Calpe to Ciutadella

6th July to 7th July 2016

At 1015 in the morning we left Calpe, rounded the eastern side of the impressive lump of rock and turned onto a course of approximately 060° which we would maintain for the next 20 hours or so. The weather was once again relatively calm with clear skies and light winds. We made a note of our position every hour expecting to be out of sight of land for some of the time but the brown hills of mainland Spain were still in clear view when we sighted Ibiza and we were always in view of one of the islands from then on.

We settled into our 4 hour watch system and most of the other traffic disappeared with the exception of a few cargo ships and ferries and after dark we were almost completely alone. The wind was light and quite fickle but Jac was able to unfurl the headsail as we passed between Ibiza and Menorca and we were able to maintain over 7 knots for most of the passage.

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Dawn still heading for Menorca

 

Apart from large stretches of water there was little to see, but after a quiet night, during which the wind dropped and the sea turned to a mill pond, Jac saw some dolphins lazily making their way in the opposite direction and I saw a swordfish jump from the water. The north coast of Majorca is very impressive, rocky and mountainous and we passed only 4 miles north of the shore.

The final leg from the north-east tip on Majorca to Menorca seemed to pass quickly even though it was about 5 hours sailing. Menorca is much more low-lying than Majorca and our destination, Ciutadella, was towards the western most part of the Island. As usual, the light wind picked up to force 4 just before we arrived, just before we had to furl the sails. The entrance to the port was quite hard to see, but once we had it identified it, we found ourselves gently motoring up a beautiful little “Cala” to the centre of the town.

Marinas in the Balearics are phenomenally expensive. We had phoned ahead and booked a berth with the Club Nautico who were demanding 97 Euros a night, but a quick call on the radio to the public mooring office secured us a berth in a better position at less than half the price. Still expensive compared with most places we had been, but it would bankrupt us at half the rate!

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The Harbour, Ciutadella

 

Ciutadella is a beautiful town, steeped in history, with lots of narrow winding streets and Jac and I went exploring while Sarah and Claire arrived by bus from their holiday flat a couple of miles away. We met them after they arrived at the bus station and found a restaurant overlooking the Cala and the moored boats for an evening meal before Sarah and Claire returned for a last night in their flat before joining us on Synergy. 

We fell into bed feeling very proud of ourselves for having achieved our longest overnight run on our own to date, a distance of 199 miles.

8th July 2016                           Ciutadella

Jac and I spent the morning exploring the town while waiting for the girls to arrive. We found a supermarket and collected some more fresh food and tried to resolve our ongoing problem of poor internet connection, only to discover that my Samsung tablet was not equipped to take a chip which would have given us a connection. Back to the drawing board, or in this case, the usual lousy internet provided by marinas.

The girls arrived in the evening and, after a meal, we were all set to leave the following day.

 

Torrevieja to Calpe

With the alternator replaced and everything working normally again  we were ready to leave Torrevieja on 4 July. Unfortunately the wind was once again against us, with strong north-easterly winds, which would not abate until Tuesday 5th July. We were now running seriously late as Jacquie’s daughter Sarah and her friend Claire would be arriving in Menorca on the evening of 6th. They were aware of our delays and had booked into a holiday flat for 2 days but we would still be pressed to make Menorca by 8th July.

We had  considered a long run straight to Ibiza, but having had the alternator problem, we decided to follow the coast to Calpe to ensure that no other issues occurred. This would give us plenty of available boltholes and Steve Wayman had offered to make the hour and a half drive to Calpe to help us out if any further problems occurred. What a great guy!

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Costa Browner!

With the strong winds having eased down to a maximum of force 3, but in a direction that might fill the headsail, we set off on the 60 mile trip to Calpe. With lots of engine and electrics checks on the way and some gentle motor sailing we followed the very arid coast. This was meant to be the Costa Blanca (The White Coast), but goodness knows where the name comes from as, from the sea, it seems a uniform shade of brown.

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Benidorm (Aaaargh!) We didn’t stop.

We tried to rise the mainsail, but somehow the mainsail halliard had managed to wrap itself around the radar reflector fitted to the front of the mast and nothing we did would persuade it to return to its traditional position on the back of the mast. That would be a problem that we would have to solve when we reached Calpe. For the first time we sailed with the bimini erected to give us some shade as the last leg we had completed to Torrevieja had left us both overheated. We had expected the cockpit cover to restrict our view of the sails, but it proved to be no problem.

