- by Phil Quill. Looks like some stunning paddling. Illustrated.

Casí Una Vuelta a Menorca

 

Phil Quill - 2006

First published in Paddles Magazine

A circuit of Menorca by sea kayak has long been on my “to do” list. Ever since it was suggested to me some years ago, by a Spanish friend after a day’s paddling in the Pyrenees. At that time a change of jobs got in the way, so an opportunity to do it this year was for me, not to be missed.

Menorca is the eastern most island in the Balearic Archipelago in the western Mediterranean some 225km from Barcelona. In size Menorca is over 50% larger than the Isle of Wight while its perimeter is well over twice as long. If this gives an indication of a wiggly coastline then that is by no means too far from the truth. In 1993 UNESCO declared the Island a Biosphere Reserve.

I’d got the chance to join a group of paddlers on a trip being organised by Toni-Albert owner, manager and chief paddler of Kayaking Costa Brava, probably the largest sea kayaking company on the Costa Brava with a string of canoeing bases along the more interesting sections of that coastline. Toni had arranged for boats and paddles etc. to be transported to Menorca which undoubtedly made the logistics easier. All I had to do was turn up.

So for me, the adventure starts with a late night flight to Barcelona. As I’m meeting most of the others in the group before 6.00am the next morning I’d decided to look on the web and found a “not quite so outrageously expensive” room at the airport hotel. And here comes Top Tip Number1 – even though the hotel describes itself as only 500 metres from the airport and even though it’s a nice night and even though you’ve just missed the shuttle bus, whatever you do – don’t try to walk there. A bit like Los Angeles the outskirts of the airport are a pedestrian free zone.

The next morning it’s up bright and early despite the fact that Barcelona is cloudy and rainy. I’m at the airport like any good Englishman bang on time at 5.55am, an hour before our scheduled flight time to Menorca. A couple of guys are already there and introductions are made and continued as others join us. According to the many emails that had flown between Toni and I, “someone” from Kayaking Costa Brava would meet us at the airport with the plane tickets. By 6.30am “someone” hadn’t turned up even though there were now 8 or so of us waiting. The Spanish gets quicker and more heated, mobiles come out and eventually we discover that “someone” is still in bed! Rapidly new tickets are purchased, bags checked in and with only minutes to go before departure we scramble aboard the plane. It’s not me that’s making the comments on Spanish organisation.

The rest of the journey goes comparatively smoothly. Taxis are organised at Mahon airport and we’re off to Ciutadella to meet up with Toni and all the kit. During the morning other members of our group who’ve made their own way to Menorca show up, including a sheepish “someone”, now in the form of Jordi who gets some well deserved stick. Boats, paddles, buoyancy aids are handed out and various attempts are made to get our 10 days worth of clothing and camping gear to fit in the Rainbow Laser sea kayaks that most of us are using. Fortunately we haven’t got to carry food as we’re also being accompanied by a 5m RIB. Toni has some fairly firmly fixed thoughts on the necessity of us being accompanied by a safety boat and given the amount of gear its carrying, I’m not about to argue with him.

Ciutadella is over on the west coast of Menorca and the plan is to paddle round the island in a clockwise direction. The north coast of Menorca is badly affected by a strong northerly wind, the Tramontana. This plan will enable us to get past most exposed coast more quickly. I’ve encountered the Tramontana on the Costa Brava and know that it’s a force to be reckoned with. We’re planning to complete the trip over 9 days which at a daily average of only around 17km should be plenty of time and allow for any unforeseen delays.

So, at 1.30pm with all the boats packed our group of 15 including Toni and Jordi and our safety boat are ready to set off.

Day 1: Ciutadella to Cala d’Algaiaren –¡Vamanos!

It’s a bit overcast but even so it’s superbly warm. To paddle, I need no more clothing than shorts and t-shirt. We put in at the far end of the port so we’ve got a kilometre or so to do past an array of fishing and pleasure boats before moving out into the Mediterranean Sea with a clear view of the hills on Mallorca some 30 odd miles away.

Wow. Friends had spoken about the colour of the water, but this really is stunning. Cliché or not aquamarine is the only word that adequately describes this incredibly clear bluey-green water.

