Preparing for our round the world voyage

I still vividly remember when Bev asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Flippantly I said that if I had the money I would like to sail round the world.

'Well what's stopping you?" she said in that skilled way that HR people have.

In my head I thought, plenty of things really, like being able to sail, being able to afford it... But it seemed like a gift of a question since I seemed to be drifting a bit in my job at that time. It was 2000.

So I bought a couple of sailing magazines and starting reading up about it all.

As luck would have it, there was an advertisement for a meeting at the RAF Club in London for the Blue Water Rally, an organised circumnavigation for yachts over two or three years. It coincided with the timing of the Earls Court boat show, so I bought two tickets.

The Blue Water Rally meeting was a revelation. Some former participants came along to give their experience of the trip.

Three things struck me, they had all enjoyed it, they weren't Ellen MacArthur superhuman-like, and each of them seemed a bit lost having returned from their epic adventure.

One of the speakers was Dick Allan, who gave a great talk about his trip with two crewmates on a 33ft yacht, and also gently promoted his book about his trip "Sailing My Dream". We bought a copy.

I felt a sense of optimism that we could in fact pull this off, so we headed to the boat show.

"What size of one of these would I need to sail round the world" the two dreamers could be heard asking the heard-it-all-before yacht brokers.

Later I came to realise that plenty of people that set off to sail round the world are similarly in-experienced, many of the real sailors and armchair admirals have long ago talked themselves out of the folly of going. The other thing I reflected on as our trip came to an end, was that many of the people that did get out there were fairly strong minded or even selfish, given the sacrifices that need to be made to "Sail Your Dream".  I had the benefit that Bev was onboard with the idea too, all too often the trip doesn't happen because the partner gets cold feet as the idea progresses.

From the boat show we took away a bunch of brochures. Of what was there, we thought the Beneteau 411 represented a viable option and seemed to be well priced.

Having decided we were going to attempt to sail round the world, our first priority was to learn to sail and navigate.

We enrolled in the Henley Navigation school which was handily close to where we were living in Maidenhead and quite quickly completed a range of theory courses over a number of weekends - RYA Day skipper Theory, Yachtmaster Theory and a VHF course.

We also did a couple of shore based courses down at the River Hamble - a Long Range Radio course so we could operate a Single Sideband Radio and what used to be called the Ships Captains Medical Course. What surprised me was that most of the couples planning a trip, would only sent one of them to the course. We decided to do everything together, who can say which one of you might need to know the medical stuff if the worst should happen.

The medical course lasted about 7 days and was a lot of fun. You got to inject oranges, stitch, glue and staple up chicken breasts, put a drip in to a fake arm and my favourite, inserting a catheter in to a rubber model of an "appendage". When you inflate the balloon at the end of the catheter the fluid flows out. If you get my drift.

I wasn't too impressed by Bev's stitching so we agreed that I would do my own stitching if I was conscious, otherwise she would use the glue or staple gun.

Then we needed to get out on the water to put theory into practice. I knew the rudiments of sailing from my time on the Norfolk Broads but Bev's experience was limited to a weeks time on a yacht charter, where she describes her role as "deck fluff".

Doing things by the book, the RYA's that is, we decided to enroll on a Day Skipper course. The RYA recommended some pre-requisite experience though, including some time night sailing. So we sought out a small sailing school in the Solent and the skipper agreed to give us the necessary time over a weekend. I can't remember his name so I will call him Salty Dog.

Salty Dog was a one man operation, he seemed to specialise in doing mile-building trips down to Spain. We arrived at the dock to find there were three other crew on his Dufour 39. All of them had been sailing before with Salty Dog, so I took that to be a good sign. He was a great teacher, because he had been a teacher for many years. He lamented about his time teaching in crazy inner-London schools. Eventually a heart attack had persuaded him to get out and become a sailing instructor.

His boat was a bit worn and damp, but his tuition was first class. My wife was keen to try manoeuvring and docking the boat. He took us into a marina and let us loose much to the alarm of other people in the marina..

At one point one of the other students ran the boat onto the Bramble Bank in the middle of the Solent whilst Salty Dog was making some tea. Completely unfazed he popped his head out of the companionway and directed the hapless trainee to back the sails and put the motor into reverse, all without any drama or shouting. His tidal height calculations were amazingly accurate, we scraped out of one anchorage with barely an inch under the keel. Then it twigged, the reason we visited so many harbours each day, so Salty Dog could "have a word with the harbour master", was also about a visit to the nearest pub. Salty Dog did like his grog. But I learned more from him in that weekend than all the other courses put together.

We now felt legit enough to do our Day Skipper practical course. We signed up to do a weekend and a three day Bank Holiday course with Sunsail in the Solent, rather than the typical week long or three weekend courses on offer. We had a very young skipper on our boat and a young couple. The young couple had signed up for Day skipper but had no experience to speak of.

The course allowed us to spend nights in Poole, Cowes and the Hamble on their Jeanneau Sun Fast 36.

The most memorable night was at the excellent Jolly Sailor pub in the Hamble.

Salty Dog, of course, had previously taken us there.

