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Sailing with Balvenie- Departing from Cartagena in Spain

by Amanda Church and Mark Farrell on 4 Jul 2011
Mark in Cartagena Yacht Balvenie
New Zealander cruising couple Amanda Church and Mark Farrell continue to cruise in their yacht Balvenie, a 47foot fractional rigged, centre cockpit, sailing sloop built in 1991. After making a winter home for Balvenie in Cartagena in Southern Spain, they are back for the sailing season, and it's time to leave:

All the jobs on the 'to do' list had actually been completed, there were really no more excuses to stay. We had a weather forecast of 10 knots from the east for our first day, and then 15-20 knots from the east to get us on past Cabo de Gata the following day. I am always filled with great trepidation when untying after months safely spent in a marina, but in order to sail around the world, one must keep heading ever westward!

So this was it, water tanks filled, power disconnected, mooring lines released, hooters rang out in farewell from the live-aboard community and we were on our way. The 2011 Cruising Season had officially started.

A gentle downwind sail in flat water the 30 miles to Aguillas was just what the Admiral had ordered to ease back into cruising mode. We arrived into the small port of Aguillas early evening, set the anchor off the sandy beach, opened the bar and sat back to enjoy sundowners watching the sun dip over the fort on the headland.

As with nearly every natural indentation on the coast in Europe, if there is relatively easy access and shelter from the elements then over the centuries it has been used as a port, whether it be tiny or huge. Aguillas is quite small but had enough room for a few boats to anchor to the east of the inner harbour entrance. The water was flat except for the wakes of returning fishing boats, the wind just a gentle zephyr, the new moon not much more than a sliver above the setting sun. Day One of Season 7 had been a success.

Sadly the bubble burst and Day Two decided to remind us just who is in charge. We had set the alarm for 7am. We were looking at making Aguadulce over 80 miles away, so with over 14 hours of daylight now, and 15-20knots forecast we were expecting a long day of good down wind sailing.

As Skipper was lifting anchor, I looked outside the harbour and saw a rather large fishing boat crashing into waves like a bucking bronco, instantly my positive outlook somewhat diminished!! Just what on earth had happened to our flat water??? I consoled myself by accepting that he was going to windward and we would be off in the other direction, but I knew I wasn’t kidding anyone.

And so the day began, with 2 reefs in the main and the headsail poled out we pointed the bow south, running slightly higher than our course to try and keep the boat reasonably comfortable. The wind wasn’t more than 25 knots but the seas had stirred up completely and made for a very lively run down to Cabo de Gata, the hours ticked away as did the miles. The further south we got the more the swell came in from behind so we took up surfing instead of rolling, neither of them being my favourite pastimes.

Just as I was getting used to surfing it was time to gybe to go around the Cape. Gybing is always a serious manoeuvre on Balvenie, even with the main double reefed it was still powered up and we have a very long heavy boom. So we rolled in the headsail, gybed the main and flew off around the Cape with gusts of 35 knots apparent speeding us on our way, phew!!

Thankfully as we moved further west around the Cape the water started to flatten, but the wind kept whipping through, accelerated now by the gusts off the land. We decided that our intended destination of Aguadulce may be too difficult for us to get in to with the onshore wind so made our way around and up the west side of the Cape into some flat water. We anchored just off a long sandy beach, over 60 miles in well under 12 hours. What a day – certainly good practice for getting back in the swing of things, but just how much practice do we really need???

The wind eased at Cabo de Gata with the setting of the sun, the anchorage even turned to glass for a while as we enjoyed our dinner after a tough day. Skipper checked the weather and saw that we were to get a westerly change through early afternoon the following day, so we decided to leave early and get across the Bay of Almeria before it changed.

Just after dark our tranquil anchorage returned to its former self, with wind gusts up to 30 knots again, but somehow now we had wavelets coming in from the southwest, slapping us on the stern, while the wind blew from the north east. Quite clearly it was going to be 'one of those nights'.

After finally getting to sleep at 1am Skipper awoke at 4am, things felt a little different. The north easterly had been replaced by a westerly, about 8 hours early!! Although the wind wasn’t yet too strong the sea state was already chopping up, and as we quickly prepared for a 'dark o’clock' departure the wind strength steadily increased. Great to get some practice in so early in the season at lifting anchor in the dark, lets hope we don’t have to do it too often!! Across the Bay of Almeria we motored in the dark, the occasional ferry bound for Morocco or Algeria crossing our path.

Daylight broke as we closed on the west coast of the bay and the town of Aguadulce, the winds eased closer to shore and the seas flattened yet again. We weren’t to be fooled in a false sense of security though, this whole coastline is void of good sheltered anchorages but full of marinas.

It was time to change our cruising mindset, the marinas are there for a very good reason, and we shall be using them until we find safe all round anchorages again. We pulled into the marina and tied to the fuel dock to await being allocated a berth. We moved across to our berth on the breakwater, tied up and relaxed, and it was only just gone 8am, way too much excitement to start the day!!! By mid morning we had thunder storms rolling through, we were very happy we had moved when we did.

We slipped back into marina life quite happily as the winds howled through, first from the west and then from the east. There are miles and miles of golden sandy beaches to walk along, big screen TV’s to watch Football and the Grand Prix, a visitors dock with a good mix of cruisers passing through, even some other cruising sailors to share happy hours with.

One day we caught the bus the short distance to Almeria. The morning we went the local road was closed so we ended up having quite a tour as we headed miles out of the way to join up with the motorway instead.

Almeria is a pleasant town, as with so many of the towns along this southern coastline it has been rejuvenated in recent years both by tourism and agriculture. The coastline is covered in millions of shade houses that grow a huge proportion of Europe’s vegetables.

The big attraction in Almeria is the spectacular Alcazaba Fortress, dating from 955 it still dominates the skyline behind the town centre. The Alcazaba was originally built as a military camp in times of siege. It’s mosque was converted to a chapel when overrun by the Catholic Monarchs in 1489. There are also remains of the Muslim palace, but earthquakes and natural decay have certainly taken their toll over the years. The views from up here were stunning. Back down at sea level the Cathedral is yet another impressive building, its almost new compared to the Alcazaba, built in the 1520’s. It has 6 prominent watch towers, to keep an eye on those Northern African raiders.

We found a small local tapas bar and enjoyed a great late lunch in the shade, the first time this season we have sought the shade, summer must finally be coming. Finding the bus stop back to Aguadulce was a bit of a challenge so we headed out to the bus terminal and eventually got a bus, it was a quick scenic trip back along the local coast road.

We stayed while the wind blew too hard, then we stayed because there was no wind! A couple of days ago we had perfect downwind conditions of 15knots and nearly flat seas so we have moved on another 20 miles and are tucked up again in the huge marina complex at Almerimar, an easterly wind is whipping through - at times over 30 knots, with no signs of easing soon. We are tied up all snug, I’m getting to like these marinas!!!

To follow Balvenie's current adventures,!click_here

Cruising info from Aguadulce and Almerimar – May 2011

Aguadulce Marina: 36 48.87N 02 33.71W least depth seen 4.5m Totally exposed to any winds with East in them. Marina entrance is only 50metres off the beach. No swell in marina. Huge breakwater where most visiting yachts were stern or bow to. Upon entry tie to Fuel dock/Control Tower dock for berth allocation. Not much English spoken. Wifi available but not free, didn’t check rates. Marina berth around €16 a night all inclusive, we are still on low season rates. Supermarket – go out of Marina entrance by the beach and take the first or second road on the right they both go uphill, its just up on the left. Not great but ok. Bus stop – carry on past the supermarket under the flyover and up the other side, bus stops on both sides of the road depending on what direction you want. Cost was €1.20 each, each way, to Almeria. Sightseeing – Alcazaba closed on Mondays, Cathedral closed from 2pm – 4pm but last entry is 1.15pm.

Almerimar Marina: 36 41.78N 02 47.42W least depth seen 5m. Entrance is much more sheltered than it looks but totally exposed to the south. Well marked with red and green markers for the channel (no yellow buoys as noted in Cruising Guide) Tie up at Control Tower/Fuel dock for berth allocation. Marina berth around €12 a night but we are in an 18m berth. It doesn’t get much cheaper than this, but again we are still on winter rates until the end of May. English spoken in office. This is an enormous marina and apartment complex, lots of bars/cafes, but no town as such. Couple of laundries, chandleries and excellent Mercadona Supermarket. Marina gives out good map, all nearby. Wifi is €3.50 a day then gets cheaper the more days you buy.

Cruising info for Aguillas and Cabo de Gata, Southern Spain – May 2011
Aguillas: 37 24.31N 01 34.17E 6m sand. Able to tuck in quite well, flat water. Busy with fishing boats entering/leaving harbour and some wash from them. Didn’t go ashore. No free wifi signals, used Vodafone dongle.
Cabo Gato: 36 44.54N 02 12.98E 6m sand. Considering the sea state less than a mile away this was flat as a pancake. Quite scenic ashore but didn’t get there (see next posting to find out why!!!) When wind eased we were lying to current or tide, something weird going on. would be a nice spot to stop in good conditions, walking ashore looked good. No free wifi signals, used Vodafone dongle.

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