Cruising Menorca – Week One

Wednesday 5 – Tuesday 11 August

Unusually, we applied ourselves on Wednesday morning, perhaps a reflection of our lack of desire to explore Majorca any further, and at 0800, amidst a mini Armada of nine yachts, were away and bound for Menorca.  The day began very still and calm of wind and water, as we motored steadily past spectacular cliffs that should have been rich in bird colonies.  We spotted one hawk, and in the early afternoon, as we cleared the Cabo de Formentor light at the Northeast point of Majorca, Menorca was visible ahead in the haze.  From the East, the view back towards Majorca is of two distinct islands of mountains, but there is a wide, fertile, low-lying plain between them, where much of the island’s fresh food is produced.

At 1600 Mate spotted a small mound drifting towards us in the oily water.  Closer examination revealed it as a sea turtle, about dinner plate-sized in diameter, paddling gently by.  Her yell of delight to alert Skipper appeared to startle the little fellow, whose head seemed to jerk up to glare a beady eye at her, but our steady five knots’ motoring was fast enough that he was soon gone in our wake.  Our first sighting of these delightful creatures in the wild.

Lunar landscape of
Western Menorca coastline

Exactly twelve hours after departure, with 59 Miles under our keel, we were anchored in a pleasant open bay on the West coast of Menorca, near Cala Blanca, having dismissed the anchorage at Ciutadella as too full already.  We found a lovely patch of clean sand all to ourselves, to the edge of the larger area already chosen by a number of varying vessels.

Whilst at sea, an e-mail came through from our German friends first met in Gibraltar, who had spent lockdown in Portimão, on the Portuguese Algarve.  They had made a sudden decision to head for the Balearics, and had hoped to surprise us in Port Sóller, only to see we’d moved on ahead of them.  We agreed to wait for them, somewhere on the North coast of Menorca, in a few days.  Great excitement on board.

At anchor for the next couple of days we relaxed, swimming in the crystal-clear turquoise water and musing over the lunar landscape of the low rock cliffs forming this shore line.  On Saturday it was time to head out to sea once again for the usual domestic unspeakables, before trying our luck once again in Ciutadella.  This time we were lucky, or just timed it right, and the morning leavers had gone but the evening arrivals had not yet come.  We were settled at the outer edge of the anchorage in time for a late lunch, watching the selection of Balearic ferries coming and going at the adjacent Ro-Ro dock.  These created huge turbulence for short periods of time, but were otherwise inoffensive.

Late in the afternoon, we decided to make the effort to dinghy up the sheltered inlet to the port and second city of Ciutadella, the capital of Menorca until the period of British governance in the 18th Century.  Its nickname is Vella I Bella, meaning ‘old and beautiful’, and wandering the narrow stone-flagged streets of the old town among ancient buildings of honey-coloured sandstone, mellow in the afternoon sunlight, it is easy to see why.

Enjoying the somnolence of siesta, with the town almost deserted, we enjoyed strolling the traffic-free heart of the city, past interesting boutique shops and elegant historical monuments.  The Cathedral was built in the 14th Century on the site of an earlier mosque.  Its baroque façade was added in the 19th Century.  Opposite is the government building of the Consell Insular de Menorca, the meeting place for the self-governing Menorcan parliament.  We wound our way along Ses Voltes, the arcades of the old town, to the main square of Placa d’es Born, where stands a huge obelisk in memorial to the fallen during the Turkish invasion of 1558.

Ciutadella
The ancient fortress guards the port; The market; Placa d’Alfons III
Shady narrow street; Ses Voltes and street art; Can Saura; Esglesia del Roser

Overlooking the port below, the Ajuntament or Town Hall stands on the site of the old Muslim fortress, from which the town was guarded and trade controlled.  It was the palace of the Arab governor, and later of the British until they made Mahón the capital in 1722.

All around the town we saw souvenirs of Sant Joan, a white cross on a burgundy background.  It turns out that, as usual, we weren’t there at the right time, for this is the Fiesta de Saint Joan – the festival dedicated to St John the Baptist, the patron saint of Menorca, celebrated around 24 June.  Research suggests this is a marvellous spectacle, rooted in religious history, now developed into parades, processions and parties.  Cavallers dressed all in white, including bow tie, with black tail coat and riding hat, ride the indigenous black horses of Menorca through the streets of the city, making them stand on their hind legs in bots.  The saddle is intricately decorated, and the saddlecloth sumptuously embroidered.  Noble families host grand parties, and a ram, symbolising Christ the Lamb of God, is carefully washed and groomed and carried through the streets within the parade.

