Tuesday 14th September 2010

It feels like so long since I've updated my blog, that I really wonder where we're going to start. I feel like so much has happened in the last few weeks. We've been busy either doing things, repairing things, or sailing – none of which are conducive to writing blogs.

One highlight of the last week was that we met a beautiful family in Santa Ponça, unfortunately not under the best of circumstances. Truth be told, it could easily have been us that ran onto the same rocks, however as they came into the bay to anchor they hit a submerged reef that was just off the back of our yacht and snapped their stabiliser. I say it could easily have been us, because when we came in, we saw two black and yellow markers that didn't have the look of cardinal markers, so based on their position in the channel, we took them to be channel markers. All the yachts were anchored to the right of these two markers and boats were transiting on the left. We anchored, and it was only the next day when we looked out the back of our yacht that we saw the rocks (polaroid glasses are great). We wondered why these rocks weren't marked. That night when we saw the flashing lights of the markers, we twigged that they could be cardinal markers – not by the shape, but by the flashing light sequence. I guess we wen't the only ones because over the next couple of days we saw not less than three yachts hit or glance off these submerged rocks. Steve and Linda, while they didn't hit too hard, they snapped off their stabiliser, so while they were moving towards anchoring, Nick and I hopped in our dingy and went out to collect the floating debris before it drifted into shore or hit another boat. We returned their broken stabiliser and invited them over for drinks that evening. Steve and Linda have sailed a long way north, right up into the 80oN Arctic circle and had some fantastic stories to tell. Their daughter Sarah lived onboard their boat while she was young and could relate very well to Nick and Chelsea with what they are experiencing and doing. Sarah's friend Vera was so much fun to chat with and we hit it off brilliantly – she loves the 80's music as much as I do, so we reminisced about all the hits of the 80's, we could have kept going all night! Steve Dashew has a philosophy that anything that hasn't been used on the boat in 6 months goes off the boat. To this end Nick was the excited recipient of a nice round ski tube that we can tow behind “Connect4” for those long boring passages. I tried towing him around the bay in the tube, but “Willy” out dingy couldn't quite manage the additional weight, so never got up on the plane, we had fun anyway. Steve keeps a blog, and is quite renowned and experienced in the cruising circles, and “Connect4” got an honorary mention on his website, in the article titled “Kissing the Rock”. If you feel like having a read, check out the article called “Kissing the Rock” at http://setsail.com/kissing-the-rock-or-lessons-in-stabilizer-engineering/

We left Santa Ponça, in Majorca, at the end of August and sailed to Almerimar in mainland Spain. We set out in 15-20 knots of wind and started with a beautiful downwind run, averaging speeds of 6-7 knots. Just when we thought everything was going swimmingly, we noticed that the waves weren't quite co-operating with the wind. In fact the waves were sort of just aft of beam to the boat, and were short and close together; really close, like 2-3 seconds apart. This had the effect of setting up a horrible cork screw motion where we went up, did a funny little twist, then went down again in a strange, stomach churning, motion. After a 10 hours of this, we were all feeling sick and lethargic. The motion wasn't good.

Wednesday 1st September saw us still sailing in this strange sea, still feeling a bit off. 10am and I'd just come off watch and had crawled into bed, feeling decidedly average and looking forward to escaping the motion by sleeping for a few hours. It's funny how when I feel sea sick, I find solace in falling asleep in the corner of be bed, against a wall, with pillows packed tightly in front and behind me. I was just in that twilight stage, where I could feel my body succumbing to sleep when my bedroom door burst open and Nick yells “Dad, DAD, we've got a fish on the line, come quickly” It took a minute to register that this wasn't some ghoulish dream, or nasty joke to play on Dad as he's nodding off, so I quickly jumped up, exhaustion still grabbing at my body as I wrestled first to open my eyes, then to get my shorts back on. I staggered out to the cockpit to see everyone jumping around and pointing at the line. I sat on the back transom and held the rod firmly – feeling a decent weight on the line as I started reeling it in. As I got the fish closer, Cheryl started the engines and turned “Connect4” into the wind. I caught my first glance at the silver flash as it made a run under the boat – this was a good sized fish. I raced across the stern as Cheryl shut down the port engine so we wouldn't tangle the line. I reeled the fish in, all the while wondering just how big it was and how I was going to land it. You see, we've got a new rod and reel and a good trace, so technically we're ready to catch fish, but after trolling a line for 4 months in the Mediterranean and not one meal to show for it, we weren't really prepared for actually catching a fish.

