Over the past four months we have stayed in our fair share of marinas, as we’ve travelled through the west of England, Brittany, Galicia and all of the Portuguese coast. Some marinas were expensive (Muros €35 per night for our 11 metre yacht), some extremely cheap (Camariñas €16 per night). Some had wonderful facilities (Muros), some more limited (Camariñas). In every marina we have been to, staff have been friendly and helpful. Staff at Peniche showed unexpected generosity; a member of staff at Doca de Alcantara, near Lisbon, generously loaned us his own electricity connector, when ours didn’t match the fitting; and at Albufeira staff listened when we complained that the services offered didn’t match those advertised in the 2014 nautical almanac, and they gave us a night for free. Though every marina is different, each with its own quirks and curiosities, they all cater to the particular needs of sailors. They understand that in order to catch the best winds or currents, tidal heights or tidal streams, we often arrive late or depart early. And though many have limited office hours, every marina we have been to makes provision for the strange hours kept by sailors.
Here’s what typically happens. As you arrive at the entrance to the marina you radio or telephone the marina office. Whether someone answers depends on how well staffed the marina is, and the time of day. If you get an answer, you are directed to a particular pontoon; if you don’t get an answer, you find a pontoon suitable to your size boat. If it is during office hours, a member of staff will meet you (and maybe help with ropes), and will ask you to bring your passports and the ships papers to the office in order to check in. Appreciating that a crew might just have crossed the Atlantic, or sailed overnight, or be tired or hungry, you are told to take your time and come to the office at your own convenience. Increasingly, as we have travelled south, we have encountered reception pontoons. Rather than contact the marina in advance, you come alongside the reception pontoon and await further instruction. The reception pontoons we encountered in Portugal had electricity and water, so an after-hours arrival still ensures the full comforts of the marina.
All well so far. Until we arrived in Andalucia, that is, where we have stayed in three Puerto de Andalucia marinas. These government-run marinas at Magazon, Puerto America in Cadiz, and Barbate, are expensive, soulless places, where sailors are treated like some great inconvenience. All three look the same, with identical grey concrete-box office buildings and shower blocks. To give them their due, they have laundry facilities, something we have found lacking in many marinas along the way. But that is where our praise of them ends.
Though they are still charging summer prices in late September (€27 per night for us), they have reverted to winter office hours. Though the marinas are half empty, the staff are inflexible, and the particular needs of sailors are not catered to. They answer neither the radio nor telephone when called during office hours, and each one follows the same inflexible procedures.
Upon arrival you are directed to a reception pontoon. These have neither water nor electricity. You must IMMEDIATELY present your passports and ships’ papers to a member of staff whose day you appear to have completely ruined by showing up at their otherwise empty marina. Drawing any information out of these people is like drawing blood from a stone. Rather than advising me of facilities, I had to ask ‘Where are the showers?’, ‘Do you have Wifi?’ (the answer is absolutely NO), ‘Where are the laundry facilities?’.
In Cadiz, the reception pontoon was 10 metres away from the pontoon to which we were directed once we had checked in. The staff member watched us come in starboard to on the reception pontoon, but now had us switch our fenders and ropes to come in port to, under his very exasperated and impatient eye, as he stood on the pontoon waiting to take our ropes. He could so easily have sent us to this pontoon in the first place (rather than the reception pontoon) or sent us two berths down so we could come on starboard to. In Barbate, we arrived to discover the police boat taking up the entire reception pontoon. We berthed at the nearest pontoon we could find, only to discover that access to the land from that pontoon was blocked. We then went to another pontoon, one that we thought would be suitable for us, but when Julian went up to the office with our papers, we were told to move to a different berth, about five spaces down, as the pontoon we had gone on was apparently for larger boats. The marina was, however, more than half empty.
At each one we had to pay a €15 deposit for each key card to enter the marina buildings and access the pontoons. This is not unusual. But at Cadiz we also had to pay a €50 deposit for an electricity connector cable as the marina only had large fittings, even for small boats like ours. A €50 deposit in order to access the electricity we are paying for and a €30 deposit for two key cards to access the facilities we are paying for. And these deposits can only be paid for in cash! So, for the whole time we’ve been in Andalucia, the marinas have been holding €30 or €80 of our money, while we’re left with a 2km walk into the nearest town we’ve just arrived to, in order to find a cash machine.
At Mazagon I had to beg to be allowed to have a shower at 7.30am, and was told that the showers didn’t open until 8am. We were leaving at 8am, and I wanted a shower. I begged and pleaded in my poor Spanish and finally was told I would be allowed to have a quick shower! It’s not like it was some strange hour of the day – 7.30am is a pretty normal time of day for people to shower, isn’t it?
Departing these miserable places is no less awful. With their limited winter opening hours, actually being able to pay for our stay and get our deposits back has been a trial. With offices closed between 4pm and 10am, in order to make an early morning start, we would have to settle up the evening before, thus leaving us without electricity or access to the facilities, but yet having to pay €27 per night for the privilege.
All in all, we have had miserable service from these marinas for the privilege of tying up to pieces of wood with more than half the spaces around us empty. We would anchor or go elsewhere if we could, but along this stretch of the Andalucian coast there are few other choices. We are glad to be leaving these marinas behind.