May21,2016, Estepona, Costa del Sol
From Agua Dulce it was a mixed bag of sailing, and motoring but we had the assy kite up for a while. The destination was Marina del Este into which we were guided by a tuna fish! Hard to believe. Wish we had had a lure out the back. The marina itself is quite pretty but badly affected by surge, making for a restless night. We had a good fish meal at the restaurant just a few steps from the boat. Then on to Estepona in flat calms all day. The massive mountain ranges including the snow capped Sierra Nevada were visible making for an impressive backdrop to the remarkably bland coastal strip populated by incredible numbers of high rise apartment buildings. It actually makes the Gold Coast look quite good. We passed Malaga and Torremolinos, thinking about the travel agent skit from Monty Python (" and only a bleedin' lizard in the bidet"). So now we are in striking distance of Gibraltar.
May19,2016, Agua Dulce
It took a long time for the breeze to fill in and it never really gained enough strength for true sailing for more than a few hours at a time. We mostly motor sailed the leg down to Agua Dulce (lit. Fresh Water), 231nm SW from Ibiza. Fortunately we had a fair amount of favourable current, up to a knot at times. The entertaining bit was turning Cabo de Palos just near Cartagena. Lots of big fast ships forced us to slalom around in the middle of the night. It is actually quite frightening when one sees on the AIS that the Costa Favolosa (984 feet long and probably about 100,000 tonnes) has a Closest Point of Approach of 37 feet in 32 minutes and 41secs. That is, they are going to run over us at 20 knots. A quick call on the radio had the massive cruise liner altering course to avoid poor little Diomedea. Thank you, officer of the watch.
We had some sailing the next morning and afternoon into this nice marina which costs about 16euro a day. Much cheaper than Mallorca! There are virtually no decent anchorages anywhere along this coast. This region with the Cabo del Gata National Park, is the driest in Europe. The annual rainfall is a puny 200mm a year. Spread over the entire 26 days of precipitation per annum. Accordingly the place appears very arid.
With a day in port it was time to play tourist and visit the nearby city of Almeria. (Arabic for The Watchtower). It was founded in 955CE by a Moorish caliph who constructed the castle of Alcazaba. This is the second largest such fortress in Andalucia, after the Alhambra in Granada. The castle was besieged by and taken over by various Moorish factions (sound familiar?), briefly held by Crusaders in the 12th century, before finally falling to the Catholic monarchs, Fernando and Isabel in 1489 during the Reconquista. Today the Alcazaba castle is well preserved and definitely worth a visit. Not a minaret in sight but plenty of crucifix architecture of course. Lovely Cypress pine, lavender, hibiscus, oleander and bougainvillea gardens with dominant Arabesque water features cascaded down inside the extensive citadel. However, one could not help but be surprised by a towering blue gum eucalypt and numerous flowering jacarandas within the castle walls. I looked about for a koala. Even more surprising was a nearby paddock full of gazelles. Yes. There is a rescue program for endangered Saharian species here in this desert-like place. Lunch was taken at the Almedina restaurant (Moroccan/Arabic themed of course - cous cous, kebabs, mint lemonade, nice bread, Arabic cakes) before we wandered about the fairly unremarkable city. Amazingly we stumbled upon a building in which a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. Also filmed in the city was a scene in Lawrence of Arabia. I believe that many spaghetti westerns have been filmed in the hinterland. Perhaps most importantly of all (Teaser Alert) a scene in Game of Thrones, Season 6, was filmed in the Alcazaba castle.
Left Ibiza this morning. Motored all day but good breeze now. Heading for Agua Dulce near Almeria for tomorrow night.
Casting off the docklines is always difficult but soon Diomedea was weaving her way out of the Palma harbour, into 20+ knots of SW air. Wet and wild for some time before the angle relented and we took off for Cabo de ses Salienes. Our destination for the night was the small Cala Mondrago in a tiny bit of National Park. A quiet night in a very pretty bay however did not make up for the windward thrash for 20 miles the next morning down to Isla de Cabrera (Goat island), a land and marine national park with no development at all. Overnight stays are permitted only on pre-booked moorings for about AU$40 per night. It is a rugged, semi-arid, and gorgeous limestone area, remarkably similar to islands in the Aegean.
The island has been inhabited since prehistory, and there is a reasonably well-maintained 14th century castle overlooking the harbour. It was probably built as a defence against corsairs. There is a memorial marking the death by disease and starvation of up to 12,000 Napoleonic soldiers who were imprisoned here after the Peninsular wars of 1807-14.
An excellent walk takes one to the Faro d'Ensiola light in the south, built in the mid-19th century with the lighting supplied, of course, by the Chance Bros in the UK.(They introduced the Fresnel diffractive prism lens to lighthouse optics as well as mechanical rotating systems, and did a huge number of lights in the western world.)
With the SW flow finally abating it was time to leave for Ibiza, 65nm to the west. The forecast northerly did not amount to anything so we used the 130% diesel coupled with the non-overlapping jib for the passage. Quite a pretty island we found refuge in the narrow, scenic Cala Binirras on the west coast. One could count the anchor chain links on the fine rippled sand in 9 metres of water. The main event however was a majestic drumming session on the beach which went on for many hours. Attended by a large semi-naked audience, the tumultuous but rhythmic drum jam climaxed as the sun set out to sea (about 8.30pm), but then continued on.....
