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.

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.