More Menor

Brilliant sunlight bounces from the sweat on Richard’s grinning face. He is as garish as our boat: orange t-shirt, blue legs, bright eyes contrasted against his deeply tanned skin and black and white beard. He is talking about which jobs he should or shouldn’t get on to next. I am watching his mouth move, thinking about hummus and astronauts while internally humming to the incidental music of my mind. It’s my day off, at last, and he just needs a sounding board. Yes, probably, okay, yep, you do that. Finally I tell him I’m off inside to write the blog, though I’m a bit stuck on where to start.

“You went to a festival and came back muntered, I did a bit of sailing, we’ve done some work on the boat. Write that.”

Oh sure, it’s that simple.

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Part 1: The Island Of Death

The Mar Menor was stinky and green. We explored it for nearly a week, hoisting as many sails as we could be bothered with to plod from anchorage to anchorage. We were never in more than 5.5m of depth, and never far from a floating fish carcas or a shoal of pulsating jellyfish. I braved a swim on our first day once the sealife and seadeath seemed to have blown off the forbidden shore of the Isla Del Baron beside which we had anchored, but regretted it when a snorkel revealed nothing but more green – thick and streaky like a grim broth. I leapt out, poured a bottle of water over myself and shuddered.

It was on the Mar’s smaller central island, Isla Perdiguera, that we got to really meet the deceased. Rowing ashore we were greeted by the sight and smell of the dead seagulls dotted around the sandy brush. Several barely built structures stood as monuments to an idea that someone once had that someone might want to spend time there. They don’t. It stinks. But the hillsides are riddled with tunnels that were once used as storage for the surrounding bombing practice areas, and these have been blasted out to remove their explosives and are therefore now irresistably explorable.

We clambered the rocky pathways between them in a draining heat, torch in hand, avoiding the rotting flesh and snagging shrubs as much as was possible, and came upon a strange circular man-made crater in the ground. It was as wide as the boat and very, very deep, and at the base spread a tomato plant laden with some of the plumpest, most succulent looking fruit you can imagine. Always the foragers, Rich and I looked eagerly from the plant to each other and back. We tracked round the edge, desperate to find a way we could get in and out of the hole, but there was none. Just as Rich’s eyes were glinting with what I feared might be a makeshift abseiling plan, I saw it.

“Shitting hell, is that what I think it is?”

“What’s that?”

“That enormous snake skin”

“Oh my god”

Like a boss level in a computer game it seemed that someone had placed the only bit of nourishment on this deathly island in a pit with its greatest baddy. We found a huge stick and lifted pieces of skin out to see if it really was that big. It was. We used the same stick to prod the tomato bush a few times to see if we could see the skin’s owner. We couldn’t. We lowered the skin back in to the hole as a warning to anyone else who might find it, and stomped away skittishly, keeping a closer eye on the bracken around our feet, to watch a huge colony of egrets on the other side of the island.

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Built a bit. Bombed a bit.

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Dug a bit. Blew up a bit.

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Don’t fancy your chances, mate

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How big is it? And how recently has it eaten?

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I can do without tomatoes

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Cheerio, Island of Death

Another sail later we spent a couple of lovely days off Playa Honda, a beach that seemed to be built up for far more tourists than it currently hosted. Pollution means that the Mar has lost all of its blue flag awards, and though the swimming area was enclosed by a net (now thick with green fur) to keep the jellies at bay it was evident that business had seen better days.

We caught a bus for a day out in Cartagena and tried to eat all the pizza in a city full of incredible architecture, influenced by centuries of visitors and conquerors. Many facades had no building behind them but lost little of their beauty by being propped up by scaffold like film sets. We saw a castle and an excavated Roman theatre, and toured museums that astounded us with the craft of ancient people. “Those Phonecians, wow” we said, and “it’s amazing how little sailing has changed”. We swayed to good live music and enjoyed each other’s jokes, aware that we were about to be apart for a while. Here’s a few photos:

Finally we sailed to the airport at the north end of the Mar, and I flew away.

Part 2: Port Eliot

England is cold. Gloriously, refreshingly cold. It has my mother, my father, my sister and her son. It has green rolling fields and bubbly cider and friends who don’t need to ask how you are because they know it from your posture. I enjoyed all of these things in my first couple of days, dashing from family member to family member, grabbing borrowed tents and stuff I’d had delivered to them along the way.

