Spring. It is a time of rebirth. A time to shake off the chill of winter and make haste with plans for the new season. Tasks for our upcoming summer of sailing were sprinkled across the winter like a new fallen snow; little reminders that in a region with such strongly defined seasons like New England, one can’t be too tempted to placate the present without planning for the future.
In a parallel universe two seasons ago, we had made plans over the winter to leave Greece behind and sail west out of the Mediterranean and henceforth along the Iberian peninsula to cross the Bay of Biscay from Spain to France. We had read stories of the Bay of Biscay, nearly all of a dire nature. Monstrous waves – the kind that bury the bow in water – temperamental winds, a large enough expanse to be beyond immediate help, and a sudden change in depth forcing the incoming ocean swells into a witch’s cauldron halfway across. It wasn’t until our insurance company charged an additional premium and required additional safety gear onboard for the crossing did I start to take these stories more seriously. Among the gear, we were required to install a higher capacity bilge pump.
Ever get that feeling that you are spinning your wheels? Like, as much as you try, you can’t move forward? We had just finished our Covid bubble embraces with Dan, Don and Shelly at Portosin. It was time for our last big push before our haulout in a week. The sky was dark and threatening to rain, but we needed to make progress. We shoved off the dock at the Real Club Nautico. As lines and fenders were getting stowed in lockers, we quickly got stopped in our tracks. A row of floats had been placed across the harbor entrance. At the far end, a skiff with several people plus a diver were busy handling lines and moving equipment. At the same time, I noticed a distant voice on the breakwater yelling and waving their hands. Were they trying to get our attention? As we approached closer, it was clear there was a line on the surface strung between the floats, blocking any vessel movement. At the skiff end, a narrow gap remained with barely a single boat’s width between them and craggy concrete forms angling down into the depths from the breakwater. Karen got on the VHF radio and tried to call them. I did my best to send a confused hand signal to them. Instead, they started motioning us to run the gap. There was no way we’d have any part of that. First, the diver was randomly disappearing from the surface, presumably to the sea floor. Where he would surface next was anyone’s guess. Second, we didn’t know the depth so close against the breakwater. The whole situation was appalling. Here was a harbor with at least 50 pleasure boats, and possibly as many commercial fishing boats, including several deep sea craft, and these guys were blocking essentially any movement in and out. The yeller onshore kept up his antics, and the skiff boys continued to insist there was enough width and depth. Regardless, we knew one thing for sure. If we ran aground or, worse, struck a diver, it wouldn’t matter what some bystanders said was safe. It would be our neck on the line. Another local fishermen was speeding back into the harbor, up on a plane, and nearly struck the float line before being waved off. Finally, we were able to reach the marina on the radio. They sent one of their launches out to meet us, talk to the skiff people, and get them to move their gear over so we could safely exit the harbor. We never found out what they were fishing for. I’m all for supporting a person busily putting fish on the table at home, but I draw the line when they put others at risk and cause a navigational hazard.
With the warm Atlantic waters lapping at its door step, no city quite captures the essence of southern Spain like Cadiz. Aromas waft up from sidewalk-busting cafes leading to hundred year old trees shading cozy neighborhood squares. Majestic coastal fortifications once built to ward off marauding intruders now wrap pedestrians in a warm embrace, perched as they are high above the din of the city. Residents and Spanish tourists alike walk as if guided by deeply embedded cultural cues, as they seek out the most direct path to a siesta sponsored beach afternoon, towel and umbrella in tow.
I recognized very little of a city my parents insisted we visit on a quick vacation to Spain many decades ago. With only a handful of years under my belt, I remembered the name Cadiz, but painfully little else. Such is the curse of family trips with young children. Paradoxically, we struggle to remember now, cursed as our brains are with little room to store a lifetime of memories.
