Sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar – into the Atlantic Ocean

SV Eau Too – October 17, 2016. I’m 8 days at sea now.

I open my eyes and see the reflection of water moving on the ceiling. I sit up (which is a luxury on board!) and look outside. All I see is water. That’s a change of scenery from the starboard stern cabin. I always saw land when I woke up. We have made about a 1000 miles from France now. Is it a new day? I check the time and it’s 17.00. I feel like I’ve just experienced a few days since I was on watch from 21.00 – 00.00, 3.00- 6.00 and 10.00 – 14.00, and there were so many happenings and incidents. All on a few square meters of the island called a sailing boat. With all the naps and watch-keeping shifts, rhythm on a boat is nothing like on land. It may sound tough but it takes a few days and then you’re used to it.

Rewinding 11 hours….

6AM. I text my Tarifa friends with a photo of the chart plotter. 3G is working well. We’re 17 miles away from Gibraltar. With an average speed of 6 knots we’ll be passing the Strait in a few hours. My watch is finished so I crash to sleep. I’m on again at 10.00.

Navigating Strait of Gibraltar

I hear a familiar sound. The sound of the easterly levante wind zoofing around. I hop out of bed, climb into the cockpit and catch the sunrise when I look over to portside(live shakey insta video update). Looking starboard side, I see the rock of Gibraltar. I scan the horizon and there’s dozens of tankers around, most of them not under command,’ and many leisure fishing boats. It’s Sunday and there’s a full moon. Full moon means more fish closer to the surface. It’s awesome to see Gibraltar from a different perspective. Usually I drive past it on the other side when I go to Tarifa to kitesurf and see my friends there.

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I just came off watch 2 hours earlier but I’m too excited to go back to bed. We’re sailing into another continent today AND along Tarifa, which I’ve made basecamp over the last years. I already called my friends to get out there and wave from the land.

We planned to be around here at exactly this time. And we are. Good navigation plan, skip! At 9.19 the tide changes and we want to go with it, since tides can be strong here. With the full moon the tidal differences and current will be strong. Our COG (Course Over Ground) is 5 (degrees). We’re super lucky with the weather. The forecast gives a mild levante. Last time I passed through it , it was everything but mild. Apparently, the whole summer has been hardcore levante, since my kitesurf friends could hardly kite due to the strong winds.

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‘All ships, All ships…’

Someone on the radio broadcasts about a boat with an estimated 9 refugees floating around, if we can all look out for them. The weather is calm today, which is not that common for this zone. We, westerners making our sailing dreams happen, are not the only ones crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s also those that don’t even have a passport risking their lives to be alive. They make the same passage, the other way around, with a different boat, crew and destination. There surely is no ‘guide’ for that crossing! This is a daily event here in the Strait and it breaks my heart. No numbers on refugees exist and only Neptune knows how many get taken by the current…
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Looking out over the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco, photo taken in Tarifa, Spain

9.30 AM The wind speed meter is slowly going up. We’re having around 9 knots of wind now. With only the headsail up, a little bit of wind and current, we slowly glide towards Tarifa, running a speed of 3.5 knots. I’m on the helm now and zigzagging mainly between leisure Sunday fishing boats. On our port side one tanker after the other is passing by, navigating through the TSS (‘Traffic Separation Scheme’). Hundreds of them pass through each day. On the AIS (Automatic Identification System) we can see where they are going: Nicaragua, Mexico, Recife, Gran Canaria, Rotterdam. Our global sea transport system is fascinating, yet such a polluted element of our society. Not just the fuel but the noise does a lot of damage. Sounds reaches much further underwater than via air. It kills the whales. And here’s more reasons to Go local. 
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11.30 AM We have 12 knots of North East wind and the compass is pointing 83 degrees now. We slowly sail into the strait. From my obsessive kitesurf wind checking and analyzing back in the days, I know that around noon the levante wind usually picks up. I already see the kite surfers playing around at Balneario surf spot next to Las Paloma’s Island, the most southern point of continental Europe. Like last time I crossed the ‘Strait of Gib’ from the other direction, I get on the phone with my friend Vince, who’s walking the dog and waving. We locate a yellow buoy in front of us, indicating a hazard, and we have to pass it south. 16 knots of wind now.
Vincy & Tibu waving to Eau Too from Tarifa. Photo: Insta.Vincy on Instagram

We locate a yellow buoy in front of us indicating a hazard and we have to pass it south. 16 knots of wind now.

