Alone at sea, returning to creativity.

This is the English version of a lecture I held in Swedish in the PechaKucha format at Landskrona theatre in November. I talked about my perhaps rather unconventional therapeutic voyage as a solo sailor for a few months and the way I found my inspiration again as an artist.
The PechaKucha (Japanese for small talk/chitchat ) limits the speaker to talk for  6 minutes 40 seconds while showing 20 slides. That's 20 seconds per slide. It's very difficult to do and requires a lot of practise. It's easy to trip over your own words and there's no time to get carried away! (The audio in the video is edited because I happened to say Ribber dungy instead of rubber dinghy!) Never mind , a favourite expression of mine is "shit happens!"


Approaching the bay of Kilada
After a wonderful summer of living on board Aquarella in Greece, it's time to start getting used to wearing shoes again for a while. 
Since I have contracts with galleries in Sweden and Finland for exhibitions in September and October I have to return home to prepare my work for the shows. During my time aboard this year I have been able to devote time to paint several watercolours and acrylics on canvas. In addition I have made many sketches and photographed numerous subjects for future projects, so I feel satisfied that it has really been worth while sailing around to find new inspiration. Not only that, but I have found new confidence in my ability to cope as a yachtswoman, and as a single, individual person without being handicapped by my new status as a widow. This, combined with some very enjoyable weeks with the family, convinces me even more that it was the right thing to do to keep the boat.
It felt sad to sail the last leg back to my departure point in Kilada where I started three months ago. This is where Basimakopouloi shipyard lifts the boat out and looks after it for the winter. It's nice to know I don't have to worry about Aquarella at all, she was hauled out of the water by a travellift that can take 100 ton (my boat only weighs 6 ) and is now kept safe on a custom made cradle in the area ashore, behind high fences and guarded by ferocious dogs. 

Aquarella looking very small

Aquarella crossing the road to the boatyard

My brother in law Uffe came again to help me the last week with all the practical chores involved in preparing the boat for the winter. 
The Mediterranean sun burns relentlessly down on everything that's exposed on the boat so I try to protect as much as possible when I leave it. I don't have a cover for the whole boat since a lightweight sheet blows to bits in the strong winds here and a heavy tarpaulin is impossible to store anywhere. So I use bits of old sails stretched and tied down over woodwork and instruments etc.
Redoing the seams of the bimini with UV resistant thread 
I have learnt a lot during these past months but I realise I still have even more to learn both at sea and on land. 
Amongst other things:
I have to learn to free-dive properly and "take my bottom with me"
I have to learn to anchor under sail without the help of the engine.
I have to learn more about electronics and mechanics.
I have to keep fit and strong both mentally and physically.
I have to realise my limitations and learn to ask for help when I need it.

Of course we all have our limits, but how can you possibly find your boundaries unless you explore as far and as wide as you possibly can? I would rather fail in an attempt at something new and uncharted than safely succeed in a repeat of something I have done.
- A. E. Hotchner

Stay tuned here, I'll be updating this blog soon again with video footage (when I've had time to edit ) also more photos and paintings from my "floating studio".

Alone at sea

I had been studying the weather forecast intensely for about a week and after 10 days of strong Meltemi winds it seemed Saturday was the best time to embark on the 30 mile solo sail back southeast to Porto Heli.
Navigating round the islands

I left the anchorage of Neorion at 7 am, and after passing Poros town in the golden light of the morning I hoisted the mainsail. As there was hardly any wind it looked like it would be a motorsailing trip that day. Any normal sailor hoists full sails in moderate winds and reefs the sails in strong winds but I did the opposite. I didn't roll the whole mainsail out but left a few turns on the boom. This was only a reflection of my own uncertainty and lacking self confidence plus a little laziness and nothing to do with any advanced sailing technique. I just wanted to be prepared if any strong winds got up on the way.
I chugged along happily with the autopilot on and camera in hand. I ate breakfast, drank coffee and relaxed, enjoying the changing view. I checked, double checked and triple checked my waypoints on the chart and the ipad, all was well.
Eating breakfast while the autopilot steers.

