Gibraltar 11th Sep to 1st Oct 2015

The reason for our need to reach Gibraltar by mid September was because Jac and I had decided to get married. Both having reached our sixties we didn’t want a grand affair and we had determined that Gib would be an appropriate location: good weather (hopefully), a place we were planning to stop at and far enough from home that we could keep it small. Jacquie had lived in Gibraltar in the early seventies and I had first visited the Rock in 1979 with numerous visits since, so we were both familiar with the location. We also reasoned that if we could spend 3 months cooped up together on a boat without killing each other then marriage was likely to work. Before leaving home we had booked the Rock Hotel for a civil wedding and sent copies of all the necessary paperwork to Gibraltar registry office, but there was still an enormous amount of preparatory work to complete. On our trip down, when stuck in various locations, unable to move because of weather, we had envisaged not arriving on time, but that was now all behind us.

The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar

We sorted out the necessary paperwork, arranged the details with the Rock Hotel, arranged flowers, a cake and all the other necessaries for a wedding. We were expecting 25 guests so we were set for a good party!

We still found time to explore the Rock and do a bit of sightseeing. Gibraltar is a Marmite place; you either love it or hate it. I had seen it change from a major garrison town, hosting all branches of the British armed forces, through a rather seedy phase after the withdrawal of the British forces from the Rock. It has now reinvented itself, becoming much smarter with improvements and redevelopment occurring all the time, quite an achievement for somewhere with so little available building land.

Jacquie and I love it. It is familiarly British; the police wear British uniform, the post boxes are red, beer is sold in pints and there are both Marks & Spencer and Morrison’s selling all the goods one would expect to find in similar stores in the UK. It also fiercely British.On the other side of the coin more Spanish than English is spoken together with mixed “Spanglish,” often with words in phrases from both languages in the same sentence.

Having sorted out all the wedding arrangements, all that remained was for the arrival of our guests who were expected from 30th September onwards.

Jac, pointing out her bedroom in her old house, now divided into flats.

Gibraltar Day

Following the pattern of some major event happening wherever we went, Gibraltar proved to be no exception. We had arrived on 9th September and it transpired that 10th September was Gibraltar’s National Day.

We awoke to see everyone around dressed in red and white, Gibraltar’s national colours, and the whole population of the Rock was in party mode. We wandered into town down Main Street ( unsurprisingly the main street through Gibraltar) to Casemates Square where the sea of people were listening to a series of local dignitaries making very patriotic speeches. Spain has long wanted Gibraltar to return to Spanish rule, but the Gibraltarians fervently resist that sentiment. This causes quite a lot of friction between Spain and Gibraltar, the Gibraltarians determined to stay British and the Spanish equally determined that the 300 plus year “occupation” of Gibraltar should come to an end.

Casemates Square, Gibraltar National Day

With this background, the speeches in Casemates Square were of the “We’re-British-and-proud-of-it-and-will-never-become-Spanish” variety. All stirring stuff, but to Jac and I who had just stepped off a boat, this was all quite overpowering. Wandering away from the politicians we made our way to Ocean Village Marina, a more raucous location than where we were based, to find that not all Gibraltar residents were interested in political speeches. To an untrained eye, it appeared that those not listening to politicians were consuming alcohol in Gib’s bars at a most prodigious rate to the point that few seemed coherent by lunchtime.

It must be rare for an entire nation, albeit a small one, to get involved in a day-long party of such magnitude. It was a joy to behold!

Making our way back to Queensway Quay Marina in the evening it transpired that the resident boating population were also joining in. Our pontoon was also home to quite a few people who lived on their boats and they invited us to join them at the end of the pontoon for drinks and nibbles and to watch the celebratory firework display.

This was a lovely gesture and the start of a relationship with the “B” pontoon residents all of whom were lovely people who made Jacquie and I most welcome. The only slight problem was that so much alcohol had been consumed that communication became quite tricky!

Barbate to Gibraltar!

Jac taking us out of Barbate

The day dawned bright and sunny again with a forecast which was set fair for the run through the straits to Gibraltar, so off we set on the last leg of our journey. After a calm start to the day the wind increased to a stiff easterly so we tried beating into wind for a while until we realised that it would take 20 hours or so to reach Gibraltar using that technique. So……..back to the engine again. (sigh).

The scenery on the way was spectacular with Europe on the port side and Africa on the starboard. We had timed our departure to catch the tidal stream that flows quite strongly into the Mediterranean so we had 2kts of help from the flow to help us along at times. Other boats were using the same plan and following the same inshore route enabling us to do a bit of “racing” albeit under sail and engine.

We passed the site of Baelo Claudia, a ruined Roman town, that I had visited some years before. It had been a centre of production of garum, a fermented fish sauce valued by the Romans, but the town had been destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity.

Further along we passed Tarifa marking the narrowest point of the straits and also one of the windiest places in Europe. Tarifa is a haven for kite surfers and we could see the forest of kites as we passed the town. The narrow stretch of water with wind against tide made the passage quite choppy for a while, but we soon caught our first glimpse of the Rock as we turned north-westwards towards Algeciras Bay. Entering the bay the whole of the Rock came into view and we dodged our way around anchored and moving commercial shipping to find the entrance to Queensway Quay Marina.