My concern for how to land it quickly turned into a split second opportunity as the fish came to the surface and the bottom transom step of our catamaran dropped underwater with an approaching wave. I gave a haul on the line and our Tuna dinner slid gracefully onto the transom step, then up out of the water as the wave receded and the back of the boat once again buoyed above the water. All I could do at this stage was sit on the back of the boat at the top of the steps, yelling for someone to come and help me grab the fish.

Cheryl came and held the fish while we got a bucket down to put the fish into. The much discussed and not so pleasant task of despatching the fish came next. We'd discussed several plans and had been given several thoughts from other cruisers. The one we liked the best was the most humane in our opinion, and that was to give the fish some Ouzo. Nick quickly arrived with the bottle set aside for sending off the fish – our top shelf Greek Ouzo, 1ltr for 4 euro. Man, I tasted the stuff and wouldn't recommend it for consumption. Perhaps I could have used it for stripping the anti fouling off the hull, or running my WRX on, but I wouldn't drink it. For the fish though, that's another story. Chelsea passed me the bottle and I poured a shot down it's throat. Nothing happened!!!

We waited another minute, but still nothing – perhaps the fish was on rehab and the alcohol was ineffectual? Then we remembered – we were meant to pour it into it's gills!!! We turned our flapping fish over and positioned its head down with a gill open. I gave it another shot of Greek Ouzo and that did the trick. Within 20 seconds, the fish gave its last flap and settled nicely. Next came the messy part. Neither of us are really fishermen, so we were at a loss as to cleaning and filleting the fish. Cheryl had been out fishing a bit more with her Dad than I had, so had a little idea. Armed with my dive knife and a filleting knife she set about cleaning and filleting the fish. I must say, she did an admirable job. We got some beautiful thick fillets of Tuna and that night we enjoyed a lovely meal of baked tuna.

It sounds like it was a dream. Catch the fish, prepare it and enjoy a lovely dinner. Let's be a little more realistic here. With all of us feeling sea sick and the motion of the boat, the task was arduous and tiring. Cheryl was half way through filleting the fish on the back transom step, when the call of the ocean caught her and she threw up overboard. Head down between the hull and the dingy; me, leaning overboard trying to hold the dingy from swinging into her head as she fed the fishes – it wasn't pretty. Finally the filleting was done, the discarded parts of the fish were tossed overboard and the back transom was washed down and cleaned. We loaded the fillets into the fridge, but dinner was still to be prepared. Given the tender way we were all feeling, dinner was prepared in rounds – basically as long as we could handle staying down in the galley (count minutes here) was as much as was prepared. Eventually though dinner was served, and while we didn't feel that hungry, the fish tasted great.

The next day, after approximately 36 hours of rough water, the wind died off totally and the seas went flat. We started the engines and motored – none of us were complaining. Dinner that night was Tuna Morney. Dinner the following night was Tuna steaks Teriyaki style – mmmmm absolutely divine.

One bonus about having smooth water was that we could send the kids out for a tube ride on the new tube, compliments of “Wind Horse”. What an excitement, to be towed behind “Connect4” as she motored across the Mediterranean. As if that wasn't excitement enough, a huge turtle decided to swim over and say hello to the children. Perhaps from underwater the kids and the tube looked like a female turtle, who knows, suffice to say, having a visit from a turtle whilst tubing across the Mediterranean was a huge blast.

We arrived in Almerimar marina, Spain around 8:00am on Friday. We tied up and revelled in the feel of ground that didn't move under our feet. Down the pontoon from us was Ian from Celtic Spray. Ian was in Marmaris with us, and is a lovely Welsh solo sailor who we get along with so well. We still had some Tuna fillets left over, so gave him a couple for his dinner.

We checked into the marina for a week, but ended up staying 8 days.

