Time to Leave the Med

Menorca to Formentera

The weeks had flown by in the Balearics and we were now in August; it was time to leave the Med. We’d hoped to at least be in Gibraltar by the second half of the month. This would give us time to revisit one of our favourite locations – the River Guadiana between Spain and Portugal. Our winter destination will be a boatyard in Lisbon. With a 100nm passage north along the Portuguese Atlantic coast to get there, we need settled weather. We could wait in the river for a suitable forecast to head around Cap St Vincent and on north.

We’d made a rough plan to get us from the Balearics to Gibraltar, noting distances and possible anchorages enroute. Discovering that the distance was around 550nm was a sobering thought. Whilst we could of course make a couple of long passages, our preference was to break up the distance into smaller chunks, and visit places along the way. We also needed to consider where we would restock our fresh food supplies which were becoming low.

The plan

The Wind is Fickle

With routes researched, we now needed the winds to cooperate. Throughout August we became obsessed with weather models, our days governed by the timing of each new release. However, the wind gods were not being kind. Hope built in us with every favourable looking forecast, then faded as winds downgraded in strength as the day of departure arrived. Weather windows opened then closed too soon as favourable winds lasted only a day or two before turning against us. It was incredibly frustrating.

On the other hand, the recalcitrant winds brought us many good moments which we wouldn’t have otherwise had. We explored the caves in Portals Vells, somewhere we had never considered visiting before due to reports of over crowding. We enjoyed three sessions of live music in Santa Ponça and met up with Chantal, a friend from our 2015-16 winter in Marina di Ragusa. Then meeting our first sister boat in 6 years, a totally chance encounter in Cala Xarraca in Ibiza.

We’ve learnt to cherish these unexpected moments. Taking what we can from the places we end up whilst mother nature does her thing.

Step One: Menorca to Mallorca

It was an early start from Menorca, the sun not yet risen. The almost full moon cast a bright glow, however our spreader lights eased the job of raising the anchor.

With the sun rising behind us, we left Menorca. After only a few minutes, we found the wind and raised the foresail. It would be a downwind sail, with wind strengths enough to give us a good speed through the water. Or so we thought.

We hadn’t reckoned on quite so much swell. Emerald began to roll heavily from side to side as Menorca’s shelter faded away behind us. Our selective memory brains had conveniently forgotten the swells from our passage south along Mediterranean Spain last September. I felt seasick for the first time this summer, so took a pill. (Stugeron is my tried and tested go to). This made me sleepy. After a quick nap, I woke feeling much restored. Although the blue sky of pre-sleep had been replaced by looming black clouds, looking laden with rain. Doesn’t the weather know we don’t do rainy sailing?

My view of the world: up and down, up and down

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

As the morning rolled on, the wind decreased and we remained dry other than for a few fat drops. By midday as the wind faded away, Emerald began to wallow in the waves that continued to roll on. We were reduced to motor sailing. From one direction might have been OK, but the swell was now coming from two directions as it curved around each side of Menorca.

We looked into the bays along Mallorca’s east coast but decided to push on. We explored this coast in 2014, and had experienced the swell that sneaks into even the most protected looking bay and ping pongs off the walls. By early evening we’d rounded Cap de Ses Salines on the south east corner, heading for the huge sandy beach of des Trenc.

After a long and rolling day, it was a relief to be in flat calm and crystal clear waters. Given the number of boats, we expected party noise into the night, but it remained peaceful. We slept very well that night.

Balm for our souls – the flat, blue water of Platja des Trenc

Taking A Chance

The next day we moved on to El Arenal, with a plan to restock. However, the wind that had allowed us to sail there was also creating a chop blowing straight into the bay. A dinghy trip ashore would have been a soggy ride. All was calm the next morning, so we dingied into the marina. A staff member of the yacht club saw us and wanted us to pay E20 to stay. We declined and left for Santa Ponça where we knew we could easily provision for free.

Cala Portal Vells

On the way across Palma Bay and with time in hand we took a look in to Cala Portals Vells. We’d discounted this as reviews said it could be over crowded. We were well into high season with many boats about. We really don’t like crowded anchorages as the stress of worrying about other boats can outweigh the fun to be had. Still, we stuck our noses in and took a look. It was just before midday and our timing was good; we found a comfortable spot. As the afternoon progressed, more boats arrived and it was very cosy for a time, but no boats came together.

