The Curse of the Mar Menor 2

OK, so perhaps this is an overly dramatic blog title, however with the incidents we’ve experienced with the Mar Menor this year and last, we’re beginning to think the place is not for us!

Heading on East to Mar Menor

The last blog left off with us having a disturbed night’s sleep due to the swell creeping around the headland, so we’d decided to push on east. By morning, there was still a noticeable roll in the anchorage and as we cleared the shelter of Cabo Tinoso, it only got worse. We’d expected a downwind sail, for which we would only use the fore sail (yankee), but it was looking more likely we’d need to raise the main, if only to counter the swell. Always fun when bouncing up and down.

The winds were light so we motor sailed. As the morning went on, the wind increased and we were soon making 6kts SOG (speed over ground). This felt quite amazing given how much sea life was clinging to Emerald’s hull. At this speed, we’d make the 14:00 bridge opening at Mar Menor, rather than having to hang around outside until 16:00. With thunderstorms forecast for the late afternoon, we decided to forego the option to sail and pushed on.

Surfing towards Cabo de Palos – the lighthouse is the tallest in the Spanish Mediterranean mainland

The Mar Menor and it’s Opening Bridge

The Mar Menor (Little Sea) is an inland sea. A narrow stretch of sand, known as La Manga, separates it from the Mediterranean. It has a single entrance passable by yachts, which is spanned by a bridge. The bridge opens every two hours on even hours.

On our way south at the end of last season, we’d planned to spend a few days there, before heading into Cartagena. But when we’d arrived, the bridge hadn’t opened. The bridge controllers don’t respond to radio calls, so instead, we called Tomas Maestra Marina, which is next to the bridge. They informed us there was a problem. We waited 2 hours until the next opening, but just before a RIB came over to us. The bridge was confirmed broken and they informed us it would take several days to fix. It actually took ten. We’d had a lucky escape; if we’d arrived earlier, we’d have been trapped inside.

the photo shows the bridge and control tower for entry into the Mar Menor
The Mar Menor bridge, firmly closed, and control tower

Will The Bridge Open?

Back in the present, we were surfing our way around Cabo de Palos, chased by a F7 wind. We had time in hand and arrived twenty minutes early at the approach to the bridge. There we struggled to hold station in the strong wind which was trying to blow us towards it. With the wind and narrow, shallow channel, we were reluctant to move closer until the 13:55 radio call came, confirming that the bridge would be opening. It came, so we began to move down the channel, Colin on the helm, me on the foredeck keeping an eye on the bridge. We were getting close to the reported shallow area at the corner, it was now 14:03, with cars still crossing, and no sign of it opening. We heard an announcement in Spanish, but we didn’t understand it. It looked like the bridge wasn’t going to open!

We continued inwards for a few more minutes but reluctantly agreed it wasn’t opening. But now we’d have to get ourselves out of the close confines of the channel. Trying to get the wind through the bow was tricky, but at least the prop walk in reverse was in our favour and the outgoing current worked with us. Bow now pointing south, we hightailed it out of there, as fast as we could with 25kts on the nose.

Thunderstorms at the Oasis

So where to now? There was the abandoned ferry terminal next to the entrance but having never been in there, manoeuvring in it’s close environs in strong winds didn’t appeal. With black clouds quickly filling up the sky, we headed north to the lagoon known as “The Oasis”. The wind was howling off the shore, but with little fetch it seemed a good place to wait.

As the afternoon wore on, rain and lightning strikes surrounding us as storms passed over and moved out to sea. But it wasn’t over for us. The rain that falls from these enormous clouds can create an effect of pushing air away from them and we’ve often experienced the strong winds that follow from an unexpected direction after the storm has passed. In this case, with the storm now east of us, the wind increased from that direction and we soon had 35kts trying to blow us towards the shore. But, the anchor held firm and although the waves increased, Emerald comfortably rode them out with very little pitching. After two hours there was a noticeable easing, and we turned to the northwest. A beautiful full double rainbow spread itself across the sky behind us.

Sunshine to the south, doom clouds to the north

The Curse of the Mar Menor Strikes Again

It had been one of those days. Due to the non-opening bridge, we’d had to contend with wild weather in a not so ideal location. Calm weather returned as evening fell, with no more storms on the horizon. We could relax and reflect on the events of the afternoon.

Why hadn’t the bridge opened?

Were we too slow to approach or was the bridge broken again?

We were cautious and didn’t want to run out of maneuvering space, but it would have been obvious from the tower that we were coming in. Later in the week, we watched boats going through. The bridge remained open a further 4 minutes after the penultimate boat had passed, to allow a late arrival to go through. It will remain a mystery we’ll never know the answer to.

a full width rainbow over the sea
The reward after the storm

Bridge Attempt Part 2

The next morning, with lighter winds, we made our second attempt on the bridge. After yesterday’s experience, stress levels were high but at least we didn’t have strong winds to contend with. We were already partway up the channel when the five-to radio call came. When we reached the corner, we were relieved to see the two halves of the bridge start to rise. But now, we had a noticeable current against us, and with the engine at full revs, we struggled to make 5kts. A boat passed us going out, but we still had some way to go before we were through. Surely they wouldn’t close on us? The relief when the mast was safely through was palpable. We eased back on the revs and completed the remainder of the channel in a much happier frame of mind.

photo shows the front section of a sailing yacht moving approaching the bridge of the Mar Menor. The bridge is partially open
The bridge is opening, after yesterday, this is an extremely reassuring sight

Our First Sail of 2020

With a light north wind blowing, we rolled out the genny, turned the engine off, and had our first sail of the season as we slowly wafted south. Halfway to our destination, the wind gave up and we came to a standstill. Seagulls bobbed on the water around us, possibly wondering what on earth we were up to. As the sail hung lazily, we noticed a small wear patch in the UV strip and set out making a temporary repair.

