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By David Millner
(Editor of and The Multihull Yearbook)

The Balearic Islands (Islas Baleares) lie just 40 miles from mainland Spain in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Summer winds tend to be light with NE a common direction but the major influence is the coastal afternoon breeze which can bear no relation to the forecast direction or strength.

Lynda and I cruised the islands during the summers of 2002 and 2003 with our Havcat 27 catamaran Apataki circumnavigating both Mallorca and Ibiza and enjoying the west coast of Formentera. My experience of the south coast of Menorca was in a Snowgoose 37 in the mid 80's.

The whole area provides clear water with easy anchoring over the clearly visible sand areas. It is nearly always possible to snorkel after anchoring to check the anchor, cool off and observe the sea-life over sand, weed and round rocks. Navigation is easy without many hazards and navtex provides regular forecasts from the Spanish Met Office, except when we most needed them, and occasional forecasts from Meteo France. We did not tune in to the VHF forecasts as the weather was mostly settled.
Marinas are to be avoided in the summer season, even for a monohull. Prices are high, space is at a premium and the air in some is stifling. For Apataki they are only places to get fuel and ice.

Our cruise started 120 miles to the south west on mainland Spain near La Manga. The 2002 landfall was SW Ibiza as strong easterly winds prevented easy landfall on low Formentera. In 2003 light winds prevailed and Cala Sahona was reached with a thrilling close reach for the last hour of the passage.

Formentera is only reached by boat and the daily population is swelled by many tourist boats and ferries from nearby Ibiza. It attracts many naturists to the beaches and away from the port of Sabina it is hardly necessary to wear clothes aboard. Sahona is sheltered from all but west sector winds and the snorkelling began. By the second evening with a "variable" forecast the wind blew into the bay, set up a swell, then veered behind the land. It was one uncomfortable evening in the bay until the swell on our beam finally died down. The short sail to Ibiza the following day more than made up for it.

The Puerto de Sabina is a busy place with ferries coming and going and many yachts milling about for the single fuel berth. The first time we took Apataki in for fuel and tied up briefly to a ferry dock. The second time we took empty gasoline cans in there in the dinghy. The place has a relaxed feel but it was best to move on. Our final visit for ice proved fruitless as the whole island seemed to have run out two days earlier. Spain has had record temperatures in the Summer of 2003 and production could not cope with demand. I would recommend anchoring outside the port, then hiring a bicycle to see the island.

Almost attached to the north tip of Formentera is the Island of Espalmador. The inaccurately named "Puerto" de L'Espalmador is actually a sheltered bay in which up to 500 yachts anchor at the busiest part of August. The holding in sand is good and the visitor should swim or dinghy ashore to walk the long sweep of white sand. Many visitors walk into the interior of the private island set in a large designated natural park to cover themselves in mud with supposed health qualities. Once caked dry in the sun, the "muddies" wash out the layer in the sea.

Ibiza is known as the 18-30 party - disco island, but this does not detract from the rocky beauty of the coastline and the many "calas" in which to anchor. Even in August we found two anchorages which we had to ourselves for a night.

On the west coast we tried the open Cala Horts and Cala Badella and the east side of Isla Conejera. From here the walk up to the lighthouse is recommended for panoramic views, and in this bay we had a night on our own. The bottom has many levels and it is important to go down for a check, lots to see anyway.

Nearby is the town of San Antonio with ferry mole, club náutico, many shops and restaurants and discos. We did not look forward to the spot but it was very sheltered and we replenished fuel, water, ice and provisions, and we slept through the music.

On the north coast we anchored in Cala Grassio and in Cala Salada at second attempt. The first attempt was foiled by a thunderstorm in which visibility reduced to 75 metres and the wind gusted to 50knots? enough to make Apataki heal over with no sails set. The Mediterranean has instant storms. Ours was predictable by the encroaching black sky. Some gusts come with clear skies and a crew must be ready to react quickly. We missed many anchorages but used Cala Portinatx with it's popular beaches, a tourist village.

