I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me.
And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Presuming me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.
But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,
And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve –
And then I started too.
And he – he followed close behind;
I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle, – then my shoes
Would overflow with pearl.
Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.
By the Sea Emily Dickinson
I felt him move beside me, the ritual of dressing, the toileting, the pull on of shoes, the red light flicking on in the galley. I pulled the quilt over me and rolled over. He kindly said he was happy taking her out and I should sleep on but after a few moments I felt awake and excited. I wanted to get up. I quickly dressed and appeared at the foot of the companion way.
“Oh hello you, I thought you would sleep on?”
“I wanted to get up and see us going out. Fancy a cup of tea?”
We sat in the cockpit, cradling a cup of tea, as we slid out the narrows between the islands, a current running and using the lights on land to guide us. It was very shallow here and we had to follow a narrow channel that was supposed to be marked by sector lights. We couldn’t see any but followed the chart and gradually Stravaigin flowed out the channel and into open waters.
“I’ll take the watch now” I said.
J happily accepted and headed down below to catch up on sleep and I settled down to keep watch and see us on our journey across this stretch of the Mediterranean. It would be a full day and night crossing and we hoped to be in Minorca by mid afternoon the following day. I was well suited up, the chill of the night still requiring an underlayer and full waterproofs on top. My hat was handy and I looked at my tanned hands peeping out of the long sleeves, they didn’t look like mine. I loved being out here on my own, I felt strong and competent. A small group of dolphins startled me as they leapt at the side of the boat, silver in the black night causing phosphorescence as they splashed. The waters were odd, currents drifting and a lot of flotsam floating by. There was a mist lying on the surface too and with the blinking lights on the shore it looked surreal. I noticed what looked like foam in huge rafts floating by, then it looked like polystyrene blobs all clumped together. I couldn’t make it out. I was a bit concerned, what if it clogged the engine intake. I checked it and shone the big torch on it but still could not figure it out. It was endless, whiteish and blueish. I wanted to get the net and scoop some up but we were going around 6knts, too fast for that. And I was always concerned fiddling about on deck in the dark on my own so sat back and focused instead on the screen showing our progress and more importantly any shipping around. I loved watching the day grow from dark, no light to light just glowing on the horizon. The stars slowly faded, Venus clinging on and the moon paling as the light built from the east. The waters slowly changed colour or at least took colour as we surged onwards, the bow breaking the surface and parting the waves, sending wakes on either side. The blobs were still there not so much a solid raft but dots now. Everywhere the eye could see and for ever. The sun rose casting colour and definition to the sky and clouds, the dew on deck slowly dried back and the teak wood dried off to its pale brown colour. Bit by bit my layers came off, my hat lay under the pram hood, next my jacket and finally my dungarees until the sun was revealed in her full round and my legs appeared too and my brown bare feet, again not looking like mine. I had never been so suntanned. I felt quite Bohemian.
I glanced down at the water again and could see now these little dots were transparent like bubbles, some tiny only a couple of centimetres, others bigger but still only 5-7 cm at most. They had minute sails and were angled across the wind, all in the same orientation. They were fascinating and so cute like little Disney creatures bobbing along, so dense I felt I could scoop my hand in and bring up a dozen at a time.
Vellelas “ By the wind sailors”, tiny jellyfish-like polys which are related to the Portuguese Man O War, but are part of a specialised ocean surface community. Each individual is actually a colony, most are less than about 7 cm long. They were a deep blue in colour, but with a small stiff transparent “sail” that catches the wind and sails them over the surface of the sea, just like us. I was fascinated by them and managed to get a good look at one as unfortunately I found one high and dry having been blown up on deck and could see the deep blue tentacles that hang down in the water and how they catch their prey, generally plankton. The body seemed to have no colour but the blue of the tentacles was so vibrant it stained the white deck.
Once J was awake I told him all about them and we stared at the wee dead one, amazed at the wonder of nature to have evolved such a thing. To sail!
