From dream to reality: Med sailing during the pandemic in 2020

Before I was a sailor, I was a dreamer. A dreamer who longed for the salty air, the rhythmic lull of the waves, and the limitless expanse of azure blue. There’s a certain kind of magic that the sea holds, a pull that tugs at the heartstrings of those who dare to dream. I was no exception. The allure of the sea was more than just a whisper in my ear – it was a roaring call to adventure. But like many dreams, this Med sailing adventure seemed too vast, too wild to ever become a reality. That was until the fateful spring of 2018.

Greece, a country known for its ancient ruins and succulent olives, was our destination of choice. A vacation with family and my boyfriend Mathieu led us to the bustling metropolis of Athens. Its charm was irresistible, an intoxicating blend of history and modernity. But as much as the city captivated us, my heart was yearning for the sea.

Piraeus, a port city located within the region of Attica, became our escape from the city’s concrete jungle. An impromptu walk led us to the Athens Riviera, where the sea, unfortunately, failed to meet my expectations. The beach we found was disappointing, far from the pristine, turquoise waters that I was so used to. I worried that Mathieu, a first-time visitor to Greece, would carry with him a tainted impression of my beloved sea.

But the day took a turn for the better. A cozy seaside terrace became our refuge and sangria our comfort. As we sipped on the fruity cocktail, our eyes couldn’t help but wander. The sight of a grandmother disembarking from a boat to meet her waiting granddaughter stirred something within us. We fantasized about the freedom of living at sea, of spending our twilight years sailing around the world. But why wait until then, we thought. Why not now?

A flurry of activity ensued. Mathieu, ever the practical one, started searching for second-hand sailboat ads, and we found out that owning a boat was more feasible than we had initially believed. The idea of living on a boat in the Mediterranean, with just the two of us, was both terrifying and exhilarating. I felt a wild sense of excitement, a fierce desire to turn this dream into a reality.

It was around that time that I had been secretly hoping for a proposal from Mathieu. I had dreamt of the moment and pictured it in my head countless times. But in the midst of our newfound dream of living at sea, I realized that this was a proposal in itself. It was a proposal for a life of adventure, and shared dreams and ambitions, and I accepted it wholeheartedly.

So on the last day of November, when Mathieu officially proposed, I found myself saying yes to not just a marriage, but to a life of sailing, of living our shared dream. Our journey from dreamers to sailors had begun, and we were ready to face whatever the sea had in store for us.

Preparations: Learning the ropes

In the wake of our Athenian revelation, we returned to our home in Bucharest with a newfound purpose. Dreams of Mediterranean sailing holidays filled our minds, the promise of life at sea ever so tantalizing. But the path to making our dream a reality was not without its challenges. We knew that before we could embark on our Med sailing adventure, we needed to learn the ropes, literally.

But the practicalities of enrolling in sailing courses in Romania were more complex than we had anticipated. The language barrier posed a significant obstacle for Mathieu, whose knowledge of Romanian was limited to culinary terms. Despite his love for mămăligă and sarmale, his Romanian vocabulary proved insufficient for the intricacies of sailing theory.

Instead, we found ourselves heading to the south of France the following spring, where Mathieu could take the classes in his native tongue in Fréjus, then pass his coastal sailing license in Toulon. We discovered that although a sailing license wasn’t required in France and (normally) anywhere else, we still needed one for our planned yachting holidays in Croatia. Mathieu threw himself into the courses, absorbing the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed for motor sailing to the Med.

mirela letailleur maritime museum toulon
Learning about Mediterranean sailing at the National Maritime Museum in Toulon

Meanwhile, I found a solution to my own training predicament back in Romania. SetSail, a sailing school recommended by many friends, became my saving grace. They offered an intensive course that suited my needs perfectly. And the best part? They agreed to accommodate Mathieu for the practical part of the course. We were to be assigned a skipper who would provide instructions in English, which suited Mathieu perfectly. His self-taught knowledge of English sailing terms, gleaned from countless hours poring over sailing books, finally paid off.

