Club Member Judy Clements recounts in her book how living aboard ‘Fram’ might have been testing, frightening and exhilarating – but it was never mundane.
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How could I have known that our first trial sail on an icy November afternoon would lead to nine years living aboard Fram, a 38 foot wooden sailing boat? Or that I would survive a 55 knot mid-Atlantic storm, 36 hour bouts of sea-sickness and hour after tedious hour at the helm, gazing at horizons of empty sea? My new life took me miles from my home and family, encountering a crack cocaine addict, a minder from the east end of London and a circus snake act. At times I was left weeping from exhaustion and cold, at others marvelling at magnificent tropical sunsets.
In 1988 my life-long partner Ron and I left our jobs, let our London home and moved aboard Fram. ‘Like Ships that Pass in the Night’ is a graphic account of our nine year adventure. The book includes sketch plans of the routes we sailed, coloured photographs and a glossary of sailing terms to help non-sailors.
The book is divided into nine parts. Part one covers the early years when as two total rookies we searched for our first sailing boat. We were a salesman’s dream. In 1982 we acquired our brand new, shining plastic boat which we named Lady Midnight, but then we had to learn to sail – neither of us had a clue! Our boat careered around the Solent as we learned the art of hoisting and trimming sails and how to safely handle her in new harbours. Despite all my trepidations, we set off across the English Channel – a massive achievement for two total beginners.
During the next few years we spread our wings to cruise the Channel Islands and Northern Brittany, experiencing an awful lot of luck as we battled against fog, formidable rocks and strong tides – no doubt leaving a trail of devastation behind us. We had already decided to leave ‘life as we know it’ in 1988 to spend two years cruising the Mediterranean. At that crucial moment Fram came into our lives. We bought her in 1986, spent a couple of years learning how to handle her and then prepared her for long distance cruising as well as being our home. We left England in June of 1988. We’d set ourselves a budget of £50 a week, so life was pretty frugal. The first big hurdle was crossing the Bay of Biscay. It was a total nightmare. Strong headwinds, mammoth seas and sea-sickness left me as little more than excess baggage – but we made it.
Part two finds us in Atlantic Spain, coming to terms with the customs of that new country and its manana attitude. Chickens formed our staple diet, their cost the basis of our economy. We enjoyed Spanish fiestas that shocked our systems from midnight until six in the morning and were befriended by villagers who enlightened us on their self-sufficient way of life.
Part three is set in Portugal – Vianna do Castello with its colourful fiesta, the traditional port houses in Oporto where you could get tipsy for free, as well as beautiful Lisbon where we encountered a Spanish prince. Gibraltar came next, then into the Med itself. But life was still not easy as we fought with bus drivers in Granada and spent two weeks
living with rats. Those rats brought a cat – Gringo – into our lives. A close shave with a sexy port police officer rounded off the summer.
Part four finds us spending our first summer cruising the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia and Algeria. We survived a ship-wreck then became agony-aunts to an east end of London minder who wanted to knee-cap his mate. In Sardinia we were confronted by a couple of pythons when we met the circus snake act on my birthday. After taking in the delights of Tunis and Carthage we sailed to Algeria with its wealth of bureaucracy and plethora of cockroaches.
Turkey brought one of the most erotic experiences of my life in a Turkish bath, while the return journey to Spain heralded ripped sails and strong winds. Heading back to England in the spring of 1991 we endured a 50 knot storm on passage to Gibraltar. It was the worst weather we had experienced to date, leaving us exhausted and shaken, but with a new-found confidence in our boat.
Part five covers a summer cruise to the Baltic Sea, trying out our new fishing skills and a new piece of equipment called GPS. The gentle delights of Denmark gave way to the rugged beauty of Sweden’s west coast, followed by the spectacular Oslofjord.
In part six we prepared Fram for an Atlantic crossing to the West Indies; leaving England in June of 1994 to sail to Lisbon, then out into the Atlantic on a 500 mile trip to Madeira, enjoying dolphins, flying fish, turtles and the odd shark en route.
Part seven covers the 1,000 mile journey to the Cape Verde Islands, followed by the rigours of 3 hour watches, cooking, washing and sailing the boat during the 15 day trip to Antigua.
In part eight we travel from north to south in the Leeward Islands, our destination being Trinidad with its fabulous carnival where we stayed up until dawn to take part in the street celebrations. Dominica brought a stand-off with a crack cocaine addict, leading to a brush with the local police, while in Tobago we marvelled at the magnificent under-water life and watched the legendary Easter goat racing. Fram pressed on to exotic Venezuela to escape hurricane season. On the island of Coche we made firm friends with a delightful Venezuelan family who took us to their hearts, while at Puerto Real Ron sweated out the horrors of dengue fever. Venezuela was a riot of colour and noise and we loved it, but we’d started dreaming of England and Suffolk country cottages.
The last section of the book covers our journey from Venezuela to Puerto Rico where we re-provisioned Fram for another Atlantic crossing. At the start of the 1,000 mile sail to Bermuda the GPS failed, causing Ron to hone his celestial navigation skills. The 1,700 mile voyage to the Azores threw a mix of unexpected weather at us – a full-blown gale, a terrifying 55 knot storm that left Fram at the mercy of mountainous seas, followed by several days of being becalmed. The next 1,000 miles from the Azores to Falmouth tested our nerves as we navigated in thick fog amongst the Spanish and French fishing fleets.
‘Like Ships that Pass in the Night’ finishes with our arrival in Falmouth – the end of a long adventure – but with our passion for sailing as strong as ever..[/toggle]