Pandemic Pursuits: Planning for a Circumnavigation

The last 12 months have brought unexpected changes to our carefully planned lives and for many the Covid effect has accelerated our goals and dreams. Unable to return to his boat in the Mediterranean, cruiser Paul Chopin has spent the pandemic planning the ultimate adventure. This is his story.

Published 2 years ago

2020 was a rotten year for all concerned, especially for those who have been affected personally by this blessed pandemic, Covid 19. For me it has meant no sailing but has given me the time to prepare for the following season and the adventure that I have lined up for myself, a round the world trip.

So, how did I get to this decision I have to ask myself? After spending most of my life in teaching I needed something to look forward to in my ‘early’ retirement. I had considered taking up flying, but unfortunately my partner Helen was not impressed when I took her up during one of the lessons. Second string, take up sailing.

2013: Learning the Ropes and my First Boat

In 2013, having completed my Day Skipper (RYA course) at the Rock Sailing School in Gibraltar, I was then armed with a certificate to enable me to go sailing. In order to do this I needed to buy a yacht. Having seen quite a few, the final choice was a Bavaria 38 Holiday, which was being sold in Greece (unbeknown to me, at the time, by an elderly couple living some 40 miles away from me in the same county).

My first yacht, Electron, and first attempt at ‘med mooring’ in Spetses, Greece.

My first venture out on the water in Greece was short-lived. The house batteries failed and after these were replaced, the water pump corroded and fell to pieces. The boat was hauled out of the water within three days of me first sailing her. These failures to the boat didn’t discourage me and gave me the opportunity to build up a rapport with the staff at the boatyard, Basimakopoulos in Kilada, Peloponnese, Greece. The army of engineers, electricians and mechanics have been servicing my yacht each year that I have been in Kilada, and a fantastic team they are too.

2014: Cruising in Greece and Italy

The new season saw us out again on the water in Greece in April. With the boat repaired and laden with charts for the Aegean, plus the Greek Pilot Guide, we sought out numerous islands, bays and anchorages over the next three months.

Passing through the Straits of Mesina and ‘Charybdis’. Fishermen had left no option but to pass over the whirlpool.

Later on in the year my brother persuaded me to take the yacht to Italy and Rome, as he was living out there at the time and ‘could look after her’! With another brother and a friend of a friend we set sail to Rome, arriving at Ostia Antica Marina. A lovely marina, full of history right on the doorstep of the old city. An annual berth was suggested, but I initially took out a six month mooring. I should have done some research! Unlike Greece, in Italy you have to sail for many, many hours before you come across anywhere to moor, and then you get charged €70+ per night for the pleasure (while still paying for the marina at Ostia). Walking along the pontoon back at the marina I came across Cedric, a sailor who was just beginning his circumnavigation and was waiting for his crew member to arrive before they set sail. Surprisingly, he persuaded Helen that we ought to follow them over to Sardinia (Garibaldi Bay – beautiful) for several days. The 30-hour passage was well worth it. We then returned to Ostia and they continued westbound. We would meet up again several times later.

By October I had had enough of the sailing area of Italy and headed back to Greece. Italy is a beautiful country full of history and culture – but give me Greece any day.

2015: Greece to the UK and a New Boat

Keen to upgrade, I had the opportunity to buy a new Bavaria, a 37 Cruiser, provided I could get my boat back to the UK. A professional crew were recruited and I left Kilada to meet them at the Corinth Canal. We made a few stops through the Mediterannean before arriving at Camarinas in NW Spain, our last stop before crossing the Bay of Biscay.

Leaving the Med: Europa Point lighthouse. Little did we know what we were heading for on the Bay of Biscay crossing a few days later.

A number of weather forecasts were examined with favourable winds up to Force 7 forecast. All were in agreement to set sail, which turned out to be a very big mistake. On the second night the winds were gusting to 48kts, sails were getting ripped and we had no option but to go bare poles until it calmed down. For three days in a row we were stitching sails during the day only to see them torn again at night with winds gusting up to 63kts. When the engine alarm went off a decision was made to make for Le Guilvinec, south of Brest, and arrange to be towed in to the harbour. No sooner had we moored up when the customs people swarmed over the boat and searched in every nook and cranny, intent on finding drugs! They left several hours later, as did the ‘professional crew’. A mechanic was called out to investigate the engine alarm – which turned out to be because of seaweed in the water filter.

A couple of days later I managed to persuade my brother and Kevin (a previous crew member who crewed for me from Rome to Greece), to help me get the rest of the way back to the UK. First stop, Weymouth, as Kevin had to catch a train back to Plymouth to celebrate his wedding anniversary. Second stop Swanage, where the yacht was cleaned, cleared of all equipment and the keys handed over as part-exchange for my new yacht. I called her “Corryvreckan”, after the famous legend relating to the whirlpool in the narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba, in Argyll and Bute, off the west coast of mainland Scotland (or perhaps after the single malt whisky by that name).

