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  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill

Travels With Manza 2: Costa del Sol

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Foreword

Summer 1982. The title Dave suggested for an account of our travels, "Rowing Against the Wind" was meant to be ironic. Not that it didn't happen from time to time.

There were also times when we drifted along in the heavy lifeboat in light airs under the ever present sun. And there were various other adventures during our second summer of open boat cruising along the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Our compulsion to paddle around the world's harbors in an extremely small craft all began after a kayaking trip Dave and I took through the San Juan islands of Washington State. We enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of camping along the shoreline and the freedom of movement that came with traveling light. Determined to get a boat of our own, we planned to go to Scandinavia to find one. A wooden sailboat too small to require an engine was what we had in mind.

First we worked passage from New England to the Caribbean on a couple of yacht deliveries, and we chanced upon the very boat we were looking for on the deck of a freighter hauling cargo between the islands of the Lesser Antilles.

The freighter had been Norwegian, and its small deckboat, built in Norway, was for sale. We bought it in haste, with no clear idea of what we would do with it or where we would go. The sturdy, graceful little craft appealed to us the first time we saw it. We ended up sailing over 1500 miles in her, along the coasts of Spain, Norway and eastern North America. Dave's daughter Mary would join us for the summers. In 1982 she had just turned eleven.


Sixteen feet long and with a five foot beam, the lifeboat was clinker or lapstrake built, with fir planking on steamed oak frames. Built in the English style, it had a transom instead of being double ended as many Norwegian small craft are. Three copper flotation tanks were built in along each side, which though they cut down on storage space added a measure of security. Even upside down and full of water, the boat would remain afloat.

Original equipment included four oars and oarlocks, a rudder and tiller, and a long steering oar to use in heavy seas or if the rudder broke. Waterproof food containers and a snug aluminum framed boat tent, for use at anchor, provided some protection from the elements for us and our supplies, and an anchor and sturdy drogue or sea anchor were included.

The "Manzanita" ["Little Apple"] as we soon came to call her, also came with her own sailing rig: a short wooden mast, easily unstepped, with a spar and a cotton mainsail, cut full for running downwind and dyed bright international orange for visibility to rescuers.

One of the advantages of a small boat is its portability, and soon after purchasing "Manzanita", we found a ride for ourselves and our new chattel on board a 100' ketch rigged Baltic trader, which was bound for the Balearic islands off the east coast of Spain and needed crew. That was how it all began.

As we dawdled our way around the Balearics that first summer, we found that coast hopping in a small sailing rowboat is not that different from canoeing or kayaking, except of course that the sailboat is set up to take advantage of the wind when possible and give the oars and back muscles a little rest. Another difference is that many small sailboats, loaded down with gear, are too heavy to be hauled up onto the beach every night. "Manzanita" weighed 800 pounds empty, and had to be moored rather than beached, so we had to take care to navigate in such a way as to be in a safe anchorage when we needed to be. Camping in Spain was made easier by the dry climate. It rained only once or twice all summer, so we spent most nights sleeping under the stars. Although the three of us could all sleep in the bow of the boat , which was piled to the gunwhales with gear, we usually camped ashore. We carried two or three days' provisions with us, and stopped at the markets of small coastal towns to resupply with the inexpensive fresh produce, wine and cheese. We didn't carry ice or a cooler of any kind. All of our cooking was done on the beach over open camp fires, and our appetites were huge from the exertion of rowing and from living in the open air.

Another fringe benefit of being small was that no one tried to charge us for mooring or harbor fees. The only money we spent was on food and entertainment. Maintenance costs for the boat were minimal, amounting to the price of a few quarts of paint.

Traveling in an old-fashioned lifeboat, while it is certainly an acquired taste, taught us a valuable lesson perforce: to wait for conditions to be right. Patience and flexibility we found to be crucial qualities for small boat travel. We couldn't get in a hurry, and we didn't always end up where we planned to. We slowed down, sometimes reluctantly, because we had to. Pigheadedly charging out in to adverse conditions in a small boat does not pay. In the end, we enjoyed the change of pace. We were fortunate to have the whole summer to travel in, with no time limit and nowhere we had to get to. Whether or not we were pigheaded to embark on the adventure in the first place can be debated. The five hundred miles of Spanish coast we covered could have been traversed much more quickly by bus. But you miss an awful lot of sunsets that way.


Siesta on the yacht. That's Mary in the red sleeping bag.


Introduction: Lighting the Flare


"Still got both the red and green?' Dave's voice sounded muffled from in front of the mainsail, where he was rummaging in a crate for the flares.

"Yes". From my seat at the tiller, I peered around the black shadow of the jib. The bright red and green running lights of a vessel showed clearly off our bow, indicating a collision course.

"And they're getting closer fast", I added, optimistically flickering the pale beam of our flashlight up and down our mainsail.

There was no moon, and our sixteen foot open craft was sloshing along disinterestedly, not making much way and barely responding to the helm. Five miles off the coast of Mallorca, with 45 miles of open Mediterranean between us and our landfall, the night had suddenly gotten interesting. The fitful land breeze that had wafted us away from shore had petered out, leaving us right in the path of the well lit vessel approaching.

Peering at the indecipherable Spanish instructions on the flare he'd found, Dave tugged at the pullcord, which promptly came off in his hand.

"Damn- get the oars out- are they still on us?"

:"YES!" The lights, probably of a coastal freighter, loomed closer. Even if they had radar and were glancing at it occasionally, we were too small to be noticed on the screen. We had no running lights. As I shone our puny flashlight beam in the direction of the other boat, I had the feeling of moving in slow motion akin to panic. Dave was swearing and seemed to be tearing the Spanish flare to shreds.