On my first summer home from college, I found myself a bit behind on a search for a job. My high hopes to find a position in my field of engineering study had turned up empty. With just a year of advanced learning under my belt, it seemed like I was a charity case that no one wanted to take on. Before leaving for college, I had worked summers at a boat rental business in San Diego’s Mission Bay, far better than many of my other friend’s jobs working the fast food kitchen scene, but if I was going to have to revert to a mindless job, I wanted to try something different than the norm. I never liked to lean on friends, or more specifically, friend’s parents, but our family was connected to an executive at Sea World, and he was more than happy to line up a summer gig for me. When I showed up for work on the first day, I assumed I was going to be taking tickets or flipping over-priced theme park burgers. So you can imagine my surprise when I was told I would be a rotating crew member prancing around the park in a full-length costume of none other than Shamu, the iconic killer whale made lovable and non-threatening for all of the young children visiting the park. On one hour rotations, I would suit up, after spraying down the insides with deodorant, and walk around and pose for pictures with huge groups of little kids in tow. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an extravert, but something fundamentally transformative happens when you dress up beyond recognition. You can be anyone you want and no one is the wiser. It was my summer acting sabbatical, and by far the funnest summer job I’ve ever had. After posing with me, little kids would tug the shirt tails of their parents for a stuffed Shamu toy or themed snow globe at the conveniently located adjacent store. And so it was good for business, before up-selling was really a thing. I’d hang up the costume at the end of the day, ride my bike an hour home, rest up and do it all again the next day. The not-so-subtle messaging for parents and kids was the undeniable charm, and dare I say cuddliness, of Shamu the Killer Whale. He might have a scary name, but if you could pose with him, buy him in a stuffed package, and watch a full-sized one leap out of the show tank and allow a trainer to stick his whole head in the giant mammal’s mouth, he’s not really that dangerous, right? Wrong!!
Killer whales, or orcas, as they are more appropriately named, have been known to injure or kill their trainers, a fact that Sea World was trying hard to play down. But yet, on the whole, they have largely been benign to humans, as people watch them safely from whale watching boats in popular sites like off Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest. However, starting last summer, orcas started to attack boats off the Portuguese and Spanish Atlantic coasts, causing damage to sailboats in particular, and leading many boats to be towed to port for haul out and repairs. Orcas had visited boats in this region before, and in fact, they would commonly follow fishing boats that were netting their popular prey in these waters, the tasty tuna. But it was very rare for them to attack a boat. Yet, there were now regular reports of these ‘encounters’, as the scientists studying the matter would refer to the activity. Oddly, they had an affinity for sailboats; and, after swimming along next to the hull, they would turn more aggressive and push against the rudder, turning boats suddenly ninety degrees and causing injury to some skippers as the helm turned violently. They would often follow this up by biting at the rudder itself; and reports were coming in late last summer with pictures of boats hauled out and showing severely damaged rudders.
Our plans to leave the Med last summer had changed due to Covid, and while we stayed in Greece, we were still alarmed at the damage these orcas were doing. At one point last year the Spanish coast guard imposed a navigational restriction along the entire northwest coast of Spain for boats under 15 meters, which would have included our 12,6m Sea Rose. Reports were being gathered by a coalition of scientists called the Atlantic Orca Working Group, which showed ‘encounters’ from the northwest of Spain all the way down to Gibraltar. We hoped it was an anomaly last summer, but as sailboats started transiting the coast again this spring, reports started coming in again, with the most prevalent area for attacks being the stretch from Gibraltar to Cadiz, Spain.
As Karen and I made our way westward from Greece, we read with angst the accounts of other sailboaters that had been attacked. There were times when multiple attacks occurred in one week. It was easily the biggest source of stress we had, even more than the long multiple day passages we were enduring between islands. As we pushed west along Spain’s Costa del Sol, the stress level continued to increase, like a kettle ready to boil over. How were we going to get through this gauntlet? During an attack, the risk of injury was high, and if we had to be towed to an unknown port for repairs, that could put a halt to the rest of our season, and disrupt the plans of friends coming to sail with us.
Just two weeks before our planned passage between Gibraltar and Cadiz, sailboats were being struck almost every day. And no one, scientist or layperson, had any clear explanation why. Finally, a boater heading to Cadiz reported that they chose to stay tight against the shoreline, in water only 5-10m deep, with the theory that orcas don’t like shallow water. They had escaped orca-free. Indeed, most of the recent attacks were at least 5-8 nautical miles offshore. Then, another boater tried the same thing, providing a helpful GPS track of their entire route from Tarifa, just west of Gibraltar, hugging the cliffs and beaches along the 50 mile passage to Cadiz. The alternative we had been considering, of going far offshore and looping around to Portugal, seemed problematic as we had no way at that far distance from land and without a satellite phone to call for help if we were attacked. So, we latched on to the close-in-shore route. It felt good to have some kind of plan, instead of leaving the odds of an attack to chance, like a game of russian roulette.
