Trip Reports

The Rock (08-Oct-2002-20-00):
8:00 PM local time, Tuesday, October 8 (1800 Oct. 8 UTC) 36 09 N 005 21 W. Temp. 74, Humidity 77%, Cloud Cover 100%. Rain. At a berth in Gibraltar.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We are in a marina in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar. Obviously, this is a major signpost and marks another significant transition for our lads. We arrived ahead of schedule and in a bit of a fog, but before we go into our present situation let us bring you up to date.

When last we gave any details, we were in the port of Colom on the island of Mallorca, and on our way to Ibiza. We sailed in very light air for a while on our trip there, but mostly proceeded under power. Ibiza was just fine, but it was not the den of iniquity we had been led to believe. There is a robust bar scene at the harbor, and some women do go topless at the beaches. It is no doubt ungallant of the Captain to propose that appearing topless in public areas, like the current fad inspired by our girl Britney of revealing a few inches just above and below the navel, is not the wisest fashion choice for every woman. Or man, for that matter. But there it is. There also may be some strip joints in Ibiza. I don't know, we rarely stay up that late. Like Mr. Shrode says, ¨I´m not fifty anymore, you know.¨ I took a ferry trip over to Formentera, which is a small island next to Ibiza. This island had been highly recommended, albeit thirty years ago, by my friend Lowell Turner. Mr. Turner was, at the time I first knew him, the co-host of a radio show called "Jack and Harriet's Pie Shop" with another friend, Kip Sullivan. When socializing with Mr. Turner, one was most often greeted with a devil-may-care smirk and the salutation, "Comment sa va sa derriere?" I believe this means something in a foreign language. Unfortunately, the radio business is a brutal one. When last I heard, Mr. Turner had been forced to take a professor's chair at Cornell to earn his keep, and Kip was a lawyer. Alack-a-day, how the mighty have fallen.

Should I have the good fortune to see my old friend's face again, I would have to report that Formentera now has the highest number of motor scooter rentals per square inch of anywhere in the world. They also have a hippie market, which is highly touted, so Ship's Purchasing Agent Terry Shrode made me go to see what a decent hippie costs nowadays. It seems like yesterday when they were a dime a dozen, but one fears that as the supply has diminished, so has the demand, which, truth be told, was never very high to begin with. The hippie market was a bit sad, I'm afraid, compared to its forebears back in the freewheeling era wherein the sobriquet found its origin. Only a trace of patchouli in the air brought a frisson of past glory to the Captain's heart.

Departing Ibiza, we motored every inch of the way to Gibraltar, stopping to anchor overnight at Motril, an unpleasantly fragrant town on the south coast of Spain. Our intention was to travel to Granada but we found reservations were necessary and decided to leave it until Gibraltar. When we approached Gibraltar, about one hundred miles further along, we knew it only by the GPS, since we encountered very thick fog. We would certainly have preferred to see that famous landmark from afar and reflect on the symbolism of our proximity to it, but it was not to be. So thick was the fog that the Captain perched himself on the bow to watch and listen for traffic. We slowed down and sounded our horn at the prescribed intervals, because, as the reader may remember, we had no radar, which was a victim of the lightning in Greece. I heard an engine and shouted back to Mr. Shrode at the helm that there was a boat at two o'clock, broad on the starboard bow. I peered through the mist and could make out a dark shape, perhaps an eighth of a mile away. About ten seconds later, a giant supertanker appeared that took up the whole horizon. The dark shape had been its rudder; we were about 75 feet from it.

"Hard to port!" I shouted, and by the time I did, I realized it was at anchor. It was a little unsettling to know just how far we could, or rather, couldn't see. We slowed down even more and headed further inshore, thinking we'd avoid any heavy traffic, and we felt our way around Europa Point, and into the Bay of Gibraltar. As Africa and Europe form two opposing pincers at the end of the Mediterranean Sea, it would appear on a typical world map that they face each other from sharp points of land, and I had visualized Gibraltar as being on the north side, and the mountains of Morocco on the south. But a larger-scale map will show that the Strait of Gibraltar is an asymmetrical slot about thirty miles long, which narrows to 8 miles in width between Point Marroquí (Spain) and Point Cires (Morocco). On the northeast corner of the slot is a bay shaped like a horseshoe on a wall, the west side of which is glued to the land, leaving the eastern side to form a peninsula about three-quarters of a mile wide. The southern three miles of this peninsula is occupied by the British colony of Gibraltar. The Rock extends for about two of these three miles, and on its western flank is the city and port of Gibraltar. It would not be visible, on most approaches, from the open sea.

We were lucky to find a berth at one of the three marinas here. We are situated about five hundred feet from the runway of the airport, but there aren't that many flights so it doesn't bother our repose. Apparently, there are several plane wrecks off the end of the runway, right in the anchorage, that are popular dive sites. That's one reason we're not at anchor-not the divers, that is, but the planes and what they suggest. Here with us are Red Sea compadres Delphis, L'Oasis, Stitches Explorer, Karma, Otter, and Francis on Okiva. (Paul and Paula are in the US.) We saw the scar on Francis' head where he took 23 stitches after a fall across the large cabin of Okiva in heavy weather off of Sicily, requiring five days in the hospital.

The city of Gibraltar, along with the Rock, is the most interesting place we've been in the Med, as, for one thing, it is part Britain, part Spain. They have a language of their own, but many people, of quite diverse origin, are bilingual as well. There are several proper pubs in town with pub food and Newcastle Brown on tap. There are British ceremonies, and the Queen's likeness appears on the twenty-pound note, although the money is slightly different than the English sort. The entire area is chock-a-block with historical sites and places of interest to the geologist.

We arrived last Sunday the 29th, but it was a week before the fog and drizzle cleared. Yesterday we took a cable car to the top of the Rock. It's solid limestone, and there is a cave in it that rivals any I've seen for stalactites and stalagmites. There are thirty-two miles of tunnels made by armed forces of various eras up to WWII, which is a lot of miles in a two-mile rock. There are so-called "Barbary Apes," really a tailless, terrestrial macaque (Macaca sylvana), that have the free run of the place, a la Bali. At the southern tip of the rock is a 9.2-inch gun that can fire a 380 pound shell all the way past the shore of Morocco, which from there is about thirteen miles.

But all this is of small consequence compared to the view. Looking out on the vista brings one of the rare moments in this voyage where there is some sense of the weight of the whole undertaking. In Tahiti, you must pinch yourself. You sailed all the way to the South Pacific. The Torres Strait. The South China Sea. Borneo. Ceylon. The Red Sea. The Suez Canal. The recounting of it suggests drama, but like life at home, this usually gets lost in concerns over the everyday. Now you look south and can see the mountains of Morocco across the Strait. To the east is the Mediterranean Sea you've just traversed, to the west, the large Bay of Gibraltar, full of ships from all over the world. And out to the southwest there is an ominous yet seductive haze reaching through the throat of the Strait out into the void, the beginning of the same great Atlantic Ocean that heaves itself onto the shores of Cape Canaveral, and Myrtle Beach, and Kitty Hawk, and Asbury Park, and Coney Island, and New Bedford, in America.

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