Jennifer and Corrie Schutte reek of diesel when they see their „Wilson Street“ for the last time. With every meter the yacht drifts out of the slipstream of the tanker into the open sea, it becomes the plaything of the hurricane. The spray whips horizontally across the sea, robbing the view. Shortly afterwards the boat with the unusual name disappeared, swallowed by a grey backdrop of rough seas, 90 nautical miles northeast of Malta.
Jennifer and Corrie – she 61 years old, he 68 – stand on the bridge of „Team Osprey“, the tanker under Maltese flag that rescued them from distress at sea. Exhausted and tired, soaking wet from the waves that rolled over the Sun Odyssey 40.3 like a steam roller over a gravel road. It is September 16th, the day on which the Australians lost their boat but were given a new life. And all Jennifer thinks about at that moment is the smell of diesel that stubbornly sticks to her soaked clothes.
„Excuse me, we stink,“ she says to the Filipino captain, who had the shipwrecked people brought to the bridge, as soon as they had climbed the slippery rope ladder up the 15 meter-high side of the ship. And that in gusts of over 80 knots. Too much has happened in the past hours for the two Australians to be able to put their thoughts in order.
Disaster of biblical proportions
11:43 a.m. is the last photo taken by a crew member of the abandoned Wilson Street. A lifebuoy is floating behind the boat in troubled sea, you can still see the line of the liferaft that failed. The end of a decade-long dream, destroyed by a hurricane – the Medicane „Ianos“. The Mediterranean hurricane will hit Greece three days later and claim several lives. Local media speak of a „catastrophe of biblical proportions“.
Corrie has been an avid sailor since childhood. The dream of sailing around the world has haunted his mind since he could think. In his mid-20s he builds his first own boat. He still has to finish the hull of the steel yacht, then the money runs out. In Jennifer Corrie he finds a woman who shares his passion for sailing. They have three children and live in Perth on the west coast of Australia.
Corrie is a consultant for mining companies. He works in Finland, Mongolia and Indonesia, in Vietnam and Venezuela and many African countries. The more countries he gets to know, the bigger his dream becomes to explore the world on a sailboat. At the latest when he retires and the children are out of the house. But shortly before his retirement he gets an offer from Panama. For two years the couple moves to Central America. But after that, the couple decides, it should finally start.
Barefoot across the Atlantic
And so in January 2019 Jennifer and Corrie enter a plane to Croatia with all their belongings. The plan: to sail from the Mediterranean to Australia. They have the starting capital for their adventure from selling an apartment they bought many years ago on Wilson Street in Newcastle. Hence the unusual name of the boat, which is already their fourth.
The boat search on the Adriatic Sea takes longer than expected. Many of the yachts offered on the Internet have little in common with the advertisements. It takes weeks until the couple find the Sun Odyssey 40.3, built in 2005, near Pula. A boat that they like.
In spring Jennifer and Corrie set sail. The adventure, which they have been looking forward to for decades, can begin. Fantastic weeks in Croatia and Greece pass by. The fun-loving couple, who immediately find friends in every port, wants to sail first to Tunisia, where they plan to haul out and prepare for the long journey. For the winter they plan to cross the Atlantic on the barefoot route.
Tunisia seems a good choice. On the one hand the country is cheap, on the other hand Australians are only allowed to stay in the Schengen area for three months at a time. After the carefree weeks in the Adriatic, a large part of the time budget has already been used up. So they have to leave the EU soon. When they are in Greece, they spontaneously change their plans. They like the Mediterranean, so why should they rush? They set course for Turkey. They want to spend the winter on the south coast. In the 80s Jennifer was already backpacking there. Now she wants to show Corrie the country that impressed her so much back then. In mid-October they will moor in the city harbor of Kaş.
2020 – a bewitched year
As relaxed as the year 2019 was for the Australians, the new year begins as bewitched. The Corona Pandemic destroys all plans. Instead of sailing out, Corrie is trapped for weeks on Wilson Street. The Turkish government places all over 65-year-olds under house arrest. Since Wilson Street is right next to the Coast Guard, which meticulously watches over the Corona measures, weeks pass before Corrie can set foot ashore again. He is particularly hurt by the fact that the other sailors, including two other Australian yachts that also winter in the city harbor, are still allowed to sail along the coast. But Corrie is stuck. Only in May Wilson Street is allowed to leave the harbor with a special permit, but only to moor again in an opposite bay at a restaurant jetty.
The typical gulets are put back into the water, so the private yachts have to clear the harbor. As beautiful as the bay is, it is unprotected from north winds. And so it happens that on a stormy night the small flotilla, which had to leave the sheltering city harbor, is literally worn down at the pier. Several boats are damaged. Also Wilson Street has to be craned out and have the gel coat and the rudder repaired.
Politics thwart plans
When the Corona restrictions are lifted in June, Corrie and Jennifer continue their journey. The plan is to sail slowly over the Greek islands towards Malta. But now politics thwart their plans. Greece denies entry to all boats coming from Turkey. For weeks they wait on the west coast of Turkey, hoping that the entry ban will be lifted. But it does not fall. If they want to stick to their plan to cross the Atlantic in winter 2020, they will have to leave. If necessary, without stopping in Greece, 650 nautical miles non-stop.
