Mahina Tiare Sails into the Med


From Lisbon on the Atlantic coast, they cruise to Gibraltar, the south of Spain and the Balearic Islands  (January/February 2018)

Amanda and I had an excellent time in Cascais, Portugal, between Legs 4 & 5 with perfect weather for varnishing the toe rail and dodger trim for the first in a year and instead of renting a car or taking the train for explorations, we hiked and ran around Cascais. Leg 2 expedition member Helge lives near the marina and we enjoyed his company along with meeting his wife Susanne and three kids. Together we had lovely home visits, a fun outing to the market and a sail on Mahina Tiare down the coast to the entrance of the Tagus River that leads to Lisbon.

Our Leg 5 crew came aboard Thursday and within an hour we were off on a fast broad reach 30 miles to anchor off the cliffs near Sesimbra for a swim and dinner before setting sail again.

Our 120-mile overnight sail to Portimao, Portugal, was a powerful downwind sail and it was a quick learning curve for the crew as they got to reef and unreef the mainsail, rig the whisker pole and set the preventer on numerous jibes. Once daylight arrived, the wind increased to 27 knots and John K. hit our season high boat speed of 10.1 knots surfing down a roller. We were so intent on passing Scottish friends on their Island Packet 420 that we didn’t think to lower the pole before rounding Cabo de São Vincent where our point of sail changed from a deep broad reach to a close reach. Caught off guard, Amanda and I had to wrestle down the pole and throw in a few reefs while MT charged off into the Atlantic.

Portimao Marina and the surrounding condo, hotel and beachfront development is all relatively new, and we found the marina excellent and the staff very professional. They have a registration and fuel pontoon directly in front of the marina office where we easily topped up our fuel and slowly checked in.

Slowly because the customs/immigration officer was concerned that we didn’t have inbound clearance into the Schengen area with our arrival in La Coruña, Spain from the UK. I explained that the marina had checked us in, made copies of all passports and ship’s registry, saying they would forward these to the border control. According to this officer, we should have properly cleared in with a retaining clearance paper. Eventually he had me sign a statement stating the date and time we had arrived in Spain and I was relieved when he finally gave us outbound clearance to Gibraltar, our next landfall.

The temperature in Portimao was considerably warmer than in Cascais, and it felt like walking into an oven as we left the marina, looking for the adjacent beach. The beach was highly commercialized with areas roped off where beach goers pay €15 for access and more for beach clubs with pools to hear DJ’s play loud music. Crewmembers Mindy and Nils went wading, while Amanda and I climbed a nearby fort to a lookout with a view of thousands of party beachgoers for miles down the beach. As it is not quite our scene, we soon all headed back to MT for dinner.

By 0800 the next morning we were underway, hoping to cover the 175 miles to the Strait of Gibraltar before a forecasted wind shift occurred from a favorable westerly to a fresh easterly Levante. We’ve found the most helpful site for wind forecasts and have been able to utilize Wi-Fi as far as 12 miles offshore for updates. Otherwise, we’re receiving GRIB forecasts from over our Iridium satphone and frequent, very accurate Navtex updates.
We had some brilliant downwind sailing in modest winds but it soon became light and variable, making it prudent to motor to ensure we got past the narrowest part of the Strait before conditions deteriorated.

There were several highlights as we entered the Strait. We were visited by a pod of dolphins, Eva spotted her first flying fish, a spectacular moonset and sunrise at the same time, seeing the lights of Morocco, Africa, for the first time and passing a huge mid-channel parking lot of anchored super oil tankers lit up like an amusement park. We were able to stay well out of the busy TSS traffic lanes most of the way but soon were were just 10 miles west of Tarifa, Spain, which is the southern-most tip of Europe and one of the narrowest and busiest points in the Strait. Fortunately, daylight was just 30 minutes away.

Light conditions held and by 1045 we were tied up at Ocean Village Marina, Gibraltar, next to a swanky permanently-moored cruise ship hotel/casino and had in-bound customs clearance completed in a couple minutes by the marina staff. After tidying up the boat, we all headed to the cable car queue to get to the top of the Rock. The queue seemed long, but the ride up the mountain was spectacular, reminding us of Madeira. Even before the car reached the terminal, a monkey jumped on the front window, scaring the kids who had their noses pressed to the glass. Monkeys (technically macaques) hang about all over the mountaintop lookout, some sitting unconcerned in the middle of footpaths nursing their tiny babies while others just wander and laze about although a few are rather cheeky and leap onto the half open windows of the tourists taxis.