Almost immediately the coast is marked by low cliffs with caves and at one stage a small waterfall. Many of the caves are surprisingly deep. Notably, one has a tight passage around 150 metres long leading into a natural amphitheatre. It seems we’ve only really got into our stride when we pass the most western part of the island at Cap de Bajolí and we swing to the north-east. If our daily average of only 17km seems low (and it did to me before we started) then it is in part explained by the fact that we’re leaving no cove unexplored, no cave un-entered. We’re literally following every nook and cranny the coastline has to offer. I’ve no complaints – I’m sometimes easily bored sea kayaking but here there’s a huge amount to keep me interested.

We pass the lighthouse at Punta Nati and have a quick snack of nuts in Cala des Morts. We’re now heading almost due east and have undoubtedly started what would, in many conditions be an exposed stretch of coastline but fortunately the Tramontana shows no signs of blowing. Instead we’ve very light winds and a really calm sea allowing us to pass close to much larger cliffs and an area that looks like some kind of Giant’s quarry. Huge blocks of grey stone the size of a big house are stacked in a vaguely organized way. Organized or not it’s a good job that the wind is as light as it is: there are no easy landings here, rather it’s actually a pretty committing piece of coast. The RIB starts to make increasing sense.

We pass a huge number of cormorants, thinner looking than their UK counterparts, and higher up at the top of the cliffs some huge gulls with rust coloured heads. We then pass under a superb arch before heading into another fabulous deserted bay, home for the night. I realize that after 5 ½ hours of paddling we’ve not seen another living soul since we left Ciutadella. As we unload the food from the RIB into a boathouse canopy it starts to rain! This isn’t the mental picture I’d had back in the UK. Dark falls and we pitch the tents and by this stage we’re all more than ready to eat. Ricard has been working hard over the stove and it smells sensational. Under the welcome shelter of the boathouse canopy, we tuck into Botifarra (Catalan sausage) and pasta. The name of the dish does nothing to convey how delicious and welcome it is. Morale rises with every mouthful.

Day 2: Cala d’Algaiaren to Cala Pregonda – Pan amb Tomate

It’s all change this morning. As we leave Cala d’Alagaiaren the sun’s out and the geology’s changing too. Yesterday’s classic grey limestone is giving way to a deep, rusty-red rock giving a stunning array of colours and shapes. Razor sharp limestone mixes with softer, more rounded sandstone.

We set off surprisingly early this morning. Surprising in the sense that previous experience paddling in Spain had indicated that nothing much happens before 11.00am. So our 10.30am on the water, going is pretty impressive. We’d breakfasted on a classic Catalan dish. Pan amb tomate or bread with tomato, but this undersells it enormously. Fresh tomato is squeezed onto the bread, then a liberal drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt underpins dry cured ham or chorizo. Sensational. Top Tip Number 2 – a small thing but etiquette (and extra juice) dictates that you cut the tomato horizontally i.e. not through the stalk.

So more than a bit full, I’m now paddling past high sandstone cliffs. There are fewer caves this morning but lots of opportunity for rock hopping. More cormorants and a fantastic display by a family of Egyptian Vultures are the highlight of the morning.

At Cala del Pillar we stop to investigate an old house cut into the rocks and its adjacent spring. We bump into an old boy speaking in Menorquin, a kind of heavily-accented Catalan. Even some of those in the group from Catalunya struggle to fully understand him. Here a word or two about the make up of our group would be worthwhile. There’s me from the UK, César from Santander and Paco from Segovia, otherwise the rest of the group are all from Catalunya. Top Tip Number 3 – Be conscious that the Catalan people are rightfully proud of their culture and of their language which is quite different from Castillian Spanish. My Catalan is next to non-existent so I’m eternally grateful that, out of deference to me, most conversation is in Castellano.

Back into the kayaks and back to grey limestone for another couple of hours paddling before stopping for lunch on the hull of an up-turned fishing boat in a beautiful bay. Two further hours brings us to Cala Pregonda and we land on a small island with orange, spiky rock looking like something out of the set of a Star Wars film. Thank goodness I’ve squeezed a mask and snorkel into my kit. I’d forgotten how good snorkeling can be in water as clear as this with shoals of fish swimming in front of your face.