"Get one of the ones with English instructions," I squeaked, pumping the tiller wildly to swing our bow around, although we were going nowhere. Dave located the English language flare in record time, but it too refused to light.

"Give me the matches", he hissed. "This is ridiculous."

A steady stream of profanity was followed a few seconds later by a loud pop and roar, a blinding pink flame and a cloud of fumes as the flare finally decided to ignite. Blinded and choking in the smoke, we yawed wildly off course. The sails were lit up garishly and the flare produced a sound like the roar of a jet engine. But here was the green sidelight of our nemesis, which turned out to be a large sailing yacht, turning aside obligingly.

It was quickly by us. Dave dropped the flare overboard, silence and darkness returned and as our light-dazzled eyes readjusted to the night, and our adrenalin levels returned to normal, we both took a few deep breaths.

There are times aboard "Manzanita" when unobtrusiveness is an advantage, but his had not been one of them. Late the next night, we anchored in a cove on Ibiza. We had no more close encounters with traffic on that trip. This was the beginning of a summer of open-boat cruising along the Mediterranean coast of Spain.


Two days earlier:

June 8

We are on our own again, or nearly, lazing around a small beach just outside Andratx harbor. We've got enough money, food, water, energy to get to Ibiza. We may not have such luxuries an engine or radio along, but we have some five gallon jugs of extra water, and a sea anchor for use in storms which was part of the lifeboat's original equipment. We lack only , wouldn't you know it, a favorable wind. But this southerly breeze has been blowing for days now, so it should think about changing soon. And we make the first big hop .


June 10

We made it to Ibiza alive! We are both exhausted, lying in the shade on a tiny beach at the bottom end of Cala de Charraca. The trip took thirty hours, and at 47 miles was our longest passage so far in the little boat. Our luck was miraculously good. Except for a few hours of rowing at either end of the voyage, we were able to sail a good course the whole time. We sighted land at 3:00 yesterday afternoon, so we were only out one night. We left the coast of Andratx at 8:00 pm, so our energy was good and our alertness reasonable. There wasn't much traffic, but enough to make it interesting. We lit one flare, blinding ourselves. It is sweet to be back on land once more. Manzanita sails well with her new mainsail, and took on very little water.

Next comes the passage from here to the mainland, also about fifty miles. We have set up a phone relay with friends in Palma to alert a search party if we haven't called them by a certain date.


June 19

We have arrived alive on the Spanish main, or mainland rather. The trip was once again quick and painless. We wont even speak about our good luck, being superstitious. Both passages took thirty hours, and we were prepared for them to take a week each, and are still eating sardines and chocolate bars as a result. We had fair winds but nothing too strong, and only a little rowing. Also no trouble with freighters, although we saw many of them and sometimes changed course to avoid them. We have a lot of flares with us but only lit one that one time to warn off what turned out to be a yacht. At the moment we are twenty miles south of our landfall, Javea, in a small town called Altea, anchored to the pebble beach behind its breakwater and illicitly cooking our beans in a small boatyard in the lee of the fishermen's storage lockers. Bone tired suddenly.

We sailed downwind again today, after a short, annoying tack-and-row to windward to get out of the shallow bay. Why do we live like this? Somehow, still, we're happy. Sunburned, grubby, up to my crotch in questionable harbor water, hungry, watching the fishing boats.

Yesterday in Javea we were greeted by a German guy living in an old immobile Balearic schooner converted to what he called a "galleon", who welcomed us with a glass of wine.

We are in the middle of town, near a road, bar, marina, and bodega. Just now some old guy walked by our fire, but he only smiled at us as I dumped bay leaves into the pot. Though lacking in home comforts, so far it feels friendlier here than on the touristy islands. We are sleeping on the boat, cooking on breakwaters, pooping surreptitiously in our bucket instead of hanging ass overside in public places. But it's almost guaranteed to get a rise out of somebody when we say we've come from Mallorca. It still gets arise out of me! Although apparently it was in the local news recently that some even more reckless individual made it from a resort on Ibiza to here just using one of the foot pedaled paddle-boats

Perhaps I should try to describe our strange sub/counter/under-the-radar culture, with our primitive methods and our habit of hiding from the relentless sun. We are able to sleep in strange cramped positions in damp sleeping bags with perfect contentment. Each morning I smear my face with industrial grade sunscreen which is as thick as axle grease. We always seem to be changing our clothes in full view of a mildly shocked public, or filling water jugs in restaurants, or wearing funny hats. We feel ourselves to be outside of the average viewer's frame of reference. Perhaps that's not so true in Spain, land where even the gypsies settled down.


June 23

We are ensconced on a beach slightly north of Benidorm. We actually contrived to haul "Little Miss Manza" out of the water, using the come-along, logs, and the aid of four innocent bystanders. It was quite a feat getting the boat up there, as she is heavy for her size, weighing half a ton, we figure. We tied the come-along to a tree, found large logs for rollers to get over the gravel beach, and had plenty of muscle power from the onlooking beachgoers. It's good to know that we can do this, for landing in situations where there's no harbor to stay in, but it is not an easy task and took all afternoon.

Next day David and I flipped the boat over, and we spent that day and the next scraping all the paint off below the water line, with a putty knife and pieces of broken glass. We're now ready to sand and repaint.

So far, although it is a little too early to be optimistic, the Spanish coast seems very hospitable. People have been friendly and interested in our travels, no one has bothered us. Food prices, we are told, are due to get steadily lower the further south we get. Although there are far fewer bays and harbors here than on the islands, there are many manmade breakwaters for shelter. One place we hope to spend time in is an inland bay with a narrow entrance from the sea, just north of Cartagena. It's called the Mar Menor, and we've been told it should be a perfect spot for us to explore. That' s about 50 miles south of us now.