Castell de Sant Nicolau

As we made our way back down to the port, the evening paseo was beginning as people began to emerge for the evening stroll by craft market stalls and ice cream parlours.  Down on the quayside, buildings emerge from the cliff face, once boat houses and now a selection of bars and restaurants.  At the mouth of the harbour we swung around the attractive Castell de Sant Nicolau, the watchtower built in an octagonal shape by Spain in the late 18th Century as a first defence of the city from attacks by sea.

The final act of our entertainment programme for the day was provided by a large, elegant motor yacht, who attempted to return to “his” home berth on Sunday evening, anchoring less than twenty metres from us when he was 25 metres long.  It doesn’t require an Einstein brain to realise that, unless we all turn at exactly the same pace in any wind changes, a collision is more than likely.  However, the French master (of a UK-flagged boat) was unwilling to find a safer spot, and Skipper resorted to calling the Coastguard for advice and to log the incident in case it should result in insurance claims.  Judicious placing of fenders and a close watch avoided any untoward intimacy overnight, but it could not have been considered restful.

On Monday we repeated the dinghy ride into the heart of the old city, but were disappointed to find only a fraction of the market open this morning, and the fish hall not at all.  We resigned ourselves to some very expensive vegetables from a delicatessen, where Skipper also chose some excellent jamon iberico (cured ham), whilst some fresh meat items and a piece of local cheese were purchased from the market stalls that were open for trade.

In 34˚C inside at 1600, we set off for an anchorage somewhere on the North coast, enjoying a lovely genoa run in a light Southerly F2-3.  We were bemused to see many structures among the fields along the skyline, of the same shape and size, and apparently built of large evenly shaped rocks – were they pig pens?  Shepherd shelters?  Giant beehives?  As ever, the ubiquitous Internet came to the rescue where the guide book had failed for lack of photos with the description – they are ancient burial chambers known as navetasNave means ‘boat’ in Spanish, and the structures look like overturned hulls.  This type of tomb is unique to Menorca, and dates from the 9th Century BC.  They were built using the Cyclopean technique, where medium sized stones were fitted together as a dry stone wall.  Inside there are two levels, separated by stone slabs.  Archaeological excavations have revealed that large numbers of bodies were laid to rest within the tombs, accompanied by bracelets and weapons in bronze, bone buttons and pottery items.  This is but one example of a range of evidence across the island of human habitation since prehistoric times.

Just before sunset we were happily settled – in Cala S’Escala – with only one neighbour, another aluminium yacht with a sunny yellow livery and a hammock swinging above the foredeck.  The rock fringe of the bay was spectacular, and it was perfectly peaceful.

The view across S’Escala in the evening light

Tuesday was another quiet day at anchor, languishing in the relentless heat – even the sea feels like bathwater, so a dip is not now so refreshing.

A week in Majorca

Tuesday 28 July – Tuesday 4 August

On another hot, sunny morning, cabin thermometer reading 32˚C at 1100, we set off for Majorca, soon swapping our faithful Trevver for full main and staysail in a steady Southeasterly F3-4.  We added the genoa when it became apparent the wind wasn’t going to build with any afternoon thermal breezes – maybe it’s just too hot to be bothered up there as well.  In the first two hours, we’d covered an unremarkable 9 Miles, but by 1600 the sea had lost its earlier lumpiness, and sailing became comfortable.

As Ibiza faded into the haze behind us, by 1800 Majorca was clearly discernible through the haze ahead.  The wind died completely, the engine went back on instead of a foresail, and at 1900 sailing was re-established…for all of twenty minutes.  We motored through the night, along the North coast of Majorca, at a steady pace, enjoying the canopy of stars and dozing in the cockpit as it was far too hot to sleep below, especially with the engine’s noise and additional heat.

It wasn’t the first night sail in Mediterranean waters during which a few irresponsible folk entertain themselves by singing and carrying on mindless conversations over VHF Channel 16.  In the UK the Coastguard would never let this continue, as it clogs the International Distress Channel, but hereabouts it seems to pass unnoticed and unchallenged.  By 0330 the moon had set and the sky was very dark, allowing Mate to spot a comet, and the odd shooting star or two.

Sunrise on the North coast of Majorca

Watching daybreak behind the Eastern mountains of Majorca was a beautiful sight, followed by a stunning sunrise and by 0800 we were anchored just behind Punta Deyà, below high crags, stubby pine trees and stone-coloured buildings that blend into the hillside.  Unfortunately a rolling swell made the spot untenable, and after breakfast we moved along another four Miles to Port Sóller, a sheltered horseshoe bay, where we hoped to find calmer water if a little less cool air.  Our passage amounted to 79 Miles over about 22 hours – not earth-shattering but not uncomfortable either, until we first landed anyway.

