Three years ago, when Prue Leggoe and her husband John retired, they left home, families and friends and took off round the world in their yacht, Truant. The Australian couple is still sailing into the sunset.
I have just arrived in Fethiye on the beautiful southern coast of Turkey after a 3 hour local bus ride from the coastal resort town of Marmaris. I have taken this trip through the grand pine covered mountains and fertile valleys filled with rich spring crops and dappled with waves of wild red poppies so as to have my laptop fixed. The only person I know who can fix it is Umit who operates the internet cafe here. He learned his skills whilst undertaking his compulsory military training.
Such are the joys of being cruising sailors wending your way around the world looking for the next internet cafe without the normal support mechanisms and local tradespeople.
My husband John and I made the decision to spend a good part of our post paid employment or PPE years (we don't call them retirement because we are too busy at this job) cruising the world in our 45' steel yacht Truant 2. On our first long ocean passage to New Caledonia in 1993 we decided that this was something we both definitely wanted to do more of.
John and I had sailed together for many years in and around Victorian and Tasmanian coastal waters. The idea of changing our hobby into a lifestyle following the winds, being self- sufficient and having plenty of time to enjoy the ports and countries that we visited at our leisure (especially warmer ones) appealed to us.
We started serious planning - looking for the right boat, getting our finances and investments organised to sustain us in this self-funded venture and joining the Seven Seas Cruising Association, an American voluntary group which publishes a monthly newsletter for cruisers.
By March 1998, after I had recovered from open-heart surgery and found myself a redundant Company Secretary following a take-over, and John had finished his last management contract, we were ready to go. My youngest son was then only in second year university and there were twinges from all sides as we all said good-bye. Partings are never easy. We started to head north up the east coast of Australia.
Our three years since then have been a steep learning curve. Firstly there was the adjustment to being with each other all the time on board a small boat, after years of being at work during the day. Although we knew a lot about sailing we soon became aware that maintaining your floating home and keeping all your self-sufficient systems operational is a full-time job. It is accurate to say that cruising is working on your boat in exotic places. As we delighted in the wonderful Australian coast we also learned about engine repairs, replacing anchor winch hoses ( and removing the spilt oil from the ruptured hose) and how to get off rocks without damaging the hull (thank goodness we are steel). We also discovered the joys of many new friendships. A surprisingly large number of couples like us from all nations who are using their boats to see the world. There have been many great 'sundowners' in lots of cockpits. We share our stories and have great pot luck dinners where we all prepare a dish.
During 1998 we took part in the Darwin to Ambon (Indonesia) yacht race followed by three months cruising through Indonesia visiting the Komodo dragons, Bali and wonderful Tanjung Putting in Kalamantan where we spent two days amongst the magnificent orangutans at that park's rehabilitation centre. These animals are threatened (as are many others) by illegal and legal logging of the rapidly depleting rainforest areas. We sadly watched local fishermen destroying both the coral and the fish stock by using dynamite to get their catch. We left Truant at a marina near Singapore for a trip back to Australia where we found our various offspring had survived without us. But we missed them a lot.
In 1999 we slowed down and decided to spend the year in and around Malaysia and Thailand's west coasts. We cruised the stunning rock- island dotted Phang Nga Bay made famous many years before by 'The Man with the Golden Gun' and watched with interest the filming of parts of 'The Beach' and 'Anna and The King'. We feasted on fish, prawns and lobster brought to the boat most nights by locals. After some major carpentry work on Truant to make her more comfortable, we undertook six weeks of back-pack travel through northern Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. This included a marvelous trip by local cargo boat down the wild Mekong River to Luang Prabang, a World Heritage site and the old capital of Loas. We recommend a visit. We returned to Melbourne for my son's 21st and a general catch up before we finally prepared the yacht for its Indian Ocean crossing.
The year 2000 was amazing. We had two wonderful 14 day (non-stop) passages crossing the historic trade routes of the Indian Ocean. We stopped first at Cochin in India where Vasco Da Gama died and where cultures of the world have been crossing and clashing for thousands of years. We were impressed at the lack of obvious poverty in this - one of the richest states of India. Next landfall was Oman, a very different place where local women wore the purda, Despite the heat we also dressed modestly. Sailing increases your cultural awareness.
There had been two pirate attacks earlier in the year on Australian boats travelling in this area so we formed into small groups and sailed along the barren coast of the Yemen into the Red Sea. During this time, and indeed all through our voyaging, we keep in touch with other yachts through an SSB Radio. Daily 'scheds' with other yachts (some of whom we only meet on the radio) are an important communication and safety tool for us all. We are also able to hear Radio Australia which keeps us up to date.
We had a fantastic and safe two months exploring the countries of Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. We enjoyed the snorkeling in remote reefs and khors (harbours entered through the reefs and surrounded by desert), anchorages with nothing but sand and camels by their shores. The cities of Massawa and Suakin in spite of much poverty were welcoming and friendly and the local markets, although basic, kept us supplied with fresh foods. We visited (by road and too briefly ) the specatular Karnak and Thebes temples and tombs at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and from Suez we spent several days entranced with the various historic sections of Cairo and Alexandria.
We felt dwarfed by mega cargo vessels as we passed through the Suez Canal into the Med. and were surprised to find that nearly 200 yachts had travelled north through the Red Sea in 2000.
We had a month in Israel, a country rich in history, with splendid landscapes and great places to cruise your boat. It has changed our PPE plans. We originally anticipated being away for five to six years. We now expect to stay in Mediterranean waters for several more years yet and this year we will cruise in a rally around the Black Sea and visit places such as Varna, Constanta, Sebastapol and Odessa. The Black Sea was not in our thoughts when we started out!
It has been great to have our children and friends join us from time to time along the way. We have been lucky also to have had home-based friends who have been good enough to look after our personal affairs and sort out the inevitable financial or other crises. Along the way we have added to our crew with a one-eyed cat from Thailand called Choa Nam (which means Sea Gypsy and he is in the picture) and recently a loveable dumped Turkish dog called Tilki (Fox in Turkish). They do get on together and add to our cruising pleasures and responsibilities.
We consider ourselves very privileged to be doing what we planned. The places and people we have met have enriched us. Most importantly we have become part of a community of fellow sailors who share our spirit of adventure, respect for the sea and each other and concern for the world's sadly deteriorating environment. We thoroughly recommend this way of life to those of you who are thinking about it.
Do get out here and enjoy.
- Ensure you both want to go sailing - one person being reluctant would make it hard
- Set a dead-line and go - the boat will never be 'ready'
- Consider the boat will be your home so it should be comfortable and safe.
- Take plenty of spares from Australia - compatible replacements are hard to get
- Simplify your finances as much as possible - direct debits, phone banking helps
- Take too many clothes (John likes this one)
- Put off going until. . . .
- Think you can't do it