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  • Writer's picturePeter

The Rock of Gibraltar

After our 1,002 nautical mile journey from Brest we arrived safely in Gibraltar and began enjoying the sunshine and warmth. We actually had no option as there was a mandatory quarantine for 5 days plus the requirement for 2 Covid tests each. These 5 days of forced rest flew by and we did enjoy our time of relaxation. The warm weather was a welcome change from the cold wind and rain of northern Europe which we were happy to leave behind for the “more hardy” amongst us. In Gibraltar, the time passed quickly and after 3 weeks of “works” on the boat it was again time to say goodbye to our safe haven and set out on the next leg of the journey.

However, Gibraltar deserves a few lines and also an update on the works we had done on the boat during our stay.

Yes, Gibraltar - Wow, what an interesting place ! A big rock, a 426m high limestone ridge at the very bottom of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a British Overseas Territory since 4th August, 1704 when it was captured by the British and Dutch. This now means it is under the jurisdiction of the UK, but technically not a part of it. It has its own political system but Defence and Foreign Affairs are from the UK.

The history and politics are complex, but it is clear that the local population is well looked after and it is very unlikely for them to wish to become a part of Spain again, especially as Spain signed a treaty that gave Gibraltar to the UK for ever (after 3 weeks I am a political expert on matters !). At the time, Spain was more interested in other overseas territories, such as Florida and Mallorca, hence Gibraltar was low on their priority list at that time and the British benefitted as a result of this.

The Rock has a commanding view over the Straits of Gibraltar, so any shipping that comes into or goes out of the Mediterranean Sea can be seen (assuming no fog). There is a large canon at the very top (O’Hara’s Point) which had a range of about 1,000 metres greater than the width of the strait. I am sure this is now obsolete and everything is done by satellite and nuclear submarines (plenty of those in Brest), but from the top you can so easily understand the strategic importance of the location for the years gone by.

Geographically it is also fascinating as there is a continual flow of water into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean due to the evaporation of the water in The Med. In the geological past this caused the deposition of salt and other evaporites and may do so again in the geological future as the flow of water through the straits are restricted – but don’t worry, that may only occur in a few million years time.

The complexity of this flow of water into the Mediterranean Sea is compounded by the rise and fall of the tides that creates different current bands across the straits. We did find (finally) a copy of “The Straits Sailing Handbook, 2008” that defines these currents every hour before and after high tide, for navigation purposes. Interestingly the book says that when trying to estimate the horizontal flow of water (i.e. currents) the first thing to accept is that your will be incorrect as there are so many factors involved, so it is necessary to be prudent !

At least we have the guide and so our sailing should be in the right ball park if nothing else. What is critical, is that departures east need to start 3 hours before high tide and departures west need to start at 3 hours after high tide – quite simple really.

Our reason to be here in Gibraltar falls into the categories that include:

  • Wanting to be away from the rain of Northern Europe and into warmer climates -- successfully accomplished

  • Having to avoid landing in Spain with our boat for tax purposes -- so far so good, but not as easy as you may think

  • Fitting of additional equipment for our longer term sailing plans -- as ever, ongoing

  • Time to re-stock and prepare for our onward journey into the Mediterranean Sea -- as ever, ongoing

We wake up every morning in the shadow of the Rock. This means it is still quite chilly at our location until about 9.30 when the sun climbs high enough to peak over the Rock and warm our little boat. The day then rapidly warms up to over 20 degrees and remains this way until we see the sun setting in the west. We are therefore down to shorts, T shirts, flip flops and all drinks and meals are taken in the shade of our bimini, in the cockpit of the boat. It took us a while, but this is what we have been aiming for now for a long, long time.

The “problem” with choosing a location in the sun, is that the inside of our boat is rapidly warmed by the sunshine through our double-glazed windows. The effect is so strong that the temperature rises to +30 degrees inside, so we needed to find shading solutions.

Our angel Philippa, from Pritchards Marine helped to organise another angel Georgia to custom design and make some sun shades for our windows with a special material from Serge Ferari called Soltis 86. This is a mesh that keeps about 90% of the heat out-side the boat whilst still allowing a great view out through the material (and limiting views into the boat). All windows are now covered and we also had a sun screen made for the outside sitting area.

It is a great result, but we also need to cover our hatches and small window for added protection from the sun – so a little extra work in progress.

