Cruising Europe on a 40ft boat: Bavaria owners share their Holland to Ibiza adventure

Bavaria E40 owners Sander and Sophia Daniels cruise with their young family from the Netherlands to Mallorca via the infamous Bay of Biscay in search of better climes...

After buying the actual Bavaria E40 Fly that MBY tested in July 2017 it seemed only apt to write about our experiences of owning it in the same magazine (March 2018). But our first big test was yet to come as just a few months later we would embark on an epic 5,000nm cruise from Holland to Ibiza and back.

My wife and I had originally planned a two-year trip sailing around the world back in 2013 but didn’t dare leave our jobs right in the midst of the economic downturn. So after buying the Bavaria E40, I decided to take 12 weeks off the following summer so that we could spend some proper time together as a family on our new boat.

Not for one minute have we ever regretted that decision; the best memories are made when you push the boundaries and create new shared experiences together. I can safely say we did all that and more.


Enjoying a well-earned dinner in Camaret Sur Mer

Scheveningen to Brest

Despite six months of thorough preparation, we had only a vague idea of what a 5,000nm sea journey would actually be like, especially in a relatively slow boat such as ours. Our very first leg from Scheveningen (NL) to Brest was a passage of no less than 460nm and at a steady seven-knots, my wife and I completed the journey in 65 hours non-stop!

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We divided the three-hour shifts of helming and sleeping between us and deliberately took it slowly in order to eke out our 540-litre fuel tanks. As a backup, I brought eight 20-litre jerry cans for a total range of 675nm.

Even though we started our journey on 1 June to make the most of the summer weather, we experienced severe fog and day temperatures of just 13°C on that first long passage. Around 70nm west of Dover we also ran into our first 2m waves; thankfully, it wasn’t a problem as the E40’s sharp bow sliced right through them.

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Bavaria’s decision to place all the heavy stuff like the engine and fuel tanks in the middle of the boat, really seems to have paid off, giving it a wonderfully soft, well-balanced ride.

We did, however, regret fitting a receive-only AIS as we had a close encounter in thick fog with a tanker that changed course and didn’t seem to be keeping a close eye on its radar either!

After getting no response to our increasingly frantic calls on channel 16 we gave up and took evasive action. We have since fitted an AIS transponder as well…


The unusual aft helm worked a treat on long passages

Brest to La Coruna

Having arrived in Brest at 4.30am, we rested for 24 hours before leaving with full tanks and bellies, bound for La Coruna in Spain some 350nm away.

Super impressed with the real-world range of our Bavaria (we were averaging 1.3nm/litre or 6mpg) we knew this second leg was well within the scope of our fuel tanks and so it proved; after adding another 50 hours to the engines we still only needed to top up with 265 litres in La Coruna.

We also found out that the E40’s unusual aft helm position has a lot of benefits; as well as the sociable aspect of having all the family sitting in front of you, the skipper is shielded from direct sunlight – a massive advantage when the outside temperature is 35°C and the sun is beating down through the windscreen.


With no air-conditioning the flybridge bimini was a must

Furthermore, sitting close to the centre of gravity and just four metres from the stern, you are exposed to less vertical motion, which makes the whole journey more comfortable. Lastly, there is no need to fit a second joystick in the cockpit when you already have a clear view of the transom, a real boon when mooring stern-to in the Med.

Halfway across the Bay of Biscay, with 5,000m between the hull and the bottom of the ocean and a big swell hitting us from the starboard side, things did start to get interesting but luckily a pod of dolphins provided just the distraction the family needed.

La Coruna to Porto

Near Vigo, we visited the Cies Islands, which the Romans referred to as the “islands of the Gods”. To anchor, you need to request a permit in advance and I recommend staying away from the small ferry dock but it’s definitely worth the hassle.


Slow and steady wins the race – the E40’s impressive fuel economy enabled the family to cover big distances non-stop

The islands have stunning beaches and we enjoyed a glorious three-hour walk to the lighthouse. Vigo city centre is a wonderfully vibrant place with a great choice of restaurants.

We also loved Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, with its soaring bridges, historic centre and eponymous fortified wine. Eiffel et Cie built the main bridge over the Douro river just three years before the Eiffel Tower and the resemblance is clear.

