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Gib Life

Our two months living in Gibraltar had begun. After an initial disappointment that we would not be able to pick up the restaurant wifi where we now were we soon realised we were in a decent spot with some excellent neighbours. Ralph and Dawn on Miss Mollie were ex-police officers and had kept their boat here in Queensway for the past three or so years. We had a lovely dinner with them one night and also put them on to our Jobe infinity chairs which are awesome. Shortly after our arrival we met Ted and Christine on their powercat Chrisma. A lovely couple in their 70’s who lived in an apartment overlooking the marina. Ted had about four boats, dotted about between England and the Med and was such a character. We watched him manoeuvre his boat out every few days using just a remote control pendant around his neck, smooth as you like. Christine informed us about The Lounge’s daily happy hour which was one of the restaurants alongside the marina. Well that was dangerous. She was also the first person to christen the disco ball on the boat, played to her favourite tune, none other than Insomnia by Faithless. We had a few evenings with them and they gave us some great tips on good marinas and anchorages along the Spanish coast and the Balearics. Ted also told us about EE’s roaming abroad sim card which he used for data on the boat. If one of us took out a contract back in the UK we could use it as a hot spot on the boat whilst in the marina.

We would later come to know Steve and Carol on Innamorata II and Lucy, Jig and Darcy on Falkor who were both in the marina at the time but lots more on our boat buddies later…


We set about making a list of boat jobs that we wanted to achieve whilst we were there. There were a few things that we could crack on with straight away if we could find the right materials in Gib.


1 - We needed a new shelf in our one cupboard in the galley. A bit like the man drawer, every time you went into it, lots of things had to come out for you to get what you wanted. It was stressful and unlike the man drawer, I was a) allowed to go into it, and b) had to go into it every day.

2 - We needed to fit a phone and watch charger either side of the master cabin bed. We had two USB ports and a couple of plug sockets at the end of my side of the bed so since moving onboard, I had basically slept with a 2m phone lead across me. Carl’s phone had the anchor app so it was helpful for it to be within arms reach of him.

3 - In preparation for unpickling the water maker we wanted to install a valved T-piece so that we could sample the water directly from the water maker before it went into our main water tanks. The Desalator water maker had an automatic ‘poor quality’ switch that would dump it over the side if it was bad, but we wanted to be able to check it ourselves before potentially contaminating our water tank. We have two 300L tanks on board but they are connected so its as if we only have one. (Another boat job in the future is to perhaps fit a valve between the two and an ability to fill either independently if required.) The other benefit to having this T-piece is that we could fill up water bottles directly from the water maker so that drinking water would bypass the boats plumbing.

4 - Our VHF handset, a B&G H60, had a charging cradle fitted inside the saloon by the TV. It had another identical-looking cradle fitted at the helm. On our Biscay crossing we soon realised that the cradle was not charging at all so we needed to investigate. It turns out that Lagoon did not offer this and instead of just fitting a holder, they had installed the charging cradle but had just cut the wires to power it. We needed to buy some electrical cabling and wire it to the 12V supply at the helm. [Carl got it all working great, but as it turned out, this boat mod was moot and the bloody handset stopped pairing to the base station in the saloon and had to be sent back to B&G for replacement under warranty. Still haven’t got one back!] We do have a nice working charging cradle though.

Some boat projects needed specialists parts sent out to us. We had thought that we could get things sent to Queensway Marina but they only offered a PO Box and a lot of couriers would not ship to PO Boxes. Also Amazon did not deliver in Gib at all. This was a bit of a blow as we had planned to get a few things there. My brother and family came to the rescue as they were due to visit at the end of Feb and, as everyone who has visited Rockhopper on her travels knows, the price of accommodation on the floating tub is that you save some space in your bags for bringing us some loot. The loot may in fact just be Yorkshire tea bags more often than not but in this case, it was a chain counter, a EE sim card, a water tester kit and some hose fittings.

After about a week, we arranged to have dinner with Ian (from our previous blog) and his wife Sarah, who we had not met yet, and Jack and Hazel. Unfortunately Lexie could not come along. We had a lovely evening punctuated with a lot of laughs. We learnt a lot about the Gibraltarian way of life. Jack was stationed here in the Navy and Sarah worked for the MoD on a posting here. They all lived in armed forces accommodation just the other side of the runway. We figured we would meet up frequently in our two months here but alas Covid had other ideas. A few days later Sarah informed the group that she had tested positive. Hazel and Jack too and then finally Ian a few days later. (Let's not mention the cheesecake!) Luckily none were seriously affected. What with our 5 jabs (long story) and two bouts of mild covid in the UK we felt pretty safe that our tests would come back negative. We did manage to catch a few Six Nations matches in the Irish pub with Ian later on and did get to have dinner again with them all a few times. Ian also did Carl a solid as he had picked up a speeding fine when we were back in the UK (borrowing someone else’s car :-/) and needed a decent internet connection to do a zoom speed awareness course. Ian very kindly obliged. Tut.

