Tuesday 16 October 2012

Blown away at Port de Soller

 Around Mallorca beach by beach

August 23 - 2012

We waved goodbye to Cala de la Calobra  next morning and sail further west along the coast to Port de Soller. Back in April when we were in Palma with Moksha we’d come over here via heritage train up through the Mallorca’s mountains to the town of Soller and then the rest of the way to the port by historic tram. We’d loved both the trip and the place and had said at the time it would be great to sail in here one day. Now we’d actually done it.
Rob in Port de Soller on our first visit back in April

As usual we gave the expense of the marina a miss and anchored out in the harbour itself. or the information For our non-sailing friends, anchoring can actually be one of the most stressful things you do on a yacht, particularly if you’re planning on leaving the boat and going ashore. It’s not just a case of dropping the heavy hook bit onto the sea bed and all’s good. Our anchor is a 20kg ‘Bruce’ type which is well suited to anchoring in sand but , like most designs, useless in the thick, kelp seaweed found in many parts of the Med. So first up we need to make sure we drop the anchor in a patch of sand, preferably with the boat just moving backwards a little as it hits the bottom. This makes sure the anchor lands the right way up and digs down into the sand. Then you lay out the appropriate amount of heavy anchor chain. It’s the chain laying on the bottom that provides the weight to hold the boat in place in all but strong wind or current. Just as importantly, it also ensures that when current or wind do act on the boat, the resulting pull on the anchor is horizontal along the bottom so it stays nicely dug in and not vertical which would pull it up out of the sand. The basic rule of thumb all the charter companies etc tell their clients is to put down three times as much chain as the water is deep. EG: anchoring in 7 metres of water you should put down 21 metres of chain. However we regard this as the minimum for calm conditions only and prefer to put down four or five times depth depending on where we are, how much swing room to other boats or the shore we have and what winds are expected.

In Port de Soller the number of boats in harbour restricted the amount of chain we were able to put out but as Rob had been able to snorkel down and confirm the anchor was well dug in the sand and considering the highest wind predicted was for the day was under 10 knots we felt comfortable with about 25 metres of chain down in 8 metres of water. We would check the updated forecasts when we came back to the boat and if need be look at putting some more chain down then.
A great line up of traditional boats in Port de Soller
Our very affordable lunch spot at Port de Soller

We took the dingy in to the beach and found one of the few pieces of sand to pull it up on that wasn’t already occupied by sunlovers. We had a nice lunch ashore at one of the little cafes overlooking the bay. Eating the local food is one of the greatest aspects of the travelling we’re doing and with the Spanish custom of offering a ‘Menu la dia (Menu of the Day) it’s also very affordable. A typical offering will be three choices of first, second and third courses with either coffee or wine for between six to ten euros ($7.50 to $12.50). Oh! You also usually get a large plate of breads and olives to nibble on while you're waiting for the first course. The servings are normally huge and when we fill up at lunch we normally settle for a very light snack for dinner. Of course some more ritzy places aimed at the toffier tourists offer menus up to thirty or forty euros but, now being grotty yachties, they’re not our style anyway.

After lunch we jumped the early 1900s era tram for the fifteen minute trip up to the town Soller for a look around. It features a lovely old town square and of course the obligatory huge church where we arrived just in time for a wedding. We thought we were going to be very fortunate to witness a traditional Spanish ceremony. Wrong!!! The bridal party and guests were all Brits complete with the heavy suits etc in 39.5C heat. When the happy couple posed for photos on the church stairs after the ceremony it was like watching a wedding cake in a microwave. Very bizarre. Rob was a bit grumpy because the batteries in his camera died so there's no pics.

We had a great time wandering the narrow streets, checking out the art galleries and then settled in at one of the alfresco cafes in the square for a local vino.
The obligatory church  and part of the town square a Soller

We got back to the boat in the late afternoon and were a little dismayed to find a charter yacht had anchored fairly close behind us and was currently unattended. The predicted sub 10 knot wind appeared to be being funnelled down off the high mountain range behind Soller, through the valley and straight out across the harbour. It was already gusting around 15 knots and seemed to be strengthening. We were very keen to put down some more chain but our boats were swinging much too close for comfort and any more would of just brought us even nearer.

