We spent our last couple of days in Menorca making the most of our time with our Swedish friends, Ulrika and Joel, as once we left we were headed in opposite directions and may never see them again. That’s a real downside to the cruising life. Meeting really great people you probably would never have crossed paths with if not for the boats, who you have to say goodbye to.
Our last four days we worked our way from the north coast to the south, stopping at Algayerens, Fornells, Isla Colom and Cala Porte.
At Algayerens there is supposed to be a fresh water spring where we planned to fill our kegs, but we couldn’t find it, so settled for a trek up the cliff instead past a big lagoon, green with algae and thick with wildlife such as turtles and dragonflies, and Joel got some great drone footage from the top overlooking the next Cala.
Anchored off the town of Fornells we cycled inland to the town of Mercadel which I’d read was a real foodie destination. Well I’m not sure where it got that name from but it wasn’t worth the 18km cycle of death along an A road in blistering heat. I can tell you Ben didn’t thank me for that one. The other thing I really wanted to go to Fornells for was the lobster stew it’s famous for, but wandering the lovely old streets scanning the menus we soon realised it couldn’t be had for less than 70 euros a pop. That just wasn’t happening….I could live without it!
The anchorage sheltered behind Isla Colom made up for our failed gourmet quest as we had a beach barbecue with the Swedes. Who needs to pay through the nose for overpriced seafood when you can cook fish you’ve caught yourself, roast corn over an open fire accompanied by smoky potatoes with fresh salads made and enjoyed with good friends?
We sat on the beach watching sand fleas ping in every direction when you walked, the dogs having a sniff around and enjoying being off the boat. The sun went down behind the boats at anchor and the stars came out one by one, soon filling the sky with a million sparkling diamonds made bright with little light pollution. The scuffling sounds from the bushes got louder and nearer as dark fell. We soon realised we were surrounded by rats! They were amazingly unafraid even with the fire but thankfully kept a few metres distance and as you’re not allowed to venture further inland than the beach of this tiny island we guessed the rats had taken over.
As we left way after dark, leaving the rats to our leftovers, we waded the dinghy out into deeper water and through clouds of bio luminescence….we all stood knee deep swishing our legs around to make them glow, a surreal and totally amazing memory.
Next day we all made our way down to Cala Porte on the south coast and anchored in a small but beautiful Cala.
We’d spotted loads of interesting looking caves along the way so we all got in our dinghy with the snorkelling gear and cameras to explore. We found one particular cave that had a kind of rock bridge across the entrance that you could swim through, letting sunlight flood the underwater cave and light it up bright blue. Ben made a short film of our cave diving which you can watch here
This was our jumping off point to start heading back across the islands and eventually out of the Med. Early next morning with decent winds forecast we sailed across to Mallorca, and halfway caught a Tuna!! It was about 2 feet long with huge eyes…a bit of panic ensued as even though we trail a big line with a squid lure off the back most days we never really hold much hope of catching anything, so how we got it on board was an issue. We planned to help pull it in with a bucket but as Ben finally got it up to the side of the boat it did a massive flip and unhooked itself. We were pretty gutted! On the shopping list is now a big net and a gaff hook.
We sailed from Menorca to Gibralter over 13 days stopping for only two days between sails. A total of 573 miles; 130 hours of sailing. This is a breakdown of our journey:
June 16th: Menorca to Mallorca. 10.5 hours
June 17th: Mallorca to Formentera. 26 hours
June 19th: Formentera to Cartagena, Spain. 31 hours
June 21st: Cartagena to Almerimar. 23 hours
June 23rd: rest day!
June 24th:Almerimar to Almunecar. 7 hours
June 25th: Almunecar to Morocco. 27 hours
June 27th: explored Tetouen, Morocco!
June 28th: Morocco to Gibralter. 5.5 hours
So all in all it was a mission getting back out of the Med but we had to get to the straights of Gibralter before the winds changed to strong Westerlies, which would make it near impossible going against them, however it gave us valuable overnight passage experience and helped build my confidence handling sails on my own, making any necessary course adjustments to avoid ships and feeling comfortable sailing in the dark. We were also glad to be getting out as it had started to get really busy in all the anchorages, with a lot of power boats that don’t seem to know how to anchor….one example is when we stopped in Formentera one boat lost control motored backwards dragging his anchor across our chain, un setting it. He said the electronic windlass had broken so couldn’t pull it up, meanwhile the wind had picked up threatening to start us dragging. Ben had to swim over, climb aboard his boat and show him you can actually pull an anchor up by hand!
