Feb 2002 – The Costas & Balearics

We stayed in Gib until Monday, Feb 4 as Kevin & Richard (who drove over from Portugal again) wanted to watch the 6 Nations rugby on Saturday and Sunday the Clipper does an excellent Steak and Ale pie. On Monday we skipped the Costa Del Sol – that visit by bus in January made this decision easy for us…. from Estapona (about 20 miles east of Gib) to beyond Malaga the sea front is solid high-rise hotels. Over 100 miles of coastline in total to be avoided!  Late afternoon after doing battle with the forward head outlet pipe (loo 2 humans nil) – Kevin and Richard both bore scarred knuckles, we discovered the pump too needed replacing so it was quite late when we left Gib. First stop the diesel pontoon at 28p per litre we couldn’t afford to miss it – plus they sold ice creams!!

It was a splendid night passage – not too much wind and only half of it spent motoring. The dolphins were plentiful – eventually we even got bored with watching them. At dawn 30 or more were seen swimming in small groups to seaward of us – heading west…why do they know something we don’t?  We moored stern-to in Puerto Motril at the Yacht Club and it was shorts and t-shirt weather all day. Having walked 2 miles into Motril itself past fields of sugar cane, Kevin & Susie managed to acquire bus timetables for both the trip to and from the harbour and for Granada. The weather was to have other ideas the following day despite the forecast it was just too windy to leave the boat safely in the morning, so Granada will have to wait. We attempted to clean the decks but a fine grey dust was blowing in the wind covering everything and undoing our efforts within minutes.  On Thursday we headed east for Almerimar. First impressions of this, yet another purpose-built marina were good. It was warm and sunny and this was probably the largest marina we have ever visited with over 1000 berths and very full at 47 feet Temptress was by far the smallest boat on our quay! But like many such marinas in this part of the world it was miles from anywhere boats, hotels, restaurants and bars but not a lot else the next morning dawned fair – time to go!

We planned to sail to Garrucha, east across Baia Almeria, round Cabo Gato and north (yes north) for about 40 miles. The wind, once we cleared the harbour wall was most definitely from the east and much stronger than forecast-  quick decision, a new passage plan and Almeria (al-mah-ria) some 17 miles into the bay was made. Good choice nice town and it was carnival time. The Alcazar (Moorish Castle) high on the hill was huge, beautiful in the sunshine and occupied us for most of the following day (Saturday). In the evening we joined the locals in the carnival procession- a mass of people, floats, music, pink hairdressers, dutch “ladies”, a PVC clad ???band, a fire eater, pirates on stilts and more complete mayhem in the main streets for a couple of hours, the traffic in the centre was stopped not diverted, simply stopped by the Guardia Civil (local police)! Great fun. Many of the kids were in fancy dress and some parents. A great night was had by all the streets looked like it had snowed confetti!

Tapas is the way to eat in this town so that is what we did; here a drink (with tapas included in the price) and then on to the next bar until you can’t eat or drink any more. The following day we recovered by setting off for Garrucha once more. As we rounded Cabo Gato the scenery attracted us – very barren scrubby foothills and secluded bays. So once more it wasn’t to be Garrucha  we picked a bay and dropped the hook. Will even went swimming. Where else in Spain can you find a beach with no hotels in sight? Clear blue water we could see the anchor on the bottom. On Monday morning we headed north once more, passing Garrucha.

It was an interesting arrival in Hannibal’s home town (yes him of the elephants), Cartegena.  There we were in shorts and bikini tops (or at least Susie was) most of the day and motoring ‘cos there was no wind. However as we approached the rather Plymouth-like (but much narrower) entrance of Cartegena (about 60 miles SE of Alicante) a huge fog bank rolled in from the East (we had been travelling parallel to it most of the day)…net result:- approaching a strange harbour with a 300 yard gap between the mountains as an entrance, with 10 metres visibility and the sun setting… first fog we’ve had since last Spring!  At least no ships decided to leave as we were coming in, although we were closely followed by a deep sea tug. Good job the radar worked!

