Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2004: Mahon to Gibraltar

This web page contains the logs of the third and final leg of a 31 day sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis from Greece to Gibraltar. The leg covers a period of 11 days of sailing from Menorca (Mahon) in Spain to Gibraltar via Mallorca (Cala Petita, Cala Colom, Puerto Petro), Ibiza, Alicante, Almeria, Caleta de Velez, Marbella, and Puerto de Sotogrande. In most of this leg I was accompanied by my friend Manos Castrinakis.

The logs are illustrated with maps and photographs, and also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Route to Alicante
Route to Alicante from Mahon

Friday October 15, 2004 Day 20

I woke up at 7, after another good night’s sleep, and downloaded several weather forecasts. The picture was somewhat confusing. While there was no major system along our planned route to Ibiza and the wind was shown as being light and favorable, from the NW, it also showed it increasing to 15 knots and backing W tonight near Mallorca. For early tomorrow morning the wind was again predicted as light but not as favorable and increasing by tomorrow afternoon to 20-25 knots SW. Looking at this we figured that we could depart at 0930, after refueling (the pumps are in another cove and do not open until 0900), and if we make good speed by either motor-sailing or motoring we should be in Ibiza by 1300 tomorrow, avoiding the worst. We decided to take our chances.

Before casting off I checked the engine oil. It was low and needed topping up. I also drained some water out of the fuel filter/water trap. Fortunately the fuel lines did not need to be bled.

We left the marina at about 0900 and motored to the fuel dock next to the Yacht Club, almost 1 M away. While the fuel station was supposed to open at 9, it was shut. Manos called the posted telephone number and within few minutes the attendant arrived. We filled the main tank and all the empty jerry cans, altogether we took 131.5 L of Diesel fuel. This is how much we had consumed coming from Cagliari. All went smoothly until Manos accidentally dropped into the water the irreplaceable cap of one of the jerry cans strapped on deck. In all fairness to Manos, the cap was not secured. The attendant offered to find us an implement to fish out the cap, which we could see in 2 m of water, but he took a long time returning. I was anxious to get going so that we could arrive in Ibiza before the weather deteriorates. I decided to dive and retrieve the cap. This I did and gave it to Manos to dry it and then screw it back on the can. I dried myself and started changing into cloths when I heard a desperate yell from Manos. He had dropped the cap again. I was not amused! I again put on my bathing suit and dove for the second time. This time I screwed the cap. Manos (who cannot dive more than 50 cm) was ready to commit hara-kiri on deck but he thought this would make too much of a mess for me to clean. So the day started badly.

We finally departed from Mahon at 1005. Outside the fjord the wind was not as had been forecasted. It was instead only 9-14 knots WSW, a head wind. After reaching Isla del Aire, the southernmost point of Menorca, we set our course to 239° aiming for the southern tip of Mallorca. We raised the mainsail but left it on the second reef. It helped us by increasing our rather modest speed of 5.2 knots by 0.3.

We had lunch and finished the inexhaustible chicken we had bought in Cagliari. There was a moderate swell, not unpleasant, and it did not slow us down too much. Unfortunately this happy state did not last. The headwind increased to 15-25 knots W and so did the waves. At good times we were making 4 knots, in bad times we were down to 2.5.

By 1630 it was evident that our progress was hopeless. We were punishing poor Thetis and her engine and also ourselves. At this rate, we would be very lucky if we reached Ibiza by late tomorrow night. We gave up and changed our course to 265° heading for Cala Petita in Mallorca some 23 M away, a place which, at least from our C-Map chart, looked like a good spot to hole-in for the night. We made very slow progress because even with this change of course the wind was still on our bow.

We eventually reached Cala Petita [39° 32.8' N 3° 21.2' E] at 2135. It is a narrow fjord 40 meters wide and even narrower as one goes in for another 60 meters. While all of the E coast of Mallorca is lit up like an overpopulated megalopolis this fjord is deserted. The night was dark and we could not see the fjord’s opening in the steep cliffs. Fortunately we did see it on the radar. We stopped outside the fjord to prepare the anchor, which was stowed inside the chain locker. Then, slowly and cautiously, Manos at the bow and I steering with one eye on the depth meter, we inched our way in. The opening is narrow, very narrow with ugly steep cliffs and rocks on both sides. Inside it is a little wider but still narrow. However the bottom is sand. We anchored in 3 m depth and let out as much chain as we dared because of the rocky shore. It was 2155 and we had made only 52.7 M from Mahon in almost 12 hard hours.

It was very calm in here and we were comfortable. After securing the boat, I sent an SMS to my brother Nikos in Greece to inform him of our changed plans. We then made cheese omelets which we ate with a fresh tomato salad. We were starving. It was a quiet night after all. Hoping that the wind would not change direction we went to bed.

Saturday October 16, 2004 Day 21

The Narrow Anchorage of Cala Petita
The Narrow Anchorage of Cala Petita

When I got up in the morning and saw where we were, very secure by the way, I could not help but admire our bravado, or our foolishness, in entering and anchoring in the dark in such a place. Maybe not seeing helped! A number of Saturday morning walkers were also surprised to see this boat in this inlet and were looking at us from the rocks above while we were taking our breakfast in the cockpit.