Esglesia de San Ramon
de Penyafort, Port Sóller

On Friday, the last day of July, we landed the tender on the beach to explore the small town, finding a well-stocked gift shop and an interesting little church as well as provisions and delicious chilled freshly squeezed orange juice – the fruit grown just up the valley near the town of Sóller.  We wandered the shoreline right around the bay and marina, glad to have found a free space to anchor rather than struggle to squeeze into a berth there.  We enjoyed relaxing and watching the comings and goings of charter and private vessels from the quiet comfort of our cockpit.

Port Sóller, the tram, en route, Sóller church and the Victorian train in Palma
Palma

On Sunday 2 August we played tourists, and went ashore early to catch the first Victorian tram of the day.  This was a pleasant ride up the valley to Sóller, where we transferred onto another Victorian transport, a beautifully-maintained train, that took us into and through the mountain across the island to the main port and capital city of Palma.  A pleasant breeze kept us relatively cool as we strolled the narrow cobbled streets, admired the architecture and peeped into courtyards.  The city was pleasantly quiet, with few tourists around and most shops closed.  Trying to make sense of the fragmented sections of marina, we found an expensive lunch amidst the expensive superyachts, but were disappointed not to be able to visit the interior of the magnificent cathedral.

That night it rained heavily, but dropped red sand all over the boat than washing away much of the salt.  We’d intended to leave Sóller to make water at sea, then find a new anchorage, but there is very little shelter among the mountains of the North coast of Majorca, and after fighting a squally, difficult wind and up to two metres of swell, we gave up and went back in, covering 19 Miles in six hours.  The anchorage was rolly from the swell outside, but on Tuesday morning space opened up further inshore, and we were able to find somewhere more sheltered, before going ashore once again for provisions in preparation for new horizons on the morrow.

Cruising Ibiza and Formentera – Week Five (and a bit)

Sunday 19 – Monday 27 July

We enjoyed a lazy day at anchor on Sunday, before loading the bikes and panniers one set at a time into the tender to land on a beach of very soft, very hot sand on Monday morning.  The bikes were built, the sand brushed off and panniers clipped on, ready to explore some of the Rutas Verdes (Green Routes) of the island of Formentera.  These are occasionally tarmacked roads, but more often sandy tracks weaving among gently rural scenery, vineyards and olive groves.  Coming across a track closed while a large digger excavated a hole in the road, completely blocking it, we were touched when the driver backed to one side and his colleague beckoned us through with a cheerful wave.  We made our way to the centre of the island and the main town of Sant Francesc Xavier, known locally as San Francisco.  This is a more substantial town, where we found a good lunch at a pavement table on a pedestrianised street, and around the corner a slightly better stocked supermarket.

The climb back up the hill to cross the island back to ‘our’ beach seemed surprisingly less arduous than the steep descent had been, and we found our way back to the shoreline, seeing no more green lizards on the boardwalk after the four Mate had spotted earlier in the day in a brief lull in human traffic.  She cooled down with an icecream from the beach bar while Skipper nobly did the double journey back to l’escale with all the gear.

On Tuesday we had a lovely reach under genoa back up to Porroig, again making water en route.  This time we opted for the superyacht anchorage in the Northern corner of the bay, where we were careful to lie the anchor and chain only over sand.  The following two days were extremely hot, resulting in Mate catching the sun on her back as she nobly attended to laundry detail.  It was our turn to provide the day’s entertainment in the anchorage, when a bedsheet pegged out to air was whipped off the line by a rogue gust, and promptly unceremoniously dumped onto the seabed some five metres down.  Once its absence was noticed and location discovered, the rescue mission soon extended to a neighbouring Spanish yacht after both our crew tried and failed to dive deep enough to retrieve it.  The two caballeros that swam gallantly to the rescue had an apparently practised technique of free diving with one hand holding the nose to mitigate the effects of the pressure of salt water, while the other arm stretched down to grab the fabric and bring it back to the surface.  A bottle of local red as a thank you for their efforts seemed a small gesture of our gratitude…and yes, the sheet went back into the wash.

On Friday we set off again, around the Southernmost tip of Ibiza, negotiating a passage close to the rocky islands off Punta Portas, and through the busy shipping lanes of ferries and large speedboats that rush between Ibiza Town and La Savina, the ports of the Islas Pityusaes, the Pine Islands, for their fragrance from the sea.  We set the genoa mostly for show in a light and variable F1-3 breeze, again making water…until Mate suddenly heard water gushing from a hole on the port side of the hull.  The bilge pump alarm was also sounding, indicating that the automatic pump had been triggered into action by water under the floor inside the boat.  Skipper hastened below to discover the tech room (port stern cabin) floor awash with salt water, and discovered a considerable leak in the water maker plumbing, caused by the loosening and subsequent detachment of the pressure gauge pipe fitting.  Having shut down the watermaker, he spent the next couple of hot, sweaty, uncomfortable hours clearing and mopping up, while Mate remained at the helm, trying and failing to make the genoa fly.

