Our friends in and out of the sailing community are often surprised to find that we typically don’t stay in one place more than one night. “Why the rush?!” they ask. It’s a question we debate regularly, and I’ll admit our fast pace can make the cruising life a bit stressful at times. I’m sure this fast pace leads our European neighbors to box us right into the American stereotype of working one’s self to the bone., but there is so much to see. They don’t call the Great Lakes “great” for no reason. And the Mediterranean, well, let’s just say that it’s a massive body of water, steeped in history that puts our American history timeline to shame. Our original plan was to cruise the Med for two seasons – the first would be in the western portion, and the second in the eastern. With half of our first summer already in the bag, there was plenty more to see before we checked the box in the West.
But whoa … hold on American cowboy! Are we done with the island adventures of Sardinia and Corsica? Not yet! It was time for a second helping of island exploring.
I came into this sailing adventure knowing very little about Corsica, and even less about Sardinia. There are a few things that a Southern California upbringing lack, and an appreciation of history is one of them, especially when it involves land masses halfway around the globe. So, you’ll need to excuse me if I gloat over these substantial Mediterranean islands. Even as adults, we didn’t know what to expect when we sailed across from the French mainland. It wasn’t for lack of intel. We had so many cruising and travel guides of this area, I was afraid Sea Rose might list over and capsize. Though my appetite for history has grown leaps and bounds since grade school, travel books don’t always do a place justice, or captivate you enough in the evening after a long day on the water. You have to get right up close for an immersive, sensual experience to really get drawn in. This certainly describes our experience when we made our Corsica landfall at Galeria. And that was quickly followed by the sights, sounds and scents that are Sardinia. We just needed to rescue a few travel mates from the airport first!
Before we left the U.S. to start our summer adventure onboard Sea Rose, we had several friends express an interest in joining us. Karen and I were of course thrilled about the strong interest, but we had to chuckle a bit. Just a year prior, while we were cruising through the Great Lakes of the U.S., we got very few takers. Apparently, a transatlantic flight, foreign language, and jet lag was not enough to dissuade people from an opportunity to sail in the Mediterranean. That said, if you have the chance to navigate the Erie Canal or sail the Great Lakes, you should really accept the offer. It is a fabulous and under-appreciated sailing destination. Check out our YouTube series “Sailing into the American Heartland” for more details.
Our longtime friend Emmy was quick to sign on as a guest, booking her ticket to France months ahead, showing us she was not leaving anything to chance! We had mapped out a rough itinerary for the summer and there were various legs that were either coastal hopping or offshore crossings. To our surprise, Emmy was intrigued by the idea of an offshore crossing, especially if it involved an overnight experience. As we settled into our new boat and finished cruising the Balearics, it became clear that we would be doing a longer passage from the French mainland over to the northwest coast of Corsica. This is roughly a 100 nm trip. We had done several similar length crossings – namely to cross over from Spain to Mallorca and return back from Menorca – and for both of those trips we left before sunrise and arrived before dusk to try to avoid a complete overnight trip.
We left off the previous post having just gotten to the ‘Costa Brava’ region along the southeast coast of Spain from Menorca Island. We had enjoyed our short time along this area on our way to the Balearic Islands so we were excited to see more.
We originally planned to cross directly from the Balearics to Corsica, the very large French island south of France and west of Northern Italy. However, we also needed to have a couple boat warranty items worked on and since we liked the work SAS had done originally, we decided to return to them. It was back to Canet-en-Roussillion for us! This would also work out well as a place we could leave the boat while we would be off it for a little over a week.
In the morning after we arrived in Tossa de Mar, Spain, we went ashore and walked all over this darling town. There is a large fortification that has been nicely maintained to include beautiful walking paths and easy connections between the high fortress and the curvy old narrow streets of the town.
We continued NE up the coast of Spain and stopped at another wonderful, if very busy, harbor – Aiguablava! I created a short video several weeks ago highlighting the snorkeling and the wonderful caves, cliffs and tiny bays scattered nearby so I’ll share that here as a highlight of our time in Aiguablava, Spain.
Our next anchorage was Cala Tabellera, just north of the Golf of Roses but still on the Spanish coastline. This place is amazing – between here and the boarder with France are a million places to tuck in and explore. We quickly came to appreciate that one could spend many days exploring the coves and bays in this part of Spain. Unfortunately, we only had the one day left since we would soon be on a flight back to the US for a quick visit and we had to get Sea Rose safely tucked in first!
