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.
So it was that we entered the port of Cala Ratjada on the northeast tip with our friends Steve and Patty. We had been tipped off to this well-protected harbor a few weeks prior when we visited another group of America sailors (a rare experience here) and they spoke highly of the marina and the town. It wasn’t hard to remember the conversation – each of the three Americans had a hard time pronouncing the name of the harbor, and in the end they had decided that ‘Rats Ass’ was a good Americanized version! In that spirit, we approached the marina. It all started off with a masterful parking job by Karen, shoehorning Sea Rose backwards into a tight corner between lots of big boats, with lots of pointy protruding objects waiting in earnest to put their mark on our hull. Thankfully, it was a drama free entrance and more than a few men at the open air marina bar had stopped talking and turned to check out the female skipper. Sorry guys, I respect your earnestness, but the girl is spoken for!
With our lines secured and the passarelle in place for us to get on to the dock, we were ready to hit the town. Immediately it was clear that this town was different. On nearly every restaurant and store sign, we found prominent German translations. When we entered a store, the proprietor would often start with a greeting in German. Indeed, as we looked around, we heard German spoken all over the place. I had heard that northern Europeans often come to the Balearics – Mallorca in particular – for their summer holiday, sometimes even for a quick weekend getaway, but clearly Rat’s Ass could adopt the nickname Little Germany.
Finding a nice restaurant venue for dinner was high on the list, and we found the perfect spot, overlooking the harbor entrance. In these parts, if you choose dinner at 6 or 7pm, your thrown into company with parents with small children. The mainstream diners start strolling in between 9-10pm, and we were happy to shift our schedule and enjoy the great pink and purple hews of dusk over the water.
Steve was able to sniff out a disco in town and we enjoyed all that and more until 3am. This sailing life really gets in the way of a daytime job!
On separate occasions with our two sons, with Steve and Patty, and by ourselves, we explored the many calas further down the east coast. This part of Mallorca is such a treasure, we couldn’t help but come back multiple times. Most of the calas are quite small, with enough space for 5-10 boats to safely anchor. They are frequented heavily by day-time visitors and occasionally a coastal tour boat. If we couldn’t find room, or had to squeeze uncomfortably close to others, we found that by the late afternoon, the smaller power boaters, and many of the larger sailboats pick up anchor and head out, and we’d re-anchor to a more favorable spot.
There was not a bad cala in the mix – each had their unique layouts and features. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorites.
If there ever was a Caribbean experience in the Med, it would be Cala Barcas. The water here was crystal clear, and hues of light and dark blues were everywhere, splashing ashore on bright sandy beaches around the perimeter. Karen and I settled in for two nights – an unusual choice – and found the snorkeling and cliff jumping (OK, that would be just me, not karen!) delightful. The weather was warming and the prior week of on-again, off-again rain had subsided, giving us warm sunny days with hardly a cloud in the sky, and plenty of stars twinkling at night.
It was here that we first saw two women paddle boarders easing their way into the cove, asking us if this was indeed Cala Barcas. I assured them it was, and they seemed relieved. These were not a couple of vacationing tourists out on rental paddle boards. They were loaded down with large gear bags on the front and back of their boards. Of course, this prompted the question of what they were up to. We quickly learned that this adventurous duo – Cat and (Valery, I think … get their names and website) were two weeks out on a paddle around the entire perimeter of Mallorca, starting and ending in Soller, and setting their sights on being the first to accomplish such a feat. Cat was a Brit, looking to be in her twenties, paired up with XXX who was a native Mallorcan in her forties. Their overall mission was to draw attention to a growing issue of plastics in the water around the island, and to cleanup as much as they could along the way. We gave them some of our drinking water, and followed their journey to a successful end. Hat’s off to these impressive women. If you ever thought you couldn’t achieve your goals, take some inspiration from these two women! You can learn more about their adventure at their website, www.sollertosoller.com.
Much narrower than Cala Barcas, Arsenau only accommodated a few boats at a time. When we arrived with Zack and Caleb, we could not picture safely anchoring here without swinging into either of the rocky cliff walls. This often happens when you approach a harbor from a distance. With a few boats already there, it seems impossible that there would be room for another. But once you get right in and check it out, little nooks and crannies appear that give you hope of finding a home for the night. While we were checking possible anchorage options, a very sleek new power boat came charging into the cala with the bravado that only comes with an older shirtless guy at the helm. They whipped their shiny stainless steel anchor out of a hydraulically operated anchor locker, plopped it in the water, added enough for a paltry 2:1 scope, shut the engines down, and started turning up the tunes. Let’s just say that if you have a New Yorker onboard and she’s behind the wheel, there will be a few choice words on the tip of her tongue. Good thing the boys were with us, or there wouldn’t have been so much discretion! Alas, these fellas didn’t have the stamina, and an hour later the familiar clanging of the windlass could be heard pulling up anchor chain and they were off, with several friendly goodbye waves.
