Thursday, October 15, 2015

A few weeks in Gibraltar

That famous rock viewed from the cable car platform

Flat, glassy sea all the way to Gib.

We tore ourselves away after 8 nights in Aguadulce marina for an overnight passage to Gibraltar on Saturday, 26 September.  There was zero wind and we would motor the entire distance in flat calm waters.  This was our preference.  We wanted to get there before the forecasted westerlies arrived to block our way.  The adverse current would be enough to deal with; better to avoid adverse winds too.

Clouds in the sea.  So flat and glassy that the sea
reflected the sky.
S/V Libertad departed at the same time and we were in company all day but lost sight of one another at dusk.  We stayed well north of the shipping channel, to avoid ships but mostly to avoid stronger current that flows farther southward in alignment with the Straits of Gibraltar.  We arrived at Queensway Quay Marina about an hour before Libertad.  We noticed that every single boat on our pontoon had springs or tires in place and we asked the dock hand if surge was a problem in the marina.  He said no and we tied up with just regular dock lines.  Later, we switched to springs because this marina most definitely does have surge.  It is not too bad but is enough to jerk the boat back and forth; best to use springs if stopping here. 

View of The Rock as we approached from the east.
That cloud at the top is an almost permanent fixture.

We were surprised at how humid and cloudy it was in Gib.

It is a toss-up as to which marina is the better location in Gibraltar, Queensway Quay or the Ocean Village one.  Ocean Village is a little bit closer to shopping…possibly.  Certainly the marina in La Linea is less expensive and probably would be the preference for any boats not needing to get out of the Schengen area.  As Americans, we wanted out of that dreaded Schengen nonsense for awhile.  We visited friends at La Linea and it seemed nice enough too.  

Europa Point, the southernmost point of Gibraltar.
Note the mosque which is still used today.

At the border crossing back to Gibraltar I asked the official if we could pay to have our passports stamped into Gibraltar.  He gladly stamped our passports free.  Thanks!  Another cruising American friend had to pay 10 pounds to have his passport stamped at this same location last year.  Guess it just depends on the mood of the official on any given day.

Momma ape with baby at top of The Rock.
One day we joined Dennis and Virginia of S/V Libertad for a day outing on The Rock.  This provided us with enough exercise to tide me over for a few weeks!  We took the cable car up and then walked all over what is called the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.  That is minimum 3.7 kilometers, mostly downhill but enough uphill that my heart was pounding.  That leaky valve does not like uphill inclines.  Near the end I sat in a parking lot while the other 3 walked uphill to visit the Great Siege Tunnels.  I had had more than enough of the Rock of Gibraltar.  
An old guy sleeping on the rails.  He would barely open one eye
but never moved.

And a widdle baby ape all by herself

An easier way to do this would be the taxi tours which are in small vans, usually 6 tourists.  The taxis take you right to each site; you walk only a few hundred feet; then they drive you right to the next site.  There are tour buses that do this also but those are too difficult for us.  One must first visit a travel agency at minimum a whole day before taking a bus.  The taxis cost about the same as the cable car and admissions prices.  We were not aware of this and did the cable car.  It was a nice day but if visiting here during heat of summer, I would definitely recommend the taxi tours.

How about this beach!  They built the outside barrier
at just the right height to allow slight water flow over
the top.  Perfect!  This is on the eastern side of Gib.

Looking south across the Strait of Gibraltar.
That is Africa over there!  Morocco, to be specific.

The views were pretty in every direction.  Kind of cool looking across at Africa. 

S/V BeBe is down there on left side of middle pontoon.
That large marina under construction on right is called
Harbour Bay.  Queensway Quay needs the competition.

And seeing our boats docked way below in the marina.

The west-east airport runway separating Gibraltar
from La Linea, Spain.  More than 2/3 of the people we
interacted with in Gib spoke Spanish.

And seeing the somewhat famous airport runway separating Gibraltar from Spain, across which runs a road and pedestrian traffic.  Looked like a very short runway to me.

Inside St. Michael's Cave
Another view of pretty St. Michael's Cave

From the top-most point of The Rock we walked down to St. Michael’s Cave.  Dennis opted to walk up to see O’Hara’s Battery but the other 3 of us were not interested in walking up that steep hill to see a battery that was all shut up according to a couple who had just returned from up there.  Dennis wanted to see it anyway so we let him go on by himself as we walked down to the cave. 

