Mainland Spain to Formentera
Spain to Formentera 2020 is the new winner for our best overnight passage in the Mediterranean. Sorry, Sicily to Sardinia 2018, you’ve lost top spot.
Since the Guardia Civil had forced us to leave the Mar Menor, we’d moved to an anchorage outside the lagoon. After a few days of waiting there, a weather window opened up for an overnight passage to the Balearics. The wind forecast was for 10 to 15 knots, from the south to southwest. This should 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 we furled it away and 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 parts of the journey. There was a minor negative – the temperature was surprisingly cool for June. Subsequently, we donned more clothes as evening turned to night, we even needed socks!
Sailing Through the Night
Because of our past experience of an overnight passage in the Med, we expected the wind to die by midnight. It did decrease, but there was just enough to keep pushing us along at 3 to 4 knots. This was despite the swell which caused the foresail to occasionally slat and bang. The off-watch person below would get a rude awakening, but better that than the noisy, hot engine.
Our watch pattern is 3 hours on, 3 hours off, starting at 10:00 pm. During one of Colin’s off-watches, the wind backed a little more. As a result, I couldn’t keep to our course without a sail change. I was reluctant to wake him, so 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 subsequently 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. However, we can’t grumble about sailing 126nm out of 132nm total traveled, with the engine on for only half an hour at each end. After 7 years, we had a new best overnight passage in the Med.
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Our destination was the southeast corner of Formentera, Es Calo. Tucked in behind a headland, the bay provides shelter from southerly swells. Parts of the Balearics have anchoring restrictions to protect Posidonia grass. The anchor chain must also be clear of any grass. Therefore, we expected to be hunting around for a sand patch big enough in which to drop the anchor. But no, there was an enormous area of sand, large enough for a huge number of boats. And water so clear, we could easily see the anchor 8m below.
Following in Roman Footsteps – Cami de Sa Pujada
Fair Isle’s crew invited me to join them for a walk ashore. After 48 hours aboard, my legs were more than ready for a stretch. Our destination was a Roman track that climbs the cliffs that rise on Formertera’s southern end. Before arriving at Formentera, my mental picture of the island was of 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 due to the signposts. The track was wide and at some point had been restored with cobblestones. The route passed through the welcome shade of a pinewood, where the trees’ scent mingled with wild rosemary. However, although the trees were good for keeping us cool, they were blocking the view. We then reached a section of the track cut straight out of the cliff edge. Now we 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, they came out to pose for the cameras. Normally they’re fleeing away from passing feet. But with their stance and glances to-camera, these guys seemed to be begging us to take their pictures.
The track returned to the forest and petered out in the middle of an underwhelming clearing. We retraced our steps back down.
Sand, Sand and More Sand
Later that night, the swell returned. It was enough to trouble our sleep and hence we decided to leave the next morning. We planned to try our luck on the west side of the island. Light winds enabled a slow sail up along the coast and back down the other side to the Platja de Ses Illetes area. It is reportedly extremely busy in summer, but now there were much fewer boats. An effect of these strange times, for which we were grateful.
This was now the Formentera of my imagination: a narrow stretch of pale gold sand, less than 100m wide in places. Rocky outcrops studded its length, like islands amongst the sand. A dune area has also developed, with wild plants providing dots of colour. Low barriers restrict access to the dunes and a regeneration program is in place. Because of this, the once-popular pastime of building stone cairns, is now banned.
I also discovered there was quite a steep drop off from the beach to the water. As I leaped from the dinghy, my feet failed to find the sandy floor before the water had risen past thigh height. It was a soggy walk that day. The white sand was burning hot, so shoes were essential.
My walk took me north, towards a shallow gap between the dunes. The further I walked, the fewer the people. Except for an occasional naturist 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.
By late evening, the beach was empty. The sun provided a glorious show for beach sundowners with sailing friends. We discovered we’d anchored Emerald in the perfect position for photography.
Formentera to Ibiza
However, after a few days, the swell began to drive us crazy. 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. Thus, we were ready to head on north.
We heard a plane arriving at Ibiza airport when we were passing between it and Formentera. The noise initially puzzled us and our first thought was “oh no, engine problem!”. It had been several months since we’d heard that sound, our ears had quickly got used to the absence of noise from the sky.
Not long after, a southerly breeze began to blow. Peace returned to Emerald as we turned off the engine and the wind filled the sails. As we rounded the northeast 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. Unimaginable forces had folded and twisted layer upon layer of rock into crazy swirls and angular patterns. It just shouldn’t have been possible with such a solid material. At the water’s edge, the sea had eroded the folds into caves. A gentle swell surged in and out of them, creating a soft burbling sound. Further out, odd-shaped standalone rocks 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.
Exploring by Paddle and By Foot
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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