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  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill

Travels With Manza 1

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

July 1981

Letter to Gini:

David and I are still traveling around together. We recently spent most of our money buying a boat. But it's not a reasonable type of boat. It's more like a small pulling boat, a sixteen foot lifeboat off of a Norwegian freighter. We plan to live on, near, and around it for the next year or two, starting in eastern Spain.

"La Manzanita" is equipped with six copper flotation tanks. She has a mast, stepped amidships, and came with one small, bright orange sail, four oars (one pair heavy and one light) and one extra long steering oar. A bright orange covered wagon-ish tent on collapsible aluminum poles fits around the forward two thirds of the boat for shelter and privacy while at anchor. There's no centerboard. We are thinking of making leeboards later on.

July 21

We have left the "L'Amie" and are out in the world on our own: the three of us, David, ten year old Mary and I, and "La Manzanita". We left "L'Amie" in the wee hours of the 17th, rowing stealthily away with our booty [in true impoverished wharf rat tradition, we had absconded with one of "L'Amie"'s cast iron frying pans, and a length of new line.] We rowed to an island, Isla de Son Parassa, I think it's called, just off of Magalluf, where we fried up bacon, eggs and tomatoes in the sunshine, realizing that we were on to a good thing. It was a day of swimming and sleeping, as the island was invaded by tourists in pedalboats from the nearby hotels.

We left next morning at dawn, sailing maybe a mile on the remains of a westerly breeze. We then rowed several miles into the middle of Palma Bay, a thirteen mile traffic infested crossing. In the middle, a front with a squall line came through bringing a strong wind from the north. We set sail and were soon in foul weather gear reaching to windward, the best we can manage with the present rig, and making leeway like crazy. By the time we reached the opposite coast we couldn't quite fetch it. We were being blown offshore and the shore didn't look too hospitable anyway. After trying to tack, which pointed us basically back where we'd come from, we got the oars out. We were about a mile and a half from shore. Rowing into the wind we made some progress, but not when it was gusting. Lo and behold, one of the small Mallorquian fishing boats, several of which had passed us, chugging home towards Palma and hugging the lee of the coast, stopped and offered us a tow. We accepted a tow to the shore where we had been heading. Familiar with the coast line, they were able to drop us in the only semblance of a protected cove for miles around. The rest of the coast was sheer cliffs where we would have had trouble getting ashore if we anchored.

We anchored and futzed around in the deserted, weather scoured place. Built a fire and cooked up vegetables. Then the weather cleared up, clouds and rain disappeared, wind died and returned as a moderate southeasterly breeze, the usual afternoon pattern. Not liking the unsheltered anchorage, we set out again, rowing, and rowed probably six or seven miles to a beautiful inlet called Cala Pi. Here there was protected glassy green water, a sandy beach, and other little boats. We slept there on the beach. "Manzanita"'s anchor dragged during the night, and again the next day while we were walking around finding a good cafe, where we gorged on roast pork. By then some Spaniards living right on Cala Pi's minute waterfront befriended us and invited us up for a drink. We had a wonderful time singing with them, eating bread with olive oil and tomatoes smeared on it. Tied "Manzanita" up in a secure resting spot for the night. They invited us to a calamarios barbecue next Friday and were altogether friendly, generous, healthy people.

Next morning we left around 7:00 a.m. and rowed three miles or so on up the cost. At Punta Plana the afternoon breeze appeared and to our delight we were able to use it and sailed to Colonia where we bought food and then on to the small island of Moltona, a shade less and lizard infested rock where we rested, ate, chased lizards and put them in the water.

Cooked up soup last night in an old quarry, watching the sunset and trying to teach Mary a few stars.

Slept late this morning until a lizard climbed on my head at 8:30. By 9:30 or 10:00 we were rowing off, and by 11:30 had found our latest paradise, a tiny bight at the bottom of a deserted cove. There are big old pine trees for shade, "Manzanita" has the big anchor out with acres of scope, and we have slept and eaten pancakes all day.

It has been great having Mary along. She's grumpy in the morning, but usually adaptable, cheerful and, I think, learning a lot. And we need her to help, to steer while we row for one thing. She loves "La Manzanita" and trusts her now as we do.

July 26

Still in the same cove. It's another flawless, breezy afternoon. Mary and David are patrolling the shore with our little dipnet after bait and marine curiosities. We have been working all week on hand sewing a little jib for "Manzanita". It is just now complete and ready for a trial windward run up the cove.

