During our April stay in Port d’Andratx, we frequently walked through the ‘Club de Vela‘ marina and noticed numerous boats available for hire, ranging from fairly large motorboats down to small dinghies and ribs.
The sight of the bright, golden sun sparkling on the clear blue Mediterranean waters of Port d’Andratx each day made this an extremely attractive idea – as did the promise of the nearby ‘Dragonera’ island, which is an uninhabited rocky island on the south-west coast of Mallorca renowned for its array of nature including, apparently, regular dolphin sightings.
Port d’Andratx Boat Hire Options
We investigated several of the boat hire options around the marina, which seemed to range from informal one-man-band operations to more substantial businesses (for instance Smart Boats, which seem to be the most prominent and formal operator around the port and had a proper sales office in the town).
We got costs from a few of the smaller operators as well as the larger ones, to hire a small boat or rib for half a day. Prices varied and the smaller businesses seemed willing to negotiate, particularly as it was the off-season and none were particularly busy.
We needed a boat that was big enough to fit the six of us and eventually settled on this small rib operated by a sole trader who Emma, our six-year-old, affectionately referred to as “the scruffy man”.
I got the impression, as we spoke to a few of the different operators around the marina, that they all had varying rules and standards relating to how experienced and qualified you needed to be to hire their boats.
Most of them made mentions of needing a “license” to hire boats of a certain size but a few of the smaller operators seemed less bothered about this requirement to me.
None of them were particularly clear what type of ‘license’ was needed. As it happens though, I do have an RYA powerboat qualification (the nearest thing to what might be considered “a license” in the boating world in the UK) and I managed to phone home to my mum, who was dog-sitting for us, and asked her to dig my license out of a drawer and text me a photograph of it.
– “I was (pleasantly) surprised overall at the apparent ease with which we were able to hire this boat”
When it came to it though, the guy seemed uninterested in seeing this license and didn’t even ask me to show it to him. Indeed I was (pleasantly) surprised overall at the apparent ease with which we were able to hire this boat – just by filling in a short form with my UK contact details – and handing over my (car) driving license for him to hold on to as a deposit to ensure I didn’t steal his boat.
I feel perhaps the larger boat hire operators around Port D’andratx may be a bit more rigorous but, particularly in the off-season when things were quiet, the smaller ones seemed a bit less bothered about who we were and what we planned to do with the boat.
After handing over the cash and signing the booking form, we were given a very brief (perhaps two minutes) set of instructions in broken English (basically how to go forward, backwards and how to turn the engine on and off) and that was it, we were off!
This kind of thing is something that kind of appeals to me about going abroad – the way you often come across a far more relaxed attitude towards health & safety and rules and regulations in general.
I wondered what would be involved in hiring a boat like this in the UK and can imagine endless forms, ID checks, safety briefings, rules about what we could do with it and where we could go… But here, we basically just gave this chap €150, filled in one short form and that was it, the boat was ours to go where we wanted – no further questions asked!
We decided to head out of the marina and off to ‘Dragonera’ to see if we could find somewhere to beach the boat, have lunch and look for dolphins and go swimming. We had no way of navigating other than a vague knowledge we needed to “turn right” once we got out of the port.
We find something really magical about being out on the water, particularly on days like this and we were all full of excitement as we cruised out of the harbour towards the open sea of the Med, the sun glistening on the bright blue water, the cooling sea breeze in our faces – and Emma and Luke already scanning the horizon for any signs of the much promised (in all the boat hire leaflets) but elusive dolphins.
– “Suddenly that earlier lack of health and safety that I had previously been so pleased about came back to mind much less favourably!”
I was looking forward to escaping the confines of the harbour and discovering what kind of speed you could get out of this neat little rib that appeared to have a pretty decent sized engine on it.
Things took a slight turn though as we rounded the harbour wall out in to the open waters of the Med, soon to discover the water getting somewhat rougher than we’d bargained for.
The waves were high enough to form significant white crests and instantly started throwing the boat all over the place. The hopes of opening up the throttle and speeding off to a secluded beach quickly disappeared and I had to slow it right down to a crawl to avoid us all being thrown overboard!
I believe the Med is known for often getting pretty choppy and suddenly that earlier lack of health and safety that I had previously been so pleased about came back to mind much less favourably! (All these photos incidentally are from the calmer harbour area: getting the camera out and taking photos wasn’t top of my list once the waves had picked up!)
