By Thomas Panagiotopoulos

The entire trip was like a movie in front of my eyes... That absolute sense of freedom together with the wonderful solitude within the waves either when the winds blow or when the sea is calm… Hours of happiness and tranquility that many times was alternating with moments of fear and anxiety in a relationship of passion!



Monday, August 9

In the next day our bow was marking at last the northern cape of Ibiza.
ibizaIn the afternoon we entered the harbor located southwest. Already tired from the journey, we were moving around for several hours in the countless channels of the marina Nueva until we found a free place to moor.
It was dark for good when we finally went out for a walk in the old town. The first thing we did was to visit one of the lined up cafes in order to refresh ourselves. Many people of all nationalities, loud music and generally festive atmosphere prevailed everywhere. Early on, Ibiza had given us its mark. We slipped through the narrow streets, which were almost always crowded and we were looking to find some valuable souvenir. Very soon, we got in the rhythm of the famous old town. We tasted the famous Spanish paella, under the flamenco rhythms played by a wandering band, and at the end exhausted we headed for the rib urgently looking for a few moments of rest.

Tuesday, August 10
Europa point lighthouseIt was almost before down and our bow pointed at the channel between Ibiza-Formentera. The ride in this sea is not easy. There are scattered reefs and islets. I took quick glances at islands and lighthouses trying to mark them at my map.  After passing the first rocks on our right side, the channel begun to distinguish clearly. The wind continued to blow in the same direction. We passed at low speed and slowly let Ibiza on our stern. Southwestern course to Almeria at 220 nm.  The sun was rising and the wind was getting stronger. It started blowing stronger, almost 6 Beaufort. The waves were getting violent.

This unforgettable experience lasted for about two hours. Passing by the Cape de la Nao, we were protected from the north wind.  SW wind blew even until we just got near the coast and then the wind stopped. For a long time I was staring at the screen of the GPS.  A special moment was approaching. Using red color I wrote on my calendar the date and time:
● Tuesday, August 10, at 14:00. I noticed the coordinates: N38°35' ….E0°0'. The longitude was zero!!! We were located directly on the prime meridian, the ends of which end up in the North and South Pole. Here East is separated from West. From here we began to count the hours of the day. Soon we passed the meridian of Greenwich and we were in the western hemisphere of the globe.

Queensway QuayGPS was showing 30 knots and our bow was pointing Capo de Palos. We had already lost much time. We had to reach Gibraltar the next day, something that seemed impossible.   We covered 40 nautical miles that were separating us from the Cape de Palos quickly, while throughout this sailing we managed to get some relax. The time was 16:00 and we had still a long way. We passed by the C. de Palos. The sea view was changing again. The wind seemed to blow straight from the Atlantic Ocean. As we were getting closer to Gibraltar the weather was getting harder.  We had to keep fighting the waves for several hours, to gain as many miles as possible.

Waves like mountains were coming against us. Tightening our teeth we kept going. I was trying to sail strictly along the waves.  But the steering wheel and throttle lever were suffering a lot, something that I didn’t wish. The rib was totally vanishing within the deep grooves that were forming among the waves. We are one nautical mile off the coast. Looking at the harbourless land, the view was even more awesome. You would think that the sea was trying to overcome and surpass the high cliffs. It's these moments that those who are on land admire its anger while those traveling in it wish to be on land.

The storm grew more and more. Now the waves were exceeding four meters and, unfortunately for us, they were coming ahead in a very close distance. Our speed was often "cut off" abruptly at 2-3 knots to avoid chaotic spaces formed just below us. We began to approach the port of Cartagena, the entrance of which just faces SW. "What worse..." I thought. We passed by the second headland and we faced the biggest concrete breakwater ever met.

The Balearic Islands
The cluster of these islands starting from east includes Menorca, Majorca and Ibiza to Formentera.  They are located at the same latitude, just like the islands of Othonoi and Kefalonia in Greece, and their capital, Palma de Majorca, located 132 nm south of Barcelona and 172 nm north of Algiers. We can see here some of the safest harbors in the Mediterranean, which are important stations and strategic points in maritime roads leading from the east to the Atlantic Ocean. Each island has its own color and its own characteristics. Majorca is the largest and most developed island, lushly and very touristic. Ibiza, in Catalan Eivissa, 45 km long and 24 km wide is the westernmost island of the cluster close to the Spanish coast. It is less lush from Majorca, but with a strong "energy".  It is considered, and not without reason, the summer capital of nightlife in Europe. The nights in Ibiza are a special experience.  Menorca, 47 km long, 15 km wide and 90nm of coastline, is the quiet side of the Balearic Islands. Here we see two great natural harbors:  Mahon on the east and Ciutadella on the west. Formentera, a land spot of 8 nm south of Ibiza is full of surprises. It’s famous for its crystal waters and remarkable beaches and the most popular excursion from Ibiza. The riffs that separate from Ibiza attract numerous cruisers and lots of them are mooring in its beautiful coves.

