Monday, October 10, 2005

Storm-bound in Barbate

Our fears about the wind gods conspiring against us to miss our Gibraltar rendezvous have been realised. Our plan was to sail through the night and arrive in Gibraltar early on Thursday morning. There was a nagging concern about the weather as we had an incomplete forecast - for some reason our usual source of weather missed off sea areas Cadiz and the Gibraltar Strait. However the Grib file which indicates wind direction didn't look too bad; it showed a managable 15 knot easterly wind.
Grib file for 5th October showing wind directions and strengths
Grib file for 5th October showing wind directions and strengths

Initially all went well; as we left the harbour we passed Francis Chichester's beautifully restored Gypsy Moth IV and speeded off down the coast making 6-7 knots with a strong off-shore wind. After a couple of hours of exhilarating sailing the wind shifted to the SSE, the waves became short and steep and we found ourselves pounding into a heavy sea. We were also slowly heading off-shore as the wind direction prevented us making a course parallel with the coast. A second reef quickly followed the first reef and when the forecast arrived it told of force 8+ easterly in The Straights.

A quick recalculation to head for our port of refuge - Barbate - showed that we wouldn't get in until 23.30 and the prospect of unlit tuna nets outside the harbour with the following ominous warning in the pilot, put us off:
During the summer tuna nets tough enough to foul the screw of a freighter can be a considerable hazard, and may reach several miles offshore. It is not advisable to sail over one... Note the cardinal buoys used to mark the nets are frequently very undersized and should not be relied upon, particularly at night.
Instead we decided to head back for Cadiz.

Inevitably after two hours surfing along with the wind behind us, the wind dropped and left the rig crashing around in a heavy swell. We tied up to the berth we'd left just before dark, to the amusement of the guy from the marina. The following day, Thursday, with an earlier start and more careful research on the position of the tuna nets we set off again into a strong Easterly. The weather was remarkably similar and we made it into Barbate, just before dark, wet from the waves breaking across the bow but pleased we'd made it. Despite the rough conditions Ellen's sea-sickness hasn't re-emerged. On our arrival we were greeted by Keiron and Ellie on Dart Warrior who had been sailing from La Coruna with Freespirit and are also waiting for a break in the weather before heading to Gibraltar.

It's frustratingly only 35 miles to Gibraltar, but the forecast shows force 7-8 easterly winds with rough seas until Tuesday. The passage involves rounding Tarifa, "the windiest place in Europe", renowned in windsurfing circles for the consistency of the strong winds and has hotels named Hurricane Hotel, Storm Lodge etc... Rounding Tarifa has taken on the proportions to us of rounding Cape Horn.

No comments: