Far and Away, Ep. 160

260 nautical miles. That’s what stood before us as we raised our anchor from the island of San Pietro in southern Sardinia. This would be our longest crossing for the summer, as we proceeded with our mixed plan of sightseeing and boat movement out of the Med. It was slightly longer than our leg from Greece to Sicily, and for that one, we had woken up at 2am to try to squeeze the crossing into one and one-half overnights instead of a full two. We learned two important lessons from that approach. First, when you start out tired on a crossing, it doesn’t get any better. Second, when you are trying to arrive before nightfall on the second evening, to avoid a third night at sea, it makes you stressed about every little slow down in speed. We quickly realized we had to average six knots in order to make it to Sicily before dark, which made it hard to experiment with the sails in moderate winds. On this crossing to Mallorca, we had a good, solid night’s sleep, leaving in the early morning once the sun was up and visibility was clear. We were fully prepared to spend two nights at sea before our arrival. And it was evident right away how much better it felt. 

As we put San Pietro to our stern, the wind freshened out of the north, and we unfurled sails for a pleasant beam reach directly west to the Balearic Islands. Six knots would have been a great average, but we didn’t feel like we had to hit that for our arrival time, knowing we had a full third day’s worth of daylight if we needed it. Our speed of 5-5.5 knots was perfectly satisfactory, and it was blissful to turn off the engine. The solar panels were happily putting out lots of amps with the full sun rising above us, given our little off-grid home all the juice it needed, between the electronics, the autopilot, and the fridges. Life was good.

Like any crossing, we had spent most of the prior evening hunched over the weather forecasts, closely examining the similarities and differences of each model over the next two and a half days. We had chosen our departure to coincide with a lull in the normally active mistral winds that blow down with great force from the Gulf of Lyon off the French coast. These winds had been giving much joy to the Open Skiff racing contingent, but were more than we were looking for with their wind-whipped seas. Instead, we had a forecast of moderate northerly winds for the first day, and virtually no wind on the second day.

Weather forecast model for Day 1 and Day 2

The winds on our first day continued to freshen, our speeds improved and the first real potential for us to arrive early became clear. As nightfall approached, and we got closer to the second day’s forecast of non-existent winds, I expected that we would have to furl sails and start motoring, but the glorious wind held overnight, with the added bonus of a waxing moon to guide us along the way. 

Sunrise on Day 2 of the crossing

By the morning, with our good speeds since we departed, it became evident that we could arrive before nightfall and not have a second night at sea as long as we kept up the pace. So, as the wind eased off as forecasted, we kept the sails up but added a little boost from the engine to keep us moving. Normally, I’m not a big motor sailor. If there is wind to sail, then sail. If not, then don’t try to fake it by putting sails up and run the engine, tricking your fellow boaters out by your impressive speeds! However, impressions were of little importance on this quiet sea, and with the prospect of arrival before nightfall in our grasp, we were strongly motivated.

As planned on our second day, with a little help from the iron sail, we inched closer and finally by late afternoon we could make out the outline of Mallorca’s strikingly tall interior mountains on the horizon. We were aiming for the southeast tip of Mallorca, with a plan to round the point and tuck into a little anchorage on the inside, to avoid the building southerly winds coming in the evening. 

Approaching the tip of Mallorca at the end of the crossing

One of the benefits of sailing west and staying in the same timezone is that the sunset occurs later in the day. As we rounded the point at 9pm, we still had good visibility, enough to pick out a good place to drop the anchor on sand in the anchorage at El Caragol. 

All smiles as we finish our crossing from Sardinia

There wasn’t much at this little carve out of the rocky coastline except a beach, a few straggler beachgoers, and three other boats. That was fine by us, as all we wanted was something easy and low-frills, as we anchored up, had a quick bite, and headed to bed. We had put the longest crossing in the bank and could now rest assured that in terms of overnights we had only one more left, as we crossed to the Spanish mainland in a week or so. 

As we were maneuvering to drop the anchor, Karen had turned the bow thruster on briefly, only to find out that it spurted momentarily to life and then all the power went off, as if we had tripped a breaker. It was too late to troubleshoot it at the time, but in the morning, I jumped in the water on a hunch that maybe we snagged something in it’s little propellor. This had happened once before, as we were med mooring, and a dock line got pulled in and jammed the unit. Sure enough, as I swam towards the bow, I could see a small line floating in the water, probably leftover from a fish buoy. We could have snagged it somewhere along our route from Sardinia, or possibly right in the anchorage, but regardless, it was tightly wrapped numerous times around the propellor shaft. I kept thinking of the warnings about sticking your fingers into a jammed snowblower, and how our hand surgeon friend Bob gets a lot of calls early in the winter season back home in New England. But with a combination of delicate finger movements and brute force pulling, a wrap of line came unwound, and then more, and finally it was completely free of the bow thruster. Horrah!

