Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Balearic Island Highlights: Cabrera

Cabrera is the largest island in a small archipelago off of the southeastern shore of Mallorca, only a couple hour sail from Colònia de Sant Jordi, Sa Ràpita, or any of the other stopover spots along that stretch of coast.

While there are several well-protected harbors, no anchoring is allowed as the entire archipelago is a nature reserve. However, in the main harbor there is something of a rarity in the Balearics: a mooring field. There are about 50 overnight moorings for vessels of differing sizes, and you must reserve them in advance. Be aware that reservations cannot be made until 20 days before your desired date, and in peak season they go very quickly. You can reserve a spot for 2 days during peak season, or for a whole week when it's less busy.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

To reserve a mooring, follow this link. You will need the full registration/owner information for the boat, so if you are chartering make sure you ask for this before you try to place a reservation. I didn't* and it forced me to reserve a spot a day later than I had hoped, which cost us a whole afternoon there. Reservations are from 6PM local time on the day of your reservation until 5PM the following day. Unless you get stuck on one of the large-ship red moorings at the mouth of the harbor like we did (they were the last ones available), the moorings are in a quite protected part of the harbor. Even our more exposed position was relatively calm while we were there. There are also day-only moorings in the same harbor, and more on the other side of the island, but I am not familiar with how those are reserved.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

So, with the "how" out of the way, let me get into the "why". Cabrera is absolutely beautiful. There is a small pier with limited facilities in the main harbor; the single best dinghy dock we saw all week, restrooms, and a small cantina that serves a variety of delicious tapas. (Note that, unlike many other restaurants on Mallorca, the cantina on Cabrera closes a bit on the early side at 9:30 PM local time.) There is a strict "no trash" policy, so don't expect to be able to bring any rubbish or recycling ashore. From the pier, you can find a series of hiking trails that lead to, among other places, a small medieval castle overlooking the harbor that is partially open to the public. The castle is definitely worth checking out even if you're not a history buff because the views of both the harbor and the Mediterranean are spectacular. There are also a few areas in the south of the harbor where you can dinghy ashore to beaches and some good areas for snorkeling, but we didn't get to any of them.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

But the crown jewel of Cabrera has to be the stars. There is virtually no light pollution there, and with the high cliffs surrounding the harbor you get what Sara calls a "snowglobe" effect where the stars all feel close enough to just reach out and touch. On a clear night like we had, words don't really do the view justice. I'd love to go back an just spend a few hours ashore taking pictures of the stars.

One piece of advice: if you're moored near one of the cliffs in the harbor like we were, keep your anchor light on even though it's not required in a mooring field. Imagine motoring in your dinghy towards a massive wall of blackness, several times taller than your sailboat, that fills your entire field of view and trying to find said sailboat without any lights on it. Even with the anchor light on it was a tad disconcerting, but without a light on it would have been downright unpleasant.

We only got to stay for about 18 hours due to scheduling pressure, which is not nearly enough time to explore, but even in that short time we fell in love with the place. If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Mallorca's southeastern shore, I highly recommend at least a whole day stopover at Cabrera.

*The main base of the charter company did though, and they provided it quickly once I asked. It was the 6-hour time difference that really slowed us down though.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Balearic Island Highlights: Cala Pi

Cala Pi is a small, quiet, protected anchorage along the southern coast of Mallorca that lies about 2 nm east of the lighthouse at Cabo Blanco. There is only room for a six or so yachts of the 12-15 meter range for an overnight stay*, but if you happen to find a spot there you are in for a treat. It is long and narrow and surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs, so it would be easy to miss from the sea were it not for the medieval watchtower situated prominently at its mouth. The cliffs protect the cove from wind coming from any direction but the south.

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At the head of the cove is a small, sandy beach with a well-marked swim area and a set of stairs going up to the town of Cala Pi. The swim area for the beach takes up most of the head of the cove, but there is a channel for dinghies and other small craft. There is a designated dinghy parking area on the beach and sheds for locally-owned small boats are built up along one of the cliff walls.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

The bottom is a mix of sand and thick seagrass so you'll have to be careful about where you set your anchors, but they should hold well in sand. The depth comes up from about 5-6 meters at the mouth to a little under 3 meters** by the edge of the swim area. This provides plenty of depth for yachts of the size I mentioned earlier without needing too much room to swing on a long rode. I haven't seen detailed depth information on any charts I've looked at, so make sure you do a "drive-by" as necessary to get a feel for the depths. There are a few large rocks sitting away from the cliff faces that one could tie off to instead of using a stern anchor if one was so inclined, and we saw at least one boat doing just that while we were there.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

The town of Cala Pi has an assortment of restaurants and a supermarket near the beach, although I can imagine that carrying down a large load of provisions down the stairs to the beach would be a bit treacherous. We had dinner at the Restaurante Miguel, and their seafood was remarkable. But probably the best reason to climb the stairs into town is the view from the aforementioned watchtower. There are stunning views of the sea to the south and east, and to the west you get a fantastic view of the cove itself.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

If you find yourself sailing east out of Palma and looking for a place to stop that's not just another crowded, run-of-the-mill beach anchorage, I'd highly suggest giving Cala Pi a try.

*A few more boats could easily fit anchored further out, but expect to be in for a rather rolly stay. We started out off there and within five minutes we knew that staying there overnight would have been rather uncomfortable.

**We never did figure out where out depth sounder was calibrated, so take these numbers with a grain of salt. One more reason to do a "drive-by" before you anchor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Things I (Re)Learned Sailing in The Balearic Islands

Apologies for the unannounced, extended hiatus. My last post back in May was rather draining and getting ready for this trip was rather hectic. But, now we're back and I have a ton to talk about, so hopefully you'll be seeing some more posts soon!

So, without further ado:

1. Not all cruising grounds are the same. When someone asked me to compare sailing in the BVI to sailing in the Balearics, my short answer was this: "Sailing in the BVI is a vacation, sailing in the Balearics is an adventure." In the Balearics, especially in peak season, you will be anchoring most nights as there aren't nearly enough mooring balls or marina spots to accommodate all the boats. The weather is also far less consistent than in the BVI: unlike the constant Easterlies I've experienced there, around Mallorca the wind is shifty and varies considerably with your position relative to land, and over time. Along with the wind, the ocean swell is also rather hard to predict. All of these factors mean that you have to be very flexible with your plan in order to ensure you can find a comfortable anchorage each night. Fortunately, along the southeast coastline of Mallorca, there are plenty of anchorages to choose from.

2. Cleats? What cleats? While all of the boats we saw had the kinds of cleats I'm used to seeing, the docks we pulled up to did not. For larger craft, instead of the standard issue cleat, there was a large, flat-ish hook, facing away from the water, that worked well for wrapping a line around and tying both ends off on your boat. Dinghy accommodations were somewhat more...irregular, with the most common cleat substitute being a metal ring anchored into something. These rings were anchored into items ranging from an actual wooden dock like I have seen elsewhere in the world to the stones of a jetty. Some of them looked like they had been there for a hundred years or more. Everything was functional, if a bit cramped, but it definitely took a little getting used to.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

3. Every sailboat should have at least one set of snorkel gear. Unfortunately, the charter company for this trip did not provide any, nor did I think to bring any and I didn't think anything of it as we sailed away from base. In spite of the utility of a GoPro on a selfie stick (which I had discussed in a previous post), sometimes you just need a pair of Mark I Eyeballs underwater to have a look at things. In particular, there was some confusion as to where our depth sounder was calibrated (depth below keel, depth below waterline, depth from transducer, etc.) which added some guesswork to our anchoring and the GoPro was no good for helping assess that. Also, on one occasion we managed to snag the anchor on a large rock hiding under the otherwise sandy bottom (Blarg!) and having a mask and fins would have likely allowed me to follow the rode down fifteen feet or so and free it. (We did manage to get free, but it took considerable time and some...creative driving.)

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

  (Note: This was taken on a different boat last summer.)

4. Every skipper should learn how to properly set a stern anchor. Two of the anchorages we opted to stay in were relatively tight with steep cliff faces at waters edge, so in order to avoid being beam-on to any incoming swell and keep ourselves off of the rocks we set stern anchors at those two locations. I had read about setting stern anchors, but admittedly had never done so in practice. The first anchorage (at Cala Pi) turned out reasonably well, but at the second anchorage (Cala Marmols) our stern anchor dragged during the night. We weren't in immediate danger when I realized our predicament, but we were noticeably closer to one of the cliffs than when we had set the anchor and a quick tug on our stern rode showed that it was not providing any holding power. Not wanting to attempt to reset the stern anchor in the pre-dawn gloom and not wanting to wait another hour until we had sunlight, I woke Sara, we vacated the anchorage in an orderly manner, and motored to an easier-to-anchor-in spot so we could get some sleep. I've since taken stock of my experience (and done some additional reading) and I feel pretty comfortable that I know what I was doing wrong and, hopefully, won't make the same mistake again.

5. Communication with your crew is paramount. Sara & I have sailed before on several occasions, and she's proven to be very a capable crew member. On our recent BVI trip in particular, by the time we finished we could pick up a mooring ball pretty much without talking: I pointed us roughly upwind towards a mooring ball, Sara took the helm, and I directed the final approach from the bow. Seamless. Our first afternoon anchoring at Cala Pi involved multiple anchor sets; partly because of some failed sets, but mostly because we wanted to move to the calmer waters closer to shore as other boats closer-in left. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of assuming that just because I understood what was going on that Sara did too. This was foolish on my part because, even though the to of us were pros at picking up a mooring ball, Sara had only helped me anchor once before, and even then under entirely different circumstances. Needless to say, stress levels began to rise by about the third set. At that point, Sara sat me down and explained that she was very frustrated because she didn't really know what was going on, and I realized that I hadn't been communicating with her nearly enough. I was  more verbose after that, both before and during maneuvers, and things went considerably more smoothly for the remainder of the trip. Thanks baby.

6. Put the camera down and enjoy things. After we checked in our boat near Palma, we took a short hop over to Ibiza and had the extreme pleasure of enjoying a sunset at Kumharas*. I was frantically snapping away until about 10 minutes before sunset, then I put my camera down, sat with Sara, and simply enjoyed the moment together. No number of pictures can ever capture that.

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*If you ever get a chance to go to Kumharas for a sunset dinner, do it. Don't hesitate, ask why, or balk. Just go. You'll thank me.