Sunday, 28 April 2013

Thar she blows in Valencia

April 22 - 30, 2013

 Funnily enough we didn’t lay in bed for long anchored off Cabo Cullera once the sun began to lighten the sky on the eastern horizon. We’d rocked and rolled violently, beam on to the swell all night and couldn’t wait to get underway.


We made an early morning departure from Cabo Cullera

Of course, there was almost no wind again so it was to be yet another hop under motor up the coast to Spain’s third largest city, Valencia. We’d tried to get a booking at a marina just north of the city but unfortunately they only took boats to 12 metres. This left us with a choice between the Real Club Nautico Marina on the southern side of the huge harbour (which we knew was expensive) or the modern marina on the northern side that was built for the America’s Cup in 2007 (which we suspected would be just as expensive). After contacting what is now called Marina Real Juan Carlos 1, we were pleasantly surprised to find their berthing fees more than reasonable which made deciding our destination very simple.
 
It was an uneventful trip north along the coast but were very pleased that we now have AIS (Automatic Identification System) fitted on Alcheringa as we approached Valencia’s busy harbour and all its shipping traffic. We spotted one cargo ship appear on the horizon headed for port and assumed we’d have plenty of room to pass in front of it on our way to the marina. That was until we checked the AIS and found it was travelling at almost 23 knots. It actually reached the harbour two miles ahead of us despite slowing down as it approached. Those guys are fast and way too big for us to tangle with.

We tied up to the huge reception dock shortly after lunch and checked into the marina for two nights before being directed to our berth on the first pontoon. Like most marinas in the Med it was a stern or bows to mooring, but this particular finger was designed for very large yachts. Rather than having to squeeze between our neighbours we could have parked two Alcheringas in the space provided. It was a nice change and one that proved invaluable later in our stay.

 

Cabo Cullera to Valencia - 19.7 nautical miles - 4 hours 9 minutes
Average speed 4.7 knots Max 6.8 knots


After doing our usual boat chores we then went for a stroll to explore our immediate surroundings. The whole area on this north side of the harbour underwent a massive redevelopment in the early 2000s to accommodate not only the America’s Cup but also the European Formula One Grand Prix.

When the 2007 defence of the Americas Cup was held here it was the first time since the original 1851 Isle of Wight race that the regatta had been held in Europe. It was also the first time it had been conducted in a country different from that of the defender.  This was necessary as despite having won the right to defend the cup back in Auckland in 2003, the Swiss Alinghi team could not host the regatta at home because Switzerland does not have a ‘sea or arm of the sea’ as specified in the original Americas Cup Deed. Their huge lakes don’t qualify. Eleven challenging yacht clubs from 9 countries submitted formal entries. The challenger selection series, the Louis Vuitton Cup, ran from April to June 2007. Emirates Team New Zealand won the challenger series finale 5–0 against Italians’ Luna Rossa and met Alinghi between 23 June and 3 July 2007. Alinghi successfully defended the America's Cup 5–2 which meant the 2010 defence was also based here in Valencia.

 

Valencia would have been an incredible place to be during the Americas Cup.
(Internet image)


This time however politics got in the way and after many legal challenges the 34th Americas Cup was contested by just two boats. The match was sailed in gigantic, specialized 90 ft (27 m) multihulls in a best-of-three race series in February 2010. The rigid wing sail of the challenging trimaran USA-17 provided a decisive advantage, and it convincingly won the 2010 America's Cup 2–0 against the defending catamaran Alinghi 5 . So ended Valencia’s reign as the home of the Americas Cup.

Walking around the precinct and seeing all the challengers’ team headquarters still in place you wouldn’t know it though. Until you look closely and find them deserted that is. I think Valencia is waiting for the Swiss to regain the cup so all is well again. As the syndicate behind Alinghi has confirmed they will not be contesting the 2013 series to be held in San Francisco, it seems a forlorn hope .

The European Formula One Grand Prix run here has also suffered a chequered existence since its launch in 2008. During the 2009 event, Valencia signed a deal for a further 5 races, which in theory put Valencia on the calendar until 2014. There have been many doubts about its continuation on the calendar thereafter due to disappointing attendances. There is also increased competition between nations to host a grand prix, leaving no room for one country to host two races.  In March 2012, it was announced that the European Grand Prix would be discontinued in 2013, with the Spanish Grand Prix alternating between Barcelona and Valencia. As a result there will be no race in Valencia until next year.