There’s something really special about night watches; the millions more stars you can see with zero light around you, the phosphorescence as the boat cuts through the water (the weird bit is when you go to the toilet in the dark and the bowl flashes bright green when you pump the sea water through it) and the absolute velvet blackness of the sea. The only downside is having to get up every three hours for your watch, which until you get into a longer term routine means you don’t get proper sleep. Coupled with the fact most of our night passages were quite roly meant we arrived at each destination a little dazed and confused.
Making the most of being becalmed by having a leisurely dinner on deck
Seeing a turtle and pilot whales
Showering on deck with no land in sight
Getting footage of the boat sailing from the dinghy (feels weirder than it sounds being in a dinghy with no land around)
Catching our first Tuna
Being in Almerimar for San Juan Festival where there are fires on the beaches as far as the eye can see, and going swimming at midnight with the locals…..
We were determined to make it to Morocco, which we did albeit a flying visit, and based ourselves in Smir Marina just across the Straights from Gibralter and South of Cueta. The closest city was Tetouen so we explored the Old Town for a day with the help of a local guide called Ahmed. I was a bit worried about it being too hot as with it being a Muslim country I had to completely cover up, which was a bit daunting after spending the last few months in bikini and shorts, but thankfully there was a strong breeze and the maze of alleyways in the old towns are almost completely in shade. I didn’t get hassled at all (just a lot of staring and one persistent man asking for money) I think helped by the fact we were with Ahmed and he knew EVERYONE! Unfortunately we’d arrived the day after Ramadam so all the markets were closed with it being a three day holiday! We were a bit disappointed as we’d planned to find our wedding bands there and I was looking forward to stocking up on spices and browsing the stalls. Nevertheless it’s a fascinating place and we’ll hopefully stop at Rabat or somewhere on the Atlantic coast when we make way for the Canaries.
We were delayed leaving by an hour or so as we found the engine had dumped a load of coolant due to a corroded pipe, so Ben had to do a temporary fix using a type of self bonding silicone tape.
Being outside the EU you have to fully check in and out of the country which means visiting customs and the police. We’d heard it could take up to four hours but it was super efficient and we were done within an hour and when clearing out the boat was searched and passports stamped, all quite straightforward. Then when making our way up the coast we were hailed on the radio by a Moroccan Warship! Basically they take all your details and travel plans, and basically want to know your reasons for being in their waters, not surprising as Morocco gets a lot of drug trafficking and the refugee crisis is obviously still a prominent issue with one of the main routes now being across to Spain.
*Many times when sailing between Gibralter and the Costa Blanca we’ve heard PanPan calls from the coastguard warning of boats spotted full of migrants making their way across. If you see them you’re supposed to report the position. I always found it quite emotional to listen to and we’ve got a rough plan of what we’d do if we came across a boat in trouble ie. Most boats are carrying between 30-60 people so you run a real risk of becoming swamped yourselves*
We had a fast and furious sail back across the shipping lanes to Gibralter where we filled the tanks with tax free fuel, and checked in to Marina Bay for 5 days. You’re not allowed to anchor in Gibralter Bay so I’d say this marina is the most convenient for the airport as it’s a 10 minute walk (you walk right across the runway). I flew home to be with my Mum after her operation and meanwhile Ben cracked on with a few jobs.
The day I got back we left for a 27 hour sail back to Faro! We were again racing the wind and had to make the most of the Easterlies which meant we could sail and not motor. Rounding Tarifa we had 30+kts of wind against tide so fairly choppy seas but after that it was lovely, smooth sailing which was welcome considering I’d been up since 4am and needed the sleep.
We anchored off Isla Culatra for two nights and it was really nice being back on the car-less island of sand, home to the 1 euro beer. We had a wild and windy walk up the beach and a swim, which was noticeably fresher being the Atlantic, but made a welcome difference to the warm Mediterranean!
Friday morning we lifted out back up at Bruces yard and have set about getting the boat ready to leave for a couple of months.
Jobs on the list:
Scrub hull of any algae and freeriders
Wash salt off sails
Take jib down and stow
Flush through main engine, outboard, generator and toilets with fresh water (the toilets particularly as a few weeks in 30 degrees heat means any marine life in the pipes will have a very stinky party whilst we’re gone – rotten eggs doesn’t even come close!)
Strip gearbox off engine to get replacement damper plate and fix the oil leak
Clean out fridges and use up perishables
Clean dinghy and repair seams
In two days time we are making a detour flight to Valencia to go to Benicassim music festival with our friends Helen and Morgan (cannot wait!!) before flying back to England. We’re really looking forward to spending some proper time with friends and family, especially at the wedding, and of course seeing our Miley pup.