I am sitting on the bow of the “Mareatta”, a 39 foot catamaran, and we are slicing through the deep blue sea just south of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, at about 5 knots under full sail and an even fuller sun. I have hired out the boat and crew (of 2), and we’ll spend a week aboard this very livable vessel exploring the coves, inlets, and cities of Mallorca, the largest island in the western Mediterranean chain of the Ballearics. People have been living and trading in these waters since before the time of the Phoenicians, but it wasn’t until after the Christians evicted the (Muslim) Moors in the 13th century that the present gothic city of Palma emerged.
We arrived in Palma from Seville on a Veuling aircraft full of (mostly female) college kids (and even teens) traveling alone, and for this crowd every event was treated with high drama: shrieks at turbulent bumps and applause for the landing. Never have I felt so old. We then taxied to Santa Ponsa ($46!-nothing’s cheap here), from which we took a dinghy out to the boat in 2-3 foot swells, so just getting aboard was somewhat of a cheap thrill. Once on deck, though, the skipper reassured me that the seas would calm down by 6PM, and, right on time for dinner, they did.
The captain is a short Finnish man named Arto, and with his trim blond beard, mustache, and blue eyes he looks either like a small Viking or a wizened sea captain, depending on whether he’s at the helm or not. But one thing I can count on is that he always has a smile on his face. He is on sabbatical from work as a marine engineer/architect.
His wife, Maria, is from the Canary Islands, and she is not only a great first mate but also an excellent cook. So far on this trip we’ve enjoyed wonderful crepes, freshly caught fish, roasted chicken with a mushroom sauce (I think this is the French side of her), Italian salads and a dessert with every meal. Fantastic! In her other life, she’s a fashion designer.
Getting used to life on board was a bit of a challenge at first. I am a big guy, and have to go sideways and duck just a little at the same time to fit through the doors. I found this out too late to save the top of my cranium, unfortunately. The toilet needs priming before flushing and we were issued somewhat dire warnings should we not follow those instructions precisely. Although we do have an entire hull of the vessel to ourselves, still the bed is positioned so that you have to climb over the person sharing it with you if nature calls in the middle of the night, so that each such contortion becomes a gymnastic exercise. But does any of this matter?
Not at all, because once you emerge on deck, feel the cool summer breeze on your face, and take in the seascape around you, of course you forget about everything but the craggy cliffs falling into the clear depths of the Mediterranean and a day of adventure ahead.
But on the first day, we set our sights on exploring Palma, this time taking a $4 roundtrip bus ride (comfortable and timely, BTW). I am sorry to say that much of Palma is given over to toursim of the tackiest sort, but the old city, with its magnificent seafront cathedral (beloved and improved by Gaudi and featuring a fragment of the True Cross), labyrinthine streets, a splendid active monastery, and a short but pleasant Paseo, is worth at least a day of your time.
I should note that Palma is a city full of the old money crowd as well as the nouveau riche, mostly from Russia, the Middle East, China, and, of course, Spain. These types dock their mega-yachts in the marina and go directly to the most expensive stores in town, which are in great abundance, filling their shopping bags with God knows what, but I’m sure I cannot afford any of it. Yet their presence here offers a fantastic opportunity to people watch, because few things are more fascinating to me than how men (actually, mostly women) dispose of their excess assets, many of which have been acquired illegally and at the expense of their countrymen, though in all fairness it should be said that their countrymen are always willing to steal the last penny of the wealthy should they ever be given the chance….which is why the oligarchs are hiding on a giant boat in Mallorca to begin with.
This morning I took a morning swim immediately after breakfast, jumping straightaway off of the stern. I have visibility to at least 75 feet, and I am surrounded by fish, but only near the boat because we’d been feeding them, so after only about 30 minutes of this I’m ready to go, and we take off east and north up the coast. Along the way, we’re treated to the sight of 2 magnificent sailing yachts, each over 150 feet in length.
We arrive at our destination and immediately head to the beach on a kayak. As we approach, I begin to notice something different about the people there, which is they don’t have a stitch of clothing on. I’d rather avoid that, especially since most of these people are overweight and I’m OK if I don’t have to see another man’s privates for the rest of my life, especially when they belong to an octogenarian, so we ease on down the beach past WWII pillboxes to more modest areas.
The actual beach is marginal here, especially compared to fine Florida sand, but the water clarity is outstanding and the climate is perfect-about 75 degrees with low humidity. Still, you have to pick your way over large stones to get to the nice sand and there’s plenty of rock in the water as well.
Tonight is Italian night aboard ship, and Maria has outdone herself, with some fantastic pasta accompanied by a nice Rioja followed by tiramisu for dessert. Excellent, and a fine ending to the day was the arrival of a full “strawberry” moon, which rose slowly over the trees just on shore as a big yellow disc, lighting the way to the Mareatta like a shimmering road. Great day, great night. What more could I want?
Well, I could want to steer my kayak along the rocky coast until I paddled through a natural arch. Or I could want to view topless women in the prime of their health tanning to a nice golden bronze on some sun-drenched sand. Or I could just chill out and enjoy the sound of a hull parting water and the wind rippling through a tight sail as we make our way to one beautiful harbor after another.
We spend a week cruising the Med around this beautiful island. At each pointed sandstone cape, we found what seemed like an endless stream of hidden coves, “secret” beaches, submerged grottos, and touristy but still charming whitewashed villages perched right out on the cliffs above the crystalline water, baking hot during the day and ever so gently cooling off at night as the sun gives way to the Milky Way and the moonbeams play on the black water. I would love to sail these waters again someday. I hope you will, too.