By the time I got to Port Eliot festival I’d almost lost the nervousness I’d had about leaving Rich to single hand Gwen for the first time. He was reporting back in a timely fashion, asking my opinion on whether to anchor up or push on, letting me know each night that he and Gwen were okay. I set up camp away from my wonderful but (oh my god) noisy friends and set about having fun. This was the treat trip I’d promised myself in Mallorca, and I only had a few days to enjoy it.

I saw talks by the author Rich and I were reading last year, the comedian whose face I’d had postered on my bedroom wall as a teen and a man who’d sailed a boat we knew as part of a TV show recreation of the Bounty mutiny. I took part in fashion drawing and stamp making workshops. I hooted at comedians and spent hours captivated in the poetry tent. I ate and drank and danced and danced and danced.

More than anything, I spent time with people I know from my village, and felt the warmth of their brilliant friendship through the mud and the rain. When I welled up at a slowed down “Modern Love” in a Bowie theatre piece I turned round and they were swaying with me. When I walked the walled garden they were dressed up as lions, entertaining passers-by as part of a new festival arts project. When I wondered if I’d see so-and-so, they usually appeared with a drink in hand to chat shit for half an hour. When I slowed down and thought about going to bed they kept me drinking and dancing and talking, waving arms dramatically, coated in UV paint and biodegradable glitter, and suddenly it was sunrise already and the four day festival had ended.

I collapsed on to Didds’ sofa and didn’t leave for a day. Buffy. Catfish. House. Friends. Quincy (he lives on a boat). Something her boyfriend likes about people who buy second hand tat. Something with Philip Schofield getting people to do challenges. I hadn’t seen this much telly for a long time. I let my mashed up brain be soothed by its banality. I had a hell of a journey ahead of me.

Part 3: Hull on Earth

My brain still wasn’t working. I got a lift to Bristol, a plane to the Mar Menor, a bus to Murcia, a bus to Almeria, a bus to a town near Almerimar, and a taxi with Rich to the boat. This all took about 20 hours, about half of which I slept through, and was horrible save for the Almeria bus which had air con and an original language video of The Martian. I was carrying all my stuff plus a couple of hundred quid’s worth of crap that we’d ordered to my dad’s (mostly hammocks, flags and grab bag gadgets). I’d been injected for Africa by the doctor before I’d left, I was aching in every danced out limb, and I was hot – so unbelievably hot. The calm, breezy Cornish way of life had been easy to adjust to (although someone did point out I was swaying a bit for the first couple of days), but it seems this doesn’t work the other way round.

While I had been off destroying myself Rich had sailed the boat out of the Mar and all the way round to Almerimar, and had her taken out of the water. She stood exposed on the dirt of a boatyard, her undersides revealing concrete where the paint had yielded to a good blasting. While I attempted to recover (difficult, when your skin is boiling away from your body), he got the mast lifted out and cut sections of its tennon off to reattach further round. The mast has twisted so much since we chopped it down from the forest that it was facing off to one side, putting pressure on the spreaders and causing our tricolour to suggest a misleading direction in the dark. This operation rotated the mast back to straight, and I daubed some hopeful jollop in its ever widening shakes before it was set back in place.

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For once, the idiot up the mast is not my boyfriend

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This one is

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He is quite bloody good at what he does, mind.

The next morning we woke early and began the process of sanding, stripping and grinding all the bits of Gwen that needed touching up. We worked in a breezeless heat that our newly acquired anemometer told us was 35 degrees in the shade, not that we could get in any, until three in the afternoon when I couldn’t take any more. We got an ice cream and had a siesta, and then we started again around six. We worked on until sunset and collapsed with a hastily concocted dinner on to a bed that was damp with our sweat. My brain had been shocked back into function and was as drained as my body.

A version of this work pattern continued for five days. We sanded the topsides and hull, ground the rust away from the push pit and repainted it, put waterbased epoxy, glass flake epoxy and tie coat on the dodgy patches of hull, put two coats of blue and new names on the topsides, replaced the anodes and put on a coat and a half of antifoul. The afternoon ice cream became an aspirational pillar, the motivator to keep going past lunchtime. We would shower before siesta and again before dinner, spending the rest of the day pouring with sweat. Oh, I’ve learned a lot about our sweat this week. Rich sweats fountains from his back right down through his shorts. I sweat from my face and chest, a dribble of salt water tumbling from my chin, making any face mask slippery. Though we longed to kiss or embrace after our week apart it was just too stuffy and disgusting, and we slept in the nude at an arms length.

