I’m all at sea this month, quite literally, as I sail from Bermuda back to Britain on the STS Lord Nelson. On board we keep a watch system, with four teams working a rota to keep the ship sailing and carry out the tasks essential for everyone to live together in such close confines. Our down time, plus the lack of distractions, gives plenty of time to get lost in a good book. So, here are my recommendations for seafaring tales to take on a sailing trip. Continue reading
I’m about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, joining the crew of a tall ship to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. I’m in Bermuda right now, and in a few days time I’ll meet my ship, the Lord Nelson, and set off on a 31-day transatlantic voyage back to the UK. Although I’ve sailed before, the thought of crossing an ocean under sail leaves me feeling rather nervous (fantastically excited, but still quite nervous!).
When I visited the Adventure Travel and Outdoor Show in London at the start of February, I met adventure traveller Tori Howse, founder of Another World Adventures, who made a similar trip in 2011. So, I asked her a few questions to get an insight into what will be in store for me on board Lord Nelson, and what it will be like to sail across the ocean.
Tell me about your trip.
I sailed on the Bark Europa in October 2011, making a 27-day Atlantic crossing from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. I then spent 3 days in Salvador, but decided that I wasn’t finished with tall ship life, so I go back on board for another 18 days down to Uruguay.
Why did you decide to do it?
Sailing across the ocean had been on my ‘bucket list’ for a while. I’d done a little sailing before and loved being on the water, but it was a travel piece by a journalist who had sailed on the Europa before that really inspired me to do the transatlantic crossing. I just thought it sounded so romantic and exciting, and as a passionate environmentalist, I liked the idea of getting to South America without flying. I cut out the article and had it pinned on my wall at home for a couple of years before I decided to make it the starting point for my sabbatical in 2011.
What did you expect beforehand? Did it live up to expectations?
I was hoping to learn some new skills, meet interesting people and just disconnect from the world for a bit. I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone and I was interested to see how I would react.
The reality was it surpassed all expectations and remains without doubt one of the best travel experiences of my life.
From the moment I stepped on board I was surrounded by a wonderful bunch of people from all walks of life, some of whom would become close friends and one my future business partner! The ship is beautiful, with traditional rigging, comfortable cabins, delicious food and space to relax. The professional crew of Europa are mainly Dutch, and are an incredible bunch; helpful, relaxed, and loads of fun, so you quickly gel as a team.
Before I joined the ship, I had been worried that I might get bored – but there was never a chance! Working a 24hr watch system meant I got to experience sailing the ship at all times of the day and night. From helming the ship to steer a correct course through a storm at night, to climbing up the mast to help set or strike the sails with amazing 360 views of the ocean, everyday was different. From the deck we saw the constantly changing sea and sky, watched wildlife including whales, dolphins and albatrosses, and at night experienced the sky lit up with millions of stars. We had a film night on board one night, and watched a film set at sea, sitting on the deck… at sea! It was surreal, and brilliant. My highlight was the day we turned the ship into the wind to slow her right down, and jumped overboard to swim with 3km of ocean beneath us!
Apart from the experiences and memories, the crossing also gave me some precious time to reflect and take stock. The lack of internet and phone signal was a wonderful chance to switch off and truly be present in the moment, with no ‘to do’ list. My world shrank to the boundaries of the ship, with no outside news or distractions. It was something that I had rarely experienced before and was very liberating.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about doing a trip like this?
My advice would be don’t put it off – just go! You won’t regret it. Go with an open mind, a willingness to learn and make new friends, and you’ll have an incredible time.
Packing: what did you take that was indispensable, and what do you wish you’d brought?
My main tip would be to remember that you’re going to encounter all kinds of weather, so take layers. Even if it’s hot and sunny in the day, it might get cold when you’re on watch at night. Other things I found indispensable were:
- a sun hat and sun glasses
- books to read, then swap with others
- cards or a small board game (perfect to keep you awake on a late night watch break)
- small torch (for finding your way back to your bunk after a night watch
- a journal to write down all your amazing experiences
- iPod and headphones (because nothing is better than watching the sun go down or rise over the ocean whilst listening to your favourite track)
Finally, what did the experience mean for you?
For me it was life-changing. On board I made a life-long friend, and together we set up a travel company, Another World Adventures, to help more people find epic adventures. I often think that the best experiences in life start with an active decision to do something out of your comfort zone, and for me it was one of the best ones I ever made.
