Sunday 16 October 2016

Single-handed to Mallorca

It is not often that you find yourself completely alone.  We have all been at home alone for a weekend, seeing no-one, maybe a trip to the shops for  a paper. But even then the TV, the radio, and the knowledge that outside the door and at the end of the phone there are friends and family, and if need be, the emergency services.  But today I find myself sailing Juno alone from Sardinia to Mallorca. 

A trip of only around 350 miles, and I am sailing single-handed. It’s not such a huge ordeal; many people have sailed alone around the world, trekked across the Antarctic, or hiked over the Alps – and I am not in any way comparing my little trip to those huge endeavours. However, I am sitting in the cockpit alone, out of mobile phone coverage, no radio, no TV, surrounded by sea with no visible sign that anyone else is out there. Even my email in-box is empty and I find myself resenting that in a rather pathetic way. The only signs of life are on my chart plotter. There I see the little icons that represent other vessels, but the nearest one is 25 miles away to the East and the horizon is completely empty. 

I left Sardinia at 5am this morning and I hope to arrive in Mallorca before nightfall tomorrow. It is now 6pm on Sunday and the sun is low on the horizon. Chicken soup is warming on the cooker and I am having my ration of one beer in the cockpit.  This Happy Hour is a tradition that we have followed on Juno every evening at sea and it is reassuring to be re-enacting this small ritual, albeit without the usual banter. My plan for the evening is to watch a DVD in the cockpit and then cat-nap through the night. I will set the timer on my phone and then sleep in the cockpit, waking every twenty minutes to scan the horizon, check the plotter for any approaching ships and then go back to sleep for another twenty minutes.

This does rather go against the grain. Sailors have always held a strong belief that keeping a constant watch is one of the golden rules of seamanship. However, Ellen McArthur, Sir Francis Chichester and all those other lone sailors in the Vendee Globe have used this same simple system and the logic goes like this: From the cockpit of a sailing yacht the horizon is about 6 miles, much less than you might think. If you take the worst case of a fast modern cruise liner motoring at 20 knots, it would cover that distance in 18 minutes, not enough time to see its lights and take action to avoid a collision unless you stayed awake throughout the night.  However with the advent of AIS (automatic identification system), I can set an alarm that will sound if any vessel enters a safe zone around my boat. My safe zone is one mile. So, if a vessel is projected to get within one mile of me, then the alarm will sound 24 minutes before, giving me ample time to assess the danger and make a course change.  Although it is a legal requirement for commercial vessels to have AIS, some small pleasure yachts and fishing boats don’t use it, so I also have a radar that has a similar alarm system.   Every twenty minutes I wake up, do a visual scan of the horizon looking for lights, check the plotter for AIS and radar signals, and go back to sleep.  Assume I sleep for 6 hours and wake every twenty minutes, that will include 18 breaks in a night’s sleep. Why twenty minutes? The sleep experts say that if you sleep any longer you go into a much deeper sleep and might find it hard to wake up. I can’t pretend that it makes for the most restful night’s sleep, but it works.

So today I have set the sails, read the Sunday papers and eaten three good meals – the chicken soup was sensational.  And now as the sun starts to set and the full moon is peering over the horizon I will settle the boat for the night. Needles to say, falling overboard when sailing alone is best avoided; but no more than walking in front of a bus or jumping off Beachy Head – easily prevented but the results are the same.  I find that I do talk to myself and certain tunes seem to plant themselves in my head and repeat endlessly.   Today it was Hopelessly Devoted from the film Grease. Why? No idea.

I am not sure that I enjoy my own company as much as Fatty’s, or even Andrews, but I have enjoyed this new experience so far. Ask me again in the morning.


  1. Hail yourself! We pass like ships on the AIS. All good in Majorca so far and we fly home in the morning, just as you hove into view. Cracking timing. Hehe

  2. "even Andrew" sounds about right! Keep safe and enjoy the experience

  3. I visited this region several times, I can say I really liked it, but I still prefer to go to locations a little north) For example, two month ago I have traveled on this ships It was incredible!