We also had the mother of all breakfasts at a local restaurant, where due to the lack of any shared language we made the happy mistake of asking for the “Menu de Chef”!


Porto to Figueira Da Foz

On the 13 June, we planned to travel some 70nm from Porto to Figueira Da Foz. With a three-knot current and 20 knots of wind from the north west, the waves quickly grew to three metres, hitting us on our stern quarter and making for a very uncomfortable motion.

Thinking I could reduce the size of the waves by moving out into deeper water, I chose a course that allowed the waves to hit us directly abeam. When things started to fly around the saloon, we bottled out and ran for shelter in Ria de Aveiro.

Access to this harbour is from the south west and with 3m waves now rolling across it and a strong current of 5 knots from the north west, the 25-m wide entrance had turned into a veritable washing machine.


Glad to have the power of the 300hp D4 engine at my disposal rather than the standard 150hp D3, we surfed into the entrance at 17 knots, breathing a huge sigh of relief once safely inside.

It was only when we ventured further up river to Baia de Sao Jacinto that we discovered where all the other boats were hiding! Apart from half the bay turning to land as the tide dropped and the two boats that dragged their anchors, we slept well…

Figueira Da Foz to Lisbon

The next day, we had to fight a another strong current on the river Tejo to get to Lisbon. It felt very special to pass the statue of Christ standing high above the river and the famous bright-red suspension bridge.


Lisbon’s dramatic suspension bridge provides a stunning backdrop to the city

We settled for the Doca de Alcântara marina, which was a mistake as there are three nightclubs next door, no services and no restaurants. Surprisingly, there are not many alternatives either.

Lisbon centre was one of the highlights of our trip; we loved the restaurants up the hill and treated ourselves to ASIATICO, run by the world renowned chef Kiko.

We also enjoyed a night of Fado music in the 16th century cellar of a local bar. Another great reason to visit Lisbon is Oceanaro, the largest natural aquarium in the world designed by Takashi Amano. It was with some reluctance that we left, passing the iconic Torre de Belem built in 1519 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Passing the historic landmark of Torre de Belem in Lisbon

Lisbon to Lagos

On our way to Lagos, and inspired by John Boyle’s superb videos on MBY’s YouTube channel, I thought I saw a pilot whale. On closer inspection we became the new owners of an inflatable toy whale! Arriving in Lagos late at night we berthed in the fishing port before looking for more suitable accommodation.

The commercial marina cost €63 a night, which felt rather expensive compared to the €25-30 we’d been paying in Portugal so we chose to anchor instead and use our tender to get ashore.

Unfortunately, the breaking waves were so strong that my six-year-old son got thrown overboard. Thankfully, he was wearing a lifejacket, and an ice-cream soon restored order.


Even the trams in Lisbon are a throwback to a different era

Lagos to Olhao

Friends who have lived in Olhão, near Faro, for the last 25 years invited us to drop in, which seemed too good an invitation to miss. Olhao is exactly how you’d expect a traditional Portuguese village to be; welcoming with a great local market and hundreds of small fishing boats. It’s surrounded by ilhas, sandy island beaches which protect the marshy lagoon.

Lots of small boats visit these sand banks in summer and I used this amazing location to practise flying my DJI Spark drone. On our return to the marina, we noticed that the starboard aft cabin window had fractured.

The safety glass is over 18mm thick and only the outer layer had cracked; probably as result of a fender being hung too close to the window edge. After ordering a new window (thanks Clipper Marine!), we had it fitted by a specialist before carrying on with our journey.

Olhao to Gibraltar

As mentioned by the late great Peter Cumberlidge in MBY Feb 2018, there is a strong current when passing the headland at Tarifa but our Bavaria plugged on through.

We enjoyed Gibraltar a lot and could not believe our ears when we heard that diesel cost just 51 pence per litre. Naturally, we took the cable car to the top of the rock to admire the view across the Straits to Africa.

In Queensway Marina you’ll find a statue of Gibraltar’s first governor, Sir George Stuart White; even if only half the story is true he must have been quite a hero. As a Dutch person, I wonder what we got as a reward for helping the English conquer Gibraltar!


Gibraltar to Cartagena

Marbella doesn’t get great press but we loved it; the harbour is good and we had an excellent lunch in La Bodega del Mar restaurant with friends who happened to be holidaying nearby.