Where I’ve Been
My February was pretty quiet in travel terms, as I prepared myself for an epic trip I’m taking in March and April (more on that later). I spent several days working with the Ocean Youth Trust based in Southampton, as part of the refit team on their sail training vessel, John Laing, a 22metre-long custom-built sailing ketch.
After spending much of January preparing the boat, we were able to paint the keel, hull, deck and coach house. Layers and layers of paint, mixed and applied with precision, and she’s looking rather smart sitting in her cradle. A few more jobs, and she’ll be going back into the water at the start of March, ready to be rigged.
The Bear and I managed to get away for a few days to Staffordshire, staying close to the edge of the Peak District. We managed to rack up a couple of 20km plus walks, carrying our new backpack training for our TGO Challenge attempt in May, taking in parts of the Gritstone Trail and Staffordshire Moorland Way, joined by the Bear’s brother, Woo. We did consider camping, to add to the #30NightsOut total, but only very briefly; freezing temperatures overnight were up against Woo’s cosy house nearby and the chance to catch up with his family, Mummy J and Baby Sully.
Getting towards the end of our walk on the Staffordshire Moorland Way, we arrived at a half-frozen Knypersley Reservoir just as the sun was setting. The temperature dropped as we walked through the woodland around the lake, just enough to catch your breath. Or maybe it was just that pretty.
The Telegraph Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show in London in the middle of the month was a great opportunity to listen to inspiring talks from explorers, and bask in the loveliness of Levison Wood of Walking the Nile fame. Although it feels that the main way into that type of career is serving in the Parachute Regiment or Royal Marines, my travel buddy Rach helpfully pointed out I do share the characteristic with them of “not really having a proper job”.
I’ve Been Reading/ Watching
This month I discovered Compass Cultura, an online travel magazine published monthly. Each issue has three long-form articles, of around 3,000 words each, that explore an idea, place or person in depth. There’s no advertising or sponsored pieces, and no Buzzfeed-style round-up lists. It’s quite refreshing to be immersed in a piece of well-written, compelling journalism. You can read one story for free each month, or subscribe for the full magazine, plus back-issues, and I urge you to check it out.
I’ve also been drawn in by Channel 4’s Our Guy in India, following motorcycle racer and all-round speed freak Guy Martin on a tour through India, from mountains and tea plantations in the north to the beaches of Goa. I’m a little bit in love with Guy, but it’s hard not to fall for his down-to-earth, cheeky-chappie personality, then be awed by his adventurous streak as he enters one of the craziest motorbike races you’ll ever see.
Best of the Blogs
Earlier in February I wrote about why I’m not a food blogger. Simply put, it’s because I like to eat and I don’t like to share, and am too lazy to cook and clean up after myself. But I do enjoy occasionally dipping into other travel blogs that write about food, just to see what they’ve got cooking, like Vanessa’s awesome pomegranate and mango salsa on Turnipseed Travel, or Niamh’s gluten-free buckwheat pancakes with plums and almonds on Eat Like a Girl. I made a little bit of an effort for Pancake Day, with some basic pancakes spread thickly with Nutella. They were gone before I could get my phone out of my bag to take a snap.
I’ve also really enjoyed reading about Emma’s exploration of the Oxford food scene on Gotta Keep Movin’. It’s a place I know well, but she’s given me a new side of the city to discover on my next visit.
My Most Popular Instagram
It was this one, of the interior of Litchfield Cathedral. An impromptu lunch stop on our route home from North Staffordshire. The cathedral is famous for having three spires, and seeing intense fighting during the English Civil War. Holes from musket fire are still visible in the outer walls, which look a little like this:
Coming Up Next Month
As you read this, I’ll be on the verge of taking part in my biggest trip for a long time. At the very start of March, I’m flying across the Atlantic to the heavenly holiday hotspot of Bermuda, famed for its coral reefs, pink sand beaches and rum cocktails. How lovely does that sound? Mark Twain is claimed to have said, “You go to heaven if you want – I’ll stay here in Bermuda.”
Unfortunately I can’t stay there forever, but I will be leaving the islands in style, on board TS Lord Nelson, a three-masted barque owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust. “Nellie” as she’s affectionately known, is unique in the world of tall ships (along with her sister-ship Tenacious), in having been designed with accessibility in mind, allowing people with different physical abilities to sail together on equal terms.
I’ll be part of Nellie’s crew for an Atlantic crossing, taking her from Bermuda back to Britain, arriving into Southampton in mid-April, after 30 days or so at sea. It might be a little quiet on the blog and social media over that period, but keep a look out for updates and for a full-account of the adventure once I get back.