Those days were a whirlwind of learning and anticipation. There was a lot to absorb, from mastering the art of knot-tying to understanding the nuances of navigation. But it finally felt that our sailing adventures were no longer just a dream. They were within our grasp. The sea was calling, and we were ready to answer, prepared to embark on our Med sailing adventure. With our licenses in hand, we were going to be one step closer to our dream of living on a boat in the Mediterranean.

sailing lessons setsail romania limanu
Sailing lessons with SetSail on the Black Sea coast

The transition: From land to sea

June found us in Limanu, hearts brimming with anticipation as we embarked on the sailing courses that would lay the groundwork for our Med sailing holidays. There was a certain apprehension in the air, a mix of excitement and nerves. I had been juggling the preparations for our wedding with the sailing theory I had been learning at home. My fear of not being adequately prepared for the theoretical part was eased when we learned that we wouldn’t be taking the theory test for the license exam during those three days.

The classes were surprisingly laid-back. The knowledge I had painstakingly gathered over the past weeks helped me navigate through the theory sessions with ease, turning them into more of a review session. But the practical part was another story. I was plagued by uncertainties. Would I get seasick? How would I, a person who had never even driven a car, maneuver a ten-meter-long sailing beast with its non-negligible inertia? Plus, I was to take the practical test for the license exam after only about five solo maneuvers in the harbor, with the instructor by my side. The thought was daunting.

But we were blessed with an amazing skipper. He was the epitome of relaxed expertise, casually instructing us with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. Yet, he was always alert, his keen eyes missing nothing, ready to step in at a moment’s notice to help us correct our mistakes.

To my surprise, the practice test was much easier than I had feared. The examiner overseeing the maneuvers of about ten trainees across four sailboats seemed satisfied with our efforts. When it was my turn, he radioed the end of the exam, announcing that we had all passed. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed as I steered the boat back to the port, handing over the helm to my fellow trainees.

After the graduation test and receiving the diplomas for registering for the theoretical exam, we finally had a moment to breathe. We spent the rest of the day at the marina’s restaurant, sharing stories with a fellow trainee. Another skipper from the sailing school joined us, and our conversation turned to our plans for the future. And, to our surprise, he didn’t dismiss our aspirations to set out on our own Med sailing adventure after just a few days of training. In fact, he even took us for a tour of the marina, pointing out the kind of sailboat that would fit our budget.

That moment was a turning point. Our plans moved from the realm of dreams to the tangible reality. We realized that we could really do this, that we could make our dream of sailing holidays in the Mediterranean a reality. The reassurance from the seasoned skipper filled us with newfound confidence and excitement.

With smiles brighter than before, we parted ways with the instructor. He returned to prepare his sailboat for the next day’s regatta, and we returned to our bottle of wine, our hearts fluttering with the promise of our upcoming Med sailing adventures. The dream of living on a sailboat in the Mediterranean was no longer just a dream. It was a tangible, achievable goal, and we were ready to chase it.

Med sailing wedding travel theme
Our dreams of Med sailing adventures also influenced our wedding

Pre-departure: Celebrations and farewells

As August rolled around, the city of love, Paris, beckoned. Mathieu was spirited away by his friends from the airport, a bachelor party in full swing. I, on the other hand, hopped onto a train downtown, where a whirlwind of fun activities planned by a friend awaited. One of the highlights was a nautical-themed day where we, dressed in striped T-shirts and sailor hats, took a picturesque boat ride along the Seine on Canal de St. Martin. Mathieu, in another city and even another country, spent a night on a boat. It was a fitting precursor to our upcoming Med sailing adventure.

