Leaving the Med – Here Be Dragons 4


OK, not really dragons, but something was attacking boats in the area west of the Gibraltar Straits. During the summer reports had come in of yachts being hit and spun around, resulting in rudder and steering damage for the unlucky ones. Friends had gone through this scary experience, their boat stopping dead whilst on passage during the hours of darkness. The culprits were a pod of 3 orcas whose unusual behavior has left marine experts baffled.

The most recent attacks had been on the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal. The orcas follow tuna, that during the later summer months, migrate north around the Iberian peninsula. Two near misses on seeing orcas when we sailed in Scotland had left me disappointed, however, this southern bunch didn’t seem very friendly. We hoped and crossed everything that they were still up north.

Stocked up and Ready to Go

One of Emerald’s features is that she has a large amount of storage space and lockers. Whenever we get an opportunity, we fill the lockers with difficult to carry items such as tins and jars. Alcaidesa Marina with its easy access to supermarkets had provided us with this chance; particularly allowing us to fill up on British food goodies that we hadn’t had for a while. The water, diesel, and petrol tanks were full, and Emerald was clean inside and out. Albeit sitting a little lower in the water, we were ready to move on.

After a few days of strong winds, the forecast for the 1st of September was for light easterlies, building through the day, then easing overnight. The tide timing was right for us to transit the Straits during daylight hours and anchor overnight west of Tarifa.

Four full shopping bags
Another four bags of shopping to be squeezed into Emerald’s already bursting lockers

Tide Waits for No Man

After 7 summers in the Med, where tides are negligible, we were back in the land of significant tidal flows. The timing of a passage through the Straits is particularly critical for making progress. When we’d passed through this area in 2014, we’d seen 10kts speed over ground (SOG) as the tide pushed us east. If we got our timing wrong now, we could end up going backwards.

We found the tidal charts for this area and dug around in our brains for the long-dormant tidal calculation memories. The results showed that positive tide would be with us from 09:00. We set a departure time of 08:00 to allow for the faff factor.

Maneuvering in marinas always fills us with a little dread. However, one of the great features of Alcaidesa Marina is the space available between pontoons and trots. Emerald’s prop walk in reverse pulls us to port, which was perfect for our departure from the finger berth. We had plenty of space to then turn the bow through the lightest of breezes and out towards the entrance.

Finger berth at the marina
Enjoying being on a finger berth We won’t miss Med Mooring
overhead view of Alcaidesa marina
Alcaidesa marina as seen from the Rock

Good or Bad Omens?

We motored west between anchored tankers and cargo ships under a marbled blue and grey sky. Looking back towards the Rock, the levanter wind was causing clouds to pile up on its peak. As we watched a dragon formed – was this a bad omen? As that shape dissipated, a distinctly dolphin-shaped form took its place. Then at the same moment, we saw fins gracefully arcing through the water as a pod of dolphins passed by on the hunt for food. Above the water and within it, we took this to be a good omen, because dolphins are friendly, right?

Later, I learned that the name “killer whale” is actually a misnomer. Orcas don’t belong to the whale family at all but are in fact the largest member of the dolphin family. That cloud could have been a warning.

But it seems the omens were good, as we thankfully passed through the area without incident.

Dolphin shaped cloud over Gibraltar
Is the dolphin cloud a good or bad omen?

We Are Sailing Again

As we edged out into the Straits, we could see 5 other sailboats ahead of us. We watched their progress for signs of where the wind and tide conditions were best. Up went Emerald’s mainsail. Shortly after the genny was unfurled, and then we silenced the engine. Bliss. This was our first sail in many miles.

Initially, our SOG was not great, but within an hour we were surfing along at 6kts on the swell as the tide and wind increased. Then we were overtaking one of the boats ahead of us. Emerald’s creator is Doug Peterson, the renowned designer of numerous world-class racing yachts, including America’s Cup winners. The Peterson 44 came about as a challenge to create a performance cruiser that could comfortably sail around the world. However, we’ve filled Emerald with the detritus of living aboard which has very likely eroded her racing pedigree. So, to be overtaking another vessel gave us a little moment of pleasure.

Gybing around Tarifa Point, we left the lumpier conditions of the Straits behind. A couple more hours of relaxed sailing followed before we arrived at our chosen anchorage.

As Emerald sailed west, we looked back and waved farewell to the Mediterranean, thanking it for the memories we’ve made over the last 7 years. During that time, we visited 9 diverse countries, 3 continents, and countless islands. Add to that the numerous new friends made, the history and culture experienced, the parties celebrated, the food tasted, and the beautiful nature. On reflection, it’s been phenomenal and we feel incredibly lucky to be living this life.

Frustration Returns

We anchored off the long, golden expanse of Playa de Bolonia with an amazing looking sand dune closing off one end. In addition, I could see some extensive Roman ruins spreading out behind the beach. With so much potential to explore, it was frustrating that the weather didn’t allow us to get ashore.

The forecast was for the easterly wind that had pushed us here, to ease off into the evening. This would have been perfect for the anchorage, however, even as night fell it blew resolutely on at 20kts. The direction was off too, more south-east than east. The result was a line of white surf that fringed the beach. Emerald was sitting comfortably bow to the waves, but a beach landing in the dinghy could be dangerous. There would be no exploring today.

Our plans for the next two days were also fraying at the edges. We’d intended to break the distance between Bolonia and Cadiz into two short day passages with an overnight stop at Cala del Aceite. The forecasts had even indicated some sailing potential. However, west winds were coming in sooner than expected, and our reality was looking more like a long, single-day motor straight to Cadiz.

A beached yacht
Hmm, this poor boat wasn’t a reassuring sight at our chosen anchorage
Bolonia sand dune
I would have really liked to have climbed this dune
Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia
The Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia

Sailing Info

1st September: Alcaidesa Marina to Cala Bolonia – 27nm (18nm sailed)
Anchored in sand, 7m, in position 36 05.11’N 5 46.546’W

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4 thoughts on “Leaving the Med – Here Be Dragons

  • Philip Owen

    Hi Guys, well done on what sounds to be a very challenging departure from the Med. Best wishes on your next leg up to cadiz :-). As no mention in your blog I assume the recent repairs have improved life on emerald ..

    • Nichola Post author

      Hi Phil, nice to hear from you. We’re happily settling into river life, the fridge repair worked perfectly which has helped improve our power usage no end. Colin has repaired a leak in our shower and is thinking about the next big job – installing a composting loo!