Although we had been aiming for Santa Eulària des Riu, we decided to stop at Cala Castellá, between Roca Llisa and Cap des Llibrell, just before the famous Cala Llonga (readers familiar with Welsh may be able to get their mental tongue around these ‘ll-s’, but in Spanish they are pronounced as ‘y’ – even more unpronounceable?)  We were welcomed into this very attractive bay by l’escale’s first dolphin encounter in the Mediterranean, albeit only a brief glimpse.  The cabin temperature now reading 35˚C, we relaxed between stages of repairing the watermaker, until the day visitors had departed and we could re-anchor on a larger patch of sand under the Western cliffs.  As dusk fell, the lights of the restaurant at the head of the cala illuminated a very pretty scene, which research revealed was Amante, a fine dining establishment with a very interesting menu, prices omitted.  One of those where if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it?

As another weekend came around, we set off once more for Santa Eulària, peering into Cala Llonga as we passed, and were glad we hadn’t attempted to stop there the night before – it’s very ‘developed’ with unattractive hotel buildings, and a narrow space for boats.  After nearly touching bottom searching for an anchoring spot outside the marina at Santa Eulària, avoided by the marina’s marinero kindly warning us off from his fast RIB, we tucked into a suitable spot between an Ovni and a small local fishing boat.  We landed the tender on the beach to stroll around this attractive town, surely the most grown-up resort on Ibiza.  Up the hill we found the Puig de Missa, a beautiful fortress church, dating from 1568 and simply painted inside and out in white, with its 17th Century multi-arched entrance porch.  Gazing down to the valley below, we picked out the line of the only river in the Balearics, whose constant flow of water enabled the local flour mills to operate at a time when bread was one of the island’s staple foods.  We also spotted the Pont Vell (Old Bridge), whose first records date back to 1720.  This bridge was the main entrance to the town until 1918, when the Pont Nou (New Bridge) was built.

Postcard from Santa Eularia

We followed a different path back down to sea level, past attractive casas with colourful gardens clinging to the hillside, and found ourselves on the Passeig Marítim, where the evening paseo (promenade, stroll) was in full swing among restaurants, ice cream parlours and stalls of artisan merchandise.  Having read about the  fameliars, small goblins from Ibiza’s mythology who, according to legend, are born from the stem of a grass that only grows on the eve of Saint John’s Day under the old bridge of Santa Eulària des Riu, and who must be entertained and well fed to prevent them from getting into any kind of mischief, Mate was pleased to spot some of their sculptures along the way.

Mediterranean Sunset
framed by the WindPilot

After a rolly night at anchor, we went ashore once again to walk a little out of town to a decent-sized Mercadona supermarket, fortunately open on Sundays.  We returned following the shore as far as possible, before skirting the grounds of a smart-looking hotel and finding ourselves back at the beach.  It is always a relief to find l’arrêt patiently waiting where we left her.  Later that afternoon, with the cabin temperature at 33˚C, we headed Northeast and North, passing between the island and another offspring, Tagomago, along more rugged and uninhabited coastline, to find ourselves on the seaward side of Punta Moscarter and the stripy lighthouse of our first few days here.  As Portinatx itself was very busy and crowded, we continued into the larger, more open bay immediately West, and tucked into Cala Xarraca.  Apart from touching an uncharted rock in 2.5 metres of water with 1.5 metres of draft, we enjoyed a comfortable last two nights and day between on Ibiza.  Our total cruising distance was 207 Miles.

Cruising Ibiza and Formentera – Week Four

Sunday 12 – Saturday 18 July

While Mate then spent an unscheduled but delightful few days with a much happier daughter, and a brief but very enjoyable pub lunch, appropriately socially distanced, with a pleasantly relaxed son and girlfriend, on English soil, Skipper amused himself trying his hand at a little single-handed sailing, making new acquaintances along the way.  On the Monday morning, he set second reef and staysail to cruise around the Northwest corner of the island to Cala Saona, where he spent a couple of nights on essential paperwork, many frustrated attempts to send e-mails from the first area of poor signal we’ve found in many months, and by way of relief, a little light boat maintenance on an intermittent fault with the radar system.

On Wednesday 15th he motored back to the beachside anchorage near La Savina for lunch and shopping, before relocating again, North to the quiet and calm anchorage off the South end of Espalmador.  Unfortunately this was still busy and bumpy with the wash of motorboats and jet skis, so on Thursday he cruised with the genoa back to Porroig on Ibiza, a reasonable pick-up point for Mate, who was returning to the nearby airport that evening.  Much to Mate’s entertainment, the landing area for the dinghy was a rusty rail for local fishermen to haul their boat up to the shelter shack, reached by a steep sandy track from the unpaved car park above.  The taxi driver from the airport showed some consternation when she didn’t give the name of a hotel, but was obviously relieved to return the cheerful wave of the chap puttering across the water in a small rubber boat.

