Western Med Blog 3 (Calpe and onwards to the Balearic Islands)
03 June 2017 | Formentera
Martyn, Veronica editing. Weather....Blue skies and topless girls
Let’s talk about the now and then continue from where we left off in the last blog. We are in Cala Sahona on Formentera. It is a crowded anchorage and for a reason. In Calpe there was a super friendly Swiss guy on an impressive stinkpot with his wife, grown son and girlfriend. I think he liked the girlfriend, as he seemed at length to make her first trip on the boat with the son comfortable and memorable. He was genuinely friendly and the one thing he said 3 times was that his favourite place in the Balearics is this place. This blog writing was just interrupted a moment ago as a rubber duck just bumped the boat. Veronica had her top off so she went to ground with superglue stubbornness, front down to the mattress and screamed for me to come and deal with this guy. I am really not sure what she was concerned about, since being a resident of this island with widely accepted nudism you have probably seen more women’s breasts than most by the time you are 10. Off course the initial thought is that he is here to extract Wonga for the privilege of anchoring here. Actually he was just a friendly Spanish chap promoting the restaurant at the only hotel here. He handed us a brochure with a telephone number and VHF 72 to make bookings. He then stood the inflatable on its tail and leaned forward to find the planing position with a certain Latin panache. All this, only to close the throttle 3 seconds later as he approached the next boat. It was a typical brash show that, if he had been in his grandfather’s era, would have made him a bullfighter. Anyway, behind us one of those silly 80-foot-ish motor yachts, with a garage for a Williams jet inflatable arrived. BOOM BOOM music and about 20 guys, which I am dangerously (or not) assuming are not heterosexual by preference. The charter company crew are looking slightly nervous, as about 6 other guys on a big RIB have just been invited to join the party on the mother ship. The charter crew are probably trying to find that balance between satisfying high paying clients and not letting things go off the scale. I am pretty sure they won’t stay the night but it will be an interesting one if they do.
So back to the last blog where we left off in Calpe. It is a highly recommended place with a magnificent calcareous massif. An impressive precipitous block that is omnipresent shadowing the town as the sun rises. With the harbour at its base it is the kind of setting that makes you geomorphologically aware and humbled by nature. The beaches were nice and there were many beach and other restaurants close to the sea but the one thing you have to do in Calpe is hike or scramble up the massif. From the boat we could see the pin-prick dark dots of people at the summit, some 350m high, the last 200m a sheer white cliff with clouds of circling and swooping seagulls. Our cunning plan was to set off late when the heat of the day had reduced to a mild wafting warm. The first part up to the base of the cliff was a very well made up path with paving and a handrail zig-zagging at a carefully surveyed gradient up to the base of the cliff where it disappeared into a roughly hewn 100m long foot tunnel. Even from this path the views of the town and the adjacent bay were impressive. In the tunnel itself and on the other side, the rock underfoot was hard, a dolomite or maybe making its way toward a marble, whatever, the path had been worn to this polished but raggedly uneven surface that would have been frictionless in rain, with or without flip-flops. On the other side of the tunnel you emerged on the top of a cliff and edged around it on a path that looked like one of those, top ten most dangerous passes in the world pictures that you see on Facebook. Added to this was the dense cloud of swarming seagulls screeching and marauding in heated three-dimensional aerial chaos. There was a small sign before the tunnel that said, wear a hat, hold up your arm. They were not joking, I was dive-bombed 3 times with multiple passes so close that the rush of air would have taken a hat off and accompanied by a screaming that would make a Stuka impotent. The path did not become easier, it did however have a rope for the occasion when your feet came to eye level and the scree slope below came foremost in your mind. We had underestimated the treacherousness of this and now realised our timing was wrong. We did not fancy a decent on this terrain in the dark so uncharacteristically of me, we decided 2/3 of the way up was enough and descended to the boat for a stiff drink. [Vee: I was lagging behind and more than ready to abandon my bravado and turn around] All of the above said, I would highly recommend doing this, take a hat, good grippy shoes, leave early in the morning while it is cool, drink only moderately the night before, etcetera.
