Starting our Sailing the World Adventure!

The British ensign

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.  

The Big Plan

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.

So how did the Big Plan go?

We bought a boat

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.   

We learned a lot about boats and sailing

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. 

OYSTYER 435 on POG pontoon

Our cheap, inconvenient mooring – but lovely, quiet, picturesque and relaxing once we had arrived.

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. 

We found a corroded mast

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!   

We fixed loads of stuff on our boat

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. 

washing the hull of a sailing boat in the boatyard

The winter days in the boat yard weren’t always sunny!

repairing the rudder of a sailing boat

Giles taught us all about repairing fibreglass boats .

Drilling into stainless steel on a boat

Uncle Adam showing off his ‘balancing on a squidgy boat while drilling into stainless steel’ skills.

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 left Portsmouth on our floating home

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.   

Cabin boy

Evan loves his new bedroom.

the saloon on an Oyster 435

Moving in. Our new ‘living room’ is a bit 1990s but we love it anyway.

Moving aboard a boat

Filling the boat with all the stuff we would need to live aboard for a few months.

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??

5 Comments on “Starting our Sailing the World Adventure!

  1. Hello! – we swapped a couple of messages a year ago. Must admit I was scared something had got in the way of your plans when there were no blog entries for quite a while! Congratulations on getting out there. Out of interest, it seems that getting the boat up to spec may have required more time/work/money than hoped. As we ourselves get into purchase mode, would you do anything different with the benefit of hindsight? More specifically a newer boat. Partly informed by your experiences, I am now leaning toward a newer production yacht! Perhaps a bad analogy, but I would buy a new Ford every day of the week versus an old Jaguar, despite the quality differences.

    • Hi Matt! Lovely to hear from you. We are still here! In fact, we have just arrived in Barbados after crossing the Atlantic. Sorry for the delay in replying. Only just managed to sort out some kind of wifi for the boat. The boat has indeed taken lots more time, money and work than we hoped. Everything was a rush at the end and we just had to leave without being ready, hence the lack of blog posts (more going onto the website soon, honest). With hindsight, and now having crossed an ocean, we are very happy with our purchase. Despite the hassle and work, we would buy Fat Susan again. Or at least another sturdy bluewater boat. Our main concern was having a strong boat that would keep us safe in big seas, even though we intend to spend most of our time in coastal waters. We have had no doubts about the integrity of the boat in big seas and a thousand miles from land. We think we were hit by a whale too! Production boats within our budget would have most likely been from the mid 2000s, when boat manufacturers made the hull thinner and thinner to save money. Our hull is 16mm thick. We stayed on a production boat for a few days in the Canaries while Susan was in the boat yard and we could see the sunlight through the hull! Others have told us that you can feel those production boats flexing in big seas. Our big problem was the mast and that was part bad luck, part inexperience on our part – I would recommend getting a mast and rigging survey as well as the normal survey. Question everything in the survey.
      It depends what sort of sailing you are planning to do, but basically, I feel your Fiord Fiesta will crumble in a crash and your old Jag probably won’t. I know nothing about cars though!
      On the other hand, our 30 year old boat needs lots of repairs – we had to buy a new prop in the Canaries and the auto pilot broke mid Atlantic…..
      Good luck with your boat buying! Keep in touch! Floss x

  2. I’m so impressed with your family and your adventures! Buying a boat and learning all the ropes of the sailing the open waters takes so much courage. I was telling my family about y’all over dinner last night. We discussed if we were capable of doing the same. We decided not:) I look forward to reading more about your travel experiences. What a cool life you have provided for yourselves and your kids!!

  3. I was the original owner from 1990 until 2002.
    Grey Girl has had an interesting life.
    She has been as far east and north as Helsinki.
    As far south as Antigua.
    As far west as New Orleans.
    As far north as Boston in the USA.
    Round Britain.
    Across the Atlantic.
    Plus numerous other voyages.
    Written up in many newspapers and yachting journals.

    • Hello Brian,
      Thank you so much for getting in touch with us. It’s fantastic to hear about Susan’s previous life as Grey Girl. We were told about your adventures over in the U.S. and how, left to her own devices, Grey Girl had started sailing back to the U.K. by the Oyster broker that sold her to us. We’ve since found a couple of articles adding further colour to the story. The whole thing sounds terrifying to fair weather cruisers like ourselves.

      We got Oyster to do some work for us when we first bought Grey Girl, and everyone in the yard still remembered her story.

      She’s a fantastic boat and has kept us safe and very happy over the last 4 years and 20,000 miles of cruising. We’re very excited to finally get down to New Zealand and to be able to lavish some care and attention on her and get her ready for new adventures.

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