Gladlee of Guernsey
August 1992 – March 1993
29th August – 3rd October 1992
The weather didn’t seem to improve a lot on the first stage of our journey south – after towing a stranded fishing boat into the Rĩa de Muros we were rewarded by a day and a half of persistent drizzle. Things started looking up in the scenic Rĩa de Arosa, though on our first full day of fine weather for some time we contrived to run ourselves aground twice! The area between these rĩas and Bayona is a marvellous cruising ground – we by-passes Pontevedra and Vigo, but touched at the Isla Ons (anchoring off the nudist beach for a Naked lunch) on the way down to the beautiful Islas Cias on a rare beam reach in F4 and sunshine. The anchorage was a little windy for comfort, but we had a good walk over the jungly southern island to get a view of Bayona, our next day’s destination. A pause for routine maintenance and a pleasant dinner out, then on to Portugal and Viana do Castelo, where we “discovered” a new marina and had a happy meeting with an expatriate Brit who took us on a memorable day out up to the mountains near the Spanish border, by way of the lovely Rio Lima valley. The passage down to Leixoes was notable for the fact that we covered 28 miles in 5 hours under reefed genoa alone – and for the biggest swell we’d yet seen, in steady F6. At Leixoes we discovered yet another new marina (so new that we weren’t charged for our two-night stay), a good base for a day’s fascinating exploration of Porto, including a call on “Garmouth”, moored in the Douro river, and visits to two port ‘lodges’ (with generous samples of their products!).
A dull day’s motoring down to the pleasant anchorage at Aveiro was followed by a 27-hour passage (of which 23 under sail) down to Cascais, at the entrance to the River Tagus. The following day we had a spectacular run into Lisbon on the genoa, to find a convenient and reasonably comfortable berth at the Doca do Terreiro de Trigo close to the city centre. A delightful stay of four nights in Lisbon, exploring Alfama and the citadel, an expedition to Sintra by train (and a long walk up to the highest of its fantastic palaces), and some friendships renewed and new acquaintances made. Heading south from Lisbon on 17th September we decided to by-pass Sines and head for Cape St. Vincent, which we rounded with a F7 behind us at 4 in the morning to complete a passage of 110 miles at an average of 5 knots – after anchoring in the dark we woke up under the dramatic cliffs of the Punta de Sagres, pushing on eastwards in Mediterranean sunshine and a fresh northerly towards the picturesque anchorage off Ferragudo for the night.
Next day a gentle run along the coast to Vilamoura, where appalling bureaucracy didn’t detract too much from the comforts of the marina and a reunion (and a welcome night ashore) with our old friends the Pawleys from Ankara. Then a couple of nights in the lagoon off Faro, an uncomfortable anchorage in bad weather at Tavira, and on to the Guadiana river, the border between Spain and Portugal, where in spite of occasional (courteous) harassment by the Portuguese police we spent a very pleasant four nights exploring 20 miles up the river – hardly another boat to be seen, and nice scenery (and birds – Dartford Warbler and Azure Magpies). From Vila Real, at the entrance, we took a long day’s passage across Cadiz Bay to Puerto Sherry, where we had an entertaining evening out with some Americans gathering to retrace Columbus’ route across the Atlantic – also a day’s expedition to Jerez and a visit to Williams & Humbert’s ‘bodega’. A telephone call to the Met Office at Gibraltar persuaded us to scrap plans for calls at Barbate and Tarifa (heavy weather in the offing), and after lunch on 2nd October we set off past the skyline of Cadiz, rounding Cape Trafalgar at 2100 hours and sighting Tarifa light (and those on the capes of Africa across the Strait) shortly before midnight.
The expected foul tide never materialised, and we found ourselves coasting easily into Gibraltar Bay, with a close escort of four dolphins, soon after 4 o’clock in the morning. A brief nap at anchor after clearing Customs, then into Sheppard’s – engine off at 09.50 on 3rd October 1992.
