Knocking at the Med's Western Door...Gibraltar: September 14 2010
Up came the anchor from Ponsa at 4.30am on September 1, sexy headlamp in place. We started with a gentle motor through light swell and light winds as the sky filled with apricot light. Then the wind filled in from behind and out came the spinnaker which gave us 6 knots of boat speed (no motor, thank you very much). Unfortunately, after an hour the wind moved too far forward for the spinnaker...but just fine for the main and the screecher. Holy cow, we sailed the rest of the way to Formentera at 6-7 knots boat speed in 12 knots of wind. Yippee! Sailing is a bit elusive in the cruiser named Motor-terranean where there seems to be either no wind at all or too much wind...but not today as we sailed into the island paradise of Espalmador on the northern spit of Formentera Island. The summer high season is officially over but someone forgot to tell the dozens of boats still in the anchorage. We decided on an anchor spot just outside the mooring field and settled into a grilled steak dinner. Moving to a spot nestled closer to the beach waited until the next day after evening boats had gone home (Sept 2). Formentera has no airport and is only 37 square miles in size (half the size of Washington DC). What the island lacks in size it makes up for in tranquility...of the palm tree, turquoise water and white sand variety. Oh yeah, and nudity is as common as a beach umbrella. Ooohhh, it is a bit funny to see folks strutting naked with backsides as untanned as those of a white tailed deer. We figure they are a bit new to nude sunbathing. There will certainly be some interesting sunburns later. We walked ashore (definitely a bit overdressed in swim suits and flip flops), swam off the boat and dinghied to nearby coves and stunning rock formations. Meals were at a relaxed pace on Barefeet and sundowners were accompanied by entertainment that was anything but dull. There is a giant mud puddle inland from the beach (approx 10 minute walk) which is like a magnet to beach goers. It was hysterical to see people emerge from the dunes covered head to toe in a grayish-greenish mud bursting with pride in every step...bathing suits usually clutched in a swinging hand...yes, with everything else swinging, too. Tee, hee, hee.
Erin has picked up the Thursday net controller job on the morning Drag Net (6516 USB at 8.30am). It is a relaxed group of cruisers that check in daily with their location, share info and get together when joined in the same spot. Many will be continuing west this year and it should continue to be a nice camaraderie all the way to the Caribbean. Erin had 21 check-ins from Greece to Sardinia and France to Gibraltar. The HAM/SSB radio is definitely handy. Mother Nature is always a topic of discussion with cruisers...but even more so with squirrelly winds on the near term forecast throughout the Med. Sadly, this meant that it was time for us to move on from our island paradise. The winds appear to be coming from all directions in the next several days. Time will tell if this pans out but in the meantime we moved to Cala Bassa on Ibiza for a bit more protection (September 4). We stretched our legs with a walk along the cliffs out to Cala Conta and kept going into San Antonio rather than back to Cala Bassa (September 5). The cliffs are sheer down to the ocean but just a few steps inland it is dense pine forests. It was a long walk but we got a good idea of what is nearby and glimpsed some lovely views. On a more practical note, Barefeet has not been ignored with all this distracting island paradise surrounding us. We have chipped away at small projects a little at a time; cleaned and greased main sail track, cleaned spinnaker rope clutch, checked and corrected alignment on both engines, WD-40 to all snaps and toggles, descaled fridge and freezer water cooling lines, greased the dinghy engine, cleaned out lockers and mattress wells...and so the list goes on.
