August Menorca

 

 

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE and was it worth it:

 

It is possible to transit the canal from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in 10 days. It took us 10 months.  I did begin to wonder if we had the determination required to turn Can Pyran into a sailing boat again and it may have occurred to you to wonder, but here we are mid-med.

 

There was a lot of work to do to put the boat back into sea-going mode. We had, shall we say, adjusted to canal mode where fiddles are not needed to keep the saucepan in place and the books stay wherever they were last dropped. That is, of course, in addition to the small matter of mast, rigging and sails.

 

I don’t think that these were the main stumbling blocks, however, and I accuse the rosé and the oysters.

 

Then when we finally got a big enough proportion of us and the boat in working condition, the wind went round to the south. This meant that a cruise up the French coast was the only possible direction unless we gave in to the dire prediction of many hardened Mediterranean cruising crews that the Med has to be 20% sailing and 80% motoring. The French coast has no anchorages left but plenty of marinas that offer “1030 well equipped berths” or similar, at £20 a night. This is a fine incentive for us to use the next wind from the north. The trouble is that the winds from the north are the mistral or the tramontane which prefer to howl away from France at a great rate of knots.

 

Anyway we romped south with the next tramontane finding out all about why cruising boats had grumbled about the Golfe de Lyon and it’s concrete waves going in any direction they pleased and the erratic winds going from 0 to 50 knots in 10 minutes and confirming all Peter’s arguments about why we were not going to cruise the Greek islands that I so fancied. Oh well, I can’t win them all.

 

To be fair we had a pleasant sail the second day and were safely tucked into Fornells harbour before the tramuntana (as it must now be called -200 miles south in Spanish waters) wound itself up into the next gale. However, only Peter surfaced enough to do anchor watch as various other boats skidded round the harbour. Lizzie, our visitor, and I , while claiming to wake up for every disturbance, slept off our sea sickness from the trip down like logs.

 

It took only a week to understand why so many sailors have shrugged their shoulders and go to the med every summer. You don’t need to sail anywhere. You find a likely spot. Put down 2 anchors. Unpack all the toys like snorkels and sail boards and dinghy sails and blow up beds and blow up toys for the kids and, if you insist, a bikini. Then you fall into  clear cool water and out into the sun and into the water and out………

 

There aren’t any oysters as the waters are all far too salty.  As in south-east France, the sea  has been trawled bare of fish. I suppose these waters have been robbed for the last 2000 years or more.

I did finally find two small limpets and a warm water snail on the rocks and there is an attractive collection of reefy sorts of fish around the rocks. There is very little sign here in the north of Minorca that small boats still take to sea to supply families or shops with fish. However there are very attractive Menorcan fishing boats whose design has been used to build a range of pleasure craft for families. There are also plenty of local people and Spanish who can afford these new versions and set out frequently to enjoy the sandy coves and their delicious clear water.

 

Menorca is making a fine effort to be the environmental friendly island of the group. It may get some kudos from this, but I don’t think much money. That comes from it’s effort to be nice to tourists and I think it does this pretty well. We are trying to roust out some of our Spanish but are coming up against some wonderful hybrid words: ‘l’any’ is year and ‘cotxes’ is car. Bom dia is the most frequent greeting between Menorcans – I am told much of this is Catalan, but sounds very Portuguese to me.  Fortunately, of course, every shop assistant speaks good English, French, Spanish, Catalan……………

 

We have had a few days looking at the rest of the island by car.

Much of it is green, although the more northerly land is exceedingly short of water and very brown once the cereal crops have been harvested off it. Every householder has great enthusiasm for whitewash and includes the capping stones of walls with her brush. There is a local Mahon cheese, sort of square but a little bit round, which comes in grades of maturity and wouldn’t be shamed in with our hard cheeses. There is ,of course , plenty of Mayonnaise to go with the salads and the local melons are good.

 

The road network is sparse. A lot of money has been spent recently on the road from Maõ to Cuitadella, right across the spine of the island, but the only way to most coastal villages is from this road. There is no  peripheral track, although there are plans for a coast path. Presumably the roads were all adequate for a donkey plus panniers to pass up to about 1970. The minor roads are narrow and flanked with wonderful dry stone walls crafted from a very rough and holey limestone. A bit cringe-making in a car.

 

We have used the dinghy and walked to find many of the less used little coves. The underwater limestone rock gardens in these are spectacular and the little fishes a delight.  Most coves include a sandy beach and all have crystal clear water.  They also have room for perhaps 3 to 5 boats to anchor safely and in one of the more popular coves  we counted 45 anchored craft. They almost all return to one of the true harbours at night.

 

sfb

 

The south coast has protected coves such as Cales Coves:

 

The north coast is more exposed to the tramuntana northerly winds:

 

In Alcaufar the local fishermen carved their slipways out of the limestone rock:

 

Some coves are difficult to reach by boat – Pudenda Cove:

 

 

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