We were acquainted with another aspect of Spanish life later in the evening as a 20-something girl on the rocky shore, together with her two male companions (odds that any woman would fancy, I’m sure) began frolicking in and out of the water. Shortly thereafter, both guys were buck naked, diving off the rocks and swimming like they had not a care in the world. Their topless girlfriend, whose allegiance could be found oscillating a bit, soon was separated from her clothing and swimming and diving like the rest of them. Carefree bravado here, casual nudity there… this was going to be an educational summer. Boys, get out your notebooks!
While not technically a cala, Porto Cristo has a number of interesting cliff formations and is best known for its underground caves, one of which, Cuevas del Drach, we took a tour of, intrigued by the brochure stating it had the largest underground lake in the world. This claim met with some questionable skepticism from the family, but I will hand it to the operators that it had the most charm. After the one hour walking tour past well lite stalactites and stalagmites (you do remember the difference don’t you?), the tour ended with a parade of musicians being rowed along the shore of the ‘lake’ playing Pachelbel’s Canon. I know enough about photography that pictures of dimly lit caves and musicians don’t turn out very well, so instead here’s a view overlooking the harbor entrance to Porto Cristo.
Upon return to our boat at the marina, we were surprised to see the Spanish national guard pull up in their truck and ask for our paperwork. Another educational moment, and not the pleasing kind like in Cala Arsenau. I hurriedly gathered up our passports and our boat documentation and handed this over to them. Of the two officers, one was more fluent in English and he did most of the talking, while translating for his partner. In the end, they just had a few visitor survey-type questions for us – where were we from, how long were we going to stay in Mallorca, had we been to Mallorca before, etc. At first I thought we had been singled out because of our American flag, as they drove right for our boat off the access road, but we were given the green light, handed back our paperwork, and they worked their way down the quay.
Zack and Caleb had made several requests to find a place more lively than the quiet calas and rugged north coast harbors, and Porto Cristo had fit the bill. We ended up visiting again with Steve and Patty, as it was a great place to re-provision, and had helpful connections back to the airport at Palma.
Off the southern tip of Mallorca is the Isla de Cabrera, a national park with regulated access to the anchorages and shore areas. We had to apply ahead of time for a limited number of permits to lay on a mooring ball in the main harbor. I’m not big on booking places way in advance as it can lock you into a set itinerary and prevent you from enjoying places before or after. But this spot was well worth any scheduling challenges. We arrived in the fading evening light and climbed a hill above the harbor to check out the Castell de Cabrera, with a narrow winding staircase to the ramparts above and were greeted with sweeping views of the rest of the island.
This castle seemed like it was built right out of a precipice at the harbor entrance. If you weren’t looking close enough, you might mistake it for just a pointy rock, until cannon fire started flying across your bow!
As a nature preserve, one of the species that they work hard to protect is a lizard specific to the island called Podarcis Lilfordi, or Lilford wall’s lizard. We were on the lookout for such a creature but didn’t expect to find one posing just like its picture on the information board, on a stone wall nonetheless!
An important part of sailing with friends and family in Mallorca is getting them smoothly from the airport to the boat and back again. Thankfully, there were plenty of rental car agencies in the towns we visited, and all told, we made eight trips to the Palma airport in three weeks! Palma provides connections to most major European airports and is a substantial airport given the relatively small size of Mallorca. By the second time around, we were well versed in the pickup and drop-off process, utilizing a gigantic Carrefour supermarket and shopping plaza adjacent to the airport to load up the boat with reasonably priced provisions. For me, it’s always fun to walk through retail stores in another country to see what tools, electronics, and housewares are common to them, but unique and special to you. For much of the electronics, they are based on 220 voltage, so they are not practical on our boat, which was built to the North America standard. Regardless, to an ex-engineer, gadgetry is fascinating regarding the country you are in!
During our many visits to Palma, we got a chance to walk the old town and check out the local scene, either by ourselves prior to friends landing, or with friends before they made their departure. In Palma, you find yourself falling into a feeling of familiarity with any typical large European city, but you have to remind yourself that this is a little island – apart from the super fresh lemons and oranges, and a few other items, all of this stuff – cars, clothing, building material – had to be transported across the water to get here. But thank goodness people that went before us had the foresight to build this impressive city, with it’s charming narrow winding streets, large sunny plazas with open air cafes a-plenty, and a un-hurried pace. One of our surprise experiences in Palma, as we walked the back alleys near the massive Cathedral de Mallorca, was to hear the childrens choir warming up for mass. I stuck my phone in the window to record them, and decided to put together a few pictures of Palma to go along with it. I hope you enjoy this Palma montage.
Together with our experience starting at Soller along the north coast, Mallorca left us with sweet, youthful memories that will come visit us in our dreams, and nag us to come visit her shores again. We won’t be leaving via the Palma airport, but instead, we’ll cross over to neighboring Menorca to see what this island of purported greater remoteness held in store for us. In the meantime, we hope you have enjoyed learning more about the special island oasis that is Mallorca!