Sam Llewellyn is philosophical about a change of plan.
We have just been delivering a boat from Tunisia to Kefalonia, where the skipper planned to rendezvous with his wife. I was along for the ride. It sounded great. We would start in a marina near the ruins of ancient Carthage, drift leisurely across the Sicilian Channel, and arrive four days later in the sunlit Ionian.
There is a fallacy in the above paragraph. It is embodied in the words ‘drift’ and ‘leisurely’. The Sicilian Channel is one of the narrowest bits of the Mediterranean, and funnels the currents and breeze to create some of its worst weather.
Wake me when it veers
So there we were, just outside the marina entrance, heading due east into a force six easterly. The waves were the shape of packing cases. ‘Weather forecast says wind moderating and going southeast,’ said the skipper. ‘Wake me when it veers’. He went to bed.
The wind increased to force seven, gusting eight, and stayed exactly where it was. The night came down. The dawn came up, and so did most people’s breakfast.
All the next day and night we beat into the near-gale. The boat was designed for luxurious living in harbour. Every time we tacked everyone fell out of their bunks, crawled to the downhill side of the boat, climbed into another bunk, and fell into an uneasy sleep.
A long shadow
On deck, life was cold and lumpy. Below, the saloon looked like Apollo 13. I was huddled in the cockpit on the third day when a long shadow rose out of the northern horizon. As the sun sank, the shadow became spangled with little points of light. It was the south coast of Sicily.
A mood of relaxation supervened. The wind blew with undiminished fury from the east, but since we had closed the coast the sea had gone down. Then off Cape Passaro it finally dropped to a zephyr.
We started the engine. Ahead of us lay the Ionian Sea, calm, tideless. We could engage the autopilot, keep watch and relax. In a couple of days we would be on Kefalonia –
The engine faltered, rose again, faltered again, and stopped.
What about Syracuse?
I will not speak of the next two hours, except to say that we spent them sucking diesel through rubber hoses in an attempt to get the air out of the system, and that it did not work.
Ahead lay two hundred miles of windless Ionian. In the coolbox, the provisions were already showing signs of decay.
Then someone said, ‘What about Syracuse?’
Syracuse is the most beautiful city in Sicily. The part of it that contains the yacht harbour is a World Heritage site. And it was fifteen miles up the coast from where we were wallowing.
Those fifteen miles took us twenty-four hours to sail, but we did not mind.
At the end of them, we ghosted past the ancient ochre houses and Greek temples of the city, and tied up at a quiet wooden quay, and ordered up a mechanic for the day after tomorrow. Then we went and ate squid ink risotto in a restaurant as the sun plunged sizzling into the harbour.
Something of a wanderer
The skipper said it was a pity we had not finished the trip, and I could see his point of view, what with his wife waiting and all. But I was a mere deck ape, and I had no such anxieties.
I sat and thought of something the wanderer Christina Dodwell once said to me about riding horses in the mountains of Iran, which also applies to cruising in yachts. It is this.
If you don’t care where you are going, it makes no sense to be worried about not getting there.
Image: Syracuse harbour, Sicily
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