We all hiked down the mountain, stopping to visit St Micheal’s Cave, an amazing huge grotto with many stalagmites and stalactites, that has been lit in technicolor and also functions as a concert venue. On the way down we visited a Moorish castle and various gun emplacements. The signage and maps were challenging and we all ended up seemingly hiking up and down the mountain several times in the blazing sun but with amazing spectacular views across to Morocco, Africa, and northeast up along Spain’s coast so it was hard to complain.

We were all exhausted by the time we returned down the mountain to town and MT and we’d hoped to go exploring following dinner, but after a sing-along all but Amanda (who checked out the swim deck and casino of the adjacent cruise ship) crept off to bed.

Monday morning Amanda and I were too exhausted to go for our normal hour run so instead hiked the waterfront for a fairly serious shop at Morrison’s, a UK-chain supermarket that has a huge nearly-new store with excellent selection and prices.

We had hardly a breath of wind as we set sail at 1000 for Benalmádena, Spain, 50 miles up the coast but used the opportunity to complete our marine weather and rig check and spares classes while we motored in and out of numerous fog banks before arriving at our destination, a very densely-developed beachfront city with a one-thousand-berth marina.
We tied to the registration/fuel dock, just inside the breakwater and in a couple minutes the marina had copied our Gibraltar outbound clearance, ship’s registration and insurance papers, our passports and given us a berth assignment. One of the marina staff hopped in a marina car and met us at the slip, taking our bow lines. Pointing out the tag line which was connected to the stern line he instructed us to haul up, pull in on, and secure to our aft mooring cleat. The whole operation was done in a couple minutes and from reading the cruising guide, this is the standard mooring arrangement for much of the Med.

After dinner, we tried walking to town, but never made it out of the absolutely packed marina/hotel/shopping development. Along the walkway industrious young African men and Asian women were selling purses, logo wear and flashing toys as thousands of locals and tourists wandered about, shopping, strolling, visiting and checking out the abundant restaurants.

Early the next morning, Amanda and I ran the part of the super long beachfront promenade but we never saw the end and it all began to blur to a sameness. Hundreds of people were out walking, running and cycling with hotels on the inland side of the wide pedestrian boulevard and beaches scattered with beach restaurants here and there on the seaward side. The apartments, condos and hotels stretched up the side of the hills as far as we could see. Amanda investigated the options for renting a beach chair with shared umbrella and prices ranged from five to six euro depending on how close to the water you were although most front rows were booked out weeks in advance.

We’d all been frequently a monitoring and had noticed a break in the normal northeast winds, with a forecast of following westerly winds for 60 hours. Aha! We all got the same idea. Instead of daysailing along this very developed and not too interesting coast, why not take advantage of the fresh following winds and travel as far as possible before the wind changed to headwinds? Our goal is to now get to the Balearic Islands as quickly as possible, providing more time to explore the islands which we’ve all heard are much more attractive than this coast. So we set off and sailed north along the coast.

Small problem… the next time we checked the forecast, it showed that at midnight that night instead of the next day, the winds would change to 24-to-35 knot headwinds. It seemed that the weather was quite changeable. Since setting sail that morning, we’d been enjoying surfing up to 9.5 knots in following winds gusting to 30. We’ve had some excellent downwind reefing practice, set the whisker pole and before lunch Amanda taught provisioning and cooking at sea and now this afternoon she’s teaching sail design and construction as we continue to surf along. Although it’s toasty outside in the sun, under the dodger with the windscreen open or below with all hatches and ports open, it was lovely!

We were hoping to at least make it the 180 miles to Cartagena, which we had read was a charming, historic city just three-minutes’ walk from a first-class marina. We sailed and motorsailed 90 miles and stopped for a rolly six hours of sleep while anchored off Almerimar before continuing on another 90 miles to arrive at Cartagena at 2000, well before dark. Amanda, always planning ahead, served a delicious fish dinner at sea. After our arrival, we all took off in the full moonlight to explore this old, historic and beautiful city. Just six blocks from the marina, we were in the old city center; the streets were packed with local families and couples out walking, dining, chatting and just enjoying life. The historic buildings including the town hall were all lit up with colored lights and although we were exhausted, we didn’t want to stop exploring. We all caught up at a cool waterfront street-side bistro to enjoy beer and ice cream.

Thirty six hours later, at 0200, we departed the anchorage at Cala Cortina, next to Cartegena to play dodgem through a chaotic fleet of active fishing boats for an hour. We then covered a boisterous 96 miles to windward before arriving at Moraira, a small town and marina located just 12 miles from Cabo de la Nao. We poked MT’s nose into the small marina and two marineros (dock attendants) motioned us toward a slip, but Amanda shouted we were just having a look and would be anchoring outside the marina. We found sandy bottom and dramatic cliffs, enjoyed a swim and colorful sunset.