The voyage was smooth, sun was out, not much shipping and unfortunately not much wind so we motor sailed a lot. I was not feeling too great, not seasick just not quite settled. It was noisy and every hour we felt poorer and resented the necessity of having to use the engine. Friends we had made who were cruising on to Greece and Turkey had no agenda, no deadline, no home to return to, so only sailed when there was wind staying at anchor enjoying the place until the winds changed, next time we thought, it’ll be good to do that.
The day wore on and we chatted and dozed and planned and listening to music and ate. Until the light began to fade again and the sun’s warmth slowly pulled back, causing a chill to shiver down my back.
The night watch would start soon so preparations are made. Red light torches, lifejackets and harnesses on, warm clothes and waterproofs ready, snacks in the centre cockpit table, book and glasses laid out for quiet spells. I was happy on night watch now. I was comfortable on my boat, I know how she works and am much more confident. I still need help to trim the sails but I know what should be done. I can take the foresail in and out. I can tighten and loosen the mainsail. I can start and stop the engine. I can operate the AIS and steer us out of harms way. I know when to wake the captain for advise. Yes I think I am a sailor now.
And still the Velellas continued to float by, on their way to who knows? Everywhere, all around in every direction, I marvelled at their numbers, the sea was covered in them and if this was this part of the Med then how far did they stretch? I realised the rafts of foam I had seen previously were swarms of them, pushed by the currents flowing through the straits and funnelling them together.
As day broke the next morning, we saw low lying Minorca ahead. It felt strange returning here and our visit last autumn seemed a lifetime away. Although it also felt good sailing along the familiar coastline, recalling the bar cut into the cliff side and the little coves. I remembered how I’d felt having to pass these by and feeling a bit miffed we couldn’t visit but now I knew how this works and anchoring means staying near the boat for safety, we’d seen too many near misses with yachts dragging anchor and other boats straying too near ones at anchor, you just need to stay aware and look after your vessel and home.
We pulled into a little anchorage once we had made it across to spend the night, before nipping round to the main town in the morning. We were tired after our two day passage so chilled out, fuelling up and watching our download films. We watched “Fish People” which seemed so apt lying in the cabin on the water surface watching these amazing folk who live their lives in the sea, beautifully filmed and narrated. Maybe we were sort of fish people too, living our lives by the rhythms of current, wind and wave.
Mahon welcomed us back with sunshine and bustle. We got a lovey berth along the town quay and as soon as we tied up we had a good feel about this place. The marinara was welcoming and helpful, the neighbours smiling and the tourists looked happy and pleased with life. I was glad to be ashore and soon took myself off for a walk around the port and up onto the higher path that overlooks the town. Huge ferries and cruise ships were berthed further up the inlet and I marvelled at how they navigated this narrow channel. I sat on a bench back from the busy area in a quiet rather run down part of the backtown and watched the world from backstage when a youth appeared and asked some directions. I was immediately suspicious as I had my phone in my hand and my handbag at my side. I told him what I knew of the steps he was looking for “To meet with friends” but I felt tense. He was a little dishevelled and seemed nervous talking to me. He went though some pleasantries like where I was from, what was I doing here and seemed genuinely impressed I was Scottish and had sailed here, he was a bit lost he said and couldn’t remember the place his friends had described and he had lost his phone so couldn’t call them. He soon went off in the direction I had given and I watched him as he went deciding I might go back down to the port side another way as it was quiet here with no one around when I saw a few other youths appear up the steps and he hugged one of the girls and clapped the back of the other lads, they grouped together laughing and chatting and walked past me deep in conversation, big smiles on their young faces. ”Jeez” I thought, I felt guilty at judging him, he could be one of my sons, a little lost, maybe the day after the night before scruffy and relieved now to have met up with his pals, I felt mindful not to judge everyone for the one isolated incident from Sicily. He had approached me and asked for help and I had given it. I hoped my own lads would do the same.
