We have left the Costa del Sol behind and have embarked on the Costa Blanca, where so far there has been less high-rise tourist development. It is named for its’ light grey coastal rock, glowing white in the bright sunlight, but this brilliance has now been upstaged by what look like fields of snow, lying in terraces climbing the foothills. These slabs of white are actually sheets of very heavy-duty plastic used as greenhouses to grow salad crops hydroponically. The pilot book warns gales can blow them into the sea and they should be watched out for. About what to do on encountering a hundred metre sheet of polythene it does not say. So far they all look pretty secure.
Our plan for the week was to make short hops every day, rather than long hauls with rests in between. Our first step from Almerimar to Agua Dulce, was indeed a mere twenty miles, but after that the plan was scuppered by the weather and we made two long passages under engine, travelling forty eight miles to Garrucha and then forty three from there to Cartagena. All of this passed off admirably well thanks to my new find, Biodramina tablets, bought from a pharmacy in Almerimar. The chemist solemnly asked if we wanted tablets with or without caffeine. He spoke in Spanish, but at the word caffeine the gist became clear to me and seemed an excellent idea. I am now cured. I do not feel sick and neither do I fall asleep all over the place. Although two drugs are battling for control inside me, I feel normal.
Granted, on the first passage to Garrucha the sea was like a millpond, with no wind at all. It was why we decided to do a long trip and make some progress under engine. The engine ended up running for longer than we had bargained for, because when we arrived at the marina in Garrucha, the reception pontoon and the fuel point were both full. John idled round the tiny harbour waiting for one of the four boats to move on, but none did. He radioed the control tower in front of us twice; there was no response. As we made a second pass a marinera came out and called across asking if we wanted fuel and I was able to explain we had reserved a berth for the night. He disappeared. Too clever by half, I should have just said yes. On our third slow turn around a Scot from a nearby boat hailed us and told us the boats on the reception pontoon had been there for hours. John called the marina from his mobile phone and someone answered straight away. They professed not to know where we were; John suggested they look out of the window and confirmed we had reserved a berth. They would look into it. A man came out of the building with the marinera and stood pointing at us. We were called up on the radio, “Boat in the harbour, come in please”, and a man directed us to look on our left for his colleague, who was waiting for us to go stern to. John spotted him and started reversing; I threaded the lines round the stern ready. The first lazy line business went much better than our previous effort, as John came and took it from me walked it down the starboard side and tied it on tight. After that matters descended into farce as the marinera passed us a second lazy line only for John discover, after threading it all the way along Lyra, that it was already fastened to the boat on our port side. The rope was disgusting and stank, John was only too glad to drop it and borrow my gloves. The marinera passed a different line along the starboard side; John worked it hand over gruesome hand to find it was attached to our starboard neighbour. The marinera pulled up yet another line, which somehow turned out to be the other end of the rope tied to the same boat. At this we both grimaced, said we would be fine overnight with just one line on and thankfully turned the engine off. John was filthy and not at all happy about what with. Before setting off with the documents he had a shower and I washed his clothes, twice.
Later we went out for a pre dinner drink and had the most magnificent gin and tonic in the world. The bar not only offered a wide range of gins, it had a list of over eight different tonic waters. Unthinkingly we had just ordered gin and tonic. On taking our order the barman brought out a tall round table and set it next to where we sat, then he disappeared for ages. He returned with a tray on which rattled a bottle of London Gin, two bottles of Schweppes tonic and two very large wine glasses and placed it on the table. In each of the fogged glasses a long twist of lemon wound its way through huge ice cubes, a separate slice of lemon angled away from it and juniper berries were scattered artistically throughout. He poured in a hefty measure of gin and then sent the tonic down the twisted stem of a long silver spoon. It smoked as it hit the ice. I should have taken a photograph. We were distracted by the simultaneous arrival of a very sweet little white dog, which sat quietly letting John tickle its ears until our bowl of peanuts was empty. It seemed to divine this by strange means, because we did not feed it, but just as the last nut was gone the dog trotted back inside.
The journey from Garrucha to Cartagena was a different kettle of fish altogether and proved the worth of my new tablets. The pilot book had advised that our intended intermediary port, Aguilas, was uncomfortable in strong north easterlies, which exactly what had been forecast. Having had our fill of tossing about in rocky harbours, we decided to make straight across the bay for Cartagena. Although this time plenty of wind was predicted it was due to be on our nose and, as it was already going to be a long days sail without tacking back and forth through the wind, we decided to motor again. What we had not anticipated, after such a calm sea the day before, was the amount of steep chop we would encounter. John went to put the mainsail out to steady us, only to find it jammed inside the mast. Not good news, but nothing to be done unless we wanted to turn back, so we were definitely motoring all day. Up and down we crashed for seven hours, but for once I was able to agree with John that it was unpleasant, rather than staring back at him glassy eyed, thinking it was barely to be endured. When the nose dived into the sea, sending foam churning up the foredeck as it reared back up, I was able to think ‘that was a big one’, rather than breaking into a mental chorus of Abide With Me.
On our arrival at Cartagena we had ropes ready for any possible form of mooring, as it is a big marina with various options. This time our radio call was answered and a marinera stood waving us in. We were going stern to, not easy to do in a crosswind. This time I took one lazy line and John the other, but mine was the windward line and I did not manage to tighten it enough, so we ended up too near the quay and a bit skewed. The mariners shrugged and suggested we could tighten the line when the wind died down, we decided to agree with him and sort ourselves out after he had gone. This cheered him up immensely and his English became much more fluent, though distractingly reminiscent of the gendarme in Allo Allo. He handed over some paperwork and bounded away. After puzzling the problem over John came up with the idea of using the bow thruster. This is a push button device that sucks water of through a hole on one side of the bows to send it as a jet out of a hole on the other side. This pushes the front firmly in the opposite direction. I pushed the appropriate button, John pulled on the lazy line and after a few thrusts we were all squared up and a good distance from the pontoon. We celebrated our arrival by going out and finding a tapas bar to watch the big England match. The tapas was excellent and the waiters very