Friday 23 July 2021

Good Morning Mallorca!

Sailing through the night from Ibiza to Mallorca was quite special.  Leaving at sunset and watching the sun lower behind Isla Vedra was quite a moment for Mark and me as we had wanted to experience this from the first time we had sailed around Ibiza, two years ago.

Once the sun down it was full concentration as we passed through the passage between Formentera and Ibiza.  With fast ferries whizzing between the islands and boats buzzing in and out of the marinas in Ibiza Town, we had to have our wits about us. With the sails up and engine on, Mark at the helm and me on lookout, we motored through with no problems.  Once through we raised the mainsail and staysail.  Phew, an intense 20 minutes or so.

Once through and past the busy port of Ibiza Town, we had something to eat and settled in to our nightly routine.  With a south easterly wind we were maintaining a speed of between 4.5 to 5 knots.

As night fell and darkness surrounded us, we could see the twinkling of  lights from resorts on shore and the rhythmic flashing of the lighthouse on Isla Tagomago and later, Punta des Gat.

By 23:30 the wind had dropped and we were only managing 3 knots. Mark decided to put the engine on to give us a boost back to 5 knots. Our ETA to Andraitx was 11:30 the following day.

By 03:30 we had left the lights of Ibiza behind us and with no moon, it was an extremely dark night.  During this time, there was a few things of note that happened.

Firstly the stars. Oh my what a sight.  They were everywhere and there was the milky way again, showing us the depth of the unknown. And then, to top it off, there were shooting stars, whizzing through the sky to keep us alert and entertained.

Later, there was the hue of the bright lights of Palma that indicated where the horizon lay and where we should be pointing Offbeat.  For me it meant that I could steer using this course rather than looking down at the compass every few seconds.  It was also rather comforting to see the glow and know that our destination lay straight ahead.

The other really weird thing was a low flying, brightly lit subaquatic drone breaking the surface of the sea.  When we had left Ibiza we had listened to the navigation warnings and they had spoken about drones undertaking survey work between Ibiza and Mallorca,  and they warned to not approach if you saw one.  Having seen one of these appear on the starboard bow and then disappear into the distance, the last thing on my mind was to approach it.  If I could have run away, I would have fled to the hills in the opposite direction. Spooky doesn't come close to explaining that moment when in the pitch black of the night you see a bright light appear and then disappear.  Thankfully my watch on the helm ended soon after that moment. Mark seemed much less perturbed.

By 06:20 the wind returned and so the engine was turned off.  It was about the same time as the sun was starting to rise to the east of us, lighting up the mountains of Mallorca. It was a beautiful sight, with the sky turning different shades of red and then orange until it was fully risen.

We continued sailing for the next five hours, watching the boating world gradually stir and take to the sea, boats whizzing out of ports and along the coast in search of the perfect spot to drop anchor for the day.

Sailing past the island of Sa Dragonera, we knew that we were nearly at Andratx, one of our favourite parts of Mallorca and at 
11:15 we called Club Nautica de Andraitx on the VHF radio and picked up a bouy to Moor to and went to bed for a few hours.

Let the Mallorcan adventure begin!

Saturday 17 July 2021

Last days in Ibiza

Heading into Sant Antoni, we had our usual list of jobs to do whilst in port, but also, this time there was an important football match to watch. Euro semi final between England and Denmark.  We also wanted to go to Ibiza Town before leaving Ibiza so we had to crack on and make the most of our time!

It's amazing what you can do if you set your mind to it.  Once Offbeat was sorted and paperwork completed at the office, we headed into town for something to eat.  Wow, what a difference a week makes as the tourists had arrived. Whilst not overly busy, it had a buzz about it that was missing the previous week.

We found a lovely little bar in the back streets where they spoke no English but where the service, food and price was excellent. With our best Spanish we had a conversation with them and to Mark's delight, they were showing the football later.  We'd be back! And we did and to our delight, England won although the locals were rather indifferent to it, despite bagging the best seats in the house.

Next day we headed to Ibiza Town on the local bus. I love catching public transport as you get a real insight into every day life.   The insight that day was that the driver was a man on a mission.  If you didn't put your hand out he didn't stop and if he did stop, you were told to hurry up. Going through the mountains was quite an adventure!

