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Sail Away | Un.Tide from Cornwall

Who hasn't dreamt of dropping it all and just setting sail. We caught up with Chloë and the crew of Elixir who have done just that - they don't plan to return until they've circumnavigated the world. Anchors away!

In Winter 2019, a young crew of writers, scientists and photographers set sail from the UK. Their motivations are simple – to sail around the world, create stories, find perfect waves, and to do it all in a way that’s sustainable.

Intrigued by their pursuit for perfect waves and authentic, sustainable travel, I spoke to Chloë, one of the crew of Elixir, after they’d made their first safe passage across the Bay of Biscay and were spending a few days in Portugal, fixing some minor issues and enjoying a bit of surfing.

So who are you all?

We’re currently a crew of three, but soon to be four, ocean lovers from Cornwall. The project is the brain child of Max, who has been sailing for 20 years. After completing two solo transatlantic crossings, he decided that he wanted to share his next adventure with his friends.

Harry and Max have been inseparable since they were teenage surfers, growing up on neighbouring farms just outside of Falmouth. After university, the boys sailed down the West Coast of Europe, surfing their way through France, Spain and Portugal before Max decided to pursue his solo adventure.

I’m a fellow Cornish surfer and ocean enthusiast, and we bonded over a shared love of cold water surfing, dancing and very silly jokes. Although I grew up in Falmouth, I’d never set foot on a sail boat, always preferring to be in the water, rather than on it.

The fourth crew member is Lily. She grew up sailing with her family in Jersey, and joined the crew shortly after moving to Falmouth, when the first plans for the next adventure had been hatched.

And what’s the boat like?

Elixir is a 1970 Sparkman Stephens Swan. She’s a classic boat, and anyone who knows about sailing yachts will tell you that Swans are some of the best boats out there. She’s 37ft long, made of fibreglass and is 8 berth (i.e. sleeps 8).

We found Elixir at the back of Max’s stepdad’s boatyard in Mylor, where she had been left to ruin after her previous owner sadly passed away. We first started working on Elixir just after Christmas in 2018, and after that slowly began to spend more and more evenings and weekends at the boatyard.

We were very fortunate to have so many friends to help us along the way, but it still took until November 2019 to launch Elixir onto the water, and after that it was another two months working out of Pendennis Marina in Falmouth. We all learnt many, many new skills, but one of the biggest lessons was to just accept processes for what they are, and how long they may take.

Where are you headed?

The whole route of the trip is a circumnavigation! We started off in Falmouth, Cornwall, and crossed the formidable Bay of Biscay in January to arrive in North Spain, we’re currently in Portugal, and from here we will head further South to the Canaries. That’s when the first long passage begins, as we will cross the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in the Caribbean.

Following some luxuriating on a choice selection of Caribbean islands we will go through the Panama Canal and travel up the West Coast of Central America, until we reach California. After that it’ll be another big passage across the Pacific, stopping off on the remote islands that are very hard to reach by plane.

At the end of the Pacific crossing we’ll reach New Zealand and Australia, after which we’ll visit South East Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and then head across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. That will be our access point back to the Atlantic, and almost back to the UK, but not before crossing the Atlantic for a second time to visit Brazil, at which point we might be ready to do one final trans-at to come home.

As you can imagine, it’s an incredibly long trip, and it’s very difficult to predict anything in sailing even on the short-term scale when it’s so dependent on the weather. So Elixir has said goodbye to Falmouth for a very long time, but we might make trips on our own to visit our friends and family, or better, hopefully they’ll come and see us!

So life on board – how does that work?

We take it in turns to cook, clean, helm (steering) and go on watch (doing the rest of the sailing, look-out etc). It is essential that we are all willing to take on every responsibility, and the trip simply wouldn’t work if it weren’t for our very natural, mutual respect for each other.

Do you all get involved with everything?

With three of us it has worked very naturally, there are three meals a day to prepare, 12 hours a day, and 12 a night to split into three watches (like a shift, usually four hours at a time).

Max has more to think about as he’s both the boat owner and captain, and the fact he has far more experience than the other crew. This includes navigation, route planning and most of the technical repairs and maintenance, as well as always being on call over night watches.

Can we talk money – how does it work financially?

The project was a big leap of faith for all the crew, but something that felt so important it couldn’t be missed. We all stopped working in the autumn in order to work on the restoration full time. This definitely felt like a big step, forgoing an income for the first time in our adult lives in order to pursue our dream, knowing that last day of work was our last day of guaranteed earnings.

