Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Spanish steps

Some of the boys who guard Spain's coastline

Good wind angle, great speed showing on Enki's instruments

You could say we've been on the run. This Spanish caper at the tail end of summer is not cruising. Neither Spain's defaced Mediterranean coastline nor the regular drumbeat of bleak daily forecasts issued by AEMet (thanks to Google Translate for everything) have tempted us to linger long anywhere as we've pushed on west towards the mouth of the Med. It's time that's driving us on now,  and if winds from the east bring with them rain and poor visibility, well, you turn on the gadgets (AIS and radar) and go with them - and give thanks. The swell is another story, but isn't it always in the Med? 

Dodging the squalls

Leaving Alicante harbour - behind Whisper HR

This buoy was easy to see, most are not

Enki on approach to the Cabo de Gata
Sometimes what you don't know helps you (usually it doesn't when you're on the water). When we came into the forgettable resort town of Aguadulce (a few miles west of Almeria) after a long and demanding sail which took us around the south-eastern corner of Spain, the marina staff expressed admiration for our "bravery" in attempting the Cabo de Gata in such weather. There were other yachts out there, but not many. The winds were strong, 30 knots, and the seas about two metres high - not big by ocean standards, but short and tricky and confused. Alex hand-steered for a few hours, the old surfer in him understanding much better than I do how waves track, and how to take them. 

The man for the job

Admiring crew

In the lee of the Cabo, the water flattened out, and then we had some fun. That's when he gave me the wheel - a bone for the dog. And didn't those Sicilian long-neck beers taste SO good after we tied up alongside the fuel dock in Aguadulce, even if later in the evening when we got "dressed up" and went out to find a restaurant to celebrate Claudia's birthday we met with cool indifference and zipped up restaurant fronts. The season is over. 

Speed queen

That was a big day - tied up in Aguadulce (and below)

This development looks organic - best of the bunch
We've often wondered how Spaniards maintain their enthusiasm for boating when there are so few places for them to go. It's the Balearics or...what? On our journey south from Alicante, and particularly once we were past the welcoming yacht club at Torreveija, we sailed along a forbiddingly hostile coastline, with stark mountains dropping steeply to the sea. But then there are the beaches. Sandy beaches are Mediterranean Spain's big asset - that and the sunshine. Where there's a beach the land for miles around is completely covered with multi-storey hotels and apartments, totally without charm. I haven't seen such relentlessly debased development anywhere else in the Med. Sicily has some very nasty blemishes on its skin, but it's a rough kind of island anyway; Turkey has gone down the Spanish cheap packaged tourism route (think of Marmaris and Antalya) and you want to shout, STOP RIGHT NOW. Preserve your beauty. Think of Spain. So much of its Mediterranean coastline is beyond repair. You'd like to scrape off all that ugliness, blitz Benidorm and Torremolinos, but the sun damage is done.  

Torrevieja - typical Spanish coastal development

Aguadulce - more of the same

The coast road

Plenty of lighthouses

The dirty end of Cartagena harbour

There are many harbours along the Spanish Med but very few natural ones - the most splendid is Cartagena which was famous even before the Romans developed the city. Most are man-made ports  and are usually full of local fishing boats, thus with little space for visiting boats. Yachts over 12 m and with a reasonable draft (like Enki) have an even harder time finding a spot. We didn't even think of anchoring. There are a few small coves where yachts can anchor (there are some starkly beautiful stretches of coastline which the developers haven't ravaged) and I imagine that in "settled weather" from the north they could be pleasant enough. But not now. 

Our course is 270 degrees - due west, keeping clear of the bumps

And of Spain itself? It's hard to say. It's not a country to see from the water. I'd say the same about France too, and Italy even. The western Med is a sea for travelling through rather than cruising. The Volvo boats which leave from Alicante any moment to race around the world will barely see a thing for the spray, I imagine. We stopped a while in Alicante. The boats were still up on the hard, their keels wrapped against prying eyes. The town was full of pre-race buzz. The gun goes on October 11. Maybe we'll see them fly past us like rosella parakeets, down to the Southern Ocean. 
Big boys' toys - the Volvo boats

Outlook from the higher reaches of Alicante

The colourful part of town - the barrio (and below)

Despite having scored the Volvo race, and the cachet that goes with hosting a Formula One yachting event, Alicante is an ordinary port town, without Valencia's style or class. It parties hard, from all accounts. We wouldn't know about that, but we can register the best mojito of the summer (special note to Sea Cloud). Also, the best market we've yet seen. Hard-core fishmongers, not to mention so much meat that Claudia stepped outside for flesh-relief. 

Alicante market (and below)

The sea dog gets a Number Two

Where the cool kids drink in Alicante

Kevin and Mei slide past
From Alicante down to Cartagena, we were delayed by weather with the bonus that we sailed onto Cartagena with Kevin and Mei who caught up with us. They have a fine boat, and they sail her well, as you can see from Alex's photos of Whisper HR coming into Cartagena.  When we left them 18 months ago, as is always the case with sailing friends, it was with "see you when we see you". They're most likely spending the winter in Cartagena. It seems like a good place to stay. A well protected and welcoming marina alongside an interesting town. That's the basics covered. I could stay there, if push came to shove. It might yet. 

Whisper HR on our tail

Is this her best side?

A man has to go fishing 

For various reasons, we're staying put for a week in Benalmadena, which is near Malaga (and you'll be raising your eyebrows, wondering whether time is still of the essence....). Claudia has gone to meet a friend in Vienna (that's for her to explain to those who need to know) and we will go to Madrid by train tomorrow. I'm sure it's possible to leave Spain without having been to El Prado museum but I don't want to try it. 

At its heart Malaga is an elegant town

Cafe near the massive Malaga cathedral

Saturday afternoon in downtown Malaga

Picasso was born in Malaga - everyone wants a piece of that reputation

Kids playing in the square near where Picasso was born

At the end of the week, after all this excitement, we'll decide what to do next. There are quite a few things in play after the past couple of months with Claudia. Importantly, we're now at the right end of the Med to get down to the Canaries and cross the Atlantic in December, if that's what we decide to do. Alex has been whirling like a dervish today, pulling the boat apart and stowing and cleaning. It's how he lets off steam, and it's why Enki looks so trim. 

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