Ibiza has a reputation as a party thumping, clubbing mecca which made us a bit worried about finding a relaxing spot to wait out the passing winds. Thankfully, our anchorage is perfect for protection from the winds with just the right amount of isolation. It is packed with beach goers by day but clears out to quiet tranquility in the evening. Who hates an afternoon plate of french fries?! The snack bar and the small restaurant ashore close down by 6pm which leaves just us and another few sailboats in the cove. Our only annoying water disruption occurs when water taxis from San Antonio make their drop-offs and pick-ups at the sandy beach (only a daytime activity). Days are still hot and sunny but nights have begun to cool down with sheets being required part way through the night...and improving the efficiency of our fridge and freezer (Sept 7). In the mornings the decks are wet with dew which we have heard will get heavier and heavier the closer we get to Gibraltar. As forecast the winds arrived and kept us settled in our cove...sometimes bouncing a bit more than desired. However, we fared better than other regions such as the French areas of Toulon and Antibes where wind howled and rain stormed. We wandered ashore for pizza on a patio covered with grapevines just a short walk from the beach and had sundowners with fellow cruisers from Scottish flagged s/v Ruaival (Ristorante Es Parral, tel 971 345903). It has been nice to make recipes left dusty from non-use due to lack of ingredients. The Balearic Islands have plenty of well stocked supermarkets which meant Sausage, Cheese and Chili Casserole was again a satisfying accompaniment to sundowner margaritas. Cala Bassa was a nice place but we were ready to move on when the winds moderated on September 9.
Sausage, Cheese and Chili Casserole (Crazy for Casseroles by James Villas): 3/4 lb bulk pork sausage (or ground beef or small cubed steak); one 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature; one can 7-oz Rotel tomatoes and chiles; 1/4 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated; cilantro, chopped to top (optional). 1. In a large skillet, fry the sausage over moderate heat, breaking up with a fork until well cooked. Drain on paper towels. 2. Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Grease a 1.5 quart casserole and set aside. 3. In a large mixing bowl combine the sausage, cream cheese and tomatoes and chiles and mix until well blended. 4. Scrape mixture into casserole, sprinkle with cheese evenly over the top and bake until bubbly and the cheese is completely melted (approx 15 minutes). Sprinkle top with as much cilantro as you like. Dip corn chips...gooey and delicious!
The winds did indeed follow the forecast so up came the anchor at 11am (September 9). We bashed out of our anchor cove until we were in the open and out came the headsail alone for 7 knots of boat speed in 25 knot winds. We were sailing and on our way to Gibraltar. So long Spain and the Balearics. The wind died out just about dinner time so the sail came in and the motor went on. The moon was just a tiny sliver in the night sky which allowed for amazingly bright stars to beam unchallenged. The next day was spectacular...the sun was bright, the blue sky was dotted with white clouds AND we flew the spinnaker (September 10). It was a smooth ride at 5 knots boat speed with 12 knots of wind as we gently made our way between mainland Spain (10 miles to our right) and mainland Africa (95 miles to our left). It was so smooth in fact that Chris whipped up his delicious chicken tikka masala for dinner. By the time it was time to start our night shifts the wind had increased so we pulled down the spinnaker and rolled out the head sail. All was well on board. Day 3 started with the engine and a bit of counter current but soon the engine was off and the head sail was out again. We could not believe our luck to have so much sailing! Tanker traffic was a constant but they were positioned further off the coast than we were...mostly noticed only at night when the radar was on. Nights were pretty chilly and wet so we bundled up in fleece from head to toe...and the bed never felt softer or warmer than when we came off shift to have a 3-hour power nap.
The chill of the evening continued as the sun came up for a cloudy morning and we were 15 miles from Gibraltar (September 12). Wow, dolphins danced in the bow and "the rock" slowly came into view. Our adrenaline was pumping as we drank coffee and enjoyed the arrival of the milestone that is Gibraltar. We pulled into Ocean Village marina and were immediately aided by cruisers from s/v Stardust and s/v Bondi Tram...followed closely by s/v Dreamcatcher, s/v Sunburnt, s/v White Rose (www.oceanvillage.gi). Wow, lots of familiar faces (and voices) from the morning net. We gave Barefeet a washing, straightened up and made a cursory visit to the nearby Morrison's Supermarket. We were in no doubt that we were in a British overseas Territory as we saw nearly an entire aisle dedicated to cheddar cheese, another to sliced sandwich bread and yet another to gravies. Provisioning will be quite a pleasure here. We plan some exploring of the peninsula as well as a couple of days to Spain before heading 150 miles through the Straits of Gibraltar and around the corner to Rabat, Morocco. But first things first...a shower followed by a drink at the pub right at the end of our dock. We are nearly through the Med and about to enter the Atlantic...it will take a minute for that to truly sink in.