We are hoping to make the trip financially sustainable, as our savings alone will not get us around the world! Max has some writing briefs for magazines about the trip, and both of the boys have managed to maintain a casual working relationship with their previous employers.

We are also looking for sponsors who might be interested in supporting the trip, we are in the fortunate position to be able to create some really exceptional content in the beautiful places we will be visiting.

Sharing 37 feet for so long is bound to grate eventually. What’s the plan?!

We haven’t made any contingency plan for falling out with each other, if we’d done that it would be like we were anticipating that to happen, which is not a good way to start! The boat restoration was a very stressful period, particularly when we were in the boat shed. We were spending 12 hours a day with each other, seven days a week, performing frustrating tasks under immense pressure, for an end that did not seem at all in sight. After an experience like that you develop a shared solidarity and understanding for one another.

We are very close friends, and know and respect each other deeply, which should eliminate any tensions before they would ever escalate. Additionally, we are open enough to share our thoughts in a measured way, and are all adults who can take ourselves away from a situation if we need to.

What’s it like out there in the ocean?

The ocean is a very different place to the seas you experience as a coastal sailor or beach user. Everything from the movement, the sound and even the colour is different. It certainly feels very alive, and it can change mood in an instant, we’ve had days where we’ve barely been making 1 knot, to be assaulted by very strong winds a few hours later. It’s dynamic, exciting and scary in equal measure, very life-affirming! You definitely feel this more at night, during those long lonely stretches on watch.

We’ve experimented with different lengths of being on deck, and are still trying to figure out what feels more comfortable. Dragging yourself out of bed and into your foul weather gear at 4 o clock in the morning after a few hours of broken sleep is definitely one of the more challenging aspects.

It’s an empowering feeling steering the ship at night with nothing but the stars, dolphins and the compass light to keep you company. We’ve been known to disturb each other’s sleep dancing around andbelting out the power-ballads to keep awake.

Dare I ask, is there a back up plan /support crew?

We do not have a support crew, but we do have a Garmin satellite tracker meaning our family can always know where we are when we’re out of phone range. We can also send and receive a limited number of messages on the tracker, which usually means a message to one of the mums, who distributes the “all okay” to the others.

Our longest passage has only been 4 or 5 days so far, so we’ve not found ourselves too out of the loop, it’s surprising how quickly you return to scrolling after thinking you’ve finally defeated your phone addiction at sea!

What about ‘normal’ life on board – what are you all doing?

We’ve definitely not struggled to find ways to relax on board. When we’re sailing it’s amazing how long we can just stare at the sea lost in our thoughts, but we’ve also been enjoying being able to have time to read and write without any distractions. We also find each other all very amusing, and have a vast collection of very obscure inside jokes that keep us endlessly entertained.

We’ve manged to settle into a routine of living very easily. Of course there are some things to get used to, but so far it’s not been too different to living on land.

Like the food?

We’ve had lots of canned food, but we also have a fridge on board, so have been able to supplement our diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well. The biggest difference is adjusting to cooking on the alcohol stove, particularly in rough seas. There have been a few occasions when Harry and I have had to quickly swap cooking and helming duties with Max when concentrating on cooking down below has led to nausea.

We have also had to become conscious of our water and fuel usage, as unlike on land, these are finite resources at sea. Pudding is enough to raise spirits completely – chocolate has definitely become one of the essential pillars of our day.

Or is washing more of the issue?!

Washing is a little more challenging, but particularly for the first crossing, it was so cold, we couldn’t think of anything worse than stripping out of our thermal layers to expose ourselves to the January temperatures.

A hasty change of underwear and a wet wipe wash was the best we could hope for, and I just plaited my hair tightly and put on a hat. Your skin is very exposed to the elements so we were always careful to put on sunscreen, and a thick barrier cream to protect from the wind and salt spray. We’ve already learnt to covet the luxury of that first marina shower!

How can we follow your progress?

If you want to look at where we are, follow us on the map here (password maxcampbell) and you’ll see our little blue dot track further and further south.

You can also follow the crew of Elixir on the Un.Tide Instagram, where they are sharing photos and snippets of day to day life as well as some amazing videos (and drone footage too), as well as the Un.Tide website.

One last question, where’s your favourite place in Cornwall?

The Helford River! The scenery is beautiful and the beaches are the best for swimming. And you can sail there!

Thanks guys, good luck and safe passage!

All photos © Un.tide from their website & Instagram. Top and feature image © Matt Mario Photography

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