Although this post is over 2 weeks late, WE PADDLED THE STRAIT OF GIBRALTAR! It was a fantastic and surreal thing to do – made all the better by the company of my good friends Sian and Naomi.
We had planned a little chill time before the paddle to acquaint ourselves with this ‘funny little place’ (Barrie, 2016) that is a bit like Britain in the sun; so similar to home, and yet so different. It was novelty a-plenty crossing the border between Spain and the UK on foot, and walking across the runway (and of course pretending to be planes!) to get there. We saw the Queen’s birthday celebrations Gib-style, marvelled that the shops, road signs and policemen all looked the same as at home, and climbed to the top of the rock to see the famed monkeys.
Our paddle was deferred from Saturday to Sunday, as the ‘Poniente’ cross-winds on the Strait were incredibly strong, and our best chance of success would be to wait a day for them to die down. On a beach in Gib, we were pretty much sandblasted by the raging winds, so although we were disappointed not to get cracking when we had planned to, we took the advice of the experts. This sensible decision left us with another tough day to kill in Gib…
Sunday morning came, and although the winds were still fairly strong on the Strait, it was much calmer in the harbour and ‘not impossible to try’ according to the trip coordinator. We met our support boat and crew at sunrise and departed from La Linea harbour.
During our briefing, Giel and Maurein explained that conditions were pretty good – there was a moderate wind, but when we reached our starting point the waves were small and we set off in good spirits, being sure to ‘touch’ the rock to make it official!
Initially, the paddling was easy – little wind, low waves, and we were having a whale of a time. Or maybe a dolphin, as we saw a couple! As time went on, the currents and waves increased in strength, and we realised that it was more energy efficient to get in right next to the support boat and benefit from the wind-breaking and wave-breaking effect. Even then, there was the occasional scream and plop as someone wobbled off their board into the deep blue and had to scramble back on again – although looking on the bright side, plunging into the sea also provided a very useful toilet break!
Although there were oil tankers and a P&O Cruise Ship sharing the water with us, we were never really close enough to have any trouble, but the waves and wind did mean that sometimes we had to paddle on our knees, otherwise it was woman overboard a bit too frequently! Encouragingly though, it really did feel as though Spain was getting smaller, and Africa getting larger, as we pootled our way across.
However, about 4 hours in, I spotted Naomi getting picked up by the rib (as in, small speedboat, not her bones). The next thing I knew, Siany was clambering onto the yacht! What was going on? Stubbornly I promised myself that I wasn’t going to get into that boat without a lot more of a fight!
All became clear, though when I was called closer to the boat – Giel explained that the winds and currents had picked up so much that we had been blown off course, so we needed to sail upwind and continue the paddle from there. Apparently, although we had paddled between 7 and 8 miles already, we had actually only covered about 3 miles of the distance ‘as the crow flies’ due to the increasingly strong currents taking us way off course. This was far from ideal – if we stayed in the water, best case scenario we could end up paddling about 15 miles in total to reach our destination. Or possibly end up in Algeria. At this news I acquiesced and jumped aboard, for a nice baguette, some rehydration, and to pose for some all-important happy snaps, while the boys turned off the engine and let out the sails.
Back on track, we jumped off the boat to paddle the couple of miles to Ceuta and finish the job – reaching a total of about 5 or 6 hours on the boards. Although we didn’t make it point to point, I don’t think any of us were devastated to have a short rest on the boat – and it definitely taught us that there is no triumphing over the elements when they decide otherwise!
This paddle concludes my challenge month. Although I wasn’t able to complete the cycle, we made it across the sea from Europe to Africa! So if you would still like to donate to make help make the refugee camps in Calais a little more tolerable for those who live there, it’s not too late: www.justgiving.com/pedalthenpaddle. I would be ever so appreciative!
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