Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sailing the Southern Spanish Coast

Along with Jayatma, it was our turn to join Richard for the Five AM departure from Ibiza. Well rugged up ready for the cold wind we knew would be waiting for us once we cleared the headland, we raised the anchor, raised the main with the first reef in, unfurled gib and pointed the bow to sea.  Over the next hour or so we then proceed to shake out the reef, then put one back in and switch to the staysail with the wind being distorted by the high mountains, cliffs and bays of the island.

There wasn't a lot of time to enjoy the sunrise as we left Ibiza.
By the time we were treated to a spectacular sunrise astern things had finally settled into a nice rhythm and we enjoyed a pretty good sail all morning. We handed over to the next watch of Tim, Mark and Joanne in time for them to have to play dodgems with a very large natural gas tanker that was crossing our path rather than us. Fair’s fair. They got to sleep in.

Powered up with Mark on helm, Joanne on lookout, Richard & Jayatma on chill out

By early afternoon it was apparent that the diminishing strength and wind angle were not going to let us make it all the way to Alicante so Richard decided to make Puerto de Calpe our Spanish landfall. When we were developing the spreadsheet of marina options we actually nominated Calpe as the first choice as it appeared to be a particularly picturesque spot with a small marina overshadowed by a huge rock monolith headland so we were very happy with the change in course.

Approaching Puerto de Calpe Rob broke out the boardies to celebrate the sunshine
Eventually the breeze faded away to not much so the engine came on and we were left with a leisurely motor along the coast. As we approached the dramatic headland soaring vertically out of the water we were very thankful we hadn’t missed this absolutely beautiful spot. The cliffs are home to myriads of different birds that constantly circled above us and the afternoon sun highlighted the colours of the rock against the magnificent clear blue sky. It was another of those moments that make us very thankful we’re doing what we’re doing.

The marina itself was reasonably small and we were directed to moor stern to against the finger nearest the entrance where it was deepest and our length could be accommodated. The water was very clean and clear and we could easily see every detail of the bottom.  We had read in the pilot guide that there was a path leading up the side of the headland to a rough tunnel through which you could reach the very top of the rock and its stunning views, but, it described the climb as ‘perilous’. Of course this peaked Tim’s adventurous interest immediately. He was very keen to take advantage of the later sunsets we were experiencing to do the climb straightaway, however the boat washing was the priority. Rob suggested that four crew were plenty to get it all done and he should go now while he could and we’d do the climb the next day.

Tim's photo of the tunnel to reach the headland's summit
So while we provided Mark and Joanne with their first lesson in boat washing Moksha style Tim scrambled up the mountain, an exercise that proved to be a two hour round trip for the very fit 32 year old. He described the path up as being very nice and totally surrounded by wild flowers but only mildly challenging until near the top where the tunnel was very steep and a bit lacking in hand holds. To get back down through it he’d simply planted his bum on the ground and played slippery slides as evidenced by the rear of his pants. The photos he took from the top demonstrated that the climb was well worth it and something we were definitely planning for the following afternoon.

The restaurant was on the hill at the other end of the bay

On Jayatma’s urging, Richard decided to take us all out for dinner that evening and chose a restaurant from the Lonely Planet guide that appealed to him. Out came the trusty I-Phone maps app which told us it was 3.6 kilometres away. Just a nice early evening stroll Richard decided so away we all went. There just seems to be times technology picks the worst possible occasion to stuff you around such as when you’re feeling a little tired after a night passage and a couple of hours of boat cleaning.  With Richard following the directions provided by his app we proceeded to walk up hill and down dale, around corners, down streets, along roads, up stairways, through squares and finally to the top of the hill. By the time we finally reached the restaurant it seemed a lot more like 5 kilometres and what’s worse, from the crest we could see we could of walked straight along the beach front promenade and directly up, instead of going via the I-Phones circuitous route.

