In mid-August we left
Akka in Italy (near San Remo) in order to make a quick trip to California
where Rob umpired the US Team Racing Championships in San Francisco,
then to LA for a wonderful visit with Lisa and Guild. We returned
to Akka on September 1 and spent a frenetic day getting ready for
the overnight sail to Menorca to meet our friends Dick and Carolle
Rose. The passage was mostly downwind in strong winds, easy and
fast. As we passed the Bay of Lions, lightning illuminated the entire
sky for minutes on end. Despite the lack of a moon, the light was
so bright that we could see objects on deck. There was no action
in our vicinity, though we got slashed by some rain squalls in the
last 10 miles or so of our approach to Mahon. Once inside the large
and well-protected harbor, we moored at a "floating island,"
a small square floating dock with mooring space for 20 boats, stern
to, fully equipped with electric power and fresh water.
Next morning we met up with Dick and Carolle. We
started our exploration of Menorca by renting a car and scouting
out potential anchorages. Additionally, we visited some of the archeological
sites that Menorca is rich in. Most date from about 2000 BC: "Taulas,"
well-chiseled Stonehenge-like monoliths placed in a "T"
formation; "talayets," half-cave, half-stone dwellings
with interior carved stone columns supporting the roofs, and "navetas,"
strange large ship-shaped burial chambers. They were quite fascinating.
Mahon was celebrating its annual Festival of Thanksgiving
("Gracia"), so we stayed to see it. Like all fiestas on
Menorca, Gracia features fabulous horses that rear up on their hind
legs as they parade through town. The horses are gorgeous: tails
"clubbed" and bound with flowers (fabric), gleaming coats
and glossy long manes. Their tack is also beautiful: flowers on
bridles, a chest strap with a brass heart medallion at its center,
saddles with high velvet-lined backs, and saddle cloths of black
velvet embroidered with flowers. The riders are formally attired:
black redingotes, white shirts, black bowties, vests or cummerbunds,
white jodhpurs, black boots and bicorn hats. The riders range from
teenage to gray-haired; some appeared to be families, and about
1/4 were women, most of whom appeared to be under 30. The mayor,
wearing his chain of office, and a priest in cassock and boots were
among the riders.
On Saturday evening, some 132 horses and riders
paraded through the narrow and often steep streets of the town.
The better horses (riders?) could stay on hind legs for about 8
seconds. Some horses pawed the air with their front feet; others
simply kept them still. Most horses pranced forward while they reared
up, though a couple stood still and one or two jumped into the air,
landing again on their hind legs alone! Making this sight even more
amazing was the fact that the crowds were not safely on the sidewalk
but out in the street among the horses and riders. Daredevil (macho)
guys try to touch the medallions on the horses' chests while they
rear. People in the crowds also reached out to help support the
riders, but this was clearly not needed.
Sunday afternoon featured a "jaleo," which
our dictionary translates as "ruckus". It began with another
parade, but this time the horses and riders passed in front of a
review stand in the main square, where a brass band endlessly played
"Pasa Doble" and other rousing music. The square was packed
with people; there was no obvious passageway. As had happened the
night before, the horses walked and reared (to great cheers) right
through the crowds. Each horse and rider also came up to the review
stand, which the horse touched with its forehead. (There may have
been some religious statue or plaque there that we couldn't see.)
Then, after all 132 horses passed, they returned in groups of four,
and, in front of the review stand, all four horses pranced on hind
legs in a sort of dance. The riders were almost horizontal, clinging
with incredibly strong thigh muscles. They weren't gripping their
pommels, their reins were slack, and they often were holding their
hats in the air as a salute. Remarkable horses and remarkable riders.
Nobody (as far as we could tell) got hurt, though we'd heard that
in previous years some riders (including a former mayor) have been
killed when their horses toppled over backwards.
That evening, though we didn't stay to watch, they
raced the horses in pairs through the narrow cobblestone streets,
which had been covered with a layer of sand for the event.
The reason we didn't see the races was that we had
finally gone cruising. We had a beautiful but short spinnaker run
just 10 miles up Menorca's east coast to the pretty little bay and
village of Es Grau. We dropped our Bruce anchor quite near the shore,
where we were protected from all wind directions except northeast.
