When I cast off the lines in Hamburg a year ago, my goal was quite clear: off to the Caribbean. The plan was to sail to the Canary Islands via Morocco in summer 2020. From there in autumn to Senegal and Gambia and then in winter – after a stopover on Cape Verde – I wanted to cross the Atlantic towards the Caribbean.
But then Corona came. Although I have met several sailors who cross oceans and travel to distant countries even in times of the pandemic, I have personally decided to adapt my plans to the current situation. I would not like to experience a lockdown at anchor, like in spring in Portugal, outside of Europe. In many countries there are also very strict quarantine rules, if entry is possible at all.
In addition, I fear that the virus will change the world in the long term. Especially in poorer countries that are heavily dependent on tourism. Here I could imagine that a year without guests would lead to massive problems and possibly increased crime. So I guess it’s better to wait and see how the situation in Africa and Central America develops.
But what was the alternative? Since I didn’t want to spend a year and a half in the Algarve, there was really only one thing left: the Mediterranean!
Actually, that wasn’t at all on my list of destinations, as I wanted to avoid crowded anchor bays and overpriced marinas. But on the other hand, maybe summer 2020 was an ideal opportunity to travel to a Mediterranean that is not quite as crowded as usual.
In addition, pictures of anchor bays with crystal clear water made me want to explore southern Europe…
But first I had to do a few things on the boat after my return to Faro. Among other things, a new layer of antifouling was sorely needed. However, it was so hot at the shipyard that I limited the work to the bare minimum and then made an appointment for a crane as quickly as possible.
It was about time to get back into the water anyway, because a visitor had announced himself: my brother Tom was on vacation and came on board to head off towards the east together with me. It was nice to have Tom on board again for three weeks. On his last visit we sailed together from Cuxhaven to Cherbourg. In contrast to the cold and hard tour on the North Sea last summer, this year’s sailing trip should be characterized by heat and little wind.
After a night at anchor off Ilha Culatra, we set sail in the afternoon to sail the 80 nautical miles to Cadiz overnight. We were a little under time pressure, because in the Strait of Gibraltar it either blows heavily from the west, or heavily from the east – the so-called Levante.
And exactly this wind was announced for the coming week. And then for the next two weeks or so. That means, that if we wouldn’t make it through the Strait of Gibraltar within four days, we would probably have to wait quite a long time on the Atlantic side.
So off we went! The wind was a bit weak, but nevertheless we sailed into the right direction with initially 3, later a good 4 knots. Tom was compensated for the somewhat hectic departure and his slight seasickness with dolphins who accompanied us for a while.
We divided the night watches into two-hour shifts. The night passed quietly, even though I could hardly sleep. Although I could theoretically sleep while Tom kept watch. But completely relaxing is still hard for me, having the responsibility as skipper.
Around noon we arrived in Cadiz and strolled around a little in the old town, despite being quite tired and the extreme heat of the afternoon.
After a quiet night in port, we cast off the lines at 9 the next morning and made our way to Tarifa. Luckily we had good wind and were able to sail a large part of the route.
Tarifa is the southernmost point of continental Europe and you have a clear view of the African continent. We could even make out individual houses in Tangier. Normally there is nothing I would have liked more than to visit Morocco.
But in these extraordinary Corona times, it is unfortunately impossible for us Europeans to enter the country. An interesting change of perspective, because normally it’s more the people on the other side who look longingly at Europe.
Unfortunately, there is no marina in Tarifa, only an anchorage that was sheltered from the wind, but in which there was a lot of swell. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from going ashore with the dinghy and visiting the town. We both liked Tarifa a lot, and we thought it was a shame we couldn’t stay longer.
The next morning we lifted the anchor and let the wind blow us eastwards into the Mediterranean, sailing just with the Genoa. As we had already read in various publications, the wind often blows 2-3 Beaufort stronger at Gibraltar than in the rest of the strait due to the jet effect on the Rock of Gibraltar. And that’s exactly how it turned out.
During several times I was on the verge of swapping the genoa for the small jib, as we had too much sail area in places, surfing down the waves at over 8 knots. A furling genoa would have been really helpful here, which we could have simply rolled in a little.
After an hour of speeding along with winds of up to 30 knots from aft, the wind slacked to a manageable 20 knots and we moved along at good speed to just before the port of Marbella.
There we experienced our first “Mediterranean surprise”. Following an intuition, I called the port to announce our arrival. Only to find out it was completely full. Fortunately, there was another marina next door, which allocated us a place. However, the place was actually intended for a 13-meter boat. Accordingly, the mooring fee of over 40 € was twice as high as it would have been for a boat the size of ahora.
Anchoring off the unprotected coast would not have been an option with the current swell. Since there was a headwind the next day, we reserved a place in the originally planned marina and swapped harbors the next day.
We were not really impressed by Marbella. The old town is quite beautiful, but very touristy. And it is surrounded by ugly high-rise buildings. An architecture that would accompany us in large parts of the Costa del Sol. There were also some restaurants at the marina blasting loud party music until the early hours of the morning.
