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Pressing On: Or, how we temporarily swopped two hulls for two wheels

by Stuart Letton 22 Sep 2022 09:27 UTC
Pressing On: Or, how we temporarily swopped two hulls for two wheels © Stuart Letton

OCC Roving Rear Commodore Stuart Letton tells us about Time Bandit's change of routine over the years of cruising, from moving on with the seasons to stopping to really experience the places you land.

We've sailed all our lives. It's in the genes. My grandfather ran away to sea at the age of twelve and during the course of his career worked his way from deckhand to captain.

I was brought up in the bilges of my dad's Flying Fifteen and Loch Longs until I was old enough to get a full-time crewing job on a Shearwater catamaran, aged eleven. As soon as I had enough cash and my girlfriend (now wife/crew/pillion) enough of her student grant, we pooled our resources and bought a Marauder - a fourteen foot, trapeze dinghy racer from the early seventies and during my career, I worked my way from captain of industry to deckhand. Such is life.

Fast forward a few decades and time well spent in 505s, Fireballs and a Contender, children and latterly, a BMW K100 motorcycle came into my life - all part of a midlife crisis. The bike, not the children. The arrival and entertainment of our kids had put our dinghy racing on hold and amusing myself on two wheels seemed like a good idea while the children were at football, rugby, mountain biking etc... The Beemer was replaced with a Honda VFR 800 when we found ourselves working in the USA for a few years... And all the while, life was marching on.

In 2011, we moved back to Scotland and in 2008 had matured enough to buy our first cruising boat. A few years later, our elder son, visiting from "down south" where he wasn't much enjoying the delights of working in the corporate world, explained to his mother that he was pretty fed up and in addition, his wife wanted to get back to Scotland, closer to her family. In a throw-away comment, Anne said, "Tell you what, you can move up here, stay in our house, use our car, run the business and hey - we'll go sailing!"

He handed in his notice on Monday! Before we knew it, we were stood in Largs marina, beside Time Bandit, our Island Packet 45 ("Nice, but sluggish" as my uncle would say). We'd bought the boat a few years before with a long-term but, at the time, seemingly distant goal of going off cruising, so immersed were we in running the business. However, after Anne's conversation with our cuckoo-like son, like unsuspecting chicks, we were chucked out of the nest before we realised what was going on. And that was the start of our offshore cruising life. Since then we've sailed over 70,000 miles and are currently languishing in South Africa where, to avoid doing important boat maintenance jobs before we head across to Brazil and northwards, I'm writing this nonsense.

So what's a yachtie type doing writing about "adventure biking" you may be asking? Even more to the point, why is it in an Ocean Cruising Club article?

Well, unlikely as it may seem, although, hopefully, a little exotic, it all started in an Internet bar in Tonga. We'd sailed there over the course of 2016, leaving from Panama in late January and were headed for New Zealand to while away the six months of cyclone season in the South Pacific. Normal yachtie practice in New Zealand and, indeed, Australia is to rent a banger or, if you're flush, a camper van and head off touring. And that was our plan. Right up until Google let me know that long-term camper van rental in New Zealand cost a flippin' fortune. I spent a while longer and a few more beers looking for cheaper options but nothing doing. "Maybe a people carrier" I thought. Pull out the seats, stuff in a mattress and bingo, you've got a cheap camper. Nope. Nothing on the market.

Or, brainwave... click, click, click... we rent a motorbike!

"No way" said Anne. "No way", said I when I worked out what renting would cost. 'Look at this." I said, showing the screen to my wife. 'I'll bet you could buy a flippin' bike for way less than the cost of renting."

NEWSFLASH! Buying is way cheaper than renting.

Since then that has become our modus operandi. Sail from A to B, park up, buy a motorbike and head off touring.

You see, as you've been reading, we've been full-time cruising now for eleven years, or voyeuraging as I like to call it... Def: looking in people's windows while sailing round the world, or "back and furrit" as my brother called it after our fourth Atlantic crossing. Over these years, ignoring lockdowns and cyclone season dodging we've averaged about seven thousand miles a year and until relatively recently, we've suffered from what we call our, "press on" mentality.

"Hey, look! The Canary islands." Anchor down, one or two walks ashore. A whiz ashore in the dinghy, buy a few veggies and... press on.

"Hey, look! Grenada". Anchor down, one or two walks ashore. A whiz ashore in the dinghy, buy a few veggies and... press on.

"Hey, look! Marquesas". Anchor down, one or two walks ashore. A whiz ashore in the dinghy, buy a few veggies and... press on.

I mean, we've done the Bahamas twice. All three thousand islands and four hundred and seventy thousand square kilometres of it. The first time in a week, the second in forty-eight hours. We often self-justify this as needing to keep up with the Trades and avoid unpleasant conversations with the insurance company but largely, it's down to our perceived need to "press on". However, as time has passed, we've finally learned to ease off the sheets. We made a six-month stop in New Zealand in 2017 to avoid cyclone season and six months in Australia in 2020, "in between boats" when we finally saw the light and bought a catamaran - but that's another story.

If you read our last post, you may remember we landed in Cape Town in November '21. Since then, we've watched the "fleet", the 2021 cohort of the round-the-world cruising community, pitch up in South Africa, anchor down, one or two walks ashore. Ashore in the dinghy, buy a few veggies and... press on.

Consequently, in stark contrast to the one hundred and fifty yachts or so that transited South Africa in 2021/2022, we have all but taken up residency. As per our M.O., we bought an adventure bike, a BMW F800 and have now covered over fifteen thousand kilometres across Southern Africa. And it's been amazing. Apparently, there are four hundred and fifty thousand kilometres of dirt roads in South Africa, most of it weaving through absolutely stunning mountain passes or precipitous coastal cliff roads that would take your breath away. And your life insurance if you get it wrong.

So, if in reading this, some of the "anchor down, whiz ashore" thing sounds familiar, consider taking your foot off the gas, let the anchor gather some barnacles, take some long walks, smell the roses, look in as many windows as you can, and take time to see what's really under the surface of the place you just landed.

However, having said all that nonsense, like a dyed-in-the-wool hypocrite, come August, we'll be picking up the anchor, checking out of South Africa, making a dash for Namibia and... dropping the anchor, whizzing ashore for some veggies then, off to St Helena where we'll pick up a mooring, whiz ashore in a launch, buy some veggies, then on to Brazil, up to Surinam, thrash through the Eastern Caribbean and north to Boston USA for 4th July next year. Gotta press on!

(Time Bandit's adventures, both on two hulls and two wheels are documented on YouTube - SV Time Bandit - if there's absolutely nothing on the tele.)

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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