When yachts cruise Spain they are likely to spend majority of time in the Balearic Islands. Excluding a 100 kilometre stretch around Valencia, we’ve now sailed the entire length of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Barring a few gems on the mainland such as the Costa Brava region, a mandatory Barcelona stop and Peniscola, we found the east and south coast to be largely uninspiring and uninviting for a cruising yachtie. Spain’s real cultural treasures generally lie inland.
Off the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsular, the alluring Balearic archipelago is one of the western Med’s primary cruising grounds and comprise the key islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. We’d read that we might encounter charges for anchoring or painful mooring restrictions in popular bays. Thankfully, arriving early September and thus outside peak cruising season, our timing was perfect.
Like much of Spain’s mainland coast, Mallorca has not escaped mass tourism development, particularly areas lining the bay of Palma de Mallorca. Fortunately majority of the island is unspoilt, gloriously mountainous and forested, attracting outdoorsy types with hiking, biking, climbing and canyoning in an extensive underground cave system. Understandably an impressive portfolio of A-listers also own property there, such as Michael Douglas, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, Claudia Schiffer and Michael Schumacher. Our guest Deanne believes she made eye contact with one Orlando Bloom in Deia but politely omitted to tell us at the time. We first landed in Porto Andraitx, fringed by tamarisk pines and enviable Spanish holiday villas.
The Mediterranean is notoriously over-fished. Sure the selection appears impressive at local fish markets, seafood restaurants abound and the pretty wooden boats driven by weathered-faced fishermen are endearing, but they run nets and trawlers often drag weights along the seabed hauling everything in their path. That means little is left for us, and so ensued a two-summer long drought. Perhaps we were just using the wrong lure. Travelling further west we encountered an increasing number of marine reserves allowing fish numbers to regenerate. Coincidentally within days of arriving to Mallorca, the drought was finally broken when Mike hooked a bonito. Apart from a little lake fishing as a Nova Scotia youngster, this was to be his first fish and as you can tell from that grin, he was chuffed. Counting the rods, reels, line and countless lost lures this wee mack-tuna only set us back about $400! But fortunately it was not the last, and whilst we threw back anything too small (more than half) our luck has well and truly turned around since.
A buzzing cosmopolitan city with wide leafy boulevards, high-end shopping, old-town laneways bursting with tapas bars, a sprawling marina full of mega-yachts and majestic cathedral, sunny Palma de Mallorca is the Balearic’s capital.
Following a period of Arab rule, construction of Mallorca’s grand, honey-coloured cathedral began in the early 1300s; completed 1601. Sixty-one intricate stain glassed windows line a vast vaulted ceiling, including the 11-metre central rose window that radiates a magical yellow, purple and green glow across the congregational pews.
Our favourite Mallorca anchorage was the three-pronged cala of Portals Vells. We stopped there on three different occasions over our month-long stay to swim, drink takeaway cervezas on the beach and explore hand-dug Phoenician tombs. Smack in the middle of the bay was a popular nudist beach. Of all the Mediterranean coasts we’ve cruised, the Spaniards outdo everyone in terms of embracing the birthday suit.
We randomly met Tim Lucas and his 43′ foot monohull Slick (pictured below) last summer when seeking refuge in a semi-deserted Turkish bay. In his mid-30s and exceptionally bright, Tim is a retired US Navy nuclear submarine engineer with a nuclear engineering PHD. He and Dad stayed in close contact, both wintering on the hardstand in Marmaris – helping each other with post and pre-season maintenance and swapping military stories. This year we caught up with Tim in Malta, Sardinia and again in Mallorca. An old Navy friend Nathan joined him for three months in the Med, though for the most part, Tim sails single-handed and is now only one ocean (the Atlantic) away from circumnavigating the world. With time to himself lately he’s had plenty of opportunity to reflect and assess. And understandably, he’s now keen to get to back to a somewhat normal life, career, relationships and four solid walls at night. Though my blog may portray this life afloat as a simple business of touring, tanning and margarita drinking, Tim’s blog provides some very real insights to the other side of the coin. Well worth a read for anyone seriously interested in pursuing a nomadic yachtie life (though also not to scare you off!) – such as his post on Captaincy or this interview. One step closer to taking Slick back to Boston, we wish Tim and crew well on their early December Atlantic crossing!
Close to our anchorage at Soller (the only protected harbour on the northern coast) the sleepy mountain town of Deia is recognised as the home and eventual burial place of English poet Robert Graves. Today it’s a haven for artists, writers and creatives. A tight single-lane street threaded through dark stone homes; tightly huddled on the mountaintop and surrounded by terraced gardens and pine trees.
Below: the dramatic Tramuntana coastline and our Soller anchorage.