The weather forecast was not encouraging. The same 15-25 knot SW wind was predicted for today with the promise of lessening and veering N by tomorrow. After discussing the situation we decided not to push on for Ibiza, fighting contrary winds, but to first go to Cala Colom, the only place in the area with a fuel dock, take fuel and if we like it stay there. If we do not like it, go on to Puerto Petro a few miles SW.

We departed Cala Petita at 0950. The wind was an unpleasant 15-25 knot WSW with equally unpleasant waves. We motored for 10 M to Cala Colom [39° 25.3' N 3° 15.2' E] where we arrived at 1150. We tied side-to at the fuel quay. Unfortunately their fuel pump had broken down and Manos had to cart jerry cans which we siphoned into Thetis’ tank. We took 37 L to replenish the fuel we consumed since Mahon.

We did not particularly like this place so we departed at 1235 for Puerto Petro [39° 21.5' N 3° 12.6' E] where we arrived at 1400 after 5.6 more miles. Manos had already called the marina on his mobile phone and they were expecting us. We were soon moored stern-to using the marina laid mooring, handed by the attendant to Manos, after which I tossed the stern lines to the attendant who tied them to the bollards. Like in the marinas in Turkey; I am getting spoiled. All I have to do is steer the boat and control the engine. The attendant produced two short forms which I filled out with the particulars of Thetis and her crew. He then calculated the docking fee of 42 € which we paid on the spot.

We connected to the shore power and had lunch in the cockpit. After some rest we went exploring ashore. The first impression was how clean the marina and the streets were. Not a single cigarette-butt in sight. Both the marina and the little town are very attractive and hospitable. There is a small but well supplied super market which does get fresh bread every day, including Sundays. We had nice hot showers and all was well. The only disappointments were:

  1. There was no Herald Tribune for Manos in the newsstand.
  2. The laundromat facility, shown in the C-Map, has not yet been installed.

At night we had a wonderful, but pricey, meal at the waterfront restaurant, Bar Burvila, near the marina office: an assortment of tapas (appetizers), a delicious roast suckling pig Mallorcan style, and a robust Rioja red wine.

Sunday October 17, 2004 Day 22

We slept well in the sheltered harbor. In the morning I looked at the Weather on Line site on the Internet. The forecast, for a change, was favorable: SE winds from 5-15 knots all the way to Ibiza. We departed Puerto Petro at 1030, estimating that we will be in Ibiza by early tomorrow morning, after the sunrise. The wind was only 5-8 knots SSE. We raised the mainsail and motor-sailed for a while.

By the early afternoon the wind was up to 10-15 knots and had backed to ESE. We opened the headsail and turned off the engine. Although I dislike night arrivals to unknown places it looks as if we will arrive before day-break tomorrow unless we deliberately slow down which I did not want to do as we are moving nicely at better than 6 knots. We kept on sailing.

For dinner I cooked some spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce. This we ate comfortably inside the cabin. After dinner Manos took the first watch.

On our Way to Ibiza
On our Way to Ibiza

Monday October 18, 2004 Day 23

I took the second watch right after midnight. Our steaming light (the white forward mast light) burned. It was a lovely clear night, full of stars, Orion rising to our stern. We were now close to Ibiza. Three different ferries, coming from Ibiza, crossed our path but at the comfortable distance of more than 1 M. As we were approaching the harbor I woke up Manos to help me lower the sail.

The Harbor of Ibiza
The Harbor of Ibiza

We did so just outside the harbor. We then motored slowly and with the help of the radar avoided the numerous unlit small islands and entered the harbor. After a little bit of confusion we entered the Marina Nueva [38° 54.8' N 1° 26.7' E] at 0350 and after 84.2 M. Ibiza fortress was all lit up at 3 am when we arrived. The place is so frequented by boats, of all kinds and flags, that they made it easy to moor with closed eyes. So we did it as if it was in broad daylight. We found an empty slip with a finger pontoon and we tied the boat fairly easily since there was no wind. This floating pontoon was well designed and not like my previous experience with the miserable fingers of the Monemvasia “marina.” Exhausted, we both went to bed.

Old Citadel, Ibiza
Old Citadel, Ibiza

When we woke up we first went to marina office. It was alright with them to leave Thetis where she was, we just had to pay the 62 € fee. Then we did some light provision shopping in the marina grocery store, left the groceries in the boat, and took the small ferry across the harbor to Ibiza. It is an ugly town except for the old citadel within the large fortress. We walked for a few hours, ending up in a café overlooking the harbor where we had a pizza and a pitcher of sangria for lunch. Then back to Thetis for a rest.

We looked at the forecast. Not so good this time. Once again contrary SW winds were predicted. We decided to depart for Alicante, on the mainland, right after dinner before the wind strengthens. In the meantime, we had two chores: refueling and replacing the burned steaming light, ¾ of the way up the mast. We untied and moved Thetis right across to the fuel dock. We only needed 24.5 L of Diesel fuel. Then we moved her right back to our slip. I, being the lighter of the two, was elected to climb the mast. I strapped myself into the bosun’s chair and Manos hoisted me up with the winch. Indeed the bulb was burned. I cleaned the contacts and replaced it.

