It was the 13th June 2009. Picture a family summer’s picnic underneath some apple trees in a leafy Kent garden. Both conversation and prosecco were flowing as the children played happily in the garden. We were living the lives of typical suburban dwellers in Surrey and working in London. I was 37. My wife Nichola was 38 and our two children, Bluebell and Columbus, were four and two years old. My brother-in-law told us about a family who sailed around the world and then went on to say how crazy it was. Nichola and I looked at each other and were totally caught by the idea. What an amazing idea. And there the seed was planted.
Fast forward and it was now the 20th August 2014. At 6am in the morning we slipped the mooring lines of Aretha, our Oyster 53 from Universal Marina in Hamble and set off on the first day of our circumnavigation.
It was the culmination of perhaps the most intense five years of our lives. When we had the idea of sailing around the world, it was laughable. In fact that’s what most people did. We didn’t have the money, Nichola couldn’t sail and whenever she’d been on a boat, she’d been seasick. We had two young children (soon to become three) and would have to tackle homeschooling, becoming medical experts as well as familiar with everything needed to run an ocean-going yacht.
What we did have was time. We gave ourselves a deadline and five years to transform our lives. The idea of sailing around the world became a burning vision – written on the kitchen wall beneath a map of the world with our route marked on it. We had much to do to make it happen.
In that time we changed our fortunes by rapidly growing three separate businesses (one of which we sold whilst in the middle of the Pacific). Right up until ten weeks before our departure date, we still didn’t have a boat. For that reason most people didn’t believe we were actually going to sail around the world!
Very early on, we’d made the choice that we were going to buy an Oyster. With our three children, we made safety our number one priority. We wanted the best ocean going yacht we could find and the best support network, as we knew we were climbing a steep learning curve with how to fix things when they broke. We spent three years tracking the market and what Oysters were available. We looked at plenty and the sales guys got to know us pretty well! After a three-year search we finally closed the deal to buy Aretha with her beautiful blue hull, our home for the coming years. She instantly became part of the family.
Our choice of an Oyster was reinforced as the right one many times over in the following two years. From the army of red shirts helping us to prepare Aretha in Las Palmas for the start of the ARC to the ever present Eddie Scougall and his team whenever stuff broke, to Sam shipping parts all over the world for us. They were literally the sixth member of our team. Not only that, Aretha gave us peace of mind as she was rock solid in the heaviest and roughest of seas.
Over the next two years until we completed our circumnavigation sailing Aretha to San Francisco, we went on to share magical life-changing experiences with our children, to face death-threatening situations and to survive, and making friendships to last a lifetime. I’ll share one of my favourite highlights which features in my upcoming book, ‘Where the Magic Happens’.
06:10. The light has just come up over the Indian Ocean – it’s a slightly misty morning and the deck is damp from a heavy dew. The sea all around is a glass and absolutely windless and flat calm. The genoa and staysail are both furled and the mainsail is centred and gently straining against the sheet as we motor forwards at six knots.
We’re en route to Christmas Island having weighed anchor from Gili Gede in Lombok at 8am yesterday morning. Due North of us is the Indonesian island of Java, due South of us is the West coast of Australia. From this point it’s roughly 4,700 miles until we make landfall in South Africa. Before that we have stops in Christmas Island, Cocos and Keeling, Mauritius and Réunion.
Columbus and Willow join me in the saloon. Willow is placated for now with a box of raisins – Columbus is wrapped in a blanket snoozing. I am on borrowed time for writing.
The next leg of our journey continued yesterday with a fabulous race restart. The race line was marked by Ray, the marina manager on his yacht and an Indonesian skiff at the other end.
Leaving the anchorage, we motored out from the anchorage past the pearl farms and quickly had sails up in the light ten knots of wind.
Columbus was on the genoa winches, Nichola on the mainsail, Bluebell on the iPhone timer, to count down our timings on the five and ten minute calls to race start and spotting yachts underneath the genoa.
For the first time, it felt like we had a crack racing crew on board – the team working marvellously and we had pure concentration. We crossed the line fully powered up albeit near the back out of the way of too many other boats and began working our way through the back markers. We rounded the headland and Aretha heeled as the breeze filled in and we powered up to nine knots over the ground.
Hike Hike Hike. Bluebell, Columbus and Nichola were quickly on the side of Aretha, legs hanging over the side as they sat on the rail to get the weight in the right place.
