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Sailing the Balearics; Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera

The Balearics are well developed Spanish holiday islands with a lots of (fairly light wind) summer cruising and many lovely anchorages. If you're on passage, two weeks will skim the area; four weeks allows a more thorough cruise. This is a good (if expensive) area to base a yacht. In high season the area is dense with yachts, berths are in short supply, and sheltered anchorages crowded. There is very good yacht support in Palma, and there are many wintering possibilites. Winter cruising is feasible, though Minorca suffers strong northerlies. There's a big difference between summer and winter facilities in all except the principal towns. There are frequent cheap flights from all islands to most European destinations in summer, and year round from Mallorca.

Contents:

Sailing Conditions and When to Go

Cruising Season. All year round if you wish. The comfortable summer cruising season runs from late May to late September. Overcrowding peaks from mid July to late August. Unsettled weather (significant clouds around the place) occasionally visits, bringing unpredictable winds. The NW Tramontana and the NE Mistral may make the otherwise lighter winds of settled summer weather become very lively, especially in Minorca. Mallorca summer sea breezes also liven things up, blowing straight into the calas of an afternoon. Winter offers pleasant cruising when the weather is settled, usually with light winds, especially around Ibiza. However, winter unsettled weather is frequent, sometimes including brief periods of very fierce wind. Mistral and tramontana winds are a common winter threat, bringing northerly swell and big winds out of a clear sky, often for days at a time. NW of Minorca can then be dangerous with occasional onshore F9 or more. Big swells spread around many anchorages. Allowing for these threats, winter cruising can be rewarding.

Marinas. Early July to late August sees the big influx of visiting yachts (many chartered) from Italy and France. Marina vacancies fill by early afternoon, and premium prices (€40 to € 70 for a 10m yacht per day) are charged. Bookings for marinas and Posidonia anchorages (below) may be made through the Ports de les Iles Balears (IB) web site (Spanish and Catalan, so browse with Google Chrome or use Google translate). Register with the site first. Local government run town quays (muelles de transito) are good value. This site has good maps. If you need to leave your yacht to return home for a week or three in summer, consider a haul out. Sometimes it's cheaper!

Anchorages. Luckily, there are plenty of anchorages, and some are superb. Many are in calas (coves) throughout the islands. Don't anchor inside swimming areas marked off with yellow buoys, nor in Posidonia (sea grass) preservation areas . Buoys are provided in preservation areas, and these should be booked ahead. The areas are patrolled, and fines are threatened for those breaking the rules. Some Calas in Mallorca, provided with buoys, do not permit anchoring.

Malloca, Minorca, Ibiza, FormenteraComparing the Islands:

Ibiza - Formentera Anchorages and Marinas

Ibiza island is the summertime hedonistic scene for Europe's younger set. Formentera is deliciously quiet. Both have a wonderful range of brilliant white beaches (8/10), probably the best in the west Mediterranean. Nudists decorate some. Most make good anchorages, if rather open, so check the swell direction first. The east and south coasts of Ibiza also have many tiny, well sheltered, narrow calas (coves) to anchor in, most with quiet beaches at their head.

Ibiza Town has a lovely walled citadel of narrow alleys, the Dalt Villa (7/10), a world heritage site. The expensive marina has little space in high season unless you arrive early. The town competes with San Antoni to be the hedonistic capital of Europe.Ibiza anchorage

San Antoni, north side of Ibiza Island, has marinas newand a large field of paid moorings filling the bay to the south. It's a noisy place in high season, and like Ibiza town, an amazing testament to holiday excesses ashore, where the towns compete to offer the more outrageous scene. Both are fascinating to watch awhile, and obviously great (and expensive) fun for the participants.

Cala Llonga on the east coast is worth a visit.

Porroig (Port Roig) on the south coast is another highlight. 

Puerto El Espalmador (9/10) is a large and well sheltered sandy anchorage between Ibiza and Formentera. The turquoise sea has a Caribbean feel . . . quite dream like. Busy in the day, often quiet at night. There is a Posidonia reserve here, so use the moorings, or find a sand spot clear of the reserve.

Mallorca - Anchorages and Marinas

A clockwise circuit around Mallorca makes a good two week (or longer) cruise. The southwest, centered around Palma, is fairly densely populated and has an easy but expensive combination of anchorages and marinas, several suitable for wintering ashore and afloat. The north west facing coast is beautiful and mountainous, with just one port of call - Soller. On passage, many cruisers avoid this coast, since the south east coast has much more to offer. The quiet NE coast is attractive, with anchorages and a marina. Two deeply indented large bays, Pollensa and Alcudia, are flanked by mountainous ridges.  The south east facing coast is the most attractive cruising ground, drilled with calas (coves), the flooded river valleys of antiquity. Most are headed with little sandy beaches, many contain small marinas. Sadly, many are over-looked with tourist development. But holding is good and they're reasonably sheltered, though you must watch out for the afternoon sea breezes.  Then, a F4 or F5 into the hole can make things pretty uncomfortable. A potter along this coast to find the quieter calas is very rewarding, although there appear to be increasing restrictions on anchoring in some calas. A selection of destinations clockwise from Palma is:

Palma Harbour. Palma harbour is the yachting centre for the Balearics, dense with marina berths, large super-yachts and big motor cruisers. Yacht support and repair facilities are excellent, if expensive. Many yachts winter here, afloat, and some ashore. It is necessary to book well ahead. (detail page).

Palma City (7/10). Palma is a surprise, completely different from the rather gross holiday developments to it's west. Pass by the tourist oriented cafes and restaurants along the harbour front and around Placa Llotja (an area west of the cathedral) and enter the old city just north of the cathedral. Once through the old city walls you're in the maze of streets which make up a lively and attractive Spanish city. Good value tapas bars and restaurants are scattered around the side streets just west of Paseo de Born, the wide, tree lined street running north out of the harbour. (more).

