Magical Menorca


A return to Menorca was high on our list of places to visit during our bonus summer of sailing in the Balearics. It turned out to be worth the return – we spent almost two weeks enjoying the varied coastline with soft sandy beaches and turquoise water providing idyllic anchorages amongst the ragged coastline. A hiking trail that circles the island provided exercise and the underwater landscape was as beautiful as that above.

The island had a laid back, chilled air, with pastoral scenes inland and pretty villages dotting the coast. We experienced a heatwave whilst we were there, breaking down into a mistral that chased us around to the south of the island.

A Brief But Pleasant Sail to Menorca

We’d been holding out in Pollença for some wind to sail across, however, with little in the forecast for the foreseeable and time ticking on, we set off to reluctantly motor across. The sea was calm with a long, low swell from the east, so we had another attempt at fishing.

A sign we’ve lingered too long in Pollenca? Bob the anchor marker (floats 1m above the seabed) has been barnacled
Leaving Mallorca in our wake

Around half way across, a gentle breeze appeared from the north, and as we were making good time we unfurled the sails for a couple of hours gentle drift. Our previous sail had been the passage from Ibiza to Mallorca almost a month ago, so even a slow drift was a welcome relief from the noise and heat of the engine.

Enjoyable though it was, the winds were light, our speed was slow and with the day getting on, we furled the sails and motored on. We also pulled in the fishing line to have a look and found everything gone: hook, lure, the lot. Most likely the line broke rather than a huge fish ate it all, but that doesn’t stop us turning it into a story of another one that got away!

The one that got away was huge!

Cala Degollador and Ciutadella

Our destination was Cala Degollador, just next to the entrance to Ciutadella. We hoped to go visit the town from here, but if one thing can be guaranteed in sailing, it’s that plans might as well be written in sand. The small anchoring area, limited by yellow buoys on the outside edge to provide manoeuvring space for ferries and on the inside by swim buoys, was already busy, with three more yachts heading in, close on our tail. We rushed to a decision, picking a small sandy area visible from satellite maps on the south side, over what was more space in the north, but in what looked like weed.

With other boats close to us, the rocky seashore one side and a large rock on the other forming an encircling boundary, it wasn’t the most relaxing of spots. Colin decided to stay behind whilst I had a quick explore.

A cosy spot
Looking along Cala Ciutadella

At the end of a long, narrow cala sits the former capital of Menorca. Ciutadella is a lovely town with a grand cathedral with suitably garish gargoyles, and a main thoroughfare lined by an arched arcade which was busy but not crowded. Everyone was wearing masks and a Guardia Civil stood on duty. Taking a turn down a side street I was transported to a peaceful world of narrow cobbled streets to wander, empty of people. There were interesting buildings and around each corner street art enlivened the pastel painted walls.

S’Aigua Dolca

Back onboard, the night passed without incident, despite the lack of wind setting the boats bobbing every which way. But by mid morning the wind was blowing our stern close to the rough rocks and we set off to find a more relaxing spot. And to prove we’re not such rubbish sailors, we stuck out the genny and drifted down the 2nm to the huge bay of S’Aigua Dolca. Quiet during the day, but very popular with the little boats as afternoon turned to evening.

Menorca Is smaller (translation: small island) and flatter than it’s rugged big sister, it’s highest point only 358m. But it’s no less beautiful. On the southern half of the island, low limestone cliffs line the shore, with caves hewn into them by the restless sea. Cut deeper into the coast are ravines, called calas, carved by ancient rivers. Long and narrow, these calas typically have sandy seabeds, with soft, golden beaches at their head.

A great place to watch the sunset

Cala Santandria

During a kayak, I visited Cala Santandria, a fine example of a one of the river carved calas. It was beautiful, but we’d originally discounted it as the guides suggested it was a place for Med mooring along the side. We avoid this kind of mooring wherever possible as it’s such hard work, however, in reality there was plenty of space to lie at anchor in the entrance.

Next morning we moved there, Emerald the only boat not Med moored. We felt confident to leave her for a trip for both of us to see Ciutadella. Along the side of the cala are metal rings with small motor boats moored to them; we chose one to lock our dinghy to and set off to walk 35 minutes to the town. A heatwave was beginning to ramp up, and it was a hot walk, though worth it for another stroll around the pretty town.

