Western Med Blog 2 (Cartagena, Mar Menor, Torrevieja, Alicante and north to Calpe)
26 May 2017 | Calpe
Martyn, Veronica editing. Weather....Blue skies and topless girls
We arrived in Cartagena in the mid afternoon. We are still adjusting to Spanish time, it gets light at 07h00 people start appearing on the streets between 09h00 and 10h00, Siesta starts at 14h00 and lasts until 17h00 and the shops are then open until 20h00. If strolling in town during Siesta the restaurants are abuzz but all the shops, save the biggest supermarkets, are shuttered up and tightly closed. Forget about doing anything useful until 17h00. Eat late, everybody is up until you realize, it is midnight already? That’s Spanish time.
We moored up 2 away from a 100ft boat, which we later learnt had won the Sydney Hobart race in its hay-day. Next to us on the other side were a friendly Lincolnshire couple that were live-aboards. They had a little hire car that they kindly offered to take us to the supermarket in for a shop and were very helpful telling us the low-down on the busses from Alicante airport for Tayo and her friend Eve. As we were not victualing for a major crossing, we declined the offer and chose to do the rucksack and bag shopping-walk, combining it with a bit of an orientation walk of town. We found the Roman Theatre and climbed the hill to the Carthaginian museum that is housed in the Castillo de la Conceptión. We did not go into either, saving them for the next day or two. For some reason it took me a long time to convince Veronica that the Roman Theatre and the Amphitheatre were one and the same. Left to her we would have been behaving like that famous bird from the boy scouts campfire song Off to the Wild West show. That is, going around and around in ever decreasing circles chanting the said bird’s name, whilst looking for the mystical amphitheatre that was not the Roman Theatre. Thankfully common sense prevailed and we were spared that experience.
Tayo and Eve arrived late the next day, 17 May, and Veronica impressively got up and went for a run in the morning, climbing the 200m high hill to the Castillo de Galerus that overlooks the port from the East. The rest of the day was spent doing boat jobs, cleaning and washing. I had bought LED lights for the Tricolour and the Anchor light in Almerimar. Seeing the guys on the nextdoor 100ft boat go up a mast at least as twice as high as ours, spurred me on to get on with that job. On with the Bosun’s chair and up I went. Instructions were, no tools required and bring the whole fitting down the mast because you need to carefully align the different colours of the LED with the colours on the lens of the fitting. It is always an awkward struggle at the top and it was a battle to unscrew it. The biggest fear is something breaking instead of coming undone or dropping something 22m to the deck. All while trying to hold on to stop yourself swinging around the mast. Anyway we got it all sorted with only 2 trips up the mast. You do hear these stories about sailing couples, where the wife, who is on the winch saves up that grudge until the spouse is aloft and refuses to let them down until concessions (or maybe confessions) are made.
The girls arrived safely at the bus station and on the way back from meeting them Jeremy; a South African met us coming out of the showers. He was managing the 100ft boat for the owner. He was super friendly and offered to show us around the next morning before his return to Valencia and he also said they were changing a lot of lines and I was welcome to take a look and take what I wanted. My eyes lit up. Unfortunately he left early in the morning and delegated the line giving away to his Spanish sidekick, who I suspect had his own plans for the lines that were less generous to ex-Capetonians. Nevertheless, I did score a 70m line that will do very nicely as a long line to shore in those narrow calas in the Balearics. Thank you Jeremy from Stellenbosch, who set off in one of the late 1980’s Cape to Rio races and never went back home. There is a tale here about flying the Surf African flag as a burgee on the flags of other allegiance side. We have had several instances, one later in this blog, where it has been a conversation starter.
Cartagena is a place worth visiting with about 15 museums and an impressive history (see summary in the last paragraph of the previous blog). We soaked ourselves in its culture, enjoyed canas and tapas and made it to only 3 museums. I learnt that 1 million were lost in the Spanish Civil War, that the Germans and Italians helping Franco had tragically bombed Cartagena, despite it being a historical treasure trove, in what was the first major use of airpower on civilian targets. I was also surprised to be reminded that Franco was in power from the end of the civil war until 1978. Maybe I was supposed to have learnt all of this in some adolescent history lesson but it takes being in a place to make it real.
The wind was not really playing ball but the girls wanted to swim and beach so we went to the weather to get around the corner to the inland sea, Mar Menor. It was actually a cracking sail albeit a bit of a bash. The pilots guide said that the opening bridge at the entrance opened at 17h00 but it didn’t, it opened every 2 hours. We missed the 14h00 bridge by about 3 minutes and anchored in the canal to wait for the next bridge, which we thought was 17h00 but had us scrambling to get up the anchor at 16h00. We sailed about 5NM across the shallow sea (6m max) and hid behind Isla Perdiguera; very pleasant anchorage with a colony of screaming gulls. The water was super warm but we had read that it was often infested by jellyfish, albeit of the unpleasant sting only kind. Veronica had a refreshing swim and vouched for no jellyfish.