Below: welcoming Jay and D with a road trip and rural Deia lunch stop of cervezas, vino rosados and a delicious jambon and queso platter. Hola Amigos!
For a sailboat, cliffs of the towering Sierre de Tramuntana can create an unforgiving lee shore in a northerly blow. Fortunately the weather was calm for our traverse and we comfortably approached and overnighted at picturesque Cala Calobra. A gorge carved by an ancient waterway; mountain-fed Torrent de Parais reaches the ocean via a narrow, high-sided escarpment. The grey pebble beach at its mouth is a popular Mallorca day-trip for landlubbers, visited by busloads of tourists daily. Anchored a stone’s throw from the shore, we sank rose spritzers in the sunshine, barbequed pork ribs and gasped watching fearless mountain goats balance precariously on the cliff edge. By night we had the bay all to ourselves. Bliss.
Thirty nautical miles (55 kms) off the north east coast of Mallorca, the flat island of Menorca cops the brunt of winter wind and weather. Menorca is mellow and notably less developed than neighbouring Mallorca. Fringed by scenic calas (coves) and enticing beaches, the island boasts a surprising collection of mystifying Bronze Age settlements and monuments. With no wind we motored across to Menorca for a quick four-night visit, stopping along its southern coast. Touted as one of the Balearic’s most enchanting anchorages, Cala Covas was rocky and snug. Its high cliffs pockmarked with dozens of hand-dug caves dating back to 1450 BC and once utilised for burial rituals. Setting foot ashore to explore we clambered up and down overgrown tracks, inside and out of musty caverns. Camping out in the grottos, the haunting cove came complete with a couple of cavemen who frolicked barefoot and naked across the rocks behind our boat.
Mahon (or Mao in Catalan) is Menorca’s capital. At five kilometres long and with a heavily fortified entrance, Mahon’s natural harbour is the second largest in the world behind Pearl Harbour. Docked quayside for the night, from a comfortable distance we admired a massive waterspout that hovered offshore for at least 20 minutes. The next afternoon we relocated to Cala Taulera near to the harbour entrance, holding on in the gusty anchorage as several electrical storms circled. Including one of the most active displays I’ve ever witnessed, for hours shooting off an endless succession of splintering strikes. Good thing I’ve learned not to fear those lightning storms over the past few months!
Departing Mahon after a blustery night at anchor, 20 – 25 knot winds and a large side-on sea swell allowed us to sail five hours from Menorca back to Mallorca’s east coast. Did I mention how we’ve found the Mediterranean wind to be temperamental? A solid, fast sail such as this is a big deal on finally my darling. Apart from one month last summer when we pin balled through Greece’s Cyclades with a consistent northerly meltemi blowing, we can count on two hands the strong day sails we’ve enjoyed. OK, maybe it’s more than that, but motoring has far too often been the norm. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean in just two months time, understandably we are keen for all the sailing and sea swell practice we can muster.
Mallorca’s east coast was craggy with numerous crystal-clear calas. Jay’s birthday was celebrated with a breakfast of mimosas and Deanne’s delicious French toast with caramelised peaches; popped the Parasailor with obligatory Bob Marley over the surround sound, and concluded with a beach BBQ at Porto Colom.
Off the southeast tip of Mallorca, the Cabrera island archipelago and surrounding waters is a protected nature reserve. Apart from one impressive natural harbour, overnight anchoring or stopping is forbidden everywhere on the island. Its rugged and low brush landscape reminded me of Croatia’s Kornati NP Islands, and in the overdeveloped Mediterranean, refreshingly Cabrera was a peaceful, untouched gem. Cabrera’s 14th century bastion provided an ideal outpost to spot approaching pirates and later during Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, the island was utilised to incarcerate 9,000 French prisoners; many of who died there from disease and starvation.
Such is the island’s popularity that authorities have laid around 50 moorings and limited permits must be booked online in advance. Late in the season we had no trouble booking just a day prior to arrival, and although the photo below portrays we had the bay to ourselves, the moorings filled up as the evening wore on.
As can only be expected on a live aboard sailing boat (or any boat for that matter), daily maintenance and ongoing repairs are a part of life. Whilst cruising Mallorca we encountered three sensitive issues – two that required a significant expenditure outlay and another that could create an even costlier headache if not rectified immediately.