We were going to have two nights in Calpe but they could only accommodate us for one in the marina and looking at the forecast and the wind angle we both agreed that it would be sensible to bank a bit more north-ing before departing for Ibiza. So we set of around Carbo de la Nao to Denia. This is one of the significant capes in Mediterranean Spain, with a TSS (traffic separation scheme) just off it. Denia is a major ferry port and jumping off point for the Balearics.
It was hard won ground, one of those sails during which it was muttered many times, I am sure we will make that point on the next tack but then alas not. The wind backed on us making it longer but we got there, only motoring the last 2 NM into the harbour. This was a pleasant surprise and set us thinking about the vagaries of marina pricing this one was 40 Euros. It was modern, helpful with everything working, good security and very nice ablutions. The WiFi was not brilliant, a theme since we left Almerimar. We were wacked, ate at a very nice restaurant on the marina waterfront and rather rapidly found a soft pillow in the fore-cabin, to ready ourselves for a first light departure for Ibiza.
We departed Denia at 07h10. I set a waypoint abeam of the middle of Ibiza, so as to accommodate the predicted wind direction change with it veering easterly as you approached the islands. It was immediately obvious that we were not going to make that waypoint. This spoke to what a good idea it had been to bank some north-ing by going to Denia. That said, we could not have had a better crossing in retrospect, the wind was a very constant 10 knots most of the time. We set the autopilot to sail 36 deg (apparent) on the wind, which is about the best compromise between pointing high and boat speed. We were doing between 6 and 7 knots SOG most of the day. Our target was Cala Badella which is about 7NM south of Ibiza’s second biggest port (of only 3) San Antonio. The wind veered east as the day progressed. We did not readjust the sails for 7 1/2 hours, only in the last two hours did we take a reef. By a combination of good planning and fluke, we virtually sailed straight into Cala Badella, doing the entire 60NM crossing on a single tack. It was crowded and there were a lot of moorings. What followed and what we least needed after a long sail was anchoring antics. The only other boat anchored was a British boat with a friendly couple on it. The first time we set the anchor it dragged. Our second attempt between some set moorings ended up snagging a makeshift fisherman’s intake pipe for pumped sea water to keep lobsters or shell fish alive in the rudimentary fishermen’s huts nearby. My ears were not equalizing and I could not dive deep enough to free it, so we had to use the rope sling methodology, working the sling down the line to the anchor and then pulling it out. That is me with flippers and snorkel, physically pulling the anchor backwards while Veronica gave me slack by motoring the boat forward. In the meantime, we had a temporally attached a stern line to a mooring bouy to stop the boat swing into other moored boats. It was getting late and no one was occupying the mooring buoys that were marked private so we said, stuff this, and secured ourselves between two of these and as they say in fairy tales, everything was happy forever after. [Vee: after a swim, I made my first paella, our first homemade carb meal in ages (we’re mostly Banters except for alcohol)…and it was so comforting and yummy after a long day!]
It was a pleasant place even if the holding was poor and the swinging room minimal. The next day we had an onshore breakfast and did the internet thing and some shopping. We have had a SUP on our shopping list for a while, ideally an inflatable one but we have not been able to bring ourselves to paying 800-1000 Euros. I spoke with the SUP hire girl on the beach and after some haggling bought a second-hand one for 350 euros. So, more practice required but I think we are both getting the hang of it, although I think the SUP is better suited for Veronica’s weight than mine. [yeah yeah…excuses!]
The other event worth remarking on is we had our first and massive strike on the trawling line at 2/3’s of the way into the crossing. It was a short-lived event. Basically the reel started screaming and before I could get the brake tightened the line came to the end and snapped, luckily close to the lure. The boat was doing nearly 7 knots at the time and sailing, it would have been difficult to stop the boat quickly enough. I have now taken more advice, got 200m of thinner (hence more on the reel) stronger dynema line, a tracer and a sliding sinker to keep the line about a metre below the surface. So, some hunter’s remorse that there is a fish out there with a lure in its mouth but knowledge that a boat speed of 6-7 knots is not too fast for fish. So the quest to land our first tuna or similar continues.
