We have been in the Marina Rubicon for 8 days now and we are quite content here. We rented a car for three days and did a small tour in the southern half of the island, plus, of course, a trip to the supermarket in the main city of Arrecife.
The island is completely volcanic and quite barren. There were repeated volcanic eruptions from 1730 to 1736 that covered more than one-quarter of the island in lava. The lava flows are still quite obvious. There is very little vegetation, mostly black volcanic cinder, ash, and rock. Beautiful in its own way.
There is little rainfall and no natural vegetation to retain any rain that falls. So it is a bit of a surprise that wine production is the dominant agricultural pursuit and has been for a few hundred years. Here they grow the Malvasia grape in a unique way, and produce a wine that was praised by Shakespeare hundreds of years ago. Grapevines are placed in a hole scooped out of the volcanic ash. One vine per hole. The vines are covered with volcanic gravel (picón). The hole is surrounded by a semi-circle of volcanic rocks to keep it from drying out. At night, the picón absorbs the moist ocean air that blows off of the Atlantic, slowly releasing moisture and keeping the roots of plants cool. We can attest to the moisture in the air because every morning Sabbatical III is wet with dew.
About 15 years ago, in November 2003, Mark left the Canaries heading west aboard Sabbatical III. On August 16th, he arrived in the Canaries from the east, closing the circle of a sailing circumnavigation. Very cool. My (Laura) completion of a sailing circumnavigation will have to wait until late December, when we arrive in Martinique after crossing the Atlantic from the Canary Islands.
We left Marina Alcaidesa on the Mediterranean side of the Gibraltar at first light of August 12. This was the best time to leave in order to have the least adverse current through the Straits. The trip west through the Straits is literally uphill. The Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar is as much as 10 feet higher than the Mediterranean side. Consequently, the current almost always runs from west to east. We left when there was an especially high tidal variation due to the phase of the moon. That means the high tide in the Atlantic is higher than on most days, but also that the low tide is lower than on most days. Mark used detailed current predictions generated by David Gal of Israel and available from openskiron.org to time our departure and course. They were very accurate.
Our passage through the Straits also benefited from strong easterlies. There was a lot of ship traffic as expected, but with AIS it was not a problem even with patchy fog. You certainly have to stay on guard throughout, especially when crossing to the Moroccan side of the Straits. By about noon we were officially in the Atlantic and were sailing smoothly with speeds up to 9 knots.
The next morning we encountered a serious westerly swell and confused seas that was quite uncomfortable. I got very sea-sick (and threw up for the first time I can remember on the boat). It was not a good day for me as my sea-sickness was pretty debilitating. The hours dragged on, and my only respite was when I could sleep (which was quite often). Mark took extra long watches that allowed me to rest.
By the morning of the third day things were much better as northerly winds and seas came up. We put our big genoa on a pole and set the mizzen with a preventer and stayed with that sail configuration the rest of the passage. The wind increased to 25 knots but it was comfortable and we made such good speed that we had to slow down by triple reefing our sails on the fourth day so as not to arrive in the dark. Even with a triple reefed genoa and mizzen it was hard to go slower than about 5.5 to 6 knots.
There was no moon so we were very glad that we had timed our arrival for first light so that we could navigate through the channel with good visibility before dropping anchor in Francesa Bay in Graciosa Island. Graciosa Island lies at the northern end of Lanzarote Island and its waters are a marine preserve. Only one or two other sailboats were at anchor for the three nights that we were there. We were surprised by how barren these volcanic islands are, and how cool the temperatures are. On the fourth day in the Canaries we proceeded to the southern end of Lanzarote Island and anchored for the night at Playa Papagayo. The wind shifted 180 degrees a few times in the evening and our anchor chain wrapped around some volcanic rocks. A British sailor in a nearby boat spent 45 minutes in the water with a snorkel mask giving us directions to unwind our chain from the rocks.
The next morning (yesterday) we entered the nearby Marina Rubicon where we will be based for the next few months. This looks like a lovely place to spend time. I am particularly happy with the swimming pool. More on Lanzarote later.
Just the day after we returned to Almerimar from the mountains, we saw that there was a very good forecast for strong south-easterlies for the next two days (following about 10 days of either westerlies or no wind). Since we only needed one day of wind for our 140 nm trip to Gibraltar, we thought this sounded great. The forecast sounded like it might be a little too strong, actually, with winds of 25 knots, and gusts up to the mid-30’s and a meter and a half of seas. We decided that it was better to have a slightly raucous sail than to motor, so we quickly got things ready for departure.
