Wednesday, 19 December 2007


I have recently returned from Ibiza where work held me hostage for 10 days. A mix up with the ferry reservation meant that I had to stay two days longer than ideal, but that wasn’t a problem; my closest friend lives on the island. He arranged a scooter for me and I spent a pleasant day exploring some of the coastline.

Ibiza is well known for its club scene, its appeal to lascivious tourists on drug and alcohol fuelled sex quests and its new breed of super-gentry and their Hollywood style hillside residences. 30 years ago the island was still a Mediterranean peasant culture, today it is a hotchpotch of well heeled northern Europeans, old hippies, islanders and itinerant workers.

What the island is not so well recognised for is its suitability for small boat cruising.

I guided my Yamaha steed through pine woods, along twisting roads and down impossibly steep and bendy dirt tracks to discover fantastically calm coves even when the wind at sea was a boisterous force 5. Places like Cala Carbó or Cala Vedella on the southwest coast are enough to make a small boat owner with dreams of cruising drool. Shallow, millpond calm sea right up to the beach perfect for landing and hauling the boat ashore, crystal water, pale sand and nooks under cliffs for camping. Many beaches like Cala d’Hort have restaurants others like Cala Xuncla have nothing but a small sandy beach, large rocks and pine trees. And all of these places are off limits to the growling plastic super yachts that criss cross the wider, deeper waters.

This is Es Vedra,
a towering rock island off the southwest of Ibiza, which dominates the view from Cala d’Hort. The rock is said to possess a weird magnetism, and certainly one’s eyes are always drawn towards it, but I was more interested in the channel between the rock and the main island. Locally known as el canal de la muerte, the channel of death, with anything above a force four from the west vicious tornados form. Waves jostling and jockeying through the gap steepen and break and boats would do well to avoid it.

Cala d’Hort, small fishing boats are winched up rails into the boatsheds.

Cala Carbó.

Cala Vedella, calm in force five.
Calm Talamanca Bay.

Elderly girls in need of restoration.

Great food from La Grande Bouffe catering Ibiza

I took the night ferry back to Barcelona. Westerlies had swung to Easterlies pumping large waves into the usually calm Bahia de Talamanca. As we pulled away from the Balearic archipelago and into the open Mediterranean the seas grew bigger. Lying on my bunk, listening to the ferry’s vast structure groan, it seemed I was, alternately, hovering weightlessly over my bed and being crushed into my pillow. Sleep being unforthcoming I dressed and went on deck. It was 4 o’clock in the morning; an apparent wind of about 30 knots was whipping the deck puddles to fury as they sloshed from one side to another forcing icy water through the stitching in my shoes. Lightning quickstepped across the utter blackness that enveloped the world outside the ship. And from the east came dark beasts of rollers, their crests glowing in the lights from the ferry as they smashed into our frothing wake. I felt a wild vertigo; my hands gripping the freezing rail, the wind tearing at my face, eyes running, the cold needling through my clothing as the huge ferry lurched beneath me. I may even have screamed back at the elements, like a dog barking from behind the leg of his owner, elated to be experiencing these conditions from the security of a ship.

Monday, 3 December 2007

In the company of sailors

Recently hanging out with a couple of French skippers both owners of sturdy aluminium yachts, one leaving for Brazil the other making ready, I noticed a greenish hue infusing my skin. Jawing in the cosy wood-panelled saloon of Philippe Herzog’s 36 footer, Le Grobedam I contemplated throwing him overboard and taking off for Brazil myself.

It seems that all the liveaboards and long distance sailors are leaving this stretch of Mediterranean for cheaper climes. I don’t blame them. A berth in the local marina for a 12-metre boat now costs 500 euros a month in the low season.

Torredembarra used to have good reputation as a decent place to winter and six years ago there were maybe eight boats on extended cruises or circumnavigations passing the colder months refitting here. This year there are none.

The marina’s still full, there are plenty of boats to look at even if they are gleaming bulbous things with acres of freeboard, but the migration of the blue-water bunch means less people to chat with.

Liveaboards wintering in a foreign port love to meet people, yarn about boats, swap books and party. Maybe because they know that we’re all equal in a force eight Atlantic gale, or because their ownership is an expression of their philosophy rather than a brash demonstration of their socio economic status, this class of sailor is approachable in a way that I haven’t yet experienced from the owners of the latest plastic boat show gizmos.

But there’s only one cure for a lack of like-minded sailors and that’s more sailing.

November has seen continuous northerlies blasting out of the Gulf of Lions. This is the Tramontana wind that, blowing at over 30 knots, heaps up the seas and launches five-metre waves at the coast of Minorca—I believe the port of Mahon has been closed all month.

Some of this marauding swell, fanning out from the Gulf, curves round to break on Onawind Blue’s beach and, while it might be great to photograph, it’s a bitch to launch through.

But last weekend brought flat seas.

Unconcerned by the lack of wind I got out at 11am and stood to the oars. I rowed for about an hour—as far as the marina and, had there been any interesting people berthed there, would have thought about paying a visit. As it was I continued rowing until my hands started to blister. Luckily this coincided with a light breath from the southwest and gentle cat’s-paws scurrying across the water. The growing wind caught the sails and with relief I stowed the oars while we headed towards the horizon with the rudder still raised.

After close reaching for an hour we went broad, sailing parallel to the coast but way out to sea. Controlling our course by raising or lowering the centreboard, and with judicious use of the main sheet, we scooted northeast. When well downwind of our launch spot I put the board fully down and went back to close reaching out to sea. Having regained some ground to weather I tacked with a push-stroke of the windward oar and we made a course for home. It took a little over an hour to gain the land. Arriving slightly up wind of our chosen spot I struck the mizzenmast and raised the centreboard, letting OB sail herself dead downwind onto the beach.

Apart from my extremities behaving like far-away frozen appendages I felt better than I had all month. While I hadn’t exactly made a passage to Brazil I’d carved up the local H2O and felt like a sailor for it.

This short film (quite similar to the last one) shows Onawind Blue flying over the briny the way she loves best. Note the (green) line holding the mizzen boom to leeward, this keeps the sail more firmly sheeted and allows us to sail a straighter course.