While waiting for our quarantine clearance to be able to go ashore and explore, we pottered to the Southwest corner of the island for a few days’ change of scene in a series of sheltered inlets. Well, they were mostly sheltered, until Thursday 10th when a fierce squall blew in from nowhere in the middle of the afternoon: torrential rain and a fierce williwaw of around 36 knots. Visibility was nil but it was obvious our anchor was dragging, so we got the engine started to try to motor into the wind to take the pressure off the anchor chain, but we were too late, and within a few moments the wind had dragged our anchor 300 metres towards the beach at the head of the inlet, until we came to a stop on an underwater reef between the land and a tiny island. Thankfully the worst was over very quickly, and Skipper donned his wetsuit and literally stepped off the back of the boat to inspect below the hull, and nudge us away from the danger. Yet again, thank goodness for the strength of the aluminium hull and lifting centreboard.
Later we were to discover some damage to the propeller blades and edges of the rudder boards, but this was not immediately obvious and didn’t greatly impede our passages for the remainder of the year.
It took a week for our negative test results to be confirmed, and we then spent another few days near Sant’Antioco, a little further up the SW coast of Sardinia, an island joined to its big sister by a causeway. We enjoyed a wander around the hilly town, and a visit to one of the most memorable churches we’ve been privileged to explore. From the outside it looks like many another, but the interior is truly ancient and built of huge grey stone blocks: unadorned, ungilded, unpainted and all the more spiritual for its simplicity.
Later reading a novel set on this tiny island, Mate learned of a unique and ancient craft that is still practised today, that of Bisso, or sea silk, spun and woven from the ‘beard’ of a marine bivalve. If you’re interested, look up Chiara Vigo – she’s the craftswoman famous for this stunning textile work. Sadly, the museum was not open when we were there – like so much else at the moment. We were also delighted by the wildlife hereabouts: a large flock of sheep and goats wearing bells were shepherded along the nearby beach each dusk, and behind the beach the salt pans were home to a large number of flamingos. It was the first time we’d seen them in the wild, and were entertained by their dance – a fast-stepping dabble paddle to stir up the mud to release their food, followed by that distinctive upside-down beak in the water to scoop in a range of delicacies. Another particular thrill was a brief visit by a kingfisher, who perched on our guardrail.
On our way back to Malfatono Bay, a European Bee-eater took shelter on our sprayhood for a much-needed rest from being chased remorselessly by a sparrowhawk: it was visibly panting like a tired dog. The hawk circled us for several frustrated minutes, but when the bee-eater took its chances back on the wing, the pursuit continued until both birds were out of sight towards land.
On Wednesday 2 September we upped anchor and were away for Sardinia by 0915. Within the hour we’d threaded our way down-channel and back out to sea, where we set the first reef in the mainsail and accessorised with the staysail, in a keen NNE F4. The wind remained lively and gusting to F5 through the morning, but mid-afternoon it eased quite suddenly as it swung to the North, although the sea was still rolling.
As the evening wore on towards a red moon and red sunset, the wind continued to back and reduce to NNW F2-3, and by dawn the following morning the log reads “wild ride”, as we were back to NW F4-5. At noon on 3rd, Mate changed the courtesy flag from Spain to Italy, none too soon as the former was looking very windworn and bedraggled. We had just under 100M left to sail to the waypoint off Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia at her Southwestern tip. During this stretch we were happy to accommodate a tiny tired bird in need of shelter and rest.
Although the wind remained in the North, it was now right down to anywhere between F1 and F3, and a little help was required from Trevver here and there. By evening the sea state was a comfortable ‘slight’ and the wind a steady F4, although it dropped completely during the second night at sea, and by the early hours of Friday morning, 4th September, we were motoring again. By 0800, however, we were back to full main and genoa, enjoying close-hauled sailing along spectacularly mountainous coast.
During the afternoon we motor-sailed as we checked out a possible anchorage, Mate still loving being at sea after 51 hours. It was deemed too rocky on the seabed so we carried on into Cagliari Bay and settled just South of Cagliari harbour, behind Capo Sant’Elia, completing 273 Miles in just over 58 hours, a respectable average speed of 4.7 knots.
This was a passage of Firsts: in 39 years of sailing, it was the first time Skipper was seasick while Mate was fine; we reached a point furthest yet from any land: 100M from anywhere, with the closest 3km – straight down!