For the night we return the mainland (if an island can ever be that) to bivvy down on the balcony of a deserted beach house with the beam from the lighthouse at Cap de Cavalleria sweeping across our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we’ll be paddling past this.

Day 3: Cala Pregonda to Fornells – Macomba Macomba

Over the previous two days what wind we’ve had has been from the South and it’s therefore been pretty sheltered for us paddling along in the lee of the cliffs. This morning the wind’s changed direction. Although it is nothing like the Tramontana’s usual strength, mood in the group is a bit subdued as we know that today we’ve some exposed stretches to paddle round.

We’ve almost 6km of paddling to go before we get to Cap de Cavalleria and even at that distance white horses are clearly visible on our route inside Illa de Porros. If they look big at that distance how big will they seem when we’re on top of them? It’s calm enough though as we approach, with time to admire the hundreds of “medusa” or jelly fish drifting along – another good reason to wear a mask when swimming.

As we approach the headland I’m less confident that we’re going to make it. Those waves really are pretty big! Toni, though, is storming along at the front and, just as I’m thinking that maybe he knows something I don’t, he shows that he does. A narrow “chicken shoot” opens up to our right allowing us to cut out the larger waves at the start of the headland. We’re now only having to cope with somewhat confused, reflected waves before shooting through another narrow gap into calmer waters the other side of the lighthouse.

Low cliffs lead us round to a semi-thatched fisherman’s shelter and a long, leisurely lunch with an impressive view across to our next target, Cap de Fornells. Since leaving Ciutadella we’ve seen very few other people and only isolated houses so it comes as a bit of a shock as we approach Platges de Fornells (literally Fornells’ Beaches) a new development of white apartments. But just as we’re starting to believe that the coast here looks pretty benign we immediately encounter two wrecks. The first, which has obviously been there for some years is not much more than a rusting hulk. Only a two foot diameter piston stuck in the air like some kind of bizarre navigation mark gives a clue to the original size of the vessel. The second wreck, only a kilometre further on is more shocking, perhaps because it’s obviously a much more recent occurrence. As we approach, I’m thinking that it’s a strangely shaped jetty. As we get closer the image crystallizes into a 40 to 50 foot fishing boat. Those parts out of the water seem in remarkably good condition but she’s well aground and being gradually destroyed by the pounding waves. It may be the Med, there may be negligible tides, the sun may be shining but…..this coastline still deserves respect.

Rounding Punta Mala I can see a squat, round tower ahead. These are very much a feature of the Menorcan coastline. This one, the Torre de Fornells guides us through a narrow entrance into a huge natural harbour cum bay of the same name. Windsurfers flash across the far, inland end of the bay while the smart, fishing village of Fornells becomes more apparent as we work our way across to the other side of the bay to where we plan to stop for the night.

After sorting out the camp we use the RIB to ferry us across to Fornells for a well deserved beer. Surprisingly, Paco turns out to be a bit of an anglophile and is extolling the virtues of English beer. Personally, I’m more than content with an ice cold San Miguel. Later that night, back at the camp the conversation turns from dirty jokes (a real test of my Spanish) to politics (with just a hint of Catalan/Spanish tension) to the safer territory of tomorrow’s paddle. We’ve just one more day’s paddling to do before swinging significantly to the south, literally leaving the Tramontana behind us.

Day Four: Fornells to Cala de Montgofre – Coach nivel cinco

There was heavy dew the previous night so it’s a latish start to give the tents a chance to dry. We set off, paddling almost due north out of the sheltered bay that provided such a calm camp last night. We’re heading for the Mola de Fornells, a pretty substantial-looking headland on the map, and so it seems from a kayak, increasingly so, as we get closer.

Fortunately, yesterday’s northerly winds have swung round and are now coming from the south-west, so below the high cliffs on the north side of the island it’s actually pretty calm allowing us to explore some of the numerous caves. One cave in particular stands out, with a spectacular, illuminated sump. The light shining up through the water seems almost fluorescent.

