Sailboat racing is burdened with rules. That’s why when it comes to cruising you should only follow one. Never turn down a day sail on a Swan. Ever. 


Findng this beautiful mural was part of an after-lunch exploration of the west end of the islet.


Full bellies made the cruise back to Alicante.

That’s how I discovered Tabarca Islet last weekend. Onboard Swany, a 1974 Sparkman-and-Stephens-designed Swan 44.

Alicante, Spain sits on a stretch of Mediterranean coastline referred to as the Costa Blanca. The strict cruiser might scoff at the idea of puttering along Southern Spain’s vast expanses of unprotected coastline, accessible mostly by marinas. That’s why, unless you sail out of Alicante, you’ve probably never cruised to Tabarca.

Home to 68 year-round residents, Tabarca is the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain. Islets are very small islands, and in the case of Tabarca, an inhabited rock. Tabarca is 5,741 feet long and 984 feet across at her widest breadth. Once a refuge for Barbary pirates, Tabarca is now a protected marine reserve and popular day-tourist getaway, serviced by a regular ferry from Alicante.

Only the local inhabitants are allowed to fish from Tabarca’s virgin, turquoise waters. They sell their catch in family owned restaurants, which are the main attraction — and we came to eat.

After a two-hour sail, we dropped anchor off the south beach. Schools of Mediterranean baitfish darted through perfectly clear turquoise water. The small anchorage was crowded with Spanish day-cruisers. Our host called the RIB (rigid inflatable boat).

Each restaurant owns an RIB that will ferry guests from the mooring field to the main pier — so long as you’ve made a lunch reservation.

The first course was a fresh salad with Spanish olives, followed by plates of fried calamari and local fish, served and eaten whole. The main course was tuna paella for ten, served in a 3-foot wide, shallow steel pan. If that wasn’t enough, we drank café cortado — espresso with milk — and picked from plates of assorted fruit, flans and cake for dessert. Along with pitchers of beer, sangria and tinto de verano, the meal came to 18 Euros per head, less than $25 US.

After exploring the islet, we rode the RIB back to Swany, hoisted sail and headed home to Alicante.

Where you don’t want to eat the baitfish whole.