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Barry's Blog # 15 – This, that and Gibraltar

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

At the end of my Blog # 13 I signed off by telling you that I'd update you on a Jeanneau Sun Fast 43 that we were going to look at in a marina near Alicante, about an hour South of our base at Javea. We viewed it just a few days before driving down to Gibraltar for our RYA sailing courses.

Overall the yacht was in good condition and the German owners had certainly spent a lot of time and money on maintenance. Lots of the expensive items like electronics, sails and rigging were between 1 and 3 years old and as they primarily used the yacht for racing there was a very extensive wardrobe of sails included in the sale price.

Jeanneau Sun Fast 43 in Alicante

After the viewing we went back to Javea and composed an email to send to the broker saying that we liked the yacht, but we had a bunch of questions that had slipped our minds while we were looking her over. The broker said he'd get clarification from the owner and get back to us in a few days. In hindsight this email communications delay and the sketchy Internet connection we experienced while we were learning to sail around Gibraltar turned out to be good things. Because some of the yacht features that were high on our list of priorities prior to learning to sail have become completely superseded by what we know now that we've actually learned to sail. We quickly found out that the Jeanneau Sun Fast 43, set up for racing was not what a two person crew like us could handle. So it's back to searching for our yacht.

Trucks, buses and BMW drivers!

In my Blog # 9 I mentioned how our short shuttle bus trip from Valencia airport to the car rental place was a great reminder of how the Spanish like to drive.

Fast and unforgiving were two words that came to mind. Since spending 15 hours driving through Spain to Gibraltar and back, there are a couple more insights that I can share. Spanish truck drivers are more considerate than Australian truckies. Passenger coach drivers have a 'seize the moment' mentality and will just indicate and pull out into your lane regardless of the difference between your speed and theirs. And saving the best for last, there's a special category for BMW, Mercedes and Audi owners who clearly believe that the 120km/h (75mph) speed limit does not apply to them at all. They almost seem to appear out of nowhere and rarely does their speed drop below 145km/h (90mph), except of course when one of the coach drivers pulls out on them. Occasionally there will also be the 145km/h (90mph) maverick in a Ford or a Seat who is a wannabe BMW, Mercedes or Audi owner, but they are a rare breed.

Our drive down from Javea to Gibraltar started in light rain at 4:00am and about 3 hours into the trip, as we were driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Grenada, I noticed that the rain looked different in the beam of the headlights but I couldn't figure out why. It was only as dawn broke and I pulled in for our first refuel stop that I realised that we'd been driving through light snow for the last hour. I hadn't seen snow on the ground for 20 years and the last time I'd driven through it at night was in the UK some 30 plus years ago. As the approaching daylight slowly revealed the snowy landscape I had to admit that it was very beautiful and picturesque, but as I really can't handle being in a cold environment I was very happy to be viewing nature's beauty from inside the car with the heater blasting out warm air.

Snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Our trusty sat nav, which I'd preloaded with a complete European roads database, guided us perfectly to La Linea de la Conception the last Spanish area before you enter Gibraltar. Because parking in Gibraltar was a nightmare we had been advised to leave our car in the car park of Alcaidesa Marina and take a 15 minute walk across the border into Gibraltar. The parking charge was 5 Euros per day, but because we would be sailing into and staying overnight in Alcaidesa Marina, if we got our parking ticket validated the price went down to 2 Euros per day. With a total stay of 18 days we were very pleased about the reduced rate which we would pay on exit.

Alcaidesa car park with Gibraltar in background

Crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar is uncomplicated, you exit Spain by placing your passport onto an electronic reader, a facial recognition camera scans you and if all is good you get a green light, the barrier opens and you walk through. Then you walk 50 paces and enter Gibraltar passport control. The first time through we held our British passports up and opened at the photo page and got a disinterested nod from the guy and walked through. During our stay we crossed the border several times and in the end we got so casual about it that we didn't even bother opening our passports to the photo page, we just showed the front cover to indicate that we had British passports and were casually nodded through each time. After passport control was customs and again no interest at all was shown by the bored looking officials.

Apparently Gibraltar is the cradle of history!

After exiting the passport/customs building you're essentially in Britain, complete with red buses, old fashioned red telephone boxes, red Victorian post boxes, British bobbies and everything priced in UK pounds. Gibraltar only has a land area of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) and the airport and runway take up a huge slice of that land. Uniquely the runway cuts straight across Winston Churchill Avenue, the main north-south road into and out of Gibraltar, which gets temporarily closed off by barriers whenever aircraft arrive or depart. It's a really odd feeling walking across the runway to get into the main part of Gibraltar.

Rockefeller - Pride of the fleet of Rock Sailing Gibraltar

After our 15 minute walk we found our hosts Peter and Carrie from Rock Sailing Gibraltar waiting for us in Bianca's, one of the many bars and restaurants that line the marina. After introductions we were show onto 'Rockefeller' the 36 foot Jeanneau yacht that would be our floating home for the next few weeks. Our first RYA course, VHF radio handling, was scheduled for the following morning at 9:30am, so after stowing our belongings we decided to take a walk around. Traffic congestion in Gibraltar is insane, even the many scooters and motorbikes were having a hard time getting around. I was also surprised by how many people where on the streets, after all February is not really high season. It must be hell in the summer months when the big cruise ships arrive and thousands of tourists flood into the town and add to the chaos.

Main Street in Gibraltar

A walk along Main Street in the old town, with its cobbled streets and many narrow alleyways with intriguing names like Lime Kiln Road, Kings Yard Lane, Pitman's Alley, Victualling Office Lane and Upper Castle Road to name a few, is a strange mixture of the military history of Gibraltar combined with more modern high street shops with instantly recognisable names like Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and Morrisons. As a duty free zone I was bemused that you could buy a litre of Smirnoff Vodka for GBP 7.00 (AU$12.50), but a 750ml bottle of wine would be about the same price.

Tax free prices amazingly cheap!

Because we'd arrived late in the afternoon we did not get a

Old cannons line the city walls of Gibraltar

chance to do a lot of sightseeing, however we plan to be in Gibraltar in about 3 years time as it will be our final port of call for provisioning and refueling, before we head out into the Atlantic Ocean and set a course for The Canary Islands, so we'll do our sightseeing then.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. As twilight approached we stopped off at Morrisons Supermarket to buy some basic food items and headed back to Rockefeller. Unknown to us at this moment in time was that the next few weeks would be 12 hour days of mental and physical challenges as we were turned from complete sailing novices into upcoming salty sea dogs.

Two students eager to learn about sailing.

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