A Timeless Odyssey

Allures 45 (a thing of great practical beauty)

A passage to Menorca, briefly the Balearics, on to Mainland Spain and our final destination for this trip, Almerimar

We spent 6 days at Carloforte waiting for a weather window. It was anything but a hardship, as the marina was friendly and cheap by Sardinian standards and the town was quaint and welcoming. It was remarkable how much ferry traffic this island attracted which proves that this little island is a seemingly popular destination for the Sardinians from the big island. The houses were of a certain architectural style and gaily painted in bright colours. We did boat jobs and explored the island by bicycle or on foot, visiting some very nice beaches and checking out the flamingos on the salt pan. All the time we were watching the forecast and running predict wind weather route simulations. The Mistral kept on interfering. We started to get bored and hired a car for a day and drove every narrow and steep bumpy road on the island. Outside of the city of Carloforte the island was basic and the west-facing coast particularly harsh, but beautiful. The whole island “Isola di San Pietro” is composed of rhyolite, a fairly rare silica-rich (unusual) extrusive magma. These are common above subduction zones, particularly where the overriding plate is continental. So, this would have originated from the African plate colliding with the Eurasian Plate, anyway, it created some spectacular red cliffs and landforms. The car we hired was a basic affair but served its purpose and allowed us to do a major shop. The hand over at the end of the 1-day hire, speaks volumes about the island. I was told to take pictures of the location of the car in the marina car park, a photo of the fuel gauge and a picture of where, as instructed, we had left the keys and €10 for the fuel under a mat in the car. All of this was conducted via WhatsApp, with a reply that simply said, “Perfect”. The nub of this story is that when the weather window opened up and we left for Menorca 3 days later, the car was still parked in the car park unlocked with the keys and the €10 under the mat.

After waiting 6 days, we felt we had to take the non-perfect weather window. It basically turned out almost exactly as written of the PredictWind can. It was on the wind, thankfully in very slight seas, which essentially let us pinch 32 deg AWA all of the first day and night, at times, struggling to make a SOG of 5 knots. In fact the only thing that differed from the forecast was that the direction was such we could not make the westing we wanted to or stay on the predicted track from the PW weather simulation. In the morning the wind died, as it had said it would and because we were more west than we would have liked, we motored 60 of 200 instead of the 40 of 180 Nm we had hoped to motor. That said it was a comfortable day and both of us manged to catch up on the sleep lost on the night watches. We had the fishing rod with the spinner out all day but no fish were biting.

We arrived Mahon at dusk. It is another impressive natural harbour, which explains why the British wanted to hang onto it for so long. We went straight into Cala Teulera which is almost perfect shelter, surrounded on either side by the grand old fortresses of Polvorín de la Reina and Llatzeret: Torre dels Secrets. I am not sure where the latter name is derived from but it is known that Lord Horatio Nelson spent some time here with his mistress Lady Hamilton. We spent a very chilled two nights here, amongst about 10 other boats. It was free and in a spectacular setting overlooked by imposing castle walls. Two minor incidents had occurred on the passage from Sardinia. We had had the rigging replaced and it seems that when they reattached SSB aerial, they did not do a very good job. In the middle of the passage there was splattering sound on top of the bimini as 20 metres of aerial wire rained down. Fortunately, it did not get tangled with anything but it did leave the rope section and the insulator bead up there. So while we were in this anchorage, I had to go up the mast to retrieve it before it caused any problems by wrapping itself around something. The other thing was that I sat on the Perspex sliding companionway cover and it developed a crack. This was in some ways scary because for years we have been standing on that cover, while doing up the sail bag. If it had failed and someone fell through it, it would have been messy. Anyway, both of these issues gave me some brain exercise over the next week, in devising solutions to fix them.

Mahon is a long and narrow natural harbour so from Cala Teulera to the main part of town was about a 3.5 km dinghy ride, so we had fun in town, seeking out a Spanish sim card for Veronica, Mahon gin and other refreshments.

