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The Rock!

15-29th November 2021

It was May 2021. We had made the call to quit our jobs earlier than planned and we had a month or so to go before we left the UAE. The delivery date for the boat had not changed much and August was still our slot. We started to think about where we would leave Rockhopper for the winter, provided we made it all the way down to the Med. Between Brexit and Covid our options of staying on board during the winter months to keep an eye on her were limited. We couldn’t stay in the Schengen zone which ruled out France, Spain and Portugal. And we had just heard that Gibraltar was flirting with the idea of joining too. Morocco had closed its ports due to Covid so basically it wasn’t looking good. We did contact the two marinas in Gibraltar to see if they had any room from November through to the end of March. Just in case they decided against joining. It was a no from both. Giving up on being able to stay onboard we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to leave her for 5 months in a marina. We therefore contacted Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea on the Spanish side by Gib who had loads of room and were happy to accommodate. Every few months I would contact the marina office to double check they still had our booking. Eventually she replied ‘Don’t worry, we have space for you!’

The marina itself was great, loads of space, a key card security system to get on to individual pontoons, a clean shower/toilet block just at the end of the pontoon and a short walk to the border with Gibraltar. We had heard reports of the town of La Linea not being that great and a hive of drug smuggling from Africa but we actually thought it was nice (probably says more about us lol!). A couple of tapas restaurants and decent supermarkets not too far away. I say not too far, the size of the marina was such that it took us 15 minutes to walk from our boat to the exit from the marina, then a further 15 minutes to get to the supermarket in town. We definitely needed to sort out a scooter or bikes, going out to get a pint of milk was just taking far too long!

Our first few days in La Linea saw 30kn winds blowing straight in. We were introduced to our first Mediterranean wind - the Levante. An easterly wind that blows in the West Med and particularly through the Strait of Gibraltar. It also produces a strange cloud-hat for the Rock [see photo]. The breakwater protected us from the swell but the wind howled in. Once again our fenders took a beating but we set up lines across our horseshoe to try and bring us further out from the side. We eventually would purchase rubber snubbers from a chandlers in Gibraltar to dampen out the snatching of the lines in strong winds.

One morning as we were about to head across the border to Gibraltar for the first time Carl told me that one of our YouTube sailing favourites was in the marina. As we walked (the 15 mins) towards the exit we bumped into Ryan and his dog Jackson from Sailing Sunday. He is an Aussie guy travelling with his partner Britni who is Canadian. They are a lovely fun-loving couple who rescue stray dogs and cats wherever they go, get them treatment and find them a home. They were prepping for the Atlantic crossing having spent 3 years in the Med and were waiting for a decent weather window. Alas, the 30kn winds continued. He was a really friendly guy and we arranged to meet for a few beers at some point before they left.

We carried on to the border, stood in the queue to get our passports stamped (yes, we needed to stamp out of Spain and back in every time we went across to Gib). Once through we walked across the runway and into town. Strange place, familiar but different! Fish and chips on the menu (alongside tapas), Next and M&S stores, Morrisons supermarket, a high street that could have been anywhere in England. Its not everything to everyone but Carl and I instantly liked it. We decided to go to those two marinas, and just double-check if they had any room for us for any of the time that we needed. We had since heard that the deal that Gibraltar had considered, to join the Schengen, had fallen through. So if we could just get some time there we could lessen the 5 months away. We first went to Marina Bay. They told us that they were waiting on refurbishment to complete and that they may actually have room for us but couldn’t give us a definite yes. We spoke to the manager and loved the area that it was in. The facilities had just had just had their major refurb so it would have been great if it worked out. Wifi included too! Promising but not quite the answer we wanted. We then walked round to Queensway Marina and asked the same question. At this point we had decided that we would go home from the 29th November to the end of January so if we could just get February and March in Gib that would be great. We had heard that Queensway was particularly susceptible to swell and boats had been damaged in there so we would want to be onboard if we took her there. They told us to email them with the details and they would get back to us. We went for a drink in one of the bars around the marina to await a response. Within a couple of hours we had our answer. Yes they had room for us for the entire time. Funny how it was a definite no until we were stood across the reception desk from them, eyeball to eyeball! We were concerned about the swell - the day we were there was particularly windy and we watched the boats dance around on their mooring lines, bumping into one another. We weren’t that keen to be honest. They also did not have any wifi and data sim cards in Gib were really expensive. We thought on it a few days. After repeated non-committal responses from Marina Bay we went back to Queensway to have a look once again. The sun was shining, we checked which position we might be in if we came in and it looked great. There was even the possibility to pick up the local restaurant wifi as we would be right at the end of the pontoon. We decided it was a yes, and instantly a weight was lifted. We didn’t have to leave our boat for 5 months, just for two, and we could stay with her through the months of February and March and get a few boat jobs done whilst there.