Notice the very different landscape and vegetation in this part of the Spanish coast. While it was barren and somewhat stark, it was lovely in its ruggedness!
In the morning, we made the 25 mile trip back to Canet-en-Roussillion! We had been in Spanish waters for about five weeks and we were missing France and what we had begun to appreciate about the French people. Putting our French courtesy flag back up as we crossed the boarder brought smiles to both of our faces!
From Canet, we flew home to see our sons and to attend a ceremony for our older son’s beginning of medical school. We have been living on board for almost six weeks. As I contemplate that, I have to ask myself ‘What is home, after all?’ Were we flying ‘home’ or were we leaving our ‘home’ here in France? The boat had certainly become comfortable and familiar to us. We had done several projects over the weeks to have it fit our needs and we were liking the life we could live from aboard her. So, was this boat now our ‘home’? I would have to say, ‘no … it is very lovely and a lot of fun but for me it is not “home” ’. Home is closer to where my sons are. Home is a place from which I can easily communicate with my aging parents. Home is having good friends nearby who are eager to go for frequent walks and have meaningful talks. Home has a yard that my sweet dog runs around in – probably wondering where the heck his parents are. (Thank you, Caleb, for taking good care of Journey this summer!!) Tom would have to answer this question from his own perspective and definition of what “home” is for him, but there you have my deep thoughts for this week!
When we got back on Sea Rose, we both realized we had missed her and we were excited for the explorations ahead of us! We brought three HUGE checked bags back with us, each pushing the 50 lb weight limit. Over the previous weeks, we had had a bunch of boat parts and other stuff we needed shipped to our home in New Hampshire, knowing we would be there to retrieve it all and bring it back! While home, I also made an awning to keep the afternoon sun off the deck, and thus prevent our downstairs living space from being overheated. Finding a storage place for all this new s#*$ took some work but it was stuff we needed so it had to find a home! For those interested in my handiwork, here’s some pix of the awning!
We quickly provisioned and checked on the work that had been done. Our new batteries seem to be doing the job, but time will be the judge here. We were thrilled to have a second water tank added to bring our on-board fresh water capacity up to 140 gallons (530 liters). The warranty repair work had also been completed.
We had a friend (Emmy) we were to meet in Toulon, France in 4 days time so we tossed off the dock lines to cross the Golf of Lyon with a hopeful destination southeast of Marseille — the Parc National des Calanques. This is essentially a national park highlighting the stunning limestone fjords (which the French call ‘Calanques’) that the area is famous for. We know there is so much to explore along the French coastline and with more time we would have gone at a slower pace. It seems we are looking at this summer as a tasting or sampling of sorts to know the places we would love to spend more time in! Here’s a map of our journey covered in the rest of this blog post:
Once we arrived in the Calanques, we were happy with our choice to jump here from Canet! We anchored in a calanque called Sormiou and took in the surrounding tall ridgelines as we relaxed for the first time since we left Boston on our way back to the boat four-and-a-half days ago! We took our dinghy into their tiny harbor the next morning and it seemed the whole town was here … in the water for their morning swim! What a cute place. We walked up onto the ridge and flew the drone to get a perspective of this great spot. Here is a collection of shots we took while in Sormiou.
We moved to the next calanque east — Calanque de Morgiou — for a lunch and snorkel stop. This place was also terrific and could be enjoyed for several days. There were crowds of people swimming and cliff jumping so clearly we found a popular spot!
We then found our night’s stop as we tied up to a steep cliff in Port Miou! What a terrific spot! As the pilot book warned, we had cliff jumpers making the terrifying leap from far above into the waters just off our stern!
The town of Cassis was supposed to be very nice, so in the evening we set off for the 30 minute walk into town. They like their hills around here! By the time we arrived, we were both sweaty and thirsty! We sat down at a Paris-style café to people watch and quench our thirst!