As we choose to avoid marinas majority of the time, self-sufficient power is essential. Early last year, Dad installed three 250-watt solar panels that as long as the sun shines, provide us with all the power we need. Though recently, as the fridge was often partially defrosting overnight and the batteries critically low by mornings, it was determined our five-year-old AGM house batteries were no longer holding charge and quickly deteriorating. After a visit from a Mallorca-based marine electrician it was also confirmed our main Vitron invertor (converts 12V to 220V power) had failed. A trip back to the manufacturer in Holland proved it could not be repaired; thus Dad was forced to purchase a new 3,000-watt Vitron invertor and three massive 260 AMPH batteries. It was a costly outlay to occur together, but regardless items that would eventually need to be replaced and all part and parcel of owning a boat. As a friend so appropriately reminded us recently, BOAT is acronym for Break Out Another Thousand!
Yet the most pressing issue was a leaking prop shaft seal Dad detected during routine engine checks. Salt water degrades oil viscosity and its ability to lubricate parts, and as such has potential to severely damage the gearbox. Therefore we nursed the portside engine for the following week until a slot became available to hoist onto the hardstand via a 200-tonne travel lift at Palma de Mallorca Marina. Again Dad and Mike impressed me with their handyman skills, dismantling the gearbox in both engines and replacing the seals whilst finally my darling rested in the travel lift slings. It was discovered the portside seal had been destroyed by someone’s pesky discarded fishing line. It’s a big deal to be hauled out (usually just once a year for anti-fouling or off-season storage), and I felt somewhat emotional watching our loyal girl resting high and dry in the sick bay. Though all is well and she hasn’t missed a beat since.
Jay’s departing wish was a fun afternoon of pitch-n-putt golf and we concluded with a family dinner at hip Palma restaurant Bunker (which I can highly recommend). Two weeks touring the Balearics with Jay and D was another highlight of the summer and we look forward to seeing them again next year in the Caribbean!
Light south easterlies allowed us to sail slightly over half of the 50 nautical miles (90 kms) from Andraitx on Mallorca to Ibiza Island. Yet as repeatedly encountered in the ‘Motor-terranean’ the winds dropped out and we motored the remaining distance to Ibiza’s Cala Portinatx. Two hours or so from land, having trawled the entire distance, the zing of a running line made everyone jump when Mike’s lure hooked something heavy and fighting. Dad manoeuvred the boat so Mike could reel in a young swordfish, but with plenty of room to grow we quickly decided to throw it back. It was a fluster of excitement on board as Mike and I are still amateurs in bringing a fish on board. (note my fumbling, outstretched bare hands!) Though the sound of a running line has become more frequent as we approach the Atlantic, so we are quickly perfecting the process and action stations when someone hooks a big one…
Birthplace of the rave scene, Ibiza’s reputation for clubs and drugs exceeds itself and you’d be living under a rock had you not conjured up your own opinion of the place. Away from throbbing Ibiza Town, dishevelled San Antonio and the surrounding hotel spread, 2-4-1 cocktails and dance-till-dawn mega clubs, Ibiza Island (Eivissa in Catalan) is largely undeveloped with lush forested hills, turquoise coves and hidden pockets. Surprisingly Ibiza Island attracts a large number of holidaying families and also promotes a wellness and yoga-loving side. Our arrival in the second week of October was just outside peak tourist season (due to previously mentioned engine troubles we missed Ibiza’s famous closing parties by one week) so our experience was subdued and relaxed as we pottered down the east coast.
For some time I’d been dreaming about a string of old-fashioned rope lights for ambient lighting when entertaining on the bow. We’d had no luck purchasing something suitable – so we made them!
The town of Ibiza itself is an attractive Spanish village of whitewash buildings with colourful trims that cluster uphill. Its old town is filled with an interesting collection of boutiques, cafes and a lengthy narrow ‘bar alley’ that must heave with drunkenness and debauchery throughout the summer. Glowing in the back streets under its iconic double-cherries – global clubbing institution Pacha is Ibiza’s oldest club and the only mega-club operating outside of season. Managing to get on the guest list saved us both the 50€ entry fee (A$75), and with the doors only opening at 1:00 am it was pushing well past our usual 9:00 or 10:00 pm bedtime. (yep we’re old farts!) Just a week out of season we experienced a low-key but pretty Ibiza Town – though endless club and DJ line-up posters and billboards were a reminder what keeps the economy ticking. That said, the locals were clearly out enjoying the last of the warm weather and claiming their island back for yet another year.
Ibiza’s marinas are exorbitant so we overnighted in a rolly anchorage at an adjacent shallow bay, before the weather forecast forced us to make an early dash to Formentera (below). No complaints there – Formentera is a little-known treasure (except for its in-the-know Italian visitors) and was an exquisite conclusion to our Mediterranean odyssey. The last Balearic Island in the string is worthy of a post all its own; so that will have to wait until next time.
Quick real-time update for early November: we’ve recently farewelled Mum who is now home in Australia for Christmas. Dad, Mike and I are about to disembark a two-week overland exploration of Morocco. Wee bit excited!