Puzzle’s maiden voyage: a memorable sail amidst the pandemic

Picture the salty sea air filling your lungs, the gentle sway of a ship beneath your feet, and the endless expanse of the Mediterranean Sea stretching out before you. This was the exhilarating scene as we embarked on our maiden voyage aboard our beloved sailing ship, Puzzle.

A maiden voyage, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a ship’s very first adventure on open waters. It’s a significant event, a baptism of sorts, marking the transition from a vessel being merely a vessel to becoming a seasoned sea traveler. For us, this maiden trip was more than just a nautical term. It represented the beginning of a dream, the first chapter in our story of exploration and (self) discovery at sea.

Our tale is one of adventure and learning, of facing challenges and overcoming them. It’s a story that takes place on the high seas, but also within the confines of a global pandemic. It’s about the thrill of setting sail for the first time, the lessons we learned along the way, and the resilience we discovered within ourselves as the world around us changed.

In the lines that follow, we’ll share with you some of the exhilarating highs and humbling lows of our journey. We’ll take you through our initial sailing lessons, the unexpected challenges we faced, and the additional training we undertook to better navigate our way. We’ll recount the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our plans and how we adapted to continue our voyage.

Join us as we set sail on this journey! Feel the wind in your hair, hear the creak of the lines, and taste the salt on your lips. For the duration of this voyage, this story is yours, too. Welcome to our maiden voyage on Puzzle!

sailboat puzzle maiden voyage mathieu and mirela letailleur
Photos from our maiden voyage. Probably the first and last time I wore those sailing gloves…

Our maiden voyage

As the sun rose on the 7th of March, we found ourselves standing on the deck of Puzzle, our newly acquired sailing ship. Puzzle was no ordinary vessel. She was an old ship, with a history as rich as the sea itself. Her hull bore a few marks from her previous voyages, and her sails, though weathered, held the promise of many more to come. As we prepared for our maiden voyage, the excitement was palpable. The air was thick with anticipation, and the sea, as if sharing our enthusiasm, sparkled under the afternoon sun.

Our home port, Santa Lucia Marina, a quaint little harbor nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean, was bustling with activity. The term home port refers to the port where a ship is based, a place that offers shelter after long voyages and serves as a starting point for new adventures. Though on paper it was the Port of Toulon, we were actually based in Santa Lucia in Saint-Raphaël, which for us, was more than just a geographical location. It was a place that held our dreams and aspirations, a place that marked the beginning of our journey.

As we untied the lines and set Puzzle free, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe. Here we were, two dreamers embarking on their first voyage, sailing into the unknown on an old ship that was new to us. The sea ahead was vast and uncharted, but we were ready. We had prepared for this moment, and now it was time to turn our dreams into reality.

As Puzzle glided out of the home port, we took a moment to take it all in. The sight of the harbor slowly receding into the distance, the sound of the waves crashing against the hull, the feel of the wind in our hair – it was all so surreal. This was it. Our maiden voyage had begun, and there was no turning back. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of an adventure that would change our lives forever.

The start was a flurry of motion. Mathieu took the helm, his hands steady on the wheel as I untied the lines. The sails, a canvas of white against the azure sky, began to billow outwards, filling with the wind as if they were lungs drawing in a deep breath. It was a sight to behold, the sails swelling with the sea breeze, their edges fluttering slightly as if quivering with the same excitement that coursed through our veins.

The wind was our ally, the invisible force propelling us forward on our maiden voyage. It whispered through the rigging, a symphony of soft rustles and high-pitched whistles that became the soundtrack of our journey. The ship responded to the wind’s call, leaning into it as we began to pick up speed, the water around us churning into a white froth as we cut through the waves.

Behind us, our home port began to recede, its familiar silhouette growing smaller with each passing moment. The boats bobbing gently in their berths and the quaint little harbor office – they all became distant specks on the horizon, a reminder of the safe haven we were leaving behind. It was a bittersweet moment, a mix of the exhilaration of embarking on our journey and the poignant farewell to the comfort of familiarity.

But there was no room for doubt or fear. As the sails billowed in the wind and our home port faded into the distance, we knew we were on the path we were meant to tread. The open sea awaited us, and with it, the promise of an unforgettable maiden voyage.

