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Ocean Gold

2023 - Into the Mediterranean

We leave the Algarve and transit through 'Orca alley' into the Mediterranean to  Arkyla's new base for this season - La Marina de Valencia, the home to the 32nd America's Cup in 2007.  This is Arkyla's launchpad for the Balearics; the islands of Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca, and Menorca. 

Prelude:  Here be monsters... navigating orca alley

May has arrived and it's time to move Arkyla to her new seasonal base of La Marina de Valencia.  The journey into the Mediterranean however is no longer as simple as waiting for the westerlies to push us through the Straits of Gibraltar as, since 2020, yachts must now contend with the menace of the family of Iberian orca that have taken a liking to destroying small ship's rudders!  The orca problem is no small issue; over the past two seasons hundreds of yachts have had damaging interactions with many boats relying on rescue services to tow them to the refuge of a safe port.  Indeed, three yachts have been sunk, thankfully without any loss of life, the most recent in the week before we set off on our passage east!  I have enlisted Swedes Karin and Cecilia to help with the delivery to the warm waters of the Med; however, even with two fearless vikings onboard, the passage requires careful planning and risk mitigation strategies.

The orca problem unwrapped

There is still no certainty as to why this new behaviour of the Iberian orca has come about; play, revenge, and training have all been hypothesised as possible reasons why this distinct family of orca has taken to targeting the rudders of yachts as they pass through their seasonal feeding grounds.  Perhaps the most widely accepted theory is that one particular matriarch - known as White Gladis - witnessed a calf killed following an interaction with a fishing boat and thereby took a defensive stance against other boats; younger orcas have since copied this behaviour to the extent that we now have an estimated 17 individual cetaceans engaging, interacting with, or attacking yachts.  Whatever the reason, this problem behaviour not only persists, but is growing in terms of numbers of yachts attacked.  Clearly a strategy is needed to safely navigate through the Straits to the Bay of Gibraltar to the relative safety of the gateway to the Mediterranean.

Planning a passage of least risk

The best defence against an orca interaction is to avoid these potential ship-sinkers, preferably in both time and space; both elements however have their limitations.  The passage plan needs to work within date windows and weigh the risks between meeting the orca and avoiding navigation hazards such as shoals, fishing pots, or shipping.  For this trip, home constraints necessitating enrolling friends as delivery crew; whilst never wishing to 'sail to a schedule', my crew's booked flights meant that the journey east from Lagos to Valencia had to be completed between mid-May and mid-June.

 

The Iberian orca feed on, and follow, Atlantic blue-fin tuna which, as the summer progresses, migrate from the Straits west and then north along the Atlantic Portugal coast to the Spanish Rias and the Bay of Biscay.  Arkyla's move east would be during the period when the orca are known to feed within the Straits, in particular around the area between Spanish Barbate and Moroccan Tangier.  Information is our weapon however and, thanks to the dedicated work of scientists from the Conservation, Information, and Study of Cetaceans (CIRCE), sailors now have access to detailed location reports of the orca.  Historic data is available on Orcas.pt monthly maps detailing orca-boat interactions over past years and, weekly orca heat maps published by the Spanish Ministry for Ecology and, most significantly, detailed current location reports (derived from tagging data and real-time observations) disseminated live through the Orcas Location Telegram group (signup via Orcas.pt), and (at time of writing) on daily Tarifa Radio VHF Ch16 broadcasts.  Advice is clear; avoid at all costs the orca hot spots.  This is best achieved by transiting along the coastal shallows, as far within the 20m contour as is safe for navigation.  This of course presents its own issues, not least the prevalence of the many, and often poorly marked, fishing pots.  The advice consequently extends to travelling only in daylight hours and, if necessary, under motor.  Clearly execution of the plan will also depend on wind and tide/current.  This is especially important when negotiating the seasonal 'Alhambra' tunny nets at Conil, Barbate, Zahara, and Tarifa.  Some of these nets extend beyond the 30m depth line and a skipper must weigh the risk between an orca interaction going outside the net, or the risk of beaching or entanglement going between net and shore.  The status of the nets changes (sometimes they are anchored to shore), and the best resource on status is undoubtedly the reports and advice from other boats posting to the Telegram forum.

Orcas.pt monthly interaction map
Orca weekly heat map

Passage strategy.  In line with the advice to stay shallow, I planned for a series of day hops along the Algarve, down the Spanish coast, and through the narrows of the Straits.  Anchorages are plentiful and marinas are cheap along these Mediterranean approaches so it is easy and affordable to plan the passage from Lagos to Gibraltar within the period of a week.  The stops also turned an otherwise 'dull' delivery into an interesting cruise giving my crew an insight into this cruising ground.  I chose to make stops in Ferraguda, Culatra, Mazagon, Rota, and Barbate before  pausing in Alcaidesa marina, La Linea.

Tide and Current.  The Mediterranean is an ever-evaporating sea with a consequent constant flow of water inward from the Atlantic ocean.  There are complexities to the inflow and outflow system which consists of layers of water that have different levels of salinity.  The water in the Atlantic is less salty and less dense than that of the water in the Mediterranean basin; it thereby flows eastward through the Straits as a surface layer (about 120m deep) at a speed of about 2-3 knots.  Additionally, the tidal flow will either speed up, or slow down the eastern flowing current depending on the phase of the tide.  If keeping close to the Spanish coast, the currents are less, but in strong easterly winds it is wise to avoid wind against current, especially around Tarifa.  Finally, in May there is often early morning fog to contend with which may impact the passage especially in the high-traffic areas where the Straits narrow.

Deterrence & Defence

The Iberian Orca group are not only endangered, but also protected by both Spanish and Portuguese law; Although a Captain's duty is to protect his ship and crew, remember that any defensive actions should not harm the orca; each skipper will likely have a differing view on applicable options if experiencing, or in danger of, an attack.

Last year's 'official' advice if attacked was to stop the boat and sit tight until the orca grew tired or uninterested in the vessel; this has been superseded.  The universally accepted advice now is to motor away as fast as possible in an attempt to get about 1NM clear of the main orca group; at this point, any interacting individuals will likely leave the yacht to return to their family group.  Some organisations (Cruising Association, GT Orca) recommend deploying sand over the stern (to confuse the orca's sonar), but the scientists of CIRCE, who have conducted daily experiments to test defensive theories, are adamant that skippers should concentrate on moving out of the orca feeding area at haste rather than waste precious minutes deploying sand or other deterrents as listed here: 

  • Pingers.  'Electronic warfare' against cetaceans; originally developed to deter dolphins and whales from de-predating fishing nets, it is now widely thought that these do not deter orcas; their use is also illegal in Spanish waters.  

  • Motoring astern.  This has proven effective in some past interactions, but goes against the current advice to full throttle ahead to move away from the main orca feeding zone. 

  • Deploy sand.  Deployed over the stern to confuse the orca sonar that it is believed used to hone in on the rudder. Some advise to carry about 10kg in an easily accessible deployment bag. 

  • Making noise.  Although the official advice is to stay silent, some reports suggest that making noise (for instance by banging pots and pans, playing loud music) can prompt the orca to cease their attacks on the rudder.  If all else had failed, and I perceived a real danger of the yacht sinking, I may try this technique.

  • Turn off electronics.  A preventative measure now largely discredited as having any effectiveness.

There are other, more extreme methods that some advocate in the event of an attack; I stress that we onboard Arkyla do not agree with these actions that are potentially harmful to the orca and the wider ocean environment.  I add them here only to give a balanced account of how some skippers are currently attempting to defend their vessels:

  • Diesel.  Pouring diesel over the stern or flushing through heads.  There is an argument that, as a last resort activity, a gallon of diesel poured overboard will be less environmentally destructive than the pollution from a sunk yacht.

  • Fire crackers.  Said to be used by small fishing vessels and anecdotally said to be effective in stopping attacks.

  • Fire a flare.  A yacht off the Moroccan coast reported firing a flare into the water thereby stopping an orca attack.

Orca-related resources for sailors:

  • Wikipedia - Iberian orca attacks.  An excellent and concise introduction and explanation of the issue.

  • Orcas.pt.  Community of sailors and scientists sharing information including historical maps of sightings and interactions; the site gives access to associated Telegram groups for orca-based discussion and incident/sighting reports.

  • GT Atlantic Orca. Collaborative site for scientific organisations to share information; includes regularly updated maps of interactions. 

  • Cruising Association orca update.  The CA is leading the effort to collate and analyse reports of interactions with sail yachts.

  • Cruising Association orca safety protocol.  Advice and reporting hub for any sightings, interactions, or uneventful passages.