Arriving in Ibiza Town in one piece, we headed for the old town which is set on a steep hill overlooking the harbour. It was quite overcast when we set off, which is ideal for sightseeing but as the afternoon wore on, the cloud dispersed and the sun came out.

Set at the peak of the hill, we climbed the numerous steps to reach the peak. From here, we visited the castle and the Cathedral, where there are spectacular views of Ibiza and in the distance, Formentera.  We meandered back down through the cobble streets, just listening to the sounds of familiesgetting on with their lives. What I loved most about the old town was the architecture, the quirky old buildings that have been lovingly renovated and the archways that entice you in to explore beyond.  We spent a few hours just wandering the streets, soaking up life in the old town and sampling the local fare.

The bus journey back to Sant Antoni was much less eventful. With one last place to visit, we headed to the church square and to a little ice cream shop that makes the most delicious fig and almond ice cream. Sitting in the church square, we savoured every mouthful, knowing that it will be a while before enjoyed this ice cream again.

Next day we headed down to Formentera. Mark's friend Ariel from Estepona was there for the Summer and we'd promised to visit before we left. It took us about 6 hours, with some sailing and some motoring as the wind was once again variable.  

Arriving at Cala Saona about 20:30, we were surprised by the number of boats still in the anchorage. However, this was nothing compared to the number of boats that turned up the next day.  It was like the Southampton boat show, with boats of all shapes and sizes vying to get the best anchorage spot closest to the beach.  I still haven't worked out why, as very rarely do people venture onto the beach.

We spent some time with Ariel, but as he was working he couldn't join us for supper so with favourable winds forecast that evening to blow us overto Mallorca, we set sail at 20:45, hoping that if we timed it right, we could at last catch the sunset over Isla Vedra.

We were not disappointed! 

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Ibiza Revisited

30 June to 7 July 2021

Arriving back in Ibiza was a big thing for us. After 20 months of not sailing further than the boundaries of Estepona,  to be out in the open sea and to have the freedom to travel again was simply awesome. 

We spent two days in Sant Antoni, catching our breath, doing chores (there's always washing to be done) and preparing to go off cruising for 7-10 days.

When we had previously visited Sant Antoni it had been a lively, busy town, full of tourists, noisy bars and full restaurants.  What a difference this time. Virtually no tourists, only a few souvenir shops open, bars and restaurants closed, it was like a ghost town. We did manage to find a lovely restaurant next to the church square which served delicious food and excellent wine.  We visited there a few times!

We headed out of Sant Antoni down to the south west corner of the island where there is a little cala that overlooks Isla Vedra and from where we could enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Isla Vedra.

It was a calm afternoon and we motored south towards the island.  Despite there not being many tourists about,  there are still plenty of boats cruising around the coast.

We reached the anchorage late afternoon and was surprised by the number of boats at anchor there. Quite clearly it was a favourite spot!

We decided it was too crowded for us so continued to the south coast and anchored in Porroig.  We had stayed there on our last night in the Balearics in 2019 so it was rather poignant that fate had brought us back here for our first night at anchor in 2021. Again it was quite busy and later we found out why. It would appear that when charter boats are not in use, they are sent out to anchor in the calas.  Keeps the overheads down!

After an uncomfortable night rolling from side to side on a slight swell, we pulled up anchor and headed north. Our destination was Cala Benirras, one of my favourite calas in Ibiza. Renowned for its hippy community, nightly drumming and dramatic sunsets, it is a place to just relax and let life wash over you.

But first, Mark thought it would be a great adventure to sail between the two rocks of Isla Vedra. As I was on the helm, I was not so sure but knowing that Mark had faith in my ability to do it, I trusted him to navigate us through safely. Under sail!

The gap between the two rocks is about 50 metres wide, and 28 metres at its deepest. There are a lot of outlying rocks so you have to be completely focused on what you're doing.

With a grip of steel on the helm and white knuckles trying to burst out, we set a course through the gap. Mark was constantly on watch and giving encouraging feedback and together we sailed through. He was as chuffed as ever to have gone through the passage, I was overwhelming relieved and rather pleased with myself. Next stop Suez Canal!

We reached Cala Benirras late afternoon and after a few attempts at setting the anchor, we settled down for the evening sunset. I was not disappointed. We had a perfect spot to watch the sunset whilst listening to the sound of the drumming.  What we hadn't bargained for was the entertainment, a spectacular dive off the rock, although it was a 'hold your breath moment.

