June 2003 Costa Brava
"Brava" means wild or strong, and the northeastern-most stretch of the Spanish Mediterranean coast is well-named. It's rock and steep cliffs and caves, with occasional small coves, many of which end in small sandy beaches and/or little fishing villages. It's incredibly picturesque and often spectacular.

When we left Barcelona, we had hoped to join our friends Sally and Barry Kidson from London, who were in Perpignan France, but what with the delay getting our new halyard and all, we were too late to get near Perpignan without a mad dash down the coast -- which we definitely didn't want to do. So instead, we spent 2 days in a narrow cove with a tiny beach and small village at the end, visiting with some friends from Barcelona (Jordi, the chandler who sold us the halyard, and some mutual friends from New Zealand). We swam, ate dinner at their apartment, and lay around, and Rob got to sail Jordi's Laser both days. It was hot but not overly, and every day dozens of motorboats arrived, attempted to anchor in the deep water using 1-1 scope, and dragged around the anchorage. Fun to watch. One boat, whose owner had swum ashore, actually dragged right into us, and when we looked at her anchor line, it was hanging straight down -- the anchor wasn't even on the bottom! The town (Sa Tuna) is a place where Catalunians (as opposed to English or Germans) have vacation homes, and the atmosphere reminded both of us very much of our childhoods. Kids and grown-ups go to the beach it seems almost at random, and everyone watches out for everyone else's kids. Very casual and delightfully free of overconcern for security, safety, etc. Of course, one big difference between here and the U.S. is the late dining hours, and the fact that the kids stay up as well. We ate at around 11 p.m., and we sort of thought, since Jordi's 4 & 6-year old daughters had had their grilled cheese sandwiches earlier, that they'd go to bed before we ate our dinner of steamed mussels. But no, they joined right in, and the 6 year old demolished quite a few mussels. (The 4 year old had previously snacked heavily on green olives!)

After dinner, the kids begged to go to the square, so they did, by themselves, though we followed shortly thereafter for a coffee at one of the bars on the square. Midnight. Families everywhere. Very Spanish.

There are a couple of stretches where the Costa Brava flattens into a river delta, and one of these is the site of an old Greek/Roman trading post called Empuries. (It's generally not on maps, but is just east of L'Escala, which is on most maps.) We went there, anchoring off the beach in fine sand. There are massive archeological excavations, and we toured them all. The Greek and Roman towns weren't built on the same site (the Greeks were still there when the Romans came), so there are two complete sets of ruins. The Roman town was pretty big -- about 700 meters by 400 meters, with a real forum, circus, etc. The tiled floors of some of the villas are still just as they were in Roman times. Kinda cool.

Then, after a one-night stop in a small cove with caves that we explored by dinghy, we were off to Cadaquez, which had been highly recommended by Sally as a "must-see." She was right! We were able to moor there rather than anchoring, which is both less fuss and more secure-feeling, and after a dinghy ride ashore we took a short hike over the nearby ridge to Port Lligat, to visit Salvador Dalí's incredible home. He took a fisherman's cottage, added on to it, then added in another cottage and another, connecting them with interesting passageways, and decorating it all in his own eclectic, inimitable fashion (for instance, the entrance hall features a stuffed polar bear wearing a beret and costume jewelry). Most rooms, especially his studio and the dining and living areas, feature beautiful views of the lovely bay, looking almost like paintings instead of windows. Cadaquez is sort of touristy, but also a lovely fishing village with whitewashed and pastel houses with bright blue shutters, and a cathedral on a hill.

We spent two days in Cadaquez, doing nothing much -- the one museum we wanted to see, with an exhibit on Dalí and Picasso, was closed (we later learned, because of investigations of art forgery). The reason we stayed around was the Tramontane, a downdraft blast of wind out of the Pyrenees. This wind is notorious in the northeast Costa Brava and west half of the Gulf de Lions -- it comes on suddenly (0 to 60 knots in half an hour!) and can blow at hurricane strength for days afterward. Ours was much reduced from that; we never saw more than about 30 knots, but then, we were in a harbor protected by the foothills so high and rugged that for centuries there was no way into Cadaquez except by boat. We took the opportunity to change the secondary fuel filter and reattach the hose clamps that hold the heat exchanger onto the engine block. These clamps broke in half just as we were restarting the engine after the filter change. We hadn't had the sink/counter top off in quite awhile, and found a number of other hose clamps that had loosened from all the vibration, as well as a hose that had got to rubbing against the side of the engine compartment and would soon have developed a hole. So it was just as well that we did it.

When we left Cadaquez, it was raining, a real rarity along this coast, but it soon ended as we rounded Cap Creus, the easternmost point on Spain's mainland, and went into Collioure, France. On the way, we cut through the corner of an underwater preserve and saw two large pods of bottlenose dolphins, each with a boatload full of tourists chasing it. Collioure itself has lots of castles and a monastery, none of which we went into but several of which we stared at and photographed; also the Fauvist art movement headed by Matisse, who lived there. Its waterfront features a number of large blank picture frames on posts. You look through them at the very picturesque harbor, castles, towers, etc., then look at a reproduction of one of the Fauvist paintings of the same scene. We had a drink in a waterfront cafe and went to bed.

Next day, we sailed for Cap d'Agde. We started out in fog in the morning and ended up with a clear blue-sky breeze that built from 7 knots to 17. Before going to the huge marina at Cap d'Agde, we went into the mouth of a nearby river, where the cruising guide indicated that there might be free mooring along the bank. No joy on that issue, so we put back out into the Med to beat up to Cap d'Agde.

It was only a 2 NM beat under main and staysail, but it was glorious. The short chop almost stopped us dead a couple of times, but most of the time we were doing better than 6 knots, with spray blasting off the bow and us snug and dry behind the dodger. People say "Gentlemen [cruisers] never beat to windward," but why not? It's the most exciting point of sail, and, even though we've done it for years, there's still the wonder that the wind is blowing one way and we're going the other way, using that same wind to get there.

It occurred to us at that moment to think that we're doubly lucky: First, of course, we've got the rare opportunity to do all this exploring, and second, we have a home that beats to windward! Most peoples' homes just sort of sit there. They have to go down to their boats if they want to beat to windward.

A couple of other boats were also clawing their way up the coast, and of course we beat them all there, even the ones that started ahead of us. Not that we were paying attention…