Two faces of Alicante

After Mattias left, we continued our sail north towards Alicante. And so it happened that we arrived in Alicante just in time for Midsummer, which is celebrated in Spain as the festival of San Juan. Although we weren’t in the party mood, it was interesting to see how the celebration of the shortest night of the year took place compared to how we celebrate in Sweden. Alicante is apparently the town that celebrate the most, and the celebrations include massive bonfires on the beach, which the brave try to jump over for good luck, thereafter washing hands and feet in the water for twelve months of good luck. Everywhere around the city massive sculptures in different themes could be seen, and I thought it was a bit funny that the one next to the harbour was called “Invadors” which was illustrated as Vikings. We felt very much welcomed 😉

All over the streets were street stalls, bars restaurants lined up for the party people, and there was even foam part going on in an alley in the middle of the day. Well, we were preparing for the passage to Ibiza the next day, and instead of enjoying the fun the usual tasks of filling up the water tank, cleaning the boat and doing grocery shopping filled our day and night. Since one of my friends had scheduled her flight to Ibiza just a week later, there was no time to relax. It was not the most convenient day to go grocery shopping, but since we knew that Ibiza would be expensive and not so easy to go shopping there really wasn’t any other way to do it. Besides that, we also needed to prepare some tax reports for the authorities back home. Big party pooper!

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I didn´t know much about Alicante before we went there, except that they have regular flights to Sweden, but I really liked the town and were curious about what it was like when the festival did not crowd the streets. Three weeks later we went back to Alicante from the Balearics, some experiences wiser and with a new goal – to head back home. The first night after our passage we anchored in the outskirts of Alicante, outside Albufeira and enjoyed a cool swim before watching the sun set behind the mountains. When serving some tapas onboard, we realized that the fish here were just like the Spaniards – they really like some matured cheese! With cheese as bait, I hoped that maybe we could catch some fish for dinner, but they were way to smart for me and the only thing I managed to do was to tangle up the fishing line and get frustrated 😉 The cheese worked better as a bait to get close to the fish and watch them eat, as you can see in the photo (the top right fish enjoyed the cheese a fraction of a second later).

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This time there was a bit more time to explore the city and there was one thing I really wanted to see before leaving Spain and Alicante – the castle on top of the hill in the middle of town “Castell de la Santa Barbara”. One evening off we went, after a full day of doing paint jobs on the boat in the heat. The perfect dinner was found in one of the alleys on the way up at Fast&Bio, where we tasted the different types of pizza, garlic bread and hoummus made with organic ingredients and a lot of love. The goat cheese pizza was delicious!

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Climbing up the hill was an effort, but there was much to see all the way up. First the narrow streets of old town, then the gardens on the side of the hill and finally the increasingly breathtaking views of the city, the sea, and the mountains. To walk up this steep hill in daytime would have been too hot, but on the other hand we were a bit late to actually get to walk around in the castle. The perfect way to enjoy it would probably be to bring a picnic and just relax the whole evening with the view.

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The last day I took a walk to the beach to get a few hours of relaxing sunbathing and swimming before taking off north. But it is hard to relax when you have somewhere to go. Next up, the weeks we spent in the party island Ibiza and every super yacht´s favourite – Formentera!

– Petra

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NOTES FOR SAILORS

The harbour in Alicante is a bit pricey, but an excellent place to swap crew or leave the boat to fly home. They have a rather large liveaboard community and people are friendly. There are also several anchorages along the bay that can provide reasonable shelter, especially East of Alicante. Alicante is one of the most common places to start a passage to Ibiza or Formentera, be sure to stock up on groceries before you go!


 

The first glimpse of Costa Blanca, a bay full of hippies and sailing Mar Menor with friends

After some busy weeks with hard decisions being made and us focusing on ourselves and getting the boat into shape for a sale I am now back in Sweden for a break while Jens continue to sail the boat. But before all these decisions were made we had some adventures that I would like to remember for the future, and of course share with you guys!

