Thursday, November 19, 2009

We depart for Rota, Spain!

The normal refueling and running about was rapidly completed, since we had been underway just four days before. We were completely ready with no last minute issues; All waypoints had been established and entered into both GPS's and the distance from Portimao to the Bay of Cadiz was only about 100 nautical miles away, so it would be a piece of cake.

The winds picked up a bit with about 15 gusting to 20 from the West, and the seas got slightly lumpy. It never was a real problem (compared to Biscay!) which it may have been scary at any other time but I knew it was almost a pleasant ride that would be over soon.

Fatigue did its normal thing to me, and the hours from 0100 to 0500 were a blur, I just knew to keep the boat on a Southeasterly heading and the journey would take care of it's self.

Sunrise found us about ten miles from the Bay opening, and we had a nice cuppa coffee as we passed by the Puerto Santa Maria, which I thought would be full of fishing and local cruisers.

Here is a depiction of Puerto Santa Maria and Old Rota;

Good looking, isn't it?

"Why weren't you going there?" You might ask.

"Oh, we want to visit Puerto Sherry, the newest and most modern sailing destination in the Southwest Spain!"

Sounds great.

We pull into the large and vacant marina, find a berth and tie up. I go up and down the docks and find a small office open. They check us in and the charges will be a bit more than we were used to.

I asked about the closed up restaurants and taverns.

"Closed for the season. We will open back up in the spring... you should have been here back in September!"


We took a cab into the old town and made our way to the Naval Station Rota. Our friend Rocky, was still stationed there and was expecting us to visit.

Only we can't get on base. Really!

I had visited Rota about five or six times while deployed on the Deyo and Elrod, but it had been five years since my last visit. It seems when I went out into town (Twice) I hadn't noticed the rules for entering the base.

The ID in my pocket was still Active Duty, since my Retired ID would not be issued to me until I had completed my travel home. (Heh heh!) I had no orders that gave me any business on base, therefore I am not allowed on station. It was a Status of Forces deal, and to this day I haven't a clue why this is, other than the Spanish don't want U.S. Military retirees lurking near the base not paying the local rates for food and other necessities.

We got hold of the Rockster and he came out to get us.

Through some sort of irregular shenanigans, we obtained a signed leave chit which allowed us access to the base. This enabled us to use the Library, Medical facilities, Pizza Joint, Sports Bar and the one little "Stop and Rob" shop across base, which sold sundries.

Totally unexpected. I thought we would be able to restock our boat with American goodies! In fact, had I known of this horse-squeeze, I would have just stayed in Portimao.

Rock asked us why we weren't staying at the little fishing marina, conveniently located a mile from the base?

I told Rock about the wonderful Puerto Sherry, blah blah... blah."

A quick walk and we arrived at the Marina, spoke to the nice Manager and arranged for a berth at a price that was almost half of the big marina, plus the advantage of a more central location in regards to the nice old town of Rota, proper.

We got a ride back to the Puerto Sherry, spent a very quiet night and vowed to be underway the next morning. And we did.

Upon tying up we met some folks who we sorta knew from London. This established our bona-fides and we settled in to the dock side living right away. Restaurants and hardware stores were a-plenty along with some great super mercados.

Repairs were made (I had to climb the radar mast to clean and lube the rotating antenna), also general cleaning from our previous month at sea.

Our crew, Chris and Richard, were scheduled to arrive five days hence. Chris and Richard are members of the Little Ship CLub in London, Chris was the Rear Commodore (East Coast) and had been with us from Brest to Leixoes. Richard was an instructor for the RYA in competent sailing crew and coastal sailing. We thought that they would be a valuable addition to the Wildebeest "Gnu Crew" ocean crossing team.

The five days went fast, being full of chores and the day to day going out and about. We did the internet cafe every day for emails and contacts with our loved ones at home and interested friends everywhere. But there was something about being in Rota that made me unhappy;

Nothing happens in Rota between 1300 until 1900!!!

Nothing. Siesta.

No food. No restaurants. No bars. No internet cafe.

The problem is that I had never lived in a Mediterranean type town and had no idea of the traditions.

For instance; When I was traveling around the Med with the Navy, we tended to look for a market to buy beer and wine, then go off somewhere to drink it. I never paid attention to the deserted streets or closed establishments. Oh, I remember hearing from the single guys complaining that the night clubs didn't open until 2300; I attributed that the the European model of partying until sun-up.

