Get Away

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.

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During our time in Mallorca our pinecone hedgehog got so hot that he opened up and shed his seed.

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Adios Palmanova

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.

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Our Spanish courtesy flag got some much needed repairs

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Our British ensign is due to be replaced next week

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.

He returned.

“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”
“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.

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Cherry ice cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice

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.

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What have you got there, lad?

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We googled this later. It’s velella velella, possibly a relative of the portugese man of war, but they’re not 100% sure.

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Sunset, with the mainland in sight (somewhere over that way is Calpe)

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.

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Aye, pod.

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The rusting structures that were once to be a marina, where we spent our first night by the mainland

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Entering the Mar Menor

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Not quite crystal blue. These 70s styled jellyfish are thriving in the polluted waters of the Mar Menor.

Hello adventure, it’s good to be back.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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A couple of shots of sunrise in Illettas…

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…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.

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Yum

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

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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.

Surrounded

Children play. Men splash and shout. Anchor chains grind up or clank clank clank down. Motorboats run their engines to power the bloody fridge or something. It’s the weekend and Illettas is noisy. I’m hiding for an hour or two inside.

We stay anchored here most of the time as it seems to be the safest holding in this area. Our neighbours change each day and get more numerous as the weeks go by. When the old lad in the traditional Mallorcan fishing boat isn’t here we are always the scruffiest boat, but we’re also usually the prettiest. The land is quiet and the water is clear. Fish feed on our washing up water and beach cleaners “Hola, buenas” with us when we row ourselves to shore.

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My sketchbook captures the ordeals of weekends spent in Illettas

At weekends pleasure craft from Palma funnel in to the bay and pick out tighter and tighter spots around us. The men stand at the wheel to steer between the boats, their women-folk relegated to crouching at the front over the electric anchor windlass, out of the way. I raise my eyebrows at Rich and mutter something about girl power under my breath. Further out, the monsters lurk, and we sometimes sit watching them from beneath our newly-sewn bimini (thanks Rich) with awed revulsion:

That’s a proper baddy boat, that”
Isn’t it just. Big dark windows. That guy out the back’s probably got an uzi.”
It’s got two of those – not even jetskis – those pointy speedboats”
I bet Jessica Alba’s tied up…”
In the bilges…”
“…in a bikini.”

When Gwen escapes for weekend jaunts we frolick in the seas like freed beasts, trying out our new gybing and tacking roles now that the running backstays are anyone’s game. We bask in the sun, which has recently stepped up from “hot” to “bonkers”, and sail close to the shore, pointing out caves in the pale yellow rock cliffs that undulate into the sea.

Life back at anchor didn’t start off this pleasantly. It was liberating to be back out among fish, birds and waves but unsettling to be wrenched from the ease and familiarity of Palma. I was still nursing some deep dark terrors from last years’ anchoring in Palmanova, and the idea of dragging was sparked again and again on windier nights, or days when we both had to leave Gwen to the elements. It took a couple of weeks and survival of a few windy patches to call time on my emotions’ game of pong.

But these days, I’m pleased to say, these days are really quite wonderful. We haul anchor and relocate sometimes if the weather’s due to be worrying from the south west, the only direction that shoots straight in here. We rock sometimes, and then I don’t sleep well, but then we stop, and I do. Work is an hour’s bus ride away with a big stupid three hour gap to fill around lunch, but I get lots of time to listen to podcasts and draw between shifts of shepherding hot children. Even Rich doesn’t seem to mind work now it’s due to come to an end.

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One of many bored Palma lunchtime park doodles – this one’s near the train station

In the evenings we go swimming, and I can now get myself back up on the boat without the ladder – I haul myself on to the bobstay and bowsprit, flopping back aboard like a soggy, panting trapeze artist. We sit on deck with dinner as the sun fades before crawling down to a movie in the saloon and the mozzie-netted bed.