We had 2 main installations pre-planned for the guys from Pritchards:

Our Aqua Tec Water-maker

The water maker is simply a device that uses the process of reverse osmosis to turn sea water into fresh drinking water (also known as a small desalination plant). The importance for us is that we can continue to use fresh water for washing, showers, and cooking/drinking whilst away from marinas, whether at sea or anchor. This gives us a great independence and a level of safety as we will never run out of water.

The Aqua Tec system is very simple, 2 pumps, a few valves, the water maker tubes, filters and plumbing. There is no electronics to go wrong, so it is robust and ideal for many years of service offshore.

Installation was complex, as it is on every boat, as space needed to be found for all the items. In all, more than 4 days of installation and disruption to our daily lives were required. Commissioning in the marina was perfect and fresh water was made.

In practice, we found difficulty making water whilst sailing under rough conditions, but when the boat was not bouncing too much and our speed was not too great, the system seemed to work very well. We will need to better understand the conditions under which operations are the best. Ideally, it is recommended to use the water maker daily to make 60 – 120 litres of water (we make 120litres/hour) to keep the reverse osmosis membranes in good condition.

Hydrovane Auto Steering System

The Hydrovane is an auto pilot for the boat. We already have an electric one that is integrated into our navigation system, but this one uses a lot of power. The Hydrovane is a stand alone system, with its own rudder that steers the boat by the force of the wind on a small sail and steering mechanism. It is very ingenious and a great system.

Installation was 2 days, but due to a missing part from the kit, it was over 1 week before the installation was complete. Hydrovane were a great support for the missing item, but our problem was with actual delivery of the missing items. Due to limited flights from the UK to Gibraltar, we were unsure when it would actually arrive and the Fedex Tracking System was at best uninformative.

The Hydrovane is now installed, but due to conditions on our passage to Sardinia, we were not able to make a very good use of the system, so we need to dedicate a little time to making the system work well for us in the near future.

Solar Power

Having installed the Solar Panel in Brest we were still so very interested to make this item of equipment work. In Gibraltar we connected with Mastervolt through team viewer (we had to buy a Windows laptop for this). On examination, it was “clear” that the Mastervolt Combi Unit that we have was too old and could not be software upgraded to allow a solar input. Yes, time to buy a new solar power control box to convert the power and distribute it to the batteries through the Mastervolt bus system. This was then also dispatched from Mastervolt in The Netherlands to us in Gibraltar. The journey of this item was also quite tortuous with limited flights and a land transportation system. We followed our package through Europe, often asking ourselves why it seemed to go backwards, rather than forwards.

We were also on a “time constraint” in the Marina as mooring spots were limited, boats were due in and we had to leave to make space. This was all quite stressing for about a week as we requested more time to stay and watch our packages go nowhere in a hurry !

We were also looking at the weather, trying to fit into the windows that were available for our passage in balance with everything else.

In the end, the last item from The Netherland arrived in time; though the installation, buying of wire, fuses, switches etc. took me a day to finish.

Finally, all I had to do was turn on the switch to allow power to come from the solar panel to the solar panel control box. Mastervolt in the Netherlands then connected remotely to our system through Team Viewer and they could configure the setup from a distance – we now have solar power charging our batteries (assuming there is no fog).

This worked excellent for a few days as we could see our solar panel charging the batteries in the marina without shore power and at the start of our voyage to Sardinia. We were extremely happy.

Unfortunately, a “freak wave” broke on our stern while sailing and sent quite a few litres of water into our living room. The sea water soaked through the carpets and through our floorboards, dripping onto our Mastervolt shunt, just beside the batteries. Salt water and electronics don’t mix well and soon a part of our system had gone down and we could no longer monitor the status of our batteries. Fortunately, the engine and solar panel were still charging, it was that we just could not easily monitor the effect.

So a new Mastervolt shunt is now on order for delivery to Sardinia – we hope this will put everything back to normal as I have also lost some functionality of some other circuits on the Empire Bus system (bedroom reading lights, bedroom USB and forward bilge pump) – though an expert old sea dog like myself has learnt how to override such systems, and we are not suffering !

In the end there was not too much time for R&R in Gibraltar, but we were impressed with the kindness and helpfulness of the people around us. We were brought food whilst under quarantine, local businesses supported us in an exceptional way, we created our own passarelle from a scaffolding plank that was freely donated, the marina management worked well with us and we met our angel Philippa.

We also visited our little house in Ronda and caught up with a few friends.

Time to set sail and enjoy some real relaxation…………

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