Cala Santandria – Emerald is at the far end

However, things had changed by the time we returned, two hours later. The anchorage had filled up, the wind had changed direction and we had a catamaran 5m off our stern. They pleaded the wind change as an excuse. They offered to move, which was good, no arguing required. However, things went downhill and they ended up blown onto Emerald’s bow causing our anchor to drag – no wonder with Emerald’s 17 tonnes plus a high sided cat being pushed against us. They were very apologetic and mistakes do happen, however we were left with a bent pin on the anchor roller and a possible new hull scar.

The quiet anchorages of a few weeks ago were now filling up as Spanish boats arrived from the mainland along with French coming south as we moved into summer holiday season. We’d just missed out – friends who’d been here a week ago told of empty bays, although what we considered a busy place was still down on typical summer boat numbers.

That evening, friends arrived that we’d met in Ragusa two winters ago, perfect timing for a catch up to forget the day’s palaver.

Cala Algaiarens

We moved on to motor around to the north coast the next day, the scenery becoming more rugged, the cliffs dark grey and higher. This is the Tramuntana coast, battered by the north wind of that name.

We were headed for Cala Algaiarens, now a new entry on my favourite anchorages list. The bay is large enough for many boats with good depths, sand and two beaches. Surrounded by tall cliffs, coloured deep red in places, the setting was beautiful. Below the water was interesting too for snorkelling. Ashore, the round island Cami de Cavalls passed by for hiking and even though dinghies couldn’t be left long term on the beach during daytime, short stay and drop offs were possible and the friendly lifeguards even helped clean the boat channel of wandering swimmers.

The large anchorage at Cala Algaiarens

Nature was everywhere; behind the pale yellow dunes of Cala Bot was a pool with terrapins, their presence given away by their noses poking out of the water. Close by I spotted a small tortoise and the white, star shaped heads of sea daffodils waved alongside the sandy paths. Following a track inland, I was greeted with pastoral scenes of fields of rust coloured cows and hay bails dotted about. Blackberry bushes lined the field walls and if it wasn’t for the temperature, I’d have been reminded of home.

The temperature was still rising and for the first time in the Med, the midday sun beat this Englishwoman. The mad dog had sensibly stayed on the boat.

Underwater scenery

Boats Have no Respect for Timing

As a perfect example of how our boats have no respect for timing, the toilet developed a leak. Thankfully it was clean water in rather than dirty water out that was trickling into our bilge, but it still needed repair. On a hot morning, Colin battled to remove the loo and carried it to the back deck, where it was easier to remove and replace the worn pump shaft seals. At least it was a workplace with a view.

Fornells

With a NE wind pushing a swell in, we took it as a hint to move on. Distances between anchorages are small on Menorca, and our next stop was the huge natural harbour of Fornells. The area nearest the town is set aside for mooring buoys to protect the posidonia seagrass, however outside of the zone, there is a huge area in which to anchor, it just means a slightly longer dinghy ride to get ashore.

The village is pretty; think of Greek white villages, except instead of blue woodwork, here they were painted a deep forest green. Originally a fisherman’s village, it is now a tourist spot with restaurants specialising in lobster stew. On a headland stands a well preserved defensive tower, built by the British in 1802 during their occupation of the island in the early 19th century.

Looking over the anchorage
Fornells from the sea

We were introduced to new friends and spent a fun few hours enjoying their hospitality and handmade guitars. They introduced us to the delicious local cheeses and before we left, we bought a large chunk of Cavalleria (a mixture of cow and sheep milk) to take with us.

Of course there were calls from Emerald for more attention – it feels like she’s dropping some very big hints this year that we’re pushing our luck on how much life we can eke out of our systems. Just when we needed the outboard for the longest ride to shore of the summer, it began to cough and stutter. Colin cleaned the carburettor for the fourth time this season, finding lumps of emulsified fuel.

