Monday, June 26, 2006

Balearics (2) 2006

Don´t forget, photos can be enlarged by clicking on to them, but press"back" to return to this page
Click here to return to the HOME PAGE

HERE WE ARE IN THE BEAUTIFUL BALEARIC ISLANDS with all of Europe’s holidaymakers about to descend on us. Note how full the Soller anchorage is already (photo above).

Finally reaching the Balearics on 4th June after having to wait seemingly a long time for favourable winds to enable us to hop along the Spanish mainland coast then over to the islands, we are pretty pleased to be here. Anchored securely in a small, almost circular bay off the town of Port Soller on the island of Malorca, we wonder at the spectacularly high mountains surrounding us, the quaint buildings of the town and the sunny warm weather day after day after day. The reasons, of course exactly why we are here.

After leaving Morocco on May 5 we sailed most of the 65 nm to Benalmadena on the Spanish mainland in good conditions. Benalmadena was a one night stand in a holiday-town marina where many rowdy Brits go to party; on to Motril the next day (motoring as the winds had deserted us), and then on to Almerimar the day after, again motor-sailing in light winds.

Almerimar is just south of Cabo de Gata and another weather window was needed to avoid being beaten up by the prevailing winds and waves both accentuated by the “cape effect” as well as the contra current. Not a problem waiting, we were not in a real hurry. We had emails from cruisers that the Balearics were receiving more than a fair share of late gale-force winds this spring, Almerimar is a huge marina (very reasonable prices - 8 euros per night) with a large live-aboard population, good facilities, chandleries and services. We had a bracket made for our wind generator guy wires, put in a new head (toilet), changed oil and filters and were able to bike and jog in pretty surroundings. Almerimar is also in the center of Europe’s greenhouses, so fruits and vegetables grown under the hundreds thousands of hectares of plastic in Costa del Sol were plentiful and cheap.

We met up again with Doug and Jan (s/v Freeway) whom with we had spend a lot of time in Portimao a year previously on the hard, and had many more happy hours with them. They had just sold Freeway and had proudly bought Wizzo, a Jeanneau 47, still not yet in the water. Doug and Jan have been live-aboard cruisers for 25 years, have sailed in most places around the world and gave us many tips about Mediterranean cruising.

Ten days in Almerimar and we were anxious to get to Cartagena to obtain our new temporary import papers for Chinook to allow her to stay in the European Union countries for another 18 months VAT (GST) free. The weather finally cooperated allowing us make it in three hops – two quiet anchorages of Carbonera and Subida on the way. Actually, Subida was only 12 nm from Cartagena but the wind was so strong on the nose getting around Cape Tinos was simply impossible – not to mention frustrating.

Photo: The sound crew wiring up for a concert in Cartagena´s new amphitheatre built next to the old Roman-built one (currently being restored).

We tied up at the wall in Cartagena on Saturday at around 10 a.m. (unfortunately, we thought, as the customs offices were closed until Monday and the weather was good for us to keep on moving. As we were to find out to our great delight, Cartegena is a fascinating city and we ended up staying there eight nights, exploring the city by bike, visiting historical sites and museums with their ancient Roman ruins. The city was founded in 227 BC, had 3 centuries of Roman rule, was taken by the Visgoths and Arabs before bcoming "Spanish" again in 1245 AD. Mining, the natural harbour and the uniqueness of the surrounding topography (making it easily defended) made Cartagena important. The “father” of the modern submarine (Isaac Peral) had lived there, designing and building the prototype in the naval yards; now the local Naval Museum proudly displays every possible relic and photograph they could find. Interesting stuff.

Obtaining our “temporary importation” renewal for Chinook was easy. They had no forms for yachts, so the form for automobiles was used, “barco” written above the scratched out “automovil”. If it works for them….

A young American couple we met stayed a night aboard. Walker and Michaela were long-distance biking along the Costa del Sol from Seville where they had taken Spanish courses and needed a place to stay for a night. It was refreshing to have them aboard and we would hope that someone else will do the same for our own kids some day. Photo: Walker and Michaela all set to pedal off
The Queen of Spain paid a visit to Cartegena that week and we caught a wee glimpse through the throngs.

The leg from Cartagena to Campello then Moraira (a total of about 100 nm) was mostly motored – again light winds. Moraira was to be our leaping off point to Ibiza Island in the Balearics. Coincidentally an old school chum of Brian’s was holidaying in a small town 25 Km north, and we arranged for a day to get together with Barney and his wife Jackie to catch up on a few years missed. Brian and Barney had started school together at age 5, were in the same classes for years, were great friends during those formative years, losing touch for 35 years when Barney went to Australia to live, reuniting in Canada 7 years ago, but now have a real chance of getting together almost yearly as they visit Europe every summer. Barney does long "walks" in various parts of Great Britain and Jackie has family in Croatia.

