Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Summer Season draws to a close ..... Oct 2010

Along for a free ride, 40 miles offshore! 
06 - 10 October 2010

We enjoyed our 8 night 'minibreak' anchored at Palmanova on Mallorca. Skipper had a tearful farewell with the owner of the 'Welsh Mosquito' having been camped there for three days watching the Ryder Cup. The strong sou'westerly winds had died away and the swell was down but there was more bad weather coming in a few days so it was time to head ever westward once again and make the long jump from Mallorca to the next island of Ibiza.  It was a 55 mile run so we were up at 'O dark hundred' (well it doesn't get light until 8am at the moment) and on our way by 7am.  We had a forecast for 12knots from the east increasing to 20knots late afternoon and building more overnight,  so we poled out the headsail and sailed downwind all day. Skipper was a happy bunny despite getting overruled once again when requesting a spinnaker hoist. This was champagne sailing running before the wind heading west but every now and again a yacht would pass us going the other way, bashing into a steep choppy sea towards Mallorca - at least we had the elements with us. 

We pulled into Portinatx,  a small cala on the nor'eastern tip of Ibiza.  Luckily there were only 3 other yachts in there as some of these anchorages are not very big, but it was a scenic little spot with a couple of hotels and a small town ashore.  Most importantly we had flat water, just tucked up out of the swell.  We didn't go ashore at night, we had had a long day and there was always tomorrow.  But sometimes tomorrow doesn't quite come, well not for going ashore anyway.  Overnight the wind had come around more to the north making the cove a little more exposed so we checked the weather again first thing, then sat down for a serious breakfast board meeting.
The Silver Fern might just last until Spain
The low pressure system we were expecting in 2 days was still coming but would pass through in a day and we should be able to find somewhere to shelter from it, but 3 days later the Balearics were due to get severely hammered by a series of thunderstorms and 40 knots winds lasting for several days, and from various directions. 

The seasons they were a changing, it was getting cooler, the sunny days were being outnumbered by the cloudy ones and the approaching thunderstorms did not look good.  On top of this I had been suffering from toothache for too long, no amount of painkillers was dulling the ache (but straight brandy does!!!) and I really needed to sort it out.  It did not take long for the board of Balvenie  to make the unanimous decision to use the northerly wind we had and head south to Cartagena our Winter base. The famous party island of  Ibiza and its small neighbour of Formentera sadly would be missed, but we can not see everything and the changeable weather is very hard to deal with when there are very few all round protected anchorages.

So we never did go ashore on Ibiza, at 8.30am on October 07 2010 we weighed anchor for the last time this season, motored out of the cala, raised the mainsail, bore away downwind, set the pole, rolled out the headsail and headed for the Spanish mainland. 
Glad to be tied up in Cartagena
It is around 160 miles to Cartagena and with the short weather window we had, we decided to go straight through and do an overnight passage.  We had wind behind us and besides having to gibe the pole had an uneventful and comfortable day.  We could see the bright lights of Spain as darkness fell, our 2nd overnight passage this season with a new moon - it sure was dark out there, "as black as the inside of a cow" as skipper says. But the stars were glistening and it was a clear night.

The lights on shore faded  as the mainland curved away from us and we ran down the outside of the shipping lanes.  We crossed the meridian at 1.35am on October 08 2010.  After 6 years we had made it to the Western Hemisphere phew!!  Just minutes later our northerly wind died and a southerly filled in, this was not in the forecast!  By the time we had dropped the pole and reset the sails the southerly too had eased and by 3am we were motoring with no wind.

The sea state was easing with the calming of the wind and shelter from the mainland but the shipping was busy and kept us on guard.  Dawn broke around 7.30am and as the sun peaked over clouds on the horizon it looked like it would be a lovely clear day.  I went below to switch off the navigation lights and radar and when I came back up, not a minute later we had been totally engulfed in heavy fog.  This is the first time we have experienced fog at sea, I knew there was nothing at all around us but it's a weird feeling not been able to see anything.  Even on the darkest of nights you can see something!!   I woke skipper for some moral support and to make sure I wasn't dreaming, then shortly after it cleared as quickly as it had arrived and the sun came out to play.

