The past week goes down in my history books as the fastest week in history. Last Sunday I woke up at 7am and trundled down to Schoenefeld airport for my flight to Malaga, Spain, on route to The Rock of Gibraltar. Since skipping around Europe on budget airlines pretty much lands you anywhere in one hour, it was a rather lengthy flight at around three hours. How I flew from Australia is beyond me. I’m now a spoiled Europrat.
I arrived in Malaga, flawlessly found a bus into town, booked another to La Linea and admired the Spanish coast for another three hours. I also found out I could speak perfect Spanish:
Spaniard: [Something said really fast]
Me: Uno Momento!
Me: Gracias, ciao ciao! [Turn and run]
So, as you can imagine, I speak flawless German aswell.
View from Gibraltar marina
I stayed a night in La Linea, and then walked to the Trafalgar Sailing school. Gibraltar is the first country where as long as the border patrol see you have something made out of paper in your hand, it must be a passport and you’re whisked through the gates. Gibraltar is also the first country I’ve been to that insists you walk across an active runway before entering the country. Since the entire place is more or less a large rock, they had to place the runway on the only flat part left, which incidently is the bit connected to Spain.
I arrived and walked around a little before meeting everyone at Trafalgar Sailing. We were briefed aboard the boat we we’d be sleeping and sailing for the week, a shiny new Bavaria 37.
I must admit, walking onto such a boat in comparison to mine, is a little like sleeping a night under a leaky tent made out cardboard, and then walking into the penthouse at a Hilton hotel the following morning. We could have spent the entire six days just getting instruction on how to use the DVD player.
The weather was beautiful at around 20c, with the first day spent getting to know the boat and assessing everyones skills. One of the great things about sailing in and around Gibraltar is you get to experience what it’s like sharing the sea with super tankers. You think 37 feet of boat is pure spatial luxury until you see a tanker at night showing lights which can be decoded as ‘over fifty meters in length and steaming’ - well set for a collision course. You also share the space with powered catamaran ferrys and fishing vessels. If you’re learning to sail, I see these things as big plusses, because it’s an inevitable part of sailing, and it’s probably best that you understand the ‘rules of the road’ really well. After the first day of assessment, we came back to our home base, to find our instructor was going to cook up a storm for us all. He made a point of making sure we understood Cathy was the brains behind the home cooked meals, but, I must admit he received the praise!
The following day we spent the morning doing mooring exercises, having plenty of instruction ’springing’, mooring alongside, and from the stern. We practiced under a myriad of conditions and scenarios, and with such a nice boat to look after when docking, I feel I got it down to a fairly gentle art, and I’m sure Constellation will be happy not to get smashed into boards everytime she’s ready to tie up :)
In the late afternoon, we left Gibraltar and ventured across the bay among the tankers until it was dark, and then practiced ship light theory and spotting marina lights by night. I still have no idea how you’re meant to see the them until you’re practically alongside, but I guess its an art for further practice…
The next day after spending the night in the Gibraltar marina, we sailed to Tarifa on the coast of Spain. Before entering port, we sailed around the point into more sheltered waters to get out of an increasingly large swell. At anchor, our instructor put lunch together while we all sat around recovering from a long day of sailing. The trip down was lengthy, as we needed to beat up to the Traffic Separation Scheme in order to have the right run down to Tarifa point. Along the way we learnt and practiced navigation from visual landmarks, steering well clear of a ship wreck (which made a good point of reference on our charts) and ensuring we kept in front of our rival Trafalgar boat, full of students doing their Coastal Skipper and Yachtmaster tickets!
After lunch we practiced the Man Overboard exercises, throwing ‘Kylie’ overboard and coming to her rescue. Kylie was a bucket attached to a fender, but we treated her well pulling her to safe rescue time after time, practicing by wind and motor. I’ll admit to maybe missing and running her down, but only once!
Tired and nearing darkness, we sailed back around and entered Tarifa port. As such, you learn a little about the etiquette of entering foreign ports, handling the boats papers and crew members passport & visas. Tarifa was a really beautiful little city, with tiny laneways and nice restuarants. We spent the night with crew from another Trafalgar boat where I tried to explain that yes, I was going to attempt to sail to Australia this year without any crew (except with my imaginary friend named Trevor).
We were greeted with increasing wind in the morning, and attempted to beat back to Gibraltar to get across the Traffic Separation Scheme over to Morocco. This can be likened to a German autobahn with semi-trailers who take 2km to stop and steam along at 160kmh. No place for VW Polos or their equivalents. The wind was gusting to a Force seven, and it was a futile effort to make it in any reasonable amount of time. We sailed hard into big winds for over two hours, but realised it would take us a month to reach our destination, and resorted to motoring away from the strong winds encountered near Tarifa. We motored for an hour or so until the winds calmed and we were in a better position to make the cross, and re-launched the sails. We spent a pleasant time crossing over to Africa under sail in perfect wind conditions, around the coast and to a little town called Smir, in Morocco. I ‘ticked off’ my first visit to the continent of Africa, stepping onto the marina and marvelling at the thought of visiting foriegn lands under sail. Sorry, I get a bit dreamy and romantic over these things!
A Flat Med on our final day after five days of windy conditions.
Sailing back to Spain, the water was flat, but beautiful nonetheless. I nor the rest of the crew seemed to mind, after the last five days were spent under sail, and we now had a bit of a chance to practice theory, ensuring we had all our knots right, getting the opportunity to relax for a little while and catch up on all the questions I had. We moored in Sotogrande, Spain and dined in an Irish pub and paddled about the marina in a small tender, to make sure we had the coordination to operate one and didn’t end up going in circles!
The last day was spent doing a contour navigation and rounding Gibraltar from the other side. At this stage we also considered the theory of navigation under fog, and what is possible with a complete loss of instruments. From the water-side of the rock, it’s possible to see the holes punched in the sides to house large guns and movie-esque submarine landing depots. It’s a remarkable place, and I’m sure the military history is quite incredible.
I stayed another night on the boat, and spent the afternoon walking up the rock to see if these primates really did exist in the bushes. Apparently they do, and they have no fear.
So to sum it all up, I sailed with large ships in an incredibly busy area of the sea, visited three countries and another continent, spotted dolphins and apes, asked a lot of questions and learnt a great deal. The boats, facilities and indstruction was fantastic, and I can’t say enough for how nice everybody was at Trafalgar. So, if you want to do your RYA certificates, and you’ve got a toss up between doing them on the English south coast, or going to the warm and windy Straights, what can I say?