Porroig anchorage

After a refreshing swim and shower to slough off a straightforward but unpleasant flight amidst a planeful of overexcited overgrown schoolkids bound for Party Island, a quiet Friday was enjoyed in this pretty anchorage.  On Saturday morning we set off early for Formentera once again, making water on the way, and before lunchtime were anchored once more off La Savina to go ashore for some provisions.  The village has a selection of restaurants and tourist shops, along with a small supermarket , expensive as you might expect on a small island.  Later in the afternoon we returned to Cala Saona, five miles around the corner on the West coast, typically busy on a summer weekend.  A little before sunset we were able to relocate under the cliffs nearer the beach, where it was calmer and more sheltered.

Cruising Ibiza and Formentera – Week Three

Sunday 5 – Saturday 11 July

On Sunday evening we headed back for Cala Bassa, our first stop on arrival in Ibiza, but it was too crowded, and adjoining Cala Roja was too exposed and rolly, so we made water for a bit longer while we pottered over to Isla Conejera, the East side of which, Estancia des Dins, turned out to be a comfortable spot, once the day trippers had gone and we were able to find a sandy patch to drop the anchor onto.  We had a quiet day there on Monday, taking the tender into a truly tiny harbour to follow the track up to the lighthouse, spotting a wealth of the famous iridescent emerald lizards along the way.  The panoramic views from the top were glorious.

Isla Conejera (Rabbit Island)

On Tuesday morning we had an unfriendly conversation with Park Rangers about the position of our anchor and chain.  Much of the coastline is fringed with oceanic Posidonia (sea grass) meadows.  These are the best-preserved examples in the Mediterranean, and shelter over 220 different species, including three under threat of global extinction, one of which is the monk seal.  The meadows also contribute to the purity and transparency of waters surrounding the island.

We knew before we arrived that these underwater meadows are protected by law, and steep fines await those careless enough to anchor into the weed, but that morning we learned that not only the anchor but also the full length of chain must be clear of the grass, as its movement when the boat swings to the wind can uproot the fragile plants.  Our frustration was that we’d spent over an hour on Sunday evening searching for clear water with enough space for us to anchor safely.  Unfortunately the Ranger’s manner was aggressive and he told us we had fifteen minutes to leave – and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast!  Our only consolation was that he did ‘speak’ to each of the other boats, and the anchorage emptied rapidly.

We set full main and staysail to beat into a SSE F3-4, and enjoyed a lovely sail down to Cala d’Hort, opposite the spectacular rock of Es Vedra and her little sister, Es Vedranell.  We had a pleasant couple of nights there, watching the comings and goings of vessels under a variety of flags and exhibiting an interesting range of degrees of seamanship and methods of anchoring.  On Thursday 9 the log reads ‘30˚C in the cabin’, and we set off into a Southeasterly F4, which soon built with the expected afternoon thermal breeze to ESE F5-6.  This made for an interesting sail under second reef mainsail and staysail, Mate helming at a not inconsiderable angle of heel, and luffing frequently to spill gusts of 25 knots plus.  We passed under the flight path into Ibiza airport, with planes landing every 5-10 minutes, swelling the numbers of tourists on the island, and were also aware of numbers of ferries once again plying the inter-island routes.

By mid-afternoon we were anchored on the outside edge of a sprawling anchorage on the West side of Formentera, a low-lying, sandy, S-shaped island some dozen miles South of Ibiza.  This is apparently a favourite of Italian holidaymakers, with a permanent community living around the main town of Sant Francesc Xavier and many huge motor yachts in evidence along the shore.

Ibiza Town – Dalt Vila

After burning the (virtual) phone lines between us and London for most of Friday, the decision was reached that Mate would be on a flight out of Ibiza on Saturday morning to administer some much-needed TLC to Second Mate, home alone throughout the lockdown.  By happy coincidence, this was the first day that the British government had lifted the 14-day quarantine requirement on arrivals into the UK.  After a hasty packing of hand luggage only, Mate began the day with a dinghy ride to La Savina, the port town on Formentera from which a number of frequent ferry services depart for Ibiza town.  After a somewhat bumpy fast catamaran run, it was an easy transfer to the bus to the airport, and a very civilised BA flight into Heathrow.  An almost empty Tube completed the journey into London.  Masks and frequent hand sanitiser were required throughout the trip, but it was very straightforward, and relatively quiet.

