. 

The town of Estepona can be broken down into three parts: to the west of the marina there are a number of low rise apartments that are rented out for tourists.  Behind the marina there are stunning views of the mountains and a newish town that is inhabited by locals, with lots of small locally owned shops and restaurants, and to the east of the marina is the old town which is inhabited by a mix of locals and tourists and is one of the most beautiful old towns I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot during my travels).  On a clear day we can see Gibraltar and the Rif mountains of North Africa!

Estepona has numerous attractions and has a thriving cultural scene, with live music, plays and shows held across the town.  In our first week here, we went to the local arts centre to watch The Godfather.  It was a bit surreal watching a film about American Italians, in English, with Spanish subtitles

It also has great transport links to a number of towns and cities.  This was one of the selling points for us as we want to visit cities such as Cadiz, Seville, Malaga and Granada.

The Sierra Bermeja is just behind the town of Estepona and is within easy walking reach, so I'm sure we'll be having days out there.  We are also close to the Sierra de Las Nieves, which is set behind Marbella.  This is a mountain range that I particularly want to visit as the village of Tolox,  where my Dad came from is set at the foothills of the mountains.  When I was young, he would tell me stories about spending time in the mountains with his grandfather, so it will be a very poignant  visit. 

I mentioned previously that Estepona is a beautiful town.  One of the reasons for this is because of the obvious investment in amenities and public areas.  The Mayor of the town had a vision to improve the aesthetics of the town and make it a town to be proud of.

The Mayor set about improving the old town, by having buildings restored and painted, having roads pedestrianised and streets decorated with flower pots of every colour you could think of.  

Parks were replanted and children's play areas added, the roads were resurfaced and roundabouts redesigned with sculptures or water features and the promenade along the 2 kilometre beach was replaced and children's play areas added. 

When we had been discussing what we would look for from our winter moorings, we set out a checklist of things that would be important to us, from being able to do maintenance to Offbeat through to being easily accessible for family and friends to visit. Estepona has ticked those boxes and more.  It is a beautiful, friendly town that is well looked after and where everyone who lives here has on overwhelming sense of pride. 

Monday 19 November 2018

Stopover in Sotogrande

Monday 8 October to Wednesday 10 October 2018

Wow, wow, wow. WE MADE IT!

I don't think words can express how exhilarated we were by the sail from Barbate to Sotogrande and what it meant for us both, sailing around the rock of Gibraltar.

As previously mentioned, it was very tense going through the Straights of Gibraltar, just because of the sheer volume of traffic and crossing shipping lanes, but once we'd turned the corner and were heading north to Sotogrande, oh boy did we want to dance!

The sail had taken longer than anticipated, so we arrived at Sotogrande at about 8.15 pm in the dark. This wouldn't have been such a problem but for the fact that we had to moor stern to and we still hadn't sorted out a pasarell. So, out came the plank of wood again.

Hmm. I wasn't too sure of this as the plank of wood had to be precariously balanced on a concrete step and each time the boat moved, so did the plank of wood. I suggested that Mark try it out first and watching him tackle getting off the back of the boat and then wobble down the plank, it confirmed what I already thought. No way Jose! I'm by no means faint hearted, but the thought of walking the plank in the dark was too much for me.

So, we stayed on board and opened a bottle of wine to toast reaching the Mediterranean. 

Next day, I did have to overcome my fear and walk the plank.  It actually wasn't too bad although I must have looked like an old lady as Mark held my arm as I came down the plank.

And that's when we bumped in to Ian, who was fixing a very grand pasarell to his boat.  We stopped to say hello and admire the pasarell and he mentioned that he had one for sale.  He'd bought a ladder and converted it, but didn't feel it was safe enough for his two 3 year olds to go up and down, so he'd bought a proper one. So, to cut a long story short, I jumped at the chance of buying it and having something a bit safer than a piece of wood.

Back at the boat, Mark soon fitted it and normality was restored although it did take a bit of getting used to, climbing on and off the back of the boat.

That evening we had drinks with Ian and Jayne on their boat. Like us, they were on an adventure and planning to stay in southern Spain during the winter and then sail further afield next Spring. Unlike us though, they had adorable twin boys who were also having the adventure of a lifetime.

We stayed in Sotogrande for a couple of nights, but we were keen to move on.  Sotogrande is the largest privately owned residential development in Andalusia, but we found it to be quite a soulless place and as its mainly a tourist resort, it lacked the Spanish community that we so wanted to experience during our winter stay.

So, after saying our goodbyes to Ian and Jayne, we headed off to our next destination along the Spanish coast. 

Estepona here we come!

We made it into the Med!

Monday 8 October 2018

As we left the entrance to the marina and headed out to sea, we were greeted by glorious sunshine and light wind, so yet again we were under engine but this time we didn't really care, we were heading into the Mediterranean. 