We pulled out of the marina at 13:00 on Wednesday, August 1st and for the first 45 minutes we had gorgeous wind and smooth seas. Then, in an instant, the seas got very confused and the wind stopped. After about an hour it started building again, and we thought we were going to be able to sail, but it never really came back with any force, and it certainly wasn’t from the S.E as predicted. It was mostly on the nose, but very light. So we ended up motoring the entire way. Mark had the sails up for a few hours in the middle of the night, and for a few hours in the morning, but without the motor we would not have moved much at all.
Only when we turned the corner at Gibraltar did the winds come up fiercely. The winds came careening off the top of the mountain with a great deal of force and we finally found our easterlies…. But just 135 miles too late.
We are at Marina Alcaidesa, which is in Spain, directly adjacent to the Gibraltar border. The marina is in a town called La Linea de la Conception. It is not very pretty, but the marina is clean and quiet and very nice and we have an absolutely terrific view of the Rock of Gibraltar which is very impressive.
We both had bad colds this week and really didn’t venture out too much for several days, except to go look for food. For the first few days it was very foggy here, at least in the morning. This is apparently quite typical here when there are winds from the east, and it was a life-saver as it kept the temperatures very cool. Our thermometer was reading about 72 degrees Fahrenheit while the rest of Spain was experiencing temperatures in the 100’s. Once the sun came out in the afternoon, it heated up quite a bit, and by Wednesday afternoon we were sweltering along with the rest of the country. Miraculously a nice westerly wind picked up just when we thought we were going to melt and it cooled everything down a lot. We wonder how long this heat wave will last in Europe.
We visited the old town of Gibraltar, which involves going through customs at the border (they don’t stamp your passport, just look at it) , walking across the runway of the Gibraltar international airport and then walking another half mile or so to the quainter parts of the town. We thought the coolest part of the whole thing was walking across the airport runway (along with dozens of other people). They apparently are going to build a tunnel in a few years for pedestrians, but in the meantime, everyone who goes between the two countries has to walk or drive across the runway (and there are probably thousands of cars and buses doing it every day).
We keep in touch with many sailing friends through Facebook, and had learned a few weeks ago, that some very good friends on the sailboat “Nathape” were here in La Linea. They sailed away from here before we could arrive, but their boat is only 30 km away, and Nathalie and Hans Peter drove down to meet us for lunch yesterday. We had a wonderful time (eating Indian food) and hearing about their adventures since we last met in Thailand.
Now we are waiting for weather for the big move: crossing the straits of Gibraltar with all its currents and traffic, and then heading south to the Canaries.
We left Cartagena in the afternoon of July 22nd and sailed a dozen miles or so to a well protected anchorage (Plaja de la Azohia) where we stopped to have a swim and enjoy the beautiful clear water.
At about 17:00 we left the anchorage and had a pleasant sail until 20:00 when the wind died and we then motored comfortably until mid-morning. A nice breeze came up for us for our last few hours of the 19 hour passage and we arrived at Almerimar at about 12:00. The marina at Almerimar is quite different than other marinas we have been to in Spain, as you must check in at the fuel dock. The office is also on that dock and they require all boats to check in as they enter. This was actually pretty convenient for us as we wanted to fill up with fuel anyways.
The marina appeared to be half empty and many of the boats there looked derelict. The town was built as a summer tourist destination and the docks of the marina wind in and out of a few man-made lagoons, surrounded by what appeared to be mostly deserted apartment buildings. We had to Med moor for the first time this year and the lines they handed us were laden with marine growth and creatures. It was kind of hard to get the boat adjusted right and by the time we had finished securing ourselves forward and stern, it was quite hot and we were exhausted and dirty.
Almerimar was a pleasant town, however, filled with restaurants and tapas bars, all very close to the marina. A big, well stocked Mercadona supermarket was just a few blocks away as well. There were nice long beaches on either side of the marina, with clean, pleasant boardwalks to stroll on. The beaches were absolutely packed. It was not a bad place, except that there was a terrible problem with noise at night. Some bars on the beach started playing electronic music at 11:00 p.m. every night and the synthesizer base sound pounded through the night, getting louder and louder, until their grand finale somewhere around sunrise. Every night.
The weather forecasts suggested that we could not continue sailing south for some days. So after three nights we got smart, rented a car, and drove up to the nearby Sierra Nevada National Park – to the mountainous area known as Las Alpujarras, in the province of Granada. We found an amazing place to stay and ended up staying for five nights. Our bed and breakfast lodging (called El Castañar Nazari) was in a lovely stone building, with five guest rooms, up on a hill with terraces overlooking the beautiful mountain range. Most nights we were the only guests because, in Spain, summer is not the season for going to the mountains.