While we were crossing the Atlantic, with our new little boat lashed to the deck amidships upside down, we contemplated her throughout the crossing, trying to imagine what she'd be like to travel in, and how well she'd sail. The answer to the second of these questions became painfully apparent the first day we took her out across Palma Bay. Lacking a deep keel or center board, her leeway was appreciable and we were going sideways. Having no headsail made steering difficult unless the wind was directly behind us.

A jib was our first concern. A well financed yacht in Palma had thrown one of their old staysails into the marina dumpster, whence we had retrieved it, so we have all the material we need.

We went food shopping in Colonia two days ago, and baked a chicken in a pit in the sand with the help of hot rocks and eelgrass. We are all happy and content, unconcerned with the future, free and healthy. How long can it last?

Yesterday evening I saw a small octopus lurking in the shallows.

Aug. 2

Hurray for chocolate (our emergency rations)! We are on Menorca. Made the crossing day before yesterday, our longest open crossing to date, and yesterday clawed our way to weather, anchoring at dead of night after tacking into this cove. Slept on the boat quite comfortably.

During the crossing we raised sail at the slightest hint of a useable breeze, but spent a lot of time at the oars. The twenty mile passage took twenty hours, very few of which were spent under sail. The captain of a fishing boat came out of the wheel house to look us over as he passed, and when he gave the international sign for "loco" and pointed at us, we were in no mood to disagree with him.

We are now on the omnipresent beach, hiding from the sun. My new thermometer comes in a purple, white and gold plastic case shaped like the holy cross.

The boat handles much better now that we have both a jib and mainsail, although her windward ability is still extremely limited. Except in ideal conditions of flat calm seas and light steady wind, tacking to weather is an exercise in frustration and it makes more sense to wait for the wind to shift. Given extreme cases of impatience we can usually just row to our destination in a straight line quicker than tacking there.

Aug 5 or 6

This morning I caught a foot long octopus in our net. It became hopping mad, turned a deep shade of purple, ejected itself from the dipnet and got away. We're still in the same cove. We have tried to leave twice but have been baffled by contrary winds. Spent yesterday on a trip to fetch food and water from a nearby village. Mary is getting bored but has only piped up with her "Can I go home early?" once so far. David countered with, "You only have to put up with us for four more weeks."

Living this way has drains us a lot. I think it's the sun that does it: constant heat and glare. We wake up early and are very hungry. At night we eat a huge dinner and sleep as soon as it is dark. This cove is a very choice one. "Manzanita" is anchored in sand in the clearest water, with a clever pulley system we can use to pull her closer to shore without swimming out to get her. We cook on the rocks nearby and sleep under pine trees up on the cliff. We took a walk a few days ago and discovered that we are on the outskirts of a huge community of summer beach dwelling Menorcans who are camped out in the belt of trees just beyond the beach. There must be fifty campsites, composed of tents, shanties, lean-tos and elaborate black plastic shelters. We're back in the stone age, squatting around the campfire on our lifejackets and sleeping on the ground.

Aug. 9

We are holed up in a deserted, protected little cove four miles north of Mahon, the big town on Menorca. The past few days have been hard ones. We left our other deluxe cove three days ago, after doing a successful capsize drill at anchor to clean the sand out of the boat. The first day we rowed nine miles to Cabo Cabelleria in about four and a half hours and then sailed into Fornellis Bay. We stopped in the town to get food and sailed down to the bottom of the bay where we slept amongst livestock in a dusty pasture. We were all in terrible moods, exhausted and bickering. Up next morning and tacked up the bay to town to buy bread and get water, then tacked out of the narrow mouth of the bay. We tried sailing for awhile but due to contrary winds ended up "motorsailing" with the oars and then just rowing, a couple of miles in roly-poly seas again, all being hateful, weeping, etc. But at last we were able to sail again, downwind even, way down a very narrow inlet where we camped. We cooked and ate a huge meal in an exhausted stupor and slept. Next morning we rowed out of the inlet and rowed two miles in big, three foot high seas, around Cabo Fabaritz. Then we could sail downwind to this spot, just behind Punta Rambla. The lifeboat lived up to her name, having no trouble handling the choppy seas. We have been navigating all this time by means of a road map of the Balearic Islands, which works fine for our purposes.

Yesterday we rested, swam, and ate, and today we are doing the same and life is if anything sweeter than before. We're rid of my bad mood, much to the relief of my companions especially Mary. All's well and we are safe from a healthy Mistral wind which is kicking up outside the Cape. Mary and David are beachcombing, Manzanita bobs at anchor like a toy.

