THE SPANISH MED
I crawl along for a few days. Heat is a new complication. Very local winds, occasionally strong, are coming off the high ground of the pleasingly snow-capped Sierra Nevada. They make the sailing sometimes fast and always varied – from calm conditions that require a paddle, to planing conditions that build the sea to a chop, then small waves. Although uncomfortable at times, the sailing is rarely concerning. Stopping options are usually numerous. This is summer. I pay on occasion for my complacency and am surprised by geography and conditions. Beaches turn to cliff and an unexpected 25 knot onshore at Cartagena sets up waves so steep and tightly spaced that the downwind entrance, once negotiated, leaves me relieved and grinning, but also chastened. More critical is the Delta del Ebro. I’d seen wind forecast for the following day, and had been enjoying today’s sail along the sandy beach to the tip of the Delta. Beyond the corner, conditions become more lively. The offshore wind, heavy chop and sandbanks force me away from the safety of shore. With the low-lying beach of the Delta no longer visible I head for the mountains of the coast proper, still ten miles away. A steady 15 knots builds to 25 knots, I fully tension the sail. At 30 knots plus the battle is truly on. No screwing up allowed. No tacking. No dropping the rig. One priority – close on land. The first 40 knot gusts, that lift clouds of spray and whip them horizontally across the surface of the sea, bring a very lucid thought – shit, here is where I have messed up. This is new territory. By rights I should not survive the gusts, but a loaded 35+ kilo board maintains form where an unloaded board would be flipped like a lilo. And my 9.2 metres of sail, flat as a door and floppy as a ragdoll, allows the wind to blow right through it. I talk soothingly to mast, daggerboard and boom and request their help to get through this. Together we do, survive a full-on Mistral wind and make it to shore. It blows hard for 48 hours. There really had been no good plan B.
The Spanish Mediterranean coast seems to pass in three parts:
Andalucia and Granada – mountains, over-exploited for development, a slight craziness to the people.
Murcia and Valencia – flat beaches, easy, and just a little bit boring to sail, until the Mistral whips you.
Catalunya – a coastline that improves as you head north and culminates in the beautiful Cabo de Creus. They are people who I am pleased to like, despite my initial wariness around those who consider independence a priority, in my opinion an entirely misplaced priority.
Aside from moments of drama and fear, the sailing allows time for reflection, and for comparison. For some people, putting to sea here does not make them mariners. Jetskis buzz, aimlessly, sprint from one bit of sea to another, pause – as if in existential crisis, repeat. Thanks to these craft, big wave surfing at places like Nazaré has become accessible, at a cost of noise pollution for all. There are genuine mariners too, of course, and it lifts my heart to find them or be found at those times when contacts from my expedition website network don’t get there first.