Western Med Blog 4 (The Balearic Islands: Ibiza, Formentera, a crossing to Mallorca and the stunning NW coastline)
11 June 2017 | Sóller
Martyn, Veronica editing. Weather....Blue skies and topless girls
At Cala Sahona, we took a walk along the cliffs and then inland on a maze of dusty roads. There were many casas, mostly hidden in the pines down long driveways, basic construction and all harvesting rainwater in tanks. Despite the pine trees it was a desiccated landscape with no chance of formal gardens. The sinuosity of the road was random, the hotel in the bay disappeared behind a forest and the sun at midday was unhelpful for navigation. The walk in the beating sun with scooters and rent-a-cheapie cars passing by was longer and dustier than we had bargained for but it was an insight into the world behind the pines and the dramatic cliffs that form most of the Formentera coastline. If you want a lasting impression of Formentera, watch Sex and Lucia (don’t be misled by the title which belies the main theme of the film). You will get a better insight into the landscapes and feel of Formentera but the lasting impression is more likely to be of Paz Vega.
When we are sailing I often think of those words in a lesser-known Simon and Garfunkle song, The only Living Boy in New York: ‘I get all the news I need on the weather report….’ That is certainly the most important news a sailor needs and we had been watching it, in the form of GRIB files as often as we could connect to the internet.
On Sunday night and the early hours of Monday morning the forecast showed the CAPE layer turning very red and angry. CAPE = Convective Available Potential Energy which in laymen’s terms is the potential for thunder and lightning and all things frightening. We had a day in hand before the CAPE event, so we went back to the stunning anchorage at Espalmador. This time, either because it was the weekend or after 1 June there was someone there to collar you 30 Euro for the mooring buoy, which we gladly paid. We were determined to find the spot among the bushes that we had seen in a documentary, where (mostly naked) people covered themselves in warm mud. I had thought it was a hot spring but the two surprises, when we wandered to the centre of the island, were that the warm mud was simply sun warmed and that since that documentary, early in the millennium, the nature conversation authority had erected big signs saying that the mud was detrimental to your health. True or not, it was effective in stopping muddy frolicking. It was a nice little dinghy ride and walk anyway.
The next morning we made for Eulalia, the 3rd (of 3) yacht size harbours on Ibiza. It was hard on the wind again and took 3 tacks and about 4½ hours. We rounded the imposing cliffs of Carbo y Escollo Liberell, sailed past the entrance of the fantastic and dramatic looking Cala Llonga to the harbour 2 Nm beyond. On this day you certainly would not want to linga Llonga at that place. There was a short sea and wind going straight in there.
New record, the marina was Euro 104 per night including electricity and water. That said our pay-for-1-get-3-free plan was working pretty well so far, so we were not unhappy. We berthed stern-to in a tricky 15 knot crosswind. We were later to witness, and lucky to escape with our boat unscathed, a charter boat with an apparently dysfunctional bow-thruster, hit the pontoon behind us in reverse at about 3 knots. It took a big chunk out of the stern quarter of the boat and they were immensely lucky that there were installed ball fenders on the dock. The fenders helped hugely and amazingly did not burst but there was still crunching contact. All our fenders were down and I managed to get our ball fender in the gap as the action went down but we were luckily only in side contact. I gave the guy a beer, he was totally rattled but trying to be cool in front of his 3 kids and his wife.
Town was interesting, neat and the home of elves. I did not get to the bottom of why but there were some impressive sculptures of them in the squares in town and the historic bomb shelter for the Spanish civil war hosted some interesting elves. That evening we had dinner we went out late, Spanish style. We had a light meal in a restaurant and all the time there was that heavy pre–storm feeling with the occasional large drop. We got back to the boat just before pumpkin hour. We decided to have one whiskey on the deck and listen to the guys 2 boats away who were playing guitar, penny whistle and singing. This was a short-lived gig as the storm broke with startling suddenness. Absolutely torrential rain and a few gusts, as the extreme downdraught from the thunderstorm blew out, which I estimate were 40 knots, straining lines and sending all the boats buffeting sideways, like a row of skittles. We could not get the hatches battened down fast enough. Luckily the lightning seemed to stay in the centre of the island but still gave us an impressive show. The boat and all the canvas received a fantastic and much needed freshwater wash. The excitement started abating and we went to bed just after 01h00.
We slept late on Monday, Veronica went for a run in the morning and I went on supermarket missions and continued the search for a strong plank to complete the passarelle project. We were determined to max out what we had paid for the marina and stay our full 24 hours but we were to be helped in this quest by being flummoxed again by the Spanish siesta. The laundry was closed between 13h00 and 17h00, hola! After collecting the laundry we set out on our longest passage yet (!), 500m outside the harbour wall and dropped the anchor in the company of about 6 other frugal minded types. The forecast was benign and it was an excellent idea and a pleasant night.
The wind prediction promised a tail wind on the 55-60Nm crossing to Mallorca. The yellow tack lines were laid out and the Parasailor was prepared and left bagged on deck. We left at first light, following two catamarans by about 2-4NM for the whole passage. At about 09h30 we saw the one cat launch its spinnaker and we had 9 knots TWS at 180deg to the bow. So up went the Parasailor and later the pole was rigged. It flew beautifully for about 2 hours but the wind dropped to 7 knots and we were then only doing 3.5knots SOG. We motored the rest of the way, arriving at Santa Ponça on Mallorca at 16h30. There were a lot of boats in the anchorage but there was plenty of room and a nice sandy bottom with excellent holding. It was so good that we chilled there for 2 nights. Practising the SUP, power walking up the Jacob’s ladder staircase up the hill and moseying around town and the beachfront. The bit I never get is why there are all these places, probably owned by Brits, advertising and serving, English breakfasts, scones, London Pride, Sky with English football, Yorkshire fish and chips. I see a lot of Germans but I don’t see too many Bratwurst shops. Surely, if you are a travelling Manchester whale, you would like to immerse yourself in all things Spanish; obviously not! All that said, a very pleasant place and a Spanish omelette and Sangria could be found without looking too hard.
