We went on a car trip to Andalusia between October 7 and 22. We did not book hotels in advance, thinking that the peak season was over. Actually it wasn’t over. Still, this did not present a difficult obstacle except that the Alhambra was booked so we did not go to Granada.
We broke up the long car trip to Andalusia (Seville, Cordoba, Ronda and other white hill towns) by stopping in Valencia and Lorca on the way, and Alicante on the way back. We were in Valencia for “Valencia Day” which commemorates King Jaime I’s triumphal entry into Valencia in 1238, when he liberated the city from Moorish rule. There were grand fireworks that night. We stayed in a hotel adjacent the new “City of the Arts and Sciences” and were blown away by the architecture and ambiance.
After two nights in Valencia we drove to Lorca and stayed in the only hotel in the old city. We toured the citadel and the site of the old Jewish community and synagogue.
After two nights in Lorca, we drove to the Andalusian white hill town of Ronda. Driving on the very narrow and steep streets of Ronda is not for the feint of heart. I had to back the car up an extremely narrow and steep street after a wrong turn. This was harder for me to do than maneuvering the boat in a tight marina in a blow. Once we dumped the car, we found Ronda a wonderful town to explore on foot.
We found a room in a small hotel that had just been converted from an old mansion. It was right on the cliff.
We had to leave Ronda after two days because the hotels were sold out. We found a rural hotel near the smaller white hill town of Zahara de la Sierra. From there we explored Zahara de la Sierra, Grazalema, and the nearby countryside.
After two nights in Zahara de la Sierra we drove to Seville and stayed three nights.
From Seville we had a short drive to Cordoba where we stayed in a small hotel in the old Jewish Quarter.
From Cordoba, we headed back towards Sabbatical III berthed in Sant Carles de le Rapita, stopping to see the Volvo Ocean Round-the-World Race boats and festivities in Alicante the day before the start of the race (formerly called the “Whitbread”). It was a beautiful day and people thronged the docks.
The next day we were back in Valencia to spend the afternoon with Jane and Chimo, who became our good friends when we shared a dock in Turkey for more than one year. They and their sail boat have since returned to their native Valencia.
We are now back in Sant Carles preparing Sabbatical III for months on the hardstand.
My twin sister Fran and her husband John visited us on Sabbatical III for six days beginning September 26. We did not go sailing but we visited the beautiful spots around Sant Carles de la Ràpita in our little SEAT Ibiza rental car. Plus, we had some amazing Catalan meals. We always returned to the boat for the night and had leisurely breakfasts aboard each morning.
We made the 135 nautical mile crossing from Port de Pollença (northeast tip of Mallorca) to our new marina on mainland Spain (Sant Carles de la Ràpita) a week ago (September 13/14).
The weather forecast looked great, with a predicted 14-16 knots from the southwest for most of the trip, and quite calm seas. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts did not take into account the huge wind shadow we had for the first five hours as we traversed the western side of the island, effectively blocking out all wind. It was a beautiful passage, though, and with the stunning mountains of Mallorca to gaze at, we did not mind motoring for a while. At 9:00 pm, four hours after we departed, I went down below to try to sleep, but was awakened an hour later to the sounds of the engine alarm ringing, and Mark calling out to me that I needed to come up on deck right away.
The engine had over-heated and had to be turned off and the wind had still not come up, so we were left bobbing around uncomfortably in the swell. It did not take Mark long to diagnosis the problem (most likely the engine impeller was damaged, disabling the cooling water pump), but the engine was extremely hot and he did not want to replace the impeller until the engine had cooled down a bit. We tried to set the sails so that we could make a little progress and also stop the uncomfortable motion of just bobbing in the swell, but there was almost no wind, and the best we could do was to turn the boat to the north and cruise along at about 1 knot. Luckily we were at least 20 miles from the nearest point of land on Mallorca and there were no other boats in the area at all, so we did not have to worry about running into anything.