It blew pretty hard that night, but the anchor held well. In the
morning a man came by in a dinghy and told us (in English) "You
think it blew last night? You haven't seen anything yet. The Tramontana
is coming. It will blow 40 knots for three days. Better put out
another anchor." So we took his advice and put out the Fortress
anchor. Sure enough, it started to blow, with heavy rain. Not 40
knots, in the harbor at least, but over 30. We spent the time reading,
discussing racing rules, and repairing the outboard.
The next night it blew harder -- some gusts well
over 40 knots and spume flying off the waves in the tiny harbor
-- and we were glad we were on 2 anchors. By evening of the third
day the wind had subsided, the outboard was working, and we enjoyed
an evening drink in town.
We left the next morning to sail the 12 miles to
Fornells. We had a lovely beat to a narrow entrance that opened
into a large shallow bay, and we anchored at the head, past the
small town. A beautiful quiet evening turned into a starry night
with almost a full moon. We went to sleep, enjoying the peace and
quiet after the previous windy nights. At about 5 am, the wind started
to build again. At 6 am, we all came wide awake when the anchor
broke free and we started to drift. We hurriedly all got up, raised
the anchor in 30 knot winds, motored back to the town in rain and
hail and picked up a nice safe mooring, brewed coffee and tea, and
recovered our composure. The winds continued at 20-30, with gusts
to 40, all day in gorgeous sunshine, but it was too rough to take
the dinghy into town. The scenery was lovely, with a pretty, little
white-washed village near the mouth of the harbor, the island with
ruins of a fort and range lights for the cliff-lined entrance, and
a sparkling expanse of protected bay.
Fornells has a sailing school for Brits, featuring
brand-new racing dinghies, including several different kinds of
skiffs. People come for a week, take lessons in any kind of boat
(or windsurfer) they want to do, and race every day or so. We later
met some of the students, who said they race skiffs back in England,
so they come to the school every year to perfect their performance.
There were 90 people attending the school the week we were there.
At the height of the season, in July and August, there are more
than 300. From our point of view, it was great theater, as our mooring
was near the jibe mark so we watched them handle 30+ knots with
varying amounts of success!
We were feeling bad for Dick and Carolle, there
on vacation and trapped on the boat. Fortunately, they're sailors
so they understood; but we all definitely wanted to put to sea.
The next morning the wind subsided enough so that we could go into
town and walk to the edge of the cliffs at the harbor entrance to
look at the sea outside. The waves were breaking in huge clouds
of spray, 40 feet or more in the air. It was a no-brainer to stay
put another day.
The next day brought yet more heavy wind. At this
point, we began to rethink our plans. Carolle and Dick were to leave
in two days to return to the U.S. and we were leaving the same day,
on the same flight to England, where Rob was to umpire the British-American
Team Race in Cowes. We had intended to return with Akka to Mahon
and leave her on one of the "islands" there, at about
€40 a night, but there we were in a lovely harbor on a safe
mooring which was free! (The moorings belong to the YC in Mahon
and are only used in July and August; otherwise they're first come,
first served, and free.) We all agreed that the most prudent (and
by far the cheapest) thing to do was to leave the boat in Fornells.
We hoped to find a local "marinero" to keep an eye on
her for the week we'd be gone.
We noted a beat-up old ski boat, about 16' long,
going to the ketch moored behind the large island in the harbor.
Since it was clearly not the ketch's dinghy, we figured it was somebody
from town, paid to check on the deserted boat. We waved madly to
the guy and he came over to Akka. It turned out he was not a marinero;
he was Sebastian, the owner of the ketch, and also owner of the
entire island, with its ruins of a fort, houses and range lights!
When we asked about a marinero, he said that he went back and forth
daily, and he'd be glad to check the boat as he went by. We exchanged
cards -- he's a retired dentist -- and so we had peace of mind while
we were away. In fact, when we were in England, he sent us a text
message on our mobile phone reporting that Akka was fine!
One of the first things we did upon our return to
Fornells was to take Sebastian out to dinner. We had a great time,
talking about island life, boat life, history, politics, and boat
repair, all in our faltering Spanish and his wonderfully patient