September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med

By Tom Morkin

Cadiz, Spain
36 31 N, 06 15 W

Just by looking at a map of the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, you might guess that the Strait of Gibraltar that separates the two would prove to be an interesting body of water for sailors negotiating its 30-mile length. You’d be right.

“The Strait of Gibraltar has always been somewhat daunting for mariners. I can well imagine the trepidation felt in ancient times by the master of a square-rigged vessel about to exit what for him was the western limit of the known world. To sail westward passing between the fabled Pillars of Hercules, the Rock of Gibraltar to the north and Jebel Musa in Morocco to the south, knowing that his vessel was probably not able to turn around and beat back to windward must have taken considerable courage.” (Colin Thomas)

Long before we got close to the Strait, we’d heard numerous tales of woe by those who’d transited it or tried to at the wrong time and bore the scars to prove it. Here are some facts about the Strait that grabbed our attention.

Hydrology

1. There’s a very high rate of evaporation on the Med side where there are few big rivers and low rainfall.

2. In fact, only one third of the water lost to evaporation is replaced by rain and river runoff. The rest comes from the Atlantic.

3. The sea level on the Atlantic side of the Strait is more than three feet higher than on the Med side.

4. The average width of the Strait is only 10 miles, 8 miles at its narrowest.

5. There is an average current of one knot flowing east to a depth of 500 feet and much stronger in some places (over 1,000,000 cubic yards per second).

6. The Strait waters are much shallower than those in most of the Med. Average depth in the Med is around 4,900 feet while the Strait is only 1,000 feet deep on average.

Tides

Tides in the Med are minimal because not much tidal flow from the Atlantic gets into the Med. However, tidal streams in the Strait can exceed 3 knots at springs.

Weather

Tarifa (small Spanish town on the Straits coast) is one of the windiest towns in Europe. Winds can hit 30 knots no less than 300 days a year, which is believed to cause the abnormally high suicide rate.

The winds blow either east (levante) or west (poniente) and are very predictable. The mountains in Spain and Morocco and the Strait direct the winds like a funnel. If the barometric pressure on the west side is high, then in the eastern side of the Med it blows westerly. If the pressures are reversed, so are the winds.

Fog

A moist and warm easterly wind (levante) can instantly produce fog when it comes in contact with the cold waters of the Atlantic. A cap cloud is often seen over the Rock of Gibraltar with the easterly wind, as it was the day we arrived.

When you look at the hydrology, tides, and weather together, you can understand how reports of six-knot currents, overfalls, whirlpools, and vicious standing waves become easily believable. Kiwi circumnavigators Tony and Liz of the boat Aethelwyn regaled us with the story of their early attempts to head west from Gibraltar. “After six hours of hard sailing we found our speed through the water of five to six knots was no match for the conditions in the Strait so we returned to Gibraltar. It took 20 minutes to cover the distance we had made in six hours!” On the other hand, many other cruisers who made the transit reported lovely sailing and a minimum of fuss. As usual, the devil is in the details.

To make sense of this body of water and to assist sailors transiting the Strait, a guidebook aptly named “The Straits Sailing Handbook” written by Colin Thomas (updated every year) became essential reading for us when we planned our exit strategy from the Med.

Cadiz, the historic port on the Atlantic coast of Spain and departure point for Christopher Columbus when he set out to find the Americas, was to be our last stop in Europe before heading south to Morocco. This meant we’d be transiting through the Strait rather than crossing it to Morocco.

We upped anchor at 1400 hours on a bright and breezy afternoon with winds in the Strait forecast to be 30 knots from the east and possibly more as we approached Tarifa. The good news was that the wind and tide were to be moving in the same direction, so sea conditions should be reasonable and on the stern.
We decided to stop and anchor in Tarifa, just 15 miles from Gibraltar, then carry on the next day for the 50 miles to Cadiz. By leaving Gibraltar at two hours after high tide we figured we should make Tarifa with minimal adverse current, and by departing Tarifa next morning at 0500 hours, the ebb current should send us on our merry way for at least four hours, enough time to get out of the effects of the next incoming tide.

After almost three weeks in Gibraltar/La Linea we had seen a couple of boats set off to go west and return, citing rough seas and hellacious winds, so it was not without a modicum of anxiety that we set out. This pre-trip anxiety is not uncommon aboard Feel Free, but happily it usually vanishes as we busily ready the boat for sea. This day was no exception.

We single reefed the main and poled the jib out on the starboard side. Once in the Strait, 20 knots of wind had us on our way – dead downwind. It was like tobogganing down a hill that gets progressively steeper as we got close to Tarifa and the most restricted part of the Strait; 20 knots became 30 knots and our toboggan slid faster and faster. We rolled up more and more jib until it was all gone but the toboggan continued at eight knots. All’s well and fine, we reassured each other, as long as the autopilot holds our course and the wind doesn’t continue to veer, as we were already sailing by the lee. To jibe in these conditions was a thought too ugly to contemplate.

Tarifa, the most southerly city of Europe and only eight miles from Africa, is famous for its strong winds. They say that if it’s blowing 15 in Gibraltar, count on 30-plus at Tarifa, and they were right.

With only five miles to Tarifa, we encountered a nasty bit of water complete with standing waves that set the boat rolling and yawing to the point where it was necessary to override the autopilot to prevent a jibe. Some five minutes later, we looked aft to see a sailboat that left Gibraltar when we did, jibe in that area of rough water. We helplessly watched as the boat lay beam on to the seas, sails flogging themselves to death as the crew seemed to be unsuccessfully trying to remove sail. Our hearts went out to them. The boat didn’t make it to Tarifa while we were there.

It was a huge relief to come around the castle on the tip of the Tarifa peninsula and be able to turn to starboard and bring the wind forward of the beam. The wind continued to blast at 30-plus knots, the seas were still white, but now less than a foot, and the holding for our soon-to-be dropped anchor was excellent in white sand.

 

The two-and-a-half-hour trip felt like eight hours but the worst of the Strait was behind us. We were now, after a little more than two years in the blue Mediterranean, in what looked like the green Atlantic.

 

 

In the hills above Tarifa were literally hundreds of wind generators all spinning happily. On the beach were throngs of windblown tourists probably wondering why they were vacationing in such a windy area of Spain. As for the thousands of windsurfers and kite boarders in town, well, they all probably thought they’d died and gone to heaven.
The next day, the wind gods rewarded our 0500 awakening and departure by serving up a delightful concoction of 20 knots of southeasterlies, flat seas, and blue skies for our downwind ride to Cadiz. We sailed with the boat Music (Steve and Eva) who enjoyed a spinnaker run.

We are now anchored in Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe, just two miles from where Christopher Columbus’ Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria anchored before setting off for the New World. Over sundowners Liz and I reflect on the fact that we have now sailed the length of the Mediterranean, more than 2,000 miles, and visited 10 countries over a two-year period. Now that the Med is behind us we find ourselves thinking back to 2007, to Thailand, when we debated going around South Africa or the Red Sea and the Med to get to the Atlantic. Do we have any regrets about our route? Not a one. Would we do it again? Well, probably not. If we were westbound from Asia to North America, we’d probably go round South Africa, but that’s got more to do with the increase in pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden than the lack of good cruising grounds in the Med.

We’re so happy with our choice. Our Med adventure started in Egypt, then took us to Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Spain, and Gibraltar. We feel like we barely scratched the surface of these incredible countries, and we feel blessed to see such a diversity of cultures in such a small area. Thanks for being onboard with us through this part of our journey. Now, onward!

Extra pics from Cadiz