They have braved gale-force winds, dodged huge container ships and suffered vivid hallucinations prompted by sleep deprivation but two hardy adventurers are on the brink of becoming the first to circumnavigate Great Britain non-stop and unassisted in a tiny open sailing dinghy.
Will Hodshon, 42, and Rich Mitchell, 44, will have spent 16 days at sea when they arrive back in Devon early on Monday [1 July: ed] onboard a Wayfarer dinghy that is a mere 4.9 metres (16ft) long.
Once they have stretched their legs and had showers and a few square meals, the lifelong friends will apply to Guinness World Records to go into the history books as the first to complete the feat, which requires a combination of brilliant sailing ability and a daredevil attitude. Mitchell said they had had some wonderful days. “There have been moments when we’ve had perfect sailing conditions. We’ve seen minke whales, hundreds of seals and dolphins have accompanied us for hours at a time trying to splash us.”
But there have also been some scary moments, he said. “We’ve had a few days of big winds and waves and in those conditions you can’t sleep at all.
Will has been hearing the odd voice or two and I’ve been hallucinating a bit. Sleep deprivation has been the worst – we’ve fallen asleep on watch a number of times. Sometimes the sailing is very challenging. You can’t get off the boat when you feel you’ve had enough. You just have to carry on with it.”
The British-designed Wayfarer is a popular family day-boat, though its seaworthiness means that it can be relied upon in open waters.
However, it is not a simple vessel to sail, staying upright thanks to a combination of careful distribution of the crew’s bodyweight and constant trimming or adjustment of the sails.
The Wayfarer Hodshon and Mitchell have voyaged in, Nipegegi – pronounced nippy gee-gee – is built of mahogany and is 60 years old. It was bought at the 1959 London Boat Show by Hodshon’s grandfather, Bill Hodshon. Its name is made up of the first two letters of the names of the adventurer’s uncle, father and two aunts: Nick, Penny, Geoff and Gill.
Hodshon, a marine geoscientist from Wiltshire, said: “Three times we’ve been in near gale-force or gale-force winds. When that happens at night it’s really scary. In the North Sea when we were at our furthest point out – about 60 miles – we had already been going hard into the wind for a day and a half. We were wet and cold already. This wind came in, we were worried, I didn’t know how we were going to make it. We took it an hour at a time and eventually got through.”
The pair were inspired by another circumnavigation of Great Britain in 2014 when the sailors Jeremy Warren and Phil Kirk ventured around the coast in just over a month. But they stopped, which Hodshon and Mitchell decided not to.
“We haven’t touched dry land at all,” said Mitchell, a fisheries expert from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. “We’ve seen it and hankered after it – and the odd pub we’ve passed.”
One of his favourite legs was the North Sea. “I’ve known it as a brown and cold and miserable and cold place,” he said. “But one of the days there was a beautiful, sunny day. The sea was like glass, not a ripple. That changed my whole perception of what the North Sea is.” Hodshon said he preferred sailing through the islands of western Scotland with fantastic views of hills and mountains.
But there has been little disagreement onboard. “We already knew most things about each other but it’s a very small boat,” said Mitchell. “There’s nothing left to hide from each other. And we didn’t run out of conversation.
“People think they’d get bored. Each day flies by – setting the sails, planning the next meal, planning for the toilet break. There’s almost not enough time in the day. We’ve never been bored.”
The pair have been raising money for charities including the lifeboat charity the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Surfers Against Sewage.
They took with them enough freeze-dried food to last 30 days so food has not been a problem. “We’ve got enough to go around again,” said Hodshon. “But we aren’t going to.”
A totally rational person might indeed inquire "why?" and the answer might be the some one mountain climbers and other dare devils provide: "because it was there!" Again, well done to Messers Hodshon and Mitchell for their accomplishment. The general populace in Great Britain might not be cheering - or even aware - but we at Maritime Maunder are and do cheer you!
Until next time,