SiFi’s Blog: From smooth sailing to race mode

On Day 4 of their training run, SiFi and Justine enjoyed a final bit of Mediterranean tranquility before hitting one of the biggest challenges of the trip: The Strait of Gibraltar.

Our fourth day at sea was an opportunity to enjoy the final bit of downwind sailing in the Mediterranean before bracing ourselves for getting fired through the Strait of Gibraltar and back out into the Atlantic. 

Entering the Alboran Sea, we had a very pleasant night of downwind sailing. Apart from the fact we had to weave our way through a bit of traffic off Cabo de Gata which turned out to be a little more exciting than we had planned, it was all in all a night of smooth sailing.  With 16-18 knots of wind and a relatively smooth sea state, it was a good opportunity to gather some useful data on the sails and enjoy the downwind slide towards Gibraltar. With the moon almost full and the warm temperatures, the sailing at night has been particularly good. That bit little of extra light just makes everything that much more easy. 

Having worked hard to maintain the pace and rhythm of a race during our trip so far, as we approached Gibraltar the following morning, it was time to put ‘race mode’ on hold for a while and focus on making sure we got the boat through the Straits in good shape. It’s always a busy time going through the strait and required the full attention of the two of us for a good few hours, so erring on the side of caution we changed down to the smaller fractional code 0 nice and early restacked the boat with all the weight aft and made sure we arrived at the Rock well-rested and ready to go. 

The Rock of Gibraltar was covered in a cap of cloud as we approached,  much like the tablecloth on table mountain, which in addition to our weather forecasts was an indicator of the more being plenty of strong winds on the other side of the strait and little option for shelter.  It is always an interesting yet challenging place to sail through, lots of shipping, traffic separation schemes, strong currents, and plenty of breeze means there is always lots to think about.  Given that the wind always blows either easterly or westerly through the strait also means you are going to be doing lots of either tacking or gybing!  For us this time it was the latter and as we worked our way down the TSS towards Tarifa, we got to ‘warm up’ with a few gybes as the wind steadily increased. It was then time to put one reef in and then quickly the second as the wind went from 18 to 30 knots in the space of a few short miles. Once past Tarifa the wind then continued to build well into the 30s.  There was time for one final gybe with the FR0 before furling it up and bracing ourselves for the strongest of the winds.  With the wind downwind of the strait now blowing 35-40 knots and the sea state building rapidly, it was a case of keeping everything together with the small sails on. There was little shelter to be found at the edges of the strait, so we found ourselves doing a decent amount of heavy weather gybing practice as we worked way east. After several days of working together and despite the high winds, it was nice to see Juju and I are working well together. We have found our jobs in each maneuver but also manage to both check that one of us hasn’t forgotten anything.  We have lists for everything, but it is also nice to see it is steadily becoming more and more automatic.

With the sun setting, it was good to have Gibraltar well behind us. Despite the wind still at 25 knots making for a fast ride downwind with the FR0 set, once again it was finally an opportunity for the both of us to settle back into our normal watch system and get some rest albeit on the beam bag with our follies on, so we were ready to go. Without taking undue risks, it was good to get the pace back on again and work our way back into race mode again.

It’s good to be back out in the Atlantic and headed west, at some point overnight we will have to sheet on and start the right turn North and with it several days of upwind sailing, so it’s good to enjoy the very last bit of downwind sailing for a while!