Cartagena, Spain

July, 2020

Cartagena, Spain

I’d like to start this blog by just saying we as a family have no words to express our gratitude that we are underway again. We feel in our groove again, in stride and engaged once more in the life we are living. There are a number of you reading who love the numbers so this week I’m going to start with that.

Over the past 14 months we have fueled up intermittently taking fuel at various stops from the time we left Florida until we last fueled up in Jersey, Channel Islands last October. When we fueled up in Gibraltar last week, we chose to “fill her up” as we aren’t expecting to see these prices again throughout the Med. Fuel in Gib was .40 pence/Liter. For the Americans – it’s roughly 4 liters per gallon and we took on 5200 Liters. Based on our typical usage, we aren’t anticipating needing fuel for at least another year. A typical overnight trip which we just enjoyed from Gibraltar to Cartagena, SP took 30 hours to travel 244 miles. We averaged 8.1 knots and used 198 gallons of fuel for 6.6 gallons per hour or 1.23 Nautical Mile Per Gallon. For this cost, we are essentially moving around our home and doing so very comfortably. There is nothing in the world like spending the day sightseeing, hiking or just living to arrive home to one’s own pillow, bed, and all of the full bottles of toiletries one uses to be comfortable. Preparing all of Jacks favorite meals and treats in our own galley is another of our great joys. Jack and I are the very grateful beneficiaries of the vast knowledge and dedication Alec brings to this venture. Our Gratitude has been steadily and faithfully performing beautifully since we first adopted her and that is in no small part due to the care and constant vigilance that Alec brings to his avocation. A couple of hours from the dock in Gibraltar we had a failure of the Satellite Compass – we got a “work around” allowing us to navigate using our back up flux gate compass – this worked perfectly allowing us to get to the dock but due to the Covid situation – we couldn’t really get the electronics guy to fix the problem. Alec worked around it by running Cat 5 wire from the antenna at the top of the mast through the wheelhouse port and to the processor. It’s not the most elegant solution but it is working perfectly and allowing for the electronics guy to complete the work properly at a later date when travel isn’t so onerous. In any event, the electronics guy lives in Ireland so that’s a bit of a help.

Now back to the fun stuff… Cartagena, SP

What a cool city! Inhabitants of Cartagena date back 3700 years. For our purposes though, we looked at the history dating back to when it was inhabited by the Carthaginians who built a wall in approx. 3rd century BC. Remarkably, that wall is still standing despite the failure to prevent the Romans from capturing the city and turning it into a Roman Colony around the 2nd century BC. The Arabs left their mark arriving in the 8th century AD and the Christians came later in the 13th century.

The Punic Wall (3rd Century BC)

The Roman Theatre only recently discovered

Restoration work being done daily on the ancient discoveries

The recent and modern Theatre with the ancient roman theatre in the background (right)

The stunning statue paying tribute to all of the victims of terrorism.

While uncovering the Punic wall only recently discovered, the sarcophagus was also found which was once part of the church which stood here. Before the 18th century, brothers of orders would leave offerings to pay for a mass and a place in the tomb in the church. The practice was stopped in the early 19th century.

Some of the benefits of this kind of living and teaching were apparent right away – and some others have taken time to emerge. One benefit which I only recently discovered is the wonderful gift of time to get curious. Certainly, the greatest inspiration for learning is curiosity but in our past lives, we seemed never to have enough time for our curiosity to flourish. We have noticed lately that we have a thought – or a curiosity, and then we research the answer later. We have all been enjoying this latest benefit and not more so than this past week. We were doing one of the silly bus tours where you hop on and hop off, listening to the audio recording about some given monument or building as it whizzes past at 30 miles per hour. I hate admitting this, but we love these – not for the vast knowledge that we acquire in the moment but rather the overview which we can then home in on and decide which of the local special attractions we would like to spend our time on later. Such was the case as we zoomed past a monument paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Spanish American war. Immediately, I got curious. Hmmmm, I seem to remember something about that but…. When was that?……what was it about? The next day we did some research. On the off chance that you are as curious as I was – here are a few details. It was fought in 1898 and it started over a squirmish in Havana Harbors after an American Ship had some fire aboard. Now, at the time, Cuba belonged to Spain. The resulting war or more accurately our win, brought about an end to Spain being a world power and the beginning of America with overseas territories in Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba gaining their independence. For this we paid a paltry 20 Million dollars. Jack was curious about the Spanish Civil war. So interesting in that it occurred between 1936-1939. Jack immediately recognized the significance of those dates – just before the start of WW2 and it was largely due to the rise of Fascism (sound familiar) and the disparity arising between the poor and the wealthy. Essentially the poor and disenfranchised rose up. Sound familiar? seems to me that has happened in several other countries just before the fall of an empire. It happened in Russia with the Czars. Now I swear I’m not making this up and I’m sure if you are a parent you have said these words to your own child when they came to you as Jack did this week to inquire, “why do we have to spend so much time on ancient history”? There can only be 1 answer to this question, right? Writer and philosopher George Santayana is credited with this well-known – quote “Those who don’t know History are condemned to repeat it” So that begs the question – do we all need a history lesson?

