We stayed in Gibralater for a week, then refueled buying 180 litres for Euro 100 (yes, you did read that correctly), hopped across to Spain to Alcaideisa for the night on May 29 to collect the bulk of the water maker from the local dealership. The delivery of said water maker was a bit of a fiasco, turned out only some was being sent from the UK (in fact just a bunch of filters) and the rest was sitting in the factory in Spain waiting to be sent on June 3rd- a week after we expected to be leaving Gibraltar. Numerous phone calls and emails later with an extremely helpful chap called Sergi at Eco-Sistems in Spain, we got a delivery destination. After taxi rides to and from the distributor, we finally had all the boxes, but there were still parts missing from the order. It was beginning to feel like an IKEA experience when you believe you have all the parts but the key screw, nut or bolt is missing. Somewhat harried and exasperated we decided to get away from it all and head to Morocco.
It’s a 25 mile journey and with the wind on our beam we had a glorious flying trip hitting 8kn across the Straits of Gibraltar, saluted the Rock and the Queen Elizabeth which was in port. Marina Smir was our destination, we had been warned there would be a long check in time with tea and formalities galore. This didn’t materialize, but we were welcomed by a couple of guys who took our lines, a very grumpy woman at the marina office and the delightful policeman who checked us in and checked our boat for extra people, contraband, who knows what? His biggest interest was what was in the boxes containing the very carefully packed, unassembled water maker parts….
Rick & Julie, s/v Believe were delighted that we had decided to follow in their wake and gave us lots of fantastic info about where to go the following day and also convinced us to join them in a trip into the hinterland to Chefchaouen, the famous Blue City. The bus ride into Tetuouen, the nearest major town with its ancient Medina was a 30 minute , 70 cent treat. Jammed with local people it took us to the base of the entry to the Medina. Neither the aromas from the coffee seller nor the spice seller cannot begin to be captured by photography, but it was all a feast for our senses. The chickens being delivered in crates on a cart to all the chicken sellers, enclosed in pens waiting to be picked out, chopped and plucked for the next meal; the motorbike delivery guy driving through the narrow streets of the Medina towing a trailer full of supplies, no-one wanting their photo taken. The modesty of the people; the call to prayer and steady flow of men to and from the mosque; the array of hijabs for sale on the market stalls; the knock off designer handbags; the lingerie sellers displaying some surprisingly exotic underwear; the rows of stalls selling shoes; tacky plastic goods and the contrasting piles of delicious olives, fresh fruit or veg. We had encountered a typical Monday morning… wonderful.
The following day we were ready to join Rick, Julie, Marina & Paul s/v Serenita to take two buses to get to Chefchaouen. Just approaching the bus stop a local taxi man pulled over and offered us a ride for €1 each into Tetuouen. We decided this was worth the extra 30c so hopped in, then the negotiation started for the ride all the way to Chefchaouen, which is 60km away. Our man was very persistent and drove a hard bargain with his equally persistent customers. A price was agreed and we paid €6 per head to drive the whole way. Apparently fuel is very reasonably priced in Morocco otherwise we couldn’t see how he could have made any money. The advantage of this taxi ride was that we actually arrived two hours ahead of our expected arrival time so had loads more time to sight see.
It is know as the Blue City, and blue it is. The day was glorious as we meandered through the narrow streets of the old town. Passing the hammams with their piles of wood stacked outside to ready the waters for bathing and steaming. Separate hours for men and women. The city was established in the 1400s and clearly prides itself on maintaining its heritage. In contrast to the Medina in Tetuouen, it offered a different insight into the Moroccan people. The carpet seller, who brought out multiple carpets to show his audience, (none of us bought anything from him, rather offered empty promises of coming back tomorrow). It is very hard to get away from the sales pitch and very risky to show the slightest bit of interest in any of the wares on sale as you will be followed, asked what is your best price and so on and saying “no” is not acceptable and seems almost offensive to the vendor.
Marina and Paul headed back to the harbor, but with Rick & Julie, we had arranged to stay overnight. We were in a wonderful old hotel in the heart of the walled city. Occupying rooms on the top floor looking out over the rooftops and courtyards of the entire Blue City and across the amazing countryside. The following day Julie, the Captain and I decided to go for a hike up to one of the mosques on the hillside. It is a well travelled trail and well marked walking route. This time we were greeted by young flower sellers, selling garlands of dandelions for the price of a few dirham or a ‘stylo’, the girls were all asking for ‘stylos’. We wished we had filled our pockets with pens before we left. I happily parted with my ‘I love Cadiz’ pen to one delighted young girl. Having reached the first mosque, we were drawn to higher ground where there was yet another mosque with an even better view of the city and its surroundings. It was a glorious morning and great way to start the day. Next challenge was to get the bus back to the marina. This is a 1 ¾ hour ride, no standing so we were comfortable and again a crazy price of €2 each. It was a fabulous journey to have taken and we are very thankful to Rick & Julie for asking us to join them.