Almeria was another pleasant surprise thanks to a marina which includes a private club with large swimming pool, tennis courts and playground. Casa Puga was recommended to us for real local Spanish tapas and was indeed excellent.

My wife Sophie found enough dresses and shoes for years to come (I hope!) and our son Koen enjoyed building all the LegoTechnic he got for his sixth birthday. It took some encouragement to climb up the hill to the Alcazaba Arabic castle in the 35˚ heat but it was worth the effort.


Sophia and Sander toast the success of their cruise in Almeria

The castle was originally built in the 10th century and remains surprisingly intact given the turbulent history of Spain which includes wars with the Moorish, Dutch and English as well as the infamous Spanish civil war.

En route to Cartagena we covered another 95nm over a relaxed 12-hour period but we made the most of our floating duplex apartment by entering a range of waypoints and instructing our autopilot to take the lead.

The seas were now a lot busier – during our crossing of Biscay we often didn’t see another boat for 6-8 hours – but once in the Mediterranean we needed to keep a close watch for traffic all the time.

For anyone who finds their boat controls a bit of a stretch, I’d highly recommend a Comfort Seat; these supportive cushions have integral frames that can be adjusted in multiple ways and can even be used as head support for a sunpad.

We also cooked some of our best meals underway using our Cobb gas BBQ. Other tips to pass the time include a generous amount of pre-downloaded Netflix series and the excellent Navionics Europe HD iPad app; we used it to plan our approach to marinas while the shared advice on anchorages was also really helpful.

We were extremely glad that we’d installed a Sunmaster bimini with RVS supports too; it stretched perfectly across the 275cm width of our flybridge and meant we could use additional screens to keep the sun out from the side.

Heat management really does become a mission when it is 35°C outside and you only have 12V fans and Ocean Air window blinds rather than a full air-conditioning system. Thankfully, we were very impressed with our fridges, which not only maintained a constant 4°C but also managed to freeze fish, meat and ice-cream using a 12V current alone.

At least 50 dolphins escorted us to Cartagena. The city, which has been inhabited since 227BC, features an impressive harbour with many Spanish warships and old fortresses.

Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish ruins are complemented by grand Art Nouveau buildings from the days when Cartagena had an important mining industry. The marina also has a great swimming pool for kids overlooking the massive cruise ships that visit the city.


Anchored in the bay of Calpe near Alicante

Cartagena to Alicante

A French couple cruising the world on a sailing catamaran recommended that we anchor at Tabarca Island, 11nm off Alicante. Measuring just 1,800m by 400m, it is large enough for a good walk and has some very welcoming beach restaurants. In the past Tabarca was a refuge for Berber pirates and in the 18th century King Carlos III ordered the island to be fortified.

Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction with ferries offloading visitors from the city. However, it still felt special to anchor among just 10 other boats and snorkel in the crystal clear waters surrounded by thousands of fish. I took the opportunity to dive down and check my Delta anchor before setting an anchor alarm and settling down for the night.

However, at 3am we were woken by the alarm to find that our anchor had dragged 15 metres due to unexpectedly strong 25 knot winds. The owners of the neighbouring yacht, David and Carol Hayes, were also up and we discussed what to do. I started the engine and checked that the main anchor was properly dug in, then dropped a second anchor.

The next morning we discovered that both anchors were now stuck under rocks and when we tried to get close to the second one we somehow managed to suck the anchor rode into the bow thruster.

David came to our help and together we inspected the damage, finding three of the bow thruster’s prop blades had snapped. Luckily, the blades are made from composite and designed to sheer off to avoid causing more permanent damage to the thruster or hull.

I subsequently managed to fit the new props using only a mask and snorkel, which are still working perfectly today!

Alicante felt like a safe haven after the events of the previous evening and judging from the number of Sunseekers moored in the marina it seemed like the British yard’s home from home, while an impressive funfair situated next to the marina provided hours of entertainment for our son.

Alicante to Denia

We loved our cruise to Denia. Initially, you pass the ugly high rise buildings of Benidorm but soon after the landscape changes to dramatic cliffs where you can get within 20 yards of some amazing caves and rock formations.