Vasilis at the Fortress of Ibiza
Vasilis at the Fortress of Ibiza

After these chores we had showers and a light dinner in a nearby restaurant. Back on board we prepared for departure.

We left Ibiza at 2215. We had a nice 12-16 SSE breeze; we raised the mainsail and motor-sailed. But it took us over an hour to clear the numerous small islands and shallows that fringe Ibiza. Once again I was very grateful for the radar. Finally we were clear and set a course of 254° for Alicante, some 90 M away. We opened the headsail and turned off the motor. Good sailing. Manos took the first watch.

Route to Almeria
Route to Almeria from Alicante

Tuesday October 19, 2004 Day 24

When Manos woke me up at 0330 for my watch, the wind had veered to the dreaded SW. Manos had already rolled in the headsail and started the motor. Together we lowered the mainsail and tied it. This was the end of the free ride. Manos went to sleep. Not very much happened during my watch other than that we made slow progress under power, barely reaching 4 knots. The choppy waves continuously slowed us down.

Mile after miserable mile we went. One of the lazy jacks attached to the boom came loose. No way we could fix this while under way in this choppy sea. Also, we developed a small leak. Water was trickling into the main cabin. I thought that it was coming from cable through-ports of the mast. These problems will have to be addressed when we reach the harbor. Thetis was slamming and banging in waves, it was cold and it was wet from the spray.

Late in the afternoon, as we were approaching Cape Spartivento on the mainland, the waves lessened and we picked up some speed, now doing slightly better than 4 knots. We also crossed the prime meridian. Now we were sailing West of Greenwich. We were getting closer.

At last we reached Alicante [38° 20.4' N 0° 28.9' W] at 2205 barely less than 24 hours since we departed Ibiza 100.8 M away. We motored slowly inside the large harbor intending to tie up in at the marina fuel dock, spend the night there, and take fuel in the morning before paying our fee and being assigned to a proper berth. But, to our surprise, there were attendants even at this late hour. They directed us to a waiting area, near the fuel dock, and helped us tie side-to. They took the ship’s papers and asked us to report to the marina office after it opens at 8:30.

Tired and hungry we walked to a simple near-by eatery and had a late snack and some wine. Then off to bed.

Wednesday October 20, 2004 Day 25

The Alicante Harbor We slept rather late. This is a big marina in a big port with excellent facilities, shops and restaurants right on the wide piers. First thing I checked in with the marina office. The pleasant young woman was new to the job and took some time to prepare our bill of 50 €. Then we spoke to the attendants after which we moved the boat to the fuel dock. While I was attending to refueling with 61 L of diesel, Manos took our dirty clothes to the marina laundromat and started a load. We then moved Thetis to our assigned berth. Again, it was a floating dock with finger pontoons. With the two of us plus the two attendants the maneuver was child’s play. We then connected to the shore AC power and attended to the repair of the lazy jack. With the new riveting tool it was really a very easy job. Without the tool we would have had to go to a shipyard. We then washed down the deck and refilled the water tanks.

The Alicante Esplanade
The Alicante Esplanade

The Alicante Esplanade After these chores we took luxurious showers and attended to the laundry, which took us the best part of the morning. Both the laundry room and the showers/WC were locked. I was told in the office that they were out of keys, so we had to find and ask an attendant to open the doors for us. We had lunch on board: omelets with left-over tomato sauce. When we were done we did not lose any time and set out to explore the new town. Alicante was founded by Carthaginians and was a forward base for Hannibal before crossing into Italy. Then Romans took over and from then on its history is the same with that of the rest of Spain. The castle, over the town, has been recently restored. It goes back to the reestablishment of the Spanish rulers over the Moors. The other striking feature of Alicante is its large and very wide esplanade along the waterfront. It is paved with colorful ceramic tiles in a wave-like pattern and it is shaded by large palm and banana trees. Like everywhere we have seen so far in Spain, everything was meticulously clean. Along the esplanade there were many cafés and restaurants.

View from the Castilo Barbara
View from the Castilo Barbara

The day was rather hot and we sat in one of the cafés and had ice creams, helados, and coffee. But most important, Manos found a copy of his Herald Tribune in a kiosk. He declared, right then, Alicante a very civilized place. We then walked to the tourist information office and got a map of the town. We also inquired on how we can visit the castle, the Castilo Bárbara, which looked rather far away. It was very easy. You walk east along the esplanade past the harbor to the beach, the Playa del Postiguet, and then you take a 250 m humid underground passageway to an elevator. The elevator takes you right into the castle. The view from there was spectacular although the day was rather hazy.

After the castle visit we walked into the narrow streets of the old town and bought some fresh bread for tomorrow. When we returned to Thetis for a rest and a well deserved ouzo we got excellent news. The forecasts predicted that the weather was changing in our favor with easterly and southeasterly winds of low magnitude. So we could make up the lost ground, although it was not obvious if the wind would be strong enough to sail. Cannot have everything. We decided to depart at 0500, see how far we can go in one day, and then stop at a port for the evening.

