This is for Pendantry!
There was a remark left on my post on Tuesday by Pendantry. This is what he said, “Still waiting to hear the story of that dangerous trip you took (once?) that you dropped a teaser about years ago….”
Well not only am I including the excerpt from the book Letter to a Grandson, as yet unpublished, but I am extending it to two posts, simply because I think it’s too long for one.
So this is part one.
Songbird Of Kent
I decided to sell Dataview and worry about the taxation later. Now it is easy to write that all these years later knowing how it turned out; I never paid the tax!
For that same year, 1986, I went to Cyprus on holiday. Or rather I should say I went to the Greek half of Cyprus, to Larnaca, for a well-deserved holiday.
In wandering around the marina one day I saw a boat for sale. It was a Tradewind 33, a heavy-displacement cutter, called Songbird of Kent. The owners, Michael and Betty Hughes, were selling after many years of living on board and they returning to their native Wales. It had been extensively cruised in the Mediterranean with the base being Larnaca Marina.
It was a lovely boat and I could afford it. Plus, it offered an answer to my prayers. If I bought Songbird of Kent and left the UK before April 15th 1987 and stayed away for four tax years there would be no tax to pay. Nothing; Nada!
So that’s exactly what I did!
I bought Songbird, flew back to Devon and made preparations for leaving the United Kingdom for good. It was a busy period. One that had me saying cheerio to my son and daughter, but insisting that, so long as they came out to see me, it would not be four or five years before I saw them again. Plus loads of packing up, disposing of my house and eventually boarding that aircraft with a one-way ticket: London Stansted to Larnaca, Cyprus.
I settled in to living on board Songbird of Kent. I bought myself a small motorbike and in time, believe it or not, discovered there was a gliding club on the Island, at Kingsfield just to the East of Larnaca. The airfield was built for the Army Air Corps, possibly around 1960, but I can’t remember whether or not it was still in military hands. I don’t think it was!
But, I am able to look up my flying log and see that I flew a T21 from Kingsfield on the 28th October, 1990. It became a regular habit; quite quickly, as on the 17th November, 1990, I completed my instructor flight test and was signed off to instruct.
I also took an Advanced Open Water Diver course run by instructor Ian Murray. Ian was a PADI diving instructor. PADI stood for Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
My life was pretty good.
Each summer I would sail solo to Turkey, usually West along the South coast, the Greek side of Cyprus, then turn North and make it to Alanya or Antalya. There I would wait for guests to come from England including, most importantly, for Maija and Alex to visit.
Then we would gently cruise from harbour to harbour westwards, sometimes entering Greece much further West.
One day in Larnaca Marina a boat came quietly in and moored in the vacant berth next to me. I hopped off Songbird and went to help the sailor on board. It looked as though he was sailing solo.
After he had been securely moored, I asked him where he had come from. He was English; his name was Les Powells. He unassumingly said he was on his way home after a solo circumnavigation. Indeed, I later learned that it was his third solo circumnavigation!
The mind absolutely boggles! I mean I have just an idea, from reading books written by Francis Chichester and others, what a single solo circumnavigation would be like. But three!!
Over the coming days, we chatted about a whole range of stuff. When the subject of glider flying came up, Les said that was something he had always wanted to do.
I immediately offered to teach him to fly gliders. For a few weeks thereafter, we drove across to Kingsfield, when the Club was operating, and I taught Les up to the point where he went solo.
In the time we spent together, Les inspired me to undertake more longer sailing trips than just going across at the start of the season from Cyprus to Turkey and, of course, returning at the end of the season. Maybe, even try a transatlantic.
The idea of crossing the Atlantic kept nudging away at me. Especially since Dave Lisson, a Canadian friend from Larnaca Marina, was very much in favour of coming with me. Dave and I chatted about it and we agreed; we would give it a go! It was 1992 and a little late in the year to be starting off but we reckoned on it being alright. We left Larnaca Marina on the 10th September, 1992.
The idea was to head for Malta bypassing Crete. The weather soon became less than idyllic and by late on 13th September I made an entry in the sailing log: Conditions deteriorating. Then a further entry in the log at 11:00 on the 14th: Giant seas 3-4 metres.
Eventually on the 20th September we entered Valletta Harbour. We set off again on the 24th September. Our next port of call was Sidi Bou Said marina in Tunisia, which we entered on the 26th September.
The plan was to sail directly from Sidi Bou Said to Gibraltar but, once again, the weather got in the way. Thus on the 3rd October we entered Algiers harbour to take on fuel and to have a rest from the inclement conditions. We left Algiers on the 7th October heading for Gibraltar.
I must say that sailing in a smallish yacht had an almost unreal quality to it. The routine of sailing soon enveloped us. We slept frequently but lightly. At night, every twenty minutes or so, the one on watch would come on deck to take a look round. There was a simplicity in sailing, using a self-steering gear to helm the boat, and I remember one night coming on deck, there wasn’t a moon, and all around me, literally 360 degrees of vision, the stars came right down to the horizon. I was transfixed. We were far enough from land not to have any light pollution. It was magical. Indeed, it was a memory that has never left me.
However, getting to Gibraltar was not without its challenge for we suffered a knockdown and this scared us both to the core.
Part Two tomorrow.