Yacht Pipit


New Balls Please - Puerto Genovés, Aguilas, Cartagena, the Mar Menor & Torrevieja, 14th July 2012

The morning after 'The Christening' we left Almerimar in company with Dakini a week ago last Wednesday. We had a lovely sail in flat seas and anchored in the delightful Puerto Genovés, where we enjoyed a picturesque evening and peaceful night.

The view from Pipit.

The view from Dakini.

The view from Pipit and Dakini.

Early the next morning (ok, about 0800) we followed Dakini out of the anchorage for what we planned to be about a 30 mile sail to Garrucha. Within 5 minutes we lost sight of them, not because of their inherent speed but because of fog! Not what was forecast, nor what we were expecting in the Med in July! It was a bit bizarre being in bright sunlight but surrounded by fog. So on with the radar & Active-X. Having radar & AIS overlaid on the plotter at the helm is a great boon in these circumstances. We could see a tug coming our way on AIS & radar, together with an enormous radar echo astern of it. We also saw on AIS Dakini alter course to avoid it, so we did likewise. We passed closer than half a mile apart, but never saw a thing other than on the 'telly' - quite eerie. Dakini passed a little closer and saw a 30 or 40 metre high structure with yellow cranes on it - some kind of platform we presume.

So, in our short time so far in the Med, it's been hot & sunny, but we've had F7 gusting F8 in a marina, F7 gusting F8 at sea, flat calms, unpleasant swells and now fog, interspersed with a few idyllic sails. We already knew it, but we've had it confirmed that the Med is not to be underestimated - it's not the pussycat that some people might imagine, although we did see Mrs Slocombe's pussy in Caleta de Velez but that's a whole different story...

Anyway a while later the fog lifted as quickly as it had descended, the wind came up and we had a good sail for a couple of hours. As we fancied a shorter sail with a more favourable wind direction we veered off towards Garrucha as Dakini carried on further to Aguilas to meet up with friends. Best laid plans... We knew there was an anchorage at Garrucha, as well as a marina as a backup plan. As we approached, it was immediately obvious that the anchorage was a non-starter - there was room for perhaps only two yachts between the wall and rocks, and it was completely open to the SW sea and swell. Why does the pilot guide suggest that's an 'anchorage'? In fact, the current pilot guide is the least accurate of any that we have used so far, with quite a bit of duff information. Many of the anchorages it describes are no longer tenable as yellow swim buoys have been moved further and further out from beaches meaning you are effectively anchored in open sea, with no protection from breakwaters available.

So to Plan B, the marina - well the reception pontoon didn't look very 'receptive', being a stepped concrete pontoon with a load of tyres along it. The swell was such that we feared damage was likely. The occupied pontoons looked even worse - yachts were rolling and pitching and spreaders were surely colliding - we weren't going in there either! There were a whole lot of new, empty pontoons, but as the marina didn't respond on the VHF we didn't know if we could tie to any of those. As if all that wasn't bad enough, a bulk carrier was along side a quay being loaded with gravel, which was sending clouds of stone dust our way. The decision was made to press on to Aguilas after all, where we knew there were at least two good anchorages and a marina - weren't there?

Of course now we had 18 knots of wind right on the nose, not even 1 or 2 degrees off but right on it, with quite a swell too. So we chose to motor, in order to get to Aguilas in reasonable time. About 5 miles from Aguilas, the wind dropped, the sea calmed and we had a pleasant beat in the early evening sunshine towards the anchorage adjacent to the marina. The anchorage appeared to be full of mooring buoys, with just a few other yachts anchored, so we motored round the corner to the next anchorage, which was quite deep and really had room for only one boat to swing - of course there was already one there, so back to anchorage #1. We still didn't like the look of that too much so decided, despite our desire to anchor whenever possible, to head in to the very small marina through a very narrow channel, only to be told "no room at the inn". No room to turn round, so reversing out of said narrow channel was the only option, back to the anchorage. We then lost count of how many times in how many places we tried to get the anchor to bite - even our impressive new Manson couldn't cut through what we saw the next morning to be a veritable Axminster of weed. On one attempt we fouled our anchor on a rusty old anchor & length of chain, which Ann managed to clear by tying a line around it whilst re-dropping our anchor. A helpful German chap suggested just dropping 20m of chain in the 3 metres of water and forgetting about it, but our technique is a bit different - when we think we've got a bite (usually first attempt with the Manson) we rig the snubber and then motor gently astern to confirm the bite & dig the anchor in a bit more. I say 'we' - Ann does all that, I just stand there driving...

By now, we had covered more than 60 miles, it was getting dark and we were both suffering a sense of humour failure, not eased when we switched the nav lights on only to find the bow red & green were not working... So we decided the only course of action was to do as our German neighbour suggested, even if it meant staying up all night on anchor watch. We dropped 20m and switched the engine off. The wind had now dropped to nothing, and we didn't move for the next 2 hours, so we did feel reasonably confident about going to bed with the drag alarm on, even though it went against the grain as we knew we were just relying on the weight of chain rather than the anchor. We checked our position several times during the night and the next morning we were in exactly the same place! We're sure everyone else must have been in the same situation, but the outcome could have been somewhat different if the wind had come up in the night.

