It was the delightfully dole-faced Clement Freud who first suggested to me that a sea voyage might be good for your health. The culinary clown had just flown in to Cape Town to join his sailing friend Robin Knox-Johnston for a race across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro. When suggesting this cure, I’m not certain that his doctor had quite such an adventure in mind, but the inexperienced Freud attacked the challenge with gusto.
Knox-Johnston put him in charge of victualing – and was left aghast when two lorries turned up on the quayside, one filled with every possible culinary delight, and the other with case upon case of complimentary wines. Between them, the lorries exceeded the length of the boat, and it had completely escaped Clement’s mind as to where to store it all. He was crestfallen at being told to send it all back.
Despite, or perhaps because of the shortage of rations, Knox-Johnston and his crew were first to complete the 3,600- mile distance, none the worse for wear. Indeed the ruddy-faced Clement, then in middle age, thrived on the experience, and spent the rest of his life joking about sea air and the deprivations of such travel.
“It is a great event – one of the best experiences of my life,” says Max Klink who sailed his yacht Caro in last winter’s ARC. “The event is for everyone: families with children, cruising couples, people with big budgets, and those with the most modest boats. It’s about friendships made ashore during the two weeks of pre departure in Las Palmas, which are then continued during the daily radio net when at sea. It’s about arriving in Saint Lucia to be greeted on the dock with a rum punch or chilled beer; it’s knowing that you have achieved something fantastic – crossing an ocean in a small boat.”
And it is not just for the macho. Patricia Darling, a vet from Chichester, hung up the gauntlet gloves to take her two children Jillian and Alice on a University year-out cruise aboard the family Southerly 42 cruising yacht, aptly named Triple D of Chidham. “The only time we could have done with a man around, was mid-way across when none of us could open the jar of guacamole” jokes Patricia, who has now returned to calving cattle knowing that her own offspring are starting adult life with the best possible grounding.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, is now the Pied Piper of sailing, encouraging those with a sense of adventure to take part in his Clipper Round the World Race. Starting from Southampton at the end of this Summer, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the only event of its type. Anyone, even if they have never stepped on a boat before, can join the adventure and circumnavigate the world in an eleven month-long marathon. This is the only race in the world where individuals can sign up for a berth in one of 12 identical, 70-foot, racing yachts and with the support of a professional skipper, sail safely around the globe.
It’s a race where taxi drivers rub shoulders with chief executives, vicars mix with housewives, students work alongside bankers, nurses vie with vets and doctors team up with rugby players. It’s an experience designed to change people’s lives and fulfil dreams. The cost of a berth is £45,000, – a little more than £1 per mile and covers full training, food and a set of ocean oilskins.
You can of course slum it in a swing hammock and eat bully beef, but today’s yachts are very much home-from-home with full air conditioning, wine coolers and washing machines, surround-sound systems, and every luxury.