Engines, sails and Gibraltar

November 27, 2016

Those of you who are on Facebook will know that Tantrum arrived in Gibraltar yesterday afternoon (26 November) after a two and a half day passage from Calpe. We’ve now travelled 1408 nautical miles (that’s 1619 statue miles) from Lefkas, taking almost exactly three weeks to make the trip. According to our deLorme inReach beacon, our maximum speed was in excess of 20 knots but no one aboard actually noticed that happening: we reckon that our maximum speed was actually somewhere round 16.5 knots as we slid down the face of a wave.
OK we’ve made it this far, so perhaps a bit of filling in on the details of how it was actually done would be appropriate.
The last blog ended with us sitting in Milazzo on the north coast of Sicily eating the fuel tank ‘cleaned’ after the dead engine saga. Having waited for the winds to sort themselves out in Milazzo once the tank hard been sorted was difficult. All on board just wanted to get moving again as we hadn’t made that much progress and we were all feeling a bit of time pressure.

Milazzo approaches. Looks better leaving than arriving.

Watching weather forecasts can become obsessional. No really obsessional. Like waiting with baited breath as the next one is due to be published so you can see if there’s been any changes since the last one. Coupled with the fact that there really isn’t much to do in Milazzo was giving us all a severe case of cabin fever.
So on 11 November the forecasts looked half way to reasonable, with the westerly winds decreasing and going round to the south, we reckoned that we could escape and head west. We left at about midday and as we cleared the harbour breakwater we could see from the the broken horizon that the swell from the wind hadn’t yet abated. And as we cleared the headland north of Milazzo we ran into the wind that was still driving the swell. With two – three metre waves and a force six wind, it was impossible to make any sensible headway. However, returning to Milazzo wasn’t on the option list. After a short discussion it’s decided to head 14 miles north to Vulcano where we could use the eastern anchorage to sit out the remainder of the wind. It took three hours or so to get there but the anchorage was quiet and empty.
The forecast was for the wind to die away by about 0300 on 12 November, so that’s when Tantrum weighed anchor and departed. Exactly as forecast, the wind had disappeared and the swell had moderated to a reasonable level, so we made good progress under motor towards Sardinia.  

Sunrise over Vulcano and mainland Italy.

Our passage plan was to head for Carloforte, a small island off the south west tip of Sardinia. If the weather was good, we would refuel there and continue on to Mallorca. If not, we would pause there until the weather improved. In the event, the weather remained as forecast with the winds building from the south. This meant we entered Carloforte on 15 November at about 1300 to refuel. The fuel berth is not in the main harbour but in the small boat marina just to the north. Now, Tantrum only draws 1.3 metres of water (compared to the nearly 2 metres Rampage draws); even so according to the depth sounder we had no water under the keel as we came into the berth. To compound this entertainment, the fuel station was shut so refuelling had to be carried out by filling jerrycans via the cash operated pumps and then syphoning the diesel into the main tank. Meanwhile, Bob walked along to the local shops and restocked with fresh food. An hour and a half later, we departed, heading for Mallorca.

The wonders of modern technology. Screen shot from Julia’s iPad of the Marine Traffic website showing Tantrum’s position of Carloforte after we had refuelled.

The winds built nicely from the north east and Tantrum showed a fair turn of speed on a reach. The log shows that overnight we maintained an average speed of 8 knots but the course we could maintain was tending a bit more northerly than was ideal. By the evening of 16 November we were getting close to the Balearics and had to decide where we would make landfall. Ideally, we would have liked to head to Ibiza but the winds had been such that our course was taking us to Mallorca.

In the end, we decided to anchor off San Jordi, a small town on the south eastern corner of Mallorca. We got there at about 0100 on 17 November and spent a quiet night there before setting off for Palma the following morning. The forecast had led us to think we’d be motoring but we picked up a nice northerly wind and sailed all the way round.

Linear squall between Sardinia and Mallorca. It got quite wet and windy once it was over us.

It had become apparent over the last few days that things weren’t going well with Bob. He had problems at home and wasn’t fitting in with Steve and I, so it was agreed that he would head home from Palma, leaving Steve and I to continue alone.
The time in Palma was spent doing a series of jobs that had come to light during the trip. I fitted additional primary fuel filters to the engines, along with priming bulbs to make life easier in the event of further fuel problems: a wise precaution in view of what was to follow. Once the job list was finished, we then played the same waiting game as before with the weather.
Eventually, we thought we could squeeze out of Palma against a mainly southerly wind towards Ibiza before picking up better weather towards the mainland. So on 20 November we left to carry through our cunning plan: Ibiza, on to Denia and thence to Gib.
The plan survived for about three hours before it became apparent that the wind wasn’t going to cooperate. There was far too much south and not enough east. We couldn’t make anywhere near enough ground to the south so settled on heading mainly west with the intention of anchoring in Portinax, a small (really small) anchorage on the north coast of Ibiza. Arriving there at 2300, the entry was made using radar to guide us into the cove before anchoring for the night. The wind was blowing a gale so we kept an anchor watch through the night before spending the rest of the day watching it rain. We didn’t bother trying to go ashore as the little town looked shut.

The rock at Calpe, our landfall on the Spanish mainland.