Our wedding, an enchanting blend of love and travel, bore the mark of our shared passion for sailing and exploring the world. The tables were named after cities we had visited together, weaving our shared experiences into the very fabric of the celebration. Our floral decorations were adorned with White Sails plants, a symbolic nod to the Mediterranean yacht holidays we were about to embark on. I even exchanged my bridal veil for a captain’s cap, declaring to all our guests that I was ready to follow Mathieu to the ends of the Earth.

mediterranean vacation cyprus boat
Our Cyprus honeymoon was only a preview of our real sailing holiday Mediterranean

Then, our honeymoon Mediterranean vacation in Cyprus was a tantalizing taste of the grand adventure that lay ahead. I had wanted to go “somewhere near the sea”, and the beautiful island nation fit the bill perfectly. Although our visit was limited to five days due to Mathieu’s leave constraints, we knew our real honeymoon was just a few months away, and it was going to last about a year.

Fast forward to October, I secured my radio license, another essential step in our preparations for sailing in the Mediterranean. And then, on the last day of January 2020, I faced one of my biggest challenges yet – the theory test in Galați. It was the only place in Romania that held winter exam sessions, and my parents graciously drove me there. It was one of our last trips in Romania, a precious memory of our final days together in my home country.

I had spent months preparing for the theory test, but each visit to the captaincy set my heart racing. There were a few hiccups along the way, like needing two copies of all documents and having to scramble to find an open copy center when the one next to the captaincy was closed. But every challenge seemed insignificant when I saw a message saying I had passed on the exam computer screen. The feeling of relief was overwhelming.

With my permit due to be mailed to Bucharest, the last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. My family would then forward it to me in France. Because on 1 February, I found myself on a plane, bound for Nice. The anticipation was palpable. The dream of a Med sailing holiday was no longer a distant aspiration. It was real, and it was happening.

med sailing school french riviera
There are lots of future Med sailors dreaming about their future sailing holidays in the Med

Charting the course: Setting sail for a year-long Mediterranean adventure

In the South of France, nestled in the verdant landscape of Bagnols-en-Foret, Mathieu’s father’s holiday house would become our base – our springboard to the azure waters of the Mediterranean. The tranquil village seemed worlds away from the bustling capital cities we were accustomed to, and it was here, under its clear blue skies and amidst its gentle breezes, that we would begin our search for the perfect sailboat. One that would not only fit our budget but also hold the promise of fulfilling our dreams.

Embarking on this grand adventure was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It took months of careful planning, intense preparation, and a bucketload of courage. The coastal sailing courses, the theory tests, the radio license – each step brought us closer to our dream. The dream of living in harmony with the sea, feeling the wind in our hair, and exploring the Mediterranean at our own pace.

To those who dream of embarking on a similar adventure, my advice is simple. Prepare, but don’t forget to dream. Plan, but don’t lose sight of the adventure. The journey may be fraught with challenges, but remember, every great journey begins with a single step. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, to question your decisions, and to fear the unknown. But trust in your abilities, in the lessons you’ve learned, and in the resilience of your spirit.

Sailing is not just about mastering the winds or navigating the waves. It’s about the freedom to explore, discover, and experience the world in a way few others do. It’s about the journey as much as it is about the destination. And most importantly, it’s about the stories you create, the memories you make, and the life you live along the way.

The rest of our adventure is as vast and as boundless as the sea itself. We look forward to sharing our journey with you, hoping to inspire you to join the Med sailing world and ignite the same passion for sailing in you that burns within us.

About the author

Mirela Letailleur The Travel Bunny

Stationed in the charming landscapes of Southern France, Mirela Letailleur is an accomplished Romanian travel blogger who has mastered the art of navigating Europe on a budget. Her platform, The Travel Bunny, brims with invaluable insights, offering readers an intimate peek into the myriad of affordable travel opportunities available across Europe. Mirela’s expertise in crafting unique and, free travel guides has set her apart in the world of travel blogging, cementing her reputation as a resourceful guide and trusted local travel maven.

Her problem-solving abilities are second to none, routinely helping her readers overcome common travel challenges. As she embarks on her most daring adventure yet, a 10-month Mediterranean vacation, Mirela is poised to share her experiences and tips with aspiring sailors and travelers alike. With her guidance, followers can anticipate a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for their own adventures. So, whether you are a seasoned traveler or a Med sailing enthusiast, Mirela Letailleur is the trusted voice to steer your European travel dreams into reality.

Read more about Mirela Letailleur

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