The next day we motored past the towering and magnificent Isla Vedrá and around to Cala de la Port Roig. There were a lot of boats but this time, no holding problems and a very quiet night passed us by. The next morning I went to start the engine and it would not start. I kept getting the pre-heat warning. This is of course a bit of a nonsense as in 25 deg C any modern diesel will start without a pre heat. The problem here was the clever little electronic box was looking for 50 deg C in the cooling fluid and if it did not find it, it would not let the electronic ignition and relay send a message to the solenoid to engage the starter. Toolbox, manuals, jumper leads all out. Bilges exposed, domestic and engine battery banks exposed and jumped. The saving grace came from some internet connection from another boat, through which I managed to find and download a workshop manual for the EVC Volvo ignition system. I traced the pre-heat wire from the MDI black box and after some fiddling found a loose connection into one of the relays after which the engine started and touch wood has ever since. This is a bit scary that one loose connection which has to have its origins in when we were trying to find the earth leak issue a month ago and found 2 positive wires trapped between the engine block and a cooling pipe that had chaffed through. We fixed that but there was quiet a lot of tugging at wire looms in the process of freeing those wires and re-insulating them. To properly test whether we had fixed the problem we had to have another cold start, as once the engine is warm it sees >50 deg C and will start every time. We thus decided to go to Ibiza port, so as to be close to some Volvo Penta help if we needed it. It did not pass me by and it was confirmed by the Volvo guy I spoke to that in an emergency you can just take a jumper lead off the battery directly to the starter positive.
In the Magna Marina, Ibiza town we were quoted 85 euros a night but ended up paying 72 euro. This is the most expensive marina we had encountered since paying GBP 65 in the home of Basil Fawlty in Torquay more than a year ago. That said, at least the latter had ablution facilities, this one did not and the WiFi was atrocious. Its redeeming features however were that is a skip and a jump from the Ibiza Old Town and the other two marinas were reputedly 100 Euro a night. One of these expensive marinas is called Botafoch, they must have watched The Last Tango in Paris a few too many times before the christening.
I found a Volvo dealer and spoke to them, they were of limited help but since the engine started first time the next day we did not need them. I also found a fantastic chandlery and bought a few bits and bobs for phase 2 of the passarelle project. The Old Town is a fascinating place and in some ways justified the marina price. Narrow streets bustling with alternative everything but then in the middle of it an old fashioned market. Inside the ramparts the steep narrow alleyways and buzzing throngs of interesting people, restaurants and traders continues. We climbed the ramparts to the top, we were surprised to find some guys on mountain bikes doing interval training up and down the pathway on top of the rampart. It was warm and the path had a series of long steps, so it was rideable only with tenacity. The pilot book says Ibiza has become known and has almost branded itself on its tolerance for alternative lifestyles and it certainly has that Zen feeling about it. That this mountain bike training was tolerated was a different example of that. We had a very pleasant sidewalk dinner and got into interesting and fun conversation with a young Dutch couple.
After some laundry missions the next morning, we left for Isla Espalmador an island between Ibiza and Formentera and connected by a spit of sand, that is awash with aquamarine water to Formentera. We had a short pleasant sail there on only the headsail. There were laid buoys off a sugar white beach, pretty much the scene they put in photo-shopped brochures for yacht charter, only this was not photo-shopped.
Between Espalmador and here, Cala Sahona we have spent 3 nights in chill mode, dingy runs to the beach, practicing SUP (Stand Up Paddle-boarding), lying on the beach and taking in the visual fest that is to be had. I have been reading the biography of the Rolling Stones, which I can highly recommend, especially if you are a fan. Thoughts have also turned to some planning for when and which side of Ibiza to be on, weather-wise, for the next few days as well as the day and the jumping off point for the crossing to Mallorca. At this stage, Wednesday 7 June looks like the day for the 55-60 NM crossing but we will watch the forecast over the next few days.
Worth also commenting that marinas are super expensive but we have been in the southern Balearics for 6 nights now and only been into a marina once. If we wanted to go even more hardcore we could probably stay out longer, weather permitting. With the new LED anchor light, the batteries are full again (sun shinning) by 10h30 to 11h00-ish, so we could make 3 hours worth of water (between 75 and 90 litres) in the afternoon, easily replacing the 30 amp-hours that would use before sunset.