Aventura Zero Logs , News

Back to the Med: Aventura Zero Journal 7

Strait of Gibraltar

5 December 2020

The decision to turn around was quickly implemented and within hours we were on our way north with a favourable SW wind whisking us along. As I turned around for a last look at Tenerife, the clouds hiding the top of the island dissipated and 3700-metre high Mount Teide showed its face as if to bid us farewell.

Onboard, life quickly returned to the previous routine, but as Michalis had decided to remain in the Canaries, where his fiancé and her family are based, we were now down to three. We agreed to divide the days into 4-hour watches, with mine being the usual dawn and early evening watches (0400-0800 and 1600-2000), hence the frequency of my sunrise and sunset photos.

On my first dawn watch we sailed across this seamount whose name had already puzzled me when we passed it on the way south. Dacia was the name of the former Roman colony established in the 2nd century CE in Romania’s current territory. It also gave its name to the popular SUV, but why this geological feature in the North Atlantic?

Night watches on a long passage are occasionally enlivened by a chat with the radio officer on a passing vessel. On this passage I called up Velsheda, a famous 40-metre sailing yacht built along the classic lines of its predecessor. The radio operator told me that they were on their way to the Caribbean and expressed his surprise at us heading the other way. I left it at that.

My next attempt to call up a vessel was not for a friendly chat, but alert it to a possible risk of collision.  The AIS data described Zylkene as a 17-metre sailing vessel en route to the Canaries. It was showing two green lights, one at the masthead, one at the bows, and was motoring on the opposite course to ours. By now we were sandwiched between the tanker Vigor, who had altered course for us, so I called repeatedly Zylkene on VHF radio, but there was no response. They passed about 200 metres from us.

Marine safety has been enormously improved with the introduction of AIS (Automatic Identification System). Any vessel, commercial or pleasure, transmits automatically its name, position, speed, course, etc and the system also assesses the degree of danger if either of two vessels would continue on their course. All this information is displayed by clicking on the distinctive triangle on your chart plotter (black at day, white at night). I must say that since the introduction of AIS I can remember only a couple of occasions when I had to call a vessel to request a change of course. Being a sailing vessel, one continues to have right of way on the high seas.

By the morning of day 4 we had covered 500 miles and the cloudy sunrise was probably a sign that soon we may be running out of luck. However, the wind continued to blow from a favourable direction (NW) but increasingly stronger than I would have preferred. Just as on our way south, we were hit every 15 to 20 minutes by violent squalls with winds between 35 and 50 knots. However much sail we reduced, the wind kept going up, and so did our speed.

… and our wake at that speed!

By now we were down to three reefs in the mainsail and a handkerchief-sized jib, but it was still too much. We decided to slow down by coming as close to the wind as possible and ride out the gale whichever way we may drift. We ended up slowly fore-reaching at 1.5 to 3 knots, with the jib fully furled, and the mainsail sheet let out to spill the wind. It worked and, once again, I was utterly amazed (and relieved) – and so were Conor and Taylor – by Aventura’s robust construction and now proven seaworthiness. Thank you Outremer!

Taylor putting in the third reef, with Conor holding Aventura’s head into the wind, while I was handling the reefing lines and, this time, also the camera.

We continued like that all night, and by the morning of day 5 the winds were still blowing in the mid- to high twenties but with only some 60 miles to the Straits of Gibraltar and, hopefully, a more benign Mediterranean ahead of us.

Landfall 1530 UTC: Cape Espartel, the NW point of Africa, 750 miles and exactly 5 days since we left Tenerife. We are rushing to catch the favourable tide through the strait, and be in the Mediterranean by the evening.  With a forecast of easterly winds, we decided to carry on and not stop in Gibraltar.

This is the tenth time I am passing this landmark since my first on Aventura I in 1975. We had stopped here, as Doina and Ivan were keen to visit the colony of Barbary apes that inhabit the summit of the Rock. This is how Doina describes the encounter in her book Child of the Sea”:

… A few apes sidled towards us. One reached its paw into Mum’s bag and grabbed a tourist brochure. It ran off and sat on the wall.

‘Is he going to read it?’ Mum laughed.

‘Look, Mummy. He’s eating it!’

Another suddenly jumped on Dad’s shoulder.

‘Let me get a picture.’ Mum took out the camera.

Ivan gasped. A large damp patch was spreading across Dad’s back.

‘He’s weeing!’

The ape leapt for the wall and stared at us as while Dad examined his jacket. It was his only one, saved for special outings.

‘He must have realised that I’m not British.’


Indeed, and I have been avoiding those barbarians ever since.

Back to Top