As a warmup for our orca avoidance strategy, we cautiously entered the busy harbor of Gibraltar, with its iconic angled rock precipice. We knew it would be busy but we were not at all prepared for the mayhem that greeted us as we rounded the corner of Europa Point. The harbor was full of tankers and cargo ships, some moving, others appearing to be stationary, but then suddenly moving again. Fast ferries were running between the harbor and Morocco, just 10 miles south. Work boats, supply boats, and pilot boats were running back and forth between the big ships. It seemed clear that pleasure boats like ours were at the bottom of the pecking order, and we were expected to avoid all of the commercial traffic despite any legacy rules of navigation. Worse than the large cargo ships were the many slightly smaller tankers doing pirouettes as they rafted up to the large ships, handed over bulky fuel hoses, and resupplied bunker fuel to these beasts of the sea. One car carrier had a tanker on both sides, taking on fuel while looking like a gargantuan trimaran.
They were anchored so close together that as we nosed around the stern of these rafted ships, another supply tanker might just be barreling down in front of us, or overtaking us from the stern. It was all hands and eyes on deck. Adding to the message of commercial-boats-welcome-others-not-so-much, we headed to an anchorage off the beach at La Linea, joining a few other boats at a spot rumored to be illegal for small boat anchoring. Boaters here were prone to being swatted away by the maritime police despite it being marked as an anchorage on the chart. Gibraltar is known as a good re-supply area. Fuel is duty free here, which might explain the preponderance of bunkering operations in the harbor. But for us, we just needed to find a grocery store.
La Linea is technically part of Spain, and although we got lost on our walk to find a grocery store, we didn’t cross the line just five minutes south into the territory of Gibraltar. So close, yet so far!
With our stores replenished, we were left to debate the merits of staying on anchor at La Linea, with the threat of being asked to move in the middle of the night, or seeking out an anchorage across the expansive harbor. We chose the later, only to find out the anchorage we were headed toward also forbid anchoring, apparently because it was in a marine reserve area. With the amount of hydrocarbons being emitted by all of the big boats in this harbor burning putrid bunker fuel, the dirtiest fuel imaginable, it seemed like Gibraltar needed a lot more of these marine reserves. We were down to one bullet in the magazine, and that was the small harbor of Tarifa at the western end of Gibraltar Strait, requiring us to transit the Strait today … now, as dusk approached. The winds were uncharacteristically out of the east, making our westbound transit a bit more practical despite a strong eastbound current. Karen and I looked at each other and decided, with a combination of equal amounts bravado and angst, to go for it and run the Strait, even though we had already come 50 miles. Tarifa is a name you hear all of the time on the radio in these waters — ‘Tarifa Traffic’ is the radio handle that acts like the air traffic controller of vessel traffic through the Strait. The town also has a reputation for extremely high winds, with 40 knot blows not uncommon and a wind of at least 30 knots per day for 300 days out of the year. Hoping this would be one of the other 65 days, we raised our jib and motor sailed westbound close to the northern shore to get some relief from the counter current. As Tarifa started to come into view, we killed the engine and enjoyed 7 knots of boat speed with just the jib up. And just as quick, it wasn’t fun anymore. The wind speed hit 20 knots and we started to make a plan to furl the jib. Suddenly, I saw the anemometer shoot up to 38 knots. There it was, the 300 days per year statistic continuing to make its mark. I started cranking in on the winch to furl the jib and immediately the line became taut. Something was jammed. When you have high winds and can’t get the sail furled, it’s extremely dangerous. Rigging can break, sails can rip to shreds. Karen was trying to keep some tension on the jib sheet but the whipping of the jib was pulling the sheets out of her hands and slapping them mercilessly on the deck, with the jib itself snapping and cracking in the blow. We tried turning upwind slightly, but the furling line was still tight as a guitar string and we were headed directly for rocks on the north shore. I cranked the winch even harder, not sure what else to do, but fearing my actions might cause blocks, lines or furlers to explode into pieces under the load. Finally, I gave up and ran along the side deck to the bow, where the problem was clearly evident. As we started to furl the jib, slack sail material had caught the rolled up Code 0 halyard in its path, and tried to roll that line inside the jib. My cranking effort was about to do real damage. Back at the cockpit, we headed on a beam to the wind and let the jib out further, despite it cracking even louder in the wind, until it was free of its death grip on the Code 0 halyard. Sheets were snapping like a hundred school kids cracking their towels at once in a junior high school locker room. With the jib blowing away from the halyard, it furled up slowly and steadily, until the cacophony died down and we had the sails and lines all restrained and put in their place. We were both exhausted. The rocky northern shore kept looming closer and we breathed a sign of relief as we redirected Sea Rose under motor back westbound out the Strait.