Mark seemed to find his inner hippy, taking over the hammock for a front seat view of the drumming.  I think I even saw his foot tapping!

As beautiful as Benirras is, after a lazy breakfast and our Spanish class with our wonderfully patient teacher Rocio, we upped anchor and headed to Cala d'Albarca a few miles south.  This is one of Mark's favourite calas and we knew that here we would find peace and tranquility as the cala is surrounded by high cliffs and pine trees.  There are no beaches, restaurants or phone signal so it's not a popular stopping place for a lot of people.

There we stayed for a few days,  relaxing and swimming in clear blue crystal water and enjoying the peace and tranquility and the surrounding nature. 

With the weather due to change, we headed back south towards Sant Antoni. If the wind and waves became too strong we would go into the marina.

We dropped anchor in Cala Comte, which is between mainland Ibiza and Illa de Bosc and about 5 miles west of Sant Antoni.

It was very busy.  Super yachts, motor boats, day trip boats, rhibs, jet skis, paddle boards, hover boards, inflatables etc.  If it could float on water, it was in this cala.  Great people watching though!

We did have a look at Cala Rojo next door, where we've stayed before and which we knew was quiet (except for when film crews turn up - see White Lines and a glimpse of Offbeat), but there was no room for us to anchor.

One of the things we are finding is the lack of anchoring space in calas, due to the pandemic and people jot being allowed to travel.  In the less popular anchorages the posidonia has spread, which has decreased the areas available to anchor in. It is illegal to anchor in posidonia in the Balearics and if caught, you can be heavily fined.

Someone once referred to it as their version of coral and there have been a number of projects around the islands to reintroduce posidonia to areas of seabeds which in turn provide breeding grounds for various species of marine life. 

So, we stayed in Cala Comte for a couple of nights and caught up on some jobs.  I worked on our blog whilst Mark did some boat maintenance. The forecast for Wednesday was strong northerly winds arriving in the morning so I booked us into the marina for Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Tuesday night we had supper and watched the Spain v Italy football match. There was a party feel in the air and as the game progressed, the noise got louder and louder and when Spain scored, well ……

Full time and it was a draw, but that didn't stop the fireworks being set off, albeit prematurely as Spain was knocked out on penalties. 

And then the wind arrived. And boy, did it blow! It had arrived early and completely caught us off guard. It was stronger than forecast and the speed at which it arrived was like someone flicking a switch on, like going from 0-60 in 30 seconds.

We both flew into action (pardon the pun) with Mark setting about securing things on deck, checking the anchor and letting out more chain. I sorted out the cockpit, getting everything inside.  

And then the waves arrived. One metre waves on our bows, trying to push us back towards the beach and because the anchor was set firm, the bows slammed back down in the water.

Later, when there was a slight respite in the wind, Offbeat turned side on to the waves which meant we rolled from side to side.  Good job we had secured things in the galley otherwise it would have been carnage.

And on and on it went, until dawn the next morning, up and down, side to side. We were exhausted. We had dozed on and off during the night but not a proper sleep.

Thank goodness I'd booked the marina. Next morning it was obvious that the wind was coming back with a vengance and the waves were building up again. So, after getting the dinghy on board, which was an interesting challenge, we headed for the shelter of Sant Antoni.

Quite an eventful first week!

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Summer Cruise 2021 - Sailing to Ibiza

 Tuesday 15 June 2021

We slipped lines from Estepona marina at 09:40 and headed to the harbour entrance. At last, after 20 long months we were finally heading out for our Summer 2021 adventure. 

Our friends Edita and Richard and Leslie and Peter joined us for a short part of the way.  In Richard's boat, they motored with us to the fish farm just outside Estepona. Then, with a blast of the horn and a display from the dolphins they headed back to Estepona whilst we continued to head towards Benalmadena for our first stopover.

