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The Balearics

by Kevin Cullimore

Reproduced from in focus 3 (April, 1984)


After a lengthy period of planning, we'd finally done it. The boat had been bought albeit not yet sailed, a trailer and car purchased, all our out standings settled whilst we'd be away.

We took the hover to Calais and motored through France to Estartit on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. It took us 3 days to tow the yacht through France, and somewhat relieved we set about finding out how to got the boat launched.
Paperwork approved and after much gesticulation on the quay, the boat was lowered and miraculously didn't spring a leak! We were now set to sail off into the sunset.


Our first two weeks were spent making our selves familiar with the handling of sails and motor and tying up to a pontoon, which much to the amusement of our fellow mariners provided them with a few hours entertainment. By the end of our two week stay in known waters, we felt confident enough to venture further down the coast as we had already encountered Force 5-6 and Maggie didn't howl the place down, in fact she seemed to enjoy it.

San Feliu de Guixols proved to be a small fishing town, inhabited by Spaniards with minimal tourists. Not one of the most exciting places we visited, but we were looking forward to our sail across to the Balearic Islands.

Alisdair and Christine and their boat 'Redwings' were moored up at San Feliu when we entered and saw Maggie's attempt to negotiate a 10 ft wall in order to put a line ashore. I gave her the order to jump, and with a leap she went but didn't quite make the horizontal, one leg and one arm on terra firma and rope in her teeth, amidst the laughing she managed to pull herself up. So began our first introduction to a couple with whom we shared most of our sailing. Bad weather kept us in port for a few days, we had time then to make our acquaintance with Alisdair and Christine. The weather seemed to calm and we decided it was now or never so we set sail for Majorca wishing them a fond farewell and hoped we'd see them again. Indeed we did, for we'd been out about 4 hours and with a Northerly hitting us on the nose it made our passage very uncomfortable and so Maggie's plea to head further down the coast to Arenys ensured our meeting them.

The next day after much cajoling from Alisdair and Christine we felt better equipped to make this long sea voyage, they very kindly lent us a walkie talkie radio to keep in contact with them and said they'd catch us up halfway over. To be out there all alone is an experience you can never put into words for everybody there is a different feeling. About 5.00 p.m. they caught us and we had made good time, being about halfway over. Night fell and it was the first time that we'd sailed at night. Our journey was interrupted about 10.00 p.m. when Alisdair shone a powerful light from his bow onto the water, in front of our boats were dolphins. What a fantastic sight, I rushed below to get the camera and stumbled on deck, but without a flash there wasn't enough light to capture them on film. They were playing, 2 adults and 2 babies and through the water we could see their eyes looking up at us. Both of us were so excited, we kept talking about it for hours. Neither of us could rest, and knowing that we were nearing the coast of Majorca refused to let our tired eyes close, every light we saw made us alert, and about 30 miles off we spotted the fishermen out for their catch. By 6.00 a.m. my eyes had started to close and I was brought to a rude awakening by Maggie shouting, look land. The excitement of knowing that we crossed in a large swell under excellent time made us feel we'd really achieved something, considering that our jaunt around the coastal waters of Estartit was the first tire we'd sailed a yacht. By 8.00 a.m. we were anchored up and I don't think another place on this planet looked more inviting than Pollensa. Sleep came but our bubbling excitement to explore got the better of us.

We arranged to meet Alisdair and Christine in Ibiza as they were picking up some friends in Palma. We set off on 19th June for Soller and it was a sail we'll never forget. As we came out of the shelter of the inlet the sea was rolling heavily. Maggie didn't like the look of it but I said we'd persevere and once round this headland the water would probably be calmer as the wind was rushing in at great force through the channel of Pollensa. Needless to say my judgment proved worthless for the wind and sea did not let up their relentless howling and rolling and we found ourselves not more that 2 miles off shore but with nowhere to shelter, turning back would have been pointless so we had to go on. The sky grew gray and the waves lashed our bows and Maggie was like jelly, not able to do anything but look at the waves cascading over the stern of the boat. I had to quickly switch on the outboard to give us a spurt to descend the crest of the wave otherwise we'd have had rollers breaking over us.

We'd set off at 8.30 that morning and reached Soller at 6.00 that evening, it took us 10 hours to do 30 miles. When we finally anchored up we couldn't believe how calm this natural harbour was, there was no indication of what the weather was like outside the steep valley of Soller. We spent a good few days there regaining our confidence. Then off we went for Andraixtz, and Ibiza. On pulling into Andraixtz we found this fishing port in a state of upheaval, all the existing moorings were being pulled and new mooring laid, but with a stipulation that you only stay for a few days. We met up again with 'Redwings' and her new compliment of crew. Saying our farewells, we set sail for Ibiza, this time solo.

We had a fairly easy crossing, not aided by a full moon, which destroyed our night vision, and consequently we kept thinking we saw lights, where none existed. About 4.00 p.m. we thought we ought to be seeing the light on the northern coast of Ibiza, but a thick mist had come down and nothing was coming through. Maggie felt sure that my navigation was out and that we'd be in Morocco if we missed the island. By about 5.30 I spotted a very faint light on the Island of Dragonara and knew that we were on course for Portinatx. By 9.00 the familiar scene of Portinatx lay ahead of us and we blissfully dropped anchor and fell asleep. It seemed we'd timed our crossing just right because 2 days later 'Redwings' joined us and they'd had a really rough crossing, with most of the crew being ill. Our next few days were spent uncomfortably on the boats, Redwings moved on and we motored over to another inlet, which offered us more shelter.

