Spain – Where The Summer Went a Little Pete Tong: Part II of II


The final legs of our 2019 summer cruise certainly gave us some tales to tell. After doing the tourist thing in Barcelona we had a nerve shredding departure. September’s Gota Fria storm had us boat bound in Sant Carles de la Rapita followed by a bumpy ride down the east coast of Spain to our winter home in Cartagena. For anchorage information, scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on the green links to see a location on noforeignland.com.

Tourists in Barcelona

Our three days in Barcelona passed in a blur of modernist and Gothic architecture, frothy fountains and sky piercing cathedrals. Despite my broken toe, we walked almost a marathon distance, with help from the efficient metro system. And then because of my toe, we experienced an unexpected fantastic night of music. After much walking to find a bar we’d seen earlier in the day, but just couldn’t find again, the toe had had enough. It needed a rest and there just happened to be a craft beer bar next to where we were. We’d just settled down to enjoy a pint of beer and tapas when people began streaming in from the street dripping wet. It seems not only had the toe determined a good bar to rest at, but also had good timing as we had just missed a heavy, downpour of rain. And that was just the start of our good fortune that night – we had inadvertently stumbled upon the Barcelona underground music scene. The bar holds a weekly jam night which happened to be that night, held downstairs in a cosy, cave like cellar with a stage at one end. The music started up and for the next few hours we were entertained by an international collection of young musicians of incredible talent, many performing original songs as well as covers. One of those memory making nights you just can’t plan for.

Rocking out at the Craft Bar Jam Night

Mercado de la Boqueria

We loved the Market de la Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas. Full of colour and a huge variety of food. We lunched there twice, on the large variety of Spanish snacks and tapas available.

Gorging on Gaudi

I love the curves, colours and use of mosaic in Gaudi’s architecture. Usually we randomly wander around a city to see what we can see, but in Barcelona we were a little more organised so that we took in the Gaudi designed and inspired buildings.

We also booked in for a visit to Park Guell, a place long on my to visit list. I had to see the brightly coloured salamander that I’d first seen as a keyring in a tourist shop on a family holiday to Spain back in 1986.

As we explored the lesser visited parts of Barcelona, we were amazed at some of the other buildings we came across, some inspired by Gaudi’s architecture.

The Gothic Quarter

The Gothic quarter had it’s own share of interesting architecture built on, over and around the old Roman remains.

The Dancing Fountain

The Montjuic dancing fountain lights up several evenings a week, it’s colours and jets choreographed to a soundtrack; on the night we visited we were delighted to hear it was an 1980s theme. It’s a popular night out, and even though we’d got there an hour early, we’d missed a perch in the best spot, so settled down on one of the bridges instead.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia’s soaring vaults

Ticket prices for many of Barcelona’s sites were budget busting for us, but one place where we were willing to splash out for was Gaudi’s sky soaring masterpiece – the Sagrada Familia. Tickets had to be booked in advance and we managed to get the most basic ones for the very last session on our last day.

We walked around with our necks craned back, in awe to the vastness of the place. Pictures really can’t do justice to the scale of the interior, the high soaring vaults and the colours of the stained glass, especially where the sun streamed through and lit up the whole space. There was something other worldly about the design and we’re convinced it’s really an intergalactic space ship under construction.

Still in Thrall to the Weather

During our marina stay it had been tempting to switch off from the weather, but on our day of arrival, we’d seen an early warning for storms soon after we planned to leave. Every day we’d check in with Windy hoping they’d eased off, but no, the largest storm of the season was brewing in the Golfe du Leon and setting the Balearics, our intended destination, firmly in it’s sights.

The coast of Spain south from Barcelona is famous for it’s long, sandy beaches but limited in it’s sheltered, anchoring choices. Our best option was to make an overnight run for Sant Carles de la Rapita and the lagoon there, where the winds would be strong but not as fierce as being forecast for Majorca. It was a choice between several dull days stuck on board there or potentially hanging on for dear life. We chose dull.

Leaving Barcelona – a Nightmare of Close Quarters Manoevering

The passage south was 100nm making it an overnight trip. To ensure a daylight arrival we planned a midday start with a relaxed morning preparing for departure from Real Club Maritim Barcelona. We had to time throwing off the lines with the half hourly bridge openings and with barely a breeze disturbing the air we reversed out of our berth just before 11:30am.

