Cruising Menorca – Week Three – City visit on land and high drama on the water

Thursday 20 – Tuesday 25 August

The following morning, Aurelie had obviously given up any hope of quality rest, and was away very early on their long passage Westwards.  They arrived safely a few days later.  Meanwhile, we headed out to sea to make water, finding it lumpy and uncomfortable outside the harbour.  We managed to set the staysail once we were able to turn South, parallel with the coastline, and anchored off the Illa de l’Aire lighthouse, that stands on a tiny island off the Southwestern tip of Menorca.  The water was incredibly clear, so we were able to see that we were trying to set the anchor onto rocks, never a good idea, but we held steady long enough to make some water, at least until the machine broke – again.  Poor Skipper spent most of the afternoon trying to fix it – again, and made a temporary repair, but we’d made so little water we hoped to stay overnight.  However, a quick snorkel inspection revealed that the anchor was snagged on a rock, and couldn’t be trusted to hold if the wind changed direction overnight, which is always all too likely, so we headed back to Mahón.  We didn’t even try to sail, as it was still lumpy in a strongish Northerly, and we were very tired.  Back in Cala Taulera, we managed to find a comfortable spot well away from the Black Marlin.

On Friday, 21 August, we took ourselves back up the harbour to the city, for an extended look around, some shopping and a pleasant lunch from a menu del día, the daily set menu which are good value, at a restaurant on the quayside.  The island has been occupied variously by Spanish, French and English.  Also known as Maó, the city was designated the capital of Menorca during the British domination of the island during the 18th Century, because its extensive harbour and deep water offers much better protection for the Fleet, stationed at this strategic point in the Mediterranean, than that of Ciutadella on the opposite side of the island.  The naval history of the area is apparent, from the military buildings painted ‘English Red’, a distinctive deep shade very different from the whites and muted pastels of local facades, to the classic lines of the Naval Command Centre on an island opposite the city.

Mahon: the city’s version of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid;
the oldest gateway; a church window; street art;
attractive architecture

There are many examples of ornate cast iron railings decorating balconies, while a large number of residential properties have shutters and doors in a uniform dark green, which gives a pleasing harmony to a mix of styles and paint colours.  Interesting architecture of many eras is around every corner in this lovely city, from the only remaining piece of the original city wall, the 14th Century Sant Roc portal, to the elegant Art Nouveau façade of Casa Mercadel, owned by a noble Menorcan family and built on the site of an ancient castle overlooking the harbour, to the attractive exterior of the ancient dwelling on Plaça del Princep that faces you as you walk along the side of the Esglesia del Carme.  The cloisters of this ancient church are an unusual venue for a highly browsable market, offering everything from local food specialities like cheese and salami-like sausage to Xoriguer gin (introduced by the British to keep the sailors’ whistles whetted), clothing, jewellery and the unique Avarca sandals worn by both genders and all ages.

Saturday morning saw us away early for another attempt to make water.  We found a likely spot just a little beyond the lighthouse of the other day, and tucked in to Cala Biniancolla for a successful afternoon’s production, in spite of the comings and goings of locals enjoying their weekend on the water.  We tucked back into Cala Taulera once again, for a quiet Sunday followed by laundry detail for Mate on Monday – by hand, with as little as possible of our lovely ‘home made’ water.  Waving hello to a British-flagged small motor boat that came in near to us, it soon became apparent that their anchor was dragging, of which fact they were duly warned.  They relocated a little further away, but on lifting their anchor to head off, we noticed that they’d managed to hook the anchor of a 52-foot Beneteau yacht, that they seemed unaware of towing halfway around the anchorage.  We dashed over in our dinghy to help, and were able to restore calm and order to a potentially damaging and expensive situation: the skipper of the yacht was not aboard when this situation arose, and the boat was heading towards an equally large catamaran, also without any crew in evidence.  Fortunately the yacht skipper returned during the debacle, and allowed us to manage the untangling and safe replacement of his anchor, whereupon Cheeky – yes, really – sloped off somewhat shamefaced.

As always, we were watched by an avid audience, including a French 40’ Dufour, with whom we chatted briefly on our way home.  Her skipper jokingly asked if he could call on us should he need assistance the following day.

