The goal was clear, to sail around the world.
I had almost made the decision to try it in Flying Cloud. Whilst in St Martin, I was torn between continuing west toward the Panama Canal or crossing the Atlantic again towards home. The fundamental decision maker was Flying Clouds size. She was simply too small to explore the islands of the remote South Pacific. There wasn’t enough room for food, water and my surfboards.
It’s fun to be the young guy, single-handed in
a tiny wooden boat. People notice your vulnerability and open to you in a deep
way. Everything is smaller, and cheaper, and you can sail to most places on a
shoestring. Yet, I’d already pushed Flying Cloud to her limits. I wanted
to step my sailing up a level, and to do that I needed a more capable vessel.
So back across the Atlantic I came, thankfully,
this time without disaster. The winds were light, and the passage was long. All
in all, I spent 50 days alone, with a short stop in the Azores to break up the
solitude. I made landfall in the Scillies, greasy and windswept, to embrace my
family with salty tears of joy. I caught them on their summer holidays, giving
us a few days to catch up without any agenda.
Another five days and I was back in Falmouth. The
ocean had changed me, and for a while I struggled to fit in. Society
discourages you from abandoning your responsibilities to take off on adventures.
I had done exactly that, and now I was being punished. I was beyond broke,
forced to take loans from my friends and family to establish myself again in the
community. The authentic human nature, that I’d become so familiar with on my
journey, slowly became suppressed again by the stress and pressures of life on
It’s always been clear to me that conventional lifestyle isn’t for me. I can endure routine periodically, only if I know it will provide me with a route to adventure. I needed a new focus, one that would result in an adventure at the end of it. A green, neglected S&S Swan was the perfect fit for my obsessive personality.
Elixirs previous owner, Ian Chaston, spent the
last part of his life sailing her to far-flung parts of the world, including
Cape Town, The Falkland Islands and Brazil. He continued to cross oceans alone
well into his late seventies, and possibly his early eighties. He wrote a book
about his solo rounding of Cape Horn, titled ‘Alone Around the Horn’. I like to
look through the old pictures of Elixir and imagine the adventures she had in
her past life. My favorite shows her at her old mooring, alongside a stone wall
in Canary Wharf. London was her last home — and I think that few metropolitan
boats could claim to be so well traveled.
After completing his last Atlantic circuit, Ian
fell sick. Shortly after, at the age of 82, he passed away. Five years later I
climbed into Elixirs moldy cabin, and instantly fell for her. I like project
boats, and Elixir was exactly that. I shared the ownership with my stepdad, as
he was able to provide materials at cost price. He also thought that he may
like to join us for a few weeks on his holiday. Maybe in the Caribbean or South
On a wet morning, at the beginning of 2019, we discussed how we could have Elixir sailing by October. There was quite lot to do. 49 years of sunshine had left cracks in the gelcoat, and deep gouges in the stem and along the topsides suggested a collision with something. The teak toe rails were rotten, and some of the winches crumbled in our hands. The rudder was bent backwards, as was most of the stainless-steel stanchions on one side. Yet, I was used to wooden boats, and to me, this just seemed like a clean-up job.
We borrowed a diesel pressure-washer, to remove the leaves and green slime. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference a scrub made. The condition of the gel coat was bad, and it soon became clear that we would have to repaint everything.
We scavenged some timber from an old boat shed
and managed to fashion a flimsy frame over Elixir. To fully protect her, and to
give us enough room to work, the shed had to be 40-foot-long and 20 foot high. Essentially
the size of a small house. We decided to skip the planning stage, and straight
away started to screw pieces of wood together.
We cocoon her as best we can, and for the first
time in five years, everything is dry. We start the slow process of removing
all the deck fittings. We cursed the boatbuilder who did such a good job of
bolting everything down. Most things we can remove with a crowbar and a
screwdriver. Sometimes the fastening choses to be annoying, and we shout a few
profanities before slicing it with the angle grinder.
In order to do a proper job, everything must
come off. It’s like a slow, frustrating striptease. Piece by piece we shed the
heavy ocean cruising kit. The cumbersome self-steering gear, solar panels,
stanchions and toe rails. We count 15 winches and puzzle over the need for so
many. Beneath the assortment of stainless steel, we find her naked hull; and we
fall for her shapely curves. She’s become a blank canvas, giving us the chance
to make her our own.