Western Med Blog 1 (Amerimar northwards up the Costa Blanca)
16 May 2017 | Cartagena
Our first little bit of excitement was a “go-around” as we were landing at Almeria airport; there was no explanation for it, just a bland announcement during the climb-out from the stewardess, “You have just experienced a go-around”…duh! So who knows, maybe there was something on the runway, I did not feel any wind shear but we did seem to be quite a long way down the runway when the throttle went to firewall. Of course one does think about the gear, did it come down fully? There was no recycling of the gear during our tourist circuit of the bay of Almeria, so that probably was not the case. There were no go-arounds during the 60km taxi trip from the airport to Almerimar, it was uneventful and efficient.
Well Almerimar is famous for its greenhouse tomatoes, wrapped in plastic and not so fantastic is how I would describe the visual onslaught of many hectares of plastic-clad greenhouses. This area reputedly supplies the rest of Europe with the lion’s share of its winter tomatoes. However this year was unseasonably cold and a bad winter for the local farmers.
We arrived at the boat, which was on the hard in a dusty but busy and well organised boatyard. As expected the boat was layered with fine dust. Down below, all was in order and nothing was missing and nothing above decks was damaged, always a relief after leaving her for a 7-month winter. We immediately set about getting all the sails and other canvas out of the boat and onto the deck. I managed to service the prop and replace the anodes. The propeller gave me a bit of a start as it was not feathering when turned by hand but some releasing oil and a grease gun to the nipple soon fixed that. We were very thankful to have paid the marinieros to do the antifouling and this allowed us to launch the boat the next day and move from the relative discomfort of the dusty boat yard and climbing ladders to the relative comfort of the marina. The next day the boat was lifted at about noon and the engine started first time; I let out a little whoop! Solar panels and the wind generator had done their job keeping the batteries full all winter.
We then spent another 6 days doing boat jobs, getting all the canvas on the boat, taking delivery of new cockpit cushions and a dingy cover, fitting a dual Racor fuel filter, doing an oil change and servicing the engine. This was interspersed with waiting for parts and the mark II adjustment of the dingy cover, cycle rides along the bay to the castle at the end of it and tapas at La Tonel and The Stumble Inn. As a wintering spot for a boat I have only good things to say about Almerimar, yes, the plastic greenhouse backdrop is uninspiring but it is mostly unseen from the marina. There are many flats and office or shop space adjacent to the marina that are unsold or unrented but that is the story of the Costa del Sol y Blanca en general. People got way ahead of themselves before the financial crisis in 2007 and swathes of empty or half finished buildings bear testimony to that. The marina staff are friendly and the marina itself is well maintained and functional, with all the facilities a yachtsperson could want. Also, its most redeeming feature is value for money, so it gets my thumbs-up at Euro 15 per night.
Finally we were ready to set off but the weather was not ready for us, a strong Venderval (local wind) delayed kick-off by a day and half, so we just had to Stumble Inn a few more times, take long walks down the beach and eat excellent tapas, free with drinks, at El Tonel.
We also invited Neil, who had helped me with the fuel filter and engine service, and his wife Kathleen over for a drink. It turned into a very pleasant albeit excessively wine imbibed evening (me, responsible and guilty as charged). It is worth mentioning that they have taken on, what I would describe as the mother of all projects. They purchased a circa 55ft steel hulk of a motor sailer for 5000 euros. It had been left to rot in the boat yard since 1999. They are stripping it and welding in sections in the relatively few areas that need replacing. It has huge potential but it is at least a 2-year project. I was taken on a tour of the boat and I am full of admiration for the resourcefulness to cost effectively upgrade their current boat. Luckily, I think Neil is the man for this job, many others wouldn’t be.
On Saturday early we set off for either San José or Garrucha. The former being in the National park but with little chance of getting into the harbour due to its size and an unfavourable wind direction for the adjacent anchorage. We had an absolutely cracking sail across the bay of Almeria. We rounded Carbo de Cata, which heralded the sharp left turn after heading predominantly east since Gibraltar, and pointed the boat northwards towards the allures of Cartagena, Alicante and the Balearics. We had a quick look at San José but gave it up in favour of mile munching in favourable winds. The wind direction was perfect for the sail but it put us through our paces, we had the pole up and the wind went from 9 knots to 25 knots TWS many times. We reefed and shook out multiple times until, after the realization that we were making excellent time, we just left the second reef in and furled and unfurled the headsail trading comfort for that miniscule increment of boat speed.
Although two people had warned against going to Garrucha, we had no such experience. The new marina was clean with excellent security and yes, the ablutions were in a porta-cabin but they were clean. It was Saturday night and the town had a lively and well kept, beach and habour front with pulsing restaurants and bars. As is the Spanish way of life, the kids were out late with parents, refreshed and charged with energy from their siesta. All of this, the temperature and our linguistic blundering defined a warm Spanish ambiance. We had arrived in the Med!
Opposite the marina there is a commercial quay where bulk carriers are loaded with gypsum. I suspect that with the wrong wind (SE) the marina could be a dusty place but thankfully we were spared of this although a large ship did arrive on Sunday morning as we were setting out on our exploration and foraging mission of town and the beachfront.
Researching the weather GRIB and the pilots guide hatched the plan to head to a Cala (Cabezo del Gavilán o Loma del Tabaco, to be precise) near Mazarrón. It was a good plan as we were the only boat there. The weather behaved almost exactly as the GRIB predicted and there was a very pleasant beach with several beach bars. I am ashamed to say, we did not go ashore. We got out the “Bonteheuvel Briefcase Braai” and had our first braai of the season. The Spanish do the beach thing post siesta and stay until the sun goes down. Sensible really and you can always learn from the locals and their culture that has been honed over centuries. It provided an idyllic backdrop and evening buzz for our meal.
The boat did a one eighty during the night, we woke to the light offshore breeze as predicted. It is always a relief to wake up in the morning to find that you are still attached to the seabed and not adrift and on the way to Algeria. We whiled the early morning away and an elderly friendly English swimmer greeted us from over the railing. I was impressed as we were a least 150m from the beach. He sang praises for our boat, Spain, his grandchildren and great grandchildren, all from the water. I contemplated inviting him up for a coffee but didn’t.
We pottered around the corner to the Puerto Deportivo, which turned out to be small, swish, expensive and rather pleasant. We called in vain on channel 9 and then nosed our way gingerly into the entrance. As always, eventually some meerkats popped their heads out of boats and told us just to moor up in the outer harbour and then go and see if we could raise anyone. After finding the Captainerio and filling in the normal tedious paper work, we were guided in and virtually reversed into the outside section of Mamma Mia’s, an Italian restaurant, quite salubrious and one of many in the little waterfront development. We were told by others on boats to be thankful that we were not there at the weekend when sleep was impossible due to the heaving quayside scene. To us, it was obvious that all the 90% empty restaurants were just coming out of hibernation in anticipation of the coming season that is serviced by Europe’s low cost airline industry. We climbed up to see Jesus on the hilltop and the views were excellent. Away from the harbour the town was dusty, hanging-in and desperate for tourist trade.
This morning we had a motor and then a sail for the last 2 hours to Cartagena. I am looking forward to 3 days here waiting for Tayo and her friend Eve to join. It was the first time in ages that we have had to deal with major shipping in a large port and we are overlooked in the marina by a massive cruise liner.
I am looking forward to peeling back some of the history. Cartagena was used by the Phoenicians, developed by Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal and was later the centre of the Carthaginian influence in Europe. It was from here that Hannibal set off with his elephants across the Alps. The Carthaginian influence was destroyed by the Romans, who were, in turn, followed by James the Great in AD36. He brought Christianity to Spain from Palestine. This was followed by the rule of the Barbarians and then the Moors who were sent back to Africa by Phillip II. More recently it was a Republican stronghold, which held out against Madrid in the Spanish civil war in 1936. I was surprised to learn that 1 million souls were lost in that war. All in all, I think there will be a lot to do here over the next few days. The place brims with museums, historical buildings and history. Until the next blog…… adieus amigos.