As we ventured further into the sea, we began to encounter our first set of challenges. When we switched and I took the helm, I felt that the rudder was stiff, resisting my attempts to steer the ship. A screeching noise filled the air, grating on my nerves. Mathieu dismissed it as a figment of my imagination, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was amiss.

Our maiden voyage was proving to be a baptism by fire. Strong gusts of wind rocked the ship, causing it to list dangerously, with the board touching the waterline and the fenders we had raised getting dragged by the sea once again along the boat. I found myself slipping from my seat at the helm, my heart pounding as I clung to the wheel. But Mathieu was quick to react, taking over the helm and steering us back to safety. It was a stark reminder of the power of the sea and the respect it commanded.

The source of the screeching noise soon became apparent. The steering wheel hadn’t been fully unlocked, causing it to squeak due to friction. It was a minor oversight, but one that served as a valuable lesson. Sea trials, or test runs, are crucial for identifying and addressing such issues. They help ensure the ship’s seaworthiness and the crew’s readiness, lessons we took to heart from our maiden trip.

Docking back at the port presented another set of challenges. Crosswinds pushed our ship into awkward positions, making navigation difficult. And we quickly realized why Mr. Isnar, the previous owner, had refrained from doing the docking himself during our marine survey. We struggled to maneuver Puzzle back into her berth, a task made more challenging by the neighboring sailboat encroaching on our allotted space and another sailboat being docked with the bow. This sailboat’s stern was not held tightly by the mooring and with every gust, it pushed our neighbor even more over our place. (This is also the cause behind our exploded fender.)

It was a grueling 40 minutes in Santa Lucia. While trying to dock, we encountered difficulties maneuvering our sailboat in reverse. As we waited for proper positioning, the wind caused us to sway and come dangerously close to other boats. In my efforts to prevent collisions and protect our own vessel while Mathieu was at the helm, I sustained multiple bruises on my arms because I used a boat hook and one hand to assist in pushing back when we were moving slowly.

Despite having onlookers around, none of them offered us any assistance. Our hopes were raised when we spotted an inflatable boat approaching, but unfortunately, it turned out to be just a passerby who circled around us and continued on their way. After some time, we finally managed to secure the sailboat back in its berth.

We collapsed on one of the cockpit benches, each with a Radler in hand, lost in our own thoughts about the situation we found ourselves in. Our maiden voyage had been a rollercoaster of emotions, filled with highs and lows. But it had also been a learning experience, one that had taught us the importance of preparation and adaptability. We were wondering if we had been overconfident, if we had made a mistake by buying a boat. What would we do? Should we sell it after only one short trip?

As we sat in the cockpit of Puzzle, sipping our lemony beers, we noticed a smaller sailing ship in the harbor. It was a charming old ship, not unlike our own, and it was being expertly maneuvered by two men. We watched with interest as one of them, clearly an experienced sailor, guided the other through the intricate dance of docking a sailboat. Their movements were fluid and confident, a stark contrast to our own struggles earlier.

We watched them, hoping to glean some wisdom from their actions, but they soon disappeared from our view. Disappointed, we finished our drinks and began gathering our belongings. The day was drawing to a close, and we had a house to clean and a long drive back to Bagnols-en-Forêt ahead of us.

As we walked down our pontoon towards the parking lot, we spotted the same sailboat from earlier. The two men were still on board, their faces lit by the soft glow of the setting sun. We approached them, introducing ourselves and expressing our admiration for their skillful handling of the sailboat.

We learned that they were father and son and that the father had recently purchased the sailboat second-hand. The son, Nicolas, was a professional skipper, which explained their smooth sailing earlier. We shared a bit about our own adventures with Puzzle and our maiden voyage, and to our surprise, Nicolas offered to give us some sailing lessons.

His offer was like a beacon of hope, a ray of light at the end of a challenging day. We eagerly agreed, arranging for two lessons – one at sea and another focused on port maneuvers. As we left the harbor that day, our hearts were lighter. Despite the challenges of our maiden voyage, we felt a renewed sense of hope and determination. We were ready to learn and grow, ready to face whatever the sea had in store for us and continue to live our dream of Med sailing.

sailing lessons pandemic
The global pandemic was getting serious

The unexpected turn of events

Just as we were beginning to find our sea legs, the world around us took an unexpected turn. News of the novel virus, COVID-19, began to dominate the airwaves. The pandemic was spreading rapidly, turning bustling cities into ghost towns and transforming our Mediterranean cruise into a voyage through uncharted waters.