First sight of the Rock


The first time that I had visited Gibraltar in 1979 Queensway Quay had been a part of the extensive Royal Navy dockyard, but with the withdrawal of the naval presence on the Rock the area has been redeveloped into smart flats surrounding the marina. Finding the in wasn’t that easy as it is very narrow with a ninety degree turn just after the entrance.

Calling on the radio we were directed to our berth, a fore and aft mooring using lazy lines. We moored bow first – a big error! Jac couldn’t get off the boat at all and the only way that I could escape was by climbing over the anchor and stepping onto the top of utility box before dropping down onto the pontoon. I went to the office and paid our dues and joined Jac back on Synergy. We quickly reversed the boat out, spun her around and reversed back into the berth and tied up.

Jac’s old home near Camp Bay, Gib

We had arrived and Synergy would not move again for several months. We were very proud of ourselves; we considered ourselves to be pretty inexperienced sailors but we had travelled for 3 months over 2000 miles with 51 stops, all possibilities for hitting something without any major mishaps. Most importantly of all, Synergy had become home and we had total trust in her to bring us through whatever we were likely to encounter.

Moored up at Queensway Quay Marina

Time for a drink!

Sunset Queensway Quay Marina

Puerto Sherry to Barbate

We would have loved to spend a little more time in Barbate, but the forecast for the Straits of Gibraltar had been changed from “awful” to “quite reasonable.”  We decided to press on to Barbate which would then make the run Gibraltar relatively easy when the weather was suitable. The pattern of weather to which we had become accustomed exerted itself with warm, sunny calm conditions which changed slightly choppier as the sea breeze kicked in.

It was a very pleasant passage with some dolphins playing around the boat on the way and passing the magnificent old city of Cadiz, the oldest settlement in Europe. Further down the coast we passed Cape Trafalgar where in 1805 Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson had destroyed the combined French and Spanish Fleets at the cost of his own life.

Cape Trafalgar

Arriving at Barbate we made our way through the fishing harbour to the yacht marina and, as usual, a stiff breeze had blown up. Ahead of us a couple on a catamaran were struggling to tie up on the reception pontoon, but as soon as they got close enough and slowed to a stop the wind took over and blew them off again. Eventually they gave up and tried another berth which they still managed to get blown into sideways. It was reassuring to see that it was not just Jacquie and I that had the odd problem.

Barbate is not a particularly pretty place so we decided to move on as soon as possible.

Synergy at Barbate

Chipiona to Puerto Sherry

The weather remained fine and we still had one last possibly challenging trip to make before we reached Gibraltar – the passage through the Straits. We decided to hop down the coast to Puerto Sherry then to Barbate from where we could run down to Gibraltar when the weather and tides were suitable.

Alan, Eduardi and Lorcan would accompany us for this leg which should take us around 3 hours. Again we had a little wind to make it worthwhile raising the sails but it quickly faded away, so back to motoring! I had been in contact with two former colleagues, John Hall and Dave Thomas who owned a boat of the same model as Synergy. John and Linda Hall came out from their home port of Puerto Sherry to meet in their Jeanneau 39i, PATRE, giving us a chance to do some ship to ship photography.

There are sound meteorological reasons why the wind picks up in the afternoon on the coast but it is, nevertheless, infuriating when there is no wind when one wishes to sail and a near gale when it comes time to manoeuvre into a berth. With a wind off the pontoon, we clattered into the narrow gap and tied up. Jac prepared a feast for us all and John and Linda joined us together with Pepe, Eduardi’s brother, who was collecting the Dunne family for the return journey by road to Sanlucar.

Once everyone had left, Jac and I were left to our own devices and we went to a restaurant overlooking the bay of Cadiz. It was a beautiful location and we dined on swordfish steaks while the sunset over the Bay of Cadiz. Very romantic!

Sunset over Cadiz Bay
Sunset over Cadiz Bay

Isla Canela to Chipiona

Sunrise leaving Isla Canela

We woke early again to catch high water in the Rio Carreras and also to catch high water at Chipiona, another shallow entrance. I had phoned ahead to Chipiona as the pilot book indicated a difficult entrance which wasn’t dredged very well however, I was assured that there would be plenty of water for our 2 metre draught. Initially we were able to sail, but the wind dropped and with it our speed and we would not make Chipiona on time for high water so we were back to the engine again. In almost calm conditions and bright sunshine, letting “George” the autopilot do all the work we occupied our time by whipping warps that were becoming a little frayed and Jac replaced all the fender socks from material that Jan had brought with her from the UK. By the time she had finished the fenders looked so good that she was worried about them getting dirty!


We had decided to stop at Chipiona as an old friend and work colleague Alan Dunne, his wife Eduardi and their son Lorcan live in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the next town along the coast. Alan and I had worked together for a few years at a flying school in nearby Jerez de la Frontera and we were looking forward to seeing the “Dunny’s” again.

