Friday 14 June 2013

Reflections on an Atlantic circuit

Calm seas, light winds, long days and faded blue skies. We are once more in the Mediterranean, sailing from Mallorca to Ibiza. 14 knots of wind just behind the beam pushes us along at 8 knots, and with a westerly current setting to the west we are making 9 knots over the ground. This is a new wind, only a few hours old, formed by the land heating in the midday sun, warm air rising and cool air over the sea rushing in to fill the vacuum, giving birth to this gentle sea breeze. This is also a new sea; when we awoke this morning there was barely a ripple on the water. We motored on a mill pond under a cloudless sky, until the beckoning breeze from Ibiza began to draw us in and now we fly across the flat water towards the hazy shore line and a new destination. What a contrast from our winter in the Caribbean.
The tropical Caribbean islands with hot humid days wrapped in black velvet nights where the temperature barely varies from midday to midnight and the constant easterly trade winds blow warm air from Africa off the ocean. By the time they reach the Caribbean they are pregnant with moisture, huge cumulus clouds towering over the reefs; with a howl they transform into angry squalls which hurl their load over the islands, bringing vital irrigation to some, relief from drought and heat to others. The days are short and intense. Dawn breaks at seven, by mid-morning the sun is overhead and by six the day is gone; the steaming days replaced by hot sultry nights. We love the climate of the Lesser Antilles.

The islands vary greatly, from Grenada in the south to the Virgin Islands in the north, but they are all beautiful, and mostly lush and fertile, except for a few dazzling barren sandbars like Barbuda and Anguilla. Perfect white beaches with palm trees swaying to the beat of the surf are a paradise for yachtsmen and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And yet we decided to return to the Mediterranean rather than spend another season in these beautiful islands. As I write these words I am aware how churlish I sound: another palm tree, another beach, another rum punch. When we were younger and working harder we used to go to the Caribbean and see the paradise that it is from the sunbed of a hotel beach or from the decks of a charter yacht. We revelled in the scenery, the climate and the relaxed atmosphere that washes over you, calming frayed nerves and soothing tired, worrying minds. But after six months we see beyond the garden of Eden and into the culture beneath. And what we see on the whole are discontented people, deeply racist towards the whites, recently independent but unwilling or unable to create a new era of entrepreneurship and prosperity. The Caribbean is a creation of the era of tourism. Of course there were many exceptions; and I am a hypocrite because we will return again to the charms of the Caribbean - but I will be wary for our safety. A luxury yacht is a vulnerable target for the poor of the Grenadines and as much as we adore the islands of Bequia, Union, Mayreau and the Tobago Cays, having been burgled at anchor we will return with caution.

The contrast could not be greater. As we leave Palma I ask Oyster to reserve me a berth at the marina in Ibiza town so that we can meet the boys: Jamie from a week with friends on Ibiza, and Tom from the UK, elated having graduated with a 2:1 from Exeter, despite running a successful internet business in his spare time. The cost of the marina will be €564 for one night – excluding shore power and water. And if I want the berth I have to pay up front by credit card! Ibiza in high season has some of the most expensive marinas in the Med so instead, Fatty and I anchor in bays on the North coast and it is glorious. We eat on board, swim ashore and have fun watching the beautiful people sleeping on the beach to restore their spirits in time for a night at the clubs – or so we imagine. The Mediterranean has been here for an eternity; and the people have travelled by sea from port to port, merchants trading goods, and more recently holiday makers seeking a week of hedonism and relief from the northern winters. Here we feel like locals, travelling by sea, eating in street cafes, exploring the cities and visiting the ancient sites of a community that has lived and farmed the waters of the Mediterranean since Peter first cast his nets.

It is 8.30 in the evening, the sun it still high in the sky and we seek the shade of the bimini to escape the heat of the endless sun. The anchorage has fallen silent as the sun seekers gather their possessions and head for hotels and villas, seeking nocturnal adventures. The wind has died and calm descends around us with just the gurgle of the swell as it slides and sucks at the rocks. This is the Mediterranean –and we love it.


  1. Glad all is well, sounds like bliss, look forward to hitting Ibiza in August... Brett & Dee

  2. Wonderful - so glad you're bag blogging again!