Rob in the middle of the Grand Prix track with the marina in the background

We enjoyed wandering along a number of sections of the actual F1 track around the marina and nearby streets. It was cool to stand in the spot where Mark Webber came to rest unharmed in 2010 after one of the biggest crashes of his career. A swing bridge across the entrance to the inner, super yacht marina connects the two sides of the race track. The very large and expensive bridge is only used during the race week.  We couldn’t help thinking that the bridge alone would have cost more to build than our complete Willowbank Raceway at home in Australia.



The massive swing bridge is only ever used during F1 race week


Being Formula One tragics, we have to say, it would be an incredible experience to have Alcheringa berthed in Marina Real Juan Carlos 1 during the race weekend. Our neighbours in the marina, British couple Steve and Jane, base their boat here and told us that they were invited to move their yacht into the inner marina, free, for the race weekend as the more boats onsite the better the television pictures look. They declined because of the noise of the F1 cars but we could think of nothing better than being tied up just ten metres from the track, watching Formula One live and in the flesh from our floating home. Somehow we’re not sure we would be able to talk Marc into rushing back from the Greek Isles in time for the race next year though. Such is life.

 

We can just see ourselves moored beside the track like the rich and famous.
(Internet image)

We had planned Tuesday April 23 as a day off during our run up the coast to Barcelona so we could spend a little bit of time exploring the old city area of Valencia. In the morning that’s just what we did, walking just a short distance to the other end of the marina and catching the Number 5 Metro  into the city, or so we thought.

We happily rode the tram through the streets stopping at a few small stations before the line went underground to a larger, multi-platform station. We sat chatting in our seats during the stop but were a little perplexed when the doors closed and our tram started heading back in the direction we came. A closer inspection of our borrowed metro map showed a tiny break in the Number 5 route which apparently indicated an interchange from tram to train. Ooops! So, after enjoying a ride out to the marina and back, we transferred to the train and made our way the other five stops into the old city. Hey, getting there is half the fun remember.

What we discovered of Valencia made it all well worth the effort. The old city is full of character with some absolutely magnificent architecture dating back many, many hundreds of years. Like most major Spanish cities, Valencia’s history includes, Roman, Moor and Christian periods among others.


This alabaster portico on the Palau de Dos Aguas was enough to catch our attention
We came by our first stop by accident. We were simply walking by the Palau de Dos Aguas and were instantly captivated by the incredible alabaster portico that decorates its huge main doors. Originally a private residence, the incredible 14th Century palace now contains a large collection of ceramic art dating back even further as well as an eclectic range of other items including the most amazing horse drawn carriage we’ve ever seen. The Carosa de los Nimfes (Carriage of the Nymphs) was built for the palace’s then owner, the Marquis of Dos Aguas in 1753. The whole box features rich ornamentation based rococo gilded wood carvings, along with magnificent sculptures and paintings and is suspended by huge leather straps.



We expect the 'Carriage of the Nymphs' would have been a succsful
chick magnet in its day. What a ride.


Many of the rooms of the palace are presented as they were during the its time as a private residence. This includes bedrooms, a totally ceramic kitchen and the magnificent ballroom, still with its original furniture and hidden alcove where the orchestra played behind a discreet screen.  Forget wallpaper in this place. Any walls not decorated in amazing marbles or ornate ceramics are covered floor to ceiling in hand embroidered silk. The ceilings are masterpieces of sculptured plaster and incredible oil paintings. Talking about seeing how the other half lived.


The word 'opulent' is not strong enough to describe the Palau de Dos Aguas
 

Every ceramic tile in the kitchen was hand painted.

The aptly named 'Red Room' adjoins the ball room

The orchestra alcove is hidden behind the lattice screen on the right of the
ball room which still features its magnificent original furniture
 
We made the compulsory visit to Valencia’s vast, imposing cathedral complete with its octagonal bell tower known as the Micalet which serves as the symbol of the city. That was followed by a nice salad and paella with an excellent local wine at one of the many open air establishments lining the Placa de la Reina.
 
Our lunchtime view across the Playa de la Reina to the Cathedral and its bell tower

Inside the 14th Century Cathedral of Valencia

Now that's a serious paela pan.
It was then a case of simply losing ourselves down the narrow streets and laneways, enjoying the architecture of the old city and soaking in the atmosphere before taking the metro for the quick and very convenient  trip directly back to our marina.

