The clock was ticking. Tick tack tick tack. The boys would arrive in Cadiz (southwest Spain, close to Portugal) on the first of July. We needed to be there on time to pick them up. Two weeks to cover 430 nautical miles, or 774 kilometers, is not a lot. But perfectly feasible. If you cover an average of 30 nautical miles a day you’ll get there easy enough. That is of course, if the wind is in your favor…
Our first 88 nm went down pretty well as we crossed from Ibiza to San Juan (Alicante). We had a slow sail and even had to motor a few hours.
After the calm of the Balearics, hitting the mainland came as a bit of a shock. Observing the hustle and bustle on the land from the quiet vantage point of the sea, threw us back less than a year, when we were part of the very same rat race. Getting up early, rushing everyone through breakfast and going our separate ways:
- Packing the sleepy children in the car, attempting to get them to school before peak hour traffic really starts, but getting stuck on the way back. Cursing at the lack of driving skill and common sense, damning yet another sleepyhead that caused a minor accident that takes hours to sort out and has bumper to bumper traffic jams as result. Just when you get back and want to start work, it is time to leave again and join the eternal traffic hell. Repeating the same scenario several times a day, with aggravation levels rising alarmingly.
- Or cycling at top speed not to miss the commute to Brussels, brisk walking to the metro and work, not to be late for the series of scheduled meetings, rushing from meeting to meeting. Sprinting on high heels to catch the metro, running for the train, discover it is running late again, and cycling home in a rush as dinner is getting cold and homework supervision is still waiting for you. 11 hours away from home, cortisol levels pumping, to get as much done as possible.
Watching the speedy cars rolling up and down the roads, scurrying past each other, in a typical hurry up and wait scenario, made us realize we do not miss that part of life at all.
The going opinion on sailing blogs and websites is that the Spanish coastline is not a cruising destination. It is what you pass on your way to somewhere else. In some respects we can follow the reasoning. Especially when we think of:
- The Guarda Costal can be quite a pain. At times we were sympathetic for their plight as we observed other yachties ignore the string of buoys that demarcated the swim zone to park themselves within a few meters of a densely populated beach. At other times we felt they were being typical police officers, giving all anchored boats a hard time just because they can… and being selective about it.
- Every weekend the most popular bays turn into a wild water circus with jet ski pilots desperate to throw themselves or their passengers off their speeding watercraft, run over innocent swimmers, hit a buoy, or smack into your boat. Lots of annoying noise, huge wake, making it a bumpy ride for anyone who lives aboard.
- If you want to go from marina to marina it seems rather frustrating to call them on the radio and be ignored most of the time. Yet, you will be scolded at if -after several unsuccessful radio attempts- you just try and dock at whatever looks like the visitor’s quay.
However, if you are comfortable anchoring in small bays and if you are self-sufficient when it comes to water and energy, you might have a few nice surprises. As you hop down the coastline along the different ‘Costas’ you can easily avoid the big touristic places or over-populated areas. Several small callas and big nature reserves are worth a stop. There are many places where you can enjoy the occasional meet-the-natives. You know you’ve hit the jackpot when no-one speaks English (or Dutch or German) and you have to revert to your 5words of Spanish and sign language or switch to Portignol (Portuguese with some Spanish words thrown in). Nobody knows what you are saying (including yourself) but we are all having a great time.
Crossing from the Baleares we landed on the Costa Blanca or ‘white coast’ (thus named because it boasts several bays with white beaches). We skillfully avoided the tourist traps such as Benidorm and Alicante. Our first stop was in a small bay that offered safe anchorage for the night, with a beach that was not white. On the Navionix map our anchorage was marked as Punta Nera, and we suspect that the black sand might have something to do with that. There wasn’t much of a town in the bay. The few people on the beach looked like employees of the stone factory on the other side of the bay. We were not the only boat on anchor, there was also a Swedish couple that gave Gitane a small flashlight.