When we reverse, the spinning of the propeller creates a turning movement to the boat which we call prop walk, and in Emerald’s case she turns to the port side. This was an issue because the space in the marina available to manoeuvre in was an awkward shape – ideally we would have used the prop walk to our advantage to reverse into the space off to port and go out forwards, but it was too tight a turn. Our next option was to reverse into the long trot parallel to the bridge, but this meant making a reverse slightly to starboard. With a scant amount of power, the helm over to starboard and using the boat next door to walk ourselves along, we edged backwards. Less power means less prop walk. But it wasn’t working and we were turning too much to port where there were moored boats. We spotted a gap where a boat was away and aimed for that. But now the wind decided to pipe up, blowing on the port bow and increasing our turn to port and towards the other boats. By this time, the swing bridge had opened and a line of boats had built also wanting to leave, but we were blocking their exit. A crowd of onlookers was also gathering on the bridge. Now we had an extremely stressful situation made worse knowing we were being watched. We inched forward, aiming at the bridge opening, but the limited space and our long keel meant we couldn’t make it and I had to push the bow off the bridge sides. Back and forth we went in an interminable multi-point turn, watched by the ever increasing spectators. On shaking legs, I ran from bow to stern, making sure we didn’t get too close to other boats when we reversed; ready to fend off when we went forward. There was a heart in mouth moment when I thought we would be pinned side on to the bridge but Colin pulled off a miracle and got us turned just enough for us to squeeze out, our rigging running mere millimetres along the open part of the bridge. We got a round of applause from our audience and the following boats came through behind us like pop from a shook up bottle of fizz. We waved to thank them as best we could.

The swing bridge and the space we had to reverse into

Dizzy with relief, we headed slowly away from the marina basin, hanging back to let everyone pass us by in their rush to be elsewhere. We thought it would now be plain sailing, but there was more to come. As we turned into the main part of the harbour, we could see all the boats that had rushed past us now bobbing and waiting as a container ship arrived. We aimed for a quiet bit of water and got out of it’s way. But to give the behemoth space, we’d ended up on the wrong side of the channel, so as soon as the ship had cleared away we intended to go back to the correct side for leaving. However, in their impatience, boats began to move even before it was really clear and it turned into boat dodgems as those coming in met those going out. Being of the slow and steady mentality, we missed our moment to cross the channel and ended up weaving our way out until they’d all cleared off.

A waterspout starting to form

Finally we thought, we’re out and in clear water. But out at sea it was rather windy with a choppy sea. The sky looked extremely black and tumultuous to our left, along the route we would have taken to Majorca. We set a course south, which seemed to be taking us away from the worst of it, so out came the sails. We’d just started to relax and enjoy the sail, when suddenly a squall caught us and Emerald heeled way over. We scrambled to reef some sail. A wise decision as we also saw a waterspout starting to form. Would our trials never end? However, our luck had turned and it dissipated before touching down. The wind died away and as we looked back, we could clearly see the well defined squall line where the white horses stopped.

With no wind now, we had to motor on. The swell was horrendous, coming at us from every angle it seemed which took chunks out of our speed. It was a very queasy passage for me. Some wind returned and we briefly sailed, but the swell kept knocking the wind out of the sails and the bang and crack as they refilled on each roll twanged our already stressed nerves with worry for the rigging. We motored slowly on with just a reefed main for stability.

Sometime in the early hours, a decent south easterly wind filled in and we could finally sail comfortably. We sailed up to the entrance of the lagoon and dropped anchor off the marina wall, grateful to be in. The wind was due to increase overnight, so most of the day was spent catching up on the night’s lost sleep.

Sant Carles de la Rapita

The wind woke us around 6am and through the portholes we could see in the distance flashing away, the techno disco lights of a very active storm. We had sustained winds of 30kts with gusts up to 45kt, but the holding was outstanding in thick mud. Thunderstorms skirted by us during the day and by evening the wind had eased to 20kts.

The next day started better with glimmers of sunshine breaking through. Still too choppy to head ashore so another day onboard. We were very relaxed when late afternoon Emerald turned her nose to the east and began a nodding dog impression. Looking ahead, we could see a line of white moving across the shallow lagoon and in the short time it took to rouse ourselves into action, we had 40kts of wind and were surrounded by white caps. Great holding still, but oh so uncomfortable.

We made a run for behind the southern marina wall, surfing along with the waves past it’s end into much calmer water where we reanchored.

That was the worst of the weather for us. But in the Balearics, they’d taken a real battering from the Gota Fria. We’d made a wise decision in diverting here. It remained unsettled for the next three days, but our spot was very sheltered and we had a couple of brief escapes ashore during moments of calm.

