Gibraltar to Cartagena: Without Adult Supervision

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From Gibraltar onwards in May 2019, we started sailing without adult supervision. With the sign-off from instructors Flo and Alain, our insurance company had approved us to sail Kaya on our own. Even when we were sailing in 40 knots I was never nervous with Flo on board, because he was responsible. Now there was no instructor, no skipper, no one else to count on.

We set a new goal: to get to Corsica by the end of June to meet Asia, Brett and Jazmyne. We were anxious about making this commitment. It’s not that easy to meet up with people because of dependence on the weather and our lack of experience meant we were very conservative with our movements, meaning we only move when the conditions are favourable. For example, we stayed in Gibraltar for about a week because the winds were blowing from the east, against us. Could we make it to Corsica, 800 nautical miles away, in 6 weeks? We researched possible ports of call and hopped on a call with our brokers and mentors Miguel and Paulina to talk through our plan. We would hug the southern coast of Spain (The Costa del Sol), and then do overnight crossings from mainland Spain to Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca, Sardinia, and then Corsica. Even with a plan our exact stops would be dictated by the wind/waves (direction and intensity) and availability of marinas (there were few places to anchor along this coast).

The route we travelled to get to Corsica (Corse). This blog post covers our eastward trip from Gibraltar to Cartagena along the Costa del Sol.

The route we travelled to get to Corsica (Corse). This blog post covers our eastward trip from Gibraltar to Cartagena along the Costa del Sol.

Gibraltar

Our friend Edgar was brave to sign up as our first guest, especially since it was also his first time boating! It was a "maiden voyage" for all of us.

Edgar arriving in the Alcaidesa Marina, Spain. That's the famed Rock in the background.

Edgar arriving in the Alcaidesa Marina, Spain. That's the famed Rock in the background.

Gibraltar is a strange town. It’s a tiny tiny place (6.7 km2 or 2.6 sq miles) and they have to shut down the airport runway to let people in. The Rock is no doubt very impressive, and people seemed very enthused about its macaque inhabitants. It seems like the main reason to visit besides tax-free shopping and to buy alcohol and fuel and eat subpar fish and chips. We refueled there at half the price as anywhere else in the region. It is inexplicably (and stubbornly) a British territory so many people also come here to buy time on their Schengen visas or get relief from EU boat taxes.

Waiting to cross the runway to get to the town of Gibraltar.

Waiting to cross the runway to get to the town of Gibraltar.

Tobi cleaning out the transom storage and demonstrating his boat yoga skills.

Tobi cleaning out the transom storage and demonstrating his boat yoga skills.

After a few days of cleaning and sightseeing, the wind direction finally changed and we decided to set off on our maiden voyage.

We saw a Mola Mola

On the way out of Gibraltar, there was lots of activity. We saw military-looking ships and a legit-looking submarine. Planes were taking off directly next to us. On the radio, we heard a distress call to look out for a capsized boat with people in the water (presumably and sadly an illegal transport from Africa), and repeated warnings from the coast guard to another unidentified boat that it was violating protocols.

Looking across the strait to Morocco.

Looking across the strait to Morocco.

Perhaps because it is at the mouth of the Mediterranean, we had a few exciting sea life encounters. We were greeted by dolphins right away, saw a whale spout, and sailed right by a mola mola basking in the sun. I couldn't believe it. The ocean sunfish is my favourite fish and I never thought I would see it in the wild since it's a deep-sea fish. I saw a pair of fins lazily flapping back and forth in an uncoordinated way, and then suddenly saw a huge (~2m) round disc floating on the surface past us. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo to prove it, so here's a video of the crew basking in the sun.

When the crew was awake, we chatted and practiced VHF radio communication. Edgar was a communications officer in the army and gave us some valuable tips. We would sometimes say “Over and Out” (you know, from the movies) but that's incorrect, because Over means “I’m waiting for a reply” and Out means “No need to reply.” Here's a sample script:

Kaya: Marina Alcaidesa, Marina Alcaidesa, Marina Alcaidesa. This is Sailing Vessel Kaya, Kaya, Kaya. Over.

Port: This is Marina Alcaidesa. Over.

Kaya: Kaya, we are a 12m catamaran requesting a berth for one night. Do you have availability? Over.

Port: Yes, come to the visitor dock. Over.

Kaya: OK, we are coming into the harbour now. Out.

Often the other party would not speak English, so I would put on my best Duolingo/Google Translate Spanish. “Soy una catamaran, doce metros…”

Costa del Sol

The "Sun Coast" is a popular beach destination in Europe, but it's not the most attractive coast to sail by in some parts because of the "sea of plastic" formed by the massive number of polyethylene greenhouses in Almeria, clearly visible from the water. Marina prices were also markedly higher than on the Atlantic coast. Still, we had a fun time checking out the quaint ports and towns along the way and enjoying the food. Most importantly, we were building confidence as we gained miles sailing down the coast, docking in a few tight spots and making it through a spot of choppy weather.

Exploring the town of Estepona, Spain.

Exploring the town of Estepona, Spain.

Getting a snack.

Getting a snack.

Drinks in Malaga before dropping Edgar off.

Drinks in Malaga before dropping Edgar off.


Fishing boats going to work in the old port of Marbella, Spain. A lovely spot and town but there was lots of noisy and rocky boat traffic at night.

Fishing boats going to work in the old port of Marbella, Spain. A lovely spot and town but there was lots of noisy and rocky boat traffic at night.

We arrived in the port of Almerimar, after a rather tedious and choppy ride. A baker van came by the next morning selling fresh bread, making us very happy.

We arrived in the port of Almerimar, after a rather tedious and choppy ride. A baker van came by the next morning selling fresh bread, making us very happy.

Thankful that the sun sets at 10pm because we made it just in time. It's no fun docking in the dark.

Thankful that the sun sets at 10pm because we made it just in time. It's no fun docking in the dark.

Taking down the mainsail as we approach a pretty nature reserve, the Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata-Níjar.

Taking down the mainsail as we approach a pretty nature reserve, the Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata-Níjar.


We're the biggest / widest boat in this little marina in the nature reserve and barely fit. They let us stay at the fuel dock.

We're the biggest / widest boat in this little marina in the nature reserve and barely fit. They let us stay at the fuel dock.

Chillin'.

Chillin'.

Our skipper/instructor Flo was on a new boat delivery job and got in touch to tell us he was heading to Cartagena to refuel. He was not far from us, so we got going again to meet him there briefly. He also encouraged us to cross from Cartagena to Ibiza, which would be our first unsupervised overnight passage of 20+ hours. We were now halfway to Corsica, and feeling pretty good about our maiden voyage so far. We decided to go for it, and that's a story for next time.

Sail-by hello to Flo and crew.

Sail-by hello to Flo and crew.


Cartagena, Spain, is a beautiful town with expansive plazas, lots of Roman ruins, and a good place to stock up before crossing.

Cartagena, Spain, is a beautiful town with expansive plazas, lots of Roman ruins, and a good place to stock up before crossing.





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