‘I decided to just go alone'
Yachting Monthly|October 2021
Chris Ayres realised a childhood dream when he sailed from Britain to New Zealand, via Panama, in a 28ft yacht – bravely setting sail solo when crew let him down at the 11th hour
Chris Ayres

A particularly vicious squall was under way when the reality of my situation hit me. I was alone in the southern Pacific Ocean, 14 days out from the Galapagos Islands 1,000 miles in my wake and bound for the Marquesas, still 2,000 miles away. Far from any shipping lanes and far from any help; I had to manage on my own.

How had I come to be here? I was sailing my boat, Sea Bear, a Vancouver 28, single-handed across the Pacific.

On the point of retiring from work aged 66, it dawned on me that maybe I could revive an almost forgotten boyhood dream of a long ocean trip. I had thought that things like that were not in my reach, but here I was. I had the boat, the question was, was I up to it?

Gradually plans took shape and after a hectic time of preparation and planning I slipped away from Victoria Dock, Caernarfon to head out for the open sea.

It had not been my intention to go single-handed. I had arranged crew to go with me but with less than 24 hours before departure they dropped out. It left me in an awkward spot. I didn’t want to miss the weather window or leave any later, it was already mid August and I wanted to be across Biscay before September was out. Unlikely to find another crew member at such short notice I decided to just go alone. It made me a little nervous as I had never undertaken such a long passage solo before but I wasn’t about to let a little setback get in the way of months of effort and planning. A passage down the Irish Sea took me to the Isles of Scilly where I stopped very briefly to catch up on sleep and then I set out across Biscay. I discovered that the water was really blue out there and I came to understand the term bluewater sailor. I did have a bit of a gale which was uncomfortable but I also saw a whale, which surfaced alongside.

I made landfall in Ribadeo, northern Spain after a successful crossing. I then hopped, mostly day sails, down the coast of Spain and Portugal, taking time off to visit a few sites. In Cadiz I met up with Merel, who crewed with me to Rabat, Morocco, a fantastic experience, then onwards to the Canaries. Unfortunately, although Merel was excellent company, she was badly affected by seasickness, so wisely decided not to cross the Atlantic with me. I visited several of the islands and decided to make my departure from the delightful island of La Gomera.

This seemed apt as it was from here that Columbus set out with his three ships on his voyage of discovery. I was approached by potential crew seeking an Atlantic crossing. After some deliberation they crewed for me to the Cape Verde Islands. We spent Christmas here and then set out to cross the Atlantic to Martinique. We did not have very good weather for this crossing; it was far from the sunny skies with fluffy white clouds and kindly trade winds I had been led to expect from guides and other reports. Strong winds and big seas were had.

Singlehanded again I was seduced by the pleasures of the Caribbean so I spent two seasons there. My first season I hopped northwards up the chain of the Windwards and Leewards as far as St Martin, returning south to spend the hurricane season in Trinidad.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM YACHTING MONTHLYView All

Why It's Time To Pay Attention To Your Boat's Hoses

Your boat is full of hoses for many different purposes, many of them critical to essential onboard functions, and even keeping your boat afloat. Make sure they are fit for purpose, says Dag Pike

6 mins read
Yachting Monthly
September 2021

How Do You Offset Making Too Much Leeway?

A question of seamanship

2 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

10 Best Cruising Destinations For Bird Watching

10 Best Cruising Destinations For Bird Watching

10+ mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

Louisiades revisited

John Marley returns to the Louisiades, Papua New Guinea, for a second aid project – with 300 pairs of glasses and copies of YM

4 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

‘I decided to just go alone'

Chris Ayres realised a childhood dream when he sailed from Britain to New Zealand, via Panama, in a 28ft yacht – bravely setting sail solo when crew let him down at the 11th hour

8 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

MAXI 1100

As an understated fast cruiser with racing potential and a nicely appointed interior, the Maxi 1100 has much to recommend her. David Harding reports

10+ mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

BEAUPORT, JERSEY

Jane Cumberlidge escapes to Jersey’s south-west coast to anchor off one of the Channel Islands’ prettiest beaches

2 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

THE CONFESSIONAL

OWN UP TO YOUR SAILING SINS

3 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

Sailors aged 14 and 82 finish circumnavigations around Britain

Katie said the only challenging bit of her circumnavigation was going through the Menai Strait.

2 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021

ADVENTURE THE LONG WAY

Katy Stickland meets the skippers turning their backs on modern technology to take part in the slowest yacht race around the world - the Golden Globe Race

9 mins read
Yachting Monthly
October 2021