Wednesday, August 11
SotograndeThe wake was set for 06:30. So, at 07:00 o'clock we were going out of the marina quite timidly. The miracle happened and the sea didn’t remind anything of its yesterday's face. "God is with us today," exclaimed and went on to cover the last 261 miles to the marina Sotogrande, located at position N36°17' W5°16', a few miles before Gibraltar. We planned to spend the night there, in order to rest for the next day at our reception.
We pointed our bow to San Jose, six miles before the cape Da Gata. This is a small fishing port, 79 nm far from Cartagena. Riding we high speed, but staying close to the shore we watched the coast of Murcia.  It was 10:30 when we moored at the dock of the gas station of San Jose. We refueled 450 litters and our bow was pointing to the cape da Gata, the south-eastern cape of Spain.


catalan bayPassing by the cape, we were in the final course to the Pillars of Hercules. There were several miles left, while the weather was about 5 Beaufort force. Around 20:00’ the sun was going down when in front of us the Strait of Gibraltar could be clearly seen. The sunset was magic. The whole rock was red - a spectacle! Everything was amazing. We exchanged congratulations and stayed to ruminate each in his own way, the success of the mission, the difficulties and risks that we had taken. We were so happy, as if the journey finished. The return did not bother us, even though we knew that we were far away.
More and more clearly the 'Mediterranean Gateway' could be seen on the left of our bow, or the exit to the "Big Sea" for us, as we once called the ocean. We were riding at several degrees over the strait, to protect ourselves from the strong currents of the Atlantic that were heading to the Mediterranean basin. The mythical strait, the legendary Hercules Columns were in front of our bow!
All our fatigue magically disappeared. The intense emotions left slowly their place in peace and tranquility. Shortly before dark, we entered Sotogrande Marina and after the appropriate formalities we took our berth. Our thought was by now in the next day.

GibraltarThursday, August 12
Thursday, just before the start of the Olympic Games, and we are here.  It was exactly as we had planned. It was very important for us to get there before the big global celebration.  It was 09:00 o'clock, when we started to prepare our rib as well as the Olympic Flag. For several days it was folded gently into the wooden box, wrapped with silk ribbon, in the safest part of the bow place. It's time for its last presence. The time for its final posting on the Pillars of Hercules has come. After hundreds of nautical miles and countless waves that we transferred it and taking care of it like being our most beloved companion, believe me, it was very difficult to separate it.

At 18:00 o'clock we were all there, next to the imposing monument of the Pillars of Hercules:  The Minister of Education of Gibraltar Mr. Britto, the president of Olympic Sports Federation Mr. John Concalves, and many journalists from the GBC, the State Gibraltar channel.
We delivered the Olympic Torch to the Minister of Education and together we raised the huge Olympic Flag. The atmosphere was highly emotional. Sure, it was the most powerful moment of the entire mission. The visibility that day was so perfect that the Olympic Flag was distinguished from the sailing ships. The thrill and pride that we felt watching the flag waving at the entrance of the Mediterranean, next to the Pillars of Hercules, sending its own Gibraltarmessage to the ends of the world, was something unprecedented. Something that we'll never relive...

Mr. Britto, in an interview broadcast directly from the GBC, visibly excited, said: "I am very proud, like the entire Gibraltar, that you have honored us, and I understand what such a trip to the Mediterranean means, bringing us from the other of Med Sea the spirit of the Olympic Games. We are linked to the Greek Mythology since here is placed the end of the world".

A small reception at the Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club followed, where we were greeted by the president of the Yacht Club, Mr. Patrick Canessa. We were welcomed and thanked for the message we brought while smiling he stated that he would like the Olympic Flag to stay at Yacht Club. Then, the Minister noted that the flag will be removed every night to be posted the following morning. By the end of the Athens Olympics, the flag will be posted permanently at the new athletic field of Gibraltar, called Victoria..