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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!


Rondra said...

Love your style of writing Barbara! I enjoyed your adventure during the storm but couldn’t handle that myself.
Safe travels!
Love ya,

LJP said...

Wow. I hadn’t realized how gigantic and scary those electrical terms were that you passed through. How terrible. I am so glad you made it through unscathed. Great writing by the way. You tell a good story......