We set off from Sancti Petri (10 miles East of Cadiz) quite late in the morning as we had to wait for the tide to rise to be able to leave our anchorage without risking to get stranded on a sandbank. The sun was shining and the scenery was gorgeous: white sandy beaches with dunes and desert-like vegetation.
We could have spent the day basking in the sun and exploring the marshes, but we were so close to Portimão now that the ‘home-fever’ took over us. All we could think of was getting there as quickly as possible.
It was past midday when we hit the road again with the idea of stopping somewhere close to Faro for our last night at anchor, before reaching the ‘motherland’.
We arrived at Faro in the middle of the night and anchored off Barra Nova in shallow waters, around 6 metres deep. There was a big swell and we barely managed to close our eyes for a few hours, until daylight, before taking off again.
“Thirty miles and we’ll be home” – this thought kept us going despite the sleep deprivation. During our sail from Faro to Portimão, we were able to admire the beautiful rocky coast which had been levelled out and carved by the elements over the years. The result was an incredible landscape of grottos, sinkholes and secret hideaways, which we couldn’t wait to go explore!
The other thing we noticed along the way was the incredible amount of fishing boats out at sea – easily spotted due to the grey mass of seagulls hovering over them.
A few more miles and we saw the entrance to the marina: finally we were home! At least for the next 5 months or so…
Portimão’s marina sits on the bank of the river Arade, in a very picturesque and colourful setting; its perimeter is surrounded by ochre and coral semi-detached flats with little wooden topped balconies; on the opposite side of it, Forte de São João dominates the beautiful sandy beach of Praia Grande.
A few minutes away from the marina, there is also the breathtaking beach of Praia da Rocha, considered one of the best in Portugal.
Our first impression of the marina was very good and we were satisfied with our choice: the location looked great, catamarans pay the same fee as monohulls, winters are supposed to be very mild, and Faro airport, which is only 45 minutes away from the marina, is very well connected to the UK and Italy, with direct flights to both destinations. Considering that it used to take us 2 days to reach our marina in Leros (Greece) and at least half day to get to Capo D’Orlando’s Marina (Sicily), this time it seemed almost too easy!
More about Portimão and our adventures around Portugal in the next post!
After almost a week in Malaga it was time to leave. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to our friends; for quite some time Gc’s face was the only one I’d seen on a daily basis and as much as I like it, I have to say that spending time with other familiar souls had been very invigorating!
The weather was getting more and more unpredictable and we were eager to reach our winter destination and get back to having a routine. After a month and a half at sea moving around all the time, we were looking forward to having a ‘stable life’ for a little bit! Things like knowing where to go food shopping, where to have the best espresso and nicest meal, having more than one conversation with the same people, were becoming more and more appealing to us.
While sailing towards Gibraltar, we heard several warnings on VHF regarding the presence of tree branches and trunks floating at sea. The previous days Malaga and surroundings (Estepona in particular) had been battered by a storm which had caused devastating floods and left one man dead. The torrential rain had stripped trees and canes which had reached the sea through the overflowing rivers.
It wasn’t long before we started to see the first branches and canes. We slowed down and tried to avoid the big trunks which could have caused serious damage to our propellers and rudders. The extent of vegetation floating was such that the sea had turned brown…we were sailing through the woods!
Couple of hours before reaching the famous Rock of Gibraltar, the fog started to settle in. The sea was dead still, mirror-like, there was zero wind and no one around. It felt like we were sailing inside a sound-proof bubble; such was the silence around us.
By now we should have been able to see the coast but there was no sign of it: the fog was too thick. I felt a bit uneasy, as it seemed unusually quiet. Couple of dolphins showed up and played with our bow for a few minutes before diving in with a touch of their powerful tale and disappearing into the deep blue.
It was just after sunset when we finally managed to see the Rock of Gibraltar and a few shipping containers, anchored out at sea a few miles away from the coast. The scenery was enticing: the top of the rocky promontory towered over the sea, peeking through the fog.
We spent the night at anchor inside the Bay of Gibraltar in a very protected spot, just outside the Marina of Alcaidesa. The anchorage though is not as safe as it looks; we read that some people got their dinghies stolen overnight…
The morning after, we departed straight after breakfast – our dinghy still with us!- and made our way to Cadiz. It was while looking for a safe anchorage for the night that it occurred to us that from now on there would be two more elements to factor in; tide and current! We were now on the Atlantic!!
