Leg 3; Cascais to Gibraltar
Cascais turned out to be a lovely small town, upmarket satellite to Lisbon with back streets in the shade of large trees, a well-kept sea front with many bars & restaurants and a buzz to the environment. Portuguese lockdown was coming to an end and restaurants were open for limited customers, both inside and out. The streets were busy and people with masks queued in an orderly manner (with the new distancing requirements), for cakes, bread, croissants and delicious ice creams from the gelaterias.
We thought that we had escaped from “Paul’s” Bakery in Brest only to be newly tempted by the many flavours of ice cream. As the days were at least 10 degrees warmer than North West France, it was obligatory to eat as much ice cream as possible, making up for the last 5 months when this was the last thing on our minds.
The marina was a safe haven with a strong sea wall to protect the boats and catamarans from the big rolling waves from the Atlantic Ocean that are driven by the westerly winds.
We had the pleasure to see two sets of friends in Cascais, celebrate Ingrid’s 21st birthday and my 6th year anniversary of being cancer free.
There was therefore a lot to celebrate in a short time, not to mention our necessary preparations for the last leg of our planned journey from Brest to Gibraltar. Not that our journey ends in Gibraltar, only we have not yet decided where we want to go after this – depends on the wind, Covid and how we feel, but more of that later.
In Cascais we met with Alex Olivera, an old oil industry colleague from the early ‘90’s when I was working in Norway and then later our paths crossed through a chance meeting in Oman, just a “few” years ago. It is always great to catch up with friends from the past when our lives were different. It is easy to make a call after 10 years and ask if we can meet for coffee as if it was yesterday that we saw each other last. As Alex is looking to move to Greece we will assuredly meet again in the near future as we sail in that direction.
Sarita, Sanjay and Stephan were friends from Abu Dhabi. They had spent too many years outside India to return there in the future, so they came to Cascais, Portugal, to start a new life. We were joined on the boat for a visit and enjoyed an extended afternoon with an elaborate lunch at their villa, just outside of town. There is so much to talk about with old friends and difficult to squeeze everything into an afternoon, but this means that we still like each other and look forwards to the next time we can meet again.
Looking at the weather and wind – as we now do continually before setting out - it seemed that we would
again have a good weather window with a departure on the morning of the 27th April.
A small comment from Gibraltar put the cat amongst the pigeons for a while; we were told that on arrival in Gibraltar we needed to go into quarantine for 5 days and have 2 x a Covid test (one on arrival and one after 5 days) - cost was approx. Euro 300 per test per person ! On top of that they wanted cash in advance before a test was made (under quarantine, not allowed to leave the boat and they want 900 Euro cash in local currency - work that out if you can).
We looked at dropping Giuseppe off in Lagos or Portimao and for a whole day we did nothing but look at options and variations of options. In the end, in spite of the costs, Gibraltar was the best option for us all. In addition, we also discovered that as Giuseppe was leaving us, he only needed one test and had to leave Gibraltar within 3 days of arrival.
We were also discovering that our approach to Gibraltar was “complex” with currents and overfalls along the straights – depending on the wind direction, current direction, and the rise or fall of the tide. All the charts said read the book on the Straights of Gibraltar – but no books for sale in Cascais. As our planned departure would result in our arrival with a rising tide and a westerly wind (more by luck, than good judgement) – things should be in our favour !
The story of orcas eating boat rudders is still a problem as we are in the tuna season for the Gulf of Cadiz. We can’t be afraid of everything, so this was more in the back of our mind than the front – and our plan was to keep to the deep water where there was less likely to be tuna and orcas (but not very promising for my fishing).
To compound complications, on the morning of our departure, our mandatory application for “Online Customs Declaration” prior to Gibraltar arrival, needed an internet connection that just did not seem to want to work! You can imagine the frustration as we were trying to leave Cascais at 8.30, but could not !
Fortunately, we had Philippa, an angel from heaven who also happens to work for Pritchard’s Marine in Gibraltar. She was not only an angel, but also worked very hard to help get everything together for us. She arranged the necessary cash (now re-negotiated to 200 Euro per test from a different supplier), she did our online customs declaration, organised our berth at the marina (A12) and coordinated everything to make it all happen smoothly – thank you so much.
