Sailing the Costa Brava, Spain: Barcelona to Cadaques

Rafael, visiting Spain from Argentina, has three objectives; brush up on his sailing skills, sail from Barcelona to Cadaques, and watch as many World Cup matches as possible along the way.

Barcelona to Cadaques

Majestic buildings guard the Port of Barcelona

We chartered a sweet 32.3 Beneteau, named “Serendipity”. She has ample room for us with a large berth aft and a queen V-berth. The small galley has all we need.  A small fridge to keep our wine cold plus room for some lunch fixings and a small stove to make coffee in the mornings. We aren’t planning a lot of on board dining. We’ll eat lunches while sailing and then go out to enjoy the local food with World Cup soccer games to watch each night. The salon area is roomy – a good place as it turned out for naps on the long, lazy tacks.

The skies are a bit grey on our arrival. With two weeks to make the approximate 80 miles to Cadaques and return to Barcelona, we don’t need to rush. Rafael is willing to do long sailing days so we decided on a short ‘shake-down’ cruise out of Port Vell for our first day. Port Vell is in the heart of old Barcelona.

Barcelona to Cadaques

Sailing out of Port Vell, Barcelona

We have a permanent berth for Serendipity so it’s no additional cost to stay an extra day in port. We ease out of the berth into the fairway. It’s a good afternoon for getting to know Serendipity and to start Rafael renewing his sailing skills. There’s about 8 kn of wind and calm seas with grey skies that do not threaten rain.

Sailing along the Barcelonetta beaches, Rafael familiarizes by doing a series of tacks and jibes. The self-tailing winches are new to him and the added convenience is appreciated.

Barcelona to Cadaques, Costa brava, Spain Sailing

Itinerary: Barcelona to Cadaques, Costa Brava and Return

We discuss safety gear, MoB, VHF and reefing procedures. Rafael is keen on everything; it’s clear he has a solid sailing base that just needs dusting off. We’re both looking forward to two fine sailing weeks and good company. The outstanding food and wine will only help! He also knows a lot more of the ‘football’ rules than I do so he can also do some teaching!

Back into our berth, we stroll out to find a local cafe that is showing the 8 PM game: Germany vs. Australia. In nearby Placa de la Barcelonetta we find a great little spot, Can Ganasa, for mussels marinara and gambas al alliho – and a big screen TV!

The VHF on ch. 10 gives us the weather forecast – a chance for rain the following morning. We decide to sleep in and start out about 9 AM. It’s a bit grey but clears as we point Serendipity’s bow north. A steady wind of 12-15 kn blows from the SE, waves at 2-3 ft, we’re ready for a long sail after tuning some rigging.

A beautiful sailing day develops and we sail 4 hrs on a broad reach to Arenys de Mar.
With all fenders out, we squeeze a stern-to med mooring between two larger sloops, tie her off and pay the €39 for the berth.

Feeling good after out first day sail, we stroll to the main street of the small town and find one of our best value meals of the trip. The ‘menu del dia’ plus cava sangria for €14. Rafael’s pollo was huge! only a small screen screen TV but the meal was worth the visit!

We start out at 9:30am after using the marina’s clean and comfortable showers. The wind is SSE and increases over the morning to 10-12 kn. We take advantage of the perfect conditions; sun with cool wind on a broad reach and lunch while sailing. Rafael is looking for a long day so we sail on for 8.5 hrs making almost 50 miles by 6:30 pm while doing only three jibes. At some points we were surfing down the following seas hitting 8.5 kn of speed – not bad for an 10m yacht!

Costa Brava, Spain Sailing

Las Islas Medes off Estartit

As we’re approaching Estartit, the wind kicks up to 20 kn so we heave-to to put in a reef. At the spacious marina we med-moor, this time bow-in to the jetty. After relaxing in Serendipity’s cockpit, we walk into the small town. We enjoy another  fine ‘menu del dia’: tortilla, pork fillet & veg followed by good ice cream while watching Uruguay beat S. Africa. With quite good shower facilities and a berth cost of €27, Estartit gets two thumbs up.

Sailing Costa Brava, Spain

Entering Cadaques Harbor

Cadaques is only about 15 miles so we take a late morning start. Across the Gulf of Roses the wind becomes shifty. First it’s 10-12 kn and we’re cruising, then it’s 15-20 gusting so we reef, then as we round Point Falconera it drops a bit and we shake out the reef for the final leg into Cadaques. Contacting a local harbor company by VHF, a zephyr quickly arrives to direct us to a mooring ball. Juan Carlos is very helpful. Though part of the service is ferrying in to shore until 7 pm, we opt for inflating our dinghy. A mooring in Cadaques for €30 is a pretty good deal.

Wandering up a winding village street looking for a restaurant, Rafael engages two guys sitting in front of the Bodega Restaurant. One is the owner and he invites us in saying he has a TV.

Costa Brava Sailing, Spain

Traditional ‘Llatina’ Fishing Boats

It’s a giant projection screen! We watch Mexico beat France while the staff brings anchovies & cheese, gambas a la plancha and sardines. A nice light red tops it off. Not the ‘menu del dia’!

Taking advantage of the excellent progress due to the long, perfect sailing days, we stay in Cadaques for the day. After a pasta lunch on shore, I suggested Rafael walk the short distance to Port Lligat to visit Salvador Dali’s house; now a museum.

We agree to meet at the Casino for a late dinner and the game. Traditional Spanish villages often had a meeting spot where formerly, men would go to play cards – the casino. Now all are welcome and it has the best values in town. England fans are upset at the draw with Algeria.