Our time in Smir was somewhat marred by the way the marina staff treated us. We arrived at the end of May and had expected to stay just a couple of nights so we paid for those (more than the advertised rate on the website) in advance. Having decided to take the trip inland we came back to the marina and said that we planned to stay an extra couple of nights, we could either pay immediately or just before we left. This was no problem for them so we waited to pay when we left. Now we are in June, and astonishingly the prices have increased 130%. I was furious and argued the point, they don’t have their prices listed accurately anywhere, they don’t say anywhere that high season rates are so much more and they don’t have a price advertised in the office, but when the marina hold your original boat papers and you have to get the immigration police to stamp your passport just as you leave, there is little you can do. While on the whole Morocco was fabulous, this in particular was a souring experience and one I would warn all fellow sailors to watch our for – it is no wonder they have so few boats. As I write I feel incensed but this was just a taste of what is to come in terms of price hikes…!!!
With the next destination pressing on our minds we set sail at 6.30am the following morning for Almerimar, this was a 135nm trip, which we did wing ‘n wing on the same tack in 16 hours with a westerly wind blowing between 20 to 35kn. It was a flying trip and Onegin once again settled into her groove, riding through the waves, with ease and confidence. We’d not intended to arrive at night, but with the wind taking us we made very good time and after surfing into the rapidly shallowing bay, were greeted just after midnight by the mariner at the marina. We were excited to find that Marecat with Per Ole, Merete & Nansen were in the marina.
Neither of us had been to the Costa del Sol before, all along the coast there are fields of plastic greenhouses where all the fruit and veg sent to the rest of Europe is grown. I guess we had never really considered how so much produce could hit the supermarket shelves from Spain. Rather naively and romantically, I’d imagined it was grown in regular fields under the blazing sun of southern Spain. Instead there are acres and acres of plastic tents as far as the eye can see all along the coast line. We got a good view of it all on a day trip into Grenada and to visit La Alhambra, its not an eyesore being reasonably well kept, but its different to expectations. We skirted the Sierra Nevada to see that our eyes hadn’t deceived us from the sea, there is still snow on the peaks despite the temperatures being in the late 20s !! The drive to Grenada is beautiful and La Alhambra was fantastic. Arriving at 9.30am on Sunday it was already busy with tourists. We had made this trip as a last minute decision so were able to get tickets to access most of the site except for the Nasrid Palaces, which were the original Islamic palaces upon which La Alhambra was founded in the mid 1200s. Nonetheless, it was a very worthwhile visit. The grounds are stunning, with very traditional rose gardens, sweet pea, sweet William, topiary hedges, avenues of trees and incredible vistas. It was quite wonderful.
La Alhambra and Grenada are must see sites in Spain so we were very happy to have made the effort. We occasionally say that because we live so close we’ll get in the car in the winter and get to these kind of places, but the reality is it doesn’t happen. It’s much easier to work out how to take the bus or hire a car and go when you are already in the neighbourhood. What we would miss in the winter is the glorious sunshine, flowers in bloom and the fact that we can be a little carefree.
The experience in Marina Smir had left us a little apprehensive about pricing, but at Almerimar it was not a problem. We were treated with respect as paying customers and quoted a very reasonable rate, which was honoured from start to finish. Not wanting to sail through the night again we left Almerimar and headed for a small harbor called San Jose, a delightful little harbor with room for very few boats. A night in the fuel dock was all that was available as we arrived after 9pm, hoping to leave at 8 we went over to the marina office to leave an envelope with some money so as to avoid getting in trouble further down the coast. Turns out the early morning staff had arrived and were ready to take double what we had expected. Goodness, if this was the sign of things to come then we will be anchoring in every single bay possible and becoming completely self-sufficient. The pilot book did warn that this particular place was pricey and the Cruising Association pages are full of info about ‘in-season’ pricing but it is still only early June. Apparently there is another price hike in July at San Jose!