  • ORCINUS smartphone app.  Download from the app store; provides map view of interactions coded for sightings and incidents.

  • GT Orca Atlántica smartphone app.  Identification guid and reporting app.

  • Facebook 'Orca Attack Reports' Group.  Reports and discussion forum (public group).

  • 'The Riddle of the orcas: how orcas are taking back the ocean'.  Kindle e-book pulling together many of the incidents and theories of this new behaviour by the Iberian orca.  No answers, but a handy compilation of reporting and thought since attacks began in 2020.

  • Spanish Ministry of Ecology.  Providing current 'heat maps' on orca locations.

May:  Delivery Part 1 - Lagos to Bay of Gibraltar

Lagos to Gibraltar passage plan

Portugal - Lagos to Ferraguda

Arkyla has had a week of pre-season TLC; she's been polished, the rig has been checked, a new water filtration system installed, and several systems maintained, repaired or upgraded ready for the arrival of my delivery crew.  I can't say I was too upset that my crew insisted on taking on the full role of provisioning - I think they feared that a diet of beer and chilli might get repetitive over the course of a month!  Slipping lines for the final time from N pontoon in Marina de Lagos is an exciting feeling... a new chapter in Arkyla's travels is about to begin.  Our first passage is short but sweet and designed to introduce the boat to Karin and Cilla; we exit the Lagos moles, pull out the main and self-tacking jib, and beat our way to Portimao where we anchor off Ferraguda beach.  Dropping the hook here already gives a taster of the sights and sounds to come on our passage east; we watch a trawler mobbed by seabirds returning with her catch, a lone figure fishing off the Portimao mole, and yachts of all description hanging to their hooks.  Amongst them is 'Nostra' - another Regina 43! Pre-positioning here allows for an early start tomorrow, and puts us an hour closer to our next destination, Culatra, so we can best time our entry on the spring tide.

Portimao trawler
Arkyla's Delivery crew
Lone angler, Portimao
Classic yacht, Ferraguda

Ferraguda to Culatra

The short hop to Ferraguda was mostly for practical reasons; positioning here meant we were not restricted to the first 0900 bridge opening time at Lagos, and put us an hour closer to Culatra.  This was important as we were on springs and the entrance to Culatra can be fairly fierce if trying to enter at any time other than slack water.  With the anchor up before 0800, we were soon on our way in a perfect F3-4 south-westerly.  The early morning light was a wonderful mix of sun and light fog; nothing dangerous for navigation, but giving an eerie feel to the coastline, especially as we passed the picturesque beach resort of Carvoeiro.  We reached Culatra with precision timing, entered between the moles and followed the buoys turning starboard to the anchorage between Isla Culatra and the mainland town of Olhao.

Carvairo from the sea
Arkyla in Culatra lagoon

Culatra to Mazagon, Spain

Culatra is a wonderful place to explore, yet sadly we were up at first light to catch the tidal gate for our passage to Spain and the port of Mazagon.  One advantage of an early start however is seeing the dawn display of changing colours as the sun rises over the lagoon; I even caught that perfect 'lollipop' shot as the sun stuck itself to the top of a neighbouring yacht's masthead!  Our timing was not so perfect leaving the river however and, slightly early, the last of the ebb treated us to a wild ride through eddies and whirlpools as we crossed the deep water outside the entrance.  There is a long stretch of fishing nets between Culatra and Ayamonte which lies on the Spanish side of the Guadiana  river border.  With an outside threat of orca even this far west I chose to motor inside the net.  This requires careful navigation as the western edge of the net comes very close to the shifting shallows of the eastern entrance to the Culatra lagoon (which it is ill advised to use unless you have excellent local knowledge!).  Crossing the international border we remembered to wind our watches forward an hour; our move into Spanish waters also brought some wind so we pulled out canvas and sailed the remainder of the passage to Mazagon.  What a great little place Mazagon is; quite a sleepy little town, but a super marina (and cheap!), and a lovely vibe in the street restaurants.  Maybe not a place for an extended stay, but without doubt a super transit stop!

Dawn, Culatra
Sunrise, Culatra lagoon
Sunshine lollipop

Mazagon to Rota, Cadiz Bay

A relatively lazy start, slipping lines at 0900 for what should be a 42 NM passage to our chosen port of Rota in the Bay of Cadiz.  Exiting the river, we passed beach anglers casting their lines so kept a good offing from the shore.  The direct line kept is more or less within the 20m depth contour, but with a building south-easterly, we soon rolled the genoa and pulled out the south-tacking jib to beat our way along the coast.  Working our way to windward added time and distance to our passage, but we still entered the marina with plenty of light to berth.  Rota is another lovely place to explore with a delightful old town.  With a dubious forecast, we opted to stay a second night in the very reasonably-priced marina.

Mazagon beach anglers
Beating to windward
Rota statue
Flower pots in Rota old town_edited.jpg

Rota to Barbate

The next leg was where things began to get serious; we were now about to enter the known 'current' hot zone of orca interactions.  Navigation also becomes trickier with the first of the tunny nets (Conil) and the shallows off Cape Trafalgar to negotiate.  The bad news was that over the past week, at least one or two yachts daily had been towed into Barbate having had their rudders disabled in orca attacks.  The 'good' news was that all of the impacted yachts had been travelling offshore and were attacked as they transited directly through the known orca hot spots.  With fingers crossed and eyes peeled, we set off hoping that out strategy to keep to the shallows would save us from any orca grief!  With a south-easterly F3 wind, I chose to motor the 38 NM passage rather than repeatedly tack within the 20m depth area or risk having to take emergency avoiding manoeuvres under sail if we ventured into deeper water where the orca were more likely to be.  As we left Cadiz Bay, a high-speed customs patrol boat sped close by, but chose to ignore us (I guessed they saw the Swedish crew flag flying on the spreader and thought the risk of uncovering a batch of rotting herring 'delicacy' too great to board us for an inspection!).  As if the risk of attack by orca wasn't enough to keep us busy, as we passed the Spanish Ballistics Test centre east of Cadiz, we came under aerial bombardment!  We were certainly being tested in the run up to us rounding the outside of the Conil net that extended into the 30m depth contour.  With no sign of any orca, we dashed back to the safety of the shallows once past the melee of fishing boats working the tunny nets.  The nets are well marked, both on the chart and by cardinals, but a keen lookout is still needed to avoid any stray orange buoys that may have escaped their line.  With relatively calm seas, I also chose to take an inside route through the shoals off Cape Trafalgar.

On the run in to Barbate, an alert on the Telegram 'Orca Locations' forum highlighted an orca had been spotted close to the approaches to the harbour; it was with some concern that, although the plotted location was in 30+ metres depth, the cetacean had been spotted within half a mile of our course.  It was a relief to reach the safety of the Barbate entrance, but also somewhat disconcerting to motor past the 'mast-top' remains of the yacht 'Alboran Champagne' that had sunk under tow just before the sanctuary of the harbour following its orca attack, 10 NM offshore, earlier in the month.  Motoring past the boatyard, we also spied several hauled-out yachts awaiting repairs to various levels of rudder destruction!  The orca threat began to feel very real indeed then, as if to drive the message home, as we manoeuvred into our berth, the Salvamento rescue boat launched in response to yet another yacht in orca distress.

Barbate is a well protected and spacious, if somewhat soulless marina.  The town also is dominated by the fish canning factories and doesn't ooze typical Spanish charm!  That said, we enjoyed a great tapas in a local restaurant before wandering back to the boat for a good night's rest before our last 'leg of danger' to Gibraltar.

Spanish customs patrol
Ballistics Test Centre bombardment
Broken rudders in boatyard
Conil tunny fishermen
Salvamento rescue service

Barbate to La Linea, Bay of Gibraltar

It wasn't an early slip of lines, but we were all up in good time to prepare ourselves for what was set to be the most challenging of our 'orca alley' legs.  We checked the weather and decided that, although rain was forecast, the CAPE index that had given a little concern the night before did not present any significant threat.  I re-briefed my crew on intended actions if we sighted, or were attacked by, orcas, and we discussed plans for negotiating the remaining tunny nets of Barbate, Zahara, and Tarifa.  As we made ready the lines, we watched the scientists from CIRCE preparing to venture out in 'Nashira', their orca research boat, for the day; it felt reassuring to know that they would be on the water as by tracking them on AIS we would have a very good idea of where the orca were at any particular time.  We slipped lines at a very leisurely 1100hrs and, in a light F2 westerly, motored out of the marina.