Sailing along the coast, we saw some amazing sights. First up was the ancient Roman ruins at Bologna. Baelo Claudia is one of the best examples of urbanism, with most of the buildings being built under the rule of Claudius. 

The site, set slightly back from the shoreline contains wonderful examples of an ancient forum, viaduct and dwellings.  Unfortunately the photos we took don't do the site justice so I've included a couple from the website.

As we continued to sail towards the Straights of Gibraltar, we stayed close to the shore so as to avoid the very busy shipping lanes.  The fog still hadn't disappeared completely and at times ships disappeared from view. This made us slightly nervous as we knew from experience that the fog could descend upon us at any time and would stay until the wind was strong enough to disperse it.

On we motored, absorbing the views of the coastline and checking the AIS to make sure we weren't on any collision course. By about 2pm the fog was dispersing when Mark said in a very excited voice "bloody hell, I can see Africa". And sure enough, through the fog we could make out the western end of the Rif mountains in Morocco.

Rif Mountains, Morocco

Words cannot describe how excited we were to be able to see Africa in the distance.  Mark wanted to tell all our family and friends and Whatsapp'd everyone.  In his excitement he got the wrong country, but not to worry, it was still AFRICA.

From this point on, we were mesmerized by the African coastline as the mountain range came in and out of view.

Rif Mountains, Morocco

Spanish Naval Ship 

One of the things that was really evident was the number of Spanish coast guard and Spanish naval ships patrolling the sea.  The closest point between Spain and Morocco is 7 miles, so the Spanish are very vigilant in watching for unusual activity.

Passing Tariffa, the southern most part of Spain was another big occasion for us as this is the start of the Straights of Gibraltar.  From here we got our first glimpse of the Rock, which was a gulp it back moment.  We could not afford to get over emotional just yet, we still had the Straights of Gibraltar and the Bay of Gibraltar to traverse.

First glimpse of Gibraltar
By about 4pm we were passed Tariffa and on course to Gibraltar. We were still motoring, but the wind had increased  enough to raise the Yankee (front sail).  Mark had always said that come hell or high water he was sailing around Gibraltar and as raising the sail only gave us an extra 0.5 knots, I think it was more about fulfilling his dream than giving us speed.

Approaching the Rock of Gibraltar 

Crossing the Bay of Gibraltar 

Sailing across the entrance to the Bay of Gibraltar was very tense.  All sightseeing was suspended as we took our positions on deck.  Mark was on the helm and I was look out and on AIS vigilance. 

The Bay of Gibraltar and the Straights are one of the busiest shipping areas in the world.  On average 300 ships pass through the Straights daily and high speed ferries run from Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers in Morocco and Cueta, a Spanish province next to Morocco. 

We rounded the Rock of Gibraltar at about 1/2 mile offshore, which gave us great views, but our sightseeing was hindered by the 30 to 40 ships that were in sight, a couple of which came far to close for comfort.

It was bad enough for us, but this was nothing compared to the nutter who was kayaking across the harbour mouth in front of all this traffic!

The mayhem taking place took the edge off the excitement of being in sight of the African coast and getting Offbeat successfully round the Rock of Gibraltar.  But it was with relief and exhileration that we turned north into the Mediterranean and towards the Costa del Sol.

As Gibraltar faded into the distance, the sun began to set so we headed into Sotogrande as night fell.

Saturday 17 November 2018

What? More Fog!

Monday 8 October 2018

We awoke early on Monday morning, eager to get up and get going.  This was it, it was really happening, we were going to sail round Gibraltar and head into the Mediterranean. 

At least that's what we thought until we looked out of the window. We were enshrined in thick fog.  As you can imagine, by now we were sick of the sight of fog and there was some colourful language from Mark!

But, what can you do? It was out of our hands, whilst we could plan and control most things, the weather was not one of them.  So, I put the kettle on and we had a leisurely breakfast whilst discussing tactics.

We knew that the journey would take about 8 hours and that we would want to arrive in Sotogrande before nightfall, so the latest we could leave Barbarte was 11am local time. All we could do was wait to see if the fog lifted.  

Barbate has a large fishing fleet as it is the main source of employment for the town and by about 10am we heard the engines of a number of fishing boats. Intrigued I went to investigate as the fog was still around us in the marina.

Sure enough, there were about 20 fishing vessels heading out of the marina and out to sea.  It was like a scene from Wacky Races as the mad dash for the best fishing spots commenced.

This got us thinking.  When we arrived the day before, the fog had been very localised.  Was it the same today? Did they all know something we didn't? 

Fortunately, Mark had found a website that provided access to webcams in ports and marinas all the way to Tariffa, so we were able to monitor what was happening along southern Spain

We weighed up our options and in the end decided to go for it.  If it was too bad out there, we could always turn round and come back.

So, at 11.15am precisely, we slipped our lines at Barbate and headed out of the marina into the fog (which was starting to disperse). 

Sure enough, by the time we reached the open sea, the fog had disappeared altogether and we were en route to the Mediterranean!