June 25

Today was launching day, again a ticklish operation. Immediately after launching, we intentionally capsized the boat to clean it and to attempt to apply fresh bottom paint to the bottom of the keel. There was a bit of surf, so most of the paint was applied to ourselves. We then righted her and bailed her out, and have now stashed her next door in the protection of a half-completed marina. Next good weather we'll be ready to go. No more open water passages; it's back to hugging the coast now. When Mary arrives we will start heading south. It's 400 miles to Gibraltar, which sounds like a lot to us, but we will head in that direction any way and see what happens. Already, Palma and city life are a distant memory.

Right now it's impossible to say what we will do in the fall. If we do end up staying in the Mediterranean we are assured of work in Palma should we return there. But we hope to be somewhere completely different, back in the Caribbean or maybe in Wales. David still feels reluctant to return to the US to live. I guess he feels that once we went back, our chance of ever coming back here to travel would be slim. I'm ambivalent. There are lots of great places for a small boat in the US.

Meanwhile we're both being fat and sassy beach rats, contented with our lot.

The same fisherman who smiled at us cooking later gave us some caracoles marinos, sea snails, and mariscos, sea cucumbers , which were delicious deep fried. We met an Israeli- English couple, Chrissie and Iftach, on their way to Palma, and had dinner with them. Here on the beach people helped us haul and launch the boat, and a German family took me to town for shopping and gave us a bottle of wine, and a man brought us a bag of homegrown lemons and limes and oranges.

I phoned Mom and Dad for the first time in a year and a half. It was so good to hear their voices, however briefly. I didn't talk long as I was suffering from a combination of miserliness at the cost, and being too choked up to be able to speak. It has been a long time.

I am as salty and lazy as a salted peanut lying under the mosquito netting in the shade. The surf and the pebbles on the beach are roaring, and the sky is clear and the sun on its way down.


June 28

Anchored to the beach in Villajoyosa, early in the morning, waiting for David to come back from the market. Not much wind, just a hint of a leftover land breeze. People are cleaning the beach, and swallows swoop and fly around the church tower. We came here yesterday from the haul-and-scrape beach, ten miles fast downwind, stopping in Benidorm briefly but scared off by the Sunday hordes of sightseers. Tacked into the breakwater here, explored the big boatyard. Three big fishing boats under construction. Huge piles of rough cut lumber, probably from Africa.

Today we'll try to continue, another sixteen miles to Alicante. Mary comes soon, in about ten days. There's a big fishing fleet in here and the boats woke us up at 4:00 am as they left. We slept on the boat, under the orange boat tent. Last night we walked into town, taking the Sunday evening promenade with the rest of the population. It's a nice old town with not much tourism. From now on towns along the coast will start to get fewer and farther between.


July 2

Tabarca Island is a mile long, well worn stretch of rocks and dry grass, with an old town at one end. It's a community of Spanish inhabitants, fishermen and descendants of Italian mercenaries planted here in the 17th century. We've been here four days and intend to wait here until David goes to get Mary.

It's a unique place. We were greeted as we sailed in by an Englishman, Ken, who lives here with Mari, his Spanish girlfriend. Last night they fed us incredible fish that Ken had caught with a spear gun just off the island. It was Fiesta de San Pedro this week, honoring the patron saint of fishermen. We went to town for the past two evenings for drinking and dancing. It felt like the real thing: a living community disporting itself with all ages represented, everyone decked out, the community defined by the geography, obvious. If you live on this island, you go to see the fiesta. I watch with jealous eyes.


July 5

Still on Tabarca sheltering in the home of Mari and Ken. David left this morning to go get Mary in Barcelona. Yesterday was a howling Llevante, the big east wind, all day. Overcast today with a big sea running but much less wind. Luckily, Manza is tucked safely in a corner of the harbor. As Enrique the fisherman says, there's always room for a little boat. "Siempre hay sitio por un barco pequeno."

Being here gives me time to think, and wonder about ways to live. Many of my chosen tribe of anarchic boat people have rejected the miasma of living on shore. We are escaping it, pursued by loneliness. All the boats are sailing in different directions, not forming grand armadas. In town in the off season, we become scab labor, competing with each other for jobs. There's a great romance to the ideal boating life. The fantasy narrative runs something like this: the mystic traveler arrives in Tahiti from Bali and meets an old friend just in from Alaska. They haven't seen each other since three years ago in Bequia and are single handing downwind under stars, catching fish, with a different woman in every port. Good if you can afford it, or if you are very very clever. I feel ready again now for another long dose of communal chaos, living in a community. It's nowhere in sight, except in miniature on Manzanita. But one day.

Whatever our illusions of independence, we still need money, we still need friends. We still need someone to help us when we grow old. And something which can forgive us as the sea never can.

Met with some Spaniards on a remote beach the other day and they asked us curiously what our political beliefs were. I quickly replied "we're anarchists" and Dave immediately contradicted me, "NO, we're not!" which in a way proved the point. We're too anarchic to even agree to be anarchists.


July 13

Mary is here and we are on our way, prevented by a stubborn run of southerly winds from reaching the Mar Menor. We are eight miles north of it at Point Horadad, with Manzanita anchored off of what is basically a lee shore, behind a tiny natural breakwater, with two anchors out and all the length of scope, while we are lying on a sand beach.

This morning we left Torrevieja with a fair wind which soon veered foul. We tacked awhile and then gave up. Last night we spent trailing off the stern of a little sloop named "Honey" which was anchored there. It's owned and operated, engineless, by a mild mannered guy from Arkansas, Dave Young, alone except for his dog. When we congratulated him on his intrepidness in single handed sailing with no engine, he replied drily that "sometimes ignorance and stupidity are mistaken for courage." He speaks broken Spanish with a combination of a French accent and a southern drawl. This got him beaten up by Spaniards recently when they mistook him for a Frenchman, as there's a labor conflict going on between French and Spanish truckers right now. He passed us today, also heading south.

