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Apocalypse Now!

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

The Red Rain

It was getting close to the end of our time in Gibraltar. We had met some great people here and had had a lovely time exploring the Rock. It had been our home for two months. As April approached we started to again get into the routine of twice/thrice daily perusals of the weather forecast. It looked a bit grim to be honest. The week prior to our departure there were easterly winds howling along the Spanish coast. Our friends Niki and Gav were due to come out on the 28th March and sail with us for a few days. They would then fly out of Malaga. So if the wind was terrible and we couldn’t leave they could always just get a taxi there. That was the plan anyway. We would have a few days in Gib together before we left so we set about sprucing up the boat before their arrival. A proper wash down and stainless steel polish. Our friends Mark and Helen on Kismet had come back to La Linea from the UK, and taken a weather window to get to Almerimar. Mark had sent me a message showing his boat covered in red sand asking whether we had experienced the same thing in Gib. We were like, ‘wow!, poor guys, looks horrendous’. Little did we know at the time that it would come for us in a big way too. Four days before Niki and Gav came to visit, at around 5pm on the 24th March, the sky turned red and started to rain red sand. We’d never seen anything like it. I have to say it was pretty gutting to see our new white boat, look aged and faded in the space of one night. The white trampoline nets turned orange, the khaki coloured enclosures were filthy, and the red mud found its way into the sail bag and coated the main sail and the furled jib. Carl had met Steve from SV Innamorata II whilst in the shower block. They carried on the conversation there for a bit until it felt weird then continued outside. Steve mentioned that this sort of thing stained the decks so it was best to wash it off immediately. Steve and his partner Carol had been sailing since 2004 so all advice was gratefully received. As we set about hosing down the decks the red sand just kept coming out of the enclosures. It had coated the running rigging (the ropes) turning all of the colours to a muddy orange. The teak soaked it up and no amount of scrubbing completely rid us of it.

As we looked around the marina pretty much every other boat who had someone living on it at the time was out there doing the same. Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea hadn’t escaped it either and pictures came through from Ian trying to get rid of the sand on his boat too. Then came the news that it was due to rain again that evening. The red rain was expected again. Well it did but luckily not to that extent. We opted to wait until the day Niki and Gav would arrive to give it another once over as it seemed we were just wasting water. When they finally arrived it looked reasonably good, the orange trampoline notwithstanding :(

We had a quiet night onboard the evening they arrived.

We’d finally sussed out a small weather window to take us out of Gib on the 31st. As Malaga was not the best marina to stop off in, we opted for Puerto Banus for a bit of glam with our glam buds. The marina was a bit pricey but we shared the costs and decided it would be a bit of fun. It was just a day sail so not too taxing for Niki and Gav. Mind you, we hadn’t been out for a while so we fancied something not too taxing too. Steve and Carol were opting to leave that day too which was comforting. As was their friends Lucy and Jig, and their lovely dog Darcy on their boat Falkor. All this planning and loads of time and suddenly we felt in a bit of a rush. Had we done everything we wanted to do here? Had we provisioned sufficiently? Did we make use of the tax-free stuff here? As it turned out, nope!

We arranged to have one last night out with our Gib friends, confident that our Suffolk friends would enjoy the evening too. Tony from Gamesmaker 2 (which was still berthed in La Linea) had flown a day or so before and his partner Lel, who we’d not met yet, would be flying in that evening so we added an extra couple of seats to the table. Unfortunately Jack and Hazel couldn’t make it this time. It may not have been the best idea to have this get together on our last night in Gib before the big sail, and it definitely was not a good idea to have a curry at the Little Bay restaurant in Ocean Village but sometimes you just have to do these things and worry about consequences later. It was a great evening, a proper send off and great to meet Lel too, who we’d heard so much about.

31st March 2022 - Gibraltar - Puerto Banus (31 nautical miles)

The day arrived and we saw Falkor leave first. Next was Innamorata II. I walked out onto the bow with my cup of tea to wave them off. As Steve moved the boat out of its berth the marinero came running out and yelled at them that another boat was coming in. Carol, who I’d not met yet, yelled back that they had seen it and were waiting. The marinero then again yelled at them to wait right there by which point Carol yelled back, I know you t**t we are waiting! Steve, with his big smile, yelled over to me, ‘By the way, this is Carol, excuse the French!’ Carol waved, I waved with a bit of a giggle and they moved off.

Ian and Sarah came to see us off which was really touching. Poor Lexie stayed on the pontoon (muddy paws) but Ian and Sarah, who had nipped out from work, came on board for a coffee before we set off. At 10am Ian helped us with our lines as we moved off and waved us round the corner. We were off for our first season in the Med!