The Barbate tunny net poses no navigational issues as it ends more or less at the harbour entrance; it is a simple case of keeping shoreside of the prominent cardinal buoy.  As we motored south, we passed very close to the wreck of the Alboran Champagne and, once again, the seriousness of the orca situation was hammered home.  Our first real navigational dilemma lay 4 NM along the coast; the Zahara tunny net.  This net had been a much discussed topic amongst the transiting yachts sharing information and asking questions on the Telegram forum - should boats go inside or outside?  By all accounts there was a navigable passage between net and shore, but it was narrow and very close to the beach.  I was still in two minds and, as I very slowly poked Arkyla's bow tentatively toward the inner marker buoys, one of the two yachts that had followed us out of Barbate called on the VHF to ask of the situation... I replied with a message to wait out and see what happens!  With no width to turn within the stretch between net and shore, once entered I was committed; however, as there was no swell or waves, I decided to go for it.  With Karin on the bow spotting, we inched our way between the buoys marking the net on one side and the swimming zone on the other.  A couple of 'rogue' pink buoys lay in our way; with only 1.3m showing beneath Arkyla's keel (she draws 1.8m), I really had no option but to go net side of these errant buoys and to hope that they were not joined to the rest of the fish trap.  We made it through!  To say it was a knee-trembling experience is an understatement.  It was not so much the lack of depth beneath the keel that gave cause for concern, but the proximity to the sunbathers on the beach for whom we could easily have slapped some lotion on their backs if asked; to put it into context, a friend who had been tracking us via AIS on Marine Traffic later asked if we had hauled out and executed that stretch on a flat bed truck!  Always thinking of my fellow cruisers, I radio'd the German yacht behind and reported that, with care and extreme caution, the passage was safe; we watched our stalker approach the net, slow, then execute a pirouette - they clearly decided that the risk of an orca in the deep water off the southern ends of the Zahara net would forfeit less heartbeats than threading their way through the inner passage!

Our next challenge was Tarifa.  Again, this net was the subject of much discussion in the Telegram forums especially regarding recent reports that the net was now fully anchored to shore and thereby could not be passed on the inside.  Given the weight of evidence showed the orca to be feeding primarily off Barbate still, and the fact that I had to go into deep water to round the headland in any case, I had already made up my mind to go outside.  It was at first a little confusing to make out the cardinal markers for the net but, with the aid of the binoculars (an essential bit of kit for this passage) we made out that the 'lost' marker was actually atop an anchored boat.  Of note, whilst the Navionics charts clearly depicted the nets and cardinal buoys marking them, the charted positions were not always fully accurate as the buoys were evidently moveable depending on the lay of the nets during the season.

True to form, the wind picked up significantly as we rounded Tarifa.  Believing ourselves to now be clear of any significant orca threat, we pulled out a headsail and fair flew downwind on a straight line course to Gibraltar.  It was not long however before the wind was replaced by dark clouds and heavy persistent rain.  Once again under engine, we motored the last few miles and threaded our way through the multitude of tankers at anchor and made our way to our chosen marina of Alcadeisa in Spanish La Linea.  Part one of Arkyla's delivery to the Med was complete with all hands and boat intact.  Time for some beers and a couple of days R&R ashore!

Orca research vessel 'Nashira'
Wreck of 'Alboran Champagne'_edited.jpg
Zahara tunny net_edited.jpg
Tarifa lighthouse
Downwind past Tarifa
Bay of Gibraltar

Some lessons learned:

  • Information is the best weapon against an orca interaction; understand where they are and avoid them.

  • Use the multitude of resources available to understand the orca threat; the Orcas.pt Telegram groups are invaluable.

  • Have a plan in the event of an attack - ensure the crew is fully briefed.

  • Motorsail in daylight hours and stay shallow; remember that 20metres depth is not a hard boundary for orcas but a recommendation!

  • Marinas are cheap along this stretch of coast - don't forsake safety over cost.

  • Make informed decisions on routing around tunny nets - weather and swell will play an important part in the process.

May-June:  Delivery Part 2 - Gibraltar to Valencia (via Ibiza)

Gibraltar to Valencia, via Ibiza

La Linea & Gibraltar - some R&R!

Well on schedule, so time in hand to give my crew some R&R to explore La Linea and Gibraltar... that and a forecast of a few days of easterlies that I really don't want to beat into!  There has been a lot of change since I was last in Gibraltar; that was back in 2007 when I was using my RAF resettlement grants to gain my RYA Yachtmaster Offshore tickets with Allabroad Sailing Academy.  So much change in fact the the marina we are berthed in, Alcaidesa, was nothing more than an anchorage back then!  Opened in 2010, it is a modern marina with wide berths and good facilities.  Whilst not expensive by Mediterranean standards, it is noticeable how much bigger a dent in the wallet a marina stay makes as we make our way eastward.  Neither is the change restricted to La Linea - Gibraltar is unrecognisable to me!  The first shock is the walk across the runway border between Spain and the British Overseas Territory; gone is the ramshackle airport building and in its place a major terminal.  Trying to understand the immigration process between the EU and post-BREXIT Gib also causes some head scratching.  The extent of high-rise development on 'the Rock' is also of a scale I find hard to believe, not least the 'permanently berthed' hotel taking centre stage amongst the waterside apartments and offices.

As we wait for the change in winds to push us through the gap between Europe and Africa properly into the Med, my crew explore and relax whilst I fix a few broken bits and try to engage an engineer to look at my tachometer that, once again, has reared its erratic head - why do things only break intermittently and never when the engineer is onboard?  Nonetheless, even for me there is still time to enjoy the tapas and watch a lone one-design 'Victory' class keelboat practice its spinnaker work in the lee of the runway (the promised race for which I was hoping to get some great action shots never happened!).

Soon however, with a change in the weather forecast, we slip lines from our marina berth and head the short distance to the La Linea anchorage in anticipation of a push east the next day.  We sit on deck and wait for the tell-tale shroud of cloud streaming off the top of the Rock to dissipate with the anticipated demise of the easterlies.

The 'permanently moored' hotel
Easterlies off the Rock
Victory class keelboat race practice

Offshore: Gibraltar to Cartagena

Waking to find the wind had indeed come round into the west as forecast, we prepped the boat for her upcoming 250 NM leg through the Alboran Sea to the ancient port of Cartagena.  This would be Arkyla's (though not the crew's) first offshore and overnight passage since crossing Biscay last June, so I took extra time to check the safety gear before we weighed the anchor.

Before rounding Europa Point and heading east, I decided to take advantage of Gibraltar's tax-free economy and fill Arkyla's diesel tanks back to brimming.  There is no requirement to check in or out if just stopping to re-fuel, so having checked there were no aircraft ready to take off or on finals to land, we dashed across the runway approach path, and motored toward the fuel dock behind Ocean Village Marina.  There are two filling stations here; Cepska and Gib Oil.  I had read in a cruisers forum that the Gib Oil outlet was the cheaper of he two, so that's where we pulled into.  I had also read that if you wanted to purchase any big ticket chandlery items in Gibraltar, but did not want to risk paying duty by taking it through customs to the Spanish/EU side if berthed in La Linea, then arrangement could be made to collect goods at the station when fuelling - I did not test this theory however, so it must remain conjecture at this point!

Tanks full, we slipped the fuel dock and motored back out into the bay.  Hugging the breakwaters, we kept a lookout for all the supply vessels plying their trade amongst the tankers anchored in the bay before making the turn east to round Europa Point and declare ourselves officially now in the Mediterranean.  Although the wind had moved into the west, there wasn't really much of it!  It wasn't until mid afternoon that it piped up enough for us to roll out the sails and switch off the engine.  Within an hour, the wind had moved fully off Arkyla's stern, so I rigged the pole, rolled in the main, set the twin genoas, and we shot along at a very respectable pace.  With dusk beginning to fall, the wind increased to a steady F4 and Arkyla was in her element.  Then, with the dipping orange sun painting the sea a shimmering gold, and the headsails pulling, we were joined by a pod of dolphins joyfully surfing our bow - it was the photographic opportunity of a lifetime!  I was truly in love with the moment.