We spent a couple of days restocking, refuelling re-watering and fuelling up ourselves, it was delightful berthed right alongside the town quay as I could do my favourite thing, sit in the cockpit with all the cushions out, in the sun, with a coffee or glass of wine depending on the time of day – this seemed to mist over though as the trip continued on! And watch people going about their business. I watched the smart Minorcans with laptop bags under their arms purposefully stride along to the office for a meeting, the smart ladies meet up with friends for café con leche and the couples wander arm in arm perusing menu del dias not really interested in the food but relishing the love time together. And families with colourfully dressed tots, taking hands as they jumped up on the low wall and balanced their way along the top to “jump” down to applause of how brave they were. I was taking all this in one evening as dinner time was coming to an end, the sun was setting and folks were returning to their houses or hotel rooms when a young couple caught my eye. She was beautiful, slim, high heels and a scarlet red summer dress with flutted hem and shoe string straps, he had his pale blue going-out shirt and beige chinos. They were side by side and she was flicking her long blonde hair off her shoulders nonchalantly. As they came near the lovely little mermaid statue at then end of the wharf they stopped as many do to look at it and usually take photographs but he pulled back and stood looking at these two lovely ladies, then as she turned round, he dropped on one knee producing a little black box from his pocket.
It was a beautiful scene and I watched only long enough to see her hands come to her face and a smile that lit up the evening against the golden sunset, then I pulled back under the canopy not wanting to intrude on their moment, though they were oblivious to the world, starting an adventure of their own and creating their own world from now on. I smiled to myself and thought of my middle son whose wedding was fast approaching and couldn’t help think over the years as he had grown from a blue eyed smiling adorable kid to a fine young man about to be become a husband. My eldest already a husband of nearly 4 years, once a little, slightly shy boy who was nervous to ask for the tomato sauce in a restaurant and now filled every room he entered with his strong presence. And my youngest, known for his affectionate haplessness but had lived independently on the plains of Guyana, the Oman desert, the forest and lakes of Canada and the glaciers of Iceland. What had happened, where had these years gone, I still felt a young Mum but now my youngest was at university, a lovely girlfriend of his own, living in their flat in Glasgow. Yup, time to enjoy this time out, my brood were well fledged and thriving.
The next day was the day before the captains birthday and we had ordered him a Kindle so he could pass his time when on the long return passage across the eastern Atlantic but I wanted to get him a surprise too. I had come across a nice sailing shop on my wanders and seen a smart sailing jacket, bright and lightweight and like the posh sailor types were wearing around the marina so decided to get him one. He doesn’t really like getting clothes, none of my lads do, but when they do get something nice they appreciate it and enjoy looking good, so luckily he was up for this purchase. We went along and he was spoiled by the elderly Minorcan gentleman who fussed over him and suggested the right cut and colour until they settled on a bright orange wind proof jacket. It was very smart and cool looking and certainly better than the slighlty scruffy one he had worn continually over the past 10 months. Job done he set of for the yacht club office to do his downloads and get updated weather reports, leaving me to window shop the trendy boutiques of Mahon. Mistake! I had seen a really nice shop the day before with a collection of clothes that literally I could have bought everything, they were my style, cut, colour and size but there was one piece that stood out. A lime green, faux leather jacket, smart as new paint and had my name on it. I went in and the lady, my age and I got on famously. We chatted and I told her about the wedding, my soon to be Catalonian daughter in law and she was a big Catalan fan, she know the Pallars and she had been to Scotland. Turned out her husband was a yacht master too and sailing instructor and she was a teacher but had this shop as her side hobby. When I told her what we were doing, she took my hand and said “You are living our dream” She told me she and her husband were planning to do a year off and sail in their boat to Turkey and Greece and maybe to Ukraine. We talked for ages and she insisted on calling her husband who appeared soon after to hear our tales and they looked at each other and said, in Spanish, “we have to do it”.
I bought the jacket and left with a big smile on my face thinking about the adventure they were about to embark on and desperate to call Mum and tell her all our news and about the jacket as it had her all over it. She was in great form and was delighted about the jacket, she loves hearing about my purchases! Definitely my mother’s daughter.