Saturday, we slept in until 0600 before setting sail for Formentera, the southern-most of Spain’s Balearic Islands. We had an excellent beam reach for the first half of the 60-mile passage, but had to motorsail the second half in diminishing winds. Dozens of pleasure boats between 40 and 100-feet passed us, headed back to Spain, their vacations ended, but we were unprepared for the 100+ boats anchored off Cala Saona, Formentera that included many very radical 50-120-foot motor yachts and a massive Wally 120-foot sloop. We ended up far from the madding crowd in a quiet anchorage with a view of Ibiza that looked like Bora Bora, clear water and an interesting cave to snorkel to. I taught Storm Survival before dinner and after sunset, masthead lights looked like a constantly-moving field of lights as the anchored yachts rolled back and forth in the swell.

Yesterday we swam and several of our gang did yoga on the back deck before we sailed and motorsailed 38 miles to Ibiza. Our first stop was San Antonio, the second largest city where we anchored for an hour, going ashore to buy groceries and explore before continuing, checking out each bay on Ibiza’s west coast. We passed several stunning anchorages, all framed by rugged cliffs and one, Cala Portixol, was so tiny that we would have had to anchor bow and stern so we wouldn’t bounce off the cliff walls.

Our crew chose Puerto de San Miguel which proved spectacular, if a little crowded. Early this morning four out of five of our crew joined us for a sunrise hike/run up the steep dirt roads and trails.

We had a relaxed departure at noon after Going Aloft class and spent considerable time demonstrating and learning Lifesling Rescue techniques. Everyone got it and after class we were on our way up the windward coast in moderate winds, enjoying the sea and seeing the island from offshore.

We’ve all been studying our Imray Balearic Islands cruising guide and several of us came up with the idea of anchoring in the lee of Illa de Tagomago, a tiny island, one mile offshore on the east side of Ibiza, with a trail to the lighthouse.
We arrived at Mallorca the next afternoon, the Club de Velas (yacht club), Puerto de Andratx had the mooring we’d reserved and we enjoyed exploring town before meeting ashore for dinner. William, the marinero, recommended a restaurant that his mother cooks at, directly ashore of our mooring. We were seated on the edge of the water overlooking the bay and mountainside and the food was excellent. We had magical moments after dinner as we stood around listening to two street musicians, one playing the saxophone, the other the guitar plus singing. Behind them were the lights of homes going up the steep hills behind the yacht club.

We had a fascinating morning including five of us running and exploring the waterfront and hills behind Puerto de Andratx followed by Clearing Customs Worldwide class and a viewing of Jim and Katie’s Hallberg-Rassy 40 that White’s International Yacht Brokerage has for sale. Jim and Katie were not sailors (Jim was a surfer and they were keen skiers and kayakers before joining us on Leg 1-2007. They took delivery of their lovely new boat in The Netherlands, where they lived, sailing several years through the Pacific to Philippines, from where they shipped Tenaya to Turkey, sailed to St. Petersburg in the Black Sea Rally and eventually to Palma where they left Tenaya in Dirk Jan Colgee’s capable hands. Both Eva and Staffan and Mindy and Nils were very interested in checking out this turn-key 2006 bluewater cruiser now listed for only €199k. Here you’ll find Jim and Katie’s incredible story of sailing to 50 countries over eight years aboard Tenaya:

The last evening was very special, and a kind of a roast. Staffan, a former cruise ship captain, gave a speech after dessert, giving me a hard time for temporarily misplacing the key to the dinghy (it had slipped behind our spare sails when I chucked it in the head window) awarding me a funny little fluffy yellow key chain doll. Amanda was given a Gibraltar monkey, she’s named Rocky, that screeches, but his main job will be to now keep Sallyhamna, our polar bear from Svalbard, company.

Our crew, keen to master the latitude by noonsite class, sweated away on calculations, even with all of our cabin fans on, until 22:30 that night. It is rare that we see this level of dedication to learning, and it is exciting! That dedication to learning of our Leg 5 crew never diminished, even on the final morning! We still had a couple of requests to meet, so first off, they hoisted both the storm staysail and storm trysail, then we reviewed their 13-page test books and covered, for the first time, overall cost of ownership and maintenance in detail.