October 1992 - It took a while for the novelty of settling in to Gibraltar to wear off. There was lots of mail waiting for us, of course, and we descended on Safeways at Marina Bay like starving refugees, treating ourselves to almost forgotten delights such as roast beef, English cheese and biscuits, sausages, bacon, pork pies… Live league football and draught beer at “The Star” on Sunday afternoons (after picking up an English Sunday newspaper) soon became a regular fixture. We got to know the staff at Sheppards (“Brian Piermaster” and Margaret, the cool Tannoy voice, up front, together with the rather friendlier chandlery staff) and also made our number with Fred Short and Chris at the diving club. We started on a list of repair jobs, replaced the roller reefing swivel and had the sails serviced (with a new sacrificial strip for the genoa) by the oddball but efficient couple called Jibfast Sails. Julie took the course to get her Dive Leader certificate. We made a few friends on the visitors’ pontoon, as we waited for a “permanent” berth, and gave a couple of dinner parties on board. Meanwhile we had been making plans (and buying tickets – the month’s account looked horrific) for a trip back to the UK for Christmas. We spent a few days sailing up the Spanish coast to look at alternative moorings – Sotogrande (too exposed), Puerto Banus (too expensive), Estepone and Puerto de la Duquesa – we eventually decided on Duquesa, by a short head. And as a result of correspondence with Oz Robinson, a former colleague of Nigel’s, now director of the RCC Pilotage Foundation, we were invited to think about a cruise along the North African coast in the Spring. It seemed to be the shortest route to the Aegean, and it certainly sounded a little more adventurous than any other….
November 1992 - Returned from our cruise up the Costa on 1st November we found that we had at last qualified for a stern-to berth at Sheppard’s, which put some welcome distance between us and the nightly activities of the cigarette-smuggling launches operating from the dockside. The blind eye turned to the smuggling by all and sundry seemed fairly typical of the general corruption in Gibraltar, and in spite of its convenience we began to find the Rock and its inhabitants rather uncongenial. Neighbours on our pontoon were a mixed bag – some friendly, some distant, one (only) thoroughly unpleasant! Nigel persuaded himself to do a Novice Diver course, which he completed without undue difficulty (or frostbite), though there were some moments at the bottom of Gibraltar harbour when he wondered why….. We discovered cheaper shopping in La Linea, and bike trips across the border to the Pryca hypermarket always finished with beer and tapas for lunch (the food bills didn’t seem to get any lower). We exchanged dinner invitations with new diving friends and also entertained Safeways’ general manager and his wife, originally posted to Gibraltar by Nigel’s uncle Bill. We crossed the Straits for the first time on 19th November, stopping at Ceuta (where the duty-free shopping proved disappointing) before accidentally finding the half-built marina at Kabila, north of M’Diq (where we’d been waved away from the harbour). A dodgy weather forecast forced us to leave the following morning, which clearly puzzled the pleasant customs and immigration officials, at M’Diq – it was a lovely day, with only a breath of an easterly, and so it stayed! This excursion also marked the debut of our TWC voltage regulator, which was to cause us no end of problems later…. A brief stop in Gibraltar, then we were off by bus to Madrid for a memorable week’s stay with the Jacobsens, much good food and drink, excellent company and some entertaining outings. Central Spain was decidedly chilly though, and it was quite nice to get back to the relative warmth of the south.
December 1992 - Our last incentives for remaining in Gibraltar had evaporated by the time we got back from Madrid on the evening of 1st December. The local employment agency was clearly never going to find Julie a job, and Roger (our instructor with Scimitar Sailing early in 1990) wasn’t going to land the delivery contracts for which he’d engaged us as crew. We had rather been looking forward to piloting a powerful motor-cruiser to the south of France, still more to sailing a large yacht back from the Balearics, but we ought perhaps to have realised earlier that Roger was not one of life’s ‘deliverers’…. We settled down to sending off Christmas cards and a newsletter to our further-flung friends, while on successive evenings we entertained more of the diving club and Dominick Chilcott, who was on a brief official visit from the FCO. Through a chance conversation with the lady running the launderette at Marina Bay we acquired a large stack of second-hand charts covering most of our planned route to Turkey – thanks to having sold a batch of our charts for Atlantic Spain and the Channel coast to a returning Swedish yacht we ended up with a plus on the balance sheet. We also acquired “Greek Waters Pilot” to browse through during the early New Year, as well as Reed’s “Mediterranean Waters Pilot” (the abysmal quality of which prompted Nigel to write a long letter of complaint, and eventually got a refund!). More notes, too, for the Cruising Association, and we were delighted to get a first brief contribution on Lisbon published in January’s “Yachting World”. Came 21st December, and we were trudging across the runway at sunrise to board our flight for London, Christmas in Dulwich and Boxing Day in Wellingborough were as pleasant as ever, and we also lunched with Oz Robinson to confirm our engagement on the “North African” project. Back to Gibraltar for New Year’s Eve (a fairly unmemorable scrum in a pub on the waterfront) and our final week at Sheppards.