In the fading light and reduced heart rate, Karen guided us into the anchorage at Tarifa, where a few kite boarders were just wrapping up their day of play in the high winds. We crept into the beach slowly to find a good anchoring depth, dropped the hook, backed down to make sure it was set, and then shut down the engine. The day’s navigating was now over, thank goodness.
Tarifa is the southern most point of the European continent, and was the landing spot of the Moors as they took over the Iberian peninsula. All we needed to take was a quick dinner and flat bed. But we had been told by another boater about an excellent seminar on the orcas, recorded a few months ago by one of the lead scientists in the Atlantic Orca Working Group. It felt prudent to watch it before our run tomorrow through these orca-infested waters. There were a lot of theories about why the orcas started attacking sailboats, but the scientist Ruth Esteban, was hesitant without additional data to validate these theories. One that was most intriguing to me related to Covid 19 in a circuitous way. With fewer fishing boats and tuna nets in use since Covid, the orcas can’t hunt tuna in the same they used to. So they go after boats. Regardless, the working group’s suggestion if one were to have an ‘encounter’ was to furl sails, stop the engine, step away from the helm, and secure anything in the cabin that might come loose in a sudden movement of the boat. It was interesting to hear a scientist’s perspective, but in the end the video likely made us even more anxious.
In the morning, we posted a cheat sheet in the cockpit of what we would do if orcas approached us. I also mounted several cameras with various angles so that we could capture video to send to the working group. Karen constructed a detailed route in the chart plotter along the coast from Tarifa to Cadiz, keeping us in no more than 10-15m of water, while avoiding off-lying rocks and other hazards. And we discussed how we would handle watches. Without question, we would both be 100% dedicated to navigating until we were safely tied up in Cadiz. One person would be at the helm, the other up on the foredeck sweeping for shallows, other boats, and dorsal fins. This would allow the person at the helm to look down at the chartplotter as needed without worrying about hitting something. We agreed to wear our lifejackets all day and to switch positions every hour.
At the start, as we pulled up anchor at Tarifa with just enough morning light to see, it was somewhat anticlimactic. There was no wind, the water was flat, and the scenery tremendous. We never navigate this close to shore, but the upside is that we could enjoy the cliffs and rocks and beaches with clarity, as long shadows were cast upon the waterfront. When I took over at the helm, I found myself steering away from the coast and out to sea. I had to fight the subconscious thought that we were too close and could run aground.
Back on the foredeck, I found my mind drifting off at times. As much as you try, it is hard to singularly focus on a task for an hour at a time. Watching for passing cars at a crosswalk is one thing, but staring for an hour for an errant driver is another challenge all together. Still, we stuck to our plan, while taking in the beautiful views of the coastline. Then a call came in on the VHF. A boater was trying to reach Tarifa Traffic. We huddled around the handset to hear them explain how they had been attacked earlier this morning by orcas. We tried to get a lat/lon on their position, but were unsuccessful. Hearing a firsthand account of an attack made us all the more concerned. The only bright side was the fact their call was a bit scratchy, indicating that they were some distance away from us. But the attack had occurred earlier in the morning, and their location at that time was unclear.
