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Thursday, September 20, 2018

September 11 - 20, 2018 Gibraltar

 I’m posting this from A café  where I don’t have access to our photos. Come back a little later and hopefully I will be able to have uploaded some...

No luck with the predicted downwind sail to Gibraltar, and yet we were grateful for an easy day. About 4 hours into the journey our engine began struggling not to stall and straining as though it could hardly breathe. I asked Frank to check the filter, because we didn’t want the engine to quit on us as we had just been through this a few days ago. He pulled the filter to find it completely gunked up after only about 40 engine hours. Uh oh! I Now we know without a doubt we got bad fuel in Sardegna when we topped up last season. We normally use the Baja filter but did not remember using it that time. I won’t get into what a colossal mistake that was. We get complacent. Thank goodness Frank brought back a few extra Racor filters from Texas. New filter in and we were good to go. 

With that eating at our insides we pushed the negative thoughts away as we came within sight of the Rock. The entire mass is much larger than what we’ve seen in pictures. Impressive and looming; it’s many faces revealed as we approached. We made several failed attempts to get a selfie with the famous peak at our backs, but the seas were pitching us so wildly, we dared not go out on deck. So we tried from inside the cockpit. 

This is another milestone, another “Wow” moment for us to have “Sailed to Gibraltar” on our own vessel. And what happened the very minute we made the turn into the massive bay? Massive winds darn near knocked us sideways, making entry into Queensway Quay a bit of a challenge. I guess we should have prayed to the god Eurus for that Easterly.

We were fortunate to get into Queensway - thank you Ute and Hans (Taimada) for the recommendation. It is small and very protected. Surrounded by lovely townhomes and condos on all sides, with secured floating pontoons and local restaurants - no bars - lining the quay, we felt the stress slide right off. The manager originally gave us three days but extended our stay to roughy 10. We needed every bit of that to sort things out before we go to sea from here. The alternative was Marina Bay/Ocean Village, where the docks are fixed concrete wharfs which would be a major challenge for us at low and high tides because the difference is about 1.6 meters.
Queensway Quay (Destiny at end on rt.) - note the formidable dock lines!

the dock we would have been moored to at Marina Bay almost at high tide

We have friends who came to Gibraltar but didn’t care for it. We have friends who came here and enjoyed it. We fell into the latter class. We were thrilled to hear and to speak English. We were very pleased to find Sheppards chandlery who employs the most skilled RayMarine tech we have yet to meet. He got our radar up and running in 5 hours. A record! We discovered Morrisons supermarket that has the largest supply of fresh prepared meals we’ve ever seen. We turned on the freezer and stocked it up. It was wonderful to shop without the translate App on my phone. Thanks to Gail from s/v D’ol Selene’s blogs we were able to source and stock up on Easi-yo packets. We found real ground coffee that hadn’t been pulverized to a powder for the first time since Oz in 2012. Frank was able to stock up on his favorite Scotch and to buy Cuban cigars. Then we became tourists.

We toured the Rock, inside and out. Outside is a monkey habitat (where if not careful, the monkeys will steal you blind and jump onto your backs), a glass skywalk viewing platform onto which we could walk to take photos of the base and beach below, several viewpoints from various points on the Rock where you could see north Africa and Spain from various angles. There were platforms above the caves and defense tunnels. The cave has been turned into a concert or stage arena, and is lighted in varying LED colors set to music. The tunnels were dug by the British and filled with artillery and canons, etc., used as a very strategic defense fortification.  At the base of the ocean-facing side of the Rock, caves have been explored revealing Neanderthal ruins and artifacts that were discovered therein, that are displayed in the Gibraltar Museum. 

Looking at the British side of Gibraltar

View of the airport from the Rock. Across the runway is Spain

A canon facing Spain

Frank in the tunnels of the Rock beside a canon
We walked across the famous runway that separates Gibraltar from Spain. We got our Gibraltar stamp on our passports. We visited the Gibraltar Museum, we toured the Gibraltar Botanical Gardens. We visited Ocean Village and O’Reilly’s where, according to Paul and Glor on s/v Scallywag, you can get the best Steak and Guinness Pie (so true we’ve had it time and again). We know this town and the cruise ship schedule better than most. We even did a few things that I can’t mention or it will ruin the surprise for our  friend and crew member who will be joining us in Lanzarote.

