We left the fuel dock at Marina Bay, Gibraltar at 10:35 on the 11th September. Our intention was to sail to Ibiza in one go, taking roughly 4 days.
Have I said it’s not worth having a plan when sailing, just a rough direction of travel!
We rounded the Europa point at the south of Gibraltar and raised the sails in 8kts of wind from the north. Coriander sails very well in these light, flat sea conditions and we were soon doing 6kts while looking back at Gibraltar.
We sailed for all of 48 minutes before the wind died completely and we were forced to motor. The forecast had been for decent sailing winds but as we were to learn, the Mediterranean was no respecter of forecasts.
In our opinion, the scenery of the Costa Del Sol is drab. Just a long line of parched hills, punctuated every now and then by a town. We’re told that many of them are very nice but they didn’t appeal from the sea.
We carried on motoring until the sun started to set around 8pm and, having consulted the pilot book, we decided to put into the bay of La Herradura, 92 miles into the journey. The pilot book said to anchor off the beach in 5m of water over sand. By now it was pitch black and we were slowly making our way in using a combination of eyeball navigation and watching the chart and depth finder. While still in 8-10m of water Gill shouted ‘Bouy’ from the bow of the boat where she was preparing the anchor. We’d got to the line of yellow bouys marking the swimming area -Ok, we’d be anchoring in 10m then.
The rational was that we’d get a good nights sleep and maybe there’d be more wind the next day and we wouldn’t have to burn more diesel.
After a good nights sleep we were up and away at 8am the next morning rationalising that we’d only been delayed by 10 or so hours and we’d still be in Ibiza by the end of the week.
La Herradura looked to be quite an attractive holiday resort in the light of day and in retrospect we could have slowed down and visited the town.
We were now heading for the point of Cabo de Gato, around 80 miles away.
This area of Spain is the salad bowl of Europe. Every flat piece of land is vast plastic greenhouses stretching over many acres. From the sea it looks like vast white fields
The pilot books are full of dire warnings about the sheets of plastic being blown into the sea and fouling propellers. We were very pleased not to encounter any.
Yet again we had no wind but the forecast was for 15kts from the east after 7pm. As long as we were round Cabo de Gato, that would give us a decent sail northwards.
We maintained revs on the engine so that we would make that deadline, passing Almenica, Motril, Amerimar and Almeria on the way. All seemed to be looking good and the wind started to come in when we were less than 20 minutes away from the point.
I’d watched what I assumed to be a fishing boat come out from Almeria but began to become suspicious when he stopped roughly 2 miles in front of me and lowered a rib over the side. Looking through the binoculars confirmed what I thought – Customs!
By now the wind had got up to 18kts and there was a 1.5m sea running. There were 3 customs officials and the helm on the rib and they pulled alongside and signaled that they wanted to board. I went forward to the gate to open it and help them board, getting soaked by waves in the process. They climbed aboard and asked me to throttle back and maintain a maximum speed of 1kt. As any sailor will know, that’s nigh on impossible in those winds and sea and I got the ok to up the speed to 2kts to keep Coriander head to wind and sea.
The customs checked the boat papers thoroughly and my sailing and radio qualifications as well as our passports and insurance. One of them conducted a complete search of the boat while another noted everything on a form – last port of call, destination etc. After about an hour they were satisfied we were above-board and left. They had been professional and polite throughout and I have no complaints whatsoever.
By now though it was gusting up to 30kts and the sea was getting rougher. We should have been round the Cabo de Gato but we still had about 3 miles to go to get to the point. We tried motoring into the seas to get round but the slamming made it very uncomfortable. A quick check of the pilot book showed a sheltered anchorage off a beach just before the point. We decided to head there for the night and again anchored in the dark just off a row of swim bouys (again).
The next morning, the wind had dropped and we could see we were anchored with 3 other boats, none of which were showing any lights the night before. We set off at 9am on the 13th and made our way round this famous headland and the conspicuous white ‘scar’ that it’s famous for.
Once round we found that the wind had gone round to the north east – exactly the direction we wanted to go. We raised the main and jib with 2 reefs in each and proceeded to tack (a series of zig zags which allow progress to be made towards the direction the wind is coming from) into the wind and waves, frequently taking water over the bow.
We crashed into the waves until around 5pm when the wind started to moderate and the waves eased significantly as we approached the town of Aguilas. Again we consulted the pilot book and headed towards the anchorage at Calabardina. The pilot book said it could be rolly and looking at the boats already anchored there it looked that way. The chart showed another anchorage behind Isla del Fraile at El Hornillo and at the last-minute we diverted there. It was like a millpond here and we anchored in 5m of water and settled down for a quiet night.