January 1993 - We were glad to wave goodbye to Gibraltar (if not for the last time) on 9th January, helped on our way by the amiable Hameed, who sped to our rescue in his dinghy to disentangle our fouled anchor. We sailed as far as Ceuta in lovely weather, eventually running into a huge school of dolphins as we motored down towards Kabila. The marina was as deserted as before, and we settled “Gladlee” in for a couple of weeks’ stay. We spent a few days cleaning, polishing and bird watching on the lagoon across the road, where Julie spotted lots of small waders as well as herons, egrets, geese and a stork (hunters sadly accounted for a few of the geese one evening, leaving spots of blood on our deck…)
On 14th we locked up, hoisted backpacks and got a taxi in to Tetouan, where we didn’t quite succeed in fighting off a “student” as escort round the medina, thence by bus next day through the Rif Mountains to Fès. Our two days there were cold but sunny – a welcome absence of tourists and two fascinating tours of the old medina (Fès el-Bali), the first largely devoted to our guide’s efforts to persuade us to buy something, the second a long walk on our own through the huge rabbit-warren of alleys, shops, markets, workshops and homes behind discreet old wooden doors – a real Arabian Nights setting. (We also managed to watch the England v France rugby international on Moroccan TV!) On our way back to Tetouan we stopped for a cold but picturesque overnight stay at Chefchaouen, a village of white houses with blue doors above a pretty square overlooked by a fort in the middle of the Rif Mountains – also a favourite hangout for European hashish smokers, who could be found inhaling the weed on the top floors of various hostels we visited. Back to Kabila, where we had four more restful days (and some wonderfully cheap food shopping at M’Diq market) before re-crossing the Strait to Gibraltar on 24th. Caught up with mail and Safeways shopping, got some duty-free drink in, and on 27th set out for Puerto de la Duquesa, where we planned to stay for the next five weeks. On the way out of Gibraltar we had the steering compass ‘adjusted’ by the local professional adjuster, resulting (we soon established) in errors of up to 15º! Also problems with the TWC connections to our alternator – a foretaste of things to come – but we got a very nice berth at Duqesa and started to make ourselves at home in the very pleasant ‘marina village’ surroundings.
February 1993 - The first half of the month was wet and windy – a steady easterly for day after day, and frequent rain which interrupted a major programme of reconditioning “Gladlee”’s woodwork, inside and out. We had a couple of rather frustrating trips by bus into Gibraltar (parcels not arrived, slides and prescriptions not ready, and so on) and explored Estepona market and the supermarket along the road – which eventually supplied us with 60-odd litres of discounted TetraBrik wine. Occasionally there was football or rugby at one of the bars behind the marina, populated exclusively by expat Brits. We made contact with Paul and Susie Griffon (Paul being son of Molly Smart’s old friend Barbara), slightly struggling architects based in Marbella, who came over for a convivial lunch. Jo Morley arrived in Malaga (to stay with old friends) on 14th, and after a few last minute dramas – she missed the bus, our rented car was hit by a concrete mixer – we picked her up at Marbella bus station in the very early hours of 20th. After a brief excursion to the heights beyond Algeçiras later in the day we set off the following morning through the Sierras towards Seville, where we had a nightmarish search for a hotel later in the evening: otherwise our week with Jo went very well, with a tour taking in Flamingos in the Doñana reserve, Cordoba (with its astonishing ‘Mesquita’), the Renaissance elegance of Ubeda and the splendours of the Alhambra at Granada. There were lots of other pleasures along the way (picnic in the Sierra Nevada, lively restaurant in Albaicin), ending up with dinner and overnight chez Paul & Susie in Marbella after dropping Jo off at Malaga.