Countries began to close their borders, and lockdowns were implemented in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. The world was changing, and we found ourselves in the midst of it all, aboard Puzzle, our sailing ship. It was a surreal experience, to say the least. One moment, we were planning our world cruise, mapping out routes, and dreaming of exotic destinations. Next, we were grappling with the reality of a global pandemic and the uncertainty it brought with it.

But amidst the chaos and confusion, we made a decision to continue our voyage and to keep sailing to Greece despite the storm. We were not naïve. We understood the risks and the challenges that lay ahead. But we also knew that we had each other and Puzzle, our trusty sailing ship. We had already weathered our maiden voyage, faced our fears, and learned some valuable lessons. And after some refresher sailing lessons with Nicolas, we would be ready to take on whatever the sea – and the world – had in store for us.

In the face of adversity, we chose to sail on. Because sometimes, the best way to weather a storm is to keep moving forward, to keep exploring, to keep living. And that’s exactly what we intended to do.

sailing lessons on rough sea
Puzzle and the sea during our sailing lessons with Nicolas

Additional sailing lessons on Puzzle

In the wake of our maiden voyage, we realized that there was still much to learn about sailing. Our encounter with Nicolas, the professional skipper, had opened our eyes to the importance of mastering port maneuvers and understanding the nuances of our sailing ship, Puzzle. So, we decided to take additional sailing lessons, a decision that would prove to be invaluable in our journey.

Our first lesson with Nicolas was spent out at sea. The sea was restless that day, its surface a tumultuous dance of waves whipped up by the wind. The conditions were challenging, but they provided the perfect backdrop for a lesson in sailing. As we sailed along the coast, Nicolas guided us through the process of dropping anchor for the first time – a maneuver we had never practiced during our sailing lessons at the Black Sea.

The waves were rougher than we had anticipated, and as I went to the bow and tried to follow Nicolas’s instructions, I found myself momentarily suspended in the air, my hands clutching the genoa’s line, my legs gripping the edge of the balcony, and my bottom hanging over the sideboard!

Nicolas and Mathieu rushed to my aid, but I assured them that I was alright. I just needed a moment to regain my footing, and soon, I was back on the boat. It was a startling experience, but it was also a valuable lesson in the unpredictability of the sea and the importance of staying calm under pressure.

After our adventure at sea, we headed back to the port. Nicolas, eager to teach us how to dock Puzzle in our spot, took the helm. However, even he struggled with the task, quickly realizing that the layout of the pontoon and our specific spot made docking extremely difficult, even in light winds. Seeing a professional skipper face the same challenges we had was both comforting and enlightening. It made us realize that we were not alone in our struggles, and it gave us a newfound appreciation for the complexities of sailing.

Our second lesson with Nicolas was focused on port maneuvers. We started by filling up the gas tank in the other basin of Santa Lucia Marina, a task that seemed simple in comparison to what was to come. As we navigated through the harbor, Nicolas guided us, helping us understand the perfect speed and movements for the docking Puzzle. It was a challenging lesson, but by the end of it, we had a better grasp of how to handle our sailing ship.

In the end, we discovered that we needed to reverse at full speed to maintain proper maneuverability with Puzzle. Therefore, every time we had to dock, we had to ensure that we were doing everything correctly. This was important because when reversing at full speed, inertia could cause us significant problems.

These additional sailing lessons were more than just an opportunity to improve our sailing skills. They were a testament to our determination to continue our world cruise, to face the challenges head-on, and to learn and grow from each experience. And as we mastered the art of port maneuvers, we felt more confident, more prepared for whatever our voyage had in store for us.

The impact of the pandemic on our cruise

The COVID-19 pandemic, a global crisis that swept across the world in 2020, had a profound impact on our Mediterranean cruise. As countries went into lockdown and borders closed, our world cruise took an unexpected turn.