The new yacht, ‘Corryvreckan’ moored in Port Solent Marina, UK. Ready for the next adventure.

2016: Back to Greece with the New Boat

Another passage through the Corinth Canal, a first for Helen.

Having experienced the wrath of Biscay I had arranged for my new yacht to be transported from Portsmouth to Barcelona. As the March transport date was approaching I was getting very concerned with the lack of communication from the haulier, Paul Gillett. Promise after promise and deadlines missed, I finally went round to his house to see what was going on. On arrival it was patently obvious that he had no intention of completing the contract, so further arrangements were made. I hired a professional skipper and two crew to help get the boat to Valencia, Spain. This time the Biscay crossing was made having purchased storm sails – just in case. They were not required but came in handy a few years later! The skipper took us to La Coruña in NW Spain, then flew back to England. My other two crew continued with me to Valencia, Spain via Gibraltar. I stayed in Valencia for two months, recruited three more crew and then headed for the Greek Peloponnese via Majorca and Malta. We reached Kilada via Kalamata, Spetses and Hydra.

2017: Exploring Greece

In April, my partner Helen and I decided that we would sail out to Rhodes. En route we picked up a crew member on the island of Milos and headed towards Rhodes stopping at most islands in between. Our crew member left in Kos and we continued to Rhodes. Our return to the Argolic Gulf took in a few more islands including Crete, Kythira and AntiKythira. I believe we took in some 19 islands on this passage.

I had already made arrangements to join the ARC for the 2018 Atlantic crossing in November, and decided I would set sail from the Ionian. So I made another passage through the Corinth Canal, a first for Helen, with an overnight stop in the harbour on the northern side. Hopping along the way to either anchorages or harbours we had a pleasant journey up to Patras. We then had to get back to Kilada to pick up my car, which we did with a hire car before returning to Patras. I had arranged to winter the yacht at Cleopatra Marina, Preveza (a mistake that I found out to my cost, but that’s another story). In order to get the car and the boat there Helen caught the local ferry from island to island while I sailed to each island to meet her. Once the car was where we wanted it to be we then enjoyed exploring the Ionian and all it had to offer.

Setting off from Cape Verde with the ARC+, back of the field again!

2018: Mileage to make the ARC

This was going to be a busy year. Sailing from the Ionian I had taken on a pair who claimed they had sailing experience. Sailing was used in its loosest sense, they had a day in a tender! For the first 24 hours I was at the wheel as they were tired, and for the next 12 they had no wet weather gear (my fault) so weren’t up to taking the helm. They left in Menorca so I sailed to Valencia single handed….. with no autopilot! Luckily an aeronautical engineer joined me from Valencia to Gibraltar and put his skills to the test on the unreliable autopilot, coming up with a workaround solution. Brilliant, it lasted for most of the passage. In Gibraltar the autopilot linear arm was removed and sent back to be repaired. While in Gibraltar I had fitted a water maker, Hydrovane and a Watt and Sea generator, all necessary additions for an ocean passage. Departing Gibraltar I was joined again by three of my regular crew, setting off for Gran Canaria to meet up with the rest of the yachts sailing with the ARC. I had the hull ‘copper coated’ (which I thought would never get done) and I fitted a folding prop – not sure if I got any extra speed from its use! The adventure was beginning and it lived up to its expectations. The evening events in Las Palmas pre-departure were a great success and a highlight only to be matched once we got across the pond and were moored in St. Lucia. The yacht was kept on the hard in St. Lucia over the winter, to be sailed back to Greece the following year.

St. Lucia Pitons.

2019: Caribbean to Greece

Horta Marina Art.

Helen and I flew out to St. Lucia in March and the two of us pottered around the island, going from bay to bay just anchoring where the winds took us. At the end of three weeks Helen flew back to the UK and I waited for new crew to arrive before island hopping up to Bermuda. There one new crew member got off but I secured another before deprating for the Azores. Those storm sails were to come in handy. We were aware that strong winds were chasing us down – my brother was keeping me updated and was my ‘weather guru’, tracking my position via the Garmin InReach Explorer I was using – a brilliant piece of equipment. Before the storm had arrived we had dropped the main and used the track to raise the trysail. The storm jib was much easier, hanked on over the rolled up headsail. During the passage I had given instructions to the crew to not use the autopilot – it was playing up again and we had a functioning Hydrovane. Unfortuantely one of the crew was finding it a struggle to be a team player and on arrival in the Azores he took himself off to a local hotel and stayed there until it was time to leave. Thankfully he had made the decision to leave the yacht, which made it a lot easier for me and the other two crew. After a good rest and clean up we were heading back to Gibraltar. The yacht was left in La Linea Marin, Spain, for a couple of months before we headed back to Kilada, Greece.

