East or west?

23 to 27 July 2020

Almerimar to Cabo de Palos, 37° 38′ 17″N 00° 41′ 57″W, 124nm, 22hrs

to Cala Soana, Formentera, 38° 41′ 8″N 01° 23′ 3″E, 115nm, 19 hours 30

to Playa Trocados, 38° 45′ 7″N 01° 25′ 9″E, 5nm, 2 hours

We were home but we had lots of decisions to make about what to do during this ongoing pandemic. Whether to leave our safe harbour in Almerimar and if so which way to turn? And where to spend winter given the looming restrictions of Brexit?

We had considered taking the boat all the way back to the UK for winter but the idea of a long slog into prevailing winds up the Atlantic Coast put us off. That and a cold, rainy snap during our time in Margate reminding us what winter on the boat might be like!

Our reunion with Annemieke and Steve and memories of our time in Gibraltar, combined with the fact that it is a UK overseas territory, consolidated it in our minds as probably the most sensible place for us to spend winter. From there we could also make sure that we cross the border to Spain over the New Year so that we don’t have to pay VAT on the boat when we travel back to the EU after 1 January. (Yes, that’s just another rather big financial implication of Brexit for us!) But we know from last time that getting a spot in Queensway Quay is not easy and, given the number of Brits probably thinking the same as us, perhaps more difficult this year. So we bit the bullet and emailed the fearsome keeper of the berths, keeping our fingers crossed.

While we waited we continued preparing Pintail to sail – got her sails back up, serviced the engine, tested the generator (and the air conditioning!) and finally replaced the AIS cable up the mast. (Now you can keep proper tabs on us, Roger!) Next door, Babs and Rene were doing the same and making plans to head east. Being married to an EU citizen, Babs keeps her freedom of movement and they are thinking of Menorca or Sardinia for winter.

The more time we spent in stifling Almerimar the more we realised that we would go ever so slightly mad staying there for months. The southern Spanish coast doesn’t offer much in the way of cruising options – very few well protected anchorages and, at this time of year, some expensive marinas we have already spent enough time in. Whilst the option of making our way to Portugal was off limits due to a still closed border and encouraged by the thought of good company we looked east too. A summer hanging out on the hook in the Balearics didn’t sound a bad option. The only problem: the wind had not stopped blowing easterly since we had arrived.

When an email arrived from Queensway Quay offering us a berth for winter we felt relief. The certainty of a berth gave us a greater sense of freedom to make decisions about the next few months. There is of course still a great deal of uncertainty about the virus but we consolidated a plan to sail with SV Momentum as far as Formentera and Ibiza. There we hoped that during the calmer weather of summer we could stay out at anchor, away from the virus and away from the extortionate marina prices on the islands. And from there we would be within a long day sail of a number of mainland marinas should restrictions threaten navigation.

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We just needed the wind to change direction! While we waited there was time to winch Rene up his mast and fill our fridges and lockers with enough food to keep us going as long as possible at anchor.

A short and very light weather window appeared and we decided that even though it would probably mean motoring we would make a dash for it. Leaving on Thursday with an overnight in an anchorage halfway we could make it the 250nm to Formentera for Saturday before we faced stronger head winds. In classic Pintail style our first shakedown sail of the season would be a long one!

After one last beautiful sunset over the marina and a stop at the fuel pontoon to fill up and pay our harbour fees, we were off. Heading back out to sea, it felt like a long time coming and just like yesterday all at the same time.

With a clean bottom and our still nearly new sails we were surprised by the speed Pintail shot off at in the lightest of winds. She was clearly eager to get to sea! We left SV Momentum in our wake and encouraged by the light winds we hoisted the cruising chute and really started to fly. We were surprised too by the number of boats out on the water. No changes though to the flotsum found in the water though as pallets and inflatables floated by. Before nightfall we were rounding Cabo de Gato and settling in to our first night at sea for over a year. It’s amazing how the old routine of night watches came back to us, peering out into the dark for lights, listening to new episodes of Desert Island Discs and making sure there was a fresh cup of tea waiting at the start of the other’s watch.

We planned to stop for the night at an anchorage behind Cabo de Palos and stuck the anchor down in the sand mid morning. A few hours later we were joined by Momentum and crowds of others in the anchorage. Coronavirus has not, it seems, stopped holidays in Spain. The wind was good to carry on so by mid afternoon we had decided to head off again.

The sun set as we sailed parallel to the mainland and rose again as we approached Ibiza and Formentera. I had the sunrise watch this time – it’s the one we fight over! We were still some way off but eventually, and full of night watch jet lag, arrived in Cala Soana again on Formentera.

It was packed with more boats than the last time we were there with Roger and Carol. It seemed as though everyone had the same idea as us about socially distancing at anchor! And it was not quiet. All day jet skis and small motor boats marauded around the anchorage. The Skipper was, however, very happy to be at anchor again in those crystal clear waters.

Babs and Rene had arrived and settled at Playa Trocados so after a night in Cala Soana we joined them. Determined to use our sails we tacked slowly back and forth to the anchorage just 5nm away. There it was even busier with boats big and small, enormous super yachts and trip boats vying for space and all churned around by the constant wash of the stream of ferries from Ibiza. So much for social isolation! But we were happy in our little bubble hanging out with Babs, Rene and Rizzo. When, in a freak rock kicking incident whilst walking Rizzo ashore, Babs seriously injured her toe and became confined to the boat Momentum became our hub for daily catch ups and, in the absence of wanting to go ashore to a cafe, a fine provider of tea and coffee.

We did, however, venture ashore. As we had last May we went for a walk along the narrow strip at the top of the island. On the windward side there were kite surfers and rolling waves, a contrast to the calm of our anchorage (if you don’t count the wash!)

We didn’t find the stone sculptures we saw last time. They had been replaced with driftwood works instead. And here, away from the popular beaches, there was no need for masks. We had no company except a group of camping kayackers and a couple of nudists!

The heat of the Spanish summer was starting to get to us and we all wanted to join Rizzo in lying down in a cool pool.

We also knew how she felt when she started digging holes. We too wanted to dig a big hole, bury our heads in the sand and hide away from other people. This is not going to be a normal sailing season by any means…

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