Spain: Cartagena to Gibraltar.

Cartagena was worth a three day visit. We were tied up in the marina while the westerly was blowing fiercely in the bay. We explored the town which has an abundance of public sculptures and visited the Roman theatre and the Forum precinct which dates back to the first century BC.

One of the sculptures.

The Roman theatre.

The town is partially enclosed by ramparts constructed by Charles III and has many well maintained historical buildings such as the monumental City Hall in the form of a triangle with different facades and also the house of Miguel de Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote amongst others.

Charles III ramparts.

The eclectic City Hall.

We set off from Cartagena on the 5th November in a sparkling clean boat, inside and out, only for the rough passages over the next three days, to cover everything again in a layer of salt – that’s sailing. We anchored in Carboneras, Roquetas, Adra and Almunecar enroute.

Esprit’s route to Gibraltar.

The coastal strip from Roquetas to Motril just before Almunecar, falls between the tourist coasts of the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol. This strip should be called the Costa del Hothouses, as it is covered by hectares of massive plastic roofed hothouses. Clearly, this is the food basket of Spain and probably much of the EU, because of the warm climate and the south orientation.

Google maps detail of an area of hothouses.

The majestic Sierra Nevada mountains forms the backdrop to this coast. The cold front sweeping south from the Arctic around the 8th November, covering the UK in snow, also brought snow to these mountains and the temperature plummeted, requiring us to take out our jeans and jerseys.

First snow on the mountains behind Motril.

It’s been a long time between drinks (as we colloquially say in Australia), but when my brothers and I parked our camper van on the beach in Almunecar in 1975, it was a small and charming coastal village. We got to know Pepe’s Bar in Almunecar quite well, due to Pepe’s generous free tapa’s of smoked ham, olives and cheese. Usually to be followed by an order of Tortilla, a delicious spicy potato omelet. Below is a photo of the town today and somewhere behind the rows of apartments, you my find a small and charming village.

Almunecar today.

There was no time to sit and contemplate the changes that inevitably occur during the course of 44 years, so we pushed on with stops at Malaga, Torre del Mar and Marbella. Each day, the temperature dropped as the Arctic freeze swept south into the Mediterranean, with snowfalls on the mountains in Mallorca (Majorca). Rugged up and now in foul weather gear, we pushed on.

This is the Costa del Sol?

As we were approaching Gibraltar from the north east in a building wind, who should crop up on our AIS, but Paikea from NZ. We hadn’t seen Tina and Jonny for a while, as they were cruising in the Balearic islands of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza – now, here we were sailing into Gib together facing a howling north wester as we rounded the tip of the “Rock”.

Paikea, out of the blue.

Approaching Gibraltar.

Rounding the Rock in a big sea.

Fortunately, Queensway Quay Marina where we had a booking for the following day, had a berth for us to enter a day early – anchoring off would have been impossible. Having all the amenities the Brits expect, we visited Raj’s Curry House for a calming bottle of wine and a delicious meal, before an early night.

The next day we were informed by the customs broker that our Hydrovane would only be cleared for collection the following day. James Pritchard from Pritchard’s Marine came around to measure up for the installation and promised to collect the gear from Customs the next morning. We took the opportunity to walk to the chandleries to buy additional bits and pieces, as I had two pumps to fix that afternoon – the leaking deck wash pump and a non-flushing toilet pump.

While I tackled the pumps and got them working again, Annie cycled to Morrisons Supermarket to buy some vittles. Anthony and Michelle from Melbourne Australia, on their catamaran Boomerang, two berths down, joined us for sundowners – they were just entering the Med, having come up from Morocco, so we could exchange useful information.

The Hydrovane gear in 5 boxes.

Next morning, James and Luke arrived with the gear for the Hydrovane and set to work, until the rain interrupted them at 1:30pm. They took the pieces that needed modifications back to their workshop, promising to be back the next morning to assemble the system.

Luke and James mounting the mock-up.

The job was completed on Friday morning for GBP 490, which allowed us to leave the marina, re-fuel the boat tax free in Gibraltar and motor to Alcaidesa Marina beyond the airport runway, which is the border between Gibraltar and Spain.

Harry the Hydrovane, our new crew member.