We left the next morning for Mallorca, hoping we were going to have a run all day in light winds. We had the parasailor up for a while but it did not last long and it soon turned into another disappointingly long motor. We decided on the marina at Cala Ratjada to see our friend Tim (but unfortunately missed Rosemary, who was in Valencia). Fortuitously, it was also close to the shortest crossing you could do from Mahon. We stayed two nights and had a wonderful lunch with Tim. The town is a ridiculously German place, evidenced by beer gardens and many adverts and menus in German. Also when arriving in a restaurant, you will probably be spoken to in German by the Spanish waitrons! The streets are overrun and reverberate with a Germanic bluster and bombastic resonance. The town and the restaurant scene was pleasant entertainment and made up for the rather negative marina experience we had at Club Nautica. It frankly was a rip off at €100 per night, as it was very exposed to the swell and had a quay that was so high, it was positively dangerous to get on and off the boat. Nevertheless, we survived the mooring but were pleased to leave!

From here we headed down to Porto Colon and took a buoy. Again, I thought I heard €15 but it turned out to be €50. I guess we had forgotten that in Mallorca, when the clock ticks past the end of May, the charging frenzy starts. It was a lovely place though and the bay was totally free of swell. We had very much hoped to go to the islands off south Mallorca which are a marine and nature reserve and had been checking the online booking site for over a week, hoping there would be a cancellation and something would break free. Alas, no buoys in the Cabrerra Islands Marine reserve became available, so we had to go around the corner and anchor off Playo des Trenc. The wind was onshore when we arrived, but it dropped to nothing in the evening. Holding was excellent and it was shallow which turned out to be a problem as the swell was wicked, not big, just short and wicked. As there was no wind, we lay side on to the swell so it was a very uncomfortable night. This helped us to leave earlier than expected and we made straight for Formentera waving at the Cabrerra Islands as we went by. We sailed, motor sailed and motored, almost in equal proportions, direct to Formentera, getting weather forecasts along the way. We thought we were going to have to use the satellite and we did once but mostly we were within the 4G signal from the islands. We were originally heading for Freu Grande, the main shallow-ish passage that all the ferries use between Ibiza and Formentera and between Ibiza and the mainland but as we re-checked the weather it became obvious that better shelter would be found at Cala Pujals behind Punta Prima. We had been up at 05h00 and arrived just as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful anchorage with a nice sandy bottom. We dropped 40m of chain in 10m of water and thankfully had a very peaceful night amongst about 10 other boats.

Next morning we had a fairly early start and made our way up North to Freu Grande. It was the normal chaos with mainland ferries sending repeated reverberatingly loud horn blasts from 2 NM out, the Ibiza Town to Formetera high speed ferry service doing 25 knots and taking no prisoners and with many yachts, RIBs, motor launches all in the mix as the gap narrowed. We went inside the North Cardinal (really for large boats) rock and rolled in the ferry wash with a little bit of time to admire the gin-clear water and the scarily close bottom, the one you never want to wipe.

We crept around into the Isla da Espalmador anchorage, the Posidonia Police or Buoy Boys came racing over in their RIB to tell us that anchoring is forbidden and that we could have a buoy for €50. I have to say, this is one place, a favourite place, where I am happy to pay €50 for a buoy. It has stunning crystal clear aqua-marine water over snow white sand, topless women on the beach and usually fantastic swimming. Unfortunately, on this occasion the jelly fish swarms were around.

The First Mate insisted that I deal with our cumbersome buoy attaching tackle on the foredeck. The buoy patrol led us to a buoy super close to the beach, the First Mate did an excellent job (not) of getting us onto it. In her defence it was close to the beach and the space to round on it and come up on it from downwind was limited. We had a fantastic day and night here, walking on the beach, admiring the flora and topless fauna and going for paddles on the SUP and getting stung around the ankles by jellies. Luckily, I applied the jellyfish sting scraping tool, ironically bought in Ibiza 5 years before. With the scraper and generous dabs of cheap vinegar, the stings went away within a few hours, which was good. Check the pictures in the gallery, this is one of those iconic Med places on par with the ship wreck beach on Zakynthos etc.

