Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crossing "The Straight"

Last week we'd finished our time in Spain and it was time to move on. We had a couple of boat projects to wrap up, one of which was fuel filters. Not very glamorous, I know, but these babies were filthy! We must have run low on fuel a while back (I think somewhere near Rome) and sucked in some really fine dirt from the bottom of the fuel tank. Well, like most engines, diesels don't like dirt in the all, and I was really glad we got things sorted. We have 4 filters all together, and we changed or cleaned them all, bled the system, and were ready to leave the marina, and head out to anchor.

The advice we'd gotten was to leave Gibralter 2-3 hours after high tide to make the best of the water rushing in and out of the Mediterannean. If you think about it, the entire Med either goes one of two ways: through the Straight of Gibralter, or trickles down the Suez canal in Egypt to the Red Sea. So, there's a lot of water moving through here, and the straight is only 8 miles across!

The high tide was at 0300 (am) and so we planned to leave at 0600, which is still about two and a half hours before sunrise. It's a sketchy enough proposition during the daylight, as there is an unbelievable amount of tankers and container ships coming in and going out of the bay, and dozens more sitting at anchor. We were leaving in the dark, and wouldn't you know it? a thick layer of fog had settled in right as we were leaving the mouth of the bay. While the Straight is pretty narrow, 8 miles, it means the ships are funneled into a small area, and with fog and the early dawn, the visibility was down to almost nothing.

We are using AIS for collision avoidance, and I can tell you, we were staring at that little screen until our eyes were watering! It has a tiny circle on the screen, and you can set it for 2 mile radius, 5 miles, etc. We had it set on 5 miles and never saw less than 10 ships in our circle the whole crossing. All we could hear was fog horns announcing that they were getting close and our 'mini radar' to confirm. All of the sudden, they would appear out of the mist, and like huge metal ghosts, silently glide by and dissapear again. 

"Tense" is I guess the right word, not panicked, but certainly alert. The good news was it was very calm seas and we had a school of about 40-50 dolphins with us most of the way. It was like they were looking out for us, and that seemed to make it better. There were so many clustered in front of the boat, swimming and jumping, we could hear them squeeking to each other and it was really cool. Even though it was chilly and wet on deck from the fog, everyone was outside at dawn to see them all. 

Of course, as we neared the other side, at around 1000, the fog was gone, and we slipped right into the bay where the boat is going to be hauled out for us to fix the propeller. 

The whole day felt like the old video game of 'Frogger' and we were really glad to be tied up to the slip, waiting for the lift! 


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