So Gibraltar here we come ! A planned journey of 300 nautical miles and 2-1/2 days of sailing time from Lisbon, down the coast of Western Portugal, around Cape St Vincent (the most South westerly point of mainland Europe), across the Gulf of Cadiz and into the straights of Gibraltar – easy.
With the wind prediction and the wind that we had, we had some great sailing through this part of the journey. A steady wind to our beam (90 degrees to the boat direction) gave us a speed of 7-8 knots/hr. It became a little tricky as the wind direction was moving to 150 degrees behind the boat which is the limit for this sail plan. As we came around the Cape of St Vincent, the wind direction followed our path, so there was no change here. We had to switch to a butterfly setup (1 sail each side) for the wind directly behind us – but this was difficult to do with unsteady winds and a turbulent sea state - so the movement
was not so comfortable and more effort was required to keep the boat to the planned sailing direction.
On the morning of the third day, on the approach to the Straights of Gibraltar, the wind strength began to decrease and the engine was added to motor sail through this expectedly difficult section of the journey.
For a moment we saw some “spray” on the water – something like you would expect from a whale (or orca). But with close attention, these animals were not the black and white of the orcas, but the grey of common bottle nosed dolphins – we think. Sad not to see the orcas, but happy that they did not want to nibble on my rudder either.
As we came closer to Gibraltar our first main cities were Tarifa on the Spanish side and Tangiers on the Moroccan side. Here the boat congestion was quite significant as you can see from a screen shot of the AIS system. (Ours is the black boat with the large yellow arrow, which is showing the wind direction relative to our sailing direction) We had to be vigilant as there were massive tankers and container ships (5 sided icons), high speed ferries and a variety of other craft (3 sided Icons). Having sailed through the English Chanel, where the traffic was also quite bad, this seemed to be of a similar nature – though this was daylight whilst we sailed the English Chanel at night.
The water depth at the centre of the Straights of Gibraltar is up to almost 1000m deep and there is a sudden shallowing towards the edges of the 20 nautical mile wide stretch of water. In the centre there is a steady current west to east of approx. 2 knots, decreasing towards the edges. This current is caused by the evaporation loss of the Mediterranean Sea and is not affected by the tides. However, at the edges of the straights, the tidal affect is noted and there are currents that run with the tides in all directions in excess of 2 knots.
As we were sailing, the current was generally with us (rising tide), but at times against us or across us. If only we could find a shop to buy the book of Gibraltar Currents !
In the end we successfully avoided all of the tankers and ferries, sometimes by not quite the margin we wanted – and I am really pleased we did not arrive at night for this first visit.
The currents were strong, but most of the time they were in our favour, so this was a real benefit. The sea state gives good indications of the different currents, with areas of flat water and areas of choppy water sitting next to each other, like on a river. Worst is where the wind direction is opposite to the current direction – this causes the water to become significantly turbulent and sailing can be uncomfortable.
We went through a boat anchoring area and entered Queensway Marina – our slot, A12 with a Mediterranean style of mooring. Fortunately, Giuseppe knew what needed to be done with the lines; how to pick them up, where to attach them to the boat and how to attach the back-mooring lines. So, we are backend to the floating pontoon with an easy step to shore – once we have finished out 5 days of quarantine.
We are in the morning shadow of the “Rock” and the sun does not start to warm our old bones until after 9.35. The benefit is that we have the sun for the rest of the day, until sunset – and we have warm sunshine, which was one of the main objectives of this journey.
The Covid tester came the following morning and the results already delivered a few hours later as negative for us all (What else ?).
“Our” “A” jetty seems quite busy with live-aboards, people avoiding Spain, getting work done and working on their boats or just living here as an alternative. Rene (Dutch) and Barbara (English,) on a next boat but 2, kindly asked if we wanted any shopping from the supermarket and they brought us 2 bags of veggies and basics. We are back in a very friendly environment, we just love it.
Giuseppe has now left us and is headed for Italy. We appreciated his help and assistance as we learnt a lot from him. We will also miss his cooking and his commitment to our experience of his style of Italian food – which was adapted to our plant based diet interests – though a little Parmigiano cheese and Parma ham did slip through the controls. Oh well, our intentions are always good.
Boat cleaning, sleep, blog writing, some work. Life is good with a few days of forced rest. I would recommend it to anyone !