 

Valencia turned it on as we celebrated 300 days since we'd moved onboard and made Alcheringa our home. We suitably toasted the occasion and got this great photo of the boat with the sun setting behind

We had planned to get back underway towards Barcelona on Wednesday morning but a look at the forecasts ruled that out.  A strong blow with winds of 45 knots or more was heading our way from the north. Instead of leaving, we spent the morning getting the boat all secured ready to ride it out in the marina. We shortened up the ground lines on the bow moving the stern of the boat away from the pontoon by almost a metre and a half. This would provide clearance if we got any swell surge inside the marina and hopefully prevent us from banging against the floating dock. We also doubled and tightly tensioned our stern lines as well as adding two midship lines as a further precaution. The dinghy was very tightly lashed down on the bow and, to prevent any sail being blown out, the sailbag lashed up tight to the boom and the genoa sheets wrapped around and around the furling headsail and tied off. Then it was just a matter of going around the decks making sure halyards and everything else was nice and secure, checking all the knots on our fenders etc and waiting for the weather to arrive. Oh! There was one other job we almost forgot to do as Rob nipped around to the marina office and booked us in for another two nights before we got kicked out.


This forecast was easily enough to keep us tied to the dock

By the afternoon, the wind was a steady 25+ knots and the sea on the other side of the very high breakwater the marina is located behind was already looking pretty nasty. This time the weather gurus were spot on. The wind built through the night and by morning we had a gale blowing with some swell making it through the channel between the breakwaters and entering the marina. We left our instruments on to keep an eye on the wind strengths and saw as high as 48 knots (88kph) on our gauge. The noise was incredible. It was like being on a train with no windows charging  through a long tunnel at high speed except there was a lot more clackety clack. The sound of halyards clattering against aluminium masts on boats all over the pontoons and creaking ropes being tightly stretched was far too loud to be drowned out, even by the howling wind.  This was all accompanied at times by driving rain.

video
We shot this before the wind peaked. The rain made it a little difficult to get the camera out later.
Apologies to users of I-Pads and I-Phones who may not be able to view the video as Apple does not support blogspot.com's video format.
 
As you could imagine, it was fairly uncomfortable on the boat. Therefore Karen decided this was the perfect day to spend in the marina’s laundrette getting all our washing done rather than rocking around onboard wasting time. All the bunks were stripped of their linen. Rob’s, Karen’s and the absent Marc’s clothing worn over the previous few weeks was gathered up and bagged. There was more than enough to form a considerable pile in the salon. The fun part proved to be getting it all on and off the boat.  Depending on the gusts and swells, Alcheringa’s stern was surging around fairly strongly anywhere between a metre and a metre and a half away from the pontoon. Our hardwood gangplank is two metres long. The movement of the boat was way too severe to merely drop it across the gap and expect it to stay there. Rather it was a case of Rob putting it in place, dashing across to the dock with a shopping bag of washing over his shoulder and hanging onto the plank’s securing lines while Karen made her run over the swirling water carrying another bag full. We couldn’t put the bags down on the pontoon and return for more as they would have very quickly disappeared across the water with the wind. We pulled the heavy gangplank onto the dock and proceeded to the laundry where Karen got things underway.

Rob’s job was then to make multiple trips, putting the gangplank back in place, crossing over to the boat, pulling the plank up into the cockpit, getting another bag of washing from below, replacing the plank, crossing back to the dock, pulling the plank onto the pontoon and delivering the bags to the laundry. Before long it was time to reverse the process and take the completed bagfuls back to the boat as they came out of the dryer.  By the end of the day Alcheringa was very well stocked with clean linen and clothing while her very tired crew headed to the showers for their turn. Exhaustion is far more effective than any chemical sedative and we both dropped off to sleep quickly that night despite the continuing gale.


We woke to the delight of near silence in the marina as the wind had abated and the swell entering the marina was now fairly benign. It was nice to sit down at breakfast without having to chase your muesli bowl across the table. A check of the forecasts however revealed a repeat of the previous day’s conditions was now expected on Sunday. After a strong blow, the sea remains rough for quite a while so it was now unlikely we’d be going north before Tuesday at the earliest. Barcelona was beginning to appear a long way away. There was nothing else for it but to make another trip to the marina office and extend our booking again.

 

A sure fire indicator that the sea state was still up was to be seen just on the
other side of the breakwater. Surfing in the Med. Who'd have guessed.


The previous day's gale had washed sand all over the paved promenade which
is normaly 300 metres from the water's edge


The giant National and Regional flags in the marina didn't fare so well in the wind either
 
We made the most of the delay with another trip into the old city and visits to culturally contrasting sites such as Valencia’s amazing old central station, the excellent art gallery and the huge bullring. In typical ‘Only in Spain’ fashion, the bullring was actually hosting a big ‘Oktoberfest’ complete with huge tent decorated as a German Beer Hall erected centre ring. Apparently no one has told them it’s April.

