Sunday, 23 September 2012

Formentera and the story of the Anchor Nazi

July 30-31 2012

On Monday July 30 we finally pulled up our anchor and left beautiful Cala Bassa. It was time to make our way around the south western corner of Ibiza and on to our next stop. The island of Formentera and the adjoining small island of Espalmador to its north, lie just two miles off the most southerly tip of Ibiza. Formentera is only ten miles long and eight miles across at its widest point but its narrow, northern peninsula that links with Esplamador via a long sandy spit is reputed to have some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. It had gone on our must visit list very quickly.
No wind doesn't mean no fun. Motoring in flat seas isn't too bad sometimes.

With absolutely no wind at all in morning we motored away from our happy home of the last week and set off down west coast in near glass flat seas. While these conditions are far from ideal for people like us who prefer actually sailing, we have to admit it was extremely relaxing cruising along and taking in all of the wonders of this very picturesque coastline and its offshore islands.
Just a glimpse of the spectacular coast of Ibiza

Our trusty cruising guide informed us that one of these island we were going to pass, Isla Vedra, is actually the third most magnetic spot on earth. When we first started reading up on Ibiza, Marc had spotted this and had been looking forward to going there for weeks just to see if our compass spun in circles or whatever. It’s amazing the trivia you discover when the sails are furled with the engine and autopilot doing all the work. You suddenly have all the time in the world on your hands. If this was the third most magnetic spot, we really should find out where are numbers one and two. Well we didn’t all have nothing to do. Karen was keeping watch on the bow (ie: working on her tan) and Marc was ensuring we didn’t become hermits cut off from the outside world (ie: reading the London newspapers he’d just downloaded onto his I-Pad) so it was left to Rob to trawl google for more information about this intriguing subject.
Karen keeping watch on the bow as we approach Isla Vedra and Isla Vedranell

After extensive research the best explanation he found was this ‘The magnetic field of the Earth goes from one pole to the other so the magnetic field is strongest near the poles. However, it is still not fully understand what gives the Earth its magnetic field. Many claim its to do with the rotation of the iron core and molten core above. But regardless, the magnetic field varies over time and so the actual 'most' magnetic places will depend on when you ask the question!
Mmmmm! So is Isla Vedra really the third most magnetic spot or not? Back to google.
Many myths and legends are told about Isla VedrĂ  The claim of being a "special magnetic place" is a mere urban legend without any scientific geological base. The myth reads that this island has mystical powers, therefore it is the inspiration for many artists around the world.’
Marc was so devastated when Rob gave him the news he struggled to be able to concentrate on the Times crossword, for about six and a half seconds at least.
However the good news was that the island and its neighbour are actually pretty special anyway. ‘With a height of 380 meters, the magnificent Isla VedrĂ  is towering high above sea level and dwarfs everything around it, including her smaller sister Isla Vedranell which is 127 meters high. The island is a nature reserve and is uninhabited. Although it is well known thanks to both popular legend and the goat populations that live there, the reason for protecting these islands in fact resides in their endemic botanical species, their lizards and their colonies of Eleonora’s falcons (Falcon Eleonorae). This falcon is a rare bird counting merely around 600 couples in the world.’

 OK! So now you know it is actually possible to find yourself bored on the odd occasion whilst cruising the seven seas.

Our compass did not even twitch but the best thing about passing Isla Vedra and her sister was that between them and Ibiza the wind came up and we were able to set sails and turn the engine off. Definitely a much more pleasant way to travel. There’s simply nothing better than getting along nicely under sail.
Marc was almost finished his crossword by the time we raised the sails and left  the islands of  Vedra, Vedranell and Ibiza behind.

Due to the wind direction we weren’t able to steer directly towards Formentera but that never worries us any way. It’s no problem to sail a course to suit the wind and then tack back to your destination at the appropriate time. However, sometimes the wind gods like to play games with sailors and this was one of those occasions. As we were getting close to where we estimated we could tack and head straight in to our planned anchorage the wind direction swung. Of course it was now blowing directly from where we wanted to go. No problem,  so we were going to have to tack back and forwards all the way. We had plenty of time. But the wind then had another trick for us. It simply knocked off work for the day and left us bobbing on a flat sea again so we ended up motoring anyway.
We intended to anchor in a nice protected bay on the south western side of Isla Espalmador. There was a photo of it on the front cover of our pilot guide and it looked great. The guide book advised that the government had put down a number of moorings in the bay, ostensibly to protect the sea grasses. These could be booked in advance online however anchoring was also permitted in clear water areas away from the weed.
You can actually just make out the sand patch at the north end of the bay we
anchored in at Isla Espalmador in our pilot guide photo.

As we approached we could see there were a lot of yachts and big motorboats already there but we figured we should still be able find a place and would do our normal, slow meander around and through the anchorage to locate potential spots. We’d just begun our recognisance when an official looking rib sped toward us. Unlike Cala Basa where Robert’s rib meant a free ride to the beach or the delivery of another round of drinks, here in Formentera the rib was manned by a floating version of a parking inspector. In very broken English he indicated that we could not anchor near here. OK. No problem and we asked politely where could we anchor. ‘Clear water. Clear water. There. There’ he said pointing to the northern end of the bay before powering off leaving us to rock wildly in his wake.
So we headed to the northern end as directed and moseyed around until we found a spot where we dropped the anchor right in the middle off a patch of sand on the bottom. As always we were letting the boat settle in the wind to make sure we hung clear of any nearby boats before Rob snorkels down to check the anchor set. We never got to that stage though because the Anchor Nazi reappeared at great speed and began screaming at us, ‘No anchor, no anchor, no anchor’.