I think what has most surprised me so far on this trip is the unexpectedly long sections of coastline without any easy landing. Much of it is actually quite committing and that is certainly the case here, the cliffs offer no refuge. As we round the headland I can see the town of Arenal d’en Castell across the next bay but we’re swinging south now and out of the protection of the higher cliffs leaving us much more exposed to what has now become a strong side wind.

I’ve only previously seen Little Egrets in ones and twos so the flying display we get from a group of twelve is particularly impressive. Their pure white plumage contrasts with the deep blue sky and the dark rock of the lower cliffs that now line our route.

A sheltered sandy beach gives us a chance for a quick break before some rock hopping leads us past a huge complex of tourist apartments and onwards past a couple of low green islands into the natural harbour of Port d’Addaia. We make a quick tour of the narrow bay before cutting inside those islands on the way to yet more dramatic cliffs. Our third wreck of the trip shows the way. From a distance it looks like a triangular sailing mark. A 35ft fishing boat is sitting on its stern with only 3 foot of the bow clear of the water. The cliffs here are clearly home to numerous birds of prey, with Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures displaying above us. We carry on to Cala de Mongofre, where we’re stopping for the night.

A strange, almost boat-shaped building on the beach means that we’ve the luxury of a table to eat at. Over dinner the conversation gets round to BCU coaching courses. Toni is not the first foreign paddler I’ve met to hold these in high esteem. While few British paddlers would dispute that the BCU coaching needs some work, it does seem to be a million miles ahead of the local, Spanish system.

Day Five: Cala de Montgofre to Cala de Sant Esteve – ¿Alguién quiere la esponja?

Today is going to be longest paddle of the trip. So, it’s a reasonably early start under grey skies down to our first point at Cap de Favàritz. The cliffs here are shale-like and, like the sky, an unremitting grey – apart from the temperature we could be in Wales! By the time we get to the lighthouse there’s a good swell running off the Cap which makes for an exciting moment or two and allows us to surf back into the bay the other side. We’re now heading almost due south making us much less vulnerable to the Tramontana – the strong north wind that affects Menorca and other parts of the western Mediterranean.

The nicely shaped swell keeps up all morning keeping us entertained on the way to Illa d’en Colom. We stop for a break on the island, home to a unique species of lizard, bright green with a dark tail, dozens scatter across the ground as we land our kayaks. There are more Black Kites circling above us, Menorca really is a great spot for bird watching. Indeed, we’re now just outside the S’Albufera bird reserve the spot for waders of every description.

The sun’s back out again now so it’s back to Mediterranean colours. The waves pick up again south of the island and there’s an impressive break on an obvious off-shore reef. As we’ve still a fair distance to go we stick inside of this and carry on past the largish town of sa Mesquida before stopping for lunch at the far end of es Murtar. As the crow flies we’re now close to Maó (or Mahon) the capital of Menorca. As the canoeist paddles though, we need to get round Punta de s’Esperó, the eastern most point of the island. We swing towards the south-west as we round the point with the lighthouse high up on the cliffs above us. The swell is pretty large and directly behind us once more so it’s a toss up between admiring the cliffs and fully enjoying the ride.

Just before the harbour that marks the entrance to Maó we try to sneak through a narrow, zig-zag gap in the cliffs but we’re forced back by the waves coming through from the other side. The harbour mouth is guarded by some impressive fortifications. In fact the whole town of es Castell, which marks the entrance, is steeped in military history. We carry on though, before grabbing a quick break in the super-pretty (and tiny) port of Cala Sant Esteve. It’s late afternoon now, on the way in to the Cala the waves were pretty impressive and they’re showing no signs of abating as we paddle back out, for what’s scheduled to be only another 2 or 3 kilometres before stopping for the night.

It’s back to yet more, impressively, high cliffs only now the waves are being reflected directly off them making for the roughest conditions we’ve had so far. After about 50 minutes paddling we swing straight towards the cliffs, heading for an incredibly tight cove, Caló des Rafalet, probably no more than 20 metres across. The intimidation factor is increased enormously by the waves which are now pounding into the cliffs on either side. What’s more, there’s an “S” bend to negotiate. It’s with some relief that an anxious and tired group all make it to the calmer water at the far end of the cove. Toni disappears into the undergrowth while we bob up and down in our boats waiting for his return. Bad news, that tired and anxious group is now more anxious and definitely more than somewhat disappointed as Toni decides that there’s insufficient space to camp for the night.