"Wildebeest III" had a model of living which meant that we held reveille at 0600-ish and we would work through the day until about 1600, call it quits and look for a watering hole. We were in bed by 2200 most nights.

Being fair, the stores in Rota opened at 0900 but were shutting down between 1100 and 1300, just when I have identified a part or item that needed replacing. Also, it makes a lot of sense to be closed during the hottedt part of the day where you went home, enjoyed a great mid day meal with your family and took a little snooze until 1800. The business would open around that time so you would go to work then, and carry on in the cool of the evening. The evening meal is at 2230ish and if you carroused or went to bars, well you went at midnight!

Really, I wish I could live like that but I can't. But I do respect that lifestyle, it is more family centric.

Even the Marina Dog likes his siesta time;

After a couple weeks we were deep into the frustrating war between Us and the Wind Hunter Company. You see, we did not test the Windhunter after it had been installed, the boat had to get out of town too quickly. the assumption was that it would be easiest to do it in Rota with the built in delay of three weeks in port and two extra hands to make it work.

Bad headwork!

The Wildebeest was out on a bright morning testing the Windhunter; This meant being out in the Gulf outside the Bay deploying a towed turbine device (looks like a propeller) with two hundred feet of braided line. We got the turbine spinning and the machine was stiff and trying to break in. The spinning line turned a generator and hydraulic pump. This powers a 1500 PSI ram which operated a control on the rudder. On paper it was a fantastic idea.

The Windhunter would only hold a wind course, not a compass heading, which was unsat. It minimally held the wind course at that. We paid for the top of the line Wind Hunter which steered to compass headings. We expected no less for the huge amount of money we paid.

We tried twice, testing on the water. I could not trust this thing to not send us out of control, so we stepped up the complaints.

First of many frantic phone calls to London.

If we had been in the UK, we could have drove a car to the factory and picked up the parts that they would now send us. Or choked the life out of someone who was putting a cramp on our trip. Nobody sails an ocean without a self steering device, and it was a little late to be ordering another style of device.

We were told our "Logic" assembly was not good, that batch had proved to be less than properly made. The magnetic sensors on the ram were inop, too. A new package with the updated device would be sent via overnight.

So we waited a week, no Logic device. No sensor switches, either.

Called every day; Same result. "It's on its way."

They lied. Never sent the gear. We didn't know this until much later, after wasting three weeks.

Thanksgiving came, we celebrated by purchasing a very large chicken (The oven was too small for a turkey). I did not know that chickens in Spain come with the head and feet attached. I had to remove the neck and feet before the Spouse would go near it. We had a great feast and invited the crew of "Papeche" to dine with us.

Left to right; Tony, Laurie, Chris and Richard.

It was a wonderful dinner and great fun to have our neighbors with us. Tony and Laurie had sailed from Annapolis to the Azores and arrived at Rota a week before. "Papeche" was a Morgan 38 and Wildebeest was a Morgan 43. Papeche was retired Army, I was of course Navy. There are some more Military similarities, but due to OPSEC and a 75 year no talk document I signed, well we will leave it there.

The mood was getting quite tense after Thanksgiving, since all Atlantic sailors know that the window of opportunity is between 25 November through 25 December; I did not know exactly why there was such a narrow window, Hurricane season seems obvious, but I would soon find out!

The Spousal Unit and I were getting kind of upset with our crew, too. It was the stress of the delays, mainly, plus we were getting to know the personalities much, much better. Stuff you would never find out over three years of casual acquaintanceship. Only in very close quarters do some of these traits come out. Not all the fault of the crew.

There were some very serious discussions being privately held between the Boss and me. We would walk to the base and go to the club and be able to chat frankly and alone. We even started feeling that our journey would have to be put on "delay" due to lack of Windhunter parts. The Air Terminal had C-5's that regularly flew to Dover and Travis, and that was a way we could get home, work over the Winter and return in May for a journey into the Med and a target of visiting Turkey and Greece.

On base in Rota; The VQ-2 Don

On one of our evenings at the Sports Bar, a familiar voice mentioned my name and rank that asked why I was in Rota... It was a Lieutenant I flew with at HSL-44, he happened to be on the USS Elrod with my old 44 detachment!

The Spousal Unit had never seen the Ol' Elrod we were welcomed aboard as guests and did a quick tour around the public spaces. My name was still on the plaque listing all the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialists who had qualified since 1987, so I had that street cred going for me. She finally got to see the ship and spaces that had been a big part of the '90's for me.