The nearest village was Trevélez.. Trevélez is an Andulusian “White Village”, famous for its air-cured hams, a speciality throughout the Alpujarras but particularly associated with this village, because the dry climate, a consequence of its altitude, makes for ideal conditions for storing them. It was clear that ham was a big business in this area as there must have been two dozen shops in the tiny town, all advertising their hams. Two of the highest mountains in Spain are just to the north of the village, and there was still a little snow on the peaks even at the end of July. We loved our lodgings and the whole area… completely quiet with gorgeous views of the mountains, a pretty private garden where we spent most of our days reading under a big chestnut tree, and delicious breakfasts prepared by the proprietor, Felix. It cooled off beautifully at night, which was a relief, as the sun is so intense in Spain at this time of year that it can feel unbearable (and we were there when it was just “normal” heat, not the terrible heat wave that washed over the area the following week). We also found a beautiful restaurant in Trevélez, called La Fragua. We ate a late lunch there every day and then just skipped dinner and watched the sun set over the mountains at night. There was even a beautiful easy hike from the back side of our lodging up a steep hill and then along a beautiful irrigation stream with water running through it from the snow runoff on the mountains.
We also enjoyed driving through the windy mountain roads to visit the other white villages of the area: Pampaniera, Bubion and Capileira.
After five days up in the mountains we saw that the weather forecast was predicting excellent winds in just a couple of days which would allow us to continue our sail west, so we headed back to Almerimar.
We left the island of Ibiza for Cartagena at 13:00 on July 6th with a good wind forecast and a planned route of 165 nm. We had to motor for the first few hours as we were blocked from the easterly wind by the island itself, and we enjoyed motoring along smoothly, looking at the beautiful west side of Ibiza (most beautiful area is between San Miguel and Sant Antoni). Then as we headed away from Ibiza, and west towards the mainland, the winds picked up and we sailed until midnight under full sail. After that there was no wind until morning when it suddenly came up strong. When we arrived outside the entrance to the harbor at Cartagena at about noon, there were squalls with gusts to 35 knots. Mark did not feel comfortable bringing the boat into a marina that we have never visited before in these conditions. So we decided to find a place to anchor out. There are really very few protected anchorages along the Spanish coastline, but we did find a small notch in the coast 6 or 7 nm south of Cartagena. It had good sand and some protection from the northeast. With the easterly swells, however, it was a bit rolly. We thought it would be terrible, but it actually calmed down enough that we decided to stay there for the night. Slept 12 hours. We got up at 7:30 am and went right to Cartagena. It was only blowing 10 knots at the time and we were helped into our berth by a helpful marinara. So glad to be there.
One footnote…at about 5:00 p.m., just a few hours out from Ibiza, with Mark down below trying to nap, a motor yacht almost hit us. The motor yacht was coming up fast from the southeast as we were going 8 knots southwest. I saw him from a good distance and kept waiting for him to turn away. Being a sailboat, with our sails set, we have the right of way over a motorboat. A big ferry had just gone by about one nautical mile in front of us, passing the motor yacht, so I was sure that someone was on deck being attentive. However, it turned out that the motor yacht was completely oblivious to us being there and he was going full speed… on a direct collision course with us. He did not have his AIS turned on, so I could not easily contact him by radio. By the time I realized he was not going to turn (as he was supposed to do by the rules of the sea) it was too late for me to adjust all the sails (all were out)… so I just jumped up on the cockpit seats and screamed and waved my arms. Thank goodness someone sunning themselves on the foredeck of the motor yacht saw me and called up to the captain (who must have been sleeping, or absorbed in some other activity) and he turned his boat just in the nick of time to avoid hitting me. So friggin scary. This was the first and only time in 12 years that something like this has happened to us.
As I was waving and screaming on the deck trying to get his attention, Mark, awakened by the screaming, leaped out his bunk and rushed on deck just in time to see this large motor yacht just meters away bearing down on Sabbatical III, with his wife up on the cockpit coaming waving her arms and screaming as loudly as he claims he has ever heard her. The daydreaming Captain of the motor yacht must have been shaken by the near miss as well, as he turned and stopped his vessel, and then turned on his AIS to reveal that his vessel’s name was “The Dreamer”. He was likely too far from Sabbatical III to hear or see the abusive salty language and hand gestures I was sending his way. Mark now claims that I saved our lives.
