On to Gibraltar | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

On to Gibraltar

October 11, 2012
Sailing in Spain - Valencia to Gibraltar

We set sail from Valencia on Thursday October 4 under main and jib to continue down the Spanish coast 61 nm to Calpe, the most northern port we had reached on previous trips to Spain (1990 & 1999/2000). So we felt that we were closing a circle by coming to Calpe from the north this time.

The winds quickly petered out unfortunately so we furled the sails and motored southwards. Throughout the day, the wind was up and down and round and round, coming from almost every direction of the compass. With the mountains along the coast and the afternoon sea breeze it is very hard to get an accurate wind forecast since there are so many local effects but the "sierras" or mountain ranges here are so beautiful that we never complain. Well mostly.

We arrived in Calpe about 1700 (by chance meeting up with fellow Southerly owners aboard an Southerly 110 from Denmark). To our delight Calpe was very much as we remembered it from 12 years ago with some expansion to the marina and new hotel development. But the thing that makes Calpe distinctive is the Peñon de Ifach, a towering rock that looks like a small version of the Rock of Gibraltar. We hiked up here with the cameras on our last visit documenting it for Distant Shores episode 2 which you can see in the Distant Shores Season 1DVD.


We pushed on the next morning, Friday October 5th, since the wind forecast was good, destination Torrevieja (meaning old tower) about 60 nm along the coast. Once we got off-shore a bit and out of the wind shadow of the mountains, we had a lovely wind from behind, so poled out the genoa and sailed wing and wing for a while. Ahhh. We have a carbon-fibre downwind pole built by Seldén (see how it was made in Distant Shores episode 80 on the Season 7 DVD) who also manufactured Distant Shores II’s mast. The pole is so light you can carry it with one hand and Paul can rig it on his own.

At around 1500 we passed Cabo de Santa Pola and the hazardous off-lying island of Tabarca, once a pirate stronghold. There is an active fishing community there and we had many fishing boats for company at sea in this area.

We arrived at Torrevieja at around 1830 with plans of just anchoring off the beach behind the breakwall as we had done in the past, since we were going to leave early the next morning. We love being at anchor. It’s like being on your own mini island! And going into marinas take so much time if you’re day-hopping - setting up fenders, going to the waiting pontoon, doing the paperwork for check-in, moving to your assigned berth, returning gate keys before leaving - these procedures can add another hour to your day. We don’t begrudge the cost of marinas since they are convenient and comfortable but they are time-consuming if you’re on the move each day.

Unfortunately, they were doing construction on the main breakwall at the harbour and anchoring didn’t seem like the thing to do so we went in and checked into the new Marina Salinas in Torrevieja which is lovely. We also had the pleasure of meeting new cruising friends, an Australian couple who recognized the boat. They told us they had used the Distant Shores DVDs to prepare for their current voyage through the Mediterranean and came to say hello. it means a lot to us that people love the shows and find the episodes helpful when planning their own voyages.

As we entered Marina Salinas we were impressed by the large custom aluminum yacht moored there with matching amphibious car, a two-propellor number!

Enormous custom aluminum yacht in Torrevieja with matching amphibious car.

The amphibious car has two-propellers.

Punta de Azohía
We had a relaxed morning on Saturday and left Torrevieja at around 1030 with the idea of heading to the major port of Cartagena where we had visited before. It was another calm day of motoring. At 1345 we rounded the major cape, Cabo Palos, and when we got to Cartagena at around 1630 we decided to continue on. Since it was so calm it would be a good night for anchoring in the usually exposed and rolly anchorages on this coast, so that night we dropped the hook off the village of La Subida at Punta de las Azohía, just east of Mazarrón, and were greeted by another delightful cruising couple, this time from England, who were Distant Shores fans. They had all our Mediterranean DVDs on board to help them plan their voyages. We really were touched.