Our stay in Mallorca was about 10 days or so during which time we did yet more boat jobs but more importantly had many meals and relaxed chats with Angus, our son, who works as a super yacht rigger in Palma de Mallorca. We only get to see him once or twice a year so the time is very special. His companyâs workshop is out near the airport and is equipped with plenty of machines to deal with the large SS rod rigging required for big yachts. Diomedea was berthed at the very upmarket Puerto Portals marina where staggering amounts of wealth are on display, both on and off the water. If your luxury motor yacht was at least 100 feet long then you were almost in the A-list. If you added a Euro600,000 Bentley Coupe parked illegally then you were definitely in the club. We then moved to the remarkably down-market La Lonja marina just near the cathedral. Think battered and bruised delivery vans, poorly maintained crap yachts and smelly toilets. It is mainly home to charter fleets but does provide visiting yacht berths during the week and is very central. All the marine facilities are extremely close making it a desirable venue despite the previous reservations. We have grown to like this island, as has much of Europe. Mallorca receives more than 20 million tourists a year and is at most only a tenth the size of Tasmania. There is an outstanding network of bicycle routes, a fact also not lost on the Europeans. We saw thousands of MAMILS on gorgeous carbon race bikes being herded around by svelte guides. Guides are not really required for the island in our opinion and the pace of the pelotons was usually quite relaxed despite all the fantastic gear. For us, our alloy hybrid Specialized Cirrus bikes and a bike path map provided good serviceable rides. A fit cyclist could ride the length of the island in a day without too much difficulty. The mountains though are another matter. Puig Major is about 1400m with an alpine road ascent making for very testing cycling. Snow is a regular winter feature apparently. We avoided it. Our favourite restaurant in Palma was Sumaq, a Peruvian fusion cuisine eatery. Least favourite was Cafe Comerc in Santa Maria, where it took them 45 min and lots of reminders to serve orange juice. One problem that vexxed us was LPG. Extensive inquiries in Barcelona and in Mallorca indicated that refilling our gas bottles was not going to happen. The solution was to swap over to the 1.9kg Camping Gaz bottles which are widely available throughout the EU. Naturally the fittings did not marry up to our system but an adaptor was eventually sourced and we were back in the cooking business. It appears that we will be using these for some time now. Another annoyance was the apparent failure of the relatively new blackwater tank pump. After installing another expensive new one I found that it was only the impellor that had stuck to the chamber causing the problem. It was remedied by cleaning. Still, I managed the swap without spilling a drop from the 100 litres of very full blackwater. Potentially very messy. Finally, after much cajoling, we obtained the services of a marine trimmer and had a new helm cover made. It is actually much better than the one that departed for ports unknown during the winter.
Anzac Day 2016. After the big bird from Australia, the crew of Diomedea find themselves wrestling with the crap Hertz in-car GPS to navigate from Barcelona airport to Premia de Mar, about 40 unfamiliar km across the city and up the coast. The battery in the unit was flat and did not want to charge so we winged it and eventually arrived at the varadero to find Diomedea a little the worse for wear after six months on the hard. They had had some big storms and there were pockets of sand still on the deck despite washdowns by the yardies. Our helm cover had blown away, winches were partially seized, and new areas of rust had appeared. Thus began our revitalisation of the boat. Run in the halyards and reefing lines, bend on the sails, fight our way into the mess down below, install impellors into salt water pumps, go to the shops for victualling, have an animated discussion with the yard manager as to what happened to our $400 worth of pilot books that were delivered to the yard (vanished - never found) , new crankshaft pulley on, find the propellor anode that someone had stolen, water tanks filled up, wait out a day of bad weather, spend an hour on skype to Commbank about my credit card being skimmed in the first hour of our arriving here (it wasn't - Hertz debited a deposit on the car and then closed if off after the car was returned) have an afternoon exploring La Rambla and environs of Barcelona, and then we were off.
As Diomedea drew away from the Barcelona coast in a close reach, the snow capped Pyrenees appeared in the sky. No wonder we thought it was cold. The water temp was only about 15 C and the free air temp similar. With wind chill we needed plenty of gear on. Amazingly, the mountains of Mallorca appeared quite quickly at 70nm (130km) out as the air was so clear. " We're almost there". Not.
We romped over a lumpy seaway expecting to fall into a wind hole by night. Opposite. Gusts up to 30 knots with big rolling seas. I had not got around to setting up the boom preventer, nor the staysail, and our stomachs were rebelling. On deck most of the night, freezing, or brief stints in the saloon to warm up and recover. However, the stars were brilliant. I have never seen the Northern Milky Way so clearly. Diomedea approached the aptly named Dragonera island (where are you Daenyrys, Mother of Dragons?) at 5am only to be hemmed in by copious large shipping traffic around the southern cape. The wind faltered so it was time for the diesel topsail for the 15 mile run along the south coast. Andrea gets an hour and half off watch, and I awake to my forehead hitting the steering well as I collapse unconscious at the helm. Anchorage is made at the beautiful Cala Portals Vells and the crew takes a well deserved nana nap.