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Looking out for Vince!

13.20. With a speed of 7.6 COG we are sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a bit quieter with the tankers now. It was super timing to do this passage on a Sunday! There seems to be less boats than usual. Great, because we have to somehow cross one of the busiest Traffic Separation Schemes in the world. The wind picks up and with 20-25 knots we cross the TSS to ‘the other side.’ It’s like we’re going through boiling water. Here is where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. There’s no straight line separating the seas. With a different salinity, different layers mingle and create a wild water lane across the strait. Little Moroccan fishing boats show up. I can’t believe the danger they put themselves in with all these tankers passing by on both sides. Tarifa gets smaller and smaller as the mosque of Tangier becomes bigger on the horizon. With a separation of only 14 km, we have gone from Europe to Africa, sailing the Strait of Gibraltar.
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Tankers, little fishing boats and the Mediterranean mixing with the Atlantic in the Strait of Gibraltar

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Sams Pirate socks

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Ozzie Carly has prepared a Moroccan style cous cous salad to bring in the Moroccan vibes.

14.00 I hand over the helm to the next watch. I take the best seat of the boat, in the corner at the stern. This restless soul finally gets to sit down. I clip my toenails and enjoy the view of Morocco. Sam is putting her pirate socks on the guardrail to dry. George is talking Arabic on the phone. Carly is on ‘mother watch’, preparing foods. Bart is somewhere and Kirstin is asleep. Then I’m off for a snooze. Snooze number 3? 4? of today. I have no idea anymore.
Briefing Strait of Gibraltar

Captain Steve briefs on the journey so far and the next passage to the Canary Islands.

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At 17.00 I wake up. I look outside and all I see is water. We sailed the Strait of Gibraltar and are in the Atlantic Ocean!
The Eau Too Crew

I’m off to the cockpit to check out the Moroccan Coast. We have the Atlantic swell now meaning big long waves and a relatively non-rocky dinner outside. We have dinner and dolphins are stealing the show. We already got spoiled with dolphins on the bow but the show we get now is unbelievable. I have never seen so many dolphins together. There’s hundreds of them, jumping, playing and swimming to our boat! Seriously this has been such an exciting, lively and eventful day! It tastes for more. And there’s so much more to come; it’s just the beginning. Thank you Eau Too for having me part of your crew! I have to close the laptop now because at 21.00 I’m on watch again and I need to take a rest. The exciting day isn’t over yet!

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What a day, what a day!!!

21.00 We have calm seas, the full moon in the sky and with Sam I chat about this memorable day on sailing the Strait of Gibraltar.

In 7 days we sailed from Fréjus, France to Morocco.  Now in the Atlantic! To be continued…

Later THAT day <3

About this Atlantic ocean hitch-sailing adventure

October 9 I hopped on boat ‘Eau Too.’ An 57 foot Black Sea Yacht built in 2007 and refitted by the current owner over the last years. ‘Eau Too’ sets sail for a circumnavigation. We’re seven people on board and have six nationalities present: Lebanon, Poland, France, Australia, UK, and me from Holland. How cool is that? Surely we’re going to have lots of stories to exchange during the ride. I’m joining for the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps longer. Or perhaps another passage or island exploration later at some point. Let’s see. We have an ocean to conquer first! And then I have to finish a book on exactly this.
 Happy to be on board Eau Too
With Eau Too we join the ARC+. The ARC is a sailors’ bucketlist thing and I’m a lucky bastard to join the spectacle. Together with 74 other sail boats we leave the harbour of Las Palmas for the Atlantic ocean, via Cape Verde. We made it to Las Palmas and are now preparing for the big trip. The first passage has been Frejus (France) to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary islands (Spain). We’ve made 1522 miles in 12 days.
Sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar was a day from this passage I will never forget. In a good way!
Ahoy! xxx Suz

Thoughtful Travel Take-Aways:

Learn more on the refugee situation in the Strait of Gibraltar:

Resources to learn more about noise pollution here: OceanConservation Research, Environment360, and Animal Welfare Institute

Learn more on Global Shipping situation: 3 steps to Greener Shipping and Growth to Globalisation.
Looking to go on a hitch-sailing ocean adventure like this?  Check out: Ocean Nomad – Catch a Sailboat Ride & Contribute to a Healthier Ocean

“This ambitious guide book is the spark that will ignite your sense of adventure and provoke your compassion to creating a better world.” Monique Mills(Captain & Ocean Citizen)

 

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