We had a few beers and some great food and we went back to the boat leaving our Skipper in the hands of the other Sunsail skippers who were there. In the morning I didn't wake up early but was the first one up and about. Usually you expect the skipper to be in the galley with the kettle on and some toast and bacon ready to go.

The skipper wasn't awake, in fact he wasn't on the boat. I went up into the cockpit and soon noticed that he was lying down on the pontoon. My first thought was that he was injured, but it turned out he was asleep. The mosquitoes had feasted on his face, but he was still so "anaesthetised" that he hadn't noticed. I helped him on to the boat and he went to his berth to rest some more. The students had breakfast then I asked the skipper what we should do.

"Do you know where Cowes is?" he said without opening his eyes.

"Yes I think so" I mumbled.

"Take us there" was his command.

So we cast off and I sailed the boat over to Cowes, whist the skipper slept in his bed, feeling a bit sorry for himself.

As we approached Cowes I asked what we should do now.

"Take us back to Port Solent" came from his cabin.

Our sail back towards Port Solent was uneventful and the Skipper finally made it up on deck.

"We haven't done any anchoring" I ventured, having kept a mental note of the syllabus we were supposed to be following.

"Take us into that bay" he said waving at the shoreline. 

As I motored slowly toward the shore, he walked up to the front of the boat, released the windlass and kicked the anchor into the water with his foot.

"See we are anchored. Now lets get back".

He could probably tell from my face I was a bit disappointed in the education I was getting. 

'Don't worry you have passed" he re-assured me, "and I'm going to pass the others as well". This wasn't re-assuring at all. I felt Bev and I had probably done enough, but the other young couple surely didn't meet the standard. Still I thought the piece of paper would be helpful in proving my competence when we came to chartering and finally insuring a boat. Of course no-one has ever asked to see my piece of paper.. 

Later we also did an excellent Safety at Sea course run by Chay Blythe's Challenge company. As well as some good theory we got to sail and stay on one of their round the world steel 67ft challenge boats. We met several of the people on this course again during the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 2003.


Bev at the wheel of the Challenge Yacht

So with that we felt we had enough tuition to get started, the next steps were to organise a boat and get some experience in by chartering.

We never did join the Blue Water Rally. The year we went they had put up the fees quite significantly and I thought we could better use that money to help fund our trip. Later we did meet up with some participants in the rally who had been smashed by the weather getting down from Gibraltar to Tenerife. One of the disadvantages of a Rally are that it tends to dictate the timing of your voyages and that can mean not waiting for the best weather window.

We still had to decide on a boat though. I had read something about catamarans being an option, but most of the quite conservative press was against the idea. Catamarans are just as stable upside down" and "what you need is a heavy displacement, long keel steel boat" seemed to be the going wisdom. Of course there was the counter argument that catamarans don't sink if you hit something. Most telling for me though, was that Bev was prone to sea-sickness and I thought this might be a problem healed over on a monohull for weeks at a time. I had also noticed that catamarans allowed for some creature comforts like big showers and washing machines which I thought might help keep Bev onboard with the plan.

So we went to a Prout open day at Canvey Island. Prout were once one of the most prolific catamaran builders. They had one of their new 38s on display and also an older Snowgoose 37. I liked the 38, but was worried that the price was too high for our budget.

Across the  harbour I spotted a catamaran that looked like the helmet of a Cylon from Battlestar Gallactica. Its was a Fountaine-Pajot. Unfortunately it was privately owned and I was not able to look inside, but we decided to take a closer look at the next opportunity which was the Southampton boat show.

We booked into Southampton for a weekend at the boat show. I have been to boat shows now all over the world, including the US, Germany, Australia and New Zealand and I never get tired of them. At Southampton we looked seriously at the Hallberg Rassy 43, Jeanneau 43DS (ironically we later bought a smaller version of this), Beneteau 423 and the Fountaine-Pajot Belize 43. We nearly had our head turned by the Bavaria 44 which was selling like hotcakes for an incredible price of just 88,000 pounds.

But the Belize carried the day, we were to have a bit of a rude shock at how much more the "sailaway" price is for a new boat compared with the advertised price, often 25-33% more, but I rationalised that I would have the yard fit any of the stuff that was structural and I could save money by sourcing and fitting electronics and other equipment ourselves. This turned out to be a godsend as we found out later.

So with that we organised to go to La Rochelle to see the factory and have a trial sail.

We met with Carl, the UK distributor, and some other prospective clients in La Rochelle for the factory tour. It was very impressive and a more like a car production line than the more hand crafted build I had heard about at other yards. This gave me some confidence in the consistency and quality of their product.

Unfortunately on the first evening in La Rochelle I spent a bit too much time at La Vague pub with my new friend Gerard drinking Kronenbourg 1664. The next morning I was a mess. I had been so looking forward to the trial sail, but as it was I could barely stand up. Somehow I pulled myself together and we had great wind to show the boat off to its best.

Hangover on trial sail

Money changed hands for a deposit and we were then into a 14 month lead time to get our new boat. Handover in June 2003.