The entrance to Chipiona proved no problem. There was one, well marked shallow area which was easy to avoid and we arrived at the reception pontoon without making a hash of it – always a bonus. The marina staff were friendly and helpful and it transpired that the lady at the reception office desk was the sister-in-law of the chap who had shipped our belongings back from Spain when we left Jerez in 2010. How about that for a tenuous connection? It’s a small world!

We explored the marina and had some proper Spanish tapas at a marina side restaurant which was very good and inexpensive.

3rd September 2015              Chipiona

In the morning Jac and I caught up with the laundry and cleaned the boat down. We met the Dunne clan who took us a short way along the coast to a restaurant near Chipiona light house, the tallest in Spain. The restaurant, Las Canteras Bar Chiringuito, is a lovely place with a beach patio where we had a fabulous meal while we watched the tide come in over the Roman fish traps on the beach,still in use today.  It was great to catch up with the Dunne clan again as it had been several years since we had been able to have a “yarn” over a meal and some refreshments. Eduardi’s family come from Sanlucar and she had grown up there. Alan is a native of Dublin and they had recently returned to Spain from Wales. You don’t get much more cosmopolitan than that.

We couldn’t spend too much time at the restaurant as Eduardi had a job interview which must have gone well after a gin and tonic and half a bottle of wine! While Eduardi was impressing her prospective employer, Alan kindly ran us to a LIDL in Sanlucar where were able to restock the boat. It is amazing how much effort is involved in shopping from a boat and Alan’s generous offer of a lift was invaluable. We met Eduardi in Sanlucar after her interview and met up with some of Eduardi’s relatives at a convenient coffee shop. It was lovely being back in Sanlucar again; the last time I had been there was on Christmas Eve 2009 when we saw the bizarre spectacle of around 200 young people all dressed  in Santa outfits. They were accompanied by a band and all were in various states of inebriation in procession through the streets  before meeting in the town square for more refreshment. The Spanish really know how to throw a party!

We finally fell into bed the worse for wear at 0100 with the promise to meet later in the day.

4th September 2015              Chipiona

Feeling rather jaded we spent the day pottering. We were to meet the Dunne’s again but no one had the energy so we agreed to meet for a barbecue at Chateau Dunne  on 5th September.

5th September 2015              Chipiona

After a morning of jobs on the boat Alan collected us from Chipiona for the barbecue at his house. Then followed an hilarious day with Alan and family together with other friends and family. A wonderful meal of fish cooked in salt (sounds over salty, but virtually no salty flavour at all and delicious) with chorizo and hamburgers preceded a game of cards called “Contento”. This simple game had us all in fits of laughter and Jac and I were determined to teach it to our friends and family. Back to the boat at one in the morning by taxi as no one was in any condition to drive.

6th September 2015              Chipiona

The ship’s log just says: “Jobs day – recovering!”

Albufeira to Isla Canela

Up early to see Jan off the premises and to make sure she left. I jest! Jan had mucked in and been great fun to have on board and we were very sorry to see her leave. We walked round to the marina office where the taxi was due to arrive and we spent a few nervous minutes anticipating a no show. However, the taxi duly arrived and we said our goodbyes and waved Jan off to the railway station for her train back to Lisbon. Still in darkness we made our way back to Synergy for breakfast and to plan our next leg.

We had decided to make our way eastwards down the Algarve to one of the ports on the other side of Faro. The access to our destination, Isla Canela, was up the River Careras just inside Spain. The river is quite shallow so we had to arrive within an hour and a half either side of high water to avoid the danger of running aground. With the anticipated 8 or 9 hours to complete the 50 or so miles a departure at around 0800 would do the trick. Again in fine weather we left Albufeira, our last stop in Portugal.

We changed the courtesy flag from Portugal to Spain en-route but otherwise, the trip to Isla Canela was uneventful with light winds until we approached the River entrance when the wind whipped up to around force 7.    Dodging a myriad of fishing buoys we found the marina and tied up un the reception pontoon. By this time the wind was blowing strongly and moving to our allocated berth was problematic with Synergy pinned firmly to the reception pontoon. As soon as we started moving the strong wind prevented me getting the bow round and we just drifted sideways, nearly hitting a submerged pylon in the process. Jac on the bow got quite agitated as she could see what was happening. Totally oblivious to the problem I just reacted to Jac’s concerns as I thought the top of the pylon was a plastic buoy! With no harm done, except to my self respect, we found our berth and settled in for the night. With infinite skill I had managed to lose the marina gate key card so we had to go and buy another one. The day was going well!

Bar in Isla Canela


The pilot book described Isla Canela as being located in a wind swept marsh. Once again it was completely wrong. The surroundings might be marsh land but the marina and its surroundings were delightful with a well developed marina as a pleasant, if limited,  holiday destination. Somehow we had run ourselves out of water and I was concerned that we might have damaged the water pump, but filling the tanks and re-priming the pump and all was well. Breathe sigh of relief! After dinner on the boat we turned in planning to take advantage of the good weather and make our way to Chipiona in the morning.