Greek seas are of the deepest of all blues. The horizons are full of myths and legends and the music full of joy. It was here that I met a sailor who’s eyes are of blue of sky, deep like these waters and full of wordless emotions, and full of songs and genuine curiosity.
Right before the restriction has happened (COVID19), a boat came into our home port in Corfu. The two sailors aboard her, Captain Marco and his dear friend Fabio, were instantly welcomed to be part of our little hippie sailors community. Each day was a day of becoming more bonded by pure casualty and genuine admiration.
Marco has travelled the world, sailed across oceans, has seen concerts that I could only dream of, sings songs with the melancholy and has the voice of a storyteller–soft, precise, utterly magnetic–who’s got the wisdom of the world inside his soul, yet humble, yet like a kid, all curious and loving life.
When the time came and he was ready to sail away, we all couldn’t bear the moment and silence accompained us for most of the day thinking that we all wished to be all together for a bit longer. But captains have to sail, and just as they arrive by surprise in a port, so fast did they leave it, and took a bit of our thoughts and souls with them (that’s rare). We promised to meet in few months, hope that Neptune doesn’t screw this one for us!
And here it is, in his voice and words:
– Tell me about your background and where you come from (what’s your story, more or less)?
Alright then, I am from Switzerland, born in Zurich. My former years were in Basel until I turned 17. I grew up far from the sea. I wasn’t even dreaming of it at all. However, I’ve always wished to see the world and travel a lot. I never dreamt about boating, even though I knew I wanted to live by the water, river, lake, sea. I had this imprinted in my dreams. So this is my childhood.
Equador 1977, Russia and USA 1981/82
– What is your age, or age range?
Less than 70
– Are you a liveaboard?
No, I’m not a pure liveaboard. I live six months a year on the boat. The other half I spend in Portugal. I lived there for 20 years, so the other half of a year I spend living my Portuguese life.
– How do you earn money and what did you do before?
I have the same occupation that I have had for the past 30 years and I do it both on land, in my Portugal home, and on the boat: I am an illustrator, specializing in storyboard illustration. I’ve been doing my job remotely and I still work.
– How did you start sailing?
I started sailing… Strangely enough, I did two Atlantic crossings without knowing anything about sailing. I got invited by Fabio (his dear friend with whom he sailed for a very long time since, on multiple occasions, and the subject of an upcoming interview) for the first crossing in 1981/1982. He asked me if I was interested and I thought to myself that it was very interesting and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was prepared. To me, it was like crossing the desert. If anyone were to ask me if I wanted to cross the desert on a camel I wouldn’t hesitate and just do it. So I said yes to this experience without even blinking. I quit my job in an advertising agency, actually, it was the only two years that I was employed in my life. I flew to Antigua to meet Fabio and the crew and then we sailed back to Italy, to Sanremo. However, I must admit that I didn’t know anything about sailing and during the crossing, I didn’t learn shit, but I was a good helmsman. I did what I had to do, even though my ambition was never to manage a boat. To me, it was more of participating and having fun in a nice, unique experience. It turns out I was quite precise at steering and was not zig-zagging much with the boat. As a reminder, we did not have GPS and autopilot at that time, so it was constant steering in shifts and being on the helm with a cup of coffee and eyes on the horizon. It was fantastic and I loved it!
That’s how I got into sailing but I didn’t learn much about sailing, but I have learned how to coexist with people, appreciate the experience, and love the sea. We didn’t have any dangerous issues, it was a beautiful trip without any dramatic events, just like it should be. It took us about 2 weeks from Antigua to the Azores, and from there to Ibiza another 10 days, and from Ibiza to San Remo… the whole trip took about two months. I stayed for a while in the Caribbean, where we didn’t sail much. In fact, our only sailing was during the crossing.The first day everybody was a bit ill and dull, but it wasn’t dramatic. We sailed on a 55-foot steel boat, it was quite a large schooner.
Actually sailing, I started about 10 years ago when I bought my son a Laser dingy and he started his sailing lessons. I said to myself that I would be a fool not to try to sail, so I learned how to sail on a Lazer. That was when I really started to like it and dream about boats, and check the boats, and started wanting a boat. I found a boat I liked in Greece, even though I had expenses and my son was still studying. I thought I could buy the boat in Greece and sail it back to Portugal making a beautiful trip through the Med. I never thought of Greece as a place to stay, but I soon discovered that there was no sense in bringing the boat all the way back home while Greece was the most perfect place!
After Portugal, there’s the open Ocean, either Morocco which is absolutely not a short trip, or maybe Sevilla sailing up the river Guadiana that divides Spain from Portugal… but, when you see it once or twice it is about it! So I kept my old boat in Poros for about three years, then I sold it. I found the current boat and I picked her up from Preveza about two months ago. And then the lockdown happened. It was pure luck to end up in this marina and I feel very privileged.
– Who do you sail with?
I started sailing with a small boat and half the time I sail alone, but I often have friends and family visiting. I definitely prefer sailing in the company but I did some trips, like from Italy to Corfu, by myself. Also, I sailed once with my son to Calabria from Greece and got to my friend’s Fabio beachfront resort “Sottovento” and anchored right in front of the establishment. A month later I sailed on the same route back alone.