Entering Gibraltar across the runway from Spain

Delicious steak and Guinness pie

beautiful park in the center of Gib

Walking across the runway back into Gibraltar from the Spain side

Gibraltar center

Leaving here on a sailboat is a scientific feat. Timing tides, wind and current correctly are paramount. We listened to a lot of sage advice. We have downloaded all applicable Apps and references and The Captain has studied them until he is feeling confident that our day and time of departure will be Saturday, September 22nd at approximately 4:30 PM. Now we sit back, read books, shop and pray.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018 – A Bizarre Overnight Passage & Our Final Night in Spain

The night of September 6th, we checked the weather for about the dozenth time in order to determine what time to make our departure from Cartagena on Friday. Our original plan was to make day hops along the Costa Blanca to Garrucha, then down around the cape to Almerimar where we would liked to have spent a few days exploring inland. We had taken a day drive down to Garrucha to check out the marina and had made a reservation for arrival on Thursday, which obviously didn’t happen.  Our Thursday window had come and gone due to weather. Although forecast changes are an integral part of a cruiser’s life, we just can’t get over how quickly and dramatically they change in the Med. Surprise weather seems to be the only constant. We had stayed longer than our intended week in Cartagena and knew that if we didn’t make a move now, we would be stuck here for several more days. We were conflicted about what time to leave and how far to travel, knowing that an overnight at this point was unavoidable. We decided on a noon departure, heading for Almerimar.  Frank awoke early on Friday, bothered by this changing forecast and checked one more time. We were definitely going to get some showers in the middle of the night – around 2 AM – but should have a good push and a downwind run to the cape if we left NOW. We quickly readied ourselves and secured the boat for a bumpy ride, casting the dock lines at 8:30, the soonest the marina could close our bill. I had food prepared and other than putting together the long unpacked ditch bag, we were ready to face what we hoped would be a 20-hour trip.
Once again the forecast played dirty with us for 14 hours, giving us seriously lumpy seas and no wind to alleviate the uncomfortable swell.  YES, we know we should be used to this so we didn’t whinge about it we just carried on. I had tried several times to go below to get some rest early on because I am the night owl, and I needed to be ready to take on the late night shift. Try as I might, I couldn’t catch even 20 winks. Frank dropped down below around 9:30 to nap for a bit, and finally at around 10:30, a beautiful freshening wind literally swept in. I eased off the throttle and was thrilled to finally shut the engine off. Frank popped up like a Meerkat, asking what was happening.  I told him, with a silly grin on my face that we were SAILING! Hooray! We enjoyed a great downwind sail for several hours. I tried again to catch some shut-eye between 11PM – 12:30 AM and then relieved Frank. He let me know that he had been watching some thunderstorm activity and to wake him if things got ugly and then he fell into the bed like a sack of lead weights.  I really enjoyed my shift, but strained my eyes nearly out of their sockets watching the distant light show. Far off to port but ahead of us was a strange and erratic electrical storm that we seemed to be racing toward. Land was a few miles off our starboard; so veering that direction wasn’t an option in the dark. AIS showed no targets and very few ships and yet Frank had already told me our radar wouldn’t engage so I couldn’t track the darn thing but continued to watch it with some trepidation.  I’ve watched too many Sci-Fi movies I guess because it looked like some kind of galactic Star Wars battle was happening out there, with flashes rising from the horizon and then glowing brighter and then dimming, almost undulating in the sky. Occasionally, there would be a brilliant flash, and a lightening streak that tracked all the way from the sky down to the earth (or sea). Suddenly around 3:00 AM it disappeared and the night fell into an inky blackness that seemed to swallow us. I kept wishing, as I have many times since we have been sailing, that I’d learned something from Frank’s father before his dementia had taken his mind. He had been a meteorologist with the National Weather Bureau in Washington. He could’ve explained this strange phenomenon that I had been observing. Then I thought perhaps I’m better off remaining ignorant. Nonetheless, by 4:30, I could no longer fight the fatigue and went below to shake Frank out of his deep sleep. I told him about the weird sightings but that it had stopped and then I passed out cold.

At 6:30 AM, I heard banging and got jostled out of the bed. I looked up to see the sky flashing brightly and realized we were in the big middle of that electrical storm. I shot up the companionway to find Frank furling in the sails and fighting the wheel. He had turned off the autopilot and was hand steering us through hell. I grabbed our portable electronics and tossed them into the oven to protect them from a strike should we be hit and then dashed back up to the cockpit to helplessly and prayerfully watch the terrifying demon that threatened to devour us. As one bright flash lit up the sky, I noticed there was another vessel not far off our port bow. I said to Frank – “OMG, look! There is another fool out here with us!” Frank had been watching it intermittently appear and disappear from the AIS and couldn’t get a fix, so I lit us up from stern to bow, turning on every mast and deck light we had. He tried to steer us not only away from the other vessel but also as far from the rocky shoreline as he was able. We couldn’t hove-to, so he had the engine going at about 2600 RPM, into the very strong current that the storm was pushing at us, and yet our SOG was a mere 1.6 knots. It was strange how calm we both remained throughout this ordeal. Experience and faith just kick in and you automatically do what comes next. This bizarre star-wars assault seemed to last for hours on end when in fact, it finally ended around 7:45 AM, leaving the seas a mess and drenching us with rain. Light came late – around 8:45, so we got back on course and felt another thunderstorm hit. They marched at us like dutiful soldiers one after another for several hours until, as though a miracle quieted the sea and sky in time for us to arrive into Marina del Este 29 hours after our departure from Cartagena. Strangely, as soon as we secured the boat into what we were told was the last available berth, the skies started up again.