“Can’t wait to see it” she said.
“It’s the same colour as your Sicilian Furla bag, you’ll love it but its not leather, my spending budget can’t quite justify that”
“Och, its only money!” she stated.
Reluctantly we let the lines go the next morning and we motored out the channel, continuing west. We stopped the night in Calla de Caves where we had visited last year with its megalithic caves cut into the cliff sides. It was a bit choppy and with the winds funnelling around we had to be careful to make sure she was held secure on the hook. Every time that anchor went down, she hit home first time and held fast, it was so re-assuring and we were glad we had elected for this big heavy job. I dipped my feet in off the stern but the water was still so cold, I decided against a swim.
We headed for Calla Agulla round the bay from Alcudia on the east of Majorca and celebrated the captain’s birthday the next day in style. A lazy day for him and a busy one for me resulting in a tomahawk steak, roast potatoes, salad and a home made birthday cake. I had found a mix at the bottom of a locker and made it in a loaf tin decorated it with a tub of butter icing I also found and sprinkles! He was delighted and it was all delicious though I say so myself. He got lots of calls from his family and was left a little teary at the attention, stating he was a lucky man. We sat out after dinner admiring the view of the turquoise waters all around and the white beach curved in front of us and felt indeed very lucky. How many people get a chance to do this, though we had worked so incredibly hard to afford it we had made the bold decision to do it. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision, once its made, things fall into place as you now have a plan, not just a dream. It is not all easy, there are highs and lows but you journey through them together. Life throws you curved balls from time to time and you just need to deal with them. Black holes appear that you never saw coming and you find yourself being sucked in, almost helpless. Until you reach out a hand and someone grabs it and says “I’ve got you”
I was finding out a lot about myself, I often described myself as unconfident, quiet, slightly scared but here I was almost a year in and heard other people describe me in a different way, it didn’t sound like me at all. The captain has always been confident, bold and strong, not perfect by any matter but with a self assurance that exudes confidence in others and encourages you to give it a go. I had and look where it got me.
Time was moving on and the unfortunate side to this was we had a deadline, all be it a good one. The wedding was coming up and we had to be in Gibraltar to leave the boat and fly up to Barcelona to help out, as planned the week before the wedding. We sailed on towards Ibiza, stopping overnight at at Cabrera, a little known island off the south coast of Majorca that is a national park and marine protected area. Another place we agreed deserved a longer visit in the future. Finally anchoring off Formentera at Es Pujols, opposite Ibiza we had time to relax a little and catch up with emails and messages. I was busy preparing the ceremony the couple had asked for and secretly preparing a surprise book of connections to the couple. It had seemed a good idea at the time but it was such hard work trying to collate all the contributions and make a book of them, most written in Catalan so translating them was tricky. I had endeavoured to learn the language before the wedding so I could chat to my daughter in law to be’s family and friends but it was harder that I first thought and I had no one to practise on. I accepted this may be a longer term goal.
Dawn saw us slide out the tight gap between Ibiza and Formentera and negotiate the space with fast ferries and other yachts bustling around. Glad to be out in open water again we relaxed a bit until we received a navigational warning.
“All ships, all ships, all ships, navigational warning in Bay of Ibiza, a white cow is adrift. I repeat a white cow is adrift”
We looked at each other, really?
One it was identified as white, not brown, black or Friesian.
It was a cow, not a bull.
It was adrift, so not under way or making progress.
Poor thing, I wondered if anyone was going to attempt to rescue it or was it a deceased white cow but then they may have refereed to it as a carcass? How did it become adrift had it slipped its “moo” – ring? Had its Anchor (Butter from green green grass” ) dragged. Or had it slipped into the sea while grazing near the shore – or tumbled off the back of a ship.
We’ll never know and never saw it. But we kept an eye out. J more interested in another tomahawk steak while I worried about the poor thing floating around.
A former crew member noted on our social media post regarding the incident later that day, there are highs and lows in adventure but perhaps the biggest fear is boredom, never a dull moment on this adventure!