The book - To Gibraltar and Back - was penned by an anonymous writer who described himself as "One of the Crew". It was published in 1888 as an account of a cruise aboard an eighteen ton cutter which took place three years earlier. She was called the Chiripa - an odd Spanish word which can best be translated as a "fluke" or simply "a stroke of luck".
She was owned by a certain Mr. Corry who is referred to throughout the book as the Commodore. The crew was made up of a Mr. Underhill, somebody called Mac and of course the author. They arrived at Gibraltar via the Bay of Biscay, Vigo and Lisbon.
The Chiripa hove to in the Bay of Biscay - where else!
Gibraltar - Some twenty-four years had elapsed since I had been at Gibraltar, but the impression it had then made on me had not been effaced. We brought up inside the New Mole at 11 am . . . When the pratique boat came alongside we were all disgusted to find that war had not yet been declared, and we were sorry to hear that poor Captain Rose of the Night Thought had been lost overboard off Cape St. Vincent. He had made some wonderful passages across the Bay in small boats.
Only stopping long enough to make ourselves somewhat presentable, we went ashore, and found, much to Mac's disgust, that it was some little distance into the town. He begged us to take a cab, but the Commodore was obdurate, and said a walk would do him much more good. Personally, I was only too glad to get an opportunity of stretching my legs.
Although it was our invariable rule to go in for a square sleep when in harbour, it was so hot in the cabins next morning that we were obliged to turn out much earlier than we otherwise would have thought of doing. At l0, with all the skylights, doors, and hatches open, the thermometer in the main cabin marked 70". It was still hotter ashore, and when the Commodore proposed walking, there was a regular mutiny, as we, the crew, at once refused.
The Commodore, however, was quite equal to the occasion, and simply said, "Very well, then you must give me a lift."As he left us to pay for the cab he had decidedly the best of it. We had intended to lunch at the "Hotel Royal," but were somewhat surprised when we were informed that the hotel was shut for the afternoon, as the proprietress had been married that morning, but that it would be open for table-d'hôte as usual.
The Royal Hotel ( 1888 - A Popular History ) (See LINK)
Hotel Royal was undoubtedly what was known locally as the Royal Hotel by the British and the Hotel Real by the locals. The owner in the late 19th century was Guillermo Lequich. Perhaps it was he who was marrying the "proprietress". This Hotel was advertised with an address on Main Street facing the main Commercial Square. The claim that guests would have "a magnificent view of the Bay, Straits and surrounding country" must be taken with a large pinch of salt as the Exchange and Commercial Library - for example (see LINK) - would certainly have blocked much of the view.
It was a great nuisance, as we had to go the whole of the way back to the boat for lunch. In the afternoon we strolled into the gardens to hear the band play, and luckily ran against a friend who was in garrison. He kindly offered to put our names down for the library, an offer which it is needless to say we accepted.
The 'gardens' were the Alameda Gardens (see LINK) and the library was the Garrison Library. (See LINK)
Alameda Gardens ( Late 19th century - Frederick Stephens ) (See LINK)
The Garrison Library ( Late 19th Century )
Going off to the yacht the Commodore slipped on the steps and fell into the water, and was very nearly choked by Jack before we "as the wretched Commodore could not speak" could make him understand that he was amphibious. That night we dined at the "Hotel Royal" and had a shocking bad dinner. The wedding had evidently upset the whole establishment.
Mac said he hoped that the bridegroom was having a better dinner, as otherwise his temper would be utterly ruined, and his wife would have a real bad time. Captain H came off to lunch with us next day, and after looking round the boat he said he thought that we must hold our lives very cheap, as he would not have come out in such a small craft for anything.
He tried to persuade us to remain for the races, (see LINK) in which he was running two horses, and he told us he was getting himself into condition by walking up to the signal station on the top of the Rock every day. As we had walked up to the galleries, (see LINK) which is only about half-way, the day before, and had barely yet recovered from our exertions, we admired the feat, but betrayed no wish to emulate it.
Orvis compared chronometers with the Alruna, and found ours was eight seconds out. We strolled up to the library in the afternoon, and revelled in the English papers. The rooms were deliciously cool. Got away next morning at 8, homeward bound, as the Commodore was due in London . . .
For those not entirely au fait with the problems of navigating a ship on the high seas perhaps the comparing of those chronometers deserve an explanation. Ships at sea need to be able to find their latitude and longitude coordinates to know where they are. Finding ones latitude seems to be relatively easy. Longitude needs accurate clocks.
In 1904 the Admiralty commissioned a special clock that was used by the Windmill Hill Signal Station in Gibraltar until 1934. It kept accurate time via a daily telegraphic signal from Greenwich. It was used to control a large 'timeball' which was dropped from a pole at a given time every day. Ships in the neighbourhood would thereby be able to adjust their timepieces accordingly. The system was not yet in place when the Chiripa called and it would seem that ship captains consulted with each other in order to obtain the best possible readings.
Clock commissioned by the Admiralty in 1904 and used by the Windmill Hill Signal Station
To continue with the narrative the homeward bound journey was postponed. The weather - the wind was running hard from the Atlantis into the Mediterranean - they were more or less forced to go to Ceuta. When they finally managed to get their return trip going they decided to give Gibraltar a miss and visit nearby Spanish town of Algeciras. As it so happened they were destined for a second visit to the Rock
Gibraltar - The Second Visit - Although Ceuta was not one of the ports in the black list, to avoid going through the formalities again, the Commodore decided on making for Algeciras instead of going back to Gibraltar, and waiting there till the wind moderated or shifted.