We didn’t enjoy Marina del Este.  It was rolly, and expensive. We were charged for a 20-meter berth and side tied on a public wharf with no laid mooring to keep our fenders from constantly scraping against the concrete.  We were so exhausted after getting in, however, that we each laid down in the salon and were immediately asleep.  I was awakened to someone’s presence on the deck above me. I shot up the companionway to find a man hefting his young son onto our boat and he was just putting his leg over the lifeline to jump aboard himself. I yelled, “What are you doing? This is our home!” the man grabbed his kid and jumped off, scrabbling to the wharf while the wife shot me a nasty look as she stood poised with her smart phone ready to snap a picture. I was stunned at their brazenness. Several times people approached Destiny and looked eager to hop aboard. While I was showering, I turned around to find a face staring at me through the port-light. Another woman asked Frank if her child could come aboard. We felt like animals in a zoo. Frank spoke to the marina about this but it had no affect. We left at first light for Benalmadena. Below are a few photos taken before and after putting the phones, cameras and tablets into safe-keeping.
Greenhouses along the hillside. Note the cloud that looks like a crown or castle keep

"Fingers of God" Sunday morning

Smaller Sunday storms coming at us again

A panorama from stern to bow as skies lighten on Sunday
We wish we had come here sooner. This is a place like none other. Benalmadena is a massive marina that literally winds through a resort whose condos and apartments look like something out of a Disney film. It is so loaded with really good restaurants and shops that one could spend a month just eating and shopping and going to the beach, which is about 100 meters from our berth. The boardwalks are literally crammed with African immigrants peddling their knock-off designer wares laid out on large sheets along the ground. The entire atmosphere is festive and has an energy that we haven’t felt since the island of Mallorca. I suppose some folks wouldn’t care for this but we have had a great time strolling, eating, people watching and just feeling the vibe. There is so much money here that I swear it seeps out of the pores of some of these rich vacationers. Too bad we have a timeline because we only got two nights here. Tomorrow morning we are off to Gibraltar!!
Street vendors in Benalmadena
Purses, shoes, clothes, even knockoff underwear!

Friday, September 7, 2018

August 28 - September 7, Cartagena, Alicante and Lorca, Spain

Thanks to an introductory letter from our home club, Lakewood Yacht Club, we were able to secure a berth at the RCNC, arriving around 5:30 PM. Real Club Nautico Cartagena sits at the main port terminal, and right downtown. It boasts a nice pool, great restaurant and bar and offers a variety of water sports. We were happy to get a side-tie berth, and although there were security cameras and a marinerio who patrolled here, we were not secure. Pedestrians could stroll by and with a fair leap could be down on our wharf. I did inquire about the security of our berth but was assured that there would be no problem. Passersby from a large British cruise ship did stop by to snap a photo of our old gal and to ask about our travels and marveled that we had actually sailed here from the west coast of the US. 
Cartagena Civic Bldg

view of Yacht Port form the castle in Cartagena

the promenade paved in marble

On Wednesday, we set off exploring this really interesting town. The ancient history is profound, and in your face. It is one of the oldest towns in Europe with a tri-millennial history, dating back to centuries before Christ. We would see very modern buildings next to completely dilapidated ones. If we strolled one street off the main drag we felt as though we had entered a deserted set being prepared for a horror movie. We couldn’t tell if there had been an earthquake, or war, or some other natural disaster that had semi demolished parts of the town. It’s very random. Eventually Frank found a waiter who spoke fair enough English to explain to us that after a building reaches the age of 100 years old it can be sold and demolished in order to rebuild new. However, if ancient ruins are discovered underneath during demolition then all work must cease and the land or property reverts back to the government. The owner completely loses out. Eminent domain to the extreme! This is so widespread in this town that there seem to be more semi demolished, unfinished areas than completed ones.

Our second night here brought us misfortune. An entire bag of scuba equipment was stolen from our boat while we were sleeping. We had both heard a loud noise that shook the boat and thought we heard footsteps on the deck around 3:00 AM. Frank got up to investigate but saw nothing amiss. The next day our neighbors reported their bike stolen, and when we checked around our boat we noted that our big Nautica bag with 4 sets of scuba gear (half of it brand new just brought back from home) was missing. Frank spent 5 hours that day at the police station filing the report, and I spent hours dealing with the marina and talking to local shops to see if anyone had tried to sell us our equipment. We have been assured nothing will come of it, that our items are long gone. We now have locks and chains on the dinghy motor, all lazarette lockers and the gas tank. 

