April 2016 – David and Helen Oakley

To Brazil and back

What a great evening with the talk given by members David and Helen Oakley, reminding us of what lies at the core of Chipping Norton Yacht Club’s raison d’etre. It has of course been fascinating to hear from yachting greats like Sir Chay Blyth or Mike Golding, but they inhabit a different world from most of us. David and Helen are of our world, live here in Chipping Norton -and have a boat on a trailer in their front drive. In 1997 they ventured across the Atlantic in a family cruising yacht, a Kingfisher 30, taking an unusual route direct to Brazil rather than to the Caribbean, because “everybody does that”. They gave every impression of having had the time of their lives.

helenDavid started off with a nautical song, accompanying himself confidently on the guitar. The song “had nothing to do with the trip” but set the tone for the evening. David was introduced to sailing young – his father had a 24 ft Tucker in which he’d explored the South Coast, Normandy and Brittany…

OK, the trip. Chichester, Dartmouth, the Yealm. Out to the open sea. The gale (I’ll tell this bit, says Helen – David would downplay it and it was actually pretty terrifying). Two days and two nights of things flying about the cabin and not being sure which way was up. They played cards on the second night, and survived to the euphoria of an open ocean view of the Milky Way, in the glory of no light pollution. Calms, turtles and a whale later they reached Porto Santo (the most northerly and most easterly island of the Madeira Archipelago), thence to Tenerife. They crossed paths with the junk-rigged “Badger” and met the Hills (Annie Hill wrote the famed “Voyaging on a Small Income”), and learnt something of the Hill’s technique for voyaging on a small income, namely to accept invitations to dinner, eat and drink their fill, and then leave.

The passage to Fortaleza, Brazil, took 21 days. They spent a month relaxing and hiking. Then they headed north up to the Caribbean. Chaguaramas Bay (Trinidad), Tobago (“wonderful place”), Grenada, Carriacou, Tobago Cays, Bequia, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Sint Maarten…. ah, the deep blue seas, the pale sands, the leaning palms, the shrieking parakeets and all that sunshine. And more sunshine.

Their trip had been budgeted at a year, as that was affordable. To make it longer, tempting though that would be, would have involved finding work and that’s a whole other game. So a year it was.David Oakley

So back. Sint Maarten to the Azores took 33 days. A rhythm of watches, with support from magazines, books and tapes (including Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads), was established. The final approach to the Azores involved 300 miles of motoring, and after 33 days at sea, the approaching harbour held fears as well as hope. The final leg, Azores to Ireland, took another 14 days,

David finished with a song, a saga. Written once home. This one was about the trip.

David and Helen shared the speaking, giving each other the cues and asides that married couples can. It worked.

Asked, as they were, about what they’d do differently, it was clear that for them the important thing was to do it, and together, rather than agonise over detail. Yes they’d allow more than a year if they could afford it; yes they’d choose a long-keel boat. But with a year and a modest boat they had their enviable adventure.