Once tied up it cleared a bit but was rather like London on a foggy autumn evening – damp and gloomy but what we could see of the city from our berth looked good and people in the Yacht Club were very pleasant when we went to clear in (had a couple of glasses of wine whilst we were there!). It is odd being in a mountainous place though – the tops are above the fog and the floodlight buildings up there look for all the world like UFO’s suspended in the sky!

It took a few days for the weather to improve – gales were forecast and it looked like we might not make it to Alicante to meet Paul and Eileen at the weekend. However Jan 14 dawned reasonably clear and calm and the forecast had improved so we motored out of Cartegena and headed north. Once round Cabo Palos (we went inside the Islas Hornigas) the wind picked up to F4 ESE so we were able to sail. Our course was virtually due north (010 degrees) and we sailed until the wind died at sunset (as it often does in these parts) passing inside yet another island Isla Tarbaca in the dark. Pilotage was fun as the Spanish aren’t hot on bouyage, just two lights to guide us. Alicante proved to be a glum reception; despite many obviously empty spaces the office said we had to stay on the reception pontoon. Fine in that it was close to the loos and laundrette but the next day we rapidly began to feel like animals in a zoo as tourists and locals alike stopped to stare down at us. Kevin spent the day oiling the decks in the sun. Paul and Eileen arrived from Heathrow late on Jan 16 and the following day (Sunday) we headed out of the most expensive marina we have stayed in so far. The one highlight was the huge “mercardo”- the market was full of wonderful fresh veggies, meat, fish and cheeses. Kevin and Susie returned to the boat absolutely laden with produce. Even Paul tried the artichokes at supper.

From Alicante the plan was to head north to Calpe with its huge rock just behind the marina but the wind on Sunday was blowing hard from the direction we needed to head so once out of the marina we rapidly changed our plans and decided to head south back inside Isla Tarbaca and the mainland again (the channel is mostly only 4-8m deep). Round the headland it was blowy so Torreveja was rejected in favour of the closer Santa Pola. The yacht club were cautiously welcome they were happy for us to stay a night or two but no longer as a major offshore race (“200 a 2” -a two handed 200 miles to/round Ibiza and back) would be leaving from there in early March and they were filling up rapidly as the race boats arrived. They needn’t have worried an evening walk through the town showed us that Santa Pola is a collection of Franco-era concrete tower blocks and a beach. We left the next morning heading north past Alicante to Altea an altogether nicer place with a lovely old fishing village climbing up the hill to the blue roofed church in the square at the top. Tuesday was market day so or exploring took longer than expected; the seafront is a narrow promenade and the stalls were on both sides and thronging with tourists and locals. Eventually we reached the square and had coffee in the sun before wandering down the steep narrow streets to a bakers for empanadas (like flat, tasty pasties filled with tuna and tomato) for lunch. Afterwards we set sail for Calpe just 6 miles away across the bay. The wind was blowing directly from Calpe so we tacked back and forth across the bay timing each tack to avoid one of the many fishing boats trawling. The rock dominates the port. It is not quite a mountain and is connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land covered in holiday apartment blocks. The whole town is a building site but never the less has quite a lot of character. Between the port and the town of Calpe the land has not been developed as to the north there is a Salina (saltbed) complete with flamingos and to the south some archaeological remains including a roman fish farm. Will decided not to climb the rock, the rest of set off believing it would be a pleasant afternoon stroll  – well the first couple of miles were. The road was steep and then from the visitor centre became a windy path zig-zagging across the hillside through the pine trees giving wonderful views of the sea on either side. We met a couple with a young daughter, they were carrying a climbing rope and we soon found out why. Beyond the tunnel the “path” became a rocky scramble with a rope banister rail attached to the cliff for support. No wonder the path is closed on rainy days – the white rock has a shiny surface. We climbed higher and higher backwards and forwards across the “less steep” northern face (the southern face is a huge overhanging cliff). The seagulls were everywhere and the path became less and less walking and more and more scrambling. Eventually we reached the top – magnificent views up and down the coast and far inland. They say you can see Ibiza on clear days but it was too hazy for that.