We moved over to Yacht Port Cartagena where the security is much better. RCNC felt so badly about the theft they at least refunded our first two nights. Trying not to let this ruin our visit we explored the town and visited some of the museums and ancient sites. 

We rented a car for a few days, and on Saturday, drove back to Alicante to visit the Volvo Ocean Race Museum, which we had missed in our haste to flee the pricey marina. This museum is free and although small, packs a lot of history and information into the exhibits. Very impressive! Very informative. Very enlightening. We were able to tour Brazil 1, a former finisher. 
sleeping berths inside Brazil 1
Brazil 1

the galley
the head

Thanks to a referral from our friends Laura and Mark Pitt, s/v Sabbatical III, we drove inland up to a little town called Lorca, staying two 
nights in a wonderful spa hotel called Parador de Lorca at the top of the highest hill encased within the grounds of an ancient castle and built atop an ancient Jewish Synagogue that was discovered during the building of the hotel. It is apparently the oldest mediaeval synagogue in the Murcia region. Here is a link to the fascinating information:

During our two days we spent a day in the town, and became enthralled at the Paso Blanca. It s a museum of the White Brotherhood of the Virgin Mary and Christ - NOT RACIAL - rather very religious. They are one of the largest participants of Semana Santa, and their group is focused on preserving the traditions of and depicting the Passion of Christ. Lorca’s holy week celebration is one of the most special in all of Spain, competing with the Blue Brotherhood (Paso Azul). Their capes and special horses are the big draw during Holy Week. The capes are all hand made of silk and velvet with each depicting a Biblical story or character going back to the Old Testament. IT is all played out and performed in a parade on horseback. It is very difficult to describe, and something that should be seen in person to appreciate and understand. The capes take from 1 – 10 years to made and are so detailed that you can see facial expressions of the characters. Frank and I were so impressed we have decided to put Easter in Lorca on our future travel plans. Here is a link to the Semana Santa in Lorca.

We returned to Cartagena in time to receive a shipment of parts for the boat and to await good weather for moving on. IT changes every day around here and generally not for the best. Today is Sept. 7th, and we are ready to go, but can find no good anchorage or marina along the coast for landfall, so it looks like we are in for at least an overnight to either Almerimar or Marina del Este. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

August 25 – 27, 2018 – Denia and Alicante, Spain

Port Denia is a very popular ferry port and private yacht departure port for visitors to Ibiza and Formentera in the Balearic Islands. This port is absolutely bustling with wealthy holiday travelers and yachtsmen. The marina is beautiful, and although we expected it to be very expensive it was only moderately so. There is a stunningly built raised promenade along the high breakwater, lined with little shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, and large areas where families come to stroll and to picnic with a lovely view of the bay. We immediately felt a wonderful energy as we secured Destiny‘s dock lines and stepped ashore. We freshened up and walked to dinner at one of the attractive restaurants on the promenade. We ordered the mixed seafood grill platter for two and thoroughly enjoyed the extensive variety of local fresh food while gazing at the full moon rising across the bay. What a dreamy evening! Afterward, we strolled the entire waterfront past massive haciendas perched high over the bay. On Sunday, we rode our bikes all over town and down the beach area until we found a cozy café along the pedestrian mall. We literally parked ourselves there for hours watching the passers by.

We departed early Monday morning for Alicante, and of course had a little bit of sailing, and a fair bit of “motor bobbing”. The coastline was so dramatic and interesting that we got over the discomfort and enjoyed watching the cliffs and villages pass by.

Arrival at Alicante was a real eye-opener. We had originally prebooked two nights here, but then at check-in were shocked to hear the price which was equal to 6 nights in Valencia. We thought it must be one heck of a marina, but not so! The berth we squeezed into was tiny with no laid mooring lines and only a small finger pier that came about 15 feet alongside Destiny. We used s combination 5 dock & spring lines trying to secure the boat. If any weather at all came then we would be in big trouble. The amenities block was too far away, as was the pedestrian exit. As soon as we got Destiny tied up Frank walked back to the office to request a refund for our second night. Weather for the following day was not good for moving on but this would not do at all. We did enjoy a superb dinner at El Portal, a very trendy and popular venue for the IN CROWD. How we got seated is a mystery. Perhaps they thought we were celebrities traveling incognito. The food was divine. The clientele were absolutely snobbish. We finished dinner after 10 PM, but the city as most in Spain, was still going strong until 3 or 4 AM. 
The laughable berth we were assigned in Alicante

Lovely sunrise on our departure from Alicante

Early up and out - we motored to Cartagena on Tuesday, August 28th. No wind at all, and very lumpy seas nearly all day.