2020: Unable to get back to the Boat

I had planned to be travelling out to Greece in April. The shuttle and ferry had been booked and overnight accommodation arranged. But, by early March, it became apparent that this was not going to happen, all but essential travel was banned. Contact was made with both carriers and rearranged dates for early September were put in place. However, these too had to be cancelled. Covid was still an issue but also a death to one and two incurable diseases to another family member meant that it wasn’t the right time to go. These delays / postponements had given me the opportunity to research all the necessary details in planning a circumnavigation. My crossing of the Atlantic with the ARC in 2018 had consolidated my desire for an even longer passage. It was just unfortunate that I hadn’t come to this conclusion while I was still out in the Caribbean!

The Planning


The yacht is already set up for long distant sailing. As mentioned previously, I had purchased a water maker, a hydrovane, a parasailor and a Watt and Sea generator for the Atlantic crossing, but there were still a number of items that were required for a circumnavigation. Although the yacht is under five years old the sails were showing signs of age. Also, I felt it important that a third reefing point be added to a new suit of sails, so these were ordered. I do have storm sails, but having only a single track on the mast, considered that, for expediency, a third reef would be a sensible decision. A couple of finger fenders and a ball fender are probably still floating somewhere in the Atlantic (sorry but there was never any intention to litter the ocean) and these have also been replaced.

Another major item that I have bought is a SSB radio, a new Icom M803. Crossing the Atlantic west bound, it was a requirement that a satellite phone be carried – if no SSB. I carried two! The first one failed so a second was purchased and brought out to me in Gran Canaria. I had put over £400 credit on the phone and by the end of the crossing this had all but been used. If this was replicated during a round the world trip then this would pay for the SSB. Decision made. I now need to get the radio installed and get certificated. However, there is a problem with finding a LRC course. Providers are currently not running them, due to Covid, and some have even shut up shop. If there is a company running this course please let me know when, where and how much!! My eastbound Atlantic crossing was covered with just a Garmin InReach Explorer as company. A lovely little item that provided those in my email list with my track, I was able to text anyone that I wanted, and, although limited to text only, could call up SAR and report a problem. I shall be bringing this with me.

Three further items that need to be bought for the boat are; a Selden bowsprit, a Selden top down furler together with a decent sail to fly from them. A poled out headsail is limited in its function and the parasailer too demanding if sailing shorthanded. The ability to rapidly furl the spinnaker if conditions warrant it will be a bonus.

Crossing vast oceans will give me the time and practice to put in place all the knowledge (!) I’ve gained from the books I’ve read on Astronavigation. My plastic sextant will be taken with me but I have also bought all the digital charts for this circumnavigation as ‘back up’.

When I returned to the UK in 2019 I decided that I would sell the courtesy flags that I had purchased for the crossing to the Caribbean. This was a little foolish as I now have to buy these plus others for the trip. I think I require 37 different courtesy flags. I did note that on Noonsite there was an article suggesting that these be digitally printed on a roll and cut out when needed. I’ve yet to find a company in the UK able to do this. I have however found a couple of companies that are able to sell many of the courtesy flags I am looking for at a reasonable price. Not sure about the quality though!

A new stainless steel anchor chain has been bought – the galvanised one currently on the boat is ‘quite solid’ and a heavier anchor, a Manson Supreme. I have already contacted the stainless steel fabricator in Kilada to be ready to ‘extend’ the bow roller to accept the longer anchor and to weld a bow ring for the bowsprit.

Planning aplenty, with so many purchases, I really ought to buy a larger yacht to go sailing in. I have been trying. I thought I had sold the yacht to my brother but that has fallen through, so the prospect of buying a catamaran is slowly passing me by. Anyway, the bank account has been severely dented with the following purchases:

  • New sails
  • New stainless steel anchor chain
  • New Manson supreme 20kg anchor – thought I needed something better when in French Polynesia in some of the anchorages on offer
  • Chain counter
  • Replacement large ball fender – lost in the Atlantic
  • 3 x large finger fenders – 2 lost in the Atlantic
  • 4 x fender socks
  • 1 x anchor buoy – thought this might be needed?
  • New melamine dinner service set – better than plastic plates and unlikely to break like china
  • Deck broom / cleaning brush – will I have time on my hands to clean?
  • Dyson handheld hoover – so I will be doing some cleaning
  • Pure sine wave inverter – no excuses for a flat Dyson battery
  • Pair of new deck cushions
  • A sea anchor drogue – just in case!!!
  • Life raft supports – to move my life raft from the pushpit to the topdeck in front of the bimini
  • All the required digital charts to see me round the world – If I do get another yacht it had better have a Garmin chart plotter!
  • A second spinnaker pole bracket to secure the pole when not in use
  • Muggi 4 x mug holder – so hands don’t get burned when making tea / coffee
  • New kettle
  • 4 x 22ltr jerry cans – you can never have too much fuel on board (or can you?)
  • SSB Icom M803 radio. Have booked myself on to a GMDSS GOC course in April to enable me to legally use the equipment – provided I pass!!
  • Still looking to get the courtesy flags but have someone in mind
  • Work to be done once I get the go ahead to get out to Greece.
  • Get SSB radio installed and check that it works.
  • Get the bow roller extended to take the larger anchor
  • Get a bow sprit ring welded to the bow roller to accept the bowsprit (to be purchased)
  • Purchase and install a Selden top down furler
  • Purchase another cruising chute

Insurance companies have been contacted for Round the World insurance. Quotes are coming in – not cheap!!

Transatlantic crew on arrival in the Caribbean.

The Crew:

I have already recruited one crew member to join me on this adventure. Emilio, recruited via Ocean Crew Link, has experience of sailing in the Pacific, so will be a handy crew member to have on board. A regular crew member of mine, Wally, is also keen on joining us. Still looking to recruit one further crew member – have told the insurance companies that I will have at least three on board for all ocean passages.

Downwind sailing.

The Route:

A copy of Jimmy Cornell’s ‘World Cruising Routes’ has been purchased and will be read from cover to cover.

I’m hoping, Covid permitting, to drive out to Greece in early April this year, with a car full of equipment to put on the boat. I will then return in early July to start heading westbound, stopping over in Gibraltar to do final checks before setting out for Gran Canaria, Cape Verde and then the Atlantic.

I had intended to pass through the Panama Canal with World ARC, but it appears that I would need to be placed on the waiting list due to the numbers that have signed up for this rally. For this reason I have been in contact with an agent to prepare all the arrangements for my passage some time in early February 2022.

My intention is to get to Panama, return home for Christmas before flying back out sometime mid January to conduct safety checks on board before the next ocean is tackled, and maybe have the boat’s bottom cleaned in case we intend going to the Galapagos.

Ocean sunset.

Element of Doubt

As we get closer to the anticipated date of departure there is an element of doubt rearing its ugly head. No, not through fear of taking on such an ordeal, but whether I am able to actually get out to Greece by the end of July at the latest due. The travel restrictions on account of Covid the government has introduced means that all travel, unless essential, is forbidden. I’m sure they won’t accept that sailing around the world is essential! Although we in the UK are getting vaccinated at a rate of knots, Europe is getting left behind. In addition, there is talk of vaccination passports being introduced, but no indication as to the date these will be operational from. However, I feel sure that most European countries, especially those with a sailing community, will want to open up their borders to bring in currency to their country.

As an aside, I had offered to assist a colleague to help sail his yacht back from the Caribbean in May. Flight ticket purchased to arrive in Antigua at the start of May, this may well have to be cancelled due to the ‘red list’ countries on return to the UK. My step off point would be the Azores to fly back to the UK but I have no intention of forking out £1750 for the pleasure of staying 10 nights in an hotel not of my choosing. So it might not happen.

All being well . . .

Well, let’s suppose that the borders do open up in time. My intention is to drive out to Greece, a trip that I have undertaken many times before. A shuttle crossing from Folkestone to Dover, a drive through various countries to arrive either in Venice (if the ferry is operating from here) or down to Ancona. The 24 hour crossing arrives in Patras, Greece, with a 2.5hr drive to Kilada. Having had to cancel, rebook and cancel both the shuttle and ferry in 2020 I still have the ‘open’ tickets to enable me to book these journeys if permission is granted. Why do I need to drive down rather than fly I hear you ask? See my ‘small’ list of items that over the past year I’ve bought for the circumnavigation – all of which need to be taken to the boat. However, I do need to get my car back to the UK, so I will fly back out to Athens, hire a car with ‘Pops Car Rentals’ to get to Kilada, and then begin the passage of a lifetime.

Paul Chopin
SY Corryvreckan

Greece: Sailing Around the Ionian (October 2018)

Related to the following Cruising Resources: , , , ,

You must Login or Register to submit comments.

  1. May 31, 2021 at 10:54 PM
    profile photo
    sue-richards says:

    Paul has decided to postpone his circumnavigation by a year due to a number of factors including a family bereavement.