After two days in town, we headed out again, further east. Our next destination (in the absence of a suitable anchorage) was Benalmádena. As a precaution, I called the marina beforehand, but only got an answering machine. Well, I assumed that we would find a space somehow.
When we tied up at the waiting jetty and went to the reception, the lady widened her eyes: What, you want a berth? When? What, you already have your boat with you? So you need the space tonight???
When we explained that we were just passing through and didn’t want a one-year contract, her expression brightened. OK, of course we have a place for one night. Uff! Cruising sailors seem to be a really rare sight around here …
When we were guided to our assigned place by the marineros, it quickly became clear to us why: The marina was not next to, but IN THE MIDDLE of a shopping mall. Shops and restaurants were right next to our berth, spread over three floors and around the entire marina. We definitely felt out of place.
Since it was extremely hot below decks, I decided to sleep in the hammock in the cockpit anyway. No problem thanks to ear plugs, but I don’t want to know on how many photos of shopping tourists I am now immortalized: The sleeping guy in his hammock on the ancient boat in the middle of the mall.
On the next day there was unfortunately once more hardly any wind, but since we didn’t feel like spending another night in the mall, we motored the 37 miles to Punta de Cerro Gordo.
There was actually the first slightly sheltered anchorage on the Spanish Mediterranean coast since Gibraltar. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity! There was a little swell, but overall we still had a much quieter night than in the marinas.
We were also very happy to be surrounded by nature a little; a stark contrast to the ugly skyscrapers that otherwise make up a large part of the Costa del Sol.
Above all, the crystal clear water was ideal for swimming. But that was sorely needed, because the heat during the day was almost unbearable. Especially below deck after the engine had been running for several hours.
Since we liked the anchorage, and on the next day the wind was coming from the wrong direction again, we stayed another night. I used the time to do some small maintenance work on the engine and to change the cooling water for the internal cooling circuit.
The next day we motored over to La Rábita, an astonishingly untouristic place, which unfortunately also seemed a little deserted. Since there was hardly any wind and practically no swell, we could anchor in front of the city beach and enjoyed some local tapas in the evening.
Then we moved on to Almerimar. Even though it was mostly calm again, we were able to sail at least a little bit.
Even though Almerimar has the reputation of being a good place to spend the winter among sailors, we were not particularly convinced (at least during our visit in the summertime). What was once planned as a luxury resort with a marina and golf course, looked quite bleak overall. A large part of the business premises was bricked up, and there seemed to be more real estate agents than residents and the food in the restaurants didn’t really convince us either. (There really is more delicious food than British bar food.)
However, as there was only headwind in the coming days and the prices for the port were quite cheap, we stayed 3 nights anyway.
Then the long-awaited westerly wind finally came. Only for about 24 hours, but we wanted to use that! So off we went: We started in the morning and were actually able to sail the first 100 of the 120 miles to our next anchorage behind Cap Tiñoso! Even if it was going to be a long night sail, we were happy to make progress for a change without burning diesel all the time.
On the way we met Lars, a friend of Ben and Elena, who was just delivering their newly bought catamaran from Croatia to Portugal. A great opportunity for a short chat and a photo shoot on the high seas.
The anchorage wasn’t bad, for a change it was really completely in nature. Unfortunately it was too hot during the day to go hiking, and we were a bit tired from lack of sleep at night. So we limited our land excursion to a short walk in the evening.
The next day we motored the ten miles over to Cartagena. We really liked the city, and the harbor was very nice and centrally located. We even found a great coffeeshop, and I took the opportunity to do a little bit of work for the KlabauterShop.
After two nights in Cartagena there was another good wind window and we sailed around Cabo de Palos into the Mar Menor. This body of inland water is extremely shallow and has very salty water. It’s hardly refreshing when swimming because the water is so warm.
We anchored off an island and I was looking forward to a morning run. Unfortunately it turned out that the island was privately owned and it was forbidden to enter. Pity!
The next day we used the perfect wind to sail over to the next anchorage, behind the island of Tabarca. We were very happy that we could finally properly sail after the many engine hours in the western part of the Mediterranean.
Tabarca is quite beautiful, but the next morning the anchorage quickly filled with small motor boats playing loud music. And on land, too, it quickly became very crowded. So we decided to raise anchor before noon. It was only about 10 miles to Alicante, our next – and for Tom last – port, so it didn’t bother us that there was hardly any wind. We made a salad and enjoyed the last few hours together under sail.
In Alicante we made ahora ship-shape and visited the Volvo Ocean Race Museum. It’s a shame that Tom had to go back to Brussels to work. But I was also happy about the great time we had together. Compared to our tour on the North Sea exactly a year ago, the problem this time was rather the heat than rain and cold.
I was very happy that despite often unfavorable winds we had covered a relatively long distance in the three weeks. Over 500 nautical miles in total. Thank you, dear brother, for having been part of the ahora crew once more this year!
But now I am also excited to being a solo sailor once more for the coming months…
All is well