The hiking here is fantastic with 5 large hills of approximately 800 feet (I know because we climbed one of them) surrounding the city. It is a bit balmy – some would say Hot but we are Floridians, so it hasn’t hit the “hot” moniker for us yet. As long as we can sit with the ports open during the day – which we have done every day – it’s not hot. We do sleep with AC at night but during the day the breezes – though warm- are comfortable.

And finally – the food – glorious food!!! Yes, we love Spanish tapas – who doesn’t right? But we still have some work to do to get our body schedule on the local schedule – the closest we have come is eating dinner just before the restaurants close after lunch. We are really going to be in for it when we get to the Balearics. The islands – (particularly Ibiza) are well known for their party ‘til you drop night clubs of which we, in a perfect world – would not be partaking. But this is not a perfect world – or is it? The nightclubs are closed due to Covid and we have every reason to suspect that the attendant crowds, of which we have been warned, will be non-existent. We shall see. You can see in the Cartagena photos that there were very few other tourists in any of the sites we visited yet most of my research indicated ways to avoid the crowds – as though that was something one might want to do. Certainly, the cruise ships which normally occupy a large part of the port were non-existent during our visit as were the several thousand occupants which pour through the port doors when a ship is in town. According to the BBC, roughly 35% of the Balearic Island economic output is in tourism and there has been a grand effort to save some of this year’s revenue lost due to Covid but also according to the same BBC News article, there has long been an agenda by the locals and the Balearic islands’ tourism board to get away from the party –“ booze tourism” crowd inundating the islands every year in search of a more upmarket crowd. I can hardly wait to see what awaits us at the anchorage.

Our plan is to spend several days at anchor and minimize our time at the docks. The reasons for this are many – but primarily, in addition to enjoying our times at anchor – especially in warmer weather where we can just jump in the water and have a swim, the dockage in the Med is very expensive. Since we left Florida, we haven’t spent nearly the budget for dockage that we spend in the US. And this is true for most of Northern Europe – but not so for the Med where dockage expenses range from the pricey to the insane – think basic Bahamas or Nantucket. The cruising guides and all empirical knowledge from friends warn that dockage and anchorage space is incredibly limited in July and August, but we are hoping that this Covid thing is going to cause the exception. We will let ya know…

So we are currently off the Spanish Coast heading for the Balearic Islands due in tomorrow morning.

So very nice getting back into the swing of things…

Gibraltar (the second time)

Gibraltar (the second time)

Several months ago, before Covid changed the world forever, Alec, Jack and I traveled to Gibraltar to do research for winter 2021, believing then that we would make our way into the Med for the following summer 2021. Even though that was only 6 months ago, everyone reading this can relate to how different our world looks, both individually and collectively now.

Still, having done the research months earlier, it made coming here easier in several ways in that we knew what to expect and we had made contacts for dockage as well. I had written a piece about Gib, as it is affectionately called by the locals, which I later sold to Ocean Navigator magazine, and for that reason, I never made a blog post about it then. Sometimes I write to get something that we experience on paper, wherever it ends up. Having done that, I find it difficult to write a different piece for a different audience on the same subject, but I am happy to have another opportunity to share our combined experiences of both trips here now.

Gratitude Med-Moored in Gibraltar

The great thing about coming to this lovely place twice and having one of those times before this Covid crisis was, we had the ability to sightsee in a way last time which was impossible this time due to the closure of many of the tourist attractions for the duration of our time here. We did manage to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar and visit the monkeys who seemed overly friendly in the wake of the drought of visitors of late. We had heard that they were “cheeky” little thieves and would welcome any chance to make off with hats, glasses or even back packs. On our first visit we saw none of this bold familiarity yet on our recent trip, with us the only visitors we saw in a full day of climbing up and down, cheeky was the perfect word to describe them. They grabbed at Jacks hat, desperate to abscond with it to who knows where. They grabbed my arms and tried to engage with me in a gentle sort of playful way. Given that I have had exactly 2 experiences with wild monkeys in my life, this was completely unnerving to me. Especially the males who appeared to be guarding the nursing females on our ascent up the rock. At nearly the top and after getting some “guff” from one such large ape like monkey, I felt it was time to turn tale and head back down – I had gotten close enough to the top to call it a victory.

