Levante or Poniente?
by firmm Team
Text: Edeltraud, Photos: firmm
In recent years, not only children have had many questions, but also adults. I will answer the most frequent ones in this blog.
Tarifa is literally embraced by the wind, which comes from two main directions with nice sounding names: Levante, or Poniente. In winter there is sometimes a cold north wind (especially at night and in the morning) or a south-west wind (then the sea is particularly rough). The latter occasionally causes rough seas also in summer, then especially in the morning. The topography of the mountainous Strait of Gibraltar resembles a wind tunnel in an east-west direction, which is why Levante and Poniente are the strongest and most frequent winds.
The Levante is a warm wind that blows from the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar to the Atlantic Ocean. The Eastern Mediterranean is also called Levante, where the sun rises ("levantar" is the Spanish verb meaning "to raise, to lift").
Levante from 21 knots onwards is unfavourable for whale watching, as the resulting wind waves are too strong. Sometimes swells from the Mediterranean Sea are added and cause even higher sea states by overlapping with the wind waves.
According to the Beaufort scale, wind is measured in knots: 1 knot (kn) = 1.85 km/h.
The sea surface is navigable when it ranges from being like a mirror to light ripples to moderate swells.
Levante from 21 knots on: Our boats stay in the harbour.
When the wind blows from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, it has the beautiful name Poniente ("poner" in Spanish is "to lie down", where the sun sets). It is very welcome in Tarifa in summer because of its coolness, but trips with it are only possible under the same wind forces as with Levante.
The tides also help to determine whether the Strait of Gibraltar is acceptable for guests. When the tide is high (full moon and new moon), high shear waves occur in some phases, and seasickness is then pre-programmed.
Many years of experience in combination with the collected research data make it possible to find the animals in their usual habitat or we know approximately where we should go and look around. So much for the research. In addition, there is Mrs Heyer's keen sense and connection to the animals. She is also supported in the search by a captain and the sailors, who are equipped with binoculars but also have sharp eyes. Through their experience in scanning the water surface, they recognise very early the difference between the movement of the water and the fin of a dolphin. The search for large whales is even more difficult. The blow - i.e. the air ejection from the whale - has to be located above the water. When looking against the sun, the reflections on the water are a special challenge. The blow of the large whales differs enormously from species to species; nevertheless, it requires close observation to be able to distinguish a 5-metre-high blow from a 3-metre-high blow and to estimate the different angles at which it is emitted.
... with a sense of pros and cons:
The Strait of Gibraltar is an international shipping route to the Mediterranean. There are strict regulations for navigating it. Only ships with their own propulsion are allowed to sail through. With a paddle boat or rubber dinghy, even with a canoe, we would not be able to enter the area where the animals live, it is partly in the shipping channel and the current is much too strong. The approx. 300 container and cargo ships that pass this waterway every day cannot see small boats without radar reflectors, they would run us over, carrying passengers! Much too dangerous, there is no licence for that. We have to have a powerful boat to show people the animals in the wild. Because we humans are only prepared to protect what we know and love.
But you will see and experience on site, we behave respectfully towards the animals, we disturb as little as necessary. This means we approach them from the side, at a distance of about 100 metres. We remain "stationary", with the engine in neutral. We can't switch off the engine: it might not start when a big ship approaches us, and we wouldn't be able to leave the lane. No one wants to imagine a collision with such a giant.
When the animals are closer to our boat or, as often happens with Pilot Whales, dive under the boat, it is the animals that approach us out of curiosity.
Yes and No
Our most used vessel is the firmm Vision, with glass windows underwater and a total length of 16.43 m. It is equipped with a 1018 hp engine. Half of its propellers rotate in an indentation in the hull bottom, the other half is still a hazard depending on the way it is driven.
firmm itself worked for years to get a speed limit for all ships in the Strait. It did not become law, but there is a speed recommendation of 24km/h (about 13 knots) in the southern half of the Strait of Gibraltar. However, when we see a Sperm Whale or Fin Whale at a greater distance and want to reach it, we sometimes exceed the recommended speed.
The second boat is the firmm Spirit with an overall length of 16.87 metres. It has an engine power of 1000 hp. The propellers are attached as in the firmm Vision.
Yes, also for children
One for each guest, plus lifebelts visible to all on the sides in the seating area. Plus two life rafts, fire extinguishers, automatic fire extinguishing in the engine room and a crew of four who are prepared for all emergencies - and are well trained, as well as a person to look after the passengers on board.