After Almerimar, our target was to reach the Balearics as soon as we could. Apart from the huge costs of many of the marinas on the Costa del Sol, neither Jac or I were particularly interested in spending much time on the Spanish holiday Costas and our intention was to make our way to somewhere close to Ibiza as soon as we could and hop across to the islands in quick time. However, we found ourselves unable (sensibly) to leave Amerimar for a day or two as the wind was forecast to blow hard from the northeast, exactly in the direction that we wished to go.

From the forecasts the earliest opportunity for us to depart would be 23rd June, (coincidently Brexit Day as it transpired) which gave us a couple of days to regroup and see the sights.

Way back in the dim mists of time in the 1960s and 1970s a series of films were made known as Spaghetti Westerns. They were low budget films made with Italian directors and many were filmed in locations around the Tabernas Desert near Almeria in Spain. Some such as A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad And The Ugly were filmed at a site called Mini Hollywood not far from Almerimar so Jac and I decided to go and see it. We hired a car and 40 minutes along good roads and we arrived at a wild west town in Spain!

The drive took us through some of the weirdest countryside that we had ever seen. Crammed together over what must be thousands of acres of land, with hardly enough space to drive a truck between are huge greenhouses made of plastic sheeting where, we were informed, most of Europe’s winter vegetables are grown.

Weird Plastic Landscape near Almeria

 North of Almeria the landscape is very arid and it is easy to see why the film directors decided to use this area. It could easily double for the drier regions of the wild west.

Wild West Spanish Style


Mini-Hollywood or Oasys, as it is also known turned out to be just off the main road and has probably won “The Best Kept Wild West Town Award.” The set was bought by a group of extras after the site ceased to be used for filming and is now effectively a theme park. We wandered around the General Store, the Sheriff’s office and jail, the undertakers and even the cemetery before dropping into the saloon for some light refreshment.

Jac in the Saloon


The bank contained a museum of cinema posters and equipment from the past with many familiar film posters on display and a large collection of old cameras and projectors.


At midday a show was staged in the main square depicting the last hours of Jesse James accompanied by gunfights and a hanging. As there were lots of children watching the show the hangee had the good grace to smile and wave before he finally expired. All part of the fun.

Behind the town is Fort Apache, now enclosing some gardens and a swimming pool and further up the hill is a quite extensive zoo. Neither Jac or I were comfortable with the sight of a magnificent Siberian Tiger and many other animals cooped up in quite small enclosures, so we didn’t spend much time there and shortly afterwards set off for Almerimar stopping at a supermarket for provisions on the way.

Gibraltar to Almerimar

Well, we finally did it! We extracted ourselves from the magnetic pull of Gibraltar and moved on. We left Gibraltar at 0930 in the morning on our way to Almerimar on the east end of the Costa del Sol, our target being to reach Menorca by 6th July when Jacquie’s daughter Sarah and her friend Claire fly out to meet us. Not a problem you might think; only 550 miles which one could drive in a day, but the winds are forecast to be against us for at least part of the time.

We were so glad to be sailing again and what added the icing to the cake was that our friends, Michael Briant and Lou Brochard in their Westerly 43, Paw Paw of London, had agreed at the last moment to come with us. They had big problems with their wind instruments and were going to Almerimar to get them repaired. The facilities in Almerimar were reputed to be very good and the labour costs a fraction of those in Gib.

Paw Paw passing the Gibraltar big ship anchorage

 So having paid our dues to Queensway Quay and said our goodbyes to the many friends that we had made in Gibraltar, our flotilla of 2 boats headed south of the Rock, around Europa point and eastwards into the Mediterranean. The weather was fine, the wind a maximum of Beaufort force 3, or 12 knots, with superb visibility and we expected a gentle run to Almerimar 130 miles or so away.

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Synergy leaving the Rock

 With an expected passage time of around 24 hours, this would be the first overnight run that Jac and I had made on our own so we were breaking new ground. We had agreed to try a watch system of 3 hours on and 3 hours off and we started this system from midday with one of us below resting while the other looked after Synergy. This meant that Jac would be on watch as the sun set and then she would take over again at midnight. It worked reasonably well but we found that it took some time to wind down and get to sleep in the night hours and we thought that a 4 hour watch period might be better if we did this again.

The passage was an easy one. We were able to get some drive from the sails, but the wind was light so we had to motor sail most of the way and around sunset we furled the head sail as it was just flapping around uselessly. We encountered several pods of dolphins, most of which stayed with us for a while playing in the bow wave and also some larger sea life which we thought were pilot whales, but we were not close enough to be sure.

Sunset on Jac’s Watch

 Jac took the watch as  darkness fell, which turned out to be a lovely night, almost still but with a nearly full moon. Churning along under engine the night was uneventful and we even had dolphins with us in the darkness.