Now I sail with Fabio, my dear friend who is helping me to sail the boat to Italy. We picked her up from Preveza and decided to sail before he had to open his beachfront resort as he is fully booked from April 2020 on. He decided to help me to prepare the boat, check the boat, and eventually sail it with me. My plan was to sail around Sicily this summer. I was very happy with his help. So, we met in Athens in mid-February and we started preparing her. She is a kind of boat I never sailed before. I used to have one with furling mainsail, and this one doesn’t have it so I am very happy he came along so I can get more experienced with this boat. Now I feel a bit guilty because he decided to help me out and now he’s stuck here in Greece. But I am stuck with my oldest friend that I’ve known since 1976 and we’ve met in Mexico, on Isla Mujeres. At the time the island had one main road and not many cars. I was backpacking there. At one point I saw this huge Buick, with a New York plate. And I thought: “ Who the hell brings a big car to this tiny island where you can’t even drive?” There were just two taxis, that probably didn’t even have much work and there was this big car that was quite hard to move. Turned out the car belonged to Fabio who was traveling with his two friends. Shortly after we met and we got along well. I continued my travels with them. It took us a few months to get from Mexico, through Belize, Guatemala, and all the way to Panama. I moved on to Ecuador where I lived for 3 years, Fabio went back to Mexico where he run a Pizzeria in Baja California.
– How did your life change since you started sailing?
It didn’t really change… I’ve always been very lucky to be able to do what I like, up to some extent. There are always restrictions. Being a freelancer I can always decide how much time I devote to working. The restrictions usually are the bills that have to be paid. But everyone knows how much they need for living.
– What kind of a boat do you own and what kind of boats have you had previously?
Bavaria 38 cruiser, she is a limited edition with a 2mt lead keel made in 2005. My first boat was a Gib Sea 302 30ft.
Marco’s boat now and on the previous one with son Aldo
– What do you love and hate most about your boat?
I don’t know it very well yet, so I can’t say much about it. I love it! There are some irrelevant technical things to fix, but I think each boat has its problems. There’s nothing that I hate, she’s my brand new boat and I’ve been living aboard for two months already and I still can’t criticize anything. I love her!
– Where is your boat’s name from? (previous owner story? Or why did you pick this name?)
I am lousy with names. I have a very weak imagination when it comes to names. However, the previous name was impossible to keep and I wanted to change it. I came up with some concepts for names. I talked to my sister Gabriela and she mentioned “Mirika”. It‘s the name of an African woman that I also knew when part of my family lived in Africa. She was a very important person to my sister. We always liked that name, it’s very pretty and easy to say on the SOS and it’s a visually beautiful name considering all the pointy characters. That’s how Mirika became Mirika! You know how the first three times you use a name, it’s a bit strange and detached but after three or four times it becomes the natural name. The name before was “Blue Elefant”.
– What is your dreamboat?
Oh yes, it’s your boat! Your Amel Super Maramu. But I have to consider the fact that I will sail alone often and my boat is about the size I can handle. So she is the perfect choice for me, I like how she looks and I love this boat.
– If you could pick any fictional character to sail with as crew, who would it be?
See, I always had great crew members that I would like to have back again. Those are my characters! They were the ones who taught me a lot, helped me a lot and I spent a long time with them without issues. I don’t have heroes and fictional characters that I’d prefer instead of them.
– What’s the best thing about sailing and your favorite moment while sailing?
It will sound very flat what I’ll say but it’s when the sails are filled with wind and the boat starts to move and I can turn off the engine and it doesn’t matter how fast I sail, not below three knots, I just like to sail even if slowly. Those are the nicest moments, when she sails silently with the sea breeze.
– What is the one county that you would most want to (and can) sail to that you almost certainly won’t get to, and what’s stopping you?
Out of curiosity that’s probably Antarctica, although I don’t like cold weather… but when I see pictures of it I think I would like to be there, sailing by the icebergs and I wouldn’t like to be there on a cruiser. But it’s not urgent. As I mentioned before, being in Greece for me is a nearly perfect place. Many sailors that have been around the world and that have seen many places think just the same as me.
– What are the most memorable anchorages and places you sailed to?
One place I like very much, it is Othonoi. It is about 25 miles north of Corfu towards Italy. There’s a bay you can anchor, in front of a mountain and it is possible to hike up to the top through a Cyprus forest. I was there in August, there were not many boats. Usually, sailors in transit from Italy take a quick stop there. Also, all the places I sailed to with my son, Aldo, on our father and son vacation, those are very special. That’s the best memory! Every place shared with a special company becomes beautiful.
– Do you remember your first sail and anchorage, the country you sailed to?
I did two crossings, first from the Caribbean to Europe and the second one from Italy back to the Caribbean two years later. We actually had no anchoring at all, because after crossing we got to the Azores and we had the alongside mooring just in a common harbor. Probably the first anchorage was on the second Atlantic crossing on Les Saintes Island by Martinique. But that was a rainy, windy, grey, and a cold day for the Caribbean, it’s something you’d not expect there. However, it was very nice, because after three weeks on the go we started smelling the earth in the air one or two days before getting there. The smell of the earth is spicy, the nose was not accustomed to smelling it anymore so we realized easily that we were close to land. It was a very beautiful sensation!