On August 29, Jennifer and Corrie clear out in Didim on the Turkish Aegean Sea. Actually a short act, but there is a problem. The Australians should pay a fine of 2000 Lira, about 250 Euro. They had anchored off Marmaris too close to the promenade, the coast guard had reported them, the officials say. Grinding their teeth they pay the fine – and leave Turkey.
Trouble with the coastguard
It seems as if fate has conspired against them. Even in the windy Cyclades they have to motor a lot. They are just at the top of Ios, when a fishing line gets caught in the propeller. Corrie sets course for the island to free the propeller in a remote bay. And as they are already anchored, they want to stay there for the night to rest. But it doesn’t take long for the coast guard to come into the bay. The Australians are in the bay illegally. The officials threaten a fine of 5.000 euros, and the two would have to be quarantined for two weeks if they did not immediately continue their journey. While Jennifer is already pulling anchor, the coast guard warns: One more violation and they will not get off lightly. „We have you on the radar!“ To be on the safe side, Corrie switches off the AIS.
The calm continues. The engine runs around the clock. If there is no wind, there won’t be enough diesel to reach Malta. And then, when the wind finally picks up on the third day, and Corrie wants to set the mainsail, it seems as if they have a stowaway on board: Murphy. Whose law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Next, the mainsail ruptures
And so the mainsail furling system jams and the sail rips. There are still more than 400 miles ahead of the Australians, and there is not enough diesel to motor the whole distance, Greece is taboo and to sail only with the foresail seems to be no alternative. With the expected westerly winds they have to be able to run upwind. Ergo, they have to go back to Turkey and have the sail and furling system repaired.
On the way back to Turkey Murphy strikes again. When Corrie contacts the authorities in Didim, he is told that they are not allowed to check in again without having been to another country first. The skipper tries Bodrum, but the answer is the same. Then he tries Datça, opposite the Greek island of Symi. There, he had been told, the regulations are a bit more relaxed. And indeed. The Wilson Street may enter.
Valuable time elapses
The repairs to the sail and mast take a week. The spare part for the main furling system must first be ordered. Valuable time passes. After all that, the sailmakers offer to bill in such a way that the Australians can have the VAT refunded when checking out. A well-meant tip, but it backfires. Because now the customs authorities have found out that Corrie and Jennifer were allowed to enter Turkey again, but not their boat.
For the illegal import the officials call for a fine of 8.000 euros. In negotiations lasting for hours the Australians get the fine reduced to 2.000 Lira – again 250 euro is lost. Today Corrie laughs about the anecdote. „Every time we wanted to leave Turkey, we had to pay a fine.“ At dusk, twelve hours later than planned, Wilson Street finally leaves Datça bay and heads back to Malta.
Everything from scratch
The Australians again have 650 nautical miles ahead of them and expect to sail for about a week. This time they also have enough diesel on board to be able to motor for a large part of the distance should the wind fail them once again. They feel prepared and safe. The wind forecast speaks of calm weather. There are no signs of the Medicane yet. At the height of the Peleponnes, they want to load new weather data once again, when they are close enough to the coast to have mobile phone reception. The Australians do not have a satellite phone on board, Jennifer and Corrie have planned to buy one for the Atlantic crossing. In the Mediterranean they saw no reason for the expensive phone. They could not have known that Greece would become a no-go area.
For the first few days through the Greek islands, the engine was running non-stop again. Corrie is annoyed. This is not how he imagined the trip. On the third day he sets sail. At only two knots Wilson Street is somewhat dilly dallying through the Mediterranean. The calm is balm for the soul, but again valuable hours pass by. If they hadn’t lost twelve hours in clearing out and another six hours in sailing in the doldrums, they could have easily reached Malta.
But fate had conspired against them. When they finally reach the Peleponnes, the Australian cell phone goes on strike. The roaming does not work. And so they don’t get any new weather data. Plan B also fails. If they can’t download weather data, they wanted to call a friend for a weather update. But the call fails as well. And so they continue to motor.
The wind is picking up
Only on Monday, September 14th, the wind increases. Except for the last two 20-liter canisters, Corrie has already refilled all diesel reserves. But finally he can sail. Everything seems perfect now, Murphy has gone ashore. This is exactly how he had imagined the trip. And then the fishing rod is buzzing too. Corrie pulls a handsome tuna on deck. Sailing can be so wonderful.
The aft Meltemi, blowing down the Adriatic Sea, keeps gaining speed, the Sun Odyssey surfs the wave towards Malta. At dusk, Jennifer and Corrie see lightening on the horizon. But the storm is far away. As always, Corrie takes the night shift, dozing during the day while Jennifer watches. After five days at sea, both are exhausted but happy.
On Tuesday the wind picks up more and more, the waves get higher and higher. Corrie reefs the sails. „We have always felt absolutely safe,“ says Jennifer. Even in the night to Wednesday, when clouds cloud the sky for the first time. „There wasn’t a star to be seen,“ says Corrie. „it was pitch black.“ The next morning, only two hours before Jennifer calls the sea rescue, the two enjoy their breakfast together below deck. It is less than 100 nautical miles to Malta, and they will reach their destination the following night. The anticipation grows.
Read part 2 Rescue from Wilson Street