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Pre-patched hull

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Post-re-scribbled bow

In short morning cycles I would get laundry and shopping done, and discovered that Almerimar is quite a pretty little town. The marina folk, particularly those in the office, have been incredibly friendly, and Chris who runs the boatyard chandlery and boat repair place has warmed to us enough that Rich has even been offered some work. He’s not going to take it, though, as another job has come up in Lanzarote, and that’s on our way. Though I’ve spent a large part of the last week feeling faint we have managed an incredible amount during Gwen’s week ashore and were rewarded this morning with watching her being plonked back in the water, dazzling and shiny in all her glory. Now she’s in the adjoining marina, where we still have a few jobs to do.

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Hanging around the docks, waited to get picked up

But it’s our day off, I tell myself and Rich. I sit in the saloon, where it is still bloody hot but, you know, on the water Gwen’s bottom is being cooled off, and I type because I have spare time to type. Some antifoul remains on my toes, boatyard dirt ironed on to my foot soles, a stripe of Gwen blue in my hair, but I am mostly clean and it feels amazing. I can hear the ratatat of the sewing machine and I think Rich has made a mast boot cover because he’s a workaholic. I’d better get up there and take him out for a deserved pint.

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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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 Broken Britain. 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.

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.

Don’t Crash Your Home

It was the morning of Rich’s third day of work. The wind was roaring in to the beach from the east and the boat had shimmied all night to its wet whistling tune. The day before, another murky one in Palmanova’s normally sunny bay, we’d talked about the need for a reliable second anchor – it would be our first priority once Rich got paid. By morning, we’d both decided that we weren’t going to wait for the paycheque. Sod this. Let’s get secure.

Rich went ashore in the early darkness, lowering himself into a leaping dinghy that was half full of rainwater and rowing like crazy to get to the beach in time to meet his lift. I had woken with him, and I popped my head outside every half an hour or so as daylight thought about breaking behind the sky’s grey film. He’d told me how to let more anchor chain out if I was worried, but we’d guessed that we’d most likely be alright now. The whole process had sounded difficult as it would involve untying the snubber rope that keeps the chain from yanking, but I’d got the gist. Watching the waves hurtling into the beach I knew I wouldn’t be popping to Palma today as intended. I’d stay with Gwen and keep her company through the turbulence. At least the wildness seemed to be steadying now – I could get on with a few things on board.

I had a quick nap and did a bit of housework, stowing what wouldn’t stay balanced along the way. I popped my head out of the hatch to check we were still in place. The boat that was beside us seemed a little further out to sea, but I know I can be a bit paranoid about this sort of thing so I turned on the nav computer to check that we were still within range of our anchor on the GPS.

We weren’t.

We had dragged in toward the shore, not by a lot, but enough to have me a little worried. I would probably have to take action. Then the boat icon moved further toward the land. And then further. Our trusty fisherman anchor was still dragging, and not slowly! I turned on the depth sounder and our safe 4m had shrunk to 3. From the deck I saw that the yellow swimming buoys that line the beach were getting close. I was on my own, and Rich was a half hour drive away at work. I let out a long, low wail. One of our worst nightmares was about to become real and the guy who knew what to do wasn’t there.

I turned on the engine battery and water flow, and released the tiller from its lashing. I sent Rich a quick text, “hey, we’re dragging…” apologising that I was about to call him. I turned the key in the aft cabin and revved the engine on deck, then drove Gwen slowly out of the swimming area into which she had now drifted. We’d been in two and a half metres, and Gwen has just under two metres of draft. I tried to call Rich but couldn’t get through. I had to keep driving Gwen into the whipping wind just to keep us from re-entering the shallow swimming area, and I couldn’t figure how I’d get to the front of the boat to deal with the anchor while doing this. I kept driving forward, hopefully towards wherever our anchor now was, and cried. Over the din of our engine and the sea I heard a dinghy engine and a voice with a strong Spanish accent “do you want some help?”

Juan, the neighbour that Rich had met on our first morning here, tied his inflatable dinghy to Gwen and got himself on board. I stuttered thanks, and said I couldn’t get to the anchor and steer at the same time. He wobbled down the concrete deck towards the anchor chain, but then wobbled back “I don’t know what to do”. Of course, the anchor was snubbed up, the windlass incomplete without its handle – there was no indication of how any of this worked. I asked him to take the tiller, and tried to think of a plan of action. I’d have to get the anchor up so we could get away. I’d only done this a couple of times, and then with supervision from Rich and no snubber on. Rich does the anchor, I steer us away – that’s how it’s supposed to work, but there was no time to think about that.

I grabbed the heavy rusty bar that is the windlass handle from its deck home among a pile of snorkelling gear and hose, and put it in the right hole. I pulled on it a few times and took in a bit of chain. Then I dangled myself over the front of the boat, towards the rushing waves, and was relieved to find that I could undo the huge knot on the thick snubber rope. I edged back under the guard wire and threw the rope to one side.