The journey took about 8 hours as the wind was intermittent and behind us at times.  The highlight of the journey was Mark catching a fish, but as it was quite small, he returned it back to the sea.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Up and out early and with our sails raised we headed to Motril where we planned to stay for a couple of nights. The weather forecast was favourable for rounding Cabo de Gata on Friday so it would give us time to do the necessary preparations and passage planning. We kind of like Motril. It's a small scruffy commercial port with one upmarket marina and one more downmarket marina that is run by friendly and helpful people that are as ordinary as us. Guess which marina we went to (for the second time), and always will return to. Mark got driven around the industrial estate by the manager of the boatyard looking for a 3€ plumbing part and some oil additive because the boatyard manager was concerned that Offbeat is consuming too much engine oil. They discussed diesel engines, families, tourism, the price of breakfasts and employment in the area. Mark's Spanish must be improving because this was all done in Spanish, and deep Andalucian Spanish at that.

Friday 18 June 2021

We slipped our lines at Motril at 08:30. The forecast was for the wind to be behind us all the way to Cabo de Gata so Mark had rigged both spinnaker poles for twin Yankee jibs; orejas de burro in Spanish ('donkey's ears') and goosewinged in English.  This made sailing with the wind behind us a lot safer than with one jib and the mainsail and its metal boom threatening to swing over rapidly in an jibe. Twin jibs also means that they could be reefed very quickly and safely if needed. Whilst I had been in England in May, Mark had spent a lot of time planning and designing this system. Now we would be putting it to the test.

We wanted to round the cape in daylight as it can be very challenging rounding it with strong winds and big waves.

We made good progress during the day, with an average speed of 6 knots.  By the time we approached Cabo de Gata we were ahead of schedule.  The wind was strong at Force 5 to 6 (20-25mph) and the sea was rough with 2 metre waves. Mark reefed to 2nd reef as he anticipated this weather for the next couple of hours. 

It was tough sailing on my part as it was mentally and physically challenging. Mark however, when he had his turn on the helm, was averaging between 6.5 and 7 knots, reaching a maximum of 7.9 knots. He was in his element and exhilarated by the way Offbeat handled with her 'donkey's ears'. All that time spent planning and designing was paying off. 

As we rounded Cabo de Gata we were treated to the most spectacular sunset over the hills of that ruggedly beautiful national park. As we turned north in the increasing darkness Mark reset the sails and our course. As we had made good progress,  we headed for the city of Cartagena with an estimated time of arrival of 12:30 the following day. 

Once we had passed the industrial port of Carboneras where there is always the possibility of ship movement, we settled into our routine for the night sail, taking it in turn to do 2 hour shifts at the helm.

By 05:30 the wind had changed course and was now coming from the North and decreasing.  This was not as forecast! It was slowing Offbeat considerably,  by 1 to 1.5 knots so our average speed had fallen to 4.8 knots.  Our ETA to Cartagena was now nearer 16:00. Time for the engine and a rethink.

Exhilarated from our achievements but exhausted from the challenging sailing conditions we made the decision to head into the little port of Aguilas rather than pushing on to Cartagena. We tied our lines at 08:40, 24 hours after leaving Motril. We both experienced a fairly extreme attack of 'sea legs' where you feel wobbly on solid land after being at sea.

We stayed in Aguilas for a couple of nights, to catch our breath and relax before heading to Cartagena. Aguilas is a pretty little seaside town, with a beautiful coastline and beach, a quaint little plaza in the middle of the town, where we enjoyed a couple of slow drinks and tapas, and an impressive castle set at the top of a hill overlooking the harbour.

Monday 21 June 2021

Feeling rested and relaxed we headed for Cartagena. For the most part we sailed the short distance with the jib and mainsail, but there were a couple of hours where we had to put the engine on.

Approaching the coastline towards Cartagena we were taken aback by the waves bouncing back from the high cliffs 2 miles away. At times they were 1.5 to 2 metres high and rolling us around horribly. We decided not to explore too close!

We arrived in Cartagena early evening to be greeted by Spanish and French warships moored at the end of our pontoon. We had heard on the VHF that there were NATO exercises taking place in the area and guess that these ships were part of that exercise.

Next morning as we were leaving the harbour, all the dignitaries were on board one of the Spanish ships called, simply enough, Flagship. An admiral gave a speech. There was a lot of bunting.  It was really nice of them to see us off on the next stage of our journey. 