By 1:00 a.m. Mark had the new impeller in place and the engine started and ran perfectly. Within an hour the wind came up STRONG, and we were able to sail for the next 10 hours with SW winds of a steady 22-24 knots and large seas. We sailed at over 8 knots, which is a great speed for us and helped make up for the 3 hours we had lost with the engine problem. Lots of noise, lots of wind, lots of waves banging against the hull, and a ton of water washing over the deck. There was also a lot of large boat traffic going in various directions as we were in a major shipping lane and the freighters and tankers were all out and about. It was not an easy night, but nothing out of the ordinary around here. By 11:00 a.m. the wind changed direction and died down quite a bit, so we mostly motored the last six hours to our marina.
We each got just a few hours of sleep during the trip, so we were exhausted upon arrival, but very happy to have arrived in Spain. The marina staff seem to be super friendly and helpful, and it is a delightful place. We may do a few short sails around here before the end of the season, but for the most part, the sailing part of our sailing season is done.
A few days ago, our Texan friends Barbara and Frank on Destiny arrived. We have been trying to meet for more than two months but the weather and other events did not cooperate until now. They joined us on a trip into the mountains to hike and go to a well known mountain restaurant in our rental car.
Mallorca, Spain: August 17, 2017 – September 13, 2017
Mallorca turned out to be even more beautiful than we expected. We spent four weeks on the island, sailing around at least ¾ of it, and finding it increasingly beautiful as we headed across its southern coast and up and around the long northwestern coastline.
We had been warned by other cruisers that the Ballearic Islands were incredibly crowded in August, but we did not find this to be a problem. We were always able to find a good place to anchor, and nearly all of the other boats were good about keeping a safe distance away (although many boats have clearly never learned how to set an anchor properly). Places like Es Trench, which is just one long lovely beach, were packed with suntanning tourists, but the anchorage had room for hundreds of boats. It was a bit crowded during the day, mostly with small motor-boats, but by early evening 90% of the boats picked up anchor and returned to whatever marina they were based in. In the evening we walked on the beach and enjoyed our people-watching. The great thing was that none of our anchorages were noisy at night. We had found that many of the beaches and tourist areas in Sardinia became loud, disco pumping scenes after 10:00 p.m., but there are apparently rules about noise in Mallorca, and none of our anchorages were loud, and if there was music, it was pleasant and it stopped by 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. What a surprise!
Port de Andratx was a very charming little town on the south coast, and really marked the beginning of the most beautiful parts of Mallorca. The cliffs became very steep in that part of the island, and the hills were suddenly covered in beautiful pine trees. The landscape soon became mountainous, and the views up and down the coastline were just magnificent… mountains, pine trees and beautiful, deep blue water.
The highlight of our time in Mallorca came with the visit of my sister Diane and her husband Jonathan. They had been on our boat a few times in the past, but had never spent any time actually cruising with us. They arrived in Port de Andratx on Sunday, September 3rd, and stayed with us on Sabbatical III through the 7th. It was a short stay, but it was an absolutely magical experience for us all. It was just luck that while they were with us we managed to be in the most beautiful part of the island. It was sunny when we wanted it to be, and partly cloudy when we needed a respite from the sun.
The weather conditions were great for spending one night in the most famous cove of Mallorca — Cala de Sa Calobra, a truly breathtaking place. My sister loves swimming and she spent a few hours every day in the water which ranged from light blue to deep aquamarine, and was crystal clear, warm and calm. My brother-in-law exclaimed that it was the most perfect blue water he had ever seen and joked that he was afraid that his skin might turn blue from the intensity of the blue water.
My sister’s trip also overlapped with the full moon which is always a treat, and we had a wonderful experience watching the moon rise over the steep cliffs of Cala de Sa Calobra, lighting up the surrounding cliffs as if it were daylight, and casting shimmering, fairy dust looking sparkles on the water at the base of the two cliffs that meet at the mouth of the bay. In the hours before sunset, we took the dinghy to shore and walked along a path cut into the rock that leads along the bay, then through a tunnel, and into a stunning canyon (Torrent de Pareis).
The weather turned very nasty the day of their departure, but cleared long enough for us to have one last walk through Port de Soller. The clouds returned early in the afternoon, just as it was time for our guests to leave for the airport, and Mark and I quickly dinghied them over to the dock and returned to our boat just as the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour. Unfortunately taxis don’t operate too well on the island when there is heavy rain, and Diane and Jonathan had a lot of trouble getting a taxi to take them to the airport, even though we had called in advance to arrange one and there is a taxi stand right in the center of town. They did manage to make their plane, and we survived a very rolly night on the boat, glad that our guests did not have to experience what a bad night on the boat is like.
Our sailing friends from Minnesota, Dan and Chris Rice, were also in Mallorca, (doing some work on their boat in Palma), and they happened to be staying at a hotel near Port de Soller for a few days just after my sister left. We met them for dinner in town, and the next day Dan took pictures of Sabbatical III from his hotel, up high on a cliff, as we departed the bay.
We spent the following night at yet another incredibly picturesque bay, Cala Tuent. It was just us and one other boat. Our neighbor, in an elegant 80 foot yacht, decided to turn on a strobe light at the top of his mast which was a psychosis inducing experience on our end…. endless disorienting flashes in the otherwise dark and beautiful, star lit night.
From there we proceeded up the coast to our final destination in Mallorca, up and around the stark and beautiful Cap de Formentor to the calm, protected, and very shallow anchorage in Port de Pollenca. We arrived and anchored just minutes before a big storm blew through with 25-30 knot winds. The anchorage is extremely shallow… only 2 to 4 meters under the keel, but it is very well protected and has excellent holding.
B: Platja Es Trench
C: Porto de Andratx
D: Porto de Soller
E: Cala Sa Calobra and Cala Tuent
F: Porto de Pollenca
Port de Pollenca was a nice town and we enjoyed a few days relaxing there. One day we took the bus to the even more lovely, and architecturally more interesting town of Pollenca. The weather continued to be hit and miss with one day of good weather and the next, cold and miserable. Fall is definitely in the air.
In the meantime, we have been trying to meet up with our friends Frank and Barbara from S/V Destiny for 7 weeks now! We just can’t seem to manage to be in the same place at the same time. Just when the weather looks good for us to meet up, one or the other of us has to move on usually because of some local weather event (or mechanical problem). It is the kind of thing that happens with sailing, as everyone’s plans are entirely weather dependent, and if you start out in different bays, even on the same island, it is very hard to meet up. They are leaving their boat at the same marina in Spain as we are (Sant Carles de la Rapita), so at least we are pretty assured that we will see them there.
We were planning to rent a car and finally go meet Barb and Frank at a restaurant about an hour’s drive away, but those plans didn’t work out either. Mark and I were sitting at lunch on shore, on Wednesday (Sept. 13th) and decided to take one more look at the weather. The weather forecast looked terrific for making a crossing to mainland Spain for the next 24 hours, and after that we couldn’t see any good weather for crossing for at least seven days. The weather forecasts tend to change a lot here, day by day, but we were starting to get a little nervous as we have guests coming to the boat at Sant Carles de la Rapita on September 26th. We had waited three weeks for decent weather when we crossed from Ponza, Italy to Sardinia, and we could not afford to wait that long this time. We needed to plan on 20-24 hours for the crossing to Spain, and we decided to take advantage of this weather window. We called our friends to cancel our date and then rushed back to the boat, with a freshly roasted chicken and some fruits and veggies in our backpacks, and prepared to leave immediately for Spain. By 5:00 p.m. the anchor was up and we were headed out…..
More on that soon…. the weather forecast was not as accurate as we had hoped…..
We could not wait for a forecast of good winds to cross the Tyrrhenian Sea any longer, so we left from Ponza Island on August 6 with a forecast of light winds and seas. Except for 90 minutes of sailing, we motored the whole 34 hours across to the west side of Capo Carbonara, Sardinia. We rested there overnight and then caught a nice breeze for sailing into the Marina del Sole in Cagliari. We stayed at Marina del Sole twice last year when we came to Cagliari to arrange our residency permits. It is a bit rundown but very friendly and way cheaper than the alternatives. In fact, we have become quite fond of the place.