About half way along I heard the dreaded sound of the engine going right down in revs.The boat came to a standstill ! Instinct told me there was something in the prop. I put the engine into neutral straight way and then eased he gear slowly astern hoping whatever it was would unravel and loosen. However when I tried to engage the gear forward again it was very sluggish and I was afraid of doing any damage to the shaft or the engine. I turned the engine off.
With no wind to speak of, my options were few. I nevertheless hoisted the rest of the mainsail and unfurled the genua in the hope I could get some sort of speed. 
1.8 knots was all the wind could give me. This would mean another 8 hours at least, but the worst thing was I could hardly steer and I was right in the middle of the fairway between the islands with high speed ferries charging past on both sides ! 
I tried to rig my Gopro camera to a boat hook in order to sink it down and inspect the prop. In theory it should be able to connect to my ipad by wifi so I could use the ipad as a monitor and see what was going on. But I couldn't get them to connect so I gave up that idea. I was unwilling to go overboard and dive under the boat in the middle of a shipping lane. With 104 meters under the keel, anchoring wasn't an option either. Fortunately the wind started picking up then and I was under way again. I didn't enjoy the rest of the trip though as I was worrying about how to anchor in a strong wind under sail. I'd never tried that, not even with Max.
Fortunately Porto Heli is a very big bay so there would be lots of room for mistakes.
When I turned into the bay I thought I would try my luck and start the engine and gingerly shift into forward gear. It responded, although still sluggish. It gave me just enough propulsion to turn Aquarella into the wind and get the sails down. Then I dropped the anchor and let out a sigh of relief. My next reaction was to triumphantly throw my arms in the air, YESSSSS - I made it!
After a short rest I donned snorkel and finns to get down to the work of freeing the prop. I'm fully aware I walk like a duck on deck but I do wish I could dive like a duck in water,- I can't. Even my 7 year old grand daughter Olivia laughed when she saw me trying a couple of weeks ago " You forgot to take your bottom with you" she said.
Well at least I could see under water with my snorkel. There was a large strong plastic sack entwined around the prop. I couldn't reach it with the knife in my hands so I used my feet and toes like a pair of clumsy pincers or plyers. Bit by bit I could loosen and remove the torn plastic and after an hour the prop was free. I had cramp in my feet and antifouling on my toes and in my nails but I was over yet another hurdle I didn't think I could manage.
The last bit of plastic finally out of the prop.

Not always single handed

My youngest son David, his wife Marie and two children Otto and Berta also came for a visit. I arranged accommodation at an hotel in a beautiful bay across the sound. The evening before their arrival I waited for wind to drop before leaving the mooring I had borrowed for the last month. (Many thanks to Pete and Sue) The sun was going down behind the mountains and I just managed to anchor in the bay in front of the hotel before it got dark. 
Aquarella and the ferry arriving from Athens with my family on board.

Davids family are not so used to sailing so we decided it would be best with a land based holiday for them. Every day I took the dinghy ashore and we spent time relaxing on the beach where I could still keep an eye on Aquarella. Eight year old Otto overcame his fear of the water and equipped with finns, wings and a small surfing board found great delight in this new element. After a few days he was able to swim with only his wings on for safety's sake.
Otto getting up speed
Berta had a life-vest and although she got afraid in the beginning of not being able to "reach the ground" she too became confident and was able to go through the motions of swimming so she could move forward in the water.
Even though the strong Meltemi winds were blowing every day we decided to take a short sail around the sheltered waters of Poros bay. We went as far as we could get and anchored for lunch nearby an old ship wreck. The wreck is now used as a platform for the water-boat Dimitri, a small tank ship which comes twice a day to fill up with fresh water from the river. The water is then transported to fill the dry reservoirs on nearby islands. 
On the way back we passed the narrow gap to the open sea where the wind howled through and the waves were breaking. It was only for a short while though so there wasn't enough time for the family to get seasick.
Grandson Otto, My son David, daughter- in -law Marie and grand-daughter Berta
I had promised Otto that he could stay overnight onboard Granny's boat at the anchorage and he was really excited about that. He thought it was so interesting with all the electronic equipment and gadgets and enjoyed the cosiness of the cabin. With inspiration from the day's sailing trip he made a few drawings of islands and pirate ships.  I think he'll be going in my footsteps as an artist in the future. Otto is looking so much forward to telling his school friends about Granny's boat in Greece.
Otto in the cabin drawing Greek islands and pirate ships

After a great week together it was time to say goodbye again, they had really enjoyed their holiday here and I was so happy to have them nearby. It was a great success so we hope to do it again next year.
In conclusion I can honestly say that these past weeks with the children and grandchildren have been the happiest for me for a long time. So I feel now that my decision to keep the boat and go on sailing was the right one. I don't after all always need to be alone on the boat and cope with it single handed. Needless to say it's great and very rewarding to have company too and to be able to share this priceless experience with children, grandchildren and friends.

Family on board

After living alone on board most of the summer I was really looking forward to having children and grandchildren on board for a while . First to arrive by ferry from Athens was my oldest son, Philip, his wife Henriette and daughter Olivia.
Aquarella is moored a few hundred yards from the shore opposite Poros. There wasn't room in my little dinghy for all of us plus baggage so I thought it safer to park the dinghy as near as possible to Aquarella's mooring and take them from the ferry quay by public waterbus across the sound, walk along to where I'd tied the dinghy then take separate trips with baggage and passengers over to the mooring.
Safety on public transport has much to be desired in Greece though and the water buses are clearly no exception. The wooden motor launch with a very powerful engine and 23 passengers on board was sailed across the densely trafficked sound at full speed by a 10 year old!
My 7 year old granddaughter commented dryly " Good that it wasn't a two year old"

