'Soporific', my father's yacht - Greece 1983.
Trintella 38 saloon.
She was a 38ft Trintella - a beautifully built Dutch boat, which my father sailed to the Med (at my mother's insistence) with the intention of eventually reaching Turkey; but he never got there, being diverted by the beauties of Croatia, where he kept the boat for a number of years, inviting friends to crew in two-week relays every summer. She was based at Dubrovnik and was there after my father sold her and when that town was under siege and the harbour was being shelled. I do not know whether she survived. I was one of the crew on our first voyage from England to the Med in 1981.
Primosten, Croatia - a typical scene.
Milna, Island of Brac, Croatia.
Seget Donji, Croatia.
On this trip (from England to the Med in 1981) I can remember surfing Soporific down the backs of huge waves* as dawn came up over the Bay of Biscay (we were hundreds of miles from land), turning all the spray on the tops of the waves to a dazzling gold as far as the eye could see, literally from horizon to horizon. I did this for hours on end while I was alone on watch, an incredible experience. I almost ran into a whale while doing this but he sank below the surface just as the yacht hit the spot where he had been. I didn't even have time to react.
Dawn at sea - dazzling gold from horizon to horizon; nothing but sea for hundreds of miles in every direction. This is a painting but is exactly how I remember it (just add wind).
This trip is probably quite a good example of what can happen on a normal cruise:
1. We got caught with our spinnaker up at night off Ushant and had a hell of a job getting it down in a rising wind. The spinnaker sheets got loose and we ended up with the spinnaker streaming from the masthead. When I untied the halyard to get the spinnaker into the water it ran through my hands causing a nasty burn (Rather stupidly I tried to hold onto it). Once it was in the water a sheet got wrapped round the prop, even though the engine wasn't running (I had to dive under the boat with a knife to cut this rope free once we had arrived in Spain and picked up a very nasty ear infection from the gunge in the harbour). In the middle of all this the yacht was knocked sideways by a great floppy wave while me and another crewmember were on the foredeck. I stumbled and would have gone overboard but instinctively grabbed the nearest thing to me, which was the other crewmember. We would both have gone overboard if he had not grabbed the forestay like iron (he had been in the 1979 Fastnet and the yacht he was on (later Seltrust Endeavour) had been rolled twice). We had no safety harnesses on.
Ushant - don't get caught there, especially at night with a rope wrapped round your propeller.
2. We almost ran into a whale in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, as described above.
3. Our radar broke and we spent a week in Bayona getting it mended. We were not keen to go down the coast of Portugal (very busy with shipping and prone to fogs - see below) without it.
Bayona, showing the marina below the parador. A dream place. I just remember bright sun, blue skies, the ceaseless wind, endless bustle and noise, children dressed in vibrant colours fishing for tiddlers off the marina walkways (all sitting in a row with their legs dangling and gazing earnestly into the water, with their dogs doing the same) and the evenings, when the entire town seemed to dress up and go down to promenade hand-in-hand on the sea-front, strolling with the utmost style and elegance, seeing and being seen, graciously greeting neighbours and friends and passing the time of day as though they had all the time in the world - which they did. They struck me as a very civilized people, the Spanish.
4. We very nearly got run over by a ship at night in a fog off the coast of Portugal. The ship came to within 100 metres (I would say it was well under that) of our starboard quarter and only changed course when we lit a handheld white flare (If they thought that we were going to change our course they had another think coming!). It would definitely have run us down otherwise. I came on deck to hand an armed flare to the helmsman (having been monitoring the ship on the radar) and just saw this huge bow above us - it wasn't a small ship. When the helmsman let the flare off, the ship was presented with the sight of him waving the flare and me desperately trying to cut the boom free (we were on a broad reach and had tied the boom to the starboard toerail). When the ship veered off she headed straight for a small yacht that was accompanying us (because we had radar and it was foggy). Another huge panic! The ship veered off again.
5. The only thing we didn't do on this trip was to run aground, but this was quite a normal occurence once the yacht was in the Med (my father's logs make hilarious reading) - but running aground was always a good way of meeting the locals; I sometimes think he did it deliberately (motor boats love towing things or trying to heel a yacht over by tying line to the masthead and then giving their engines welly or getting 15 people on board to heel the boat by standing on one side - often all three at once). These episodes usually ended with a party, either on the yacht or at the home of one of the rescuers, and on one occasion, one of our rescuers lent us their car for a week.
6. Not really relevant to this trip but also in the category of things that happened to me while crewing on Soporific, was the occasion when she was moored close to a French yacht in Port Mahon, Minorca (Summer 1982). I was learning to windsurf (it was my first time) and gently bumped the French yacht. I wasn't even sailing at the time for heaven's sake, just drifting in the breeze! This led to the skipper of the French yacht getting rather emotional. Having been ready to apologise, his response got up my nose so I told him where to get off; at which point he said words to the effect 'I was in the Foreign Legion (he looked the part) and I am going to get my gun and kill you!' and disappeard down below - presumably to get his gun. I thought 'Oo err! I am a bit of sitting duck on this blasted windsurfer!' and tied to paddle away in a nonchalant fashion. Nothing came of it of course - he just went and had a sulk.
7. Oh yes. Chasing rats was another delight. These get onboard when you moor stern to. If you are sleeping on deck, they seem to have nasty habit of running across your legs. Gives you quite a fright. In the chase they invariably disappear down below (all the hatches are open of course), where they are almost impossible to find. You then have to be extra careful about keeping food where they can't get at it.
*These waves were around 15 feet I would guess, so not that huge. I remember going out fishing in a 15ft open motor boat about 10 miles off Cape Point (South Africa) with two of my father's friends, circa 1973. The sea was quite disturbed but the waves were not more than 10 feet. Quite quickly, however, the sky went grey and a huge swell came in from the South Atlantic, with waves at least 50 feet high. We headed inshore at high speed overtaking the waves, which were themselves moving quite quickly; it was literally like driving up and down a series of hills. Naturally, we ran out of petrol just as we neared the rocks, at which point I asked (trying to sound as calm as possible), 'Do we actually have any life jackets on board?' (The answer was 'No'). These huge waves are a known phenomenom on this coast (which is one reason the Cape of Good Hope is also known as the Cape of Storms) and, on one occasion, I was on board a cruise liner, the Windsor Castle, when she encountered such seas at night between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth; the ship was bounced around like a cork, heeling in an alarming manner.
Soporific off Greece in 1983.
in Kouloura Bay, Corfu in 1983.
From here, of an evening, you could watch the searchlights of the Communist guardposts
on the shores of Albania searching for escapees, people trying to escape from Albania to Corfu (Greece).
We dragged our anchor here - towards a whole load of boats anchored or on moorings. My father could not start
the engine because we had already fouled one mooring by the time we discovered what was
happening, so I had to drag the yacht by hand using the tender, one hand holding a line from the
yacht (I didn't have time to attach it to anything), the other controlling the outboard.
The harbour at Kouloura. We had an introduction to the people who own (or owned) the house and had dinner on their veranda (shown).
Back to 'The Descent of Hughes'