We approached the town of Barbate. The waters off of here had been a common area for attacks over the last few weeks, and boats that were disabled had been towed into the local boatyard. I could see in the distance the signature bright orange color of a search and rescue boat exiting the Barbate harbor entrance and heading out to sea at full throttle. We had not heard any calls on the radio, but it didn’t take much imagination to guess what they were doing.
We followed the indent of the coast at Barbate tightly. Strangely, small fishing boats were scattered all over the waters here, some fishing close into shore, others motoring out to fish in deeper waters. We came up behind another sailboat leaving the Barbate harbor, but soon we turned north to follow the inshore route while they headed out into deeper waters. Had they not heard the warnings, and recommendations of other boaters? When we were in the Medicane last year, I remember having the same feeling, as we headed north a safe distance away while a few boaters headed south right into the path of the storm.
Off of Barbate is Cape Trafalgar, site of the historic Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic wars. Other than some fluky currents and shallow waters, we negotiated the sharp point of land without issue, passing a large collection of small fishing boats and even a group of kayakers. Again, we were left to wonder if they had heard of the recent orca attacks. Maybe we were being too cautious, I thought. As we cleared the Cape and navigated through a long stretch of shallow reefs, we heard a distinctly British women’s voice come on the radio, asking for news on the latest orca attack locations and how best to navigate around Cape Trafalgar. She was a stranger to me, but the tension and worry in her voice were unmistakable. When no one else replied, I hailed her on the radio, but other traffic got in the way of us connecting. And then it became clear why the radio traffic was so busy. We heard a clear call on the radio. A man was calling to a catamaran nearby them. He kept repeating that ‘they are leaving me and coming to you now. Watch out!’ We were understandably eager to find out their location. Two attacks in one day, and no position data. I called into Tarifa Traffic, as did other boats, asking for a relay of the boat’s coordinates. No answer came. Finally, in a wise move on their part, Tarifa Traffic started a Securite call, a general safety call to all vessels in the listening area. They reported an orca attack just offshore of Barbate, and announced the start of a navigation exclusion zone in that area, an area we had just passed through an hour before. That could have been us if we were further off-shore and we had not left so early from Tarifa.
Later we heard that the orcas were going back and forth between two boats, causing damage to both. A search and rescue boat came to the scene and tried to scare the orcas away, but they continued to attack. One boat lost steerage and had to be towed into port.
This was all chilling news as we tried to concentrate on our inshore route. We felt very fortunate to escape being attacked, but very sad for those who had been.
Staying close inshore on the remaining 20 miles to Cadiz was complicated by numerous submerged rocks, laid out in even rows like wheel tracks on a freshly cut lawn. It continued to surprise us how many sailboats were out in deep water, as if this was any random weekend afternoon of casual, blissful sailing. More sailboats kept coming out of the Cadiz harbor channel, lost in their tactics of when and where to tack, while we weary sailors speedily cut the channel buoys short to make it inside the protected harbor without delay. Nothing could have been better than the inner sanctum of Cadiz’s Marina Puerto America, inside the inner breakwater. As we nestled into our assigned slip, this time comfortably with a finger pier next to us just like docks back home, words can not properly capture how relieved we were to have made it through the gauntlet of orcas. We weren’t out of the woods completely, as a few attacks had come in from points further up the coast, but we were through the worst of it. It was time for a walk on terra firma, a quick dinner, and a long sleep!
Having filled our cup of historical knowledge, we set sail from Cartagena for a 25nm jump westward to find protection behind a large headland at Ensenada de la Fuente as a two day blow passed offshore of us. We couldn’t have asked for a better natural windbreak.
We left off the previous post having just gotten to the ‘Costa Brava’ region along the southeast coast of Spain from Menorca Island. We had enjoyed our short time along this area on our way to the Balearic Islands so we were excited to see more.
We originally planned to cross directly from the Balearics to Corsica, the very large French island south of France and west of Northern Italy. However, we also needed to have a couple boat warranty items worked on and since we liked the work SAS had done originally, we decided to return to them. It was back to Canet-en-Roussillion for us! This would also work out well as a place we could leave the boat while we would be off it for a little over a week.
