The excellent adventures of Island Girl : Alicante and beyond

There have been many highlights of this trip so far, like crossing the Bay of Biscay (aka The Bay of Certain Death) unscathed, the different cuisines, the Violles regatta and of course seeing Nathan at the Extreme Sailing Series just to name a few, but I must add to that list the start of the Volvo Ocean Race. Wow what a spectacle.

It was similar to a Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race start on a smaller scale, but the intensity was there. We managed to get close enough to a few of the boats before the start and James manoeuvered the boat perfectly so we were right in the front line when the gun went. The only down side was the idiot on the boat next to us who decided it was a good idea to fire off a hand held flare so we were covered in smoke. We were not happy to see Nicho on Vestas get an OCS and have to re start but it is a long leg so not too much damage done.

We watched the start and then headed back to shore to say goodbye to crewmember Sharon who was heading back to England. Silly girl. We then set out for Agua Dolce, which was in a direct line for the VOR boats. They did a few laps of the inshore course before heading out of the Med. This meant that about 90 minutes after the start the fleet caught up with us. Forget the start, this was where the excitement was. Mapfre went within a boat length to leeward of us and the others close enough to see the whites of their eyes.  Again these guys are insane. I am happy on little “Island Girl” with her hot showers and warm dinners.

What a surprise our weather forecast was again incorrect and instead of reaching in ten knots we went head on into a big thunderstorm, which left us with nasty seas.  The lightning was, however something to behold. I was just really glad that there were seven much taller carbon rigs between the lightning and us. We were tossed around for the next twelve hours and arrived, exhausted, in to Agua Dolce. What a difference a few weeks make. Last time we where here you could not walk on the sand, as it was so hot, this time the beach was empty and many restaurants had already closed for the winter. It is such a short season. We stayed for a few days to recover and wait for a good weather window before heading to Gibraltar.

Moored next to us was a boat from Southport. This is in Queensland in Australia for all the overseas readers. We met Gary and Vanessa over a couple of bottles of wine and this new relationship proved invaluable the next day. They set out on their boat “Neptune II” about two hours before us and as we fueled we watched the fog come over the mountain. Now where did we put that radar? Oh that’s right it is in Ossie’s car on the way back to England. Oops.

We left the marina and before long were radioing Neptune as to the conditions ahead. Pea Soup was the reply. To cut a long a long story short Vanessa watched us on radar and warned us of any boats not transmitting on AIS that were a potential risk. AIS stand for Automatic Identification System and all boats over 100 feet must transmit their positions, speed and direction. Most boats now carry it but there are several smaller fishing boats that do not. Without radar they are invisible to us.

We caught up to them and spent the next several hours happily following Neptune through the fog. Have I mentioned we hate fog? This is just one example of the camaraderie we have found on this trip. Yes I am becoming a cruiser. As the fog lifted we motored past with great thanks and the offer of more wine at the next port. We do motor faster and James just does not like going through life at 5 knots.

We made landfall in Gibraltar at about 7 the next morning and found that both the marinas on the British side were full – yes hard to believe but it turned out to be a blessing. We went to the Spanish side to a newish marina called La Leuna. James was here three years ago and there were only about 20 boats and very new. Now there were probably a hundred or more and excellent facilities for the grand sum of 19 Euros a night. It was a simple 20-minute walk in to Gibraltar across the airport runway. Yes that’s right, you walk across the runway. They close the road for take off and landing of course but it brings a whole new meaning to the opening of the Spit Bridge in Sydney. At least there it is only boats and not jets.

We went in search of a Guinness for James but this proved a lot harder than you would expect in an English town. Even the Irish pub had none on tap. Of course we do not let that small set back stop us and after three days we found Guinness. We also found an Apple store and I think I finally wore James down. I have made him carry my heavy laptop everywhere while he has an iPad (which I bought him four years ago). I am now the proud owner of a new iPad. A very happy girl.

Back at the marina several of our acquaintances and some new friends were all gathering. The result was an awesome dock party complete with a band made up of crews from several boats. We had guitars, a sax, harmonica and loads of vocals. The dock came alive. In the last few weeks I have really seen the true cruising side of cruising. I have made some amazing friends and no longer feel so alone on a big ocean as there is always someone not too far away to talk to. I can now totally understand why some people leave to cruise for a year and eight years later they are still going. I have also discovered that it does not have to cost a fortune. With some careful planning you can budget and still live very well.

Our next venture is a 600-mile non stop leg to the Canaries.

– Marita wilmot

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