One major difference between this summer and last is that last year the thought of being pregnant terrified me. This year, it charms me. However, it now terrifies David.

We are fifty miles southwest along the coast from Cabo de Palos, "Cape of the Poles", so named because of all the masts of shipwrecked vessels that used to be seen there. We're trying to make fifteen to twenty miles a day.

The Mar Menor was a bust, overrun with tourists and assholes, and it took us a long time to claw our way out of it against the prevailing winds. One evening as we were greedily frying a chicken on an almost deserted beach, we noticed a man in uniform attempting to sneak up on us over the dunes. When he charged up to the campfire demanding to know what was going on, we realized that he had seen our small unmarked boat anchored off the beach and mistaken us for smugglers. Friends had warned us to expect confusion of this sort, as there is a lot of coastal smuggling between Spain and Morocco, much of it done in small vessels.

A closer look at the situation convinced the policeman that he had the wrong party, but he advised us that was illegal to anchor overnight on the beach, and that we should go and stay inside the breakwater of the nearest town. Then he left us to eat our dinner in peace.

A similar incident occurred at what would have been a lovely camping spot in the Mar Menor, involved a man who may have been a caretaker of someone's beach property chasing us off the beach with a loaded shotgun.

We had a near miss with the Llevante last week when we noted a big ground swell, rolling waves coming from the east, which continued for two days regardless of the current wind direction. By rowing for hours including through the night, with David doing the lion's share when I was too exhausted to continue, we managed to get ourselves safely behind a breakwater a scant two hours before the full fledged easterly gale arrived. If we had not been in the harbor we would have been driven ashore wherever it happened to catch us.

We are all a little run down from being out in the weather all the time, sunburned and red eyed and still 200 miles from Gibraltar, but adjusting to the pace. The sun is the biggest problem. The sun shines every day, and while we appreciate the fine weather we soon learned the hazards of overexposure. We've begun wearing big straw hats and Egyptian "Arab style" cotton headgear, with long sleeved shirts and long pants for all but a few hours of the day. Spots of shade thrown by the sails become oases at siesta time in the afternoon calms, and when we go ashore we rig up sails and tarps to provide a shelter from the glare.

Sometimes during the longer stretches of rowing through calms we have doubts as to the wisdom of our choice of travel mode. But just as often we enjoy the advantages of being small and uncomplicated. "Manzanita" can explore places that a large, deep drafted boat couldn't get near, and take shelter literally behind a rock if necessary.

After skimming downwind with the sails wing-and-wing, the boat hook doubling as a spinnaker pole, we visited the deserted village of San Pedro, in a hidden valley which can only be reached by small boat or on horseback. A flock of goats was grazing amidst the ruins of a church tower, near a lush spring flowing through an ancient stone irrigation system, where my English words were happily mimicked by an angel-faced German child. Mary will only be here one more month.

Most of the summer has been like this: being in the boat in the blazing sun - I 'm ready for a winter in Norway or Alaska where it's dark for three months- rowing or sailing, reading Tintin books aloud to each other, singing sea chanties and nonsense songs, eating cheese sandwiches and cucumbers and drinking lemonade. I've gotten into the habit of swathing myself in cloth from head to foot, including an Arab headdress that David's Mom brought us from Egypt as a joke, with a wide brimmed hat and lots of grease on any exposed skin. When the sun finally disappears we fry up tomatoes and onions and zuchinis on the beach, with rice, and afterwards chocolate and tea. We sleep on the boat quite a lot. The coast is geographcially a lot less hospitable than the little bays and coves of Mallorca and we are often anchored in a breakwater and living inside the boat tent, with its sides rolled up to form an awning. South winds have delayed our progress a couple of times and twice we've had to hide behind a breakwater from the big east wind, the Llevante. It never rains and it never is cloudy.

It s been great to have Mary along. The seven week stay is barely enough time for her to get to know us again and vice versa. We bickered and squabbled fiercely at times, like last year, especially when the wind was wrong or we were rowing during the heat of the day, but had good times too, singing, telling stories. She is a good kid and a good sport. When she arrived, she was pale white and chubby, but she lost quite a bit of weight over the summer and of course got a tan. She's one of thsoe blonds who tans well, like her Dad.

Last week we innocently rowed into Puerto Banus near Marbella, and were astounded to behold a marina full of lavish motor yachts on display, complete with scantily clad bejewelled and leggy women draped over the decks along with the occassional dapper gentleman in a captain's outfit smoking a thin cigar. It was evening, the hour of the promenade, and the display was in full effect. We slunk along incredulously in our rags to fill our water jugs at the hose on the dock and then skedaddled.

After three months of having a maxiumun speed of seven miles an hour, we have slowed down to the point of being vey happy just not to be going backwards. We're equally content to travel fifteen miles a day, or one, or to stay in the same place for days on end, depending on the weather. Sailing can never be an instant gratificition sport. The best moments must be waited for and come unexpecteldy, as the weather will not perform on demand. Our record run for one day this summer was 28 miles, and this seemed wonderful progress.


Aug. 15

Now is the hottest mid August windless Spanish desert. We have been sick with a ghastly stomach bug brought on by eating contaminated fish that the Arkansas traveler Dave Young kindly , or so he thought, gave us from the floor of the fishing dock.

We have been almost a week in Cala de Velez, with the sloop "Honey" and a bunch of warm hearted Spanish sea gypsies who live on an old wooden 50 footer named "Utawana". They rowed over in their dinghy to bring us broth when we were lying here incapacitated by the flu under our boat tent.