Now the reason for a three day stay in Spain is because, despite Gibraltar’s so-called tax free status, the only things cheap in Gib, are diesel and alcoholic spirits. For the rest, food, wine and beer are cheaper on the Spanish side. So we used these prices to re-stock our provisions for the next four months, as evidently, the only thing cheap in the Caribbean is rum,  which we don’t like.

The Rock from the other side, as we motor around to Alcaidesa Marina.

We had time to catch up with Paikea in the marina and start planning dates for the Atlantic crossing, as Jonny and Tina are good company and our boats have similar lengths and speeds. They had been to Morocco before, so while Annie and I sail to Tangier and Rabat to explore Morocco, they will stay in the marina to take their mast down and do some instrument re-wiring.

While waiting for the right tide through the Strait and a fair wind to Tangier, we say cheers until the Canaries.

Mediterranean Spain.

Back in the 80’s when we were big into board and wave sailing, Hyeres in France, was synonymous with speed sailing on slalom boards. We have figured out why – Hyeres, just east of Toulon, is on the edge of the Golfe du Lion, known for the Mistral winds that blows down the Gulf.

Western Mediterranean.

According to the Mediterranean Pilot, “The Golfe du Lion is an area which merits much respect”. During our crossing, the Gulf of Lion lived up to its reputation with regard extreme winds. We set out from Marseille at noon, with our course set for a 120 nm passage to Baia des Cadaques on the western edge of the gulf, just across the Spanish border. The weather forecast was for a pleasant 15 knot wind for the next 24 hours.

About 10 nm out of Marseille, we caught up with a Canadian flagged Dufour 45, sailed by a couple who had problems controlling their boat, as it was screwing up to windward with every gust – clearly, the boat was over-canvassed, despite their reefed sails. We were going nicely with a fully reefed mainsail and half furled jib in 20 knots of wind on a beam reach, doing 7-8 knots SOG. As we passed them, they turned around and headed back to Marseille. In hindsight, we should have done the same.

Annie at the wheel.

The wind was building to 25 knots with gusts of 35 knots, which is OK in a moderate sea, but the waves had built to 2-3 metres and were breaking. We were down to the reefed mainsail and were hand steering at 8-10 knots SOG, as the autopilot refused to cooperate after the first two hours. We did one hour watches on the wheel for the next 16 hours, as steering the boat was exhausting after an hour. In all our years of sailing, the 1987 Beachcomber race from Mauritius to Durban on a Farr 38, was the only passage worse than this one, having back then been hit by the cyclone Domoina, south of Reunion. 

See: https://vimeo.com/369402958

or: https://youtu.be/vaOea7ikwQE

Drying out our gear.

At 6am we anchored in the dark in Baia des Cadaques in Spain, cold, wet and exhausted, saying “Never believe weather forecasts again!” – over a glass of brandy. Later in the afternoon, after a good sleep, shower and a shave, we hit the pretty town of Cadaques for a walk up to the church and to have dinner, with a bottle of Spanish red wine.

Cadaques harbour front.

Cadaques town.

The ornate church interior.

View down from the church.

Dinner time.

The following day we walked to the village of Port Lligat, to visit the house of Salvador Dali, where he had lived and worked for more than 50 years.

Casa Dali.

Stuffed bear in the entrance hall.

Dali’s painting of Gala, his wife, muse and model.

View over the rooftop of the house.

His tower for the pigeons – he had a thing for eggs.

Statue of Salvador Dali in Cadaques.

Our plan was to spend some time in Barcelona to visit some of our favourite buildings and see the Familia Sagrada church of Antonio Gaudi which had been completed since our last visit. On the way there, we stopped over in Cala Montgo, Sant Feliu and Arenys de Mare. Since entering Spain and hence, the northern Catalan province, we noticed the Catalonian flag flying everywhere and posters calling for Catalan autonomy.

Catalan flags outside most houses in Cadaques.

Posters calling for the freedom of political prisoners.

The acting Spanish government then made the mistake to imprison nine Catalan leaders over their roles in the failed push for secession two years ago. A call went out to Catalonians to march in Barcelona in protest against the imprisonment of these leaders. The march that had preceded the unrest, had been peaceful. According to Barcelona police, about 525,000 people congregated in the city, many of them having marched there from around Catalonia.