So, with dusk fast approaching, it’s back out once more. Round the “S” bend, through the narrow entrance and past those crashing waves down to the much larger Cala Sant Esteve, albeit through another tight entrance with an impressive sunset. Landing on the beach at the end of this harbour is one of life’s surreal experiences. Twenty minutes ago we were struggling with the elements, completely on our own. Now, getting changed in the dark, we’re under the gaze of dozens of astonished German tourists sitting on the balconies of their adjacent apartment block, all to the strains of Mantovani coming from the bar below.

Unquestionably the downside is that this was not the secluded camp we’d envisaged. There is some compensation though involving several cold beers, cooking under a bridge and an easy camp on a very sandy football pitch.

Day Six: Cala de Sant Esteve to Biniparratx – Pomada fiesta

It’s much calmer today and immediately outside the Cala there’s a stunning arch to get everyone in the mood. Shortly afterwards though, the cliffs virtually completely disappear. They’re replaced by a low, rocky shore of sharp rock which even with the small waves running today would still make for a very difficult and potentially painful (and expensive) landing.

We head out to Illa de l’Aire (or Air Island) to visit its typical black and white lighthouse. This is another island with its own species of lizard. These are almost jet black and there must be tens of thousands of them on this small patch of land, no more than a kilometre long. Illa de l’Aire marks the south eastern most point of our tour and looking back towards the main island of Menorca its obvious how much more populated is this, south side of the island.

While the coastline itself is less spectacular, the clarity of the water is still sensational and I find myself paddling along, staring at the sea bed and the ever changing array of colours and shapes. At Racó d’en Bruixa the cliffs start again and so do the caves, one in particular cave stands out with a round, open top. Presumably, in heavy seas this makes for a spectacular blow-hole.

We stop for a long, leisurely lunch in the stunningly attractive port (from the water anyway) of Binibeca, a small development of modern houses in a traditional, fisherman’s style before continuing west towards today’s destination of Cala de Biniparratx. Just before we get that far there’s a fantastic cave with a small sump at the far end that’s just too tempting. Outside the cave once more, we tie the kayaks together, put snorkels and masks on, then swim back into the cave once more for a spot of “cave snorkeling”. It’s stunning. Deep, in every sense, vertically it’s around 20 metres to the bottom and horizontally about 50 metres or so to the sump. Fortunately there’s still enough light to duck under and into the smaller, far chamber. I am not the world’s greatest swimmer but the extra salinity of the Med means that even a renowned sinker like myself can feel confident in water this buoyant.

After we’ve all clambered back into our kayaks it’s a short hop round the corner for an impromptu rolling clinic followed in the evening by a Pomada Fiesta (pomada being made from local gin, freshly squeezed lemon and a dash of lemonade). Later, a debate turns into a kind of “A” level politics question – Compare and contrast Catalan autonomy with Scottish and Welsh devolution. The Franco regime is particularly vivid in the Catalan memory - a period in which they were even forbidden to use their own language in public.

Day Seven: Biniparratx to Cala Coves – La cara y la cruz

The day starts with beautiful blue skies and it’s a fairly early start as we’ve a good distance to cover today. It’s been a sheltered night on the beach but presumably less so out to sea as outside of the cove it’s a mass of white horses. The map shows the coast as almost a dead straight line heading north-west.

Immediately we’re beyond the shelter of the cove there are lots of reflected waves, albeit with less wind than those white horses would have led us to expect. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly tiring and we’re making fairly slow progress. After just over an hours paddling we make it to the first Cala large enough to offer any shelter, es Canutells albeit only for a five minute loo stop.

Back out to sea, it really is now very choppy. I can’t help believing that it would be a bit easier paddling further out to sea where there are likely to be fewer reflected waves. Toni’s reluctant to paddle further offshore as he doesn’t want to cross swords with the Guardia Civil. He explains that in Spain it’s illegal to paddle in a kayak further offshore than 200 metres and what’s more, illegal to kayak on the sea in anything more than a Force 3! Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we’ve been hugging the coast in quite the way we have. Certainly there have been bays that, if I’d been on my own, I would have cut straight across.

