My name is Donna, I’m currently 49 years old, I’m a wife to Craig of 14 years, mother of one and step mother of one.
I’ve been working with the same employer for 21 years, I’ve lived in the same house for 22 years, I suffer from IBS and have a somewhat nervous disposition – I like, and I need stability. I never tried new things as a kid, I was never adventurous, I was never outdoorsy – I am generally a cup half empty sort of girl!
Probably the most important fact you should know is I have had approximately 3 weeks sailing experience!
These may seem somewhat random bits of information, but the truth is all of these facts have played a significant part in my decision making process, as I, along with my husband, am about to embark on what will, hopefully, (there’s that half full cup again!) be the adventure of my lifetime.
How Did We Get Here?
Something strange happened in 2015, the 5* holiday in the sun couple bought a static caravan at one of our favourite UK spots at Woolverstone Marina, Nr Ipswich, Suffolk. Craig’s family had had a caravan there for 30+ years, and his brother, Gareth had taken over his Dad’s plot when he passed away, albeit now with a much newer caravan. We spent many a weekend down there with Gareth and when a caravan came up for sale on the same site we jumped at the chance.
Weekends were spent there from April onwards and as a girl who likes her home comforts and a nice toilet it was a baptism of fire, there were many nights spent there, in the cold, wondering what on earth am I doing here.
Those who knew me well were muttering under their breath, “Donna, a caravan, No!”. But the environment was idyllic and it was a joy to spend so much time with family, it was a great de-stresser and temperature and caravan toilet aside they were happy times.
Later that year Craig and Gareth decided to complete the outdoors experience and buy a small yacht – that introduced ‘Pepper’ to our lives, a 30ft Verl 900, and she was berthed at the same marina. For me it was my first introduction to sailing and boating life.
Many an evening was spent wandering around the marina pontoons looking at the other boats with Craig wondering what if?
To be honest I only had one proper sail on Pepper with just Craig and I, but for the first time for a long time I actually felt excited by something, the more the boat heeled the more invigorating I found it.
So that we could make the most of Pepper Craig decided to take his Day Skipper, despite the fact that he had quite competently sailed for over 40 years he wanted to get the qualification under his belt. We looked around for various courses and decided that it would actually be nice to do it somewhere warm, and after many hours of research he found a course with Sail Ionian in Greece.
Now I’m not one to sit back and let everyone else do all the work so I decided that I would do the Competent Crew course, so at least when we were on Pepper I would at least know what we were doing (or more importantly to me why we were doing it) and would be able to participate more.
So in October 2015 we booked the course for the following May and we would spend one week with an instructor doing our courses on a Bavaria 40 ‘Susan’ and the second week, provided we passed the courses, we’d have a Bavaria 32 ‘Nutmeg’. I liked the idea that when we were on our own we would be on a boat not much bigger than Pepper which I knew I could cope with.
Well from the minute the course was booked I started looking at sailing books, there were some bits you needed to learn before you got there, some basic knots, the Beaufort scale, that sort of thing, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to let either myself or more importantly Craig down.
I started with the Sailing for Dummies book which was fantastic, for me it just helped slot a lot of things into place. The RYA Knot Book, some rope and a rolling pin then came into play, followed by a couple of Navigation Books.
By the time the course came around I had spent hours reading and learning and trying to remember. I had all the knots down to a tee, the Beaufort Scale off pat, could name all the parts of the boat and had learned the Navigation techniques. There was no way I was going to fail this!
As a result of this, I think I actually made it harder for the instructor, who I had to say I didn’t really take to. But then I’m not really a people person so I suppose it wasn’t a great surprise. He obviously had a syllabus track to follow which I had in the most part already learned, but I wanted to go beyond the basics. Anyway, Craig thought he was great which was more important, oh he never would have got over failing that course.
Anyway, we both passed and were allowed to take Nutmeg off for the week. Life on a boat wasn’t too bad after all, I mean just like a caravan on the water really. Susan had been quite difficult to crew it was early in the season and even things like raising the sail were difficult for the instructor when I couldn’t manage. Nutmeg was much easier, albeit the living space was bordering on too small for us.
Overall the fortnight was a good introduction to life on a boat for me and it certainly gave food for thought as to what the future may hold. We had discussed long term cruising before we went on the holiday but I had refused to make any sort of commitment as to be honest I wasn’t really sure whether the odd sail on Pepper was enough for me, or if it was something I could consider.