View over Sant Carles from the mirador, we’re anchored to the right
A windy day in Sant Carles de la Rapita

The changing skies of the Gota Fria

Rolling on South

After almost a week in the lagoon, there was a break in the weather, with winds briefly in our favour. Despite my growing cabin fever, I had a reluctance to go, a feeling it would be grim yet wanting to get on. On a grey morning, we set off into a grey sea. We could sail but there was a large, following sea and it wasn’t long before seasickness came on. Thinking of those people who say “better a bad day on the water, than a good day in the office”, I would have readily traded even a bad time in the office over being on the water at that moment. I fought the nausea for a while before giving in to the seasickness drug, Stugeron. I should have given in earlier as the nap the pills induced was very welcome and I woke as a different person, all queasiness quashed. We sailed and rolled on into the night.

As so often happens on our night passages, the wind dropped around midnight leaving the sails slatting and banging in the swell. Sleep was unsettled but we both managed a few hours. When I woke from my second off-watch, the sky was blue and we were skimming by a tall cape with houses clinging impossibly to it.

We were motor-sailing at 6kts and as we rounded Cabo de La Nao, the wind died away. We thought we’d have shelter from the swell too, but it was now oddly coming from east, not north. This made our first choice of anchorage, Cap d’Or, rolly, so we pushed on to Calp. We surged in on the rolls around the soaring rock of Ifach and found welcome shelter behind the marina wall. To get out of the swell, we had to get in closer to the wall than we’d normally like but the holding seemed excellent in sand.

The return of blue sky was very welcome after a week of grey

Climbing the Penyal d’Ifach

Standing sentinel over the town of Calp is the massive limestone outcrop of Penyal d’Ifach. On three sides it rises steep from the seabed, but the fourth is joined by a slope of debris to the land, creating a route for hikers to access it. The first part is a wide, paved path that zigzags upwards before reaching a tunnel cut through the rocks base. The tunnel was slightly treacherous being dark and slippy under foot, but there are ropes along the side to hold on to. Out the other side, the real walk begins.

The rock as seen from the anchorage

A dirt track continues upwards, in places easy going, in others more like a scramble. Chains were in place to help in the trickier parts. There were a few traffic jams, but it wasn’t overly busy. I chose to wait for people to pass in the opposite direction as it was a good excuse for a rest, especially going up, and I also had some lovely chats.

Calp marina and anchorage just outside

With the top having seemed a long way off for some time, it was a surprise when it was suddenly almost there with just a short scramble upwards. The air was hazy, but I could see Emerald bobbing 330m below, looking tiny. I took a few moments for photos and to catch my breath, before turning back. After the last week stuck onboard by weather and two unpleasant passages, this walk restored my reasons for living this life.

View from the top
Red and sweaty, I made it to the top. Emerald is a tiny dot way below

Illa de Tabarca

With concerns over our rental house rising, we decided to push on to be nearer to Cartagena in case we needed to head back to the UK sooner than planned. It meant a long motor south, but provided an opportunity to break the journey at Illa de Tabarca, south of Alicante.

There’s a choice of a north or south anchorage, we chose north as there was a slight swell from the south. Once settled, we headed ashore to wander the small, flat space with a walled town huddled on it’s western end. Trip boats from the mainland flock here and there were several empty ones waiting outside the harbour to take their guests back home.

The north anchorage

The island is named after some shipwrecked sailors from the Tunisian Tabarka who were resettled on the Spanish isle and a fortified town created.

Gateway to the fortified town

Mar Menor – The Bridge is Broken!

The next day we arrived at the entrance to Mar Menor, having motor-sailed on a flat sea on a blue sky day. Several decomposing victims of the recent storms floated about, announcing their proximity with an evil smell. These were huge tuna, from the fish farms that dot the coast, rotting and evil and not even of interest to the seagulls.

We’d just missed the 2pm bridge opening, the next at 4pm, so we dropped the anchor outside to wait.

We’d been into Mar Menor on our way into the Med in 2014 and remembered a radio call was given 5 minutes before the opening time. We picked up the anchor and waited in the entrance channel for the call, but nothing came. So, we called up the marina to see what was happening. “The bridge is closed”, we were told, “they are working on repairing it.” They couldn’t tell us whether it would be fixed that day but we decided to hang on and hope it would be repaired for the 6pm opening, so anchored again.

Just before 6pm we were back in the entrance channel when we saw a RIB coming out to us. They told us the bridge was still broken and would be at least four days to repair. With the sun dropping rapidly in the sky, we didn’t have much time to decide our next steps. The wind was due to increase from the north east that night, so the anchorage off Mar Menor would become uncomfortable, making our best option to run around Cabo de Palos and anchor off the harbour there.

