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:

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