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.
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.
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.
‘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…
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.
11.30AM 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.
We locate a yellow buoy in front of us indicating a hazard and we have to pass it south. 16 knots of wind now.
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.
Tankers, little fishing boats and the Mediterranean mixing with the Atlantic in the Strait of Gibraltar
Sams Pirate socks
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.
Captain Steve briefs on the journey so far and the next passage to the Canary Islands.
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!
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!
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.
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:
Southern Tenerife seems for many adventure seekers a ‘no-go’ because of the big tourism developments and touristic crowd. Don’t let this hold you back from visiting the south coast. Costa del Silencio in particular: the south-east coast. The old fishing town of El Medano (meaning Sand dune) is the place to be, especially for wind and kitesurfers looking to extent the European summer. El Medano is the kitesurf town of Tenerife. Here’s a little El Medano adventure travel guide that helps you plan and get settled when thinking to go adventuring and/or kitesurfing in El Medano, Tenerife.
El Medano: a sense of place
La Montaña Roja is the landmark, a 171 high volcanic ‘red mountain’ and protected natural reserve, where you can climb, hike and cycle. The area around the ‘mountain’ is the playground for the waterlusted adventure seekers. El Medano is a chilled-out laid-back town that hasn’t been conquered by invasions of northern European beach people. As opposed to other parts of Tenerife here the Spanish vibe is definitely present. Fisherman are catching the tapa of the day, elderly people are chitchatting on the boulevard benches, and locals and adventure seekers are having una caña (draft beer) somewhere at the plaza or wooden board walk in the no-traffic zone. It’s one of these sticky places where you could end up hanging out wayyy longer than planned.
Kitesurfing in El Medano
El Medano is the kitesurf and windsurf spot in Tenerife. Thanks to the volcanic landscape on Tenerife, North East winds accelerate, and have made El Medano a popular spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing in Tenerife. Where in the rest of Europe wind- and kitesurfers squeeze themselves already into 5 mm wetsuits in november, El Medano is still ok in board shorts (not for shivery types like me though). Statistical July – August – September have the most windy days. As August is super crowded is places like Tarifa, El Medano could be a nice alternative. Windy days range from 15 up to 35 knots. It has made the place a windsurf world cup spot. When the Calima (strong hot dusty Sahara wind) is on, wind can go up to 35 knots. The bay at Playa los Balos has flat water or little swell. The spot is beginner friendly and there are many schools to choose from. The spot more upwind at playa El Cabezo is for the more advanced riders, where you can surf some sideshore waves. The wind usually picks up around noon and often lasts long enough for some sweet sunset sessions. Wind direction is side onshore. In the rare event of wind coming from the west you can kitesurf at Tejita Playa on the other side of Montaña Roja.
Cycle the Costa del Silencio! There’s nice coastal trail going from El Medano to San Miguel. The volcanic formations and erosions have created a super stunning coastline. Most beaches have an info point where you can learn more about the characteristics of the ecosystem. This is an easy peasy bicycle route. Inland there is more hardcore road and mountain-biking to ride. After all Tenerife has the highest peak of Spain! You can rent a good Mountainbike at BikepointTenerife. Hostel Los Amigos has budget bicycles which will get you along the coastline for 2 euro/day only.
Birdwatching in El Medano
The Montana Rojo is a special nature reserve with sand- and mud-based ecosystems. The area of Montana Roja has become a Special Natural Reserve and with more than 100 bird species it has been declared a Bird Area of International Importance. The Klentish plover is an endangered specie that can be spotted here.
Go Surfing in El Medano
El Medano and around has many surf breaks and board rental shops.
Snorkeling & Chilling
Chillax, have a picknick, go for a snorkel session and watch a sunset at La tejita Blue flag beach. There is a beach bar and beachwear is optional;)
Salt water pools of Tenerife
Go dipping in the saltwater pools that can be found along the coast of the Montana Rojo nature reserve. With high tide they are filled up and filtered by the volcanic rocks. in a number of locations within the reserve, fed by seawater filtered through the sand at high tide.
Hike up Montaña Rojo
It’s only a half an hour hike and the views are priceless.
Best time to go to El Medano?
All year round! It’s the place where summer continues in European winter. October-January is peak season and you need to book in advance, unless you go camping.
Where to stay in El Medano Tenerife?
Budget places to stay El Medano
Los Amigos Backpackers. 15 euro’s per night. This hostel is located few kilometers outside of El Medano. It’s a hostel run by backpackers for backpackers. For 2 euro you can rent a bike. If you leave before noon it’s no problem to take your kitesurf gear on the bike (poco viento). The staff is very active in organising daily excursions and dinner gatherings. Breakfast (cereals, bread, fruit & veggies) and towels are included. The wifi is good. The crowd is multi-national. It lacks Spanish ambience if that’s what you’re after. For people who specifically come to kitesurf in El Medano, you may want to stay right in El Medano town.
In the small alleys on the eastern side of the bay you find more nice coffee bars, wifi-bars, an eco food shop and discodancing options.
Local food of the Canary Islands?
Forget about your usual food. These are must tries when in the Canary Islands:
Papa arrugadas: Canary Island style salty potatoes which come with a delicious salsa (sauce) Mojo rojo (red) y verde (green). I cannot get enough of this, and of the Mojo especially!
Rancho Canario: a tasty local chickpeas soup. Very nutritional!
Queso Rojo: the local cheese!
Mango’s, papayas, kaki fruit and a lot of them!
How to get to El Medano?
El Medano is super close the airport. A taxi ride costs about 10 euro’s. In 15 minutes you can be with your feet in the sand. You can also take a guagua (bus). The Transportes Interurbanos de Tenerife linea 470 bus route passes through the town on its way to tourist town of Playa de las Americas. There are also buses from Santa Cruz.
Or rent a car a so you can do some more Tenerife exploration. +/- 35 euro/day.
Beyond El Medano
There is more in Tenerife than kitesurfing in El Medano. Climb, hike or cycle El Teide, Spain’s highest peak! Further, if time allows, consider going to La Gomera, a green tranquillo (quiet) hiking and biking nature islands south of Tenerife. It’s one hour by ferry or go hitch-sailing. Don’t go there for just a day.
Disclaimer: All recommendations in this El Medano Kitesurf & Adventure guide are my own. Some links are affiliate links, some are not. If you book through my site I get a few pesos to put into the adventure fund. Thank you! If you would like to know more about this cool coastal town, leave a comment below. Happy to help.
Thinking Tarifa for an active holiday or long term stay? Great minds think alike! After three years of intense exploration of the outdoor playground of Europe, I surely have some useful tips for you. You can use this little Tarifa travel guide as a start for your own Tarifa adventure! Read more
Salud! From the Chiringuito (beachbar), my amigos and I cheers with a Tinto de Verano (ice cold lemon summer wine) on another classic kitesurfing day. We’re watching some last colourful kites playing in the ocean and admire the sunset spectacle of today. This is ‘Tarifeando‘, the verb used for spending good times in the outdoor playground of Europe: Tarifa!