With the wind keeping us a safe parallel course to the line of shipping traffic off our starboard side, I felt safe in keeping the poled-out headsail configuration as we settled into the night watch routine.  We continued like this throughout the night, steadily eating up the miles toward Cartagena.  And so we continued into the morning and the afternoon.  By 1600 we were well east of Alicante and, passing relatively close to El Faro headland, managed to pick up a phone signal and refresh the weather forecast; it wasn't ideal as, for the last stretch of this passage, the wind was once again set to die on us.  For now though, we were still making good way and, well on schedule with no immediate time pressures, we continued our course under sail.  By 1900, a long line of cloud was visible ahead of us.  I had last seen a frontal system like this off Finisterre in Biscay, and the passing of the system had caused a fair degree of mayhem with sudden and violent gusts which then backed a full 180 degrees.  Not wanting to be caught out by this threatening system, we changed sail configuration to a reefed main and the self-tacking jib as we closed on the frontal line.  We certainly got the immediate change in weather, but not the maelstrom I had feared... this marked the abrupt end to our wind and, as we passed under the line of cloud, the sails slatted and Arkyla wallowed listlessly in the swell.  There was nothing for it but to roll the foresail, centre the main, and once again fire up the trusty Yanmar.

Unfortunately this was to be our fate for the remainder of the passage.  The air was calm and the sea like glass.  Not wanting to arrive into a strange port in dark, we throttled back on the engine to time our entry into Cartagena for the dawn light.  At 0630, we radio'd Yacht Port Cartagena, and were directed into a fabulous slip suitable for a 20m+ yacht!  We turned in for a short nap before conducting the formalities in the Capitinaire's office.  I was a little upset to be told that as we had arrived 30 minutes before the 0700 'official start to the day' we would be charged for the previous night!  I argued my case against this, but did have to forfeit the 10% discount offered to members of the Cruising Association.  With water and electricity also charged as extras, I decided to remain on solar and wind power too!

Round Gibraltar into the Med
Perfect moment

A brief stop in Cartagena

Cartagena was to have been Arkyla's winter port for 2021, but unfortunately COVID-19 put an end to that!  I was keen therefore to discover a bit more about this ancient city before moving onward toward Valencia.  The decision was made to hold here for two nights.

The marina is modern and well protected.  Its location amongst commercial, fishing, and naval zones made for interesting comings and goings and my self-confessed tug-boat geek crewmate Karin could barely contain herself watching the ship ballet as they pulled and pushed container vessels within the confines of the harbour area!  It is the city itself however that holds most fascination.  A confluence of civilisations, gives rise to a mix of artistic heritage from Roman, Phoenician, Byzantine and Moorish remains to Art Nouveau of the 20th Century.  There are some fabulous restaurants but, as a major destination for cruise ships, timing is essential!  There are also good opportunities for provisioning here, and clean fuel to top up diesel tanks.

Angel of Cartagena
Cartagena City Hall
Port area
Ancient history
Cruise ship and marina
Cartagena fishing vessel

Cartagena to Espalmador

I had promised my delivery crew that if time was in hand, and the weather gods on our side, we would try to spend some time in the Balearics before completing our run to Valencia.  We were well up on our schedule, but the cost of an extended stay in Cartagena, on somewhat hefty daily tariffs, to wait for good winds was outside the financial plan!  It was then, with a forecast of near calm conditions, that we set off to motor up the mainland coast with no firm idea of where our next stop would be.  Passing the Mar Menor, we found little inspiration in either the coast that we could see, or the anchoring options detailed within the pilot guide.  What we did have however was some unexpected wind!  It was an easy decision to alter our course some 20 degrees to starboard and point the bow toward the island of Formentera.

Espalmador

A healthy F3 continued into the early evening at which point the airs lightened and once again moved directly astern.  Time then to set the headsails on pole and boom and, ever the optimist, launch the drone to get some shots of Arkyla gently making way downwind.  Alas, no sooner had the drone settled, the last puff of wind died an asthmatic death and all that was left to capture was a rather uninspiring set of vectran limply sagging from either side of the forestay!  Once again the genoas were rolled away and the engine turned on to restore our progress to the promised sunshine islands.  As we began the night watches the sea took on a glass-like appearance; there was not a ripple on the surface.  Dark-hour entertainment was provided by listening to a NATO warship patrolling the area and interrogating nearby cargo vessels.  I used the radar to track the naval vessel that was operating in stealth mode just a mile or so from our position.  We rotated through our watches, but it was my turn to be back on the helm as dawn broke and Ibiza and its smaller cousin Formentera eerily rose above a horizon of a mirrored sea.  We decided on the tiny islet of Espalmador as our target of choice, and navigated across the endless traffic of fast ferries and motor yachts taking trippers between the islands.

We are now into early June; we had no trouble finding a spot to anchor but agreed amongst ourselves that in a few weeks, as the summer season really got underway, things might become a little more manic in this notoriously popular spot.  The white sand beaches and lack of development gave the island something of a Caribbean feel to it, except there is no beach bar selling painkillers to swim to!  No sooner had we set our hook, than a rib appeared with a pair of divers in tow; they were setting mooring buoys - another sign that the crazy season was just around the corner.  We were offered a buoy for free so, in the spirit of freeing up space for others, brought up the Vulcan and set lines to the mooring before inflating the dinghy for some exploring of the shore.

Night instruments
limpsails-studio.jpeg
IbizaDawn.jpeg
Schooner
Espalmador bay
Espalmador anchorage
Espalmador

Ibiza - the 'White Island'

After a couple of days relaxing in Espalmador, we decide to move on to see what Ibiza has to offer.  We release our buoy and exit the anchorage with intent to move to Porroig, a cove in the south-west of Ibiza well protected from anything with an easterly element to it.  At first glance when we arrive there is plenty of space amongst the yachts already at anchor here.  Avoiding the posidonia grass and digging safely in is not, however, as easy as we had hoped it might be.  Posidonia is to the Balearics what the Great Barrier Reef is to Australia; it is a fragile environment that is now being very actively managed and protected by marine authorities.  The Posidonia police will arrive by rib and inspect the anchors and chain of any vessel they suspect of impinging on the sea grass; a first infringement (by which any part of anchor or chain touches the posidonia) is treated as a warning, but boat details are recorded.  A second infringement will however likely result in a hefty fine of €600-€1000... these are not idle threats and it pays to be scrupulous in your anchoring (help is at hand in the form of the free to download and use 'Donia' smartphone app that tracks your position over colour-coded shoreline annotations highlighting viable or prohibited areas to anchor).  We try several patches of sand but find that, in the process on setting, we have dragged into the sea grass.

After several failed attempts, we cut our losses and reposition ourselves in the adjoining bay of Sa Caixota; the area is more exposed with a bit of swell, but there is little posidonia to worry about and the sand bottom gives firm holding.  We are also closer to the small beach with a restaurant ashore; lovely for a drink, but you do need fairly deep pockets if you wish to dine here.  Anchored next to us was ex-RNAS lifeboat 'Aries'.  This boat has a fascinating history having, in 1954, completed a double crossing of the Atlantic.  Its story can be found in an old Pathé Newsreel available on YouTube.  Its current owner and custodian was most excited to chat with us onboard Arkyla once the enigmatic (and very often naked!) Frenchman spotted the RAFSA ensign flying from our stern.

Ex-RNAS lifeboat 'Aries'
Ibiza

Our next stop is Cala Tarida.  Ibiza is not a large island, so distances between anchorages are not taxing; the hop from Sa Caixota west then north is just short of 9 NM.  En route we pass through the channel between Cabo Jueu and the distinctive Islas Vedra and its smaller cousin Vedranell.  We choose not to stop in Cala D'Hort, which we have heard good reports on, as we are in need of provisions and the pilot guide tells us the village at Tarida has a Spa supermarket.  Cala Tarida is a wide bay and there are plentiful areas of Posidonia-free sand within which to anchor.  It is therefore a popular and busy anchorage but, thankfully, not overly blighted by excessive hoards of day tripper boats.  The water is warm and crystal clear here, but some caution is needed as this year has seen an invasion of 'mauve stinger' jellyfish across the Balearics - not fatal, but pretty nasty to come into contact with!  It's possible to park a dinghy at either end of the beach to go ashore; as well as the stores at the top of the village (accessed by the northernmost set of steps on the beach), there are a number of beach-front bars and restaurants... I vouch that the terrace of Ses Eufãbies restaurant is ideal for sundowners.

Tarida dusk
Boom dive
Almost Caribbean
Clear Tarida water
Sundown at Tarida

With hopes we may yet get the wind to hop to Mallorca, we decide to push to the north coast.  Our route takes us inside Isla del Esparto; it is too shallow to transit between the outlying islands of Bosque and Conjera on our starboard side however, so we motor past the anchorage of Cala Escondida to round the lit headland and make our turn east.  We forsake the draw of Sant Anthoni and continue along the rugged north coast.  Protected anchorages are few along this stretch of the island, but the dramatic high cliffs that plunge vertically into the sea are spectacular scenery.  Our aim point is Cala Benniras some 17 NM from our start point of Tarida.

