Rich finished work and we began our last week in Mallorca with celebratory beers. My painting efforts stepped up: the toe rails turned yellow and Rich helped me finish the rubbing strakes’ orange. On Illetas’ little island, hanging from hammocks strung between trees that buzzed with huge crickets, we said goodbye to the gang of curious lizards that had recently become our friends. Their tiny mouths tickled our fingers as they nibbled them before climbing up our arms or robbing scraps from our food.
We motored over to Palmanova for a last laundry and shop and were nearly ready: tiller tightened, bikes folded away, crap mostly stowed. All that remained was to fill up the water, and when that seemed impossible on Thursday morning because of some fat motor yacht clogging up the nearby marina’s pontoon we thought “sod it” and sailed away without. We only meant to sail for a couple of hours, as far as the south of Mallorca, to pop into a different marina for water and anchor somewhere new before our big trip. But we were sailing, and it felt so good.
“Shall we just carry on to Ibiza?” I asked Rich.
“I was just going to ask you the same thing” he replied.
About fifteen miles south of Mallorca the wind died. Ah yes, this was the other reason we were going to wait until tomorrow. We turned on the engine to get us that bit further south to where larger speeds were predicted, but after twenty minutes of making strange swooping noises, that also gave up the ghost.
“Have we definitely got enough deisel?” I called down to Rich, who was trying to revive the engine with swearwords. “Yes, of course” he replied. He’d already assured me of this several times in the preceding weeks. He didn’t sound happy, so I went back to pretending to sail.
Half an hour later, when he had finally run out of expletives, he called back up to me. “Yeah, we’ve run out of deisel”.
Gwen limped onwards into the afternoon. Though lack of fuel was annoying it was a relief that there was not some larger problem with our engine, and we were reminded that we don’t really need it. Didn’t we sail all the way from the Scillies to Concarneau without one? Hadn’t we done without motoring for almost all of our trip to the Med? By the time the wind returned we were happily reminding ourselves that getting becalmed and enjoying a rest is part of our sailing life.
That wasn’t the only thing that we had forgotten in nine long months in Mallorca. We hung over the guard wires and stared, mesmerised by the deep blue of the open sea, so intense compared to the turquoise bays to which we’d become accustomed. It is a blue I have sought out all my life, one that points more towards purple than green; the blue of cornflowers and my favourite painting in the Tate Modern. At sunset a huge mottled dolphin with a blunt round head joined us for sundowner drinks – “to Alex and Simon, to Gwen and Geordi, to you and me and the dolphin” – and then swam down deep and away from us.
That evening I took the first night watch. The dark sky’s clouds cracked to expose a few stars and the sea scurried from left to right like a billion rats under dark grey silk. A steady wind helped Geordi hold our course, and kept me feeling fresh in a heat that outlived the light. I had been looking forward to another night sail, and finally, here it was. Later I woke Rich promptly half an hour before his watch was to start, adhering to a new “don’t be nice to each other” shift pattern that we’ve decided to implement this year – if you don’t let the other person lie in, the rota doesn’t turn into a sludgy “oh I don’t know” mess by morning. It seems to work well.
By 9am we’d crossed the passage between Ibiza and its neighbour Formentera and sailed on to the anchor in plenty of wind just outside the channel entrance to the latter’s harbour. We could see the fuel dock where we would get deisel and water and were dropping the oars and rollocks into Fanny the dinghy, who we’d just thrown in the water, when a marina boat approached. Inside it a short, solitary marinero was waxing his musketeer beard to gear himself up for some Grade A jobsworth power play.
“You see the buoys, you have to outside the buoys” he shouted across.
“We’re sorry, sir, we just want to stop for five minutes to get deisel”
“No, no no. You have to move out the channel”
“Yes, but please, we have no deisel, and we will only row quickly…”
“Oh, I report you.”
“No, sorry, we will move, we will move”
We lifted the anchor and managed to sail Gwen further in to the tight space between the next anchored yacht and a stone wall, with me steering and loosening the main while Rich backed the gib. Satisfied that we were now well outside of the buoys we dropped the anchor again.
