Solo Sign Off

It is quite amazing that after a mere couple of hours of sleep, the human body can be so restored and refreshed!

After a week of sub one hundred step counts, I was keen to get out for an exploratory walk. The perception of Venice is of a maze of charismatic alleys and canals (Remember Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in ‘Don’t Look Now’) and this would be right for the central city. The islands however offer an unexpected contrast and Certosa provides just that yet is still the closest to the ‘thick of things’.

Certosa Island, full of surprises

My pontoon gave way to what can only be described as a ‘wooded path’ with watery glimpses of the Lagoon. Arriving at the Northern tip of the island, I stumbled across youth socialising, Venician style.  There were dozens of speedboats moored up and rafted along a quay with the youngsters, all in swimming costumes (If you can call them that on the young girls) sitting around chatting, larking, diving in and clearly having a great time – how wonderfully refreshing ! There was even a mobile pizza van parked up to service them, in actual fact this was the only vehicle I have seen on the island.

Mobile Pizza oven

So my walk around the island not only achieved my ‘step target’, it also suggested that this is a place of depth and contrast. A beer in the Island Hotel garden did nothing to diminish a sense that everything was beginning to go right.

First beer ashore after 7 days at sea

Returning to Hejira and sinking into the wonderfully Air Conditioned interior and closing up shop for the evening, I started thinking about dinner and was writing my final musings with a nice glass of Rose at my elbow when, knock knock on the hull. I thought, oh, it’s the people from the  adjacent German boat asking me across for a drink (one man two ladies) – that might be nice. Of course, this was not the reality, it was the Marina Staff saying “I am sorry but we need you to move berth now”. This would not have been so annoying had I not had a drink, had  it not been so late and if I hadn’t just made Hejira secure for a couple of weeks. So I moved and sorted everything out again which would have been fine but this was clearly the Venetian Mosquito feeding time and I was bitten to death. Not as bad as the Crinan Canal but not far short. So, a generous spray, plug in zappers activated and anti-histamine liberally applied the question was what very quick meal will use most perishables. You guessed it, onions and garlic as a base, grated parmesan and the remaining 4 eggs in an omelette which was actually more than acceptable in the circumstances. I left the washing up till the morning.

Not surprisingly, sleep came easily again, a dead to the world sleep but strangely punctuated by periods of wakefulness. It would seem that I was still keeping watch!

The next time I visit Hejira will be with Paula and I have some cleaning to do. I have checked that the Marco Polo Airport has a lounge and that it has catering so, to be sure, I intend to set off at lunch time and make the most of it.

Amazingly after leaving  Baie des Anges marina, I have covered 1220 miles single handed and I think I should probably record my reflections on the experience if only as a cathartic exercise.

Excessive tiredness over an extended period of time is extremely unpleasant and debilitating; I can quite understand why it is used as a form of torture. I don’t know if it showed through in the blogs but I have observed that I have done some very strange things (notably the unnecessary starter motor replacement) and I have certainly written peculiar notes in the log book. Thankfully, I didn’t succumb to any Donald Crowhurst moments. Tiredness impairs your ability to function on a physical, mental and emotional level. With the benefit of hindsight and given the amount of traffic encountered on this passage, I should not have attempted to do it non-stop, it was a challenge and I ‘got away with it’. I will do long distance solo cruising again but in more open water. Congested areas need more concentration and after a couple of nights without proper sleep, judgement is impaired and safety put at risk.

My course has whisked me past some fabulously evocative and beautiful destinations. I have visited most of the household names on previous occasions and I can confirm that the Tuscan Islands, Ischia, Procida, Capri and the Amalfi Coast are all fabulous. There have also been some very promising, less well known and more out of the way places that I have viewed through the binoculars and I have promised myself that I will visit them one day. To achieve my targets however particularly after my forced 3 day punctuation, this cruise has had to press on and, after all, the delights of these destinations are best enjoyed in company, not solo and they will still be there in the future.

This cruise has been very special for me. It is the fulfilment of a long held ambition to sail single handed over long distances, I think I have proved, not only that I can do it but that I enjoy doing it.

It has also had several other special purposes for me. It has come at a time of my life when I have been addressing some particularly difficult circumstances whereby a period of reflection on my own has been a tonic and helped me put some major issues into perspective.

