We arrived in north east Spain in sunshine and light winds, full of enthusiasm for a new country.
A week earlier, having reached the point in France from where we planned to cross to Spain, we’d begun looking for a weather window. The forecasts predicted a few days of nonexistent winds, followed by a mild blow from the north west. This might sound perfect – the light winds were ideal for visiting the Calanques and NW was the right wind direction to blow us across. However, there was just a touch too much strength in them for our liking and with still a week to go, we asked the weather gods to ease the wind back rather than strengthen any more.
Well the gods obliged but as gods are wont to do, they gave and they took away, making a change to the direction as payment. Now, half way through our planned passage, we’d have 15kts of wind from the south west to contend with; blowing right on our nose.
As our departure time grew closer, we eagerly anticipated each updated forecast, hoping the SW winds stayed more north. But, no luck, they remained from the SW and we were going to have to deal with it. Why not wait for a better forecast? you might be thinking. Well, in a few days time, a much stronger mistral blow was being predicted. If we waited we’d need to head back east to find suitable shelter. And what would come after that? We were heading into September, the unpredictable shoulder season where blows can keep on going for a week or more. We decided to take what we had and tack where necessary.
Departure time arrived and we started off well with a light NW breeze. All sails were set and we could make our course. As expected, as morning turned to afternoon, the winds backed and we had to bear away. The SW winds set in as the day faded into evening and we zigzagged our way to Spain as best we could.
As so often happens on our night passages, around midnight the wind switched off. We motored through to dawn when the wind returned and we slowly glided towards the coast.
The engine came on again having lost the wind as we came down the southern side of the Roses headland. A fleet of cigar boats raced out past us to sea, stopped and turned back again, leaving us rolling in their wake. Jet skies buzzed about. Our arrival enthusiasm was fading and took a further dent as the wind increased from the south east, blowing into the bay. To get some shelter, we tried to squeeze ourselves in amongst the handful of boats behind the marina wall. The anchor held but with the amount of chain out for our preferred scope, we were swinging too close for comfort to another boat. We tried another spot but now the anchor wouldn’t hold. This is not what you want when tired at the end of a night passage. So we moved to a more open part of the bay where the anchor held firm in sand.
We slept well, replenished enough to set to the day’s job of getting diesel. It was a splashy trip in the dinghy with the fuel cans, due to a chop from the wind blowing into the bay, contrary to the forecasts. The marina fuel station looked busy, so we headed in towards a dock close to the roadside station we’d looked up online. There was no room for me on the return leg with full cans so I set off for a walk ashore.
A screeching noise had me peering upwards as I passed the palm trees that lined the seafront promenade. Flashes of bright green darted from tree to tree. They were parakeets that had made nests burrowed in amongst the tree’s fronds. As I took photos, an old lady came along, smiling and pointed animatedly at the birds. I caught only a few words, her Catalan dialect hard to understand, but I think we left each other agreeing how pretty they were.
Colin decided to get a second load of fuel so I had time for a longer explore. Grocery prices were significantly lower than in France and I picked out a selection of Spanish beers and a bottle of cava for an onboard celebration. Prices in the bars and restaurants were far more affordable for our budget too – it all boded well for our winter in Spain.
But that was where the good news ended. I’d wondered why Colin was taking so long and when he came to collect me from shore, I was told the bad news. We have a fuel transfer system that moves diesel through filters between our two engine tanks and the Refleks heater header tank. It allows us to clean the fuel periodically to minimise the build up of fuel bug. Having topped up the tanks with the new diesel and added bug treatment, Colin had then tried to do a transfer to circulate it around the system. But no fuel was coming out of the port tank – it seemed we had a blockage. For the first time in a long time we had run the tank to almost empty, this combined with a bumpy passage which may have stirred up any gunk lying in the bottom of the tank, could have been the reason. Colin spent a hot and frustrating afternoon battling the blockage, even blowing air down the hose with a bike pump to try to dislodge it. He even missed most of an Ireland rugby world cup warm up game, such was his dedication to getting it fixed. But to no avail.
Thank goodness for having two fuel tanks. With a plan to spend a few nights in a marina in Barcelona, we could continue with just the starboard tank and investigate the blockage there.
To cheer ourselves up, we headed ashore to take advantage of the budget friendly beers and food.
The next day we decided to move on south to head for better shelter before the forecast mistral arrived. We were in two minds as once again wind was forecast from the north west but was blowing from the opposite direction, right into the bay. It would be a long bash if it kept up all day, but once into open water, we found the expected airs. Perhaps the shape of the land here causes the wind to swirl around and blow from unpredictable directions.
It was a great sail along the spectacular coast, dotted with intriguing coves and jagged rocks making the Costa Brava (wild coast) name very appropriate. It was a shame we didn’t have a few days of settled weather to explore but even though we might find sheltered spots from the wind, the swell pushed along would make life aboard uncomfortably rolly.
Eventually we ran out of wind, after trying a spot of wing on wing sailing with the main and genny, but it was hard to keep the genny full without deploying the pole. Deciding it wasn’t worth it for the distance we had to go, the engine went on, and we motored the last couple of miles into the large empty space off the beach in Palamos in which to anchor. The holding was great and the long sweep of harbour wall kept any swell at bay. A thunderstorm brushed by later that evening, dusting us with a coating of sandy rain.
The grey skies remained for the next morning, but by mid afternoon there were glimmers of brightness through the murk. We walked around the harbour and out to the lighthouse and coves to the north; the beaches deserted now we were into September.
