Monday 13 May 2013

Moving on again, Valencia to Barcelona

 May 1 - 4, 2013

 After the wild weather that had kept us confined to the marina at Valencia, the new month of May dawned with mostly clear skies, no wind and flat seas. We were now looking to catch up a bit of lost time so instead of the planned very casual, six days of short hops along the coast to Barcelona we had upped the pace with longer runs cutting the trip to four.

Heading into the sunrise from Valencia
As a result we cleared the breakwaters of Valencia’s Marina Real Juan Carlos 1 shortly after 7.00am and motored north for an uneventful, 63.3 nautical mile trip to a delightful anchorage behind the breakwater but just outside the small fishing harbour at Peniscola. (Yes, that really is the name of the place). We arrived in plenty of time for a nice relax in the cockpit just off the beach and admire the beauty of the traditional buildings lining the sides of the steep headland which was topped by its crowning glory, the Castilo del Papa Luna. The soft, late afternoon light certainly presented the scene at its best.

Karen takes a pic of the castle for our electronic log on the I-Pad.

Valencia to Peniscola -  63.3 nautical miles - 11 hours  25 minutes
Average speed 5.5knots,  max 7.2 knots

We're always on the lookout for anchorages like Peniscola where we can drop behind the protection of a nice breakwater

The bay in Peniscola is a little shallow and we anchored in under three metres of water but  it proved an excellent and very calm anchorage for us. We were all well rested when we rose with the sun and rounded the cape and its spectacular fortress to continue our journey. If the water was calm at dawn, by mid morning it was like a sheet of highly reflective glass with not as much as a ripple to mark its surface.  Our trusty 75hp Yanmar diesel was again providing our forward momentum.

It was about as calm a morning as you can get as we left Peniscola

A mild wind did appear in the early afternoon but typically it was coming from almost the exact direction we needed to go so the engine stayed on. As we approached Cabo Tortosa at the mouth of the Ebro River delta the wind began to build which was contrary to every forecast we’d looked at. 

Cabo Tortosa is the flat point at the right of the photo
The Ebro is the largest river in Spain depositing a huge amount of silt which, over the centuries, has built up the delta  of many small islands separated by channels, saltpans, swamps and mud. In some places the shore is reputed to be advancing seaward by 10 metres a year.  The pilot guide book  advised that ‘The shore line of the delta is probably the most dangerous section of this coast.  Tramontana NW gale can come down the Ebro valley with considerable force and little warning. Altogether, from the point of view of a navigator, it is a place to be avoided.’ It strongly warned against cutting the corner around the cape so we had plotted a course well offshore which provided us with secure margin of safety. This proved a wise move as, sure enough, we ran head first into one of the Tramontana winds the pilot guide had spoken of as we turned the corner towards our anchorage in a small bay off the beach at Playa de Roig. It was nowhere near as severe as this wind can get but bashing head first into 30 knots and a short, sharp swell again for the last two hours of our trip was far from relaxing.

Despitewind blowing over the top, Playa de Roig provided a very peaceful anchorage
Fortunately Playa de Roig proved another excellent anchorage in the strong offshore wind and from the time we entered the protection of its low cliffs we found ourselves happily in flat calm. We anchored in clear sand which provided excellent holding. Apart from ruining Karen’s plans to barbecue our dinner of salmon steaks in the cockpit, the wind provided us with no further problems at all before fading out at sunset.

Peniscola to Playa del Roig - 44 nautical miles - 8 hours 33 minutes
Average speed 5.1 knots max 6.1 knots

With a strong offshore wind blowing, Playa del Roig proved a great anchorage
Yet another early start saw us leaving our comfortable bay and heading out into a predicted twelve knot offshore breeze which we anticipated would provide lovely sailing conditions for our run along the coast to our next stop at Puerto de Vilanova. Yeah right. It seemed as if we no sooner got full mainsail and genoa set than our mate, the Tramontana, roared back out of the valley with zero warning. The wind went from twelve knots to near thirty almost instantaneously bringing with it a very agitated sea state.

Leaving Playa de Roig pre-dawn we had no inkling what awaited us

It was great to be sailing even if it was a little 'spirited' at times. A few minutes after this shot was taken we were hit with 30+ knots and the reefs went in the sails
We pointed up into the wind to depower all the sails and furled two thirds of the genoa away before going straight to second reef on the main. Despite strong gusts now up near thirty five knots and rough water, the whole reefing process went very smoothly and Alcheringa was soon back on course, leaping over the swells and topping nine knots. We felt quite pleased with how we have got to know the boat and refined our teamwork.

The Spanish version of Homer Simpson's workplace. Nuclear Power.
We passed by two nuclear power stations located on the coast near Cabo del Term. As Australia has no nuclear power, it was a unique experience for us while Marc thought it of only mild interest. We did check each other later that night and are pleased to report that we still don’t glow in the dark so the plant’s radiation shielding must be doing its job.