We were all night working past Europa Point, and we did not bring up off Algeciras till ten next morning after a very wet passage. There is no need for a bill of health at Algeciras, so any yacht coming from an unhealthy port, and the passengers and crew wishing to see Gibraltar without first doing seven days' quarantine, can easily manage it by anchoring off Algeciras and going across to Gibraltar, three miles and a half, in a little steam ferry-boat which runs morning and evening. It only shows the farce of the whole system of quarantine that this should be the case. Had we even had cholera on board, there was nothing to prevent us from going into Gibraltar whenever we liked.
Algeciras ferry boat service to and from Gibraltar, connecting passengers with the Algeciras-Bobadilla railway service (See LINK)
The crew of the Chiripa were not the only ones to complain about the absurdity of Gibraltar's strict quarantine regulations. Unfortunately there were understandable reasons why the authorities on the Rock adopted such strict measures. One was the fact that during the early 19th century yellow fever and cholera epidemics (see LINK) wiped out great swathes of both the garrison and the civilian residents. The second was that most people thought that yellow fever was contagious. In 1885 - when the Chiripa called at Gibraltar the matter had not yet been settled. That a bill of health was not a requirement in Algeciras and that it was a simple matter to travel from there into Spain is part of the complex relationship which existed and still exists between Spain and British Gibraltar.
The guide-book informs you that Algeciras was once a town of magnificence and note, but few traces of its early splendour are now to be found. There is one good Plaza and a market-place, the shops being under a funny little colonnade surrounding a large open space.
In the chief church here I noticed, among the other usual ex-votos, two splendid switches of human hair. If the young women who presented them really cut them off their own heads, it shows a depth of gratitude with which one does not generally credit lovely woman.
The 'one good Plaza' - Plaza Alta - and the 'chief church' - Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Palma - in Algeciras ( Late 19th century - George Washington Wilson ) (See LINK)
The wind showed no signs of shifting, so we arranged with the manager of the "Hotel Victoria" to provide us with animals for a ride round to Gibraltar, as we thought we might just as well go and see the races, about which we had heard so much. We were also still doubtful whether, if we went across in the ferry-boat, we would be allowed to land; while the boy at the hotel, who was to be our guide, assured us that he would take us into Gibraltar without any trouble.
Our 'Berthon' (the Chiripa's dingy) was alongside about 9.30 next morning and we quickly stowed ourselves away in her, for were we not going to see the races, and the rank fashion and beauty of Gibraltar? Alas! We were doomed to disappointment, for while, no doubt, the elite of Gibraltar were present, beauty was conspicuous by its absence, and with the exception of one young lady, daughter of a high official we did not see a good-looking woman on the ground. . . .
Punters at the Gibraltar Racecourse - not a pretty woman in sight ( Early 20th century )
We found the boy waiting for us with three sorry-looking steeds, caparisoned in queer-looking saddles of the Mexican type, a sort of arrangement which raises you almost six inches above your gee. We walked our horses through the town, as the pavement did not permit of fast riding, and at the same time we had to keep a sharp look-out for holes, as in the middle of the street, every here and there, one came across a drain, minus its iron grating, or else set so low in the surrounding stone that should your animal step in it the results would be nearly as disastrous.
Once clear of the town we took to the sands and had an exhilarating gallop. It is about ten miles round to Gibraltar, and the coast road is intersected by two rivers, the Guadaranque and Palmones, over which we were ferried. The boats were worked by means of a wire rope, which, stretching across the river was carried on board.
The ferry-men had long pieces of leather with a large lump of cork at the end; when everybody was on board they walked forward, and without stooping, with a mere turn of the wrist, succeeded in hitching the wire rope with their leather, and putting the end over their shoulders walked aft; when they reached the end of the boat, with another turn of the wrist they disengaged their leather and commenced again de novo. The neatness with which they always caught hold and released their leather commanded our admiration. I had a try myself, but failed to catch once in half a dozen tries.
Once over the Palmones, we cantered into the little Spanish village on the edge of the neutral ground, and leaving our horses at a little Fonda, crossed the neutral ground and entered the lines without the slightest difficulty. We lunched at the "Hotel Royal," and as we had a decent meal, we came to the conclusion that they had got over the excitement caused by the marriage.
The race-course, just inside the lines, is certainly not one of the best, and the ground was as hard as a brick. We got there in time to see Captain H come in second, to a horse called the Camel, for the first race ; but the less said about the racing the better. The only noticeable feature of the meeting was the absence of "bookies," all the betting being done on the Pari Mutuel system, under the management of the officers of the garrison, and confined to members of the garrison library, Jockey Club, and officers in the army and navy. It was the first race-meeting I had ever been at where it was impossible to purchase a drink. It is true that the soldiers had their canteens there, but then they were some way down the course, and we did not know whether they were open to the public.
Liberty men watching the races at Gibraltar
We saw two amateur "bookies" doing a thriving silver business among the soldiers. The gentleman who called the odds was a sergeant in the fusiliers, and his clerk "a private. The prices they laid were nearly as bad as the prices we now have to put up with in England. In a field of nine, I heard them offer three to one, bar two, and an outsider romped in.
When we got back to the hotel, where we had left our horses, we found only two, and our guide was also missing. After waiting about half an hour, we saw him galloping towards us from the racecourse on one of our gees, accompanied by a friend on the other. Both the wretched animals were in a fearful lather . . . . They were still not ready for home as they next visited Tangier. Then it was back to Lisbon and home.The author's rather uncomplimentary account of Gibraltar - ugly women, dreadful food, horse-racing which was not of the best - is nevertheless, and in my opinion, worth reading.