We needed to be based somewhere so that we could get our trampolines ordered and sent to us from France Trampolines, then we needed to get an order off to Defender in the USA for some boat parts. We needed a SSB antenna, some copper for grounding, a new hour meter for the starboard engine and 5 low power fans for the cabins, as well as some press studs for the new mosquito nets Cheryl is making and some books on the Caribbean islands. Now Cheryl at Defender helped me hugely with my first order when we were in Turkey, and once again she was superb in helping this time – she raced my order through and ensured it was despatched the same day, so it got out before the weekend.

We were walking along the pontoon, checking out the catamaran nets, deciding on the best size trampoline netting when we struck up a conversation with a couple on board a beautiful Catana 58 catamaran called “Aurora”. We got talking and I mentioned that we were ordering some parts. When I mentioned the SSB antenna, they said “We've got a SSB on our boat but never use it – if you want it, remove it and it's yours.” What a generous offer. I quickly set too with help from the guys on board and soon had the antenna removed and the holes filled and finished. They were happy and I was happy, but I had to send a quick email to Cheryl at Defender asking her to delete the SSB antenna from the order. Luckily for me, she had it removed in time before it left the warehouse.

One thing I love about cruising is the way cruisers are all so generous and help each other. It is such an amazing thing; whenever someone needs help, if a cruiser can help another cruiser, they will. We just hope we get to help others as much as we've been helped ourselves.

Tuesday 7th September 2010

Ian from “Celtic Spray” hired a car for the day. He was flying out to the UK but didn't trust the taxi to turn up at the right time or place. The deal was that if we would run him to the airport, then he'd let us use his car for the remainder of the day. What a great deal. It was an early start, but once we'd dropped him off, we went off to McDonalds for breakfast. Sadly, here in Spain, McDonalds doesn't open until lunchtime, how strange is that? After driving around in circles for half an hour, we finally found a shopping complex that let us in at the staff entrance. Inside we found a little cafe that sold us some pastries. From the look of it, the cafe was only opened for staff, but they didn't seem to mind.

Cheryl's been hunting everywhere for a whistling kettle to put on the gas stove and a toasting rack. It's unreal that in a place as big as this we've not been able to find what we want. Perhaps these people haven't ever come across a whistling kettle before. We'd been told to try the big sports and outdoor store. We trekked off to see the sports store. What we found was a huge shop that sold equipment and clothing for every sport imaginable. They had batons for gymnasts, scuba tanks for divers, shoes for soccer players, guns for shooters, golf clubs for golfers and everything in between – but alas, no whistling kettles or toasting racks. Cheryl did however leave with a nice wet weather jacket, something we'd been meaning to buy her for a while now, so the trip wasn't totally wasted. My shoes are wearing out, as are most of our shoes, so I had a look at some more shoes/sandals/reef shoes, but just couldn't come at paying the amount they were asking. It's funny, when I was working I'd have just bought a pair and not thought too much about the cost. Now we're sailing, we've got to be so much more conservative in our spending. Let's face it, we're not earning money anymore.

We drove north to the Sierra Nevada which is a huge national park. It resembles the American desert in the summer, but turns into a vast snow field in winter. Because of its similarity to the American desert, its contrasting landscapes, and its long days of sunshine, it became the main filming location for many movies in the 1950's. Even recently “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, Clint Eastwood's “A Fist Full of Dollars” and “Last Days in Pompeii” were all filmed in this region.

Driving through this area was fun until we nearly ran out of petrol. We'd thought we would find any number of petrol stations along the way, but were sadly mistaken. With the fuel gauge frighteningly low, we decided we needed to make a priority of fuel. We ended up diverting our “tour” to search a nearby town for a petrol station. Not having a map of the town, we just drove into it and were greeted with small cobble stone streets that wound between ancient houses. Our little car often only just fitting between some of the houses. The more we progressed, the narrower the alleys squeezed with each progressive turn as the paved paths wound ever tighter. Clearly this town was made before cars.

Friday 10th September 2010

Today we hired a car today and drove into Granada. Our two Dell computers we own had both died in recent months. The older computer wasn't supported anymore, so Dell weren't interested in helping us there, but the newer Dell was still under warranty which was a huge relief. Dell have a repair agent in Granada, so we decided to take the opportunity to get the laptop repaired before moving on. Also Granada 'is' Spain, so there is no way we could leave Spain without visiting and taking in her sights.