TK8A0418.jpeg
Steep cliffs of Ibiza's north coast
Passing inside Isla del Esparto

Cala Binniras is a well protected cove with space for maybe five or six yachts.  The Posidonia means there are only limited spots to drop the hook; as the winds can swing suddenly and wildly here, if other boats squeeze in uncomfortably close be sure to fender up and be ready to take avoiding action.  The cove is said to be the best location on Ibiza to view sunset.  The beach is a draw for drum beating hippies to watch the sun go down behind the rock in the approach that looks uncannily like Queen Victoria in a busseled dress.  The drumming is strangely hypnotic but, as we discovered, gets somewhat repetitive as it is a nightly event!  Dinghies can be safely left on the beach for a meal ashore, and it is only a short ride to the adjoining bay (Cala Sant Migual) from where there are good walks to view the old fortification of Torre des Mollar on the west of the bay, or to visit the caves of Can Marca (entrance fee).  There is a small mini market here, but beware the prices - it is not a place for a full re-provision!

Sun setting behind Queen Victoria
The old smugglers caves
View into Cala Binniras from Torre des Molar

With little improvement in the forecast for favourable winds, we reluctantly dismiss Mallorca as an option, and decide to spend our last few days in Portinaxt just 4 NM further east along the north coast.  Before entering the bay, the Far des Moscarter, the tallest lighthouse in the Balearics, can clearly be seen in the distance.  Portinaxt, a convenient staging point for the crossing to Mallorca, is very popular anchorage.  The best areas to anchor are unfortunately restricted by the swimming zones; hitting the patches of sand within the posidonia requires some precision anchor drops and, even then, holding can be hit or miss when trying to dig in.  Once set however, there are great opportunities to swim, paddleboard, or go ashore for walks to the lighthouse or to dine in the many restaurants.  Rebrots restaurant, whilst pricey, has truly outstanding tapas dishes and should not be missed.

Tallest lighthouse in the Balearics

Offshore: Ibiza to Valencia

After a few days relaxing, the forecast suggests that we will soon have a good window of wind to take us to back to the Spanish mainland; my crew reluctantly accepts the fact that it is time to complete Arkyla's delivery to her new home port of Valencia.  Valencia is some 87 NM west-north-west of Portinaxt; wanting to arrive in daylight, we set the alarms for a dawn departure.  As we prepare the boat for her next offshore passage, Ibiza treats us to one last palate of glorious pinks, oranges and reds.  We lift the Rocna and point the bow westwards in the still of the morning air.  Our hopes of a wind-blessed sail were not fulfilled however and our 14-hour passage sees us under canvas for only four of those hours.  It is not until we spy the giant gantry cranes of Valencia's commercial port that the wind really fills in and, with it, the skies dramatically darken.  As we make our approach into the Marina de Valencia reception area, we are enveloped in a squall that brings F6 wind, lightning, and lashing rain.  We tie up, book ourselves in, and then wait out for a break in the storm... a break that fails to come so, with the last of the day's light rapidly disappearing, we bite our teeth, slip the lines from the reception pontoon, and make our down the south basin fairway way to Arkyla's new berth where we make a somewhat rusty, though perfectly executed, stern-to Med moor in the less than ideal conditions!

Ibiza to Valencia
Portinaxt Dawn
Golden Dawn Sea
Windless Passage_edited.jpg
Valencia Gantries

Some lessons learned:

  • Since our passage, recent orca attacks have extended into the Med as far east as Marbella.

  • Be sure to make advantage of cheap duty-free fuel in Gibraltar - there is no requirement to check in/out to refuel.

  • If making passage offshore, beware of commercial traffic between the designated shipping lanes..

  • Local topography is often the dominant factor in Mediterranean weather; for near-term forecasts, use the AROME model. 

  • Marinas get progressively more expensive the further east you go.

  • The Balearics get very busy in July and August; shoulder season sailing is best to avoid the crowds.

June-July:  Balearics - Ibiza, Formentera, & west coast Mallorca

Balearics Pt1 itinerary

Offshore: Valencia to Ibiza (land-fall Cala Tarida)

After a week in Valencia for some minor maintenance, I have said goodbye to my delivery crew and am joined by Jenny for a turnaround trip to the Balearics.  The plan is open, but hopes are to make landfall in Ibiza then make a circumnavigation of Mallorca; if possible, we may try to squeeze in Menorca too (where we have previously explored on a bareboat charter).  We plan for a night passage to arrive early morning; with the summer sailing season now well underway, I choose Cala Tarida as a known landfall with guaranteed space to anchor.  Slipping lines at 1500, the wind is initially light and flukey, but within the hour we are reefing the main as we beat into a steady F5 and choppy sea.  By 1800, the wind has increased to F6 with gusts to F7, so we reef the jib too.  And so we relentlessly slog our way to windward until at midnight, as Jenny assumes her first ever night watch, the wind dies suddenly and almost completely.  The calm coincidently lasts the length of Jenny's watch and with my return to the helm at 0300, so too returns the wind; this time however it is from a favourable north east direction, so it is back out with the sails for a relaxed approach to Ibiza adorned with a glorious sunrise of reds, pinks and oranges.

Ibiza dawn
Ibiza sunrise
Ibiza orange

We secure prime location in Cala Tarida and drop the hook in a wide swathe of sand beneath the keel.  We chill on deck, recovering some of the lost sleep from the overnight passage in the quiet of the morning.  As the day heats up, so the beach comes alive with ant-like people securing their patch of sand just as we have done in the anchorage; no threat of the Posidonia Police for the land-lubbing trippers though!  As more boats motor into the bay, so the anchorage too becomes busy with holidaying families.  We see one nearby yacht with an inflatable orca tied to its stern floating ominously as if it were engaging attack mode; jokingly I say that the killer whales have followed us into the Med... little was I to know how prophetic this statement would be as, in the second half of July, a spate of orca rudder attacks were reported as far east as Marbella.  We do little onboard apart from move between cockpit and galley as the need arises.  By the next morning however, with dark clouds hanging over Tarida, we decide to move on; we haul the chain and head south toward Formentera.

Ibiza orca

Ibiza to south coast Formentera

The forecast models weren't giving us much help in choosing our next anchorage; everywhere seemed to have some degree of onshore wind over the coming 24 hours!  However, with most models agreeing on a predominant north-easterly, we set sights on the southern stretch of sandy coastline of Formentera.  The Navily smartphone app is an excellent addition to the traditional toolset of charts and pilot guides; detailed descriptions of protection, seabed and onshore facilities, as well as useful tips within the reviews from cruisers, makes it a very handy resource for scoping places to drop a hook.  The integrated near-term weather forecast and associated score for protection also helps simplify the process of deciding where to go next.  We decided on Calo des Morts which receives good reviews on the app though with warnings of the probability of some degree of swell.

The day starts with light winds from the north.  In no particular rush, we haul out just the genoa which pulls us along steadily if gently.  With Arkyla being Solent-rigged, it's always something of a pain to either tack or gybe the genoa; as the sail won't pass between the two forestays, it must be rolled then redeployed once the boat has passed through the wind.  Heading south we must pass through the relatively narrow gap between the main island and its Vedra outliers; I do my best to steer to port but it is clear that without a gybe we will hit a very substantial lump of Balearic rock!  The genoa is furled and redeployed on the other tack at just the point when the wind dies so, once again, my strength and patience is tried in equal measure as I roll the sail back in and fire up the engine.  'Changeable' is perhaps the best word to describe the day; after 30 minutes of motoring the wind reappears and we haul out sail again.  In the water between Ibiza and Formentera Jenny decides to start an 'official' cetacean watch as a certified citizen scientist on behalf of the ORCA.org research project.  Within minutes of starting the watch period, a small pod of bottlenose dolphin scoot past our bow.  This sadly was to be the first and last sighting of any cetaceans over this 3 week cruise - a real disappointment, and indeed worry, considering the 410+ nautical miles we will cover on this trip.