So it’s slow progress on to Cala Coves. This is another super-dramatic entrance, narrow and geometric. It leads into a double ended cove with cliffs on almost all sides. The cliffs have hundreds of caves dotted around them. These though are man-made. The earliest were cut out by hand in the Bronze Age as burial chambers, the Romans then used it as a place of pilgrimage, in more recent times it became home to a hippy commune. Now, in order to protect the caves most are boarded up to ensure their conservation.

Carles and Lorena are suffering, either from last night’s Pomada or from the confused sea. To be fair it is difficult, tiring paddling. As we paddle back out from Cala Coves, the wind is distinctly picking up, the sky is clouding over and the weather decidedly looks on the turn. It’s unfortunate that it’s as rough as it is as the cliffs are lined with dozens if not hundreds of caves but in today’s conditions we’ve no chance of getting near them.

It’s too rough to investigate Cala en Porter whose entrance is marked by a spectacular disco set high into the cliffs. As the wind picks up still further it’s becoming obvious that we’re now traveling very slowly. More in hope than anything else we send the support boat up ahead to check for landings but it’s a no-go and the decision is made to return to Cala Coves. There’s more than a little disappointment and indeed some dissent to this, with the stronger paddlers feeling that they could carry on especially as the weather forecast indicates more of the same for tomorrow. However the support boat has confirmed that there are only difficult landings for a considerable distance ahead.

It seems strange to be storm bound yet still strolling about in shorts. Most of us take the opportunity to walk over the cliffs into En Porter for additional supplies of bread and wine. I’m shocked when we get there and not a little embarrassed. Particularly after spending the best part of a week with little contact with the outside world, the culture shock is immense as we arrive in what seems to be a distillation of the worst of the English seaside.

Day Eight: Cala Coves to Cala en Turqueta – ¿Alguién quiere la bota?

In the shelter of Cala Coves it’s difficult to tell with any degree of accuracy if conditions are any calmer today. In truth the sea state looks much the same as yesterday afternoon but while this is a great spot, feelings are unanimous that we want to get on with it and not risk failing to complete the trip. Essentially we’ve three stages to complete in two days so it’s an early start, up and onto the water. It’s still quite rough but fortunately the wind has eased slightly. There’s still a degree of tension in the group with the faster paddlers feeling that they’re being held back. However, we’re making better progress than yesterday and after an hour or so of paddling we reach the end of the cliffs. In this last section of cliffs we must have passed hundreds of caves. Unfortunately it’s too rough to explore them, the flip side is that we’re not distracted from the mission!

At Son Bou the cliffs give way to beaches. In truth this is not the prettiest part of the Island, with a couple of high rise hotels satisfying the needs of a considerable number of tourists wanting the classic beach holiday. The beaches are studded with regimented lines of blue sunbeds, although they’re not in much use today as the weather is still fairly overcast and the red “no swimming” flags are flying.

Without the cliffs there are no reflected waves so the sea’s a lot calmer and we’re making swifter progress. After 6km or so of beaches the cliffs return and almost immediately the first cave. This is possibly the best yet, certainly the deepest, with the passage into the final, third chamber no more than two boats wide. Paddling back out it’s increasingly obvious that the wind’s picking up and we’re now breaking the law into a strong headwind. Progress is slowing dramatically. This is especially frustrating as we can see Cap d’Artrutx, the final corner before we swing back to the north, in the distance ahead.

We’re hugging the cliffs trying to keep out of the wind as much as possible but in reality, it’s a hard slog with brief respites in each cove. Suddenly, we’re onto yet more caves. The first stretches my descriptive powers. A tightish entrance into a cavern with a window to the right, then another low entrance into a further, smaller cavern and then a super-tight passage until it’s just too narrow to get any further. The climax though is yet to come. On a further fifty metres or so and then we turn back on ourselves into a narrow v-shaped cleft and the out at the far end of the cavern, into the light through a padder-shaped and sized hole. Stunning!