Cruising Ibiza – Week Two

Saturday 27 June – Saturday 4 July

Having restocked the fridge and stowed the clean laundry, it was time to tackle the offshore domestic requirements of emptying holding tank and making fresh water.  Skipper installed a waste treatment system for our inboard toilet when the boat was new.  This works by creating a chemical reaction between an electric current and seawater, which sterilises matter to a state of ‘grey water’ harmless to the marine environment.  Nevertheless, we are still careful to discharge well out to sea.  Furthermore, we feel that water is better made away from land, where we hope there will be fewer pollutants.

Skipper installed Walt, our Spectra water maker, during our escale in Gibraltar, and it is totally earning its keep, increasing our cruising freedom enormously.  During our second Summer aboard, among the often remote islands of Northwest Scotland, finding and being able to access drinking water was a constant concern.  Now, combined with the large solar panel that sits atop our stern arch, (installed by Skipper during our 2018-19 Winter stopover in Plymouth), we are able to convert the long hours of sunshine here in the Western Mediterranean directly into water!  Walt has two motors, which can be run independently or in tandem, and pull around 10 Amps each.  The solar panel feeds the batteries efficiently enough to meet this 20A requirement, in addition to keeping the fridge cool enough to chill the beers.  Walt replenishes our water tanks at the rate of around 60 litres an hour, plenty for our approximate daily usage of 80 litres.  As we rarely stay in any one anchorage more than three days, this represents true cruising luxury.

Cala de Sant Miguel

On Saturday 27 June, we relocated to Port de Sant Miguel, a very pretty anchorage in a fairly narrow, steep-sided cala on the Northwest coast.  When we arrived the breeze was coming into the cala, so we anchored with our bow pointing out to sea.  However, by the time a 38-foot Spanish-flagged catamaran arrived, the wind had dropped and we had turned 180˚.  The cat tried to anchor very close to our stern, potentially right on our anchor, and when we explained where our anchor was lying, he shouted at us that we were in Ibiza now, and it’s not done here to lie other than with the anchor off the bow – evidently basic physics was not his subject.  Fenders were strategically positioned, and a calm night was enjoyed.

After a quiet day at anchor on Sunday, we took the tender ashore on Monday morning, slipped on our sturdy walking boots, and set off over the shoulder of the hill that divides Port de Sant Miguel from the neighbouring beach of Benírras.  As usual, it was hot and sunny, but with very little traffic it was possible to enjoy the constant background of the cicadas and breathe in the sweet pine fragrance.  There was a surprising number of wildflowers still dressing the verges and hedgerows, obviously well-adapted to the arid environment, and also a selection of cacti was noted.

On arrival at Benírras beach, hot, tired and thirsty, we were relieved to find the chiringuita (beach bar/restaurant) ‘Elements’ very much open for business.  Set with bleached wood furniture and cool funky background music, we were served an excellent organic home-made lunch with cool beer and a delightfully laid-back vibe.  It was decided this was a fitting way to celebrate the crew’s birthdays, Skipper’s missed completely in the first week of lockdown back in Valencia, and Mate’s coming later in the week.

Suitably refreshed and relaxed, we set off on the return walk, deciding to deviate onto a forest track that “looked like it went in the right direction”…When it had been obvious for some time that we were not heading where we wanted to, Skipper took a look at Google Maps and a very kind young man stopped his car to ask if we needed help.  We retraced our steps a short way before taking a track displaying a very faded and weathered Privado notice, and soon found our way down a steep, stony path back to the valley floor and the beach where our tender patiently awaited our return.

Relieved to slip out of our boots onto the hot sand, there was still time to enjoy a cooling freshly squeezed local orange juice/beer to celebrate our 15-kilometre hike.

On Tuesday the anchorage was very bouncy and we realised we were no longer securely anchored – perhaps yesterday’s comings and goings whilst we were on land had dislodged our anchor?  We lifted it to set off under a first reefed main and staysail in a Nor-easterly F4-5, along the coast to the NE corner below the unusual lighthouse at Punta de Moscarter.  It is the tallest in the Balearics at 52 metres, and is painted in a diagonal black stripe on white, reminiscent of a candy cane.  The wind gradually eased to ESE F4, and we added the genoa for the fun of it, before settling to anchor off Portinatx, a very sheltered and attractive cala with a beach and village ashore.

On Wednesday 1 July we enjoyed a (much shorter) clifftop walk to the faro, the lighthouse, before returning to Sant Antoni on Thursday, under gennaker in a light Northeasterly.  As usual, we made water on the way, and by late afternoon were settled in almost exactly the same spot as last weekend.  Friday was eaten up by a trip to shore for a food shop, and Saturday (Mate’s fourth birthday – aboard) we dragged Bertha up the hill to the launderette.  Sometimes it’s enough of a celebration just to be on top of the domestics, and the birthday had been celebrated on and off for the last several weeks, with some retail therapy, trips ashore and meals out – no cooking, and no clean-up!