We motored off in a flat calm in an easterly direction, undecided whether to head for Mazarron or Cartagena. Nearing the point at which we really had to decide, we switched off the engine and drifted for about an hour whilst we re-consulted the pilot guide and made a couple of phone calls. Both places had two marinas, and there were pros & cons of the places and the marinas, and we were still undecided. In the end, Mother Nature decided for us - gradually a few knots of wind came up, then a few more, and then a few more still which would allow us a great beat into Cartagena - decision made! We had a fast close hauled sail, the perfect antidote to the previous day's shenanigans!

Sailing into Cartagena. Steadicam required I think!

Upon entry to the inner harbour we could hear the noise of containers being loaded & unloaded, interspersed with the unmistakable sound of peacocks - curious! We were greeted in Yacht Port Cartagena by a helpful marinero who took our lines at a finger berth - a while since we've had one of those! The next morning we took the bow nav light apart to discover nothing more troublesome than a blown bulb, so we headed off in search of the chandlers to replace it and buy a couple of spares - a bit remiss of us not to have had spares already, although we do have a tricolour as a backup. Whilst it was apart Andy took the opportunity to clean up the terminals & fixings of the nav light. A boat wash later and our work was done for the day - it was hot!

On Sunday, we got up early to beat the heat and wander around Cartagena a little and visit the Castle and its surrounding Torres Park. This didn't go quite to plan - the castle & park didn't open until 10am, so we wandered around a bit more and returned at 10 - still closed... This being Spain, we were prepared to believe that 10 was an approximate opening time, but by 1030 we were beginning to doubt the sign on the gate. Just then a girl who works at the castle arrived, and of course couldn't get in to work. She made a call to the police, who would be there in 10 minutes to unlock the gates. Nearly an hour later they arrived, and in we went. It was worth the wait:

Couldn't identify this (the plane).

A Moreton Bay fig tree in Torres Park.

The source of the noise heard earlier.

The next generation.

Roman amphitheatre.

Inside the castle cisterns.

Some of the armoury artefacts:

On Sunday evening we enjoyed another fun evening aboard Dakini, who had arrived on the same day as us and had had a different but similarly eventful evening in Aguilas. We bade au revoir to Marcel & Helen, as we don't know when or where we'll see them again as our planned destinations differ for the rest of this season.

The Brändi Dog victors...

On Monday morning, after topping up with diesel (we've burned a lot since Gibraltar) we set off towards the Mar Menor, an inland sea some 15 miles south of Torrevieja. This was yet another motor as there was only about 3 knots of wind, but as the sea was flat we made good time to Cabo de Palos. The wind then increased just enough to allow us to sail at about 2 knots to avoid arriving at the lifting bridge over the canal too early. Again the pilot guide was wrong - the bridge now lifts every 2 hours from 0800 to 2200 for up to 15 minutes, not twice a day, but at least we knew this in advance. Having located the channel markers we gingerly made our way towards the bridge. The channel is generally quite shallow, with some random even shallower patches - we had 0.3m below our keel at one point. We hovered near the bridge for just a couple of minutes before 'Open Sesame', made our way past Tomas Maestre marina and on into the Mar Menor proper, whereupon we raised sails and had a perfect beam reach to the anchorage just off the SW of Isla Perdiguera.

Neighbours from Cartagena overtaking us off Cabo de Palos - I think they probably used a bit more diesel than us, even though according to AIS they were making only 3 knots more!

Canal approach to the Mar Menor.

Open Sesame...


Lovely sail across the Mar Menor to Isla Perdiguera.

Isla Perdiguera Isthmus...

...and, wait for it, the Isthmus tree. We didn't see Father Isthmus, nor even any Isthmus lights, but it is only July... It was useful as a transit though.

An old ruin...


An old wreck and...

More recent lettering.

The Mar Menor is absolutely teeming with jellyfish - here are just a few of them:

As seen from the stern of Pipit - rather put us off swimming, despite the 31° C, though plenty of Spanish were doing so.

Get yer hands off! Swim ladder protection for Nessie.

On Wednesday we moved to anchor off Isla Mayor, the highest of the 5 islands, as this would provide the best shelter from the forecast strong north-easterlies. It did, although the wind was never as strong as forecast. It did give us this photo opportunity of Perdiguera:

Although it's nearly dark, still no Isthmus lights...

On Friday we motored (again) to Torrevieja, from where this update comes. Two unfortunate things - Andy's good neighbours and friends from Chipping Sodbury, who have an apartment here, returned to the UK just a few days ago, so we missed meeting up with them. Secondly, a firm who came recommended failed to fix our masthead LED anchor light, which has suddenly stopped working (or a connection to it perhaps) and were not as respectful of Pipit as we would have wished. They were trying to help, but it was soon apparent that climbing masts is not their forté - it's not ours either, which is why we got them in. It was of minor consolation that there was no charge. In the mean time, we will have to get a portable one to hang at a lower level, which some people say is better anyway. Also, it's been quite windy here and the twin (which we've not encountered before) lazy lines were tangled, which precluded us taking up enough tension to keep us far enough off the pontoon. The swim ladder got perilously close to the pontoon despite Bertha's (our large stern fender) best efforts. The marinero's solution was to cut one of the lazy lines from the pick-up line, and then he re-spliced it on our foredeck once untangled. The forecast is for more strong wind and building swell, so we may be here for a few days yet which may preclude us from meeting up with my favourite niece1 in Alicante before she flies home for her graduation ceremony - she's just been awarded a Damien 2 with a distinction in Spanish & Mandarin from Manchester University - clever girl Kate, the world is your lobster...

1 I have only one niece...

2 Damien = Damien Hirst = First.