The Alhambra is a beautifully balanced palace that was first constructed in 1238 by the Andalusian Sultan Muhammad the first. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was a palace, citadel and fortress, the residence of the Moorish Sultans, high dignitaries, members of the Court and elite soldiers. This palace is carefully divided into four different areas; the Palaces, the military area called the Alcazaba, the citadel or Medina and the market garden area, or Generalife as it's called today. These are all situated in a surrounding of forests, gardens and orchards with lots of running water which adds to the ambience of the grounds. The walk around the gardens was probably the highlight of the visit – the gardens are so beautiful and well balanced that they envelope you and make you feel relaxed and invigorated. The fountains and running water adding to the effect.

Ever since we made landfall in Spain, Cheryl's been wanting to see a Flamenco show. We were recommended a good restaurant that has a flamenco show so opted to splash out and enjoy this “taste of Spain”.

The night was brilliant, the flamenco dancers were superb and the food was a treat to the taste buds. The paella, a traditional Spanish dish, was the freshest and most flavoursome we'd had ever had. There's something about watching performers who are there because they want to be, not because they have to be. From the very beginning, it was obvious that these five (three ladies who took turns dancing, a male vocalist and a male guitarist) were all there for the enjoyment. They loved the flamenco dancing. While we couldn't understand a word that was sung, the night was truly memorable.

Saturday 11th September 2010

Saturday saw us waving goodbye to Almerimar Marina and heading out on an overnight passage to La Linea, which is the Spanish port on the northern end of Gibraltar's bay. The plan was to make it in during daylight hours, however the sailing was partly against tide, so we were slowed significantly and didn't make it in until almost midnight.

Arriving in a strange bay at night, even Gibraltar, isn't a good idea. Floating around anywhere near Gibraltar, waiting for daylight is even dumber. Gibraltar, being the gateway to the Mediterranean is a hugely busy port and the number of ships moving around near the entrance is mind blowing, especially when you're as small as we are. A length just shy of 13m may seem like a large yacht, but when you line up next to a ship that's 190m long, believe me; you look up at him like an ant looks up at a man's boot which is about to crush him. These behemoths are something to be seen. I get the feeling that we could turn up as debris on the bow of their boat and they'd never notice. Now moving around one of these giants can be cause for concern. We had over 40 targets on the AIS and radar. Even on the 3NM range, the radar was painted, brightly awash with targets. Most times in the night we take turns on watch, however given the amount of activity, both Cheryl and I were on watch. I called out to her that things were getting busy on the radar and that we had many targets moving around near us. Her reply from the helm was “Tell me something I don't know – I've got a visual on 18 ships that I'm already tracking!”

Despite the congestion around us, entering Gibraltar was an experience never to be missed. It was so exciting to be at such a famous port, and for us it was bitter-sweet as it's also marking the last port of call for us in the Mediterranean. This is a milestone. Once we leave here, were out into the Atlantic and onto the next stage of our adventure. Gibraltar is basically the end of our Mediterranean cruising and for us it's saying goodbye to all the places we've explored over the last 8 months.

We wove our way carefully, silently, through the myriad of large ships congregating in the entrance to Gibraltar and once inside were rewarded with a stunning night time view of Gibraltar and the surrounding bay, and more ships to navigate around. Fortunately for us, most of the ships inside the bay were stationary, so we quietly picked our way between them and headed for the back of the bay here some friends had told us about a new marina that had recently opened. We managed to get into the marina just before midnight and the security guard helped us tie up alongside the dock for the night.

The next morning when we woke, we noticed that Rico and Jackson on “Apparition” were also in the marina, and

when we caught up with them, they told us that “Tiger”, whom we hadn't seen since Marmaris were anchored in the bay just outside. Catching up with friends we haven't seen in a while is always exciting, but for Nick it was a particular highlight as his two friends, Pete and Emile, were on board “Tiger” and he hasn't played with them since Marmaris.

Time in Gibraltar went very fast, and while we were technically in Spain, we made the most of Gibraltar for shopping and provisioning. It's such a joy to shop where you can actually read the label on what you were buying. The simple things in life everyone else takes for granted!