Once we were back we spent most of the weekends we could at the caravan, and for one reason or another, although we spent a lot of time on Pepper we didn’t actually go sailing.
It was perhaps about July 2016 when we were wandering around the marina admiring the boats that the conversation was re-ignited again. ‘What if I retire in 3 years time (Craig’s 9 years older than me) and we buy a boat and sail around the Med’. ‘Yes, why don’t we’. ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Yes, you’re always stressed, we’d enjoy it, we’d be happy’.
What had happened, a woman who craves stability, who likes her home comforts, and didn’t have an adventurous bone in her body had just verbally committed to upping sticks and moving away. But hey it was going to happen in three years time, that’s more than enough time to get prepared, get ready, sort my head out.
So now I’ve made a verbal commitment, the serious discussions start, how would we fund it, could we keep the house to have some stability to come back to, how would I tell my daughter, who to date hadn’t ever wanted us to even move house, how would I tell my employer of 20 years that I would be leaving in three.
But it would be ok, working three years notice is well unheard of, we’d keep the house and rent it out whilst we were away, we’d keep saving in the meantime, and by the time we were going to buy the boat we’d have more than enough savings, and we’d use Craig’s pension to fund the living costs.
For the next couple of months I was up and down about the decision we’d made, it was a decision I had wanted to make and in general I was still happy with it, but well the cups still half empty, what would we do in the winter months if we needed to come back to the UK, if the house has got tenants in it where would we live? One small piece of what was going to be a massive jigsaw to put together was giving me nightmares.
At the marina one afternoon we were talking through our plans with Gareth, and Craig said that my biggest fear was what would happen in the Winter with no home to come back to. I didn’t want to be sofa surfing and needed a base. ‘Well, where would you like to live, I’ve got two houses and you can stay in either’. In an instant with one gesture Gareth had allayed my fears.
So now we had our goal, when Craig retired in 3 years time we’d be ready to leave. In the meantime I had a grand plan to put into place, get fit, work on my upper body strength, get healthy, get my IBS under control, learn some languages.
Then the unthinkable happened and our world was thrown upside down and inside out. In October 2016, during a weekend for my nephew’s 18th birthday celebration my beloved brother-in-law Gareth passed away suddenly and without warning. We were and still are heartbroken, he was Craig’s best friend not just a brother, and he was like the big brother I never had. As well as dealing with our own and the family’s grief, Craig is also joint Executor of Gareth’s estate and we have had to deal with all the responsibilities that come with that.
We sat between Xmas and New Year, and asked ourselves what are we doing? Gareth was a fit, relatively healthy man, he was only 14 months older than Craig, and look what had happened to him – if nothing else this had been proof enough that life’s too short. Why were we waiting to fulfil our plans, why weren’t we doing it now, what was holding us back?
Well in a nutshell it was money, we didn’t have anywhere near enough savings to buy a boat that we could live aboard full time comfortably on, Craig’s pension could help but still wouldn’t be enough and then what would we live on. It’s pathetic I’m sure to some but the thought of selling the house was truly traumatic – I know it’s only bricks and mortar but it had been our family home for over 20 years and it was effectively our retirement fund and for me it would be the one constant, the one piece of stability left.
I’m not sure when the defining moment came, or what the defining part of the conversation was but I thought let’s take a leap of faith, let’s do it. We’ll worry about our old age when we’re old aged!
And then the reality once again kicks in, and all the stresses and strains on mind and consequently body that it brings. The only way we could fund this would be to sell the house and we certainly couldn’t even contemplate leaving until Gareth’s estate was settled which in itself was taking its toll – trying to get life assurance paid out and sell his two houses was a painstaking process, along with trying to be there emotionally and physically for the three sons he had left behind.
Craig wasn’t worried about handing in his notice, it had been a long time since he had enjoyed his job, but me well I love my job, my employer for 20 years has treated me very well, I was the Queen in my own little Kingdom. But sometimes in life, if you want things to happen, to achieve what you want, you have to make some difficult decisions.
The first day back in January I spoke to my employer and said that our plans had now moved forward and we would be looking to leave the UK late Summer of this year (2017). It was a really difficult conversation from my point of view, I felt that I was letting them down, but in fairness the support I have received couldn’t have been better, and I think that given what had happened with Gareth they understood. I agreed to give six months notice and leave at the end of June which should be enough time to recruit and train my replacement.