A bit later than when we usually go for dinner but a lot earlier than when the Spanish do, we put on long trousers and went in search of a particular restaurant recommended by the bakery lady earlier that afternoon. It was not to be found so we entered a modern place, Entretapas, which we came across and were happy to order tapas and nice sounding dishes like pork roast with aubergines and pine nuts. We were presented by nouvelle cuisine dishes, not good for our sea appetite with the tiny, well presented portions. However, the taste of the dishes was excellent and the young Argentinean waitress was beautiful. We both fell in love with her but we quickly realized the space limitations in Thetis so we did not ask her along or abduct her, as seasoned Greek pirates would have done in the past.

Thursday October 21, 2004 Day 26

I did not get up at 0430 as planned, but at 0530, as did Manos. I quickly looked at the Weather on Line site; the forecast still looked good. I made a cup of coffee and prepared for departure. Manos removed the AC cord and all of our shore lines but two. He let go of the bow line (we were moored bow-to) and I let go of the stern line while reversing. Manos was ready to fend off the boat to our starboard but it was not necessary. It was a smooth departure. The time was 0615. We slowly motored to the mouth of the large harbor. Outside the sea was calm and there was a very light breeze. The sunrise was beautiful. We headed for Cabo de Palos, infamous for its bad weather. Later the breeze strengthened to 5-8 knots NW and we raised the mainsail removing the reef. We motor-sailed for a while.

When we comfortably reached Cabo de Palos we decided that we ought to take advantage of this weather window and instead of going to Cartagena to push on and round Cabo de Gata, the next infamous cape. This is the area where the fascinating Pérez-Reverte novel The Nautical Chart, that I had read last year, takes place.

In the afternoon the breeze backed to ESE and increased to 10 knots. We opened the full genoa but we still had to run the engine so as not to lose our speed. Later the breeze died and we rolled-in the genoa. We had trouble with the DC to 110V AC inverter that powers our computers and recharges our GSM phones. All of a sudden it tripped the circuit breaker in the boat’s main panel. I hope its problem is with its cord, it will have to be investigated when we reach port.

After dusk we saw a large school of dolphins moving all around us at slow speed. For dinner Manos prepared rigatoni with tuna. After boiling the pasta he placed it in a pyrex dish, covered it with the tuna and parmesan cheese. He then baked it for a while in the oven. It was delicious. After eating, I took the first watch: 9-12.

So far this passage is a low Zofor one as compared with the high Zofor passage from Ibiza to Alicante. For those not familiar with this seamanship scale invented by our mutual friend professor Ephremides, let me explain. Zofor is named after the Greek word “zoferos” and it is a logarithmic hardship scale. While weather force is normally given by the intensity of the wind and measured in the logarithmic Beaufort scale, there are so many other parameters that affect how difficult or easy a sailing passage is, such as the direction of the wind relative to the desired course of the vessel, the wave intensity, the temperature at sea level, the amount of spray, etc. Thus a force 4 or 5 on the Beaufort scale, such as we faced from Ibiza, could be an 8 or 9 on the Zofor scale, considering that the sea and wind were head-on and allowed for a speed of no more than 3 miles an hour, making our trip last twice as long as it would have normally with 4 or 5 Zofor. Conversely, sailing downwind with a force 7 Beaufort is a fairly easy fast sail of 3 Zofor. The Zofor scale is not yet internationally accepted but in Thetis we use it a lot.

Friday October 22, 2004 Day 27

Right after midnight and as I was about to hand over the boat to Manos and go to sleep I noticed on the radar that we were slowly converging with another boat 1 M to our starboard while a second boat, 10 M to our stern, was fast heading our way, also on a collision course. I concentrated on the boat near us. After observing her with the binoculars I concluded that she was a sailboat with a tricolor navigational light. Since there was no wind she must be motor-sailing so the use of the tricolor was incorrect (it is allowed only when sailing without the use of an engine). I hailed her on the VHF channel 16. Eventually she responded. She was the S/Y Mediterraneo. She gave us her heading but most important she became aware of our convergence. We both altered our course to allow a comfortable distance between the two boats. In the meantime, the boat to our stern was closing in fast. She was now only 2 M away and clearly on a collision course. Again according to the rules of the road the overtaking vessel has the responsibility to alter course to avoid collision and the overtaken vessel should stay on her course unless a collision is imminent. When she was just ½ M to our stern and still had not taken any action I made a 100° turn to the right, avoiding both boats.

Mediterraneo also had to take evasive action to avoid the overtaking ship.

With all this excitement I did not hand over Thetis to Manos until 0100. By that time we were fairly close to Cabo de Gata and there was plenty of traffic. Manos had to take evasive maneuvers several times. I woke up and relieved him at 0300, too excited by all of this. Right away I found ourselves in a situation with 2 other slow moving sailboats which we were overtaking. I made the appropriate course changes and soon we were clear. Thetis was making good progress moving at somewhat under 6 knots, and we were now approaching Almeria.

We arrived in Almeria [36° 49.9' N 2° 27.8' W] at 0915. We had come 159.4 M from Alicante. We tried, as recommended in the pilot book, hailing the Club Mar marina but there was no response. We docked at the fuel dock without any trouble. There was no one there. I called the marina number on the GSM phone and spoke to someone who only spoke Spanish. My Spanish is less then rudimentary, it was quite a conversation. I tried to convey to him that we needed about 60 L of diesel fuel but he understood 6 and said, I thought, that it was impossible. After more explanations he now understood 600 which we eventually brought down to 60. He, again I thought, said that he will be coming to the fuel dock. While waiting for the attendant’s arrival, Manos set out on foot to find him since we were not too sure if he was indeed on his way. Soon both Manos and the attendant appeared and we refueled. To my amazement we needed exactly 60 L.

