Not as billed.

The bridge opens just for us.

8th April 2021

Cartagena, Spain – Cavannes, Mar Menor, Spain via Esparto, Playa Pariso, Isla Perdiguera, & Playa Honda, Mar Menor, Spain

The Mar Menor, Spain’s inland sea, is famed in sailing circles as a putrid piece of water, full of jellyfish, brimming with effluent from an overactive tourist industry and all framed by hastily built hotels that fill the night sky with light pollution and fill theme bars with punters. We were then blessed by Covid and everything changed, or so we hoped.

Leaving the history, art and culture of Cartagena behind we watched Satori head offshore to the Balearics while we took a short hop around the corner to spend a night waiting for the bridge at the Mar Menor. As the anchor set in sand we watched in horror as JCB’s cleared the weed from the beach putting it into huge stinking piles where it was slowly rotting and seemed to drive any possible trade away from the parade of shops it was dumped Infront of. Was this a taste of things to come?

Next morning with the sun rising over a pancake flat Mediterranean, we made for the bridge, hoping that Fiona was right and that our pilot book, the internet and other cruisers were all wrong. As expected, Fiona was proved perfectly right as the traffic stopped, the bridge lifted and like Moses parting the red sea, our route was opened.

This inland sea was everything we hoped it would be and nothing like what we had heard. On the perfectly flat water we slipped across to an island of possibilities where we watched the anchor disappear through the clear water into a world of weed and we sat alone, quiet and amazed that that the billing on this place was so wrong. The inside was a stark contrast to that of the outside.

The island we’d anchored behind looked full of promise and it didn’t disappoint. Brock came to a stop on a little sandy beach and we were free to explore the ruins that were scattered over the hillside, but the local inhabitants had different ideas. Gulls covered every surface and as we trod through the undergrowth, they became increasingly protective turning the sky dark with their silhouettes and deafening us with their protective calls.

As we retreated to the base of the hill it was as if the gulls were guiding us towards something, and that something was a labyrinth of tunnels. If we couldn’t explore above land, we’d explore below.

Venturing into the impenetrable darkness all signs of the bright sun was soon extinguished as we rounded bend after bend which ended in a cavern with flat walls, a high ceiling and an eerie feeling. Scurrying out we were pleased that we’d not befallen the fate of Hansel and Gretel as our markers were intact showing us our way to safety and away from the witches of the dark.   

This inland lake proved to be a joy for sailing and we turned over a new leaf by actually sailing upwind, just for the fun of it. We sailed to the north, to the south and around islands. The water was flat smooth without a single wave splashing on the deck and the seabed was just as smooth.

You’d think that sitting at anchor in no wind, with no swell and no company would be a stress-free affair, but Iain was about to suffer some extreme stress. He was going to take his new drone for its first flight straight from the boat, there was no safety net and no ‘return to home’ function. This could either end with some great footage or a little splash and a very upset Iain.

The blades whirred into life and the drone was bussing around like a fly. All those years spent playing Goldeneye and Quake2 were proving their worth. Iain was feeling victorious and confident in his abilities, he then saw a red battery light, quickly followed by a ‘Signal Lost: Returning to Home’ warning flashed up – and panic set in! Stumbling around the deck like a drunk sailor watching disaster unfold in plain sight he pointed the controller and hoped. Just before splashdown he got a connection, flew the drone home, safely landed it on deck, and waited an age for the shaking hands to subside and the adrenalin disappear.    

All the fun was not just water borne. The hills of the south were accessible and all that stood between us and them were a few miles of dull roads, a highway without pavements and psycho drivers who were blind to pedestrians. Finally setting foot on the hills the miles flew by with pretty bays opening up below us, raw geology above us, all while the sun shone the sea glistened.

To complete the circle, we once again had to head away from the hills and we were treated to similar delights as the trip out. Derelict mines owned the hilly landscape and as we entered the arable flatlands the entire horizon was taken over by crops covered in plastic. All this plastic made us think how pathetic our giving up drinking straws and opting for reusable carrier bags really is, if you buy strawberries unseasonably early from Spain they will have been grown under aces of plastic sheeting.

With the weather changing we counted our lucky stars that we were in the quiet flat clear water haven of the Mar Menor and resigned ourselves to being boat bound. While the seas outside would turn into a maelstrom of foam and shoreline into walls of breaking waves we’d have shelter, safety and time for yet more Ruffian jobs.

The Mar Menor far exceeded what was sold to us, and is something that we’d happily buy again and again.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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