Tuesday 18 March 2014

Palma in Winter

Today has been like any other day in the Solent.  Halliards hammer against masts, gusts whip the surface of the sea into white crests, seagulls wheel overhead, cawing indignantly as they lean into the breeze. Only this isn't the Solent, it's Palma de Mallorca and the locals are dressed for extreme conditions as they celebrate yet another fiesta.

The carpenter repairing my lazarette hatch is wearing two thick jumpers and a coat, shivering theatrically as he works methodically on the teak deck. The waitress in the Real Club Nautico closes the doors to the terrace, battens down the hatches and prepares for the worst. I am dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. Antoine, a French sail maker from La Rochelle, shakes my hand and we laugh at the Mallorcans who run for cover shaking their heads at the sky which is cloudless despite the howling winds. It is blowing over 40 knots in the bay of Palma, a force 8 gale on the Beaufort Scale but just like any other winters day in the Solent.

My dive compressor has arrived and we heft it into the lazarette where it slots neatly into the prepared sockets on the floor boards. I connect it to the boats systems but I am reluctant to test it without the manual given all the warning labels in German that I recognise from prep school war comics. I think I will call Emilio from the dive shop and ask him to show me how this beast works. As I reluctantly make space for it in my crowded lazarette I remind myself that it will all be worth it when we are anchored in remote parts of the South Pacific and able to fill our dive tanks at will. But for now I call Juan the carpenter to build a shelf above the compressor to store The Box of Shame. 

All organised yacht skippers pride themselves on having an efficient stowage system. In such a confined space it is essential that spares, tools and emergency equipment are stored in a way that they can be counted, replenished and retrieved when needed. The electrics box, the plumbing box, the rigging spares, engine spares, first aid kit and so on; but then there are those miscellaneous items which defy categorisation and don't seem to belong anywhere. They haunt the chart table for a while, somehow evading every trip to the bin where they really belong, and end up in the Box of Shame. Every boat has one and mine is hidden deep in the lazarette.

The List is growing again: the big items are well underway but all those small jobs seem to be multiplying over the pages of my notebook. The new loo brush holders, the light in the workshop, the hinges in the galley, fresh water tap in the cockpit, greasing the rudder bearing, servicing the water pumps; all these jobs have been elbowed aside again by the seacocks who play their trump card when vying for attention on the list. I am reminded of Hans, a grey haired avuncular German engineer who wagged his finger at me saying 'don't forget to exercise ze seacocks – every two veeks ok?' and ever since then they have become a thorn in my side, glaring up at me accusingly from the bilge.  Seacocks are the large bronze valves that are fitted into the hull wherever there is an inlet or an outlet to the sea. The reason they are so important is that if there is a failure in any of the sea water systems, these valves can be closed off and could, in extremis, prevent the yacht from sinking. Like everything else on a boat, seacocks aren't content to just sit there and earn their keep in an emergency; they need to be exercised. Exercising simply involves opening and closing each one to ensure that they stay lubricated and free from crustaceans that build up inside the valves. A jammed seacock is a big issue, as it has to be cut out of the hull and replaced. What's more, there are lots of them, and by their very nature they are located deep in the bilges of the boat, under the floorboards.  I track them all down from my laminated diagram and I push the last lever home with relief – until the next time.

After my self-imposed incarceration in the bilges I emerge to find that the wind has dropped, the sky is blue and the temperature has started to rise, reading 23 degrees on the large sign outside the marina. The yacht club terrace, only yards from the boat, is decked with tables and chairs and Mallorcan members have daringly stripped down to thick woollen jerseys as they brave the spring air. My friend Caspar flies in for the day to look at some second hand Oysters based in Palma and stays overnight on Juno. He and his wife Nicola and three small children are taking a two-year sabbatical to sail around the world.   They are looking for a safe expedition vessel that will be their home for the next two years and Oysters are top of their list. They plan to set off in June and as yet they are still without a boat, but knowing Caspar and Nicola it will all magically fall into place.

Mervyn and Amanda are also buying an Oyster - called El Mundo, which is based in Palma. El Mundo is a lovely boat but I am concerned that Mevyn has made his offer without yet seeing the boat, on the strength of the particulars, lots of photographs and some long conversations with me from his current boat in the Caribbean.  I know how particular Mervyn is about his boat so I hope that when he sees El Mundo he won't be disappointed. I think he will love her and as I cycle to the Oyster office this morning I see her docked in Port de Mallorca, gleaming in the sun, I take another picture on my phone to reassure myself – and Mervyn, that I think he has a cracking deal.

The crew for the ARC is taking shape and I am delighted that this time Kerry is joining us. Now I just need to think about the Pacific!  Fatty and I go to Palma at the end of March when Juno is being lifted out of the water at the huge STP boatyard in Palma so that the hull can be cleaned, inspected and anti-fouled for the new season. As we can't stay on board we are renting a delightful apartment in the old town of Palma next to the cathedral.  On Sunday morning I wake early and decide to go out for breakfast. As I wait for the first restaurants to open I walk to the apartment to remind myself where it is. A woman is sitting on the terrace and waves to me as I look up, imagining having breakfast there with Fatty in two weeks time.  The majestic buttressed walls of the cathedral tower over me and I can't resist a look inside.

Although I rarely go to church these days, ten years at a catholic monastery school has left a deep and indelible mark and as I duck through the small side door, I automatically dip my fingers in the holy water and cross myself, genuflecting as I take in the beauty of the cathedral.  The nave is a vast single chamber with soaring gothic arches and towering stone columns. Mass is being said in Latin in one of the side chapels and the huge silence is amplified by the soft sonorous chants which echo around the stone walls. The morning sunshine streams through the stain glass windows above the main altar and projects a kaleidoscope of colours onto the rear wall of the nave.  It's very peaceful.

I am on my own in Palma on this trip as Fatty is in London working her magic on our new house in Clapham which she is renovating. After ten days of a bachelors existence i am looking forward to heading home.


  1. We call our box of shame the useful drawer!
    P & C

  2. Ours is called 'crap corner'. It's an old fruit bowl from my time in Malaysia and sits in the corner of the kitchen with useful things like keys that I don't know what they are for, a head torch, even some dust caps for tyre valves !! Glad to see the plan is coming together slowly.

  3. Nearly wet myself with the 'Box of Shame' seems like yesterday we were talking about that onboard... Brilliantly written Paul...again!
    We are in Tahiti now and beleive me when you get this far you will realise all the hard work is well worth it..
    xx B&D

  4. Great to hear that you made it to Tahiti. Looking forward to hearing all about it.