My childhood could be described as one part unbridled adventure, and one part hard physical work. From a young age, I worked alongside my parents on our small acreage in Gordon Head, a suburb of Victoria, BC. Together we planted and harvested vegetables, tended the fruit trees in the orchard, mowed lawns, cut wood and did a myriad of other jobs. When it was time to play, I escaped to my favourite place in the whole world – Arbutus Cove, a secluded, crescent-shaped beach close to our house that was the perfect playground for an energetic boy with a vivid imagination. I spent many days there exploring and conquering that landscape and imagining a world of my own, just beyond the horizon. I remember making small boats out of pieces of bark and setting them off from the shore out to sea thinking to myself, “one day I want to sail a small boat across the ocean, around the world.”
My parents were born and raised in Portsmouth, England and immigrated to Canada in the late 1940s. My dad was in the fleet air division of the navy and after the war, he became a carpenter. Two of my mom’s aunts ran public houses on the other side of the brick wall from the dockyards where the HMS Victory was located, and still lies to this day. They arrived in Canada with little more than an adventuresome spirit and a strong work ethic and built a wonderful life for themselves and their children. Our family history with sailing and the sea made an indelible impression on me and, as it turned out, shaped the course of my life.
My childhood home in Victoria was characteristically English – a small acreage at the end of a long driveway with high laurel hedges on both sides. I was ten and my brother Mark was seven when we moved there. It was a boy’s paradise. Beyond the hedge was the orchard, a half-acre kitchen garden, and a greenhouse filled with my dad’s chrysanthemums. The property sloped towards the ocean, so no matter where I was or what I was working on, I could always see the sea. The house faced south-east and the view from our kitchen window was across Haro Strait to the American San Juan Islands with the ever present glacier-capped Mount Baker in the distance. It was the perfect place to indulge my wildest dreams.
On the walls of our house hung two framed pictures of small boats in rough seas. One was of Sir Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth rounding Cape Horn under storm conditions, the other was of Sir Alec Rose aboard Lively Lady under shortened sail in foul weather.
Sir Alec Roses’ Lively Lady circa 1968.
In a small bookcase were a few well worn books which my father read to me many times over the years. Books by Chichester, Sir Alec Rose, Miles Smeeton and John Guzzwell. I was completely captivated by those stories and have since read many more like them about brave men who set out in small boats with big dreams.
Boats are a big part of my story
Sailing has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. I loved everything about boats and being on the ocean. I started out as crew on local race boats at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and bought my first keel boat in 1978 at the age of 28. It was a familiar and comfortable environment and one where everything came naturally to me. When I skippered my own boats, I brought friends along to crew during Swiftsure and West Coast races. Eventually I went further offshore, doing my first solo passage in 1997 from Victoria to The Marquesas in 42 days aboard our 26′ Haida Sannu II and was later joined by my wife MaryLou and our two daughters Claire and Nicola.
Here’s a short summary of my sailing experience – as a crew member, skipper and single handed offshore sailor.
1978 -1979 Cal 28′ Doxy II (C William Lapworth design)
1979 – 1986 Northney 34′ Sannu Sannu (Holman and Pye design)
1994 – 1997 Haida 26′ Sannu II (Ray Richards design)
2001 – 2007 Cheoy Lee 40′ Kim Chow (Phil Rhodes design)2010 – present Comanche 42′ West Wind II (Sparkman & Stephens design)
1970 – Crewed aboard 100’ ketch Blue Leopard in the Mediterranean Sea.
- 1973 – 1980 – Numerous RVYC races and long distance races aboard Sannu Sannu in and around the Pacific Northwest.
1975 – Crewed aboard 50’ ketch Pandora from Victoria, BC to Maui.
2000 – Crewed aboard 52’ Alden Escapade from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda.