The 'Gypsy' Way of Life

Maggie Joyce - Mariner Boating

Maggie Joyce - Mariner Boating

The glamorous notion of cruising the globe on any kind of sailing boat may not ring any positive bells with you, and this was a view held by Maggie Joyce until she became embroiled in the ‘“gypsy way of life’ on the sea and one of the central figures in Sydney-based Mariner Boating Holidays. When speaking with Maggie and her husband Trevor it is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a sailing adventure, so we thought we would find out more and introduce you to the wonderful world of sailing.

Maggie, tell us about your first sailing adventure? Were you really that reluctant?

Not really sailing but here’s a stand-out seafaring adventure from very early in my sea experiences. We were living in Athens and in summer we took a ferry to an island with friends. The island was remote and when the village ran out of water we decided to leave and cross to a larger island. We asked around and found a local who was making the crossing on the next day. Greece has strong summer winds in this area called Meltemi. The Meltemi whips up the sea into an uncomfortable stew!

The boat was seaworthy but loaded with empty fuel drums which were lashed in an open hold. The smell combined with the smell of the diesel engine made 14 out of 16 of us seasick. It was horrible. I got off and swore never to get on another boat. Trevor laughed. There was no airport so the only way back to Athens was by ferry! The ferry was stabilised and the trip back was great fun – after all we had just survived a storm so celebrations were in order. 

What have been some of your highlights of sailing?

I like to spend time in new places and get to see the ‘under-belly’, not simply pass by. Sailing allows time and a vehicle complete with goods and chattels to live comfortably and not be packing and carrying. We have spent two or three months pottering around bays and villages, meeting the locals and enjoying experiences which we still laugh about 30 years on. Like the time a Turkish fisherman returning home stopped by and offered to bring us bread and eggs on the following morning. And would we like anything else? A chicken maybe? What a great idea! He showed up next morning held up a live chook in each hand and wanted to know which one we wanted. Our kids were horrified that he was going to kill a bird for us and he is probably still laughing about the city kids on board that yacht in the bay till this day. We had bread and eggs for lunch! He took our chicken home to live another day.

What have been some of your challenges?

I still struggle in rough sea with sea sickness but I know my limitations and avoid situations where there is need to go inside the yacht ‘below’ except on flat seas. Preparing for the crossing in advance so I can stay out on deck is necessary. I also know that sea sickness passes so I don’t worry about it and that also seems to help in avoiding it!

Being away from family for long periods of time is also not easy for me. Facebook helps me to stay in touch. But I still have to phone occasionally and hear a voice.

Trevor and I sailed alone with two young children on a yacht which did not have the more modern systems. All sail changes were more complicated requiring pulling down sails and putting up new sails. Heavy sail bags and a lot of detaching and attaching etc. It was a huge challenge so once again a lot of preparation was required. But yachts are actually quite hard to sink so it is a question of being aware of the strengths and minimising exposure to dangers. If it is too rough – stay put!

What is your favourite sailing destination and why?

Greece. It is where it began for us and where I still love to return to. The Greek people are welcoming and generous. Whatever little they have they share. Look what is happening there at the moment. I have friends on Samos who work every day helping the refugees fleeing from Syria. Rescuing, feeding, clothing, assisting in a million ways every day.

This may seem like an obvious question, but what really makes a sailing holiday unique?

Taking time to smell the roses.

Sailing with the sound of the sea and the breeze but no engine sounds and smells. Yachts don’t go so fast and you can find so many places still accessible only by sea. The seafaring people share their knowledge and whatever else they have. We have made such wonderful friends in so many different places in Greece, Turkey, Croatia, France, Italy etc. They welcome us back year after year. And you are independent. Your food is on board, the galley is set up, your clothes are stowed, shower and toilet on board. Stop anywhere and jump into the sea. Magic. Tie up in a marina or on a town quay and the town is yours! To me sailing is about being there in the moment.

For some people the thought of sailing in open waters is quite terrifying, how would you address those trepidations in first time sailors?

You know, I get that! An ocean crossing out of sight of land is not what I am about. I can’t think of anywhere we sail where we are out of sight of land. The information on weather and sailing conditions is now so accessible and sophisticated that there is no excuse for anyone to be really taken by surprise.

The port police and locals are a wealth of information so it is about doing some research. Or come with us and we’ll do it for you. Use the experience of others until you are confident.

A sailing holiday isn’t all lounging around on catamarans in tropical island waters eating lobsters and sunbathing, what are some of the more adventurous aspects of the kind of sailing holidays you do?

Well, every second day we have a little ‘race’ to keep the adrenalin production going. We also research each place for onshore activities. In one place it is tandem hang-gliding, in another canyoning. We organise treks in some places, there are diving options, history tours, hot-air ballooning. Cycling – it is limited only by your imagination. And we have crew dinners ashore after each race so there is a lot of time to meet the other crews and make new friends.

What have you learnt from your adventures that have helped you build your business?

So long as you keep people informed they are flexible and open to changing situations. Communication is the key.

What are your favourite words to live by?

My favourite at the moment is ‘travellers do not know where they are going, tourists don’t know where they have been’. I spoke to someone once who told me she had ‘done Croatia’ – I said I loved Croatia and where had she been, which towns or cities? She could not remember ‘where the cruise ship stopped’. A definite tourist!

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