Before getting here there were days of hot , merciless, all reflecting sun. One day we were sailing along with the wind behind us when we noticed a disturbance in the water up ahead which was coming at us like a wall. A blast of hot wind announced the arrival of a true Scirrocco, with a wind shift of a hundred and eighty degrees which hit us like a blast from a furnace. It felt as though a giant oven door had been opened somewhere to the south of us. We headed for the beach and waited until it passed, with the patience born of necessity. The hot desert wind blew for the next eighteen hours.

On other days there were breakwaters, ice cream, bumper cars with Mary in the little resort towns, lee shores at the beach, fish from the fishermen, deep fried churros at the market at La Garrucha, iced coffee in the cafes, merciless wind, relentless sun, leaping dolphins, juicy green cucumbers, fighting with each other, singing songs, rowing. It's midsummer.

We must press on now, having regained our strength, I hope, from intestinal flu. It is only seventy-five miles to Gibraltar and ten days until Mary leaves.

The "Utawana" is headed across the Atlantic. Slowly, because they lack money and the captain slipped a disk in his back lifting something heavy, a common injury on a big old wooden sailboat . Other boats in this harbor are on their way to Denmark, or uncertain of winter plans. We are part of a migration. Possibilities hover around the next headland. We just have to get to the crossroads of Gibraltar before we miss them.

We are exhausted and sunbaked. Fish in this harbor, large silver-gray and carp-like, swim their wise circles around the boats or leap from the water like athletes. I read the poetry of Sappho, and Grimm's Fairy Tales. At night people sing and clap from the shore. We saw a goatherder and his flock on the beach, and two teams of men setting nets from little boats and pulling the nets in on the beach, one team pulling from each side, with a harness for them to fit their shoulders into. We rode the Llevante wind out of Motril. A boat had come in to the harbor dismasted the day before. "Manzanita" remains our faithful laden pack animal, our rocking nutshell cradle. We are still friends. The days go by as quickly as they ever did, and the news on the cafe' radios the same as it ever was.


Aug. 20

Drama and excitement yesterday . We are in Estepona, 24 miles from Gibraltar, and Mary's departure is immiiment. We had thought to set out today for the fabled rock with its amusing apes and supply of Tintin books in the book stalls. Instead we returned to our campsite last night, after visiting with some Hungarian/American/Spanish caravanners up the road, to find the entire Boy-Scouts-of -America knapsack, veteran of many a bivouac, had been swiped. In it had been Mary's and my passports, Mary's airline ticket, some knives, earrings, the watch- not to mention this journal amd many other miscellaneous treasures, address books, tide and bus information, David's journal, my diaphragm (irrepleaceable item!) Panic strikes: we go wandering off through the environs with a flashlight looking for it, with Mary tearful and terrified that she'd be stuck here without her return ticket. We went back to the caravan people and they took Mary and me in to the Guardia Civil in town,and then the Policia. I give them a description of the stolen property and am given a copy of a signed form which can supposedly help us get new passports. David was meanwhile combing the undergrowth with a crowd of kids from the big tribe of tent dwellers under the eucalyptus trees.

We slept on the boat but not well. The morning broke windy and cloudy, with a lowering sky. We rowed over to the breakwater and then set out on foot to scour the countryside. We couldn't imagine anyone lugging the pack very far. It was heavy, crammed with books, and the front pocket was so badly torn that things would have been constantly falling out. A few hours later, after ploughing through fields and bridle paths full of thorns and thistles, clambering up and down through culverts and over fences, I stumbled upon the pack, surrounded by a white heap of papers visible from about 20 yards away, behind a bush in someone's pasture. I felt a rush of sweet relief, gathered up the strewn contents, strapped it on my back and bounded down the hill, hollering for Dave. The Gypsies [sic] - I assume they were Gypsies because they were so clever and could see in the dark, and they took only the pack, leaving the rest of our stuff neatly undisturbed- had been thorough and business-like. Gone were David's Granddad's knife and the Sheffield steel rigging knife Mom gave me, the two passports, my gold earrings and gold chain; the watch which had been my grandmother's, and the two little monkey clips that attached the rigging knife to its lanyard. Also my soprano recorder and a toenail clipper, although these must have been just thrown somewhere. Our stuff, our bullshit papers, journals, maps, back again, and it is good to have them. Mary's ticket was somehow overlooked by the bandits, and my other ID cards are there to facilitate the passport business. All is not lost, although Mary may never see the rock apes of Gibraltar with this delay. At present she is busy terrorizing the daughters of a friend from the caravan, and we are plotting to send David and Mary with them north instead of taking the train. I have to go to Sevilla to get a new passport.

is seemed wonderful progress.


Aug. 22

Continued adventures. Yesterday morning we awoke in Estepona to find the air so clear that we could see 21 miles to where the rock of G. itself was standing out against the sky, a rare occurrence for the Med. We were determined to reach it that day and got an early start. Good visibility means a northerly Mistral wind coming, we remembered, and sure enough it came. We set sail and whizzed along the coast, donning foul weather gear for the first time this summer because of the flying spray. When the tide turned against us the wind dropped, and we spent all afternoon tacking back and forth and getting nowhere. Around sunset we started rowing along the coast, only three miles or so from Europa Point. Rowing against the wind, uncertain as to whether or not the tide had changed in our favor or had any intention of doing so, starting to lose the daylight, we sailed a little and then ran back to a tiny breakwater wall sticking out from the north side of the cliff. Along this wall we noted that the current was indeed in our favor. We decided to row for the point, still a mile away, hugging the shore and bucking the Atlantic swell. As we pulled against the gusting wind with Mary at the helm, night fell and we rounded the point and began to feel the seas behind us, helping us. We variously rowed and sailed up to the old Yacht Club, dropped anchor, set up the tent, collapsed, and slept, exhausted but elated at our accomplishment.

