Leaving our last Greek Island anchorage, we had ahead of us a 400 nautical mile (740km) passage to Malta. The Skipper figured it would take about three days. Before leaving we worked out a schedule of shifts to cover the helm so we could sail non-stop: eight hours on, four hours off, eight hours on, six hours off. At least two crew would be on deck at all times. Being the earliest riser I chose the 0600 to 1400 and 1800 to midnight watches.
I have to say that multi-day passages are not my favourite. I don’t function too well without 7 hours of sleep in a row. Even when you have six hours off, by the time you get to bed, then get up and get ready for your next shift, you’re lucky to get five and a half hours in bed. Sleeping on a moving boat is a little like lying in the boot of a car, which is being driven fast over speed humps and potholes and throwing the occasional fishtail. Little wonder the first question you are asked when you emerge bleary-eyed for your shift is ‘Did you get any sleep?’
Sailing at night can be beautiful. If the wind is consistent you can set your course, trim the sails, stick on the autopilot and sit back and watch the stars arc and the nautical miles slip by. Under the moonlight the ocean looks like shiny molasses.
However, when you’re dog tired, even fine sailing conditions can have you watching the clock and willing the hours away. You constantly check the boat speed on the chart plotter, and closely monitor how many more hours to go until you reach your destination. The boat picks up speed and your ETA is slashed; lose speed and suddenly you have the same amount of hours to go as you had the previous shift. You haven’t showered for days as you don’t want to lose precious sleep time. You’re eating irregularly. You’re cold. Heavy shipping is a constant hazard. Tempers fray.
At such times it’s good to remember that we are doing this for fun. No-one is forcing us, and the odd overnight passage, no matter how tiring, opens up more opportunities for discovery and adventure.
We made pretty good time for the first 36 hours, but then a wind drop slowed our progress. The wind direction wasn’t ideal either, forcing us to gybe and run a zig-zag course for Malta. We were all very relieved when the ETA dropped below 24 hours, and when Malta finally came into view on the horizon.
We made it into Malta’s Grand Harbour on dusk, excited and relieved to be sliding by the fortress walls.
Our passage to Malta, The longest of our voyage from Turkey to Tunisia, was complete. It had taken three and a half days, and we couldn’t wait to get ashore for a shower, a meal and a beer. It was time for a breather, and all souls on board were looking forward to a week’s break in Malta.
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