Aug. 13

Half way down the south coast of Menorca. We spent two days in Mahon harbor shopping and erranding, after a fast ride down there in big old seas, downwind. Yesterday we only travelled a couple of miles, caught by a thunderstorm just as we were rowing out of Mahon harbor. We scampered into a tiny cala, or cove, ran aground, drank hot chocolate in a bar an spent the day cooking pea soup under a bridge while it rained. Today we sailed all day, experiencing a northeast to northwest to southeast wind shift, luckily all favorable to us , and we're ensconced in a tiny cove with a small pristine beach, waiting for the populace to clear out so we can cook dinner. Mary is swimming her heart out while David and I scribble solemnly in our notebooks, and the locals keep an eye on us. We're starting to think about the winter, to look forward to it.

Aug. 15

Another day, another idyllic beach. I'm on my own this morning, David and Mary having taken the overland route to Ciudadela to get food. I spent the morning filling our water jugs in a pasture spring, cooking chick peas on a slow fire, bathing with dish soap in the salt water. We're three and a half miles from the jumping off spot for Mallorca. Time to psych ourselves up for the ocean passage.

Aug. 16

Yesterday night we feasted on the chick peas. Today, after the heat of the day had passed, we walked to visit some Talayots, round stone hive-like structures with stone lintels, some sort of ancient holy place. Walked back to our camp just as the full moon was rising bright orange in the sky.

Aug. 18

We're back on Mallorca. Yesterday, the day we chose for the crossing, was proverbially flat assed calm, so we rowed a lot, one stint was seven hours, after rising at 4:30 am after a bad night's sleep on the boat. A couple of breezes helped inch us along. The last of these was dying around midnight when we finally reached shore in the moonlight, only to be greeted by loud, rowdy rock and roll music from the beach. Crazed and dazed, we rowed over to the sound, anchored, stumbled up to the tail end of a concert and got in a dance and a glass of wine before collapsing on the boat. Today we are resting after a huge ham and egg breakfast, undecided as to whether we should go north or south from here tomorrow. North would continue our circumnavigation, south would be back to Palma. Funds are running low. Depends on the wind, I guess. Yesterday was indeed a killer of a day.

Aug. 21

We are waiting out the Mistral on a beach near Alcudia, with "Manzanita" anchored in the lee of Aucanada island. Today we baked sweet biscuits in a megalithic oven we helped David build. The oven is an impressive little heap of stones on the beach, built like a Talayot/ beehive. In the next three days, David will go to Palma to look for work and take Mary with him. I'll wait with the boat wherever it is, which might be here. We have less than enough money at this point. Last night we grilled a chicken over the fire.

We are pretty committed to a northerly passage around Mallorca. More beach loafing ahead for me, babysitting "La Manza".

Aug. 22

Same beach, same big wind blowing. Last night we set up "Manzanita"'s boat tarp tent for the first time during our voyage, waking at 4:00 am and fearing rain, feeling a few drops. Today the tent's sides are rolled up for a shade, and we are baking bread again for diversion, yeast bread this time. Yesterday's was a quick bread, using baking powder.

If we don't move tomorrow, if the wind doesn't change, David will go to Palma the next day. I'd better find something to occupy myself doing. I need a book to read or write, or something to embroider. The boat is tied up to a pine tree with Spanish babies playing in the water all around.

Seven and a half more miles to Cabo Formentor. After we get around that, we'll welcome Mistrals or anything northerly to get us down to Andraitz and eventually to Ibiza. Meanwhile we are all quite content to rest, watching the yachts fighting their way to weather out of the bay. Town is a twenty minute walk away, and the local park rangers haven't been spotted to chastise us for fire building or camping on shore. It felt chilly this morning and that felt good.

Aug. 24

Early this morning, David and Mary caught the bus to Palma without an instant to spare. Now I'm hiding out, further down the beach on a bed of eel grass, with an excessively huge pot of beans on to boil. At first I was dismayed if not surprised, to see that the wind had veered to a placid southwesterly, perfect for sailing out of here. But a few hours later it is back in the northeast with a vengeance, so I can sit here contented, not missing out on a day when we could have made northerly progress. Yesterday we had set out to try to sail. Sailed a little, rowed to windward, and finally just turned around and raced back downwind, covering the mile and a half we had gained in minutes. Later a Spanish family fed us watermelon.

Aug. 25

Spending my second night alone out on "Manza" on account of hormigas (ants) and weirdos on shore. The wind blew light from the northeast today and at present is westerly. Today I walked to town and actually wrote an eight page article on seafaring females for a sailing newsletter. The sun is setting and I wish that David and Mary were here with me.