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A regular neighbour

Work stops in the next week or two, but plans are as absent as ever. We want to head to the Gambia but we can’t yet afford the journey that that would entail for this winter. We might even leave Gwen and go to another continent for some work that was mooted months ago, but nobody’s telling us anything about that. In the short term we’re probably going to go and have a better look at Ibiza, get our sea legs back, and leave these noisy neighbours behind (we hope). In the even shorter term, we’re going to get off our computers, jump in to this overpopulated sea and scrub off the green beard Gwen’s grown around her midrift. T’ra.

Easter Good, Easter Good

The end of a winter of work is in sight. With escape to look forward to and the weather getting warmer our spirits have shrugged, thrown up their hands and given up most of the grumbles. After supporting each other through the more testing times we seem to have plenty of evening and weekend left over for laughing and exploring. We’re comfortable, and we’re ready to be something else.

We talk a lot about what needs to be done before we leave the marina. In no particular order, we have managed to paint the galley bulkhead (only four years overdue), add a couple of winches for the staysail, tighten the rigging, check the mast wedges, replace the mainsail reef lines and ties, make a new mast boot and add a whip to the running backstays. That last one’s good for me – now there’s enough purchase that Rich isn’t be the only one who can tighten the runners in the middle of a manoeuvre. At weekends we work on separate parts of Gwen at the same time, sanding or twisting or brushing in the sunshine with the radio on full blast, and it barely feels like a hardship. Then Rich fine tunes the details while I fine tune the dinner, and we admire our handiwork from the cockpit with a beer and a long conversation about where to put what and what to do next.

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Smacking the wedges

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Goodbye skanky galley wall…

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and hello lovely new green reef points

Friends and family visit and we show them what we can of what we’ve discovered here. Or they show us something we never could have imagined. My mum, for example, took a holiday to Barcelona with her boyfriend and invited me over for the day (it’s only a half hour flight from Palma) so we could go and get a bit emotional at the devastating beauty of the sagrada familia. I’m still not over it. Next week we’re cramming in a couple more visitor trips and then we’ll be baseless again – those nomadic arseholes who won’t give our families so much as a forwarding address.

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Sagrada death entrance

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Cala Mondrago

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Sod the self steering, we’ve got child labour.

This weekend, however, we’ve been given time off for Jesus. Yesterday Gwen yawned and stretched her stiff, dry wings. We sailed out into a gentle sea and off around the headland to the east. Sensations of the clean, fragrant air beyond our metropolis drew up day-long grins, and a gentle sea carried us here to Cala Pi, one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen. We woke this morning to a gentle splashing wobble, the sound of birdsong and a salty scent of herb-lined cliffs. It’s a bit wonderful.

Easter in Palma is scary

Easter in Cala Pi is less scary

until about 10.30, anyway

At the end of next week we’ll leave the marina for good. I have loved living in Palma, and I’ve grown used to having access to all its amenities. I’m familiar enough with street side accordion repertoires to expect a My Way or a Vie En Rose at least once a day, and my sketchpad notes the price of a coffee in every cafe at which I’ve doodled. The route to work is familiar enough that my bike seems to steer it itself down the pretty alleyways and up the smog-clogged thoroughfare. I’ll miss the city a bit, perhaps, and then I’ll forget a lot of it. I’ll miss the shore power for my laptop and the wifi access. But moving on is a much more exciting prospect than settling down. Always.

Don’t ask where we’re going – we still don’t know. Work stops at the end of May and we’ll anchor in Illetas and nearby bays until then. When that’s done we can disappear towards Barcelona or the Guadiana or the Gambia or the Canaries – money and work will decide. Everything’s daunting and exciting, and that’s all our own doing, so I guess we just get on with it and see.

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Happy Easter

Sketchy

Hello you. You’re that blog I write about sailing the boat we renovated. That blog I’m failing to maintain, because we’re neither sailing nor working on that boat. Hello and, as always, apologies.

