After a week of rest and recovery in Almerimar, we had done some minor repairs, provisioning and acquired four
garden chair cockpit cushions. It was time to move on. We did so with a longish 66 mile leg of mostly pleasant downwind sailing past Cabo Gata (Cape Cat) to Garrucha.
Upon pulling into Garrucha harbour, there was no response on the VHF. The old marina looked full, except for a fuel pontoon exposed to swell, covered with old tyres. Had a look around and decided the new marina in the rear looked better, the pontoons would offer some shelter from swell. Another cruiser helped us with lines and suggested we berth on the leeward side of a pontoon, saying he had already moved his boat around as the windward side was uncomfortable. No wonder, the harbour seemed to be missing a breakwater on the side the wind was coming from. We moored alongside, with long lines fore and aft and snubbers on shorter lines holding us on the pontoon. No staff appeared and we had to climb around the security gates to get in and out. The little office cabin was shut and we never got any access to facilities, if there were any.
The security gates, along with absolutely everything else in the harbour was covered in thick white dust from the nearby loading docks, where an endless procession of trucks fed big yellow conveyor belts which loaded about half the gypsum delivered onto a docked cargo ship - the other half seemed to be blowing all over the place and covering everything, including our boat.
We spent two nights here waiting for wind but only paid for one when a disinterested staff member eventually appeared in the little office box. Seemed only fair, given the lack of facilities and staff, the missing breakwater and the boat being covered in white powder. We would definitely advise to avoid Garrucha. It may seem like a convenient stopping point, but the harbour is just terrible for yachts.
The next stop looked more promising. We had heard good things about Cartagena, a popular wintering spot amongst liveaboard cruisers. We set off from Garrucha in light airs, which picked up to 12-17 knots downwind, which made for some nice sailing with the poled out Genoa. We ran a bit out of wind before getting there, so ended up motorsailing around Cabo Tinosa where we spotted a viable anchorage just outside Cartagena - Cala Salitron. We stopped there for the night, anchoring in a sandy bottom and swimming in beautiful clear water, only slightly infested with jellyfish.
We like doing this - anchoring for the night near a marina we plan to go into, then heading in there early the next day so we get the most time out of the very expensive berth, instead of arriving tired in the evening after a long sail. So in the morning we picked up anchor and motored the nearly 10 miles across the bay into the huge harbour to dock at Yacht Port Cartagena.
Cartagena had a lot to offer. The marina is in town, walking out and across a pedestrian crossing gets you to the main road with shops, restaurants, hardware stores and supermarkets. There's the excellent museum of underwater archeology right in the harbour, and many other museums and sites to visit. History is everywhere, there's great views, and the town is pulling it all off without being overwhelming.
We went up the castle to enjoy the views, visited a few museums, discovered that frozen yoghurt can be tasty and stepped over people laying around the road pretending to be dead during an environmental protest.
The marina was pretty good too. All facilities and the office were in portacabins. There even was a cabin with a boaters book swap and freebie bin. The only downside was the occasional big ugly cruise ship docking sideways on the wall in front of the marina, replacing the view of the sea with floating balconies. Shelter in the marina was good, swell not too bad despite the wind picking up and funnelling into the bay almost every afternoon.
We liked Cartagena a lot, and would've happily spent a winter here - but it was only spring and we were planning to go much further yet.