We trundled on to Puetro Andraitx, about 5NM away around some dramatic cliffs. We had a look in at an anchorage in a Cala before that but it was too small to swing a cat in, so we disturbed some nudists and left. In Andraitx we gave up the idea of anchoring and took a buoy, which a friendly chirpy Marinero type in a RIB fleeced us Euro 40 for. It was worth it. We had dinner on the boat and then took the tender into town, all of 200m away. It was abuzz with street life and music. This place was devoid of all things British and is very quaint. In the heat of the afternoon after much to-and-fro I finally found an excellent Carpenterneria and got my piece of plank, planed and bevelled while you wait, for the pasarelle project.
Next morning we set sail for the passage between the Isla Dragonera and the main island and making our way to the only port of refuge on the 55Nm NW coast of Mallorca. We contemplated a breakfast stop in the main cala on the island but it was untenable and frequented by tourist boats that do a rather tricky touch and go drop off. As we rounded the most easterly point of Mallorca mainland the wind dropped to virtually zero, so we turned on the diesel and set a waypoint at Peninsula de la Foradada. The coastline was sheer, daunting dolomite, tortured by a tectonic upheaval in the Oligicene to Mid-Miocene and it is part of, and contemporaneous with, the Alpine thrust and fold belt. This happened relatively recently, circa 32 million years ago and the dolerite intrusions and extensive hydrothermal activity during the tectonism results in some impressive present day erosive features and rock formations. Spectacular as it is, this is not a lee-shore that you would like to meet in a strong blow out of the out of the NW sector. The name or the mountain range that runs the length of the coast sums it up, even an English speaker would understand, as a word in English derives from the same Latin root. The highest peak in the Tramuntana mountains is Puig Major 1445m, higher than Ben Nevis.
We took a peek at the anchorage at the Foradada peninsula. There was a spectacular restaurant peering down from the cliff at the anchorage. An Austrian Archduke Luis Salvador who kept his steamboat anchored in the bay once owned the restaurant building. The rock wall with a big hole through is a remarkable feature but for us both sides of the little peninsula were barely tenable as a night stop, even in these settled conditions. The next cala was a pleasant surprise, Cala Deia had shallower depths further out. There were several boats in there including a 70ft traditional trading/working ketch of old, registered in Cowes and in immaculate condition. They were in the prime position in the middle of the bay and our timing was impeccable as they were just leaving so we took the spot over sand with excellent holding. There was a small rocky beach and a restaurant on the cliff. It was rustic but with a reputation that drew people in for the view and the food. We had a drink and a starter there and retired to the boat for paella. We had the whole place to ourselves for the night and we were blessed with the benign conditions that I suspect make this seldom possible.
Robert Graves, the famous, poet, playwright and author, had a home in the village up the hill. He was first there until the Spanish Civil war and then returned with his second wife, dying in the village in 1985, aged 90. His house is now a museum. In the morning we donned our walking shoes and followed the valley, joining for a way a section of one of the many well laid-out and maintained hiking trails. It was tranquil with deep patches of shade and wooded with ancient olives. Eventually as the sweat flowed freely we broke out of the valley onto the hillside just below the village and Robert Graves’ former house. The road through the village was a parade of road cyclists and the only shop in the village was the epitome of slow, traditional Mallorca. We bought some supplies bemused by locals with thick fingers and calloused hands having their daily catch-up and laugh, oblivious to the queue of people waiting to pay. It was an Al Stewart song, In a country where they turn back time and then later, “She comes out of the sun with a silk dress running, like a water colour in the rain”.
We retreated into the deep shade of a village street untouched by time and lined with stone block houses. There we sat down on the cool stone bench, worn smooth with the posteriors of time. As the last of the sweat dried and salt crystals formed on our skin, we enjoyed an almond milk slush puppy and a pastilla (traditional round Spanish pie) that despite its unfitting juxtaposition with the setting, made the hike worthwhile.
After a swim we trundled the 5Nm around the corner to Puerto de Sóller where we were pleasantly surprised to find a free anchorage. It is here that we have decided to chill for a while, taking advantage of the settled conditions. The holding is good and so tomorrow we will take the famous narrow gauge train over the mountains to Palma and back. Yesterday we took the restored old tram up the hill through the lemon and orange orchards to Sóller town. This morning was running and cycling up the zig-zags to the lighthouse and around town. Tuesday 13 June we hope to round Cabo de Formentor the northernmost point of Mallorca and hook up with Dylan, who arrives in Palma on Saturday 17 June and then cross to Menorca to meet Grania, who arrives on 27 June.
In closing, from what I have seen so far, this NW coast of Mallorca is definitely a bucket list item, it is no surprise that Michael Schumacher bought a house here. It was Winston Churchill’s favourite destination and Robert Graves clearly liked it. It is a winter training haven for professional cycling teams, has extensive well-organised hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor pursuit opportunities. It is, in short, stunning.