We arrived in France on the 16th of July, we left La Rochelle on 4th of August, we arrived in the Islas Baleares (Formentera to be precise) on 8th of September – we are here! The first 5 weeks has been all about getting here (the Med, or more precisely the Balearics) to catch the tail end of the summer season. Yes we enjoyed our trip down the Atlantic coast, we learned a lot about our boat, ourselves and working together, but this was always the destination we had in mind. Now we can stop getting here and start being here. Now we are here we can relax and enjoy right? Well…. Yeah actually we can!
I have to admit I didn’t know much about the Balearics before we started researching this trip. Yes I had heard of Ibiza but only as a party town where plane loads of POMS come on package holidays to fry in the sun, eat fish and chips, take E and go to dance parties - oh and I thought it was somewhere near the Canary Islands. Well the part about the POMS may be true, however I am sure those less ignorant than me know where Ibiza is. And as for Mallorca, well most Aussies of my vintage will remember this place as the hideout for Australias most wanted man through the ‘90s, the white-shorted, tennis loving Christopher Skase, and his lovely wife Pixie. Pleased to say that Skase is long forgotten and there is so much more to these islands than what goes on at the resorts and nightclubs. On a yacht is so easy to get away from that side of things anyway.
The Balearics is made up of 4 main Islands: Formentera, Ibiza, Mallorca (the big one) and Menorca (the small one) located in the western Mediterranean between mainland Spain to the West and Sardinia to the East. There are a few other smaller islands too which we also hope to explore. We arrived first in Formentera after a 24 hour trip from Cartagena – we chose to come through a weather window rather than day hop over 3 days and potentially get stuck longer on the mainland. We spent our first 2 nights at anchor in Cala Saona followed by a 3rd off the sandspit beach at Playa de Illeatas. The water here is so lovely warm and incredibly clear. A typical day consist of swimming, SUPping, RIB trips for a walk ashore or to explore the amazing coastline, not to mention eating and drinking plus wandering around the boat wondering what you were about to do... The island of Ibiza is also really beautiful with a really dramatic rocky coastline and so many lovely little bays (or calas). It’s a small island and distances from one cala to the next are so short that if you don’t like the one you are in, there is another one conveniently placed around the corner. In fact you can have one cala for breakfast, one for lunch and a third for dinner and overnight! Sometimes there are restaurants, beaches, yachts, people, sometimes nothing but the rocks and the trees. We haven’t been in a marina since Cartagena, which is a good thing cost wise and also means we are also learning a lot about managing water production, blackwater holding tanks and most importantly battery charging, particularly with no solar panels.
Meeting the “Weed Police”
I know what you are thinking, and while you could probably get stoned just walking around breathing normally in San Antoni or sitting in a café in Eivissa, these guys are not patrolling the party-goers but are out on the water patrolling the yachties! We had read about this whole program on the various forums etc and apparently they can be quite militant during the peak months of July and August. They have received some funding from the EU to lay some bouys, completely filling certain anchorages with them and charging a fee for their use. The aim is to protect the sea grass (poisidonia) which is important to the ecosystem in the area. Fair enough I think, and anyway who wants to anchor on sea grass as its not good holding and its really hard to get off your anchor. Certainly doesn’t smell too good after a few days in the warm, moist anchor well either. Their bouys are quite pricey though, we have paid less in some marinas (which include electricity and water) however apparently they are guaranteed up to 10kts (!) and you are required to leave one crew member on board at all times - presumably so that someone is available when they come by to collect the money from you. No thanks, happy to find another spot to anchor in sand with our 37kg Ultra.
Another day, another bay
Being in the Balearics is all about doing the Cala Crawl and we are getting pretty good at it, first off Formentera, and then Ibiza and now Mallorca.
We are really pleased to be here in September when (apparently) the crowds have thinned out - hmmm... There have still been some bays we have gone into and just could not squeeze oursleves into a good enough spot (think Castle Rock on a sunny Sunday) so we move on to the next cala and find one where there is plenty of space. As we entered one such crowded anchorage, described as “beautiful and unmissable” in the pilot, (clearly havent been to the Whitsundays…) we prowl around with the anchor a cockbill* weighing up our options and copping the “death stare” from the sour faced POMS who anchored earlier in the day... Keith’s experience as a charter boat skipper has been really invaluable in manoevering around anchorages, picking a spot where we fit nicely, ensuring we are secure for the night and our swing circle doesn’t impact on our neighbours. Timing is everything of course, there are so many day boats that stop for a swim or a few hours and by 6:30pm that crowded anchorage can have a quarter of the boats left. That prime spot you wanted when you came in will become vacant if you are patient. You are soon able to predict which boats are likely to stay the night and which ones are not - it’s a bit like stalking someone with a shopping trolley in a packed Westfield carpark! Once you are in place you also have the opportunlity to critique the anchoring technique of other yatchtsmen – noting that most of the charter boats use the “full throttle in reverse and lay out your entire supply of chain” technique. One thing that contiually amazes us is that there is always that one boat that just has to anchor on top of you when there is so much space in the rest of the bay where they could go to. Often it is a charter boat who doesn’t know any better but sometimes its professional skipper (fortunately don’t usually stay that long) or an arrogant <insert mailigned nationality here> on a big steel shitter who doesn’t give a rats if he scratches your brand new fiberglass number. Hard not to let that spoil your evening. Need to do more yoga on the foredeck…
Adult themes and occasional coarse nudity…
Well the continental Europeans certainly have a different attitude to nudity than our good Aussie selves (I blame our staid British ancestors). Some beaches that we have stopped by have been “known” nudist haunts but certainly not uncommon to see naked bodies strewn over the rocks beside a regular beach and of course on boats moored around us. It seems to be de riguer to get your kit off, particularly if you are middle aged man with a significant “overhang”! As much as I like to say “each to his own”, I have to admit to seeing some things I didn’t need to see... Not quite sure if I need counselling yet, but it will be a big contrast to end this first part of our journey in a muslim country. Meanwhile I guess we can just go with the flow, and watch out for those anchors a cockbill*…
*a cockbill – the situation of the anchor (in the days when ships carried anchors with stocks) when it has been lifted clear of its anchor bed, its cable bent on, and hangs ‘up and down’ at the cathead ready for letting go. REF: The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea – Edited by Peter Kemp; Oxford University Press