The bays of Calpe and Moraira are absolutely stunning and we chose to use the free mooring buoys at Cala Sardinera for the night in the company of a brand new Princess V48 and MCY65. On board the MCY65 it was clear what a difference the Seakeeper stabiliser made; however the noise of the generator running all night would put me off. Perhaps when Seakeeper releases a 12V version than can handle a 13 tonne boat I’ll take another look…

Denia offers two marinas with basic facilities but is nevertheless very popular due to its proximity to Ibiza. We enjoyed the beach even though it was seriously busy with groups of people who’d come for the annual bull-run that marks the end of a week-long festival. The goal is to lure the bull into charging after you then leaping out of the way at the last minute so that the poor animal has to jump into the sea before being rescued by a special boat.

Denia to Valencia

Our cruise to Valencia was accompanied by the rare sight of flying fish. It was amazing to see them leap out of the sea then soar on their elongated fins for up to 100m. Valencia was great; it boasts a good harbour, reasonably priced diesel, tasty paella and the benefit of being large enough not to feel overrun by tourists.

During the last night we had 25 knots of wind on the stern, which proved a good test of our mooring ropes. We’d brought three different brands with us; the cheaper ones became hard and inflexible once they’d been stretched; squeaking and groaning under the strain as well as showing signs of severe wear.

However, we were very impressed with the Gleistein GeoOne ropes that we obtained from Clipper Marine; these 20mm Polyamide ropes allow 8% stretch at just 10% of their 8,400kg breaking load, providing a much quieter, more comfortable motion.


Another blissful day in the sun off the Columbretes islands near Valencia

Our visit to the Islands of Columbretes, some 50nm offshore from Valencia, was rather special. There are a limited number of buoys and strictly no anchoring so leave early to be sure of finding a space.

When the 319m long Celebrity Reflection cruise ship passed us near Barcelona it felt like a solar eclipse; massive is an understatement. We enjoyed the history museum, Park Guell and the old ghetto.

Valencia to Ibiza

Our daughter Joy joined us for our trip around Mallorca and we treasured every minute of our cruising in Mallorca with its countless unspoilt calas as well as Palma itself. Our visit to Cabrera Island between Mallorca and Ibiza was extremely special, especially the long but rewarding climb up the hill to the castle overlooking the bay.

Our next stop was Cala Longa, Ibiza, where we made friends with a Brazilian family sailing round the islands on a Lagoon 42. Both the island and Old Town were every bit as captivating and charming as the guide books say. Despite briefly grounding on our approach to Formentera it really was a fantastic place to snorkel and chill out on deck.


The picturesque calas around Mallorca and Ibiza provided the perfect escape and the ideal goal for their epic voyage

Heading home

All too soon we started our long journey home via Calpe, Cartagena, Almeria and Malaga before undertaking a 40-hour non-stop cruise from Gibraltar to Cascais. The following 325nm leg from Cascais to Fisterra took us around 36 hours and involved fighting the biggest waves of our trip, some of which were a good 10ft high.

Spray was thrown 4m into the air, drenching the flybridge and dripping through the sliding windows in the saloon. Sleep was impossible and the 30-knot winds on our approach to Fisterra made things even more challenging.

After eight weeks of pure heaven in the Med, the Portuguese and Spanish coast reminded us why the luxury yachts only ever seem to appear east of Gibraltar!

Lessons learned

My admiration for our Bavaria E40 Fly grew immeasurably during this trip; what other boat can comfortably cruise at 6mpg, offer so much space within 40ft and has the sea-keeping to weather big waves and winds. In my opinion Vripack did a great job of designing it and it’s a crying shame that Bavaria had to withdraw from building the E(fficiency) range of boats.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay started off rough but after the first 80nm, we enjoyed completely calm seas and decided to push on to Guernsey, passing the spectacular lighthouse at La Jument, Brittany. This marked our longest non-stop trip to date, covering 503nm over 73 hours; thank goodness for the autopilot!

One last big push via Scheveningen to Sneek brought home just how busy the North Sea is. Passing Rotterdam and its 100+ container ships filled us with a deep sense of satisfaction – relief that we had never had to use our Rescue Link PLB or liferaft and pride that we had completed the journey of a lifetime!

First published in the December 2020 issue of Motor Boat & Yachting.


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