Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Fancy a Sherry? – well just the one! ….. August 2011

Sherry tasting with a coffee chaser in Jerez
Being grounded in Cadiz with the Levante winds blowing gave us a chance to explore inland.  One day we decided to take the train  to Jerez de la Frontera, Spain's home of  Sherry.  It was a hot day and once we got away from the coast the temperature rose considerably.  By the time we had taken the long walk into the station at Cadiz, waited for the train, undertaken the journey, walked into the town centre and found the orange tree lined main square in pretty Jerez the only thing we could concentrate on was shade, food and cool drinks.  

On reflection we really should have checked the times of the Sherry Tours first as we narrowly missed the 2pm English speaking tour at the Bodegas González Byass, one of Spain’s biggest sherry distilleries and home to Tio Pepe sherry.  Tio Pepe monument in Jerez The next tour wasn’t until 5pm so we skipped the opportunity of learning all about the making of sherry and went for a stroll around this rather lovely town instead.  There is a rather small but impressive g 11th Century Almohad fortress - the Alcazar, a lovely church closeby and of course the cathedral.  In so many of these Spanish towns we have visited the Moorish and Christian buildings sit contently as neighbours and it always makes for an interesting blend of architecture and history.

Cafe lined pedestrian lanes led onto more plazas, and although it is a reasonably small central area we enjoyed exploring the shady streets.  Many of the buildings had very heavy woven wicker (I guess) roll down external blind for shutters, something we had not seen anywhere else.  They all looked rather old but I can’tJerez imagine them wearing too well with all the summer sun then winter winds and rain.

Eager to at least partake in some sherry of the region we took time out from our busy sightseeing to have afternoon coffee – and a sherry.  To be honest neither of us actually think we have ever had a sherry before, so we sat and read some info we had about now it is produced and supped away at our glass of Tio Pepe.  shady plaza in JerezSo in case you want to know ….

Sherry is technically a wine and is produced mainly in the Andulucian region of Spain.  It begins its life as white wine but then has some grape brandy added to it to fortify it, this also stops fermentation and makes it end up as sherry.  Ours looked just like a glass of a light white table wine but sure didn’t taste like it.  I suspect it is a taste that one develops with age, and quite clearly we are still way too young to fully appreciate its fine qualities!!!!  Needless to say we did not return with our bags full of Sherry, but we did however have an enjoyable day out.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Cadiz – Europes’ Oldest City ….. August 2011

08 – 13 August 2011 P8100076
The weather was calm enough for us to enjoy 4 nights at anchor at Puerto Sherry. We had been lucky to meet Ted, a fellow cruiser, who did some work on our Single Side Band Radio for us, it had been having intermittent problems - always the worse kind - but he happily sat and took it apart, fiddled about, cleaned inside and presto, it is now as good as new. It never ceases to amaze us the skills different cruisers have and their willingness to share them whenever they can.

We were ready to move across to the marina in Cadiz, we wanted to explore the city, take in a flamenco show and do some inland touring. We checked the weather sites and one out of four (we like plenty of opinions when it comes to the weather) was showing building southeast winds on Monday evening, our anchorage was exposed to the south, so it was time to move on. We motored across the bay in light winds on Monday and secured a berth on the visitors’ pontoon at Puerto America Marina. We thought we had a great spot, easy access by the entrance, a view out into the harbour, chance for the breeze to come around the breakwater, other cruising boats nearby ……. and then the “levante” started blowing. We had heard about the levante, winds from the east, which in these parts come off the land, carrying with it all manner of dust, dirt, sand and anything else it can pick up enroute.P8120103

Our easy access by the entrance gave us no shelter from the waves building across the harbour, they came straight in, crashing over our stern and causing us to snatch constantly on our lines, our view out now meant we had very little shelter, and the breeze coming around the breakwater turned into a gale over 30 knots for 3 days and nights!!!! There was very little rain, but salt water flew around freely, giving the dust and dirt a great moist layer to stick to, they blended well and almost turned into cement … never before, not even with all the sand and dust in the Red Sea, has Balvenie been so dirty, inside and out, oh well what can you do?

P8100083 So we abandoned ship and took to the streets day and night - we had the wonderful city of Cadiz to explore. Historians say it may well be the oldest city in Europe, dating back to 800BC when Phoenician traders arrived. In more recent times it became a very important harbour following Colombus’ trips to the Americas.

The cobbled streets in the old town area are the narrowest we have seen in a city, I am sure neighbours could pass the odd bowl of olives across from balcony to balcony without a stretch.  There are countless plazas, old knarled trees provide much needed shade, sidewalk cafes spill out and the smell of calamari frying fills the air.  The Central Mercado was a bustling place, with the catch of the day not smelling quite as appealing as the fried calamari, but we have never seen such a collection of prawns and shrimps, and in such pretty colours!P8100082

As with all Spanish cities the Cathedral is huge and dominates a large plaza, it took over 120 years to build so displays several types of architecture. Nearby is the Roman Theatre, excavation is still a work in progress as it was not discovered until 1980, yes the Romans have been here too!! 