In the morning after we arrived in Tossa de Mar, Spain, we went ashore and walked all over this darling town. There is a large fortification that has been nicely maintained to include beautiful walking paths and easy connections between the high fortress and the curvy old narrow streets of the town.
We continued NE up the coast of Spain and stopped at another wonderful, if very busy, harbor – Aiguablava! I created a short video several weeks ago highlighting the snorkeling and the wonderful caves, cliffs and tiny bays scattered nearby so I’ll share that here as a highlight of our time in Aiguablava, Spain.
Our next anchorage was Cala Tabellera, just north of the Golf of Roses but still on the Spanish coastline. This place is amazing – between here and the boarder with France are a million places to tuck in and explore. We quickly came to appreciate that one could spend many days exploring the coves and bays in this part of Spain. Unfortunately, we only had the one day left since we would soon be on a flight back to the US for a quick visit and we had to get Sea Rose safely tucked in first!
Notice the very different landscape and vegetation in this part of the Spanish coast. While it was barren and somewhat stark, it was lovely in its ruggedness!
In the morning, we made the 25 mile trip back to Canet-en-Roussillion! We had been in Spanish waters for about five weeks and we were missing France and what we had begun to appreciate about the French people. Putting our French courtesy flag back up as we crossed the boarder brought smiles to both of our faces!
From Canet, we flew home to see our sons and to attend a ceremony for our older son’s beginning of medical school. We have been living on board for almost six weeks. As I contemplate that, I have to ask myself ‘What is home, after all?’ Were we flying ‘home’ or were we leaving our ‘home’ here in France? The boat had certainly become comfortable and familiar to us. We had done several projects over the weeks to have it fit our needs and we were liking the life we could live from aboard her. So, was this boat now our ‘home’? I would have to say, ‘no … it is very lovely and a lot of fun but for me it is not “home” ’. Home is closer to where my sons are. Home is a place from which I can easily communicate with my aging parents. Home is having good friends nearby who are eager to go for frequent walks and have meaningful talks. Home has a yard that my sweet dog runs around in – probably wondering where the heck his parents are. Tom would have to answer this question from his own perspective and definition of what “home” is for him, but there you have my deep thoughts for this week!
When we got back on Sea Rose, we both realized we had missed her and we were excited for the explorations ahead of us! We brought three HUGE checked bags back with us, each pushing the 50 lb weight limit. Over the previous weeks, we had had a bunch of boat parts and other stuff we needed shipped to our home in New Hampshire, knowing we would be there to retrieve it all and bring it back! While home, I also made an awning to keep the afternoon sun off the deck, and thus prevent our downstairs living space from being overheated. Finding a storage place for all this new s#*$ took some work but it was stuff we needed so it had to find a home! For those interested in my handiwork, here’s some pix of the awning!
We quickly provisioned and checked on the work that had been done. Our new batteries seem to be doing the job, but time will be the judge here. We were thrilled to have a second water tank added to bring our on-board fresh water capacity up to 140 gallons (530 liters). The warranty repair work had also been completed.
We had a friend (Emmy) we were to meet in Toulon, France in 4 days time so we tossed off the dock lines to cross the Golf of Lyon with a hopeful destination southeast of Marseille — the Parc National des Calanques. This is essentially a national park highlighting the stunning limestone fjords (which the French call ‘Calanques’) that the area is famous for. We know there is so much to explore along the French coastline and with more time we would have gone at a slower pace. It seems we are looking at this summer as a tasting or sampling of sorts to know the places we would love to spend more time in! Here’s a map of our journey covered in the rest of this blog post:
Once we arrived in the Calanques, we were happy with our choice to jump here from Canet! We anchored in a calanque called Sormiou and took in the surrounding tall ridgelines as we relaxed for the first time since we left Boston on our way back to the boat four-and-a-half days ago! We took our dinghy into their tiny harbor the next morning and it seemed the whole town was here … in the water for their morning swim! What a cute place. We walked up onto the ridge and flew the drone to get a perspective of this great spot. Here is a collection of shots we took while in Sormiou.
