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

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.


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 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.


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.


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