Aug. 26

Stars keep me awake. Please let this be the last night I spend here alone.

Aug. 27

Ending my fourth day alone here. Today I kept away from my food cache and cook site except for meals, wary of the same balding fellow who stays out on the point all day. His scrutiny of me while at the cook site was becoming enervating. Tonight when I went to cook dinner however, the frying pan and pliers were gone, so I'm feeling persecuted.

Aug. 28

Last night I was further beleagered by a tribe of children who came to the beach after dark. "Manza" was pivoting all around at anchor in the shifting, dying breeze and happened to be near to shore just as the kids were beginning to move to leave. They started to wing rocks at the boat, a habit of theirs I guess. They had no idea that I was on board, stretched out in in my sleeping bag. I was just realizing what those splashes were as the stones hit the water around me, covering my face with my arm and the sleeping bag, and trying to compose an appropriate epithet when -wham- I got one right in the face. I yelled and shone the light on them and they shrieked and fled. This morning I sport a swollen mouth and small wound under my nose. I can only hope the spectacular effects last long enough to get a rise out of Mary and David, who might arrive tomorrow. The episode was not without its consolation. This morning me and the ants shared a piece of a large sweet roll the kids had abandoned in their panic. I feel like a real Grendel.

Tonight as I cooked dinner a plump Spaniard approached me with obscene noises and proceeded to sit a few yards away and watch me cook. After awhile he hissed to get my attention and proffered some pesestas. I took the opportunity to say "No" in a determined fashion, brandishing my knife. When he waved the bills again I spat dramatically on to the ground, at which he shrugged and moved off where he resumed his vigil from a little further away and finally left altogether. I hope.

September 3

Mary and David came back, and we managed to get around Cabo Formentor by starting very early in the morning calm and rowing the seven miles, so we were around the point by the time the north wind kicked up as usual. We spent a week riding that wind, going down the northwest coast of the island to Soller. Mary got her foot grabbed by an octopus as she was carrying gear ashore from the boat one evening, causing her to scream heartily. The octopus, which was the size of a small cat, must have mistaken her little white foot for a fish in the twilight. It soon gave up the hunt and retreated, and now in the retelling of the incident has attained the size of "a volkswagon", according to Dave. We saw a dead pilot whale on a remote deserted beach, and we did yell and fight and then recover again. Mary has to leave tomorrow. She has been a valiant crew member and will be missed.

Sept. 4

I'm sitting alone in Puerto Soller, reading mediocre paperbacks and eating pastry. Mary is gone, back to America. David took her to Paris to put her on her flight home. He will be back in three days, I hope. I'm sleepy and I don't know what time it is. Watching the Mallorquian mongrel dogs, and the tourist women mincing by in their finery. Last night it rained on us all, anchored out under our little orange tent. I miss Mary already. That child has to say a lot of goodbyes.

When David comes back we can make friends again, and cast about us for a place to spend a rainy winter. Our next move will be to investigate working here, or perhaps taking one last voyage, to Ibiza, to work and live there for the winter. Next few weeks should bring some definite plans. We've been existing like utter savages, but are now contemplating our reentry into civilization. Still proud of and pleased with our little boat, and accustomed to our slow pace.

Now, I can watch people, read, be paranoid, and eat out at a restaurant. I'm sitting at the outside tables of a cafe way down by the fishing boats. I watch the children, the tiny dogs, tourists marching resolutely up and down looking for something. Four well groomed women are sitting at a cafe table with one long haired snake eyed sailor. One of them offers him a bite of a sandwich and he takes it with a lunge, scowling self importantly. The women look bored. There are wonderful smiling old ladies in this end of town, and little girls scrubbing the pavement of their street with all their young energy.

I really miss Mary. She and I sang songs and learned Spanish words and made a little song book together which she took home with her. She was fascinated with the movie "Battle of the Amazons", and probably a good third to half of our evenings were spent playing Amazon as we cooked dinner. Mary, after instructing us, would go off and then invariably sneak up on us from behind an imaginary rock or tree, always with spear in hand. She would demand to know what business we had in Amazon territory. It usually turned out that I was an Amazon also, usually Mary's sister, our mother being the Amazon Queen, and that I was escorting David safely across our tribal lands. Mary, keeping David under armed guard with her troop of whale-eating Amazons, would amaze us with feats of strength and skill in hunting. By the end of the summer David was pretty weary of having spears pointed at him, but Mary got interested in Greek myths. I told her all of them I could remember at bedtime and even wrote her a myth of her own, similar to Persephone and Hades, one she particularly liked.