Leaving Almerimar in the morning with a hangover was a challenge, but we needed to take advantage of the first day of Westerlies in a long while, since we had visits from friends planned further up the coast. Of course, the winds were still not so strong, but at least they could hold out the sails. After just a couple of hours our sailor friend Stuart, who we partied with the night before on Pegasus, catched up and passed us on the way north. At least we made it around the Cabo de Gata which is the start of Costa Blanca and anchored up in a pretty sheltered bay among about 10 other boats by nightfall. When the new morning dawned we could enjoy the dramatic landscape, compared to Costa del Sol it felt like we were in the wilderness even though there were some people on beach who had arrived by car to enjoy the day. This day we sailed along Pegasus all day, and it was nice to not be alone at sea for once!

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The next stop “Cala San Pedro” just north of San Jose was meant to be a swim break together with Stuart, but we never really left. It was such an unique place – a good anchorage with an old castle and a hippie community. The isolated beach can only be reached by foot or by sea. The cove has a community of people who live there all year, built their homes with local materials and live disconnected from modernity and in harmony with the environment (read more here). Apparently the cove has a natural source of drinking water which enabled the inhabitants to live in isolation and it is a truly inspiring place, we were just sorry that we’re not good enough in Spanish to make some interviews on what it is like to live there…

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The landscape is dramatic, and from the anchorage it’s hard to see all the houses that exist here built into the cliffs and on the hillside, because they blend in and are sometimes covered by the vegetation. This is not a place for people who are convenient, but the creative and hardworking free spirits grow their own crops and build creative homes connected by narrow paths up the hill. The water is crystal clear and full of fish, the beach is full of naturists and tents from tourists that come here for a shorter stay and to party. One dinghy came over to our boat to ask who we were, what we were doing there and if we were coming over to the beach later that night with a bottle of rum to party with them 😉

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Continuing north the next day, the winds were not strong enough to take us to Cartagena, instead we stopped to sleep a few hours at Aguilas and then continued to the small coastal town of Mazarron. As the wind direction turned (of course not in our favor), we decided to stay one night and instead spend a day on the beach and get some stuff done in the cool office of the club house with their excellent WIFI. But with a friend arriving in Alicante just a few days later, we could not rest long. Jens took the night shift to get us up to Mar Menor, an inland sea between Cartagena and Alicante. This inland sea is the perfect anchoring spot, since it’s between 3-6 m deep all over. We spent the first night in the harbour and met up with Mattias and his brother the next day. It was nice to hang out with the family, go swimming and just relax. In the evening we dropped the anchor in Mar Menor, did some fishing and enjoyed some tapas together with Jens childhood friend.

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The next day it was time to head north and introduce Mattias to sailing. Since he brought some new gear we were fishing all day but didn’t have any luck – is there really any fish in the Mediterranean?!? We had a great day out on the sea and arrived at Torrevieja just in time for some dinner.

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On Mattias last night we celebrated with some ice-cream downtown. Thank you Mattias for stopping by and lighting up our stay at Costa Blanca! It is always interesting to share the cruising lifestyle with the people we love from home, hear what things they like and what they would not endure in this way of living. It is easy to imagine that the cruising life would be like an everlasting vacation, but unfortunately that is pretty far from the truth. The splurges we have done when we have visitors cannot be made every week, and most days it is all about sailing – longer hours and a greater distance than we would many times prefer. In all types of lifestyles you get a routine, a routine that can become dull and exhausting even though there are also many highlights. We have learned not to make any deadlines when sailing, but a life completely without planning is not so fun either, and when you know that bad weather is approaching there is no choice but trying  to get to a good place before it hits.

– Petra

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NOTES FOR SAILORS

To see the location of all the harbours and anchorages we stayed at on our sail along Costa Blanca click here. There are many good and beautiful anchorages along this stretch of coast, and we highly recommend staying Cala san Pedro. The harbours vary greatly in price, Club de Regatas Mazarron being one of the cheapest (16.19 €/night for us) and Aguilas being one of the more pricey (39€/night for 10 m boat).


 

Sailing with whales, a grumpy girlfriend and skinny dipping

One of the perks with cruising life is the nature experiences it provides, since you are not only immersed in nature but also heavily dependent on it. Of course, not all aspects of spending between 8-20 hours a day outside is positive. When there is stormy weather and huge waves to balance, or you get exhausted and burnt by the sun it is possible that a day at the office seems like a much better idea.