After pottering around the sheltered waters of Poros bay for a few days we set out for the open sea and sailed to Vathi on the volcanic peninsular of Methani. I was nervous about taking the boat into harbour for the first time, until now I had only stayed at anchorages. Aquarella has a long keel which means she is very difficult to reverse with. My husband always took her to the quay bow first, after dropping the stern anchor 20 meters away. I had always stood on the foredeck with the mooring lines ready to jump ashore.
Now I sent Philip and Henriette up front with the lines, ready to fender off the other boats and jump ashore.
When we passed the breakwater into the tiny harbour I wished I had chosen a bigger space to practice my first harbour manoeuvre. There was very little room to turn the boat so when I was too slow to get into a slot between the other boats I turned round and went out again. I took a deep breath and made a new attempt. This time I reacted faster, checked the sea bottom for other anchors and chain, dropped the stern anchor in line with the slot and took Aquarella slowly to the quay. Apart from getting my foot tangled up with the fast running anchor line, all went well and I let out a sigh of relief.
It was a beautiful little harbour so we stayed a couple of days. When the harbour master came to see the ships papers he asked to speak to the captain. I said "thats me" and he said " congratulations!" and from then on only addressed me as "Lady"
Aquarella in Vathi after the other boats had left. 
Philip and I talked a lot about how I could take the boat into harbour single handed in the future and we agreed it really is a problem when you can't be in the cockpit to manoeuvre the boat, drop the anchor, let out the anchor line and be on the bow to throw lines ashore and tie up at the same time. In theory it should be possible to use the autopilot to keep the boat on course, let the anchor line run out by itself, put the engine into slow ahead and go to the bow to throw the lines ashore and hope there's someone there to catch them and help tie up. An alternative could be to land onto another boat, with fenders in between, and pull Aquarella alongside it towards the quay. In practice there would probably and suddenly be a strong cross wind to sabotage any attempt to make an elegant arrival. The thing is, you never can know.

We sailed from there around the Saronic Gulf stopping at anchor in Epidavros and Korfos then had exhilarating sailing with good wind over to Perdika on the island of Aegina. Perdika is a small, idyllic fishing harbour with little room for yachts but I thought I'd try my luck again at squeezing in. We arrived in the early afternoon before the usual rush hour of arriving yachts and there was plenty of space at the outer end of a jetty.
Again it took a second attempt before I got it right and the anchor line was rather diagonal to the jetty but I pretended it was my intention. Perdika is a beautiful harbour with colourful houses ( in fact about 25 restaurants) around the crystal clear waters of the small bay. We stayed a couple of days there before the return voyage to the mooring on Poros. On the way we ran into a pod of dolphins and took time to sail around them backwards and forwards to get a closer look and take some photographs. I was so happy to be able to share this wonderful experience with my family. It's far better than wide screen or flat screen.

The 2 week trip with my family was a great success, I gained a lot more experience, and in spite of all the cuts and bruises, lost items over the side, wasp stings, mosquito bites and sunburn we had a wonderful time together.

Sailing to Poros

I had anticipated sailing the 30 mile trip from Porto Heli to Poros alone but when a couple of good friends, Mike and Sam, offered to come along I readily accepted the kind offer. Not only are they very competent sailors but they had also sailed this particular route many times before, and apart from that they are very enjoyable company. The weather was perfect for the trip with calm seas and just enough wind to fill the sails. The ten waypoints I had programmed into the navigator turned up one after the other right on track. So it was a very relaxing trip. On arrival at Poros they helped me tie Aquarella on to a mooring buoy that some of their friends had kindly let me use while they are away sailing in the Ionian.
The mooring is quite a distance from Poros itself which lies on the other side of the sound. This means I'm dependant on my dinghy with the outboard engine to get backwards and forwards to the town.
The evening after my arrival I was invited to a get-together of British expats at a cafe there. It was late and very, very dark when I started off in the dinghy for the trip back. It's not easy to navigate diagonally across the sound in almost constant collision course with the countless caiques, car ferries, high speed craft and arriving flotillas of yachts and catamarans. The amount of traffic is only a little less at night. There is a speed limit of 4 knots here but the high speed ferries and hydrofoils charge all the way in to the harbour at 32 knots!
Half way across, the engine started coughing. In the light of my miners lamp I could see the cloud of black smoke surrounding me as I came to a standstill. Grabbing the oars before I started drifting backwards I put as much strength as I could into every stroke. Finally, completely exhausted I arrived back at the boat drenched to the skin in sweat and salt water.
Next morning I rowed a short distance to the nearest jetty in search of a mechanic. 
I had suspected the impeller (that takes cooling water in) was damaged. The mechanic I was recommended to had his workshop nearby in a house that looked like it had only just survived the last earthquake. 
I was right, not about the earthquake, but about the impeller. Of the 6 rubber paddle wings only 2.5 were left. The bits of rubber that had broken off were firmly lodged in the cooling system.
After a couple of hours the engine was repaired and assembled with new parts.
The guy asked me what oil mixture I had put in the tank and I had to admit I wasn't quite sure. I explained that it was always my husband who had looked after it, but he died. 
The guy then laughed! I don't know what was funny but I paid, took the engine and left.
My sense of humour doesn't stretch that far.
I was angry but thinking about the situation afterwards, I came to remember this quote:
Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.
- Bob Newhart

(Now I know the oil mixture is supposed to be 100/1 for the 2 stroke engine.)


