Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Western Mallorca May 20, 2012

We are slowly sailing counter-clockwise around the north-western shore of Mallorca, having departed Porto Soller and motored through the north side in light winds. Once the corner is turned around Isla Dragona, the shoreline is very different and is full of anchorages and harbors, all within a few miles from one another. We typically stop at an anchorage for a few days, and then sail for a few hours to the next one. That’s enough hard work for us! We stopped at Port Andraitx, a large harbor with a still active fishing fleet. Fresh catch are available for sale at a fish market every afternoon right from the fishing boats, but prices are steep. One afternoon we returned to our boat after a visit to town, and found that our boat was tied to our neighbor boat. Our anchor had dragged! Thankfully our neighbor was kind enough to had taken a line and secured our boat to his. The Andraitx harbor is full of debris on the bottom and is notorious for fouling anchors, but the opposite had happened to mine. I had the anchor properly set when we arrived two days ago, but the wind had shifted to the opposite direction, and the anchor was pulled out and did not reset properly. Well, time to think about getting a better anchor.
 Andraitx Harbor

 We had planned to sail to the next island, Ibiza, and spend a couple of weeks there, but the forecast of strong winds altered our plan. This is our first gale warning this season! Even though the Balearics is not as frequently windy as Sardinia, but yes they do get gales here too. So we are staying put at a small bay called Cala Portals. It’s an attractive bay sheltered on three sides by steep cliffs, with three small cloves that each have a sandy beach, beautiful water. The only down side is that it’s only 8 miles from the tourist center of Palma, and is very popular with all kinds of day-trippers. We settled into the anchorage when it was nice and quiet in the morning, but by mid-afternoon the bay was jam packed with all kinds of sailboat, powerboats, huge sight-seeing catamarans, and a few large yachts. Plus of course the chartered sailboats, usually packed with 6-8 people, coming in and simply dropping their anchors with minimal anchor rode, and immediately starting to drag.

Cala Portals, with some some ancient rock caves/tombs

Some big boats packing into the bay 

Michel and Martinique, sailed all the way from Montreal

The next day, a Canadian yacht dropped anchor in the bay. It’s a rare occasion to meet another Canadian sailboat. They stopped by in their dinghy to say hello, and we invited them onto our boat for coffee. Michel and Martinique are from Montreal. They built their own 32 feet fiber glass sailboat from scratch. It took them 10 years, and La Foret Deav seems to be a well-built, strong boat. They sailed it across the Atlantic, spent a year at the Azores, and are now slowly working their way through the Med. As true Northerners they enjoy swimming in the 18C water every morning!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sant Elm May 11 – 14

We waited till noon at Soller for the land breeze to pickup and to sail west around the northern coast of Mallorca. The breeze did turn up in the harbor, but it was deceiving. Once we exited the harbor, the wind die down to a whisper, and we had to motor the entire 30 miles to our next anchorage. We were in the wind shadow of the island which blocks the prevalent southerly breezes. Around the Gulf of Leon and in Corsica and Sardinia it is blowing at 20 to 30 knots, but here we get nothing. Ah, too much, too little…

 Isla Dragonera 

Sant Elm bay

The bay at Sant Elm is the first secure anchorage on the north-west side of the island. Sheltered on three sides by small islands, the larger one being Isla Dragonera (use some imagination and you can see the dragon’s head and tail), the bay is a lovely quiet little spot with good holding. The white sandy bottom reflects the sun and turns the clear water into a beautiful turquoise blue. Schools of small fish swim around. There are some small beaches and resort hotels, a few boats anchored, people swimming in the still cold water. The weather is gorgeous, around 25C in the day, with a light breeze driving small, sparkling ripples in the sea, the blue sky shimmering. There is a small swell coming into the bay, rocking the boat gently. We like it here, doing some small chores, reading a book, watching boats coming and going, listening to the rhythmic surfs on the beach.

Our pigeon visitor checking out Eliza's cockie crumbs

One afternoon a messenger pigeon stopped by, either lost or on his/her way to somewhere. It was a beautiful bird, with a blue patch on just one shoulder. There were identification rings on both legs. She was clearly looking for human company, and stayed at exactly touch distance from us. She accepted some water, but declined our salted seeds. She slept at our cockpit in the evening, and by next morning she was gone, hopefully on her way to her destination.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Puerto de Soller, Mallorca

Puerto de Soller turned out to be a surprisingly nice anchorage. The only harbour of refuge on the entire exposed north-west coast of Mallorca, Puerto de Soller is sheltered on three sides by tall mountains, and the large, circular bay is ringed with sandy beaches. In the summer the anchorage will be jammed packed with boats, and even in this early season, there are already plenty of boats anchoring. A large part of the bay is ringed off by swimming buoys, and many mooring buoys further reduce anchoring space. We are glad that we are here in May, not July! The anchorage is very scenic, with beautiful turquoise-blue water, lush green mountains as backdrop, and the town dock is just a short dinghy ride away. The village of Puerto de Soller is a tourist resort town; the town of Soller is several miles in-land, situated to be at a relative safe distance from private attacks in ancient times.