A fantastic Spanish meal washed down with some equally good Vino Tinto (red wine) followed up by a decedent desert almost made us forget about the walk completely. However there was an almost audible sigh of relief around the table when Richard announced we’d taxi it back to the marina. It really was a good evening. Thank you Richard. We certainly did all sleep very soundly that night.
What was once part of 1st Century Roman Baths at Puerto de Calpe

After breakfast and ticking off a couple more items on the jobs list we headed ashore to find a supermarket  to pick up a few supplies for the boat and top up Rob’s Spanish pre-paid sim card. (Heaven forbid the consequences if he was out of touch with the world – Karen’s comment). It was a very enjoyable walk along the waterfront passed the ruins of an ancient Roman baths to the other end of the bay. We failed to find a supermarket as such so we were getting what we could from a small convenience store when the mobile rang. It was Tim letting us know that we were needed back on board as we were now sailing for the next stop at Alicante after lunch.

Waterfall emerging from a fault line in the high cliffs

We completed our shopping, strolled back along the beachfront in the sunshine, looked wistfully at the people climbing the path up the rock and reboarded to prepare for sea. We cast off about 2.00pm and headed out into mill pond conditions to motor about 30 nautical miles west along the coast to the city of Alicante. There were a fair number of buoys around marking fish traps so after hooking one around the rudder between Sardinia and Mallorca we kept a sharp lookout forward to avoid any recurrence while still enjoying the sunshine. Once more we passed by some spectacular rock cliff headlands. One spot featured a dramatic water fall which, rather than flowing from the top of the cliff, gushed out from a near vertical fault line two thirds down the face.  From there it dropped into a pool than had cut its own deep path for a second fall to the beach. While we marvelled a nature’s beauty, Richard cynically joked it was probably a sewerage outlet.

Alicante - Yet another marina with a dramatic backdrop
Alicante has a busy shipping port on the western side of the harbour and quite a large marina on the eastern end all over looked by, you guessed it, a medieval fortress, Castillo de Santa Barbara. We docked in the late afternoon and, as they had normal spots vacant for a 72 foot yacht, we moored against the dock in front of the marina office and restaurants. Moksha was on show again but fortunately with not a drop of water hitting the decks on our calm water motor from Purto de Calpe there was no cleaning required this time. Tim completed our booking in formalities and found out that the fortress was open until 8.00pm.

Summer must be coming. Sun still up at 7.00pm as we prepare to climb to the fortress
Once we’d served and cleaned up after dinner and not wanting to miss the chance like Puerto de Calpe, we headed off with Mark and Joanne to make the climb up to the fort. It appeared so close but the climb up to the gates zig-zagged steeply up the side of the hill and was a lot further than we’d counted on. Realising the clock was ticking ever closer to closing time and pushing on, it was also quite a workout. As a result we were far from impressed to find the entrance already closed when we finally reached it just before 8.00pm.

Huffing and puffing by now but still with a long way to go

Noticing a stream of people coming out of the fort from around the corner and not wanting to accept defeat, we took a look to find the exit wide open as people left. Rob suggested we do the old Three Stooges trick and walk through backwards so it looked like we were going the other way but as the exit wasn’t actually manned, we simply walked in the out.

The climb proved to be well worth all the effort

Once inside the fort the additional climb up to the walls that crowned the high, vertical cliffs was proved to be well worth all the effort. The views of the coastline to the east and over the city complete with orange sky as the sun dipped below the western ranges were spectacular.  The sentry portal protruding out from the very highest point of the castle walls was too good a photo location to miss so we played swap the camera and Mark was able to use ours to get rare shots of us together and Rob returned the favour with their camera for them. The ramparts also provided a great  spot to take photos of the marina.

We soaked up the atmosphere as long as we thought we could get away with it before being thrown out and then wound our way back down to the waterfront where to find a nice café to rest our weary legs and have a coffee.  We located a nice café but unanimously decided we needed a bottle of wine instead of the coffee.  Once more the crew of Moksha slept well that night.

