As our departure from the Iberian Peninsula draws near, these are some of our favorite memories…
Our first port-of-call south of Lisbon was the half industrial, half fishing, and half tourist Portuguese town of Sines. To get there, we had to first round Cabo Espichel and then it was a straight 35 nautical mile sail to Sines.
The port and town had a nice mix of activity. Although one could say that shipping traffic and the oil refinery “spoiled” the view, I’m sure it brings a lot of jobs and prosperity to the town.
One of Sines’s historical claims to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Vasco da Gama.
The timing of our arrival in Sines was perfect because a three-day food festival was going on in the town with tents, and stalls, and music into the wee hours. After reviewing all of our seafood options, we decided to support the Communist Party. They did not disappoint!
After two nights in Sines, we departed early in the morning for a long daysail, 60 nautical miles south and around Cabo de Sao Vicente, the “chin” of the Iberian Peninsula. But first…several times during the day’s sail we were visited by dolphins!
The funniest episode of the morning was between dolphin visits. The three of us were in Hazel’s cockpit—Rhett and I sailing the boat and enjoying some coffee, and Sunny dozing on the windward cockpit cushion. Suddenly and from out of nowhere, about 10 feet to windward (upwind) a dolphin surfaces and blows a plume of spray in the air. Moments later and out of slumber, Sunny’s nose picked up the “fish breath” of the dolphin and she awoke with her ears perked and snout twitching, trying to discern the source of the intriguing animal smell.
Fim do Mundo
After the dolphins it was on to the fim do mundo or—in English—“the end of the world” (a.k.a., Cabo de Sao Vicente). The end of the world was the moniker given to this great cape by the Romans, Greeks and other ancients who inhabited the peninsula. In looking at the geography, it’s not hard to see why. One can picture ancient mariners and navigators sitting high above the water, on this southwesternmost point of Portugal and Europe, and looking westward with the known-world’s Mediterranean sea behind them and concluding that the horizon line of the Atlantic was the literal fim do mundo.
Sailing friends of ours had warned us that the prevailing northerly winds off the coast of Portugal significantly accelerate around the cape. To me, wind is always surprisingly affected by land features and from the above view it’s easy to imagine north wind flowing down the coast and being constricted (and thus accelerated) by the land to the west.
It was a mild sailing day, perfect for flying Hazel’s spinnaker. Still, as we approached the cape we considered dousing the spinnaker and going with our traditional fore ‘n aft sails (the “white sails”) in case the wind really exploded around the cape. As the cape loomed we considered and reconsidered our options. Finally, we decided to “go for it”—take the aggressive path—and keep the spinnaker flying.
One challenge with the aggressive path is that we had to gybe the spinnaker as we rounded the cape. “Tacking” is when the bow of the boat is brought through the eye of the wind (and sails momentarily lose their power and cross over to the new leeward side of the boat slowly and gently). “Gybing” is the diametric opposite: the stern of the boat comes through the eye of the wind and the sails gain additional power and, if it’s an uncontrolled gybe (a.k.a., a flying gybe), they come crashing across the boat at head-hunting speed. If you’ve ever wondered why the boom is called the boom, just keep your head down during a flying gybe or else you’ll find out the hard way.
Fortunately we had enough sea room to free gybe the spinnaker well before the rounding before the cape winds really kicked in.
Soon after my lashing mission on deck, our gentle day of sailing in a 10 knot breeze turned into a spirited romp around the cape in 18-20 knots of breeze. Hazel topped 8 knots of speed between the wind blowing, spinnaker pulling, and the flat water offering little resistance to her surging hull.
A couple miles after we rounded, the wind settled down and we anchored for the night off the town beach of Sagres, Portugal.
Seven in the Afternoon
The southern coast of Portugal (between Cabo de Sao Vicente and the border with Spain) is the Algarve region—a summer holiday destination for Portuguese and international vacationers. After our night in Sagres we sailed 15-20 miles to the well run marina at Lagos. The marina was surrounded by good restaurants and between normal Portuguese prices and the strong US Dollar against the Euro, we visited many of them.
Rhett and I both tend to be “early to bed, early to rise” people—probably subconsciously making up for respective piles of past late-night sins. However, in Portugal we had to reset our circadian rhythms to fit with the evening dining schedule. We were talking about this one night while we were being served by an especially helpful waiter. Rhett commented to the waiter how good his English was. We got to talking further and asked him how he learned such good English. He said, “When I was a child I’d watch Cartoon Network from seven in the morning to seven in the afternoon.” Rhett and I looked at each other and chuckled. If seven o’clock is considered the afternoon, no wonder they eat at nine or ten.
He added, thoughtfully, “When I got to school, I could understand and speak English. Of course, when the teacher asked me to conjugate an English sentence, I didn’t know where to begin.” By the way he said that last sentence, Rhett and I knew that he assumed that we could conjugate an English sentence. We were relieved when the conversation moved on before he could ask us to conjugate.