On the previous trip and given that we only had 3 days not 3 weeks to explore, we took a taxi to the top and made the requisite stops at both the St. Michaels Caves and the Pillar of Hercules. So, a short history lesson here, The Rock of Gibraltar, only a 3 miles spit of land, (growing daily due to the high value of land and the attendant desire for reclamation) and completely surrounded by Spain on all land sides, has been home to inhabitants dating back to the Neanderthals. Travelers have been leaving their mark here since the Phoenicians and later, the Carthaginian’s who, traveling past believed that they were approaching the end of the earth, left gifts to the Gods in the caves in the years between roughly 800 BC and 200 BC. In 711 the Moors landed at the foot of the rock and so began the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Evidence of their occupation remains in the Moorish Baths located within the Gibraltar Museum. The British and Dutch forces captured the Rock in 1704 and under the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1717 ceded Gib to the British Crown in perpetuity. This would not be the last heard of the Spanish however and several more attempts were made on the rock the final and greatest being The Great Siege in 1779-1783. For Americans a point of significance is that date. The British had to endure a brutal siege by Spain for Gibraltar at the same time the Americans were fighting for their liberty. Dividing the British resources undoubtedly played a role in the success of the American and French in fighting the British for American sovereignty during those same years.

A quick glance at a map and one can easily see why this is so important a piece of land for the British. Given necessary trade with Asia and India the rights to the Straights of Gibraltar prevented Crown ships having to make the trip around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and all the way back up again. Cutting through the Med especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave them access to a far shorter trade route. Today that same shortened route is required to get access to precious oil from the Middle East. From a strictly military point of view, it is a critical strong hold and remains encamped today to provide supplies to allied ships proving invaluable during WW2.

On our earlier visit our guide shared with us a story of the myth of twin pillars of Hercules. Homer claimed that Hercules broke the mountain joining Europe and Africa resulting in two pillars on either side of Straights of Gibraltar. The European “pillar” is the Rock of Gibraltar and the “pillar” on the African side is Mount Hacho.

We dropped by the museum, closed due to covid, and discovered that with prior arrangement a visit may be possible. I sent an email and was delighted that they would permit us a private visit during a designated time slot. It was a perfectly wonderful museum exploration – we were the only visitors there and we were free to meander and discover completely at our own pace. They had reconstructed a couple of Neanderthals from found bones and just that alone was worth the trip. There have been carvings and evidence of their habitation in Gib for over 100,000 years.

We are clearly moving into yet a new phase of our learning aboard Gratitude. So accustomed have we been to think of history in terms of the past 300 years in the US, upon reaching the UK we began thinking more in terms of the past 2000 years. Now we are beginning to look at History in terms of BC and AD as much of the Mediterranean history dates back well over 2000 years ago.

Jack turned 10 last week and we celebrated in a big way aboard Gratitude. Having experienced a bit of a Toy drought since we left -unable to just run to Target for something on which to spend his hard-earned money, the toy store abundance combined with his impending birthday made this the perfect place to be. Also, I lost a (dental) crown, which was repaired here, and Alec had some worrisome skin issues resolved.

Jack’s 10th birthday Coffee Cake practice for the main event later

Finally, if you have been following along you may be wondering why we are headed into the Med now when we were originally planning to be in the Baltic this summer. When the Covid thing hit and as we were waiting for Portugal to open and let us leave, we were simultaneously waiting for another country to open their border to let us in. We have the additional constraints of the shortened cruising season up North, in fact, as early as October the weather was changing quickly as far South as the Channel Islands. We certainly don’t wish to be in the North Sea that late in the year. Also, with our immigration concerns there seems to be a more lenient approach to allowing extensions in the Southern part of Europe as opposed to the Northern countries. And finally, Italy was the first country to open their doors and allow foreign visitors. So, armed with all of these constraints, we decided to move around some plans and hope that we may still make it to the Baltic in the summer of 2022 spending this summer and next in the Med. Of course, given so many variables up in the air, even now we aren’t certain where we will end up this winter, though we hope to be in Sicily. So, this is all just a wild guess.

What we do know now is that we are on our way to Cartegena, Spain and having the most gorgeous passage. Underway for about 25 hours thus, and with another 2 to go, the weather has been stunning and the views breathtaking. The Spanish coastline has made me wish we could stop at every little town we seem to pass.

One final note – many have asked us about the guidelines and requirements here in Europe in the wake of Covid. Mask usage is fairly consistent across the board anytime a 2-meter distance cannot be maintained. We just arrived in Spain where one can be fined 1,000 Euros on the spot for failure to comply and have with them a mask. As in Portugal, usage was mandatory in restaurants and cafes anytime not seated at the table and the tables and its occupants were required to be 2 meters apart. Nobody is complaining about this – nobody is even talking about it – it’s just become part of the program and without dispute, the Covid numbers are under control here. There have been a few tiny “brushfires” which have been quickly tamped down with contract tracing and immediate resolution but with mask usage – the asymptomatic carriers aren’t spreading it accidentally. When I read the US news I’m just so amazed that this is even an issue – using a mask saves lives – this is the undisputed fact of science. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation or belief – it’s just science and across the board there is no dispute that wearing a mask prevents the spread – Just my 2 cents worth.

We hope wherever this finds you – you are enjoying your summer plans – upended though they most certainly are – and enjoying each other.