Now we were confused. We’d gone where he said to go. We’d anchored in sand, not weed and we were clear of other boats around us, which by the way were not on moorings but also anchored. When Rob asked why we couldn’t anchor here we simply copped a broadside in Spanish. We obviously weren’t going to win this one so we again tried to ask where we were allowed to anchor which only spurred Fredrico the Fascist into another burst of vitriol ending with ‘You no anchor. No anchor anywhere. You go. You go. You go now or I report.. Big fine.’
We have no idea what we actually did wrong. As pointed out, we dropped in sand and were surrounded by other boats at anchor but we clearly had no choice but to up anchor and clear out. By this time the SS Storm Trooper was frothing at the mouth and doing high speed circuits around our boat making things very uncomfortable. Marc went forward and winched up the anchor but as Rob steered us away from the shore under close escort by our jackbooted mate, he couldn’t resist one parting shot across the rubber ducky version of the Bismark’s bow with ‘Thank you so much for all you assistance arsehole. We love our welcome to your country.’

We’re currently still waiting to receive our fine in the mail.
We now had a bigger problem than our Apprentice Adolf though. When Marc had raised the anchor the electric windlass (anchor winch) had not stopped when he lifted his finger off the up button but had kept running until the electrical safety switch below had tripped when the motor began to strain against taut chain. As we headed south in search of somewhere to anchor off Formentera, we tried it a number of times. It was definitely jammed in the up position. Rob pulled the hand control apart and could find nothing wrong there but gave everything a squirt of WD40 magic spray just for good measure. Nope that didn’t help which only left the electrical relay beneath the deck at the motor itself. Having a look at that would have to wait.

It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we eased the anchor down by hand near a small islet just off one of Formentera’s long beachs. It may sound like a broken record but the water was as clean and clear as any we’ve seen anywhere in the world. When Rob got in to snorkel down to check the set of the anchor he really didn’t want to get out. The sea bottom was fine white sand and schools of small fish were plentiful. Other than a very large motor boat about a hundred metres away we even had this spot to ourselves. We quickly decided that the Fuhrer had actually done us a favour because it was much nicer here than back in his Stalag.
Alcheringa and our neighbor at Formentera. It was so big we actually watched a crew member ride a bicycle along the deck from the stern up to the bow.

We may not of had neighbors that night but next morning a steady stream of boats began arriving that never seemed to stop. With absolutely not one word of exaggeration there would have been well over a thousand boats of all shapes and sizes anchored off the beaches of Formentera’s west coast by lunchtime. It was incredible. We all agreed that one huge ‘thing’ that arrived was without doubt the ugliest craft afloat any of us had ever seen and dramatic evidence that obscene wealth does not equal good taste.
Just a small section of 1000+ boats along a five mile stretch of Formentera
Our nominee for world's ugliest boat. Check out the 'dingy' garages at the stern.
If we dropped our mast we'd fit Alcheringa in there without a problem.

Rob spent the morning squirming around in an awkward spot on his back removing the relay box from the windless. Inside he discovered a set of burnt points welded together which needed to be separated and cleaned up. Not having a points file in the tool kit he asked Karen for her nail file to do the job which generated a quick, spitfire reply ‘Nail file? What the hell makes you think I’ve got a nail file? Have you looked at my finger nails lately?’ Mmm. Apparently not. Otherwise he would have noticed that Karen had forsaken the finely manicured girly look for the far more practical closely clipped nails to go with her calloused hands from pulling on ropes etc. She really is a yachtie now.
Luckily Marc discovered an emery board in one of those little bags of goodies he’d kept from a hotel stay somewhere. This did the job admirably. Unfortunately the end result was still a dead windless as an electrical coil had also burnt out when the points stuck. We would be pulling the anchor up by hand until we could get a new relay box. Time to harden up boys.

We then all went ashore and had a great wander along the beautiful white sand beaches and a couple of swims before a light lunch at one of the cafes. This place was very, very nice. It was not surprising that so many people head over here from Ibiza every day.
Karen in for another cooling swim. It doesn't get much better than this.
Despite the number of boats the beaches weren't over crowded.

Back on the boat Rob went off for a long snorkel around the islet while Marc caught some sun laying out on the bow. As we seem to be constantly surrounded by people showing off their all over tans, the boys have decided they don’t really like having lily white backsides that contrast so starkly with their now deep brown tans. As a result they are trying to even things up so to speak by getting some “bum time” tanning. Rob’s strategy is to snorkel naked (because his bum is always on top of the water facing the sun) while Marc goes for a good book some extended bow time away from Karen. Results so far – Marc with a mild case of cherry arse sun burn after staying out too long one afternoon and Rob with only the faintest hint of any colour at all at this stage. With both bums having been hidden from the sun for over half a century this could take a while.
West coast meets east at the northern tip of Formentera

Formentera was another place we could have easily stayed a week or longer but we all reluctantly agreed we really did need to move on the next day. The calendar pages were turning and we still had plenty of places we wanted to sail to this summer before the weather turned cold and and the seas turned rough. This was only ever going to be a short stop just to see what it was like. We now knew the answer to that question, absolutely beautiful.

Sunrise over Formentera on the morning we left.

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