The Rock

In 1992 Sabra made it to the Mediterranean and added another sea under her keel. This gave her a “life list” of blue waters including the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Mediterranean. There are six more oceans to visit on the list of ten largest oceans ─ Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, South China Sea, Bearing Sea, and Okhotsk Sea. My brother and I patiently waited for the winds to blow in the right direction, and then late one evening set out for the Straits of Gibraltar. Unfortunately, the winds died shortly after our departure from Puerto Sherry, Spain, and we motored most of the way.

By the first light of dawn, we saw a glow along the African shoreline, and shortly thereafter, the Rock of Gibraltar became visible. We motorsailed in the shadow of the Rock and slowly headed into the harbor on a bright sunny day. By midday, we tied up to the customs dock for another amusing immigration procedure. I recalled a book, Jupiter’s Travels, by Ted Simon in which he describes border encounters on his motorcycle circumnavigation. He frequently pitched a tent outside remote border crossings even before approaching the guards. He knew from experience that it took a long time to get through formalities and decided he might as well be comfortable while waiting. Boat encounters with borders are not much different and sailors have the option retiring to their cabin during lengthy procedures.

The immigration office looked like a temporary con­struction shack. It was occupied by three men at three separate desks. The desks were arranged with one at either end of the shack and one in the middle. With boat papers in hand, I was told to sit opposite the middle desk. The first question came from my right, and as I turned to answer, the second question hit me from the left. No sooner did I answer both when the person manning the middle desk fired a question. They kept up this back and forth pattern for several minutes. It was like watching a tennis match from a seat too close to the net. What made it humorous was a large calendar with several photos of nude women behind the official at the middle desk. So I kept swinging my head from right to left briefly stopping midway to stare at the calendar. Apart from the amusement, entry procedures were fairly quick and efficient. The Brits are known for their colonial efficiency and reserve. The nudes must have been a Spanish influence.

Afterwards we received instructions for our mooring at Marina Bay. It was my first attempt at a Med-Moor. Boats are either headed in or backed in to the pier with a mooring line running away from the pier to keep the boat perpendicu­lar to the pier. Many more boats can be accommodated this way than alongside finger piers, commonly used in the United States. The only disadvantage is the closeness of neighbors. Sabra’s immediate neighbors were from the Netherlands, with two dogs and a cat on one side and a British couple on the other side with cute two- and four-year-old kids.

We borrowed a couple of bicycles and circumnavigated the two and a half square mile peninsula. It was a good way to appreciate the small, dense, and diverse community of Gibraltar. Of course, The Rock dominates everything and is the predominant landmark visible from every nook and cranny of the peninsula. The Rock is dotted with World War I and II armament, testifying to the strategic significance of the Straits. We could see the African coast during most of our ride, and realized how easily shipping and naval vessels were monitored and controlled in time of war. During peacetime, Gibraltar continues to play a strategic purpose in the struggle with illegal immigration from Africa to Europe.

We took a cable car ride to the top of The Rock for a spectacular view of the Straits, the big gun emplacements, the African coast, and the famous Gibraltar Barbary Apes. Hordes of tourists gawking at their antics and feeding them has domesticated the resident apes who are constantly in search of a handout.

The marina is located within 100 feet of the Gibraltar airport runway. There were only two or three commercial flights a day and noise was no big annoyance. While we were there, however, the British Red Arrow acrobatic team (similar to the American Blue Angels), several German fighter planes, and Dutch stunt planes were in town for an air show. They were making practice runs as low as 50 feet over the runway at full power. The noise was deafening, exciting at first, but quickly became annoying. The only amusing part was the procedure used to scare away sea gulls before every takeoff and landing. A jeep drove to the end of the runway where an official shot off rounds with a shotgun before planes landed or took off. Every time we heard shotgun blasts, we braced for the engine noise.

We sailed back to Puerto Sherry after a short stay in Gibraltar. Our path took us close to the Moroccan coast. Technically, Sabra added Morocco to her list of countries “visited.” It was a beauti­full clear day as we sailed past the southern Pillar of Hercules. We commented on the heady feeling of sailing into the sunset along the African coast so far from friends and colleagues. We felt selfish and enjoyed every minute.

We crossed the Straits back to the Spanish side, and got a good view of the wind generators dotting the hillsides around Tarifa, one of the windiest places on Earth. Apparent­ly, these generators supply all the electrical needs of the city. One Brit called the field of propellers the Spanish Air Force. There seems to be considerable Spanish bashing on the part of the Brits. According to Spaniards, the feeling was mutual. In 1969 the border between Spain and Gibraltar finally opened. Twenty years later, it was still impossible to take public transporta­tion between countries, but you could walk across, or bicycle as we did.

The Straits have a rich mythology and maritime history because they formed a frightening barrier between the known Mediterra­nean Sea and the unknown Atlantic Ocean. In Greek mythology, Hercules reached the limits of the Mediterranean at the Straits and erected the twin pillars of the Rock of Gibraltar and Mt. Acho on the African side. The Pillars of Hercules marked the end of the known world and the beginning of the Sea of Darkness. However, it did not stop intrepid Phoenicians around the fifth-century B.C. in their commercial search for raw materials, especially metals. Now the Straits form a different sort of barrier between the slow, sunny, siesta oriented Mediterranean region and the colder, more frenetic-paced Atlantic community.

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