Deciding on another day in the Cadaques area we sail around Cap de Creus to Cala Culip; a small, pretty bay. Only one other vessel is there so we anchor to enjoy an afternoon of sun and swimming. Then, back to Cadaques harbor. It’s quite pretty in the fading light with local  Llatina sailboats pulled to shore or bobbing on their mooring balls.

We have plenty of time for our southerly return so depart mid morning. The SE wind steadily picks upto 10-12 kn and we sail close hauled for several hours. By 3 pm, some clouds are forming so we look closely at Sa Riera but decide to tack into Sa Tuna. We grab a ball as some light rain come down. There’s some swell coming in from the east so when the rain stops, we drop the ball and head south for a more protected port. There’s many small harbors along this stretch so we take a look at Fornells and Aigua Blava, both small, pretty but exposed harbors before deciding on Llafranc.

Costa Brava Sailing, Spain

Lafranc Bay and Beach

It looked full. The attendant at the fuel dock office told us we could berth alongside his dock… for €62!With the wind picking up, clouds thickening and covering 25 miles southfrom Cadaques; we take the berth as the rain stops.

Exploring the attractive village of Llafranc we decide we’vemade a great overnight stop. The restaurant Can Leon is noted as “having the best arroz” in the area, the cafe La Galeta across the street from the marina has a good screen for viewing the games, the beach is wide and sandy, there’s a line of open air cafes on the beachfront (one with outstanding pizza), and we’re a short seaview stroll from another pretty village. The Tramontana wind picks up overnight so we cannot depart the following morning. The Harbormaster allows us to stay berthed for no additional cost because: “No one can come in to fuel, the wind is bad for both of us”.

Calella de Palafrugell, Costa Brava Sailing, Spain

Calella de Parafrugell

The Tramontana is a north wind swooping down from the Pyrenees. By the next day it was up to 35 kn with 6-8 ft waves. But on the beach and in Llafranc it was calm because the low lying hills protect the village. We took advantage of this to enjoy the beach and take a walk along a well-marked cliff-path to nearby Calella de Parafrugell for a late lunch. C. de P. is a beautiful village with three arching beaches, lots of little cafes and an excellent hotel, Sant Roc, where I stayed on my first visit a few years before.

We have an outstanding paella at Can Leon that evening and retire to La Galeta for the game. Over drinks we meet the convivial owner who also owns the Hotel Llafranc. He’s a ‘yachtsman’ so we exchange tall tales of sailing.

The weather the following morning is improving. The Harbormaster tells us the passage between the islands Las Hormigas and the coast is safe so we head south.

The wind is still up to 20+ kn as we run under a reefed main and half the jib out at 8 kn of speed with following rollers past Las Hormigas. After a couple of hours, the wind has dropped to 15 kn so we let out the sails and cruise at 6 kn to Tossa del Mar. As we follow the coast along its westerly curve, the north wind is now over our shoulder so we comfortably continue on a broad reach passing the mouth of the Rio Tordera to Port Balis. The wind drops a bit to the point where we motor-sail for the last few miles.

What had started as a blustery day had turned into perfect sailing conditions. Rafael was keen to sail so we put in over 8 hours covering about 40 miles. At Balis, we are directed to berth alongside the extended fuel dock for €25 so tie up, connect the power and hit the nearby showers before strolling into town to find a cafe with some locals enjoying gambas and beers.

Rafael warns me not to cheer for Honduras with all these Spain supporters around us. I tell him I’m for Spain, anyway, and join in the cheering. One of the larger local dudes offers me some of his shrimp. Everyone is happy; Spain – 2, Honduras – 0; free shrimp and a nice evening walk back to Serendipity.

Balis Marina facilities are complete: showers, pool, beach, tennis, restaurants, etc. But, the town is not as pretty as the little villages further north so Rafael and I agree Balis will not be on our ‘best overnights’ list at the end of the trip. Cadaques, Llafranc and Barcelona are at the top!

We still have several days left on our charter and less than a day of sailing to reach Port Vell, Barcelona. It’s a great looking day so we set out mid morning. The wind has shifted back to the SE starting a 5-6 kn and reaching 10 kn by midday.

We scan the beaches as we sail south to see if there’s one we want to anchor off for lunch. Masnou looks like an interesting town but the sailing is good so we lazily continue south reaching Port Vell at 3 pm after about 19 miles of sailing.

Sailing along the Costa Brava, Spain

Tossa del Mar. Midway between Barcelona and Cadaques

Backing down the fairway to our slip, we put Serendipity smoothly into her berth and relax in her cockpit with white wine and Manchego cheese.

Later we go for a walk along Las Ramblas enjoying the sights on this broad avenue that attracts just about everyone who visits Barcelona. Next, to Placa de Catalunya and a visit to Decathalon where Rafael finds some sailing gear. It’s back to our favorite little cafe, Can Ganasa for Argentina vs Greece and balacoa , a white fish lightly fried in wine and frioles in oil with garlic and crisp white wine.

Our final day is spent on the nearby Barcelonetta Beach, a short walk down Passeig Joan de Borbi to the sea.

The US is playing Algeria and needs a win to stay in the Cup. At a small cafe along the Borbi we’re surrounded by friendly Algerians. In the cosmopolitan setting of Barcelona, there’s less concern about team favoritism so we all cheer for our teams. The US scores to break the tie at 80 minutes and holds on to win. The Algerians are disappointed but not angry. All is well in beautiful Barcelona.