All in all we spent about 5 weeks going round Ibiza and met up with a French Canadian couple who had sailed the boat from Quebec in 1979. We marveled at this because the boat was of solid steel construction and Allan had built it himself over a period of 6 years. He's probably somewhere in the Caribbean now on his way back to Canada.

Our sailing obviously improved - and the beauty of being on the boat was that if we decided to stop somewhere for lunch and spear a few fish nobody bothered us. One Sunday, we knew the weather was going to blow up and so we decided to take shelter pulling in off a rocky outcrop. We were surprised to see the Spanish fishermen taking a break as well, but it was an idyllic way of spending Sunday afternoon being serenaded by the guitar, when ever someone play Quant a la mena it will remind me of that afternoon. I rowed ashore to buy some provisions and was astounded at the poverty of the fishermen who actually lived in their boat huts with a calor gas stove to cook on with their wives and family. It brought it home to me how lucky and fortunate we were to be out here enjoying a 3-month vacation. There was nowhere that I could buy provisions, and we had to make do with tinned meat, chips and water, but they say necessity is the mother of invention.

The wind in the Med is not always constant and on our sail down the south coast of Ibiza we had to motor a great deal in order to make port.

Whilst sailing around the west coast of Ibiza we weren't making much headway, we spotted a lovely picturesque spot, called Islet Margarita. It was about a quarter of a mile off shore but very deep, we didn't have enough anchor chain, so we stopped the engine and popped over the side for a snorkel. I spotted a brilliant piece of sunlight piercing the water - taking a closer look I gestured to Maggie and we both dived to find a hole right through the rock filled with some of the largest Jacks I've seen. I raced back to get my Bronica only to find the shutter had jammed. Thus my afternoon was spent unjamming it.

I had always been lead to believe that the Med was none too prolific in fish life but I can say I was pleasantly surprised at times. Portinatx (NW Ibiza) was a good photographic site, a sunken yacht providing the subject matter and an odd fender or two.

Ibiza is very much a tourist island, but, by boat you can get to the little inlets normally reserved for the fishermen. Ibiza town was certainly an eyeful and a cameraful, if I'd been allowed to shoot any film.

Majorca was our next stop on the Itinerary. We met up with a French Canadian couple in Ibiza town and again on our trip back to Majorca. It was about 10.00 p.m. and we were lazing about when we heard a splash and saw a school of dolphins on our port wing. We had so far only seen them at night and when we were quite a distance out to sea. It's a lovely experience to watch them play and look up at you so knowingly.

We headed in after an uneventful sail into Campos, probably one of our favourite places in Majorca surrounded by white sands and swaying palms, like something of an 'Hawaiian Dream' brochure. We stayed here for quite a few days basking in the sun and sampling the local delicacies. On our third day a familiar sail came into our horizon, Redwings had caught up with us.

All the stops we made in Majorca were off the beaten track, we missed most of the tourist traps, and it was whilst we were in Cala Longa (nearly every island has one) that we met a couple who had sailed through the Bay of Biscay, lost all their possessions in a Force 10 gale and nearly lost their boat too. They had sailed from Denmark and were hit by a wave which broke one of their windows and put the boat under 3 ft of water. They had run out of money (and luck) and were selling everything they could to earn their passage back home to Denmark.

We had some good times stopping in little uninhabited Calas, I shot about 6 rolls of film on Jellyfish and Maggie feeding a fairly common fish with bread (something like our mackerel only prettier) but I underestimated the strength of sunlight penetrating the water. On and on we sailed, leaving Majorca in mid-July, hoping to spend the next four weeks in Minorca, the windy island.

The sail to Minorca was one of our most exhilarating ever. We had our Spinnaker up all the way (that rather billowy sail you see on front covers of yachting magazine). Maggie left me for the last few hours to hold the tiller and it was proving very hard to hold. We raced quite a few yachts into Ciuadella that day, including a German motor sailor called 'Red Maggie' who gave us a pat on the back for beating their 40 footer with our little 23 footer.

Unfortunately our next port of call kept us storm bound for 8 days, so visibility was poor and no diving got done for the rest of our stay but I can recommend the islands for diving but only by sailing, motoring is out!

We didn't get to see too much of Minorca because of Mistrals (a strong wind which blows from France) and ended up staying in Mahon for nearly another 8 days before trying to head back to mainland Spain. We headed out into a Northerly wind which was hitting us on the nose all the time and by 2.00 p.m. after being out for 7 hours had made little headway so we decided to pull back into Fornells and wait for the right wind. The very next day the wind changed and we had our most memorable and longest sail. I had our autopilot on and was reading when I heard this big splash and was promptly covered by a sickly smelling gush of water, not less than 20 yards off our starboard bow was a whale breaking the surface, Maggie was down below preparing dinner and amidst the shouting and incredibility she came running with the camera, by this time two had broken the surface but had dived again, I was all for heading back to them to take some film but Maggie was adamant that there would be no pictures from close quarters for fear that there might be more than two and would have no boat if they surfaced underneath us, not a very inspiring thought when you are 80 miles out to sea. We couldn't believe our luck again when we had a school of dolphins playing in our trough and I managed this time to get a couple of shots for the album.

For us it was the holiday of a lifetime and one I would recommend to anyone who were not as foolhardy as us and had had some sailing experience, but you live and learn and we sure did that.

Reproduced from in focus 3 (April, 1984)

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