It's a long way straight down
At breakfast next morning Richard told us all that we would be sailing to our next stop at Cartagena overnight that evening rather than staying in Alicante. Expecting a rest day before the night passage, we were a little surprised when he began listing out jobs for everyone to complete that day. Rather than having our planned quiet look around town, Karen spent most of the day completing an operation manual of all the individual steps and procedures involved in raising and lowering the mainsail and furling and unfurling the jib, staysail and running back-stays. On a boat as complex as Moksha there’s a lot more to those to processes than you’d think. Rob spent his time cleaning the steering locker and inside of all the hatches.

With that done by mid-afternoon, we enjoyed long, hot showers in the marina amenities and then the two of us headed off to one of the harbour side cafes for a good meal and to convene a board meeting of Oberg Inc to discuss things.  While we were really enjoying Moksha and liked the people on her, by this stage of our rapid transit through the western Mediterranean we just couldn’t help feeling we were sailing past everything we’d come halfway around the world to see. Even when we were in port we were getting very little time off to ourselves as after the boat work was done Richard had us spending the rest of the time studying systems manuals, producing spreadsheets or writing manuals.

An Oberg Inc. Board Meeting was convened in one of the harbour side cafes

Sailing Moksha is superb.
As much as we love the sailing very much, we actually crew on boats to also see and experience the places we sail to. We’re not paid, we provide our labour in exchange for the opportunity to do just that. When we join a boat we like to join as part of the boat’s family/team.  We do our fair share and usually a bit more, then we like our time off to relax and enjoy the sailing if at sea or explore our surroundings when ashore. Our relationship with Richard however was more akin to one of employer and employees with the boss looking to make sure the troops were kept busy for their full shifts. This would be fine for most people if you were actually employed and appropriately remunerated but that’s not really for us. It wasn’t the fact we weren’t getting payed or Richard himself, as he’s actually a nice guy and pleasant company.  We retired from the working world to go to sea and enjoy ourselves, not to get a new type of jobs.

We’d originally been invited on board just for the passage from Monfalcone to Mallorca but after reaching Tunisia, we’d accepted an offer from Richard and Jayatma to stay on through Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal and to the UK. They also discussed with us the possibility of becoming their long term permanent crew which had sounded attractive to us. However, we were now wondering whether our time on Moksha  was coming to an end.  We resolved to adjourn the meeting until we reached Cartagena to think about things further.

That evening we headed out through the breakwaters of Alicante Harbour in perfect sailing conditions and after having all hands on deck initially until well underway, we settled into our watch routine. Richard led the first watch with Jayatma, Karen and Mark while Tim, Rob and Joanne stood the next.

Many night passages can prove to be extremely tiring, cold, uncomfortable and frankly quite unenjoyable. This one was the complete antithesis. It was night sailing at its absolute finest. Nice moderate winds pushed the boat along very nicely without kicking up the sea state. The sky was so crystal clear and stars shone so brightly they each seemed to compete for your attention. Despite it still being early April, even the temperature never got down far enough to qualify as anything worse than ‘a little chilly’. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was bloody fantastic.
Fortifications guarding the entrance to the ancient natural harbour at Cartagena

Richard, Karen and Mark were back on watch as we approached the ancient natural harbour of Cartagena that Hannibal had made the centre of his not inconsiderable Carthagean empire. The conditions through the night had been so good that Richard actually had to slow the boat down to avoid arriving in the dark.  

Rob standing in the boom to gather in the mainsail entering Cartagena
Rob couldn’t help himself and came on deck soon after dawn to witness our arrival and give a hand. After dropping the sails inside the large harbour itself we motored to our allotted mooring. Once again we were not given a normal marina berth but put alongside the main town wall. With a major onshore blow predicted for the coming days being against a very solid, rough stone wall has its dangers so we in addition to our normal bow, stern and spring lines, we also secured the boat to heavy mooring points out on the harbour floor which held Moksha nearly a metre out off the wall. Something that would prove not to be without later consequences.

Apart from essential jobs, the rest of the day was designated a rest day. After a bit of catch up sleep we had a wonder around the town with Mark and Joanne and a nice lunch and couple of drinks.