Diet? I don't think so!!!
 We motored in calm seas, those last few miles seeming to take forever.  At last at 12.30pm we entered the bay where the town of Cartagena is nestled.  We passed the refinery and naval yard and entered the inner harbour.  It's a working port so there are ships coming and going but it's small and not too busy.  We found our way to the marina and contacted Yacht Port Cartagena on VHF Channel 09, Alberto the marinero came to take our lines and to welcome us.  This will be home now for several months over the Mediterranean winter.  First impressions - it looks good.  I'll add more info when we have  settled in.

So that it is the end of our cruising season for summer 2010, it has been an outstanding season.  We have seen some wonderful places, cruised with some exceptional people, eaten and drunk our way across the western med and will now take some time to diet, exercise and sleep!!!   Stay tuned though - there will be more updates soon.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Minibreak on Mallorca ..... Sept - Oct 2010

Balvenie at Palmanova's busy beach
27 September - 06 October 2010

The wind is howling through so we are staying put here in Palma, the wind generator is whizzing away (noisily) but creating plenty of power for the laptop, Mark is ashore ensconced in a bar happily watching the final rounds of Golfs Ryder Cup, oh, and the sun is shining - what more could we ask for?

We left sleepy little Porto Petro and sailed in the seabreeze down to the bottom left tip of Mallorca and around into the bite of Ensenada de la Rapita. As expected the dreaded swell just kept on following us but eventually we managed to tuck behind most of it and anchored off the beautiful long white sand beach of Playa del Trench. There were just a handful of yachts, and although many sunloungers and umbrellas were onshore there was no accommodation or people and the immediate land looked like national park, it was beautiful. I had my first swim in Spain in gin clear water and could see the ripples of sand on the bottom, it was magic. For the first time since arriving in the Balearics we had not had any rain and at sunset we were treated to clear skies, long may it last! Next morning we took a long walk ashore along the sandy beach, unfortunately paradise can never be perfect - southerly winds were forecast and this did not have enough cover so we lifted anchor mid morning and had a great sail aft of the beam the 25 miles across to Palmanova in the Bay of Palma.

Leisurely lunch at Soller
This is "package holiday land" and my first impressions were not too positive. Ashore we were surrounded by medium rise hotels with names like the Honolulu, St Lucia, Waikiki. The wall to wall cafes - the Scotsman, Welsh Mosquito, Paddys Bar, Los Curries and the like!-  offer menus in every language but Spanish, and cater for all tastes but Spanish, but I think I was a little judgemental, its grown on me, and we had a great curry out one night! There is a lovely sandy beach, the weather is warm and sunny for the most part, and everyone is just here enjoying a warm break from their day to day lives. It's not so bad at all.

We have been out enjoying the sights. It's about 45 minutes by bus from here into Palma city. The first day we got all ready for a big day out and set off ashore, but there were strikes on protesting at the "austerity measures", no buses that day so it was back to boat chores instead. We tried again the next day, more successfully, we got a bus into Palma Station, then connected with the small narrow gauge tourist train through inland Mallorca's valleys to the beautiful town of Soller.  This vintage train has been running through the scenic Serra de Tramuntansa since 1911. Soller is in a stunning setting with high peaks around it, just a small town but with some handsome buildings and a large plaza area with many trees splendid in their autumnal colours.
Narrow gauge train to Soller

There is a tram that runs from the town down to the port area, it was very busy - sadly we had chosen a day with 6 cruise ships in Palma port (yes, VERY busy!!!), so we decided to walk down. Unless you really need to stretch your legs don't do this, we walk fast and it was over an hour, little shade and very hot, a bad idea but worth it when you are rewarded with such a beautiful harbour setting. If we had been here before leaving the northern coast we would have come down the west coast by boat and stayed a couple of nights.

After all our exercise we relaxed and had an excellent late lunch harbourside, the quality and selection of food we have experienced so far in Spain has been the best in Europe and it is the most affordable, we are enjoying Spain. We walked all around the harbour then caught the tram back up the hill, had a final stroll around town and headed for the bus station.

Inland Mallorca Olive grove
 It had been recommended by other cruisers to catch the No 210 bus back for more stunning scenery on mountain roads with hairpin bends, unfortunately the buses were busy so we ended on the express.  Had I looked closer at the timetable I would have seen that the buses start from the port, we didn't need to get the tram back and would probably have got on the scenic one!!! Ah, hindsight. At least the timing worked well and we connected with a bus straight away back to Balvenie.  