Gone hiking...

Sunset views of the harbor

We loved this anchorage and stayed here for several days. There are many lovely hiking trails nearby, and the early-summer weather is perfect for hiking. The cloudy, stormy days are suddenly over, replaced by the Mediterranean summer weather with perpetual blue sky. Compared to islands further south, such as Sardinia and Greek islands, Mallorca is surprisingly lush, and trails shaded by tall pine trees make it a pleasure to hike in the otherwise piercing Mediterranean sun.

We also took a bus ride to visit Palma, the largest city on the island. The bus route goes through Mallorca from north to south, through a long tunnel that cut through the mountain, with hair-pin turns around cliffs overlooking the blue sea, and stops at several ancient-looking villages. Palma is nice, with a large old town and an impressive cathedral, great for a day visit. 

Palma waterfront

Palau de l'Almudaina

The Cathedral

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out of Barcelona

On a bright Saturday morning, we left the Varadero boat yard where we had hauled out Three Rivers and painted her bottom. We swung by Port Olympic, about 2 miles away, to get diesel and also to see the pretty Barcelona waterfront one more time. Then we headed south towards the Balearic Islands, a hundred miles away, into the prevailing SWS wind which seems to be dominant around this time of the year. A wind direction that’s behind our back would be nice, but one cannot wait forever especially since the marina tab is running; and as nice as Barcelona is, it is time to move on and start our cruising season.

So contrary to what we said we would not do again when we did it last time, we are once again bashing into wind and wave for the long overnight slog. We don’t mind sailing close-haul; love it, actually, if the sea is flat. But the sea doesn’t stay flat for long in 15-20 knot winds, so by late afternoon while the boat is happily heeling and making good progress on a lumpy sea, the crews are trying to convince their stomachs that it’s ok to keep the breakfast. A school of dolphins stay with us for a while, showing off that they can swim faster than our 6 knots and leaping off our bow waves. The fresh breeze continues through the night, which is somewhat unusual. A full moon lights up the semi-overcast sky; the sea is bright as Barcelona’s lively back streets. Once we went beyond the busy shipping lane near the mainland, we encountered not a single boat or ship, just the AIS displaying one or two solitary dots passing in the distance. A solitary night sail is not a bad way to start a cruising season.

The Islas Balearic consist of four main islands and a number of small islets, and form one of the most attractive and varied cruising grounds in the western Mediterranean. We are now anchored in Port Soller, a ‘beautiful, almost circular bay lying in the midst of spectacular mountainous scenery’, according to the pilotage guide. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue under the sun, and at least for now the beaches are still quiet and the hordes of charter boats with naked (male) sailors are not here yet. Yes, we will enjoy doing boat maintenance in these exotic locales...

Anchorage at Port Soller, Mallorca

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Winds of May

In the transition season of April and early May, the weather around this part of the Med turns unstable and there are frequent showers and gusty winds. Sitting in our boat we listen to the wind howling through the riggings, the noise reminding us of the gale-ridden April we had last spring in the Aegean. Last year we thought we had left port too early in the season, so this year we decided to stay in the marina longer and to enjoy life in and around Barcelona. Our French sailing friends Francois and Nicole came to visit us, and then they further invited us to visit them and stay at their apartment in the southern city of Perpignan. After a 2-hour train ride and a 30 minutes drive, we were in a different country! During our 3-day stay, our friends drove us all around the surrounding area, and we had a wonderful time visiting a number of beautiful coastal cities and castles nestled in mist-shrouded mountains. Francois also showed us his favorite sailing grounds in the Cape Creus area – he has been sailing in this area for over 40 years!

Francois and Nicole's sun-filled apartment

The quaint city of Perpignan

Dinner time! Francois is a great cook and Nicole is a wonderful host.

The monastery at St. Michel de Cruixa

Hiking at Cape Creus

And then finally it’s time to prepare our boat for departing Barcelona. We need to haul out Three Rivers, clean her bottom and give her a few coats of anti-fouling paint. Most of our marina friends have left by now; some headed west to exist the Med, some ventured east towards France and Italy, and some sailed south to the Belearic islands. The marina feels deserted now. It’s an interesting, nomadic life.

Ben working hard for a change