Our next stop was Cartagena, which is part of the Costa Calida or the ‘warm coast’. We docked the boat in the marina and went about the usual marina drills: giving the boat a proper wash, doing all our laundry in our black diving bag, going for a stroll in town, and talking to other boat owners. Arthur had been in Cartagena before. He knew where to find all the boat supplies and had an idea of the sights in the town (some roman ruins) so it was easy to get orientated.
From there we moved further down the coastline. The Costa Calida has many bays and inlets with rocks, providing a much more rugged scenery than the Costa Blanca and hence not as flooded by tourism. It was a 57 nm slow sail from Cartagena to Carbonara, which owes its name to the charcoal that is mined there. Quite a picturesque setting for a mine, with a stunning nature reserve with massive rock formations in all shapes and sizes just behind the corner…
After the beautiful mountains we moved further down to the Costa de Almeria, where the landscape changed to desert. The area is only thinly populated and the average rainfall is very low. Because of its similarity to the Wild West many spaghetti westerns where shot there.
With all the talk of the arid climates the wind started dropping, which made us cover only 25 nm by motor to Roquetas de Mar the first day. The next day we covered 48nm to Adra, but were tacking most of the time as well as motoring for 2 hours, so quite a long and tiresome day.
Adra is already part of the Costa Tropical and it shows. The Costa Tropical gets its name from the tropical fruit that is produced there such as mango, banana, avocado and papaya. The typical view is one of a playa, a paseo de la playa lined with some palm trees, in front of a small town, with the backdrop of mountains.
In Adra we anchored in front of the beach and walked straight into the annual fiesta. Everyone in town was dressed in their finest, hair and nails fresh out of the beauty salon. There was life music, the local version of Robbie Williams singing in a cover band called ‘The Changers’. At 11 p.m. the party got started. The playground was filled to the brim, with kids running around like crazy, having a ball. After 12, a strange ritual took place. All the inhabitants, young, old, cool, manicured, drunk, disorderly, disabled, … Really all of them, moved down to the beach and started to take of shoes and clothes. What followed could only be described as the Spanish version of ‘tomar o banho’ on Ibo on New Year’s day. This is the custom where the whole island population takes a dip in the water to start off the New Year afresh. Grannies plunged in head first, babies in nappies were quickly unwrapped, teenagers started a water fight, young couples couldn’t wait to undress each other and slide into the water together. A huge bonfire was started soon after that to dry all these wet people. We just stood and watched this strange phenomenon.
The further down you move, the bleaker the landscape becomes. The mountains have huge white patches on them. From a distance it looks like some contractor went wild and started mounting tiles of various shades of white and different sizes on the mountain slopes. Farming happens under these grand white sheets. This patchwork has a strange, slightly futuristic effect on the landscape. As if you have landed in a different time or in a science fiction movie where Earth’s atmosphere has been destroyed and the UV rays are too harmful for plants, animals and humans alike. Whoever goes outside without protection is charred on the spot.
Sailing down the coastline your mariner’s eyes get accustomed to human settlements marked by various sizes of squares and rectangles with windows in. The ‘tiled’ coastline, however, where huge patches of land and vegetation are covered under cloth, seemed to play strange tricks on our brain. As if the mental map for that landscape was not inserted and our computer gave a constant ‘error’ notice.
Moving down the Costa Tropical happened mainly by motor as there simply was no wind. Normally cruisers wait for the right wind to bring them to their destination, but we could not afford to run late and had to keep chipping away at our sea miles in order to reach our rendez-vous with the boys in time.
The Costa Tropical turns into the Costa del Sol. As these names suggest both Costas are extremely well known and popular tourist destinations. It is quite typical to see the popular playas packed to the brim with colorful umbrellas and wind shelters, a swim area fenced off by buoys, floating swim platforms for entertainment, and jet skis racing around anchored boats like mosquitos on a feeding frenzy.