Gwen’s fine, thanks for asking. Neglected, but well. We’re living happily within her – hooked up to the electric, planked up to the pier and lashed in place between charter boats. In the month and a half since I last wrote she has only moved once, and that was while I wasn’t here. She’s resting and probably bored.

We are finally able to afford our life in balmy palmy Palma, though it’s pricey and we’re not saving like we’d hoped. I’ve got two jobs. In the first I teach beginner classes twice a week to five nervous but keen professionals. In the other I menace my eardrums with the cacophony of a city primary school, assisting English teachers with vocabulary drills, pronunciation correction and going “shusshhhhh”. I smile a lot. Children ask me if they may go to the toilet and I tell them I don’t know. Tots hold on to my legs and babble at me in Catalan and I smile and nod and hope that I’m not agreeing to anything stupid. Thankfully this means I don’t have to do any more online transcription work, for which my back and sanity are truly grateful.

I cycle across the city four times a day and am generally shattered, though I’m still managing to gather weight due to having quit smoking yet a-bastard-gain. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Puffers at al fresco bars that line the city streets are to be found edging nervously away from me as I sniff up close for a whiff of nicotine. It’s been a month and a half and I’d still rather have a fag than dinner, sex or world peace. Addiction is a bitch.

Rich still enjoys his friendly colleagues, but is increasingly disturbed by the bewildering opulence of the boats he works on. People who own massive yachts that are heavily staffed and stocked year round, on the off chance that they might fly in for a sail, stand on an incredible rung of wealth. Their enormous craft sound more palatial than any house I’ve ever lived in, and their staff’s finely detailed requests are a far cry from the rough, heavy caulking and planking that Rich was doing when we first met. This work has its own delicate satisfaction and is less demanding physically, but in his grumbling Rich reveals a nostalgia for the real boat building that is performed for real seamen.

Yeah, I said seamen. I’ve had this blog for over four years. I can’t believe it took this long.

Our weekends are often pleasant and if we cross our fingers we can usually find a day free and sunny enough to go off in a van we borrow from Rich’s work, heading off to scale some scrambly rocks or a castle. We walk long high paths, breathing in the incredible pine and rosemary scented air and working up an appetite for tapas back in Palma.

This is the first city I’ve lived in for many years. Wandering around in a spare moment always reveals an as yet undiscovered cobbled alley or a weird shop to explore. The comforting anonymity that cities provide is enhanced by the language barrier, making me feel at once at home and curiously remote. It doesn’t hurt that Palma’s beautiful and full of art. It doesn’t hurt that we don’t move and are never scared by storms. I’m not saying I want to stay in the marina any longer than our contract, and I do look forward to returning to a world of octopuses and bowline knots, but I can’t deny that I am enjoying some urban comfort after the blowy blue wilderness.

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Inside Palma cathedral

City dwelling has its downsides too. It’s dark inside the boat, and can get cold. The dinghies on deck, with nowhere else to go, cover one saloon light source, and neighbouring boats block out the rest. But we’ve got a shore socket so we flick on the lights and plug in a heater with no thought to the cost in solar power. It’s scary how much cardboard and organic waste we accumulate now we don’t burn the former and throw the latter overboard, and I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have to row ashore to get anything you want. In many ways life is easier, but it’s not the low impact nomadic life we enjoyed so much last year.

So, what about that life? We don’t know yet when it’s going to start again and where it has a chance of taking us. We’re low on funds and thus low on motivation. We talk so often about making a new list for this year’s jobs and essential purchases, and sometimes we even get part of the way through. We discuss what we might do, then distract ourselves with something else. Rich fantasises about what project he’ll take on after Gwen, diverting his attention from current needs to permaculture plots and houseboats. I throw myself into drawing and guzzling, hoping to develop skills that I can one day pursue with more dedication (illustration, not eating competitions). We work, and we get tired from working, and we let ourselves off thinking about Gwen for one night, and another, because we need our rest and our time to enjoy each other.

