Circumnavigating the world has never been a goal for us but circumnavigating a continent? We’re nearly half way around Africa already: a 14 year meander from Cape Town via Namibia, Brazil, the West Indies, back to England and now the Mediterranean, 6000 miles north of our starting point all those years ago. It’s a fancy we pounce on occasionally, enticed by the adventure, the magnificence of Africa and the family and friends who live there, and then, the opportunity to depart Cape Town again and to re-visit the places we loved and leave out those not worth returning to. But the wholesome exterior of the scheme masks the gory innards – the unappetizing truth that to complete the circle of Africa involves sailing the Indian Ocean, knowing that it’s the pirates who rule the waves in that part of the world. We’re left with circumnavigating islands, a concept, nowadays, that is far more beguiling, especially when we can do it on foot with SBS anchored safely in the island’s lee.
With this in mind we sailed to Tabarca 4 miles off the Spanish coast, a tiny 1750 x 300 metre landmass within a 1,400 hectare Protected Marine Reserve of unspoilt, natural beauty and crystal-clear waters.
It was mid-afternoon when we watched the anchor descend through sun-dappled, turquoise water and nestle on our chosen patch of sand off the small port. Not more than 100 metres ahead lay the steep-to northern side of
Tabarca, the rocky shore surmounted by a wall of ashlar stone. An arched entrance in the wall enticed us to launch the dinghy and come ashore but with southerly winds predicted for the next few days we would be safely protected and we would take our time exploring the island the following day. We could see parts of the historic settlement beyond the ancient wall: whitewashed houses with blue-painted shutters, wrought-iron balcony grilles holding back massed pots of cascading fiery geraniums and the ancient church, solemn yet splendid in the fading sun.
We looked up Tabarca’s history and found that her first inhabitants had been Berber pirates from Morocco, African corsairs who had used the island as a base from which to launch their raids on the Spanish coast. In 1768, King Carlos lll of Spain created a settlement by royal edict and had built a fortified town where a small garrison was deployed to act as a lookout and to repel pirates.
So, safe from pirates, we retired to our bunk looking forward to our shore-side exploration. As the night wore on we heard the wind rising and as its direction became more westerly we took turns to keep an anchor watch. We were in danger of a lee shore – a situation of strong onshore winds driving a boat towards the land – and by sun-up it was blowing 25 knots from the northwest. We very reluctantly raised the anchor and headed to sea.
Perhaps we’ll have another chance to walk about Tabarca. Our brief encounter beckons us back and it’s only other tourists we have to figure in to the equation of our return. They’ve replaced pirates as rulers of the waves in this part of the world.