After seven hours we saw Calpe ahead and, after refueling, made our way to our berth which was down one of the tightest pontoon alleys we had yet encountered. Having tied up we then had to solve the snagged halliard problem and Jac volunteered to go up the mast in the bosun’s chair. (Actually she didn’t! There wasn’t really a choice, as I had the strength to winch Jac up, but she would have struggled with my weight.) I winched Jac up the mast with a safety line around her chest as a back up. Once up the mast Jac quickly put the line back in its correct place, but then disaster struck. I had managed to get a line jammed around the winch and nothing I could do would free it. Encouraged by a plaintive cry of, “I’m frightened” from halfway up the mast, I finally managed to generate enough slack line to free the jam and lower Jac to the deck.

Calpe is a pretty little place, apart from the overburden of high rise apartments. The marina is dominated by a large lump of limestone looking reminiscent of a mini Gibraltar. With this backdrop we had a lovely and inexpensive meal at a fish restaurant while we checked the weather and planned for the following day.

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Calpe Harbour

With good weather and light winds forecast and the engine having proved to be reliable once again, we decided to make the 200 mile trip to Menorca the following day.

Cartagena to Torrevieja

On 29th June we finally found a break in the persistent north-easterly winds which had kept us penned up in Cartagena . The forecast was for a maximum of 13 knots and in a direction that would enable us to sail for part of the time.

We left Cartagena  at 0935 to sail the 45 (ish) miles to Torrevieja expecting favourable winds for the next few days which would enable us to reach Menorca by 6th July. Leaving the harbour we immediately encountered winds of 25kts in the gusts and with 2 reefs in the mainsail, a semi furled headsail and Jac helming, we were scudding along at seven and a half knots and occasionally topping 8, supersonic for Synergy. After a couple of hours we had to turn north-easterly to round Cape Palos and that took us directly into wind so the engine once more did the work.

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The Casino Torrevieja now a restaurant. Oldest building in town decorated in the elaborate style of 100 years ago.

We arrived at Torrevieja at 1730 and were berthed alongside friends that we had met in Gibraltar,Ted and Chris, on their motor catamaran “Legless” in the International Marina, one of 3 inside the huge harbour at Torrevieja. A quick shower and off to the Nautic, a marina side restaurant, for a meal with Chris and Ted before falling into bed.

30th June                                 Off to Calpe (Nearly!)

Breakfast at the Nautic with Chris and Ted and then we waved goodbye and tootled across to Marina Salinas to the refuelling berth to top up the diesel for the run to Calpe. As we left I noticed that the engine RPM gauge wasn’t working. No problem, just set the power by ear or for a target speed and we can fix it later.

What I had not appreciated was that the RPM gauge takes its feed from the alternator which had failed. In the bright sunlight the illuminated battery charging light was invisible and, over the noise of the engine, the “No Charge” warning was almost inaudible. Besides which we were busy getting the sails up and dodging some lunatic in a small fishing boat who, inexplicably, cut across our bows and then stopped 100 yards ahead.  Jac dodged round the deaf dumb and blind kid, who seemed completely unaware of the carnage that he had nearly generated and we settled down for the trip to Calpe with a wind that was going to give us a bit of a push.

About 4 miles out I thought I could hear a beeping noise from below and investigation showed that the electrical panel was not happy. The battery was not charging, so the only thing to do was return to Torrevieja. Half an hour later and we were back in our berth with the companion way steps off and my head inside the engine. It rapidly became clear that the alternator was a terminal case with a lot of melted wiring evident behind it.

We weren’t going anywhere until we had fixed the problem and we needed professional help. A quick call to Ted who had friends in Torrevieja, but was now on his way back to Gibraltar and he put us in touch with Danny who ran an upholstery business, Skyline Upholstery. As I called him his friend Steve Wayman, of Waymarine and an electrician, (yahoo!) walked into the office. Steve was with us in an hour and a half and quickly confirmed that we would need a new alternator and some surgery on the damaged wiring.

Apart from the technical difficulties, the weather was due to turn on Sunday 3rd July to a howling north-easterly and not abate until Tuesday 2nd July. We had missed our weather window and schedule-wise, we were in deep trouble.