But let me tell you about a day in the sun, that was as much boring as exhilarating (yes it’s possible to combine the two!).

We knew we were almost not going to be able to sail at all that day. The rumours about the Mediterranean are true – many times the wind is too weak to hold out the sails. This meant a long day by the motor, since the batteries last so much longer at low speed. After some hours it was getting very hot, even though it was a cloudy day. I decided that it was time for a swim! While it sounded like a perfect idea, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We still haven’t managed to install a swimming ladder on the boat, which means that you need to drag yourself up on push-pit and climb up by the rudder. Needless to say, eight months mostly sitting on the a** on the boat has not improved the physique and I barely made it up the last time I tried. After hesitating a while, we both jumped in.

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The water was crystal clear and refreshing. After a lot of coaching and help I managed to get up at the boat at the third attempt. Even though it led to a grumpy/frustrated face that lasted half an hour, the refreshing effect of the swim lasted longer.

A while later, I was cooking dinner when Jens called on me – “Get up here, there is something funny in the horizon, I think it might be whales!?”

I needed little more convincing. In a distance, we could see some large animals a little bit over the surface, sometimes diving up and down through the water. We steered a bit closer and tried to identify them through the binoculars. Was it whales? Killer whales? Or just another type of dolphins?

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When we got a bit closer we decided to turn of the noisy generator as well as the engine to not scare them off and enjoy the view in silence. It looked like several groups of animals, probably at least four groups of at least five individuals each. We drifted a bit closer to them, and they drifted closer to us. I got frustrated at first, “This is why I bought a superzoom camera! Now I only have this crappy 10-year old compact camera and the GoPro-camera that has been acting funny and not been working– why now!?” But those petty thoughts were soon dissolved as we watched the animals in awe.

After drifting next to each other on 1-200 meters apart, one group started swimming towards us. Their trubbiga noses shot out of the surface, and the black fin rolled through the surface. But most of all, it was the sound of their breathing that made it evident that we were so close. All of a sudden they were just some 20 meters from the boat, 10 meters, 5 meters, and then diving under the boat! There is simply no way of not being excited when animals as big as half the length of Mouni is swimming next to and under the boat.

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When I sat down on the side of the boat I could clearly see one animal swimming just a meter below surface straight towards the boat, just to turn as it was inches from Mouni and “slap” the keel with its tail! Soon they swam in group next to us, singing, bouncing into each other and making splashes and bubbles through the water. (We later learned that they were Long-finned Pilot Whales, closely related to dolphins and the baby whales swim with their mother the first three years.)

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Just like that we were now surrounded by these wonderful creatures, and the lack of technology to capture this perfect moment through just made it even more precious – to actually just be here and now.

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Later in the evening, the mountain line got glow from the setting sun, which finally turned the sky and sea bright red. The moon rose over the clouds and we could finally see the faint lights of our destination in the horizon.

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As a wise man once said – “Learn to appreciate cruising under two knots”

(We´re still learning)

– Petra

Passing the big rock of Gibraltar and sailing Costa del Sol

After Tarife the Mediterranean begins. It felt a bit special to cross the continental shelf that marks the entrance on the chart, and definitely worth a high five to have reached here 🙂 But it wasn’t until we reached Gibraltar that we really could feel that we truly were here. Gibraltar, this characteristic rock famous for its network of tunnels that have been under British rule for 300 years and still has importance as a military post in the entrance of the Med. Eight miles separate Europe from Africa at its narrowest point in the straits. On the other side lies Tanger and a bit further on lies Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morrocco. This time we didn’t have clear sight over to the other side, so we had to use our imagination to fill in the details on the Mountains rising up on the African continent. Just as we passed Gibraltar, a big pod of dolphins jumped towards Mouni making us feel welcomed to the Med (and of course it was fun that Lotta got to sail with dolphins during her sail with us)!