Palamos is known for it’s prawns – a bright red variety with a sweet taste fished from a deep canyon off the coast. The local fishermen have devised a sustainable fishing system that seems to be working, keeping the few remaining boats in work whilst maintaining the prawn stocks. We would be able to buy our own supplies at the evening fish market. With an hour before it opened, we made the most of affordable beer prices and watched the world go by in the now hot sun.
The stretch of coast north of Barcelona is long and sandy but with few anchorages sheltered from the swell. Our best chance was at Blanes, 20nm away. We had a great sail in the sunshine along the coast here dotted with castles perched on rugged cliffs. Signs of tourism were visible but at least the hotels were mostly low rise.
The anchorage didn’t look overly appealing with the wind blowing us stern to the beach and a swell rolling in. But the wind was due to turn offshore in the evening so we made do with what we had. The holding was good in sand so we didn’t feel overly concerned that the shore was close off our stern.
We cooked a seafood feast for dinner – prawns on a bed of salad, followed by calamari and an excellent first attempt at patatas bravas. We dined outside as the sun set behind the rock of Blanes and the wind did as forecast, blowing us gently offshore, the swell dying down too.
We had 36nm to get to Barcelona, so made an early start. It was a promising one with an offshore breeze setting Emerald romping along but it didn’t last even an hour and it was on with the engine. We’d made enquiries at both yacht clubs in Barcelona who’d advised us to check back on availability on our arrival date. We called them up as we got nearer and Real Club Maritimo de Barcelona had space for us.
Outside Barcelona, white horses were starting to form and the anxieties we have when going into a marina intensified. They were not helped with the knowledge that we had to pass through a port area busy with ferries, container ships and pleasure craft as well as negotiate a swing bridge which only opened every thirty minutes. We discussed our options and devised a contingency plan in case we missed the next bridge opening time. As it was, once we’d passed beyond the entrance of the harbour, the high walls sheltered us from the wind and the waterways were blessedly free of traffic. We also made it in time to our planned bridge opening. All seemed to be going well. Inside the marina, we were directed to a berth; it was a tight turn but we made it and the marineros met us with slime lines to take.
Then our luck ran out. The lines were covered in black mud which was soon all over us and the boat. We’d been given the wrong line leaving us stuck at a funny angle and to compound the problem, the wind was blowing against the direction we needed to pull. With help we hauled ourselves across and parallel with our neighbour. But we couldn’t relax as we needed to wash off the mud before it set. As I was moving around, I somehow stubbed my toe on the flat, top side of the cockpit coaming; the middle toe taking the brunt even though it’s not the longest one. It hurt, a lot, but I told myself it was just a knock and got on with the deck cleaning, Colin using the fresh water hose to take the worst of it off, me scrubbing in the stuck on areas.
Once clean, now we could relax and we went to explore the club, my toe now gently throbbing. I turned up my ignore meter. After all, we had a lot of exploring to do over the next few days!
In the evening we took a stroll along the seafront out to Barceloneta where the beach lovers were soaking up the last few rays from the setting sun. Buskers played cool tunes and the vibe was chilled as people enjoyed an evening paseo. We admired the artworks before my toe forced us back to the boat having turned a lovely shade of purple. This month we will have lived aboard Emerald for 15 years, so not bad to only just have my first broken toe in all that time.
Despite the mud soaked lines, the club was a great find. From our berth we could see the statue of Columbus on his tall column that marks the start of the famous La Rambla pedestrian street. Just along from our berth, people streamed across the pedestrian walkway of which the swing bridge forms a part, although as midnight approached the numbers fell until all was peaceful for a good night’s sleep.
After a relaxing two months in France mostly free from weather, anchoring and boat issues, the downsides of this life had popped their heads up again. The Spanish coastline did not provide many sheltered anchorages and even when winds were light, swell had to be taken into account. The blocked fuel tank was our first major boat issue in a while and my toe injury, although minor reminded us of the perils simply from moving about the boat. However, we now had three days safely tied up in the marina and time to enjoy life ashore without worrying about changing winds and other boats dragging. We also had time to work on unblocking the fuel tank before our next passages south.
Was that the end of our bad luck? Find out in the next instalment, coming soon.
29th August: Port St. Croix, France to Roses, Spain – 120nm (70nm sailed)
Anchored in 5m in position 42 15.745’N 3 10.178’E
There is a marina where dinghys can be parked, alternatively, the dyke alongside the marina can be used, in front of a sailing club.
The marina has a fuel berth, however there is also a roadside fuel station a short distance from the marina.
The town has a good selection of bar, restaurants and shops. There is a walking path around the coastline.
1st September: Roses to Palamos – 29nm (17nm sailed)
Anchored in sand in 6.5m in position 41 50.786’N 3 07.035’E
Tenders can be landed in the far corner of the beach, where it meets the marina wall. We pulled ours onto the sand. Beware, as it gets shallow there.
Palamós is a fishing port, famous for its prawns, which can be bought from the evening fish market. Shops, bars and restaurants a plenty as well as a coastal walking path.
3rd September: Palamos to Blanes – 18nm (12nm sailed)
Anchored outside the swim buoys in sand, 8.5m in position 41 40.286’N 2 47.614’E
Didn’t go ashore.
Trip boats go in and out from the marina during the day making quite a swell, but stopped in the early evening.
4th September: Blanes to Barcelona: 36nm
Moored bows to in a berth at Real Club Maritim de Barcelona
Price E77 per night, including water and use of the club’s facilities.
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Thank you from Nichola & Colin