But still, thoughts of her seep through. She is unavoidably all around us, after all. There’s a lot to do if we’re going to leave this island. Gwen will have to come out of the water at some point this year for antifouling, and she desperately needs tweaks to the engine and bilge, attention to the galley, backstay and wind vane, and some sort of sun protection both for her wooden parts and for us as we sail her. Though the memory of voyaging is getting more distant we both feel its freedom teasing us while we sit in this self-sprung trap. One dip into the blog or a photo album or someone else’s sailing video and we’re swept up in salty memories. We remember why we’re here in Mallorca – to grab some cash so we can keep on cruising.

The money, the work, the jobs, the money again… it’s all quite huge and, for Rich in particular, it’s always got a time pressure associated with it. His stress might seem well hidden to some but his body, my nerves and our happiness take the strain, and always have. The time we take to escape it, the climbs and drinks and wanders, are important. We talk about how one day, maybe not yet, but one day, we’ll get the balance right. One day maybe we’ll think smaller, or dream slower dreams. We won’t be all work or all play, but all somewhere between the two.

But we’re not there yet, so we’d better get back to fuelling this dream – this amazing journey.

Soon.
Any day now.
Honest.

Shut up.

 

Seventeen

It’s new year’s eve and the bells are ringing (for 6.45pm) at the church across the road from the marina. The adjoining catamaran left for a new years’ jolly, which afforded us more light than usual in the saloon this afternoon. Light by which to… well, slump in exhaustion mostly. Rich climbed a mountain yesterday while I hunched over a desk doing transcriptions – a thankless, attention consuming task that leaves your pocket almost as poor as your posture. This evening we are rooted to the sofa with our youtube videos and cheap lager cans – it’s new year, but not as we know it.

Palma is still gorgeous, though, of course, we are already restless. Something about having a permanent base still doesn’t sit right. It’s odd to think – I live in Spain. Spain, where people really are called Pedro and Paco and Juan. I’m much happier here in Palma than at anchor, and I’ve even found bits and pieces of odd freelance and teaching work, but we’re spending a lot more, moaning about obligations and fantasising about our next move already.

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Our incredible spot at La Lonja marina, in full view of the cathedral

I still get low. I’m still not doing what I think I should be doing. I don’t know what I should be doing. I don’t know even what I want to be doing. I go in little circles. I return to the world.

This world is nice and sunny, unless family and friends visit, then it just pisses down. At night it’s cold, but not yet cold enough that a sleeping bag and a jumper won’t cover it.

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Some unbearably smug Christmassing

This week was Rich’s first week off since we got here, so we borrowed a van from his work for the week. We took it up to Soller through an incredible mountain pass, then to the east of the island to wander its marshes and climb its mountains. I’m not sure I’ve ever climbed a mountain before, and I’m happy to report it’s not as awful as it sounds. We stayed overnight in the back of the van at the lighthouse on Cap Fomentera, on the north easterly peninsula, navigating its high winding road in darkness and waking to find ourselves over a beautiful morning-lit bay. Christmas was quiet, including a stroll, a roast, some phone calls and Rogue One.

Arbitrary though new year’s marker in time might be, it is accompanied by inevitable reflection. There are some experiences from this year that I never want to forget. Reaching France. Reaching Spain. The first dolphin spotted on the south coast of Cornwall. The glimpse of a whale in Biscay. Snorkelling to check on the anchor, swimming ashore to grab coffee and bread, cycling round with half an engine strapped to my back to hunt for an engineer. In the underwater world, octopuses becoming visible only through scrutiny of the textured rocks, changing colour on our approach.

I remind myself of the pleasures of sailing. There’s the self-steering working properly while you play ditties on your uke to the waves, the rare satisfaction of a nicely executed tack, the giggles of both unnecessarily manning the tiller to get drenched in a rainstorm. There’s the point in a night watch when you have the boat just to yourself, eyes adjusted to the starlight, and you hear the “ffff” exhalation of the dolphin who’s come to keep you company. There’s that moment after dropping anchor when you no longer have to sail, and you still yearn to explore. There’s a lot of sunshine and smiles, sloshing and tipping and gazing at the sea.

