Harsh weather, gale-force winds, a broken engine and a breached boat

An Alnwick family who set sail on an epic sea adventure in aid of a little girl with a rare illness, have admitted that it has been a bigger challenge than they ever imagined.

Saturday, 16th December 2017, 11:00 am
Yves Christian

In April, we reported how Sacha Beere and Lotty Thompson set themselves the goal of sailing from Plymouth to Greece, in their yacht. The couple are joined by their two young children, Hector and Phoebe-Plum, and Sacha’s sons, Sam and Jack.

The challenge is in aid of youngster Evie Campbell, from Shilbottle, who has a rare blood condition.

Family photograph

But it has not been plain sailing. Here is their story so far, as written by Sacha.

More than seven months ago, we left Alnwick to pursue a dream of an adventure sailing the world’s oceans.

Having bought Yves Christian – an old wooden sailing boat – in preparation for our adventure, we thought we were ready for our voyage, but we were wrong. Our challenges were going to be much bigger than we ever imagined.

We have been living on our boat since the beginning of April with only two nights spent on land and we have sailed 2,700 miles since leaving the UK in June.

The youngsters enjoying a science lesson.

We were originally aiming to sail to Greece by the end of the summer, but a series of events and obstacles slowed us down, so at the moment we have reached Sicily where we will weather out the winter storms in anticipation of continuing our sailing adventure again at the end of April 2018.

When we left Plymouth, we thought we and our boat were ready after non-stop preparations and test-sailing.

But the first long leg of our journey was a true baptism of fire; without doubt the most difficult challenge either of us has ever faced – over five days in rough seas with winds gusting to force 7 at times.

Lotty was crippled with seasickness and at times was convinced she was going to die, either from the seasickness or the terrible weather.

Family photograph

Hector, six, and Phoebe-Plum, two, were fine and natural sailors from the start.

I took the roles of cook and single-handed sailor for the duration, sleeping only a handful of hours over the five-day crossing. I was so sleep-deprived that in a storm on the last night before arriving in La Coruna, Spain, I was convinced I could see the face of a demon looking at me in one of our sails.

Finally arriving at the marina in La Coruna felt amazing, we had survived and were safe. We spent 10 days recovering. Then it was time to continue our journey south along the Spanish Costa de Morte – The Death Coast.

Hundreds of wrecks litter this treacherous rocky coast and that’s where it nearly ended for us too. After four days of sailing and trying to avoid the continuing heavy weather, we again took refuge, this time in a sheltered bay by the Spanish town, Camarinas. We set our anchor and slept the night with high winds swinging us about but woke to a fine day with a chance to explore the town.

The youngsters enjoying a science lesson.

Later, as we motored back across the bay to Yves, she looked further away than expected; she had moved about half a mile down the bay towards the rocks at the head of the bay. The anchor had dragged and she was very close to the shore!

We climbed onto her deck to assess the terrible situation. We were beached, her keel stuck on the bottom and she was stuck fast where she was on a falling tide. We thought it was the end and we would lose our boat, our home and everything we had dreamed of achieving. It was terrible. But, it was not only our unluckiest moment of the adventure, it was also our luckiest. She was between rocks, sitting on soft sand. The weather and waves were calm and we had stopped her drift onto the beach so at low tide we would still be in one metre of water, despite us needing three metres to float.

We all believed that the tide would go out and come back in without us touching the side of the hull on the sand and we would float free again at about 10pm that night. We lived on the boat for the next six hours, mostly at around a 45-degree angle! I was interviewed by a Galician newspaper and we were on page three the next day. We floated off as planned at 10pm with no damage to the boat.

All down the Atlantic coast along Spain and Portugal we had challenging waves and weather. We then headed up the Mediterranean coast of Spain, then jumping across to Ibiza and then Majorca. It was better sailing weather.

In September, we found ourselves anchored in the Bay of Alcudia preparing to hop across the sea to Menorca.

But one morning, the engine wouldn’t start. A part of the starter motor was broken and the only parts that were available to fix it were in the USA. We ended up being in the bay for five weeks before we managed to sail on. We were also without our oven and hob for a month after a part failed. We heated tinned food on the hot engine and boiled rice, vegetables and eggs in our electric kettle with the generator running.

We sailed to Menorca, then to Sardinia. But as it was getting late in the sailing season and we had still not reached Greece, we decided to stop after Sardinia, in Sicily, and spend the winter to the end of April 2018 in Marina di Ragusa on the south coast.

We have arrived and now live in what is called a liveaboard community of other people living on their boats for the winter. Yves Christian is truly our happy home.

It’s been a challenge sailing with young children, including home schooling. As a teacher, Lotty was used to dealing with 30 or so teenagers in a class, but she maintains trying to teach Hector and Phoebe-Plum is a bigger challenge! But they have been amazing at adapting to life at sea and have learned so much from their travels. Sam, 16, and Jack, 14, have joined us and they’ve been a huge help.

Lotty has cured her debilitating seasickness and with it the fear of the sea. We both liken sailing to Apollo 13, where systems and events kept going wrong and the crew had to keep fixing things to stay alive, using what they had to hand, their ingenuity and radio help from earth.

We will get ready for setting off again at the end of April. We will aim for Greece and the Ionian Islands – then who knows.