Almost everyone who enjoys boating will at some point harbour a yearning to just sail away into the proverbial sunset, somewhere where the sun always shines, the sea is mostly flat and the scenery is sublime.
Few people actually achieve this dream, but Eric and Debs have turned it into their own personal reality. After cutting their teeth with a Jeanneau 805 Leader kept at Parkstone Bay in Poole and swapping it two years later for a new Princess 42, the couple took the plunge in 2015, upgrading to a brand new full Med spec Princess 56 which they named appropriately ‘One Life To Live’ and had shipped to Malta where their odyssey began.
“We started by getting RYA training to Yacht Master standard and familiarising ourselves with the boat” Eric tells me. “Then we headed initially to Sicily and then across to Italy, where we made several stops along the foot and heel of the country before crossing to Corfu. It was a relaxed trip, we took two or three weeks, with fuel getting steadily cheaper as we went”. The first summer was spent exploring the Ionian Islands. “The first island we went to was Erikousa Island – well we had to really, given the name” laughs Debs.
With the boat set up for self sufficiency (there’s even a water maker installed) the couple typically stay on board and away from marinas for up to a week at a time. “We quickly became adept at leading lines ashore to secure to large trees or rocks which help hold our position at anchorages in small or busy bays” says Debs. “Initially we used the tender to take the lines ashore, but that was overcomplicated, now I just swim them ashore”. On one occasion Debs was greeted by the smell of herbs, and returned, much to Eric’s surprise, with rosemary clenched between her teeth.
“We eat on board or take the tender to a local taverna, sometimes we catch fish and barbecue them”. The couple have upgraded the yacht’s ground tackle, fitting an Ultramarine anchor and increasing the anchor chain to 100 metres as the water can be remarkably deep, even close in shore. The battery systems have also been upgraded, giving even more autonomy.
“We don’t like to run the generator at night, quiet though it is, as we like to be good neighbours, so after a few days at anchor we’d occasionally find my low battery alarm sounding in the middle of the night. Strangely, late at night it always was ‘my’ alarm, never our or Deb’s alarm…” Eric and Debs base the boat at Preveza during the winter due to its easy access to the UK. “There are regular flights to Corfu and then a ferry or a quiet internal flight to an airport just a mile and a half away from the boat. And it really is quiet at times, on one occasion we were the only passengers on the plane – it was hard to decide where to sit!”
For 2016 the couple headed back to Malta, splitting the trip with a single stop in Crotone, Italy to break the journey. From Malta they worked their way in relaxed fashion up the east coast of Sicily and out to the island of Vulcano off the north coast. In 2017 it was back to Greece, working their way up and through the Gulf of Corinth before cutting through the spectacular Corinth Canal. Just 25 metres wide, it was dug by hand in the 19th century and connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, arguably making the peninsula an island. It takes about 40 minutes to traverse and costs about 350 euros for a boat the size of the couple’s Princess 56, making it one of the most expensive canals in the world.
But actually, costs in Greece are generally surprisingly modest. “If we stay in a full service marina it can cost 100 euros” says Eric. “But a night on a town quay or harbour wall will be typically 8 to 12 euros. And we find the locals incredibly friendly. Most speak perfect English and they’re extremely welcoming and easy going. We visited one bar in the tender at Antipaxos, only realising once we were there that we had no money. The owner simply said “pay tomorrow when you are next in”. We explained that we were leaving early in the morning and the response was “then pay next time you are passing”.
On another occasion we were about to buy some fish in a supermarket but decided instead to ask the local fishermen on the quay. Once we’d managed to convey that we didn’t want two kilograms of fish, we only wanted two fish, we ended up with about six from him and his friends, and they refused to take any payment for them, they just said ‘next time’”. Interestingly, even neighbouring yachtsmen are keen to socialise. “We’d been warned that sailors can be a little stand-offish toward motor boaters, but once they discover that we have an ice maker on board…”
On long passages the boat’s twin Volvo Penta D13-800 spirit them along at a very relaxed 20 knots cruising speed, but around the islands they’ll typically potter at just 6-8 knots enjoying the scenery and the weather. And two stand up paddle boards, a two person kayak and the Williams Jet Tender (which the couple also water ski behind) provide other avenues of fun and exploration. So the utopian dream? “We miss the family of course, although they visit us regularly. And we’ve had a couple of minor set backs. In Corfu, we once picked up a thick hose pipe around the propellors in the main marina channel and needed a diver to cut it free – the marina denied all knowledge of it. And the ‘red rain’ occasionally drives us mad. We can spend an afternoon cleaning the boat to perfection and if it rains overnight we awake to a boat covered in what’s basically earthy red dust that we have to spend another three hours cleaning off because it looks terrible and it ends up getting walked into everywhere”.
Eric also says that they miss Sunday roasts and gravy, and Debs was once stung by a jellyfish in the Gulf of Corinth. “But actually the wildlife is incredible” says Debs. “We regularly see dolphins, it’s not unusual to have whole pods of them surfing our wash which is amazing. Closer inland sea turtles are a regular sight, it’s fantastic”.