I opened the bedroom hatch and, to Juan’s confusion – “are you alright?”, disappeared below to open the locker that our chain falls into. I pushed myself off the mattress and back on deck, groaning little releases of tension with every push of my body, and went back to the windlass to ratchet in the chain. But the chain wouldn’t come. Pull after heavy pull hoiked it in a little, then returned a little to the water. Juan and I swapped places, me trying to coax Gwen forward though she didn’t seem to want to move, and Juan hauling huge lengths of chain by hand. We realised that the chain was caught around an escaped yellow buoy that we’d dragged from the swimming area, and I had to reverse and steer around that before we could get going or haul more chain. Then the chain got caught around a lower bobstay fitting, which took both of us peering over the sides of the bow to figure out. It was soon released with a slight change of direction.

Ashore Palmanova life went on oblivious to our plight. People walked along the murky beach front, ate at restaurants, ran around the hotels. A few metres out to sea the story was more dramatic. Along the bay a huge unmanned motor cruiser had also dragged and was threatening to destroy a small sailing yacht on its way to a hotel pontoon. The wind seemed to be dying a little, but it had already had its way with we sea folk.

On Gwen, we were finally moving in the right direction. When Juan called back that the anchor was up I drove us further out until our depth went over 4.5m. I called him back to the tiller, showing him as best I could how to put it in neutral (it always catches in reverse or forward – I’m used to it, but how was he to know?) and went to drop the anchor, bashing at the windlass clutch with its own removed handle to release lengths I couldn’t determine. I kept bashing and kicking more chain out until all the wet stuff was out and I could see the faded pink spray painted markings that I guessed meant “50m”. That’s over 10 to 1 chain length to depth. That’s as good as it’s going to get, I figured, then spent a couple of minutes trying to get the windlass to hold there, pulling chain in until I could get the “dog” on, and eventually tightening the clutch the right way. Righty tighty, lefty loosey – who knows where I remember that from, but it did the trick.

Back in the cockpit I thanked Juan for the hundredth time with a wide eyed fake grin, and offered him a coffee, but he had his own boat to get back to. “Are you… around.. this afternoon?” “Yes, I am on the boat all day” Oh thank heavens. I felt rude, rushing inside to text Rich and let him know that his boat was okay as Juan got in to his dinghy. I helped untangle its painter from those of our two dinghies and jabbered out more thanks as he left. And then I was alone again, on the boat that might drag, waiting for the wind to go.

When Rich got back to Palmanova that evening I was ashore and waiting for him. The GPS had showed that we were holding okay for now, and the wind had died down to a gentle flutter in the palm trees. We went for a drink – him a beer, me two beers and a long long whiskey, and I told him of the day’s events in a stream of excited blether, waiting for him to tell me what I could have done better.

“You did everything right. You saved the boat.”

Oh, okay. That hadn’t really occurred to me.

We would make moves to buy another anchor over the next day or two, as our CQR really isn’t up to being a reserve anchor in this sort of wind. We would go back to the boat and relax and have a weekend of fun. For now, all we had to do was buy a couple of boxes of beer and row over to a neighbours’ boat to offer them in thanks to someone without whom Gwen might not have made it back to safety. We found a warm reception, some pizza and a good evening’s chat. Everything’s been safe enough since then, and the new anchor, a fancy and very very expensive Rockna Vulcan (sorry, overdraft), should arrive on Friday.

There’s a lot more to tell you. Rich’s job is going well and leaves him still able to enjoy his evenings, and I had an interview yesterday with a language school. I’ve started running again, and I still swim most days although the water’s colder than off mainland Spain. We’ve visited Palma and it’s gorgeous. We’ve made plans to spend this weekend at our local theme park and eat one of these much-advertised full English breakfasts before the whole area closes down for November. That low level fear that keeps you alert to the wind forecasts and a myriad of other factors, that one that I thought we’d leave behind with the cruising if we spent winter at a marina, that’s not going. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We chose this life, and we like it, and there are going to be scary days. We need to be ready for them, and know that we can get through them. Even at rest, the adventure goes on.

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Palma. What is this Mallorcan obsession with upside down buildings?