Before we were to fly home to the UK my parents were due to visit. My mother had been stationed out there when she was in the Navy and they had married in Gibraltar in 1973. This would be the first time they were coming back to it since then so I was really looking forward to walking down memory lane with them. Unfortunately their flight was delayed and then diverted to Malaga as the wind was still blowing strong and the airstrip in Gib is notoriously susceptible to crosswinds. Still, we had only lost a day and they were due for the week. The weather could have been kinder during their stay but we did have some sunny days and walked across to Gib almost every day (more stamps!).

We hired a car during this time and took them on a trip to Ronda. As we drove up into the hills I again forgot that it was November. We drove through the town and spotted people walking up the street with woolly hats on and long coats. We got out of the car with shorts and t-shirts on only to change in the hotel loo into trousers. It was 9 degC outside. I looked ridiculous in my flowery linen trousers and poncho with sandals on and a wooly hat that I had just purchased. It was a beautiful place to visit despite the cold as we did have sunny days. All too soon Mum and Dad were on their way back to Blighty. It was great to share that time with them there. A lot had changed, favourite pubs turned into hairdressers and her digs had been knocked down in preparation for high rise flats, but some things remained. The Seawave restaurant in Catalan Bay was still there and we recreated a few photos they had taken up the Rock.

We had only four days before we would be flying back too. We saw that the Sailing Sunday crew were still there so we messaged them to see if they fancied a few beers on our boat. Ryan came over with Britni and true to their online personalities they were lovely. We quizzed them about their time in the Med and in turn they asked us about the swell in the Atlantic. They were heading out to the Canaries, then on to Cape Verde and then perhaps Suriname on their way to the Caribbean, in order to minimise long stints on the boat for their dog Jackson. They were also not getting any extra crew, just the two of them on board with their German Shepherd. Kudos to those two!

The next morning with groggy heads Carl and I started the process of winterising the boat. As we knew we would not be using the water maker for at least 5 months we decided to ‘pickle’ it. Essentially put a solution through it that would sit and avoid bacterial growth or mould. We defrosted the freezers and cleaned out the fridges. We also flushed through our holding tanks with fresh water to minimise the heads smelling by the time we got back. With the boat sparkly clean and our time up we reluctantly waved goodbye to our floating home. I know people leave boats all the time unattended in marinas but it felt so wrong to just walk away like that. We just hoped it would all hold. We picked up our backpacks and headed for the airport.

December and January were spent with much needed family time. Carl’s son and family were living in Calgary and throughout the pandemic Canada had been really strict in allowing foreigners to visit. Carl’s grandson had been born during the restrictions and so at 17 months old we had not met him yet, apart from on zoom calls. We spent a fantastic 2 weeks with them with lots of cuddles. It did drop to -30degC there and thankfully Carl’s daughter-in-law Liv lent me her Canada goose jacket. After the UAE and living on the boat I really only had a Musto BR2 sailing jacket and that was it. Her jacket is forever known as ‘Nanny jacket’ now :-) When did I become a Nanny?!

After a really great time in Canada and an emotional goodbye we headed back home. We had promised to return to Abu Dhabi for New Years Eve (possible overcommitment on our part, bit of a whirlwind) but other friends were going and it would be a bit of a reunion. Also we had some things that were being kept by our friends there that would have been useful on the boat so we opted to bring them back. It was lovely going back to Abu Dhabi, we felt as though we had never left. Such an amazing city and the weather was perfect at that time of year.

