The Spanish Costas to the Balearics

Guess who?

Arrival at a strange harbour late in the evening with strong winds at the end of a long sail is always a challenge, never more so when there are buoys of assorted colours everywhere, with a set of red and green just off the harbour entrance appearing to lead up the beach!  The staff at Almerimar were exceptionally helpful though, and the entrance, coming alongside the reception berth, and finally bows onto the pontoon, were all achieved without further drama!

In contrast to Elaine’s memories of calling in briefly in 1997 on Overlord, Almerimar is now a large marina development, some of which is also unfortunately victim of the credit crunch.  Several hundred flats, apartments and shops have been completed, but sadly many are standing empty, giving the place a ghostly and ruinous air at times.

The region of Almeria provides a substantial quantity of Europe’s fruit and vegetables, which is grown under acres of ugly plastic greenhouses.  As we approached the coast from Morocco, we could see the Sierra Nevada in the distance, still with naturally snow capped peaks gleaming in the sunshine.  But we were deceived by what looked at first glance like snow or lakes at much lower altitude.  It is only as we drew closer, we realised what it was – plastic!  Apart from ruining the landscape for miles, in strong winds from the mountains, huge swathes of plastic are ripped from their frameworks, and blown out to sea.

Low-lying snow - or perhaps just plastic?

We were able to make arrangements to have Pipistrelle lifted out in August, and after a couple of nights continued on our way, to rendezvous with Mystic Blue further up the coast at Roquetas del Mar.  Our clothing and awareness of the dangers from the sun have changed since sailing into the Mediterranean.  Hats and sunglasses are de rigueur, together with adequate barrier creams (while Bob gets away with Factor 12 max, Elaine applies Factor 20 and 30 to face).  The bimini (cockpit awning) is now predominantly set, even when sailing, as from 1100 until about 1700 the sun is particularly strong, and it is a relief to retreat into the shade.

Our eating habits have changed along with the temperature!  We try to use the oven as little as possible, especially not in the evening when the heat doesn’t seem to escape from the galley.  So we enjoy largely cold meats, cheeses and salads, along with Elaine’s special culinary creations, plus the occasional BBQ when winds permit.  The amount of fish that we eat on board has unfortunately declined since leaving the Algarve, something we must address.  The rod is set up, but Mediterranean fish do not appear plentiful beneath the boat at anchor, or indeed trailing a line – perhaps it’s the bait!

Surveying the scene .... no fish - not even a dolphin in sight!

We have been asked whether the life we lead is as perfect as the blogs make out!  Obviously there are occasions when life is not a bowl of cherries and we have seen some fairly gruesome sights.  The poverty and dirt in parts of Morocco were not pleasant.  There are also some fairly unpleasant maintenance jobs to do on board, most of them involving the heads in one way or another!  But the good times far outweigh the not so good, and we thoroughly enjoy the ever changing scenery, visiting such a variety of different places, meeting different people (whether fellow sailors or locals), buying local produce, and planning ahead – for a day, a week or a month or two.

Whilst the southern Spanish coast is heavily developed, there are loads of attractive anchorages, and so as we made our way to Cartagena, we avoided marinas and spent each night at anchor in relative peace and quiet.  But Cartagena was a shock to the system.  We followed Mystic Blue in (they are so helpful at taking our warps, it is like an advance landing party – thank you), and moored on a long pontoon with the marina on our starboard side.  We just managed to make the marina office before closing, and returned to our mooring.  This was alongside the old dock wall, and the area between it and the main road has been turned into a pleasant area of restaurants and bars.  We had not realised that not only is there no security, but passers by simply walk onto your boat without asking, to have their picture taken by their mates!  Needless to say they got short shrift, but the following day, despite the guard rail entrance on Pipistrelle having been closed, an older gentlemen just let himself on board while we were down below!  What his plan was he did not have the chance to explain!  Cartagena is the worst value for money we have had in a marina so far. It is a definite rip off = high charges + no facilities (clubhouse, shower block) worth mentioning.

We escaped after one night, as we plan to visit the city on our way back, so we didn’t take in the historical sights, just that of a supermarket for provisioning (thank goodness for our little shopping trolley) and an internet cafe to post the last blog.

In very light winds we set sail for Mar Menor, but within an hour of leaving, and only half a mile from very high rocky cliffs, something wrapped itself around the propeller, bringing our progress to a halt.  This necessitated a rapid launch of the dinghy from the davits to get to the bathing platform, donning snorkelling gear, and a dive to ascertain the problem, which turned out to be a large sheet of plastic, probably from the greenhouses mentioned earlier.  Happily it was fairly easy to cut and unwrap, and we were soon on our way again.

Our next obstacle to avoid was sea going tugs towing complete fish farms, before eventually rounding Cabo de Palos and anchoring for the evening in the shelter of the headland.

Mar Menor is an inland sea some 12 miles long by 6 miles wide.  The main entrance involves a lifting bridge, and there are several holiday locations surrounding it (including La Manga), together with 7 marinas.

Opens in the summer every 2 hours from 10.00 till 22.00

We set the genoa to sail to one of the islands (Isla Mayor), and spent two days relaxing there, swimming in pleasantly warm water that is reputed to be about 5 degrees warmer than the open sea, and watching spectacular sunsets.  Wanting to return to Cartegena but not to the marina, we decided to look at other alternatives which involved anchoring off a little resort on the south of Mar Menor called Los Nietos, going ashore and checking out the local train – a 30 minute journey for 2 euros return!

