On Monday 13th August 2018, we sailed out of Port Solent Marina in Portsmouth, UK, on our biggest adventure yet. An adventure to explore the world using a sailing boat as our base and home.
Our initial plan was to buy a sailing boat, spend a sailing season in the UK, learning how to sail, taking courses, getting experience and preparing the boat for a huge adventure exploring the world from the sea. We would haul the boat out of the water over winter, fix things, install other things, anti-foul the hull and replace the standing rigging. Then we would spend the summer sailing and leave for the Canaries in June 2018, followed by an Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean by the end of the year. If we liked it we would explore the Caribbean and South America until the summer hurricane season, then pop through the Panama Canal and head towards New Zealand. If we didn’t like it (or more likely, ran out of money) we would sell the boat and find somewhere funky to live and work. Simple.
Well, in July 2107, after many months of searching and learning about boats and sailing, we bought a sailing boat. Big enough for all four of us to live on, safe enough to travel across oceans, and old enough that we could afford to buy it. An Oyster 435, built in the UK in 1990. Yay! We took sailing courses, engine maintenance courses, VHF courses and first aid courses. A couple of exciting months were spent travelling to Ipswich every weekend, fixing things and getting to know the boat. After organising a cheap floating pontoon somewhere near the top of Portsmouth harbour on the south coast of the UK, we brought the boat home in a thirty hour wind-free motoring adventure.
The UK sailing season is very short. It’s especially short when you find that the windlass has seized and you need to spend a few weekends stripping it down and rebuilding it. It’s especially short when you suck the bow line into the bow thrusters and break the propeller. It’s especially short when you find out that your cheap mooring is cheap for a reason – it takes over an hour to get to your boat, despite it only being a few miles from your home, you have to give 24 hours notice to take your kids onto the boat and you can only get on and off the pontoon at high tide, severely restricting your weekend sailing opportunities.
The Solent is a fantastic place to learn and practice though and we spent every possible weekend out on the boat, learning about the complexities of sailing a twenty-eight year old boat. Maintaining and fixing a twenty-eight year old boat has also taught us about mechanics, engineering, plumbing, electrics, chemistry and lots of other skills that we have learned through necessity.
As the winter approached, we hauled the boat out of the water. Here the plan went a bit off-course, as we discovered a corroded mast. There goes the budget, and along with it all the extra bits and bobs we had intended to fit to the boat. No water makers or self steering systems for us!
In some ways our lack of funds turned out to be a good thing. We had to learn how to do everything ourselves. The biggest jobs were building a solar panel gantry, building a double bed in the aft cabin and repairing the big ‘ole crack in the deck. Our lives revolved around learning about diesel engines, stainless steel tubing, polyester resin, gel coat and hard wood. Who knew about the differences between hard and soft wood, and epoxy resin and polyester resin? Not me. We had invaluable help from family and friends. We couldn’t have done these jobs without Uncle Adam’s carpentry and engineering skills, Giles’ knowledge and experience of fibreglass boat repair and tons of advice from other sailors.
After a tough and frustrating Winter of boat fixing, we were hugely relieved and slightly terrified to be back in the water and sailing again. Solar panels and a fridge were fitted. We changed the name of the boat. Other stuff broke (like the CV joint between the prop shaft and the engine – fairly major, that one) and was eventually fixed. Boats just take a lot more time than we imagined. We got out sailing as often as we could and even spent a week sailing from Portsmouth to Falmouth and back for a friend’s wedding.
By August we were nowhere near ready to leave the UK but we were running out of time. September would see the UK sailing season come to a close and and our boat would be stranded in the UK until the following April.
So we left anyway.
We had run out of time to sort out our house and wrap up our lives in Portsmouth. But we needed to move the boat somewhere southern, preferably the Canary Islands (but probably Portugal – we weren’t 100% sure we’d get past Falmouth), in preparation for a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the year.
We loaded the boat with all the bulky, heavy stuff we could think of (diving cylinders, diving weights, our pots and pans, a sewing machine, a guitar…), locked up the house and sailed off into the Solent. Destination – somewhere in Northern Spain. We hadn’t planned any further than that. It was all a bit of a rush really.
As we sailed out of Portsmouth harbour bound for Falmouth on that sunny August morning, we were excited and terrified. What the hell were we doing??