On another day we caught the bus into Palma again and explored the city. What a lovely European city this is, fine old buildings, spacious tree lined streets, open plazas with sidewalk cafes, all very clean and with no traffic pollution, a really agreeable place. We stopped in a vibrant plaza and sat in a street cafe enjoying the best coffee we have had in Europe, life is good.  Revitalized we hit the streets, exploring the side streets and little lanes, seeing all there was on offer.  The Municipal Market at Placa del Olivar was a great stop with an abundance of fresh produce, seafood and meats. The hundreds of hung smoked legs of pork dominated one corner, while the endless varieties of olives left us drooling.  There were a couple of great extremely busy tapas counters there too, getting close enough to order and choosing from all the delectable goodies was the hard part.    
Palma's spectacular Cathedral

Then it was off to the Palma Cathedral, as the photo shows it is an outstanding looking building both inside and out.  Religion may have, and still does, cause more tension and wars than anything else but the need to worship in holy surroundings has certainly, over the centuries left us with some fine religious buildings, and this is no exception.   Construction started in 1306 and took around 300 years, it has had many restorations since, a major one being after severe earthquake damage in 1851.  There are 61 stained glass windows and with the sun shining in the internal light was magnificent.  Many great architects and artists have stamped their mark on parts of the cathedral, Antoni Gaudi being one.  Most recently Miquel Barcelo reformed the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, goodness me - what was he thinking? this is a cathedral not an underwater theme park.  Still, maybe we do not have a fine enough appreciation of modern art - each to their own.  

Cruising notes for Isla Gabina/Playa del Trench and Palma Nova, Mallorca:-
Anchorages -
Isla Gabina -   39 20.183N   02 59.118E   4.9m  clear sea, sandy bottom.  We anchored further south first to get more shelter form the swell and thought we were on sand, but when the sun came out we could see we were on a flat stone bottom with small crevices.  We moved further north to the sandy bottom, it was a little rollier but great holding
Palmanova -   39 30.931N   02 32.478E   4.0m  hard sand/weed.  Not great holding, several boats dragged in 20knots (some superyachts).  Morning breeze came in from the east (for 4 days) until around 11am then dropped off, nothing forecast from east.  Good shelter from NW to SSE, and can move to other end of bay for more N protection, or to little islands (2 miles away) for some E cover. 
Communications - Phone signal excellent, no unlocked WIFI but dongle worked well
Ashore - Just a shacky beach bar at Isla Gabina which closed at sunset.   Palmanova:  we left the dinghy on the small concrete jetty on the eastern (seaward) side as shallow as possible, not many cleats, a small ferry uses this dock so stay well in.  When full we left it on the tiny adjacent beach.  There are hundreds of eateries, dozens of little minimarkets selling (holiday) basics, the Eroski Supermarket is right at the northern end of the bay (take dinghy to tiny harbour and it's right there or walk along seafront), its on the road that goes inland and about the 2nd building on the right.  Good selection fruit, veg, meat at very reasonable prices.  Plenty ATMs, English newspapers, didn't see fuel anywhere, bus stops on road inland parallel to beach. 
Formalities - The large blue Spanish Customs (Aduana) Boat came into the bay most evenings.  We were boarded by 3 officers who asked to see our passports, ships papers and boat insurance.  They gave us a copy of their paperwork (which we showed to them the next night when they came again!!), they were polite and took just a few minutes.
Sightseeing - Buses 104, 105 and 106 run into Palma about every 20 minutes. 2.75E p/p o/w buy tickets on bus.  We stayed on till the station then went up to street level, turned right and a couple of buildings along is the Ferrocarril de Soller where you catch the tourist train. 10.00E p/p o/w. Times Mar-Oct 0800, 1010, 1050, 1215, 1330, 1510.  Tourist office in Soller is by train station in Soller they can give you bus times for return, 210 is scenic and 211 express 2.45E p/p o/w (cheap).  Tram down to Soller port is 4.00E o/w p/p.  Palma Cathedral is 4.00E p/p.  When you catch the bus back to Palmanova the stop at the Cathedral gets very busy, we were leaving people behind in October!