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Cruising Solo

In the spring of 2007 I bought a 22ft Seal Sinbad called “Zalophus” and shortly afterwards I joined Hoo Ness YC.  Zalophus has a lifting keel and was my ideal yacht for fulfilling one of my ambitions, that of following in the footsteps of Maurice Griffiths and exploring the “Magic of the Swatchways”.  This I look forward to doing.

In addition to Zalophus I have “Imagine” my Tradewind 35 which I have owned for nearly 15 years and which is now berthed on the beautiful island of Brac in Croatia.  Together with my wife we left the UK in the spring of 2001 and sailed Imagine to the Mediterranean via Biscay and Gibraltar.   We spent nearly 4 years exploring South Brittany and the West coast of France, Northern Spain, Portugal, the Atlantic and Mediterranean coast of Spain, the Balearics, Sardinia, Italy and Greece.  It was in Greece that Vanessa felt she wanted a change from full-time cruising so I decided to sail solo with my wife flying out to meet me.  Since then I have sailed solo covering many thousands of miles exploring the Ionian, the Peloponnese, the Aegean, the Gulf of Corinth, Turkey and the Eastern Adriatic.

I thought some members might be interested in my account of what it is like to sail solo in the Mediterranean.  I hope the following gives a flavour of what it is like to live your dream, well, it might not be your dream but it was mine and I consider myself very lucky to have lived it and, indeed I am still living it!  As you will no doubt gather, I wrote the article soon after I started sailing solo.

 

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It’s 10.30 on Monday morning the 12th July, and “Imagine” is alongside a small quay in the beautiful safe little harbour of Ieraka (Yerakas) on the eastern Peloponnisos. The temperature in the cabin is 32degrees and climbing and outside I see a cloudless blue sky filtering the rays of the burning sun.  In his Greek Waters Pilot Rod Heikell describes Ieraka as a small hamlet surrounded by the hostile mountains of the Parnon, hardly touched by outside influences. This necessary brief description hardly does justice to the tranquillity and wild beauty of this lovely timeless anchorage.  The entrance, shaped like a dog’s leg, gives all round protection and beyond the small hamlet is a large shallow lagoon, to be explored by dinghy.  I am moored on part of the ferry quay, except that the ferry no longer runs.  A climb and a walk of some 20 or so minutes brings you to the remains of a Mycenian Acropolis and with it the wonderful vista of this ancient landscape, to the north the Argolic Gulf and eastwards to the Aegean.  The whole area helped provide much of the material for Homer’s epics. In the cool breeze of last evening I walked and scrambled to the Acropolis and stood alone on the ancient walls wondering at the ingenuity of those who built these marvellous structures and letting my senses absorb the history and the whole ambience emanating from the natural rock, red earth and the man made walls upon which I stood.

It was in the Peloponnis and the Argolic Gulf that around 750BC Homer recorded the epic tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey and having got interested in Greek History and Mythology I found it relatively easy to let my eyes gaze on the distant mountains, to listen to the gentle sounds of natures’ orchestral symphony, to smell the aroma of the herbs and wild flowers surrounding me and to see and touch the stone created by ancient craftsmen.  And, like a traveller in time I was there!  Apart from the work of those ancient craftsmen, for as far as I could see there was no sign of human habitation. In such a moment, and over the last three months there have been many of them, I find it so easy to let my  mind wander and to try and be at one with the spirits of those who lived, loved, fought, and died in those ancient civilisations.  It’s been great. I feel as if I am living part of their history.  I gaze upon the same landscape, sail the same seas and anchor in the same natural and unspoilt anchorages.   I am reliving history, it makes my reading all the more real and I begin to gleam an understanding of the society in which they lived, their affinity with the elements, their reverence for the natural world and their concern and quest for their origin, and to find an explanation for all the supernatural forces that could not be mastered or explained. 

Ieraka is unspoilt, there is no real shop just a bar which sells fresh bread and basic goods.  But this is fairly typical of many of the anchorages I have found on my cruise around the Peloponnis.  It is an area untouched by the charter fleets and not many cruising boats in general.  So far I have encountered just one other British yacht the others being mainly German and French.  I have anchored and moored in some wonderful locations and particularly mention Pilos, Methoni and  Koroni all with superb examples of  huge forts built by the Venetians.  I will never forget being safely anchored by the walls of the fort at Methoni and watching the onset of sunset with a lone fisherman rowing his boat, med fashion, alongside the marvellous Turkish Tower built at the southern end of the fort.  Earlier I had swam in the crystal clear warm water, watching the countless number of small fish, marvelling at their colours as they darted hither and thither amongst the crustacean covered rocks.  Having inspected my anchor and knowing it was well dug in I sat contentedly in the cockpit enjoying my supper as we gently swayed in the lee of the old galley harbour with the sky showing all the colours of a giant prism.  The sea was like glass and as the sun went down I saw for the first time ever the night sky reflected in the black velvet upon which we floated.  The moment was magic and I felt at one with the world and, for a time, totally at one with myself.

So many wonderful memories now stored forever in my mind.  Maybe it is just me but sailing solo and often being isolated, for me, relatively longish periods, I seem to be able to absorb the intensity of the moment or the experience and imprint it with real clarity within my memory.  It may be that because I have not sailed or cruised solo before then these new experiences, involving all ones’ senses, are vividly ingrained in my mind. 