Back on the boat, we snuggled in for a good night’s sleep after our exercise and libations! We were awoken at 3 am by a thunder and lightening storm that was fascinating to watch. We could see flashes and bolts in the distance and the speed at which the storm approached was awesome. Of all places to be anchored, we were pretty safe where we were since the rock walls surrounding us were taller than our mast and we were with a bunch of other sailboats – comfort in numbers! This storm was a preview to a period of high winds that we would have to work with for the next couple days. With this knowledge in hand, we set off as soon as we could to get closer to where we would meet Emmy. We picked the island of Porquerolles since it was just off shore from Toulon and Hyeres-Plage, where the airport is located. This island had the added benefit of a couple anchorages that are oriented such that we will have good protection from the building winds.
As we dropped the lines and pulled away from the calanque, the winds picked up right away; we spent most of the day in 20-plus knots of wind. Luckily, both the wind and the seas were coming from behind us so, although it was quite rough, we were not really slamming into the waves as much as surfing along the tops of them. However, since the waves were big, we decided to jibe back and forth with the wind always about 30 degrees off our stern from first the port then the starboard side. Sailing at even this small angle off of a straight down-wind course makes more efficient use of the wind (since both sails can be filled versus one sail blanketing the other) and it is safer because you have less of a chance of an accidental jibe. A jibe is when the wind switches from coming from one side of your boat (say, the starboard side) to the other (port side) and occurs because the wind angle has gone past your stern (versus the wind crossing your bow which would be a ‘tack’). When this happens, your sails respond to the new wind direction and on a jibe your boom swings across your boat and people or things in the way can get injured/damaged if the jibe is not expected and properly managed. It is best to help the boom over more gently by bringing the mainsheet in so the boom doesn’t have as far to travel. When you are going directly downwind, just a tiny wind angle change can cause your boom to go crashing from one side of your boat to the other, often catching the skipper by surprise. And, when you are surfing down huge waves every few seconds and your boat is tossed about in the process, it is incredibly easy to accidentally jibe. I realize that was a long explanation but I know some of you may want to understand the reason we often sail just off from a straight down-wind course … especially when we have big seas.
We arrived at Porquerolles in the late afternoon and found the anchorage highly utilized – its seems lots of other people had the same goal of finding a protected anchorage! Once we settled in, Tom swam around the anchorage with the GoPro as he looked at our neighbor’s anchors and whether or not they were properly set. The winds were supposed to be very strong all night and it is much easier and safer to work these things out during daylight than to stumble about on deck in the middle of the night! Luckily, everyone near us had their anchors set and they had plenty of scope (length of chain as determined by a ratio to the depth of water you are anchored in).
The winds were predicted to be high for a second day so we stayed put off of Porquerolles. It was actually nice to relax prior to having a guest on board. In the evening, we opened some letters that our friends had sent with us to raise our spirits if they dipped during our summer adventure. Our dear friend Michelle has a history of organizing ‘Theme Nights’ when our crazy group of friends get together so she sent some stuff along to encourage fun in her absence!
In the morning, we raised anchor and headed over toward Hyeres-Plage (near Toulon) where we would do laundry, provision for food/beverages and clean our boat! Emmy was to land around 3 pm so we had to scramble to get our chores done and arrive at the airport to greet her on time. It is worth the effort to be able to welcome a friend on board a clean boat that is ready for entertaining guests!
Hope you enjoyed hearing about our time along the Spanish and French coastlines. Our next blog post will cover our final night along the French coast before we jump over to Corsica – or ‘Corse’ as the French call it. It IS their island after-all so I’m happy to call it Corse!
We are continuing our time in the Balearic Islands – the westernmost archipelago in the Mediterranean. At its closest point, this island group is 82 km (51 miles) from the southeast coast of Spain. After having spent three weeks in Mallorca – the largest island of the archipelago – we are eager to move along to Menorca, the second largest island and new waters to us! Menorca is the farthest of the Balearics from the mainland and it is rumored to be quieter than both Mallorca and Ibiza – an island we have not yet been able to visit that has a reputation of being a party spot! Continue reading “Sea Rose Visits The Island of Menorca! Ep. 99”
Unlike the isolation and jagged cliff landscape of Mallorca’s north coast, the eastern side of the island is peppered with small calas and a sprinkling of little villages providing beautiful beach access to island visitors. There are steep cliffs here – Mother Nature’s forceful hand toiled on this island as it did on so many others in the area – but these cliffs are in the 100 foot high range, not thousands of feet like the north coast. We were needing a little village scene, after being the only boat anchored out in the northerly harbors. With this goal, we headed around Mallorca’s northern tip, Cabo de Formentor, and found a vigorous breeze on our beam, sending us down the eastern side with determination.
