On our sailing trip around the world in search of sustainable solutions we sail from Malaga to Ibiza. We are confronted by the “Levant” and an emergency.
Málaga (ESP) – Ibiza (ESP)
Weather and money
For once it’s not the weather that determines the course of our journey, but finances. With barely enough wind to sail we leave Málaga because the marina is so ridiculously expensive. Little did we know the conditions would soon be the exact opposite.
It’s only 15nm to Caleta de Vélez, but it takes us all day. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort. The marina is operated by the “Junta de Andalusia”, the regional government, and thus very affordable. While the town itself is nothing special, our visitors make our stay memorable.
Floris’s mother Marianne and her partner Wim moved base along with us and treat us to dinner in the local restaurant. The next day we celebrate a reunion with Katherine, who sailed with us in Norway. She is visiting her parents in nearby Nerja. They show us where they spend their winters and take us to a very Spanish restaurant on the beach, Ayo. The dish of the day is prepared in a huge pan on an open fire and, naturally, delicious!
As soon as a day of westerly wind arrives, we set sail again. It’s 60nm to Almerimar, a holiday town with a large marina and thus a good base to wait for the next weather window. As we sail along the rugged coast, we enjoy magnificent views. The bright sun colours the sea deep blue, while the snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada provide a contrasting backdrop. Marinas are sparse along this stretch and there are no suitable anchorages, so we are glad to reach Almerimar late at night, just before the wind dies.
When we wake up the next morning we find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of boats and high-rise apartment buildings. Almerimar turns out to be a popular summer holiday resort and winter destination for sailboats and campervans. Where the dwellings end, the plastic-covered greenhouses begin. They are so plentiful, they can be seen from space! We now understand why this area is called “the vegetable garden of Europe”.
If you have never heard of Almerimar, there is a reason. There is not much to see or do here, which turns out to be a blessing in disguise. We blog, vlog and do research. We try to stay fit by running and doing push-ups. And we have time for doing laundry, groceries and cooking. Best of all, we get to spend time with family – Marianne and Wim moved along the coast with us – and friends. Sophie and Peter Jan pay us a visit during their Andalusian holiday. Together we celebrate Sophie’s birthday with haute-cuisine tapas in a bar bordering the marina.
The reason we have so much time is the weather. The wind howls day and night. It is so strong that despite the shelter from the apartment blocks around us, wind gusts still reach more than 35 knots. Due to the style of mooring here – stern to the shore and one mooring line from the bow to the ground – the row of boats moves a lot. On top of that some of the boats around us make a lot of noise. Halyards slam against the masts, loose sail covers and damaged biminis flap with every gust. Fenders and lines squeak. We don’t sleep well.
It is our first encounter with the “levant”, one of the typical Mediterranean wind patterns. These easterly winds are accelerated by the mountain ranges on the European and African continents. They can reach storm force and last for many days. We’re glad to be here, where it is relatively well sheltered and surprisingly cheap.
While we patiently wait for the wind to turn, we meet fellow sailors Tara and Stewart. We briefly met in Caleta de Vélez and now get a chance to get better acquainted. Like us they have been charmed by Andalusia and are keen to explore the Med. Unfortunately, we have to cut short our second evening together, when we decide to make use of a short weather window with light westerly winds.
Carnival in Cartagena
When we finally leave Almerimar after ten days, the wind is even lighter than predicted. We reach speeds between 1 and 3 knots, so we cheer at every breath of wind that moves us closer to 3 knots. On the plus side, the skies are clear and there is very little swell. We see the lights of Almeria pass by very slowly. With the rounding of Cabo de Gata in the middle of the night, we leave the Alboran Sea. From here the Spanish coast stretches to the NE and the distance to Africa widens.
The next day is equally calm, and evening falls when we are still miles away from our destination. Only ten nautical miles before Cartagena the wind shifts and becomes northerly. We tack until we reach the lee of the mountains and head for the marina in the early hours of the morning. Floris tries the VHF and to our surprise a “marinero” answers swiftly. It’s 5am, but he comes to the pontoon with a flashlight and assigns us a spacious berth. After some sleep we check in and get what we hoped for: we’re granted a free night. Staying out at sea until early morning also has its advantages!
Located in a large natural bay, Cartagena has always been an important naval base. Its marina hosts many sailboats, many of which stay here all winter. The community is very welcoming and soon we learn that we arrived just in time for Cartagena’s carnival parade later that day. From small children to elders, whole families participate in the festivities. Dressed up as sailors, we enjoy the spectacle from the side-line and marvel at the effort that the Cartaginians put into their costumes and dance routines.
