Chris and Jacquie sailing from the UK to the Eastern Mediterranean in their sailing yacht “Synergy” aiming to leave the UK on 10 June 2015 and reach Gibraltar by September 2015. After that the very loose aim is to reach Corfu in Greece by the end of 2017. No hurry!
As we were planning a grand sailing trip and we didn’t have a boat, the first stage of the plan was to find one. Never having owned a boat before meant that we were working in a fog of ignorance but, fortunately the web was also a source of a great deal of advice. We initially started looking at boats in the range of 38 to 45 ft long as we intended to spend most of our time on the boat and needed room to swing a cat! Not that cat swinging (in the old Royal Navy sense) was an intended pastime. We were more interested in watching the sunset over a long gin an tonic. However, it quickly became apparent that boats at the shorter end of the scale came with little headroom; at 6ft 5in tall I had experienced the effect of a low ceiling on previous sailing holidays, most of the top of my bald head now consisting of scar tissue.
At the longer end of the range the marina fees start to sky rocket and would place a large burden on our running costs. We also decided that a centre cockpit boat, whilst having great advantages when sailing long sea passages, would make mooring less easy with just 2 crew when tying up stern to, as is common in the Mediterranean. I also wrote off any boat fitted with teak decks. They look tremendous, but the damage done by the fierce Mediterranean sun would eventually lead to some intensive maintenance and we wanted to sail the boat, not spend lots of time repairing her.
After looking at many boats and pouring for many hours over the internet, Jac and I travelled to marinas down the East Coast and along the South Coast looking at boats we had short listed with the following criteria in mind:
1. Sufficient headroom so that I could stand up and avoid further damage to my cranium.
2. Two steering wheels. (Jac’s requirement so they didn’t obstruct social occasions. The normal large single helm might be an obstruction to free movement and dancing)
3. A bow thruster to help in difficult mooring situations.
4. A corner galley near the cockpit so the tea maker could brace against the boat’s movement and pass up hot drinks without getting scalded.
5. Maximum age 10 years to hopefully avoid expensive maintenance.
An internet search revealed a few boats that met these requirements and we soon found “Synergy” a 2007 vintage Jeanneau 39i that fitted the bill; good condition, LED smoochy lighting and fitted with a drinks cabinet! After a bit of haggling and a survey report that confirmed that all was well, in early 2013 we became the new owners of “Synergy”, an additional two and a half horse power Suzuki outboard motor and a rubber tender that looked as good as new. I had previously sailed a friend’s 39i so I was happy with the sailing qualities of the boat but, other than that, we were complete novices at boat ownership and were working in the dark.
The next problem was how to get the boat closer to home; a berth reserved at Suffolk Yacht Harbour on the River Orwell. It was February, the weather was its usual foulness and I had not sailed for some time so I needed some help. Jac’s sailing experience was in a 14ft dinghy on a gravel pit, not exactly the qualifictions required for the Channel in the winter. She also had a tendency to suffer from sea sickness! Bert Daniels, a friend and former work colleague and an experienced sailor came to the rescue. We watched the weather carefully until we found a window when we could safely make the trip without too many delays. That window occurred on 1 March 2014 and we met in Portsmouth for the planned 3 day excursion along the south coast and across the Thames Estuary.
We left Port Solent in unseasonably balmy weather and made our way past all the Royal Navy ships through Portsmouth Harbour and out into the Solent. The mild zephyr was blowing from exactly the direction we needed to go, so it was engine nearly all the way to our first stop at Newhaven, with us only being able to sail for the last hour or so. The first hard lesson learned was never to leave charts lying in the cockpit as, when we turned into wind to lower the mainsail, the chart blew overboard never to be seen again. We reached Newhaven just as darkness fell and moored up for the night, celebrating the first successful leg with a glass or two. The next days plan completed, with an expected early departure to catch the tides, we fell into bed, the combination of rum and the days fresh air knocking me out immediately. Morning came far to soon, my first realisation that it was time to move was the engine running as Bert got us underway on his own. The lack of a chart was of some concern, but fortunately we had only lost the short section from Newhaven to Beachy Head before the next chart began.
Day 2 started well with a favourable wind, so the sails went up and the engine off as soon as we were clear of the port. Dover was our next port of call and we were looking forward to some fine sailing along the East Sussex and Kent coasts. The weather still remained sunny, but less warm than the previous day and the wind and tide were both helping us along the coast, but the wind strength increased steadily. We reduced sail to compensate, but by the time we reached Dover it was blowing force seven gusting force 8 and the tide had turned against us. No wonder we hadn’t seen another sail all day.The combination of wind against tide produced a sea, as Bert described it, ” like a washing machine” and we needed full engine power to get though the turmoil that was the water outside the western entrance to Dover harbour. It was a great relief when we finally made it inside the sea wall into peace and calm! By this time a gale was blowing and even mooring to the pontoon was a challenge.
The following morning, 3rd March, proved to be just as wild as the previous day had been so we shelved the plan to depart Dover until the afternoon when the weather might have eased a little. We spent the morning collecting some essentials: harnesses ( the boat didn’t have any), charts for the East Coast and trying to find a card for the chart plotter as that in the system only covered to just north of Ramsgate. In the latter, we failed so a Navionics application downloaded to my mobile phone would have to substitute for the real thing. We finally departed Dover at 2 in the afternoon, with the wind blowing almost as hard as the previous day. Dodging the incoming ferries from France we made our way to Ramsgate. The original plan had been to make the trip all the way to Suffolk Yacht Harbour that day, but the late start had made that impossible. The three hour sail left us enough time to have a leisurely evening and plan the following day, a very early start to cross the Thames Estuary to the River Orwell.
On 4 March 2014 we left Ramsgate in the dark. The weather had changed yet again with, once again, a calm and sunny day, so we had to use the engine all the way. The mobile phone application substituting for the chart plotter worked well and we threaded our way through the multitude of sandbanks in the Thames Estuary without incident reaching Suffolk Yacht Harbour at around 2pm.
The next year or so was spent planning and preparing both ourselves and Synergy for the grand trip, but more of that later.
10 June 2015. Our planned departure date. Nothing happened! We had chosen this date as Jac had a hospital appointment on 9th June (which she subsequently forgot to go to) We also found a multitude of jobs that still needed doing so it was the 15th before we finally felt completely ready. It also helped that our friends Pete Sadler and Ali Sanger were able to join us from the start. We had a send off from our children the night before and said all our goodbyes only to realise that Chris had left his washing tackle and razor at home and Jac had left her camera, so we said goodbye for the second time to Richard, Jac’s son, who kindly brought the missing items from home.