Stops on the Costa del Sol were Motril, Velez Malaga and Fuengirola, with very little wind in between our stops. In Fuengirola we found great anchorage just outside the marina. Sailing down we had managed to get the fixture of our SSB antenna twisted around our Jib so that we could no longer unfurl the Jib completely. We needed to get that fixed. Prior attempts of the captain to climb the mast had been met with a less than enthusiastic response by the crew. In Malta we observed professional sail changers at work, where actually 3 guys assisted the one guy climbing up. The Exodus crew did not trust its own ability to lift the captain nor the holding capacity of the rope works and winches. After some deliberation we organized a professional so that at least we could get a good look at how to do it ourselves next time. We went into the visitor’s quay; the guy quickly climbed up, untangled the rope and made a proper fixture for the SSB antenna.
Coming down the coastline, we experienced the need to make optimal use of the little wind there is. The answer lay in a whisper pole, so that you can pole out the genoa and hold it steady. In the Fuengirola marina were some yacht supplies shops. We found the guys at Pinturas Andalusia extremely helpful. They went out of their way to order in the correct whisper pole and get it to us in time. They ordered glass in for our solar oven, and so forth…
We ended up spending quite a few days in Fuengirola, on account of the weather. Whereas we did not have much wind before, the wind started picking up, but was blowing in the wrong direction, straight from where we were headed, making it unsailable, especially as it brought along huge swell. Meantime we met the South African Tony who had just taken over the Sportsport Bar & Restaurant in the marina, together with his wife Debbie. Not only did they welcome us with open arms, they serve excellent food for little money, and are very child friendly. The chef, Phillip, is Debbie’s brother and he is a bit of a character. Gitane got on greatly with him.
Meantime, the clock kept ticking. Tick Tack Tick Tack… as the moment we had been looking forward to was getting nearer.
As the days passed, we were getting more agitated to leave. We had been watching the weather forecast several times a day. One late afternoon the prediction was that the wind would turn in our favor. We decided to get on with our journey. Turns out the weather forecast was wrong. After a few hours of fighting our way forward by motor and the swell trying to topple us over, we decided that you cannot control the weather. The only solution was to make our way back to Fuengirola. We were not going to make our rendez-vous in time.
In Fuengirola our prefect anchorage was taken up by other boats, and we had already been chased out by the Guarda Costal. Tired as we were from our ordeal at sea we decided to go into the marina. It was pitch black by the time we arrived. The visitor’s quay was full and the filling station only opens at 10 am, so we decided to moor up at the filling station get a few hours of rest and sneak out in the morning. Mooring our size of boat when it is just the two of us, and there is no assistance on land, is not so easy. We managed all right, but when Arthur jumped off to tie up the port stern he knocked his glasses off his head. He would have to do a quick dive first thing in the morning.
Just as we were lying in bed running over alternative plans to pick up the boys, a loud siren went off next to the boat. The Guarda Costal! They started shouting in Spanish at us, revving their engine as if ready to ram us or enter poor Exodus like a bunch of bloodthirsty pirates. There were about 6 guys on board. One of them assumed the role of mister reasonable (he also spoke some English). Another guy was red with anger, shouting swear words and working himself up that much we thought he was going to have a heart attack. The others were involved in the beginning, but lost interest after a while. They made us drag the boat forward so that they could moor behind us for a proper talking to. To make a long story short, we were not allowed to moor onto the filling station, we should radio the marina even if they don’t respond, and we should move to another visitor’s berth (that could not be seen in the dark). The angry guy threatened to fine or to imprison us, but the other ones did not share his opinion. So off we went to moor at the visitor’s berth with assistance of the night watch who did not know how to tie a boat…
The next day we worked out the new travel route for the kids, as the weather would clear up during the weekend. We would be able to leave on Saturday 1st of September and reach La Linea de la Concepcion. This is the Spanish side of Gibraltar. The strong wind from our previous attempt had completely disappeared and we motored the full 50 sea miles. The next day at lunch time we were reunited with the boys. At last.