Treading Water

I bid my goodbye to the primary school one sweat-salted Wednesday. The pupils had become tiny zombies, distracted and vacant in the afternoons when the sun burned brightest. In my last lessons I got to lead children in joyous song, satisfying Julie Andrews aspirations that had lingered in me since youth. I choked up as class after class nearly toppled me with hugs, and wondered how long it would be before the memory space I’d clogged with their names would be replaced with shopping lists and things I intend to google. The following week the kids would stop being taught after 1pm, and by now the school may well be closed.

Rich has found a few more weeks’ work, so we’re staying in Mallorca until July. It makes sense: we’re happy here, and with a bit more money we could be able to afford to cruise Gwen to the Caribbean. While he toils on other boats I sand and paint bits of ours, freelance online for pennies, vittle, sketch and snorkel. I have started sunbathing topless as we’re in Spain forgodsakes, but I still make an embarrassing half-attempt to cover my boobs whenever anyone rows over and talks to me. Favoured poses for this include “don’t mind me, I’m just putting my knees up” and “do you know what, I’ve just decided to turn over and do my back”. I do this and any outdoors work in the morning, as it is too hot to even walk on the deck in the afternoon.

We move Gwen every now and then between the rocky bay at Illettas and the hotel-strewn strips of Palmanova, seeking safety in a particular wind direction or weighing up the lack of amenities in the former with the lack of arseholes on jet skis in the latter. Sometimes I practice doing all the windlass and engine work myself, with Rich watching, so we both know I can handle Gwen on my own if she drags while he’s at work. It’s a proper workout including a weights session and the occasional 11m dash. The breezy trip across is always refreshing, and clear water shows us turquoise pathways between dark weed for anchoring.


Between our regular anchorages is this bay, good for going ashore for shopping and playing “spot the difference” between nearly identical motorboats.


We haven’t sailed anywhere for a month, so our deck is full of bikes, snorkel gear and spare rope

A couple of weeks ago we motored over to Palmanova to shop, eat and spend a few nights within convenient distance of the internet. It’s a half hour trip by engine, but longer when we head first out into open water to empty the composted contents of our toilet. This needs to be done at some point every week: the solids go to the sea, the paper goes to the fire for burning. Afterwards we found a place to anchor, ate a romantic anniversary dinner ashore (three days late) and came back to the boat to sleep.

Unfortunately we hadn’t had a fire since before we moved to Palma. We hadn’t needed one for warmth over winter, and we’d been using the toilet in the marina while we were there. “We really need to have a fire” we’d been saying for weeks, but our old cruising routines had not kicked in. By now the woodburner was so crammed with paper sandwich bags of loo roll there was nowhere else to put them, and when I went for a bedtime wee there was nowhere left to put the paper. So, in the hottest week we’ve had, on a breezeless night, we opened all the hatches and lit an overloaded fire that would have boiled us in winter Cornwall. We still haven’t properly rehydrated.


I have an eye infection which doesn’t seem to like me snorkelling or wearing make-up, so I looked helluva attractive on our anniversary night out.

I grow fond of Palmanova despite the violent afternoon rolling that is beaten in to Gwen by the wakes of a hundred wakeboards, jet skis, waterskis and inflatables that speed by. I remember when we first got to Mallorca and I found it all so shocking – the Brits, the bacon, the baking frowns – but returning there I feel like an old hand. Of all the holidaymakers heaving around its hot smelly streets, I am one who knows where to get the cheapest coffee, a good wifi signal or a friendly chat with an old ex-pat. When we’re anchored there I enjoy the club singer karaoke lulling me to sleep. When we’re not, I enjoy its absence.


A couple of shots of sunrise in Illettas…


…this is when Rich get up for work, and it’s the only time it’s cool enough to go for me to go for a run.

In Illettas I snorkel every day by the island or mainland. Beneath the surface that glistens in patterned folds there is another world, and I am always happy there. Though this part of Mallorca seems to lack the colourful variety of other locations, there is always something by which to become entranced: a pathway between rocks or a crater full of curved white leaves, inhabited by bream, mullet and colourful striped fish, anemones that wave and sea cucumbers that lie like giant turds. Beneath the boat there are flat fish concealed in the seemingly featureless sand – you can only see them when you dive down, chasing a fish or picking up a piece of rubbish from the bed. We are litter pickers everywhere, and now own a variety of flip flops and balls for our troubles.




I thought this was a plant, but when I got a little closer it retreated into its hole in the sand


I try not to piss off too many fish, but it can’t be helped

Of course, both of us are dying to get going. Even writing this feels like posting yet another placeholder: “the adventure starts again soon”. I’m also planning a quick trip back to the UK, where things sound pretty dire apart from a heatwave that everyone is moaning about (they will also moan when it’s gone). It’s not really in keeping with our environmentally friendly living to fly across for a jolly, but it’s also not bearable to miss the wordy hedonism of Port Eliot festival for another year or two.

We’re dying to get going, but we persist here. Rich persists because each extra day he works might mean crocodiles in the Gambia or turtles in the middle of the Atlantic. I persist because I promised I’d paint these toe rails before we left the UK and they’re still only half done.

In our spare time we go for dinghy sails, rows and picnics in the gentler evening sun. Last night I took Rich for a scramble on the far side of the island to show him a falcon’s nest I’d spotted, before picking some samphire as we drank a sunset beer on the beach. Things could be a whole lot worse.


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