Caspar Craven dreamed of a two-year voyage with his family. How could he make it happen?
Surreal. Not a breath of wind tonight. The sea’s surface is flat and unbroken. The sky is utterly cloudless and filled with stars. A half moon lights up the entire picture. It’s so still it’s unbelievable. We are six miles north of the Equator and on the cusp of leaving the northern hemisphere. Nichola and the children are excited. This is their first crossing of The Line. Given we will cross around 2330, King Neptune in all his finery is on ice until the morning. The crossing of the Equator ceremony presided over by King Neptune (in this case me, as I have crossed several times before) will try each of the crewmembers for crimes in court. Inevitably, they will be found guilty and buckets of cold water will be dispensed over each of them.
Yesterday, we had our first Galapagos visitor. A large, unidentified bird (later identified as a red-footed booby) landed on the bows in the afternoon. It perched on the pulpit and didn’t bat an eyelid as four of us stood taking photos of it. It was content to just sit there and hitch a lift. We estimate it was about 40-50cm long – a big bird.
He left this morning and we’ve had various other birds visiting during the day. It’s one of the features of Galapagos animals that they have no predators and are fearless; they come right up to you. We’re hoping to experience more of this tomorrow as we should arrive in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz by mid-morning tomorrow.
The schooling has been all about South American geography and biology. Our two eldest children, Bluebell and Columbus, re-watched David Attenborough’s Galapagos this afternoon and made pages of notes. They are on their way to becoming child experts on the islands. Columbus, who has been slow to get going with his writing, is making great strides now and writing at length. It’s really great to see.
I’m about to wake Bluebell to join me on night watch. She loved the night watch last night and chatted non-stop for two hours while we lay in the cockpit gazing at the stars and steered Aretha by our angle to Orion’s Belt. I think we can see the Southern Cross now but we are going to double check that tonight.
We are all looking forward to landfall. Spirits are high, in no small part due to showers all round and cooler temperatures on board. Our next post will be from the southern hemisphere and with tales of the Galapagos.
Team Aretha, out.
A long-term plan
In the early summer of 2009, life had been very different. Nichola and I had been married for five years and we had two children, Bluebell (4) and Columbus (2).
I was co-owner of a small consultancy business in the technology sector. I was working long 80- or 90-hour weeks and barely seeing Nichola and the children. By Friday evening I’d be exhausted. Nichola used to joke without much humour that all that was left of me by the end of the week was the pith of the lemon.
We had plans for what we really wanted to do in life: to travel; to explore; to live first class. But that was all some day in the future. ‘When’ was something we were never quite sure about.
A seed was planted in our minds on 13 June 2009. We were at a birthday party in Kent. Over a picnic my brother-in-law told us about a family who sailed around the world and then went on to say what a ridiculous idea it was. Nichola and I looked at each other. Something had clicked in both our minds.
Our world was about to change.
Over the next six months we spent just about every weekend scribbling with pen and paper what we wanted to have in our lives. I wanted to sail around the world again (In 2000-01 I crewed on the BT Global Challenge ‘wrong way’ round the world race) and Nichola wanted to do more travelling. At this stage in her life, Nichola had sailed on a boat just twice.
Piece by piece, we created a vision to sail around the world for two years. It was captured in a mission statement, like something straight out of the corporate world, that we tacked to the kitchen wall next to a huge map of the world with our intended route on it. We involved our children, Bluebell and Columbus, in the planning and made it a regular part of our conversation.
There was one fly in the ointment. Well, several: one a big one and lots of other slightly smaller ones. The biggest was money. It costs a lot of money to sail safely around the world, especially with young children.
The cold reality is that we didn’t have the money to do it. Nowhere even close. What we did have was a compelling vision of the future, time and lots of energy.
Right from the start, we set our departure date. It was to be 1 August 2014 and we were leaving from Dartmouth, eight miles from where I had grown up, close to Start Point lighthouse. That gave us five years to create the wealth we needed to make it all happen.
Back then, Nichola worked as an HR manager and I worked in my own business providing data analytics and consultancy as a managed service. The returns were thin and I used to joke I’d have earned more stacking shelves in the supermarket for the hours that I put into my own company.
Once we were fixed on our vision, we then told everyone we knew about it. We became known as the family who were going to sail around the world. Reactions varied from scepticism as to whether we would actually do it to ‘you are utterly crazy’.
We didn’t have to look far for all the reasons as to why we shouldn’t do it. Most people were kind enough to point them out for us. The main ones ranged from medical concerns to how would we do home schooling, to pirates, to the fact that Nichola couldn’t sail and got seasick when she had been on a boat. Plus the fact we’d never owned a boat.
Our approach was that rather than these being reasons for us not to press ahead, they were things to take account of. We noticed that so many people expressed strong opinions. But they were just that. They certainly weren’t facts.
Nichola and I had both been professionally trained in our careers, Nichola as a barrister, I as an accountant. We weren’t in the habit of being cavalier when it came to risk. We worked through each of the different areas, researched extensively and came to our own conclusions.
At a crossroads
By 2012, we were three years into our five-year plan to get the finances in place to be able to head off sailing. What was frustrating beyond belief was that our financial situation had not meaningfully changed.
We were at a crossroads. We had to do something dramatically different. Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That summed up the previous three years.
The answer was to immerse ourselves in learning, namely, learning the skills required to grow a business and to make money. As soon as I learnt new things I’d implement them in our business and test and measure.
There were many things we changed. It started with our lifestyle. We re-examined how we used our time, how we managed our energy and made conscious decisions around what we allowed to influence us.
