Tony Preedy relives a frightening episode from a cruise in Mallorca when his Vancouver 38P, Wild Bird was unintentionally cast adrift while he dined ashore.

My daughter, Liz, and I were on Wild Bird, my Vancouver 38P, en route to meet friends at the port of Bastia in Corsica.

With a few days to spare until another friend was due to arrive there by air from the UK, we decided to visit Mallorca.

The last holiday that my late wife and I spent together had been at Puerto Pollensa at the north-west point of the island.

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We found it to be such a delightful place that I decided to stop off here to show Liz what it had to offer.

Approaching from the west, we rounded the lighthouse on Cap de Formentor and joined some other boats at anchor in the bay where they were sheltered from the westerly breeze.

We anchored between the shore and a German-flagged boat and realised that we were close to the luxurious house and grounds that had featured in the BBC TV series, The Night Manager.

Wild Bird a Vancouver 38P is properly set up for long distance cruising

Wild Bird is properly set up for long distance cruising

Miscommunication

After making ourselves comfortable, a man in a small boat hailed us but neither of us understood what he was saying.

I gathered at least that he was not wanting a mooring fee and assumed he was trying to sell us fish.

In limited Spanish, I told him that we did not need any.

After pumping and launching the dinghy, we topped up the outboard motor and set off for the town on a route that crossed the airstrip of a seaplane.

This had apparent restrictions to navigation so we did not delay.

A restaurant that I remembered was still in business, and there we had a pleasant lunch.

After our meal, we ran the gauntlet of inviting restaurateurs, walked around the town, admired the traditional local boats in the harbour and bought some stores before setting off to return to Wild Bird.

Lighthouse on the Les Pedreres peninsula which offers protection to Puerto Pollensa. Credit: blickwinkel/Alamy

Lighthouse on the Les Pedreres peninsula which offers protection to Puerto Pollensa. Credit: blickwinkel/Alamy

Wild Bird takes off

As we crossed the seaplane zone I noticed that the German boat had departed but what gave us both a shock was realising that Wild Bird was nowhere to be seen.

My first reaction was to assume we must be looking at the wrong place and thinking she was probably only hidden by other boats.

We carried on past all the other boats until it became obvious that both boats had gone.

Panic set in as it occurred to me that she might have dragged her anchor.

We scanned the shoreline expecting to see her aground, but to no avail.

We tried to locate the spot where we’d anchored in the off chance that she had sunk and may have been visible beneath us.

In view of the charted depth we’d have expected at least to see a mast sticking out of the sea.

Our next shattering theory was that the Germans must have taken our boat with our passports, money and other valued possessions.

Then Liz asked, “Is that her over there?”

Visibility must have been exceptional because on the horizon to the east was the mast of a boat and beyond that some distant hills.

From the angle of her furled foresail, it was apparent that the vessel to which she was attached was moving away from us.

I thought, “That cannot be Wild Bird unless whoever has taken her has managed to start her engine.”

Tender with 2.5hp outboard is usually used for shopping trips and commuting between boat and shore, not long-distance rescue missions

Tender with 2.5hp outboard is usually used for shopping trips and commuting between boat and shore, not long-distance rescue missions

Obviously adrift

Then the boat turned broadside to us, showing her pilothouse.

This was just visible above the horizon.

We could now just make out the furled staysail.

Together these were conclusive proof that it was our boat.

She continued rotating, which made it obvious that she was neither under power or command and therefore unlikely to have been stolen.

The sea was quite flat, which meant we could probably chase after her in the inflatable, but would the little Honda 4-stroke be holding enough petrol?

We debated this and decided that since filling the tank we had only been to and from the town.

As we had no phones or VHF with which to summon help and the wind that was moving Wild Bird was to be behind us, the decision was made to risk chasing after her.

We could row in shifts if we ran out of fuel, we decided.

Making chase

In our state of desperation, neither of us considered the consequences of the weather turning and both running out of fuel and failing to catch the runaway boat.

As we motored towards her, Wild Bird was mostly broadside to us but occasionally she would turn stern to the wind when it strengthened and to our dismay, she would then accelerate away from us faster than we were moving.

We were, however, getting closer which gave me no doubt that our little 2.5hp motor was moving us faster than her average rate of drift.

Except for worrying about running out of petrol, we were feeling confident of reaching her before she hit land or if the anchor was still attached, parking herself near some distant shore, if not Menorca.

The wind behind us strengthened as we came out of the shelter of the Cabo and though the waves were no more than a foot high, the motor was pushing us through them with occasional soakings from spray.

Neither of us took our eyes off Wild Bird.

We were, therefore, oblivious to what was behind.

Yachts anchored in the bay at Puerto Pollensa. Credit: Hans Blossey/Alamy

Yachts anchored in the bay at Puerto Pollensa. Credit: Hans Blossey/Alamy

Not alone

By the time we were 50m from her, our spirits were high as we were now confident of reaching the quarry.

I proposed that as soon as we made contact with the stern boarding ladder, Liz would climb aboard and start the motor.

I’d make the dinghy fast and follow her to take in the anchor chain with hopefully, an anchor still attached.

We were now closing fast when I felt a sensation of being watched.

As I turned my head I was shocked to see a large rescue craft with her crew looking very amused.

Someone must have seen us.

Presumably, they thought we were mad setting off for Menorca in an inflatable, and called the Coast Guard.

They silently held their station until we had made contact and implemented our boarding plan.

As I went forward to the windlass I noticed that the guardrail gate on the port side was open.

We only used the stern gate to access the dinghy.

“Someone must have been on board and caused our predicament,” I thought.

With the anchor stowed, I gave a thumbs up to the potential rescue/salvage crew and we motored back to the anchorage.

The rescue boat stayed with us until we were anchored.

We thanked the crew profusely for not interfering or racing ahead of us to make a salvage claim on Wild Bird.

One of them asked for our registration number before they departed.

A UK registered yacht appears to be unique in not having this displayed.

Just a whiff of petrol

Inspection of the outboard motor’s fuel tank revealed only the faintest whiff of what once had been petrol.

We reflected on what could have happened and decided that the German crew must have had difficulty leaving, had brought their boat alongside and boarded Wild Bird to clear our anchor from their rode.

They obviously failed afterwards to ensure that our anchor was properly set.

As we broke open a bottle to celebrate being reunited with our floating home and our possessions, the man in the small boat reappeared.

This time, having practised, I was now able to tell him in what I thought was more fluent Spanish that we did not want any fish.

He departed, looking perplexed.

We stayed at anchor for two more days, during which time we developed a taste for the not easily located, local wine.

After he started waving dustbin bags at us, we deduced that the daily visits from the man in the small boat were for the collection of the rubbish that we had been diligently taking ashore each evening.

He looked extremely pleased when at last we gave him our final bag before setting sail for Corsica.

Liz still smiling despite the misadventure

Liz still smiling despite the misadventure

Lessons learned

1) I assumed when we anchored that the neighbouring boat would have used the same scope to his anchor that I had calculated for the depth of water because there was no tidal range to consider in the Mediterranean. Had they been on board we’d have asked the other crew just how much scope they had.

2) We could have approached one of the other boats in the anchorage to give chase to Wild Bird.

3) Had we taken the spare petrol in can with us it would have relieved our anxiety.

4) We could have asked one of the other boats to call the Coast Guard although at the time I was concerned there may have been a salvage claim if they reached Wild Bird before us.

5) If my Spanish had been more effective we could have saved daily rubbish trips!


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