We needed to come to Cagliari to do our clearance out of Italy. This process involves a trip to the Costa Guardia, where a very friendly young officer helped us with our paperwork. Followed by a trip to the cruise ship pier where the Polizia Frontiera is located. We loaded up on provisions that were delivered to the boat by the Issa Supermarket, bought diesel motor oil, filled up our diesel tank, and purchased five new fenders with blue fender covers made with Italian cloth. These are not cheap. These replace our 13 year old fenders that were oozing rubbery goo on the topsides. We also ate lots of sushi and Asian food. As we discovered last year, there are more Asian buffet restaurants than all other types of restaurants combined in the marina area.
We spent only three days in Cagliari. An enormous cold front was forecast to push south from the continent bringing strong winds from the north. We wanted to sail, not motor, so we left Cagliari on August 11 heading for Bizerte, Tunisia. It was a great sail in building northerlies for the first few hours, but when we got south of the tip of Sardinia we hit an area of large and confused seas that rolled the boat more strongly than we have experienced before. That lasted a few hours until we had just regular large following seas and strong winds. We needed to jibe a number of times during the night. It was hard to sleep at night while off watch and while on watch there was lots of freighter/tanker traffic to watch for as we had to cross the sea lanes that lead to the eastern Med and the Suez Canal. We came into the new marina at Bizerte in the morning of August 12 in strong winds and were directed to tie side-to to a concrete dock. It was a bit hair-raising “parallel parking” Sabbatical III between two other boats in winds over 20 knots. Even worse, our brand new fenders with the Italian cloth covers were getting ground into a rough concrete wall once we were tied up. I quickly rearranged things so that the 4 old fenders that we kept “just in case” took the weight of the boat, and were smashed flat, so as to spare the new ones.
Tunisian Customs came aboard and did a thorough inspection, opening every cabinet in the boat. They were pleasant and professional. No baksheesh was requested or offered. The marina is part of a very large tourist development financed with Gulf money. Construction came to a halt with the start of the Arab Spring, and only the marina was mostly finished. The luxury hotel is just a shell of concrete and rebar. The Bizerte Marina, with only concrete docks, has room for 800 boats but there were only 30 or forty boats (mostly local) when we were there. It was a pleasant place. We had a watchman assigned to the 10 boats on our dock who came by 20 times a day to let us know that he was watching.
There is a very nice souk a few blocks away, and the best restaurant in town is at the edge of the marina. We only stayed three days. The primary purpose of our visit was to get the boat out of the EU before she was subject to a 20 percent value-added tax. We would have stayed a few days more but, starting on August 15, three days of winds from the east were forecast. This is exactly what we needed to sail to Mallorca, Spain. So off we went.
It was a very fine two and one-half day sail to Mallorca. We sailed more than 60 percent of the time (the wind died out the last day), and the seas were surprisingly comfortable. We came into Porto Colom on the southeast coast of this large island. With the help of Ben and Irene, we had reserved a mooring ball (no anchoring permitted). That was necessary since this is August, peak season in the Balearic Islands, and there are tourists and boats everywhere. Without a reservation, we would have been turned away. From the mooring in Porto Colom, it was a one minute dinghy ride to the main street where there was an upscale gastronomia/grocery store. The small town also had a number of restaurants, a self-service laundry, a bigger supermarket, a fruit and vegetable store, and a bus to Palma, the capital. After resting for as day, we went to Palma in a taxi that we shared with an Italian couple going to the ferry terminal. As it was, the Frontier Police are also at the ferry dock. The policeman was quite annoyed that we showed up on a Saturday morning but he quickly filled out a form, stamped it a few times, and Sabbatical III and us were now legally in Spain. Our 18 month clock for the value-added tax now went back to time zero. It was mid-morning and we were finished with our check-in so we wandered over to the Palma de Mallorca Yacht Club where an international classic yacht regatta was on hold for a few hours waiting for the winds to diminish. The classic wooden yachts were beautiful and each had lots of crew. We wandered around the old city (town population is 400,000) and found it charming. After a late tapas lunch, we took the bus back to Porto Colom. We stayed five nights in Porto Colom and thoroughly enjoyed the place.
We are now anchored off of Plaja Es Trench, perhaps the most famous beach on Mallorca. Lots a boats here but most run off to marinas at dusk. The weather has been hot and sunny during the day but quite cool in the evening. More on Mallorca later.