The waves had become longer and we had the current in our favour, Gladan was doing 10.4 knots! After another night at anchor in the beautiful area of Sancti Petri, only 120 miles separated us from our winter destination: Portimão.
We left Cartagena and made our way to Malaga where our friends, Stella and Fabri, were waiting for us. The initial idea was to stop at Cabo De Gata- a beautiful natural park along the coast of Andalucia- for the night and continue towards Malaga the day after. While sailing though, we got in touch with two other boats via VHF and found out that we were all going the same way and that they would be continuing the sailing throughout the night, without stopping.
Strong winds were expected the coming days and weather alerts had been issued for Malaga and surrounding areas: ‘the sooner we get there the better’ – the other sailors said. Personally, I was really disappointed! I really wanted to see Cabo de Gata, which I was told being absolutely gorgeous. I reluctantly agreed with Gc that stopping there for the night was not ‘the right thing to do’, and I acted very adult-like by holding a grudge against him for the following 5 to 6 hours. Someone had to be blamed…
We sailed side by side with another catamaran all day and almost all night. It was 5 am when we departed from our sailing companion to get to Almerimar marina: we were almost out of fuel and needed an urgent refill.
We dropped anchor outside the marina and went to sleep for a few hours, while waiting for the fuel station to open at 7am. Seven hundred litres of diesel and 900 Euros later, we set sails again: destination Malaga. We were so excited to see our friends and visit the shop they’d opened the previous year, La Dispensa Italiana, that we forgot how tired we were and kept on going.
Before our arrival in Malaga, we had been trying to reserve a spot for Gladan either at the port or at the marinas nearby. Apparently it’s not their custom to book places in advance: you have to show up and find out for yourself if there is space or not. Which is totally fine in settled weather, but very unpractical when you’re expecting strong southerly winds. Where are you going to go if there is no space anywhere?!
Thanks to our friends, we finally found a space at Caleta de Velez, a small marina in a fishing village 30 miles east of Malaga, and rented a car to reach the city.
After 4 nights there, we learnt the hard way that if you want a place at Malaga’s port you just go there, moore inside, and wait for the Policia Portuaria to come and “approve” your stay. Don’t bother calling them as the following will happen: they won’t answer the phone and if they do, they will tell you that they are fully booked even if they are not.
After trying hard, we did manage to spend a night inside the Port, and paid 100 Euros with no water or electricity. The port is quite beautiful, with bars, restaurants, shops and museums all around; you really dock in the historic heart of the city.
It’s a real shame though that a port with so much potential and one of the most important points connecting Europe and Africa it’s so badly managed!
We loved Malaga and enjoyed every minute we spent with our friends, not to mention the mouthwatering truffle mortadella and pecorino cheese we tried at La Dispensa… If you happen to stop in Malaga go and try their delicious Italian produce!
It was a Friday afternoon when we finally got our port engine back.
The mechanic, Santis from Nautic Centre, did such a great job with it (the engine was all clean and shiny and had even been sprayed with some Volvo green paint), that I swear I saw some tears forming in GC’s eyes when, with the help of a crane, the engine was lowered back in place.
Having thanked Santis and his team for the great job done, we set off from Mahon as quickly as possible: it was already 4pm, and we didn’t have many hours of daylight ahead of us.
We spent the night at anchor in Cala -en-Porter (famous for Cova d’en Xoroi, a very popular disco set in a cave, with a breathtaking sunset bar), ready to go to Mallorca first thing the following morning.
On our way to Palma, we stopped twice along the coast: first at Coves d’Arta’ on the NE side of Mallorca and then at Es Caragol, a superb spot on the S side.
When we finally got to Palma, we only had the time to drop anchor before being welcomed by a thunderstorm. The weather was changing and heavy rain and storms had been forecasted for the coming days both in Mallorca and Ibiza, our next destination.
An important decision laid ahead of us: did we want to get wet in Mallorca or in Ibiza?
We agreed we’d get up the next day and decide there and then.
The day after the weather seemed ok: the sky was clear and the sun was shining, so we decided to make a move to Ibiza. We were half way through, when we started to see a dark wall of cumulonimbus clouds ahead and behind us.
The weather was rapidly changing and we were exactly in the middle of the storm, closing onto us.
We turned the radar on to see the scale of it: it was huge and approaching at incredible speed. The rain started to hit Gladan with rage, the sky was turbulent and lighting was striking closer and closer. Maybe leaving Mallorca had not been such a good idea after all…!
