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Sailing on, single handed

Max and Elizabeth on board AQUARELLA in Greece

My husband and I sailed together for 24 years, half of which were in the Mediterranean with our 37 year old 31ft Hallberg Rassy. Max was a retired sea captain and marine pilot so he was used to giving orders on board which I obeyed without question.

Sadly he died earlier this year and his very last voyage was when his ashes were spread at sea.
Needless to say I was devastated and faced with many challenges after his death.

Each day there was a new hurdle to get over and there were many difficult decisions to make. One big question was to decide what to do with the boat, which was standing on the hard in a boatyard in Greece.

I decided to take up the challenge of keeping the boat and sailing alone. I was very uncertain if I really could do it and afraid of crashing into something, falling overboard or ruining the boat etc. but at least I would give it a try.

I have now spent more than 3 months sailing around the Saronic islands and apart from a few mishaps it has been a great success. It has boosted my self confidence, doing things I never thought I could, and I don’t regret for a minute that I decided to keep the boat.

I have written many of my thoughts and experiences on my blog “Sailing on – single handed“.

Here is the entry I wrote on my blog after a rather eventful day sailing 30 miles from Poros to Porto Heli.

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.

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.

Navigating round the islands

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 the 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 fins 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.

About Elizabeth Tyler

Elizabeth was born in 1946 in England but has lived most of her life in Scandinavia. As a visual artist by profession she spends most of her time painting and exhibiting her works at galleries and museums in northern Europe. Since it’s the sea, the beach and marine life that inspires her most, she combines business with pleasure by painting on either on board her boat in the Mediterranean or in her studio in Sweden.

Apart from painting, She does etching and engraving and produces art educational videos. She also illustrates and writes books about painting techniques.

Her website:
Her art blog:
Her sailing blog:

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9 comments to Sailing on, single handed

  • Laura ann Reed

    I am so moved and impressed by
    your courage! You are an inspiration-
    Thank you-

  • Tone Elin Solholm

    WOW!!! I am extremely impressed by your courage and guts! Have no words, really. Just wanted to let you know that you from today are one of my personal heroes. Safe sailing :-)

  • Kaci

    Smart sailing, Elizabeth! Your courage to “try”; your clear way of telling us the signs, solutions and end result of the propellor fouling (it happens to everyone eventually, unless you quit sailing;); your mentions about short sail, big bay, resourcefulness with technology, not panicking and most especially… figuring this out for YOURSELF are brilliant. Proud of you and hope to meet someday, somewhere.

  • Robyn

    I have often wondered what I would/will do if my husband goes before me. We have lived aboard most of our adult lives and I can’t imagine giving up sailing. Your story moved me and I can relate to so much. I wish you many more years of sailing and adventure.

  • Iris Voorhees

    Oh Elizabeth, how I respect your choice! My husband passed away a year ago March and we had sailed for 26 years, never owning a boat but chartering and being crew on our friends boat in the Caribbean and the Med…..I was always first mate and now that he is gone, I am floundering in my desire to get out on the sea and sail as you are doing! Bravo!!! You are my heroine!!! Sail on! Wish I was you crew! Anytime!!

  • Debbie

    I have been through the loss of a husband and carrying on alone. My heart breaks for you and I applaud your attempt to carry on alone. There will be times when you will wonder why you have made this decision, but please don’t doubt yourself and your abilities. Carry on, enjoy your lifestyle, I am sure that your husband would be extremely proud of you. We, fellow single handed women cruisers, are very proud of you.

  • elizabeth Benson

    My partner died in May; our circumstances were just as yours; it is so inspiring to read that you carried on and kept sailing! I love sailing, really want to keep continuing on our journey, so will keep reading your blog every time I feel uncertain, scared, (which is most of the time)!

  • Karen

    Hi Elizabeth
    Loved your story and especially the pictures. Such good Single handed pics must take a lot of skill and patience.
    I’ve just started undertaking small challenges to pretend I’m single handing on short legs of our cruising trips. (My husband is on the boat so I’m not really single handing.) Just the other day I finally felt like I was not on the verge of panic when I did a short stint that took us to and out a cut and into the open sea.
    Finally, freeing a prop. I was intrigued by your experience because just the other day I discovered fishing line wrapped around our prop. I dove dozens of time to get it all cleaned up! A small thing but what a great feeling.
    Thanks for your story and keep writing.

  • Elizabeth Tyler

    I would just like to thank you all for your kind comments and encouragement. It means a lot to me that the response I have had from all directions has been so positive. I am now even more convinced that what I am doing is the right thing, both solo-sailing and writing about it. It cannot be stressed too often that being able to take over and single hand the boat is important. Not just doing it once but getting routined. I learned / am learning the hard way. Don’t wait for an emergency to force yourself to do it, do it now!
    PS to Karen, For photos I use a gorilla tripod which can attach to anything anywhere on the boat. The pics and video sequences are taken with a Canon 5Dlll or Gopro.

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