The writing of the blog has been tremendously enjoyable and wonderfully rewarding. I have taken great pleasure in your comments and the fact that so many people have logged on and read my musings particularly after its forced re-location. I would like to thank those people who regularly communicated and supported my mission. I don’t know how I might have done without your support but I do know that it was a whole lot better experience with it.

It is a truism that events that go smoothly are not remembered and don’t supplement the ‘anecdote bank’.  Memorable experiences come from when there is some sort of frisson, something goes wrong, there is a quirky encounter or something unusual happens. It is also true that sailing tends to ‘throw up’ plenty of these situations, not always of a pleasant nature but, invariably memorable and I have to say that life is much richer as a result.

Hejira has, once again, acquitted herself with great, understated competence. When I bought her in Holland in 2012, I paid a ‘Kings Ransom’ for her because the Rob Humphreys designed Southerly 135s (they only made 30) were hen’s teeth on the second hand market and this particular example (I thought wrongly as it happens) was in reasonable ‘nick’ and ticked all the boxes. My sanity was questioned by some sailing contemporaries as for what I paid for an 8 year old yacht; I could have bought TWO basic brand new French/German production yachts of the same size. Sorting the problems, kitting her out and improving her for Ocean passage making has cost at least half as much again. The fact is though that she is now a fully sorted, very solid, safe, seaworthy, well spec’d, versatile and comfortable yacht that can go absolutely anywhere in the world. Part of my dilemma is working out how best to utilise this potential and to satisfy my lust for adventuring under sail.

Of the issues on this trip, the first was the failure of the batteries after less than half their expected life. Talk to different ‘experts’ about battery life and charging regimes and you will inevitably get different advice – it is something of a dark art. Suffice it to say that I believe that leaving the photo voltaic panels constantly connected and charging while the Mastervolt charger was also connected 24/7 was definitely a mistake and this is one of the reforms going forward and I will be taking further advice on the whole matter.

I would rather not dwell on the engine problem, all I will say is, it was entirely my fault, I put it down to exhaustion and it will not happen again – I feel very stupid so that is an end to it.

So I return to ‘Blighty’ for ten days or so and I am looking forward to having Rebecca and Darcey (daughter and new granddaughter) staying with us at Thornleigh and spending time with them. I then return to Venice in about 2 weeks’ time with Paula and my next crew Bob and his wife Alison for a few days holiday. Paula and I will be staying on Hejira, Bob and Alison in a fancy hotel! Our wives return to the UK after a few days and Bob and I cast off for Croatia. Bob was crew on my first Trans-Atlantic and this will be the first time we will have sailed together since that wonderful experience in 2015. He was a regular blogging counterpoint to my anodyne ‘sail-centric’ contributions and I am sure that it was his and Stephens input which won the World Cruising blog award for Hejira. So, you can look forward to some lighter and more entertaining relief while we transit Croatia starting on the 1st of July.

I will return with Bob from Dubrovnik mid-July for more domestic and other commitments before resuming on the 25th. I’ll save up the details of the return phases of my summer sailing partly because it still has some fluidity but it will include Dave Wright, Carl Beetham and his son Tom, Paula and two of her regular holidaying friends Marie and Kate. Destinations may include Corfu, Greek islands, Malta, Tunisia, Sardinia and Corsica. I will try to maintain a blog throughout with the crew encouraged to contribute.

Special thanks are due to my wife Paula for so many things. Since we first got together, she has always supported whatever I have wanted to do, however ‘off the wall’ and whatever the potential implications. Throwing myself into business and the financially difficult times that inevitably ensued was unconditionally supported. Having sailed throughout our relationship, she has never flinched at the cost or the amount of time it took me away from our family and I mean never a word of reproach. This is all despite not sharing my enthusiasm for sailing, in fact quite the opposite, really only enjoying the yachts when they have reached their destination and become ‘static’. I certainly acknowledge and appreciate what Paula has given and continues to give to me and our family.

It is fair to say that in order to truly appreciate the highs in life, they have to be balanced by lows. I have certainly had my fair share of both on this adventure and the experience will be remembered in HD.

Sometimes, I pinch myself !

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