We put the dinghy down and took a spin ashore to investigate the man-made tunnels and ruins that were either a mine or an old military installation. The gulls were threatening us as we tried to advance up the hill by flying chaotic circles, louder squawking and dive bombing us that precipitated a retreat back to the dingy. The girls went ashore too but did not venture uphill either. The next morning we headed for the rather luxurious marina just inside the opening bridge for a pleasant late Sunday lunch, grocery shopping and later the girls hit the beach front cafes to see some live music.
We went to the weather again to get to Torrevieja (the vieja pronounced similar to rioja) only 15NM up the coast as the crow flies. A pleasant enough town invaded by English of a certain persuasion. Eve and Tayo had a 8:00 flight back to the Blighty on the Tuesday morning, so we opted to stay there and let them chill for a day rather than spend another day beating to the wind to get to Alicante. They did the beach thing although the weather was not brilliant. Veronica and I waited 3 nights in Torrevieja stumbling upon The Ship Inn on the edge of the marina which was run by Poms, frequented by Poms although the attraction was the live music, which was rather good. A band, in my estimation made up of a few English guys of a certain age that had come to Spain and found time and an audience to rekindle talents of their youth.
On the way back from the shower John greeted us. It seems our little Surf African flag had again done its thing. This time in combination with the Cruising Association flag that flies on the same side. John, it turns out was from Cape Town, went to the same school as I did, albeit leaving in 1962, a year after my birth. We had drinks with him and his wife and exchanged stories about Cape Town. He had lived in Constantia, gone to the same school and his first girlfriend had lived in the same road, Strawberry Lane, that Veronica grew up in. A small world. Impressively he had bought a hammered Roberts 45 in East London and restored it in East London (South Africa) before sailing up the Atlantic and into the Med, where they had spent many seasons with trips back to their home in Sussex. Kim had also taught at the international school in Alicante, so they knew the area well. Last year they had been on the way from Greece to cross the Atlantic when their engine threw a bearing. They had thus wintered over in Torrevieja and sorted the engine. They were heading south to meet some old friends and then there was arm waving about the Atlantic crossing or south to Namibia. It was great to talk and learn and we wish them luck and safe sailing.
The girls got up at 05h30 and I walked them to the Marina gate where thankfully the taxi was waiting. John and Kim came to the boat for a drink and then encouraged us to come to the Ship where there was a birthday party and free snacks. We protested that we would be gate crashing but the protest was quelled and we went anyway. The same band was playing and we had too much to drink and had a hard-work conversation because of the din. It was a great night out.
We thought we were going to have to stay until Friday to wait for wind direction to reach Alicante but the morning’s GRIB file showed lighter winds and better direction. This was good as this was an expensive marina, north of Euro 50 a night, and we were overstaying our welcome. The sail to Alicante was brilliant, just 2 long and one short tack bombing along at over 6 knots.
Marina Alicante was swish and expensive but the town was impressive, modern and also stepped in history. We climbed to the Castillo de Barbára that overlooks the town. Built by the Moors, modified many times, seeing its last action during the Spanish War of Succession. Such is my history knowledge that I was clueless, so here it is: ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_the_Spanish_Succession ). I had no idea, just look at the maps of political Europe in 1700 and then after the war in 1715.
The walk up to the castle was a mission but it was truly impressive with restored walkways up the ramparts. We sweated big time, finally reaching the gate at the top only to find that the climb continued but this time within the intricacies of the castles court yards and towers. The view from the pinnacle was well worth the sweat. Check out the gallery for some pictures.
The next day we headed north, motoring and motor sailing in light winds. We crossed the Greenwich Meridian, something we had last done heading into the Western Hemisphere in the English Channel in May 2016. The Spanish marina that is exactly on the Meridian is named Greenwich. The wind was calm and going around to the north that night, so we saved our wonga and anchored in the cove just east of the marina, under some impressive cliffs and residences and a cute little pebbly beach, frequented by the occasional nudist. The water was crystal clear and we had our first long snorkel off the boat. This is what sailing is all about, we mused over a bottle of wine afterwards in the cockpit.
This morning, we snuck around the corner to Calpe, with its impressive massif and nice beaches. We can only stay a day in the Marina as tomorrow the yachts start arriving for the annual Calpe to Formentera race on 1-3 June. The weather is looking good for a crossing to Ibiza on Sunday, so we can anchor outside the harbour tomorrow night. If all goes to plan we will leave at sparrow’s fart and crack off the 60 to 70NM during daylight hours. The wind pattern is northerly for the first 35 to 40NM with it veering easterly as you approach the Balearics. So the game plan is to sail moderately upwind and let the boat track draw a curve as we approach Ibiza, taking care not to get caught downwind of the islands as darkness approaches. We will let you know how it goes next time. Adious!