It was the delightfully dole-faced Clement Freud who first suggested to me that a sea voyage might be good for your health. The culinary clown had just flown in to Cape Town to join his sailing friend Robin Knox-Johnston for a race across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro. When suggesting this cure, I’m not certain that his doctor had quite such an adventure in mind, but the inexperienced Freud attacked the challenge with gusto.
Knox-Johnston put him in charge of victualing – and was left aghast when two lorries turned up on the quayside, one filled with every possible culinary delight, and the other with case upon case of complimentary wines. Between them, the lorries exceeded the length of the boat, and it had completely escaped Clement’s mind as to where to store it all. He was crestfallen at being told to send it all back.
Despite, or perhaps because of the shortage of rations, Knox-Johnston and his crew were first to complete the 3,600-mile distance, none the worse for wear. Indeed the ruddy-faced Clement, then in middle age, thrived on the experience, and spent the rest of his life joking about sea air and the deprivations of such travel.
Francis Chichester, Knox-Johnston and Chay Blyth were the pioneers who showed us all that if you can sail round the world singlehanded, then a group can certainly take to the seven seas, and nowadays, do it in a great deal of comfort.
In January, FI television pundit Eddie Jordan and his family set out from Antigua to do just that, aboard his new yacht Lush, within a fleet of 27 other yachts on a 16-month circumnavigation called the Oyster World Rally. “This is going to be a fantastic experience. I have more air miles than you could imagine, but to sail around the world is going to be the biggest adventure of them all. It is full of unknowns but that is all part of the attraction. I’m just so thrilled about the whole thing,” he told well-wishers on the dockside.
Unlike Knox-Johnston, this flotilla is following the sun, steering well clear of danger zones like Cape Horn. For them, it is the Panama Canal, the delights of Galapagos and other Pacific paradises before heading to the Great Barrier Reef, round the top of Australia and a party in Bali. The fleet then set a course west for Cape Town to be there in time for Christmas, before heading across the Atlantic for the Rio carnival, and onwards to the Caribbean for a final regatta in April 2014.
The idea of ‘selling up to sail’ has been a popular one with middle-aged mavericks, ever since Jimmy Cornell, a champion of ocean cruising, came up with the idea of organising a migratory winter cruise from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. That was back in 1986, and the event, known as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), has been a sell-out ever since. Last November, more than 200 mainly family crews shed off the constraints of depression and recession to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. The 2,800 mile crossing takes 15-21 days and a lot of planning, but thereafter lies the opportunity of a winter cruise through the West Indies, a summer in New England, the wonders of the Pacific, or even a sail down to the Antarctic.
“It is a great event – one of the best experiences of my life,” says Max Klink who sailed his yacht Caro in last winter’s ARC. “The event is for everyone: families with children, cruising couples, people with big budgets, and those with the most modest boats. It’s about friendships made ashore during the two weeks of pre departure in Las Palmas, which are then continued during the daily radio net when at sea. It’s about arriving in Saint Lucia to be greeted on the dock with a rum punch or chilled beer; it’s knowing that you have achieved something fantastic – crossing an ocean in a small boat.”
And it is not just for the macho. Patricia Darling, a vet from Chichester, hung up the gauntlet gloves to take her two children Jillian and Alice on a University year-out cruise aboard the family Southerly 42 cruising yacht, aptly named Triple D of Chidham. “The only time we could have done with a man around, was mid-way across when none of us could open the jar of guacamole” jokes Patricia, who has now returned to calving cattle knowing that her own offspring are starting adult life with the best possible grounding.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, is now the Pied Piper of sailing, encouraging those with a sense of adventure to take part in his Clipper Round the World Race. Starting from Southampton at the end of this Summer, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the only event of its type. Anyone, even if they have never stepped on a boat before, can join the adventure and circumnavigate the world in an eleven month-long marathon. This is the only race in the world where individuals can sign up for a berth in one of 12 identical, 70-foot, racing yachts and with the support of a professional skipper, sail safely around the globe.
It’s a race where taxi drivers rub shoulders with chief executives, vicars mix with housewives, students work alongside bankers, nurses vie with vets and doctors team up with rugby players. It’s an experience designed to change people’s lives and fulfil dreams. The cost of a berth is £45,000, – a little more than £1 per mile and covers full training, food and a set of ocean oilskins.
You can of course slum it in a swing hammock and eat bully beef, but today’s yachts are very much home-from-home with full air conditioning, wine coolers and washing machines, surround-sound systems, and every luxury.
I can’t wait to retire!
If you have yet to take the plunge but would like to try sailing there are several sailing schools around the Country happy to show you the ropes and guide you through to Ocean Yachtmaster level.
By Barry Pickthall