A RETIRED classics teacher’s adventures in a small open boat sailing across the Mediterranean as a young student have been vividly brought to life in a new book.

Penny Minney embarked on what became a 1,500-mile voyage in a ship’s lifeboat with her friend and skipper, who had yet to turn 21, and a medley of crew members who joined them over four summers.

Along the way they survived a shipwreck, being washed ashore on a penal colony and proved an Ancient Greek historian wrong about the Bosphorus passage, in Turkey.

In a romantic twist she married the man who would become her boat’s engineer – fellow classicist Robin Minney.

Mrs Minney, 82, of Witton Gilbert, County Durham, who has written Crab’s Odyssey: Malta to Istanbul in an Open Boat, said her exploits began after she and fellow Oxford classical student Sally Humphreys set their hearts on getting to Greece.

She said: “Getting there from England just after the war wasn’t all that easy, so we said let’s sail there, as you do.

“My friend’s father was in the navy in Malta and he told us of this ship’s lifeboat for sale, which we got for the grand sum of £90. We gathered together students to take time shares in it to join us along the way and sail with us.

“The story began dramatically with a shipwreck when the steamer taking us to Malta ran aground on a reef.”

When they got to Malta they equipped Crab with basic navigational equipment and set off.

Mrs Minney said: “We couldn’t use a sextant on such a small boat because it was not stable enough, but we had a (hand-bearing) prismatic compass.

“That first night in the open sea, steering by the Pole Star, under a deep blue velvet start-studded sky was never to be forgotten.

“We were stormbound in a Sicilian fishing village on the way back, but realised that although it was tough living on it, because there was no dry storage space, she could take us anywhere.

“So the following year we got to Corfu following the route of the Great Athenian Armada.

They explored the Greek islands the third year and in their final year made plans to get to Istanbul.

They were joined on one leg of the journey by Mrs Minney’s father, the novelist Richard Hughes.

Mrs Minney said: “We had some adventures on the way, one of which was having to take shelter from bad weather on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmora, that was an open prison reserved for people with life sentences - and Turkish at that.

“We were an extreme embarrassment to the prison governor who said he had nowhere to lock us three girls up to keep us safe from the 800 prisoners. There was a deadlock when we said we weren’t going to sail into a storm.

“So his solution was to load us - boat and all - onto the weekly steamer that called that day.”

At Istanbul her father left to do research in Germany for his magnum opus The Fox in the Attic and three girls set off by themselves up the Bosphorus passage.

Mrs Minney said: “We wanted to see how the ancient Greek trading ships had got up. The currents were strong and the theory was it would have been impossible. At one crucial point people appeared on a path along shore and people towed us.

“A book later published found there had been a village there of people who made living towing ships around the corner. So the theory was unfounded.”

Mrs Minney went on to teach classics at Newcastle Central High - and to sail around the Hebrides and to St Petersburg in Russia.

She said: "The book will appeal to people interested in classical studies, in small boat sailing, and stories of life in the Med during the Great War and its aftermath – and above all, how travel changes the traveller.

The book will be published by Taniwha Press on January 17. Advance copies at £10.50 plus post and packaging are available by emailing penny@minney.org.