As we came out the harbour into the Bay of Gibraltar the wind picked up to 20kn from the SW and we raised the sails, full main, full jib. It was a bit spicy around the Rock but once we got onto the eastern side it settled out at 17kn. The seas were moderate (a bit rolly) and it was a cloudy day but it was the best of a bad bunch of weather windows so we took it. As lunchtime approached Niki started to feel a little green. They’d been out sailing with us before when we chartered boats but I think the sea state was a bit worse this time round. It was around this time that a large squall hit us and we instantly went from 20kn to 38kn. As the wind was largely coming from behind us we had to turn all the way into the wind to put two reefs in the main and two in the jib. It was raining pretty hard too. Glad the helm enclosures were up! After a lot of banging and crashing and lurching of the boat in the swell we turned back around, suitably reefed. I’d dished out the Jelly Tots which was supposedly good for sea sickness although Niki had gone down to lie down. I suggested making some sandwiches for lunch. Gav came in to the saloon and had one Jelly Tot. The next thing I knew he had disappeared down to the loo and the Jelly Tot made a reappearance. Not the best sailing day for our guests! At least this would be the only day that they would be sailing with us. We had two days in Puerto Banus to look forward to.

Niki had been to Puerto Banus before and, as she had strolled round the marina looking at the super yachts, she had envisioned arriving on a yacht, shades on, G&T in hand, dress aflowing as she lounged on the bow waving at people.

We arrived in a 30kn crosswind and were directed to the reception dock. We’d got fenders ready and lines to tie side on to but as we approached it was clear that the marinero had his own lines that he wanted to throw to us. Carl brought her in bow first. I was ready on the bow to take the line and Gav on the stern. The wind would act to push us away so we needed to be quick at getting her tied on. The marinero threw me the bow line and I wrapped it round the cleat on top of our line. He then went back to the stern to throw it to Gav but the wind had already caught the stern and dragged her away from the dock. Gav caught the line but there was not enough of it to get round the cleat and there is no way you can hold onto it when a 16 tonne boat is caught by the wind. He had to let go but then we were still attached at the front. It was clear I needed to let the bow line go and we would need to approach again. Unfortunately this was easier said than done as the force of the boat had pinched the dock line with our previously laid line on the bow cleat. The boat lurched forward and luckily there was a ball fender there to protect the port bow. I finally managed to get the line off and we drifted back away from the dock. I quickly got rid of our lines on the bow and stern so that it would be easier to take their lines. As we approached again both us and the marinero were quicker off the mark to get the lines round the cleats. We successfully docked on the pontoon. Niki came out from her bedroom, leggings on, big jumper, hair tied up in a top knot and finally not looking so green. Not quite the arrival she had planned! I kindly informed her that I had never arrived in a marina looking glam. Ever. (Still haven’t as I write this 5 months later!). Check out my elephant shaped bruise. I really do bruise like a peach.

Carl went to go and sign us in and get directions to our berth for the next two days. I was still staring nervously at 25-30kn on the chartplotter. He came back with a map of the marina and pointed to a tiny berth all the way in. My nerves ratcheted up a few notches but we all just decided let's get on with it. The sooner we are in, the sooner we can have a stiff drink. Carl brought us down the lane between the two pontoons and the marinero was waiting for us in a small gap between two small power boats. Our fenders were way to high as we were assuming we would be next to something of similar size. As we would be taking up two berths, (being the cat that we are) there was also a yellow bouy right in the middle, supposedly attached to a lazy line for the smaller power boats to haul up onto their bow. Carl had to position the hulls either side of this bouy so that we did not foul the props on the line. After a bit of pushing and shoving with another marinero getting onto one of the boats to push us off (it was too low down for me to do anything about it) we nudged our way into the berth. Once finally tied up we surveyed the pontoon. It was at least two metres higher than where our passerelle connected to. The angle must have been at least 45 degrees. We’d worry about that later - we were in, we had made our first passage in the Med and Dark and Stormy’s were called for as we had certainly been through it and earned them!

As seasickness and nerves were washed away with the rum, we noticed our pontoon was directly in front of the Gucci store. Nik was delighted, Gav’s eyes rolled. After realising that the shower block was through a boat yard and about a mile away, (great value for 93 euros a night!) we spruced ourselves up onboard and headed out for cocktails. We gave up on using our passerelle after Carl almost ended up in the water trying to connect the shore power. As the boat next to us was uninhabited and had a near horizontal passerelle across to the pontoon, we opted for that instead. Everyone was on good form, the days trials and tribulations forgotten. We spent a couple of days wandering round the shops, having lazy lunches and frequenting establishments such as Sinatras, Linekers and the Astral cocktail bar, shaped like a boat. Linekers was an eye-opener, lots of hen parties. Felt old.

