Sailing solo across the Atlantic is too dangerous in a small boat!

Saling keeps you fit

Sailing keeps you fit

I cringe every time I have to hear this. Family and friends, with absolutely no knowledge of sailing have rallied to harangue me incessantly on the absurdity of my impending travel plans. They would all rather I find a new job, settle down, and be responsible.

Ha! No chance of stopping me now, but you would think they’d have had a little more faith given that risk management was my “bread and butter” profession. Let me digress a moment to reiterate my intentions:

Towards the end of this year I plan to sail across the Atlantic in my 23ft sailboat (a Yarmouth23). Not because it is a life-long dream, not because I want to set a record or publicise sponsors, and certainly not to prove anything to myself or others.

I just want to be alone at sea in my boat, free to travel where I please for an indeterminate period. It’s not a vacation, I’m not trying to “find myself” (surely that asininity has gone out of fashion), and I’m still insisting it’s not a mid-life crisis (surely I’ll live at least another 70 years!)

However, I am intentionally getting away from the Machiavellian machinations of corporate life to pursue a rewarding hobby / lifestyle that has helped me relax, get fit, see new places and put some melanin back into my pallid office dweller complexion.

I have not rushed into any of this. I’ve spent the last two years just equipping and getting to know my boat. Cruising trips have only gradually become more ambitious, and I’ve patiently acquired and familiarised myself with all the warranted safety gear.

I have confidence in my immaculately maintained craft and have left little to chance with regards to safety. I carry a life raft, EPIRB, PLB, 3xVHF radios, HF receiver, a parachute sea anchor, Jordan series drogue, second complement of sails, Aries vane gear, two tiller pilots, a pyromaniacs horde of flares, 3x handheld GPS and more.

The only pieces of cruising equipment I don’t have are a water-maker, satellite phone and HF transceiver. Prohibitively expensive on my budget so I’ll just have to carry the water I use, live without SMS at sea, and listen rather than talk all day on the HF.

Not that any of this is likely to allay their fears, so I’ll just have to weigh anchor, do my Atlantic crossing, sail back and tell them; “See, you needn’t have worried!”
With a little luck I might be able to stave off the alternative “find a new job, settle down, and be responsible” option for a while yet. 😉

A small boat is best!

All comforts?

All comforts?

If I were to list all the virtues of owning a small boat, not only would it make rather dry reading for the non-boating enthusiast, but inevitably it would spark an argument between those who hold to “bigger is better” vs. “small is beautiful”…

Now where have I heard that before?

I guess it all comes down to a matter of taste, (and the size of ones wallet). Mind you, some people just have to take everything with them when they go cruising and no amount of argument will ever shift them to the minimalist small yacht camp.

A tiny boat will certainly never cater to this fellows idea of traveling in style, but for the benefit of the skeptics and fence sitters I offer you a few photos showing the diminutive boat owner in his element.

It isn’t often that I find small boats cruising far from home, so when I do, it almost always warrants a photograph.

Mini "Gin Paslace"

Mini "Gin Palace"

Above is a photo of a happy couple living it up on the smallest “Gin Palace” in St.Tropez.

English Canal Boat

English Canal Boat

On the French waterways I came across this cruiser in a shortened English canal boat.

Apparently it’s a thousands pounds per foot to build one of these (and he managed to get 70% off)!

Ugly boat?

Ugly boat?

OK this isn’t a small boat but I thought to include the photo to show that the “ugly is best” camp also has a following!

Tiny boat

Tiny boat

Last and also least (dimension wise) is this minuscule yacht found cruising in the south of France. It makes my Yarmouth23 seem extravagantly spacious.

The gale force winds die down

Day 29

Weather Check

Weather Check

Prior to the gale I had contacted an Albanian Freighter for an update on the weather situation, but now at anchor and within mobile phone range I could check the forecast with my laptop and its GPRS Internet connection. Apparently there would be a lull lasting approximately 10 hours so without further ado I followed the coast, heading for the shelter of Ayos Nikolaos.
Arriving at dawn I wasted no time getting some desperately needed sleep. I was a wreck, on the other hand, Eileen of Avoca had weathered the gale admirably.

She is one tough little boat.

Caught in a gale!

Day 28

My last minute checks via the Internet (The Yacht Club boasted Wi-Fi) of the expected weather using several sites including

were very accurate for at least 48hrs.