It’s raining now but despite this, the water in Cala Mitjana is still an amazing aquamarine blue. Another cave! This one is more than 250metres deep and pretty intimidating. The waves have set up a deep booming noise inside and the atmosphere is warm and musty. We turn the final cavern into a debating chamber. The forecast is indicating that the wind is likely to increase tomorrow. Do we press on tonight, possibly finishing in the dark, or risk it and finish tomorrow as planned? I’m for pressing on but the majority are pretty knackered so the noes have it.

Cala Macarella is just ‘round the corner and we pull in here around 4.30pm for a late lunch in the beachside restaurant. Morale picks up enormously after a few of bottles of wine! Under a watery sun we paddle (slowly) into Cala en Turqueta to camp for the night. This has an almost Caribbean feel to it. My Spanish friends enquire about paddling round the Isle of Wight. I’m not sure Yarmouth has quite the same ambiance.

Day Nine: Cala en Turqueta to Cala en Bosc – Es una putada

The original plan was to get up at 6.30am. The Tramontana is forecast for later in the day and we need to beat it as we’ve a flight booked for tonight back to Barcelona. At 3.30am the large tarpaulin under which we’re all bivvying is flapping like a loose sail. The wind comes through like a series of trains. You’re aware of a sound in the distance, gradually increasing in volume. It may be a cliché but then it hits like an express train and when it does, it’s much more sustained than a gust, lasting several minutes. This goes on for several hours and at 6.30am no-one stirs. We all know that an early start is now going to make no difference whatsoever.

When we do get afloat it’s a beautiful day. The light’s fantastic, really clear and the mountains over on Mallorca that we saw 9 days before, when we set off are once again a feature on the horizon. We’ve around 8km to do down to Cap d’Artrutx. On the way we’re reasonably well sheltered by the cliffs, the problem is likely to be when we swing north into the teeth of the wind. For now though the counterpoint of the orangey cliffs, blue water and golden light are a real treat. There are yet more caves including one converted into a boat house and the highlight of the trip in bird-watching terms with an Osprey landing on the water in front of us.

As we cross the final south coast bay of Cala en Bosc the skies start to cloud over. Under the lighthouse which guards Cap d’Artrutx we finally swing north and get a view of Ciutadella only 8km ahead. The waves though are huge and we’re finally exposed to the wind’s full strength which is ripping the tops off the substantial swell. Up ahead, I can see between us and our destination an even more confused section that we’ll need to cross. I realize that we’re not going to make it.

Toni though seems determined to demonstrate to the less experienced paddlers the inevitability of the decision and we’re still paddling hard. The lighthouse is now on our right. I’m keeping track of our progress, or rather lack of it. After 40 minutes paddling the lighthouse is still just off to our right. We’ve no option but to turn round and retreat to the nearest harbour.

After an exciting surf back past Cap d’Artrutx my thoughts turn back to our first day. Had the trip met my expectations? Well, in reality they’d been surpassed. I’d expected more beaches and if I’m honest some boring sections. This unquestionable was not the case, I remembered the great scenery, gorgeous cliffs, stunning coves, the miles of unspoilt and deserted coastline, the fantastically coloured and clear water.

I’m brought back to the present as we reach the small harbour of Cala en Bosc. The narrow entrance is marked by a “No kayaks” sign. We ignore it! Suddenly though, we’re back among the tourists and it seems slightly surreal as we land our kayaks for the final time. This time, to the theme song from Titanic blaring from one of the local bars. Even though we’d failed to complete the trip, with the obvious disappointment, we’d virtually done so, only missing out a few miles.

Would I recommend a paddle around Menorca? Absolutely, this ranks as one of my most enjoyable sea trips ever.

For details of paddling trips on the Costa Brava contact Toni-Albert Puig Serra at Kayaking Costa Brava, C/ Enric Serra 42, 17130 L’Escala. Web: http://www.kayakingcb.com/ Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A mis amigos nuevos de Cataluña, Segovia y Cantabria, muchas gracias por vuestra compañía y amistad. Hasta pronto.

Phil Quill - 2006


(First published in Paddles Magazine)