Even though Aquarella is a sailboat she is quite dependant on her engine for getting in and out of harbours and to charge the batteries for all the electrical installations on board. The solar panels I have can keep them charged to a certain extent but as the outdoor temperature rises day by day, the fridge is demanding more and more electricity to keep the food cold. I buy 4 bottles of frozen water for 1€each, twice a week which helps but even so the batteries are struggling to keep pace. I use solar lamps in the cockpit and cabin after dark and a solar charger for my ipad but that only gives it about 25%, I have to top up the rest via the cig lighter contact from the boat' s own batteries.
So every third day I start the engine and let it run for an hour or two.
The other day when I turned the key - it just said "click". Tried again, " click" again. "What on earth is wrong now " I said ( no I didn't, I said something worse which can't be published here)
I checked the connection switches, they were all on. I opened the engine room hatch, looked down at all the wiring and closed it again because I hadn't a clue at what I was looking at. Then I opened "The boatowners illustrated electrical handbook" ( kindle version) which devotes a lot of time to Ohms law but says nothing about Sods law. Another ebook I have says " If you are in any doubt about what you are doing- don't do it" So I didn't.
I had just invested in 3 more 74 ah, maintenance free batteries. That meant that all 5 of the 8 year olds were now renewed this season so the problem couldn't be there.
I turned the key and pressed the starter again- " click".
I looked at the boats wiring diagram, which was all greek to me ( sorry about that)
The likelihood of me ever being competent and confident as a boat electrician is about the same chance as someone suddenly becoming a dot-com millionaire without even knowing where the dot is.
I have to admit I simply have no idea.
If you can imagine the car you normally drive having an electrical failure, so you screw off the whole dashboard to expose all the wiring behind it. Where would you begin ? Well you wouldn't, you'd just drive to the nearest garage. But on a boat, help is not always anywhere nearby so you are supposed to know what to do.
I don't.
Finally in desperation I wiggled all 3 red connection switches backwards and forwards (one called start, one called service and one called connect) I know the batteries are parallel connected so I presume they work together as a team.
Back to the key and the start button for one final try before ringing the boatyard.
YES!!! it started. THAT simple!
One of them, probably the one called start, had apparently been pushed a tiny wee bit out of place by all the junk I have in the space beside the switches.

The Queen and I

Of all the 80 odd boats anchored and moored in this bay there are only two with varnished teak and mahogany brightwork.  One is the royal yacht, given by  former King Constantine of Greece, to his wife Queen Anne Marie on her 60th birthday.
 The other is mine. 
The Mediterranean sun  is so harsh it acts almost as a blow-lamp on anything varnished, causing it to crack and peal off in just a few months. So most boat owners prefer to leave any teak details grey and untreated. My boat's toe rail happens to be mahogany so it can't be left without varnish. I cover it up in winter time and at the beginning of every season I scrape, sand and patch up any damaged bits, varnish them 6 times and then give three strokes over all the rest. I've found out that instead of  standing or kneeling and  leaning precariously out over the side of the deck, I can do the whole job from the dinghy. This requires very calm weather so I won't be bouncing up and down balancing with brush, turps, rags and a full tin of varnish. Woe betide anyone who charges past with a motor boat at full speed kicking up a small tsunami enough to tip everything over, including me.

One boat that really did take the consideration of gliding very slowly past was in fact "Afroessa"  the royal yacht. I always give a  little wave to every boat that passes at close quarters so I waved my brush at the woman on deck  that I had eye contact with. She waved back with a smile. It was only afterwards I realised it was HM Queen Anne Marie. 
As we have some small things in common, we are both boat owners and both born the same year, we have both lived abroad most of our lives, the Queen in exile, myself by choice. I couldn't help thinking of our very different lives and how being born a princess and later becoming Queen doesn't make that much difference in the long run. Both she and I are human after all and we have both had our share of happiness and sorrow, very good times and very hard times, success and disaster. 
But as Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
A woman is like a tea bag- you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.

Never give up

The other day when other boats had left, leaving me plenty of space to manoeuvre, I decided to take a short sailing trip. I slowly engined out and rolled out the genua. At first I thought I'd just go across the bay to get a change of scenery but well out there I carried on out to the open sea between the mainland and the island of Spetses.  
The feeling of freedom can't be described. It was beautiful, but I didn't want to venture too far though as the wind was getting up. Turning around I found a  lovely spot in the clear waters of the mouth of the bay. After dropping the anchor in 4 meters of turquoise blue heaven, I  went for a swim. This was what I had dreamed of doing for months, in fact I felt a surge of happiness for a moment. If only Max could have seen me now. 
After lunch and a nap the wind got stronger so I decided to wait until it died down a little before attempting to return to the busy anchorage on the other side of the bay.
Just then an elderly Danish guy came rowing over from his boat. " Can one of you help me get my anchor up?"he asked "I'm not strong enough to manage it alone"
"I'm alone too,"  I said " and I'm not sure I'm strong enough either" ( I had seen he didn't have an electric windlass)
"Never mind, - sorry I asked" he grunted and rowed off. He turned round and shouted " How can you manage such a big boat if you're not strong?"
I had a bad conscience then of course and decided to do what I could to help.
When  I went over to his boat in my dinghy I got a better look at him and could see he was way over 80.  
I told him , if it was a matter of  running the engine and steering the boat while he looked after the anchor then I could help. But he looked at me and said " No, that won't do, you're just as old as I am!"
Thanks for that!
Then I offered to take my dinghy over to another anchored yacht and ask for help.
When I got over there the english boatowner  replied:
" Oh no , not him again! - never mind, I'll go and help" which he did. 
After a lot of time and effort his anchor was finally up. Then he  inched his boat slowly forward and only 10- 20 meters further on  he dropped it again! I don't know what difference he thought it made.
In the early evening I returned to  the muddy waters of the town anchorage again after a  lovely refreshing and enlightening day.
Several days later I could still see his boat in the distance on the other side of the bay. I wondered if he was alright and if he could call for help if he needed it.
Today he passed me in his boat as he arrived at the buoyed area I'm now in. He had apparently engine trouble and was taken on tow by the boatyard's dory. 