Sept. 9

In a cala-side cafe in Deia, hunting tentatively for a place to keep "Manza". We're just about to approach the fisherman, who rule the local boathouses. Nets are hanging out to dry picturesquely and there are many boat ramps built into the steep hillside of solid rock. Do they have room for us? Yesterday in town we saw an exhibit of paintings, overheard news of a local archaeological dig and many conversations in English. Learned that Robert Graves is still alive, and although he is senile and was seen wearing balloons in his hat for his 83rd birthday, is still a cult figure for the small artsy-fartsy community.

Later] The natives discouraged us from keeping "Manza" here: it's too crowded, no pace for the boat, bad weather just carries all the boats away anyway. They suggest anchoring for the winter in Soller. So we sit in the cafe and write and watch the resident cats begging at the tables. Today is gray and ominous, not much wind again. Not a good day to venture out along twenty miles of inhospitable coast.

Mary got home safely, and David came back raving about the wonders of Paris. We are now beginning to cast about us for the next step. Right now our scheme is to go to Ibiza. We need three things: a place to keep "Manza", a place to live, and several good, high paying jobs. But it's only mid September, and we have $150. and are in good health. So far. In ways a precarious position. Reminds me not to get pregnant.

Deia is a small town, full of artists and rich people. We need a strong north wind to get us out of here, to get us to Andraitz, the forty-seven mile jump off point for Ibiza.

Forty-seven miles! We've only done the twenty mile crossing to Menorca and back so far. Contemplating a longer leap is very frightening. It would be our longest passage to date in the little boat. We may chicken out of it yet, but what alternatives to do we have?

Sept. 10

Today we're waiting again, this time in a spectacular, private, comfortable spot, sitting on the outside benches of a shut down restaurant perched on the coast, miles from nowhere. Just a few miles from Deia by sea. Light wind again today. We could have set off but are too lazy and charmed with the place. A half empty boathouse is lurking like a troll at the bottom of the cliffs, and we are drinking abandoned bottled orange juice from the accessible bar. The restaurant is old, white plaster with blue and white tiles in a row around its walls. It has many tiers of outside wooden tables and benches, and a venerable outdoor kitchen whose huge frying pans are still hanging on the wall. There is salt in a big old calabash. Where are we going to go? Where will we stay? I can't ask these questions in anything but an idle fashion any more. They've been posed and answered many times in this account already. Soon we will hike into town and buy raw meat to eat. Later it will get dark. Beyond that, who knows?

Sept 15

We are up the creek in Andraitz, muy tranquillo, listening to the reeds rustle and whiling away the afternoon. It took us about a week to get here from Soller, rowing quite a bit. Stopped in Puerto Valldemosa, in Estallencs, on Dragonera and in Sant Elm. We're hoping "Manza" can winter here in Andraitz, probably in the water, hopefully her in the creek. We are way back at the furthest end, among several dozen other small boats which are kept here. We're pretty inconspicuous except that the jib is up at the moment, and we plan to leave the boat here for three days, gear and all, a risk but a necessary one Yesterday we dogged around Palma all day looking for work. Tomorrow we'll return there to ostensibly stay on a catamaran on the Paseo for three day with Monique, or Kiki, a blonde and curvy Dutch girl, and her boyfriend Uri, an Israeli. David will work on the schooner yacht "Yankee'" and I will look for work ; we'll look for a place to live. Yesterday was exhausting, riding the bus, walking, not eating. Today we've rested, cooking eggs and tomatoes for breakfast on a tiny little fire up on someone's side hill. Wind still blowing steady from the south, discouraging us from setting out southwest to Ibiza.

Sept 19

Three days ago David went to Palma to scrounge work. I stayed up the creek in Andraitz almost all day, cleverly hiding in the weeds ready to observe and intercept anyone tampering with the boat, which is covered over but still has most of her gear on board. The day before, two of our beautiful, precious and well worn oarlocks had been removed, which made us feel defenseless and mad. So I waited all day ,but no one appeared. I spent the day watching the reeds sway and reading, and then made my perilous way back to Palma by bus to join David. Made it to Palma around dinner time and was happy to learn we could stay on this homely little catamaran with Kiki, Uri, and Eddie, a cabdriver from LA. Kiki, David and I went out to eat at a cheap South American restaurant and we went to bed early. It was a peaceful night except for an unfortunate if cheerful British woman leaping or falling into the water in the wee hours and paddling around, then clinging to the seawall and making many squealing noises for the better part of an hour until her rescue was complete. Up in the morning to go to the market, shower, do laundry. There's fresh milk to drink. We are back in civilization.

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