The weather deteriorated with gale force winds predicted for the next few days the marinaria (the yacht club bosun) came to advise us to pick up the second mooring line and to move slightly further away from the motor boat on our port side (we were on the seaward end of the pontoon). The five of us rapidly decided a trip by car to the ports of Javia and Denia were more advisable than sailing there so for the remaining few days of Paul and Eileen’s holiday we explored Murcia and Valentia (the Costa Blanca) by car. Inland both provinces are mostly mountainous and barren. The almonds were in blossom giving everything a pinky hue and out of the wind the sun was warm. There is little water in these parts and the rivers are mainly dry but Paul navigated us to a waterfall – The Fuentes del Algar – and then to Gaudalest where we looked down on a virtually empty reservoir. Denia proved to have a wonderful restaurant; about five courses of mariscos (food from the sea). On the Saturday we travelled down the motorway to Orihuela a rather grubby town off the tourist routes. It is in the process of renovating itself and has a very large number of historic buildings for a town of its size; we wandered around the old University (now a school) and the cathedral before heading out of town to find lunch. In a nearby village we found another great eatery and once more stuffed our faces.

Eventually the weather forecasts began to improve and having spent Sunday driving up mountain passes on roads only suitable for goats we returned the car, got in some provisions and headed off for Ibiza, 60 nautical miles away to the East. An uneventful sail found us entering San Antonio after dark where we were hailed by another boat (a junk in both senses of the word) asking us if it was ok to anchor here. In the morning the elderly Finnish couple came over in their dinghy, they had no detailed charts of the area or of places further south. Kevin lent them a pilot guide for the Southern Spanish coast so they could make some notes. We wondered how they got this far?

We didn’t go ashore despite this being according to the Rough Guide the party town and set off for another anchorage just down the coast. The large, old sailing boat, anchored ahead of us the night before, had beaten us to it and the Spanish school kids on board gleefully shouted at us as we circled them. There simply wasn’t room for us as well so we headed off round the coast to find another anchorage – Puerto San Miguel proved to be empty and so clear we could see the anchor on the bottom even though it was over 6m deep. The next day we continued our clockwise circumnavigation of Ibiza by heading round the northern end and then south down to Ibiza town. Initially we sailed with the wind behind us, round the top the wind was all over the place and as we headed south at first we had to beat and then it was dead ahead and F4 so rather than tack we rolled away the jib, put in number 2 reef and motored the rest of the trip. Despite being a major holiday resort the town seems to have retained its character, the hotels are on the other side of the harbour. Why is it that the Spanish put their marinas as far away from the town as possible, mostly the fishing boats and commercial docks are in the town proper leaving us a long long walk to town? In most UK and French ports the commercial docks are away from the town and the quays are devoted to yachts. In Ibiza Town the marina is a mile or so around from the town on the other side of the bay. Taxis though are quite cheap,  about £2 for trip back to the marina.

We climbed the hill to Dalta Villa the old walled city is now a World Heritage Site but that didn’t stop every other building being a bar or night club. The Cathedral and museum close at 13:00 each day, it being just after we walked round the outside, the castle is closed for renovations. On both our forays into town we spotted some of the oddest people we had seen on our travels – Ibiza Town is obviously the last resort for ancient, rich hippies. For example whilst sipping coffee in the main square, two tall, long-haired sisters walked past. Dressed in jeans and skimpy tops they appeared twenty-something but both looked very wrinkly, either they had partied too hard or were well over 60!

Having explored the town in the morning we decided to continue our circumnavigation after lunch. The forecast looked good for a fast trip round the bottom of the Island through the Freu Grande but unfortunately once at sea, the wind was not as strong as expected nor from the direction predicted. The result was a beat up the western side in a F3 until the wind died away as it often does in the early evening and we had to resort to the iron sail once more. As supper was cooking we passed through the spectacular gap between Ibiza and Vedra. Vedra is a 382m high rock pinnacle rising straight out of the sea about half a mile off the coast and the Ibiza cliffs are almost as high. The channel between is 20-30m deep at its shallowest point. With darkness descending a decision was made not to try the passage inside of the next set of islands so we left their lighthouses to starboard as we approached San Antonio Abad once more. We arrived after dark and anchored almost exactly on the same spot as previously according to the GPS.