Max and Elizabeth on board "Aquarella" in Greece
My husband Max Sandström, a retired sea captain and marine pilot and myself Elizabeth Tyler, a visual artist, have been sailing together for many years. In 2001 we took our boat from Sweden through the waterways of Europe to the Mediterranean. Since then we've been sailing and living on board several months a year in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Max looked after everything on the boat while I found inspiration and worked on my paintings. It was a wonderful life and we enjoyed every minute of it, until disaster struck in the spring of 2011.

We were at anchor in the bay of Kilada, Peleponesos when Max woke up in the morning feeling strange. Later he started saying strange things but put it down to fatigue. Then he couldn't remember where things were on the boat and the following night I had to prevent him from stepping ashore (we were 500 yards out in the middle of the bay!) I realized there was something terribly wrong but had difficulty convincing him he needed help. Finally I got him down into the dinghy and rowed ashore. By the time I got him to a doctor he was totally unresponsive. After being transferred 5 times within 24 hours from one hospital after another he was finally admitted to a private hospital in Athens. By that time he was unconscious and remained so for 2 weeks. The doctors found out he had Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (caused by an ordinary herpes virus which had found it's way to his brain)
Max's son Björn came on the first available flight from Stockholm to be by his father's side. After a few days Björn and I travelled back to the boat to secure it on land and fetch passports, credit-cards and clothes. We managed to get back to Athens the same day. Bjorn was an enormous help and support during these very difficult days. When he had to return to Sweden , Max's brother Uffe came instead so I didn't have to be alone and I think Max was comforted in knowing we were there for him.
After another week we were flown back home to Sweden where Max remained in hospital for 2 months. He had to learn everything from scratch, swallowing, eating, talking, walking. He had lost his memory completely, his own name was the only thing he remembered. With intensive training his condition gradually improved and 14 months after he got ill we were back on the boat. I thought it might be good therapy for him to jog his memory with boaty things. We got the boat launched and slowly prepared for a short sailing trip. Max could only do small uncomplicated tasks but enjoyed being in the familiar surroundings of the boat and the sea. But before we got under way he got ill again and there was nothing more to do than have the boat hauled out and fly home. The herpes virus had reactivated and attacked his eye this time. Despite countless doctors, treatment and hospitalization Max's condition worsened week after week with one complication after the other. He finally died of blood poisoning in January 2013. 

In February, nearest friends, the family and I accompanied him on his very last voyage when his ashes were spread at sea.

Needless to say I have been devastated in the months that have past since he died but during my more constructive moments I have been able to make plans for the future. Max taught me all I know about sailing and handling a boat. His expert knowledge was passed on to me every day we were on board. Before I start to forget, I want to get back on to the boat. I have decided to take on the challenge of sailing alone. This blog will be a tribute to him and I hope will encourage other women who are tied up in a similar situation to let the lines go and get under way.
Maybe I'll crash into something, fall over board or just make a fool of myself and then it won't be any encouragement, but at least I'll give it a try.


  1. Sorry to read your about your Max, Elizabeth; you have had a hard time. You don't know me but I have followed your Art blog for some time. I will now follow your boating blog too if you don't mind. The web seems so much friendlier with folk like you there. You are one brave lady and a brilliant artist! I do hope you enjoy your boating experience.

  2. Elizabeth, I am a recent admirer of your work and hope to use that admiration to push my art further along. I've been delighted and impressed with your ability and willingness to share your talents through the Internet. In reading the above post, I have to say in addition to admiring your talent, I also admire your fortitude and courage. Your voyage is bound to be a success with such a strong and positive attitude. Wishing you all the best is this voyage and the journey set before you. You're an inspiration to us all.

  3. I am so sorry about Max, Elizabeth....I heard from the Inspire encephalitis site, and losing such a life partner is shocking. I so admire what you are doing! My husband got herpes encephalitis about a decade ago, and about the first thing we did a few short months later was to take our 30 foot sailboat and 3 little kids, and sail for 2 weeks. I didn't know if he would survive that trip, but I also knew it was where he wanted to be. He did survive, and I wish Max had, too. Would I have let the lines go? I don't know, but am inspired by you and the voyage you are on, and the beautiful art you are creating. I will follow your bog, and perhaps our paths will cross one day.

  4. You are certainly brave to keep going and take on the challenge of single-handing. And I'd say that with enough time on the water, just about everyone crashes into something, falls overboard, and certainly looks the fool at some point. The encouragement will be in laughing it off and keeping at it nonetheless. Best wishes on your journey.

  5. So sorry to hear about Max, but also so inspired by your beautiful paintings and courage to sail on. Our Happy Dancer is in Kilada atm and we will move aboard in July. Hopefully you will still be in the area as we'd love to share a sundowner or too. All the best energies, fair winds, always some water under the keel and a reason to keep going. Much love from the yogicsailingfamily( x

  6. Hi Elizabeth,
    I am just discovering your story . Yes, you truly inspire me. You really do! In a few years my partner and I will set out on our own vessel for, we hope, many journeys around the world. One of my secret concerns has been " what if I find myself alone?". For, though we are only 48 and 52, life happens in unplanned ways.
    But seeing your story I realize that what happens is-we carry on.
    I still have much to learn as a sailor. I come from land locked Colorado and sail on mountain lakes where conditions are very different than the sea. But I will learn :)
    Thank you for sharing your story. My deepest sympathy for the loss of Max.

  7. Hello Elizabeth,
    I just discovered your blog today and it has already become a priority to read & follow. Although my circumstances are not quite as harsh (I'm very very sorry to read the story of your husband), we do have a couple of things in common. My loss is a divorce and the emptiness is crushing. I decided to take up sailing as a diversion and to get away. I bought a boat last summer and am in the process of learning on the fly and I'm solo. You and your story is inspirational and I hope to learn from you! Thanks for the blog!

    1. Thank you for your comment, I'm so glad I can be an inspiration. I hope your feeling of emptiness will soon be filled with new positive experiences.
      I don't update this blog so often but soon I'll be back on my boat in Greece and hopefully there will be new adventures to write about.