The sun shone, the skies were clear and we were flying. Past Luna Quest, past Hugur and Allegro, squeeze up on the wind and we dodged to windward around Chat Eau Bleu and stealing their wind we shot past them. Bluebell and Columbus by now were calling the gusts on the water and letting me know where the other boats were.
With three knots of current underneath us in the channel between Lombok and Bali we were popped out in the Indian Ocean like a champagne cork from a bottle as we headed South.
Past the rough water at the South of the Island where the wind on tide piled up large waves which bathed the entire decks of Aretha (and the crew on the rail). As we rounded the corner of Bali, we could see the five yachts ahead of us suddenly slowing up as we closed rapidly on them and we were half a mile from them. We changed course and headed due South avoiding the worst of the current and managed to jump up a number of places on the fleet as we sailed around them.
We’d just experienced some magical times in Lombok. Over drinks in the local bar I ended up talking to local landowner Abu and his friend Abraham. Abraham is an educated man and the local teacher. Spotting an opportunity, I asked how often he ran the school. Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday between 4pm and 5pm under the Tamarind Tree at Abu’s house was the answer. The curriculum – English, Good Manners and Good Conduct. Venturing forth I enquired if could I bring our children to the school tomorrow (today being the Friday). He was only too happy to oblige and it was agreed – we’d take our three together with 14-year old Oscar from Chat Eau Bleu the following afternoon.
Most of the day was spent shopping and provisioning for the next leg at the local town of Mataram some two hours drive away. We arrived back just in time to dinghy down to the Tamarind tree for 4pm where we found Abraham. They were eagerly expecting our arrival. There was a white board nailed to the tree and next to that Abraham’s desk and a chair. An orange tarpaulin covered the ground and seated were 16 children – aged between 7 and 18. They all had name badges – handwritten on white stickers and wore big quizzical smiles. Some eight adults were in attendance too – perhaps curious to see who these foreigners were.
Abraham asked each of the local children to step forward and introduce themselves in English – “Hello, my name is..” and to shake all our hands. Much smiling and laughter accompanied this as Willow not quite sure what to make of it all hid behind my legs. It was then our turn and I asked our crew to introduce themselves, to say their ages and where they were from.
I suggested to Abraham that the children might like it if our children would like to tell some stories and share some of things we’d met and seen on our travels. He welcomed this and indicated he had a presentation to make first. The children had collected shells and wanted to present them to us. All of us were called forward and a local child presented all five of us with our own package – wrapped in newspaper, tied with string and packed with beautiful cowrie shells and coral they’d collected. It was very touching and besides the smiles and the memories, it was a fantastic keepsake to remind us of this time. We responded afterwards and Bluebell presented the local children with colouring books and pens that we had brought for them.
After this, they brought chairs for us all so we all faced the group. Nervously, the older three got up to speak. Oscar first sharing his journey from Australia to Lombok, Bluebell with stories of the Galapagos and the islands we visited across the Pacific and finished by a ten minute talk from Columbus on animals, islands and volcanos. It’s no wonder he has picked up the nickname, the ‘Walking Wikipedia’! The children spoke a sentence at a time and Abraham translated for the children. Willow, easily distracted, was soon off running around and finding toys to play with. The older three fully engaged, articulate, interested and growing in confidence. Proud is an understatement of how I felt to see our two – worldly, knowledgeable and ready and willing to share what they had learnt.
School finished with the local children singing us five local songs – ‘I’m Happy’ (that was the translation) was one and they sang with volume and conviction. Truly heartwarming. They walked us afterwards to our dinghy and stopped for photos on the way. Visitors seldom come here and I believe we were the first to visit the local school. Abraham said that our presence was enough to show their children different ideas, manners and knowledge.
So, our time in Lombok came to an end, and we waved goodbye to the many good friends we have made here – Abu came by boat to visit us on departure day to say goodbye and it is somewhere we’d love to revisit. In Columbus’ words, “I’m really going to miss it here – I’ve enjoyed it so much.”
So, here we are back at sea, the breeze has filled in whilst I’ve been typing on deck and the children are below decks writing their journals and doing maths.
Team Aretha in the Indian Ocean, Out.
Details of Caspar's book, 'Where the Magic Happens' can be found here.