How it all started...
It’s been a long time since our last adventure in Greenland; it feels like a small eternity. Finally, we are back to living our old motto “on the road again”… Well not literally, since we left the roads and once more call the water respectively the oceans, our home.
But let’s start at the beginning. During our kayak trip around Greenland we met a lovely couple who invited us into their home for a week. On one of the long evenings they told us many amazing stories which they had experienced traveling all over the world with an old and small fishing vessel. Back in Switzerland we couldn’t get rid of the idea to follow their path. We took all the necessary exams needed in order to sail our own boat.
In September 2014, the time had come. We bought an old sailing boat in the South of Spain which the owner had put up for sale after traveling all over the world for 30 years. During the following two years we spent more than 1’000 hours on getting her (we kept the name HAPPY DAY, because there will be bad luck if you change it...) back in shape, removing rust inside and out, updating electronics, installing a bow thruster and wind generator, installing short wave for weather reports and mail, etc., etc. There was a lot more to be done and invest than we first expected. Time and again new problems with rust and the technical equipment had to be solved. THANK YOU to all who helped on board and at home with preparations.
Beside all the preparations we took a day to visite the awesome palaces of Alhambra, which where built around the 13th century by the Moors. We never saw such delicate structurs in the buildings before. In the late afternoon we made a shorte visite to the sierra nevada for a short walk. Without any informationen and maps we just startet from 2'200 above sea level to a (seemingly) near mountain. First we enjoyed to fresh weather and cold wind – but the higher we went the wint got stronger and suddenly it started to snow. The sight droppe immediately and with our thin cloths we started to get cold. So it was time to take a look at the gps where we rally are – to our surprise almost on the Pico do Veleta (3'400m). Because of the bad weather we decided to turn back and took a direct heading to our car. Over rocks and sliding down big snow fields we found finally back to the parking. So, we realiced, that these are also some “real” montains und we should prepare better next time....
At the end of April 2017, the time had finally come to leave Switzerland for our first cruise. It was to be the first real test on what it would be like in tight quarters on the endless – and often not very calm – waters. The first couple of weeks we again spent in Almerimar, which were quite exhausting. There was still more work to be done, thousands of items to be stowed and half of the local store’s supply to be carried to the ship. On our test run out at sea – the day before we had planned on leaving for Gibraltar – another surprise lay in wait for us. Hurrah! Instead of the usual 5 knots (kn) cruising speed, we only managed 1.5 kn. As we managed the 5kn under sail, we figured there was something wrong with the propeller. The following morning Danielle put the diving bottle on her back, went down and came back with the great news that there was a layer of more than 3cm of shellfish on the propeller blades. Luckily, with a chisel and some effort the propeller was freed and we were finally able to set sail for Gibraltar.
Whenever you need it, there is NO wind! And so it was; we had to motor all the way to the port of Gibraltar, which we reached after 35 hours. The night was very pleasant with a calm sea and a full moon. A school of curious dolphins visited our boat and played in the bow wave. We watched them for hours and they were looking back at us all the time, probably wondering what we were doing out of the water.
Only the last stretch to Gibraltar was quiet stressfoul – there were a lot of huge container und tanker ship all over the place. So we had to zig zag around them. And it was not all the time easy to spot, if they were anchoring, drifting or under way. More than once we had to call the captians on the radio and ask about there intension.
The main reasons for a visit to Gibraltar were: First, it is where you will find the cheapest fuel in Europe at 49 cents/liter and second, purchases of boat equipment are tax free. Since delivery times were longer than one month, we moved on to the sister port of La Linea in Spain. It was a lot nicer and also cheaper; we bought the new 66 pound Rocna anchor at a great price.
Again, the lack of wind did not permit us to go out onto the Atlantic. Since we also had to wait for our materials, we rented a car to explore the back country and surrounding cities like the windy Tarifa and the old town of Cadiz with its beautiful parks and waterfront. After the extensive stay on the dusty and ‘beige’ coast of Spain, we enjoyed the endless green forests in the surrounding natural parks. The bright colors and strong scents were absolutely overwhelming, we could hardly believe it. Back home in Switzerland it’s very similar but there we took it for granted. Just lying in the grass and looking at a small creek felt absolutely wonderful.
We also spent a lot of time on our bicycles, crossing the air strip between Spain and Gibraltar to explore the English peninsula with its mighty rock and the apes which live there.
Ever since we had started work on the boat in Almerimar, we had planned to climb the highest mountain of the Sierra Nevada but never found the time. With a couple of days left until our anchor was scheduled to arrive, we packed our bicycles in the car and set off for the mountains. Bubion, a cozy and quiet mountain village at 2’000 meters, was our starting point for the Mulhacen, at 3’482m the highest mountain on the Spanish peninsula. After our adventure on the Pico do Veleta, we prepared the hike carefully. Following dusty and steep gravel roads we quickly reached the first snow fields and yes, there is also in June snow in Spain. From there, a small path over rock and snow fields led further up. Having lived at sea level for almost a month made us breathe hard and take more than a few brakes to reach the top. But the effort was well worth it, the views were just amazing. A local hiker told us, that in dry weather you could see all the way across to the mountains of Morocco.
There are endless and frightening stories about going out on the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar which is 14 km wide. The Atlantic lies 1.4 meters higher than the Mediterranean Sea, which causes a strong current flowing into the Med at all times. Besides that, the big container ships and tankers are all over the place and the winds around Tarifa frequently reach gale force. Encouraging news all around for a small sailing vessel like ours.
For days, we closely observed the weather forecast and spoke with sailors who arrived in the harbor. Believing to have chosen a good time, we left the rock of Gibraltar behind one morning. First, we had to zigzag through the field of dozens of anchoring cargo ships - some longer than 300 meters – which took even the wind from our sails. Afterwards, we kept to the north side of the strait to get out of the way of the big ships and to benefit from the counter flow of the sea. Although there was only a light breeze of 12kn (3Bf) in the beginning of the strait, we put the main sail in the last reef and had the genoa (front sail) ready to reduce at any time. The closer we got to Tarifa, the stronger the upwind got. We almost flew past the Punta de Tarifa. From the original 150m2 of sails we had set, we operated only 10m2 and still managed to maintain our hull speed (maximum speed possible). Fortunately, the fetch (distance for waves to grow) was very short after passing Tarifa and heading for Barbate. Therefore, even with winds up to 40kn, the sailing was a lot of fun until we got near the port of Barbate.
From quite a distance, we were able to make out a big grey shape in the bay of Barbate. A short time later said shape – a Spanish naval vessel – announced on CH16 that all ships had to keep a distance of two miles due to military maneuvers. We couldn’t believe it. Just the thought of having to ‘lay to’ (drifting with back staying front sail parallel to the waves and wind) made us nauseous. Without hesitating a second, Ben called the naval vessel to see if there really was no way to enter the marina. NO! At least the radio operator was considerate enough to let us know that the maneuver would only take two hours. Thus, we had no choice but to adjust our sails and lay to for two very unpleasant hours.
It was a relief to finally arrive in the well protected marina of Barbate. And although we were very tired, there was nothing to stop us from jumping into the big and cold waves of the Atlantic at a near beach for the very first time. It felt wonderful to have passed the Strait of Gibraltar, knowing that the enormous Atlantic was waiting with more adventures.