The sh1t hit the fan when a radical movement of young Catalan separatists, Arran, called for a new demonstration “against repression” in central Barcelona on Saturday afternoon. So, we arrived in Arenys de Mare in the middle of five consecutive nights of violence in Barcelona. The right wing opponents of socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, were calling for the government to take a hard line on the latest eruption of the regional independence crisis.

Barcelona barricades: Photo from the internet.

Street battles – photo from the online news.

Although Sánchez has taken a more conciliatory approach to the Catalan question than his predecessor, he has ruled out any referendum on Catalan independence and insisted any negotiations will have to respect the Spanish constitution. Spain is due to hold its fourth general election in as many years on 10 November. We decided to wait in Arenys Marina, about 20 nm from Barcelona, until the dust had settled, while we got a lot of maintenance done on the boat.

The church in Arenys – one of the very few older buildings remaining.

Detail of the main entrance.

With Barcelona in lockdown, we decided to sail to the Balearic islands of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza off the Spanish coast. But now, the weather turned against us, with a forecast of six consecutive days of very strong southerly winds blowing back at us from the islands for the 100 nm crossing. Our recent experience across the Gulf of Lion, made this a non-starter. Having  spent two weeks on these islands a number of years ago, enjoying the sun and the marvellous products from their gin distilleries, we decided to give the islands a miss this time and rather sail down the Spanish coast to Gibraltar.

Sunset in the Arenys marina before the storm set in.

However, Arenys de Mar turned out to be our stopover for six days, because the weather deteriorated to the point where a massive storm hit us in the marina on the 21st October. We were glad to be in the marina because the entire Catalan coast got hammered by this storm all the way down to Barcelona and beyond. A walk to the supermarket the next day was a challenge through mud and water logged streets.

The storm from the shore – not a good time to be out there in a boat.

Our journey continued on the 24th October in relatively flat seas with stopovers in Vilanova, Cala Podrit and Peniscola, covering 150 nm in three days of sailing and motoring. Peniscola turned out to be an attractive town, situated on a small peninsula with a spacious harbour on the south side, where we could anchor. We decided to spend an extra day here, to explore and shop.

Peniscola – anchored outside the harbour.

A model of the town of Peniscola and its fortifications.

One of the gateways into the old town.

In the year 1233, Peniscola, which had been under the control of the Arabs since 718, was taken over by King James I. In 1294, during James II of Aragon’s reign, control was passed over to the Knights of the Order of the Temple. It was at this point when the Templars built their last great fortress here from 1294 to 1307. In 1411, Pope Benedict XIII made the castle his pontifical seat. It was fascinating to explore this well restored and maintained castle and surrounding old town with all this history.

Entrance into the fortress.

Pope Benedict XIII.

The lighthouse at the top of the town.

Old town Peniscola street scene.

When we anchored at Burriana on Monday the 28th October, we reached a milestone: we were anchored at Longitude 0 degree, (The Greenwich prime meridian line) where East meets West. When we sailed from Nimoa island in Papua New Guinea, we were at Longitude 153 degrees and have therefore, sailed 42.5% of the equatorial circumference of the world since. In practice, a bit further of course, due to our north and south track, as we sailed west.

Calpe harbour.

There followed a few days of very little wind, so we had to motor sail and anchor in Ghandia and Calpe. Calpe has a good anchorage outside the harbour and is an attractive town in the shadow of  a huge rocky promontory. Most of this section of the Costa Blanca coast has white sandy beaches with beautiful mountains as a backdrop.

Rocky coastline.

Unfortunately, the building developments along this coast approaches mini  Manhattans as witnessed in Benidorm, our next stop. The expat Brits and UK holiday makers seem to like it here as there are fish and chip shops and Indian curry restaurants on every block.

Benidorm skyline.

New Benidorm gold coloured highrise – a Saudi prince the developer?

For every wind free day there follows a good windy day and we enjoyed two days of lovely sailing, first to Torrevieja and then to Cartagena. We are in the marina at Cartagena at the moment, waiting for a fierce westerly, gusting at 35 knots in the marina to blow out, before we continue to Gibraltar. Cartagena is a lovely town with old Roman remains of a theatre and a forum precinct, which we will explore tomorrow.

Cheers for now, our next post will be from Gibraltar.