October 2014 – Frances Miller

 Around the world in 15 years

James and Frances - Bermuda 1984

James and Frances – Bermuda 1984

Frances addressed our October meeting, following much hard work by her and Rear Commdore Hugh Woodsend in gathering and shaping material into an exemplary   presentation.

James had planned a round-the world voyage for his retirement. He bought an  Endurance 35 ferro-cement (i.e. concrete) bare hull and spent 5 years creating the ketch, “Tara”, out of it.  Projects like this are incredibly time, money and effort consuming; and  are not for the faint hearted, impractical or pessimistic. James was clearly none of these.

After retirement from the Navy James joined a local authority and was, as it happened, recruited by Frances, who went on to became his companion – not only on this monumental voyage but for the rest of his life. Frances had sailed before –  dinghies, she told us, as a teenager in the Tripoli Dolphin Services’ Yacht Club, in the days before Gaddafi.

The plan? To go! For how long? Well, it would evolve. Where to? Well, that depended on the weather, how the boat fared and which bits broke, where; what rebuilds they would do, what visas they could get…

The circumnavigation started conventionally enough with a transatlantic passage to the West Indies, but soon they decided to add Canada, the USA along the Intracoastal Waterway, and Bermuda to the itinerary before resuming the passage westwards through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to New Zealand. Once in New Zealand, The Bay of Islands became a base from which to spend several years of cruising the Pacific Islands and Australia. I lost count as to how many times they shuttled between New Zealand and Australia…

1992 Vanuatu 2 RBfixedThe boat was rebuilt two and a half times during the voyage. One of the disadvantages of building ones own boat to a  budget, as James had, is that compromises often have to be made (in James’ case, fitting a used Perkins 4108 diesel).  One of great advantages, however, is the intimate knowledge you’ve gained, so you can nearly always fix things, or know how to work around problems….

Frances’ mother had grown up in Bermuda, and the couple seemed to have friends, or quickly make friends, almost wherever they went. So visiting places with family connections, picking up with friends, success in getting help, and long stays in port, were a core feature of this grand voyage. Fishing, on the other hand, wasn’t….they caught 10 fish in 15 years.

The return voyage took Tara round the top of Australia and on to South Africa, finally completing the circumnavigation in the Azores.

We have heard and read many times about the extent to which blue water cruising sailors value, and have to develop, self-reliance. But James and Frances seem to have taken this to another level. It seems they uniquely combined self-reliance, a strong partnership, and the ability to make friends and get help wherever they were. These are the enduring messages from this presentation. And it is good to be reminded that it is not only the young who have ambition, drive and ability. James was sailing well into his eighties, and even then did not “swallow the anchor”. Tara was sold and replaced with a Dutch motor boat, now in the South of France (and for sale – RB), in which they then cruised for several years, but that’s another story…