Two weeks had flown by. Both couples went away with serious lists of attributes they would be looking for in their yet-to-be-purchased cruising boats and John K. went away considering purchasing a boat to put into charter or timeshare either in the Virgin Islands or San Diego.

All in all, our adventures south of Lisbon and into the Med have been fabulous, learning more every day! We now truly appreciate the deserted beaches and tranquil anchorages of the South Pacific and Skype Amanda’s parent’s, Lesley and Robert Swan aboard their latest yacht Julie to catch up on their current cruising season in Fiji, where we’ll all cruise together next year.


Sources Used:

WWW.WINDY.COM – 3 hourly coastal graph forecasts for the UK, Ireland and much of Europe.

Cruising Guides: Imray Atlantic Spain and Portugal, Costas del Sol and Blanca, Islas Baleares (brilliant cruising guides, frequently updated)
Imray charts: C-49, 50, 19, 11, 13, M-3

Electronic Charts:
C-Map running on Rose Point Coastal Explorer
Navionics Silver running on both our lovely new Raymarine MFDs (multi-function displays), one at the chart table, and for the first time, one in the cockpit under the hard dodger

General Sailing Conditions: coasts of Spain and Portugal and Balearics – On Portugal’s and Spain’s Atlantic Coast N or NW winds prevail during summer months, dropping off after dark and frequently gusting to 25-35 during the afternoons. Finding a marina berth is easy, and average cost for Mahina Tiare (14 meters length) is €45. Sailing N, from Gibraltar is a much more difficult story, and frequently, knowledgeable skippers make time motorsailing north at night or whenever the winds are lighter. Having said this, we had some excellent downwind and reaching conditions. There are numerous marinas and a few semi-protected anchorages between Gibraltar and the Balearics and the closer one gets to the Balearics, the higher the cost and the more difficult to find marina berths or available moorings. Our highest price to date has been €54 for a mooring at Puerto de Andratx and €94.37 for a stern-to berth at Palma’s La Lonja Marina Charter. In all but one instance, Portimao, Portugal, customs clearance has been handled by the marina offices who photocopy all passports and documents, forwarding them to the appropriate offices. Without exception, the marina staff have been very professional and helpful. Fuel is readily available at every marina at surprisingly reasonable rates. Water costs are GBPounds 1.75 PER LITER!!! At Ocean Village, Gibraltar and a flat fee of €8 at Cartagena and Andratx, otherwise, water has been included in moorage. Shore power has been included at all but two locations. We’ve not had any enquiries about how long MT has been in the VAT area of the EU, and Portimao is the only place where my length of stay in the Schengen area has been brought up. I’ve learned to document every time we leave and enter the Schengen area with passport or marina stamps, clearance papers and marina moorage bills.

General Anchoring Conditions: We soon learnt that most of the boats leave the rolly anchorages for their marina in the early evenings so it works well to be patient. Often, we’d drop anchor further down the coast for the bay or beach in a rolly spot and then reposition for the night at a more desirable spot once most of the other yachts departed.

Meet the Leg 5 Crew

Nils, 50: I’m an American/Norwegian petroleum engineer who has lived in a variety of locations worldwide. Started sailing when I had a small sailboat while on assignment in Papua New Guinea. That led to some ocean passages and we joined this expedition to get a better understanding of ocean voyaging. We like it! Now we will need to start more detailed planning as we have a great foundation to expand upon.

Mindy, 62: Never in my life did I think I would be sailing at this age! Sailing entered our lives while we were living in PNG as Nils said “You have to do something while there”. Of course, a bit reluctant, but he persisted, and here we are! (Mindy also was involved in setting up some schools in PNG and was an ER nurse before that. Currently they live in Abu Dhabi.)

Eva, 49: I’m a Swede living in the Netherlands with my husband Staffan and our two teenage children. We’ve previously lived and worked in Germany and India. I am an engineer, seamstress, clothing designer and I have a line of skin care products which I make. We’ve owned two sailboats, a 40’ steel Langedrag and a Rasmus 35.

Staffan, 51: I’m a merchant marine captain having mainly worked on cruise ships before I became a marine pilot in Sweden. I’ve been working at CSMART which is Carnival Cruise Corporation’s simulator training center where I’m in charge of all training. Being part of a Mahina expedition will help me understand which sailboat to purchase and refresh my sailing skills.

John K, 62: I’m a retired airline captain from Scottsdale, Arizona who’s been on numerous sailing adventures including recently sailing to Newport to Bermuda and back to see the Kiwis win the America’s Cup. On this expedition I’ve learned, done and eaten many new things. The challenges and accomplishments have been very rewarding!

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