The alternator arrived on Saturday 2nd of July and Steve came straight over to fit it. With the alternator on and the damaged wiring replaced, there were still some anomalies in the system and Steve resolved to come back on the Sunday and sort them out. The following day Steve arrived at 10 am and expected to be done in an hour or two. At 6 pm after a lot of head scratching the job was finally done. There had been a deep snag in the wiring which took Steve hours to pin down and fix. Several beers later and with our grateful thanks Steve left for home. Where else would you get that sort of service? Steve worked the whole weekend to get us going  and his charges were very reasonable. A great guy who I can thoroughly recommend.

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Engine with Shiny New Alternator

With the wind blowing hard as forecast, Jac and I spent Monday completing boat and domestic jobs and testing the engine again in preparation for the run to Calpe…….late again!

Almerimar to Cartagena

24th June to 25th June

Jac and I decided to be brave and do another overnight to Cartagena. The wind had finally dropped to virtually nothing and we motor sailed all the way having left Almerimar and our friends Lou and Michael at 1130 in the morning. It was a tearful goodbye, (Jac and Lou) as we had had a great time with both of them and were already making tentative arrangements to meet again later in the year.

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Lou and Michael Waving Goodbye

Our trip to Cartagena was uneventful until we were approaching the port, just before dawn broke, when we encountered a massive fishing fleet in the dark. With the boats all milling around in various directions it was a puzzle to weave our way through to reach the port, particularly as we had no idea how far their nets were dragging behind them. The sun rose which made the task easier and we were able to find our way through to tie up in the YPC Marina at 0745 in the morning.

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Cabo de Gata. End of the Costa del Sol and Start of Costa Blanca

Jac had had less sleep than I had so she then slept for 4 hours before we went exploring the town. These overnight runs are great but they leave one exhausted afterwards. Other cruising sailors tell us that you need at least 2 nights at sea to get settled into a 4 on 4 off watch system and adapt to getting sufficient sleep. We shall see!!

25th June to 29th June                            Cartagena

Attempting to reach Menorca by 6 July when Jac’s daughter, Sarah and her friend Claire were due to arrive, we had still decided to spend a day or two in Cartagena exploring. It turned out to be a fascinating place and surprisingly un-touristy considering its history, which dates back to the Carthaginians in around two-hundred-and-something BC. Hanibal’s brother Hasdrubal founded the city as a Carthaginian base in Iberia before the Romans took the city and changed the name from Qart Hadasht to Carthago Nova. Being the only natural harbour on the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula, it was, and remains a naval port with a Spanish Naval Base there today.

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Cartagena Harbour from the Castillo

 

The town today is a very neat and tidy place with a particularly impressive main street. The Calle Mayor, which appears to be entirely paved with marble, boasts some impressive architecture.

Over the next few days Jac and I explored the touristy bits; the old Roman forum area, the partially restored Roman Theatre, the Castillo de Conception (castle) and the more recent civil war shelters, as well as checking that the standard of the beer and wine were of an acceptable standard.

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Roman Theatre, Cartagena

The town seems to host a non stop stream of musical events and parades. On our first evening there we witnessed a song and dance show staged on a platform erected outside the town hall. The following evening there was a “Beatles Event” with a homemade Yellow Submarine playing Beatles songs accompanied by children and young people from a dance school. We commandeered ringside seats at a café across the street from the Town Hall and, being Beatles fans, we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The following evening there seemed to be a Gay Pride march with drummers, dancing troupes and floats with some very bizarrely dressed people dancing to their float mounted sound systems. Batman wearing a thong but with no back to his tights has to be a first! He seemed to be very proud of his posterior as he was more than willing to put it on public display.

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Gay Pride March, Cartagena

Almerimar

After Almerimar, our target was to reach the Balearics as soon as we could. Apart from the huge costs of many of the marinas on the Costa del Sol, neither Jac or I were particularly interested in spending much time on the Spanish holiday Costas and our intention was to make our way to somewhere close to Ibiza as soon as we could and hop across to the islands in quick time. However, we found ourselves unable (sensibly) to leave Amerimar for a day or two as the wind was forecast to blow hard from the northeast, exactly in the direction that we wished to go.

From the forecasts the earliest opportunity for us to depart would be 23rd June, (coincidently Brexit Day as it transpired) which gave us a couple of days to regroup and see the sights.