Not At Home

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Flamingos on Calpe’s salt marshes

We didn’t rush out of Calpe. I knew this would probably be our last night sail this year, and I wanted to savour the evening’s impressions – the two-step grumble of the racheted chain falling in to the locker, the almost imperceptible motion of sailing off anchor, the helicopter whirr of the wind in the jib, the squishy splashy sounds of waves against us, the salty stick of sea air on sun tightened skin. We sped up gently as the staysail was hoisted, and glided down the bay past the beaches where we’d made landings for this and that. This place hadn’t been the most beautiful or interesting, but it had been incredibly happy, and we were prepared to miss it.

Our usual system for tacking involves Rich bringing in one running backstay and me steering with an outstretched leg while undoing the other behind me, then a swap of position as I release the head sail sheets and Rich tightens them in on my original side. We performed this while sunset orange flashed in the windows of beach hotels and stained the light rock of the penon, and I took some photos as we headed out into the Ibiza strait. As night fell the great rock dulled to grey, then black, and was left behind without us, and we thanked it and called goodbye with fearful glances to one another. I was scared of the stresses of finding work, Rich nervous about his new job, both of us intimidated by the notion of finding, approaching and affording a marina. We were full of hugs, touches and reassurances, with talk alternating between discussing what we needed to do when we got to Mallorca and consoling each other that we could manage it whatever.

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Last sunset over mainland Spain

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Cheerio Penon de Ifach. Love you.

Overnight the sea was less supportive. The waves didn’t look big but they were going in odd and different directions, and beating towards the wind had us hitting them at funny angles, jolting the boat and making both sleep and waking watches uncomfortable and effortsome. When we got to our anchorage in North Ibiza the next morning we were cranky and exhausted, and though Rich managed a snorkel I mostly watched movies, cooked and ate until I allowed myself to pass out. The beach looked busy, but the land looked green and lush and gave me hope for Mallorca.

The next morning we had anticipated a huge wind, but there was none in the unusually cloudy bay. Ah well, we’d tack out to sea. Ah, none here, we’d sail past the end of Ibiza that must be sheltering it. Ah, none here… We had halved our main sail area with two reefs the night before to cope with the onslaught, and though we filled most of the space with a topsail we were still doing only two knots. Then one. Then none.

Thunder rumbled over Ibiza. We decided to put the engine on if only to get further from the storm that seemed to be approaching. Within an hour or two the wind was finally up and we cut the engine to speed downwind towards Mallorca, whose mountains we could already see some 50 miles away, but the storm did not like being left behind. A downpour descended, our first rainy sail this side of Biscay, and we laughed a lot while both staying on deck like the idiots we are. I’m not sure about the psychology of it all but getting soaked does seem to put both of us in very good spirits. Then the wind got up, and by the evening we were removing the topsail and staysail to stay at 7 knots as we bashed our way into Mallorca’s south west approach to Palma. The rain had cleared, but darkness and high winds were our new challenges as we headed towards Magaluf and on to our anchorage for the night.

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Aw, it’s just like being back in England. Except warm.

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Pretty spatters and run-offs not captured very well here

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Mallorca looking less than inviting

The wind eased as we got closer in, the pair of us pointing and exclaiming at yet another bay of outrageous development and its sparkling lights. Just after Magaluf’s north end (lit by a gigantic pair of blue tips that it turns out are a bungee chair ride) we went to nip in to the south corner of Palmanova, the next bay, to stop for the rest of the night. Though we could make out most of the larger outlying obstacles we found ourselves bewildered by other craft whose lights were difficult to discern against all the lights ashore – a tall tower that seemed to be on land turned out on closer inspection to be a yacht’s well lit mast, and then a hotel on the far shore whose orange lights shone in line after line turned out to be a single super motor yacht, much closer than we’d realised. We had more neighbours than we’d had in all of northern Spain put together, and we wove our way between them cautiously by motor, a torch at the ready, before putting the anchor down and breathing sighs of relief.

Neighbours can be helpful things to have, and the next morning one of them dinghied over and told us that this bay can actually be anchored in all year round. Our brains whirred – could this be true? Could we live this far from Rich’s job in Palma? Would it work for us? What’s ashore here apart from hotels? Are we about to save a tonne of marina money? We decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks and see what happened. Gwen seemed happy for now, bobbing in the sunny bay with Fanny and Bob trailed out behind like ducklings. In a spirit of “checking out the new neighbourhood” I went ashore on my own for some shopping, and came back in a state of shock.