2nd April 2022 - Puerto Banus - Marbella (5.21 nautical miles)

All too soon it was time for Niki and Gav to head off to Malaga airport. We always have a good time with these guys and it was great for them to come see the boat and start the Med adventure with us. We were due to leave the marina too that day. The wind had not abated and would not for a further 3 days at least. Staying in Puerto Banus marina for that long at that price really wasn’t an option so we called Marina Bajadilla in Marbella to see if they had space. They informed us that they had a spot for 3 days. We took it. My nerves crept up as we had to get out of this marina, avoiding that bloody yellow bouy in the middle, in 25kn winds. As we slipped the lines, I used a combination of boat hook and boot to manhandle the bouy out the way and we glided out of the marina. As we came round the harbour wall we were hit with 22kn winds on the nose. Luckily we only had 5 miles to go to get to Marbella. There were a couple of marinas along that coast line but we finally identified Marina Bajadilla and headed in. The marinero waved at us to come in stern to next to a large powerboat and another sailboat. There was plenty of space for us however the 20kn crosswind was significant. Luckily there was a lot of space in front of us so Carl spun her round and started to reverse in. As he was counteracting the crosswind he gave her quite a few revs. When manoeuvring the boat in close quarters it is best to lock the steering wheel and just use the throttles on both engines to pivot the boat. Unfortunately when going in reverse with significant revs the power of the water across the rudders seems to override the lock and the rudder turns making the boat turn. After a couple of goes at this, realising this was happening, Carl had to ease off the revs, and hold onto the wheel whilst moving backwards. We had our headsets on so I could give him feedback as we came into the berth. Steve and Jig appeared on the dock to help us with our lines and we managed to get her tucked in. Innamorata and Falkor had come straight here from Gibraltar and were waiting out the bad weather too. We were bouncing around a bit but at least we were behind a harbour wall. Carl came back from the marina office, again with a smile on his face, 18 euros a night! And an easier dismount from the boat. It was worth the bounce across. Plus the fact that I think we had seen all the delights Puerto Banus had to offer in the two days we were there.

We were all stuck here for a few days and it was an opportunity for us to get to know Steve and Carol, and Lucy and Jig. I’d not been to Marbella before but knew it as another hen party holiday destination. We set up a WhatsApp group called ‘No carbs before Marbs.’ As it turned out Marbella has a beautiful old town with narrow winding streets, balconies draped in flowers, 15th century churches and leafy squares with restaurants and outdoor seating. It was coming up to Easter and, on one of our strolls back through the town, we came across a Catholic penance procession, The huge status, held aloft by several men, showed Jesus on a donkey with Mary walking beside him. It was a week before Palm Sunday so maybe this was a practice session. There was marching band behind them, making their way through the streets. This was the first of many that we would see in Spain in the run up to Easter. Really quite a sight which we were privileged to have been in the right place and the right time for.

We invited the crews of Innamorata II and Falkor (minus poor Darcy who was left behind for a few hours) onboard for drinks one evening. We learnt then that they had travelled all the way from Weymouth together and had known each other before they even set off. Lucy and Jig were new to boat life and were pairing up with Steve and Carol who had been across the Atlantic several times and had years of experience. We listened carefully to their stories too as after all, we were newbies at this too! This is where I first realised that the SodaStream that I had decided not to get in Gibraltar due to perceived difficulty in getting refills, was not actually a problem and both boats had one. Fizzy water with some lime, an alternative to beer which was being drunk at a holiday-time rate. We kept having to remind ourselves that we were not on holiday. Carl needed more convincing but I was feeling like I had missed an opportunity to embrace boat life. Next I’d be making my own yoghurt (which of course Carol had done!) So much to learn!

In our discussions we talked about the best weather window to leave. It was clear that our 3 days in the marina would not be enough to clear the bad weather. We needed another day so went to the marina office the next day to beg for another which was granted with no fuss. Nobody would be coming in in this weather anyway. There were breaking waves at the entrance to the marina!

It was around this time that we received a message from Ralph and Dawn who were back on Miss Mollie in Queensway Quay. They said that we had picked our time to leave wisely. They said that the day we arrived in Marbella, Queensway saw huge swell and high winds. The marina and a number of boats suffered damage. Apparently a boat that came into our berth damaged their port side gelcoat and window when two of their lines snapped. Poor Ted and Christine’s boat snapped all of their stern lines and was bouncing around too. As we had heard repeatedly, it was the worst weather they had seen in March for decades.