After refueling, the attendant pointed out an empty berth to us. While we maneuvered he already got there, just in time to hand Manos the mooring line and to catch the stern lines that I tossed to him. Not bad! I then went to the marina office, paid the marinas fee of only 7 € plus 5 € more as deposit for the shower/WC-pier key. The marina facilities were excellent.

Manos told me that during the night his berth collapsed and now it needed to be repaired. So, after taking showers we set out to find three bronze screws (the ones I found in my spares were either too short or too long), and some wood glue. We found what we needed in the small marina shipyard. They would not accept any payment for them. After that we had a coffee and a sandwich at the marina café and we were completely restored, all of last night’s difficulties were forgotten.

The Alcazaba in Almeria
The Alcazaba in Almeria

It was time to go exploring the town. The main attraction here in Almeria is the Alcazaba, the fort built by the Moors. On the way out of the marina we noticed some interesting industrial period civic sculptures, like the huge unloading steel dock in the middle of the port, a remnant from another era that the city fathers decided to keep (probably saving a lot of money from dismantling it) complete with rail tracks and silos that handled some sort of bulk trade in the past. The town has large boulevards but as we approached the fort they became narrower. The fort is enormous and very well preserved. It is surrounded by neighborhoods of Arab families and various low cost housing projects springing up all over in the arid mountainous areas around the city, probably to house more arrivals from Africa. The Arabs have been steadily returning and they did not have to fight to reclaim the land which they have fought over with El Cid way back then. The day was getting hot but inside the fort there is a very pleasant and cool garden. On our way back we visited the city Cathedral built in a complex of a small fort but with beautiful marble decorations, rococo style altars and many paintings including a Murillo.

Manos in the Alcazaba, Almeria
Manos in the Alcazaba
In the Alcazaba, Almeria

Garden in the Alcazaba

The City Hall, Almeria

The Almeria City Hall

In the Alcazaba, Almeria
In the Alcazaba, Almeria

Back on Thetis we took an afternoon siesta. Later Manos started repairing his berth while I got into the internet and tried to book a flight with BA from Gibraltar to Washington, D.C. It took a very long and frustrating time. Eventually I managed to book a flight for the 29th. Very pleased with myself I went to help Manos, who had almost completed the repairs. Then I realized that I had made a terrible mistake. Instead of booking for October 29, as I intended, I had booked for November 29! There was no option given at the BA site to modify or cancel a booking. The only instructions given were to call the BA in Gibraltar. The web listed the phone number. Now I was in for a surprise. The number did not work. All I could get was a recorded message that the number I dialed does not exist. Since I was going to do so anyway, I called Sheppard’s Marina in Gibraltar, using the number they gave me with an e-mail. Same message: number does not exist! I called Vodafone in Spain, they did not know what the problem was. Very frustrated I called Vodafone in Greece. They were very helpful. They tried my numbers from Greece and they got through, the numbers were unreachable only from Spain. They could not explain why. It turns out that from Spain, Gibraltar is reached not as an international call but as a local call with a Spanish area code. We learned this by calling British Airways in Malaga.

After we found out how to call Gibraltar I called Sheppard’s Marina. Unfortunately, although in previous e-mails they had indicated that there should be not problem with berth availability, they were now fully booked. So was their land area, and they suggested that I try the Sotogrande Marina in Spain, about 15 M from Gibraltar. I have decided that it would be better if Thetis were to spend the next two months on land rather than in the water. I then called Marina Bay, also in Gibraltar. While they had some free berths, they could only reserve one for Thetis for a week. But, I was told, the marina manager, who was not there at the time, most likely would be able to accommodate Thetis until the end of the year.

By that time Manos had finished his repairs so I gave up on BA and we went back into the town. We found a nearby super market and bought some needed provisions. The only thing we could not find, although we looked high and low, was Manos’ Herald Tribune. Nor could we find any other English language newspapers or magazines. Manos now was also frustrated. In a flash of inspiration he even asked the concierge of a fancy hotel. He did not help with the newspaper but he highly recommended our marina’s restaurant. Indeed, when we went there, we were the first customers, we had a very good meal: soup, asparagus, and aroz Andaluse, a paella-like rice dish with octopus, clams, and vegetables.

We returned to Thetis fairly early. We looked up the weather forecasts: low but contrary winds for the next 3 days. Looking at the tide tables, charts, and measuring distances we made a plan. We will get up early and depart at 0400 for Caleta de Velez some 82 M from Almeria, then on Sunday we will get up early again and go to Marbella, 60 M from Caleta de Velez, and on Monday we will depart at 0530 for the last 35 M to Gibraltar. Timing on that last leg is critical in order to avoid the strong east-going currents.