In between boat jobs, we took in all the sites on the Rock. My favourite version of its origin is that Hercules split apart the mountain range to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea to form the Strait of Gibraltar. The 'Pillars of Hercules’ are therefore the Rock of Gibraltar, and Jebel Musa in Morocco.

As a gateway to the Mediterranean and conversely a route out to the Atlantic its fairly obvious to see its strategic importance to the British Empire and why it was so strongly fought over. If you feel a bit ‘it should be Spanish’ that feeling is lessened so by the fact that Spain controls a little bit of Morocco in much the same way - Ceuta is also a little nibble out of another country. Anyway, my advice is don’t ever say that phrase to a Gibraltarian. They have had a couple of referendums over the years and it was something like 99% in favour of staying British. We saw the results posted on the wall in one of the oldest pubs in Gib. We opted to walk up into the Nature Reserve which covers everything above the town and stopped off at St Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels and the WWII tunnels as well as seeing lots of batteries and bastions and cannons, lots of cannons! Oh, and the monkeys! Going back further in history you could see the 13th century Moorish castle on the hillside and the Neanderthal artefacts found in Gorham’s cave.


Carl and I would also look out for the Bruno’s club tribute act nights. We had happened across the Lionel Ritchie one on our way back from watching the rugby and did indeed dance the night away. As was the nature of Gibraltar, another night at Bruno’s saw a Rock of Ages night where we met the Special Boat Service lads (yes ladies, it was a memory to treasure) and the crew from Sir Alan Sugar’s mega yacht (less so).


The bikes

Before we had left for England we strolled past a local store which was selling and renting out e-bikes. We were on the fence about scooters or foldable e-bikes for the boat.

It would allow us to get a bit further afield than the usual meander around shore (or just Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea!). Getting back with shopping would be easier too. We had had a test ride on a couple of Brompton electric bikes around the Rock and had loved them. There was little resistance caused by the motor so if the battery ran out or we wanted to get some exercise they could still be used as a normal bike. They weren’t cheap but as Gibraltar is VAT-free we were never going to get them cheaper than here. We went back to the boat to deliberate. I was more keen than Carl at first but after an evening watching the YouTube following of these bikes he was sold. He proper geeked out on them and started a list of accessories that we would HAVE to have. We put our order in and when we got back to Gib in February we were zooming about on them. Brilliant! They fold up nicely under our vanity table in the master hull so perfect for the boat.


Visitors…

Towards the end of February it was time for a family visit. My brother and family had not yet seen the boat and, as it held special memories for Mum and Dad, Matt wanted to come and see the place. So Matt, and his wife Rosie, and my nephew and niece, Nathan and Amelie, flew out to join us for a week towards the end of February. The weather started out beautiful and sunny at which point we all got sunburnt (as is the British way). We did head on up the cable car to the top of the Rock for lunch (waffles were amazing apparently, view was ok too) and walked back down via the caves and the tunnels. Amelie kept a running total of the amount of monkeys we saw and Nathan had a close encounter (friendly, thankfully). By the time we made it back into town there were massive calls for ice cream. After a few begs and pleads and a careful eye on the weather, Skipper Carl agreed to take the boat out for a sail. We hadn’t hoisted the sails since we arrived in La Linea in November so it was a good opportunity. We headed out into the straits, dodging tankers again and managed to clock up a couple of miles under full sail. Unfortunately some were feeling a bit queasy so after about a couple of hours we headed back to Queensway. We tied up back in our spot without incident. The following day saw us take the bus round the Rock to show them Catalan Bay. The kids also managed a swim in the next bay along, Sandy Bay. The adults draped themselves on the breakwater rocks and had a beer. It was freezing! All in all a lovely stay and good quality time spent playing games and chatting. We look forward to the next visit, hopefully warmer, the boat at anchor and some more swimming.

March had arrived and with it a few more visitors. Our friends Bob and Marina came to visit. Bob’s family was originally from Gib and he had spent many summers there as a child. It was with Bob and Marina that we did the Med steps, a fairly steep walk around and up steps on the eastern side of the Rock. We were very impressed that Marina, who had a bit of a fear of heights, was determined to tackle it. It’s a tough but very rewarding hike with beautiful views out into the Mediterranean. We were starting to get itchy feet. We also had a bit of a play with our insta360 camera.

We went to lunch with some of Bob’s family and had the most amazing fresh fish dishes at the Boat Owners Club. We would never have thought we could go it to without being a member. It was a simple restaurant but the food was amazing and really good value for money. Later on we would meet a few more of Bob’s family for coffee and churros near the Kings Bastion. Again, great to get a different perspective on life in Gibraltar from people who have called it home for generations.