We pushed the foot on the accelerator, so to speak, to get away from it. At full throttle, we tried to outrun the storm and get to Ibiza before sunset. It was getting late and we had to find a sheltered place quickly. We didn’t like the idea of being at sea at night in such stormy weather.
After checking Navionics repeatedly, I found a very protected bay, Portinatx, which seemed a good spot for the night.
It was almost dark when we finally dropped anchor in the bay. We were very relieved to have escaped the full brunt of the storm, and were feeling grateful to Gladan for being so nippy.
The day after, we found out about the intensity of the storm, which had hit Mallorca very badly: a river had overflowed and 13 people had died as a result.
We stayed a few days in Ibiza waiting for the weather to get better and then made a move to mainland Spain.
After two nights at anchor along the Costa Blanca, we got to Cartagena. But the bad weather was following us!
Strong winds of up to 50 knots had been forecasted for the day after, so we moored inside the port. Storm Leslie was making its way to Spain after battering Portugal, forcing hundreds to flee their homes.
Leslie kept us company for a full day: strong winds, torrential rain, bent palm trees, boats pushed and pulled in all directions…
All of a sudden though, the rain stopped, the clouds disappeared and a fierce sunset put the sky on fire.
We ended up staying in Menorca for 2 weeks, instead of the planned 2/3 days. Why?
Just before starting the crossing from Sardinia, GC checked the engines as he usually does before setting off: oil levels, water levels etc…. On this occasion though, he spent an unusually long time inside the port engine room and when he finally re-emerged from it, he was carrying several screws and bits of metal; his hands totally covered in aluminium powder and his face saying more than words could…
Having recently replaced the coupling of the port engine (basically the part that connects the engine to the sail drive), the presence of such parts was very very troubling.
One of two things could have happened:
- those parts belonged to the old coupling, and had been left behind on the floor by the mechanics (small negligence)
- those bits belonged to the newly replaced coupling and had been spitted out through the inspection hole. Which meant, in short, that the engine could eventually blow up! (not so small negligence)
After a few phone calls with the mechanics that replaced the coupling in Sicily, we were now almost sure that the latter was the case.
As soon as we got to Menorca, we therefore decided to have the engine checked. We contacted Nautic Centre, who are Volvo dealers and very competent mechanics, and had the engine taken out and looked at. Their assessment of the situation? The Sicilian mechanics had not read the instructions when assembling the new coupling and had used screws which were longer than they should have been. As a consequence, three parts had been severely compromised and needed replacements.
The parts had to be sent over from Italy as it was the previous mechanic’s responsibility to fix a job not properly done (to say the least!), which had damaged other components of the engine and might have resulted in the engine itself blowing up.
So we were stuck in Menorca for two weeks and, I can assure you, it’s now number one on my list of places where to get stuck in! Nature is absolutely gorgeous: the island is full of stunning bays, little coves (Cala Galdana, Cala Mitjana, Calescoves, Cala en Porter, Cala Pregonda, just to mention a few), beautiful villas and walking trails (Cami’ de Cavals) moving along its perimeter and stretching trough a wild scenery.
While on the island, we strolled along the roads of Mahon and had some tapas at the Mercat de Pescados; had a proper espresso at the Club Nautico de Ciutadella with a view over the picturesque old port; went to Alaior and witnessed the El Jaleo – a feast celebrating the special relationship between Menorquinos and horses, in which riders dress up in typical costumes and demonstrate their abilities by rearing their horses up on their hind legs, making them jump and dance to the rhythm of traditional music played by a brass band, while the crowd around tries touching them for good luck.
In terms of food, I do have couple of recommendations in case you decide to spend a few days in Mahon: Bar a Vins in the centre, with tables on the square and a great selection of charcuterie boards; and Mestre D’Aixa along the port, serving fusion gourmet food that is definitely worth trying. Accompany your meal with a Rioja (Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva – depending on how aged you like your wine) and you’ll feel very happy even if you have got only one engine left!
The last ‘long’ crossing on our way to Portugal, was the one from Sardinia to Menorca: 180 miles of open sea.
We set off around midday from Porto Ferro (15 NM north of Alghero): a beautiful large bay marked by the presence of two little towers on top of the hills: Torre Bianca and Torre Negra.
A place to die for, which we had all to ourselves. There were no other boats around and only few people riding horses could be spotted on the endless sandy beach; the water was so transparent that Gladan seemed to be floating on air.