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There are other things I won’t forget about this year. Where I was when I heard in disbelief that we’d voted to leave the EU. The shock of the Trump vote. The shock of Bowie, Prince, Carrie and all the rest. And there are some things I won’t allow myself to forget, that I want to be forced to remember to avoid complacency about the world – Jo Cox, Syria, and  the lies of the press which warped and fuelled the year’s tragedies. Next year doesn’t look set to spare the suffering and oppression of people and the destruction of the planet. I want to fight and I feel ashamed that I don’t.

There is a little pride for me, though, in 2016. The hard work of Gwen, the years of it all being sawdust and lists and cold, paying off with a mighty voyage. That we got 2000 miles in the most environmentally friendly way we could, wind fuelled and solar powered.

Also, and first of all, that I wrote, directed and performed a daft musical show and that anybody bothered to watch it. If you really want to, I’ve finally edited it and put it up here:

We don’t know where we’ll end up next year, and that makes me smile. Happy new year, you, with love from Gwendolyn.

Down Time

Costa coffee, Palmanova. This is one of only a few establishments that are still open. Since the start of November the hotels are abandoned, the shops locked behind metal blinds, the restaurant staff returned to the corners of the globe from which they hail. Though the pines, palm trees and shrubs are ever green and the sand ever golden, autumn can be felt in the chilly sea and any breeze that catches you. Nonetheless, when the clouds aren’t stealing it, the low sun can still thrill your skin with warmth.

We’ve been anchored here for a month and a half now, save for a few nights’ stay in nearby bays that we’ve pootled to for shelter, and I’ve only just got a phone and internet again. Hello. Today I’m over from Gwen for repairs – recharging my recently fixed computer and my recently frazzled brain. This week we had yet another encounter with an angry southeasterly and, despite our fancy new Vulcan anchor, another drag in the weed-root clogged sand. Rich was with me this time (it was four in the morning) and by the time we’d organised a second anchor and laid out its chain on deck, Gwen was static again. The only damage was to our sleep-deprived energy levels.

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Palmanova on a calm day. Dinghying ashore is nice on these days.

Rich is getting on well with his job and has seemed happy here, if a little tired from the slog of having to work again. We have had some great weekend adventures, from our fun at the closing weekend of the Katmandu theme park and the cheesy thrills of a bonfire night party in Magaluf to an exhausting ride to a beautiful bay and the rare treat of a cinema and dinner night in Palma. My mum visited this week and it was a treat to explore and dine with her and her boyfriend in the city.

With the bikes now ashore we can get around Palmanova and discover shops and facilities with much more ease. Until recently I’d start my days with a swim (I still have the odd dip, but have to overcome an unpleasant initial shock of cold before my lungs will let me go anywhere) and we often end them with a beer, watching ducks and cormorants, jellyfish and baby fish on the row home. I’ve had excellent feedback from two job interviews, though sadly neither school had an opening for a teacher this late into the season. I’ve scrubbed some of Gwen’s bottom and I’ve got plans for all sorts of decorations.

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Everything here in Palmanova shut on the first week of November, but before that, we had entertainment aplenty. If you like that sort of thing.
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Last weekend of Katmandu. Rich was brilliant at this. I sucked, got injured and got scared.
I vow to return an conquer next year.

But something’s wrong. I love my own company, particularly if I can use it for creative pursuits, but after we arrived in Palmanova and Rich started work I started to sense an unusual ache of loneliness stalking me each day. I push through it and get things done, but it takes so long – there’s often as much travelling, swearing at technology and struggling with language as there is actual activity. Occasionally I visit Palma to seek work and sundries, gawping in its galleries and winding streets. It’s 45 minutes to get there after the row ashore, but only during the day as the buses don’t allow an evening out. Most of the time I’m at home – I prepare Rich’s packed lunches and evening meals, I wash up, I get stuff like phone contracts, laundry, job applications, shopping and social security numbers sorted – all the boring stuff. Did I sail 2000 miles to become a housewife? No offence to domestic gods and goddesses, but fuck no.