First impressions of Palmanova: It’s Magaluf. It’s Benidorm. It’s Daily Mails and Full Englishes. It’s theme pubs and inflatable toys. It’s cock shaped key rings and lapdance clubs. It’s stags and hens getting wasted and performing sex acts for bets. It’s “Prince William’s” menu del dia featuring real yorkshire puddings. Exposed white skin coated in raw burn or inch thick foundation, head-wide necks and muscle carved chests dribbled with football tattoos, gawping dead stares giving you “evils”. I looked for veg in all the self-styled “supermarkets” and found only crisps and booze. I went to buy a postcard and got chatted up by the checkout clerk. I went to get a beer and talked myself out of a panic attack. I rowed home in tears. This is my new home? What is there here for me?

That night I worried. Rain poured down and we leapt out of bed to shut hatches and protect items on deck. The next morning the sun shone, the sea beckoned and the world seemed a little better – this is not all there is. I went online to find out about Palma and was intrigued by what sounds like a brilliant city, and snorkelled round the boat to check on the anchor before the waterskiers and jetskiers got started for the day. Rich and I went ashore together and found areas beyond the busy sea front scariness, and popped in to an enormous Aldi where they have real fruit and vegetables. We found the bus stop, and saw that Palma is only a half hour ride away. We went to Magaluf and found a cool looking theme park among the pubs and hotels. In the evening we had a quick drink with Rich’s new boss, who seems like a really decent chap, and his adorable wee son. By evening we were back on Gwen and enthused, making plans to the sounds of battling crooners in distant sea front bars (“Delilah” overlapping with “I’m Still Standing”) and the first chants of karaoke that would go on until long after we fell asleep.

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Kathmandu Park in Magaluf has an upside down pub, a huge awesome climbing frame and a mini golf course with waterfalls…

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…and this crazy octopus. We must go round it before it shuts for winter.

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“You know how you always see people taking photos of each other in front of pointless things? Well, I’ve decided to take one” says the man I love.

We’re going to check out Palma tomorrow, and more of the island over our weekends. I’m still slightly bewildered that we’ve stopped cruising and yet I’m not back in the Shire, and I hope to get there for a visit over the winter. As much if not more than back home, I’m going to miss cruising. I’m going to miss waking up somewhere new and going to explore. I’m going to miss the work of sailing and the life of not working. I’ve learned so much – so many subtle peculiarities of sailing and of how Gwen, Geordi and Rich do it. I am so pleased to be here largely because I am so pleased with how we got here. We’ve logged 2,100 sailing miles since Millbrook. Four years after Gwen became ours she has done what we dreamed of doing with her, and the purpose of any hardship we endured for her back home has been revealed. I still feel like she owes me a bigger trip, another adventure, and we’re going to work towards that. But, for the next six months at least, we’ve got a new life to live, hopefully one that can include the odd weekend sail to remind us of Gwen’s brilliance, the glory of the sea and the joy of a silent secluded anchorage. We’ve got a lot to get used to and a lot to discover, and hopefully a lot more to enjoy.

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Small waves swing us softly like a nursery rhyme mother. The view from a porthole flips from sea to coast to sky and back. The rig rumbles quietly above and a cup ticks against its shelf in the galley. I light the cooker – first with a slosh of meths, poured on and clicked alight, and when that’s gone out with the paraffin hob – pressurised liquid freshly heated into vapour. Water is foot-pumped into the kettle and that goes on, and I climb on deck in the cool of the morning, watching the world until I hear the whistle blow. We’re in Calpe, another tourist town but a rather spectacular one thanks to an enormous rock, the Penon de Ifach, whose shaft towers over the marina beside which we’re anchored and is shading me to the tune of a chorus of seagulls. Sadly, our stay here hasn’t all been this peaceful.

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Quick quiz: What do you find at the top of this rock?

Our intention had been to leave Almeria, head east around Cabo de Gata and then north for Cartagena. On our first day we tried to sidestep the wind that blew into the bay, but at greater and greater angles against it we found ourselves so far from any useful course that we anchored at dusk near a long, flat empty beach to try again on the next.

In the morning we motored around the strange bare rock formations that outline the Cabo. Clouds shielded us from the scalding sun and a low wind awoke to nudge us in the right direction. The engine went off and Rich turned his attention to increasing our sail area, proclaiming that if it’s canvas, it’ll help. He hoisted our misshapen topsail on spars made from windsurfer masts and hung our storm jib under the boom to trap any spare gust that thought it was getting away with it.

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If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you’re on the planet it’s farthest from

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Grab all the spare canvas and tie it to something!

Soon we were doing well. Too well. At this rate we would arrive in Cartagena at 2am, long before we had expected. As we were going to sail overnight anyway, why not make the most of it and head as far north as we could? Rich put this to me in the early evening and I grumbled – I wanted to see Cartagena. “Okay, then. I suppose. We DO need to make progress. Just so long as we’re not going to bloody Benidorm.” Rich showed me a photo of Calpe from a pilot guide and I was convinced.