Emulsified fuel in the outboard carb

Es Grau and Running From a Mistral

With a strong mistral lurking in the near future, we had to make plans to get around the other side of the island. Swells of over 1m would be piling into the north coast from Sunday, giving us just enough time to squeeze in a visit to Es Grau. This is another pretty white village, with a large wetlands nature park behind the beach with trails through it. There are tortoise here, but given the heat, they were sensibly hiding in the shade.

Es Grau wetlands

That evening was so hot, we slept outside, camping in the cockpit. By sunrise the swell was beginning to build from the north, the wind close behind it. We sailed downwind, joining several others heading for the sheltered south coast.

Running South

As we passed the entrance to Mahon, the wind increased. Emerald was romping along solely under foresail. The wind kept on increasing as we rounded the south east end of the island and we now had a F6 chasing us along. Just around the corner was our intended anchorage, but of course, many others had had the same idea and it looked busy. We decided to keep on going.

Sailing close hauled with a part furled jib

Our next choice was midway up the island, putting the wind on the beam. A sail change in those conditions seemed like hard work, so we decided to go with a few rolls in the foresail to ease the pressure on the helm as we were now seeing F7 in the gusts. It was great fun, pinching as close as we could to close our destination. We raced along tall cliffs, with inviting looking calas, but unfortunately narrow and full.

Finding Shelter in Son Bou

Son Bou Is a 3nm stretch of sand, with good anchoring along the whole of it. It seemed most boats were at the western end, we were at the east with just one other boat. The wind kept blowing and clouds piled in as the heatwave broke.

Not the nicest view at Son Bou

Next morning we headed west to Playa Binigaus, to see why everyone else was up that end. It was wilder and more scenic, whereas the east end has several holiday resorts. We still chose not to join the crowd in the corner; with so much sand to choose from, it didn’t seem necessary.

Time was continuing to tick on, and to satisfy our desire to be out of the Med by the end of August we needed to get a move on. We took some time to plot distances and potential stopping points, surprised by quite how far it was. The tail end of the mistral would provide a handy first step to get south to Mallorca.

Plans made, there was enough time to explore ashore, walking the coastal trail through the pine wood with it’s lovely distinctive scent. The track passed by two small calas, both pretty but also quite full.

Next morning, with the sun not quite risen, we set off on stage one of our quest to leave the Med. It turned out the Med was not ready to let us go so easily!

The uncrowded end of Playa Binigaus

Sailing Info

23rd July: Pollenca to Cala Degollador – 32nm (6nm sailed)
Anchored in 8m in sand patch on the south side of the cala. Space is limited. 39 59.592’N 3 49.689’E

24th July: Cala Degollador to S’Aigua Dolca – 2nm (2nm sailed)
A huge space open to the west. Large areas of sand in which to anchor. No access to shore, however Cala Santandria is approx 1nm away which does have land access.
Anchored 8m 39 57.719’N 3 49.93’E

25th July: S’Aigua Dolca to Cala Santandria – 1nm
Anchored in the entrance in 8.5m, sand. Position 39 58.78’N 3 49.946’E

26th July: Cala Santandria to Cala Algaiarens – 11nm
Large anchorage that can accommodate many boats. Anchored in sand, 8m in position 40 02.91’N 3 55.149’E

29th July: Cala Algaiarens to Fornells – 13nm
Fornells is a long sheltered bay with an area set aside to mooring buoys. South of the buoys is a large anchoring area with good holding in mud.
Anchored in 7m in position 40 02.664’N 4 07.837’E

Very thick mud in Fornells!

1st September: Fornells to Es Grau – 13nm
Anchored initially in position 39 57.124’N 4 16.456’E, however when the wind direction changed we swung very close to a large rock: it’s position is incorrect on the chart. We moved to 8m in position 39 57.188’N 4 16.42’E

It would have just cleared the rudder, however this rock was a bit too close for comfort

2nd September: Es Grau to Son Bou East – 23nm (20nm sailed)
Anchored in 4m, sand with occasional flat rocks in position 39 53.706’N 4 04.565’E

3rd September: Son Bou East to Playa Binigaus – 2nm
Anchored in 5.5m, sand, in position 39 55.015’N 4 01.711’E

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