It’s a beautiful spot, but it’s location close to the capital Palma makes it very popular. The presence of posidonia across parts of the bay also restricts anchoring space. A RIB was patrolling, inspecting anchors using an aquascope; this is a device to allow viewing under water from a boat – think of a bucket with glass at one end. The ranger asked any boats deemed to be in the sea grass to move to another spot. It’s a strange rule. The anchor must be in sand, however the chain is allowed to sweep back and forth across the grass. Which of course will happen as the wind blows the boat around. Perhaps mooring buoys in the sensitive spots is the solution?

Also, the quantity of rubbish floating around was sad to see. Colin freed a length of line from our prop and we gave up on snorkelling after dodging so many bits of debris.

The anchorage wasn’t so busy in early evening
The bay the next morning, the sand areas show as a lighter colour. The bay is popular with boats large and small

The Legend of Portal Vells

By evening the number of boats had thinned a little creating a better anchoring location for us. We moved into a huge sand patch, then went ashore. In stark contrast to many experiences we hear of of tenders not being able to land ashore on Spanish beaches, the rescue guys offered us their mooring ball to tie to in water shallow enough to easily paddle ashore. These random acts of kindness warm my heart and I try to remember them whenever someone is shouting at us!

Our trip ashore had a purpose: to explore the caves on the south side of the bay, whose large openings give the cala it’s name. Rock was quarried from here to build Palma Cathedral, however it’s a later legend that provides the draw to visit. I do love these mysteries and histories surrounding a place that really add colour and intrigue to our travels.

Inside the cave, intricate stone carvings decorate one wall. Legend has it that in the 15th century, the crew of a boat in trouble during a storm, made a vow to the Virgin Mother. If she spared their lives, they would build a tribute to her. The wind blew the ship in to the safety of Cala Portals Vells. There, the crew held up their side of the bargain by creating the shrine. As time went on, the caves became a place of pilgrimage for fishermen and sailors. Devotees carved a second alter and added a statue of the Virgin. The statue has now been transferred to a church, however the candles burning on the rock altar were testament to how sacred the caves remain to this day.

Looking towards the caves that give the cala its name

A Cosy Night

As evening drew on, more boats began to arrive. Perhaps the word went out that most visitors leave late afternoon, so those who think it’s too busy in the day arrive when they’ve gone. It wasn’t quite as busy as in the day, but was still cosy. However, we had a peaceful evening.

Next morning I took a walk along the cliffs out to Cap Figuera lighthouse and back through the woods. On my return the day boats were beginning to arrive and we chose to move on to Santa Ponça.

Old and new – the lighthouses on Cap Figuera

A Glimpse of Pre Covid Life in Santa Ponça

Our leave the Med plan was in tatters. For the next forecast period, the weather patterns were for predominantly west winds blowing through the Straits with an occasional day or two of east. We could get to Mar Menor but would be stuck there for perhaps a week; after the experiences of the start of our season (click here to read about that), it was not a place we were keen to spend much more time. We took the decision to hold back on crossing to the Spanish mainland and would keep biting off chunks as best we could.

Being back in Santa Ponca also meant we had an excuse to celebrate – we’d completed the circumnavigation of Mallorca that we’d begun in 2014. Celebrate the little things!

It was a busy few days of provisioning in Santa Ponca and catching up with friends.

Live Music Sooths Our Soul

A highlight of our Mediterranean summers has been discovering live music, perhaps in a bar or at free festivals. Two years ago we enjoyed not just one, but three different Pink Floyd tribute bands across the year (read about summer 2018 here). Santa Ponça would normally have a busy music scene in several bars along what we call “music street”. However this summer Covid-19 had cancelled all of that.

When we’d visited here in June, it was shuttered and zombie-apocalypse quiet; we worried for the livelihoods of the owners and staff of these once thriving businesses. Now in August we took a walk up to see if anything had changed. Most bars remained dark and closed, but the beacon of hope was Brennan’s Bar, advertising daily shows by “The Peaty Onions”. We came back later and were so impressed with the two young Irish musicians, that we saw them three times.

The tables had to be a specific distance apart. We had to wear masks if going to the toilets and we weren’t allowed to dance. But for a few hours we forgot about the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Spain and immersed ourselves in Irish music and acoustic covers of some of our favourite songs.

It was so lovely to catch up with Chantal

Step 2: Mallorca to Ibiza

Yet another forecast that had promised a perfect sail had downgraded the night before. We pushed on to Ibiza taking what wind was available. An expected broad reach became a downwind sail with a beam on sea. We rolled like crazy, but this time no seasickness. Motor sailing the first part, the wind gratefully filled in halfway across. By the time we closed the north west corner of Ibiza we were racing along, heading for the large bay of Xarraca.

