Sailing Highs & Lows – Part Two
With an eight-year sailing adventure under our belts, in the final of our two blogs about our best and worst bits, we spill the beans about our favourite and not-so-favourite countries; our best underwater experiences; what we learnt about ourselves on this mammoth journey and how it’s changed us.
Nev – In September 2014, we arrived in Greece and spent almost two years there. It sticks out for me not just as being a beautiful country, but also as the place that I first managed to get comfortable with sailing. Believe me, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears as I grappled with med-mooring to a dock, or helming the boat as Ferg swam ashore with heavy mooring lines that were secured to the boat’s aft cleats in order to tie them to a rock or tree on the land to stop the boat from swinging around. And then there were the katabatic winds to cope with and the seasonal Meltemi winds that appeared all over the Aegean in July and August and could have you stuck in one anchorage for days.
Being in Greece taught me loads about sailing and, with around 6,000 islands to explore – stretching from the Ionian Sea in the west to the Aegean Sea in the east – it’s a real sailor’s paradise. The islands are so versatile, with a multitude of stunning anchorages, walks, history and culture – and there’s also oodles of little tavernas offering wine and food at very affordable prices. Greece is the word!
Skipper – It’s a tough one as Greece is definitely a top contender, but I also found Fiji totally magical, both above and below the water.
In Fiji, I had my best ever dives among a vast selection of beautiful healthy coral. From Taveuni’s Great White Wall of colour changing coral stretching down beyond 30 metres to the Cabbage Patch, which is home to the more unusual pristine cabbage coral. The fish were bountiful, ranging in all shapes, sizes and shades from bright vivid colours of semi-circle angel fish and oriental sweetlips to the more camouflaged grouper and scorpion fish.
The warmth and friendliness of the Fijian people absolutely made our trip. As we sailed around the islands, they always welcomed us with a broad smile and open arms, ready to share their harvest of fruit and veg and way of life with us. It was a real delight to spend time getting to know them and their culture.
Not-so Favourite Country
Nev – While I loved the remote San Blas islands, which lie off the Atlantic coast of Panama, there were parts that I found soul-destroying and depressing due to the huge amount of plastic that washed up on the shores.
While much of the plastic had, quite literally, sailed itself across the Atlantic or Caribbean Sea, there’s also a fair amount that’s been haphazardly dumped, either on land or just left floating in the water. It’s a devastating sight.
With no refuse facilities on the islands, the locals have no alternative other than to burn their everyday rubbish; and sadly, that includes plastic too. From a health perspective, low heat burning on the beach is one of the worst thing you could do with plastic.
For anyone reading this and thinking of sailing these beautiful islands, please don’t leave your rubbish behind, but take it to the nearest recycling point. We must work harder and collectively to not only clean the washed-up plastic off our world’s beaches, but to dispose of it in an environmentally-friendly manner.
Skipper – I found Aruba really unappealing. To check-in, we had to tie up to a cruise ship dock; it didn’t have cleats, just rusty loops and bollards. There are only two anchorages, one of which is at the end of the airport runway, so not very peaceful, and the second has very poor holding, so not much sleep was had while on this island!
There were also parts of Italy that I couldn’t cope with, where the swell managed to get into to every corner of an anchorage. Italy is a nightmare in August as the world and his wife are on holiday and out in their boats. We found even the most remote anchorages were an absolute mayhem, full of day boats, superyachts and jet skis.
Favourite In-The-Water Experience
Nev – I love swimming, but I hate putting my head underwater. When we got to French Polynesia – and with the covid epidemic halting many land tours – going snorkelling was the main way of exploring. So I put on my big girl pants and grudgingly donned a full-face mask. Oh my, what had I been missing?
I soon found myself totally enthralled by drift snorkelling the entrances to islands with the incoming tide; watching an amazing underwater world of fish and sea creatures dash by in full technicolour beneath me. It was magical! It wasn’t long before I was snorkelling with turtles, dolphins, sharks, manta rays, sting rays – and whales. The latter being the best experience ever, but I’ll let Skipper tell you about that one.
Skipper – One of the most incredible experiences of my life was snorkelling with whales in Mo’orea, French Polynesia.
Every year from July to October, humpback whales migrate to French Polynesia, from the Antarctic to the warmer waters of the South Pacific Ocean. They come to mate, rest, fast and to give birth to their calves, as the Antarctic is too cold for their new-borns.
We went on a whale-watching boat tour, which was absolutely epic. Spying two adult humpback whales surfacing, our guide instructed us to don masks and fins as he planned to take us swimming with them. Prior to getting in the water, he had fully briefed us on whale etiquette and how we should conduct ourselves.
Once we were in the water, the tour boat quietly backed away as the whales swam over. They checked us out curiously, before putting on a 30-minute show with the male flirting with the slightly larger female, as they surfaced, twisting, tail slapping and cavorting, before diving down only to return to do it again and again. They were so close, we could have reached out and touched them.
Being in the water with these gentle giants – who were each the size of a double decker bus – was not only euphoric, but humbling, as their eyes seemed to stare right into our souls. Of all the wonderful underwater encounters we have had, it’s no surprise this is at the top.
How Has This Sailing Adventure Changed You?
Nev – I have learnt so much over the last eight years, not just about sailing, but about the countries we’ve been to, the people we’ve met and from the good and bad experiences we’ve been through.
It’s changed me in all sorts of ways. I always had the travel bug, but this type of sail-venture has totally got under my skin, and I just want to do more! I now crave to learn more from my surroundings, and I get a thrill from the pushing myself further; enjoying both the challenge and the adrenaline it brings. I’ve become a stronger and more determined person.
We both have an intrepid curiosity and while we learn about the new places we’re seeing, I’m hoping that, via our photos and blogs, we can inspire others to try new experiences, destinations and adventures too.
Skipper – Our sailing journey has turned me into a restless wanderer. My soul craves adventure and the sort of exploration that can only be achieved by boat.
Normality for me is to hear the wind in the rigging and see the wake behind the boat.
While we wait for the next time, I’ve been gleaning new skills that will help us to earn a living while we travel. I’m now a qualified Maritime & Coastguard Agency approved engineer; I’m studying for my RYA Ocean Yachtmaster and, in November, I’m taking a course to come an RYA Cruising Instructor.
Nev: Yay! Go Skipper! 😊
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San Blas…looking just like an Athena poster