At night, in some parts of coastal Europe, lonely perverts like to make themselves known over the emergency frequency on the VHF. Their transmissions feature monotonous swearing, or growled intentions of what is going to be stuck where, or just repeated odd phrases. They’re always in English, always dangerous in their misuse of the reserved emergency channel, and frequently entertaining. Anything can be entertaining on a night watch.

We took our watches on at our usual times, neither of us sleeping well as we’d gotten used to a different routine, taking it in turns to babysit Geordi as the wind wound down. When it returned with the morning sun we never quite regained the speed we’d had the day before, but we were happy – it’s difficult not to be on a downwind race as you occupy yourself with books, Spanish lessons, music and radio comedy in the sun. We were far off the coast and in good spirits, laughing off less comfortable reminders of longer term absence from land – the spots that grow on your arse from sitting down too long, the smells that emanate from your pits, the galley and the heads.

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Another bloody gorgeous sunrise at sea

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In this photo you have two opportunities to admire the noble curve of Richard’s nose

In the afternoon the wind started to die and we looked at the chart for places to spend the night. As we wouldn’t make it to Calpe and needed somewhere we could buy coffee (running out was bound to drive us mad in the morning) and easily motor in to once the light had gone, there was only one clear option. Bloody Benidorm. We entered the huge bay past its solo island in the black of midnight, our path illuminated by a million lights. Above the long coast that was glistening with skyscraper hotels and thick apartment blocks, the shadowy sillhouettes of yet more development could be made out. Rich refused to share my excitement about how fantastically awful our time there could be. We anchored and went to bed.

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Benidorm by night

We woke to a knock on deck. I heaved my tired body up the steps in pants and a vest to find a pair of lifeguards telling us to move our boat further from a swimming zone that we were clearly not in. We abided, lifting the anchor, hoisting the gib, blowing a few feet, dropping the anchor again. By day the grim squeeze of holiday accommodation looked even more forboding, but intrigued and still coffee-less we gathered our wits as best we could and got Fanny off deck to go and explore. 20 yards from the now well occupied sand, more power-mad lifeguards yelled to stop us from bringing the dinghy ashore. “Where do we go then?” They pointed far down the huge bay, towards a marina we weren’t going to bloody well pay for. Swearwords were whispered as we returned to Gwen, and in the end I went for another of my superwoman swimming sessions to retrieve precious caffeine to jumpstart our brains.

Benidorm’s sea front held some of the dubious creature comforts I’d imagined – blown up photos of Full English breakfasts and racks of Suns and Daily Mails – but it had a great atmosphere. Everywhere there were people, and everywhere the people looked happy. I wrote a postcard to my old workplace as that seemed to be the thing to do, and swam back to Gwen to relieve Rich of his high rise horror by motoring merrily away to somewhere more welcoming.

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Benidorm turns The Chard into Wilfred Brambell

We passed a stunning waterfall among the rocks and noticed the return of green to the landscape with delight. After several weeks in Tattooine, might a patch of Endor be in sight? We anchored near Calpe’s Ifach marina and entered a state of holiday bliss that was not to end for a few days. Not only was the rock as magnificent as the pilot book suggested, but the rampant but thankfully less Benidormy tourist area was as uncomplicatedly pleasant as Nerja’s. In the evening we found a cheap three course meal, a new romper suit for me and, joy of joys, a set of air hockey tables that only cost a Euro a go just off the promenade. I really, really love air hockey. In the daytimes we snorkelled and climbed the Penon, and I found a British broadsheet paper full of bad news whose cryptic kept me occupied for two day’s sunbathes while rich spotted Anchortopus – a huge cephalopod cuddling our anchor who I tried but failed to spot on my own sea explorations. Even going to the larger Calpe town to do laundry was like a big jolly, with beers in the sun watching stereotypically oikish construction workers and a happy half hour picking through the incredible canned goods and cakes of a Dutch supermarket. For two or three days life was like a second honeymoon, which is nice as we’ve never had a first, or got married.

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Quiz answer: Cats!

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You can pay to have a go on a hoverboard here. For a minute or two, we wish we were rich.

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The big beach on the other side of the peninsula

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This week’s neighbours are probably baby garfish

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At least it’s not another aqueduct path

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Massive poser in new romper suit

But then there was Thursday.