In my business we grew the team, we launched new products, we tested myriad sales and marketing approaches and adopted an ego-free mantra of ‘it doesn’t matter who is right, it only matters what is right’. I re-learnt how to be a leader and heavily relied on values-based leadership which I implemented in both the business and at home.
We went on to launch multiple new ventures – online marketing sites and 500 niche dating sites – some of which crashed and burned. But some of them were successful. The next few years proved to be very intense as piece by piece we built the businesses that would enable us to fulfil what we set out to do.
While creating money was an important part of it, there were many other things we had to do as well. We had to get a good amount of sailing in to acclimatise the children and Nichola and make sure they liked it. We went on flotilla sailing holidays in the Med and made certain we chose places with the least wind and waves so we could allow Nichola and the children to form happy memories free from any scary experiences. Bad experiences early on would have been a deal breaker for the overall plan.
We had many other areas to focus on simultaneously: how to become medically self-sufficient so we could deal with medical emergencies (which we would later on); how to do home schooling. We had to learn in depth about boat maintenance and repairs, radio licences and so on. It was a long list and weekends were full with training, learning, planning and researching as well as building businesses.
By spring 2014, Nichola and I were working hard in both our businesses. Not only that, but two children had become three and we now had Willow, a very energetic two-year-old.
In my business, I was virtually out of the day-to-day activity. We’d strengthened the team and transitioned the CEO role from me to my business partner and at the same time had hired an experienced chairman to help guide the business. Nichola was working hard to build her business and had hired an excellent general manager to start running it in her absence.
There was just one thing missing. We still didn’t have a boat. When we attended an ARC seminar, the most common question we got was: “What boat do you have?”
The reactions said it all. People didn’t believe we would be there and be ready in time.
Many people we knew were looking at us and asking if it was really going to happen. It’s too late to get a boat now, they said; you won’t have time to get properly prepared. Surely you’d be better off delaying by a year?
When deciding on our boat, we had spoken to people we trusted and focused on recommendations. What had become apparent very quickly was that Oyster Yachts was one of the leading brands for building safe and solid bluewater cruising yachts.
What also became apparent in all our conversations was just how much work we’d have to do fixing our boat and learning about the maintenance of an ocean-going yacht. We heard one story after another of how Oyster responded quickly with advice on how to fix whatever problem you had, and arranged for parts to be shipped to wherever in the world.
The decision was easy and we spent very little time looking at other boats. We decided that, as there were five of us, we wanted a 50ft-plus boat to give us plenty of space, a boat that would sail fast and was rock solid and safe.
That April, we blocked out a Saturday and arranged a series of back-to-back boat viewings of some 11 boats. We had the children with us and it was set to be a full day, starting with the first viewings at 0900.
As the day wore on, we hadn’t found anything that felt right and the kids were getting increasingly fractious. We arrived at the final viewing of the day on the Hamble. By now Bluebell and Willow had had enough and just wanted to stay in the car.
Columbus and I went on ahead to view Aretha. She was the very nearest boat on the pontoon, painted in a stunning blue. She instantly stood out as a special boat. As we stepped on board, I had a feeling that this was the one.
She had four berths including a bunk room which would be perfect for two of the children. She would need some adapting and upgrades to get her ready for what we wanted, and some of the things like the pristine cream seats weren’t so practical as we knew they would be magnets for Marmite-covered children’s hands.
Aretha worked her magic as we explored. Nichola and I knew then and there that we had found our home.
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By early May, we had completed negotiations, done sea trials, a survey, and had finalised the purchase of Aretha. We had a good amount of work to do refitting her and getting her transformed from a boat that had been used to the English Channel to one that was about to sail around the world. Everything needed to be fully serviced, safety equipment needed to be beefed up, satellite comms installed and watermaker brought to a fully functioning state. There was a lot to do.
Equally important, we learned how she sailed and took her out for a test sail. I gathered a crew of three experienced sailors, guys I’d sailed with a lot in the Med and in mid-May we slipped lines from the Hamble for seven days, heading west to stretch Aretha’s legs and see how everything settled at sea.
Only a month earlier I had completed the London Marathon. I’d had some back pain and leg pain during the first 20 miles of the run. In the final six miles it developed into excruciating pain and during that last stretch along London’s Embankment and up to the finish line I was stopping every half mile to stretch and get physiotherapy. Fired by the energy of the crowd I pushed myself way further than I should have done.
In the weeks that followed I needed lots of physio and was taking things carefully to manage the pain, taking a lot of ibuprofen. It was uncomfortable but manageable.
We tied up alongside in Weymouth for our first night. Walking around the town, I could feel my right leg tightening in a way that it hadn’t before. Five days later, heading back, we stopped at Brixham and I took a walk along the quay with my good friend Jani.
Suddenly I was doubled over in pain and immobilised “Jani,” I called out to him. “I can’t walk.”
It was as though I had hot coals covering my leg and back. I’d never felt pain like that before. It brought tears to my eyes.
It was only ten weeks before our long-planned departure date. At a stroke, our plans were in very real danger of not happening. We had our boat, our business plans were coming together and now I couldn’t walk.
So many things flashed into my mind: how could we carry on? I’d be a liability; it would all be impossible.
Read on here: how the Craven family set about their world cruise plans and their advice and tips on how to follow in their footsteps.
Caspar Craven first sailed round the world in 2000-01 on the BT Challenge yacht Quadstone. He now speaks on teamwork, leadership and how to make things happen. His book ‘Where the Magic Happens’ is out in May, and available for pre-order from Amazon now.