Palma Locality - Marinas and Anchorages outside Palma are useful as a cheaper way to reach the town. There's a choice, also some anchorages within range (Cala Portals, or outside the marina of Puerto Portals, and further afield at Palma Nova)

Andraitx, further SW, with marina, and a hard which tolerates work on your own boat. Also paid moorings and no anchoring; water taxi - Club Vela. There's a pleasantly quiet inland town, making this a favoured alternative to Palma for wintering.

Soller is the onlly port on the NW coast. It has two well sheltered marinas in a deep cove. The one on the right as you enter is a junta marina, and cheaper. The attractive town is a little inland

Puerto Pollensa has good anchorages, a marina, and a Posidonia reserve with moorings.

Alcudia has a marina (price list, slow to load!) and hard which usually have space even in high season.  An economical  base  for exploring the Balearics

Porto Cristo is a cala with a little touristy diversion. We're suckers for these things. Try a guided tour around the Coves del Drac (Dragon's Caves) where classical musicians punt around an underground lake to entertain you. Really kitsch.

Porto Colom is a large and land-locked cala, particularly well sheltered. Moorings are laid, and anchoring was not permitted in late 2012. Pontoons and moorings have been used for wintering afloat. 

Cabrera

This tiny archipelago (8/10) off the SW facing coast of Mallorca is a 'must see' for anyone interested in wild life (not the Ibiza definition). About 10nm south of Mallorca's southern tip, Cabrera has been biologically isolated from the rest of the Balearics, and has developed its own unique range of flora and fauna. It's now designated a protected marine park. Park staff arrange walks and provide informative leaflets. Boat visitors are welcome. Some 50 moorings have been laid (anchoring is forbidden); these should be reserved in advance from the Park Office in Palma or on line. This isn't always easy, so sometimes you may just have to turn up and hope there are vacances

Minorca - Anchorages and Marinas

Minorca has been developed more discreetly than the other islands; everything is on a smaller scale.

Mahon (7/10), the capital, is half way into a 3nm long natural harbour, which has two marinas, several quaysides and anchorages. The airport is just two miles out of town, with frequest flights to UK in season.

  • The Town. It's a pleasant town, though the many cafes and restaurants along the quaysides (where the ferries dock) cater for tourist tastes. You'll find a more Spanish flavour at  L'Arpo at 124 Moll de Levant (about 500m E of the ferry dock, where the quay bends);  a good fish restaurant with a fine paella. Also try the Mirador Cafe, on Placa Espanya (up the broad steps from the quayside) for its terrace views around the harbour and quiet background jazz. If you've never drunk any gin except Gordon's, now's your chance to discover the real thing. Better still, take a trip around the Xoriguer Gin Distillery for a more wide ranging tasting.
  • Marinas and Anchorages.  In peak season, marinas are expensive, and anchoring often only permitted if paid facilities are full. Some spots are noisy in season. Over winter, berths are good value. Marina Mahon is central, suitable for wintering afloat. Marina Minorca is at the head of the estuary, 1km from town, excellently sheltered. It has a hard for wintering ashore, and is good for wintering afloat.

Ciutadella (8/10), the original capital of the island, is a beautiful old town, thick with aristocratic mansions from another era. Small squares replete with pavement cafes cater mainly for Spanish tastes. The narrow cobbled streets don't do high heels. Arrive early to find a berth in the pool, off the left of the long, narrow port (video). The inlet shape amplifies the effect of any 'seiches' (short duration changes of sea level) which may occur, so it's prudent to moor with a metre spare below the keel.  If you can't find space, be prepared to travel by land from some more secure berth. Do it. It's worth the effort.

Fornells (6/10). Fornells is a large, very well sheltered bay on the north coast, which has an extensive Posidonia area, prohibited for anchoring, but some excellent moorings. It's claim to fame lies within the village on the west side of the entrance, a cluster of rather expensive but very good seafood restaurants. Top of the heap is 'Es Pla', favoured by royalty, judging by the pictures inside. Others are more reasonable in price. You'll need to book in many. Special dishes are 'llagosta' (lobster stew) and paella (both with big prices!), but many other more reasonably priced seafood options are available. Bob Jelfs runs his shore based sailing and windsurf centre, 'Minorca Sailing', from the more southern part of the bay.

Cala de Addaya (8/10) on the east coast is virtually landlocked, well sheltered and quiet. The good quality small marina (with a tricky entrance by Mediterranean standards) is suitable for wintering ashore or afloat, although the town is dead in winter. Work on own boat is permitted. Several UK residents base their boats here.

The Calas (7/10). Along the south coast there's a string of delightful narrow inlets with tiny sandy beaches, lovely anchorages. Some of them have no development at all. Try Cala Turqueta at the western end (pick of the bunch) or in SE try Binibeca for its beach and bar, and Alcaufar for a seafood platter at the beach hotel. Others, with varying levels of development, may have the inland ends buoyed off for swimmers in the summer. Don't manouevre inside the buoyed areas!

Summary

  • Attractions. Old town centres (Palma, Ibiza). Many lovely anchorages, especially Ibiza and Formentera. Excellent yacht support and easy travel to UK and back.
  • Snags. Peak season crowds.
  • Ports of Entry. Rarely needed, But Andraitx, Palma, Ibiza and Mahon.
  • Layup or Wintering. Ashore or afloat, Palma, Andraitx, Mahon, Addaya. Afloat, Colom.
  • Transport. Year round scheduled flights from Palma, plus many extra seasonal charter flights to Mallorca, Ibiza and Minorca.
  • Boat Charter. From Palma. All types.

 

 

Last reviewed Oct 2015


 

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