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Preparations: The Journey Before The Voyage


Preparing For An Atlantic Circuit In Gulliver G


Beginings:

 

Kate and I bought Gulliver G, a Nicholson 32, in summer 2006, when I was 28 and Kate was 27. The purchase was entirely unintentional. At that time I had only recently got back into sailing after a break of ten years or so due to university and a new career and Kate’s only experience of sailing was with me in a 22-foot drop-keel Seal Sinbad which we had purchased just 4 months previously.


The plan had been to be very sensible and sail the Seal for a couple of years before progressing to a larger vessel. That plan got scrapped as soon as we saw Gulliver G on the hard on Hayling Island. I know a proper boat when I see one and Gulliver G immediately re-ignited long suppressed ambitions to go off deep water cruising. It was love at first sight.


When we bought Gulliver G, I was starting a training contract as a solicitor and Kate was enjoying her career as a pharmacist. Dreams aside, we had no immediate intentions to sail long distances and in those early days simply getting in and out of our marina berth without damaging anything felt like a massive achievement (OK, it still does!). Crossing the Channel seemed worthy of a medal.


But, things move on…


An Atlantic Circuit:

 

The purpose of this article is chiefly to describe the preparations which went into getting our boat – and ourselves – up to spec for our Atlantic circuit prior to leaving the UK. Although everyone’s circumstances differ, taking a big chunk of time out of work/everyday life is as much a part of the planning and preparation as doing the antifouling, so I have touched on how we went about it – though the primary focus is on what we did to prepare Gulliver G.


By ‘Atlantic Circuit’, I mean sailing west from the Solent, down through the Chenal du Four, across the Bay of Biscay to NW Spain and from there down to Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verdes before crossing to Barbados. A few months’ cruising the Caribbean, and then back to the UK via Bermuda and the Azores. A total distance of around 10,000 nautical miles.

 

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Kate helms Gulliver G on a trip to the Channel Islands, 2010, before Geoff rows ashore on Sark...


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Initial Plans:

 

Initial plans for the voyage started to take shape around Easter 2010 when, after 10 years together Kate and I got married. There were many matters to be taken into consideration: funding, careers, what to do with the house, the cat (the vicious beast was duly offloaded onto Kate's unsuspecting parents), preparing the boat and ourselves. 


Shortly after our return from honeymoon, in May 2010, I bought Les Weatherwitt’s Sailing Your First Atlantic Circuit. This was soon joined by Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes. It was evident that the best time of year to cross Biscay would be summer, but that the Atlantic crossing should be undertaken mid-November or later. We decided that a year should be ample preparation time, and that the aim should be to have the boat ready to cross Biscay in June 2011, with the onward journey commencing October 2011. A key advantage to this timing was that we were both on 3 months’ notice at work and did not want to resign until we had got across Biscay, since that would be our first passage spanning several days and nights, non-stop, and, despite our commitment to the voyage, there was the possibility that once we’d reached Spain we might decide that there was no way we would cast our comfortable land-based lifestyles aside for a year at sea. As it happens, both the Biscay crossing and the down-Channel passage which preceded it were rough and wet, but that did not dampen our spirits. Having crossed Biscay, we both handed in our notices of resignation, timed to ensure mutual end dates of 30th September 2011.


The decision to put careers on hold was not easy and I worried for a while about the effect of a break like this on career progression. But, we are in our early thirties and decided that if we did not crack on with the voyage now, it may become something that we would never do. No-one I spoke to seemed to think that taking 9 months or so out to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition would be viewed as anything other than a positive by potential employers on our return. After all, it demonstrates a willingness to take calculated risk (giving up secure employment), an ability to set and adhere to goals as well as planning and project management skills. For all those true ‘free spirits’ out there this may sound very droll and corporate, but any other ambitious professional contemplating a break of a year or so to do something entirely different will no doubt understand these considerations.


Back to Spring 2010: it was evident that we had a lot to do preparing both the boat and ourselves for the voyage and that the deadline for these preparations had to be the beginning of June 2011. The Nicholson 32 Association Cherbourg Rally was to take place on 4th June 2011. We decided that we would like to attend the Rally (not least as we were organising it) and continue from there.


           

 

The Right Boat for the Voyage:

 

Clare Francis sailed Gulliver G across the Atlantic, and herself into the history books as the first woman to sail across single-handed, in 1973. Having discussed with Clare Francis some of her experiences in Gulliver G, we know that she sailed the boat hard, unperturbed by gales and storms and never eager to reduce canvas!  


As well as having been across the Atlantic at least twice already, Gulliver G has been in the Round Britain Race two times that we know of and down to the Med. Many other Nicholson 32s have been cruised throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and a number have completed circumnavigations. By pure coincidence, in Porto Santo we berthed alongside Orkestern, a Swedish owned Nicholson 32 Mark X (Gulliver G is a Mark IV) whose previous owner completed one and a half circumnavigations in her and whose current owners, Filippa and Martin, plan to sail to Australia. 


With their deep long keels and classic lines (only 24’ at the waterline!), these boats may lack the living space of modern 32-footers, but they more than make up for it in sea-keeping ability and sheer strength. In the highly unlikely event of an inversion, a Nicholson 32 will self-right from 165 degrees. Beyond that point she would only require the slightest nudge to come back up again. This is unlike many modern designs, which will float better upside-down than the right way up. Not that the self-righting abilities of a Nicholson 32 from capsize have ever been properly tested as none of the 400 or so boats built over the last 50 years is ever known to have capsized. A number have suffered knock-downs in severe conditions, but have always come back up quickly, thanks to the narrow shape of the craft, low freeboard and, high (compared to the freeboard) coach roof and the 3.5 tons of lead in the keel.

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Clare Francis aboard Gulliver G, August 2009.