Options are limited in this situation. We could up anchor and try to find somewhere else in the harbour where we could put more chain down but in the now half light finding a patch of sand could prove troublesome. Confident our anchor was well dug in we elected to sit and wait for the other boat’s crew to return. If we could get them to put out another twenty metres or so of chain we could put down another ten or fifteen and still have more safety margin between the boats.

By the time we saw a dingy approaching the yacht we were already in darkness and the wind was now consistently over 20 knots and gusting over 25. That’s when we struck our next hurdle. The charterers were French and surprisingly seemed to speak very little English. Shouting across the water it was proving difficult to get them to understand what we were asking. Eventually they caught on and we were relieved when they headed to the bow then dismayed when they only put out about another five or so metres of chain. They had understood that we were too close but nothing we did could make them understand that we also wanted to drop more chain as well. They clearly felt that now with some extra distance between the two boats all was fine and proceeded to go to bed.

There was nothing left for us to do but arrange ourselves in a series of anchor watches through the night and be ready if our anchor didn’t hold. We turned all our instruments on and had the key in the ignition ready to go if we needed to. Rob would take the first three hour shift, then Marc followed by Karen. We agreed, if we got loose, things would happen fast with no time for wake up calls so the signal to get up would be the sound of the engine starting.

Even before Marc and Karen got their heads down, the gusts began to reach 35 knots and were not from a consistent direction but rather swung through an arc of about 30 degrees. All the boats in the harbour were swinging wildly and before long anchors began to pull free. A catamaran not far from us that had been secure one second, was heading past us at about six knots the next. They’re didn’t appear to be anyone on deck so we flashed our spotlight at its portholes and were rewarded with a rather shocked face suddenly appearing on deck. He was able to start his motors and get things under control before being swept into the stone docks on the opposite side of the harbour.

It was only the first. During the next couple of hours Rob watched another seven boats break free and drag quickly before the wind. Some then headed into the marina and jumped on any berth they could find while two tied up to the stone docks. The risk there was that the wind was blowing them strongly against the dock and if their fenders weren’t up to the job a fair bit of damage could easily result.

In one corner of the harbour a large ketch dragged backwards across the anchor chain of a smaller yacht resulting in them becoming tangled together with both slowly dragging towards rocks. Not a good situation to be in. It was at least half an hour of shouting, cursing, engines revving and who knows what else before they finally got free of each other before serious damage was done.

Meanwhile Alcheringa was dancing wildly back and forward on her chain with her stern swinging within five or six metres of the charter boat. Each time she came to the end of an arc, the chain would snap taut and she’d head back in the reverse swing. That was until a little before midnight, when she again stretched the chain tight but this time there was no reverse swing. The bow continued to be carried before the wind. She was now the ninth boat to break free as her anchor was skimming across the bottom providing very minimal resistance to her motion toward the docks.

Rob hit the ignition switch and by the time he had the boat in gear Marc and Karen were appearing on deck and instantly went to the bow to begin raising the anchor. Rob meanwhile got the bow headed into the wind and was able to hold her pretty much in place until the anchor was on deck. When we’d been picking a spot to anchor in the morning we’d noticed that there was very little weed closer into shore. At that stage the area was occupied by a number of smaller boats but these had mostly disappeared with the sun so that’s where we headed.

The lights of the shorefront boulevards provided plenty of illumination and we were able to pick a reasonably clear spot, got the anchor back down this time in just four metres of water and proceeded to follow it with over 40 metres of chain. If that didn’t hold we would have no choice but to get out of the harbour and head for open water. It may have been uncomfortable but you’re a lot safer when there’s nothing to hit. Fortunately the combination of anchor and chain held with no further problems and within a couple of hours the wind had eased to the point of no longer presenting any danger. It was then very nice to get a few hours sleep.

Looking around the harbour when the sun rose later in the morning you’d never know anything had happened. Everything was once again serene. Port de Soller is referred to as an excellent harbour and the only safe refuge on Mallorca’s north coast in bad weather. We had certainly not expected the fun and games we experienced through the night but no damage was done and nobody was hurt so all was good.

Regardless, we quickly dropped our previous ideas of staying another day. As pretty as it was we were getting out of there pronto.

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Goodbye Port de Soller - we're outa here!

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