Cartagena is a very attractive town with great architecture at every turn

Alone later we reconvened the Oberg Inc Board Meeting and compared notes on the evening’s passage.  Karen had totally enjoyed her two watches with Richard and had also taken the opportunity for some good chats with Mark through the night describing it as her best night passage on the boat. Likewise Rob had really enjoyed the sail and his night with Tim listening to Joanne. (She likes a chat). Bugger! Considering the meeting had been convened to consider a resolution to permanently disembark from Moksha it would of definitely made things a lot easier if we’d both had a totally shit night.

However, we’d also found out that the decision had now also been made to bypass Gibraltar, one of THE places we were most looking forward to visiting and, for us, probably the final straw. It wasn’t easy deciding to walk away from crewing on an incredible $4million+ boat, but after much discussion, the motion to temporarily become land lubbers again was moved, seconded, put to the meeting and carried unanimously. We decided we’d do some land travel and have a look around Southern Spain and Gibraltar before heading back to the UK where Phil had generously offered to put us up at his home in the Lakes District while we sorted out our next crew spots.

After breakfast next morning, when the day’s job list was handed out, Rob asked Richard if he and Jayatma would come for a coffee and chat with us after we’d done our work.  We then did our boat washing bit for the last time along with a few other bits and bobs getting all done by about lunchtime.  We still felt a great deal of pride seeing the constant flow of passers by stopping to admire our beautiful shiny boat.

After we had a shower and loaded our washing into the ridiculously expensive marina washing machines, Richard and Jayatma joined us at one of the harbour side cafes for our ‘chat’. We thanked them very much for the opportunity they’d given us to sail on Moksha but explained that we really wanted to have more time off and travel at a bit slower pace to see the places we visited.  There was a gap between their expectations of us and our expectations of crewing on the boat. They were surprised when we said we had decided to get off the boat here in Cartagena and do some land travel.  Jayatma said that they were disappointed to lose us but understood why we wanted to go.

More chatting and two cups of coffee later we headed back to the boat and told Tim of our decision to go. We were a bit chuffed when Tim said he was sorry to see us go and that we’d been the best crew he’d had on the boat. We were right. His bark is worse than his bite.

We then let Mark and Joanne know we were getting off. As we were leaving the next day, the rest of the afternoon was filled with finishing our washing, organising our gear and lining up some affordable accommodation in Cartagena where we could regroup and get organised.  

Mark and Joanne suggested we go out for a goodbye dinner and drinks rather than eat on board that evening so the four of us headed off into town. We’d only just got off the boat when the rain started to come down so we headed into the nearest bar. We never actually got around to the dinner part but Tim joined us later and we were able to have a great final night as part of the Moksha crew.

It was quite late by the time we returned to the boat. Like naughty teenagers who’d hadn’t made it home by curfew, we were trying to sneak aboard with as little noise as possible so as to not wake Richard and Jayatma. Unfortunately Karen finally managed to do what she’d narrowly avoided doing many, many times ever since we first joined Moksha. It’s often a big step from the wharf up onto the gunwale and here in Cartagena with the boat held well off the wall by the outlines we’d rigged, With her slightly vertically challenged legs, Karen didn’t quite succeed in making that big step this time. Her foot slipped off the wet carbon-fibre gunwale and she fell between the hull and the dock. Fortunately Tim had grabbed her hand to help her up and had enough strength to hang on and prevent her dropping completely into the chilly harbour.  Escaping with nothing worse than cold, wet feet and jean cuffs Karen thought it was hilarious and couldn’t stop giggling as Tim hauled her  back onboard. So much for quiet. Once below her only comment was ‘I bet you put that in the blog’ and she was right of course.

They were a few sore heads next morning as we packed our duffle bags and cleaned out our cabin. It felt a little strange walking away down the dock towards our hotel knowing that we were closing the last chapter of our Moksha sailing story.

It''s now onwards and upwards to our next, as yet unknown, sailing adventure.

Joined crew of SV Moksha -  Monday 30 January 2012
Sailed Monfalcone, Italy to Cartagena Spain via Malta, Tunisia and Sardinia
- 1936 Nautical Miles
Disembarked SV Moksha - Friday 13 April 2012

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