Cruising Ibiza – Week One

Sunday 21 June – Friday 26 June 2020

We spent the next four days in Cala Bassa, relaxing, swimming, sunbathing and generally being very lazy in the glorious weather.  By Wednesday 24th, however, an uncomfortable degree of swell was working its way into the bay, and we needed to attend to domestic necessities, so on Thursday we motored 16M up to the head of the inlet, where the resort town of Sant Antoni de Portmany is located.  In a normal season, this place is reputed to rival Ibiza town for all-night partying and booze-fuelled sunbathing, but in the current climate it’s reminiscent (for Mate, anyway) of Blackpool with sunshine.  Most of the shops, bars and restaurants are closed, and the sands all but deserted.

While saddened for the locals dependent on tourism for their livelihoods, this suited us very well, and we soon found the launderette, clean and well kept as always, with machines automatically filled with detergent and softener – a warning to the sensitive-skinned.  Opposite was the ‘Fruit Market’, a row of four conjoined sections of a prefabricated unit, offering a wide range of good quality local and imported produce at reasonable prices.  In season just now are juicy tomatoes, delicious oranges straight off the trees, aubergines, cucumbers and several varieties of melon, to name but a few.  Mate’s having gone completely veggie is no hardship here.

Having stocked up at the local Eroski supermarket on sundry provisions, including an expensive but very good local cheese, made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk and encased in crushed thyme (other varieties to try include fennel, oregano and basil coatings), we trundled a very full Bertha (shopping trolley) back to the tender and across the shallow bay, weaving our way through many moored and anchored boats.

Sant Antoni de Portmany
Ornamental windmill at S’Estanyol

We enjoyed trying out our new snorkel masks and flippers to explore the world under our keel, spotting several interesting varieties of fish and checking our anchor was well bedded into the sand. We’d managed to wiggle inside a number of shallow-draught catamarans, and were lying in only three metres of clear turquoise water.

Oh, the bliss of being back at sea

Saturday 20 June 2020

After one of the worst nights ever on anchor, the alarm went off at 0430 and the crew was up and ready for sea almost instantly.  Once the engine was on and the anchor up, the first lightening of the sky was appearing in the East and we motored for eight hours solid, as the promised light Northerly never bothered to blow.  Mate gave in to the idea of her favoured anti-seasickness remedy, a French drug called Nautamine, and was soon able to prepare soft-boiled eggs and Marmite toast soldiers, eaten at the cockpit table!

On schedule around noon, the afternoon breeze stirred into a delicious Southerly, the mainsail and genoa relieved Trevver, and BobbyCool took over from Jeanny to steer us ever onwards.  Unusually, and a real treat for our first passage in three months, we were able to sail the course we wanted, and I maintained a steady five to six knots on a close reach, even when the wind built to the forecasted F5, and we dropped to staysail and then first reef in the main.  The skies remained blue, the clouds were swept away (unlike in Northern waters, where cloud = wind, here no cloud = more wind) and the sea was the most beautiful shade of azul – Spanish blue.  The crew took turns to nap on and off through the day, and we completed a heavenly passage of 81 Miles in time to drop the anchor onto clean sand in Cala Bassa, on the West side of Ibiza, before sunset.  The day was rounded off with a quick stir-fry supper in the cockpit and a blissfully peaceful night, fragranced with warm pine and under a velvet blanket of stars.

Cala Bassa, West coast of Ibiza

We cashed in the ‘Get Out of Jail’ card!

Friday 19 June 2020

Well, the crew has turned over my engine a couple of times in the last few months, and got me all excited…for nothing.  But TODAY, eventually, my water tanks were topped up, my fridge is groaning under the weight of all the fresh food they’ve crammed into it, and my mooring warps have finally been loosened – are we actually going somewhere again??

My fuel tanks have been topped up as well, apparently not as cheaply as could have been hoped for, considering the reported crash in oil prices caused by the CV-crisis, and we pottered out of the marina – all the way to the beach on the other side of the harbour wall, maybe two miles.  The plan was sound enough: to avoid paying for another night in the marina amidst the Friday night noise of the locals enjoying themselves, and to be ready for an early start the following morning.  Unfortunately, the beach faces East, the direction of the prevailing wind and swell, and when the wind eased overnight, I was forced to lie parallel to the swell, meaning I rolled through about 40˚ all night, shaking and rattling the contents of every locker, along with the nerves of my poor crew.

North-east to Almerimar

Saturday 8 – Tuesday 11 February

Having finally worked through all the last-minute jobs necessary before actually being able to leave port: return the key fob that gives access to the facilities and pontoon, and reclaim our deposit; dispose of rubbish, disconnect the power supply and stow the cable, fold away the bimini so we’ll be able to see the sails, ensure everything below decks is safely stored etc etc, we finally slipped the lines and slid gently away from our rather tight berth at 1100.  As always, it took us a further 30 minutes to remove and stow the mooring lines, and all the fenders that had done such a good job of keeping us from becoming too intimate with our nearest neighbours during the nearly three weeks of our time in Fuengirola marina.