I hope people don't tire of helping this guy.
I also sincerely hope nobody ever takes it upon themselves to tell him it's time to stop sailing, - and who would have the heart to do so ? He doesn't do any harm and he's probably much happier pottering about in his boat than he ever would be on dry land. He keeps fitter too with all the fresh air and exercise involved in living aboard.
Somebody once said - " Riding out a storm at sea is no challenge at all compared with spending your last years in an old peoples home"

Perhaps he's doing the right thing.


This is the image I see on my Anchor Alert app. The yellow blobs show where the boat has been all night. When Aquarella passes the outer red ring which indicates the limit I have set (length of chain) the alarm goes off. It sounds like a fog horn with bronchitis. Nearly all  the other boats you can see are moored to permanent mooring buoys.

After several very windy nights without sleep, wondering if my anchor would hold, I decided to hire a mooring buoy from "Franks Yacht station" here in Porto Heli for a few weeks. This means the boat is securely tied up with minimal risk of anything happening. I'm still free to go sailing whenever I want and I have the buoy to return to. I can also leave the boat if I need to be ashore for any length of time. The fee for the buoy includes the facilities at the yacht station/ boatyard including a shower and washing machine.
I was a little nervous going to pick up the buoy for the first time but the guy from the boatyard was there to help and he directed me in as if Aquarella was a Boeing 787.
The following day I took my washing ashore in the hope I could get it all done in an hour or so. 
I got back to the boat 9 hours later after a very enjoyable day.
The machine was occupied when I came and the queue of bags of washing was long. Behind a row of old boat toilets filled with blooming geraniums a group of people were sitting drinking wine at a long table under a tin roof . "Come and join us, they said" so I parked my bag of washing in the queue and sat down with them to wait.
They were all boatowners and introduced themselves. After a short time it was clear that several of them were in the same situation as myself. Marie-Louise from Germany lost her husband two years ago and has been sailing her 42 ft catamaran ever since. Mike, also from Germany lost his wife last December and is now on board his yacht with his brother Ralf. Susie from England lives aboard her catamaran on the yard together with her sick husband.
So suddenly I didn't feel so sorry for myself anymore and it was great meeting new friends with so much in common. We drank wine and talked for hours. I asked Marie Louise about how she tackles eating alone on board. She told me how she makes a special effort to prepare good food for herself and lays a nice table with a glass of wine and sits down and enjoys it. At restaurants she thought it hard at first and felt conspicuous. So to avoid other peoples stares she surrounded herself with a book or newspaper, mobile phone or ipad, whatever. But now she doesn't need this barricade anymore, it's very much a matter of your own attitude and getting used to your new situation, she said. If a waiter shows you to a table that doesn't suit you, tell him to find you another one or leave!
I really admired her determination and attitude and felt strengthened by it myself, or maybe it was the wine. 
She gave me some more tips too.
When I told her how I anchor by letting 10 meters of chain out and running back to the helm to reverse slowly. Then I run forward again and let 10 more out, run back to the helm, reverse and so on.
She said: "Don't ever run!" if you run , the chances are you will fall and theres no one there to pick you up.
That was good advice.
Then I heard about the technique she uses for returning to her mooring buoy. It's not easy to aim the boat to a tiny buoy in a cross wind with other boats at close quarters. As soon as you stop,the boat starts to drift so you don't have many seconds to tie up.
She ties an inflatable canoe to the buoy with a long line before she leaves. On return this gives her a longer scope and a much better chance of picking up the line with a boat hook .
I hope this will work for me, I don't have an extra canoe in my locker but a large fender with a long line might do the trick.
This afternoon I was invited on board Lillybelle from Scotland owned by George and Chris.
Chris showed me how to tie the highwayman's hitch, something I can use a lot when I need a strong knot that can easily and quickly be released with a single tug.
They say you are never too old to learn.
I'm learning new things every day. 
Most of all I'm learning to survive, physically, practically, emotionally and mentally.

Table for one.

