We really, really, do love this place…. After a short trip down the coast we had to return to Alvor for two important reasons. Firstly my old work mate Ian was coming over for a weeks stay with us and we had arranged to pick him up from Lagos. Secondly the Euro 2016 football was just about to start and I knew that Alvor had some great venues to watch it. Ian duly arrived and we made the short journey from Lagos to anchor in our usual spot in Alvor.
I hope, and I think that Ian really enjoyed himself. We had a great week enjoying Alvor and enjoying the football. It took Ian most of the week to feel comfortable about using the dinghy and outboard to get from the boat in to town and it wasn’t without incident but I cannot discuss those matters here…suffice to say it will give us something to chuckle about for quite a few years to come…we both had some great nights in the Alvor Sports café and got told off more than once by June for coming back to the boat a little worse for wear after one too many beers…the week as usual disappeared alarmingly fast and we had to go back around to Lagos to drop Ian off for his transfer to Faro airport. It was good to have someone who actually wanted to come over and see how we live and enjoy this beautiful place we are in…I think and hope Ian left seeing and realising that there is life after work and that it is much much better for your health and wellbeing.. we have some more friends and ex workmates coming over in September and I hope they can have just as good a stay..
Just a quick note to thank the staff at Alvor Sports Café for making us so welcome for the month the Euro football was on, Nelson, Junior and the wonderful Carla were all brilliant, Carla especially has been a really good friend and June has found a new Facebook friend who also just happens to like playing the games June does..Farmville, Hayday….apparently !! After the disappointment of England it was fun to become honorary Portugal supporters and the final night was fantastic…the atmosphere memorable with beer flying everywhere when Portugal scored and eventually won….it took us 20 minutes just to get out of the place it was that packed..
Another quick mention to a few other locals who we have become really good friends with, Vitor and Santos from Alvor sailing, who have been really helpful, Steve and Lynn from the tripper boats who always stop for a gossip, Rory & Jane who have their boat permanently moored here in Alvor and finally Martina & Daniel from Switzerland who are moored next to us in their Lagoon 400 on one side and Edip from Germany on our other side….these two are also finding it very difficult to leave Alvor…
After the football I said to June we must move, and go out and actually do some sailing…after a few days discussing it we decided to venture eastwards along the coast and make our way for a short stay in Gibraltar…our first stop however was Faro. When you venture in to the entrance you have two choices..turn to starboard and you can make your way down to the anchorage at Culatra. Having done this previously we instead turned to port and made our way to anchor just outside Faro city itself…this turned out to be wise choice. Its a well protected anchorage and has very short and easy access to the local fishing marina which is pleasingly very welcome to let you tie up your dinghy on their fuel pontoon and help yourself to water from the tap there. It helps to stop in to the adjacent café for a beer or two to show your appreciation. By sheer coincidence (honestly) the week we decided to spend in Far also coincided with the annual Faro Bike week…suffice to say the week we had there was great…bikes from all over Europe including many brits, bars and nightly bands on stage in the main square…we both agreed even without the bikes Faro is one of our top places along this coast.
From Faro we set off and planned to anchor overnight at Cadiz which we did. First trying the bay outside Rota but because of a nasty swell went across the bay under the new road bridge to the anchorage just further on outside Cadiz itself. This was fine for the night but on leaving the following morning we were faced with an even larger swell right on the nose until we cleared the bay and made worse by a stiff 25 knot wind. About 30 to 45 minutes it took us to get out and eventually turn eastwards crashing through some large and nasty swell…the boat was more than capable but it was certainly not pleasant…during this we also realised we had made the basic and disastrous mistake of not securing the saloon overhead hatch properly…the result of the wave that came up and over the boat deposited a gallon or two of seawater down the main hatch on to the saloon table and seats…June was mortified to discover she had also left her phone on the table…result …one dead Samsung S4…once we turned with the swell and wind behind us we had a pretty good and fast sail all the way to Gibraltar in company with another multihull and a couple of mono’s. Sods law though as we got to within 5 miles of Gibraltar the wind suddenly shot up and the last bit across the Gibraltar bay to La Linea was really nasty with winds of 45 knots…yet as soon as we made the final approach to La Linea marina it was as though someone had flicked a switch and all was calm again…that’s sailing for you !! Oh also I must apologise for the lack of photo’s on this post….guess what most of the photos were taken on…yep Junes phone !!
We spent a very nice week in La Linea marina…its relatively cheap, pretty good facilities and is an easy 300 yards to the border crossing in to Gibraltar …La Linea is quite a thriving town itself with all the usual shops, restaurants etc . One place it has got a few hundred yards from the marina is the best Chinese buffet restaurant I have ever been to…we went twice ! We were also blessed with being there when the fair was in town…it was huge…some of the rides would not have looked out of place at a theme park never mind a travelling fair…we sat on the boat late at night watching the impressive fireworks display at the end of the night…only to discover the following morning that the slight breeze had blown all the firework debris and ash all over the marina.. cue the pressure washer and another 3 hours of cleaning !!