Dolphins off Formentera

The wind is once again a fickle mistress as we approach the south west tip of Formentera, constantly changing in both strength and direction.  Once around the corner however, the breeze fills in and freshens so we are forced to once again beat into wind for our destination at the eastern end of this long stretch of beautiful beach.  There is no shortage of space to anchor here amongst the large areas of good-holding sand free of posidonia grass.  Once we had dug in however, the wind increased to 15 knots+ and, despite the protection of the island, a fair swell made our stay fairly rolly.  With the dinghy still packed away, we decided against going ashore and the next morning, with a forecasted move of the wind into the south, we motored the short distance around the eastern headland, through the marine conservation zone, and dropped the hook once more in Enseada de Tramontana.  Tramontana is a popular anchorage, especially for day-boats from Ibiza; when we arrived it was relatively empty but by mid-morning space was limited by the assortment of both large and small motor yachts.  It is unfortunate that many of the day-boats have little respect for others and blast their music out at quite ridiculous volumes; even accounting for the grumpiness in my advancing years, the indifference shown by and to others in terms of playing music too load, and anchoring too close, is unfortunately a disappointing trait we would find of the anti-social boating behaviours in much of the Balearics in the high season.

Formentera sunset
Isolation at Cala des Morts, Formentera

Formentera to east coast Ibiza

The next day the forecast hints that we may soon get a decent wind window to cross to Mallorca; we decide to move to the north-east of Ibiza to position ourselves for an early morning start and the best of the promised north-westerly wind.  Our aim point is Cala de Sant Vincent, a respectable sail of 28 NM all being well.  We make good progress under main and genoa as we push northward.  Two things then happen as we approach the south shores of Ibiza; we literally cross wakes with our friends Mike and Liz in their Discovery 55 'Brizo', and the wind veers so that our wonderful beam reach becomes another beat to round the headland of Punta Valls and pass inside of Isla de Tagamoga - in with the genoa and out with the self-tacking jib again!  It pays to zoom in on your digital charts around here; there are a couple of isolated rocks (Losa de Santa Eularia and Losa Figueral) that, although buoyed, could seriously ruin your day.

As with many of the anchorages across the Balearics, the best sandy posidonia-free areas are buoyed off and reserved as swimming areas.  Cala de Sant Vincent is another bay where, even though there were relatively few yachts in ahead of us, we struggled to find a suitable clear patch to drop the hook.  Having not stepped off the boat since leaving Valencia, Jenny was now going a little stir crazy and was keen to go ashore.  We hauled the dinghy out of storage, and set about inflating it.  However, once the dinghy was full of air (and I was out of it!), a nasty swell had kicked in around the headland and all the boats were swinging like pendulums!  We decided that it was all to much effort to struggle with the outboard so, as we had a pre-dawn start the next day to get the best of the forecast wind, we settled for a drink on deck before turning in early.

Crossing wakes with Brizo

Offshore: Ibiza to Mallorca (land-fall Sant Elm)

At 46 NM, the crossing between Ibiza and Mallorca may not be the longest offshore passage but, with depths of 800m and the potential for some significant swell and waves in the gap between the islands, its best to have the boat set well.  I had been in two minds the night before on the wisdom of inflating the dinghy; there isn't enough foredeck space to store our catamaran-style tender when under sail, and our transom-mounted snap davits are, to be frank, one of the worst designs of any bit of nautical equipment to put a sailboat.  Still, expecting only light winds and a significant amount of motoring, we set off just before sunrise with our tender 'Monty Moo II' secured tight against the stern.

We unfurl sails right from the start and make a respectable 5 knots in light north-westerly airs.  To our welcome surprise, the forecast calm doesn't materialise and the wind actually increases to 15-18 knots; this is great for powering us along at 8 knots, but not so good for kicking up cross waves on our stern which, every so often, catch a corner of the dinghy which is now acting as a break!  I furl some sail, sacrificing speed for what I hope to be a smoother ride, but keep eyeing the dinghy suspiciously with each threatening wave off the transom.  On one wave 'hit' a shudder goes through the back of the boat and one of the handy billy pulleys, securing Monty Moo to the solar arch, parts company!  The attachment shackle pin has worked itself loose; without a correct sized replacement pin in my spares box, a fix with Monel seizing wire, whilst acrobatically hanging off the arch, is the next best solution and we continue on our way somewhat cautiously.

Not knowing the lie of the land, we had pre-booked a mooring buoy at Sant Elm.  On approach to the bay, we called up on VHF Ch77 and a rib came to meet us and help us secure to a buoy.  Beware that it can be quite a challenge setting up an online account with Ports IB which is the only way to reserve and pay for a buoy;  I had already heard stories of very steep fines for boats that have been willing, but unable, to pay after securing to a buoy for a night - you have been warned!  It is not prohibited to anchor here, but finding space amongst the small craft that proliferate in the sandy areas free of posidonia grass would in most cases during the summer season be a case of early arrival and good luck.  The buoys at Sant Elm are government controlled and, as such, cheaper than some of the other privately-set mooring fields across the Balearics.  Nonetheless, one night on a buoy will still set you back €50 for a 14m boat.

Sant Elm really is a picture postcard place; a tourist town that has fully managed to retain a level of quaintness and charm.  It has good restaurants, bars and boutique shops.  Provisioning is limited to a couple of small mini-markets, but the basics can be found.  The larger town of Port Andraxt, where a mooring buoy would have set us back €100 for the night, is only a 15 minute bus ride away; tap on and off the bus with a bank card to get the cheapest fare of €3.  It is possible to pull your dinghy up the beach and padlock it to the 'Mobility Pagoda' to reduce any worries of theft whilst exploring further afield.  If staying local however, the water around Sant Elm is perfect for swimming and paddle-boarding and we were glad of our 'investment 'of 2 nights on the buoy to relax and cool off in the heatwave much of the Med was currently experiencing.

Sant Elm Beach
View from Sant Elm
Sant Elm building
Arkyla stern
Night drone
Sant Elm at night

West Coast Mallorca

Lovely as Sant Elm is, it was time to move on.  With the forecast still predominantly from the east, we decided to work our way slowly south down the west coast, our next stop Santa Ponsa.  We sail by the steep-sided entrance to Port Andraxt passing a couple of super yachts anchored outside in the bay; there is no shortage of wealth out in the Balearics, and these monster sized vessels are two-a-penny.  It is only a short hop of 9 NM to Santa Ponsa which is a large sheltered anchorage; a little care is needed to avoid patches of posidonia when dropping the hook, but the holding is good with plenty of space to swing despite the large number of yachts already in the bay - I counted at least 60.  A bit unclear as to where to take the dinghy ashore, we haul out by the lifeguard tower close to the buoyed lane between swimming areas.  The atmosphere was certainly a change from where we had just come; Santa Ponsa resort is perhaps best described as 'brash'.  We wandered along the hotel fronts and stopped in a beachside restaurant (where we discovered there was a dinghy dock).  Alas the menu was uninspiring, the setting unremarkable, and the noise from the bar almost unbearable - it was not long before we headed back to the dinghy via a supermarket to indulge in some quiet time onboard again.  The next day we chanced a trip into the marina having booked a birthday meal in one of the restaurants in Club Nautico.  There is no dinghy dock per se, but by agreement with the marina staff over VHF, tenders can be left tied to the northern end of the reception pontoon.  The experience within the marina couldn't be more different than that of the resort, and we enjoyed a most civilised afternoon.  It was a Sunday, so no chance to browse the small chandlery within the marina, and neither did we take the opportunity to get a taxi to the large chandlery further out in an industrial complex of the town which reputedly stocks most things that a yacht could need - what sort of a birthday was this!

Santa Ponsa resort
Sunset at Santa Ponsa

The next port of call is the anchorage at Portals Vells.  This picturesque cove on the western edge of the Bay of Palma is renowned for its popularity, so it was an early start for the 7 NM hop to hopefully time our entrance as overnight boats were leaving.  The passage takes us first past the light on Islote el Toro, and then the more impressive 'helter skelter' painted tower on Punta da Cala Figuera.  As we approach Portals Vells, we are pleased to see a yacht already on its way out; we enter and, after a bit of searching, find a posidonia-free patch of sand over which to drop anchor.  Space already feels tight, and it feels unlikely that too many more boats will be able to squeeze in.  How wrong can you be!  As lunchtime approaches, so wave after wave of day-boats arrive; some are small, but others are 60 feet+.  This is our first real taste of 'Balearic summer madness' and it seems foolhardy to risk swimming off the stern with so much close-quarter manouevring going on around us.  As the afternoon progresses however the cove begins to thin out so the paddle boards are inflated and the beaches, still packed tight with holiday makers from nearby Magaluf, are explored.  A little later still, ss the sun dips below the hills, calm is restored to the cove as some late arrivals motor in to find a spot for the night.