It was about this time that I announced that this was the first time since 2017 that we had crossed our eastbound track in the Med. The First Mate pointed out that that wasn’t true since at the western most point of Mallorca we had had a figure of eight overlap between Cala Ratjarda and Porto Christo. That was true but from here on we would be covering vaguely familiar ground back to Almerimar. The next day, we set off for another favourite on Formentera, Cala Saona. There was good wind for a change but the direction was not perfect, so we tacked out towards mainland Spain and for once judged the tack point perfectly and sailed straight into the anchorage under the characteristic cliffs of Punta Rasa.

There were quite a few boats here and it took us a while before we put down the dinghy and got the motor on to go ashore, I guess we could have rowed but it was fairly breezy. We walked the cliffs and then decided to go for an early dinner, forgetting we were in Spain, where 20h00 would be a very early dinner. So at 18h30 we were lucky they were even serving drinks. We got talking to a crowd of crusty old Cruising Association sailors, English but based out of Alicante. We mentioned that we were crossing to the mainland the next day. They recommended Morayra rather than Calpe. We took their recommendation and the next day left at sparrow’s fart for the mainland. It was supposed to be a reach all the way but the wind only made a much lighter than predicted showing meaning that, at best, we motor sailed.

We checked into Club Nautica, with the plan of moving to the anchorage for the 2nd night. It was a comfortable, albeit expensive alongside berth. The surprise, was that there was a festival to welcome us to mainland Spain. We never did get the whole history except that it was a re-enactment of the various Roman, Carthaginian and Moor occupations and oustings. Whatever, there was a huge effort and investment in costumes, stages, sound equipment, horses in full battle regalia and very loud bangs that produced pretty patterns in the sky. On the Friday night there was a commentated and choreographed spectacle on the beach with prancing horses and processions of gaily-enrobed humans brandishing swords and other weapons of destruction. It went on for 3 nights in various forms and was a fun way to be welcomed to mainland Spain and be reminded of the community and family spirit of Spaniards.

From here we experienced a combination of the remnants of a Mistral merging with the beginnings of a Levante, that promised a downwind dash. We went into mile-munching mode and although the promise of a downwind dash didn’t fully materialise, we had quite a few good sailing moments. As anyone who has sailed might know winds from behind are great but you really need 12-20 knots. 7-11 knots (the slapper zone) is generally an awkward space because motor sailing is tricky as it just reduces the apparent wind and makes the sails flap and slap. The First Mate hates this point of sail as it means pole(s) up, poles down and lots of foredeck work. Also, it often involves much debate about whether the VMG is better by gybing across the waypoint line or sailing dead downwind. Anyway, we had three days of all of that but we made some good southing, about 180Nm out of 3 long day sails. The first was to Torreviejo, where we arrived at Nav lights on time. During the day we had bypassed Alicante and taken Timeless Odyssey across the Greenwich Meridian, so for the first time since about May/June 2017, we had ‘West’ on the LatLongs. We snuck into the enormous Torreviejo harbour and anchored in the corner behind the 1.5km long giant “Dique de Levante”. We feared the reports of the nearby disco that reportedly went on until 04h00. It did not bother us, we literally braai-ed, slept and left.

The next day we passed Mar Menor, rounded Carbo de Palos, bypassed Cartegena (we had been to both Alicante and Cartegena before) and headed for Mazzaron, munching another 65Nm or so in the process. After studying the weather and the CaptainsMate app, we opted to stop at the anchorage just before Mazzaron, Punte de la Azohai. It was a great decision, although it took a bit of nail biting to navigate ourselves around the tuna nets that were set out to sea of the headland. Also, the cardinal buoys were different to the one that was marked on the electronic chart. In fact there were 3 instead of one and it presented a clearer picture that would have been even clearer if they were all on the chart too. Anyway, we got in there and the weather calmed down, the holding was excellent and there was a beach bar/restaurant to enjoy. In Morayra, I had splashed out and bought a new, mega-size inflatable SUP. This was our first real opportunity to try it out. I went ashore to check the restaurant out and then, very successfully, with both of us kneeling, equipped with drybags and two paddles, we paddled ashore for supper. It was an easy option versus launching the dinghy.