Route to Gibraltar
Route to Gibraltar from Almeria

Saturday October 23, 2004 Day 28

We overslept and did not leave until 0440. It was very calm and there was no appreciable wind. We motored, avoiding several small boats. When we got a SE breeze of about 10 knots we raised the mainsail but we still had to motor-sail. While the main current here, caused by the Atlantic waters entering the Mediterranean, runs from west to east, near the shore there is a counter current in the opposite direction. We stayed close to the shore to take advantage of this counter current, which increased our speed by 0.8 knots. We made very good time.

For lunch Manos prepared a salad with boiled potatoes and fresh tomatoes. It was very good.

After rounding Cabo Calaburas we arrived at our destination Puerto Caleta de Velez [36° 44.8' N 4° 04.3' W] at 1850 after 82.4 M. These were the actual miles while our log recorded only 75.3 M, the difference represents the “push” that we got from the counter current.

We docked side-to at the “Visitor’s Quay”. After docking, I went to the marina office and paid the 8.3 € fee. But, once again, access to the dock and to the shower/WC was restricted. Every time we wanted to go through we had to get the guard, at the 24 hours/day manned station, to open the gate or door electronically. The marina has very nice facilities but the town is just a modest fishing village.

After showers we went to the sympathetic marina restaurant. A young lady played classical tunes on the violin and a giggly young waitress, who only spoke Spanish, served us. The food was good. We had fish soup, a dish of fried eggplant with a sweet sauce, tortilla (an omelet) for Manos, and chicken with curry sauce for me.

We returned to Thetis early since there was nothing to do and we were planning for an early departure.

Sunday October 24, 2004 Day 29

As planned we departed without any problems at 0415. There was a light 4-15 knot breeze first from the NE and later from the N. We motored for a while then we opened 75% of the headsail and motor-sailed. Alas this did not last. The breeze died in the mid-morning and we were back to motoring. But, like yesterday, we were getting a good push from the counter current. As a result, we arrived in Marbella at 1150, two hours ahead of our estimated time.

We first went to the Yacht Marina, as instructed by the Spanish Pilot book. We tied side-to at the fuel dock for refueling and to make arrangements for a berth. Fuel we got alright, 50.5 L, but a berth was not to be found. The marina was full because of a regatta. Fortunately the old fishing harbor of Bajadilla, just 1 M east, has been upgraded to a new marina, the Marina Marbella [36° 30.4' N 4° 52.5' W] and it is operated by the Junta of Andalucía, the same people who operate the Puerto Caleta de Velez marina. I called on the GSM phone and they told me that they had space, so we motored there. Soon we were nicely moored stern-to. We had come 46.7 M.

 The Lighthouse of Marbella
The Lighthouse of Marbella

Both Manos and I were too tired and sleepy for land explorations so we took a nap. Later, refreshed, we set out for the town. Marbella is a very popular tourist spot attracting a lot of people from the UK. But, to Manos’ great frustration he was once more not able to find the Herald Tribune. However we did walk through a nice park with 8 marvelous Salvador Dali sculptures. Along the waterfront runs a large esplanade full of people and surrounded by many restaurants and cafés.

Because our departure was dictated by the tidal currents we had to leave early in the morning, so we could not stay up late and sample the joys of this tourist spot. Instead, we walked back towards our marina and sat in a low key waterfront fish restaurant. There were not too many customers but we had a very nice grilled dorade (fangri in Greek). By 10 PM we were in our beds.

Tile Bench in Marbella

Tile Bench in Marbella

Hermes by Salvador Dali

Hermes by Salvador Dali

Monday October 25, 2004 Day 30

Europa Point
Europa Point

We got up in time today and by 0510 we were on our way to Gibraltar. According to my calculations, if we left at 5, as we did, and assuming a speed of 5.2 knots plus a 0.8 knot boost from the current we should a be rounding Europa Point at around 1100 with plenty of margin for the change of current at high water which was due at 1211 UTC or 1411 local time. The Rock is quite a presence from a distant, looming in the horizon. While rounding Europa Point, the tip of the Rock, we were greeted by a large school of small dolphins. I am not sure if it was serendipity or that our calculations were dead on but we made very good time and the current was with us. By 1130 we were tied at the fuel station in Gibraltar.

Queen Elizabeth II
Thetis’ Big Sister: Queen Elizabeth II

We took 21 L of fuel. After which we cleared customs. Gibraltar is not a true member of the EU and we had to fly the letter Q flag (pratique) and go to the customs with the ship’s papers and our passports. Formalities, however, were simple and efficient. As a mater of fact we were cleared for Gibraltar in less time than the Greek Coast Guard (Limenarchio) takes to calculate harbor dues.

After customs we cast off to go to Marina Bay [36° 09' N 5° 21.3' W], just across from the fuel dock. We hailed them on the designated VHF channel 71 but it took some time before they responded. Eventually we were shown to a berth. There was some swell. We had actually made it to our goal, Gibraltar! The distance from Marbella was 37 M. The airport runway was right across from us.