And what of Gibraltar itself…well getting there is extremely easy from La Linea. Its only around 300 metres from the marina to the border…we did however dig the fold up bikes out of their locker to make the journey. Its so much easier by bike, you go with the flow of other bikes and we had to do nothing more than a casual flash of our UK passports to the border guards and that was that. We were warned previously however that the Spanish guards can sometimes be strict on making sure you had a cycle helmet when coming back over the border in to Spain, so we purchased two cheap ones from the local China Shop for 5eu each. Gibraltar is relatively small and there are a lot of people who live and work there…cars seem more of a hindrance more than anything else so the transport of choice is scooter….there are hundreds of them everywhere.
We did foolishly think that given Gibraltar’s tax free status that everything would be cheap….wrong….prices are as you would expect back home in the UK….and this is something as a shock after getting used to oh so cheap Portuguese prices. Ok there are some cheap items like booze from the Supermarkets but other items like meat etc was very expensive. What it did provide however was a chance to stock up on items in Morrisons that we had not had for ages….Tea bags, Apple Sauce, Vimto Squash, John Smiths beer, English Sausages, and so on.
We went in to Marina Bay, Gibraltar to check out the restaurants and bars and to take a look at the Casino/Hotel Cruise ship that is permanently moored there now. June as is June got talking to one of the door staff/ security men Ian….if you picture a typical club doorman then he was it…large, shaven head, and don’t mess with me look…. Ian was actually a really nice guy from Manchester and he offered to give us a guided tour of the ship from top to bottom…most of the restaurants on the ship were quite posh and much too expensive for our tastes but it was amusing to see the guests eating there looking at us being shown around and trying to work out if we were some rich or famous celebrities or not !!
Gibraltar is described by many as a Marmite place, ‘hate it or love it’, I still cannot quite make up my mind, I liked the easy access to any shop you could wish for just as in any other UK city, I didn’t like the UK prices though…the traffic is a nightmare so bikes are a must in my opinion. It was extremely hot when we were there but strangely there was a cloud which forms and sits on top of the rock, and it sat there for six days solid and didn’t change, quite weird. The border itself is the runway of the airport and when planes arrive or take off it naturally closes whilst this takes place. The build up of traffic on the La Linea side gets pretty large and people seem to think that if they sit in the queue blasting their car horn its going to help….it doesn’t !!. Another thing that I didn’t expect here was the fact that there are nice beaches and very clear blue water…all the more surprising when you see the very large number of container ships, tankers, and cruise ships in and around Gibraltar bay. One thing that Gibraltar is great for however is fuel, or more precisely the cost of fuel….47 pence a litre !! the day before we left we went around to the fuel pontoons in Gibraltar and waited in line for a spot to go and fuel up…things were not helped by a huge ‘gin palace’ motor boat taking on a huge amount of fuel. We asked the attendant and he told us they were taking on 50,000 litres and it was taking them 3 hours to do !! That’s just under £25,000 worth of fuel…on the other hand by filling up here as opposed to most anywhere else in Europe the owner has just saved himself around £30/35,000….WOW ! we were quite pleased with the savings we made on our 200 litres !!
When we come down this way next year I wont hesitate to stop at La Linea again as opposed to the two Gibraltar marinas. One thing I will do however is take the advice of a few people we met who told us the best way to get internet access in Spain was to get hold of a UK ‘3’ Mobile sim or phone contract with which you can use your phone plan in Spain….after the excellent Portuguese internet sims, Spain’s are rubbish..
Overnight to Alvor
Having checked and double checked the weather and winds we made plans to sail back from Gibraltar to Alvor in one hit…an overnight passage of some 190 miles. After the nasty experience of getting in and out of Cadiz bay we decided to give it a miss on the way back. It was an early start and before long we encountered our first problem…Fog… we had the radar and AIS to keep an eye on ship movement but its still very unnerving listening to the large freighters in and around the busy Straights of Gibraltar sounding their fog horns…it certainly heightens your senses. Once we approached Tarifa the fog cleared and I sat hoping for a pleasant trip…this didn’t last long as the forecast 20 knot winds soon became a distant memory…cue winds gusting at 45 knots and a very large but thankfully following swell… it was not nice at all but we both realised at least with the wind and swell from behind it was manageable and much preferable to trying to turn away and try and run for cover with the difficulties of trying to find somewhere safe to get in to. We progressed for a while with heavily reefed sails and in company with one other yacht about 3 miles to port of us and soldiered on. After a while even this proved too much and it was easier to reduce all sail and motor with both engines….this state of affairs carried on until late afternoon and didn’t begin to calm until we were off Cadiz… being quite exhausted by the days weather turning to Cadiz looked very inviting but we decided after what we had been through we may as well continue. As night fell we lost sight of the other boat who had been our companion through the day and the wind completely died away. We switched to one engine and continued throughout what turned out to be a relatively calm night, only the large following swell remained….the amount of stars you see when you don’t have any light pollution from land is always magical and we were treated yet again to watch the International Space Station zipping past overhead. Daylight came and we managed to get the sails out as some wind showed up…sods law again though because as we passed Faro the winds shifted 180 degrees and the final few hours up to Alvor became another unpleasant slog…36 hours it took to do the 190 mile trip and we were both mightily pleased to drop anchor in Alvor bay…a quick meal, shower…then bed.
Next morning…calm…sunshine… and the familiar sights of Martina and Daniels Lagoon and Edip in his mono who still hadn’t moved….ahh Alvor…it was good to be back !