I had worked out how much I thought the house was worth, how much was left on the mortgage, what we had in savings, if we sold the contents of our house how much that would give us, oh and yes beloved husband of mine unfortunately Pepper’ and your motorbike have also got to go. In all, these would give us a healthy enough pot – so this is how much you can spend on the boat and this is how much we’ll be left to live on, hopefully we could leave Craig’s pension untouched, that would be our back up plan.
We spent a cold weekend in February looking at about 9 boats, Craig had shown me loads on the internet and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and what could work for us, but there’s nothing like actually going on board and seeing how the space works.
I wanted this to be something for the whole family, I wanted them to be able to come and visit as often as they wanted and I wanted there to be space enough for them to do that. We would only ever be a Ryanair or Easyjet flight away.
None of the initial boats we looked at really blew Craig away, but there was one which when I went on board had made me grin from ear to ear – this is the one!
Craig continued with his search for the perfect boat, he was spending hours and hours pouring over the internet – I did tell him there was a budget didn’t I, did he not hear me or is he just choosing to ignore me? Gently, gently rein him back in, we are not millionaires, it’s not a bottomless pit of money.
In March I finally put the house up for sale, and I fully agree with anyone who has said that this is one of the most stressful things anyone can go through. Luckily the house was worth more than I thought and the mortgage was less than I thought, no that doesn’t mean the budget for the boat is bigger, it just means we can do what we want to do for longer.
After a month we had an offer on the house, Craig had stopped working at the end of February, I was now down to working one day a week and things were now moving at speed, it was all starting to come together but there’s something missing that’s crucial to our plan. Oh yes, we don’t yet have a boat.
So in amongst starting to pack up some boxes, trips to the local tip, sorting stuff out for a car boot sale, selling stuff on Gumtree, trying to encourage Craig to sort his stuff out and get his bike ready for sale, and put Pepper up for sale, we have to find a boat. We have to find ‘the’ boat.
We arranged to see some boats down on the South coast just before Easter – we’ll go down look at these three and then maybe go to Torquay to look at this one – there’s lots of marinas down there we can go and have a look at, there must be a boat for us out there somewhere – so we’ll stay down from Wednesday to Sunday, well that was the plan.
We went for a second viewing on a boat (the boat!) we’d seen in February, and yes I still had that same feeling when I went on board. This is the one – oh so I thought.
Our last viewing was in Lymington – an Elan Impression 434 – and the minute Craig stepped on board he grinned from ear to ear – he was hooked. Me, well I could grow to love it.
Although the broker apologised because it had still got all the current owners gear on it, from my point of view that was a bonus, for me it made it easier to see how people use the space, where they put things, how they live on them. Craig was all about the gadgets and gizmo’s it had got, me I wanted to know if we could make it our home.
She had more than enough space for us, and visting family and yes I think we could be happy on her.
So there and then we put in an offer, which was accepted – omg I think we just bought a boat.
There’s still so much to do, so let’s write another list, oh how I love lists!
We took our VHF courses and both passed I’m pleased to say, we’ve found a winter berth in Cartegena we’re going to pre book. Gareth’s estate is nearly finalised, one house is now sold and the other’s going through, and I’ve signed the contracts for our house sale. The contents of the house are slowly dwindling either sold, skipped or given away. Pepper’s up for sale and well everything is taking shape.
And Who Is He?
I was born into a South Wales mining family and benefitted throughout my childhood and early adulthood from having a father who wanted to explore for both himself and his sons what life had to offer.
Given our humble beginnings I wasn’t fortunate to be born aboard a 60ft ocean going yacht with parents belonging to a list of yacht clubs, however my father relentlessly pursued every opportunity for his sons to experience as many varied sports and activities as his meagre resources would allow.
My first exposure to life on the water was in a plywood canoe built by my father at a evening class in Ipswich, Suffolk. Later we spent many happy family holidays in Salcombe, Devon where I was introduced to the joys of sailing friend’s dinghies, sailing yachts and motor yachts. Windsurfing, power boat racing and cruising yachts were to come later.
From the age of 20/21 I regularly crewed for either my father or step-father on their various yachts, most notably numerous North Sea crossings aboard my step-father’s beautiful Alan Pape designed ‘Byr Luan’.
It was then that the ultimate dream of owning my own yacht and sailing it to warmer climes began to form and now, some nearly 40 years later, this dream is to become a reality.
I outline this brief history in the hope that it might give you the confidence and belief that it is possible and that if you benefit, as I have, from the support of your wife, family and friends you too could fulfil your dreams, whatever they may be.