Monday, 20 September 2010

That was France - next stop Balearics ..... Sept 2010

Remote anchorage at Cala Taulera, Mahon
14 - 20 September 2010

Just when we were almost getting used to saying 'si vous plait' and 'merci' instead of 'per favore' and 'grazie' we were moving on, another country - another language, at least with the advent of the euro it wasn't another currency too!!!!

We left our final French anchorage of Anse de Gau at 1.45am (not really a favourite time of day to be getting up to go sailing). We had 220 miles to cover to Mahon on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. We raised sails and headed south, the first 5 miles were lovely, we were still in flat water behind the headland, with 15knots just behind the beam, great conditions but we knew it wasn't likely to last. Sadly we were right. Once we cleared land we hit the swell that had been so tiresome all along the coast when the mistral was blowing. Still, we had wind and we roared away into the night making 8 knots some of the time. The swell was just horrible, for the first time ever on passage Mark rolled out of his sea berth and went crashing, along with the squab, onto the cabin floor. Sensibly the floor is where we rested while not on watch for the rest of the 37 hour journey.

We sailed all day making good time, but as expected the wind was easing and at dusk we reefed the main right down, rolled in the headsail and started burning diesel. If the seas had been flat we could have sailed on but we hadn't escaped the swell, although it was calming. It was an uneventful night, thousands of stars sparkling above, and just a couple of ships on the horizon - we motored on till dawn, the seas started to flatten but there was now no wind at all, we pulled into the harbour of Mahon mid afternoon, anchored in the very protected and flat water anchorage at Cala Taulera , welcomed ourselves to Spain, and in true Spanish fashion we had an afternoon siesta!
a small 'cala' under heavy cloud cover

This anchorage is rather an unusual spot, it is the only place in Mahon harbour where cruising boats our size are permitted to anchor without charge, but it is very remote. There is nothing ashore except for an impressive old walled fort high up on the headland, no signs of life in any direction and this is the capital of Menorca! We spent our first couple of days in Mahon doing boat jobs. We had broken several slugs that attach the mainsail to the mast on our passage south and only had three spares, we had also developed quite a vibration in our propeller and on close underwater inspection Mark discovered that our prop anode had come loose and needed replacing. We also needed to do the dreaded "dongle" for internet access, another country - another provider - all in another language! So we headed up the harbour in the dinghy, its a long way - we really should have commissioned the 8hp outboard for the job but ole faithful 2.5 Mary Mariner took a while to get there but she made it in the end, it's the longest dinghy trip ever but in sheltered enclosed harbour waters it was ok. We hit town with a list and after a fair amount of leg work successfully purchased everything for a busy day of maintenance the following day.

We got the chores out of the way, 5 broken slugs removed and new ones sewn in was my major task, while Mark changed the anode, normally about a 15 minutes job for him underwater. Except this time our new Maxprop anode (made in Spain, not Canada as our previous ones) just did not quite align properly. 90 minutes later, exhausted from all the deep breaths and purple from being in the water so long, he admitted defeat for the day and reattached the old one, deciding it was better to leave it than force the screws into the threads in the prop. The next morning he decided to drill bigger holes in the anode, and after two more attempts to fit it finally got it seated and screwed in - maybe having a dive tank or hooker onboard would really be a good idea!! For those of you totally unfamiliar with anodes (99.9% I imagine) they are pieces of zinc, made into different shapes and sizes for attaching to different boat body parts. Zinc is one of the softest metals and their purpose is sacrificial - to be "eaten" by any electrolysis in the water, then the metal bits we need on the boat don't get eaten, so they need changing regularly. (Any zinc experts out there will think this is a very basic explanation but that's what I understand them to be for).
our first tapas - we might put on weight!

Mahon is quite a small place, there is a long waterfront full to the brim with all manner of boats, from small local fishing boats, yachts and runabouts, large motor cruisers, inter-island ferries to cruise ships and naval vessels. This is a very large protected harbour with a long maritime history - everyone that ever invaded anywhere else in the Med had certainly been to Mahon too, and left their mark!!! The old town is set above the harbour, accessed by a fair amount of steps. It wasn't quite as cute as many of the old towns have been, but it was well laid out, had some attractive old buildings, a reasonable fish, meat and produce market inaugurated in 1927 and set in the old cloister of Sant Francesc church. Although quite touristy the big hotels are out at all the beaches so it still retained the feeling of a functional working town.

