Our plan to sail west along the southern coast of Spain worked very well for the first 100 miles. As we approached the point where we needed to turn south towards Gibraltar and the Strait the seas started to get a bit choppy and we raised the sail to steady to boat. Heading south towards the Strait we prepared for the crossing with all hands on deck. We sailed with only the mainsail to give us full visibility forward. Visibility… well, it was around 1am in the morning as we began the 2-3 hour crossing and pretty damn dark at the time but seeing navigation lights is critical for knowing which way these 800 foot long monsters are traveling. A word about the technology aboard that helped us pilot our way across. First, the CHARTPLOTTER. This basically tells us WHERE we are and WHERE the land is. Also where the navigational buoys might be and traffic lanes for the big ships. This is NOT live information. Our location is live but everything else on the chartplotter is stored data. It could be wrong. Next up is RADAR. Radar tells us what is actually out there. Live information. The radar reflects off of Ships, Land and other objects around us. Radar is wonderful but at night, with many targets and a rocking boat, it can feel like the radar blobs are all moving towards your certain destruction. Enter now our secret weapon. Ladies and gentlemen may I present the A.I.S. (Automated identification System). This is a game changer and the only reason I would be stupid enough to cross one on the busiest bodies of water at night. The device aboard Heldeleine is a Transceiver unit that receives data from other ships and broadcasts our data to those same ships. It uses radio frequencies and a computer to track speed, distance and direction of all big ships and many smaller vessels. It also identifies the ship by name, type, destination, length, width, depth, etc. So, the A.I.S. processes this data and lets us know the potential for a collision. With the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) we instantly know if a particular ship will pass 1.4 miles ahead of us (good) or .034 miles behind us (too damn close!!) as long as we hold a steady course. When we change course all the variables change also. Including CPAs. Now for the Teamwork. With Laurie on the A.I.S. unit and me manning the radar, chartplotter and the binoculars to identify every ship in our path…. off we went. Constant interaction between the two of us as we sailed our line in the nautical version of Frogger. Identify, verify, CPA, adjust our course or speed, CPA….CPA…..Here is an A.I.S. photo showing 143 targets (most,thankfully, anchored at Gibraltar but enough to keep us awake).
With the sunrise we had exited the Strait and we were approaching Morocco. AFRICA! We were soon greeted by a call from the Moroccan Coast Guard who asked where we were from and when we answered they thanked us for coming to their country. They asked us to please not just visit the marina, saying that Morocco had many beautiful places to visit inland and to please enjoy all that Morocco has to offer. We assured them that we intended to do just that.
It was a truly moving experience. My sister and I shoulder to shoulder gazing ahead at Morocco. 1078 miles since Italy with just enough challenges to make it a memorable passage. A word or two about my sister Laurie…On my off watches below I slept like a baby because she was always there. Her strength, grit, smarts and total reliability are second only to her warmth, humor and pure loving nature. I could not conceive of a better companion for this or any other voyage. She always had my back and will always have my love. Thanks Kiddo!
The rest was simple. Docked and prepped the boat. Taxied to Tetuan, Morocco and hopped a bus for an 11 1/2 hour trip to Marrakech by way of Rabat and Casablanca where we arrived at 2 am the next day. Joined family to begin….. the rest of the story.