July 2013 : Spain to Menorca

Greetings from motor-boat Aremiti.

This month we have moved 296 miles around the Balearics. Wish we could say sailed but this month has been dogged by an almost complete lack of wind which has seriously curtailed our sailing activities. Much as we love and appreciate our new engine, it would have been nice not to have had to use it quite so much. We have spent most nights at anchor, apart from a couple in a marina and five on buoys in specific areas in the islands where buoys have been laid to prevent boats anchoring in the sea-grass Posidonia which is protected. Using these buoys has up until this year been free but unfortunately now cost 30 euros per night which seems somewhat extortionate.

This month has probably been the most relaxed and lazy of our cruising life. We hadnt quite known what to expect of the Balearics. So many stereotypes - from hideous mass tourism to idyllic cruising ground. It was both. We certainly encountered plenty of packed beaches, tourist trip boats and large numbers of boats generally of all types, shapes and sizes, but there were also idyllic and empty calas (the inlets around the coasts of all the islands), turquoise seas and the most spectacular untouched natural scenery. Typically we would arrive at our destination - frantically full anchorages buzzing with all manner of water activities, most of which would disappear by the evening, leaving complete tranquillity until around midday the next day when it would all start arriving again.

We arrived from the mainland, after a delightfully gentle passage, on a Saturday late afternoon, expecting a tranquil landfall in the iconic clear, turquoise anchorage of Espalmador, between Ibiza and Formentera. However, our first impression was shock and awe as we were confronted by chaotic mayhem with every sort of craft speeding apparently towards us. We had hit the rush hour back to Ibiza town and getting into the anchorage was like crossing a motorway. However, within a couple of hours all was as tranquil as we had hoped.

After a few days chilling in Espalmador, we moved on to Ibiza, via another cala to the town of San Antonio. Very scenic trip (motoring) past the islands used to film Bali Hai in South Pacific. There was nothing remotely scenic about San Antonio an ugly town of holiday apartment blocks heaving with tourist fleshpots - and a lot of flesh mostly young, pink, tattooed and British. However, the town served its purpose as a pit stop and we moved on past more spectacular and deserted coastal scenery from the ridiculous to the sublime, in the form of Cala Blanco.

On arrival, this was quite busy with a variety of boats 2 or 3 yachts and several motor boats ranging from tiny speed boats, to cabin cruisers, to opulent motor-cruisers. We were kept entertained by an obscenely vast motor-cruiser with a family of teenagers, parents and grandparents, waited upon by a crew of five who lugged out various toys for the kids dive gear, towing rings and a jet ski which emerged from a locker on the foredeck! The family mostly lying prone on deck were finally zoomed off in their fast launch leaving the crew to pack everything away and follow on. How the other half live! We were then left in tranquillity with two other yachts who told us how special this cala is to them - returning year after year, and an eccentric French couple living aboard their beautifully restored 1929 British lifeboat. There we stayed for another few days of lazy swimming,snorkelling,walks and generally chilling.

Next to Mallorca 50 miles away. For most of this passage the sea was glassy calm but ending in a final couple of hours of increasingly exhilarating and boisterous sailing. We spent a couple of days in the pleasant little port of Andraitx, before moving on around to the north-west coast of Mallorca.

Disappointment at motoring again was more than made up for by the stupendously dramatic coastline of cliffs and crags totally unforgiving should the wind be from the north-west - certainly no wind was preferable to the wrong wind. Port Soller is half way up this 50 mile coastline. The anchorage there was busy and crowded and we anchored under the critical scrutiny of three neighbouring yachts. Later on of course, we turned our own critical gaze on any yacht looking like intruding into our space. Some yachts were anchoring with their fenders out and we could see why. National characteristics come to the fore in these situations we British like our personal space while southern Europeans are more relaxed at close quarters - we hear it will be even more intimate in Italy!

Soller was great both the port and the town, a few miles inland on the Victorian tram quaint and traditional and little touched by tourism. We hired a car to tour the island one day retracing the coastline we had come up by sea even more spectacular - through the Serra de Tramuntana. Then down to Palma much bigger than we had expected - vast cathedral, vast castle, vast waterfront and vast marinas all seemed a bit much. Then around the island which seemed quite undeveloped with small, rather closed towns.

Time for more tranquillity, so we motored north-westwards along the even more stunningly rugged coastline - caves, crags, cliffs, outcrops, holes - around Cabo Formentor and into Cala en Gossalba another gem bit busy during the afternoon, completely tranquil the rest of the time. Then time for a bit more sky, so after a couple of days we moved on to Cala Mesquida a huge open bay of turquoise water with acres of space.

We had wind for the whole 36 mile passage to Menorca hurray! Much lower than Mallorca, Menorca's coastline is also very scenic - low cliffs and caves. Heading for the cala reputed to be the most beautiful in the Balearics, we found this to be tiny and not surprisingly very full and so diverted to the next cala mile to the west a cheerful beach resort where we anchored among pedaloes, lilos and swimmers. This was just a bit too busy, so the next day we moved on to Cala Son Saura a huge open expanse of brilliantly clear and sparkling turquoise water heaven!

Hard to tear ourselves away but our next stop was the enchanting little city of Cuidadela capital of Menorca until 1722. Situated in a long narrow natural harbour it retains many of its 18th century buildings both little 'palaces', public buildings and narrow streets of artisan homes. Now rather upmarket, it was a delight and we enjoyed a fantastic meal with a view one evening.

Then on around the north coast of Menorca tacking into a wind (not all wind is equally welcome!) - the coastline becoming increasingly rugged - ravaged by the strong north winds of the Tramontana. Next stop was Fornells where Chris and Aremiti were to stay while Julia paid a brief return home to visit family. A huge bottle-shaped cala - sheltered and safe in all conditions (not that we had experienced any conditions for some time!) It turned out to be the perfect choice - friendly little town, great restaurants and an excellently helpful chandlery. On a car trip around the island we investigated many of Menorca's Bronze Age ruins, and much evidence of the 80 odd years of British rule during the 1700s.

No sooner had Julia left Menorca when the settled weather started to break down. Chris spent most of one afternoon rescuing an Australian yacht which he noticed dragging its anchor while the owners were ashore. The next day it was Aremitis turn to drag despite having been settled for a week by then. However, his rescue of the Australian yacht had made such an impression on the harbour authorities in Fornells that they couldn't do enough to ensure he was anchored safely and then finally given a buoy for free! During this time fiesta hit town with dramatic displays of horse riding skills in the midst of an enthusiastic crowd, combined with a church service. Lest Julia should have any doubts as to Chris' hero status on her return, the guy in charge of buoys treated Chris with utmost respect every time we saw him and assured us that we could have a free buoy in Fornells for as long as we wanted! Sadly, having been there for nearly 2 weeks on Julia's return, it was time to move on.

We are currently anchored on the outskirts of Mahon harbour having spent another couple of nights anchored in lovely places Addaia and Isla Colom. The forecast for a passage to Sardinia tomorrow is looking good....

All the best,

Julia and Chris