While entering the harbor Manos got a call from his travel agent in Athens that his flight reservation for tomorrow from Malaga was mysteriously canceled. He was distraught. Now it was my turn to be distraught. When I went to the marina office, contrary to what I had been told on the phone, after learning how to call Gibraltar from Spain, the marina could not accommodate Thetis for more than 7 days. Nor could either of the other two marinas in Gibraltar. Fortunately I managed to make arrangements with a new marina in Spain, Puerto de Sotogrande, to haul her out and store her on land for the next 2 months, but this meant that I will have to sail back for 15 miles without my trusted crew. Also, their fees were not cheap. They wanted 220 € for the travelift and 445€/month for hard-standing. I will take Thetis there tomorrow evening and they will haul her out on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, we received on the Navtex a gale warning for the Alboran (area in the Med just before Gibraltar) sea.

Main Street in Gibraltar
The Main Street in Gibraltar

Now that one of our problems was solved it was time to address our flights back home. After asking directions, we walked to the British Airways office at the airport. To reach the airport, and the Spanish border, one has to walk or drive right across the middle of the runway. At the BA office I managed to get my ticket to Washington, at an extra cost, but Manos was in for another shock. While he did have his Malaga reservation re-instated he was presented with an extraordinary bill of over $3000. Many frantic phone calls later, to his Athens agent, the price was reduced to about half. To go to Malaga he would have to take a bus from Linea, the Spanish town, at 7 AM tomorrow. When we returned to the boat, Manos started packing.

Later we went for an exploratory walk along Market Street, Gibraltar’s main shopping street. Gibraltar, while associated with the EU, pays no VAT tax. Almost every store here, even kiosks, sell tax-free hard spirits. Market Street is pleasant enough although a little run down. Everywhere there are lots of people. We sat at a café and had a terrible cup of coffee. On our return to Thetis we were in for yet another shock. It was low tide and the boat had descended by almost one meter. The passarella was almost vertical. We entered with some difficulty.

After showers, we were too tired to venture too far. We had a nice dinner at a nearby waterfront establishment, Bianca’s. The service was friendly and the food was passable.

Market Street in Gibraltar
Market Street in Gibraltar

Tuesday October 26, 2004 Day 31

We got up early after a wonderful uninterrupted all night sleep. The day was dominated by Manos’ departure. The problem in Gibraltar is that the local taxis cannot go beyond the border with Spain. Now Manos had a large duffle bag, a knapsack, and a briefcase. He called for a taxi but both of us had first to cart the stuff to the parking lot. From there to the border was easy. At the border I realized that I had forgotten my passport so I could not cross and help Manos to the bus terminal. This being a British area no amount of explanations and pleadings was of any use. We said our good-byes and he carted his stuff to the terminal while I returned to the boat. It was still dark. The sun here and now rises after 0840. Manos did eventually make it to Malaga on the bus and boarded his expensive flight to Heathrow.

I waited for the sun to come up and warm the cabin before venturing ashore. My first order of business was to visit the local health clinic. Because of my heart condition it is highly advisable to get vaccinated every year against influenza. For some reason, beyond my understanding, there was a shortage of influenza vaccines this year in the US. My doctor recommended to me, via e-mail, to get vaccinated in Europe. I asked now at the clinic. Yes, they can do it but first they have to order the vaccine. They will do so and advise me by phone when to come.

My Friend
My Friend

Now I was free to play tourist for the rest of the morning. I walked along Market Street and from there to the cable car station. There for 12 € I bought a round trip ticket to the top of the Rock. While I was in the cable car the health clinic called. I had an appointment with them at 4 PM tomorrow. Up on the top the view was terrific but there was no sign of the famous Barbary apes, monkeys really. I felt very disappointed. But, as I walked around and away from the cable car I saw them. They were much smaller then I expected and once you saw one you realized that they were everywhere. So were the warning signs advising tourists that the apes are aggressive wild animals and they do bite. I saw a mother monkey with her child. The child had gotten hold of a candy wrapper and was having a great time playing with it. The mother in the meantime, took a great fancy of me and jumped all of a sudden up to my arms and hugged me. She felt very cuddly. I tried very gently to shake her off but she kept on hugging me. Eventually she left me on her own accord. She did not bite me.

View from the Top of the Rock
View from the Top of the Rock

On the way back to Thetis I bought some provisions and stopped at the marina office and paid the 9 € fee. I had a light lunch on board and waited for 1400 at which time today the E going current begins to slack. By 1458, the time of the high water, the current changes direction and begins to flow W, in my favor for going to Sotogrande. I prepared to depart and at 1410 we were under way. The wind was 15 knots SW. It was choppy going the first 3 miles N to Europa Point. At the point, the sea was very confused and Thetis was banging and there was some spray. But, as soon as we rounded the point both the current and the wind were in our favor and the sea was much calmer. I opened the genoa and managed to sail for the last time this year. While our water speed, as measured by the log, never exceeded 5.5 knots our actual ground speed, as measured by the GPS, was over 7.5 knots. That is we were being pushed by a 2 knot current.

We arrived at Puerto de Sotogrande [36° 17.4' N 5° 16.3' W] at 1650, after 15.6 M. I tried hailing the marina on VHF channel 9 but there was no response. I entered the harbor and hovered because there was no room at the fuel/waiting dock. No one appeared and there were no signs of any attendants. I called the marina on the GSM phone. Yes, they were expecting me and someone will come with a boat to show me to a berth soon. It took some time. Eventually they hailed me on the VHF. I was to proceed to berth 72 on pier #2. I slowly motored, not totally sure which one was pier #2. Fortunately there was an attendant there waiting for me. The berth was very narrow and so was the space between piers, not much room for maneuvering, and there was a cross wind. It took several back and forth maneuvers to line up Thetis with the space between two adjacent cruisers and to gently back up with no one to fend the cruisers off. At last we were there and Thetis was securely moored with the mooring line and two stern lines.