      P8100091 We spent a few hours in the   Museo de Cadiz.  There was excellent display of archaeological findings from settlements and burial sites, dating from prior to the Bronze Age.  Then there were two exceptional sarcophaguses (burial chambers), we have literally seen hundreds of them, lying around all along the coast of Turkey, but these two were in ‘as new’ condition, sculptured in marble and dated 5th century BC, one was discovered in 1887, the other as recently as 1980.  Imagine digging up the back garden to plant a lemon tree and finding one of these, amazing.  There really was an excellent display of statues, glassware, tools, pottery and art, it was well worth the visit.
The following is a contribution from Skipper -

Interestingly, although Cadiz is steeped in nautical history, there is absolutely no mention anywhere of the great sea battle that took place off Cape Trafalgar just a few miles down the coast in 1805. The course of history changed on that day. Napoleon had 250,000 troops ready to invade Britain and was camped on the northern coast of France. All he needed was  for his navy to turn up and secure the English Channel. One problem….the British Royal Navy had the French and Spanish fleet trapped in Cadiz harbour. The British endured two North Atlantic winters at sea, on a lee shore, positioned outside Cadiz just beyond the range of the Spanish and French guns, effectively blockading them inside the harbour. After two years the Spanish and French fleet made a run for it and were obliterated off Cape Trafalgar by Nelson and his much more battle ready British fleet. So…there would be no invasion of Britain…. and Amanda, who has spent most of her adult life striving to learn French, lost her best opportunity to have become a fluent speaker at birth…along with the rest of us !!.                         


One evening we booked a table at La Cava Flamenco Bar. Cruisers passing through in previous years had recommended so it was on our ‘must do’ list. Flamenco dance, music and singing are very much part of the history and culture of the Andalucian people.  We arrived early, ordered our drinks and plates of tapas and settled in to enjoy the performance.  And quite some performance it was, the Spanish guitar player was exceptional, his fingers flew around the strings with ease, the accompanying male singer was both passionate and soulful, the 3 dancers (1 male, 2 female) were just amazing – never before has tap dancing looked so sexy!  The energy and expertise of all 5 performers was incredible.  The show was 2 hours long and it was certainly a night to remember. (€22 per person including one drink)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Bullfight – An age old Spanish Tradition ….. Aug 2011

P8070034 03-08 August 2011

We had a reasonably comfortable night at anchor behind the breakwater at Barbate and left early to continue our trip northwards up into the Bay of Cadiz. There was very little wind so we motored along and passed Cape Trafalgar, setting of the very historical Battle of Trafalgar. The shoal water goes for miles off the Cape, and we encountered some more over-falls and whirlpools. I imagine conducting an engagement of battle between the British and the Spanish/French fleets in unmanoeuvrable sailing ships in these currents would have been some feat indeed.

We motored north up the sand dune lined coast, a slight sea breeze finally filled in around 2.00pm so we managed to sail for 3 hours, not a good percentage on a 40 mile day but better than nothing. Finally we nestled into the very shallow anchorage between two breakwaters at Puerto Sherry, on the northern shores of the Bay of Cadiz – there were even some other cruising yachts in there. After our time in the Med and extended stay in Gibraltar we finally felt we were ‘circumnavigating again’.P8070028

The weekend came and it seemed as if every boat in the Cadiz area (and there are plenty), had left their respective marinas and came to our anchorage for the day to enjoy the sun and water. Each boat had at least 8 people on board, definitely a family and friends outing, dinghies buzzed around, windsurfers weaved through – some close enough to touch, kayaks drifted by, small fishing boats tried their luck to catch some supper, then the dreaded jetskiers with their noise pollution and annoying chop sped through being a dangerous nuisance and only narrowly missing several swimmers. We decided it was time to go ashore for some peace and quiet!

We took a long and hot walk into El Puerto de Santa Maria, it is one of the regions sherry making towns and a pleasant spot. We had seen a poster on the boardwalk along the beach that it was currently the summer festival of the Corridas de Toros - bullfighting week. Along with Ronda, the bullring here was one of the first in Spain to start bullfights with matadors on foot, whereby previously they had fought on horseback. P8070053

Bullfighting is a huge tradition in Spain, especially in Andalucia and although it is something we don’t agree with, sometimes you just have to see things for yourself and form your own opinion – we headed for the bullring to investigate further. It wasn’t hard to find, we just followed the crowds carrying red and yellow stripped cushions.