In the seemingly protected anchorage at Moraira we dropped the hook in very pretty surroundings – high cliffs, sandy beach, quaint town just outside the marina. A few hours later the wind had backed 180 degrees and picked up. By midnight the swell was making it extremely uncomfortable aboard keeping us awake and on anchor watch. We were in the marina by eight the next morning. “High season” meant prices were up, but we had little option and three days later we were able to leave for the Balearics.

First landfall was San Antonio in Ibiza Island after 60 nm and 13 hours of tiresome motoring. The summer weather patterns of the Mediterranean Basin had established themselves with the prevailing east/north easterlies coming from the exact direction we were heading (of course). It was good to finally get to our summer destination, to be somewhere again to enjoy and more to put an end to long days of traveling (motoring – sailing would perhaps be different). Our house batteries had decided to die there, so we “invested” in new ones paying double the Canadian prices.

From San Antonio to Portinatx where we had planned to stop overnight, but thunder cells in the area changed our minds. Lightning, strong gusts and dragging boats in the weedy-bottomed anchorage encouraged us to wait another day before crossing the strait to Mallorca. And with clear skies and easterlies of 10 knots we sailed most of the 50 nm (winds dying toward the end of the day) to Port Andratx, arriving at around 6 p.m.

Photo: Look-a-like sister ships: Chinook and Zephyra.

For our landlubber readers, a “sister ship” is a vessel of the same make and model. Chinook is a “Young Sun” or “ Westwind” as they are respectively known in North America and Great Britain and were not produced in great numbers, so when another sister ship is encountered, it is a red letter day. Brian is an enthusiastic member of the MSN Owner’s Group and has been e-mailing Vancouver-based Jim on Zephyra for the last six years. Zephyra was shipped over to the Med. nine months ago and it was on this day “the sisters” were getting together. She sailed in to Andratx a few hours after Chinook, and Jim and crewmember Rita “happy houred” with us until late, the ladies becoming bored I’m sure by some of the technical stuff. We saw much of them over the next few days before they went back to Valencia on the mainland to try to see some of the America’s Cup (of sailing races). You may recall we came on three other “sister ships” in Grenada in the Caribbean (see the blog “Grenada, our Special Island”.

A Real Blow! In Andratx we experienced an unusual weather phenomenon that had occurred here 30 years previously. A line squall approached the settled anchorage at about 8 p.m. We saw it coming as we were finishing dinner and, recognizing what it could bring, hastily threw our dinner dishes in the galley and started the engine as the winds suddenly increased and the chaos begun. The bottom holding was poor in the weedy bay and most of the anchored boats began to drag in the ensuing 50 to 60 knot gusts. Fortunately we were one of the very few that did not (drag) and by taking the tension off the anchor chain by motoring and steering into the wind as well as trying to avoid hitting any of the boats around us, we avoided any mishap apart from two broken china bowls from the extreme rolling. Another boat was blown side-on to our bowsprit as they were trying to pull up their anchor (passing in front of us) but luckily only suffered minor damage to two stanchion posts. The blow lasted about 20 minutes, then everyone who had pulled up re-anchored. Near midnight another storm cell approached and many boats pulled up anchor again and milled around in anticipation of a repeat performance. It never came; the cell passed a few miles north of us, as did another at 4 a.m. We sat up and watched the natural fireworks. Our dinghy had flipped upside down and sank, then thankfully re-emerged because of its built-in flotation. The next morning was spent getting the salt water out of the gas tank, carburettor and other engine innards and getting it running again.

We heard later from Zephyra, who were in Soller, that the line squall had caused similar havoc there and a local newspaper reported that nine million euros worth of damages to boats and property were caused in the narrow inlet at Ciudadele on Menorca. Both Soller and Ciudadele suffered an emptying surge of the basin (completely in Ciudadele and a five metre drop in Soller) with a resurgence of sea back in. We were lucky; it was a timely reminder to continue careful anchoring practices however benign the climate may seem, also a similar reminder that the Med. is not a pussy cat.

Port Soller, where we spent several weeks is a very sheltered almost circularly enclosed small bay on the west coast of Mallorca. It is surrounded by spectacular high mountains. The water is 21 degrees C and quite clear. The port town is touristy as is the very quaint little town of Soller three kilometers up the valley with its bougainvillea draped stone buildings and hundreds of lemon, orange and olive groves. An electric tram and bus service connect the two and a wooden train and regular bus service provide a fast service to Palma and the rest of the island via a tunnel through the mountain range. While waiting for the train in Soller, one can view the station’s permanent exhibition of 50 of Picasso´s ceramics (originals). The web site will give you more insight to the place if you can spare another 30 seconds.

Debby flew back to Ontario for the month of July (poor her) and Brian was joined by a sailing buddy, Will Urqhart, for a couple of weeks and they took Chinook to the island of Menorca.

Photos: Debby relaxing in the old wooden train en-route to Palma and one of Picasso´s original ceramics in the display.