Cartagena is a nice town and a good stop along the coast of southern Spain. The marina staff at Yacht Club Cartagena were extremely helpful and we especially liked the marinaras. The marina is well located, and lays adjacent to the beautiful old walled city. You can easily walk to the town center and to a whole range of stores and restaurants. The marina had clean and convenient shower and toilet facilities as well as good laundry facilities. There is a group of expats who live there (primarily British) who were very friendly and invited us to their weekly Sunday barbeque. It is a small town with a nice quay along the waterfront, and several attractive, fun, very tourist oriented, streets. It is lined with restaurants and bars (and dental clinics, oddly enough, which turned out to be very helpful after Mark broke a tooth when he bit into a walnut shell). Taxis are cheap and there are several excellent supermarkets.
Cartegena was founded around 227 BC by the Carthaginian General Hasdrubal the Fair and had its heyday under the Romans. There are Roman ruins in town, including a coliseum, but these were not particularly impressive. There is a terrific mercado with all sorts of fruits, vegies, fresh fish and meat. We enjoyed lunch there a few times, buying fish from the stalls, and then having it cooked up by a small restaurant that sits on the premises.
The town hall building is particularly pretty and was set up with chairs and a stage for the beginning of a one week music festival which featured a free concert at 8 P.M. in the square, followed by more concerts starting at 11:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m (not exactly our preferred time for concerts, but great for the young people in town). It was kind of loud in the marina for those nights as all the concert venues overlooked the marina.
A very qualified mechanic named Juan Pedro, but widely referred to as “Red” because of his gingy appearance, helped Mark diagnose and fix a problem with our generator while we were in Cartagena. We also met some nice people on our dock including an Israeli/American couple (Jonathan and Laurie) who are just starting their sailing life on a big catamaran, and Willem and Ettie from the Netherlands on their Amel Supermaramu “Kavanga.”
We departed Cartegena on July 22 heading for Almerimar further south along the Spanish coast. We are now in Gibraltar, so we have some catching up to do.
It been quite a while since we last posted a blog. The last blog was posted from Valencia, where Sabbatical III spent roughly two months. Now we are in the ancient city of Cartegena. In between we had two trips away from Valencia without the boat. A ten day trip (April 3 to April 12) took us by train and bus to Cuenca, Madrid and Toledo, and then by plane from Madrid to Lisbon and back to Valencia. We took many wonderful photos of that trip. Unfortunately, our camera disappeared on the last day in Lisbon and all of our photos are lost.
The second trip in early June (May 31 to June 12) took us to Saint Paul, Minnesota to visit Laura’s mother, Shirley, and then to Chicago for the PhD graduation of our son Benjamin. While in Chicago we spent time with the Pitt side of the family — our daughter Hannah, my sisters Fran and Naomi, brother-in-law John, nephew Daniel, and niece Nina and her two children Justin and Vera.
While we were in Valencia we worked on boat repairs and improvements and took the time to become very familiar with this beautiful city. It helped that we had a rental car the entire time that we were there. Access to town, as well as stores and restaurants, was so difficult from the Valencia Yacht Port, where Sabbatical III was berthed, that a car was a must. Plus, at 23 euros a day, the price was right. I did not like driving in Valencia. There are very few street signs, Google Maps often did not provide good directions, and parking was tricky. We did finally find our way around but finding our way to new places was always an adventure.
One of our favorite places was the Turia River Park. The river used to flood regularly, and after a particularly bad flood in 1957, approval was given for the river to be diverted away from the city center. Since then, the 7 kilometer long river bed has been transformed into a mixture of playing fields, cycling & walking paths, and gardens. At one end is the City of Arts & Sciences and the old city is at the other end. On Sundays, we would park somewhere near the park and spend hours walking and people watching. We ate a traditional Sunday mid-afternoon meal at El Riconet and then walked back to the park to lie in the shade while the effects of wine and food wore off. We were not alone in doing so.
We also discovered the nearby parklands (Parc Natural de l’Albufera) around Pobles del Sud, a large lake that forms the center of the rice growing district south of Valencia, as well as the beach walk and restaurants at Pinedo, just across the Turia River bridge from the marina.
Finally, we enjoyed spending time with Chimo and Jane of “Pangea Barco”, berthed only one dock away from us at the Valencia Yacht Port. They took us for great paella, cooked us marvelous meals, and directed us to interesting places.
On June 17, we left Valencia for an overnight sail to the island of Ibiza. We spent about three weeks in Ibiza. We were anchored out every day and noticed how the anchorages became increasingly crowded each day. By the time we left, the crowd of boats, some with careless anchoring techniques, made us nervous. But no harm came to Sabbatical III and we thoroughly enjoyed our time. Finally we could swim off the boat again.