We discovered that Spain’s top ranking Matador was fighting that night and the ring was completely sold out. Tickets were available for Sunday night at €26 for seats in the sun, (€43 in the shade, the top ticket prices were €158!!) So we bought 2 sunny tickets for the next night, stopped for some tapas and cool drinks to revitalize ourselves then set about for the long walk back to the dinghy.P8070038

So on Sunday evening we headed back to the Bullring, there was a festive atmosphere; the audience was mainly over 30’s couples, even several groups of older women which surprised us, we thought it would be mainly men only.  It was definately a Spanish crowd, this is not a tourist performance.  We purchased two yellow and red cushions – we felt conspicuous without them! – and proceeded into the almost full ring.

Each fight (there were 6) started with a parade of the “participants” (bull excluded!) around the ring to considerable applause, then the ring is cleared and raked and the bullfight commences. There are several stages to the fight, and really it was quite a performance.
The bull is never going to win, that is something you need to accept or you may as well leave, however the art of the matador almost hypnotising the bull to the point where he is touching its horns, was in itself quite something to watch. The crowd go wild in their support for the more skilled Matadors, the fights last around 25 minutes and at the end if the crowd are impressed by the Matadors performance they all wave white handkerchiefs.

It seemed like the thumbs up or down of ancient Roman times when the gladiators were fighting. Although we do not agree with the killing of the bull at the end of each fight it appeared to be done as quickly and cleanly as a bullfight allows. It is something we will never do again, however this has been a huge part of Spanish culture and tradition for hundreds of years and was quite some spectacle.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

It’s official - Balvenie has left the Med! ….. August 2011

For a while there we thought the day would never come that we would let the lines go and leave Ocean Village Marina in Gibraltar.  We had enjoyed our time there and our extended stay due to freezer and other repairs was no hardship at all.  Finally we slipped out of the marina, turned right at the end of the airport runway, (checking the flashing warnings lights for incoming aircraft weren’t on!) and headed into the anchorage behind the breakwater back in Spanish waters at La Linea.  When we had last been here the Spanish Coast Guard had evicted us after 4 nights, we were hoping to sneak another one or two in before they did their eviction rounds again. 

Our next big adventure was to be transiting the Straits of the Gibraltar, in a nutshell – going through our third gate - leaving the Mediterranean Sea and entering the Atlantic Ocean.  There are literally pages and pages of explanations in various cruising guides on how this should be done. In order to get the best ride with the least level of unnecessary excitement and discomfort possible you should combine perfect wind conditions with the correct current and tides. P8030007 High tide in Gibraltar was 7.30am and you should leave 3 hours after it to make the most of the westward flow.  3 hours after high tide seemed a little late but all the books concurred so we followed their instructions.  The wind forecast wasn’t perfect but it was for a very light westerly, so we crossed fingers and toes and lifted anchor. 

As we motored southwest across the Bay of Gibraltar our very light wind built to nearly 20 knots, right on the nose, of course.  But the sea was flat and there was a catamaran a little way in front of us that we were carefully watching, the water still looked flat out further so on we went.  It’s around 15 miles from the anchorage to Tarifa Point, infamously known as the windiest point in the Mediterranean and the idea is that you get there at slack water.  The Atlantic is apparently around  1.5 metres higher than the Med, (just how that works I have no idea) but in order for all this water to merge there are some very interesting overflows, whirlpools, and other unusual sea actions where sea monsters are likely to lurk.

P8030005 We just kept on motoring through it, still on the wind, but apart from the water churned up with the current which Skipper kept chasing wherever he could, I am very pleased to report that it all went without incident.  The breeze was a little cool for a while and we felt just a little envious of the small armada of yachts charging downwind towards us, crews lounging around in swimwear – just as excited to be entering the Med as we were to be exiting it. 

We have enjoyed our time in the Med immensely, we entered from the Suez Canal on June 15, 2008 and have sailed to Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Malta, France, Monaco, Spain, Morocco and Gibraltar over 4 summers, we left on August 03, 2011.  There are a few spots we didn’t get to, but not many, we gave it our best shot.  Now we are in the Atlantic, the beginning of the trip home, but there is still a little more of the European Mainland to explore before we start heading south.  P8030014

After we rounded Tarifa Point we pointed the bow north, not surprisingly the wind followed us around.  We raised sails and set off on a tight reach into a building north westerly sea breeze.  It turned into a rather lively sail in parts, our recently fresh water cleaned boat now covered in plenty of salt water, oh well, it’s a boat.  As we came up the coast we passed hundreds and hundreds of wind turbines, always a bad sign when out sailing and this coastline is no exception. Added to the increasing winds we encountered several more areas of very interesting sea state, obviously caused by currents but they just seemed to be in random places.  We sure encountered some churned up sea states, wouldn’t want to be out there when the wind was really howling.
After a busy day we pulled in behind the breakwater at Barbate at 5.30pm.  We could tuck in enough to stay out of the Atlantic swell so dropped anchor for the night.  It was definitely an extra tot for all at sundowners, or was it a couple of extras as we sat back and enjoyed out first sunset at anchor in the Atlantic, wow.

For anchoring info for Barbate click here to go to Balvenies Cruising Info blog