For the past 48 hours, we had been cross-checking all the weather forecasts via our Apps: Windfinder, Windy, 4D Weather (for possible thunderstorms), looking for the right weather window to do the crossing. There was a big storm forming in the Gulf of Lion and moving towards the Balearics, which, clearly, we wanted to avoid!
After much discussion, we had finally come to the conclusion that it was better to postpone the crossing, and wait in Alghero.
Just before getting into Alghero, Gc and I looked at each other, then at the speed: with the main sail and the jib both up, we were sailing smoothly at 7 knots. In a matter of seconds, we made up our minds, changed course and decided to go to Menorca instead.
The sky looked clear and the sea full of promises. In the end, we thought, you never know what’s expecting you until you go. And sometimes you just need to go for it!
Only a few miles off the coast, Neptune made us a nice present, a small, but not that small, palamito, which Gc diligently cleaned and put in the fridge: his eyes already shining with a special light at the thought of the tartare he’d be making with it.
A few more miles down the road, Neptune decided he felt particularly generous that day so there we go…a massive Ala Longa – at least 10 Kgs – ended up gutted, filleted and stored into all three of our freezers. No more ice for our G&T, I’m afraid. Life is always full of compromises…..
After the second catch, Gc was over the moon with excitement, covered in blood and earning for more. It took me only few seconds to bring him down to earth and kill the momentum.
With tears in my eyes, I ordered him not to throw the lines in anymore: witnessing that strong, beautiful fish fighting for life with all its strength, made me really sad.
And so the fishing was over….
The sailing went very well and we managed to cover the first 90 miles in 10 hours. We got quite excited by Gladan’s performance!
Overnight sailing can be a very pleasant experience with the right weather. This time we got quite lucky as the sky was clear, and we were accompanied by 3/4 of a very luminous moon, which guided us through the night. Nothing around us other than the sour sweet smell of the silent night, the reflection of the Milky Way on the water and the smooth noise of the hulls surfing the waves.
Gc and I alternated in the watch, with a 2 hours shift each. We bumped into very few boats during the night, which we were able to spot thanks to a combination of radar and AIS.
We sailed all the way to Menorca where we got around 4pm, few hours before the forecasted arrival. Following our arrival, a hot shower, a cold beer and a restoring nap!
Our friends came to visit and this time we decided to head South of Kos and went to explore Nysiros, Yali’, Tilos, Halki and Symi. All different from each other but beautiful and unique. Nysiros so far has been our favourite though! A bit off the beaten track with its wild and unspoiled nature and its moon-like volcanic landscape.
Of course a visit to Stenafos crater is a must when you go there, although only few know that there is another, smaller crater of a still active volcano not too far from the one everyone visits.
If you get to Pali (much better than the main port, Mandraki) and moore in the little, cute harbour you can rent scooters from Captain’s House (or the one on the opposite side of the harbour) and go explore the beauty of this island. Nikeia and Emborios, the two villages on top of the mountains are definitely worth seeing. The view from up there is just breathtaking!
Walking around Nikeia you won’t see many people except for the few locals and tourists sitting in the main square where the little white and blue church is. Emborios looks like a ghost town with many abandoned, semi-destroyed houses. It looks as if an earthquake has knocked down half of the village and they are now trying to bring it back to life. There is a hotel though with little wooden balconies painted in light green that has got the most charming spot of all. There is a terrace where you can sip your coffee in the morning or drink your G&T at sunset, while overlooking the entire valley and the enormous caldera of the now dormant volcano.
When it comes to eating out there are quite a few tavernas in Pali and Afrodite seems to be one of the best. If you go to Mandrake (the main town) you should try the Italian taverna/pizzeria Bacareto – be careful though as the chef can bite! Make sure you go before or after peak hours (20.30/21.30) as he gets very stressed out when the place is overcrowded and starts swearing in Italian! Food is really good and if you don’t understand Italian you’ll be ok!
People on the island are really friendly and they all speak perfect English as most of them lived in Australia or the US before moving back.
We spent the mid weeks of August sailing from Kos to Patmos together with G’s family. After a few stops in Kalymnos, Leros and Archangelos we got to the beautiful island of Patmos where a visit to the monastery and the famous Cave of the Apocalypse were a must. Strolling along the cute allies of the town centre in Skala was very enjoyable too. There are quite a few shops with pretty clothes and handmade crafts.
Gladan behaved very well and even let others sail her!