We caught some unusually great sailing weather for the overnight sail (July 6/7) back to mainland Spain. The excellent conditions ended when we were approaching our destination of Cartegena. Squalls came up bringing strong winds (30+ knots) and even some rain tinted with African dust. Unwilling to enter the marina at Cartegena in these conditions, we found a little semi-protected notch in the coast 5 miles past the town where we anchored in a swell. The squally conditions continued until sunset and then the roll from the swell diminished and we had a decent nights sleep. The next morning (July 8) we headed into the Yacht Port Cartegena.
This is a much smaller city than Valencia. The marina is right in town and everything we need is within walking distance. More on Cartegena later.
Above: short video of Sabbatical III sailing from Ibiza to Cartegena
We have not posted a blog since the end of October. So let me catch up briefly. After our car trip to Andalusia in October, we returned to Sant Carles de la Ràpita to prepare the boat for winter storage ashore. As Laura was coming out of the laundry room in the marina, someone tapped her on the shoulder and said “Laura? Is that you?” It was Gesche, whom we knew from our first year crossing of the Pacific in 2007. At the time, she and her husband Herbert and their 4 year old son Yannick were crossing on their catamaran Yara. We met them either in the Galapagos or Fatu Hiva in 2007 and sailed with them in the Society Islands, the Cooks, and Tonga, and spent time with them in New Zealand at the end of the year. We knew that they completed their circumnavigation in 2009 and returned to northern Germany. The Sant Carles Marina is now home to a different and smaller catamaran that they sail during their vacations from full-time employment and school. It was so nice to spend some time with them again and see a now grown Yannick.
Sabbatical III was hauled in November without incident and we returned to the US for the winter. We returned to Spain on April 2 to arrange bottom painting and to get the boat ready for what promises to be a long sailing season. Roberto from Asnau Marine and his crew did an excellent job painting and waxing. Gesche, Herbert, and Yannick were once again in Sant Carles after completing their first sail of the season.
On April 18 we left Sant Carles heading southwest. Our first stop was Peñíscola, a beautiful city with a fortified old town built on a rocky headland. There is no marina in Peñíscola so we anchored to the south of the headland in a small and very shallow bay protected from the east by a small breakwater. As we were anchoring, a procession of large steel fishing vessels came around the breakwater into the small bay from the sea at high speed creating a huge amount of wake. Over a period of just 15 minutes, 25 to 30 such vessels came in as if in a hurry. The last two fishing boats came in just as a siren went off indicating 4 pm which is apparently the deadline for unloading fish for the wholesale market. After the siren, all was calm. When these boats left in the morning, they did so slowly and we hardly felt their wake.
The old town of Peñíscola is charming and had lots of tourists even this early in the season. We toured the castle and the gardens and had a great lunch sitting outdoors.
The wind shifted during our second night at Peñíscola and we had to leave the next day. We had hoped to spend time at the Columbretes Islands, a group of small uninhabited islets of volcanic origin off the coast, but the marine forecast was not right. So we sailed off to the big city of Valencia.
Valencia is the third biggest city in Spain with a population of almost 2.5 million in the metropolitan area. It has a beautiful old town, wonderful architecture and parks, and is famous for its food, in particular, paella. It also has the largest container port in the Med and that container port is adjacent to the Valencia Yacht Port where we are berthed. When we arrived after 5 pm on April 21, there was considerable clanking and noise from giant cranes piling containers just 50 meters away. We thought about turning around and leaving, but there was nowhere to go. Those first few hours were the noisiest. It has been mostly quiet since then because they are probably unloading a ship at a different quay. The marina is long and linear and we are at the far end so it is 2.5 kilometers to the front gate and when you exit, you are in a wasteland adjacent to the port and quite far from the city. Two days ago we rented a car. Now we can get around and explore the beautiful old city. Parking is scarce and expensive in the city center so we devised a sensible plan. We would drive to a metro stop on the outskirts of town where there was lots of free parking, and then take the metro (subway) into town. We rely on “Ms. Google” (Google Maps) to direct us around wherever we go and she has always done a great job … until now. Yesterday, Google Maps sent us down a one lane country road through an artichoke farm that dead-ends on the wrong side of the train tracks. So we had Ms Google suggest another route. That route also turned into a one lane road through an onion field with a metro stop visible in the distance. We decided to give up and find our way into the city with the car. As we did so, we found the real entrance to the metro stop. There was not even an office with a counter, just a ticket machine and a parking lot in the farm field. A friendly metro employee helped us with the machine and we easily took a subway train right into town. More on Valencia in a later blog.
PS San Carles is the biggest fishing port in Catalonia. The large steel fishing boats come in late in the afternoon for the automated wholesale auction market. Here are some photos of that process from last fall.