Thursday, October 19, 2006

Minorca Sailing - 25 Years Later

On the last day of our vacation in Menorca, Tillerwoman and I had lunch in the Ses Salines restaurant near our hotel. As we enjoyed our grilled scallops washed down with a bottle of Mallorcan wine we had a superb view of Fornells Bay where Minorca Sailing operates its sailing holidays. There were few clients out sailing at lunch time, especially as most of us were leaving that afternoon. But there were several instructors on the bay playing with some of the more advanced boats.

Even after two weeks in this idyllic spot, Tillerwoman and I still couldn't quite yet believe that so little had changed in the twenty five years since we first came here. Our vacation was nearly over and we both had warm memories of our experiences of the previous two weeks. She had hiked and painted and knitted and lazed by the pool. I had sailed and sailed and sailed and sailed. I had tried to improve some old skills and learned a few new ones. I had sailed in group lessons, and done a lot of racing, and also just cruised around the bay soaking up the vibes of this special place.

When we decided to revisit Minorca Sailing after such a long absence we were almost prepared to be disappointed. Nothing ever stays the same for twenty five years surely? We didn't know what to expect. Would the environment be spoiled in some way? Over commercialized? Would Minorca Sailing have lost the magic formula that had hooked me on sailing a quarter of a century ago? No - nothing much had changed. And what had changed was only for the better.

We were reassured to some extent the night we arrived in Minorca. At the welcome party for the new guests I was pleasantly surprised to see that the same guys were running the place. Bob Jelfs, the owner of the company, was on hand to welcome us all. And Tim (last name unknown to me) who was the head instructor in the early 80s was still there as the sailing centre manager. We all looked a bit older but I think they had worn better than me.

I greeted Tim like a long-lost friend and told him a story about the "day you almost killed me". It was a scary windy day on our 1981 trip and all sailing was cancelled except for "joy rides" with instructors. Tim took me and some other beginner out for a blast in a 470. Somewhere on the other side of the bay we capsized and I ended up underneath the turtled hull, trapped there with the tiller through the strap of my buoyancy aid. Moment of panic until I realized that there was air inside the hull and I wasn't going to drown immediately. Tim surfaced outside the hull, counted heads in the water and concluded he was one short. He dived under the hull, found me trapped there and was about to cut me free with a knife when somehow I managed to free myself. Surprisingly Tim remembered the incident. I guess sailing instructors do remember the day they thought, if only for a second, that they might have drowned a client.

As the holiday progressed I began to appreciate what Bob and Tim's continuity of leadership had achieved. The boats may have changed; there may be more clients now; but the spirit of the place is the same. A safe sailing environment where the guests are offered a huge range of options. Something for everyone from total beginners to aggressive racers. Casual fun atmosphere with professional help and instruction if you want it, but with plenty of freedom and flexibility to do what ever turns you on.

Adding to the feeling of being in a time warp was that Fornells Bay itself has hardly changed since our first visit in the early 80s. Yes, the village of Fornells has expanded a little but the new buildings are in the local style and blend well into the landscape. The hamlet of Ses Salines where Minorca Sailing is based now has two restaurants instead of one, better roads, but is otherwise much the same. Walking into Hotel Port Fornells it was like coming home; same family running the place; same friendly service and laid back atmosphere. And best of all there is that scenic unspoiled bay with the islands in the middle; the wild, deserted eastern shore; the sheltered sailing waters with hardly any boat traffic apart from fellow sailors; still breathtakingly beautiful just as we remembered it.

We finished our scallops and our wine, went back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and headed off to the airport and the trip home. But we will back.

Next post - what has changed at Minorca Sailing...


Carol Anne said...

Shhhh ... don't let the word get out, at least until Pat and I get a chance to go there. Sounds like a wonderful place to do sailing, and something we might try if we happen to be in the area around the time of some old sailboat race we've heard of that's in the area this time around.

Anonymous said...

Your post is inspiring. As I grind away at work today, I am sure I will be thinking, "Why don't I do something I absolutely love, every day? And I'll age more gently too! Keep up the great writing. -Orion

Anonymous said...

Welcome back tillerman, glad to hear that the trip went to plan.
Did you stick to sailing a standard Laser or try out any of the many others available? Were the boats and sails/equipment in good condition with all the optional extras available? Did you have varying wind conditions? did you get caught out by the sun and get burnt? Bet it was fun whatever though.

Anonymous said...

Tilly old man, let's see some pics....please with scallops on top.

sidenote: The Sabre is not an old man's laser....even though it has a cup holder.

Welcome back!

Tillerman said...

Carol Anne _ i think a trip to Spain to take in the America's Cup in Valencia and a week or two at Minorca Sailing would be a great idea.

orion - thanks for the kind words.

the blonde - I did sail other boats, more details coming soon. Yes the equipment was in excellent condition. What optional extras do you mean? (None of the boats had cupholders.) Thanks to No-Ad SPF30 the sun wasn't a problem.

Joe - I may post some pics later. But no scallops or cupholders.

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