The forecast for day 3 is included here:

Mediterranean weather forecast

Mediterranean weather forecast

Even the most pessimistic weather models did not prepare me for what I was to encounter on the 28th of November just 60NM SE of Crete.
The wind was consistently from the NW and considerably stronger than the anticipated 15 to 20kts but Eileen of Avoca was making steady progress on the auxiliary under control of the Autohelm. I had already dropped the mainsail and hoisted my new trysail so that the gaff would stop swinging from side to side.
I rested during the night and as I had only recently topped up the fuel tank assumed there was little to do until morning. I was right; all was well until daybreak (30NM from Crete) when the motor stopped. I sprang into action, heaving-to and adding another jerry can from my fuel reserve in decidedly heavier seas. The engine refused to start as it had probably sucked air into the fuel line!

Could I sail the rest of the way?

Could I bleed the fuel line in these conditions?



The first question was immediately answered after a quick 360-degree turn. With the wind from the NW I could choose to return to Egypt or head for either Libya or Cyprus. None of the options appealed given the worsening conditions, especially when I was so close to Crete. I would have to get the engine started regardless of the nausea overwhelming me while examining the fuel line. I gave the ignition another try and miraculously the Beta spluttered to life. Joy! Setting a course of 320° at 3kts, I put in two of the companionway boards and huddled in what shelter I could find to count down the remaining miles.
Progress was slow, and the waves grew gradually larger. I would conservatively estimate that the largest (coming from the North 40° or so from the general NW swell) were no more than 4 metres, and the wind speed at the low end of F7, but it certainly felt worse.
The VHF issued a constant stream of severe gale warnings, but I was relatively sure as I approached the lee of Crete to be sheltered from the worse of the gale. Nevertheless I had never been in such rough conditions with my Yarmouth 23.
The sideswiping breakers from the north were my main concern. While infrequent, they would slam heavily against Eileen and push her some distance laterally. The resulting propeller cavitation ceased all forward motion. Despite this Eileen did not seem too troubled by the turbulent seas. I was obviously the weakest link, especially after being thrown against the tiller (while adding the last of my fuel), breaking the Autohelm mount in the process. I would be hand steering for the rest of the journey, unable to shelter from the incessant cascades of water flowing over Eileen’s deck. I unwittingly refrained from any movement deemed less than critical so regretfully I have no photos to share, but perhaps I can be forgiven given that even getting a drink of water was a Herculean task.
Five miles from the coast and ten hours after dawn I was still battling a wild sea. The expected lee from Crete was evasive but as I turned north conditions did gradually improve. With immense relief I anchored off a small beach near Erimoupoleos for an hour to recover.

A memorable farewell from Alexandria

Day 25

I was there!

I was there!

I planned to leave on the 24th of November to make use of the most appropriate weather window but fell victim to more bureaucratic red tape, which would delay my departure by another 24hrs.
In the following 12hrs I discovered that the Yacht Clubs jetty becomes untenable under certain conditions. I was lucky to escape damaging Eileen as a vicious swell grew intolerable towards midnight. I abandoned my anchors (but not before attaching fenders for easy retrieval) and motored out into deeper water for the rest of the night.

Unattended vessels were not as fortunate, as I am sure the owners of at least one large fishing boat can attest. It spent the evening crashing its steel hull against the rock-lined shore.


Egyptian Fishermen

By 12 noon on the 25th of November my passport was returned and at last I had permission to depart. I wasted no time hoisting my sails and heading for the open sea. To my amazement the local fishermen gave me a memorable send-off, cheering and singing as Eileen of Avoca made way under sail. It was moving.

Arriving in Corfu

sea-planeOnce reaching the sheltered waters of Othoni, the remainder of the trip to Gouvia Marina (see was smooth and scenic. Corfu is a splendid island with lush vegetation softening its rugged features (stated as I scratched the rather lush facial vegetation softening my own imaginary rugged features). BTW has anyone successfully shaved while sailing his Yarmouth23?
Safely nestled in our berth opposite the seaplane service (see I set about the unhappy task of packing and the many and varied chores necessary when leaving the boat for a lengthy period. I found quite a bit of water in the bilge and I can only imagine that it came in through the pushpit lockers during the crossing from Italy. I really must do something about that.

Bonifacio to Isola Caprera

Sunshine and gentle winds from the NE provided me with a beautiful day to sail through the Maddalena group of islands, where I planned to find a sheltered anchorage for the night.