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As we had such a great sailing day, we didn’t want to stop so early, but continued towards Spain. The first impression of sailing in the Med was great, windy enough to give us a good speed but no waves at all! Passing the well-known tourist spots such as Marbella and Fuengirola, we then finally reached our goal – the huge artificial yacht harbour of Benalmádena on the SW end of Torremolinos. It was quite a different coastline then we are used to, in Costa del Sol there are hotel complexes all along the coast, and this harbour almost felt like a rip-off of Venice as we sailed in between the houses connected by bridges into our spot by a pier packed with restaurants and shops. After tying up the boat, we went for an evening swim to cool down and freshen up before dinner. The last night with Lotta onboard was celebrated on a Mexican restaurant and ended with some wine in the cockpit.

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In the morning, Lotta left for Malaga airport and Sweden, while we left for a day of sailing passing Malaga towards the bay outside Almuñécar (Ensenada de los Berengueles). We spent at least an hour trying to decide which was the best anchorage to give us shelter before the strong Easterlies would appear, but still ended up spending the night rolling back and forth and didn’t get much sleep. We swallowed our pride and went into the Marina del Este Puerto de la Mona the next morning, even though our pilot book listed it as pricey. When Jens got back from the marina office he carried the complementary bottle of wine that lets you know that you paid a high price, a new record of 43€ for one night! On the positive side, they had good facilities and just a short walk away there was a nice beach with a restaurant where we enjoyed a burger and beer. As the heat got overwhelming I tried snorkling for the first time since we left Sweden and they did have some nice fish, plants and sea cucumbers by the cliffs.

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The next night was spent on the hook by Playa de San Cristobal in Almuñécar again, since we didn’t want to waste all our money on marina fees while waiting for a westerly wind to come back. We rowed ashore with the (almost) repaired dinghy, and while I went to do some grocery shopping Jens swam back to the boat when we realised that one guy that was out swimming had climbed up on our boat!?! Jens had a challenge communicating with the Spanish man who didn’t know any English, but we think that he was trying to communicate that he had hurt his shoulder and was too tired to swim back to shore… In the end Jens got an invitation to his house, but he seemed a bit of a drunk so we didn’t take him up on that invitation 🙂

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Now the frustration of the strong Easterly winds and the weak westerly winds had gotten the better of us and we spent one day motoring to Motril and then the next day to Almerimar, a seaside touristy town resembling Benalmádena. The four days we spent in Almerimar was filled with social calls, boat work and anchoring. We got to know our French-Canadian neighbours on “Winsome Lass”, which Francis is sailing together with his girlfriend and their 2,5-year-old son some months per year. There has been a real heat wave here so we treated them to some ice-cream and discussed the endless issues of boat work.

We then got invited over for dinner to Mike and Grace on 2moons who have sailed the last 11 years (7 in the Mediterranean) and whom we first met in Motril. They confirmed what we still have not wanted to believe – that sailing here in “Motorranean” requires at least 70% going by motor since the winds are often too weak for sailing. This is not a good match with our electric motor 😦 It actually makes us question if it is such a good idea for us to continue further into the Med, as it can get hard for us to get out again in a reasonable time frame. Besides debating and thinking about how we should proceed, we also had a wonderful paella for dinner onboard Pegasus with Stewart. A wet night that got us just a wee bit too hangover to enjoy the upcoming sail to Costa del Blanca the next morning…

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Next time we´ll treat you with some snapshots from a powerful meeting with sea creatures half the size of our boat! Until then, hope you all are starting to enjoy the summer, wherever you are!

– Petra

 

 


NOTES FOR SAILORS

Sailing in Costa del Sol is easy – easy navigation, good order and help in the harbours and not so much fishing nets. But – beware of the weak winds! Too little wind is commonplace. We visited several harbours along the way:

Benalmádena – big harbour with (quite noisy) restaurants, bars and shops all around, a charter destination. We paid between 21-23 € per night.

Marina Del Este – medium sized harbour in a beautiful setting but very pricey (42,64€/night). You can rent bikes for free, but it is far to supermarket. A little bit west from Punta del mona lies the marine national park “Acantilados de maro Cerro Gordo” that seems to have really god snorkling/diving and is possible to anchor at dedicated space. We anchored by one of the beaches in Almuñécar, which is a pleasant town with narrow streets and big grocery store behind the big red apartment hotel building.

