I jumped at the invitation to crew on Moonraker, a Morgan 44 sailing yacht, on a trip from the Spanish mainland to Ibiza, and then fly home.
The plane was rather alarmingly over the sea when the undercarriage clicked into its landing position. However this was soon followed by the reassuring bump of the plane touching down on the solid tarmac of Murcia’s San Javier airport.
Chris, my skipper, is anxious to hurry as I emerge from the green gate.
“Quick! The yacht might drift off and go missing.” He exclaimed.
Chris and his wife Laurie are living out the dream of an early retirement home afloat. They are learning that marina moorings are prohibitively expensive on one hand, whereas the alternative is to leave the yacht anchored off a strange beach, and risk it disappearing whilst they are having a run ashore.
Murcia is on the western shore of an inland sea, or lagoon, called Mer Menor. Measuring approximately ten miles by five with a lock leading to the open sea.
We meet Laurie at a waterside bar in Les Narejos. With the yacht safely insight we are able to relax and have a glass of wine before transferring out to her. Rowing a fully laden inflatable dinghy into an onshore breeze is challenging even for a short distance. But hey! The water looks inviting and the late summer sun warms the soul.
The anchor clanks up demonstrating the wonders of a electric windlass, removing all the effort and leaving just the weed to be brushed over the side. We motor the four miles across the lagoon to the buildings where the lock is located. After anchoring we pause for another drink, which gives us time to check that the yacht is holding safely with the GPS anchor alarm set properly.
We row ashore and clamber over the modern rectangular concrete rocks. Fortunately we remembered to bring a long painter enabling the westerly breeze to blow the dinghy away from the sharp edges. We have a reasonable 40 euros meal at a nearby restaurant that gives us a view of both the dinghy and yacht.
Getting back into the dinghy is simple when it’s too dark to see what one’s doing and the alcohol acts as an anaesthetic against the odd shin scrap. Besides nothing quite beats the sensation of sitting on board a yacht gently rocking at anchor.
In the morning the mystery of the lock gates is solved by milling around with the local boats who have their own way of knowing when they are going to open.
The Mediterranean in the last week in September is beautiful, deep blue sea, the Romans and the Phoenicians sailed here countless centuries ago.
Our course takes us north eastwards towards Alicante and on the way we pass huge fish farms constructed of netted areas which act as giant holding tanks for fresh fish which are regularly fed to fatten them up for market. Are the Spanish finally taking responsibility for the environment? We receive a pleasant surprise at our lunchtime anchorage.
Isla de Tabarca is a mile long situated some eight miles due south of Alicante. A former haunt of pirates, it now hosts a small fishing cum tourist village, and proved a wonderful stopping point.
As soon as we had anchored we dived over the side with mask and snorkel . The bottom was clearly visible six metres below us and the water wonderfully warm. Suddenly we are surrounded by a huge mixed shoal of fish. It’s rather like feeding time in an aquarium! The aggressive fish, small now, may become a problem when they are larger.
Our swim ashore turns out to be longer than we originally thought. While still on board we ought to have looked ahead for rock plateaux which would have provided a foothold for a rest. But it’s a wonderful adventure arriving at a pirate island by swimming! A couple of coins for an ice cream won’t have gone amiss either. On the return we conserve energy and arrive eager for lunch.
We motor sailed the last few miles into Alicante marina. Our hostess wants to moor alongside a pontoon and use the marina’s facilities. Although we have plenty of water for drinking, without a water maker clothes washing is awkward so we need to visit the laundrette. These days it is getting increasingly difficult to use any marina’s facilities without paying the overnight mooring fees, here it costs 84 euros.
Alicante has a fine castle on the hill overlooking this large modern town of ancient origins with some 300,000 population.
In the morning the marina staff expect us to promptly leave or pay for another night. We do get a chance to use their office internet for emails and check the shipping forecast before setting off for our overnight trip to Ibiza.
The winds are light as we make our way along the coast past Benidorm towards Javea, and there we turn out to sea for the 60 mile crossing. The intensity of the shipping passing this headland reminds me of the English Channel separation zone with rows of ships stretching in every direction.
After a snooze and supper it is time for a big tidy of my cabin in the forepeak. I like to prepare for my night sailing because it’s always complicated by not being able to find things in the dark, particularly when feeling slightly seasick.
The skipper tidies up the deck. As the wind is light there is some debate over leaving up the cruising chute overnight. Fortunately common sense prevails and down it comes. This was a good decision for when the wind came, it got up very quickly.
An hour or so after dark the mainsail hung uselessly against the motion of the slight swell. The gust was enough to move the wind indicator needle. But then it just kept moving all the way around the dial before finally settling around Force 7, and coming off our port quarter.
Fortunately the headsail was rigged on an easy to reef furler. However the main required a visit to the mast with much flapping of canvas and catching onto mast add-ons of radar domes and the like. Unless a full race crew is on board or you are very familiar with night reefing, it is better to sort it all out in daylight.
The sea was building, large waves were running down behind us, the whiteness of their crests briefly visible before merging into the night time florescence. The sailing was exhilarating. It was not cold. I only had on my oilskin bottoms and lifejacket. In between the rain squalls we could see the outline of a rocky coastline.
The idea was arrive in Ibiza in time to collect the guests for the next leg and drop me ashore. The question of mooring fees arose again as we discussed the practicalities of transporting a couple complete with luggage in a small dinghy straight off the beach.
We decided to head for Talamanca Bay just east of the main town, Eivissa, where I’d booked my hotel and it could act as a shore base.
The problem was that we were hurtling towards our destination at a reckless speed with steep rocky shapes looming in the distance. In between Ibiza and its sister island Formentera is a narrow channel surrounded by sharp rocks. A challenge in daylight, at night it becomes a rather daunting prospect with a gale blowing.
Although the sight of the islands should have filled us with reassurance was it was actually rather worrying. We were confronted with a strange light. The light went up in the air then went out and then came back down again. Perhaps it was a giant wind turbine with illuminated blades which wasn’t on the charts yet?
Later we discovered that we were in line with Ibiza’s airport and the night flights were taking off into the wind with their wing lights visible before entering the clouds. A few moments later an arrival would descend.
It was decided that as soon as Ibiza started to act as a wind break we would round up into a bay called Sa Caleta and wait until it was light.
There was a rush of both excitement and dread as we headed up into the wind. The land loomed huge, dark and ominous. Fortunately the echo sounder worked enabling us to drop anchor a hundred yards from shore in five metres of water.
The morning bought warm sunshine and the thrill of jumping over the side for a swim. On the way down I pondered the wisdom of not checking beforehand whether a shark was sheltering under the hull. But there aren’t any in the Mediterranean are there?
After breakfast we up anchored and the still considerable breeze swept us down to the channel and past Formentera. Our arrival in Talamanca Bay was greeted with a yachtsman with a German accent shouting across to us that he had 80 metres of chain down (in six metres of depth) and everyone must stay clear. The skipper ably demonstrated how to drop two anchors at right angles preventing us from dragging in the strong breeze.
All too soon my last morning on board arrived. I felt for my hostess as again she confronted changing sheets for her husband’s guests without a washing machine. Hand scrubbing a double duvet cover in a galley sink with only a kettle of hot water and foot pump isn’t an inviting prospect.
With my holdall in one hand and shoes in the other I said my goodbyes before slipping over the dinghy’s bow to continue my adventures ashore.