Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Aguadulce to San Jose, Garrucha, and Aguilas

While in Aguadulce, we met up with Johannes, an Austrian sailor (who spoke perfect french) with an amazing 30-year old aluminum boat fully outfitted for a world tour although in need of some upkeep. He had recently bought it and was giving himself 5 years to fix it up during his vacations. While sailing in the area in rough weather, his steering chain broke and he was towed into Aguadulce. We went over to hear his stories, offer him a drink, and helped him fish out the two ends of the broken chain from the steering column. Over dinner and sea-stories, we were inspired to finally try out our own emergency tiller.

Emergency Tiller and Patrick's sandal-tanned foot.
We also decided it would be a good idea to finally investigate how we could unblock the lifting centerboard if ever it were stuck in the up position. We had heard there was a thru-hull but had never really thought to look for it. After fruitless internet searches and an email to our dealer, we found it under one of the floorboards near the galley (where the tip of the centerboard would reach in the up position). I’m embarrassed to say that I had seen this thru-hull before and dismissed it as … well, maybe an extra ball valve in case we needed a change? (Seems quite silly now, doesn’t it?). The way it works: 1) put the red handle on the ball valve and verify that it is in the shut position; 2) take off the nut on the top of the thru-hull and screw in the hose assembly; 3) lift the hose assembly vertically so that the height of the tube is greater than the waterline; 4) insert the long thin metal tube laying in the bottom of the lazarette underneath the bikes, the dinghy, snorkeling gear, tool boxes, etc.; 5) push. Patrick wants to try it for real. I’m eager to wait, since a blocked centerboard doesn’t represent an emergency situation but a poorly connected seacock does. I’m thinking maybe we wait until we pull the boat out of the water in Corsica this fall?

System for unblocking a stuck centerboard.
The next day we left Aguadulce on oily seas and motored for 2 hours before the winds picked up enough to sail: 6.5 knots on the beam allowed us to sail at a slow but comfortable 4 knots. As we approached the Cabo de Gata, the wind progressively turned in the nose and strengthened. We rolled up the genoa then started reefing the main. We finished with 18 knots in the nose and tacked back and forth around the famous cape.

Happy boat (black top left) in port after a day of tacking around the Cabo de Gata.
We were accompanied by some (huge !) Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins (I think) who were not particularly impressed with our speed and knew the bow wake would not provide adequate surfing fun, so they left us alone and went off to hunt. Heard on the vhf radio: 34 people adrift on a small boat in the area, heading towards the Spanish coast; everyone asked to keep an eye out for them and report any sightings. Practiced Digital Selective Calling on the vhf radio with friends. We can send but can’t receive. I think I remember shutting off all the bells and whistles on the vhf… will have to investigate. Will write a blog post later about using DSC. It’s good fun and quite useful.

The port of San Jose is charming but very small. They say they turn people away starting in June since they simply can’t handle more than a few visitors. We arrived late and left early so we didn’t have time to explore. Friends said there is good hiking in the area. The evening news reported that the 34 people adrift had been towed into Motril, the small port we were in just a few days ago.

We left San Jose knowing that we were probably in for a rough day. We put 2 reefs in the main to tackle 19 knots in the nose as we headed out with swell from the front quarter. We continued on a close reach “a la anglaise” (e.g., with the motor), trying to maintain a good balance between course and speed. We slalomed between the swells to try to avoid the worst of the bashing into 2 meters of swell. After 2 hours, we both took ½ of a sea-sickness pill (sturgeron) just in case things got worse and we needed to go below (to look at charts, make lunch, etc.). While we were doing our own battles, we heard a call on the vhf in a panicky Arabic, a long monologue and then nothing. The Spanish authorities tried to make contact in Arabic, Spanish, French, and English. No response.

The winds finally drop to 17 knots and turn favorable; we unrolled all of the genoa and after two more tacks we are able to finally make a straight shot into Garrucha. Two miles from port, the winds died completely so we prepared the boat for arrival and motored in. Instead of the 30 miles anticipated, we covered 42 with all of our tacking back and forth and we were ready to stop. Garrucha is a huge port, so large that visiting boats tie up along-side instead of Med style. I wasn’t prepared for that and my fenders were a bit too high, but the wooden railings on the pontoons made for a gentle landing. We heard that Garrucha is known for its jumbo shrimp so we headed out to find them, but after the day we had, we were too tired to go far and ended up having a rather disappointing paella. Friends following up behind us did find the famous shrimp and reported both being sick afterwards.

The weather report suggested that it wasn’t worth heading the 18 miles from Garrucha to Aguilas until the early afternoon when the winds turned more easterly instead of northeast and fully in the nose. We headed out at noon and just as Patrick began bad-mouthing the Mediterranean and its lack of wind, the wind picked up steadily and rapidly from 9 knots to 17. The wind stayed between 16 and 18 knots most of the way, finishing the last two hours with 19 to 21 knots and the now infamous swell growing from 2 meters to 4. The east-going current against an East wind pushes up big wind-over-current waves that are quite chaotic. We were happy that we were able to make our course without tacking, but the price to pay was a rollercoaster ride in the 3 to 4 meter swell, complete with two water cascades pouring over the nose and completely soaking us both. As we were dripping, I tried to remind Patrick that people pay big money for this sort of treatment at water parks. He was not amused.


Heard on the vhf radio from Malaga: a pneumatic boat with 30 people aboard on fire, trying to reach the Spanish coast. We stopped complaining about getting sprayed. We very happily tucked into the relatively calm Aguilas bay, where we decided to anchor at the east end of the bay near the beach. There was good protection from the swell, but winds were still around 15 knots. They slowly died down to an occasional gust. I installed my riding sail and will have to look back at my own pictures to remember what line I used for the foot of the sail. All calmed down beautifully in the evening and we had a good night, despite going to bed with salt crystals in our hair. Beer and snacks well-deserved before cleaning up all the stuff that got thrashed around. 

The coastline here is gorgeous - mountain ranges plunging into lapis lazuli blue water, ruined castles on hilltops, white-washed perched villages.  Unfortunately, in 3-4 meters of swell, the few photos I attempted don't do it justice. 

Tomorrow’s weather promises a calm ride to Cartegena. 

Eat, sail, eat, sleep;   eat, sail, eat, sleep; etc.

Our first anchorage of the season, Aguilas harbor.

My riding sail kept us from swinging too much in the 15 knot winds.

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