“You go outside the buoys”
“We are outside the buoys. Please sir, just for five minutes, we don’t have any deisel”
He began writing with dramatic strokes, squinting up to Gwen and back to his A4 pad.
“Okay, I report. What is your country?”
“England, and what is your boat name?”
“Okay… we will go.”
“You go. You go.”
It took another effortsome maneuver to winch up the anchor and navigate round the other assembled boats (who were presumably well outside of the buoys?), not helped by the shouts of our clearly delighted torturer. Finally, as we cleared the anchorage and headed in to the channel, he looked straight at me and yelled “Relaxing! Relaxing!”
I turned to Rich, fuming. “Relaxing?”
The wind was high and the sea was getting choppy, and the splashy effort of tacking in to it delighted us both so much we were too thrilled to stay angry. In truth we were rather proud of ourselves for our close quarters sailing skills. Once we got close enough to see exposed Ibiza town we changed our minds about anchoring there, and eventually stopped on the other side of the island beneath the airport. Rich went on an exhausting walk for a little water and fuel from a gas station four miles away while I tidied away the sail gear, and then we slept for fourteen hours beneath the booming engines of landing planes.
We left the next morning. This year I want to get good at every part of everything there is to do on the boat, so I decided to take Rich’s usual role of raising the anchor and foresails and backing the gib to sail us away. I worked up quite a sweat hauling on the windlass handle and halliards, and remained mostly naked for the next two days to cool off.
Most people will tell you that sailing in the Med is a nightmare because it gives you either all the wind or no wind, but that afternoon and evening reminded me of my fondness for it. In those few days between all or nothing, up and down, there are spaces for passages full of simple joys. There’s no tide, so you don’t have to worry about struggling with wind against tide choppiness or calculating anchoring heights. And there’s no cold, so you relish the normally nippy breeze of an upwind passage and can do your night watches in light sleeves. And as I mentioned, the sea is very blue.
By the next morning I was less enamoured. Darkness finally retreated on my second night watch, and the rising sun illuminated the mainsail hanging bedraggled over the boom and around the gaff. It had been lowered at 1am to quieten the slapping and creaking that persisted without the wind’s power to hold it taut. The whole thing was sticking out on the starboard side of the boat, pinned in place by a preventer rope to the bow intended to stop it banging back and forth as we wobbled violently along. The staysail was poled out to port, inflating then swooning back in tiny puffs that within its white triangle were somehow still propelling us at one knot. At the tiller, I blinked in exhaustion. I had not slept a wink.
In my weary half-drunkedness I noticed that some of the passing bubbles on the surface of the water looked a bit weird, as though they’d collapsed to a central line but were still there like they were made of plastic. Later when I’d had a nap I pointed these occasional anomalies out to Rich. They appeared now to be clear circular discs with an upright clear vane in the centre, perhaps with a little purple or brown. Rich wondered if they were jellyfish, and by the time I came up on deck from my second nap of the day he was perched at the edge of the deck trying to catch one in a pot on a stick. I spotted them for him from the fordeck and soon we had one to gawp at up close.
A pod of pilot whales arched through the waves in twos and threes before sundown. I don’t remember much about that night’s watches, which must be a good sign, but it appears I did dash below decks at some point to scribble the following: I am a warrior queen atop her sea chariot, straddling a saddle, metal breastplate, colour flying in her hair, singing jazz warcries with descending basslines, chasing the moon.
A night watch will do that to you.
The next morning, yesterday, we arrived here at the Mar Menor. It is an inland sea, shallow enough to anchor anywhere, separated from the real sea by a thin “Manga” covered in apartment blocks that are lined up like bar charts. We spent the night in an unfinished marina at the entrance and today waited for the two-hourly bridge opening to enter the sea by a short canal. We finally have water and fuel from a marina at the entrance, and we are tired, but we are so happy. We have worked hard, but for the next few months, we are free.
Hello adventure, it’s good to be back.