At 3 am on the final day of May, we set off from the Marina in Puerto de Blanes on the Spanish coast (north east of Barcelona by about 70 kilometers – yes, we have fully converted to metric!). Today would be the first ‘crossing’ in our new boat … the shake-down cruise continues. Our destination is the harbor of Soller on the north coast of Mallorca, the largest of the Spanish Islas Baleares (Balearic Islands) in the western Mediterranean. The total distance we need to cover is 115 nautical miles (nm). I think we were both fighting back some nerves as we pulled out of the harbor in the moonlit early morning hours. As is becoming our modus operandi, I was at the helm to pull us away from the dock and all went well since we had very little wind and absolutely no other boat traffic. Though I’ve had some close-quarters practice while we were berthed in Canet, France, I am still quite jittery as I attempt maneuvers at the dock since Tom handled nearly all of those tasks on Thalia, our previous boat.
We knew there was the likelihood of fish traps that could get snagged by our prop as we motored off shore so we both kept a watch until we got into water over 50 meters deep, which only took about 10 minutes of motoring! We then began our watch schedule beginning with our morning person (Tom, of course) taking first watch. I snuggled back into bed and tried to get some sleep. The seas were quite choppy so a deep sleep was out of the question as the bow would frequently crash into an oncoming wave and make my body momentarily weightless in our forward berth. Our bed happens to be the worst place to sleep in these conditions and I could certainly move into one of our other sleeping quarters but I thought the seas would calm down! Three hours later, Tom would experience the same weightlessness! Oh well – life at sea.
Midway through our crossing, we had a wonderful surprise – a pod of dolphins dashing toward our bow to play in our wake! This is one of the very most special times on a boat – you can literally observe the happiness of the dolphins as they jump, flip and play around your moving home. Watch this video which is a compilation of the time they spent with us.
We picked the early morning departure time so that we could arrive at our destination during daylight hours. We are minimizing our risks and neither of us love to enter an unfamiliar harbor under the cover of darkness – especially when we would not have the helpful moon to light our way until well after midnight. Because of this desire to arrive before sunset, we had a minimum speed we needed to maintain and, unfortunately, we had very little wind for most of the crossing. We enjoyed a couple hours under sail power but we would have liked more! As part of our new-boat obligations, we needed to break in the engine by running it pretty hard for the first 50 engine hours – which we were less than half way through. While this made the crossing pass relatively quickly, it made us both a little anxious; it is never relaxing to hear your engine operating at high RPMs and much less so when continuing for extended periods of time. Still, we want our girl to last a long time so we are going to take good care of her and this is supposed to aid with engine longevity!
As the day wore on, a cloud bank appeared to be building in front of us but since it was quite hazy, it wasn’t well defined. We would learn that this was really a silhouette of the island with a small cloud covering on its high peaks. As the truth came into focus, we saw the huge Mallorcan mountain range reaching into the heavens! The peaks around Soller are some of the highest on the island, reaching 1145 meters just a couple miles inland and this is what we were seeing materialize out of the haze of the afternoon – not a cloud bank! Now we really couldn’t wait to explore these islands.
All in all, we would spend three-and-a-half weeks in Mallorca and almost a week in Menorca, one of the other main islands in the Balearics. We had two different sets of guests on board in Mallorca and, since we wanted everyone to see as much of the island as possible, we navigated most of the way around it … a couple times! Instead of covering our time on Mallorca chronologically, we’re going to cover it by area on the island – I think this will make it easier from a readership perspective to get to know the island!
(include a map of the Balaerics, Mallorca broken down into how our posts will be organized … and any other map?)
In this post, I will focus on the north coast. The next blog post will cover the southeast coast, Cabrera – the island off the southern tip – and the city of Palma, the island’s capital. Finally, we’ll do one post on the island of Menorca to round out our time in Islas Baleares.
North Coast of Mallorca
The entrance to the Soller harbor is graced by two light houses and very dramatic cliffs and caves. The harbor is almost perfectly round and it has a great vibe! Upon arriving after a long day’s passage, we were nicely settled on our anchor by 6 pm – time to enjoy some champagne to celebrate our first successful open-water passage on Sea Rose! Soller is, quite interestingly, made up of two distinct town centers – the Port of Soller and the darling Town of Soller that is several miles inland to protect the population from long ago pirate activity – imagine that! It turns out to be quite common throughout the Mediterranean for coastal communities to move their towns into the inland hills and valleys.
