Friday, August 1, 2014


Facebook is an amazing medium. Through my sister-in-law, Shelagh, who lives in Vermont, I discovered that Andrew Halcrow, a yachtsman from Shetland, was coming to Falmouth in October to prepare for his second attempt at a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe under sail only. The Facebook page had been set up by Jim Strang, a Shetlander who no longer lives there, and isn’t known to Andrew, his wife or family. Through the Facebook page, I was able to get contact details and interview Andrew and his wife just before he left Falmouth in November 2013. Andrew’s first attempt was in 2006 when he set forth in his 31 foot steel yacht, Elsi Arrub, which he built 26 years ago. All went well until, some 300 miles south west off Australia, his appendix burst. Andrew phoned his wife, Alyson, on the satellite phone, and she alerted Shetland Coastguard who then contacted Falmouth international rescue centre. Andrew was taken on board a bulk carrier to hospital in Albany, Australia, for an operation that saved his life. Months later, back home in Burra, Shetland, Andrew was amazed to find that his boat had been found afloat. “I got a phone call at 7am one morning to say she was safe,” he said. And so Elsi Arrub arrived back in Shetland in May 2007. “Last year I shot blasted the deck and painted her up and she looked really good when I’d finished,” Andrew says. “It was as if she was all dressed up and nowhere to go. So Alyson said why don’t you have another go?” Months of preparation followed, and Andrew decided to leave Shetland at the end of September and head for Falmouth for final preparations. “It was easier to leave from Falmouth as it’s the best route to cut out a month of bad weather,” Andrew explains. “Also, Falmouth is a great place to leave from as it has a great seafaring heritage. It’s a great place to return to, as well. Andrew’s father was a keen sailor and encouraged his son’s interest in boats from early on. By the age of 18, Andrew was keen to build a boat. “I’d always wanted to travel, so sailing and travel seemed a good idea,” he explained. As a blacksmith he was used to working with steel, so he built a 31’ (10 metres) steel boat. “I started the Elsi Arrub in 1985 and launched her in 1987. Then in 1988 I set off with my brother on a circumnavigation for 5 years, arriving back in 1993.” But the five years sailing with his brother only underlined Andrew’s real ambition. “I had a hankering to do a singlehanded non-stop circumnavigation so in 2006 I set off.” Bearing in mind that this boat has no engine, Andrew is relying purely on his considerable sailing skills to get him out of trouble. And as his first voyage was cut short, this trip is all the more special. “I’ve been wanting to do it for 30 years,” Andrew says. And his faith in Elsi Arrub is especially touching. “She’s been part of my life for 26 years and I know her inside out. She’s a huge help and I have great confidence in her.” He pauses and smiles. “I’m looking forward to the Trade wind sailing which is as good as you can get. And being at sea for a long period of time is good. I like the solitude although I’m not really a solitary person. It’s the challenge and a big adventure.” In addition, as Andrew teaches sextant navigation, he will use just a sextant, with GPS for emergencies. The hard part will be being away from family and friends. “Alyson and I spend most of our time together so it will be difficult being apart,” he says. “And I’m not looking forward to the bad weather, or tinned food for a year.” He grins. “The first proper meal will be wonderful back here in Falmouth.” As to the future, Andrew and Alyson are looking forward to some leisurely cruising – “we’ll take off and sail somewhere,” he says. Somewhere warm? “Antarctica,” he adds, to my surprise. “If I don’t do this trip now, I am never going to do it. I dinna want to be sitting in an old folks home, being 90 years old and thinking I really should have done it.” In the meantime, his growing number of followers can do so via the Facebook page or the website:


“I spent 37 years in the Navy, and when the chance came up to take part in the Clipper Race, I grabbed it,” says Mick Leonard who has wanted to sail round the world since he started sailing aged 12. Now 58, Mick says, “I’ve done lots of coastal sailing deliveries around Europe, the U.S., Middle East and Far East and the Mediterranean, and I’ve done the AZAB two handed. This is a way of joining all the dots from the past.” The Clipper is the longest ocean race in the world covering 40,000 miles, six continents and 16 ports in over 11 months in the biggest fleet of large one-design ocean racing yachts in the world. What makes this race unique is that it’s for amateurs - 40% of crew have never sailed before they start their pre-race training. This year (2013/14) 670 crew were selected to take part, from truck drivers to film directors, nurses, vets, professionals and students. When I spoke to Mick who was in Rio after the first leg, he’d got through the Doldrums, and survived the Shellback Ceremony (to celebrate a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator). He said, “I know the The North Pacific will be very tough physically and mentally because it can be wet and bitterly cold. But I intend to get round and enjoy it.” At the end of November, Mick’s boat was off Albany, Western Australia. “We were adjusting the sails and one of the sheets span off the winch and a fully loaded rope caught my leg.” In agony, Mick was carried to Albany to see a doctor who said Mick had damaged the ligaments in his knee and pronounced him unfit to continue. “I was absolutely gutted,” Mick says. “It’s been so frustrating to watch the race and see what I’m missing out on.” Thankfully, Mick’s knee is healing well and after physiotherapy he hopes to rejoin the boat in March. The Clipper race is a steep learning curve, and not just about sailing. “I’ve learned patience,” Mick says. “When I commit to something I commit absolutely, and when I see other people not pulling their weight, it annoys me. But I’ve learnt that people don’t necessarily have the same attitude as me. It’s about being competitive at the right time and relaxing at the right time.” Ben Turner was 18 when he took part in the 2011/12 Clipper Round the World Yacht race. “It’s not so much about the racing, but the people you meet, the contacts you form and the teamwork. It’s about working with people.” Ben has sailed since he was two, and was inspired by endlessly watching the video of Ellen MacArthur’s 2000 Vendee Globe, but help came from another professional sailor. “My mum worked with Pete Goss and she told him my dream of sailing round the world,” Ben says. Pete told Ben about the Clipper Race so he followed the 2007/8 race online, then saw the Clipper racing yachts in the Solent. “Later I got some money from my grandparents who’d passed on, and I decided to do the whole trip in my gap year.” The cost is high – around £45,000 for the whole trip and between £3-5,000 per leg. “Though that includes your training and all your kit.” The intensive training lasted a month, and being the youngest, Ben felt at a disadvantage. But after a while he was made Watch Leader. “That really boosted my confidence and the others looked up at me then. You have to be very calm under pressure and be someone they can talk to. You’re the skipper’s right hand man.” After some amazing adventures, Ben’s confidence grew. “The skipper said I was capable of becoming a very good sailor. I came back a completely different person.” Now, Ben has his Yachtmaster Ocean and his Cruising Instructor qualifications. “It’s given me an opportunity to move into the sailing industry and make it my career,” he says. His advice to anyone considering entering the Clipper race is, “Even if you can only afford to do one leg, go for it. It changes you massively. It’s tough work but makes you grow as a person and toughens you as a sailor. Even if you’re not looking to go into sailing as a career, the contacts you can make are lifelong and you’ll be amazed who you meet who may help get you get work somewhere else.”