During the morning of Tuesday 25th, we noticed we’d drifted too close to the shallows again, and reset our anchor once more in deeper water.  By strange coincidence, while the French man’s wife was in town on the Tuesday, his anchor dragged and he ended up where we’d touched bottom when we first arrived here.  In trying to regain control, the line of his secondary anchor became caught around his prop (are you sensing a pattern here?) and once again it was l’arret to the rescue, along with a kind Spanish gentleman in another dinghy.  Skipper was invited aboard to render assistance, while Mate towed the yacht – one hand steering and the other clamped to his bow line – away from the shallows to safety.  Later he expressed his gratitude by the gift of a bottle of French fizz – how kind!  We exchanged boat cards, and have heard they arrived safely into Corsica.

Cruising Menorca – Week Two – Sailing in Company

Wednesday 12 – Wednesday 19 August

On Wednesday morning Mate had just about finished up a batch of hand-washing when the lovely lines of Tendrel-Aurelie hove into view around the corner of the cala.  They settled quickly to their anchor and came straight over to say hello – huge hugs and smiles all round.  One of the wonderful aspects of this life is that sometimes we meet people with whom we bond immediately, and know we’ll remain friends – this German couple are two such special people.  We had a lovely afternoon catching up, and supper together onboard l’escale.

Aurelie, an Ovni 455CC (yes, very unusually she has a centre cockpit – only seven were built) is also an aluminium yacht, and was purchased in Greece in 2018.  During her homeward voyage to Kiel in Northern Germany, she stopped off in the Balearics, and her Mate had also had a holiday there with her daughter, so they knew the island and its harbours well, and proved excellent guides to us first-timers.  On the Thursday afternoon, after a lazy morning visiting and chatting, we all set off for a fabulous sail East to the deep inlet of Fornells.  We took slightly different approaches to our passage, and some excellent photos of each other in a variety of sail plans.

Sailing in company
L’escale on the left, Tendrel-Aurelie on the right

On arrival, Aurelie was soon settled to her anchor, while we continued to seek an elusive patch of sand on which to drop, mindful of earlier warnings from the ‘Posidonia Police’.  An hour later, we gave up, and came to rest just behind our friends, who invited us over for sundowners along with another German couple they’d met elsewhere, who were here in their brand new (to them) Moody.

Undisturbed by any authorities, we enjoyed a day’s rest and further conversation at anchor during Friday, and on Saturday sailed in company again, to the anchorage at the seaward end of the long inlet that leads to the island’s main port of Mahón.  Cala Taulera lies in perfect shelter under the watchful eye of Fortalesa (Fort) de la Mola, and across the channel from Illa del Llatzeret, nicknamed Quarantine Island for the hospital where those with infectious diseases were admitted for treatment, almost before they disembarked their ship.

The only drawback is that close in to the Eastern shore, where the land narrows and masts of yachts at anchor on the seaward side peep above the marsh, the bottom shelves rapidly, as we discovered when attempting to follow our friends without paying enough attention to their actual route.  Never mind, within moments a kind Dutch gentleman from a nearby catamaran came over in his dinghy to join our friend who’d barely anchored his own vessel, Skipper stepped off into waist high warm water, and l’escale was wiggled gently off the rocks and back into deeper water.  Ignominious though this arrival was, it encouraged our empathy for others who repeated our mistake, of which more later.  With a few more scars to the underwater areas of the hull, we were soon settled for a visit to the capital.

La Mola fort (courtesy of Tendrel-Aurelie); Mahon harbour

On Sunday we enjoyed a scramble around the outlying areas of the fort (ignoring the No Entry signs onto the ramparts), and took in the glorious views up the harbour, and on Monday we made the long dinghy ride up into town at the head of the inlet, followed by a hot climb up into the old city, which necessitated a reviving lunch at a pavement restaurant.  We saw a little of the city on the way to a largish supermarket, the spoils of which thankfully needed carrying only downhill back to the tenders.

On Tuesday evening we hosted supper onboard, and Mate spotted a kingfisher flitting along the nearby shoreline.  Wednesday being our last day together before Aurelie set sail again back towards Gibraltar, we tried a road walk away from the fort, but weren’t very inspired and returned to the boats, where Mate completed a set of face masks and hemmed two lengths of Majorcan-design fabric as cockpit seat covers, in exchange for a batch of bedding in their onboard washing machine – such luxury.

Hoping for an early night before their dawn departure on the Thursday morning, our friends, along with the rest of the crews around us, were unimpressed when a large charter vessel, Black Marlin, attempted to enter the anchorage in the dark and managed to achieve a prop wrap – when a line or rope becomes caught and wound around the propeller shaft, rendering the vessel unmanoeuvrable.  Insults and abuse were flying through the night air, and it was after midnight when they were settled and calm was restored.

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.

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

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.