Before we leave Cartagena we visit the town’s covered “mercado”. Its wide selection of regional produce is a real treat. We buy as much fresh fruit, vegetables and olives as we can carry.
A change of plans
Our next destination was going to be a reforestation project in Alicante province. Back in Amsterdam, we visited the Land Life Company, which has developed an innovative device to make tree-planting much more effective. When we discuss with them the possibilities to visit the Alicante reforestation project, it turns out that it will be better to visit their project in Italy instead. We thus wonder if it still makes sense to sail to Alicante.
Floris is faced with a dilemma. He used to visit his grandparents each year when they lived near Alicante and would like to show Ivar where he spent many childhood holidays. Yet he realises that the place will probably not have become prettier in the 25 years since his last visit. The wind prediction – ideal to sail northeast to the Balearics – settle the matter. Floris will preserve his memories and we set sail for Ibiza for research on our next sustainable solution, eco-tourism and education.
Shortly after leaving Cartagena, an ear-deafening alarm comes from the VHF, followed by PanPan PanPan PanPan and the coast guard’s emergency message. A boat with 32 people is adrift between Morocco and Spain, somewhere in the Alboran sea. The exact position is unknown, all vessels are requested to keep a sharp lookout and provide assistance if possible. We are at least 100nm away from there, so cannot do anything. At the same time we realise that we were there only a few days ago. Throughout the day, we hear a repetition of this message every hour until it is cancelled early in the evening. We can only guess at what exactly happened. Hopefully these poor people have been found and brought to safety.
We had read and heard about the many boat refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Still, hearing an emergency call like this, is a different thing. It could have been us that spotted them. Seafarers are obliged to help each other in case of emergency, unless their own ship and life are endangered. We discussed this scenario before and concluded the best option would be to alert the coastguard for professional help. Taking a large group of exhausted, desperate people on board a sailboat is risky. There might be a highjack attempt, or worse. We’re unarmed and are not equipped to provide large-scale medical assistance. However, it’s easy to discuss this over a cup of coffee, but what would we do in reality? Could there be circumstances that acute help is needed and we’re the only boat around? What would we do? We simply don’t know.
Later that night we think about the 32 boat refugees again. They must have been totally desperate to risk their lives like this. Why did they board that unseaworthy vessel for a trip across the Med? Was it war, prosecution or poverty? What right do we have to deny these people safety in Europe when our own politics and lifestyle, such as our oil addiction, may have contributed to their desperation? Clearly, this complex issue isn’t easy to solve, but it gets us thinking about what we can do to help refugees while we’re sailing the Med this year.
In the early morning, Floris gets a bit nostalgic when we see the Peñon d’Ifach in the distance. It is Calpe’s iconic landmark and invokes some of Floris’s best childhood memories. At the same time we can see Ibiza’s peaks rising out of the water in the distance. We leave the past the past and head for the future.
The wind accelerates to 20-25 knots, so we rapidly approach our next destination. After we pass the narrows between Ibiza and neighbouring island Formentera, the waves are suddenly gone and we are greeted by the old quarter of Ibiza town. It towers high over a bay that hosts a handful of marinas. We head for the anchorage of Talamanca bay instead. It is sheltered from westerly winds and located close to Ibiza town.
As we enter the bay, the steep cliffs impress us. “Check the depth, I can see the bottom” says Floris slightly nervously. “It’s 10 meters deep here” replies Ivar from the cockpit. The water is so clear here, it seems much more shallow. We drop the anchor on a white, sandy spot to avoid damaging the poseidonia sea grass, a protected species. Not much later we enjoy the sunset in our cockpit.
Late in the evening a firm wind from the north sets in. We’re still sheltered from the sea, but the wind gusts are impressive. Floris is already asleep when Ivar does a routine check. Oops, the steep cliffs look way too close, our anchor isn’t holding properly! Ivar awakes Floris, starts the engine and minutes later we find ourselves in full action on deck while wind gusts howl around the boat in the dark bay. We’re able to stay clear of the cliffs, but only just. Relieved, we anchor again, this time with more chain and a second anchor. We make sure the anchors hold when we go back to bed. Relieved about our narrow escape, we realize that we have developed too much trust in our 40kg “Rocna” anchor. It had never disappointed us once, until now. This trust proves to be misplaced on the sandy Ibiza seabed. While the adrenaline from our narrow escape slowly evaporates, we doze off, eager to explore this intriguing island the coming days!