Dodging a waterspout in Almerimar

cheeky monkey almerimar spain turf to surf

When Ryan wakes me up at 6 am for my watch, he looks tired and defeated.

“I’ve been motoring at full speed for the last four hours and we’ve made barely any headway,” he says. “And now we’re almost out of fuel.”

He shows me on the charts where we are. We’d passed Malaga a few hours earlier and the next harbor with a marina is a tiny port called Adra. As I zoom in on our charts to get a better look at the coastline, I’m bracing myself as we bounce and slam between waves just 2-3 seconds apart, our speed fluctuating on the GPS from 2 knots to a pathetic 1.1 with both engines running. It’s clear we won’t get far in these conditions even if we had a full tank of diesel.

We are 250 nm from Ibiza, and 1100 nm from La Rochelle, France, where we started, when we finally give up on bashing through the waves and plowing through the rain as the wind instruments show 45-knot gusts. We decide to pull into the port of Almerimar, a tiny tourist spot in Spaghetti Western country, shortly after speaking to a Volvo mechanic in nearby Almerìa on our SatPhone.

almerimar spainThe blue ball is where we are when we finally give up on pushing further.

Our warranty states that we have to get our engines serviced by a certified Volvo mechanic between 50-100 hours, and as we’ve just hit 65 hours on both engines, we decide now is as good a time as any to pull into port and get that job out of the way.

When we made the bold plan to sail 1350 miles from La Rochelle, France to Ibiza, Spain as our shakedown cruise on Cheeky Monkey, I had every belief that we wouldn’t get all the way to Ibiza in one shot. After all, we were talking about a 10-day journey, at best, when we’d never sailed more than 3 days with just the two of us on board.

It’s hard to say why we decided to embark on such a ridiculously long test-sail on Cheeky Monkey. It could have been the weather in La Rochelle, which was chilly and overcast for 3 weeks straight. It could have been our frustration at being stuck in La Rochelle because of our faulty Garmin autopilot. It could have been the fact that the longer we stayed in La Rochelle, the more we trips we took to Carrefour and Leroy Merlin, loading down the boat with enough supplies to survive World War III. Perhaps we simply thought it would take at least 10 days at sea to deplete the ridiculous amount of food we had stashed on board.

But I wasn’t worried about the ridiculousness of this no-stop-till-Ibiza plan because I never believed we would actually stick to the plan. I figured a number of things would go wrong, or cause us to pull into port before we reached Ibiza: the autopilot would fail as we crossed the Bay of Biscay, we’d get bored, we’d damage something crucial, I’d get grumpy and need a run, we’d read up on some heavenly location in Galicia or Portugal in our cruising guide and decide to pull off to have a look, or Cape Finisterre would whip up its usual frenzy of 40 knot winds and chaotic seas, forcing us to pull into A Coruña early on in our trip.

Any number of things were likely to happen before we successfully sailed all the way from La Rochelle to Ibiza without stopping. So I took the initiative to borrow a cruising guide and photograph the charts and harbor entry information for at least 15 ports between A Coruña and Gibraltar, just in case we needed to pull off somewhere. Which is why it’s funny that nothing went wrong until just after Gibraltar. Of course. It’s only after Gibraltar that we were deluged by what turned out to be a mammoth waterspout.

We are about a mile or two behind the waterspout when it blows through Adra and Almerimar, unbeknownst to us, taking out cell phone towers, tossing beach chairs into the sea, washing cars down the streets and yanking boats so hard against their lines that the cleats pop off like bottle tops and rain down on the neighboring docks.

puerto almerimar spain sailingJust a few hours before we docked here, this marina was being turned upside down.

Meanwhile, we have our sails tied down and our canvas zipped up as we grip the helm on Cheeky Monkey with sweaty palms, wondering why the hell the sky looks like the apocalypse has just descended upon us.

It’s only after we tie up to the fuel dock in Almerimar, where a few other boats  have pulled in for refuge just before us, that I overhear the marina employees talking animatedly about the “tornado” on the water. One of them had snapped a photo with his phone of the waterspout as it approached, and the guys were all huddled around the phone, sharing stories about what they saw when it hit Almerimar just a few hours before we got there.

almerimar spain waterspout september 2015This is the mobile phone photo that had everyone’s mouths hanging open.

While I am processing our paperwork with the marina, Ryan mumbles something about ice cream and disappears out the door. When he comes back with a half-eaten ice-cream cone in hand, he has a look of slight amusement on his face. “This town is weird,” he says. “And it is completely flooded.”

“Yeah,” one of the guys in the office remarks. “You’re lucky you were out there when it hit, and not in here. The marina was a mess.”

I also felt lucky that we weren’t just a few miles ahead of where we were when the waterspout hit. I’m not sure what something like that could do if it ran over our boat, but I wouldn’t want to find out.

So, though our journey to Ibiza has been cut short temporarily, today is definitely being recorded in the logbook as our lucky day.

tasha hacker almerimar cheeky monkey turf to surfWe’ve been at sea for 9 days, and it’s been a little crazy. So this is a welcome stop.