Post sunset colours...

Altea was our next port of call, a pleasant anchorage with a good marina and laundry facilities.  Normally this would be too banal to mention but in the absence of on board washing machine, getting the laundry done does become important after being at anchor for days.  The foredeck is turned into a maze of lines and thankfully in this climate, the washing dries and airs very quickly.

Altea was our final stop before leaving for the Balearics and Formentera, which is a low lying island to the south of Ibiza.  There is one port Puerto de Sabina, with two marinas next to each other. The constant stream of ferries and motor yachts arriving and leaving the island at speed obviously create a huge wash which makes anchoring off the beautiful beaches in the vicinity uncomfortable.  Once we had decided where it would be quietest for the first night, we found everything laid back and pleasant.  We chose Ensenada del Cabrito to the west of the port where mooring buoys are provided, with the first two nights at no charge.

To the south there is a delightful anchorage, Cala Saona, with fascinating geology, and large caves around the headland that we explored by dinghy.  From here we were able to swim, snorkel along the cliffs, and also had an excellent dinner in a restaurant overlooking the bay.  This outing was almost marred as we took the dinghy ashore at about 19.30, and a sixth sense caused Bob to look behind us, to discover the tranquil water was about to change with large swell appearing from nowhere, racing towards us and the beach as surf, like a mini tsunami!  We had just enough time to spin the dinghy round and race out over the breakers, and then wait at least 5 minutes for the majority of the swell to abate.  According to a Spanish couple who we followed in, this strange but natural phenomenon takes place at the same time every night.

Boatsheds tucked under cliffs

One of the caves

The classic yacht 'Invader' at anchor in Cala Saona


Alan Painter and Margaret Miller were meeting us in Palma, Majorca, so we headed north stopping briefly on the west coast of Ibiza at Cala Tarida and then at Puerto de San Miguel, before having a cracking sail across to Santa Ponsa, west of Palma.  Palma is a mecca for super yachts, plus large and expensive motor yachts.  Watching paid crew go about their duties, waiting on owner and guests, is an education, and good spectator sport.  Very few of the motor yachts anchor overnight, the owners seem to need the comfort of a calm marina hooked up to 3 phase shore power!  So even if an anchorage appears full, we now know from experience that with patience space will be created by 1900 when most have gone home!

We moored at Pier 46 in Palma, which has no facilities apart from water, electricity and wifi, but it’s very close to the cathedral, and about as protected from surge as it is possible to be. 

Alan and Margaret arrived in the afternoon of 14th July, and were able to escape from the heat and humidity into a cool Pipistrelle, thanks to the air con that we had running.  After a big (provisioning) shop at El Corte Ingles, we all went out for an excellent dinner in the old city.

The cathedral was the highlight of our visit the following morning, an imposing building built on rock to the east of the city, with a vast cavernous nave, stained glass windows on three levels, and the rose windows at each end of the nave designed to throw beautiful yellow, blue, green and red hues onto the pillars and floor inside.

Palma cathedral with superyachts in foreground

Dappled reflected light

In the early afternoon we headed east to Ensenada de la Rapita, and then on to Ibiza again the next day.

Did Alan & Margaret paddle across in Ribbit the dinghy?

Deciding on a suitable anchorage that would provide us with protection from wind and swell took us to Cala de San Vicente on the north east coast, open only to the south.  This small sandy bay has a backdrop of high wooded hills and is pleasantly unspoilt with some apartments and a couple of small hotels.  The following day began with a champagne breakfast in the cockpit.  We swam and snorkelled, enjoying the pleasant air and water temperatures and dinghied ashore in the evening for a celebratory dinner of lobster paella – superb!  The celebration?  Our wedding anniversary!  What a far cry from last year.  We also had a champagne breakfast but conditions were somewhat different – Loch Harport (Talisker) on the Isle of Skye was cold and damp so we were below with the heating on!  Back to this year ….. we returned to Pipistrelle as the forecast 35 knot northerly winds started to blow.  Our super anchor was well dug in, but we held anchor watch until the small hours, as one yacht continued to drag around the anchorage.

Casual anniversary togs - Pipistrelle in background

Paella con bogavantes (lobster)


The swell rebounding off the rocks in the morning soon had us heading south to another anchorage – Cala de Port Roig – where we were interested to see that two villas had collapsed down the hillside at crazy angles, victims of inadequate foundations.

A house built on sand??

Ibiza was a pleasant surprise to us.  It’s very green, with fascinating geology, any number of quiet sandy anchorages, and apart from the disco music in St Antonio that we thought we could hear 4 miles away, and one particularly tacky resort we came across, an island we would recommend and would like to revisit.

Ibiza - barber's pole lighthouse against green wooded backdrop

Formentera, once we had escaped from the main harbour, was off the beaten track, and worth visiting again along with Majorca, which on this occasion we had insufficient time to explore.  Next time we will plan a visit to the Isla de Cabrera, a nature reserve for which a permit is required that can take 2 to 3 weeks to be granted because of its popularity during the summer.

As we publish this instalment of the blog, we are in Almerimar again where Pipistrelle is due to come out of the water tomorrow Tuesday for a month while we return to the cooler temperatures of the UK.   We won’t forget to post an update about our return trip from the Balearics to the Spanish mainland to complete this chapter.

The tranquility of water....

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