Thursday, 25 September 2014

Autumn on the Costa

The season has turned. Thunderstorms are forecast along the Costa del Sol for the foreseeable future. We sailed south from Valencia yesterday under scudding heavy cloud, with Alex zipped up in Gortex, and Claudia happy to spend most of the trip down below reading. By evening we were tied up  in Calpe, a fishing town turned low-rent tourist resort which may once have had some charm but on a wet and cheerless autumn evening was stripped of anything to justify the high season prices charged by the yacht club.

Looking south from Capo San Antonio towards Calpe

Penon de Ifach looms over the entrance to Calpe harbour

Enki's spot, opposite the fishing fleet

Such good mussels at Calpe - and the swordfish was the freshest  ever

It's cool now in the mornings, and pitch black at 7 am. Summer time, like summer fruit, is on quick fade. You can only take so much disappointment, and in Palma the peaches gave us the message. Move on. We have already -  persimmons and figs are the new favourites in our breakfast bowl of muesli (let's not talk about Spanish yoghurt, please. Greece has our lifelong allegiance on that score alone).

Autumn fruit bowl (and while we're talking food, tapas below)

Grilled octopus on potatoes

Fresh tuna and fresh Valencia tomatoes (the town doesn't just do oranges)

Alex has been saying for a few weeks now that we need to get moving, that it was getting late if we wanted to get out of the Med and down to the Canaries. But it was hard to take his anxiety seriously with temperatures over 30 degrees during the day. It was still hot when we arrived in Valenica from Palma a week ago. That was a longer, and more difficult overnight passage than we'd anticipated. Wind on the nose, sea on the nose, current on the nose, passing traffic on the nose - everything on the nose, for hour after hour.

Wet decks, and a bit of a lean

The mainstay team

The sidekick

After that pounding, the allure of city life was powerful. Valencia kept us for six days, not least because we found Marina Real Joan Carlos I, where the America's Cup challenges of 2007 and 2010 were held, to our liking and even more so when our Australian friends from Marmaris days, Kevin and Mei on Whisper HR, sailed in from Barcelona. That was a treat.

Mei always knows her stuff

Kevin is a gourmand - tapas and beer in Grau, the marina neighbourhood

We felt we had a link to Valencia - albeit at several removes. Of course there was the Cup (which NZ didn't bring home though the shed with the Emirates Team NZ logo is still standing), but also Madi came here a few years back on student exchange, and Sam followed to visit.  Claudia roamed Razuffa, a funky neighbourhood recommended by Madi. Alex and I did what we like to do - mix up old and new. We found a lot to enjoy in this city, especially its relaxed pace and its lovely spaces.

The grandeur and elegance of the old town were a surprise. How many regional European towns have we said that about? Today's also-ran city was more than likely yesterday's centre of power, and though the money moves on, it leaves a trail because they built differently back then (well, until the 20th century). In Valencia, along with the city walls and the churches and so on (all the usual impressive stuff), there's the over-the-top Palace of the Marques de Dos Aguas, built as a private "home" by an 18th century dandy with money to burn, and a huge need to make that fact known. Those guys didn't go away - they' re in Moscow, in Los Angeles, in London and on the Med in their super yachts - but will they leave such a gloriously joyous trace as this marques? Check the detail on his front door.

The Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas

Go to the front door

Two carriages in the garage (well, on display)

The upper storeys of the palace house a vast collection of Valencia ceramics

For the record - because Alex too leaves a wonderful trail - here is Valencia on the street, and in the market, at the beach, all our favourite haunts in other words.

Playa de las Arenas, on the north side of the marina

Wishful commerce

Valencia streetscapes (and below)

Valencia is known as the city which invented paella

The central market, built in 1928

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The pace quickens

We didn't stop in Sardinia, but pressed on to Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic islands. It's hard to know why you make the decisions you do when you're travelling. So much is done by feel. Sardinia has many more anchorages than Sicily, and God knows, we're desperate for an anchorage, but something was pushing us along, not the least of it the absence of strong winds from westerly quarters. We are heading west from now on.

