Charlotte, cancer and a Twister called Pouncer
It started with a stay in St Barts hospital London recovering from cancer. Charlotte Wilkinson was bought a copy of Yachting Monthly by a friend and started reading about long-distance cruising. "I could do that", she thought. On the back was an advert for a Twister called Wild Girl. "That's the boat for me", she thought.
Wild Girl was already sold when she made enquiries, so another Twister called Pouncer came into Charlotte's life took her and her friend Jane on a sailing adventure from Greenwich, north to the Lofoten Islands of Norway, down the East Coast of Ireland and from there across Biscay, the coast of Spain and Portugal, the Cap Verdes and on to the Caribbean... and back.
14,000 miles of sailing and 14 months later, Charlotte says that her inexperience was probably what kept them going. The worst passage was one of the earliest, across the North Sea from Lerwick to Norway. She says anyone with half a clue would have given up and turned back, but they kept on bashing through. The reward was a fantastic trip through the fjords and lakes of the Lofoten Islands, where it was light all day and all night and the whisky costs so much they bought it in bulk in the Shetland Isles and took it with them.
On from Norway
Having successfully completed the trip to Norway and visited Jane's family and friends in Ireland on the way home, the question of 'What next?' came up. So it was that Pouncer made her way across Biscay and down the coast of Spain and Portugal, into Gibraltar to buy a much needed wind vane, before a haul out in the Algarve to check the hull for holes and apply some anti-fouling and then on to the Canaries, Madeira and the Cap Verde islands as the final jumping off point before turning right across the Atlantic.
Charlotte is a fan of fortified wine and was pleased to swap the whiskey of the northern climes for a series of wine tastings ranging from Port to Sherry to Madeira ... before going back to the hard stuff with rum in Barbados.
She says that using the southern most Cap Verde island as a pre-crossing starting point was a mistake. Water is in desperately short supply on Boa Vista where it had last rained 13 years ago; the sand was blowing off the Sahara and got into everything on board and the water tanks started growing bugs and had to be flushed out and sterilised the day before they set off.
They started the crossing to Barbados in January, so the trade winds were well established, and they used a twin headsail rig with reefed down main which was easy to handle and gave stability in the Atlantic swells. There were three of them on board: Charlotte, Jane and Angela and with two bunks they operated a round the clock watch system. Bread-baking was a morning ritual, even without an oven. Electric storms were a peril Charlotte says she was watching the lightning dance around them and desperately reading Adlard Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing down below, trying to pretend to the crew that she was completely calm about the idea of losing her GPS system if they were struck by lightning. Apparently Adlard Coles recommends putting important electrical equipment in the oven if you're in a thunderstorm... but Pouncer didn't have an oven so a saucepan had to do. Luckily they weren't hit.
Barbardos and the Caribbean
They arrived in the Caribbean and made the most of the sunshine and sand, doing very little sailing apart from entering Antigua Classics Race Week.
They were going for the best dressed crew prize, but came away with a much better one as they won the cup for 'spirit of the regatta'.
Back to the UK
It was time to head home and they opted for a route which took them via the Doldrums and the Azores which meant conserving fuel and water for what could be up to 30 days at sea. Pouncer has a 10hp Yanmar which runs on three litres an hour at 3knots. The fuel tank holds a maximum of 25 litres (at a push) so with extra fuel in cans on the deck they managed to get back to Falmouth with 10 litres spare. They used the spinnaker on the way back, which Charlotte says was due to her and the crews increased experience. The final leg from the Azores to Falmouth included their first gale in the entire trip.
They arrived back in Greenwich in July and Charlotte started a job the following week. She had been interviewed for it whilst sitting in the cockpit in a bikini in Antigua and she says one of the hardest aspects of the trip was the readjustment to life back home afterwards.