To the east we anchored under the high cliffs with interesting rock formations at Clot d'es Llamp. The village above could not be seen from the bay, or accessed easily. Cala Mastella is narrow at the head but with Apataki's shallow draft it was possible to anchor in shallow water close to a restaurant. It rained and blew as we arrived so it seemed a good idea to lunch ashore. It was Spanish Sunday lunch and the whole place was reserved by locals and German tourists. We returned hungry to the boat with Lynda nursing slight injury from slipping on the slime in the shallow water.

In the afternoon the wind made the anchorage uncomfortable so we moved further out but failed to find a safe spot in shallow water. We had started the cruise with a typical light multihull tackle of the 10kg Bruce anchor with 5 meters of chain then line. Soon we found we were dancing around the monos in anchorages with their short but heavy chain. We added the heavy 10 metres of chain from our parachute anchor rode, and it has remained on the main anchor ever since.


We avoided Ibiza town in 2002 going to the shallow and deserted Cala de Sal Rosso, but needed to go in 2003. We anchored behind the new mole near Marina Botofach and took the dinghy ashore. During lunch a French steel yacht drifted past us dragging it's anchor. Madame was alone on board as her husband had gone ashore to find an engineer. I climbed on board to help as another dinghy with Cornishman Mike aboard took a line and towed the yacht off the rocks. Soon a Catana 411 was lying rudder against the rocks, and together we went aboard and anchored her in deep water again.

The pilot book does not show the mole but does show an anchorage, but a port official came to each boat and asked us to leave. Ibiza town is not a place where anchoring is acceptable. We motored around the headland to Cala Talamanca.

Mallorca is the largest island of the group and has a huge tourist industry. The Puerto de Palma is full of boats up to superyachts. Our passage to Mallorca was 61 miles. A glossy swell and no wind meant motoring was required once we left the coastal winds of Ibiza. We anchored in Cala Portals after dark. By morning a NE wind was blowing and the bay was uncomfortable in the swell. Our anchor lay under a Dutch yacht. Two hours later she left and we followed heading for the west side of the island.

We navigated through islands and detoured to the unattractive marina at Porto Adriano for supplies. As we reached the entrance the engine was set to idle speed and stalled. It happened again but then refused to start. (Honda 9.9 hp fourstroke). We sailed through a 100m wide channel and towards Cala de Santa Ponsa. In very light wind we anchored over sand in 3.5 metres and went ashore to find an engineer (not to be recommended in July or August).

To cut a long story short we left the bay 16 days later with a new coil fitted by a Honda dealer inland. The stay was enjoyable, there were good cheap places ashore to eat, Mike, Carolyn and Jenny (from the rescue) were anchored next to us and helped get the engine ashore. Mike, Laura and Liz (South Africans) helped it's return. {check out their website for sailing in Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Caribbean, Bahamas -}.

Eventually we are free and have a lovely sail out of the bay. We make a lunch stop at Cala Egos, then on to San Telmo. Then through the Dragonera Passage to the north coast. In 60 miles there are a number of exposed anchorages but the only full shelter is in Sóller. We stopped for lunch at the anchorage to the west of Peninsular de la Foradada beneath the Son Marroig estate, once owned by Archduke Luis Salvador of Austria.

The water was deep and especially clear. The peace was disturbed by a single water-skier leaving all the boats rolling in discomfort. Motor boats, jet skis and water-skiers made every effort during the 2003 cruise to cause maximum disturbance to the water by going fast and close and circling anchored boats. Even the slow ones never look back to see the effect of their wake. With our chain hanging vertically in 11 metres it was a big effort to weigh anchor without a windlass.

Sóller is an attractive town bay but the visibility in the crowded water was only about 3m. We enjoyed a good meal in Restaurant Embat, replenished ice and left early the next morning. We had felt cramped and surrounded by many French yachts. We motored in calm air past Cabo de Cataluna into Cala Figuera and really enjoyed this wild spot, despite the holidaymakers ashore, all of whom had a long walk to the road.

