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GJW Direct 2020

OCC RoRC report from the Iberian Peninsula

by Rhys Walters 20 Sep 22:29 UTC

We started the season in Portimao after 3 months of Brexit-enforced leave in Ireland. Thankfully since then, I've been made an Irish citizen and with that comes an unlimited time in the Schengen zone.

My heart goes out to the UK cruisers we have met this year that are struggling with the 90-day deadline; it's a nonsensical situation for them.

From Portimao, we shook off the cobwebs with a short and leisurely sail to Albufeira to meet some friends, with an even shorter hop soon after to Vilamoura. Both places have their merits, but we were eager to get back to anchor and away from the madness of them. Thankfully, Culatra wasn't too far away and we had heard great things about it, being a huge and very well-protected anchorage so long as you didn't get the tides wrong at the entrance. Our plan was to stay there while we waited for our autopilot to arrive out of customs, and then once it was fitted we wanted to go to Madiera and then the Canaries.

It wasn't long after we arrived there that we decided that it wasn't the place we wanted to be. While definitely a very well-protected anchorage, there were a lot of abandoned boats there which made it feel like a graveyard, and the taxi boats made life on board difficult at high tide when they used a shortcut and the anchored boats as something to aim for, usually sending a big wake as they passed at 20 knots.

The island was pretty, but Olhao isn't much to write home about and it felt a bit unfriendly, especially when compared to the rest of Portugal which was usually extremely welcoming and friendly. After a quick check of the weather, and a bit of passage planning we decided we should head for Gibraltar, and if the autopilot arrives someone coming our way would surely bring it down from Portimao, which people we had met later did.

We left Culatra on a Saturday morning with a decent forecast to get us all way through the Straits, hitting Tarifa at just the right time for the tides. Unfortunately, this is when our season started to take a negative turn and we lost a few weeks to some issues. Firstly, the trip from Culatra to Gibraltar didn't go to plan, as the wind died shortly after sunset and we had to motor in a pretty uncomfortable swell for several hours, resulting in me getting very sick due to a combination of rolling and diesel fumes. We decided to cut the trip slightly short at Barbate to reassess and pick some better weather.

After a day or so there, I went to check the engine oil and noticed a decent amount of water in the bilge. I knew we had a small leak somewhere beforehand, but I had thought it was a faulty siphon loop. On further inspection this time I found the seal around the stern tube as it passed through the hull was leaking, more so when motoring. Also, our new gearbox was leaking oil. Not good after only 200 hours. The leaks weren't dangerous, so we made our way with some excellent sailing to Gibraltar, hitting 10 knots in the straits with a strong current and 35 knots of wind behind us.

After a few days of calling various boatyards, only to find them all either full or difficult to deal with (like La Linea who only allow you to work on the boat in business hours and you are banned from living on board, crazy), we found a very helpful and friendly yard in Marina Motril which would take us whenever we arrived.

After an excellent downwind sail under Asymmetric Spinnaker we arrived in Fuengirola, before the next leg to Motril where we found an extremely warm and friendly welcome. I highly recommend that marina and yard. It took me a week to fix the leaks, the engine had to be moved way forward to change the gearbox seal. While I was in there I changed the dripless shaft seal, RnD coupler and did the engine alignment.

The stern tube was very loose, and the sealant had failed, hence the leak; so I pulled it out, cleaned it and resealed it. We were back in the water within the week, and we left once I was happy the boat wasn't sinking any more, which was an hour after launch.

We arrived in Almerimar, and I spent the next 8 days fitting our autopilot. We were very excited about it because we had done the last 2000 miles by either wind vane or hand steering which was tiring. I started by making a bracket out of stainless, but when the whole system was installed it proved to be too weak, so I had to remake it in heavier mild steel. Thankfully, I keep a welder on board, so I could make both parts easily on the side of the road next to the boat. It was an experience to weld in that heat!

Once we were ready for sea trials, we left and headed further north for some more adventure. It's important to remember that cruising isn't all sundowners and fun, it can be a hard-fought battle and some say cruising is just fixing boats in exotic places, which it can be for sure.

Just remember when you have your head stuck in the engine bay in nearly 40C, you're not alone.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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