We anchored in the area we’d used 6 years ago, just outside the Club Náutico las Isleta with the hope to be able to tie up the dinghy there to go ashore and perhaps get water, as we had back then. This time: the first yes, the second no. We didn’t want to risk the watermaker so we pickled it as we didn’t know how long we’d be there. We choose to pickle if we’re not going to use it for at most 5 days.

Our first sail of 2020

Sunny Mornings, Windy Afternoons

A pattern set up over the next few days – we’d go ashore in the mornings whilst winds were light, then back on board for the afternoon when the winds would increase from the southwest, reaching 25 to 30kts. There was a small fetch, but hardly noticeable inside the boat and the holding was excellent. By late evening, the wind would die off. Except for one night, when we were rudely awoken. A 40knots blast jolted us awake as it howled through the rigging.

photo shows two people smiling underneath a lighthouse
Cabo de Palos lighthouse

Bug Invasion

One small issue was the number of bugs that took up residence on Emerald. One morning, as we looked out through the net over the companionway, we could see black dots covering the shade nets that surround the cockpit. At first glance, they looked like mosquitoes. I bravely broke the net seal to poke a camera lens out. On closer inspection, they turned out to be chironomid midges. Their fluffy antennae distinguish them from mosquitoes. Fortunately, these ones don’t bite. We still didn’t really want them inside and who knew, perhaps a real mossie would be hiding amongst them. So in the evenings, it was essential to put nets over every opening to keep them from moving in.

Another day, large dark clouds began gathering to the north. We watched them on satellite as they paraded their way towards us and prepared for a soaking. A supercell formed and passed just a few miles to the west of us, covering the land in a thick layer of hail and causing thousands of euros damage to the crops. Our solar panels had a lucky escape.

a storm and heavy rain passing over the Mar Menor
A super cell tracks across the lagoon

Not Welcome in Mar Menor

We’d planned to hang around a little longer in the lagoon. Perhaps take a trip to the north end for some variety. We had time to kill as we waited for the lockdown restrictions to ease and allow inter-province travel. One morning, whilst out walking around the pretty coves at Cabo de Palos, a message arrived from our friends. They were anchored close by us and had received a visit from the Guardia Civil. We were all ordered to leave. It seemed there was a new rule, and that rule was no anchoring in the Mar Menor. Someone had seen the boats and reported us. Puzzled by this, we reluctantly headed back to Emerald and sailed our way to the 16:00 bridge.

Leaving was a much less fraught event than arrival. As we passed safely through, Colin gave the bridge controller a wave. It was returned with gusto.

Back to the Oasis we went, where several more boats had since arrived. Perhaps the Guardia had done us a favour – the water was much clearer here with fewer bugs – but a trawl of the internet in both Spanish and English could not unearth this new rule.

And so, the curse of the Mar Menor had given us another mystery, one unlikely to ever be solved!

Sailing Info

4th June: Cabo Tinoso to The Oasis, Mar Menor – 34nm
Anchored in 4.5m sand, position 37 45.364’N 0 44.256’W

5th June: The Oasis to Mar Menor South – 12nm (3nm sailed)
Anchored in 4.3m mud, position 37 38.746’N 0 43.663’W

10th June: Mar Menor to the Oasis – 11nm (5nm sailed)
Anchored in 4.5m sand, position 37 45.223’N 0 44.129’W

a map with red lines showing the route a sailing yacht took to arrive at the Mar Menor

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Thank you from Nichola & Colin

2 thoughts on “The Curse of the Mar Menor

  • Janice M Waller

    sounds like you survived but definitely had some “interesting” bumps on this part of your travels. I definitely could feel the tension in myself as I read about your approach to the bridge and it not opening – it seems that always happens when their is either current or wind working against you feeling completely in control and then to have non-communication on top of that adds to the stress. Glad you made it the next day but then again thinking all was well and then having to leave again with not really knowing why. Thanks for the photos, great descriptions and videos to make it feel like we were with you on the journey. I think I agree with you though that I’m not sure if I’d put a return to this area on my list of places to return to! Stay safe and will look forward to the next entry as we follow along from a distance.

    • Nichola Post author

      Thank you Janice, I’m enjoying the writing at the moment, as I lost my mojo during the lockdown. I think the Mar Menor was sent to balance things after the lovely anchorages at Cabo Tinoso 🙂 On that day we arrived, we were tired too after a swell disturbed night, tired brains don’t always think straight. Fingers crossed you can begin your own adventures soon

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