It proved not to be the most comfortable anchorage, and the following morning our first encounter with the islanders was the local police, one of whom fortunately spoke English and was able to explain to us that we’d anchored too close to the rocky shore – in fact we’d swung a little in the night and stretched out our anchor chain. We were happy to note the courteous advice for future reference, and soon made our way into the harbour, to make arrangements for our entry paperwork and to meet Covid-19 regulations.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing it was established that a local agent would contact us to let us know how and where we should obtain the required tests, and we rounded the headland to the South, the Sella del Diavola (Devil’s Saddle) to find shelter off the Marina Piccola del Poeto. We later discovered this was the ‘city beach’: “the hub of summer life with its limpid blue waters and upbeat party scene.” Admittedly it was towards the end of the season, and there was some activity from the early morning aquarobics classes off the beach and the local sailing school, but the party scene was (thankfully) distinctly lacking…except on Sunday evening, when the Coastguard helicopter and then officious grey high-speed vessel came to a yacht nearby that was hosting an apparently Brazilian-themed bash for the pretty young things – with no evidence of adherence to coronavirus masks, social distancing or limits on numbers congregating, never mind shattering the erstwhile peace of a Sunday evening.
On Monday morning we moved back closer to the marina to take the dinghy ashore and hail a taxi to take us to the local hospital for our swab test. Technically, by this point we were in quarantine until the test came back negative, but we were able to make a quick trolley dash for a few supplies from the small supermarket opposite the hospital, to make the most of our expensive taxi ride. Needless to say, even this became a small adventure, as Skipper managed to leave his treasured Tilley hat in the store, and had to make a return trip to retrieve it – successfully.
On Tuesday 8 September we were approached by a Guardia Fiscal vessel, who reached across a fishing-style keep net to collect all our boat papers and passports for inspection. Much to Mate’s consternation, they moved off without returning them, but checked in a few other boats nearby and eventually delivered the plastic wallet back safely.
On Wednesday we topped up the provisions supplies, and on Thursday set off yet again to make water, this time heading North and anchoring at Playa d’en Tortuga, Turtle (or Tortoise) Beach, which is just South of Cabo Favoritx, where the lighthouse is a twin of that at Portinatx, on Ibiza, with diagonal black stripes on white. During the afternoon, we enjoyed a brief swim and snorkel while the wind built, producing an uncomfortable chop, so it was decided to head a little further to the sheltered inlet of Addaia. Carefully following the buoyed channel through an interesting maze of rocks, the scenery is reminiscent of the West coast of Scotland, with sunshine, and becomes increasingly Baltic-like as the mini fjord penetrates the land for a good couple of Miles. This impression was heightened by the sight of Danish and Norwegian flags on yachts in the anchorage inland of the small marina at the foot of a cluster of houses. We continued right to the top of the navigable water, and anchored at dusk in masses of space on mud and weed in a beautiful spot, all round shelter and 2.5 metres of water – oh, the joys of a lifting centreboard.
Friday was spent relaxing, swimming, re-anchoring (twice), trying and failing to lay the anchor onto sand, ever apprehensive about the Posidonia police, and enjoying the ripples reflecting along the shoreline, a curious sight of light and shadow rolling along the shore.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, we were woken by the forecast storm – lightning rolling continuously around the sky and torrential rain – we know how to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary! Having disconnected the VHF radio as a precaution, there was no danger, but the boat was washed thoroughly and we were glad of the cockpit tent, de-bagged for the first time since January, to provide some shelter and air while all the hatches below were closed. The storm passed through, as they always do, eventually, and we spent the weekend relaxing. On Sunday we ventured into the small port and had lunch on the quayside – an impressive vegetable timbale with patatas bravas for Mate, and a whole bass for Skipper, washed down with some local beer, and on Monday we went ashore again, to see what the small store in the small town could offer in the way of provisions. The first day of another new month, Tuesday was spent preparing for the next long passage, while we reflected on the weather having ‘broken’ into Autumn, with softer light and cooler temperatures, although the water is still deliciously warm for swimming. We’ve also been looking at a variety of options for over-wintering, and thinking about what we might do next year, post-Brexit – more on this to follow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 navetas. Nave 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.