Way back in the dim mists of time in the 1960s and 1970s a series of films were made known as Spaghetti Westerns. They were low budget films made with Italian directors and many were filmed in locations around the Tabernas Desert near Almeria in Spain. Some such as A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad And The Ugly were filmed at a site called Mini Hollywood not far from Almerimar so Jac and I decided to go and see it. We hired a car and 40 minutes along good roads and we arrived at a wild west town in Spain!

The drive took us through some of the weirdest countryside that we had ever seen. Crammed together over what must be thousands of acres of land, with hardly enough space to drive a truck between are huge greenhouses made of plastic sheeting where, we were informed, most of Europe’s winter vegetables are grown.

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Weird Plastic Landscape near Almeria

 North of Almeria the landscape is very arid and it is easy to see why the film directors decided to use this area. It could easily double for the drier regions of the wild west.

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Wild West Spanish Style

 

Mini-Hollywood or Oasys, as it is also known turned out to be just off the main road and has probably won “The Best Kept Wild West Town Award.” The set was bought by a group of extras after the site ceased to be used for filming and is now effectively a theme park. We wandered around the General Store, the Sheriff’s office and jail, the undertakers and even the cemetery before dropping into the saloon for some light refreshment.

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Jac in the Saloon

 

The bank contained a museum of cinema posters and equipment from the past with many familiar film posters on display and a large collection of old cameras and projectors.

 

At midday a show was staged in the main square depicting the last hours of Jesse James accompanied by gunfights and a hanging. As there were lots of children watching the show the hangee had the good grace to smile and wave before he finally expired. All part of the fun.

Behind the town is Fort Apache, now enclosing some gardens and a swimming pool and further up the hill is a quite extensive zoo. Neither Jac or I were comfortable with the sight of a magnificent Siberian Tiger and many other animals cooped up in quite small enclosures, so we didn’t spend much time there and shortly afterwards set off for Almerimar stopping at a supermarket for provisions on the way.

Gibraltar to Almerimar

Well, we finally did it! We extracted ourselves from the magnetic pull of Gibraltar and moved on. We left Gibraltar at 0930 in the morning on our way to Almerimar on the east end of the Costa del Sol, our target being to reach Menorca by 6th July when Jacquie’s daughter Sarah and her friend Claire fly out to meet us. Not a problem you might think; only 550 miles which one could drive in a day, but the winds are forecast to be against us for at least part of the time.

We were so glad to be sailing again and what added the icing to the cake was that our friends, Michael Briant and Lou Brouchard in their Westerly 43, Paw Paw of London, had agreed at the last moment to come with us. They had big problems with their wind instruments and were going to Almerimar to get them repaired. The facilities in Almerimar were reputed to be very good and the labour costs a fraction of those in Gib.

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Paw Paw passing the Gibraltar big ship anchorage

 So having paid our dues to Queensway Quay and said our goodbyes to the many friends that we had made in Gibraltar, our flotilla of 2 boats headed south of the Rock, around Europa point and eastwards into the Mediterranean. The weather was fine, the wind a maximum of Beaufort force 3, or 12 knots, with superb visibility and we expected a gentle run to Almerimar 130 miles or so away.

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Synergy leaving the Rock

 With an expected passage time of around 24 hours, this would be the first overnight run that Jac and I had made on our own so we were breaking new ground. We had agreed to try a watch system of 3 hours on and 3 hours off and we started this system from midday with one of us below resting while the other looked after Synergy. This meant that Jac would be on watch as the sun set and then she would take over again at midnight. It worked reasonably well but we found that it took some time to wind down and get to sleep in the night hours and we thought that a 4 hour watch period might be better if we did this again.

The passage was an easy one. We were able to get some drive from the sails, but the wind was light so we had to motor sail most of the way and around sunset we furled the head sail as it was just flapping around uselessly. We encountered several pods of dolphins, most of which stayed with us for a while playing in the bow wave and also some larger sea life which we thought were pilot whales, but were not close enough to be sure.

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Sunset on Jac’s Watch

 Jac took the watch as  darkness fell, which turned out to be a lovely night, almost still but with a nearly full moon. Churning along under engine the night was uneventful and we even had dolphins with us in the darkness.

Dawn started to break at around 0630 and we arrived at Almerimar at 0730 having completed the 131 miles in 22 hours. Jac and I refuelled Synergy and we were then directed to our berth where we waited until 0900 for the marina office to open.