As we rounded the cape, a shoal of flying fish skimmed the water ahead of us. It looked magical in the golden light of the setting sun. Around the corner, we inched into a small bay between jaggedy rocks and dropped the anchor. It held well and the engine was silenced just as the sun disappeared behind the hills.

Our plans now needed to change and we would go into the marina a week earlier than intended. But we thanked our lucky stars that at least we were on the outside when the bridge broke, rather than inside, especially as the repairs took over a week.

Last Anchorage of the Season – Cala Cortina

Our last sail was one of our best of the season. With just the genny (front) sail flying, we slowly made our way along the spectacular coastline in a decent easterly breeze. We sailed almost right up to the anchorage at Cala Cortina, only furling the sail when we lost the wind when it was blocked by the hills.

Our last sail of the season

We dropped outside the swim buoys in 12m at Cala Cortina and tried to enjoy our last night of the season at anchor. But it was hard to relax; we were worried about manoeuvring into our berth in the marina as pictures showed the runs between pontoons to be very tight and Emerald doesn’t do tight turns. We’d requested a RIB to help us in, but they couldn’t guarantee one.

Cala Cortina on a winter’s day

Cartagena – Into our Winter Home

The stress levels were high the next morning. We hadn’t slept well from the swell of work boats coming and going rolling us awake. With only one and a half miles to the entrance, we prepared what we could at anchor – outboard off and stowed, dinghy on deck, fenders and lines ready to go.

We gave the marina a half hour warning as requested and headed in. There seemed to be something going on along the harbour breakwater, and as we closed in we were approached by a large RIB. There was a swimming race and for safety, we’d need to wait until they’d moved away. That scenario never came up during our planning.

Once the swimmers had gone by, we moved in behind the wall, talking to the marina staff over the radio as we went. They had a RIB ready as requested and it’s a good job they had as we certainly needed it. With a wide motor yacht taking up a large part of our manoeuvring space, we couldn’t make the tight turn into our trot. The RIB pushed Emerald’s bow around and we were pleased to see a big gap ahead with another marinero waiting for us on the pontoon. But there was still another challenge before we could relax – reversing into our berth. This time our prop walk was in our favour and with a small nudge on the side to move us over to our neighbour, we were in. Lines were thrown, Emerald was secured and now we could relax.

We were glad to be in, but our last two marina experiences have certainly given us a few stories to tell.

The beautiful view along our pontoon

Sailing & Anchoring Info

8th September 2019: Barcelona to Sant Carles de la Rapita – 98nm (39nm sailed)
Santa Carles de la Rapita is a shallow lagoon with several anchoring options.
Holding is excellent in thick mud, we held in gusts up to 45kts. First we anchored off the east/west running wall for shelter from north winds in position 40 36.855’N 0 36.506’E 4m. Occasional swell from passing fishing and trip boats.
For shelter from east winds we moved around the southern wall and anchored in 4m in position 40 36.61’N 0 35.752’E
Fuel is available within the marina and we tied up along the promenade wall to go ashore.
All usual amenities available ashore.

15th September: Sant Carles de la Rapita to Calp – 126nm (61nm sailed)
Excellent holding in sand, clear water behind the marina breakwater. Depth 4m at position 40 36.61’N 0 35.752’E
Dinghies can be left for a limited time (we were given two hours) by arrangement with the marina staff. We tied up in front of the marina bar.
There is some boat traffic in and out of the marina, but quiet overnight.
Great shelter from swell from the NE.

18th September: Calp to Ilas de Tabarca – 38nm
Nosed our way in to the bay on the north of the island, dropped in 4m in position 38 10.082’N 0 28.587’W
There is a small harbour on the north side of the island, used by the many trip boats for drop off and pick up of passengers. It may be possible to pull a dinghy up onto the beach or like us, find an empty space amongst the fishing boats in which to tie.

The harbour at Tabarca. Trip boats pick up along the covered area. Our dinghy can be seen closer to shore along the wall

19th September: Ilas de Tabarca to Cabo de Palos – 41nm
Anchored in sand off of the marina entrance at Cabo de Palos. Good shelter from north winds. Position 37 37.776’N 0 42.03’W
Click here to view our route.

20th September: Cabo de Palos to Cala Cortina – 18nm (sailed 16nm)
Anchored in 12m, position 37 34.75’N 0 58.644’W
During the season there are swimming buoys which limit the anchoring depths. Restaurant on the beach. Swell from passing work boats could be a nuisance.

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