We moved to the next calanque east — Calanque de Morgiou — for a lunch and snorkel stop. This place was also terrific and could be enjoyed for several days. There were crowds of people swimming and cliff jumping so clearly we found a popular spot!
We then found our night’s stop as we tied up to a steep cliff in Port Miou! What a terrific spot! As the pilot book warned, we had cliff jumpers making the terrifying leap from far above into the waters just off our stern!
The town of Cassis was supposed to be very nice, so in the evening we set off for the 30 minute walk into town. They like their hills around here! By the time we arrived, we were both sweaty and thirsty! We sat down at a Paris-style café to people watch and quench our thirst!
Back on the boat, we snuggled in for a good night’s sleep after our exercise and libations! We were awoken at 3 am by a thunder and lightening storm that was fascinating to watch. We could see flashes and bolts in the distance and the speed at which the storm approached was awesome. Of all places to be anchored, we were pretty safe where we were since the rock walls surrounding us were taller than our mast and we were with a bunch of other sailboats – comfort in numbers! This storm was a preview to a period of high winds that we would have to work with for the next couple days. With this knowledge in hand, we set off as soon as we could to get closer to where we would meet Emmy. We picked the island of Porquerolles since it was just off shore from Toulon and Hyeres-Plage, where the airport is located. This island had the added benefit of a couple anchorages that are oriented such that we will have good protection from the building winds.
As we dropped the lines and pulled away from the calanque, the winds picked up right away; we spent most of the day in 20-plus knots of wind. Luckily, both the wind and the seas were coming from behind us so, although it was quite rough, we were not really slamming into the waves as much as surfing along the tops of them. However, since the waves were big, we decided to jibe back and forth with the wind always about 30 degrees off our stern from first the port then the starboard side. Sailing at even this small angle off of a straight down-wind course makes more efficient use of the wind (since both sails can be filled versus one sail blanketing the other) and it is safer because you have less of a chance of an accidental jibe. A jibe is when the wind switches from coming from one side of your boat (say, the starboard side) to the other (port side) and occurs because the wind angle has gone past your stern (versus the wind crossing your bow which would be a ‘tack’). When this happens, your sails respond to the new wind direction and on a jibe your boom swings across your boat and people or things in the way can get injured/damaged if the jibe is not expected and properly managed. It is best to help the boom over more gently by bringing the mainsheet in so the boom doesn’t have as far to travel. When you are going directly downwind, just a tiny wind angle change can cause your boom to go crashing from one side of your boat to the other, often catching the skipper by surprise. And, when you are surfing down huge waves every few seconds and your boat is tossed about in the process, it is incredibly easy to accidentally jibe. I realize that was a long explanation but I know some of you may want to understand the reason we often sail just off from a straight down-wind course … especially when we have big seas.
We arrived at Porquerolles in the late afternoon and found the anchorage highly utilized – its seems lots of other people had the same goal of finding a protected anchorage! Once we settled in, Tom swam around the anchorage with the GoPro as he looked at our neighbor’s anchors and whether or not they were properly set. The winds were supposed to be very strong all night and it is much easier and safer to work these things out during daylight than to stumble about on deck in the middle of the night! Luckily, everyone near us had their anchors set and they had plenty of scope (length of chain as determined by a ratio to the depth of water you are anchored in).
The winds were predicted to be high for a second day so we stayed put off of Porquerolles. It was actually nice to relax prior to having a guest on board. In the evening, we opened some letters that our friends had sent with us to raise our spirits if they dipped during our summer adventure. Our dear friend Michelle has a history of organizing ‘Theme Nights’ when our crazy group of friends get together so she sent some stuff along to encourage fun in her absence!
In the morning, we raised anchor and headed over toward Hyeres-Plage (near Toulon) where we would do laundry, provision for food/beverages and clean our boat! Emmy was to land around 3 pm so we had to scramble to get our chores done and arrive at the airport to greet her on time. It is worth the effort to be able to welcome a friend on board a clean boat that is ready for entertaining guests!
Hope you enjoyed hearing about our time along the Spanish and French coastlines. Our next blog post will cover our final night along the French coast before we jump over to Corsica – or ‘Corse’ as the French call it. It IS their island after-all so I’m happy to call it Corse!
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.
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 …
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!