As a daily reminder of the recent loss of my husband, dinner, eaten alone, is one of the saddest. It all starts in the supermarket where the portions you can buy are either"for two" or "for four" . The fridge on the boat is only small which limits the amount of leftovers I can keep. So every other day, as yet another reminder, I throw Max's portion away.
When I'm eating I usually play some music or watch the news on my ipad, more as a distraction than a consolation.
One evening, just for a change and a treat I decided to step over the hurdle of going into a restaurant alone.
Why not, I thought, there are always a number of men sitting alone at a restaurant, watching football on the telly.
When I got there all the tables I could see were ready laid for four but I sat down at one with a view over the harbour so I could keep an eye on my boat.
Groups and couples who arrived long after me were greeted and given a menu. I was ignored.
I waited.
At last, when the waiter had nothing else to do, he came and asked me if I was waiting for somebody.
When I told him I wasn't, he showed me to a smaller table with a nice view of the fridge. The good thing was that, having my back to everyone else, they couldn't see the look on my face, it might have spoiled their meal.
I ordered dinner but needless to say, I didn't enjoy it. I just ate half of it as fast as I could, paid and took the dinghy back to the blessed solitude of my boat.
I don't think I'll try that experiment again. I don't want people to feel sorry for me and I don't want special attention, I just want to be treated as a normal human being.
Perhaps I'm not.
This situation is not anything specially related to the Greek attitude to women, I've experienced the same thing at home.
Just when you think none of the other customers have noticed , the waitress comes along and asks very loudly : ARE YOU ALONE? Then everyone turns round, stares, and I feel like something the dog brought in.
My mother in law experienced the same when she was widowed in Finland twenty years ago. I thought times had changed but it must have something to do with our "culture".

Collision at night!!

After 5 nights in the anchorage in strong winds from all directions I thought the anchor must have dug itself far down into the muddy seabed. I was wrong! I woke in horror at one a.m. to the sound of scraping metal! I grabbed my life jacket and jumped on deck and saw the silhouette of a large steel boat Aquarella was leaning on. At first I thought it must have been the other boat that had drifted but realised, by looking at the surroundings, that it was in fact me. The french boat owner was very helpful and tied my boat up to his while I tried to get my anchor up. That wasn't so easy, it was under his chain! I ran back and got in the dinghy, pulled myself along the side of the boat against the wind and the waves and tried to lift the anchor off. I know there's only one way to do this but I was panicking instead of thinking, distracted by the awful sound of shrieking metal. The anchor was entangled with an old fishing net from the sea bed ( probably why it didn't hold) With the help of the other boat owner it was freed and I could climb back on board. I wanted to sail off and anchor well away from the other boats and buoys but the Frenchman took command and insisted I stay the night tied on to their stern. You're safe now, he said, get some sleep and we'll sort it out in the morning.
Well I didn't sleep much, the wind was still howling and the mooring rope between our boats tightened up and jolted the boat with every swinging movement.
My host for the night: Mimosa ll of Brest

In the morning when the wind abated I went over in the dinghy to see if there was any damage to the other boat. There was, - a long scratch in their paintwork. I offered to pay but they said I could give them a drink next time they came. Such nice people. There were a few scratches to my own boat but nothing serious.
I  moved the boat further out in the anchorage but after the french couple sailed away I could come back nearer the quay again within range of the internet hot spot in the town.
In the night when all this happened I thought; this is no good, I can't cope, I have to give up and take the boat back to the boatyard, go home and forget about it. But in the morning, after I'd anchored twice, cleared the deck, filled transmission fluid to the moaning hydraulic steering and WD40 to the squeaking rudder, I felt that I had confidence again. It was after all through no fault of my own that the anchor didn't hold, s**t happens.

First sail

Last saturday was my first sail as skipper with brother-in-law Uffe as first mate. Well to be honest "sailing" wasn't really the word. There was no wind whatsoever so we went by engine. But it was good to get under way and check that everything worked. The GPS, Autopilot, Radar etc. and my somewhat rusty navigational skills. It was only a three hour trip from Kilada to Porto Heli but a good way to start. We talked a lot about how I was going to manage alone after Uffe goes home. Some routines seem simple in theory but how they really would work single handed, in practise and in all sorts of weather will remain to be seen.

