15 MAY 2017
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Freelance journalist Jan Edwards takes a trip to a largely unknown but picturesque island off Mallorca. Edwards has lived on Mallorca since 2004 and written regularly for luxury lifestyle magazine abcMallorca since 2008. She presents a weekly programme on Mallorca Sunshine Radio and authors the blog https://eatdrinksleepmallorca.com
Entering Cabrera’s large sheltered harbour – 10km south of Mallorca – we have to remind ourselves that the picturesque island ahead has a dark history. During the Napoleonic Wars, up to 9,000 French soldiers were abandoned as prisoners for five years here on the rugged Cabrera archipelago’s largest island. Starvation and disease claimed many lives.
Two centuries later, Cabrera is a part of Mallorca untouched by mass tourism; relatively few of the millions who visit the Balearic hotspot come here. Other than the ice clinking in our evening G&Ts, there’s little to disturb the peace as we sit on the deck of Simmertime – the Beneteau Oceanis 46 yacht owned by charter operator Captain Cook. We are the only guests, although the boat can accommodate four passengers in two double berths as well as the crew.
Tempting aromas drift from the galley below: cook Sandra von Oorschot is preparing our three-course dinner which we’ll enjoy with a good Mallorcan wine. Captain Adriaan Simmers explains that the rocky islands and transparent waters below us have been a protected National Park since 1991. To minimise damage to the underwater posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows, anchorage requires a permit and is restricted to a maximum of 50 boats.
As well as going to Cabrera, Captain Cook offers bespoke sailing trips of varying lengths and from other Mallorcan ports. Passengers have the benefit of an operator that’s licensed and has full insurance – two things always worth checking if taking a sailing trip abroad. Owners Adriaan and Sandra have almost 30 years’ sailing experience, so my husband and I feel in safe hands.
We first boarded Simmertime this morning at Palma’s La Lonja Marina – little more than a lifebuoy ring’s throw from Sa Llotja, the Gothic former maritime exchange building. Sandra showed us to our comfortable double cabin (with bathroom) to deposit our bags. Then, over coffee and cake on deck, Adriaan briefed us about the yacht and our first long sail – around 28 nautical miles – to the Cabrera islands.
Although free to relax and simply enjoy the trip, passengers can also have hands-on sailing experience. We were nautical virgins but it wasn’t long before we each took a turn at the wheel, guided by Adriaan. Keeping my focus on the horizon and swallowing a seasickness tablet from Sandra eased my initial queasiness; sea legs duly found, I was soon looking forward to our first lunch at sea…
Cabrera has no light pollution and we’re under a star-strewn sky for some convivial post-dinner conversation with our Dutch hosts, who left careers in the Netherlands to turn their love of sailing into a Mediterranean business. Full of admiration for the couple’s adventurous spirit, we eventually head down to our cabin, where my husband falls asleep within minutes. Unfamiliar sounds keep me awake until nature’s best sleeping draught – a day’s dose of ozone – takes effect.
Day two begins with a swim in the clear warm sea, then breakfast on deck – relishing the tranquillity before the first tourist-excursion boats arrive. With our hosts, we chug to the port on Simmertime’s rib, intending to join one of the regular free guided excursions. Uncharacteristically (for Spain), the day’s first small party has left on time and is already well ahead of us. Too relaxed to chase after them, we go it alone with Adriaan and Sandra.
Cabrera offers plenty of choice for visitors. We could hike to the 19th-century red-and-white lighthouse or up to the 172-metre-high peak Na Picamosques, but each takes several hours. We opt for nearer options, visiting the interesting museum, simple monument to the imprisoned French soldiers, and imposing castle that has guarded the harbour entrance since the 14th century. Less-energetic visitors can hit the white-sand beach Sa Plageta or have a drink at the only ‘cantina’, watching the various boats come and go.
Wildlife is plentiful on Cabrera: around 150 different bird species have been recorded here and dolphins and loggerhead turtles live in the surrounding crystal-clear waters. Although we don’t spot these sea creatures, birdlife wheels above us; the numerous lizards, sunbathing on stony paths or darting through the scrub vegetation, include the endemic Lilford’s wall lizard – an endangered species.
After a late lunch back on Simmertime, we set sail for the Caribbean-like Es Trenc virgin beach on Mallorca’s south coast. Anchored for an overnight stop, we swim and relax before another delicious three-course dinner. Tonight the sounds of sloshing water seem more like a lullaby and I drift off, appreciating the slower pace of life afloat.
After breakfast on our last day we make the long sail back to Palma, relishing this new perspective of the varied coastline. After a lunch stop (we have certainly eaten well on this trip), my husband takes the helm for the last time, until Adriaan takes over for the final leg. From the galley below we hear Sandra preparing farewell drinks; we shall raise our glasses to Cabrera – one of Mallorca’s hidden gems – and to the romance of travelling under sail.
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