Dawn started to break at around 0630 and we arrived at Almerimar at 0730 having completed the 131 miles in 22 hours. Jac and I refuelled Synergy and we were then directed to our berth where we waited until 0900 for the marina office to open.

We were all short on sleep but resolved to try to stay awake as long as possible so that we might catch up the following evening. Michael and Louise knew of an Irish bar that did tapas with a difference. Most people are familiar with the Spanish concept of tapas, small portions of food, normally shared by several diners. The Mac Gowan’s takes this concept to a different level; still tapas but UK or Irish style with fish and chips, curry, chilli, hamburgers and egg and chips on the menu.

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Mac Gowan’s Bar

And best of all, each tapa is free with a drink. Well………….several drinks and tapas later we stumbled back to Synergy and flaked out at six pm to sleep right through to 0800 the following day, fully recovered from the sleep deprivation of the overnight run.

General Ramblings

It is one of those curious quirks of human nature that a proportion of the population when behind the wheel of a car picture themselves as Lewis Hamilton, when strapping on a pair of skis become Franz Klammer, or when stepping onto the deck of a boat, however small, suddenly transform into Horatio, Lord Nelson. I suspect that the main demographic for this particular behaviour would be males between the ages of 18 and 35 (Just a gut feeling. Absolutely no Government research funding has been spent on this study). However in the case of sailing boats I suspect that the maximum age for this curious behaviour extends to a greater age.

Why should this be I wonder? A smoke screen to mask a general under confidence or a desire to appear to be really good at something?

Michael Green in his wonderful book, “The Art of Coarse Cruising,” (if you haven’t come across it I can recommend it as a very humorous read) describes a Coarse Sailor as someone who uses complicated nautical sounding terms in normal speech, often making up his own new, but fictitious terms. However, when life gets tense, you can spot a Coarse Sailor as all the technical jargon disappears to be replaced by a cry of, “For God’s sake turn left!” I apologise if I have misquoted Michael’s words but the sentiment is the same.

Yesterday I was sitting having a quiet beer in Gibraltar when I saw a friend walk past with a roll of artificial grass. Nothing too strange there you might think except that this individual happens to live on a boat! Whilst John and his wife have sailed extensively, their advancing years have led them to set roots down in Gibraltar and their ketch is now a stationary home. Nevertheless, one might still, as I did, wonder why artificial grass had any place on a boat. When I asked, “Why?” John responded that he and his wife already had some garden furniture that they use on deck so they had decided to make it look more like a garden. “You can’t take life too seriously you see,” he said.

The same day, my lovely wife Jacquie received a photograph from a friend who has a boat on the other side of the marina. The picture was of a rocking zebra who goes by the name of Zak. Why on earth would any boat need a rocking zebra? Especially one called Zak. Lou and Michael have added Zak to their growing collection of animal facsimiles which started with a duck shaped lamp. Their boat, a Westerly Ocean, has problems with its teak decks and Jacquie suggested that they might want to solve the problem by tearing up the teak and laying artificial grass instead which might also provide grazing for their rocking zebra. Lou responded, “Just been to check out turf at Morrison’s. It’s £30 a roll. Blow that for a game of soldiers! He’ll just have to rock on teak like the rest of us. Did buy a pork pie to console him.”

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Zak the Rocking Zebra

Although I cannot confirm or deny the fact, I wouldn’t mind betting that Lord Nelson did not include a rocking zebra called Zak in the ships company of Victory at Trafalgar, but he was in a much more serious environment than us cruising sailors.

Now where is all this going you might ask? (And so do I!) Sailing is a serious business of course. The sea has a habit of going up down and sideways in large lumps and if the weather turns foul one has to deal with it. You cannot run away as tends to be my habit in an aircraft. Once out on the water there is also no place for complacency as things can go badly wrong so quickly, so a serious approach to sailing is essential. However, there is also a place for a bit of fun and un-seamanlike behaviour. Incidentally Jacquie and I bought a garden gnome in Morrison’s to add to the ambience of John’s garden furniture and false grass. I am not sure if the Royal Yacht Squadron would approve.

As to Jac’s and my progress on our Mediterranean saga, well you might have guessed it …. we are still in Gibraltar. Earlier on in May my uncle Dennis, who was 92, was taken ill and died a few days later. Jac and I returned home for his funeral and came back to Gibraltar on 1 June. This weekend my sister, Fred, is coming to visit us in Gib so we finally have a proposed departure date of 14 June. This will be a tad over 9 months since we arrived in Gib and almost exactly 12 months to the day that we left Suffolk Yacht Harbour. We are now 3 months behind where we expected to be but, “Hey Ho!” we are retired and don’t really have a plan anyway.

Now please excuse me as I have to go and mow my AstroTurf.