Altwasser sailing diary

Thursday, October 09, 2003


Cadiz to Trafalgar (England expects…)
September 24th – October 9th 2003. 38 nautical miles.



Cadiz Bay September 24th



We continued to enjoy Ruth and Gemma’s visit. They enriched our cruise as well as the Spanish leather goods industry. They improved their rowing technique, getting the pointed end of the dinghy going forward, enjoyed swimming in the 24 degrees water of the bay and found a lot to see in Cadiz.

Ronda September 25th




As all good things must come to an end, we took the “gals” via Ronda on the way back to Malaga airport.

Trafalgar, September 27th to October 9th




Even without being outnumbered by combined Spanish and French fleets, the Cape of Trafalgar and the immediately following Straits of Gibraltar pose three problems for yachtsmen:
First, as if never to allow a repetition of Nelson’s naval victory two hundred years ago, the Spanish military have a naval firing range, in active daily use, between Cadiz and Trafalgar, which, at its closest point, comes to within 100 metres of the shore.
Secondly, we receive daily radio news of Nato naval exercises in the Straits warning that any vessel approaching a Nato ship within 500 metres may be considered to have hostile intent.
Thirdly, the strong easterly Levante gale regularly blows 30 – 40 knots.

On September 27th, with pin-point accurate navigation, we passed through the unmarked 100 metre channel between firing range and shoreline. The point is dominated by a large military base, bristling with radar, so we hoped we had been seen. As if to signal our passage, the military let off an enormous explosion on the beach just 50 metres distant. Some welcome!

Our reaction was to start the engine and make ourselves scarce, but the engine failed and we had to shorten our intended trip by anchoring outside the next nearest small fishing harbour at Conil. Here the Levante caught us. With wind and waves building all afternoon and no joy with the engine, I took the dinghy into the harbour and negotiated with a fishing boat to tow us in.

On the following day we sailed around Cape Trafalgar, again without engine. We were confident of sailing in to the much larger Barbate harbour and dropping anchor, a manoeuvre that was made more interesting by a flotilla of sailing school dinghies. After lunch we used our own dinghy to tow Bingo onto a marina berth, apparently also providing entertainment for other yachtsmen.

The technology of cruising boats could be compared with cars in the 1930’s with limited complexity and reliability. When exposed to sun and rain, doused in seawater, bounced violently and generally abused, things break. The upside is that a lot can be fixed by owners with little support.

Whilst in Barbate we have serviced the engine and overhauled the fuel system, removed beetles from the filters, tightened various air leaks and most challenging of all, manufactured a specialist component requiring drilling a 1.5mm hole down the shaft of a 6mm bolt with a hand drill.

We also took a quick peek at why the windlass had suddenly refused to wind up the anchor chain. Many hours later it had a new chain and two new sprocket wheels. Many thanks here to a gangly youth with a pony tail and filthy overalls who we found in a local motor cycle repair shop. Judging from photographs above the work-bench, his real ambition involves an electric guitar. Perhaps this gave him the manual dexterity to smash off and remove our two old sprocket wheels with an angle grinder, hammer and chisel whilst not damaging the threads of the shaft onto which they had rusted.

Among the many other repairs we undertook, we found a local sail-maker who patched up a season’s worth of minor rips and added a sacrificial strip to our fore-sail to protect against further UV damage.

We are now waiting for the wind which has been constantly from the east (Levante), recording gale force 7 in the shelter of the harbour on more than one occasion in the last week. We had a little party on board and were amused to hear of one yacht called “Passing Wind”, but all felt “Wind on the nose” might be a more appropriate name at present.

Waiting for wind in glorious sunshine can be enjoyable, however, spending time reading a biography of Nelson (Mandela) and walking.

The cliffs stretch for more than 8 km from here to Cape Trafalgar, an area of outstanding natural beauty and part of the Barbate National Park. North Africa is clearly visible. We have walked it twice so far and plan a third trip. To our amusement, just before the cape, at the foot of the cliffs, we stumbled on a nudist beach. Being uncertain of an Englishman’s duty in such circumstances, I took a different route and found a refreshing beer. I hope Horatio would approve.


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