Careening through Palma, Majorca, in a well-loved 90s Fiat, with a short-tempered taxi driver who had no regard for speed limits, pedestrians, or hairpin turns, I began to have second thoughts. For some reason, I’d agreed to sail a 50-foot catamaran around the Spanish isles, yet the closest I’d ever come to sailing in the past was capsizing a kayak on a Year 6 residential.
Ignoring the picturesque coastline, I frantically Googled in search of a guide to sailing.
To me, port was the drink you resorted to at Christmastime when you’d gone through the cupboards. Needless to say, my sailing terminology was sub-par. According to the guide on my phone, I was supposed to pack retrieval lines, anchor rods, and compasses. In reality, my bag mirrored a boutique swimsuit collection.
The blasting aircon failed to prevent the clamminess creeping up my palms as scenes from Titanic filled my mind. I always begrudged Rose for not sharing her enormous driftwood float with Jack, yet here I was about to lead five other sun-and-fun seekers to their doom. The taxi driver slammed on the breaks as we entered the marina, flung open the doors, chucked our cases out, and sped off.
“It’s this one; I can see the flags!” my travel companion Olga called cheerfully, as rows upon rows of identical yachts jostled for a spot in the mile-long marina. Olga gracefully climbed aboard and sat down. When I attempted to pull myself over the railings in the same elegant fashion, my sandals slipped, my knees clicked together, and a dainty, tanned hand grabbed my wrist.
“Easy there, we can’t have a woman overboard without leaving the mooring.” The voice belonged to Cecilia who, along with Tammy, made up the trip’s Yacht Week crew. With ease, Tammy handed me a glass of sparkling wine while balancing a charcuterie platter, and Cecilia pulled up the anchor, hit the throttle, and started our journey into the Mediterranean Sea.
Crowds of tourists flock to Spain and the surrounding Balearic Islands every year for intense tanning and boisterous boozing, so I must admit, my expectations were exceptionally low. Having flown to Majorca for my first girls holiday in Magaluf, I almost expected our Yacht Week vessel to sport UV paint and pink feather boas. The pastel houses that tottered on the cliff edges quickly faded as we left Port Calanova, and an endless palette of cool blues stretched in front of us . The horizon wavered as the evening sun set behind our temporary floating home.
We docked overnight in Port de Soller and awoke to the gentle rocking of the marina and a kaleidoscopic glow that flooded the room. Using the monochrome lighthouse that defends the coastline as a marker, we swam laps around our floating home to get ready for the day. As we dried off on the edge of the yacht, feet still in the water teasing the fish below, I glanced at the ragged cliffside nearby. The villas had paint peeling from their white shutters, weather-worn mint-green walls, and striped awnings. Across the marina, a tram chugged into the center of the colonial town; it’s timelessness immortalized. The only thing missing were grandparents sporting bloomers and parasols, rolling foreign pronunciations around their tongues for the first time.
After spending the morning exploring an empty cove where the water sparkled as brightly as my highlighter, we set sail for the trendy town of Deia. There, we were met by hoards of bougainvilleas concealing green shutters and pretty villas that framed the steep hillside. With its craft boutiques, holistic centers, and pilates studios, Deia has become known as a creative retreat. Its establishment as a foreign artist colony dates back as far as 1878 — a forgotten guidebook notes its “collection of strange and eccentric foreigners.” Relaxing on the ochre-colored terraces, sampling sangria and tapas in between visits to Cala Deia, and anchoring on the shingled beach made up the bulk of our itinerary in the posterchild town representing the “other Majorca.”
With the freedom to set sail and anchor whenever we chose, Olga and I became experts in the art of siesta as we hopped leisurely from cove to town.
The water winked in the moonlight as we reached our next destination, Santa Elm. There, the paella was a perfected Spanish recipe, and the catch of the day was brought in fresh at sunrise. Extended Spanish families broke warm bread and bickered lovingly over who got the last dip of the olive oil. Young couples snuck kisses in between creeping bougainvilleas while old men squabbled over card games. Woman clucked as they took in clothes fresh from the wash and children caught crabs among the rocks.
Very few places can claim to be unspoiled, but Santa Elm managed to juggle the balance between curious tourists and animated locals. The shops were hip, there were no fast food chains or franchises, and people greeted each other with nods, smiles, and kisses in the street. It was a town that clearly prided itself on its hospitality. Once, when we sat down in the cactus-filled terrace of Es Moli restaurant, discussing taxi options to the airport, our waiter hastily wrote down the number for the only taxi driver in the town. He then proceeded to sketch a very detailed map telling us where to meet the driver. When we placed the work of art in our pocket, he laughed loudly and clapped us on the back wishing us buen viaje!
As we ate fresh monkfish among the towering potted cacti and faintly-lit lanterns, we reminisced on our time at sea. It was safe to say I’d failed to grasp the ropes.
On our penultimate day, I had been (foolishly) trusted to aid our anchoring at Santa Elm and, as the rope pulled taut across the palm of my hand, the catamaran began to veer dangerously to the left. Much like a supermarket cart gone rogue, headed for a pyramid of special offer beans, our yacht was careering toward the mooring keeper. I gaped, open mouthed, with the rope still embedded in my hand as the seaman lassoed the other rope, pulled sharply, avoided losing his head, and readjusted his baseball cap. He hadn’t even broken a sweat.
The table erupted in laughter as I recounted my disastrous experience and was let in on a not-so-secret secret. We’d avoided sinking because Cecilia had foreseen the disaster and had thrown him the other rope. She’d stayed quiet in order to build my confidence.
By the end of the week, my skin had turned golden, my hair had lightened, and a few liters of rose had been sunk, as they did every time I visited any European summer destination. Yet the hidden pockets of untouched Spanish towns had given me the summer holiday I’d always craved.
Though we set sail anticipating swashbuckling pirates, we left having found our buried treasure in the sparkling coves of the Spanish Isles.