Like Vulcano, the wind was forecast to die away by the early morning, so we weighed anchor at 0300 on 22 November headed not for Denia as originally planed but for Calpe which was a little further south and west than Denia. A short hop for this trip, it was only just over 70 miles, we entered the harbour at about 1600 after motoring the whole way. After refuelling, Tantrum was berthed on the end of a pontoon in the marina. The local fishing fleet then returned to port en masse just as we finished: it was lucky that we arrived when we did as they blocked access to the fuel berth!
Calpe resembles Gibraltar and Monemvasia in as much as there is a large lump of rock joined to the shore by an isthmus. This is somehow appropriate as our next port of call would be Gibraltar. The passage plan showed 320 miles which should take us 36 hours or so to complete. Originally the intention had been to depart on 23 November but the weather was so foul (heavy, unrelenting rain and westerly wind) that we stayed put.
Once again putting our faith in modern meteorology we decided to set off at 0300 on 24 November. It turned out that the forecast was right so we ended up motoring for a large part of the trip, apart from the odd few hours when the winds obliged by getting up enough strength to make it worthwhile putting the sails up. However, by late Friday (25 Nov) the wind had settled into a sort of westerly which we could use as we headed mainly south at that stage. It was just as well that the wind had got up by this stage as we were nearing the bottom quarter of the fuel tank.
We were considering motoring into Gibraltar when we had about 30 miles or so to go. We were motorsailing at that point when with no ceremony or warning first the port engine quit and then the starboard one. Clearing the fuel lines is a drill I’ve got used to by now but it didn’t resolve much as both engines quit again within 30 minutes of me getting them going again.  
So we tacked into the wind, slowly gaining ground on Europa Point being held back by the wind and, a new thing for us, the TIDE! Eventually, we rounded the point in by mid afternoon. Now, one thing you need to be aware of in this entertainment is the sheer volume of marine traffic in the vicinity of Gibraltar. There are ships parked at anchor everywhere. Like dozens of them. It’s difficult to separate the icons on AIS display. Some of them are moving, others look as if they are but aren’t and mixed into all of this are the fast ferries from Spain to Morocco. And we were navigating through all of this under sail.  
OK, so power gives way to sail and all that but the practicality of these things is that 43 feet of catamaran is significantly easier to manoeuvre than 20,000 tonnes of bulk carrier. And frankly us being hit by a big ship is terminal for us but the big ship wouldn’t even notice us as we hit… That being so, we threaded our way through the Gibraltar bay anchorage and down into the marina, albeit that it is a bit like driving down the high street with no brakes.

A rain soaked view of Gibraltar. If you want a better set of pictures go to the tourist office website!

The entrance is a long channel, about 100 metres south of the airport runway. Easy enough as it was straight downwind and, thankfully, the wind had died somewhat he this point. Cue much dashing about by me, setting up fenders and mooring lines, whilst Steve helped and tried to raise the marina on VHF. We were actually inside the marina when they finally responded, telling us that our berth was in fact on the other side of the place. With fingers very firmly crossed, we started both engines and made our way to the berth though the pouring rain. I don’t mention that? It had been raining heavily for hours at this point and happily continued to do so for hours after we arrived.
Once moored, we discovered that much of the reason behind the silence from the marina was their lack of electrical power in the offices. The rain was the first they’d had for months and had flooded their sub station. The circuits for the pontoon power points were protected but the office wasn’t, so the berthing master was reliant on a handheld VHF which was on its last legs.

Our route to date. See text for more information about this tracking website.

Anyhow, after supper ashore of gargantuan proportions we turned in early. I didn’t really return to full consciousness until about 0930 the next morning, beaten by minutes by Steve. We had another enormous meal (full English breakfast) before doing not a lot as the rain persisted down. Late afternoon saw us deciding to brave the rain to visit Morrisons superstore: a somewhat surreal experience to find a complete British supermarket this far south, full of folks from Spain doing their shopping.
So, replete with sausage and chips with HP Sauce and a can of Magners to hand that’s the story of how we got to Gibraltar. Linda, Steve’s wife arrive tomorrow, so we look forward to some good cooking for a change whilst we seek out someone to clean the crap out of the fuel tank and Steve and I tackle a longish list of jobs before we are in shape for the next leg of the trip to Tenerife.
The weather forecast for the next week in our bit of the Atlantic is, frankly, pants so we are too upset about any delays likely to be caused by getting the jobs finished. It looks as if it might be possible to leave in about 8 or 9 days time but we will have to wait and see how things develop in the Atlantic. It’s about 6 days or so down to Tenerife and we have to do the trip under sail as we don’t carry enough fuel to do it on the moto, so we have to wait for the winds. Good exercise in patience. I will update once we are ready to depart.

A final note.  If you use this link  https://share.delorme.com/TantrumCruising it will take you to the Delorme page associated with our beacon.  When we are moving, the beacon sends a position message every 4 hours so you can follow our progress.  Enjoy.



  1. Saw you go past yesterday but we were keeping our heads down inside. We are the 1st boat on the outside pontoon. Can’t shift because we have no gearbox. May try to find you tomorrow. Terry on Common Sense.

  2. It all sounds very exciting! How are you going to fix the fuel problem? Can tanks be flushed?

    • Yes, well, at least the crappy stuff can be removed, which happened yesterday. Fingers crossed they got it all out.

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