This morning we woke up to wind and swirling fog. David took a shower in the marina. Mary and I bedecked ourselves in finery and went to town, where Mary bought presents ( a silver spoon with a small Barbary ape on it and the like) We met a Gibraltarian named Absalom as we were blundering our way through the back streets, and he had nothing to do and offered to chauffeur us around Gibraltar all morning. We went up and down, through tunnels, into a huge cavern. We e visited the monkeys and fed them stale bread. They had babies, and the younger monkeys would steal the babies and the huge, fat parents would have to go and get them.

Absalom delivered us back to David and Manza. The fog had cleared just barely enough for us to go across the bay, three and a half miles to Algeciras. We had a fine downwind run among the huge ships and ferry traffic, and now we are in the inner Marina and the Guardia are hassling us as never before and David and Mary leave for Malaga tomorrow morning to catch the train to Barcelona.


Aug 23

I am sitting in state in a 600 peseta/night room in Algeciras. David and Mary left early this morning, leaving me 5,000 pesetas [about fifty dollars] and no identification. We didn't have time to make a copy of the Police report, and he needed to have it in order to get Mary on her plae withut a passport. My first move was to find this Hostel, which I've been looking forward to for weeks. Since I dont have passport, this involved going to the police here and obtaining another bit of paper to satisfy the landlady. This was easier than I expected, and I rented the room and bought four oranges and three liters of water. I'm planning to fast, partly to make the money last longer.

I returned to the Guardia infested marina to secure "Manzanita" at anchor as best I could. Who should arrive but the last person on earth I wanted to see, an old geezer (middle aged, actually : worse) who had hovered around me yesterday while Dave and Mary were at the Police, and whom I had made the mistake of speaking to. He proceeded to sit on shore and watch my every move as I packed my bag, stowed everything, dropped a stern anchor, and then put the old green boat cover on Manza, tying the straps by swimming around the boat. I emerged from the harbor dripping wet, dried off, put my clothes on over my bathing suit, and my admirer and I marched off together, but not far. The Guardias at the gate stopped me and rattled off questions, then decided to search my bag. At this point my companion beat a hasty retreat. I was able to answer the interrogation well enough, and the search of my bag was not thorough; the officer was disgusted at the grubby damp mouldering towel and washcloth he found inside. Another man in blue then escorted me to the Port Authority. I guess it really is a mistaek to say you've come from Gibraltar. They seemed very annoyed at this. The fact that my "passport" was up with the Duena as security for my room didn't soothe them much either. But the boat's Spanish name was a point in my favor, and eventually they let me go. I was glad to be neither French nor British at this point, as that would have made the situation even more difficult. Lighthearted at the thought of shaking the old Spaniard- the police had done me that favor- I trudged off for the Hostel, weighed down by the heavy duffel bag with my laundry in it. I had also insisted on bringing the oralocks with me for safekeeping. Wouldn't you know, here comes Casanova again. I had so far managed to be vague about my plans when communicatng with this gentleman, so I believe he still thinks I will be leaving for Malaga today or tomorrow. Be that as it may he did not start to get obnoxious, rather he actually helped me carry the damn duffel right to the Hostel door. Then I had the dimwittedness to say "see you later" at which he started and said "Wheat time?" I demurely withdrew. He says he is "always around the port", which makes me less than anxious to go check Manza. I shall do it at night, maybe, or only if there's a howling hurricane, or at 6:00 am.

Now I have moved into this dimly lit room, with pink flowered wall paper and bedspread, and a black and white tile floor. I have washed my clothes by hand in the washouse on the roof and hung them out to dry. I have taken a shower. I have drunk half a bottle of water. I have had a picture taken for my new passport and have been told that there's an unoffical American consul in Gibraltar who can help me get it. Before me stretch three more days alone here, at least. But I'm in the SHADE.

Next thing we do is start looking for work, crew positions, and or rides for us and our boat. The migration season approaches, and yachts will be on their way to the Caribbean. I've been told there's a passable job market in Gibralta, fairlyiopen to foreigners, so I may end up waitressing or something. We'll see.


Sept. 16


We are in Gibraltar, and have been here three weeks now, living in a hopelesly squalid, urban, woebegone patch of waterfront. Fortunately we've been befriended by some a crew of kindred spirits, notably Neill and Danny Morgan on the restored Cornish fishign oat "Sea Gull", a 45' traditional Looe lugger. They had sailed down here without an engine but are now having one installed. Neil Morgan is about 6'4" with dark hair and beard and resembles the pirate of that name. Danny, short for Diana, is a red headed imp who used to work as a Go-Go dancer in a cage in the 60's. We're helping them sand and paint "Sea Gull"'s h hull, and we all cook meals together in their galley. David has landed some major baot repair work on a boat named "Memphis", which is at present bogging down the travel lift, which sank into the mud beneath its weight. I am putting out a tentative search for waitressing work. I am told I could easily get work as a barmaid here but am not over anxious to try that experience in this town. David has fulltime shipwright work, and "Memphis"'s owner would like us to stay all winter and is looking for boat sitting jobs for us. No sign of "L'Amie" here, or anything approaching it in sizeor big enough to transport Manza. We are living on Manze, tied up to rusty, scruffy old abandoned barge near where they're filling in another corner of the harbor to create more real estate. Thus constant noise and dust from a crane, dump trucks, and heavy machinery. We have given up on cooking at the moment as it entails a trip to a secluded spot bedside the airport runway to light a campfire. We can take showers at the marina, a luxury. Food is drastically expensive here, and the sun raely shines. For the past seventeen days it has been blowing a Llevant, and the famous rock continuously manufactures clouds. It's alright. No panic. We may be here all winter, or we may leave.