On March 9, 2020, Italy went into lockdown. The news hit us like a wave, disrupting our plans and casting a shadow of uncertainty over our voyage. We immediately thought of sailing to Corsica, hoping to wait out the lockdown there until Italy’s borders reopened. However, a few hours later, we learned that Corsica was closing schools and nursing homes, among other things. The situation was escalating quickly, and we had to make a decision.

homemade mucenici grandma recipe
One of my homemade mucenici

We decided to go sailing in Spain, despite the rapidly changing situation. The area was turning red fast, indicating a high level of COVID-19 cases, but we were undeterred. Even if the Spanish border closed, we reasoned, we could leisurely discover the coast of France. We ended that day with a sense of optimism, savoring the warmth and sweetness of my homemade mucenici, a traditional Romanian baked treat soaked in honey and covered in walnuts, made only on March 9, a day when 40 saints are celebrated.

The next day, schools closed in France. We went to the shops to buy supplies for ourselves and Mathieu’s family. To our surprise, we still found toilet paper and pasta. However, the rice was almost gone.

restaurant le bistrot bagnols en foret food
Final supper at Le Bistrot Bagnols-en-Forêt

At my sister-in-law’s urging, we went out with several friends to have dinner at Le Bistrot, one of our village’s restaurants, not knowing when we would get to do that again. Her words proved to be prophetic: the next day, all non-essential retailers in France were ordered to close.

On March 11, France moved to alert level 3 for the CDC. For us, this meant that since we were already in France at the time of the alert, our travel and medical insurance would only cover us for 10 days for evacuation, as long as we were traveling to a non-level 3 country.

The pandemic had turned our maiden voyage into an unprecedented adventure. We faced challenges and uncertainties, but we also discovered our resilience and adaptability. Despite the difficulties, we decided to continue our voyage, navigating not just the sea but also the rapidly changing global situation. Our experiences during the pandemic, our struggles and triumphs, became an integral part of our world cruise, a testament to our determination to keep sailing, no matter what.

Red sky at night, sailors delight.
Sunset in Bagnols-en-Forêt: Red sky at night, sailors delight

Uncharted waters: a maiden voyage amidst a global pandemic

As we reflect on our maiden voyage, we can’t help but marvel at the journey we’ve embarked upon. What started as an exciting adventure on our sailing ship Puzzle, quickly turned into a lesson in resilience and adaptability in the face of the unexpected. The COVID-19 pandemic, an unforeseen global crisis, would become an integral part of our voyage, shaping our experiences and teaching us invaluable lessons.

Our maiden voyage taught us more than just how to sail. It taught us the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. We learned that a world cruise is not just about navigating the sea, but also about navigating unforeseen circumstances and rapidly changing situations. The pandemic, while a significant challenge, also presented an opportunity for us to demonstrate our resilience and adaptability.

We learned that even in the face of a global crisis, it’s possible to continue our journey, adapt to new circumstances, and find joy and adventure in the unexpected. We learned that a maiden voyage is not just a journey across the sea, but also a journey of personal growth and discovery.

For those thinking about embarking on their maiden voyage, we have one piece of advice: be prepared for the unexpected. A maiden voyage is an adventure, filled with excitement and challenges. But it’s also an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover new things about yourself and the world around you.

Set sail! Embark on your maiden voyage. Navigate the uncharted waters. And remember, no matter what challenges you face, keep sailing! The sea may be vast and unpredictable, but it’s also full of possibilities and adventures waiting to be discovered.

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Mirela Letailleur, a seasoned travel blogger hailing from the vibrant landscapes of Romania, now calls the picturesque South of France her home. With her extensive experience in navigating the diverse terrains of Europe, she has become a trusted voice in the travel community. Her blog, The Travel Bunny, is a treasure trove of insights and guides, offering affordable and enriching travel experiences across Europe. Mirela’s unique approach to travel, coupled with her knack for problem-solving, has made her a go-to resource for travelers seeking an authentic and budget-friendly journey.

But Mirela’s expertise doesn’t stop at land-based adventures. She’s also an experienced sailor, having embarked on a maiden voyage across the Mediterranean and taken sailing lessons in both France and Romania. Her firsthand experiences, from sailing lessons to navigating the unexpected challenges of a global pandemic at sea, make her an invaluable guide for those looking to embark on their own sailing adventures. Whether you’re a wannabe coffee guru or an aspiring sailor, Mirela Letailleur’s expert advice and engaging storytelling will make your travel and sailing dreams a reality.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

After joining us on our maiden voyage, check out these travel blog posts
Our sailboat search in France: finding the right sailboat
Used boat inventory discovery before sailing the Mediterranean Sea
Croatia Sailing Vacation Tips & 3 Best Sailing Destinations