January flew by and all too soon it was getting close to the time for us to fly back to the boat. After conversations during the Bay of Biscay crossing with Meg she had agreed to manage our house as an Airbnb so we set out getting it de-personalised and ready for guests. In fairness, this was largely Meg’s doing, all we did was give her a blank canvas. After we had moved all our detritus out the way and left she created a lovely holiday home with lots of great features which guests seem to love. 5 stars all round and super host status in the first few months. Well done Meg! []

I would mention getting covid around this time but it’s boring and I can’t be bothered. Suffice it to say it was a pain in the ass (as it was for everyone) and ate into our time to spend with family and friends.

31st January 2022 - Alcaidesa Marina, La Linea - Queensway Marina, Gibraltar

[1.4 nautical miles]

We landed in Gibraltar on the 28th Jan with three full and heavy bags each. One had a wakeboard in it that we had brought back from Abu Dhabi. Well, you never know! Even though the marina was only a 5 min car ride away we opted to take a taxi. Unfortunately there was a border between us and the marina and the Gib taxi firms would not take us across. We had to lug the stuff across the pedestrian border crossing. After starting out with one of the airport trolleys a guy followed us across the carpark and as we approached the edge informed us that we could not take the trolley further. After pleading looks he allowed us to take it to the entrance but kept eyes on us all the way. We hoofed it across the border (nothing to declare!!) and took a taxi straight to our pontoon entrance. There she was, exactly where we had left her. As we man-handled our bags through the gate and down the pontoon we were met with a gorgeous and very curious dog called Lexie. We knew her name instantly because ‘LEXIE, COME BACK HERE!’ was yelled by her owner sitting on his yacht on the opposite side. Lexie was all paws and excitement. Ian was all embarrassment and ‘Sorry about that!’ A lovely welcome back.

Rockhopper had faired pretty well in her horseshoe. The lines were filthy and slimy green but no damage to the outside could be found. The outside was filthy. A slightly oily brown residue was covering the decks, no doubt from the refinery or unburnt fuel from the tankers. I tentatively opened the sliding door and took sniff inside. She was all still new boat smell. I was elated. The heads were a but musty but all in all we were really pleased. We set about trying to find a space for all the new stuff we had brought onboard. Tomorrow was boat clean day.

The next day we set about pressure washing the decks. We had an initial setback of the pressure washer falling from the coach roof and snapping the water inlet connection. As we looked longingly over at Ian pressure washing his boat, we set about with a hose and a bucket with soapy water. Once he had finished he noticed our plight and lent us his pressure washer. Later on, over a few drinks on ours, we learnt he lived over in Gib with his wife Sarah and of course Lexie. Ian introduced us to another couple, Jack and Hazel and before we had even crossed the border into Gib, we had a circle of friends. More on this lot in the next blog.

We took the boat across to Queensway a day earlier than planned as it was such a calm morning on the 31st and the wind would pick up again the following day. Luckily our berth was free. Making sure we got our stamp out of Spain, Ian helped us with our lines and we were on our way. My parents had wanted to give us a boat present that was useful so we had asked for headsets with a mic. Otherwise known as ‘marriage savers’. What a gift they have turned out to be! We came round the corner into Queensway. We were not on the berth they had told us we would be but sandwiched between two powerboats about a third of the way down. After two months away we were both a little nervous. This marina did not have horseshoes but more of a Med mooring style, reversing onto the pontoon with stern lines and mooring (lazy) lines that you pick up and tie on the bows to hold you in place. You then just put fenders either side and snuggled in next to the boats either side of you. The main worry as you reverse in is to not get the lazy lines from the boat either side of you caught on your rudder or wrapped round the prop. With our headsets on I could quietly give Carl our distance to the lines and he angled her round to sit her neatly between the two boats. Ralph, on our neighbouring boat Miss Mollie, came out to welcome us and check that our fenders didn’t get tangled with his. Later on he would say that we seemed quite calm and professional coming in. The angst in my voice was confined to Carl’s head through the headsets. Thanks Mum and Dad, brilliant gift! We were in, home for two months, nestled at the foot of the infamous Rock of Gibraltar.

Lots more Gibraltar pics to come, boat projects and visits from family and friends. Plus a few crazy nights out. At least the blog has caught up to this year! [embarrassing real-time is the 29th July and we're in Montenegro!]


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