It had been dark (again) when we had arrived the night before so we hadn’t really seen the island. In the light of day we were able to see that there were buildings seemingly set into the cliffs.
At around 08:30 we again set off to Ibiza – This time we had 12kts of wind from about 120 degrees and flat seas. Coriander was doing 6-7kts and things were looking great. We sailed the 21 miles to Cartagena where we’d be spending the winter in around 3 hours and then sailed on to the headland at Cabo de Palos.
The wind had then picked up to 30 kts and we were bowling along. From here it at about 150 miles to Ibiza – A 24 hour offshore passage. We downloaded the weather forecasts and the 2 we use both predicted a storm coming through the next day – we didn’t really fancy being caught out overnight so reluctantly decided to let the storm pass by anchoring in Mar Menor. The entrance is through a canal and under a bridge that’s opened for yachts for 10 minutes every 2 hours. Of course we arrived there 10 minutes too late!
The wind was onshore now so we couldn’t anchor off the beach and the unfinished harbour on the chart was also roped off. We set a scrap of Jib and sailed around Isla Grosa for the next 2 hours, entering Mar Menor when the bridge opened at 6pm.
Mar Menor, meaning, “Minor sea” or “Smaller Sea” in Spanish, is a coastal salty lagoon in the Iberian Peninsula located south-east of the Autonomous Community of Murcia, Spain, near Cartagena.
Four municipalities lie by the Mar Menor, Cartagena, Los Alcázares, San Javier and San Pedro del Pinatar. With a surface area of nearly 170 km2, a coastal length of 70 km, and warm and once clear water no more than 7 metres in depth, it is the largest lagoon in Spain.
The lagoon is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by La Manga (“the sleeve”, in Spanish), a sandbar 22 km in length whose width ranges from 100 to 1,200 metres, with Cape Palos in its south-eastern vertex making for the lagoon’s roughly triangular shape. There are five islets located within the lagoon, namely Perdiguera islet, Mayor islet, Ciervo islet, Redonda islet and del Sujeto islet
We anchored behind Isla del Ciervo, setting the anchor in 4m. Until 2014, Mar Menor had been described as the biggest open air swimming pool in the world, renowned for it’s crystal clear waters and warm temperature. Now it is an ecological disaster – allegedly runoff from the surrounding intensive farming has caused an algae bloom which has reduced visibility to around 30cm and cut off all light reaching the bottom which has killed off 85% of the vegetation in the lagoon. The water is a dull green and smells sulphurous. Even if all pollution was stopped from reaching the lagoon now, some ecologists predict it will take decades to recover.
La Manga, the sandbar is now a 22km strip of 1970s high-rise hotels.
As we made our way towards Ibiza, we’d been staying in touch with our good friends Mike and Claire (on yacht Owl and Pussycat) who we were intending meeting up with somewhere in Ibiza. We’d put a post up on Facebook mentioning that we were on or way over and Mike and Claire’s friends Dorothy and Duncan (who we’d already arranged to meet in Cartagena as they were also going to be there for the winter) put up a comment to say they were anchored off La Manga in Mar Menor.
Gill did a bit of Facebook detective work to find that Dorothy and Duncan’s boat was called Hunda – It was anchored 100m from us – Just goes to show what a small world we live in.
Of course it was a good excuse to say hello and invite them over for drinks. Instead of staying just the one night in Mar Menor, we stayed 4 nights, enjoying Dorothy and Duncan’s company for meals and drinks ashore, as well as watching the Grand Prix at the tennis club.
We’d now taken nearly 2 weeks to get to within striking distance of Ibiza…
…and at 10:00 on the 19th September we upped anchor and went out of Mar Menor on the 12:00 bridge lift and headed out.
The weather routing had us following the Spanish coast up as far as Denia to make use of the sea breeze before heading across towards San Antonio, Ibiza. We passed the resorts of Alicante and Benidorm, lit up like Blackpool as we neared. This proved to be the best sail since we’d entered the Mediterranean. We sailed all of the way, covering 139 miles in 22 hours.
Ibiza greeted us with a spectacular sunrise over the island
We anchored in Cala Salada, my favourite beach from my childhood, at 09:50 on the 20th September.
We’d spend the next 8 weeks on and around this fabulous island but I’ll leave that for next time
Whoah – we’ve arrived at Ibiza…..