With most of the jobs out of the way, and some rather inclement weather around, we stayed a few more days. Although the weather had warmed up again we were getting nasty big black clouds, every day, a heavy downpour of rain in each one but generally very little wind. One day we hired a car and 'did' Menorca. It's not a very big island so we saw most of it. We travelled north up to the port of Fornells, a pleasant sleepy little place with just a few tourists around, ruins of an old fort, a watchtower on the headland and a good stop for morning coffee. We have moved on from our Cafe lattes in Italy to Cafe au lait in France, now it is Cafe con leche in Spain - and we have learnt very quickly to ask for grande ones! Next we headed inland to the highest point El Toro, at only 357m it wasn't too remarkable and somewhat spoiled but all the communications equipment up there but I guess they have to put it somewhere. There was a small monastery and chapel and a good view but the clouds were closing in, it looked like rain may well spoil our afternoon.
from La Mola looking into the anchorage

Back down onto the main road we headed west to the picturesque port town of Citudella. With a very narrow but long harbour, large open plazas, tiny alleys set in maze like fashion, grand old stone buildings, a mosque from the 1300's, an even older cathedral. Then there's an obelisk built in the 1500's in commemoration of the year 1558 when the Turks sacked the city - Citudella certainly has a real blend of architecture and history. We enjoyed a Menorcan lunch, sitting outside in a tiny lane and soaked all the surroundings in. Unfortunately there is no real anchorage here so we wouldn't be able to return and have more time to explore.

The rain had started, but we tried not to let it stop play! We called into Navetta des Tudons one of the oldest structures on the European continent, it had closed at 3pm - sadly we were saved from getting wet in the name of history!!! We carried on and took a couple of side roads down to 'calas' on the south coast. A cala is a bay or indentation in the coastline and the Balearics have hundreds of them, most very tiny and many have steep to cliffs, the larger ones have high rise hotels and buoyed off swimming areas, greatly reducing the anchoring possibilities for us yachties. We looked at the swell coming in, the few yachts at anchor rolling from gunnell to gunnell - maybe we will head around the north coast instead! The rain continued so we headed back to Mahon, dropped off the car then had a very wet walk to the dinghy and an even wetter dinghy ride back to Balvenie.

Cruising info for Mahon, Balearic Islands:-
Anchorage - Cala Taulera, Mahon    39 52.695N   04 18.487E   4.8m mud.  The guide book suggests this anchorage could hold up to 30 boats we thought maybe 15 would be tight.  All round cover, could get a little swell in strong southerlies
Communications - Phones: Both GYMSIM and Vodafone Malta on Roaming switched over to Spanish Movistar without any problem.  Internet Dongle:  We found a phone shop a couple of doors before the Tourist Information Centre on the waterfront close by the Ferry/Cruise Ship terminal.  The one staff member was helpful, spoke perfect English (as did everyone in Menorca) but was extremely busy.  She took all our details (need photo ID) and asked us to come back in 30 minutes, we did then waited over 30 more, then couldn't use until she phoned us much later in the day confirming it had been processed.  We purchased a Vodafone sim and 1GB credit that stays live for 3 months (works Balearics, Spain and Canaries), total cost was 85E think sim was 25E and 1GB 60E. (Update from 05 May 2011, if Sim not kept active either with credit on it or topped up it expires after 6 months, I know cos I've just bought a new one!!!, currently 15€ for sim, still 60€ for 1GB but €12 discount)  - I couldn't get it to work in my NZ Vodafone Dongle but it works in my Italian Wind Dongle.  Baracca reports the Vodafone data sim does not work in Italian TIM dongles.  Signal in Cala Taulera was very poor but has been excellent elsewhere. 
Ashore - We took our dinghy nearby to the AGIP fueldock which is just left of the new marina. Diesel was 1.16E p/l.  There is a small supermarket right there also.  Follow waterfront road around to car hire on left, then phone shop, tourist office on right (15min walk) then there are stairs opposite up to old town.  Binipreu supermarket is underground in central market place by the church.  Plenty ATM's. English newspapers.
Sightseeing - Hired car from Autos Mahon Rent phone +34 971 36 56 66 Renault Megane 40E day, there was a smaller cheaper one but not available.  Used 10E petrol or the day.  
Formalities - none

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