The fun thing was to be able to not have to have a "Liberty Buddy" and not have to be back to the ship at a certain time.

Cruising around Rota, it was easy to remember that history was made ther. It had to, with the natural position of the nortern part of the Bay of Cadiz. It is said that Columbus left Cadiz, but the truth is that he left Rota.

Here is a picture (taken through a window in the old city wall) of the Curch where Columbus and his Captains received their blessings from the Church and Crown;

Some more views around the wall and the adjacent beach;

Here is the walk into town;

A view of the Marina. Our boat is fifth from the right;

There was much to consider and more to discuss. Over the space of a week we cajoled Windhunter, whined and argued our next step. Finally, we told the crew of our thoughts; They were quite upset. I understand, totally; They took off time and spent money to come down and be available.

"But we don't have our self steering done."

They were willing to hang out as long as it took to make this cruise happen.

You have to hand it to them; They were equally as miserable as us, more so if you consider that we were controlling the destiny.

We gave a warning that a final decision was coming up that afternoon. It was Sunday and it was 1300. I promised they would know by 1800.

The Spouse and I walked to the base. We checked availability of flights home and put ourselves on the stand by list. Afterwards we went to the bowling alley and had a burger and some cokes. We talked about sailing offshore with and without self steering. Another point was our crew. We liked and disliked a number of things. Could they handle hand steering?

Point for them was that they would probably never get the chance to sail across the ocean again. They were both in their fifties, and these deals are rare.

She who will be listened to said, "Look, if we go home and get jobs, we will probably wind up losing our boat or having it stolen. The longer away the more chance of not doing, I say let's bite the bullet and get on with it. And we need to leave in the next two days or not at all."


Ok. Were going. we informed the crew, who acted a little like they really didn't want to go. But did.

We made one last round of stores and cast off lines at 1600 the next Tuesday. This is the last photo of Rota, the Icon of Mary on the Jetty;

I said a little prayer because we were off on a five day trip to the Gran Canaria island. We would be crossing the approach to the Mediterranean and heading for the great unknown.


Glenn Mark Cassel said...

Been there once, in October of 1975 aboard the Good Ship Independence. Usually it was for turnover and picking up the Task Force Commander and Staff during inchop to 6th Fleet. One night ashore at the club for a few hours and that was it.
Good Lord, it was such a long time ago. I was 21 at the time and a newly minted AMH3.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

ORPO; The Fleet turnover was why my ships had stopped in Rota, too. Being in Rota for the first and final port visit of a Med cruise always made that town kinda special.

I was on USS Elrod for my last visit to Rota prior to this story. The Captain cared about his boys and wanted to make sure that all hands stayed safe and didn't get in trouble or hurt on this final cruise visit. Capt Buzz Broughton had the idea to get the Chop to break out the stores of beer and sodas that the ship carried for picnics and parties and had them served free on the pier for the crew. This was why I did not remember the entry hassles on base; I was enjoying the free and safe beer at the dock. We had a great Captain and Crew on the 'Rod, and it was good times like that that make me happy to have mostly served on Destroyers and Frigates, rather than Carriers. Having a crew of less than 225 (On the FFG) and 300 (DD-989) made it a more personal affair, since we knew each crewmember like family.

Rota is a great place to visit and I look forward to returning. Thanks for stopping by, ORPO!

Buck said...

Dang... Rota looks like tough duty for permanent party. But we both know London was tougher, eh? (insert big-ass grin here)

Your narrative remains sterling, Darryl. This is great good stuff.

JihadGene said...

Spain looks awesome! Thanksgiving with friends is wonderful...better than with some of the family, I say.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

What Darryl didn't tell you about the dinner is that I cooked all of the traditional dishes (stuffing, sweet potato casserole, fresh baked bread from scratch, pumpkin and apple pie...) on a 2 burner stove with a small oven and a counter space that was also the fridge. Cooking at home is much easier! We will enjoy Thanksgiving this year with family and friends.
She who will be obeyed.

Alison said...

What a great post! I've been making the rounds this morning, trying to catch up with all of my favorite reads... I really enjoy your writing and photos!

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Jihad Gene be knowin' what he spake!

Firefox; Thank you for stopping by; I really appreciate folks coming by and reading my humble story.