The history of Gibraltar is fascinating. The first inhabitants were the Phoenicians, around 950 BC. Subsequently, Gibraltar became known as one of the Pillars of Hercules, after the Greek legend of the creation of the Strait of Gibraltar by Heracles. The Carthaginians and Romans also established semi-permanent settlements. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Gibraltar came briefly under the control of the Vandals.

After the conquest, King Henry IV assumed the title of King of Gibraltar, establishing it as part of the municipal area of the Campo Llano de Gibraltar. Six years later Gibraltar was restored to the Duke of Medina Sidonia who sold it in 1474 to a group of Jewish conversos from Córdoba and Seville in exchange for maintaining the garrison of the town for two years. The 4,350 Jews were expelled two years later by the Duke as part of the Inquisition. In 1501 Gibraltar passed back to the hands of the Spanish Crown and Isabella I of Castile issued a Royal Warrant granting Gibraltar the coat of arms that it still uses today.

During the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704, a combined Anglo-Dutch force captured the town of Gibraltar. The terms of surrender provided certain assurances but commanders lost control, sailors and marines engaged in rape and pillage, desecrating most churches, and the townspeople then carried out reprisal killings. After order was finally restored, most of the population felt that staying in Gibraltar was too dangerous and fled.

Gibraltar was ceded in perpetuity by Spain to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which concluded the war. Spain attempted to retake Gibraltar in 1727 and in 1779, when it entered the American Revolutionary War on the American side as an ally of France. Gibraltar subsequently became a key base for the Royal Navy, first playing an important part prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal as it controlled the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez.

During World War II, Gibraltar's civilian population was evacuated and The Rock was strengthened as a fortress. Although Spain remained neutral during the war, they were aligned with Germany and Hitler met with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on a number of occasions. Hitler's plan was to bring troops through Spain to attack Gibraltar, however Franco, after meeting Hitler, called him a maniac and was thus reluctant to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil. This frustrated a German plan to capture The Rock, codenamed Operation Felix. In the 1950s, Franco renewed Spain's claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain. Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty in a 1967 referendum which led to the passing of the Gibraltar Constitution Order in 1969. In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links. The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982, and fully reopened in 1985 prior to Spain's accession into the European Community.

The relationship between Spain and Gibraltar is peaceful now but tense in a subtle way, especially since Spain won the world cup!

To get from Spain to Gibraltar, you have to walk through customs and immigration, on both the Spanish side and the Gibraltar side. Then you have to walk across the middle of the runway, so long as the lights aren't flashing. When the lights are flashing, it means an aeroplane is landing, so pedestrians and vehicles aren't allowed on the runway – most interesting.

In Gibraltar we took a day out to climb the rock. Let's face it, you can't come to Gibraltar and not climb “The Rock”. “Tiger” joined us bright and early and the eight of us set off across the border and into Gibraltar. We were told by some other cruisers that we could follow an old road up to the top, which took us through an older and more scenic area, and best of all, bypassed the toll booth. Cruisers are so tight! We were fortunate with the weather today as contrary to most days, the rock wasn't shrouded in a blanket of cloud. Climbing the rock in the cool of the morning was beautiful and the scenery and views on the way to the top were amazing. Half way up the rock we saw the famous monkeys. We first saw them when they were playing on the roof of some unfortunate person's car.

They were taking turns jumping from the nearby rock onto the roof of the car, enjoying the sound they made as the landed on the rock, oblivious to the dents they were making. The mischievous creatures would chase each other across the rock face, leap onto the roof of the car, perform a quick turn as they grabbed the car's antenna for stability, then leap back to the rock to start the game again. Nick got close to the car and a monkey jumped from the roof and onto his back. Nick froze, unsure of what to do as the monkey made his way along his back and grabbed a hand full of his hair. I moved closer to Nick and had a monkey jump onto my arm, then scamper up to my shoulders. From there he had fun trying to get my water bottle out of my backpack.