Cala de San Pedro
Sunday October 7 was another glassy calm day which pleased us that day since we were headed for the pretty anchorage at Cala de San Pedro beneath the "castillo" or castle of San Pedro. You need calm conditions to stay there. You can only get to the beach and castle here by boat or a very long hike over the hills to arrive at a natural amphitheatre-shaped cove. There are caves around the castle that "hippy nudist troglodytes" had moved into on our last visit. They were still there, or the next generation of free spirits perhaps, but had to smile when we saw that they had added solar panels to their camping equipment so they could receive internet and keep the beer cold :-)

Castillo San Pedro

Distant Shores at anchor beneath the castle in Cala de San Pedro

Cabo de Gata
The forecast was good to continue south so we upped anchor from Cala San Pedro and continued south along the very natural undeveloped coast here to round Cabo de Gata, leaving Spain’s Costa Blanca behind and starting along the Costa del Sol along the south coast. There are very dramatic rock formations at Cabo de Gata, the most distinctive being the white marking beneath the Torre de Vela Blanca, "the tower at the white sail"

Sheryl at the helm passing the distinctive white rock at Torre de Vela Blanca (tower at the white sail) at Cabo de Gata

After successfully rounding the cape, which in any kind of wind can be very rough, we stopped for the night at the large marina at Puerta de la Almerimar where we had "wintered" the boat in 1999/2000. Again we saw lots of improvements and expansion including a large excellent supermarket on site. We also had an excellent dinner out, at "Fresh", one of several good restaurants within the marina resort. In the morning we woke up to thick fog but were only delayed a couple of hours until it cleared.


Caleta de Velez
We could see that in a few days there would be headwinds and we wanted to reach Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean before they set in. We could still make it despite the morning’s delay with the fog if we really pushed it. It was another calm day and we timed the daylight to the minute to reach the anchorage off the fishing harbour of Caleta de Velez, near Malaga. All was going well until around 1400 when, off Punta de Carchuna, we were approached by a Spanish Customs launch (Aduanas) who signalled us to stop. They wanted to board us.

Boarding by Customs (Aduanas) and Check for Red Fuel
In 23 years of cruising we have only been boarded by Coast Guard or Customs about 5 times and we normally welcome it as a cultural experience but today we were on a schedule. However it usually doesn’t take long since all they mostly do is check your paperwork and ours was in order, so no worries.
Spanish Customs (Aduanas) Launch

But this was the day they had decided to do spot checks on recreational boats to see whether or not they were using illegal "red diesel". This is a special tax-free diesel fuel available for use by working fishermen and farmers which is coloured red to identify it. The officers, who were extremely courteous and careful with the boat, took a sample from our fuel tank (we passed the colour test), and then asked to see the receipt of our most recent fuel top-up which had been in Almerimar. This was to prove that we had paid the tax. Then lots of paperwork followed so Paul asked in his best Spanish (this always helps if you make the effort) if we could keep motoring while we were filling it out so we wouldn’t be too delayed. They were happy to oblige. As in the past it was a very interesting and pleasant encounter.

Paul holding the sample of diesel removed from the boat’s fuel tank by Spanish customs officials who were checking recreational boats who might be using illegal red fuel. We pass the colour test.

Caleta de Velez
We waved goodbye to the officers and pressed on to Caleta de Velez which has a small marina mainly for use by the local fishing fleet but if you call ahead you can arrange docking for a yacht. However you can anchor off the beach at either end of the harbour in the protection of the breakwalls and, since the marina has limited space, they are happy for you to do that and that’s what we preferred. It was a perfectly calm night and we sat out in the cockpit admiring the scene for a long time.

Just before bed, a thick fog rolled in, which is so unusual at this time of year and also at night! We left lots of lights on throughout the night in addition to our anchor light so that any fishing boats moving in the dark would see us. Yay LED cabin lighting! Barely a drain on the battery.

We woke up next morning, Wednesday October 10, expecting another morning of thick fog but it had cleared during the night. Very confusing but who were we to argue. There was barely light in the sky when we had raised anchor and were on our way, Gibraltar ho! There were tons of fish pots and floats, sometimes hard to distinguish from floating seagulls at a distance so zigged and zagged and exchanged friendly waves with the crews of fishermen out in the bay around Caleta de Velez. Once out in deep water we were clear of the fish floats.

It was another day of motoring but fog rolled in and out at times with visibility reduced to less than half a mile. We have Raymarine radar and chart-plotters and the radar image lays right over the chart which makes it really easy to interpret. It is quite sensitive and was picking up small fishing boat, kayaks and inflatable dinghies. These we saw 4 to 5 miles offshore in some cases - dedicated fishers in the fog!

By mid-afternoon the fog had cleared and at 1515 I spotted the famous Rock of Gibraltar ahead. We really felt quite emotional since we’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. Then the headwinds started to build. We hugged the coast for protection and at 1630 rounded Europa Point and were docked at Marina Bay in Gibraltar, a second home for us, by 1900.


Time for Gin and Tonic!

Until next time,

Sheryl and Paul
Aboard Distant Shores II
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