In a desperate attempt to locate a final blast of warm sunshine before cowering indoors away from the wind and rain (and dark) for the next few months, we booked flights to Spain for five days over half-term.
The Costa del Sol boasts over 320 days sunshine per year. Sunny eight days out of nine. This time we managed just the one day of sunshine, and the rest were cloudy with two days of stair-rod rain.
It was a good thing I had squeezed an ancient wetsuit into my travel bag otherwise I would have got very cold very quickly in the Spanish downpour.
The only activity which seems to benefit from rain and poor light is fishing. This particular day was no exception and I had soon hooked a fistful of chum mackerel, using a crystal minnow lure and a dexter wedge.
I was rather surprised at the large number of gannets hunting the shoreline quite close to the beach, with a few Balearic and Cory’s shearwaters cruising about abit further offshore. A couple of uniformly brown immature gannets passed directly overhead and I twisted my neck around (which was still stiff from a tweak during the flight out) when I suddenly panicked that one might go for the lure. Gannets at home in UK are generally not confiding enough to plunge at fish so close to a kayak although I have often thrown out a mackerel to tempt one to dive in beside me. Only once has one accepted the offering and hurled itself into the water from a great height and mighty splosh.
I thought the young gannet had flown far enough past my lure when suddenly it pivoted and started to dive out of the sky. I compulsively yelled ‘ NO…… DON’T! ‘ at a level of decibels which caused heads to turn on the beach half a mile away.
The gannet failed to heed my warning. You may be tempted to suggest I should have yelled in Spanish but being one of my top favourite seabirds (along with all the others) I happen to know that it was almost certainly born in the UK as thats where all the colonies are. Some migrate to the Med for their winter holidays. Significantly more impressive than using Easyjet. But like Easyjet passengers their Spanish would be flimsy at best.
It hit the water with a huge splosh and immediately surfaced with my lure in its beak. OH NO. OH BLOOMING HECK NO. I wound in the line and it came up to the side of the kayak with surprisingly little fighting. One hook was caught in its beak, one in its wing. Aware that someone had recently lost an eye while rescuing a gannet, I gingerly reached out with my forceps to get the hook out of its wing. The bird first flicked the forceps out of my hand with its giant dagger of a beak, then grabbed my hand and drew blood. The forceps sank but at least the hook came out of its beak.
Then the depressing bit. I tried and tied to reach out to dehook its wing but it repeatedly tried to peck my hand. Perhaps I just should have grabbed it and suffered the consequences, as I got it into this awful mess. But I didn’t have the guts so eventually I cut the line. The gannet didn’t try to fly, it just swam off.
I powered back to the shore at top speed and armed myself with a towel and a pair of pliers from the villa. I relocated an immature gannet in roughly the same place but it flew off with no problem as I approached. Was it the same bird which had managed to extricate the lure by itself? Hopefully.
To ease my guilt a lttle bit we found another gannet stranded on the beach a bit later and after feeding it several strips of fresh mackerel, which it wolfed down with relish, it waddled off down the beach and swam out to sea. So hopefully that one will be OK too.
I have been eyeing up the long paddle to Gibraltar for several years since we have been visiting this part of Spain. A trip of over thirty miles. But I was determined to get on and do it before something in my ageing frame goes clunk or ping.
Having vaguely remembered that our third day in Spain was going to be best in terms of weather, I set off good and early. Well, far too early actually, as it was still completely dark, but I had woken up absurdly early just like I always do when doing this sort of thing.
All looked promising for a comfortable days paddling. Very light wind, flat water, lovely dawn breaking behind me, and a steady haul of fish on the Crystal minnow lure….three mackerel and three Greater Weevers.
Estepona was looking spectacular with its parade of white buildings along the shore and impressive mountain backdrop, and I had no problem with hopping from headland to headland which took me a long way offshore as conditions were completely benign. And increasingly warm so I stripped to my vest. Lovely.
Fifteen miles completed in under five hours, so I hauled up on a sandy beach for lunch. Perfect. And then the weather suddenly changed and turned nasty. I had been watching a bank of cloud slowly approaching from the east, and as it arrived the wind picked up unbelievably quickly. The sun went in and combined with the wind it started to feel cold. My wetsuit and hat went back on (and I cricked my neck again).
At least the wind was from behind and to the left, but the waves built up so for the second half of the trip I had water sloshing over the deck and I frequently had to paddle brace into a breaking wave from the side.
In a way this is quite an exhilarating challenge but it was another four hours of paddling without a break as I couldn’t get out to stretch my legs as the waves breaking on the shore were too heavy. Unfortunately Gibraltar, which had been visible for the entire trip, didn’t seem to be getting a lot closer. And it had one of those cloud caps on it that suggests dodgy weather.
Past the last major town of Sotogrande there was a long tedious slog towards the Rock. It certainly is an impressive sight, fourteen hundred foot of rocky tooth rising more or less vertical out of the sea.
I had brought my passport with me as I had anticipated being intercepted by marines in jetboats as I crossed the border from Spain to UK territory. But there was no sign of human activity, apart from an airbus roaring out of Gibraltar airport feet above my head.
My destination was Catelan beach, the last patch of sand on the east side of Gib before Europa point. But there was a nasty bit of water to battle across where the incoming waves bounced back from an artificial breakwater creating a confusion of the surface.
I had completely forgotten I was trolling a lure behind when it buzzed out and I felt a decent fish tugging at the end. A three pound bass was soon aboard and I nearly didn’t bother to let the line out again as I only had a couple of hundred yards to go and I was struggling to keep upright as waves sloshed about all over the place from all directions.
But as soon as I had started trolling the lure again an even bigger bass bit, and heaved the rod over in a very professional manner. I didn’t wind it in , but paddled on the remaining five minutes to Catelan beach, just managed to avoid being pummelled into the beach by a big set of waves, and handed my rod over to Charlie for him to expertly land the bass on the sand. No problem, and that’s supper sorted out.
We all took a hike to the top of the rock to check out the views and the Barbary macaques. Algeciras bay on the west side of the Rock must have been sheltering half the ships in the north Atlantic, or so it seemed.
The Macaque monkeys were on the lookout for a carrier bag to snatch. One burly male grabbed the foodbag from Becky’s hand and made off with it, but when an accomplice tried to swipe the bag containing our passports there ensued an extraordinary fistfight with Becky only just claiming victory when she beat off the Macaque with a tube of Jaffa Cakes.
Extreme entertainment and well worth the slog up the hill.
On our last day in Spain I caught a rather nicely-marked spotty bass which was returned to fight another day: