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.

A photo posted by Ben Cushwa (@nautography) on

*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.


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