I amused myself by occasionally letting go of the tiller (simulating falling overboard) and studying how the boat behaved when left to its own devices under different sail plans and trim. My conclusion is that no matter what you do with the trim, a Yarmouth 23 will keep on sailing with or without someone at the tiller. I’d been hoping that she would luff up and stay put like Robert Manry’s Tinkerbelle as recounted in his Atlantic crossing. A link to this book is provided in the Links section of the main site.

Isola Caprera

Cala Garibaldi

Unfortunately, even when hove to, Eileen of Avoca sets a brisk pace. All the more reason to always use my safety harness when single-handed.

A tranquil evening was spent in Cala Garibaldi between La Maddalena and Isola Caprera in an anchorage by a disused resort. Numerous submerged rocks would make passage here risky in anything but ideal conditions.

Nice to Calvi



Only twenty hours if I could keep an average of 5kt. The swell outside the harbour was very uncomfortable and for the first 4 hours Eileen of Avoca rolled heavily on a heading of 135°.

I gave Eva a couple of Sturgeon tablets and sent her to bed as she was not feeling well and readied myself for what was effectively if not technically a solo crossing.

After traveling 35NM I could no longer make out the city lights to the north. Left in splendid isolation on a moonless night, I motor-sailed, double reefed for hours on end. Much later that night, as I sat huddled by the companionway to keep out of the dew, the sea calmed considerably. Apart from having to dodge the occasional ship there was little to do and despite my best efforts I was beginning to feel very tired.

Just at the point where I felt I could easily doze off, a great splash wrenched me from my stupor. Wide awake I looked to port and stood amazed as three dolphins leapt from Eileen’s bow-wave with enviable agility. Wow!
The moon rose just before dawn and the remaining hours passed without event. By 16:00 I was approaching the port of Calvi. Our little holiday was over.
Well, at least until September the 22nd when I intend to take Eileen of Avoca to Sardinia. 🙂

To Port du Lavandou



(06:00) An early start as the weather was set to turn this evening and I wanted to be as far as possible to the east so that the force of the Mistral would be somewhat moderated. My girlfriend Eva was not too pleased about leaving while it was still cold and dark. Mind you even water temperatures of 24 degrees seem frigid to her. She lasted approximately 15 seconds in the water yesterday; I put it down to her Mexican heritage. With Cap de L’Aigle silhouetted by the rising sun and a brisk wind in just the right direction, I couldn’t be happier.
All was going according to plan but it was obvious by 14:30 that the Mistral had arrived ahead of schedule. I’d set too much sail including a whisker pole out on the staysail. Oops! When the wind gusts arrived they were a good force 7 and while I was quick to furl the jib, the staysail was a tangle. After battling with the mainsail I worked my way to the pulpit to sort out the mess. Eva is a lithe 45kg but was having considerable trouble keeping the bow to windward while I battled the recalcitrant sail. In the end I had to remove the pole end fittings before I could beat the staysail into submission. The following hour was spent motoring under bare poles to Port du Lavavdou (which was given a good review by the pilot book) and on route it was decided to stay put while the Mistral blew.

Port du Frioul to Calanque de Port Miou


Sormiou calanque

(10:45) The beautiful weather and lack of wind saw the sea fill with a plethora of pleasure boats exploring the calanques (Mediterranean fjords) and islands to the south of Marseille, each vying for the best swimming spot. The calm weather allowed me to take the pass between the mainland and Ile Maire, and not to be outdone by the locals, I headed for Sormiou to claim my spot in the shallow protected waters of the calanque. A lazy day enjoying the good company, warm sun and crystal clear sea, perfect!

Port Miou

Port Miou

Well almost perfect, I did have a few embarrassing minutes of excitement as I climbed aboard rather promptly to reset the plow anchor before drifting against our neighbours yacht. I guess I should have used the Danforth!
By 15:00 it was time to weigh anchor and find a spot for the night. About 4 miles away was Port Miou. I was met by the friendly marina staff zipping about on their tender and quickly found a spot on the east side of the calanque. After paying for the night (12 Euros, water but no electricity) they provided me with the latest weather fax from Meteo France, a couple of waterproof pouches as souvenirs and directions to the nearby tennis club and restaurants. I’m glad I arrived fairly early as this is a popular spot during the day, but completely deserted at night (see