As we walked further up the rock, we saw many more monkeys all around us; some were playing, some were resting and there were even a few waiting, like thieves and pick-pockets, for the opportunity to lighten the load of our food at an opportune moment. I'd like to say we got out unscathed, but alas, we succumbed. Ronel took out a bag of CC's for the kids at one rest stop, out of nowhere, a monkey dropped in on us and in half a second flat the thief snatched the bag of CC's from Ronel's hands and made off across the park, to sit on a rock wall and eat the whole bag off CC's in front of us – I seriously hope he got a real gut ache from that meal! Every time we went near him to retrieve the bag of CC's he'd bare his teeth at us. Neil from “Tiger” sidled as close as he dared and posed for a photo with the snarling monkey, bag of CC's in hand.

At the top of the rock we had spectacular views all the way to Africa and along the coast. It's easy to see why the Rock of Gibraltar was such a strategic position.

Inside the rock is truly amazing. For centuries different occupying forces have dug em-battlements and tunnels into the rock for defences and to enable troop movement. We went on a tunnel tour and saw a small section of the amazing labyrinth of tunnels that were built by the English and Canadian troops during world war two. There are approximately 50km's of tunnels under the Rock of Gibraltar; more roadway that is in the whole of Gibraltar. There's even an underground hospital and x-ray room cut into the rock. During the war there were almost 9000 troops stationed within the rock.

The most amazing thing about this was that the 50km's of excavations that occurred during WW2 were done in secret and were never discovered. Their secret was that there was a nearby quarry. When blasting was to be done, they timed the blasting within the rock with blasting in the quarry. When they had rubble to be removed from the rock, it was purported that it came from the nearby quarry. In this way, the secret of the tunnels inside the Rock, and of the 9,000 service men and women living inside the rock were never revealed.

Wednesday 22nd September 2010

Wednesday was a good weather window to get out and through the strait of Gibraltar. We'd poured over the guide books for hours, working out where and when the counter currents within the straits occurred and how they'd affect our passage. The Mediterranean is a remnant of a vast ancient sea called Tethys, which was squeezed almost shut in the Oligocene Epoch, 30 million years ago, when the tectonic plates carrying Africa and Eurasia collided. The plates are still grinding together, causing the eruption of volcanoes such as Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli. When the plates moved apart again, Gibraltar was left behind and remains today part of Europe although geologically part of Africa. An undersea sill from Spain to Morocco lies at the outlet of the Mediterranean which restricts circulation through the narrow strait. This sill greatly reduces the tidal range of the sea and coupled with the high levels of evaporation, makes the Mediterranean much saltier than the Atlantic Ocean. Navigating the strait can be awkward if you pick the wrong time to cross. With an average width of 7NM between Gibraltar and Morocco and an average easterly (ingoing) current of about 1knot down to a depth of 150m, there is approximately one billion litres (1,000,000,000 litres) of water per second flowing through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. Since this current flow isn't bi-directional, like tides, the flow is always into the Mediterranean. Since the current varies between about 1knot and 3.6knots, it is important to find the right time to go through. To add complexity to the transit, there are currents within the strait that sometimes flow contrary to the main inflowing current. Our course was plotted to make the most of these counter currents to enable us to get through in the shortest possible time.

Wednesday morning came and we prepared to leave with “Tiger” for the sail down to Mohammedia. We planned to head into Gibraltar for fuel and to check out of the EU, however when we went to pull up the anchor, it only came up 5-10m before the bow of the boat took a dive and the chain stopped with a grinding noise. It took but a second to feel the chain was securely attached to something more than just the anchor – something very strong, that wasn't budging. We were snagged!

