I’m 34 years old and can probably best be described by someone else. Perhaps Sarah would be willing to write this bit?!
Well, I suppose the passtimes I most enjoy would be something like: Sailing, driving, motorbikes, travelling…………. and generally things that involve some promise of personal development, which often involves personal risk as well as some semblance of ability to control the outcome of events. Of these, sailing is probably the most practical since it lends itself to the adoption of an entire lifestyle rather than simply something that can be enjoyed fleetingly. I’m also quite attracted to it because I feel it’s a worthwhile investment of time in something that is impossible to master. There is no such thing as the perfect sailor; one can do it for one’s entire life and still screw up spectacularly every now and then.
I started sailing when I was about 7 or 8 years old, not because I wanted to but because my parents wanted to get rid of me during the summers and sailing camp seemed like as good a way to achieve this as any. I did that for about 5 years (sailing the very appropriately-named ‘optimist dinghies’, which are essentially bathtubs with a small mast and sails (i also discovered during an expedition in 2010 while driving to Mongolia in an ambulance that they make great roof-boxes) and then 420s once I was physically big enough to keep one upright) then started sailing a little in the UK, first on enterprises and then yachts. We did a couple of trips from the South Coast of England over the channel to France, but I didn’t do anything long-distance until 2000 when I signed up as a trainee on a tallship – the Picton Castle. I sailed with that ship several times for a total of about 10 months, including a 5-month voyage from Nova Scotia through the Panama Canal and across about half of the Pacific Ocean as far as the Cook Islands. Many of the places we intend to visit are places that I’ve been before with the Picton Castle. I also did a trans-Atlantic crossing on another tallship, the Tenacious, and perhaps 10 or so crossings from the US to Bermuda and the Caribbean, on a Swan 46, a J155, a 55 foot charter catamaran (that was an interesting one!), Bob, and most recently on my good friend’s Moody 38, which I also sailed with him and two others across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Antigua a couple of years ago. That was easily the most enjoyable passage I have ever been on and has really given me a hankering to reach the almost magical trade winds.
I’m not very competitive at all but I do enjoy sailing well, and I think in order to sail well technically the best medium by which to learn to do so lies in racing sailboats. So, I’ve also done a lot of racing over the last 6 years or so, mainly in the position of ‘bowman’ on J105s, J24s, a Beneteau 375 and most recently my friend’s beautiful racing yacht Nasty Medicine, a Corby 41, on which I was privileged to have my first experience of ocean yacht racing in the Newport to Bermuda race last year (2014).
Sarah (First Mate):
I’m an ecologist and conservationist by trade, with a particular fondness for terrestrial mammals. I’m not a natural born sailor. The salty air doesn’t call to me, sea water does not run through my veins and my stomach is anything but ‘iron’. Before this circumnavigation, sailing is something I had done very little of. Even the world of marine ecology was little known to me.
The first time I ever went sailing was at ‘Year 8 Camp’ in high school when our class was taken to the Lake District for a week of outdoor activities. One of those daily activities was to sail some flimsy little sailboats on Lake Windermere. Don’t ask me what type of boats they were because I have absolutely no idea! They were small, each had a mast with a sail and could just about fit two 12 year-olds on board. My classmate and I were so incredible bad at sailing that we stayed completely stationary in the middle of Lake Windermere for over 3 hours. We did eventually make some ground in the right direction, but that was only after I jumped in the water and started pushing the damn thing back to shore.
Since then, pretty much all my sailing experience has been with Alex. This means that I’ve picked up a lot of his exacting habits, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I’ve been sailing with Alex during my various visits to Bermuda over the last 10 years. Most stints have been on Bob and have lasted only a few hours, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to join some racing yachts with him a few times too.
My first real taste of ocean sailing was during the winter trip to the Caribbean with Alex and a number of friends in the winter of 2008/09. We set sail from Bermuda on the 20th December 2008 for a two week jaunt to Grenada, which as Alex has already mentioned, was far too late in the season to be leaving. After two days on the high seas we hit the worst weather that either of us have ever seen before or since. Neptune gifted us sustained winds of 50 knots and 25ft steep swells just in time for Christmas! With a crew of just four people (two of whom were complete novices) and no autopilot or wind-vane to help steer the boat, we soon became overwhelmed by seasickness and fatigue. Talk about a baptism of fire! Or screeching winds and foaming seas in this case.