Romping towards our destination on Ibiza

Cala Xarraca

Cala Xarraca is a huge anchorage with large areas of sand, but that didn’t stop boats crowding in around us. Southerly winds were chasing them away from the more popular south Ibiza spots and as the day went on, more and more boats arrived of every possible size. We watched a boat come in that looked familiar, but we couldn’t say exactly why. Then it clicked! It was a Kelly Peterson 44, a sister boat to Emerald, the first we’d seen in 6 years. We went over to say hello and spent a fun evening comparing our boats and sharing salty stories.

Cala Xarraca

We waited at Xarraca for four days whilst obsessing over weather forecasts as another brief wind window began to open up. During the downwind sails from Menorca, the wind hadn’t been strong enough to keep the foresail full during the rolls in the swell, leaving us to sail on with a less than ideal sail plan. With more downwind in our near future, we took the time to setup and practise rigging our downwind pole – this holds the foresail out and should help keep it full.

There was also time for a walk next door to pretty Portinatx and out along the headland south with beautiful views along Ibiza’s west coast.

Our downwind pole rigged and ready (minus the sail)
Rickety stairway

Step 3: Ibiza to Formentera

This was to be a short leg back to where we started our Balearic summer on Formentera and south west winds should give us a lift down along the east coast of Ibiza. Those winds didn’t materialise, instead blowing from the east, which was a much better angle for us to sail. We bobbed slowly off the north of Ibiza for a couple of hours waiting for them to fill in, then had a great sail south, the south west winds arriving for a final blast at the end.

Es Calo, Formentera

Formentera is crazy busy in the summer. Take a look at a vessel tracking website and count all the AIS dots, and that’s just the boats with AIS. Luckily, as the wind was blowing from the south, we were able to go back to slightly less popular Es Calo and it’s miles and miles of sand. The alternative was the Espalmador side of the island where the ferry wake can be a big annoyance.

Before and After: June and August

When we arrived in June, there were perhaps 15 boats at anchor. Now, there were hundreds. Admittedly, in June it had been just the end of lockdown and very few boats were on the move. However, despite the numbers we still found a comfortable sized space.

Boats came and went during the three days and no one really bothered us. What did bother us was the speed with which other boats raced through the anchorage. Some were yachts looking for a space but the taxi RIBs were the worst. They whizzed back and forth between anchored boat and dinghy dock, passing very close to other boats. People swam in the busy, narrow boat channel even though there was a buoyed off beach 100m away. Welcome to high summer in the Balearics – perhaps the heat had gone to their heads and melted their common sense.

Once again we made the most of things whilst we waited. There are several walks that helped me burn my restless energy and the continuing list of “things that keep failing on Emerald” kept Colin busy.

Our water maker output quality has really deteriorated over the weeks and we now had to run it for many hours before we had drinkable quality water. We have a Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter that we use to test the water quality before directing the output to our tanks. The quality is measured in Parts Per Million (PPM) of dissolved particulates in the liquid. WHO recommends a PPM below 800 as safe for human consumption, however long term, this drops to 600. As we didn’t want to take any risks with our health, we chose a lower PPM of 500. Our water tanks can be isolated from each other, so the lower quality water could be kept separate and used for showers and laundry.

We were keeping a close eye on another escape window opening for us to blow us across to mainland Spain. The Balearics provided us with a stunning sunset display as a send off and the next day we were pushing on.

The beaches on Formentera are some of the best we’ve seen in the Med

Sailing Info

Our route Menorca to Formentera

4th August: Son Bou, Menorca to Platja des Trencs, Mallorca – 70nm (25nm sailed)
Anchored in sand, 4.5m in position 39 20 175’N 2 59.178’E
Good shelter from north winds and swell. Large area of sand off of the beach.

5th August: Platja des Trencs to Arenal – 19nm (9nm sailed)
Anchored in sand, 5.5m position 39 30.007’N 2 44.59’E
The anchorage is open to afternoon breezes which creates a chop.

6th August: El Arenal to Cala Portals Vells – 9nm
Anchored in a small sand patch initially, before moving later to a bit sand area in 8.5m in position 39 28.403’N 2 31.369’E

7th August: Cala Portals Vells to Santa Ponca – 9nm (1nm sailed very, very slowly)
Anchored in scrubby sand, 6m, position 39 30.882’N 2 28.234’E

11th August: Santa Ponca to Cala Xarraca, Ibiza – 52nm (27nm sailed)
Anchored in 9.5m, sand, 39 06.129’N 1 30.011’E

16th August: Cala Xarraca, Ibiza to Es Calo, Formentera – 32nm (22nm sailed)
Anchored in 8.5m, sand, position 38 40.886’N 1 30.981’E

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Thank you from Nichola & Colin