Motril – Good shelter and beaches nearby but not so much more to offer, unless you rent a car and visit Grenada or the Sierra Nevada mountains that is just north from here. We paid 30,25€/night

Almerimar – Big harbour with chandlery and repairs nearby. Popular (and fairly cheap) to leave the boat over the winter. Lots of restaurants and really nice beach. We paid 17.52€/night (incl electricity, they add cost both for electricity and water if you want that).


 

Enjoying Lagos and Barbate with family and friends

The days with our crew Stine was coming to an end. After the long slow passage to Lagos we had a couple of days before saying goodbye. The sole (a flatfish) that Stine caught on the passage was turned into a nice barbeque dinner on the beach nearby. Lagos is a popular spot om the Algarve-coast both for sailors and tourists, with beaches, caves and lots of sailing opportunities around the corner. The river Ribadeiro Bensafrim divides the modern part of town where the marina is situated from the old part of town with the surrounding town walls, churches and restaurants.

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On our second day in Lagos I got visit from my old friend from university, Cissi, with her baby boy who was born just a couple of weeks after we left Sweden. We strolled down the cobbled streets, enjoyed some lunch on one of the plazas and visited the beach “Praia do pi. Vhao” on the far end of the old town, which is beautifully surrounded by cliffs and caves. It is quite a luxury to have access to shade right on the beach even without the rent-out umbrellas that are very frequent on this coast.

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Then it was time to say goodbye to Stine, and we celebrated over three weeks of sailing together with a dinner out on the town. She left us early morning to fly back from Faro, and it truly was a bit sad to say goodbye, and we feel lucky that with our first attempt of trying on crew we have also made a new friend. In the guest book she left us a guide to the most similar flags that we always seem to confuse – Holland, France, Luxembourg (and Russia). Did you know that Luxembourg and Holland has the exact same flag, but only with different shades of blue!? 😀 Thanks a lot for these three weeks Rally-Stine, a.k.a. Danish_Deckhand, you are always welcome back to sail with us!

Lucky for us, we didn´t have to feel lonely for long, since Jens parents flew in the same day for a visit! They rented a car so the next day we could take a tour inland and out to Cape St. Vincent, the most westerly point of Continental Europe. The lighthouse provided stunning views over the landscape that we passed with the boat just a few days earlier. The steep cliffs have up to 50 meter drop down to the sea, and the stone ranges from beige sandstone, dark ancient rock and red sandstone layer on top. It was clear that we had arrived to an area popular among tourists, since there were street stands, buses and cars all around. In the evening we had some nice dinner on the restaurant on top of the Mercado in Lagos, and then it was time to say goodbye to Jens father who was just visiting over the weekend.

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The sail to Barbate you could read about in the last post, and since we didn’t plan on going there we didn’t really know what to expect. This small town across the Spanish border and just before the Med, is not as exploited as the Portuguese coast before, or the Costa del Sol which starts after Gibraltar. It is however famous for something else – the Bluefin Tuna (also called Red Tuna). It is caught in the “almadraba”, using an artisan method of fishing with labyrinth of nets, that’s more than a thousand years old. Along the beach in Barbate all the restaurants are bragging of their tuna specialties, and we tried it barbequed, boiled and pickled. They also have really good mojitos on the restaurants along the beach, which seem like the most common drink here after beer.

We also had a really nice dinner on a restaurant close by the harbour, and the last night we did our own barbeque by the harbour together with sailor-friend Stewart (who we first met in outside Porto) who arrived the day after us. The amount of foreign boats is steadily increasing (especially the British), even though we still see most the neighbouring countries such as Spanish, Portuguese and French boats.

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Next time we’ll tell you more about our sail through Gibraltar, and Costa del Sol!

– Petra

 


NOTES FOR SAILORS

Lagos is a sheltered harbour with good facilities for sailors. They have 460 spots but also very popular, sometimes called “Sticky Lagos” because sailors tend to stay longer than they expected. There is a very well-stocked chandlery by the fishing harbour next door, probably one of the best we have passed on our journey.

Barbate also provides reasonable shelter, we had strong easterlies when we stayed there but was protected by the large buildings by the harbour. It is a good place to stop between Lagos and Gibraltar. There are showers and washing machine, but no WIFI and a bit of a walk into town where you can stock up on the large supermarket just outside town. We paid 12,91€/night low season-price and 23€/night high season price (started 1st of June).