On arrival the wind had got up but we managed to anchor at a reasonable distance from the quay, the laid moorings and the other anchored yachts in the bay. I put 20 meters of chain out and Uffe reversed slowly to get the anchor to dig well in.  He then instructed me in the use of the outboard engine for the dinghy. I had never used it much before and often prefered to row instead of trying to fight with it. A dinghy with an outboard is after all a lifeline when living aboard a boat at anchor. I didn't want to tie up to the quay where there is very little privacy, a lot of noise, dust and dirt and no possibility to take a swim when it gets hot. After a few tries and Uffes patient tuition I got a little more confidence. The first time I started off on my own from the jetty ashore, I collided with a moored motorboat and got entangled in it's mooring ropes. But practise makes perfect so I am told.
Early Monday morning I took Uffe ashore so he could take the hired car to the airport in Athens for his trip home. It had been a very successful week where nearly everything had gone as planned. We had even found time to explore the countryside in the car, a great luxury.
When he left I felt very much alone.
Fortunately it wasn't for long as I had just got an email that friends Sam and Mike on Master Spy were coming after a few hours. They had sailed to Kilada to meet me but I had already left then. They anchored up within shouting distance for a couple of nights before they went on their way.It was so great to see them again and the pleasure of their company, the long talks, the laughter and mutual memories made the transition easier. The night after they left, strong winds started howling through the rigging at two in the morning. I had to go on deck to take the sun awning down, yet another job Max and I always did together. It took some time to wrestle with the flying and flogging canvas to get it all under control in the pitch black night, good I remembered to put my miners lamp on so I could see but I thought afterwards that I should have had my lifejacket on too.
The next morning the boat was covered with the typical red dust from the rain during the night. It sticks to everything and I had to climb up over the cockpit to the solar panel on top of the bimini to clean it. I'm dependant on the solar panels for charging the boats batteries.

Greece at last

Last Monday I flew to Athens accompanied by my brother in law Uffe who kindly came along to help for a week. We hired a car and drove through the pouring rain for four hours before we reached the boatyard on Pelaponesos where "Aquarella" was standing waiting. I was apprehensive about seeing the boat again which had been our summer home for so many years. While Uffe started cleaning the hull I went about emptying the boat of all Max's clothes. I didn't want to be confronted with sad memories every time I opened a cupboard. So I quickly threw everything in plastic bags and carted them off. The boat was left last summer in badly organised chaos and it didn't help to add all the luggage to it. One bit at a time most of it was put into place and the next day Uffe and I went to work with an exaggerated amount of energy. Up and down ladders we went, cleaning inside and out, waxing, polishing and painting the antifouling. Thursday was booked for launching and we were ready in good time.
Uffe showing me how to mount the zinc anode on the propeller 
The launching ramp at the boatyard has only  enough room for two and a half boats so if you can't move out of the way as soon as your boats bottom gets wet, there's a problem. Everyone has to wait. There was a problem. The engine wouldn't start. I stared down at the big chunk of complicated metal and tried to think of something. Bleeding the diesel was the only thing I had ever tried so Uffe and I did what we could but to no avail. Each time I tried to start, a loud moaning noise filled the air, followed by a choking sound. Fortunately a kind German mechanic saw and heard our plight and offered to help. He started by asking how old the batteries were. About six years I said (in fact they were 8 ) "You'll have to buy new ones" he proclaimed. Off the men went by car to the town while everyone around the launching ramp stared impatiently at me, willing me to move away so they could embark on a circumnavigation before lunch.

In next to no time the men were back with two new batteries, but after they were connected the engine still wouldn't start. The mechanic found out that one of the two fuel filters was blocked and after opening the reserve filter the Yanmar jumped into life and even consented to spitting out cooler water after all the black smoke had subsided. With a an audible sigh of relief from all the impatient spectators (and myself) we got under way and sailed out to the anchorage.
You have to watch out for turtles before dropping the anchor

The boat

"Aquarella", photo: Kimmo Viljamaa 2006
Aquarella at anchor in Kilada, Greece 2012
This is my boat, a long keeled Hallberg Rassy monsun from 1976
She has gradually been modified for the climate and special needs for sailing in the Mediterranean.
From the bow there's a bowsprit which moved the original position of the forestay with furling jib forward about 70 cm. This made her easier on the tiller. It also enables easier access to the boat with an integrated hinged ladder. The anchor is stowed under it. Theres an electric windlass with remote control, this is a must when retrieving 80 meters of anchor chain and a 16 kg Britany anchor.
You can see my wind scoop which catches the lightest breeze and sends it down the hatch. The Monsun has a rolling boom, useful for reefing and stowing the mainsail. It has to be done from the mast though. On the coach roof there is a life raft and two solar panels plus one on top of the bimini. The aft part of the bimini is fixed for the season and only taken down in winter. The forward part can be dismantled when under way. There's a hydraulic powered steering wheel and an autopilot, connected to the radar and GPS.
Her other vital statistics are:
Olle Enderlein
Hull length
9.36 m / 30' 9"
Length water line
7.50 m / 24'  8"
2.87 m / 9' 5"
1.40 m / 4' 7"
4 200 kg / 9 250 lbs
Keel weight
1 900 kg / 4 200 lbs
Sail area with jib
39 m² / 430 sq ft
kW / HP
17 / 23
Diesel tank
120 litres / 32 US gallon
Water tank
160 litres / 43 US gallon

Good to have and just in case......