Bowthruster jammed with stray line
The culprit, a bunch of loose fish buoy line

The next step in restoring the bowthruster involved opening up the control box and checking the fuse. As I suspected, the big 100a fuse was blown, and after the last occurrence, I had stocked up on a bag full of new fuses. Once a new one was in place, Karen turned on the joystick control and we were back in business with our bowthruster! It’s nice when a repair goes as straight forward as this.

Bowthruster fuse replacement

As we pulled away from the anchorage and pointed the bow across the expansive Bay of Palma, we were shocked by how many boats were underway all around us. Furthermore, nearly all of them were on AIS, so our chart plotter screen was a pick-up-stick pattern of vectors pointing every which way. Even fishing boats were transmitting their AIS position. This was a marked change from other Med countries, and especially for fisherman who seem to want to hide their secret fishing spots. The AIS dealers must have cut a deal for the boat owners of Mallorca! All of the new data on the screen kept us busy navigating.

On this excursion to Mallorca, we really wanted to see some different sites from our previous visit three years ago, where we skipped the southern and western shores. As we sailed offshore of Palma, and zig zagged around the many AIS targets on the screen, we rounded up the south coast to a harbor with the appealing name of Camp del Mar. I had grown up on the beaches of Del Mar, near San Diego, so I find myself with a certain affinity to any place with a similar name. Childhood memories are pretty persistent that way. While my Del Mar was a sleepy, hippy California beach town, this Del Mar was quite full of multi-story hotels and throngs of beachgoers. Californians love a beach, but I think it is fair to say that Spaniards are enthralled with the beach, and no more so than in the Balearics. They want their accommodations to be located just a step or two off the sand, and if that’s not possible, clinging to an adjacent cliff edge. We nosed in to an open area amongst 20 or more boats laying just out to sea from a yellow buoyed swim area. Spain is very intent on marking off areas from the beach that are for swimmers only, and hat’s off to them. There are too many crazies driving inflatables or jet skis at full throttle close to shore. It’s amazing there are not more accidents.

As soon as we were settled on anchor, we jumped in the water for a cool down from the intense heat of the day. We were so singularly focused on this wonderful replacement for an air-conditioned cabin, that we didn’t notice at first the appalling amount of trash in the water, mostly bits and pieces of plastic, but also jerry jugs, used covid masks, and other unmentionables. This detritus was slowly flowing out of the harbor, and we timed our swim for the in between time before the floating debris came back into the harbor in the late evening. Every country has their priorities and their personalities, but I will just say that this experience was in stark contrast to our witness of local Sardinians, at the windy Open Skiff championships, chasing after the ubiquitous empty plastic water bottle rolling into the water from the dock, clearly passionate about not populating their local waters. A young sailor even lost a short length of thin line off the dock next to our boat, and was fretting until we offered our boat hook for her to retrieve it. 

Chill time at Camp del Mar, Mallorca

We had ultimately come to this southwestern corner of Mallorca to visit the isolated and enticingly named island of Dragonera. However, a strong southerly wind made the few anchorages on the island, most with only room for one or two boats, impractical. We opted instead for the big town experience of Andratx. And speaking of interesting names, I couldn’t break my mind out of wanting to say ‘Anthrax’, but Karen was quick to point out the correct pronunciation of ‘Ann-DRAW-chh’. We were in need of some provisioning, which made this sizable town an attractive last stop before we departed Mallorca for Ibiza. Boats of all sizes and speeds were zooming by us as we got closer to the mooring field, once again reminding us that boating has not gone out of fashion here in Spanish waters. It wasn’t clear how all of these boats kept their fuel tanks re-provisioned either, as we approached the tiny fuel dock at Club de Vela and took our place in line. But their staff was very professional and directed us to an empty buoy in their mooring field, after some fiddling about whether we had a reservation. Reservations. That was a concept we were going to have to get more used to, as we moved west in the Med, closer to the metropolises and vacation meccas of the jet-setting Europeans. I can’t remember ever being asked in Greece if we had a reservation – at a marina, restaurant or elsewhere.