Sept. 23


Windy sunny late afternoon, sitting on "Sea Gull's" deck with Manza rafted up alongside with the tent up. We have heard from the "L'Amie": they'll be here in a month. We have been asking every big boat that comes in here if it will take us away from here. Danny and her 10 year old son, Josh, just rowed off to see themovie "Spiderman". I'm waiting for Grahm, mate of the "Nord Star", to come back to his launch so that I can question him about the advisability of asking the huge Norwegian floating drydock barge "Berge Sisu" to take us or Manza to Holland. The winter migration season is just starting, so if we can hold our own for awhile, something is bound to turn up. If it doesn't, we have heard very good things about the Guadiana river on the Spanish-Portuguese border. We could explore that place quite happily all next summer.

I worked yesterday afternoon and a little this morning scraping antifouling paint off the bottom of a decrepid old rescue squad motor boat at L 2 an hour. Will go back and do some more tomorrow. David is doing major work on "Memphis" replacing pieces of the keel. I got a new passport thanks to the affable and helpful American "consul" here.

Last week I went to Africa. I sailed over to Morocco for the afternoon with Jude, the butch Brit sailor, in her little fiberglass sloop. We went to the market in Ceuta and bought cheap fresh peaches and beets and grapes, and drank mint tea and ate hot bean stew. We bought chard and garlic and carrots and mint from a Berber woman in red and white, with a blue tattoo blue around her lips and chin.

Today I threw a halfpenny into the air and tried to get a work permit. I stole a box of groceries from the supermaket because I didn't have enough money to pay for them. I went out dancing in lavender shoes, and later went to Lotti's Bar, built in an abandoned former sewer. The proprietress, Lotti, 82 years old, with ropes of jewelry and long sharp fingernails, is regarded as "the oldest hooker in Gib". I found a lemon yellow miniature cockatoo hopping around under the boat "Bull Dog", and Hans [of Hans, Harry and Huey] caught it and the Moroccans who work on the quay put it in a cage. Two achingly handsome Uruguayan brothers who have jumped ship from the yacht "Silver Trout" are working at the ice cream parlor and when we go there they give us huge cones full of creamy gelato for free. I baked brownies with hashish in them and Neill didn't know and ate two of them and they affected him. I picked up a piece of copper wire from the ground and twisted it around my wrist for a bracelet.


Sept. 25

Lots of wind and worried boat crews and people trying to leave. On "Sea Gull" they are trying to make the engine work. A tea towel left to dry on the air intake got sucked into the cylinders when the engine was turned on. David is taking a day off, napping on Manza. I'm hiding in "Sea Gull's" big main salon, with my face stinging from the dust of scraping pitch and pain ton "Memphis". Last night we had a barbecue for Feast of the Lamb, with meat supplied by Moroccan Ahmed from the freezer plant, chicken and lamb. The cat chased "Go-Man'"s dog down the road. "Go Man" is the name of the guy's boat, so we call him that. His wife is bigger than he is and bullies and yells at him and smacks him in sight of everyone.

We have been found by the marina authorities and now have to pay L 4 a week to stay here. "Sea Gull" wants to leave in one week for Italy; Jude wants to leave tonight. We want to leave too, and get towed to Holland or meet the anti-nuclear activist boat "Fri" in Tenerife. Autumn equinox. Running for cover. Once "Sea Gull" leaves we will need a place to cook and hang out, but we don't have to worry about that yet. We're fairly broke, but as David says, "It could be worse. We could have no friends and no money"


Sept. 26

Sparkling clear day. We are lazy, well fed, relatively carefree, bobbing around under our orange shady tent, keeping out of the way. On "Sea Gull" the engine has a blown head gasket, the coach roof is half demolished and money low. On "Daroch", the converted rescue squad boat I've been working on, the two dogs pee on the deck and are not allowed ashore, the parrot has to stay in its cage, and the lady is crazy. Jude and her deckhand Vince e left. On "Silver Trout" they all hate the owner and they bought many rugs in Greece and now it turns out they and the rugs will be dropped off in La Rochelle and maybe they wont get paid. And Neill cut his finger and Danny cried.


Sept. 27


Today I spent a happy morning tallowing "Sea Gull"'s mizzen mast, letting myself down gradually from the mast top on the self tending bosun's chair. Now I am coated in tallow, lying in Manza digesting lunch. David and Neill are discussing "Memphis"''stern post. This morning I marched into town to mail letters , bought bread and milk and butter and cheese, and booked a ticket to fly home for Christmas on December 14th. My father is sending the money for the ticket. I can only hope fervently that we will all be long gone from here by that time.


Sept.30

Oh, limbo. It is the hottest part of the day . There is a guitar here on "Sea Gull" and I want to learn to play it. David is working and I am not. The boats are leaving and we are not. Last night Danny and I rowed in the dinghy and brought back ice cream in a huge plastic dish. The bicycle I rode made my leg greasy and no one was home at the quay where the ships's launchas come in when I got there. So now I must force myself to shanghai another bicyle and go searching for understaffed tearooms and the Moroccan who offered me a job. Or take down the tent and row over to display Manza to the guy on the "Manitou Enterprise", a large motor yacht heading for Fort Lauderdale, and scrub the bottom of the boat in the clean water over by Scott's boatyard. The day is hot and bright and clear but with a southwest breeze that makes it choppy in the harbor. Josh is sliding down the rigging, and Danny is watching him, saintly and calm. I hear the slap of the dirty harbor water against the hull. The travel lift's hydraulics whine and hiss, the parrot whsitles in her cage. In the main cabin the kerosene lamp chimneys are dirty with soot, and Neill is smoking hashish rolled up with Prince Albert tobacco. The moon is waxing, the year turning, the dockyard closing for the winter. The Moroccans in their leather aprons are unloading the refigerator containers, bundled in heavy pants and sweaters in the heat of the day.


