April 2019 – Phil Levermore – Gibraltar to Beirut the Slow Way

Many suns ago member Phil Levermore took a flight westwards out of Israel into the rays of the setting sun, musing to himself that those rays had lit the entire Mediterranean on their way to him. Ambition dawned to sail the full length of the Med, all the way to its East coast, and to sail it not in a dash but as a slow voyage of discovery to savour, and of which to later tell.

Phil’s Homeric ship, a Scanmar 345, was bought at the end of the last millenium, in 1999. In the first year with her he explored the Cherbourg peninsular, in the second and third he ventured down to La Rochelle, plugging back to the UK. The project was gaining traction. He would do this.

With two projectors (one for the photographs, one for the charting, a first for Chipping Norton Yacht Club) Phil took us over the many years and nautical miles of this impressive trek, with a variety of crew including, towards the end, other Chipping Norton Yacht Club members. This was not a single voyage but was interleaved with life at home, jobs (one lost), setting up a business, fatherhood, a divorce, and remarriage. His children, one first seen shown as a toddler on board, are now grown and bring partners along. Phil has a connection to a charity that supports kids at risk of educational exclusion, and has taken some of them as crew from time to time. Teenagers can be challenging but Phil had his techniques (give ‘em a job aboard, set ‘em to work!) and it was nice to hear that one lad has gone on into the Merchant Navy.

The voyages. Once round famed L’Aber-Wrac’h the southing across Biscay did not deter. The weather gods smiled. A stray pigeon was rescued. The excitement of the landfall in Bilbao was memorable among many foreign landfalls – they’re always exciting.

There were so many harbours. Vigo, Seville (in the town itself) where he wintered. By 2005 he’d made it to the Bay of Cadiz and thence Gibraltar, coinciding by happenstance with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. As the champagne flowed, the spinnaker handling became less sharp. His daughters took a liking to the Costa del Sol. 2006/7 was spent pottering around Valencia and Ibiza, then to Majorca and Sardinia, ending with Rome and the Tiber.

And so year-by-year, he took in Stromboli, Malta, The Gulf of Hammamet and Sousse. His daughters grew up and joined with boyfriends, he met wife-to-be Rachel (who heckled gently from the audience). The Gulf of Corinth had been on his bucket list. Antalya in Turkey was quickly left as the coup and counter-coup broiled.

Through fair weather and foul, dealing often with helpful officials and sometimes the other kind, Beirut was reached by 2017. They bought nothing from the Hezbollah museum shop in case it might be viewed as supporting banned organisations. Beirut is beautiful – a sophisticated town with wealthy French ex-pat and Lebanese residents, rich in (hardly visited) antiquity. The nearby fertile Beka valley is known for its wines.

Phil rounded off by sharing wisdom gleaned from the trips: how to select a good cruising base, to research marinas, to deal with officialdom (be polite, however hard you are gritting your teeth), to entertain and manage children (from toddlers to teens).

A gripping saga, intertwining as it did rich sailing adventures and life, over nearly two decades. Might you be persuaded to write it as a book, Phil?