I realised as we were tossed around by the ever-increasing waves, struggling to keep the boat on course for our destination – and with Emma (our youngest, aged 6) on the verge of crying despite Bev’s best attempts to make it appear like a fun rollercoaster ride, that perhaps the UK’s obsession with regulation and safety rules aren’t quite such a bad thing after all!
We used to own a boat and I’m a trained motorboat skipper (albeit several years ago now) so I had the advantage of knowing how to handle these conditions; I had experience of them before – and also knew that a boat of this nature can withstand way worse conditions than these so, although it made me feel a bit nervous, I wasn’t overly worried.
However, I was also aware that we had zero navigation equipment, no real idea where we were going, no idea where we actually were, no VHF radio and no idea how to summon help if we needed it. Furthermore, no-one (either at home or in Mallorca) knew where we were or when we were expected back.
If one of these waves flipped the boat or tossed one or more of the kids overboard, we were completely on our own. I was nervous, despite attempting to play it cool for the sake of the increasingly concerned-looking children.
– “We go abroad on holiday and travelling for new experiences, to take risks and to teach the children about the joys of being adventurous”
I could also tell we had the wind and the tide in our favour and turning around and going back would’ve been far worse, so we pressed slowly and carefully on towards our destination.
A big part of me likes finding ourselves in situations like this. We go abroad on holiday and travelling for new experiences, to take risks and to teach the children about the joys of being adventurous and trying things that aren’t necessarily always 100% safe and secure.
On the one hand, we deliberately seek out experiences like this – and try to tread the right side of the line in terms of excitement, adventure and a sensible level of risk while not putting ourselves or the kids in genuine danger.
But that can be a difficult and blurry line sometimes – and I started to worry, as we ploughed on through the swell to our intended destination, that we might be a bit too close to that line for comfort!
Having said that though, I was very confident in the ability of the boat and my own boat handling to be able to deal with it, so we carried on in the hope of calmer waters ahead.
If you’re not an experienced boater, proceed with caution
But the hire operator (AKA Scruffy Man) would’ve hired this boat to someone who had never even been on a boat before in their lives – and we could just as easily have been a family in these conditions without any experience or boating knowledge at all.
For someone like that, I would’ve been genuinely scared – and surprised at the ease with which they could’ve found themselves very quickly out of their depth (in more ways than one!) and in real potential danger.
Anyway, as we got used to the rougher than expected sea conditions, we approached Dragonera to find the waves smashing hard against the rocky shores and quickly realised that getting ashore – or even getting close to the island – was off the cards, so we diverted to the nearby beach at the town of Sant Elm.
Here the water was calm and crystal clear and we were able to put the anchor down and sit serenely in the sun eating our lunch and enjoying the dramatic scenery and glorious weather.
– “As soon as we entered the harbour we felt a whole lot safer all around.”
I was still conscious of the choppy waters back out at sea though, so we didn’t stick around for long, abandoning our plans to swim ashore and spend the afternoon on the beach, instead heading slowly back through the increasingly turbulent waves to the calm safety of Port d’Andratx harbour.
As soon as we entered the harbour, the waters were dead calm (as you can see in the photos), the wind dropped, there were lots of other boats around and we felt a whole lot safer all around.
We pulled up to a harbour wall so a few of us could get off for a rest and then spent an hour or so playing around with the boat in the flat waters of the harbour, speeding around and making the most of the rest of the time we had left before having to return to the marina.
Overall, despite the worryingly rough sea, we had a great day and it was €150 well spent. We were left with some great memories we might not otherwise have had if we’d just done another day on the beach or sat by the pool.
On a day when the sea isn’t quite so rough, it would’ve been incredible – I could just picture us speeding around, exploring all the hidden coves and beaches nestled in the cliffs, anchoring up, jumping in to the clear blue waters… Unfortunately we couldn’t get close enough to the wave-lashed shoreline this time around, so it wasn’t quite so relaxing as it could’ve been on a calmer day.
If you do hire a boat in Port d’Andratx (or anywhere else in Mallorca for that matter), I’d strongly recommend not to take the flat, inviting waters of the harbour for granted and prepare yourself for the open sea to potentially be much rougher.
Hire a reliable, sturdy rib and make sure you have a plan of what to do in the unlikely event you get in to any trouble – and ensure someone somewhere knows where you’re going and when to expect you back. Other than just being aware of the normal hazards of the sea, if the conditions are good, you and the family are bound to have an amazing day!