Some people have no problem diving into murky water, and although I've not seen “Jaws”, I don't relish the need to jump into 9m of murky, cold, water, not knowing what is down the bottom. It was early morning, the sky was overcast and the water was dark, cold and foreboding. I wasn't feeling good about free diving down to untangle my chain from whatever it was attached to. Since I'm the “Man” and nobody else was stepping forward to volunteer for this task, I reluctantly got changed into my bathers, put on my mask, snorkel and dive knife, and jumped into the water. The chill immediately took my breath away and my body's instant reaction was to start hyper-ventilating. I tried to slow my breathing as I made my way to the front of the boat and prepared to dive, feeling my nerves and the cold leading me to start shivering. I made it to the chain, aware that something was down there, something that I had to find and fix. With a feeling of acceptance of my lot, I took a deep breath and pulled myself down the anchor chain, waiting for the obstruction to materialise. At around the 8.5m depth, out of the gloom, I saw the shape of a large cylinder materialise in front of my face. The cylinder was made of rusty steel and looked like the boiler of an old ship's engine, about 3m high and 1.5m wide. At the top of the cylinder there were four pipe arms extending in an array. My chain was wrapped once around the base of the cylinder and then once around the arms of the cylinder. I tried to untangle the chain, but it was too tight! Running out of air, I made my way back to the surface. On my instruction, Cheryl let out another couple of metres of chain, so that the chain was slack at our end. I quickly took another breath of air and followed the chain down to the bottom. Being careful to ensure I didn't entangle myself, I methodically swam the chain around the arms and then the circumference of the cylinder, finally freeing ourselves. While it only took 30-40 seconds of effort, it felt like much longer. The weight of the chain and the effort required to swim it around made it all the harder. As soon as the chain was free I swam to the surface and quickly pulled myself out of the murky waters.

We quickly hoisted the anchor, ensuring we motored to the side of the obstruction. Once the anchor was safely on-board, we motored the 1NM from Spanish to Gibraltar. We fuelled up, but weren't allowed to leave the fuel dock without checking into Gibraltar. This was a problem, since we had some anti-fouling that we'd bought the other day, awaiting our collection in the chandlery. The adjacent marina were willing to help us with clearing in, but only for those who stayed in their marina. Looking at the time, and realising we'd all but missed our window for the run through the straits, we cut our losses and decided to take a berth for the night and try again the next day.

Friday 24th September 2010

We arrived in Mohammedia after a two day sail out the straight of Gibraltar and down the coast of Africa.

All the planning that I put into ensuring we left the transiting of The Strait at the right time went off flawlessly and the motor sail out and away went off without incident. At one stage, Cheryl was on watch and I heard a cry from the deck; “Quick! Bring the camera, bring the camera!” I grabbed the camera and raced up on deck to see Cheryl jumping up and down with excitement. She was pointing and excitedly telling us that she'd just seen two pilot whales breach and hit the water with their tails not 20m from our yacht. We all stood on deck, eyes glued to where Cheryl was pointing, but never saw a thing.

As we sailed down the coast, the winds abated and we were faced with the choice of either starting an engine and burning diesel so that we could make Mohammedia before sunset, or to sail slowly and spend another night at sea. We decided on the latter and motored the last 10 hours into port.

When we arrived, check in went smoothly and the officials never asked for a “gift” or for that matter anything at all. They were efficient, friendly and professional – so unlike their Tunisian counterparts. The marina manager Nousomie was wonderfully accommodating and friendly. While the marina itself wasn't quite what we had expected, it was clean, well maintained and anything it lacked was more than made up for by the efforts of Nousomie and his staff.

Wednesday 29th September 2010

How cool is Morocco!!! We caught the train up from Mohammedia to Fes yesterday and stayed overnight

in a motel. The train trip cost 370Dh (EUR37) and the motel cost 250Dh (EUR25). Since we paid so little for the motel, we decided to splash out on dinner in a restaurant. The restaurant served a beautiful spread of food and we still only paid 240Dh (EUR24) for our family. I love this place!!! Exploring the old part of Fes was amazing. We walked through the narrow streets and soaked up the atmosphere of the street sellers, spice markets and the hustle and bustle of a thriving part of town that probably hasn't changed a whole lot in the last 1,000 years.

We got lost, and ended up in a very residential area of narrow streets that ran this way and that, in no particular logical arrangement. We were followed by a group of giggling children who turned and ran away as soon as Neil turned the camera on them, only to appear a few seconds later, grinning from behind another corner. The old ladies were covered in traditional Muslim garb, heads and faces hidden.

In the market part of the Medina, we looked at the spice sellers with their buckets of brightly coloured spices, grinning from behind their small shops. We saw the intricate designs on the dresses that were all hand made and we saw the men selling pots, and yes, we even saw the carpet shops. Perhaps it was because there were eight of us walking together that we weren't hassled so much, but we found the sellers all polite and while obviously they were keen to get their hands on our Dirhams, they weren't too pushy.