As a quick side note, Portuguese late dining was just a warm-up for Spain. We walked into a Spanish restaurant the other night with plenty of open tables at 8:00 p.m. When we sat down, the waiter said with some consternation that the table we had selected had a reservation at 10:00 p.m.—we assured him we’d be done long before that!
Pirates of Cadiz
After Lagos, Portugal we set off on a 30 hour, 150 nautical mile sail across the Gulf of Cadiz to Barbate, Spain with the Moroccan coast only 100 miles or so south of us. While we could have made it a longer sail by hugging the coast, the Captain (in his infinite wisdom) chose the straight line and shorter path that would take us well offshore.
When people ask me what it’s like to sail offshore, my standard response begins with: “Have you ever been on a scary ride at Disney? In the ride’s car there’s a red button that says something like, ‘Press this button to stop the ride.’ Yeah, offshore sailing is something like that…except the ride lasts for days and there’s no red button.” While it’s my pre-rehearsed script, I try my best to make it sound unscripted.
While it’s been years and years since I’ve been on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride and I imagine the ride is updated, I’m sure the button is still there. All the while I thought I was making a funny joke—making light of some of the dangers out there. Me and my big fat mouth.
With 30 hours to sail, we set out from Lagos in the morning with the plan of sailing through the night and arriving in Barbate the next afternoon. I didn’t sleep much that night, I never do on one-night mini passages, I’ve got plenty of energy to see me through one night with some little naps here and there. However, I barely napped during the night between monitoring lots of shipping traffic in and out of the Strait of Gibraltar and a middle of the night sail change. The sun was just about coming up in the morning, and we were well offshore (no land visible). Rhett and I were both below decks when we heard the sound of a fast boat approaching. I checked out AIS scope…nothing. My first thought was that it was the Portuguese Coast Guard coming to check us out (often, military and law enforcement boats don’t transmit AIS). However, when I got myself on deck (Rhett wisely stayed below), I was confronted by a 20-25 foot rigid inflatable boat with two powerful outboards on the back. It was somewhat bedraggled and deflated, uniform gray in color, flying no national flag, and coming right at us—at speed…at 6:00 a.m. with no land and no other boats in sight. Hmmmmm…odd. In the boat were 6-8 young men, most with beards, a couple wearing motorcycle helmets (I still have no idea why).
At this point Rhett is—how we say—freaking out. The funny thing is that in most all situations, Rhett is the one who assumes best intentions about everyone we meet and I’m the cynic. However, on this morning (and perhaps because I was the one on deck with no other options), our roles were suddenly reversed. Rhett’s below decks and trying so hard to be quiet and calm she’s actually hissing through gritted teeth when she asks, “Who are they?” “What do they want?” I’m up on deck smiling and trying to hear what they’re shouting at me. Between normal ocean sounds, their outboards, their accents, and my hearing I have no idea. Finally, Rhett growls to me from below decks, “Dan, they’re shouting ‘Agua! Agua!’.” While Rhett is correct in what they are saying, I still have no idea what they want but I notice that the sole (floor) of their boat is packed with 5-gallon jugs. I wave them off with a smile shouting something like, “No thanks, we have plenty of water.” (I’m pretty sure that was a classic line of Captain Jack Sparrow’s in Pirates of the Caribbean 4…Dead Men Tell No Tales). Eventually, they wave and smile, floor their engines and speed away.
Who knows? Perhaps they wanted to sell us water (Rhett doesn’t’ believe that for a second). Perhaps they were checking us out (I like to think that my striking resemblance to Johnny Depp thwarted the attack). Perhaps they were running contraband between Africa and Europe and “Agua” was the code word for the drop. All’s well that ends well.
I was feeling kind of superior to Rhett the rest of the morning since I was the one with noble thoughts about our friends whereas she was the cynic. However, as soon as we approached land and picked up a cell signal and internet, she started searching the internet and found this post—suddenly I didn’t feel so superior.
Currently Hazel James, Rhett, Sunny and I are in the Spanish town of La Linea de Conception, just north of the Rock of Gibraltar. However, to get to Gibraltar, not only do we have to cross an international (and non-EU) border but we also have to cross an active runway…and I mean a real runway.
I stress the “real” thing because this isn’t the only time we’ve had to cross a runway in our voyages. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising as a lot of our land travel is on narrow islands and peninsulas, and runways need to be oriented to take advantage of a location’s prevailing winds.
On our last voyage to the Bahamas (Spring of 2022), on Cat Island we spent a night at a secluded marina and to get to the marina’s adjunct hotel and restaurant and beach we rode their loaner bikes across a runway. However, and to be fair, it was more of an air strip—private, and one or two small planes would land or takeoff per day.
However, the runway in Gibraltar was no joke. It’s used by commercial jetliners serving Gibraltar and Spain’s Costa del Sol, and UK Royal Air Force planes. In addition, a constant stream of automobile, motorcycle, petrol and electric scooter, and foot traffic crosses the runway. Just like at a US train crossing, when the light turns yellow, everyone races to beat the gate and get across before the next plane’s arrival or departure.
Rhett couldn’t miss the opportunity for some runway modeling.
