We arrived in Gibraltar after a challenging final six hours and the boat was securely tied up. The plan was to leave for Madiera or the Canary islands after a couple of days in order  to repair, re-provision and sleep. Getting out the Med late in the season has often proved difficult because of the wind system.We waited not only for favourable winds to clear the straits but also for a weather window to sail to the Canary islands via the Moroccan Atlantic coast which is a five day trip(600NM) and the weather forecasts are less then reliable.

In the Straits when west winds blow you are sailing backwards against wind and tide and when the east winds blow its wind over tide creating a chaotic wave and sea pattern. Needless to say the winds only seem to blow east or west through this narrow gap. To make things more exciting there are hundreds of cargo ships that enter and leave the Med every day creating a marine motorway occupying the centre of the channel and small craft are restricted to a coastal zone where the currents are stronger.



Whilst waiting for clement weather we took the opportunity to visit Seville and Granada which both have a cultural history linked to the Moors. The Moorish castles are spectacular and well restored , in fact ,Alhambra in Granada is so popular that 4000 people visit it every day. We enjoyed the old world feel of Gibraltar and the residents including those on the neighboring yachts were very friendly. It would be easy to get into the Gibraltar rhythm and wake up several years older.


After two weeks of waiting  and a couple of false alerts a weather window opened where it was predicted that there would be light winds in the Straits followed by medium strength NE winds to blow us to the Canaries.The forecast was confirmed by weather online, Meteo France and Windfinder. We refueled before leaving in the adjacent port and took the precaution to fill our jerry cans in case of light winds.

We sailed out into the straits only to be hit with force 6 frontal winds…… wet weather gear was needed and we were hard pressed for hours. We had a six hour time window before the tide turned and if we did not clear the straits we would be pushed back in by the next tide.

We gybed (tacking with the wind behind us) and gybed trying to stay within our allotted zone for 5 hours  and eventually cleared the straits of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic.


Trifon who had be struggling for hours at sometimes 3 knots to escape was liberated and accelerated  into the long Atlantic swell. The weather pattern was a depression on the coast of Morocco and another near Madiera and we were trying to slip between the two to benefit from the NE winds from the back of the first depression.  Winds were as predicted and we made good progress for the first 24 hours. The waves then became larger and larger as we moved further south and it was presumably due to the strong coastal winds(from the first depression) that we were experiencing far larger waves than those produced by the nearby wind.

The boat under autopilot handled the conditions with few problems  although it disconnected twice and put us parallel(danger) to the oncoming sea. This is why it is always necessary to keep watch when running under autopilot. The sea was running with a frothy swell on the point of breaking(2-3 metres) for two days and was surprising due to its size and short period(waves close together).Trifon would sit on a wave with its bow in thin air for a while and the wave would eventually  pass underneath. The boat rolled 20° either side and waited for the next wave. Cooking or sleeping in this type of sea is difficult and we were reduced to cold food on the second night. We were 30 miles  offshore from Casablanca on the second evening when we realized that we were surrounded by fishing nets. The nets are several miles long and are illuminated at both ends?  At night it is very difficult to tell if this is the end of a fishing net or the start of a new one as they are all in a line moving offshore. We sailed west(offshore) for many hours to clear the Moroccan fishing fleet and settled into the deep ocean.  Although this prolonged our route, the tranquility  was well worth it as the only way you can see these fishing nets is eyeball navigation and after 8 hours at night staring through the binoculars you start seeing ……..giraffes!


A concern for us was the way we would handle the fatigue element of the trip (5 day/night navigation) and this was important for the impending Atlantic crossing. A skipper can usually sail his boat for 40-50 hours but at some stage he needs rest and if the crew are not up to handling the yacht he cannot sleep. Over several days this poses a serious problem especially in the crowded waters of the Med and the Atlantic close to Europe. A tired skipper can make serious errors of judgment and in  order to prevent this the crew has to fill in the gap when the skipper sleeps. He does not have to take all his rest during the night and can compensate during  the day were it may be easier for the crew to sail the boat. Our night watches consisted of three hour stints with the skipper taking one watch followed by the crew for the next watch. When conditions were rough the skipper would rest /sleep on deck in order to be on hand and when conditions were more clement , he would sleep below. As we are only three on-board this is a fairly tiring routine but as the days moved on we settled into the rhythm and arrived on the fifth day tired but not exhausted.

We took 4 ½ days to cover the 600 miles averaging 6 knots or about 150 miles per day. I hope during our Atlantic crossing that we can improve on this average and part of the time in the Canaries will be spent upgrading the equipment for our downwind sailing.