The river through Valencia used to flood so they diverted it and converted
the old riverbed into one, continuous winding park many miles long still
with its old bridges crossing over.

Catholic Spain's galleries feature a heavy presence of religous art

Valencia's impressive bullring and what else would you expect to find inside
in April other than an Oktoberfest German Beer Hall. What the?????

Click on any image to see larger versions

Valencia's grand old station proved to be very grand on the inside

 
Despite the dire forecast, Sunday’s weather proved slightly anti-climactic. The rain returned. The wind was strong, and this time very cold, but never approached the ferocity of Thursday. Likewise the swell that did make it past the protective breakwaters was very mild and of no real consequence inside the marina. We simply sat things out onboard skyping our daughter Yasmin and granddaughter Lyla, reading and blogging.

 



As we’ve been delayed, Marc will now meet us here in Valencia on Tuesday rather than at Barcelona and, weather gods and gurus willing, we’ll now get back underway northwards on Wednesday.

Fingers crossed.

MARINA REVIEW: Marina Real Juan Carlos 1 ****1/2
(Appears in the Pilot Guide as the Americas Cup Marina)

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 24.20 Euro (Included water, power and WiFi)
Large, modern marina with good protection from the elements and secure, floating pontoons. Helpful, friendly staff. Excellent access to Valencia via metro with tram stop adjacent to the marina.
Chandlery, bars, restaurants onsite. Post Office and supermarket close by.
While the bathroom facilities were OK they weren't up to the standard of the rest of the marina.

We rate it as a highly recommended marina.



Marina Real Juan Carlos 1 is extremely well presented, ideally located
 and proved a great place for our Valencia stop over


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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Just the two of us, Spanish Coast hopping.

April 19 - 21, 2013
 
 Marc threw his duffle bag on the dock and followed it ready for his trip back to the UK. He then slipped the lines for us and waved us off as we motored Alcheringa out of the marina in Alicante’s huge harbour  bound for Barcelona via a number of short hops along the Spanish Coast.



Leaving Alicante and its castle on the hill behind us


Our first stop was going to be the delightful bay at Calpe to anchor below the huge rock headland responsible for its name. We’d been here previously, both with Moksha and Alcheringa and very much like the place. You can read about those visits at Calpe with Moksha and Calpe on Alcheringa
 
On this visit we wouldn’t have time to explore more of Calpe as it would only be an overnight anchorage for us. We were blessed with clear blue sky and warm sunshine as we left Alicante. The wind was very light from astern making conditions on deck glorious but ruling out any chance of sailing so the motor stayed on.
 
As the morning air lost its chill we began shedding layers of sailing gear. After the long winter we were finally able to enjoy a bit of sunbaking on the very leisurely run along the coast, around the headlands and past the infamous resort town of Benidorm before rounding Punta del Albir under its magnificent lighthouse.
 

Approaching Punta del Albir in calm waters and warm sunshine


Looking ahead across the wide bay to the high rock and anchorage at Calpe, we spotted a very distinct line in the water coming our way. The predicted 10 knot northerly wind change was advancing towards us as an invisible wall. It would be cool air off the snowy alps so we pulled on long sailing pants and reached for the jackets thinking we’d done well to be ready for it. Ha!
 

It all changed quickly approaching Calpe

Those weather gurus got us again. Rather than the predicted 10 knots we charged headlong into a constant 25+ knot headwind which regularly threw in gusts well over 30 knots just for good measure. And, it wasn’t cool air, it was bloody freezing. What a contrast to our previous five hours of sun loving.
 
Punching into the short, sharp chop and strong headwind dropped the boat’s speed from just over five knots to under three almost instantly. After droning into it for about thirty minutes we decided to hell with the fuel economy and the revs went up from 1,800 to 2,200 which put us back up over four knots and had us approaching the beach about forty-five minutes later.  While the wind was still blowing, it was directly offshore and the buildings lining the beaches provided good protection dropping the breeze to a steady 15 knots. We were able to anchor quite close inshore in three and half metres of very clam water.  We shared a bottle of nice Spanish Cava (Bubbles) with dinner and turned in for a very nice night’s sleep.


Even with the wind it was nice and calm anchored close to the beach at Calpe



Alicante to Calpe - 33.3 nautical miles, 6 hours 43 minutes,
average speed 5.0 knots Max 5.8 knots

We had hopes of being able to sail the next leg, even if it was going to be upwind. The weather gurus were predicting a 15 knot northerly, but we’re a bit cynical about their abilities by now. We decided to head out from the shelter of our anchorage with a reefed down mainsail in case their 15 knots was like the 10 they predicted the previous day.
 