Islote el Toro
Punta de Cala Figuera
Paddleboarding paradise
Sundown in Portals Vells
Pre-rush hour in Portals Vells

Wanting something a little less 'hectic', the decision was made to move again early the next morning.  Finding a quiet anchorage close to Palma in high season is no easy task, however Cala Punta Negra 4NM eastward seemed, in theory at least, a good option.  The short motor took us past the beaches of Magaluf to the small cove that is suitable for four or five reasonably sized yachts amongst the day-boats.  There is a small landing dock here, belonging to the 5* hotel perched on the cliff, where it is possible to leave the dinghy free of charge.  From here it is only a short walk along the coast to the shore-side restaurants of Platja de Son Caliu; more exciting still for the cruiser however is the Mercadona hypermarket on the main road north of the beach area - here it is possible to re-provision on just about everything!  The usual squad of day-boats came and went over the course of the day, but it never felt crammed or that there was ever any danger of swinging into a neighbour.  Maybe it wasn't the best protected anchorage in terms of wind and swell but as the sun set behind Magaluf we felt more than secure in this idyllic little spot.

Punta Negra
Cala Punta Negra

Both Ibiza and Menroca are relatively small islands whereby, if the wind changes, a quick dash to a more protected side of the islands is possible; Mallorca however, being significantly bigger, requires a bit more planning ahead for positioning according to the medium-term forecast.  With predicted strong and prolonged winds form the north and east, we therefore decide to remain on the west coast for the next few days at least.  With the galley re-stocked, we decide to head for the famed white sand beaches of Es Trenc to the south-west.  Before heading across the Bay of Palma, we dip into Puerto Portals to top up the diesel tanks.  The pilot guide lists this marina as the most exclusive, and expensive, on the island; it also boasts a majority of the top-rated restaurants on Mallorca, so it is no surprise that it is a magnet for many of the superyachts cruising the Balearics.  Despite our relatively diminutive 45', we are welcomed alongside the fuel dock and fill up with clean diesel - thankfully the price of fuel does not match that of a berth here!

A light south-easterly means we can start our push across the Bay of Palma under sail, though not in the fully desired direction to successfully round the headland at Cap Blanc.  As Arkyla progresses across the bay, the wind steadily freshens and backs so we reef the main and swap genoa for self-tacking jib as we tack back and forth in a tiresome beat until we can make the turn toward Es Trenc.  With the heavier wind, Arkyla heels; normally this presents no problem as, with her blue--water credentials, she is perfectly suited to gracefully punching through waves.  However, the set of the short seas being kicked up again results in waves frequently catching the leeward tube of the dinghy threatening to tear it from its snap davits.  Again I am forced to shorten sail to reduce the angle of heel; I also vow to replace the snap davits as soon as fortune allows!  Once round Cap Blanc, in the distance I can make out a mass of masts indicating our destination.  My immediate thought is that it looks so busy that we might struggle to find room to anchor.  I need not have worried; the long stretch of sand between the towns of Sa Rapita and Colonia de Sant Jordi has space for literally hundreds of yachts.  With good holding in sand, and acres of space between boats, this place is as stress-free as its possible to be in the Balearics.

Es Trenc is popular for many reasons, not just its crystal clear turquoise waters.  With guaranteed space and easy navigation it makes a perfect choice as a landfall from Ibiza, whatever the time of day or night, and is an excellent staging post for those with a permit and buoy booked to visit the off-lying Cabrera set of islands.  The miles of white sand are popular with tourists, many of whom seemingly forget to pack any swimming attire!  The beach itself only has a couple of over-priced food and drink stalls, but a walk into Ses Covettes is rewarded with some reasonable restaurants.  The idyllic setting also draws the rich set and you will likely share the bay with many superyachts - motor and sail alike - anchored in the deeper water.

Es Trenc anchorage_edited.jpg
Motor superyacht
Sail superyacht
Es Trenc beach
Crystal clear water of Es Trenc

With little signs of a change in the easterly set of the wind, a reluctant decision was made to abandon plans of a circumnavigation of Mallorca.  Instead we would double back along the protected west coast, and look for an anchorage within striking distance of Palma for a land excursion.  Cala Xinxell, just east of Puerto Portals where we had filled with fuel, seemed to tick the boxes but I was concerned about how busy it may be; using the excellent functionality on the Navily app to find and communicate with other users, I randomly contacted a boat currently anchored in the cala to ask the question.  A reply came straight back with two 'live' photos showing plenty of space, so we locked Xinxell into the nav kit and set off back across the Bay of Palma.

After a tremendous sail, we arrived early evening to find the anchorage busy but not packed and easily found a patch of sand to drop the hook.  We weren't fully protected from a light swell, but it was comfortable enough to settle in for the night.  The next morning we took the dinghy ashore, tying it to the landing area at the head of the cala away from the swimming areas.  From here it was a 5-minute walk up the hill to where we found a Number 4 bus waiting to take us into the centre of Palma for the princely sum of €2.5!  A day in Palma really is a must; this ancient city is full of history, beautiful architecture, stunning boulevards, great shopping (for those who like that sort of thing!), and superb restaurants.  Apart from the obvious attractions of the royal palace and adjoining cathedral of the Basilica de Santa Maria, the Arabian Baths was well worth the €3 entrance fee.

Palma flower beds
Basilica de Santa Maria
Basilica mural
Palma town hall
Street cafe art
Palma public gardens

The return to Cala Xinxell mid-afternoon was a full-on assault on the senses; it was as if we had been thrown in the middle of a nautical Piccadilly Circus!  The anchorage was heaving with boats large and small.  Back onboard we were buzzed by speeding jet skis, and still more boats squeezed in to try and drop hooks where, clearly, there was no safe space no space.  One yacht, charted by a couple of social media beauties for a photo shoot, snubbed its chain barely six feet behind Arkyla's stern.  Despite my protestations to the skipper that one big surge and he would take my rudder off, all I got was a shrug of the shoulders and a resentful dropping of a further 18 inches of chain!  Next the local party catamaran parked up alongside; although I didn't feel threatened by its swing, any thoughts of peace, quiet, and relaxation were long gone.  We had thought that this cala might have be a good spot to lie for a day or two to do some more exploring of Palma.  However, the afternoon madness had proven too much for both nerves and sanity, so it was decided to move again first thing in the morning.  Now realisticallyout of time to push for the eastern side of Mallorca, and somewhat disillusioned by the crowded anchorages surrounding high-season Palma, we decide to return to Sant Elm from where we will cross back to Ibiza for a few days on the north coast. 

Anchorage madness
The party catamaran
Instagram charter

Offshore: Mallorca to Ibiza (land-fall Portinaxt)

After a rather rolly night on a buoy, we again make an early start from Sant Elm.  We motor for 30 minutes, but soon the wind pipes up and an east-south-east sufficiently fills Arkyla's sails to push us along at 4 knots.  By 1100 hrs, the wind has strengthened and veered and we pick up speed to a respectable 6 knots.  Now in the deep water of the channel between the islands, we start the clock for an official whale watch; unfortunately, once again, there are no sightings of whale or dolphin to record - a real disappointment and we can't help but lament the state of the sea that should be rewarding us cetacean sightings aplenty.

Over the course of the afternoon I have monitored the AIS track of sailing superyacht La Luna also making the Mallorca-to-Ibiza crossing, though a little to the south of us.  As we near Ibiza, even our 8.5 knots is no match for La Luna which is racing along under full canvas a clear 2 knots faster still.  Our tracks converge as we near tIbiza's Punta del Gat; I watch this huge vessel reef down as it hits the accelerated winds off the headland, and marvel at how the yacht dwarfs a 12 metre catamaran left in its wake.  Arkyla has also had her wings clips with a deep reefs in both mai and genoa.  Soon after passing the Far des Moscarter light, we power up the Yanmar, round into wind, furl the sails, and motor the last mile into Portinaxt bay.  The bay is appreciably busier than when Arkyla was here just a few weeks back in early June.  Now the available spots of sand within which to anchor are small and few and far between.  We make four attempts to secure the hook, but each time the Rocna Vulcan - normally an instant setter - drags across the fine sand only to dig into the edge of the posidonia.  Only on the fifth attempt do we achieve a viable set, but even then the chain is in danger of dragging onto the sea grass if the wind were to change.  And yet still more boats come, many clearly dropping anchor indiscriminately on the protected posidonia.