The sea was calm and a light high haze didn’t totally prevent the sunshine from filtering through.  Being weekend, there were several other sails already out and about, welcome company this early in the season.  By noon we had hoisted the main sail, and added the gennaker to enjoy a comfortable broad reach, which would have been peaceful without the engine, except Skipper replaced its vibration with that of the watermaker – for the next several hours.

At 1415 we were joined briefly by two large dolphins cavorting in the bow wave; the rest of their pod remained at a safe distance, but seemed to be centred in one area, perhaps feeding.  As the wind increased, Mate felt it would be prudent to furl the gennaker and set the genoa – a good decision as the gusts soon reached 16+ knots, now with much thicker dark cloud blanketing the sky.  The wind created a little swell, and we were able to sail goose-winged, or as our German friends in Gibraltar called it, butterfly-winged, which is so much prettier, for the remainder of the 33 Miles to our chosen anchorage off the beach and just outside the marina in Puerto de Caleta de Velez, just East of Málaga.

Caleta de Velez

The sky was clearing during the last hour, and we enjoyed a stunning sunset, with the full moon rising in the opposite quadrant, but sadly, having well and truly blown our mooring budget already this month, our parsimony meant a very bouncy, rolly, uncomfortable night, as the swell was slow to dissipate, even without any more wind.

On Sunday we pulled ourselves together as the day came bright and sunny, lifted the anchor and set the sails.  However, with almost no wind we motor-sailed out to clear the fish farm and try to find better airs further from the shore.  We were joined briefly by three dolphins, and by noon had given up on the genoa and were making water while the engine was running anyway.  At lunchtime the log notes “the wind didn’t read its forecast” as it persisted very light and variable, but to make up for it, the scenery was stunning: light clouds along the ridge of the mountains behind the coastal fringe, which is less built up on this particular stretch.

Eventually at 1430 the wind filled in enough to reset the genoa, F3 from ESE, and we were able to complete the day’s passage of 21.5M under sail.  The only boat in the village, we dropped anchor in seven metres of clear water, and were soon settled comfortably in the Ensenada de la Herradura, sitting in the afternoon sun in the cockpit.

Ensenada de la Herradura, looking East

This is a lovely bay, with options to shelter from most wind directions, and a town that looks almost interesting enough to prepare the tender and go ashore, but we didn’t quite muster enough enthusiasm for this much activity, and didn’t even get going until after lunch on Monday.  We knew there wouldn’t be any wind to sail, so we settled down to an easy motor on a flat sea, racing along at seven knots at times!  Of course, in the last ten minutes before we stopped, the wind rose to a respectable 12 knots – the day’s excuse for afternoon thermal breezes, which are surprisingly frequent, even at this time of year.  However, we understand that the weather is exceptionally mild and calm for the Winter, and has been since the Autumn – evidence of global warming?

We looked at a couple of options for anchoring, according to the pilot book, but the first is now laid with moorings and too deep by the time the boat is the requisite 200 metres from the shore.  Just around the rocky corner of Punta del Cerrón, we found a small cove, attractive except for the ubiquitous graffiti on the wall behind the beach, to enjoy a beautiful sunset and moonrise, and a calm night.

On Tuesday, our last day of this leg, we set off at a more respectable 0930, noticing some curious bright orange growth on the rocky wall fringing the bay, just below the high water line.  Finding a pleasant WSW breeze F3-4 outside the shelter of the cove, we set the gennaker, but the wind was creating a slight swell that met our hull on the starboard stern quarter, making us roll uncomfortably, so we replaced the gennaker with the genoa, and settled down to a steady 5 knots’ progress.  Once again, the weather was lovely, sunny with good visibility, a light haze at sea level and light high cloud over the snow-capped ridges of the Sierra Nevada, now visible as a spectacular length of mountain range.

After lunch, Mate decided to changed the angle of roll by gybing into the bay created by the ‘junction’ of the Costa del Sol with the Costa Blanca: suddenly, the rolling foothills encased in plastic, that enables the production of much of Northern Europe’s demand for salad during the Winter, give way to low cliffs of pale rock face, a little like the SE coast of England.  The wind eased back to a F4 SW, and we were able to fly the gennaker almost into the port of Almerimar, dodging wind- and kite-surfers near the shore line.  Today’s passage of 31M brought us back to land, another Med mooring neatly tucked into by Skipper with a marinero to take our stern lines ashore.

Almerimar port control tower at sunset