Sunday, September 17th, Valencia, Spain
Wow! What a ride!
The four hundred mile trip from Gibraltar to Valencia
was one of our most challenging. I never would
have thought that a little coastal cruising in the Med
could be so intense. We left Gibraltar on Monday,
in light winds, planning to coastal hop for few days,
waiting for a nice westerly wind to kick in. Our
course was due east for the first 175 miles, northeast
for the next 175 miles, and northwest for the last 50.
We knew it was going to be hard to get perfect winds for
the whole route, but wanted to start out with a westerly
in the Alboran Sea between the Spanish Andalusian coast
and Africa, where the current and the winds tend to be
the strongest. Our forecast called for light
westerlies starting on Thursday and increasing in
strength towards Friday, but only up to 25 knots.
We have heard from many cruisers that Mediterranean
forecasts are notoriously unreliable, but we had to rely
We motored all day on
Monday and dropped the hook off a beach near Marbella on
Monday night. The marina was totally full and
there was no wind so we decided to risk the totally
exposed anchorage. We could always get up and go
if it started getting hairy. Although a bit rolly,
we had a pleasant night's sleep and took off the next
morning in continued light easterly winds. Joe had
picked out a more protected spot for our next night so
we motored along all day until we arrived in La
Herradura on Tuesday evening. It proved to be a
beautiful bay with a rocky beach and the kids were ready
for a break so we decided to hang out for the day on
Wednesday and take off on Thursday for the two day trip
We were quickly
rewarded by our decision when we spotted a school of
dolphin right off the beach the next morning. I
had taken the girls out on the kayak to explore a cave
we had spotted on the way in to the anchorage. Joe
joined us in the dinghy, relieving me of the extra
weight in the kayak for the paddle back (it had to be at
least a mile). Joe and the girls were cruising the
beach when several dolphin surfaced in front of them.
Although we had seen a big school while out motoring the
day before, it is always a thrill to be so close to
them. Joe and the girls came out to alert me in the kayak and
offered to tow me over. I held my breath as I sat
on my little kayak and watched them swim around and under
me. Later that morning the woman at the tourist
information office told us we were very lucky. She
has lived in La Herradura her whole life and has only
seen dolphin swimming in the bay once.
Later that day we had
another pleasant surprise. A boat full of locals
who had come over to say hello when we first anchored
came by again to have a look at the boat. We
eagerly welcomed them onboard for the grand tour.
Martin spoke good English, a huge help, and we had a
great time showing off Zia. It made us sorry that
we were leaving the next day and would not have time to
get to know them better. We exchanged contact
information, however, and might yet have a chance to see
them again. They live in Granada and spend
weekends and holidays at their vacation home in La
Herradura. Granada was already on the list for a
weekend trip sometime this winter, anyway.
Our last surprise in La
Herradura came when the westerly wind picked up about 12
hours earlier than forecasted. The boat started
rocking and rolling as the accompanying swell bounced
her around. Finally, at 1am, Joe made the call.
We hauled up the anchor and took off in the dark of the
night. We weren't exactly sleeping anyway.
The wind was cranking and we weren't sure what to expect
so we opted to sail under headsail only until daylight.
The next day we found ourselves careening along in 30knots of
wind and 6 foot seas. With three reefs in the main
and the full gib, we sailed along at amazing speeds.
Our trusty autopilot did a pretty good job for the most
part, but we wound up hand steering through the waves
for some of the time.
Joe had just gone down
for a nap. I was sitting at the helm station,
watching the spectacle around me. The seas were
coming up behind us, lifting the stern out of the water
and pushing us along at 12, 13, 14 knots. Looking
forward over the bows, you would see blue sky and white
caps one second, and find yourself staring into the
trough of the wave in front of you the next. I was
marveling at the sensation when all of the sudden, I
felt the boat lift and turn down on top of a wave at an
alarming angle. Auto couldn't quite deal with that
one. I switched over to manual steering, but not
before a whole slew of stuff that typically doesn't move
inside the boat, wound up on the floor. It took a
little reassuring with the girls, and of course it got
Joe right up out of bed, but nothing actually broke,
inside our outside.
I spent the next couple
of hours hand steering the boat. By anticipating
the turns upwind and downwind, you can avoid the nasty
surprises when a particularly big wave takes you too far
up or down. Auto just doesn't react fast enough.
It became a bit of a game. 14 knots was nothing
compared to the speeds you can go when you catch one of
these waves. It is a precarious mix between total
exhilaration and abject fear, kind of like a roller
coaster ride. The key element of control, however,
is missing when you are surfing the waves in your 50
foot catamaran. A roller coaster follows a set
track, traveling at predetermined speeds up and down and
around in a controlled environment. Zia is
ostensibly under our control, but there is always the
unknown element of what Mother Nature will throw your
way that accounts for the flutter in your stomach.
Not to mention the thought of what might go wrong if you
make a mistake.
I started working on my
technique. At the approach of a wave, I turn
slightly upwind until the boat is on top of the wave.
Then you turn ever so slightly the other way so the boat
is accelerating down the face of the wave. Most of
the time the wave lifts you along for a short while, but
continues along without you. Every so often
though, you actually catch one, just like on a boogie
board or surf board. It is best to have the
rudders amidships to minimize the resistance (not to
mention the pressure and potential breakage). You
accelerate with the wave, staying slightly ahead of the
crest, and go barreling down the face, burying the bows
of the boat into the back of the wave ahead of you.
The boat feels totally weightless under the influence of
thousands of gallons of surging ocean. We watched
the speedometer climb through 15, 16 and 17 knots on
numerous occasions. Joe had the honors of clocking
the top speed of 18 knots on a double. Just as he
was falling off one wave, before the boat had completely
decelerated, he caught the next one and rode that to
exhausting, the fun ended when we turned upwind along
the Eastern coast. The waves were still behind us
for most of the rest of our trip, but we had a few hours
of uncomfortable bashing on the last 50 mile leg.
We seriously contemplated pulling over for a break as we
rounded the southeastern most point of Spain. Joe
called one of the radio operators they maintain at each
of the Capes. He gave us a custom forecast for our
trip. Although a gale was brewing in the Alboran
Sea along the southern coast, the winds would stay under
25 knots along the eastern coast and moderate into the
15 knot range by the afternoon. We had another
full day to go, but were incredibly anxious to get to
Valencia, so we stuck with it. We continued to get
updated forecasts via VHF radio. We pulled into
the Real Club Nautico de Valencia at about 7pm on Friday
night, 43 hours after we started the trip.
We are working hard to
nail down winter plans. It is still very much up
in the air. Our first impressions of Valencia
haven't been overwhelmingly positive, but we are keeping
our minds open. We'll let you know more as we
figure it out. Heck, if we don't figure it out
soon, we might just have to follow the sun and sail back
to the Caribbean for the winter!
Many thanks to our
friend Craig Homenko for his assistance in setting up
We also would like
to thank our buddy Scott Brunner who has been kind
enough to host the website on his server.