Still, once the weather had died down and I experienced the fun of surfing the swells, dolphins playing at the bow, glowing phosphorescence after dark and the Milky Way filling the night sky – I realised it was worth every second. Not to mention all the wonderful places we got to see and the excellent people we met over the following months.
Now I’m having my next sailing adventure and I’m pleased to say that I’ve become much more capable with both ocean sailing and marine ecology as our circumnavigation has unfolded. It has by no means all been ‘plain sailing’. There are many aspects of this cruising lifestyle that I still struggle with. My sea-sickness has never deminished and there are many comforts of western terrestrial-living that I miss enormously. Still, when I first step foot in a new port I remember why I am doing what I’m doing. A small part of me falls in love with my new surroundings – the people, the culture, the landscape, the wildlife. I feel a truly dizzying thrill knowing that I am one of the lucky few to have such amazing and unique experiences, and I feel proud that I am taking on this challenge.
Isabelle (expert salad-artist, stringy-thing puller, DJ and rat maker)
Isabelle is a 25-year-old Swedish viking boat-bum. She has absolutely no qualifications on paper but isn’t too bad a person nonetheless. She was Alex’s moral-support on the passage from St. Martin to Cartagena (February 2016) and is entirely to thank for the fact that he only did one silly and irrational thing on that passage (he convinced himself at one point that the rudder was about to fall off and spent several hours peering over the stern before resorting to kicking it and finally diving down for a look during a calmish moment. It was fine the whole time…………). Through the liberal use of well-placed, picturesque notices offering her services in the above categories she has successfully secured a berth on board a beautiful yacht heading back to St. Martin, the very shiny and fast ‘Kialoa III’ (racy people – google it!), winner of the 1975 Sydney-Hobart race and retainer of the title for 21 years. Maybe we’ll meet again in some far-flung port in a few years time? We hope so.
Christian, Jonathan and Apolline (The United Nations of line handlers)
Here are our Italian, Panamanian and French line handlers when crossing the Panama Canal in March 2016. Christian is a characteristic Italian who loves cooking, is highly religious, has a PhD and is even a published author. Jonathan is a line handler by trade and was hired by us to help us through the canal. He is very shy and didn’t say much but was an absolute expert at his job and basically did 90% of the work. Apolline is a diving instructor, has a wonderful French accent and is an excellent sailor. She is very down-to-earth and easy to get along with. She moved onto a friends boat shortly after the canal and sailed with them to Galapagos for a month, so we had the pleasure of spending a lot more time with her there whilst we were in Galapagos. It was wonderful and at the same time, hilarious, to hear Apolline and Christian speak to each other in English – but with the thickest French and thickest Italian accent you’ve ever heard!
Nadine, Ryan and Andrew (Pitcairn medivac crew – the concerned mother, the heroic uncle and the boy with a gippy tummy)
Here we have Nadine, Ryan and Andrew who all live on the remote island of Pitcairn. Whilst we were in Pitcairn in July 2016, Ryan was diagnosed with possible appendicitis and needed to be taken to Mangareva as soon as possible to put him within better proximity of the hospital in Tahiti. As Bob was the only suitable vessel in Pitcairn for at least the next month, we set sail on Bob with Ryan, his mum and his uncle towards Mangareva. Ryan is an absolutely adorable 11 year old boy who found the whole ordeal very exciting and didn’t complain once. Nadine did an admiral job helping out on helm despite her worries for Ryan and her chronic sea sickness. Andrew has a lot of boat experience so also came along to lend a helping hand. He stayed on board for a while after Nadine and Ryan left so we got to know him well. He is a wonderful person to have on board – very easy to get along with and a pleasure to spend time with. We’ve made friends for life with these guys and we hope to see them again soon.