Mainland Spain to Formentera
There is a new winner for our best overnight passage in the Mediterranean, which goes to Spain to Formentera 2020. Sorry, Sicily to Sardinia 2018, you’ve lost top spot.
Having left the lagoon of the Mar Menor for an anchorage outside, a weather window opened up for an overnight crossing to the Balearics. The wind was forecast to be from the south to south west, 10 to 15kts, which would give us a good run across.
Fortified with a bacon sandwich, we pulled the anchor at midday. Within a few miles we were sailing on our direct course with all sails set. As the wind backed west, the staysail became a hindrance, rather than a boost to our speed, so that was furled away and we sailed on into the evening.
Dolphins came to visit us and incredibly, I didn’t suffer any seasickness, not even a slight queasiness, despite the occasionally bumpy journey. A minor negative – the temperature was surprisingly cool for June and more and more clothes went on as we sailed into evening, even socks were donned.
We expected the wind to die by midnight, given the evidence of the other night passages we’ve done in the Med. It did decrease, but there was just enough to keep pushing us along at 3 to 4 kts, despite the swell which caused the foresail to occasionally slat and bang, waking the off watch person below. But better that than the noisy, hot engine.
During one of Colin’s off watches (we do a 3 hour on, off pattern starting at 10pm) the wind backed a little more and I couldn’t keep to our course without a sail change. Reluctant to wake him, I kept us on a course that kept us sailing as best we could. Colin calls it the Algeria incident because it looking like we were now on course to go there! By daybreak the wind had shifted again and between watches, we gybed and made for the corner of Formentera.
A touch more wind overnight and a little less swell would have allowed us to sleep better, but we can’t grumble about sailing 126nm out of 132nm total travelled, the engine only on for half an hour at each end.
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Our destination was to be the south east corner of Formentera, Es Calo, tucked in behind a headland to escape the swell. Parts of the Balearics have anchoring restrictions to protect the posidonia grass, so we expected to be hunting around for a sand patch big enough in which to drop the anchor – even the chain must be clear of any grass. But no, here was an enormous area of sand, large enough for a huge number of boats. And water clear enough, we could easily see the anchor 8m below.
Following in Roman Footsteps – Cami de Sa Pujada
I was invited to join Fair Isle’s crew for a walk ashore and we headed for a Roman track that climbs the cliffs that rise on Formertera’s southern end. My mental picture of Formentera had been a long sand spit and very low ground, however the southern end rises to over 170m with dramatic cliffs tumbling sheer to the sea. We found the Cami de sa Pujada path easily; it was well signposted and had at some point been restored with cobble stones. The route took us through the welcome shade of a pine wood, the scent of the trees mingling with that of wild rosemary. However, although the trees were welcome for keeping us cool, they were blocking the view. We reached a section of track that had been cut straight out of the cliff edge, and we now had wonderful views right along the length of the island and straight down to the electric blue sea.
Bright teal and green Tyrrhenian wall lizards scurried around our feet and as we sat for a rest, came out to pose for the cameras. Normally they’re fleeing away from passing feet, but these guys seemed to be wanting us to take their pictures.
The track passed back in to forest and petered out in the middle of an underwhelming clearing. We retraced our steps back down.
Sand, Sand and More Sand
That night, the swell returned, enough to trouble our sleep and have us leaving next morning to try our luck on the west side of the island. We managed a slow sail up along the coast and down to the Platja de Ses Illetes area. Reportedly extremely busy in summer, we were grateful for being able to be here in these strange times with much fewer boats.
Now this was the Formentera of my imagination, a narrow stretch of sand, less than 100m wide in places, with rocky outcrops dotted along the strip. Ashore, a regeneration program has been put in place with low barriers to protect the dunes, and signs banned the creation of stone cairns. I also discovered there was quite a steep drop off from the beach to the water, learnt when I jumped out of the dinghy too soon. It was a soggy walk that day. The white sand was burning hot, so shoes were essential as I headed towards the shallow gap between the dunes further north. As I went, there were fewer people, except for a few naturists who’d possibly thought they’d have the place to themselves. Oops!
I also came across a film crew but despite my best efforts to snoop, I couldn’t see anyone who looked like Brad Pitt or George Clooney. What a shame.
In the evenings, the beach emptied. The sun put on a glorious show for beach sundowners with sailing friends; Emerald in the perfect position for photography.
Formentera to Ibiza
The swell. If it wasn’t a roll from some far off breeze, it was the ferry wake. Each morning, the ferry wash woke us with the first service around 7:30am, and continued every half hour or so through the day. Saturday morning saw an increase in services. We were ready to head on north.
We heard a plane arriving into Ibiza airport as we passed the top of Formentera. It has been so long since we’d heard one, we initially thought the noise was from our engine having developed a serious problem. How quickly our ears had got used to the absence of noise from the sky. A southerly breeze filled in, peace returned to Emerald as the engine was turned off and we were sailing. As we rounded the north east corner of Ibiza, we had a F5 on the beam and Emerald was romping away at over 6kts.
The Amazing Cliffs of Punta Grossa
In the anchorage at Punta Grossa, there was a small powerboat smack in the middle of the bay. We chose not to squeeze in next to them as being that close to shore makes us nervous, particularly if any katabatic gusts were to race down the cliff sides. With a large patch of sand clearly visible 9m below us, we dropped just on the edge of the curved bay. The wind had reduced significantly, but was now blowing from 180 degrees to that which we’d just left around the corner. We looked back and could see white horses still galloping around the point. We guessed at some strange effect from the soaring cliffs that ringed the bay.
What amazing cliffs too. Layer upon layer of rock had been folded and twisted by unimaginable forces into crazy swirls and angular patterns, that just shouldn’t be possible with such a solid material as rock. Ringing the shore were caves that burbled as the gentle swell surged in and out and crazily shaped standalone rocks that had calved at some point from the cliff face. Wind and water had weathered the exposed rock to round off the formation of one of the most visually stunning anchorages we’d ever visited.
We spent Sunday morning exploring by kayak, before a fleet of small powerboats arrived. We had no internet in the bay, so after scrambling ashore, I used a path that runs down to the cave on the point, to climb up to where I could find a signal to check the weather forecast. All looked good for departure tomorrow to Mallorca, albeit an early start to make the most of the available wind.
And so, next morning, as dawn stretched her rosy fingers across the horizon, we upped anchor, set all sails and chased the rising sun.
Mar Menor to Formentera: 132nm (126nm sailed)
Weather: Dry, sunny but cool in the breeze. Wind mostly SW, backing west overnight, F4 to F5 to F3.
Anchored in 8m in sand in position: 38 40.714’N 1 31.379’E
Sa Calo to West Formentera: 12nm (8nm sailed)
Weather: dry and sunny, light east to south east wind
Anchored in 7m, sand, position: 38 45.539’N 1 25.905’E
Formentera to Punta Grossa, Ibiza: 28nm (19nm sailed)
Weather: dry and sunny, wind S F3 to F4 increasing to F5 around Cap Roig.
Anchored in sand, 9m, position: 39 04.823’N 1 36.189’E
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