We left a bit late the next day, I think after 10h00, basically because we were headed for Garrucha only 35Nm away. However, head scratching ensued as we had good winds so perhaps we could be, like the song, on the way to San José and take a rest day there? The thing that clinched it was that the tiny club Nautica actually answered our emails, and against our expectations could accommodate us on their fuel berth for the night. Mind you, the deal was arrive after 20h00, vacate by 09h00, €70 ching, ching. It was our first proper night arrival in a harbour this season and as we closed on the coast at 22:30, the wind got a little wild. As we rounded into the imperfectly protected bay, there were warm 20 knot gusts blasting down at us off the cliffs in a bucking bronco swell. I was thinking this is going to be interesting then as we got close to the harbour the wind dropped. There was one catamaran anchored and its mast was going wild in the swell. I circled, luckily close to the middle of the bay avoiding the catamaran, while the First Mate did fenders and lines. I say luckily because between the harbour wall and the beach there was a small plantation of small vessel mooring buoys with no boats on them. I did not see them until the next morning. We had had the deck light on and Veronica was concentrating on the fenders. If we had got among them and fouled the prop we could have been on the beach. Definitely a situation where a 3rd member of crew would have been useful. Actually getting onto the fuel jetty proved relatively easy as there was complete calm once inside the tiny harbour. It was midnight when we hit the sack, this helped along by the fact that the enormous and friendly security guard Antonio was under strict instruction to extract the €70 from us that night, in case we did a runner early the next morning.

The next morning we moved out into the anchorage, where the swell had calmed down, enough to paddle board, swim to the beach etc. San José was the charming little place as described in CaptainsMate. We enjoyed walking and exploring ashore and rather decadently had lunch and supper ashore at a restaurant where the amusingly exuberant Marta charmed us in and provided parking for our SUP and paddles. What the reports also said was that this was an awkward place to get good shelter. That proved right, when at 01h00 in the anchorage I was awoken and popped my meerkat head out of the companion way to a cacophony of blasting katabatic winds switching direction at random, which in combination with the swell resulted in us and the other Swedish boat doing the strangest of dances in opposite and all directions. At times we were within 10 metres of each other. A quick check on the weather and it was an easy decision, it was time to leave. What I did not mention earlier was that 4 days before, I had been up the mast to try to fix an anchor light that was giving us an alarm. It turned out that the light had come loose from its socket. Don’t ask how, but, trust me, it is easy when you are up the mast, gripping things in your teeth and you can’t see what you are doing, I managed to break the tri-colour bulb as well. Not to worry, we had the steaming lights so we were safely lit, although we would be burning a lot more power. It did not matter.

Actually leaving at 02h00 proved to be a good idea. We put up only the Solent and ran with the wind slowly going from a run to a broad and then a beam reach as we rounded Carbo de Gata and sailed across the Gulf of Almeria, I took the watch until about 06h30 when the First Mate came on and I hit the sack for the last 15Nm into Almerimar.

We arrived at about 10am and had a coffee in hand as we entered the harbour, it should have been champagne. In my first blog title, I mentioned we would sail 1500 Nm to Almerimar, it turned out to be 1536 Nm on the boats trip log, so not a bad estimate. We arrived on 15 June, with 5 days in hand before our lift and a full week before our flight home.

The time was spent making a plan to fix the companionway, derigging the boat, reacquainting ourselves with Almerimar (last here to overwinter 2016/17), getting tons of help from Spencer the Cruising association HLR (Honorary Local Representative) and chandlery owner, sending the life raft and EPIRB to be serviced, etcetera. It was probably one of the most chilled and leisurely boat “tear-downs” we have ever had. We flew home on 22 June 2022 on Jet2’s inaugural Bristol-Almeria flight. Adios until we return to the boat in late September/early October to continue onwards into the Atlantic.