And then there are the high wind days when I am stuck babysitting Gwen, trying not to worry, hoping the anchor doesn’t drag and preparing myself in case it does. Weeks ago the wind would make this occasionally necessary but now winter is coming and I’ve had three days of it this week, and as many nights. The wind whistles through the recently stripped rigging and jolts the boat against it. I sit, stifled, in a constant motion that kills motivation. Fear blows in and out, and sadness sets in.

I am isolated on a little concrete island without friends or a sense of achievement for anything I do. My Spanish is improving but not enough to make proper conversation. My computer, even repaired, can only be used for a decent length of time when rowed ashore for power in an occasionally risky Bob. Rich comes up with ideas for things I could do to make things better, but they’re often just not possible, and they usually come across as things I should be doing better. I think it’s fair to say I hate living at anchor.

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This is where you get off the bus in Palma. Always brings an awed grin.
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Gaudiness gracious me

Two weeks ago, for the first time in months, I woke up not on the boat. I didn’t know what the wind was doing, I didn’t have fish in the front garden and I didn’t have the warm body of a sleeping man in my bed. I didn’t have to row anywhere, roll anyway, watch for any dangers or tie a single knot. My body smelled of shampoo and deodorant, not salt water and sweat.

The preceding weekend Rich had made a comment about the messiness of a galley in which I cook, clean and wash up every working day of the week, and I had felt hurt. When he went on to justify it by explaining at length how hard he works and how little I achieve in comparison, I agreed, and fell apart. In guilt and anger I was barely able to talk without crying, which made him defensively reiterate my shortcomings. So for a few days I shut up and got on with a lot of housework and, as soon as the wind was quiet enough to make abandonment a safe option for Gwen, I left for a couple of nights in a cheap and nasty hotel near Palma.

As I accessed precious internet from the sterile lobby bar people sat in lined-up corduroy armchairs in front of me, dozing beneath a telly with a news channel on. I couldn’t understand what was being said but I knew the story – Trump had been voted president of the USA. Nobody in the lobby was crying, so I guessed they already knew.

And yet, in that place with of school-dinner meals and bad evening disco entertainment, there was some hope for me. I was able to talk to friends back home and download new software and movies. I charged my unchargable camera, applied for the few English speaking jobs Palma has vacant and started the repairs that would eventually save my laptop. I dreamed and doodled and wandered and messed about and just did what the hell I liked. In that release from Gwen I got a load of ideas for things I could try. There were ways I could make a difference not only to our lives, but also to engage more with the wider world we seem to have left behind and challenge my own creative urges. I picked myself up again and got back on the boat.

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That hope gets kicked down again with each bad weather patch, with each failure that either Rich or I perceive, but it always returns. He isn’t wrong, when he says he works harder than me. He is driven and dedicated, and his focus is almost always on getting the boat and us to where we want to be. It’s his lifelong dream. But in the last week, with my lowness and the many challenges the deteriorating weather has brought, even he has been brought down and felt hopeless. As difficult as my own sadness is to cope with, to see him suffering has shocked me.

So I presented him with an option – an email I had received from one of many marinas that I’d asked to put us on their waiting list in the week before we arrived in Mallorca. This one finally had a spot free. I hadn’t thought he’d be up for it because money is the main thing we’re here for and marinas cost a lot of it. But as we talked it through, bringing up the pros and cons, I saw a glimmer of possibility return to his face.

The place is still available, offering safety for the boat, with facilities that can be accessed without risk to life and precious technology in a dinghy. And it’s in Palma! Gorgeous Palma which might have all sorts of possibilities for inspiration, socialising, working and creating. Palma, where things are still open. We’re going to move over there on Saturday. I can’t guarantee it will solve everything, but it’s got to be worth a try.