7 mins

When sailing trips go wrong

As Liz Cleere takes an enforced break from her big sailing adventure around the world, she remembers how running into choppy waters early on was the making of her trip

Boat in a storm (Shutterstock)

“Turn to wind!” shouted Jamie, as a squall knocked our boat sideways.

I flung Esper into the gale, sea-spray piercing my eyes. If the wind hits the side of the boat again, I thought, we’ll capsize.

We had been watching Scorpius rise on the horizon in a calm sea when the storm hit, and wind and waves drove us sideways into a valley of confused water. The sea rushed into the cockpit up to my knees and Esper heeled over at an impossible angle. I wrenched the wheel round, popping a muscle in my arm; Jamie clung to the mast and pulled in the mainsail. He crawled back into the cockpit, hands bleeding from rope burns. “That was stupid,” he said, “we should have reduced the sails before it got dark.”

We pointed Esper back towards land but Neptune had other plans and bowled gale force winds at us throughout the night. Where had they come from? Nothing like this had featured on our weather forecast.

Daylight revealed spume whipping off the waves’ tops in a monochrome sea, while the clouds glowered above us. We only had one more stop to make in the Maldives and we should have been in a safe anchorage by now. Instead we were being pushed south-eastwards into a part of the Indian Ocean that sees little shipping.

Our travel plan was to head west to Africa. After a couple of months in the Maldives, we would drop south to Chagos, then use the equatorial current and advantageous winds to reach Madagascar. By the end of the year we would be in Durban. But now it looked more likely we would end up in Australia.

Later in the 72-hour passage, with only a few minutes of snatched sleep between us, we were hundreds of miles from land. Still running on adrenalin, we reflected on the mental and physical strength we had found since our adventure began. Heartened by the yacht’s stout performance and our proven seamanship, we were elated.

Travelling has a habit of throwing up detours: in Massawa, we were detained by the president of Eritrea to take part in the explosive Fenkil celebrations; in Darjeeling we were asked to become ‘ambassadors’ for the Mondo Challenge Foundation and found ourselves teaching classes in remote mountain villages. Dependent on good weather and robust equipment, adventure travel like sailing is even more capricious, often sending you off on a new course.

As we limped back to Malé, we debated our next move. Our visas were about to expire in the Maldives and Esper had sustained too much damage to head anywhere without yacht facilities, so Chagos was out of the question. Perhaps this had been nature’s way of telling us to head east. It would be a long sail, but comfortable with the wind behind us. Once there, maybe we could sail the remote coast of Burma, get to Papua New Guinea, explore Indonesia? Africa now a distant memory, we made new plans.

“Once there, we could sail the Burmese coast,” I said.

“And there’s Indonesia. And the Philippines,” said Jamie, grinning.

Writer Liz Cleere and photographer Jamie Furlong are travellers first, sailors second. Their blog, Followtheboat, is a travelogue about two people and their cat Millie sailing around the world in a non-specific zig-zag. They also publish video diary updates on Patreon and YouTube every week.

More like this

Should Health & Safety rule your travels? – Liz Cleere

Related Articles