Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise
By Liz Tosoni
Frankly, we were ready to move on from the tourist-infested Balearic Islands. The town of San Antonio on Ibiza was our last stop, a good jumping-off point for the Costa Blanca on the mainland and that’s why we went there, but it wasn’t our style. The Lonely Planet says it’s the perfect destination if you’ve come in search of “booze-ups, brawls, and hangovers.” Twenty-somethings strut the streets like peacocks and sprawl on beaches wearing next to nothing, counting the hours before the clubs open and the parties begin. Loud music blares all night long. Tour boats and ferries buzz around. Thankfully though, the anchorage is far enough away from the action so that we could rest peacefully on the hook. Plus, there was one bonus. The town provides free wifi and we were connected while at anchor – a rare luxury.
Spain’s Costa Blanca, a 195-mile stretch of coastline between Cabo de Gata and Cabo de San Antonio, is made up of high and steep promontories and cliffs that tumble into the sea, rolling hills, long sandy beaches, and numerous “puertos” and coves.
It was an uneventful 50-mile motor-sail to our landfall on Spain’s Costa Blanca. A large and lively school of dolphins was the only real punctuation mark to the day. Winds were light and from the southwest, seas slight and for a short while there was a favorable current.
We tucked into the lee of Punta de Ifach, deployed the anchor in water so clear we could see it as it dropped onto the rippled sandy bottom, set it, then admired our new surrounds. The literature declares this stretch of coast to be the epitome of cut-price colonization, lined with bungalows, condos, posh resorts, cheesy hotels, and monstrosities in all stages of construction spreading virally and ruining the natural beauty that once was there. Yet, our view from Feel Free’s cockpit was one of grand beauty: an impregnable wonder of nature towering above, raucous gulls filling the sky, a wide sweeping beach dotted with colorful umbrellas, and yes, rows of hotels. Friends Steve and Eva of the Hans Christian Music were there to greet us so we found it to be a fine arrival.
Next morning, the “must do” activity was to climb that calcareous rock before our eyes, 332-meter (1,079-foot) Penon de Ifach, through a tunnel, and along a winding, vertiginous path to the peak. Seagulls standing sentinel and minding their young squawked teutonically at us along the way.
From Paul Theroux’s book The Pillars of Hercules, I learned that in Greek mythology Calpe was Gibraltar, the “Rock” of Gibraltar, yet the town here, at the base of this rock we were visiting, is called Calpe. Coincidence? It’s curious that a Spanish town retains a name from Greek mythology. Gazing at it we wondered if Gibraltar will be equally as impressive. Calpe is very much a tourist town and some of the buildings appear to be imitating the shape of the great rock. In fact, the town seems to be defined by this pillar as it dominates the scenery as it has from time immemorial. We found out that an Iberian village was established there in the 3rd to 4th centuries B.C. Archeological digs are still taking place and findings of ceramic and numismatic items confirm that the sides of the rock were inhabited in the Middle Ages as well. Attacks from the sea forced the people down to the village of Calpe where a watchtower system was created against pirate raids. It’s evident that this was a common practice along the entire length of the Mediterranean Sea.
The day we left Calpe, winds were light and from the south or southwest so sailing was very leisurely but slow; it took 12 hours to cover 30 miles! It was also a historic day as Feel Free and crew crossed the prime meridian and officially entered the western hemisphere after eight years in the eastern hemisphere.
Just as Feel Free was abeam the town of Benidorm, whose claim to fame is its miles of white sand beaches and cheap package tourism, coincidentally there happened to be a report on American National Public Radio about Spain, and specifically Benidorm, on our satellite radio, and we just happened to be listening to it. It was a gloomy story of the flagging tourist industry, a dismal economy, rising unemployment and growing poverty. We learned that Spain is one of the worst hit countries in the European Union as a result of the global economic downturn, and that 30-percent unemployment is expected by the end of the year in the Canary Islands (where we intend to be before the end of the year). Strange that you can be sailing in a country, enjoying the sights and sounds, the scenery, the ambience, and yet be so totally unaware of the problems and realities of the daily lives of the people who live there.
In many of the countries we’ve visited, we have immersed ourselves in the culture, gotten involved somehow, made friends, or at the very least gotten to know some people. But here, not so. It was like being on the run – a new place every day, a new view, but separated, as we moved along in our own little self-contained world, the only real contact being with shopkeepers, officials, or people in the streets giving us directions.
Of the weather, the Imray Pilot points out: “The Mediterranean is an area of calms and gales and the old saying that in summer there are nine days of light winds followed by a gale is very close to reality…” and “the weather can change and deteriorate at short notice.” But that was not what we experienced along that ribbon of Costa Blanca. In general, the winds were rather light, anywhere from zero to 15 knots, with on-shore breezes during the day and offshore breezes at night, that is, if they amounted to anything at all. Typically, the winds died around sunset. Days were long, often hazy, swimming good, sailing relaxed with slight seas or none at all. Although there are a large number of anchorages to choose from, they’re not always well protected from all wind angles so there was always discussion about which one would be best, depending on the wind direction that day. Some of them are open roadsteads and subject to awful swells wrapping around capes or points, meaning a rolly and uncomfortable night. It was important to choose well. We made overnight stops at Playa de las Huertas, Cabo de Palo, Ensenada de la Fuente, Garrucha, and Puerto Genoves.
At Cabo de las Huertas, a suburb of Alicante, apartments and hotels are sprouting up like mushrooms but there’s still a friendly small-town atmosphere as it’s next to an old fishing harbor. On shore at Cabo de Palo, you could easily imagine you were on the Miami Beach strip with mile after mile of condos, malls, and holiday homes. Ensenada de la Fuente is a bay in the hook of a promontory – Punta de la Cabrilla. Here, it’s a serene scene: an old watchtower, a mansion on a hill, a few people fishing, a powerboat and two other sailboats at anchor including Sojourner with our friends Pete and Julie on board. In the distance, on the hills, a sea of plastic green houses can be seen. Garrucha is a commercial port and feels like a regular Spanish town. Anchored off the town beach, our evening’s entertainment was watching locals swim, build sand castles, sunbathe, just enjoying summer.
Puerto Genoves seemed like the perfect spot to hang out for a few days and catch up on boat chores, swim, snorkel, and hike the trails. So we set the anchor and settled in. Our little holiday was to be short lived though as, the second night, a wicked swell rolled in and spoiled it. Feel Free staggered drunkenly and it was one of the rolliest nights we’ve ever experienced. So next morning we were ready to move on once again. After all, one of our mottos is “expect the unexpected” and so we do. Next stretch of coast: Costa del Sol and then Gibraltar. We’re seriously sneaking toward that big ‘ole Atlantic.