Our Adventures Sailing South East 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. The experiences from the first leg of our passage can be read here. 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 and it happened to be on that night. Its held underground in a cosy, cave like cellar with a stage at one end. The music started up and for the next few hours, an international collection of young musicians entertained us. They had incredible talent, with 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.

We were amazed at the buildings we came across as we explored the lesser-visited parts of Barcelona. Gaudi’s architectural style was clearly visible in many of them.

The Gothic Quarter

The Gothic quarter has its own share of interesting architecture. Much of it is built on, over, and around older Roman remains.

The Dancing Fountain

The Montjuic dancing fountain comes to life several evenings a week. The colours and jets are choreographed to a soundtrack. We were delighted to hear it was a 1980s theme on the night we visited. 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

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 must be booked in advance. 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 of 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 otherworldly about the design. We were convinced that it’s really an intergalactic space ship under construction.

Sagrada Familia’s soaring vaults

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 of Barcelona is famous for its long, sandy beaches. Unfortunately, there is a lack of sheltered anchorages. Our best option was to make an overnight run for Sant Carles de la Rapita and the lagoon there. The winds would still be strong there, but not as fierce as those forecast for Majorca. Our choice was 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 maneuver 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.

The 100 Point Manoeuvre

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. Emerald was turning too much to port towards the moored boats. Spotting a gap where a boat was away, we aimed for it.

An Audience Didn’t Help

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. The extremely stressful situation was now made worse by 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 of 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.

My heart leapt into my mouth when it seemed we were about to be pinned side on to the bridge. However, Colin pulled off a miracle. He turned Emerald just enough for us to squeeze out, the rigging running mere millimetres along the open part of the bridge. A round of applause burst 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

We’re Free!

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 its 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, resulting in boat dodgems as those coming in met those going out. Our slow and steady mentality meant we missed our moment to cross the channel. We ended up weaving our way out until they’d all cleared off.

Out in The Open Sea

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. Instead, we set a course south. This 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 and taking 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. 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 we spent most of the day 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. The sea was still too choppy to head ashore so we resigned ourselves to another day onboard. We were feeling very relaxed when late afternoon Emerald turned her nose to the east and started to do an impression of a nodding dog. Looking ahead, we could see a line of white moving across the shallow lagoon. In the short amount of time it took to rouse ourselves into action, 40kts of wind had built and we were surrounded by white caps. The holding was still good, but the motion was oh so uncomfortable.

We made a run for behind the southern marina wall, surfing along with the waves past its end into much calmer water. Here we dropped the anchor.

That was the worst of the weather for us. But in the Balearics, they’d taken a real battering from the Gota Fria. We realised we’d made a wise decision in diverting here. The weather continued unsettled for the next three days, but our spot proved to be very sheltered. We were able to make a couple of brief escapes ashore during moments of calm.

View over Sant Carles from the mirador. Emerald is anchored to the right side
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. Despite some unsettled sleep, we did manage a few hours rest. 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. We had to get in closer to the wall than we’d normally like in order to get out of the swell. However, 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 steeply from the seabed. However, the fourth side is joined by a slope of debris to the land that provides a route for hikers. A wide, paved path zigzags upwards before reaching a tunnel cut through the rock’s base. The tunnel was slightly treacherous being dark and slippy underfoot, but there are ropes along the side to hold on to. Out on 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

We decided to push on to be nearer to Cartagena. With concerns rising over our rental house, we would have the option 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. When Emerald was settled, we headed ashore. The island is small and flat 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 island is named after shipwrecked sailors from Tabarka in Tunisia. They resettled on the Spanish isle and built the fortified town.

The north anchorage
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. We 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. They told us “The bridge is closed, they are working on repairing it.” But they couldn’t tell us whether it would be fixed that day. So, we decided to hang on and hope it would be repaired for the 6 pm opening, so anchored again.

Just before 6 pm we were back in the entrance channel when we saw a RIB coming out to us. They informed us the bridge was still broken and it would take at least four days to repair it. 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 northeast 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.

Alternative Plans

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. We silenced the engine 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 as we were worried about manoeuvring into our berth in the marina. 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. We could see boats and people gathered along the harbour breakwater. As we closed in, a large RIB approached us. 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 around the wall, talking to the marina staff over the radio as we went. A RIB was ready as requested and it’s a good job there was. 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. We were relieved to see a big gap ahead where another marinero was 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 and Emerald was secured. Finally, 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.
The holding is excellent in thick mud and we held firm despite gusts up to 45kts. Initially, 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.
To find 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.
We tied up along the promenade wall to go ashore.
All usual amenities available ashore.

Passage South

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 into 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. This is used by the many trip boats for dropping 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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Thank you from Nichola & Colin