Next day we were soon at the NE tip of the island, Cabo Formentor then a short motor to Cala Murta - one motor boat, two people on the beach, one desirable residence ashore. This is lovely. Within half an hour the day-trippers arrive including a large number of loud children on "summer school". Soon the bay was full of yachts and a couple of hours later the children had gone. In the early evening they returned. More noise etc. Eventually peace returned and we were alone with two French yachts as the sun set. They both had stern anchors out, bows to the sea. The land breeze took over and we looked forward to a peaceful night. But a little SW swell kept coming in and we were beam on to it.

At 2 am it was all too much. We weighed anchor and motored under the light of the full moon and anchored to the west of Punta de la Avanza in 2.5 m, and fell asleep. Across the bay is Pollensa. Lynda celebrated her 16th birthday there so we went to see what she recognised so many years later. She picked out the hotel and we had a beer there, and filled some water containers from a tap by the swimming pool showers for our own shower water.

It is fair to say that much of our "sailing" around these islands had been under power. Now started a run of more sail, less motor starting with a good beat out of the Bahia de Pollensa, then a long leg down the coast close hauled on port tack. The aim is always to find an anchorage not exposed to the swell and Cala Moltó fitted the bill that night.

Missing many more exposed anchorages the next stop was the natural harbour of Porto Colom. We first anchored outside the channel in shallow water, only to find we were on the short cut for all the small motor boats. The visibility in the water was lowest here. We relocated behind some large catamarans to a quiet spot and enjoyed a good but relatively expensive meal ashore.

Two miles south lies the pretty Cala Mitjana. The pilot book says there is room for over ten yachts. We anchored next to a German F27 trimaran and took a stern line to a bollard in the rocks ashore. The Cala is surrounded by a private estate with a nautical theme. Gloved servants serve lunch on the terrace to the owners and guests. The boat people look on. It was so pleasant we stayed two nights.

Four more miles took us to Porto Petro, with little harbour, town, and different calas to anchor in. We took a Spanish lunch in a waterside restaurant from 2pm to 5.30pm and chilled out. There was cloud in the sky and "weather" was developing. A blow was forecast for the night so we took the awning down and let out more anchor line.

Stronger NWly winds were forecast for a few hours so we got out and started sailing south with double reefed main and genoa. The Bay of Palma was around the point, and right upwind for 20 miles. As we closed the point, close hauled, the white horses were everywhere as the wind funnelled between Mallorca and the Islands in the National Park to the south. Overnight anchoring is forbidden at Isla de Cabrera. A mooring can be reserved, by fax, for one night. This is difficult to achieve from a cruising yacht.

We made the decision to use the wind to return to Espalmador, now 85 miles away. During the day and night it came from every direction ending in a good downwind sail, leaving Mallorca behind after our first exploration by sea.

Menorca lies to the north east of Mallorca. The natural harbour of Mahon is the largest in the Mediterranean and Nelson's fleet have sheltered in there. Around the island are a number of Calas. I recall enjoying Cala Macarelleta. Menorca is lower than Mallorca and tends to have stronger winds being closer to the Gulf of Lions where depressions form.

Catamarans can be chartered from Palma and Ibiza, or from Denia on the mainland of Spain. A single week charter would allow circumnavigation of Ibiza, or the larger Mallorca if the conditions are correct. It certainly cannot be guaranteed, and indeed with so many possible anchorages many crews would take it easy and cover less ground. There remains much to see on the next visit.DM

Heavy weather sailing
March 2009

"I have been capsized, foundered, run-down and placed in more survival conditions than I can remember"


A Voyaging Canoe for Tikopia
March 2009
A project to build a sailing double canoe for Tikopia.

Tikopia is a tiny remote Polynesian island in the Western Pacific, which has maintained self-sufficiency for 3000 years.

Using a Parachute Anchor
March 2009

Peter Clutterbuck, MOCRA Safety Officer, examines the benefits of carrying one on board, and compares with the conventional anchor.

Budget charters in Thailand
March 2009

We sailed "Veni Vidi Vici", one of Siam Sailing's Tiki 30's for two weeks in January

Read on...

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