At last we were here: Tarifa - just the Straits of Gibraltar now lay between us and our goal of windsurfing from England to Africa. 'Today is gonna be the day', I thought ( somewhat warily - it was no minor undetaking crossing the Straits; mental winds, strongish currents, choppy seas, ridiculous amounts of shipping plus the odd shark or two ). But when I walked down to the seashore at 8.00 am it wasn't to be: a band of dense fog hung in the middle of the Straits.
Tom was itching to go, every hour he'd check the visibility, but it only got worse, sea fret and haze joined the bank of fog till we could see less than a few hundred metres offshore. Plus there was only about 5 knots of breeze. We couldn't go in that. We had handheld GPS, but it wasn't enough. Even in perfect visbility, the tankers are on you as soon as you've seen them. Supertankers can make 20 mph, the smaller ones 25 mph plus: that means that if you can see clear for a mile, then they'll be in on top of you within, say, two and a half minutes of your first sighting them, oh, and they can't stop....about 3 kilometres or 14 minutes to perform an emergency stop.....we needed to be planing, at least 10 knots of breeze, so we could avoid them........there is no vice versa.
I, on the other hand, was quite happy to chill in our excellent campervan, writing this log. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's thought of the children and my lovely wife, but, though I still love the thrill once I'm in the thick of it, it feels increasingly foolhardy every time I throw myself at the elements and wait to see what gets thrown back. I wouldn't say I'm scared now, I don't think that Tom and I could do what we do if we got scared, we've long accepted the possibility of a watery grave - each and every time we leave the shore. It's just that it's a little reckless, we don't have to do this, and it could be bad, real bad for Fab and the kids if anything went wrong. With just a few miles to go to our journey's end, the tension seems to be mounting, the odds seem to be stacking up.......... that one last run at the end of the day that all goes wrong when you should have been safely home in the chalet with the others.
But Tom's still up for it. Even at 2 pm. I accompany him to the shore for the latest fog check. I could see 'the Dunes' two or three miles to the west and Tarifa town two or three miles to the East, there was about six knots of wind, from the West (!), the Poinente, not only did the Poiniente blow into the Med, with the current, flattening the chop, but it was also the (slightly) more stable of the two winds. The Levante was forecast to return tomorrow and this looked like our window. "That's alright now, I said, what are you waiting for?"............Tom looked at me exasperated ( he'd been ready since morning! ) ....... and we were off.
By 2.50 pm, we were passing where the officious policeman had de-rigged us. 2.50 pm ?! - with all the excitement over the fog easing, I don't think either of us had really grasped how late in the day it was. Still, I told myself, if we made it, it could always be a one way trip, we could stay the night (I had my credit card - in its waterproof pouch) and do the return the next day.
It wasn't good out here. We couldn't see Morocco, we could only just make out Tarifa town and all the time the Straits were drumming, that low, deep, insistent beat of powerful marine engines throbbing out there in the mist. We tried to track the source, angling our ears to the sound, straining our eyes, searching for the slightest silhouette in the fog, but it was impossible, it sounded as though they were on top of us, but we could not see a single ship.
A high speed catamaran leaves Tarifa for Tangiers every two hours. If we rounded the small promontory beyond the town as close as possible to the port, we'd nail the cat to a channel a few hundred yards wide, plus it wouldn't be planing, no ultra high speed 40 knots, just displacement sailing, 10 or 12 knots. On the other hand, the closer we hugged the shore, the more we were likely to attract the attention of our new found friends in the police force. Tom spotted the cat moored in the harbour. "It's alright" he yelled, and we altered course for Africa.
At about the same time, the cat must have slipped her moorings. These things move fast. Real fast. We pumped our sails as hard as we could to clear the harbour mouth before she was upon us, but it was pointlless. "Tack!" I yelled. "Yup" replied the yorkshireman. The cat left us bobbing in her vibrant blue wake.
We eased into the Straits, Tarifa's ruined fort, that final, disintertested, piece of Europe, began to fade slowly away. The wind was dieing, well it wasn't really, but it might as well have been. Wind and tide were in the same direction and with two or three knots of current under our feet those six knots of Poinente were becoming barely noticeable. And still the constant drumming of diesel engines. The cat was long gone......what could it be? What was out there in the mist? It did feel real scary out here, just the mist and the beat of the engines, every sound maginified in the blindfold of the fog.
Suddenly, the drumming was gone, drowned out by the high pitch wine of an outboard (it could only be coming for us!). A Red Cross RIB. They buzzed Tom first, then radioed ashore and headed for me. I was more than ready for them. "Where you from" they asked. "Gibraltar", I replied. "GIBRALTAR?!".......they were straight back on the radio. "You going Morocco?". "Si", I said. Once more on the radio, but they had to let us go; the trumped up policeman on Tarifa's town Playa had served his purpose, my strategy was firmly in place. I was in international waters. I wasn't sailing from Spain, I wasn't going to Spain. I was out of their jurisdiction. If we wanted to drown ourselves underneath a supertanker they had absolutely no option but to let us. They waved us on. "Mucho gratias", I shouted. "Mucho barcos!" came the reply ("Many ships!").
And they were not wrong. Rush hour on the water and still only the slightest breeze. God this was scary. The outbound shipping lane came first. Tanker after tanker materialised out of the fog. We'll cross in front of that one....... nope......about two miles behind it!.......you just can't judge the speed of these things, they come out of the mist so fast. A big relief when I was finally able to sight the port flank of a vessel and know we were at last heading out of the outbound lane. "Ready for another round of Russian roulette?" I shouted to Tom. He nodded, and we pressed on to the inbound lane.