Sailing the Gibraltar Strait

Our trip towards Gibraltar started very gently. The sea was totally calm and there was no wind. So we motored and got used to the new situation of being only the two of us at sea. We took it easy, slept, ate, and slept again… it felt almost like on holidays!

Pesto spaghetti… (Ela’s favorite…)
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Our original plan was to sail during the day and stay over in harbors until we reach Gibraltar. But then we felt comfortable enough to sail through the night. We agreed upon 3 hour shifts, i.e. each of us had to do 2 night shifts, e.g. from 9-12 and 3-6 am. Our rule is that while the other is sleeping, we can’t leave the cockpit and we have to use our lifelines (which means we are basically tied to the boat). This way we minimize the risk of one person going over board while the other is sleeping. If it is necessary to leave the cockpit we’ll wake up the other person. This worked out quite well.

Also the second day we decided to sail through the night to advance quicker. We liked it out there, but with the little wind there was we made hardly 1.5 knots against the current. We sailed a straight course to Gibraltar, which meant that we were sailing about 20 nm off the Andalusian coast. But this turned out to be not the best choice for two reasons: first, the water inflow from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean results into a current that slowed down our progress by 1-2 knots. Second, out here there were no thermal breezes from the differences in land and sea temperatures. Had we gone closer to the coast, we would have had less counter current and the chance to use the thermal winds instead of motoring 20 nm off the coast without wind. We realized this through our regular radio contact with our friend Karl on his boat DAMISA, who was sailing along the coast single handed, making better progress. We had become friends in Almerimar and used the same weather window for leaving the Med. We made the best of it and used the lack of wind to spend an awesome couple of hours drifting and swimming, for the last time this year, in the warm Mediterranean. The Atlantic would soon be much cooler.

The next night, Ela’s voice woke me up from my dreams. When I saw her wide open eyes and exited face and knew I had to get up quickly. Her excitement was understandable as our AIS (Automatic Identification System, a system that ships use to avoid collisions) and radar had gone totally crazy and where showing countless ships at collision courses. At one point the AIS was showing more than 100 ships! Of course, many of these ships were anchoring, but still… Another fact made it even more exciting. It was not only pitch black outside, but we were in the middle of dense fog and could hardly see 50m ahead. We were entering the famous Strait of Gibraltar…

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Radar image showing ships and the Rock of Gibraltar
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We passed “the Rock” (of Gibraltar) with less than a mile distance at around 5 am. Then we entered the bay of Gibraltar to get fuel, which costs about half the price compared to Spain. Passing 300m long cargo ships is always a humbling experience and at night it has a mystic touch. The radio was busy and echoing different English accents. Ships from all over the world enter this bay. Many are at anchor, presumably waiting for their time at the dock or fuel or new orders. In the dark and with the fog I was reminded of the German submarine epos “Das Boot”. In fact, over 60 submarines had drifted in our out of the Mediterranean during WWII using the currents despite the British control of Gibraltar.

Passing the rock of Gibraltar. The dense fog had just lifted again.
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Mystic giants…
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Preparing the lines for the gas station.
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We managed the pass all these giants safely and tied Naima to the gas station, which was still closed. We were quite tired and slept until we heard a knock from the gas station’s employees an hour later. Then we filled our tanks and moved on. This time we crossed the bay of Gibraltar and headed towards the Strait. We had planned the gas station stop in Gibraltar so that we’d be heading for the strait 5 hours before high tide. This way, we’d be able to use the counter-stream very close to the Spanish shore to flush us out into the Atlantic. Our “The Straits Sailing Handbook” had turned out to be very useful. We were indeed flushed out. We could even see the current setting in the other direction just 50 m further out.

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Cargo ships only reveal their true size from the side…
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Sailing close to the Spanish coast to use the current…
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The book had also predicted that the wind strength would increase by at least 2 Beaufort at the end of the strait. And so it was. By the time we reached Tarifa, the wind had picked up rapidly and we could finally set sail again. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make a quick stop in Tarifa to see our friend Pablo, who lives there, because he was working in the wind mills behind Tarifa (see photo). The rest of the sail to Barbate was fast due to our nice Genoa and the wind from behind. And Barbate looked sooo nice and green when we approached it… but more soon!

Tarifa’s lighthouse
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Tarifa and the windmills where our friend Pablo was working (Tarifa is worth a visit!!)
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Preparing the lines for Barbate…
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The green hills that we saw when arriving and Barbate in the background…
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2 thoughts on “Sailing the Gibraltar Strait

    1. Ich glaube das ist nicht der beste Eintrag für Mütter 🙂 Im Zweifelsfall einfach Augen zu, kurz einen sonnigen Strand vorstellen und dann auf den nächsten Beitrag klicken! 🙂 Es kommt alles gut…

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