My voyage in Spain (SEE Part One) provided me with some of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. Here are the most memorable ones:
From Seville, we set off down the Guadalquivir River at night and had to go through a lock system similar to the one in the Panama Canal. That was my first time going through locks.
Here’s a view of the river as we motored down it by the light of the moon.
The Guadalquivir River is the second longest river in Spain. It empties out into the Atlantic Ocean. Near the mouth, there is a national park, a game preserve with mostly birds and some wild horses. As we motored past the preserve, there was a full moon and a misty sunset.
Fishermen cast nets from their boats in this part of the river, although it’s illegal to fish here.
In the trees along the river bank, we saw numerous storks in their nests. Storks are common to Spain and are a protected species. The area near the mouth of the river was mostly uninhabited by humans, but we did spy a beautiful estate.
There was a marked transition as we moved from the muddy brown water of the river into the azure blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
Flat water gave way to the roll of ocean swells as a Spanish pilot boat escorted us toward the ocean.
In the Atlantic Ocean, we bucked in the waves along the coast of Spain. It was wonderful to feel the cool breeze on my face as our ship traced the mainland toward the Strait of Gibraltar. Here’s my view of the Atlantic from my position as port watch on the bridge.
My watch group was on the ship’s bridge the night we approached the Strait of Gibraltar. After watch, I retired to my berth. I’d been in bed only a few minutes when the fire alarm sounded. I sat up and was about to go up on deck when the captain came on the PA system to tell us that one of the two engines had overheated. There was no need for us to come up on deck.
We set anchor for the night in the mouth of the strait so they could get a better look at the problem in the daylight. They found that the water pump had stopped working. Fortunately, they were able to replace it with a spare pump.
That night, our ship rested in very deep water among several tankers anchored near us. The permanent crew set anchor, using nearly all of the anchor chain we had.
As I lay in my berth, the ship rode up large swells and back down into deep troughs in a steady, rolling rhythm that was hard to ignore. Since our berths were in the bow of the ship, we had quite a ride. I tried to go to sleep while my whole body rose and dropped with the ship a good 10 feet or more. It’s the most interesting feeling. You want to fight it, but you can’t. After a few minutes of this, I told myself to let go and I went right to sleep after that.
During the voyage, I got to helm the ship multiple times. My first time at the helm was after we had spent the night at anchor at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar. There were several tankers that were anchored near us. When we pulled up anchor, I was asked to take the helm. The captain, a large Scottish man, gave me specific rudder positions to steer to as we navigated around the tankers. Once we were clear, he gave me a compass heading to take us into the Strait of Gibraltar. It was thrilling to take commands from the captain and steer such a large vessel for the first time.
As we headed through the strait, we could see Spain on our port side and Morocco on our starboard side. The two continents are only about ten miles apart in the strait.
Some of the permanent crew cast fishing lines off the stern of the ship and caught three tunas, which we ate for lunch the next day.
After we cleared through the strait and entered the Mediterranean Sea, we could see the iconic Rock of Gibraltar in the distance at sunset. By the time we drew parallel to the rock, it was but a silhouette in the night.
I was on port watch on the bridge at that time. We were not too far from Gibraltar when I heard the growl of an engine on our port side. I snapped around and saw a small, black powerboat speeding by us a mere fifteen feet from our ship. It had no lights on and there were two men dressed in black in the boat. We had not seen it on our radar and we guessed that they had driven close to us so as not to be detected. They were most likely smuggling something. I later learned that hashish is often smuggled from Morocco to Gibraltar.
The next morning, we called into port at Malaga to refuel the ship, then departed the next day. It was nice to have some time ashore, a welcome break from watches, and mess duty and the daily cleaning chores called “happy hour.” I’ll tell you about Malaga in Part Four.
While on the Mediterranean Sea, we saw spectacular sunsets and misty sunrises. There were dolphins and whales and sunfish, but there was little wind.
We set sails for two days, but the wind was so light, we mostly drifted. When we did have wind, it was coming from the wrong direction to do us any good, so the captain decided to call into port in Valencia a day early.
I’ll tell you about Valencia in Part Five, but next, I want to tell you about some surprising and special moments with my disabled friends in Part Three.