The ski trip…

In all the rush to leave the UK I had not made it to the doctors to check on some moles on my back so thought I’d do that when we got to Gib. I was told my GHIC card entitled me to emergency health care only and that I would have to go private. What was a bit irksome was realising that people from Gibraltar have free access to the British NHS but us, as British citizens, were not entitled to free health care there. I really don’t know why we keep offering benefits to other nations without requesting the same in return. It was a £60 consultation and unfortunately the doctor recommended that some should be removed for biopsy. I hadn’t expected that at all as every time they had been checked in the past I was told they were fine. At a cost of £700 for the minor surgery and biopsy results the temptation to just ignore it until I got back to the UK in December was strong. However, we were about to spend the majority of the summer out in the sun and I just didn’t want to constantly worry about it. We hadn’t really thought we would need international medical insurance yet and felt that emergency care was sufficient in Europe.

Unfortunately, the operation was scheduled to be done on the day Carl flew out for a boys snowboarding trip to France. The trip was already a sore point and this made it, well, sorer.

We’d had a few issues with a slightly noisy inverter. Our friend Tony’s L42 boat, Games Maker 2, was now in La Linea, and he wanted some things checked out too so Toby, who’s company had carried out most of our ex-factory work as well as Tony’s, did not hesitate to fly out to replace our inverter, no quibbles at all. He could then help Tony with his investigations on his boat too. They both were flying out the week Carl was away. Electrical Marine Services in Gibraltar were also investigating why our B&G handset wouldn’t work so also picked that week to stop by. As the local anaesthetic wore off and the several stitches in my back and side made themselves known, I just wanted to crawl into a ball, watch Netflix with a mug of wine and chill. It was not to be. The weather also took a turn for the worse during that week and the boat bounced around into the others beside it. This also happened which was an arse as I had to leap across to the bouncing boat next door to try and get onto ours.

The dog house loomed for when he got back.

In actual fact I had a lovely time with Tony and Toby. After Toby replaced our inverter, he headed over the border to meet up with Tony. The following day I cycled over to Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea to Tony’s berth to help with some upgrades he was thinking about. We were both interested in these Bluetooth temperature/humidity/pressure sensors that we had bought to keep an eye on the fridge and freezer temperatures. The worst thing would be for the freezer to stop working, the food to defrost, then refreeze without us knowing. As long as the boat was connected to an active data plan we could monitor the boat online from afar, including these sensors. Being able to trend barometric pressure would be great for weather forecasting and a measure of humidity in the boat would certainly be useful in warmer climates. Toby was also fitting tank senders to Games Maker 2 so it would be advantageous to us for me to see what was involved. Toby and I had a mutual appreciation for our geekiness and Tony was happy that it was getting done. [we won’t mention that Tony would rue the day he was the upgrade guinea pig]. We had a lovely dinner together in one of the excellent tapas restaurants in Chatham Counterguard.

As Carl was off galavanting, I reached out to my oldest friend Carol to see if she was free to come out for the weekend. She is a very busy GP, with three children. I sent a message saying ‘Fancy coming out for a girly weekend?’ There was a small pause, then a ‘I’ve booked the flight!’ She lives up in Leeds and what with work, half the country between us, and then us moving abroad, we didn’t get to see much of each other. She had made the effort to come down with her daughter to see the boat in the Hamble before we left. This would just be the two of us and I don’t think we had done that in at least two years. As I waved off Tony and Toby at the airport, Carol landed. We had a proper catch up over the two days she was here. She’s a keen walker so we climbed the Med steps again and did a whistlestop tour of the sights on the way down. We ended up in Marina Bay with a large beer. Unfortunately the weather was a bit hit and miss at times. We had watched several planes abort their landing so it was doubtful that her scheduled flight back would happen. Not only is she a partner in a GP practice but she also teaches at the university. As the planes were being diverted she was no doubt working out how to rearrange things. As luck would have it her pilot seems to be made of sterner stuff and landed the plane. As she queued to board the plane, she tried not to look at the despondent faces of the previous flight who were queueing up for the bus to Malaga. I have to say that her visit was a real highlight for me and my time in Gibraltar. Carl breathed a sigh of relief that the dog house had retreated somewhat.

A note on the swell


The dreaded high winds and swell that had worried us about Queensway marina came in a few times during our stay. We had put breast lines across from one side of the stern to the opposite cleat on both sides to stop us moving around so much. But these began snatching terribly, throwing us in to the boats either side of us. We were all fendered up but as the boats came together the fenders would squash to almost flat. After watching the boats all move side to side in unison on the pontoon across from us, we decided to remove the breast lines as it seemed like the better thing to do was to move with all the boats rather than ping-pong between them. We obviously moved from side to side more but so were the other boats. It was nerve-wracking, hoping we weren’t damaging anything. Quite a few sleepless nights. Our neighbours had also told us that about two weeks before we arrived the swell had caused their boat to burst the fender that they had placed between the stern and the dock and damage their swim ladder. We purchased big ball fenders and shoved them between our sugar scoops and the dock. There was about a metre of tide experienced in the marina so at low tide we motored forward and tightened the lazy lines as far as we could whilst still allowing us to get off the boat using our passerelle. Our new boat was feeling less and less new by the day. Then came the red rain ...


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