We were all short on sleep but resolved to try to stay awake as long as possible so that we might catch up the following evening. Michael and Louise knew of an Irish bar that did tapas with a difference. Most people are familiar with the Spanish concept of tapas, small portions of food, normally shared by several diners. The Mac Gowan’s takes this concept to a different level; still tapas but UK or Irish style with fish and chips, curry, chilli, hamburgers and egg and chips on the menu.

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Mac Gowan’s Bar

 

And best of all, each tapa is free with a drink. Well………….several drinks and tapas later we stumbled back to Synergy and flaked out a six pm to sleep right through to 0800 the following day, fully recovered from the sleep deprivation of the overnight run.

General Ramblings

It is one of those curious quirks of human nature that a proportion of the population when behind the wheel of a car picture themselves as Lewis Hamilton, when strapping on a pair of skis become Franz Klammer, or when stepping onto the deck of a boat, however small, suddenly transform into Horatio, Lord Nelson. I suspect that the main demographic for this particular behaviour would be males between the ages of 18 and 35 (Just a gut feeling. Absolutely no Government research funding has been spent on this study). However in the case of sailing boats I suspect that the maximum age for this curious behaviour extends to a greater age.

Why should this be I wonder? A smoke screen to mask a general under confidence or a desire to appear to be really good at something?

Michael Green in his wonderful book, “The Art of Coarse Cruising,” (if you haven’t come across it I can recommend it as a very humorous read) describes a Coarse Sailor as someone who uses complicated nautical sounding terms in normal speech, often making up his own new, but fictitious terms. However, when life gets tense, you can spot a Coarse Sailor as all the technical jargon disappears to be replaced by a cry of, “For God’s sake turn left!” I apologise if I have misquoted Michael’s words but the sentiment is the same.

Yesterday I was sitting having a quiet beer in Gibraltar when I saw a friend walk past with a roll of artificial grass. Nothing too strange there you might think except that this individual happens to live on a boat! Whilst John and his wife have sailed extensively, their advancing years have led them to set roots down in Gibraltar and their ketch is now a stationary home. Nevertheless, one might still, as I did, wonder why artificial grass had any place on a boat. When I asked, “Why?” John responded that he and his wife already had some garden furniture that they use on deck so they had decided to make it look more like a garden. “You can’t take life too seriously you see,” he said.

The same day, my lovely wife Jacquie received a photograph from a friend who has a boat on the other side of the marina. The picture was of a rocking zebra who goes by the name of Zak. Why on earth would any boat need a rocking zebra? Especially one called Zak. Lou and Michael have added Zak to their growing collection of animal facsimiles which started with a duck shaped lamp. Their boat, a Westerly Ocean, has problems with its teak decks and Jacquie suggested that they might want to solve the problem by tearing up the teak and laying artificial grass instead which might also provide grazing for their rocking zebra. Lou responded, “Just been to check out turf at Morrison’s. It’s £30 a roll. Blow that for a game of soldiers! He’ll just have to rock on teak like the rest of us. Did buy a pork pie to console him.”

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Zak the Rocking Zebra

Although I cannot confirm or deny the fact, I wouldn’t mind betting that Lord Nelson did not include a rocking zebra called Zak in the ships company of Victory at Trafalgar, but he was in a much more serious environment than us cruising sailors.

Now where is all this going you might ask? (And so do I!) Sailing is a serious business of course. The sea has a habit of going up down and sideways in large lumps and if the weather turns foul one has to deal with it. You cannot run away as tends to be my habit in an aircraft. Once out on the water there is also no place for complacency as things can go badly wrong so quickly, so a serious approach to sailing is essential. However, there is also a place for a bit of fun and un-seamanlike behaviour. Incidentally Jacquie and I bought a garden gnome in Morrison’s to add to the ambience of John’s garden furniture and false grass. I am not sure if the Royal Yacht Squadron would approve.

As to Jac’s and my progress on our Mediterranean saga, well you might have guessed it …. we are still in Gibraltar. Earlier on in May my uncle Dennis, who was 92, was taken ill and died a few days later. Jac and I returned home for his funeral and came back to Gibraltar on 1 June. This weekend my sister, Fred, is coming to visit us in Gib so we finally have a proposed departure date of 14 June. This will be a tad over 9 months since we arrived in Gib and almost exactly 12 months to the day that we left Suffolk Yacht Harbour. We are now 3 months behind where we expected to be but, “Hey Ho!” we are retired and don’t really have a plan anyway.

Now please excuse me as I have to go and mow my AstroTurf.