18 – 30 April 2017
Pollenca, Mallorca to Ciudadella, N39° 59.8′ E03° 49.5′, 35nm, 7 hours
to Mahon, N39° 52.1′ E04° 18.6′, 37nm, 6 hours 30
We motored across to Menorca from Pollenca in very little wind but in advance of some strong winds coming in and nervous about the reputation of the “Windy Island”. After the dramatic, mountainous coastline of Mallorca, our first impression of Menorca was that it was very flat indeed. We crossed in the company of a beautiful wooden Swedish boat, Ida, who we followed into the stunning clear waters of the narrow harbour at Ciutadella. Hovering in the sky above to welcome us was a kite.
Ciutadella is known as Vella i Bella, Old and Beautiful, and it really is.
There are ancient buildings around every corner.
We went into the municipal museum for a run down of the town’s history. Wrestled from the Carthaginians by the Romans, from the Vandals by the Moors, like Cartagena the layers just peel away.
After a couple of nights in Ciudadella, we had a fantastic sail along the south coast of Menorca to Mahon. As we started out Stefan declared that he could smell cows! True enough, with the wind blowing off the island, there was that unmistakeable smell of island’s cheese producers. Having (we thought) sat out the stronger winds the day before, we had about 25 knots of wind on the beam (1) and were flying along at up to 9 knots at times. We hadn’t gone that fast since we had the help of the tide going into Dunkerque.
But we should have learnt from past experience on our passage to Portimao that with a beautiful sail seems to come an equipment failure of serious proportions! As we turned the corner around Illa del Aire we found ourselves heading right into an accelerating wind and enormous waves. We left the main sail up to help keep the boat stable. Having made incredible time to that point we were pushing into gusts of up to 35 knots at a crawling 2 knots.
And then the mainsail decided to take a walk down the mast all by itself. In horrible seas and not without getting drenched, Stefan managed to lash the sail to the boom for our final approach into Mahon. It was still very windy in the harbour and in the conditions we were grateful for the offer of mooring alongside the quay rather than stern to. We left working out what had happened for another day and went out for a late lunch!
Pintail was very happy moored alongside the public quay in Mahon. Just to add to the very British naval atmosphere of the place, we were in good company on the quay next to a lovely old square rigger, The Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Although actually despite its name, the boat is actually German owned!
Maybe because of its little reminders of home, we loved our time in Mahon. The sash and bow windows all over town are the legacy its occupation by the British during the 18th century. Along with Gibraltar, Menorca became British under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was conquered briefly by the French between 1756 and 1763 when it was tussled back by the British, only to lose it to Spain in 1782. In 1798 the British recaptured it but finally gave it back to Spain in 1802. Our travels in Spain and Portugal have taught us a great deal about the changing empires and borders around Europe and the Mediterranean!
The harbour at Mahon is the second biggest natural harbour in Europe. The first being Poole harbour in Dorset, UK. Sailing into it is like sailing through naval history. On both sides and all over its tiny islands are reminders of its strategic importance to those wishing to control the Mediterranean. Nelson is said to have lived at Golden Farm, looking out across the harbour to Mahon.
We took a brilliant audio tour around the tunnels at Fort Marlborough. Built by the British in 1720 into the rocks at the end of the harbour, it is almost invisible amongst the landscape.
Whilst in Mahon we got back into the habit of visiting the local market. Getting braver with my fish eating, we randomly selected one from a stall – we weren’t entirely sure what it was. In Spanish it was brotola which apparently translates as fork-beard! To go with it, we went next door to the cloistered fruit and vegetable market and bought some fresh broad beans in their pods amongst our usual shopping list.
We also discovered another legacy of the British in Mahon – their very own, and very tasty, gin. We bought two bottles just to be sure!
We were in Mahon for a usually very British occasion, St George’s Day on 23 April. Sant Jordi, as he is known in Spanish, is also celebrated in Menorca with the giving of books and roses so the streets were bustling with stalls selling old and new books and beautiful red roses. We’ve still got plenty of unread books on board and don’t have a vase on board (for obvious reasons!) so we were unable to partake in the tradition but sat in a café watching everyone at the market.
One museum we would thoroughly recommend in Mahon is the Museu Hernandez Sandz – Hernandez Mora, a fantastic collection of art, maps and charts that bring the island of Menorca, its history and people to life. Housed in the 19th century merchant’s mansion, with its tower reminiscent of the merchant’s houses in Cadiz, Stefan volunteered to climb the four flights of iron grid staircase to take in the views of the town for both of us!
We did drag ourselves away from Mahon though! By car we explored the interior, visting Es Mercadal and climbing Menorca’s pimple of a highest peak (all of 357 metres high) for views to the north and south of the island.
We drove up to Fornells and the beautiful beach at Arenal d’en Castell.
By foot and by bike we took to Menorca’s tiny, stone wall lined windy lanes in search of much more ancient history. The island is home to 33 or more Bronze Age stone mounds and standing stones. We happened upon four sites just a few miles outside Mahon. They have an incredible atmosphere to them.
Before we set sail again we needed to fix the main sail. This meant a trip up the mast for Stefan. We discovered that the shackle (2) for the main sail’s halyard (3) had become so warped under the pressure of the sail over the years that it had popped right open – hence the sail’s unexpected and ill-timed fall from grace!
Stefan enjoyed his trip up the mast so much that he went back up twice more to try to fix the cable for the VHF. A temporary fix has it working again but the whole cable will need to be replaced before too long.
We loved our time in Mahon. It had such a sleepy and welcoming atmosphere. It is special because it is the place that we celebrated our anniversary as live-aboards on 29 April. And we were lucky to be able to celebrate with new friends, Gisela and Peter who make us feel like compete newcomers with their 17 years on the water. We were so inspired by their truly intrepid adventures and their infectious love of the places and things they have seen. Maybe we should put Patagonia on the list?!
But for now we have to get ourselves to Sardinia before Stefan’s dad arrives and a weather window appeared which meant we had to say goodbye to Mahon and our new friends and move on again.
After so long in Spain we are looking forward to hoisting a new courtesy flag and to some Italian adventures…
Selfie, with the wonderful Gisela and Peter with whom we celebrated our anniversary as live-aboards
(1) the side of the boat
(2) the thing that attaches the sail to the halyard
(3) the line that takes the mainsail up the mast