1st-11th March 1993 - Wintry weather pursued us down from the Sierra Nevada, and we actually had a few flakes of snow in Puerto de la Duquesa on 1st March: the wind had at last turned to the west. Hot weather followed for a couple of days as we waited to see if our arrangements to get Algerian visas would work (they did, with help from Jo and HM Ambassador, Algiers): meanwhile we cleaned “Gladlee”’s whitework and chrome, also packing a few more boxes of wine into the bilges. Wet weather returned later in the week, but on Sunday 7th we returned to Gibraltar without getting wet. Monday proved to be a local holiday, and Tuesday brought news of a “levanter” on the way as well as general frustration as we tried (largely unsuccessfully) to complete final preparations for our North African journey. We did, though, have some unexpected reunions – with Paul and Rae, Canadians on “Wizard”, whom we’d met briefly at Cascais on the way in to Lisbon. We spent a small fortune at Safeways and Pryca and on duty-free booze, got the compass adjuster out again in interesting conditions ( a gust out of the harbour entrance registered 45 knots!) and attended to last-minute correspondence as we waited for the wind to ease. On the evening of 11th we had an appropriate farewell dinner in San Roque with Jo, Patrick and Fred of the diving club, who had proved good friends during our various stays in Gibraltar.
12th-13th March 1993 - With a forecast of E F4/6, we decided to get going, having already lost a few days of our planned itinerary (this being determined partly by calculations of how long our gas would last, partly by what we had told the Embassy in Algiers). A roughish but manageable crossing to Kabila in 6 hours and (for once) a less than efficient immigration official at M’Diq. Next day it rained almost continuously – Nigel made an inventory of the stores, while Julie finished off the Algerian courtesy ensign. Dinner of Scotch rump steak….
14th – 15th March 1993 - We left Kabila at 0800 in rather brighter weather and motored down to M’Diq to pick up our documents (“bon capitaine” was the comment of an old local fisherman as Julie poised the boat perfectly to let Nigel off the bow!) As we cleared Cabo Negra a SW4 got up for an hour or so, but the wind remained fitful all day. At 14.45 we had had the sails up (for the third time) for almost an hour and a half and were going quite nicely when we were asked to stop by a coastguard launch. A slightly embarrassed officer was put on board to conduct an entirely ineffectual search, while his colleagues on the launch circled round impatiently shouting advice. Half an hour later we were on our way again, but the wind had dropped and heavy rain clouds were working up from S and W, so we motored the remaining few miles to El Jebha. Here we found fishing boats and coastguard launches (not to mention a wreck) packed into the small quay space, but we were able to raft alongside a Gibraltar-registered yacht whose crew (we were told) had been charged with drug-smuggling. Various officials came on board to inspect us, an experience that was to become all too familiar over the next few weeks. Fishing boats manoeuvring to get alongside the quay behind us caused an anxious moment or two during the night, but the crews were impeccably careful not to scrape our side (or bend the Aerogen!)
Departure from El Jebha was later than planned – thanks to Ramadan we couldn’t get anyone to give us back our documents until just before 09.00, so we had a wander round the very basic village behind the harbour. The weather was calm and suuny, but we noticed a steady swell from the NE that suggested there was some wind about somewhere. As the morning wore on we saw jetstream Cirrus spreading from the W: while the barometer remained more or less steady, banked Cumulus appeared from seaward. By lunchtime an E wind had got up to F4 and the sea was getting distinctly rougher, with short, steep and confused waves slowing us down drastically. A routine engine check revealed that the negative cable of our second alternator had worked loose, melting the insulation and the TWC connection and almost certainly damaging the alternator itself. We struggled on into increasingly heavy swell and a headwind reaching F 5/6, making just over 3 knots as Cabo Morro at last came abeam shortly after 15.00. Turning S. for Al Hoceima harbour brought relief from the wind, but it was still very rough as we approached the entrance at 16.00 – once inside we approached the yacht quay in a crosswind, only to foul an unseen trawler mooring line. We fetched up almost under the bows of the trawler, but various helpers appeared to extricate us, and eventually we found ourselves more or less securely moored off the quay – with yet another arrested Gibraltar yacht nearby!
Visits followed from customs, police and a coastguard officer with Labrador sniffer dog (whom we christened “Spot”) – Spot seemed rather more interested in the crew (Ted, Bruce and Platypus) than in looking for drugs, but we didn’t appreciate the general disturbance. Spot’s enthusiasm was doubtless further dampened when his handler managed to drop him in the harbour on the way back to the jetty! After a rather tiring day a present of a mixed bag of fish from a helpful fisherman was a mixed blessing, but Julie gallantly produced a fish fry-up before we collapsed gratefully into bed.