Over the years of cruising in the Med, various spare parts, tools, equipment and good-to-have-things and just-in-case-bits have accumulated in the boat. With this new situation as a single hander I have put a lot of thought into what other things I will need. Here is what I am taking with me so far. Some things for safety, others just for comfort.
-Spare part kit for the bilge pump.
-More fenders, one small fender for the dinghy (which I found on the beach nearby)
two flat fenders that can double as seats or steps.
-Ipad with waterproof case. The Ipad has navigation apps such as isailor and Boat Beacon, receiving/sending AIS signals.
-lubrication grease for budging everything I haven’t the strength to move, shift, dislodge, push or shove. 
-Cooling fan tray for my laptop. (things tend to get overheated in Greece, including me)
-Emergency rations if I can’t get to a shop.
-Camping stove toaster for all the stale bread I will undoubtedly have.
-A children’s bicycle basket to keep hold of camera, cell phone and other breakables in the cockpit or cabin. (hooks onto a shelf or other fixture.)
-A handheld VHF radio with extra long antenna. The fixed radio down below is out of reach from the wheel.
-Miners lamp, not only for finding things in dark corners but also for being seen at night in the dinghy.
-Sikaflex for gluing and fixing leaks.
-Zinc anode and bottom plug.
-Torch on magnetic flexible legs (gorilla)
-Anchor chain roller to be mounted on the pushpit. (to spare my back)
-Extra strong solar lamp for anchor light.
- Bucket with tight fitting lid. (toilet while the boat’s on the hard or when I can't leave the cockpit)
-Safety harness.
-small coffee thermos with hanging strap.
-Solar powered charger for ipad, phone and camera.
-Collapsible water canisters (10 liters)

Plans and dreams

Jogging along the coast, southern Sweden
This idea of mine about sailing on and continuing the lifestyle I had before my husband died has almost become an obsession. The plans I've started making for the future are fortunately preventing me from dwelling too much on the recent past. Instead of sitting staring into space or watching a ridiculous film on TV, as I have far too often, I go for a long walk. The walk gets longer and faster each day as I am more and more conscious of the fact that I have to get my strength back both mentally and physically if I am going to be fit enough to sail alone. Instead of searching the net for information about sickness and death,  I have started searching for information about apps for navigation, solar lamps,  maintenance manuals, antenna boosters and so on. 
I don't think I will ever be able to "get over" the loss of my husband but I do think it's possible to learn to live with the fact that he's gone and never coming back. I have got to the point where I can allow myself to look forward and hope that the dreams I have now will slowly but surely replace the long nightmare I have been living in until recently.

You can't see the light at the end of the tunnel if you keep looking back.


Max and Elizabeth on board "Aquarella" in Greece
My husband Max Sandström, a retired sea captain and marine pilot and myself Elizabeth Tyler, a visual artist, have been sailing together for many years. In 2001 we took our boat from Sweden through the waterways of Europe to the Mediterranean. Since then we've been sailing and living on board several months a year in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Max looked after everything on the boat while I found inspiration and worked on my paintings. It was a wonderful life and we enjoyed every minute of it, until disaster struck in the spring of 2011.

We were at anchor in the bay of Kilada, Peleponesos when Max woke up in the morning feeling strange. Later he started saying strange things but put it down to fatigue. Then he couldn't remember where things were on the boat and the following night I had to prevent him from stepping ashore (we were 500 yards out in the middle of the bay!) I realized there was something terribly wrong but had difficulty convincing him he needed help. Finally I got him down into the dinghy and rowed ashore. By the time I got him to a doctor he was totally unresponsive. After being transferred 5 times within 24 hours from one hospital after another he was finally admitted to a private hospital in Athens. By that time he was unconscious and remained so for 2 weeks. The doctors found out he had Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (caused by an ordinary herpes virus which had found it's way to his brain)
Max's son Björn came on the first available flight from Stockholm to be by his father's side. After a few days Björn and I travelled back to the boat to secure it on land and fetch passports, credit-cards and clothes. We managed to get back to Athens the same day. Bjorn was an enormous help and support during these very difficult days. When he had to return to Sweden , Max's brother Uffe came instead so I didn't have to be alone and I think Max was comforted in knowing we were there for him.
After another week we were flown back home to Sweden where Max remained in hospital for 2 months. He had to learn everything from scratch, swallowing, eating, talking, walking. He had lost his memory completely, his own name was the only thing he remembered. With intensive training his condition gradually improved and 14 months after he got ill we were back on the boat. I thought it might be good therapy for him to jog his memory with boaty things. We got the boat launched and slowly prepared for a short sailing trip. Max could only do small uncomplicated tasks but enjoyed being in the familiar surroundings of the boat and the sea. But before we got under way he got ill again and there was nothing more to do than have the boat hauled out and fly home. The herpes virus had reactivated and attacked his eye this time. Despite countless doctors, treatment and hospitalization Max's condition worsened week after week with one complication after the other. He finally died of blood poisoning in January 2013. 

In February, nearest friends, the family and I accompanied him on his very last voyage when his ashes were spread at sea.

Needless to say I have been devastated in the months that have past since he died but during my more constructive moments I have been able to make plans for the future. Max taught me all I know about sailing and handling a boat. His expert knowledge was passed on to me every day we were on board. Before I start to forget, I want to get back on to the boat. I have decided to take on the challenge of sailing alone. This blog will be a tribute to him and I hope will encourage other women who are tied up in a similar situation to let the lines go and get under way.
Maybe I'll crash into something, fall over board or just make a fool of myself and then it won't be any encouragement, but at least I'll give it a try.