Goodbye Mallorca
La luna
RAFSA Ensign
Powering along
Portinaxt

Driven more by fear of falling foul of the posidonia police than clashing with neighbours should we swing, after one night we decided to weigh anchor and motor the 1 NM round the corner into Ensenada de Xarracca.  This bay had both plenty of space and better holding though, with a wider and more open entrance, was more prone to a rolling swell.  There is a basic restaurant ashore open in daylight hours to serve the beach goers, and it is possible to tie the dinghy to the small stone landing dock in the inner cove, though it is frowned upon to drag a tender up the shingle.  Once ashore there are plenty of options for walks along the cliffs and down to the secluded beaches that are, it seems, mostly frequented by nudists!  If walking isn't your thing, then the bay is well suited to exploration by paddle-board too.  If you want to visit the relative metropolis of Portinaxt, it is an easy dinghy ride around the headland.  Big boats and little boats came and went, but most bizarre was the motor yacht camouflaged in a disruptive pattern paint scheme - it never ceases to amaze me the decisions some people make when specifying the finish to their boat!

Camouflaged motor yacht
Xacarra Bay
Paddle-boarding family

Offshore: Ibiza to Valencia

Alas, flights home were rapidly drawing closer, so it was time to take the first good weather window back to Valencia.  A promising forecast for a wind-laden day sail had us up early to leave pre-dawn; having noted these past few weeks that some vessels seem somewhat lackadasical to the use of anchor lights, I used the radar to help me pick my way through the maze of boats in the bay.  As I pointed the bow in the direction of the Spanish mainland, a flash of lightning lit the dark and gloomy skies to the north - not what I was hoping for, or indeed expecting, given  the forecast!  I kept the chartplotter display on radar, but set the mode to 'weather' to hopefully forewarn of any potential cells developing in Arkyla's path.  Some ten miles offshore however, the limitations of the Windy app CAPE index forecast became ever more apparent; an array of magenta blobs were set across the radar display, and lightning flashes were illuminating the sky every 10 minutes or so.  Where possible I made some alterations to course in an attempt to skirt around the darkest cells, but I still had a distinct nervousness about me as Arkyla pushed on... I let the autopilot steer us to minimise any need to hold onto the metal wheel!

Despite my portents of electrical doom, we successfully slipped between storm cells and, by 1000 hrs, were well under way broad reaching at 6-7 knots.  By early evening, with the cranes of Valencia some way off in the distance we were hitting 8.5 knots; I reefed down and we continued to speed along at much the same speed but with significantly less weather-helm and a more controlled feel to the boat.  And so we continued until the final approaches to the huge breakwaters off Valencia at which point the wind died and we fired up the engine for the last of the run in.  I furled away all sail, though this was not the best course of action as a large swell now threw us quite wildly without the main to dampen our rolling.  Before turning in to the harbour, we scored our only wildlife hit of the passage passing a couple of spots of water 'boiling' with fish that must have been trying to evade an unseen predator under the surface.  And so Arkyla was back in her new home; we reversed her into her berth, hauled in on the lazy lines and set about cleaning 3 weeks of salt and grime from her crusty decks, lines and fittings.

Storm tracking on radar
Offshore sun burst

Some lessons learned:

  • High season in the Balearics is busy - expect anchoring shenanigans in popular spots.

  • Posidonia policing is taken very seriously, and big fines are given to boats that break anchoring rules.

  • State-controlled mooring buoys are cheaper than private fields, but will still take a big chunk from a cruising kitty.

  • Beware of the potential for electrical storms, especially when offshore the islands. 

Basing a boat in Valencia

Valencia

Why choose Valencia?

In choosing a 2023 season base for Arkyla, I wanted a location that primarily gave good access to the Balearics, is well protected from winter storms, has convenient airport access (and year-round flights), and isn't going to break the bank with marina fees.  The obvious choices were Cartagena, Valencia, or Barcelona.  With only limited personal knowledge or experience of any of these options, I therefore took the very scientific selection approach and plumped for 'the one in the middle'.   So far the decision seems to be sound; Arkyla has an excellent, reasonably-priced berth, there is a friendly and helpful pontoon community, and the city itself has much to offer.

The city

Valencia is Spain's third largest city; its wider urban population of over 1.5 million inhabitants makes Valencia one of the major urban areas on the European shores of the Mediterranean.  It has a rich mix of history dating back to its founding as a Roman colony in 138 BC, Islamic rule in the 8th Century, and then christian conquest in the 1200's.  More modern history saw it become the accidental seat of the Spanish Government between 1936-7 during the Spanish Civil War.  The container port is the second largest within the Mediterranean and is a stop for many cruise liners.  Architecture is a fascinating blend of old and new; a relatively compact city, it can easily be explored on foot, by bike or electric scooter; I can vouch that a Segway tour is also a great way to visit key attractions and learn the history.  The Valencians clearly take pride in their city as it is kept impeccably clean.

L'Agora and L'or Bridge
Valencia Cathedral
Street Art - Valencia
Valencia Opera House
Street in old town Valencia
Turia River Bed Gardens bridge

If basing here, there is no risk of running out of things to do; wandering the streets of the old town to discover its famous street art, visiting the City of Arts and Sciences, taking in an opera or concert, or just hanging out along the sandy beach front.  Valencia truly is a year-round city with excellent transport links, not least the international airport, serviced by cheap flights, just a short taxi or tram ride from the marinas.

Street art - Valencia
Street art - Valencia
Street art - Valencia
Street art - Valencia

Valencia marina options

There is a choice of two marinas; the older Valencia Mar is located on the southern flank of the commercial port area, whilst La Marina de Valencia, based around the infrastructure delivered to host the 2007 Americas Cup, sits to the north of the docks.  Both are reasonably priced and each has its benefits; Valencia Mar has the convenience of finger pontoons, whilst La Marina de Valencia is considered to have the better protection.  In the end, it was the better access to the city and beaches that drove the decision to opt for the old Americas Cup location.

Valencia Mar marina
Marina de Valencia

La Marina de Valencia - first impressions

Built around the infrastructure originally developed to host to 2007 Americas Cup, La Marina de Valencia is sited to the north of the commercial port and has three distinct zones.  The inner basin was designed to host superyachts and is also home to some charter operations and a small fishing fleet.  The North set of pontoons is where visiting yachts are most likely to be berthed.  The South basin, where Arkyla has her berth, is better protected from swell (not least caused by the wake of fishing vessels) and is considered the better option for longer-term and winter stays.  The downside to the south basin is its isolation; the swing bridge to connect north and south is never used and the complimentary ferry service that used to shuttle between the three zones of the marina  is no longer operating.  It is possible however to use your own tender to run across the main fairway and tie off close to the fuel dock and reception building at the north-east area of the marina.  To walk from the south marina entrance gate, through the old Americas Cup HQ that now hosts a number of restaurants, to the Reception Building on the north marina area will take about 40 minutes.  Personal electric scooters seem to be a popular mode of transport!

There is plenty of boat manoeuvring space, and the pontoons are wide and stable.  Berthing is Med-style stern-too, though the marinero staff are on hand 24/7 to assist - just call up on VHF Ch67 and a rib will zoom round to take your lines.  In the south basin, laundry facilities are limited to one washer and one dryer (costing €4 per load, but all detergent is included), but we have yet to experience a bottleneck for its use.  Toilet and shower facilities are adequate, but showing signs of age and a little rough around the edges in places.  Access to pontoons is by key card (programmed to your specific pontoon only); whilst a determined thief could get access to the area and climb over the access doors, there are frequent and visible security patrols of the pontoons which are also under CCTV surveillance.

Our medium-term contract is good value for money, especially as it includes all electric and water services.  Arkyla's pontoon is designed to host 20m yachts and the lazy lines (two per boat) and electricity points are sized to match;  our supply requires a 63Amp adapter and, whilst the marina will initially loan you one, you are expected to provide your own (available to buy from the Naval Electrosums shop on the north side of the marina complex - cost approx. €65).  To guard against any winter swells, I have also invested in chain-spring-line mooring warps; these can be made to order from the well-stocked Accastillage Diffusion chandlery located on the western edge of the super-yacht basin.  Professional companies offer guardianage services , though there are also plenty of live-aboard cruisers offering informal services too at cheaper rates.  There is an active Facebook community group for both of Valencia's marinas, and this is a good source of information for recommended trades and engineers.

There is no on-site supermarket, but the large Mercadona (located on C/ de Vincent Brull) will deliver on-line orders.  Alternatively, take a €8 Uber/taxi and stock up on fresh goods from the amazing covered Farmers' Market in the square next to Mercadona.  Uber operates throughout the city, but be aware that Spanish law dictates that you first need to sign-up with a valid form of ID (passport).

The one thing missing from Valencia is haul out facilities to conduct work on the hard.  For those wanting a bottom clean however, divers are around and about the marina.

Arkyla in her berth
Old Americas Cup HQ - now restaurants
Americas Cup manhole covers
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