Oct. 8

The absurdity of our daily existence is no longer worth comment. By day I lie around on Manza amidst the noise and smoke and dust of the crane and backhoe and bilge pump. David in filthy coveralls works on "Memphis", but he's almost finished now. By night David lies in the dark eating cold baked beans out of a can on stale bread, or goes to the Moroccan restaurant while I, decked out in my pitiful best, am the lonely waitress in the dining room of Harry's Trafalgar Bar, at L 7 per night. Last night only five people came in, including David. The night before only one came, and a cockroach peered at me from its perch on top of an elegantly folded serviette. I am a fairly imncompetent waitress, even with no clients, and managed to bungle opening a bottle of wine so badly that the owner had to come and take over, and then cut his finger on the mess I had made of the tin cover on the cork. He'll probably fire me. But I don't mind it there, I can read, and drink a cup of instant coffee, and there are finches there in a cage. I take the bus to work. Opposite the bus stop where I wait is a little white house with yellow fowerpots and pink geraniums and a bright light inside. The air is chilly, reminding me not so much of last fall in Palma, but the fall before that in New York City, being on the outside looking in. I know when and if we find ourselves back in New York it wil be as if we never left, and the intervening time and distance will shrink to nothing but the leaden heartsinking knowledge that we are back exactly where we started from. Maybe we'll like that . I don't know.


Oct. 10

Absalom, who had shown Mary and me around Gib when we first arrived, reappeared yesterday and told me he had a friend with a car who could give me rides home from work in the evenings. I mentioned this to David, who showed up at work and was there at closing time, so when Absalom's friend arrived with a big town car, David accompanied me on the ride home. I thought the driver looked a little nonplussed. David later told me that his boss had advised him to not let me get into vehicles with "friends" like Absalom and to stick to me like glue, as there is human trafficking in these parts. It now seems that Absalom's sudden and generous tour guide routine for myself and the twelve year old blonde Mary may have had ulterior motvies, which I had no suspicion of, being generally as gullible as Jemima Puddle Duck.


Oct. 12

My waitressing career was brought to an abrupt halt on Saturday morning after I accosted a 60' motley looking steel fishing boat tied up in the new marina. She had a Dutch crew, bound for Tunisia via Sete in southern France to try their luck diving for red coral. When I asked if they could take any cargo or passengers, they said "Yes, but we're leaving in an hour and a half." So I ran and told David. He packed up his tools, got paid, we rowed the boat over, and immediately it seemed we were steaming out of Gibraltar Bay and back the way we came from.

At the moment we are approaching Sete after three and a half days of motoring blithely back into the Mediterranean, breezing past the points that we had clawed our way past on the way south. "Manzanita", empty, scrubbed and hosed down within an inch of her life, is demurely lashed to the deck on the port side, leaning against a metal box the size of half a cargo container, which is to contain a small submarine they are picking up in France. These guys will be using the sub to dive for the coral off the Tunisian coast, or at least that is their intention. They are all big and blond with names like Taish, Rein, Gerger, Tseeche, and Adrian. They are Frieslanders, from a remote and relatively wild area of Holland, to hear them tell it, except for Malush, the beautiful young dark haired cook, who is Moluccan. We are ensconced in the fish hold with all our gear.

Our plans have changed and we are anticipating canals, the grape harvest, wild horses, cold weather. We are going further away form the US rather than closer to it. The weather has been mild and food plentiful, although we had to throw a large chunk of hashish overboard as we arrived, as the captain was having none of it.

All I can do is state the basic facts of the matter. It's been good to be on the sea, moving fast with no land in sight. There have been dolphins and sunsets, and rudimentary Dutch lessons. ("Macaroni no good. Potatoes is good.") Now this last few hours of the voyage, everyone is restless, anxious, bored, anticipating a perhaps sticky welcome from French customs.

Winter is coming. I found many new clothes in a dumpster at the marina before we left Gibraltar. Someone had emptied out his ex girlfriend's cabin, it appeared, and the clothes all fit me- sundresses and robes and gowns. I kept some of them. We have no address. We don't know anybody in France. It doesn't matter.


Oct. 16

San Gilles, Languedoc. We are tied up to the dock in the Petit Rhone. We left Sete in Manzanita and set off quite merrily, sailing east into the canals. Where we camped in the Camargue, wild horses were around us in the night. We saw flamingoes, egrets, herrons, magpies, kingfishers. Now we either row against a strapping current, or walk into the nearest town to purchase our next gorge of bread and cheese, and a chunk of pate as big as a Bible. We are hoping for a tow. It's another thirteen miles or so to Arles, where the Rhone proper begins. The season is catching up with us. Chilly nights, bright fall weather. We pass small motor boats carrying duck hunters with their dogs. When we went through our first lock, we were the only ones in it and swirled around considerable. Managed to mail letters today.

This book, this journal volume, is nearly finished. It chronicles almost two years of chaos and uncertainty. I'm sitting on the little boat's thwart, barefoot in October, with cuts on my hands, in an old straw hat and wool pants stained with bottom paint My hair is in braids, and I haven't had a bath in a week and have no prospects of one in the near future. Twenty-three years old, confused and aimless, singing songs with my sweetheart by the cookfire at night, of a clear cold French autumn night with the stars in the sky: the Archer, the Dolphin, the Lyre. Barely civilized, barely independent, getting what I asked for now, waiting to be caught by winter, waiting for my father to rescue me from what I -we- in our freedom can so fancifully decide to subject ourselves to, the pointlessness of our labor through this beautiful countryside, rowing against the current, rowing away from the sea.


For the next Episode, "One Wet Foot", see the blog "Ballad of Berme Road" at http://underhval.wixsite.com/website




















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