This is a monumental step-up. Six months after a blissful family sailing holiday in Greece, I am climbing into a Fladen survival suit on a 60 foot round-the-world racing yacht in Torshavn harbour, which you will of course recognise as the capital of the Faroe Islands. I’m wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
Hummingbird is a former round-the-world Clipper boat, now owned by sailing company Rubicon 3. She’s a powerful unit, and having done three laps of the globe has proven herself in the toughest ocean environments. Along with seven other clients, I am about to find out if I match up – hence the Fladen suit (essentially a super warm onesie with 50 Newtons of floatation).
Besides the Fladen suit, I have my own brand new Helly Hansen ocean going kit. I am the classic “all-the-gear-no-idea sailor”. Four of my shipmates have done other legs of Rubicon 3 trips, a good sign, and the rest have sailing tales aplenty to regale around the galley table. I sneak off to practice my bowline and round-turn-and-two-half-hitches. The snow plough turns of the sailing world.
I am pushing the limits of the Rubicon 3 claim of “no experience necessary”. Bruce (skipper) and Holly (first mate) are there to avert disastrous cock ups, but otherwise the idea is the clients run the boat. We help determine the daily route; we cook and clean on a rota, but most importantly hoist, winch, trim, feather, tie, steer and so on.
Bruce Jacobs launched Rubicon 3 under a philosophy of “sail, train, explore”. Hummingbird circles the globe with “crews” joining and leaving at various points. The trips vary in length from a week to several weeks. In the winter months Hummingbird ventures to the Caribbean and the Azores. As the days lengthen in the northern hemisphere, she heads to the Arctic Circle taking in Scotland, Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
To describe the Faroes as remote would be to say that Oxford Street can be a smidge busy on a Saturday afternoon. We head for Nolsoy – an island a few nautical miles from Torshavn. This place may be so small that westerly storms send waves crashing across the entire settlement, but what nightlife! Given the choice of Maggies, or nothing, we followed the signs to Maggies, just missing a jazz concert (the band have to get the ferry back to the “mainland”).
Our whale watching was unsuccessful, but given how transfixed we were by the scenery a pod of humpbacks could have been high fiving each other behind us
There follows a fantastically long, beery night with the locals – suffice to say that I find myself in the unusual position of recommending to City A.M. readers a doom metal band called Hamferd. Surely appearing at a festival near you soon.
Arriving by boat is special anywhere. Arriving in a 60ft, fully loaded racing yacht in a tiny fishing community gets instant rapport. The boat is the icebreaker – it’s up to you to fill the gaps. The Faroese we met were staggeringly friendly, from the beer donating museum curator in Nordragoat; to the serenading wife of the jazz bassist in Nolsoy; to the Chelsea supporting (they can’t all be perfect) sheep farmer atop a nearby mountain; everywhere we stop there are stories.
And the best thing is that as we tell new acquaintances about meeting Clement in Maggies, the chances are they know him. Quite the legend is our Clement.
Hummingbird really comes into its own when the seas are getting a touch feisty. And on a beam reach, with 25 knots of wind beating down from the Arctic, my Helly Hansen kit is holding up beautifully.
The winds change and with spray crashing over the bow, I am tasked with setting up the spinnaker boom. Thankfully not a solo task, because one end of a spinnaker looks very much like the other to me. None of this “Ben Ainslie, messing around on nautical aeroplanes” stuff, this is old school adventure sailing. A few more degrees north and we’ll be on iceberg watch.
A hot mug of tea, sails set perfectly, we’re cruising past some truly spectacular cliffs hosting huge bird colonies. I couldn’t wish for more. Soon we see the rocky outcrops called The Giant and The Nag, legendary behemoths petrified in time when they tried in vain to drag the Faroes to Iceland – true story. Unfortunately our whale watching was unsuccessful, but given how transfixed we were by the scenery a pod of humpbacks could have been high fiving each other behind us. We’ll never know.
These trips are just brilliant. With like- minded but diverse people on board, there was tremendous camaraderie.
Under the ever-watchful eye of experienced hands, we all built sailing confidence and knowledge, yet it never felt like anything less than a proper, get-away-from-it-all break.
Arctic Circle, here I come.