Today, we set sail from Rota at 6:30 in the morning in order to sample some sandstone located between Matalascañas and Mazagón where we suspect there may be gorgonians. Juan Carlos Calvín disembarked today and tonight we will return early to port to pick up the photographer who will take his place, Juan Cuetos.
I never thought I would go back to working on the Ranger in Andalusia, much less so in Huelva. It’s a strange feeling to see a place you are so close to from such a different perspective. This morning we set out from the port of Rota and headed for the mouth of the Guadalquivir to document the sea bed in the area of the National Park of Doñana with the ROV and the divers, but with poor expectations owing to the visibility conditions the area offers.
We woke up in Barbate. Atlantic heat, sandy shades of colour and the large, pine green dunes. We are tied at the same port and pier that received the Ranger for the first time on Spanish land after the 2005 expedition from the U.S. city of San Diego. Wow… I’m having a déjà vu!
After sailing through the night protected by cape Espartel, south of Tangiers, we decided to cross the Straits from south to north and take refuge in Barbate. The east winds are blowing at more than 40 knots and the Tangiers netters are surely not going out to fish during the next few days. They need dark nights and relatively calm seas. They have the darkness, but there is an important storm that prevents them from setting the driftnets. We’re in the recreational port of Barbate, managed by the Autonomous Government of Andalusia and built next to the traditional fishing port.
We’ve been patrolling the banks at night located southeast of Alboran Island that separate the undersea canal through which large pelagic species migrate, such as the swordfish. That’s where the Moroccan driftnetters, based in ports such as Nador or Alhucemas, usually set their driftnets. But today the weather was bad, and no one went out to fish. We’ve decided to leave the area and head quickly towards the Straits. The wind has changed from west to east, so we’re comfortably pushed towards the Atlantic. We hoist the Genoa sail, and that gives us more speed and stability.
We spent the night anchored off Melilla. From here, we clearly see the entrance to the neighbouring port of Nador. No driftnetters have left there, yesterday or today. The west wind is still blowing fiercely, so much so that it has ripped off one of the blades from our wind-powered generator on the stern. But anchored here, it’s fine. A large number of seiners have gone out and after leaving the protected area of the breakwater, they head east and shelter themselves in the gulf where they will capture sardines and other small pelagic species, probably.
We didn’t have a good night. The westerly winds were strong enough to make a few of the new arrivals – especially some of the journalists – feel somewhat “uncomfortable”. Those of us who have been on the Ranger for days have already been through that ritual and slept like logs. In the morning, the seas were still quite rough and the winds did not lose intensity. We crossed the area where the driftnetters fish during the night and have not found anyone working there.
At four in the morning, we were awoken by the sound of the Ranger hitting the island’s dock. The effect of the tide and the undertow created by the wind that had picked up during the last few hours inside the island's tiny port had neutralised the protection of the fenders that had been shifted by the boat's movements. Now, the heavy catamaran was being transformed into a toy for the waves attempting to throw it against the concrete dock with more strength each time.
After being away from the Ranger for five weeks, it's now time to be reinstated onboard and relieve Ricardo Aguilar. One is never too sorry to leave the busy streets of Madrid, and after the small dose of the usual airport torture that any citizen must face in order to calm their nerves and mood, I arrive at Almerimar. That is where the boat finally docked two days before to carry out some maintenance work and changes to the crew.
We had a good scare. The little seamount we went to sample turned out to be the most complicated one of all. The lines, nets, ropes and other fishing tackle abandoned here have transformed this seamount into a spider web. And to top it all off, the robot got tangled in a longline at 170 meters depth.
After a lot of hard work, and a good measure of luck, we were able to haul the equipment onboard. It was, however, covered in lines, buoys and hooks. Now we have to verify that nothing has been damaged.