I would have expected this sign on the road
but not the other 2 above.
St. Michael’s Cave has been known about since well before Roman times.  It was used as a hospital during WWII.  Today it is used for concerts. It is well-lit and is a nice little cave.  Others might not think of it as little but after visiting the Glow Worm caves in New Zealand we considered St. Michael’s Cave to be small.  Nothing really special but glad we saw it.  We would have enjoyed hearing a concert there but there were none scheduled during the time we were in Gibraltar.

Next on our tickets was the Apes’ Den, but when we reached the road turn-off for it we saw that it was a steep road down.  Which would mean a steep road back up!  So all 4 of us opted not to bother to walk to the Apes’ Den.  Virginia said that she had read one review where the tourist said after walking down there that all the apes were gone.  We had seen apes all over the place so that might have been the case on this day too.  We skipped it.

We noticed this thick metal rings embedded
into the rocks along all the steep roads going
up to The Rock.
After another 2 kilometers walk we arrived at Princess Caroline’s Battery.  Nothing special except the view of that airport runway.
Then uphill to the parking lot where I chickened out and stopped while the others continued farther uphill to the Great Siege Tunnels.  They returned and we walked to the City Under Siege display where we watched a video about, what else, the Great Siege.
Finally, near the end of our long walk, we found
this sign describing the metal rings and their
purpose.  Confirmed what I suspected.

The WWII tunnels were closed.  These would have cost another 8 pounds each to visit.  Glad we had not sprung for those tickets since the tunnels were barred off and closed.
The last thing to see up there was called the Moorish Castle.  ‘Castle’ was a very generous term for this structure.  It was nothing more than the ruins of a tower.  Not very impressive.

And the insects were horrible!  The flies around Gibraltar were horrible during our entire 2-week visit.

The Moorish "castle"

Leaving the Moorish ‘Castle’ we walked downhill only a few hundred yards to a bus stop where we boarded a bus that dropped us off nearly in front of our marina entrance.  This was a very tiring day and my feet and calves felt the results of that much needed exercise.

The following week we made a 2-day car trip to Seville (which will be a separate blog posting), and then departed Gibraltar on Friday, 9 October, for an overnight passage to Rabat, Morocco. Before departure we went to the fuel dock over near Ocean Village Marina where we filled the main tank and all 10 jerry jugs with the most inexpensive diesel we have seen since Venezuela.  It cost only about $2.50 per US gallon here in Gibraltar. 

The ONLY thing we found inexpensive here!

As we were motoring southwest toward the tip of Spain a RIB with 8 men aboard came zooming up to our boat.  We were right on the 3 mile limit of Gibraltar waters, actually closer to Spain than Gibraltar. They circled BeBe and then came alongside starboard.  Apparently these men were Gibraltar Customs or Immigration or Marine Police or whatever.  The guy in charge asked what was our hailing port and we replied "St. Thomas, USVI."  He had just read it off our stern so that should have been obvious.

Next question: "Where is that?"
Answer: "St. Thomas is in the United States Virgin Islands, right next to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean."
His reply:  "Oh.  Okay.  Then USA flagged, correct?"
Answer:  "That is correct.  We just removed the ensign seconds ago because we are headed out to sea."
His reply:  "Have a safe and pleasant voyage."

For what it is worth, Reed's Maritime Flags is a book about maritime flag etiquette.  We consult it often looking up unfamiliar flags on other boats. That book plainly states that it is proper practice to remove a vessel's ensign when setting out to sea.  The ensign should be flown again when approaching territorial waters of destination.  The reasoning for this is that there is no one out at sea to see your flag anyway and this saves wear and tear and fading of flags.  Maybe we should have waited another hour before removing the ensign.  

Goodbye Gibraltar.  Another milestone down and done.

P.S. added 16 Oct 2015:  Here are a couple of photos of S/V BeBe during the passage from Aguadulce to Gibraltar.  You can see how calm it was.  The entire trip.  Thanks to Virginia Johns on S/V Libertad for these photos.


  1. frankly speaking I did not like Gibraltar. I agree it is myth for sailors and once in a life a stopover is due but there is really no reason to stop a second time. Everything is expensive, it is very english ( I love UK but here we are almost in Africa) and food is ugly. We landed in Gibraltar after nice weks in Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain and we could not wait to pass the strait and point the bow to Madeira and Lanzarote


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