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Under full sail - mainsail, staysail and yankee - we headed to the Mar Menor, a large inlet of salt water reached through a narrow channel with a lifting bridge.  En route we saw a fishing boat being towed by the Salvamiento Maritimo (the Spanish lifeboat service except its a government service unlike the British RNLI) and then a fishing boat towing a large fish farm structure very, very slowly. This was new to us, we'd never seen it before, but thinking about it, how else do they get into position? There are lots of these fish cages along the Spanish coast for storing tuna and other fish alive until its time to land them or growing mussels.

We entered Mar Menor just as the bridge was being raised. It is quite a spectacular sight, seeing the bridge raise and sailing through it.

An hour later we were anchored in our favourite Mar Menor anchorage off San Javier, close to the Spanish airbase. We planned to stay here until we had favourable winds to take us on our way to the Balearics. 

Ah, the peace and tranquility of Mar Menor was something we were really looking forward to. Ha, ha!

First full day in Mar Menor and the toilet leaked when it was flushed. Obviously a job that can't be left, we spent the morning sorting it out. Mark cleaned the component parts and replaced seals whilst I cleaned the pipework and area of the leak.  By lunchtime it was as good as new, so we could relax for the afternoon. 

I had just settled into the cockpit to catch up on admin when I heard the roar of jets. 

Looking out from under the sunshade, I was treated to a fantastic air display by the Patrulla Aguila- Eagle Patrol - Spains equivalent of the Red Arrows.  I don't know if they were practicing or if it was part of a dignitary visit, but it was spectacular and provided great entertainment. 

After that display, the rest of our stay in Mar Menor was relatively uneventful. Oh, except for the man who, while passing by us, fell off the back of his boat while having a pee. His boat was drifting dangerously close to a group of moored boats with the woman on board unable to use the engine. We jumped into action to help, but he was rescued by some marineros from the nearby sailing club.

By Friday it was getting clearer that Sunday would be our departure date for heading to Ibiza. 

Saturday 26 June 2021

At midday Saturday we departed Mar Menor and headed to the marina at San Pedro where we would stay the before leaving early the next day. Coming in to Mar Menor had been such a tranquil journey, just us and a few other boats sedately cruising in. Leaving Mar Menor was not quite the same. We had not anticipated the mid-day rush on a Saturday and it was mayhem!

Sunday 27 June 2021

At 11:00 we slipped our lines at Marina Salinas in San Pedro. At the harbour mouth Mark set up the spinnaker poles and lines for 'donkey's ears' as the forecast was wind behind us all the way.

As with most things in life, you can never be 100% certain. All the weather apps had forecast southerly winds but once we headed out to sea, the wind was more east of south so Mark changed the sails for broad reach sailing.

The wind gradually increased and by lunchtime we were often reaching over 6.5 knots.  This was a good thing as it meant we would cross the shipping lanes in daylight. 

By mid afternoon the wind had shifted which meant that we couldn't make our planned crossing point so Mark set a course to cross it earlier. Sailing any reasonable distance means constantly adapting to changing weather, 

We crossed the shipping lane south of Alicante. There were two ships of note: one, a lorry ferry heading south changed course to accommodate us and pass behind our stern and a North bound tanker that Mark called and we changed course to go behind his stern.

The one regret that we had was that we missed crossing the meridian line. It's quite a thing to watch the compass reading change from west to east, but there will be other times!

Once across the shipping lane, we set a course for Ibiza. We had supper together, reflected on the journey so far and then settled into our routine for night sailing.

We made good progress and as night fell, the low cloud that had clung to the shoreline of mainland Spain started to disappear.

At midnight there was no moon out yet, so the sky was black and filled with stars and the milky way cut a creamy swathe above our heads. On the shore I could see the twinkling lights of Javea and the soft beam of the lighthouse at Denia and Cabo de la Nao.  It was quite a nostalgic sight as we had been there on a number of occasions. 

By early morning, the wind had dropped so the engine was on and by 09:30 Isla Vedra and Isla de Ses Bledes came into view through the murk of low cloud on land.

By 11:30 we passed through the passage between Isla Bleda Mayor and Isla Bleda Plana. A beautiful sight that we don't think we'll ever tire of seeing. The varied rock formations sitting proud in the sea are a sight to behold, but by far the most striking is Illa na Boch, known affectionately by us as the Witches Island. It looks like three giant old crones turned into stone by some ancient curse.

At 13:11 we tied up at the marina in Sant Antoni, exhausted but ecstatic at finally being back in Ibiza. Now where's the wine?!