Our bouncy but rapid progress up the coast continued for the next two hours before the wind began to ease. Marc took over the watch and wheel very much looking forward to helming in the now excellent fifteen to eighteen knot conditions as Rob went below for an overdue comfort stop. Now when you’re wearing a heavy, wet weather, sailing jacket and bib and brace pants over jeans, and sweater, a trip to the loo on a rocking and rolling boat is no quick exercise.  But even allowing for the slightly extended time it took to complete business and redress, he couldn’t believe his ears when he heard the engine fire up. Sure enough, by the time he got back on deck, the wind had dropped to zero and Marc and Karen had furled the rest of the genoa away, centred the main and we were once again, under motor.  No wonder the weather gurus struggle to forecast what’s going to happen along this coast.

We droned along for the rest of Marc’s watch, then to add insult to injury, five minutes after he handed over wheel, the predicted twelve to fourteen knots of wind arrived. Mutterings of ‘not fair’ could be heard from below as the engine went silent and we were able to sail again. This time it only held for an hour or so before again dropping out forcing us to resort to the motor once more.

We had planned to anchor for the night outside the harbout at Puerto de Vilanova I la Geltru but we soon realised that there was too much southerly swell running for that to really be a viable option.. We had no desire for another night of rolling like we’d experienced back off Cabo Cullera so entered the harbour and radioed the Club Nautica for a berth in their marina.

Playa del Roig to Puerto Vilanove - 52.3 nautical miles - 8 hours 49 minutes
Average speed 5.9 knots - Max 9.0 knots
(So good when the wind direction lets us sail the rum line)

No sign of the swell running outside in the marina
MARINA REVIEW: Club Nautica Marina de Vilanova ***

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 36.30 Euro (Included water, power and WiFi)
Marina inside a largish harbour with very good protection from the elements. The majority of the berths on the pontoons appear to be private or permanent bookings but there are a limited number of visitors berths available. These are located along the concrete wharf. Swing room between it and the adjacent finger is a little tight and the shallow depth and rocks along the edge of the wharf make it necessary to moor bow to avoid rudder damage. The marina was very secure from the swell but otherwise, fairly non-descript.  We gave it three stars.

Saturday May 4 dawned clear, calm and windless for our relatively short, 27 mile run up the coast to Barcelona. It was such a glorious day in fact that we skirted along the 10 metre depth contour  line hugging the coast and beaches all the way to enjoy the sights.

Spain always throws up scenes that contrast the old and new
Marc had told us he’d had a very scenic train ride from Barcelona to Valencia on his way back to the boat after his trip to the UK and seeing the way the rail line ran along the coast most of the way we could now see what he’d enjoyed it so much. We were also enamoured with the coast road winding up and around the headlands and could imagine how fantastic it would be to unleash our Harley Davidson along this stretch of highway.

It's a pretty cool train ride between Barcelona and Valencia

Oh to let the Harley loose on this coastal highway

Motoring is rarely exciting but we must say it was far from unpleasant moseying along in the sunshine a couple of hundred yards of the long sand beaches and little bays. The constant stream of airliners descending into Barcelona got lower and lower over our heads as they swept over us into the very busy airport.

There are a number of marina options in Barcelona. Port Vell Marina had been highly recommended to us as being superbly situated right in the middle of things very close to Las Ramblas and the city area. It’s located on the north side of the harbour. To reach it we had to navigate two traffic separation zones for the big ships and pass by the entrance to the main commercial shipping harbour. 

Once again our AIS (Automatic Identification System) proved invaluable as we adjusted course to avoid a large and quite fast cruise liner, the Costa Mediterraneo, sister ship to the ill-fated Costa Concordia, as it came into Barcelona. It really saved our bacon as we approached the cross over point just outside the entrance channel to the harbour. The height of the huge breakwaters made it impossible to see inside the harbour but a check of our AIS screen showed a container ship was on the move the other side of the walls making for the entrance. We stopped dead in the water just short of the channel and on cue a minute or so later its massive bows appeared out through the entrance not much more than a hundred metres ahead of us. Being run down by one of these big boys would be a sure fire way to spoil your day.

Entering the northern section of the harbour we found it was home to literally scores of massive super yachts of both the sail and motor variety. The whole place was one massive tourist development with masses of people wandering in and out of the numerous businesses and attractions lining the wide docks. Overhead a cable car carried visitors over the harbour and up to the centuries old Castilo de Montjuic looking down over the city from its defensive position high on the nearby hill.

Superyachts of all types everywhere we looked
We were directed to our spot and berthed with the friendly assistance of two mariners. With all lines on, the engine off and cold beers in our hands, we looked all around us and had to agree. Port Vells Marina is as awesome a location to moor as we’ve experienced on Alcheringa so far.  The marina review will appear in our next post.

We had a couple of days of exploring this magical city planned and couldn’t wait to get started.

Puerto de Vilanova to Barcelona - 26.7 nautical miles - 4 hours 57 minutes
Average 5.4 knots - Max 6.8 knots

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