Most mornings we check the grib files to see what the wind has in store for us, but on Thursday we lay in, and by the time Rich had had a look and decided it might have been a good day to head for Ibiza, it was already looking too late to go. Ah well, we’d stay a while longer here. I was mid-phone conversation to a friend back in the Shire when the Chard interrupted – “shall we just go?” – and I agreed. We threw down the hung laundry, heaved the dinghies on board and tidied away everything loose, and we got the sail covers off and the main ready to hoist. The wind was rising and we decided to motor round the cape until it was in our favour to save time. I went to turn the engine key and heard the familiar grind of its awakening followed by… nothing. It kept turning over, but there was no spark, no explosion. Oh.

We tried again and again, and had the engine cover off to look, but it was useless. Rich called his dad, our helpline mechanic, and they went through a few possibilities, but repair was clearly going to have to wait for another day. The wind was getting quite worryingly strong and we realised we might not be okay staying in the anchorage, so we decided to sail out and find another anchorage even if we weren’t heading out towards the islands. But as I took the tiller and main and Rich heaved on the anchor lever the chain started to snatch on the windlass gypsy, banging repeatedly as it rose and dove in the waves. After one clank too many he turned to me and called through a stiff jaw “we’re going to break something. We’re not going anywhere”, and put more anchor chain out.

By four pm the boat was rearing up and down, the bowsprit smashing in to waves and dunking the jib. Our minds, bodies and contingency plans seemed to be exhausted, but we had to keep coming up with ways to make the boat safer. If our trusty fisherman anchor should drag or the anchor chain snap we had no way to protect ourselves from hurtling into the rocks beside the beach. We nearly got Fanny off to row out a second anchor, but realised that we’d probably put a hole through her trying to put the anchor in. We got our huge unused seized danforth anchor ready to throw overboard, and chucked a CQR anchor into the water with a fender attached. Rich got into his wetsuit and snorkel mask and swam with all his strength into the still growing wind and waves, pulling the fendered rope out and dragging the CQR in the direction of our first anchor, while I directed him from on deck and yelled alerts when jetskis or speedboats came near, doing a reasonably good job of not sounding as terrified as I was. He returned beaten but glad to have seen that the fisherman was holding, at least for now.

And then we waited. For four hours in our crap-crowded aft cabin we watched our position on the GPS like lobsters watching the hand descending into the restaurant tank, looking away only to jump outside and check our position in the real world. We held each other, listened to some radio, and even put a movie on another screen beside the chart plotter, anything to distract us from the horror on which we had to keep an eye. But we were both wired. My face bore a stiff hypnotic stare, stained with silent tears. Rich got up to poo frequently while I could barely get a wee out with all the tension. Time passed slowly, and then the wind eased, and then eased some more. We had dinner in the saloon, exchanging not-really-sure smiles while we watched the most mindless movie we could find (Deadpool, since you asked), and went to the dubious comfort of separate beds to prevent in-duvet collisions in the strongest anchorage roll we’ve had yet. The waves were still hurtling in after the wind had turned and died, and Gwen was now side-on to them.

A big lesson that we already knew but had somehow managed to forget had been learned. We’ve been so obsessed with getting to Mallorca that in watching the grib files neither of us had even thought that the supposed 15 knots (it was definitely more) blowing us straight into the beach might be a problem. We’d dismissed Thursday as a “not sailing day”, and then wondered whether it could be a “maybe sailing day”, and missed the obvious, clear sign that we needed to be out of the anchorage by then either way. We’re paying attention again now, you’ll probably be glad to know.

The engine, it turned out yesterday, had a small air leak in the fuel system which took Rich, his dad and me all afternoon to find. But when it was fixed (clever Chard) we were elated, and I felt instantly comfortable with whatever is to come all over again. We had a celebratory snorkel in the late afternoon, a first outing for the only slightly broken 2Euro snorkelling fins that Rich found for me in a rare charity shop sighting. I can now dive down much easier than before, and I finally got to see my first wild octopus, and to watch a second shifting around and over rocks with incredible shape and colour changing fluidity. I love octopusses even more than air hockey. Though they’re on offer in almost every restaurant in coastal Spain we refuse to eat them because we suspect they’re superior to humans.

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Screenshot from Rich’s anchortopus video, which is too big to upload at the moment.

We are nearly at the end of our cruising for this year. Soon we will have to go to Mallorca and work. We need to get Gwen established somewhere quickly in a marina, and I have to find a job pretty quickly if we’re to afford their apparently exorbitant fees. It’s all go, and a bit exciting, and a bit scary. But the wind looks low, safe and useless, for today and tomorrow. So it’s back to the holiday with me. The sun rises over the Penon and the bay looks calm and beautiful, and there are salt marshes full of flamingoes to explore.