Between 1999 and 2006, Tom Naylor and Christopher Gibson have spent most of their summer holidays circumnavigating Europe on their windsurfers. Departing from Christopher's home on Hayling Island, England, UK they windsurfed over five summer holidays, they windsuirfed to Africa, picking up each morning where they left off the day before, till the holiday ran out, and then the next year continuing again

Day: 2006 - 7
Date: Thursday 7th August
Depart: Camping Tarifa
Latitude: 36.05271
Longitude: -5.65120
Stop: Morocco
Latitude: 35.90600
Longitude: -5.47505
Arrive: La Linea / Gibraltar
Latitude: 36.15660
Longitude: -5.33821
2006 Day 7: 35 miles: Part 3: Dorsal Fins
Posted On:  12/09/2006 02:57:47

The haze that had dogged us all day still cloaked the straits, the tip of the rock of Gibraltar glimpsed in and out view in the distance, round beyond the refineries at Algeciras. With the wind still up, travelling fast downwind, Tom and I kept loosing sight of each other in the murk; gybe onto the other tack and you'd head rapidly away from each other with a worrying combined velocity, lost into the mist.

Close inshore there were big gusts and I had a brief fit of falling in, till I yanked on my adjustable outhaul and downhaul, stretching the sail out to its super stable state and I was off again, hugging a huge wind bend round the cliffs into the Bay of Algeciras, which spat me out about a mile ahead of Tom who'd reached out to sea. I could occasionally make him out moving on the horizon, a ghostly sihouette that was more often in the mist than out of it. But he couldn't spot me down in the Bay, camouflaged against the hills. In the end he turned around and started beating back up wind, mistakenly believing that he'd left me behind back up the coast. I caught a brief glimpse of him through a thinner patch of fog, I could tell from the angle of his rig that he was headed to windward and instantly realised what was happening. I chased him upwind, back where we'd come from! After what seemed an eternity Tom finally saw me. We turned round (again), back on course for Gibraltar. Tom wanted to press on, to land on the far of the rock, in the Med (anywhere near here would have suited me just fine!).

The sea got lumpier as the currents bent round Gibraltar, short, steep waves a metre or so high, and full of fish. Full. At times the surface looked like solid fish; big shiny brown clumps of them were breaking the surface, springing out the water in a flurry of froth and bubbles. Never seen so many fish. Somehow they did keep parting to let me through, though there was the occasional, unfortunate, dull thump as my skeg piled into one at about 15 miles an hours. All manner of sea life was here. A bright blue flying fish flew past me, I'd sailed with flying fish often enough in the Caribbean, these things really do fly, not just a metre or two, they take off and fly along side you....or rather overtake you, in fact more than that, they mess with you, darting one way then the other before leaving you for dead, even on a short board, maxed out at twenty knots, you can't touch them, they just leave you standing, flying ten, twenty metres or more before returning to the water.

I wasn't the only one to spot the fish, afterall, such an outrageous quantity of fish is unlikely to go unnoticed. A dolphin swam playfully alongside me; dolphins always bring a smile to your face - they seem to enjoy our company, swimming alongside, porpoiseing, pronking, you just know they're loving the company. This was one of the smallest and darkest I'd seen, peat brown with a softly rounded, baby like, fin.

Shortly after passing the dolphin I stacked the board. The chop was really short here, whilst bearing away down one wave, hoping to stay as broad as possible, pointing straight at Gibraltar; I buried the nose in the next wave and was catapulted over the front. 'Going over the front' is the windsurfing equivalent of a human cannonball. It is never pleasant. The board stops dead whilst you're ejected forwards at something more than the board's terminal velocity. Not only is it scary, it is also a complete arse; even after you've swum back and caught your board, it's always back to front and inside out, the rig'll be upwind of the board, it'll be clew first, and if you're really unlucky the board'll probably be upside down too. You've then got to swim around sorting it all out, buffeted by the waves, whilst everything you try to manhandle gets slammed back in your face by the wind.

If there's sufficient wind...and there certainly was...then once you've got it all back together and are treading water in the 'waterstart position', with the rig positioned above your head, angled correctly to windward,......if you balance it just right, harnessing the pull equally on both hands, the wind will 'pop' you out the water, dragging you up onto the board like a water-skier getting going behind a powerboat. One minute your swimming, the next you're up and running, sailing away on the board.

As I 'popped' out of the water, I pushed the nose away from the wind, bearing away towards Gibraltar once more......and right there, just there, about two metres to my right was this dorsal fin. Now we've enjoyed the company of a fair few dolphins or porpoises along the way, I am not an expert, couldn't tell the difference between them, but this certainly was neither. The fin was straight, straight upright, dirty white with a slight grain to it, not the soft curves of the dolphins, and not that velvet texture and solid colour (be it grey or brown or black). Most worryingly, this thing was definitely not playful; it was not coming alongside, it was not swimming around, nope, this was a static, stationary fin slowly, gently bobbing in the waves, this thing was stalking me. Shark's fins, like lion's manes cut you to the quick: something innate, something primeval, deep down inside we're programmed to fear these things.......when a male lion, less than ten metres away, stared at me, the moment I saw him, long before he roared (and he did roar!), the tingles went up my's in the genes, the way I see it is that our ancestors are the ones that lived, the ones that feared these things survived and they passed instinct that on to you and me.

Shark? Maybe? There have been enough sightings of sharks in the straits, this certainly wasn't like anything I'd every seen before, and the quantity of fish I'd seen would certainly warrant some larger predators. OK, so shark, maybe........but a carnivorous shark? A shark that was after me? Unlikely. A shark that had deliberately targeted me, that had been alerted by the thrashing of my legs as I tried to sort my board out? I doubted it, but either way, I got the fear....big time!....and bore the board away as fast as I could, accelerating downwind. After less than fifty metres, long before I was up to full speed, there was another, stationary fin, moving coldly, calculatingly, up and down as the chop washed through. Shit! Another shark! .................... I drove forward as hard as possible, locking myself solid between board and boom, transmitting every last joule of energy from rig to board. Shark infested waters? Then it struck me..................maybe this was not an isolated incident, maybe this was the same shark, and it was.......coming back for me.............

Chris and Tom would like to thank all those that very kindly sponsored us in 2006 and donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee's sub-Saharan famine appeal. Many thanks.

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