– What is the craziest thing that happened while sailing?
I do not have memories of any weird or bizarre moments, nor places.
– Scariest moment?
I had the same skipper from the first and second crossing and there were seven of us aboard at that time, Fabio was there too and he was aspiring to become a skipper. So the official skipper from the first two crossings asked me to come and deliver a boat with him from Argentario in Italy to Antigua because the owner was in a hurry and he had no crew and was sailing only with his wife. I accepted and within two weeks I rented out my apartment and got ready to leave. Everything was not well prepared and the owner wanted the boat in a place at a certain time. It was Christmas and it was already late to leave, and we were still in the Med. The weather was not good. On Christmas, at midnight we sailed out towards Sardinia, Bouche de Bonifacio. We had very intimidating weather. The wife of the skipper was not able to helm and effectively there were just the two of us steering the boat. The broad reach wind was building up quickly and starting being scary. With that kind of wind and waves, it is very important to remain concentrated. At one point the skipper handed me over the helm and went to sleep. Sometimes I glanced back just to see this black walls building up and some wave then crashing into the Cockpit. At that time I had to wear glasses because I was strongly myopic, -7, which was like being legally blind (I did the surgery later in life). At one point a big wave wiped my glasses off my face, I couldn’t see or find them and I couldn’t leave the helm because we had no Autopilot at that time. I had to crunch over the compass, my eyes only a few centimeters above the dimly lit dome, even though I calling the skipper, the noise was so strong that none heard me from down below. After a couple of hours, I finished my shift, completely tired and devastated when the skipper came up for his shift. I found my glasses in the cockpit after my shift.
– Share an anecdote / a funny story while …
When I started sailing 4 years ago with my first boat, I met Kate and Davide, a couple on a beautiful and elegant, very classic 50 ft. Sciarelli boat. They where my mentors. They invited me to sail along with them. I followed them like a duck. They taught me a lot, introduced me into the art of anchoring.. Then the moment came where we had to part for different directions. I sailed back from the Cyclades to Poros alone. Unfortunately, the weather was bumpy and the wind was up to 20 knots, I really had to work to get to my destination. By the end of the day the weather calmed down to zero wind and it was beautiful. So I did my maneuver to dock but, since my boat was so small that it didn’t have space to store the dinghy, I had it attached on the stern of the boat. Of course, while docking the boat I had to move the dinghy from the back to the side of the boat. I made my maneuver, dropped the anchor, and backed up to the dock, threw my lines, and noticed that weirdly the boat was not reacting to my anchor. It felt weird, that was because I dropped my anchor into the dinghy!
– Do you have any rituals on the boat?
Normally I don’t have rituals of any kind. Since Fabio and I are stuck together we started having the ritual of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a specific time. He is the wizard and the master in the kitchen. He owns a restaurant in his beach and knows all those exquisite secrets of Italian cuisine.. I am a lucky guy!
– What are the plans for the future?
I never make plans for the future, at least not long term plans. In my life, I always reacted. I don’t have many goals. Well, this summer I was supposed to sail around Sicily and my wife, Isabel, was going to reach me and spend more time aboard since she wasn’t able to so before. It is not possible at this time and in these conditions. Also, I had a list of friends that were going to come to visit me and see my new boat. Of course, they had to call it off. But I understand, you always react to what life throws at you. However, if I get confident enough with the boat I might sail alone, even though there’s always someone who might join. I always consider the probability of sailing alone.
– What is your dream?
I don’t really have an answer to this question. Of course, I’d like the people aboard and the ones I love to be happy and being able to make them participate in my dream because what I am doing is my dream. This is my dream life. It’s the same like being on the top of a mountain and getting goosebumps, I’d like to share it with someone.
– What’s your ocean “anthem”?
No anthem, but I discovered lately some Hank Williams songs, Country Music, not very related to life in the sea. I just like hearing music.
– What is your idea of freedom?
The possibility to react when there’s an obstacle. Some people can’t, they just get run over by the events. I feel very lucky to be able to adapt. Someone said that having a boat is the opposite of freedom because you become the slave of the boat. So it’s where you set the limits for the definition of freedom.
– How have your plans changed since COVID19?
They haven’t changed much for me except that now I would’ve been back in Portugal, my boat in Rocella Ionica in Italy until June and after that, I would’ve come back and sailed around Sicily and now the plans changed but it’s irrelevant. I feel very privileged and actually COVID 19 for me has brought me to Corfu and I love it here, every day. I enjoy the slowness, I don’t feel guilty for not being as active the way I was supposed to be.
I know that the world is big, the oceans are vast and horizons awaiting new views and far-flung adventures. But I also know that in the oceans of sailors, they will always meet again… the chain of friendship is strong!
Ahoy, Captain Marco! Fair winds, wherever they may take you!
To view Marco’s works, please visit his website : http://www.marcoschaaf.com/