The Gibraltar…of Gibraltar
When I was in Bermuda after the first leg of my transatlantic, I toured many of Bermuda’s forts and gun batteries and learned that because it was so heavily fortified, Bermuda earned the nickname “The Gibraltar of the West” (see my Bermuda post here). This gave me an inkling that if I should make it to Gibraltar, I’d also see a lot of fortifications.
Our day of hiking on Gibraltar did not disappoint.
While the guns were interesting, the tunnels in The Rock were amazing. While the most recent tunnel boring was done during World War II, earlier tunnels exist given The Rock’s strategic location and the many times it has been under siege in its history. Today, it’s estimated that there are 34 miles of tunnels in a land area of 2.6 square miles.
A Pouted Round Mouth
In addition to Gibraltar’s history, geology, and views, it’s also home to 300 Barbary macaques—the only wild monkey population in the European content. That brings us to our next adventure.
In today’s over protective and litigious world, I’m a firm believer that the vast majority of warning signs are overblown. Therefore, when I saw this one at the beginning of the hiking path up The Rock, I promptly ignored it.
In retrospect, I’d suggest some minor alterations to the wording of the placard…
Should Macaques feel threatened, they will warn you with a pouted round mouth indicating ‘No’ or ‘Stop’—or ‘Take one more step and I will rip your little dog’s head off and shove it down your throat!’ Calmly place your fiancée between you and the Macaque and run like hell.
Even though all licensed taxi drivers in Gibraltar are also trained and certified as tour guides and we heard they do an excellent job, we decided to hike up The Rock for some exercise. The day started well enough with the three of us walking on wide paths and roads. We saw a few troops of Macaques from a comfortable distance and all was well.
Then, for the final ascent to the summit, the footpaths turned to narrow Medieval-era stone steps and we had to put Sunny in her backpack. Rhett and I were trading off carrying Sunny as her 12 pounds got heavier and heavier as we got higher and higher. At the bottom of each flight of steps there were special placards further warning us that Macaques may become aggressive if they feel cornered while on the the narrow steps or adjoining ramparts—we read, processed the information, and kept climbing.
As we got to the last course of steps it was my turn with Sunny and, sure enough, there was an adult macaque on the steps well above us with two juveniles playing nearby. No problem we said to each other, we’ll take our time and they’ll move on before we get to their altitude. I was so unconcerned that point, and so close to the summit, I even hammed it up for the camera.
Note in the last picture the crowd of people above us. I think half were walkers waiting to come down the steps, and the other half were taxi-tourists watching us to see what would happen next.
We edged closer, all the while thinking that the monkeys would get the hint and move along…after all we are American citizens and we won’t be stopped.
Finally, we were just about to decide that going further was a bad idea (as the macaques had started to take notice of us), when one of the taxi drivers from above yelled down, “Go back, the monkeys will attack your dog!” I’m not sure if Sunny was aroused by the yelling, or my tensing, or had smelled the macaques, or all three stimuli at once but she started to come to life and squirmed and twisted in the backpack trying to get a better look at the monkeys. As if on cue, as the cab driver’s words trailed off, the macaques started loping down the rampart…toward us. I was in front with Sunny and Rhett was behind me. Now, it was my turn to hiss between my teeth, “Rheeeeett, back up!…back up!” As I tried to retreat down the steps backwards, I felt my heels bumping into Rhett’s shins. Rhett would later say she couldn’t back up because she was too busy putting her hands over Sunny’s head to protect Sunny and keep the from making eye contact with the advancing monkeys.
Somehow, we got ourselves turned around and I got below Rhett and we started hustling down the steps. After about 30 quick and steep steps downward, I sighed, “OK, I think we’re safe.” and turned around to look. I croaked to Rhett, “Yikes!, keep going! They’ve still got the round and pouted mouth!” We retreated further and faster.
Finally, after a lot of steps downward in retreat, the macaques lost interest and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
I’m happy to say that we were courageous enough (or foolish enough, take your pick) to be undaunted by the experience. Although we had given up several hundred meters in altitude during the retreat. We found a road to the top and the most dangerous thing encountered on the road were the taxis careening downward on it.
At the top of Gibraltar, we were finally rewarded with our view eastward over the Mediterranean Sea.
From Fado to Flamenco
We’ve taken in some great music while on the Iberian Peninsula, first with a fado dinner in Lisbon with three instrumentalists and a host of singers singing solos and together.
Last Monday, the day after our day in Gibraltar, we were looking at the weather and decided that we’d be in the marina for the week with contrary winds. We considered our options for and inland voyage and decided on Sevilla. It was an amazing couple of days and only a 2 hour drive from Gibraltar. The highlight of the trip was a flamenco show at the Museo del Baile Flamenco. All of it—the guitarist, the two singers and percussionists, and the three dancers—were amazing.
Tomorrow morning (Sunday morning) we’re planning to push further east into the Alboran Sea (the Western Mediterranean). The wind direction and weather don’t look great for making a lot of progress but we’re ready to move and are thinking we can get a 100 or so miles of easting in before some strong winds kick up on Tuesday evening.
Fair winds and following seas.