Saturday, July 11, 2009

Circumnavigating and Gibraltar

At 1am on 10th July, I dropped anchor in Gibraltar in more or less the same place we'd stayed nearly four years before, and thus completed my circumnavigation. The approach to Gibraltar had been taxing so my immediate celebration was a peaceful night's sleep.

I had mixed feelings about returning to Gibraltar. On the outward trip we'd made a significant detour to visit and felt that it hadn't lived up to our expectation. This time it was en-route so I was prepared to give "the rock" another chance.
As I approached Gibraltar the shipping density increased significantly with ships from all directions joining the great flow through the Strait and constantly surprising me when what I'd previously dismissed as a light on shore, proved to be moving rapidly in my direction. My last sunset in the Mediterranean was spectacular though with "the rock" silhouetted by the fiery setting sun and a large school of dolphins accompanying me for a farewell swim-past.

The following morning, I raised my anchor and I headed for where I remembered the customs building had been located. However I arrived at the fuel docks without spotting it. The fuel dock attendant, said that check-in was now only possible in the marinas. OK, no problem, I called the nearest marina on the VHF. 'If I hadn't booked in advance, they didn't have any spaces.' 'But could they check me in, so I could anchor legally'. 'No, they couldn't do that as anchoring was now prohibited in Gibraltar'. What a welcome. I could see there were places I could stay in their precious marina, but I wasn't going to plead, so motored out of Gibraltar and across the border to La Linea.

Why bother with Gibraltar when the anchorage in La Linea was reasonably protected, had good holding and contained about 10 other cruising yachts? My excitement increased as I recognised one of the boats. It was Nomad Life who'd stayed with me on the dock in Whangarei. Once anchored I "dinghied" over. Graham was back in the UK for a week, but Judy would be happy to help me celebrate my circumnavigation and got me off to a flying start with information about the nearest supermarkets, Internet cafes, where to leave the dinghy and how to cross the border. With my folding bike I headed off to the chandlers of Gibraltar and the markets of La Linea.

"Little Britain" as Judy had christened Gibraltar, was much as I'd remembered. To me it felt fake and gaudy, a parody of Britain in the sun, with theme park attractions making a passing reference to its strategic historical role. Apart from the helpful chandlery staff at Shepherds there was nothing to entice me to cross the border.
We headed into La Linea that evening for a celebratory tour of tapas bars. What a contrast. Great food, friendly people, a lively family atmosphere, they'd even organised a brass band in the town square to help with my celebrations.

The security guard at the small club where I left the dinghy sympathised the following day with my "dolor de mi cabeza". I struggled that afternoon, with my head-throbbing, to service the engine in preparation for my departure. Not helped when I belatedly discovered I was missing a water-pump gasket. I finally completed the job when I fabricated a replacement from a corner of my "Approaches to Suez" chart.
Thanks to all those who replied to my self-congratulatory email, apologies to those I haven't responded to - I'll look forward to checking my inbox in the Azores. To answer a few of the questions that came up:

* I've so far escaped being dowsed in tar and rolled in feathers.
* Francois's ancestral navy rulebook, now allows me to spit and pee upwind - though does the rule book mention what the consequences will be?
* In the absence of other crewing offers, unfortunately I ran out of time to check availability with the Gibraltar apes.

Anchorage in La Linea, 10th July: N36deg 09.7' W05 21.7'

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