Steep cliffs and lighthouse as we turn into Andratx
Homes cascading down the cliffs as we enter Andratx

Equally out of context for us was the upscale nature of the village and patrons. We got away from the grocery store with still a few euros, but my interest in buying a new swim suit were soured by the first store’s price tag of 95 euros, and the second stores 119 euros. It made a lot more sense to separate myself from that amount of euros at a pleasing outdoor cafe than to put a high fashion bathing suit on a 50+ man. Best to leave that for the well-heeled 20-something Spanish male, too many of which seemed to catch the eye of my wife!

The Andratx harbor and dinghy dock

In a town like Andratx where there seemed to be more restaurant seating than tourists, it’s always a shot in the dark to find a venerable dinner experience. Everything looks and smells good. With our life on the water all of the time, we try to divert to a street or two off the waterfront, where generally the prices are better, but for sure the quality is a step up. And on this evening, we lucked out, as we indoctrinated ourselves into the local dining culture by ordering a seafood paella for two. To say it was a sensation is an understatement. It might have even rivaled the fine paella handiwork of our Spaniard friend Lisa, the master of anything involving the kitchen, but I may have been caught up in the moment. She was eager to hear the details and we shared what we could, despite the delirious effects of the day’s heat, and the evening’s libations!

After a stroll along the waterfront, it was time to hit the berth and get ready for a morning departure to Ibiza. With the forecast calling for a brisk southeast breeze, the potential existed for a lively sail across the 50nm expanse. It was certainly a good excuse to go down early and rest up. Although we were only in Mallorca for a few days, not nearly the three weeks we spent during our first year in the Med, it brought us great pleasure to be criss-crossing the azure waters of the Balearic Islands, in the comfort of the familiar, while marveling in the joy of the new. 

The Explorations Begin – Mallorca, A Jewel of the Balearics, Ep. 97

The Approach to the Unforgettable Cala Calobra on the north coast of Mallorca!

At 3 am on the final day of May, we set off from the Marina in Puerto de Blanes on the Spanish coast (north east of Barcelona by about 70 kilometers – yes, we have fully converted to metric!). Today would be the first ‘crossing’ in our new boat … the shake-down cruise continues. Our destination is the harbor of Soller on the north coast of Mallorca, the largest of the Spanish Islas Baleares (Balearic Islands) in the western Mediterranean. The total distance we need to cover is 115 nautical miles (nm).  I think we were both fighting back some nerves as we pulled out of the harbor in the moonlit early morning hours. As is becoming our modus operandi, I was at the helm to pull us away from the dock and all went well since we had very little wind and absolutely no other boat traffic. Though I’ve had some close-quarters practice while we were berthed in Canet, France, I am still quite jittery as I attempt maneuvers at the dock since Tom handled nearly all of those tasks on Thalia, our previous boat.

We knew there was the likelihood of fish traps that could get snagged by our prop as we motored off shore so we both kept a watch until we got into water over 50 meters deep, which only took about 10 minutes of motoring!  We then began our watch schedule beginning with our morning person (Tom, of course) taking first watch. I snuggled back into bed and tried to get some sleep. The seas were quite choppy so a deep sleep was out of the question as the bow would frequently crash into an oncoming wave and make my body momentarily weightless in our forward berth. Our bed happens to be the worst place to sleep in these conditions and I could certainly move into one of our other sleeping quarters but I thought the seas would calm down! Three hours later, Tom would experience the same weightlessness! Oh well – life at sea.

Midway through our crossing, we had a wonderful surprise – a pod of dolphins dashing toward our bow to play in our wake! This is one of the very most special times on a boat – you can literally observe the happiness of the dolphins as they jump, flip and play around your moving home. Watch this video which is a compilation of the time they spent with us.

We picked the early morning departure time so that we could arrive at our destination during daylight hours. We are minimizing our risks and neither of us love to enter an unfamiliar harbor under the cover of darkness – especially when we would not have the helpful moon to light our way until well after midnight.  Because of this desire to arrive before sunset, we had a minimum speed we needed to maintain and, unfortunately, we had very little wind for most of the crossing. We enjoyed a couple hours under sail power but we would have liked more! As part of our new-boat obligations, we needed to break in the engine by running it pretty hard for the first 50 engine hours – which we were less than half way through. While this made the crossing pass relatively quickly, it made us both a little anxious; it is never relaxing to hear your engine operating at high RPMs and much less so when continuing for extended periods of time. Still, we want our girl to last a long time so we are going to take good care of her and this is supposed to aid with engine longevity!