16th - 18th March 1993 - The E wind held up throughout the next couple of days, and we had a substantial swell in the harbour as well, making getting on and off the boat (via the fisherman next door – we were lying well off the quay) quite an elaborate operation. We explored the town up the hill and made friends with neighbouring boats’ crews, one of whom undertook to find a mechanic to look at our duff alternator. A friendly mechanic named Hassan duly turned up, and Nigel went off with him to a back-street garage, where the alternator motor was diagnosed as burnt out: we were, however, promised a reconditioned replacement alternator, which was duly fitted the next day. All concerned couldn’t have been more helpful, and we did reasonably well for supplies in town. A walk round to the beach and up the scenic route to the town centre suggested that it could be quite a pleasant place in better weather. By afternoon on 18th, with the weather improving, we were ready to set off again: a friendly young Coastguard officer had advised us against stopping overnight at anchor, so it meant an early start for the 55-odd mile passage to Melilla. The authorities all assured us that we could retrieve our papers at any time: meanwhile two cheerful fellows went to immense lengths to get us 20 litres of water from a locked hydrant the other side of the harbour.
19th – 21st March 1993 - At 05.30, inevitably, the duty policeman was asleep, at first declining to do anything about our papers until 08.00. Nigel eventually lost patience (a mistake), but his evident desperation to leave seemed to make an impression. An hour or so later Customs had turned up, and Spot the Dog (with handler) also joined the muddy-footed procession over three boats to go through the formality of ‘searching’ us yet again. By 07.15 we were at last allowed to leave, managing to avoid snagging any lines on the way out. There was no wind to speak of, and the haze didn’t give us a particularly good view of the steep-to coastline. By mid-afternoon we were approaching the formidable Cabo Tres Forcas, where a residual swell from E met a fairly fast E flowing current, giving us a quite uncomfortable ride for a time before we turned southwards towards Melilla. We reached harbour at 17.30, happy to find a berth on the quay with a lazy line, water and electricity laid on (for which nobody seemed to want us to pay), together with a slightly barmy boatman to help us in. The Spanish officials were courteous and efficient, in particular a charming young English-speaking Guardia Civil captain.
Melilla turned out to be pleasant enough; the harbour (very oily) dominated by the old fortress of Medina Sidonia on the seaward side and some imposing colonial buildings behind the waterfront. Off the main boulevards the streets were distinctly shabbier, though, and there didn’t seem to be much to temp tourists other than duty-free shopping. We called on the Guardia Civil for local advice and found the friendly captain of the previous evening, who insisted on driving us all over town to track down a new gas bottle (we invited him to bring his family round for tea later, but he didn’t make it). We also managed to hump six cans of fuel across the quay before the pump closed for the weekend, and installed two new service batteries to replace the rather tired ones Westerly had installed two years previously. A lot of walking in the afternoon to top up the ship’s stores, and after some tidying-up later we had a pleasant stroll round Medina Sidonia in the early evening sunshine. Our last pork chops for a while, then beers and football on TV at the bar across the way.
We did an oil change first thing on 21st, and Nigel paid a last visit to the town to draw pesetas as a cash reserve, foolishly getting ripped off by a couple of sharks selling Algerian dinars. We left just after 10.00, sailed for a while in a pleasant N breeze, but had to give up as the wind died in the middle of the day. Arrived at Ras Kebdana in mid-afternoon, a new fishing harbour below a steep promontory, and were shown to a berth behind a Gibraltar-registered power boat (apparently stuck with a serious water-leak, but also a drug-runner?) before some businesslike officials turned up – including a Gendarme in a Nissan Patrol with a radar on top! Our berth turned out to be less than ideal when the fishing fleet returned in the small hours – we caught all their wash – but otherwise we spent a reasonably comfortable night ( a very clear one, for the first time in several days, with a brilliant array of stars).
22nd – 26th March 1993 - We walked into Ras Kebdana village via the fish hall, where rows of swordfish suggested that the night’s activity in the harbour hadn’t been wasted. Definitely a one-horse village, but as we managed to off-load our remaining dirhams on a bagful of vegetables and a slightly dubious lump of beef. We also bought two 30 litre jerry cans for next to nothing and filled them at the village pump. It took a little time to get hold of the mobile radar and its proprietor to allow us to leave – Nigel sat in surprisingly hot sunshine and got local opinion on the Algerians (“des gens très durs…”), until the commissaire arrived with our papers and waved us off. Next to no wind again for the short hop to Ghazaouet, but Julie spotted shearwaters and skuas before we hoisted her home-made Algerian courtesy ensign.