The struggle and fragility of human life has crept onto our boat a couple of times during the journey from Gibraltar. The radio strikes up with a Pan Pan All Ships and you are immediately tuned in to see if you can help. These announcements come on flat calm days, when there is little sea running and the coast guard is calling out to keep an eye out for a rubber boat, loaded with approximately 30 people or perhaps 15 people, heading for the Spanish mainland; don’t approach but call the location into the coast guard. Our lives, in comparison, are so simple, fine and privileged and we are left wondering what happened to the passengers of these boats, un-knowing as to their destinies.
We had chosen to go to one more stop on the mainland before heading across to The Balearics. Note: how to remember the pronunciation after you’ve got it wrong for the whole winter: imagine a Monty Pythonesk bunch of guys called Eric doing ballet: “Ballet” “Erics”.
Cartagena was an opportunity to get the final pieces T-junction for finishing the installation of the watermaker and to do a walking tour of the town, which has three amphitheatres. One restored Roman one with a modern ampitheatre adjacent to it and another in the process of being restored. It is a grand city and a convenient stop for us. Our visit coincided with another boat from Tagus Yacht Center, Pinta from Sweden. Anders and Marianne had left Tagus about two weeks before us but have taken their time to get this distance.
It was with great excitement that we left Cartagena bound for Formentura, the closest island in the Balearic group. This meant we were only days from seeing Charli, our first visitor on board this year. A 22 hour motor sail brought us into a delightful bay just as the other anchored boats were waking up. Dropping the anchor in 2 metres over a crystal clear, sandy bottom bay was such a great relief and was the first moment that we felt we’d got to where we wanted to be. The bay was full of day tripping boats, party boats and longer distance sailors. It was June 10th and a glorious day to wallow in.
The distance between the islands is quite close so we set sail for Ibiza the following morning scoping out the next couple of anchorages. After a rocking a rolling night in Cala Moli under overcast skies we were delighted to pick up a message from Believe, Rick & Julie had been on our heels so we weighed anchor and headed to another sheltered, quiet anchorage called San Miguel. We enjoyed a couple of nights with them, discussing the merits of self sufficiency: goats, chickens, water makers, washing machines and home made bread as well as more serious issues such as the Presidential election in November. We left them with fond farewells as we headed for Mallorca. Our landfall here was Andraitx, a charming bay with an astronomically expensive private marina €135/night and a fair priced public dock €55/night. Luckily there was room on the public dock and we were greeted by Gabriel, a very helpful and friendly Guarda/official. This was a very important day: June 15th and Georgina’s 21st birthday so we had many happy phone calls and messages back and forth as she celebrated with lots of surprises from her friends and fun with James & Charlie. Birthday congratulations to Grandad Michael too.
The mooring was going swimmingly until 3am, when boom the wind piped up to over 20kn and seemed to be broadsiding us. Having gone stern to into the dock, dropping the anchor because there were no slime lines available we were being blown perilously close to the very hard, stone, pier. It was a nerve wracking few hours as the Captain managed to drive us forward, away from the dock shortening up the anchor line and loosening the shore lines. Our neighbours, who had spent the winter there offered great moral support and the following morning told us how after their first big wind had laid three anchors and put their boat some five metres off the pier. I’m not sure the marina would have been any better, as the boats are crammed in on bouncing pontoons.
June 16th brought us very sad news indeed, Geoff’s father Bernie had died. The legacy he left is in this blog and these web pages. His passion for sailing and friendships is instilled in the blood of the Captain. It drove the early days of building a cadet dingy, painted in ‘Peking red’, to sail in Bedford Basin, of sailing and teaching at the Royal St Lawrence YC, of wonderful family cruising on Sea Mew on the St John River and Astronomer in the Thousand Islands, of passage making with friends, road trips regattas in the lightning, of bringing me to dinghy racing in the UK, of our wonderful racing and house in Cowes and then sailing for the next generation at Kingston Yacht Club and of course now our amazing voyages on Onegin. We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for Bernie. Eight Bells and we are sad, but when we look through his binoculars we see the wonders of life and are forever grateful.…
The next day brought some cheer as Charli joined us, we spent a few glorious days anchoring in some stunning calas. Cala Portals with Phoenician caves, a couple of sandy beaches and protection from the wind. Cala Pi, a narrow slip of an anchorage nestled between cliffs in, which we were the only boat until two catamarans slinked in and joined us in much shallower water after dark! Cala Mon, another narrow deserted anchorage where we tied lines to the shore. These were delightful places and a perfect way to spend some precious time with Charli. Our final stopping point on Mallorca was Alcudia, on the north eastern end of the island. Here we enjoyed delicious paella and a walk into the Tuesday morning market with its abundance of tomatoes the size of footballs, mountains of cherries and much more.
Heading 80º bound for Sardinia.