The Marina in Sotogrande
The Marina in Sotogrande

After setting the passarella, I got off the boat. It was a long walk to the marina office. This is a very large marina, part of an upscale real-estate complex with many shops and restaurants. Its office is luxurious. I filled out several forms. The receptionist confirmed my haul-out for tomorrow morning. I am to speak with the yard manager at 9 AM. I had to give a 20 € deposit for the bathroom electronic key. They also wanted 80 € for a unique electric plug but I declined since they told me that the yard area uses a different plug. The yard, by the way, is much smaller than Agmar (renamed Moor & Dock) in Leros but it is paved.

I did not go out for dinner. I made some pasta with a fresh tomato sauce and went to bed early.

Wednesday October 27, 2004

I slept late, by Thetis’ standards. It was past 7:30 when I got up. After coffee I started on the depressingly long list of tasks to be done for the long lay-over on land.

At 9, after the yard office opened, I went over and discussed with the very pleasant young lady, Fe, who seems to be running the place, my list of tasks that I want to be done on Thetis while I will be gone. I delegated to them the routine engine service, as well as the cleaning of the hull and the application of new anti-fouling paint. They are also to change the sacrificial anodes on the keel and to re-galvanize the primary anchor. She told me that she estimates that Thetis will be hauled out some time after 11 and I am to be on stand-by with the VHF on. The yard is locked, she explained, during off hours and I will have to get another electronic key, a 90 € deposit, to be able to get in and out.

Thetis in Sotogrande
Thetis in Sotogrande

I waited after 11 but there was no call. At 1230 I called Fe. She apologized for not letting me know but there was a complication with another boat. Soon I was asked to bring Thetis to the yard and tie her side-to next to the “pool.” I did so and there were several people there to assist with the lines. At 1 PM the travel-lift did come and I moved Thetis to the “pool.” By 1330 she was on the dry. She had traveled a total distance from Samos 1745.5 nautical miles [M] and we had spent 24 days at sea.

I continued the tasks on my lay-over list until 3:15 when a taxi that Fe had called to take me to Gibraltar arrived. I made it to the health office for my 4 o’clock vaccination appointment. The young lady doctor was already there. While she was injecting me I asked if there is a way to purchase another influenza vaccine to take with me for my wife. She was shocked to hear that there is a vaccine shortage in the US. She right away called a pharmacy and made all the arrangements for me to pick up a second vaccine.

Main Street, Gibraltar
Main Street, Gibraltar

I walked over to the pharmacy and bought the vaccine. After doing so, I sat at a café in Main Street and had a cup of tea. I then walked over to the border and took a Spanish taxi back to Sotogrande.

By the time I returned to the yard, they had pressure hosed Thetis’ hull and moved her to her cradle. It was pouring rain. The barometer had plummeted from the 1020 mB of yesterday down to 1007. A storm was coming. It was wet, cold, windy, and miserable. I am glad that Thetis is safely out of the water. I connected to the yard’s AC power and warmed yesterday’s leftovers for dinner.

Thursday October 28, 2004


First thing in the morning and while it was still raining I had a problem. I wanted to go to the WC but the 90 € key did not activate the yard gate. I was locked in. In desperation, I climbed the gate. Later, Fe called maintenance and they took care of the problem.

I continued to work down on my task list. For a while this list instead of getting shorter, actually grew as I added more items to it. Unlike I do for the usual winter lay-over I did not remove the sails nor did I wash all of the lines. These tasks take about 3 days. Nor does this yard, unlike Agmar, provide a clean area for washing the sails nor a mast for drying them. There were no self-operated laundry machines either. Fe did call a laundry service and they did come to pick it up. They promised to have it back by tomorrow morning before I depart for the airport. In preparation for the ocean crossing, I installed straps to hold down the batteries in case of a knock down, an unlikely event but a wise precaution. This took me about 2 hours.

By the evening all but packing and a few small tasks that can only be done just before vacating the boat were completed. Tired but pleased I had a hot shower, an ouzo, and then went out to an attractive restaurant in the marina complex. I had an excellent sopa marinesco (seafood soup) and a grilled sword fish. I was served by a friendly Romanian waitress.

Friday October 29, 2004

I cleaned the refrigerator, disconnected the AC, and packed. The laundry came and it was stowed. I covered many surfaces and put two dehumidifiers in the cabin. I gave Fe a second set of boat keys and a printed “To Do” list. She called a taxi. Soon the taxi had arrived and it was time to say good-bye to my dear girlfriend Thetis. She will have to do on her own for the next two months but I believe that I have left her in a good place.

The statistics for the year are:

2004 Statistics
Total Distance 2563 M
Time at Sea 83 days
Engine Time 470 hr
Solo Time 131 hr
Fuel Consumed 914 L
Water Consumed 1014 L