At 7:40am, Friday 20th September, we slipped lines, leaving Gibraltar bound for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, a 708 nautical mile sail away that would take us 6-7 days.
The Straits of Gibraltar make for interesting sailing with a constant west to east tide, and the headland of Tarifa where it blows more than 30 knots for 300 days a year. In light winds we motored along trying to dodge tide with two other sailing boats. An hour away from Tarifa the winds picked up, we got our sails up ready to sail. Putting the engine into neutral, the gears strained. Immediately trying to engage forward gear there was a loud clunking sound from the gearbox. Our hearts sunk, we knew it was game over, and we didn’t have an engine. It’s a very depressing feeling and our engine, that has few hours, was giving us problems again. Given the winds were forecast to stay and we knew there were good workshops for repairs in Gibraltar, we elected to sail back and see if we could be towed in.
We racked our brains on getting a tow in. We knew our neighbours Donal and Sarah on their boat Millport II in the marina were leaving at midday also bound for the Gran Canaries. They had become good friends and we decided to try and call them. Getting into Gibraltar Bay there was wind and we kept slowly sailing for the marina. We got in contact with Millport II and received the magical words from Donal on the radio “Adina, we’re coming to get you”.
The wind then died and we found we could motor in reverse. Dodging anchored ships and fighting tide we pushed on getting the boat ready to be towed. We spotted Millport II coming out and it was at that moment our engine died and with no wind we were left afloat. Millport II was arriving just in the nick of time!
Donal and Sarah were a model of calmness explaining how they would tow us. Donal manoeuvred expertly alongside and we took their tow. They motored us slowly back towards a beach near the marina where we then tied our boats alongside each other. We had hoped for a tow onto a reception or fuel pontoon but not Donal, he was going to take us back into the berth where we had started!
Our arrival must have made some sight, two sail boats rafted together. Sarah and Susie on lines/fenders ready and Donal and I steering in synch talking to each other as we slowly approached the berth. Donal smoothly turned us both into the berth, applied reverse, stopped the boats dead, and the lines were tied. It was brilliant work and he deserved a medal! We couldn’t thank Donal and Sarah enough who throughout had managed the operation as well as any professional could have managed it.
We sadly packed the boat up and took over a bottle of bubbly to Millport II as a small thank you. They invited us onboard for a drink. We stayed and ended up eating dinner together with their fun boys. Little Robert cheered us up describing the situation as “Houston, we have a problem!” We were rock bottom and it was just what was needed. Not only had they towed us in, but they comforted us. To make matters worse, it turned out Friday was a small weather window and through their selfless act, they are now stuck (with us!) for at least another week. We felt rotten.
So what did we learn from this? First and foremost sailors stick together and support each other. We will never, ever hesitate to go and rescue another.
Where does it leave us now? We admit we feel broken, we are nervous of what next. The engine has let us down four times now. We’re wondering if someone somewhere doesn’t want us to do this trip – let’s hope not! But we aren’t giving up. It’s baby steps, and we’re now cracking on with work and compiling checklists of the regular maintenance work we should do on all our systems to try to prevent future problems. We shall keep pushing on, these kids are going to fight back big time!
Donal and Sarah – thank you for all you did, thank you for cheering us up, and most importantly thank you for supporting us.