We all agree that breakfasts are the best meal of the day

For two days we willed the forecast easterly winds to materialise, but they didn't. We motored, and we motored some more. Towards the end of our third afternoon at sea, Alex stopped the engine and allowed the boat to drift with the current on a dead calm surface. Claudia and I tentatively lowered ourselves down the ladder and swam alongside and around Enki as she wallowed. There is something outrageous about swimming in the open ocean. You ought not to be able to do it. You'd be mad to even think of it in Australia. But here - well, nothing was moving for as far as the eye could see, and below the water, only our legs treading the clear sapphire blue liquid.  Below that, who knew.

At 7.30 pm we watched the sun go down and a full moon rise in perfect synchronicity over horizons ahead and behind us. We ate dinner in the cockpit, laying a table and using china plates and Turkish ceramic serving bowls. The candle stayed alight.

But dinner isn't too bad either - rice paper rolls on Turkish plates

She's found her sea legs
Then, while we were passing the dishes down below and preparing ourselves for the night watch, the air around us began to stir, and by 9 pm we were sailing. The direction wasn't bad either. We sailed the rest of the way, more or less, to the cliffs of Mallorca, hitting 8 knots across the flat waters of the bay of Palma. We could have kept going, to be honest - it was that much fun - but we were tired, all of us. On the fourth night after our departure from Sicily we ate squid ink pasta and vongole and tuna (all staples of Sicilian cooking) at a pavement table under the shadow of a Spanish church. Our host was a German who spoke perfect English. Palma is a cosmopolitan city.

Enki close-hauled on a flat sea in a moderate breeze

Milling about at the entrance to RCNP marina

Palma cathedral
It's also a yachting hub, the biggest in the western Mediterranean.  The night lights around us at the Real Club Nautico de Palma glitter red. Superyachts with masts so tall they're considered a potential hazard to air traffic are obliged to show a red anchor light, even in port. For glamour though they can't compete though with the floodlit cathedral of Santa Maria. That huge church (the second largest Gothic cathedral in Europe) took me completely by surprise as we closed on the city from the sea - its shock value is something like that of Chartres cathedral rising from the wheat fields of northern France.

Palma's a good place to source nautical bits and pieces. We've had an almost dead electric winch (the one which helps with the mainsheet and the genoa furler) for some weeks now. Alex has being doing forensics on it  - in Levkas we put on a new, thinner furling line, thinking the old one might have been too thick and the friction causing the winch to stall under too much strain. That wasn't the problem. Then we pulled apart the electric motor housing hoping that the problem might be carbon dust around the brushes which could be vacuumed out. Sadly, no. Instead of carbon dust, Alex found oil in the electric motor. He suspected a faulty seal between the gear box and the motor, and anticipated having to replace the whole unit somewhere down the line, perhaps Gibraltar, perhaps the Canaries. But as of today, the problem is fixed - a new seal, and a new motor (the gearbox was ok). I might just keep on winching manually though - the effort gives the shoulders a new kind of definition!

We are of course now in Spanish territory which means another language, another internet provider (woeful pre-paid internet options in Spain compared to Italy, by the way), another mindset. Claudia, who has very firm opinions about such things, judges the Spanish to be cooler than the Italians - but really, what is Spain, and what is Italy? These nation states are so modern, comparatively. There are more ancient loyalties, provincial and religious, which you get to understand only after you've been kicking around somewhere for much longer than we plan to stay around Palma.

Western entrance to Palma cathedral (cathedral also below)

Heat shield

Which flavour? Italian ice-cream rules, even in Spain

Palma streets

Part of the Parliament building - Palma is the capital of the Balearics

The Catalan painter Joan Miro spent the last 30 years of his life on Mallorca, and though it's the last thing I expected of this crowded summer holiday island, I have to think that the brightness and joy and freshness in his works owes something to the spirit of this place as well as to his creative genius.