Yachties like us may be glad to leave the At­lantic be­hind, but just how wel­come would Bri­tish sailors be in Gi­bral­tar?

Yachting Monthly - - LETTERS -

The Rock loomed through a Le­van­ter­driven haze, a brood­ing ram­part be­hind which lay a cor­nu­copia of Mediter­ranean prom­ise. We wanted it astern, we were sick of the At­lantic, or more ac­cu­rately, sick of the east­erly winds which had dogged us ever since round­ing Cape St. Vin­cent.

The trou­ble was, we had been forced to mo­tor Snatch, the Swan 48 we were de­liv­er­ing from the So­lent to Gi­bral­tar, ever since leav­ing Por­tu­gal’s West coast be­cause the boat’s mas­sive rac­ing main­sail had only two reef­ing points and, de­void of a third, was be­ing over­pow­ered in strong head­winds.

Since David Smith, co-owner, dropped his part­ner, Adrian Lower, a gy­nae­col­o­gist and rear-com­modore of RORC, at Sa­gres, on the tip of Por­tu­gal to fly home for work, we were short­handed, too. The only el­e­ment in our favour was the con­veyor belt of cur­rent as the rapidly evap­o­rat­ing Mediter­ranean was be­ing topped up by the equally rapidly in­flow­ing At­lantic Ocean.

Close in­shore, ear­lier, we had man­aged to find flat­ter wa­ter and we rounded a dirty sand dune called Cape Trafal­gar which, but for Nelson, would have re­mained just a dirty sand dune.

Next up was Tar­ifa, sought out by dilet­tante sailors on kite boards, be­cause it is re­puted to be the windi­est place in Europe. The deep blue seas piled up in front of the isth­mus of Tar­ifa and broke into daz­zling white crests as we ap­proached in winds gust­ing 40 knots.

Tar­ifa it­self, which we later dis­cov­ered, had been closed to fer­ries for the 48 hours prior to our ap­proach, was a clus­ter of sun-scorched, white, cube-shaped houses nestling be­hind a break­wa­ter con­nect­ing the hump of the cape to the land. We rounded it and headed for the Pil­lars of Her­cules. Against the dis­tant desert haze of Africa, con­tainer ships, cruise liners and hull-down tankers slipped past as though on strings, made toy-like by the At­las Moun­tains.

Be­neath The Rock it­self the sin­is­ter black sil­hou­ette of the nu­clear sub­ma­rine HMS Am­bush was be­ing slowly es­corted in, her crew lined up on her sur­faced deck like con­demned men. Her cap­tain was pre­sum­ably fac­ing court mar­tial for the dent in the con­ning tower, the re­sult of a col­li­sion with a mer­chant ship.

A speed­ing black RIB closed with us and heav­ily-armed sailors waved us clear. I turned the wheel 20° to port, away from the stricken sub, and a rat­ing gave me a friendly thumbs up, which might sim­ply have been the fact that we weren’t Span­ish, hun­gry to re­claim Gi­bral­tar af­ter the vote to leave Europe.

John Green, third crew-mem­ber, aka Glum be­cause he isn’t, had read on­line that the port en­forced a cur­few to pre­vent the en­try of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. No­body had chal­lenged us but then not many mi­grant ships fly blue en­signs, de­faced or other­wise. In any case it was to La Linea, where Spain nudges Gi­bral­tar, that we were headed and we docked there at dusk.

Ashore we learned that it is not just the Span­ish who are twitchy about the dis­em­bod­ied Bri­tish pres­ence at the Rock. In a dock­side cafe we met my old RYA Yacht­mas­ter in­struc­tor, the leg­endary Vic Punch, and his wife Lynn. They told us how, on leav­ing Tang­ier, a Moroc­can coast­guard cut­ter had chased them out into the Strait. Rang­ing along­side, her skip­per, bristling with semi-au­to­matic weapons, said he was go­ing to board them. At this Vic, a no-non­sense Scouser, told him he must re­move his com­bat boots: ‘I wasn’t hav­ing those mark­ing my deck,’ he said. Crest­fallen the coast­guard re­moved his boots, a loss of face he brazened out. He then made his in­spec­tion in holed socks, a loss of face his crew could not pre­tend to ig­nore.

But what­ever else may have changed be­neath the Rock, one thing has not: a can­dle lit in the near­est church for safe passage. Sailors of old made sup­pli­ca­tion be­fore en­ter­ing the At­lantic; this one struck a match to thank the Gods for leav­ing it.

‘We rounded a dirty sand dune called Cape Trafal­gar’


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