And here are some photos of the inland town of Soller …
We spent several nights in Soller, not only because it is a terrific little town but also because it is where we began our explorations of the island with both of our sons on board and, a week-and-a-half later, our good friends Steve and Patty. Each time, we rented a car and drove over to the very busy airport outside of Palma to pick up our guests. This also gave us the perfect excuse to shop in the huge stores around Palma so we could provision easily and also to get additional things we needed to make life on-board easier and more comfortable.
The north coast of Mallorca is very rugged with tall cliffs that often are vertical for hundreds of feet above and quite a distance below water as well. There are dramatic rock structures that surround natural coves which can be used for overnight anchoring if the weather is calm. The north coast is known for offering few protections if the weather turns. However, other than one “energetic” sail around Cabo de Formentor in the northeast, we enjoyed stable weather and explored as we wished. We typically stopped at one spot for lunch then moved on to where we would spend the night. There simply was so much beauty to be seen that we felt continually pulled toward the next exciting spot!
Cala de la Calobra and the ‘Torrente de Pareis’, the carved river valley that created this cove and the beautiful canyon walls inland as well. Truly stunning. There is a passageway through the cliff walls that allow you to walk from one cove to the other. We got some great photos of our boat looking out of the ‘windows’ in these passageways. This place was so amazing that we went there ourselves, then we took our sons there, then we also took Steve & Patty there. Some things should not be missed and this was one such place!
Cala Castell – The drone shots of this cala (cove in Spanish) say it all! Check it out.
Isn’t that a crazy slab of rock? It slants at a consistent angle to the water from a very high height and the rock is rough like maybe it was a volcanic flow that has deteriorated over time. As with many calas on the north shore, this one has no commercial development, just lots of goats and swimmers that hike over for the day.
Cala Val de Boca – This cove is incredibly barren but beautiful in that stark simplicity! Each night we anchored here, we heard goats bleating from the surrounding steeply pitched mountainsides. Though boats would enter the cala and loop around to check out the sights, no one ended up spending the night with us which made the evenings on the hook very special. The sky was pitch black, making you feel you could reach and grab a star of your choice. The sunrises were interesting. Since we were in a cove with very high sides, we could only see evidence that the sun had, in fact, risen even though our immediate surroundings were still somewhat gray. Steve took some great early-morning shots … hope you enjoy them and the other pictures of Cala Val de Boca!
Here are a couple other special shots from the north coast of Mallorca … enjoy!
Stay tuned until next time to learn all about the amazing southeast coast of Mallorca!
When people think of the French Riviera, I can bet they don’t think of a place like Canet-en-Roussillon. This little coastal hamlet is tucked away in the very southern extreme of France’s Mediterranean coastline, practically on the door step of Spain. Indeed, for awhile it was part of the Catalan region. Canet has its expansive beaches, but it’s devoid of the glitz and glam, the flashy big super yachts, and the well heeled sophisticate of the French Riviera. It’s the summer vacation choice of the everyday French family, and its port facility is where you come to roll up your sleeves and get work done.
With our circumnavigation of France halfway completed, we headed east from the coastal Normandy region to check out the eastern portion of the country. On the way, one passes nearby the countryside village of Giverny, most famous as the residence of Claude Monet. Giverny is where Monet spent the last 40 years of his life. He built out a substantial studio at his residence, and planted expansive flower gardens, followed later by an Oriental style floating garden across the street. These grounds become the subject matter of many of his most famous Impressionist paintings. Today, you can tour his home and studio, and stroll through the flower gardens and past the flowing streams and ponds, all of which lead to a visual sensory overload. For sure it is an SD-card busting experience. Continue reading “Around and Round We Go, Round Two, Ep. 95”
If you rent a car to explore France, like we did, you’ll need to get up close and personal with roundabouts. The French, and I suspect a lot of other Europeans, love these quintessential urban infrastructure anachronisms. On the one hand, they are highly efficient traffic cops, shepherding cars to their next exit without delay. On the other hand, they are technology-free, minimalist designs that could easily have existing hundred of years ago, and in fact they did, making your driving experience a true journey back through the centuries.