Karen raising the anchor under grey skies as we leave Calpe

 
This time they were closer to the mark with the strength but still a bit wayward with direction. Instead of northerly it was more north-easterly, the direction we needed to go before rounding Cabo de la Nao and turning to the north-west. However we did try to sail.


Viewed from the sea, Calpe takes on the shape of a leaping dolphin
We headed up wind and well offshore before turning on the opposite tack and running back in towards the coast. When it was time to tack out again we looked at our progress and quickly decided that at this rate it would take waaaayyyy too long for us to sail upwind if we actually wanted to reach our Cabo de la Nao before nightfall. We could sail when we turned north-west around the point. It was time for the motor to push us along again but at least we were actually headed for our destination. 


We were getting ready for a nice sail as we rounded Cabo de la Nao

We rounded the cape to run north-west along the coast all ready to turn the motor off to go sailing and, unbelievably, the wind turned with us. It was still on the nose. Bugger.  We motored the hour or so to Denia and found breaking waves in the area we’d planned to anchor so that was a no go.
 

Karen getting the I-Pad to update our electronic ship's log at the end of the passage in Denia marina.
She says books are too old school.


The track shows we tried to sail into the wind, tacking offshore and then back in before we threw in the towel and went with the engine. Calpe to Denia - 23.7 nautical miles, 5 hours 25 minutes - Average speed 4.3 knots Max 6.3 knots

Fortunately we’d selected it as our stop because it also has a large harbour and what turned out to be an excellent marina so we were fairly quickly inside its walls and tied up nice and snug. As it was Rob’s birthday we thought we might as well make the most of our surroundings. After luxuriating in the private, large ensuite type shower and bathroom facilities provided by the marina, we enjoyed a very nice bottle of Carva at a dock front restaurant while we watched the sunset. We followed that great start  by moving inside for another bottle and an absolutely exquisite meal with exceptional service. The Sharme Restaurant Lounge Bar at Denia has our vote for ‘Local of the year’ so far by a wide margin.
 A few fellow cruisers have suggested we add a brief review of the marinas we visit to assist those that follow us to choose between the good, the bad and the ugly. Here's the first. It's not intended to replace the information in the pilot guides but rather provide an insight into what we saw as good value or otherwise. As we have time, we'll go back through the previous blog posts and add reviews of those we've stayed at in the past.
 
MARINA REVIEW: Marina de Denia *****

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht - 36.12 Euro (Included water - power was metered)
More expensive than a number of marinas we've stayed in on the Spanish coast but still very good value for money.



Marina de Denia is modern, very well equipped, with a great chandlery, excellent restaurants and the best shower facilities we've encountered. Laundrette on site.
 


Our Spot Tracker shows us on the reception dock before moving onto a finger.
The large breakwaters provide good protection. Marina de Denia is further
from the town than Club Nautico Marina but much cheaper with more room.
(Click on any image to see larger versions)
 
For Sunday, April 21, we’d planned a short, 25 nautical mile hop to what look to e a nice anchorage off a beach, sheltered by a headland at Cullera. We woke to not a breath of wind and departed through the long breakwaters of Denia harbour into a very calm Mediterranean sea.


From a distance the town of Denia looked quite interesting so we were a little disappointed there was no time for exploring before we left but Barcelona awaits.

The wind made a weak appearance mid-morning and slowly built but never reached any real force leaving us to motor into the bay at Cullera in the early afternoon. There was a small swell running but we found the boat sitting reasonably at anchor. With the wind forecast to drop out entirely we thought all would be fine. Wrong! Bloody weather gurus. Instead of fading away, the breeze picked up in the late afternoon building the small swell into something far more uncomfortable.
 
 

The wind and this benign looking swell conspired to give us a very
uncomfortable night of Cabo Cullera.

There was now not enough daylight to reach Valencia and there were really no other anchorage options in between. The anchor was well dug in and the boat was in no danger so we simply sucked it up and decided to ride it out for the night. It wouldn’t have been too bad but about 9.00pm the wind did finally drop but also swung a little resulting in the boat hanging almost beam on to the swell. We rolled like hell all night making sleep almost impossible.
 

Denia to Cabo Cullera - 26.6 nautical miles, 5 hours 24 minutes
Average speed 4.9 knots Max 6.3 knots

The drop pin shows our not so comfortable anchorage at Cabo Cullera
 
Such is life. It makes all the glorious days we have on Alcheringa all that much better.
 
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