6 - 7th April 2022 - Marbella - Rodalquilar (77.7 nautical miles)

By the 6th April there finally appeared a weather window to take us further east. As these windows didn’t last for very long we all opted for an overnighter to get us as far along the coast as possible. We had thought to stop off in Almerimar but gave up on that in favour of booking ourselves into a marina in Cartagena a bit further round. We had a boat posse - Rockhopper, Innamorata II and Falkor. Again, we were the last to leave but this time not by much. We set off at 11am and quickly raised the sails. The swell had died down to around 1m so manageable. The wind was supposed to die down at some point so we had set up the Code 0 for when that occurred. With our lack of drag created by having not much keel compared to the monohulls, we soon overtook Falkor and came up on Innamorata II. As always with several boats going in the same direction - its a race! As the wind dropped off we saw that Innamorata II threw out their cruising shute. I messaged them ‘Somebody’s cheating!’ We quickly unfurled our Code 0. I got a message back, ‘Someone else is cheating too!’. We then got a message from Falkor ‘Thinking of flinging up the drone to tow us along. (Sad face emoji)’

Unfortunately the wind was not too consistent and the evening went on with us sailing, then motor sailing, then just motoring. We did have some lovely visitors keeping us company along the way.

We took our three hour watches overnight and I happened to be on the shift which saw an epic sunrise. It was flat calm and looked to be a beautiful day. We were originally aiming for an anchorage near San Jose, just round the corner of Cabo de Gata. Steve had suggested a bay further round called Rodalquilar so we decided to head for there. By around 3pm it was clear that Falkor would not make Rodalquilar by sunset so Innamorata II opted to head into San Jose to wait for them. We were already past that point so headed into Rodalquilar just after 3:30pm. Time to test our new chain counter that Carl fitted in Gib. It would be our first anchorage in five months! With me positioning the anchor at the water line with the windlass remote control from the generator locker, Carl then lowered the chain from the helm. No more yelling out ‘What depth are we in?’ Countered by ‘How much chain did you put down?’ Carl could see and manage that all from the helm. I just told him when to start lowering from the bow when I could see a clear patch of sand. We dropped in 4m depth, the counter working perfectly. We were the only boat in the bay that evening, it was so peaceful and the sunset was just beautiful. We had had a good day.

8 April 2022 - Rodalquilar - Aguilas (32.5 nautical miles)

After a lovely calm night at anchor we actually got up to see the sunrise. I know, most of our friends know that early risings aren’t really us. Two years of getting up at 4:30am for work is to blame for that one. However, this finally felt like the fun bit of cruising the Med had started after quite the battle getting along the southern Spanish coastline. The weather had just been miserable for ages and we were happy to get up and greet a lovely day at last. We weighed anchor at 08:10am and set off for Bahia de Levante in Aquilas. Falkor and Innamorata had set off early so as we popped out of the bay we saw them in the distance behind us. The boat posse was together again. We started off motoring but by 12pm we opted to unfurl the Code 0 with no main sail up just to see if we could get an assist from the wind. We managed to get 6kn SOG. By 2pm it had gone and the engine came on again. As we came towards Aguilas we could see that there was a bit of a swell coming straight into the bay. There was space to anchor in front of the marina or you could venture further towards the local boats nearer the town quay which would offer a bit more protection from the swell. Monohulls tend to be more susceptible to swell than us cats so we did the galant thing and anchored in 4m in front of the marina in plenty of space. Innamorata was right behind us so went further in and found a good spot. Falkor came in next to them. We were only staying for one night anyway as we had booked the marina in Cartagena for the next day. The other guys were going to stay a few days longer in Aguilas. After drinks onboard Innamorata II we went back to Rockhopper for dinner and an early night. We didn’t make it to shore that night. From the boat it didn’t look too appealing anyway.

9 April 2022 - Aguilas - Cartagena (27.2 nautical miles)

We weighed anchor the following morning at 8am. It was flat calm after what was a pretty rolly night. No real option to sail today. We sent a few farewell messages on the ‘No carbs before Marbs’ group knowing that we would no doubt meet again. We motored round into Cartagena, dodging ferries and boats coming out. Luckily there were no cruise ships coming out as the entrance is a bit of a dog leg round the harbour wall. Carl radio’d the marina who asked us to wait outside for a bit. The marinero was dealing with another boat that had just come in. When we got the all clear we were told we were on a horseshoe pontoon and I sorted out the fenders and lines accordingly. We were on the last row before the marina breakwater and on the outside of the breakwater was a huge cruise ship. As Carl reversed into our horseshoe the wind whipped round the cruise ship to cause us a few issues but no real dramas and we were in safe and sound. Our base for the next three days.



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