From the magic of being anchored under the fort at Methoni I then went to the uninhabited island  of  Sapientza and anchored overnight in Port Longos.  The “Port” refers to a safe anchorage because there is nothing there! Another magic night.  An inky black sky lit up by the brilliance of a myriad of sparkling diamonds. I had never seen the Constellations or the Milky Way so clear.  With the comforting warm glow of “Imagine’s” cabin lights switched off, all I could see was the outline of the hills and mountains surrounding the anchorage.  With just me and “Imagine”, once more I could sense and feel the spirit of the heroes of those of whom I have read.  Having whilst in the Peloponnis visited, amongst others, Olympia (and, yes, much to the amazement or amusement of the Japanese tourists, I was the only visitor to run the full perimeter of the ancient track) and been to Mistra and to the site of ancient Sparta,

I often when physically alone or just alone with my own thoughts see in my mind’s eye the galleys of Classical Greece.  I can hear and see the marching armies of Alexander or look and wonder at the genius of Archimedes as he sits working on his mathematical theories.  That night in Port Longos I did not feel alone

Sometimes being anchored in remote places and being on one’s own is not always a gentle and warm experience.  The southern Peloponnis has three capes which can be notorious in bad weather.   Fortunately the weather I have experienced has been good but a week ago the “meltemi” a northern wind started and can it blow!  I enjoy sailing at night and had just completed a night passage bound for an anchorage at the Island of Elafonisos which is used as the last stop before rounding the most notorious cap in Greece, Ak Maleas.  I arrived to a beautiful morning having once more seen a glorious sunrise at sea, bringing with it another day with all the hopes and dreams that are there for those who reach out for them.  As I rounded the headland of Ay Marinas with the sobering view of a fairly recent shipwreck rusting on the rocks we (in case you are wondering who the “we” is I am referring to “Imagine” and me) were suddenly hit by 30knot gusts and I took shelter in the beautiful bay of Ormas Sarakiniko.  There I anchored in the lee of the sand dunes, some 200mtrs from a superb beach.  A wonderful blue cloudless sky but did it blow, it blew a hooly.  Loads of chain down and with anchor well and truly dug in I then caught up on sleep.  So a bit of a wild night with a NE F6/7 but being tucked up nicely in the lee of the bay and with little fetch I felt comfortable and slept quite well.  The next day it was still blowing hard so I stayed put but the following evening the wind decreased and I was able to enjoy a very refreshing swim. 

I decided on another overnight sail as I wanted to round the notorious Ak Maleas before the heat engine of the sun increased the gusts which give the cap such a reputation.  So off we went in a gentle NE F3.  And so it stayed until we got to the Cap.  I was well reefed down and a good job because as we approached we went in the space of literally seconds from a F3 to gusts of over 30 knots.  Even though the sea was relatively flat, being at night the rock face at the Cap looked enormous and the katabatic winds can accelerate down viciously.  But the weather god was good to me because the gusts did not last long and soon we were round.  But then we had a slog of some 20 miles with a NE F4 gradually becoming a F5/6 and right on the nose!  I was headed for the superb old port and fortified town of Momenvasia, built on a rock rearing some 1,150 above the sea.  It was one of those trips when you just want to get there and the sooner the better.  So from feeling rather exhilarated at having rounded Ak  Maleas I was brought sharply back to earth when in the lee of the huge rock at Monemvasia (the Greeks call it their Rock of Gibraltar) I was hit by gusts of nearly 40knots.  Being in the lee of the rock the sea was not too bad but those winds were daunting.  It was even more daunting when I then attempted my first look at getting into the harbour because it was to put in mildly, very small!  There were only three spaces to go alongside, all were taken and one of those by the Lifeboat!  I thought about anchoring but the pilot book was not that encouraging and the wind had started to build and the water was starting to look distinctly rough.  I did make an attempt at entry but knew that I had only one chance of getting it right and if I failed we would be in big trouble because there was no room at all to manoeuvre.  I backed off, thought the situation through decided on my best approach and with all my lines and fenders ready in we went. By this time it was 08.30 and I got out my foghorn ready to give a blast to those who might still be asleep on one of the two boats I was making to go alongside.  The foghorn did the trick and two startled bodies appeared on the first boat behind the lifeboat.  The adrenalin was pumping and I don’t really know why but I felt I had prepared the boat and myself as best as I was able and I actually felt confident.  A little windswept crowd had assembled on the quay, woken no doubt by my foghorn.  Arising from my first approach I had a plan of action. I followed it but desperately watched the depth gauge because the pilot book showed uneven depths with sunken concrete blocks, the remains of a pontoon which had been wrecked by winter storms.  But having committed myself there was now no turning back because there was no room to able to deviate from my perceived safe track.  And it worked!  With so little room to spare we rounded up perfectly into the wind and right alongside a German Yacht.   He knew I was on my own and as I ran forward to give him my bow line he had foreseen the situation and with his boat hook had scooped up the line and within seconds I was secure.  I felt elated.  It had been a real test and we had come through. 

I hope that what I have written gives you an insight into some of the experiences and emotions I feel in sailing and cruising solo.  After exploring the Argolic Gulf I cruised the Aegean and experienced the beauty of so many of the islands.   From there it was on to the wonderful sailing and sailing in Turkey.  Then back to Greece via the Gulf of Corinth and then on to the superb cruising to be found in Croatia.  If members are interested I could write another article about some of the other adventures I have had and am still having!

Bob Hammond

Date Published 26th Jan 2009