As the day wore on, a cloud bank appeared to be building in front of us but since it was quite hazy, it wasn’t well defined. We would learn that this was really a silhouette of the island with a small cloud covering on its high peaks. As the truth came into focus, we saw the huge Mallorcan mountain range reaching into the heavens! The peaks around Soller are some of the highest on the island, reaching 1145 meters just a couple miles inland and this is what we were seeing materialize out of the haze of the afternoon – not a cloud bank! Now we really couldn’t wait to explore these islands.

The Approach to Mallorca, once the haze cleared and we could see the land!

All in all, we would spend three-and-a-half weeks in Mallorca and almost a week in Menorca, one of the other main islands in the Balearics. We had two different sets of guests on board in Mallorca and, since we wanted everyone to see as much of the island as possible, we navigated most of the way around it … a couple times! Instead of covering our time on Mallorca chronologically, we’re going to cover it by area on the island – I think this will make it easier from a readership perspective to get to know the island!

(include a map of the Balaerics, Mallorca broken down into how our posts will be organized … and any other map?)

In this post, I will focus on the north coast. The next blog post will cover the southeast coast, Cabrera – the island off the southern tip – and the city of Palma, the island’s capital. Finally, we’ll do one post on the island of Menorca to round out our time in Islas Baleares.

North Coast of Mallorca

The entrance to the Soller harbor is graced by two light houses and very dramatic cliffs and caves. The harbor is almost perfectly round and it has a great vibe! Upon arriving after a long day’s passage, we were nicely settled on our anchor by 6 pm – time to enjoy some champagne to celebrate our first successful open-water passage on Sea Rose! Soller is, quite interestingly, made up of two distinct town centers – the Port of Soller and the darling Town of Soller that is several miles inland to protect the population from long ago pirate activity – imagine that! It turns out to be quite common throughout the Mediterranean for coastal communities to move their towns into the inland hills and valleys.

And here are some photos of the inland town of Soller …

Old Trolly that Carries Tourists from Port Soller to the inland town of Soller

Town square in old inland town of Soller

We spent several nights in Soller, not only because it is a terrific little town but also because it is where we began our explorations of the island with both of our sons on board and, a week-and-a-half later, our good friends Steve and Patty. Each time, we rented a car and drove over to the very busy airport outside of Palma to pick up our guests. This also gave us the perfect excuse to shop in the huge stores around Palma so we could provision easily and also to get additional things we needed to make life on-board easier and more comfortable.

The north coast of Mallorca is very rugged with tall cliffs that often are vertical for hundreds of feet above and quite a distance below water as well. There are dramatic rock structures that surround natural coves which can be used for overnight anchoring if the weather is calm. The north coast is known for offering few protections if the weather turns. However, other than one “energetic” sail around Cabo de Formentor in the northeast, we enjoyed stable weather and explored as we wished. We typically stopped at one spot for lunch then moved on to where we would spend the night. There simply was so much beauty to be seen that we felt continually pulled toward the next exciting spot!

Cala de la Calobra and the ‘Torrente de Pareis’, the carved river valley that created this cove and the beautiful canyon walls inland as well. Truly stunning. There is a passageway through the cliff walls that allow you to walk from one cove to the other. We got some great photos of our boat looking out of the ‘windows’ in these passageways. This place was so amazing that we went there ourselves, then we took our sons there, then we also took Steve & Patty there. Some things should not be missed and this was one such place!

Cala Castell – The drone shots of this cala (cove in Spanish) say it all! Check it out.

Isn’t that a crazy slab of rock? It slants at a consistent angle to the water from a very high height and the rock is rough like maybe it was a volcanic flow that has deteriorated over time. As with many calas on the north shore, this one has no commercial development, just lots of goats and swimmers that hike over for the day.

Cala Val de Boca – This cove is incredibly barren but beautiful in that stark simplicity! Each night we anchored here, we heard goats bleating from the surrounding steeply pitched mountainsides. Though boats would enter the cala and loop around to check out the sights, no one ended up spending the night with us which made the evenings on the hook very special. The sky was pitch black, making you feel you could reach and grab a star of your choice. The sunrises were interesting. Since we were in a cove with very high sides, we could only see evidence that the sun had, in fact, risen even though our immediate surroundings were still somewhat gray. Steve took some great early-morning shots … hope you enjoy them and the other pictures of Cala Val de Boca!

Here are a couple other special shots from the north coast of Mallorca … enjoy!

Stay tuned until next time to learn all about the amazing southeast coast of Mallorca!