To get to the why and how Michael landed up sailing alone across the Atlantic ocean (twice), I did a little ” interview ” with him last night.
I always find it interesting to find out where the deep passion we sailors have for the ocean comes from. I fell in love with sailing at a pretty late stage through circumstances and timing. Michael , on the other hand, was introduced to sailing by his dad who had a Black Diamond class racing keel boat, he took Michael out with him from the age of 8. This was in Simonstown (S.A) way back in the sixties.
That evolved in to dinghy sailing and then a windsurfing craze which he swears has helped him judge the wind when sailing.
In 1985 he left South Africa and returned to Switzerland where he was born – a country clearly not conducive to water sports (yes , he took up all the winter sports, ice hockey, toboggan racing, cross country stuff on skis on black slopes and other crazy sounding things I know nothing about.) Did a fair bit of windsurfing on Lake Como and Lake Garda in Italy and longed to be more active on the water again.
With a sailing school on his doorstep, close to Zurich, he rented a Beneteau 26 every single Friday afternoon and starting teaching himself how to sail, did a week long course on a Bavaria 46 in Croatia (hated it and “learnt shit”) but decided he was ready to buy his own boat.
Enter Waggis. 35 foot steel ketch which had been built by the sailing school owner, Urs Lachenmeier. Bought her. Got his powerboat and sailing tickets (you need both in Switzerland) and pottered around the lake regularly for a year or 2.
Lake became a bit tame for Michael, it was time to head for the OCEAN. Waggis was duly trucked across the Bodensee (yacht on the ferry across a lake) to Munich and eventually launched in Koper, Slovenia. Sailed her single-handed to Malta.
7 glorious years followed sailing the Med, Greek islands, Italy, Sicily and then of course, the question arose….what next?
Oh. The Atlantic. A “real” sail and what a challenge!
2008 and he was off: Malta – Pantaleria – Tunisia – Sardinia – Menorca –Ibiza – Formentera – Spain which he duly did without mishap, a lot of the sailing pretty straight forward (except for a wind generator blade snapping on a rope), learning his boat, testing his skills, getting a feel for solo sailing which he realised was pretty damn lonely. Did have the odd crew member for a few stages but none worked out, usually seasickness got them. Most (non) sailors just do not know about the motion of ocean!
Anyway, next stop Gibraltar.
Now the journey was becoming real. This being over the Christmas time, he spent two weeks there waiting for the chandlery to open. Once things opened up, he did his provisioning (litre of Jack Daniels for only 10 Euro vs. the weak pound there, should have bought a case or 3), AIS system, mast climber (never used it), wind generator blades (and spares), fenders and a few other odds and ends. Realised this is getting pretty real now and he is soon going to be out of his comfort zone.
Met a young British guy who was living with his grandfather in Gibraltar and he was really keen on the whole sailing experience so Michael agreed that he could come with to the Canaries . I am sure he thought it would be a breeze, skipping along merrily all the way. Unfortunately that breeze turned in to a Force 10 gale shortly after they left the safety of the harbour.
With no bad weather warning, Waggis set off in January 2009.
A big swell was the only sign that things were not well. Waggis, not being able to lay the mark, was being pushed towards the African coast. Remember, this is Michael’s first venture out in to unknown, unchartered waters, no experience of this, just a whole lot of theory and “wind” knowledge from his windsurfing days.
He put the engine on and motored away from the coast – you can see his little boat marked on this chart….
The problem was he wanted to go south west, the wind was more or less on the nose (directly against him) so he was sailing more in a southerly direction (wrong!) closer and closer to the African coast. Big swell from the north west. Knew theoretically that big swells could mean big wind so decided not to stay true to my direction so changed my course to NW , away from the coast. Moved from 20 miles away to being 80 miles away from the African coast in 12 hours, basically moving further away from where we want to go.
Tiny storm jib out in front and 2 reefs in main sail. Autopilot gave some respite so he could rest briefly from enormous waves drenching him and smashing on the deck trying to split the boat in half. The poor young wanna-be sailor, green around the gills, was absolutely no use at this stage. Calmed down after 48 hours and a week later cruised in to the Canaries – Lanzarote – with a huge sigh of relief, one of the lucky ones who made it through the storm. Sadly, some didn’t.
Put the (still green looking) Brit on a plane to Gibraltar and focused on what lay ahead. After the Canaries, things get REAL – all that he has is the Atlantic in front of him……..
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