A personal reflection on this rather strange way of travelling!
The recent Post about young Jessica Watson sailing alone around the world raised a few comments but also reminded me of my own experiences of solo sailing.
Some years ago, having successfully sold my own IT company, I warmed to the idea of being a full-time yachtie! A second-hand Tradewind 33 was discovered on the Island of Corfu. (Now here’s a surprise! I was just browsing the web looking for a picture of a Tradewind and came across my old yacht currently up for sale. Her name is Songbird of Kent! Picture below.)
Anyway, the deal was done and having sold my house in England I flew out to Corfu to collect Songbird of Kent. Inevitably it was a number of months before the boat was ready to head out into the Mediterranean but in early Spring 1988 it was time to explore the long coastlines of Greece and Turkey.
After a fantastic summer cruising from one idyllic anchorage to another mostly with friends or family on board, it was time to find a winter haven. Many recommended Larnaca Marina in Cyprus. Thus it was late in the summer of 1988 that I said goodbye to friends and set out on my own to cross from Antalya in Turkey to Cyprus and for Larnaca, on the SE side of the island.
That sea crossing, only a little over 200 nautical miles, was to become a regular solo experience at the start and end of each summer season. Impossible to do in a single day it was always a night at sea and rarely, if things didn’t go well with the weather, a couple of nights. I hated it! Maybe it was the sudden transition from coastal sailing to a deep water crossing, often going from having friends on board to being alone, but whatever it was I never enjoyed my time on my own and knew that long-distance solo sailing was never going to be my scene.
Anyway, I ended up spending several very happy winters in Larnaca.
One time, there was news of a Frenchman who had come into Larnaca on his way home to France having nearly completed a complete circumnavigation of the world. He was on his own!
I was astounded to hear how someone could do this and made a point of calling round to his berth. The boat was a beautiful, solid steel yacht, the very epitome of a craft that could challenge the oceans. The owner’s name was Pierre (it would be!). Pierre invited me aboard and we went down to his saloon to drink a hot coffee – real French coffee!
Inevitably the conversation turned to the challenges of sailing alone. Pierre said that the big cargo ships out at sea moved quickly relative to the speed of a yacht so at night he set an alarm for every 15 minutes. That was the time that a ship could go from being hull down over the horizon to being close enough to be a hazard. Thus while at sea Pierre had got up briefly every 15 minutes during the night to avoid being run down! It sounded totally exhausting.
Then Pierre asked me about the sailing I had done and whether I had sailed on my own. I declared my trivial journeys back and forth from Cyprus to Turkey and admitted that being on my own made me very, very unhappy. Pierre was surprised to hear that as he admitted that being at sea alone was one of the most tranquil and peaceful experiences ever. Pierre asked how long these solo journeys took. I replied, two or three days.
“Ah!”, he said, “That is the problem.” “I, too, hate the three days. It is always a period where you adjust and it is terrible.“
“My friend, you must find a way to be alone for more than three days. You will see that it is very different.“
It was some years before that opportunity came about but, in the end, I did undertake a solo journey of nearly 18 days. Pierre was right. The first three days were hell, the rest was heaven!
Thank you, Songbird of Kent, you gave me some fabulous memories!
By Paul Handover