Friday 26 October 2012

Sailing Mallorca to the Spanish Coast

September 27 – 30,   2012

Although the head winds of the previous couple of days had eased and swung a little more to the south, the weather wasn’t really doing us that many favours as we began our 480 nautical mile trip from Mallorca to Gibraltar. The wind direction saw us motor sailing with just the mainsail up providing us a little bit of lift to boost our progress towards Ibiza. The sky was leaden with dark clouds and we were surrounded by showers. The sea state had not yet settled after the recent winds so we were having a bit of a bumpy ride punching into it more than we’d like to. However the forecast for the next few days was far worse so it was a case of go now or wait, wait, wait.
Grey skies and drizzle for much of our trip to Ibiza

There was 25 to 30 knot wind and storms predicted for the following day so our plan was to get across to Cala Portinatx on Ibiza and hide in there. Our previous months travels around Ibiza were invaluable as we now had experienced many of the anchorages and could make informed choices as to where would be safest in what conditions. If not comfortable it was at least an uneventful 51.7NM trip which saw us arrive on Ibiza with plenty of good daylight up our sleeve. We managed to get anchored in nice and secure and well prepared for the winds to come. With just a few boats in the bay, grey skies and almost empty beaches, it was a very different place to when we visited just a few weeks ago. The seasons were definitely changing.
This storm missed us in Cala Portinatx but later turned on a big lightening show out to sea.

A big storm passed us by that evening and we were treated to a spectacular lightning show out to sea which seemed to go on forever. The wind was obviously building the sea state as a reasonable swell start to roll around the point and reach right into the bay making all the boats roll a bit through the night. We were still very pleased that we were merely mildly uncomfortable at anchor rather than getting bashed out there at sea. We sat things out onboard as the predicted winds blew right through the Friday before easing overnight.
Leaving Cala Portinatx on Ibiza
For us it was now a case of keeping on top of the ever changing weather as we upped anchor in the morning and motored west along the coast towards Cala Basa. Through Saturday morning the wind returned 180 degrees different  from Friday’s strong south easterly, this time with 18 to 20 knots of north westerly. It was another bumpy ride under broken overcast skies until we entered into the protection of the rocky headlands at Cala Basa.
Karen watching the big swells splash up on the rocks of Ibiza's north coast
Almost immediately the sea was flat and the sun broke through in a brilliant blaze of light. The DJ’s music from the Cala Basa Beach Club greeted us as we anchored and all the clouds rolled away. No wonder we love this place. It even turned on a great sunset for us later. We had a great week here on our last visit. You can catch up with the story at
Beautiful Cala Basa turned it on for us again
Another great Cala Basa Ibiza sunset

Unfortunately this stop was going to be far more fleeting. The ever changing wind was due to swing to the north east at 18 knots next morning providing us with great conditions for a reach across the 65 nautical miles to Calpe on the Spanish coast. If the forecast held true we would be able to sail a fast and direct course all the way from anchorage to anchorage, something that had been very rare on our travels in the Med so far.

Enter Murphy and his law again. The change came early as instead of next morning the wind swung about midnight and started to blow straight into the bay. Being a light sleeper, Rob woke at the change in behaviour of the boat and sat up on deck to keep an eye on things. The wind strength kept building and was soon gusting over twenty knots as he watched a motor boat and charter yacht begin to drag anchor further out in the bay. Both attempted re-anchoring before giving up and heading off in the direction of San Antonio harbour about six miles away.  Our yacht and a small ketch were the only boats now left in the bay. We were anchored side by side close into shore and were now hanging stern towards the beach. The ketch appeared to be edging closer to the ropes of the swim line buoys and eventually decided not to risk fouling their propeller in them so joined the exodus to San Antonio.  

A little after 2.30am it appeared our anchor may have also been in danger of dragging and as the beach loomed near we’d have very little wriggle room. Seeing that running aground is a sure fire way to spoil your day we decided we’d better do something about it. There really was no option to re-anchor here as you need to see sand patches amongst the thick kelp or you’re simply dropping and hoping which is not a particularly good strategy in 20+ knots.

Our options were to follow the rest and head five miles away to San Antonio making our trip next day that much longer or head straight for Calpe now instead of waiting for daylight. If we went to San Antonio we’d only be there a couple of hours before turning around and getting going anyway so we elected to head for the coast. We got the anchor up and motored away from the shore but stayed in the bay so we could get everything set before heading outside into even rougher water. With the wind now constantly in the 22-25 knot range and appearing to be building further we decided to go with a two reefs in the mainsail to be on the safe side.  

Getting the mainsail up in lumpy seas and 20+ knots of wind is a task at the best of times but in the dark it’s even a little more challenging. With Marc forward at the base of the mast and Karen on the winch, our first two attempts saw the mainsail batons get caught in the lazy jacks so we had to drop it all, circle around into the wind and try again. On the third attempt we successfully avoided this problem but a reefing line became hopelessly jammed in a block (pulley) preventing us from getting the sail to correct tension so down it came again. A quick inspection of the jam while hanging at the mast on the wildly bucking deck made it clear that it wouldn’t be an easy fix in the dark. It would be much safer and simpler in the daylight so we secured the mainsail to the boom and away we went, motoring until sunup.

Now when you have a strong wind and waves coming from just behind the beam, motoring on a yacht is about the most uncomfortable thing you can possibly do. The weight of the mast becomes a pendulum and the rolling action of the boat is much exaggerated. With sails up the boat heels with the wind and rides the seas but much of the roll is eliminated. Once we were clear of the coast and on course for the mainland Karen and Marc went below to try to get some sleep while Rob took the watch. The easiest way to describe the next four hours is ROUGH AS GUTS.
A most welcome sunrise halfway between Ibiza and the Spanish Coast

Rob was incredibly thankful to see the sky lighten and the sun finally make an appearance through the clouds. With Marc and Karen back on deck both were surprised to admit they had been able to get at least a little broken sleep despite the rodeo rides they experienced in their bunks. Marc's animated descriptions of waking a number of times to find himself weightless in mid air over his bunk as the bow dropped off waves had us in stitches. We could easily envision him wildly waving his arms like a flightless bird before he crashed back to earth. Karen meanwhile had been attacked by all sorts of items that are normally very secure on deep shelves in our cabin but flew loose in the more extreme conditions.

Now the sun was up, Rob went forward and was able to secure himself to the mast with his safety harness and a few minutes work in the light accompanied by only mild cursing had the block unfouled and things back in order. It was such a relief to finally get sailing with the ride settling down considerably. As we closed the Spanish coast we got some protection in the lee of Cabo de la Noa, the clouds disappeared, the wind eased and the sea state calmed right down leaving us with a beautiful run around the huge rock headland that rises vertically out of the water and right into the bay at Calpe early in the afternoon.
Great to be under sail approaching the Spanish coast
Even better to be leaving the crap weather behind

We anchored in the lee of the massive rock, just off the beach in the bay next to the marina, had lunch and opened a bottle of wine in the sunshine. All the previous night’s dramas quickly drifted away. Life is still good on Alcheringa.

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At anchor under the rock at Calpe - Costas del Sol Spain

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