Selected Photos




Marco Polo Cup


Cruise in the Med






Fiu Atlantic Crossing, 23.11.-13.12.2003

Sail Across The Atlantic.

The Fisher Challenge, 2003.

By James

Sat comfortably in the top floor penthouse apartment, the smell of freshly ground Columbian coffee fills the warm well conditioned alpine air and slowly wakes the dreamy senses on what is outside a cold yet pleasingly crisp autumn morning. Staring out through the triple glazed and spotlessly clean ceiling to floor windows, briefly catching a glimpse of the limited edition and delicately lit Monet print on the high lounge walls, the golden brown autumn trees sway peacefully. In the distance, on the glimmering lake of Zurich that lies beautifully in this Swiss Alpine playboys paradise, the eye falls on a small lonely wooden yacht dreamily sailing into the rising sun, as it rises over the distant snow peaked mountains. The wonderfully white sails fill with a steady easterly wind as the yacht tacks smoothly and continues its early morning cruise. The crew, sitting on hand made Moroccan cushions draped in warm cashmere blankets, recently bought on a weekend shopping trip to Paris discuss the fine intricacies of last nights contemporary ballet performance…..

 Another huge uncomfortably loud CLANG and you’re awoken abruptly and flung across the impossibly short distance of the 1.5 foot wide 5 foot 9” long couch that was your uncomfortable yet dry and somehow pleasing bed for the last 2 hours. As your ribs are again slightly crushed with the instant impact on the 3 foot square solid pine wooden table that makes up the central eating place within what has been your dream holiday home for the past 2 ½ weeks, you are crudely pulled from what your dream and what now seems like an distant and impossible reality… Sleepy eyes instantly open and scan around as your bruised and chaffed hands pull you up to squint at the ships clock that hangs next to the squeeking and straining aluminium mast, hoping and inside praying that there are a few more precious minutes before the start of your next 3am shift… It is 2.47 and with a relieved sigh you pull the communal salt stained and sweat soaked but warm and comforting blanket over your half naked body as you try to turn, briefly relieving the twinging back pain, and settle back onto the couch, with one arm carefully manoeuvring the small lumpy cushion between your hurting ribs and the table, and with the other, lodging it under your weary head as a self made pillow….. Sleep comes quickly….

 Sipping delicately the sweet yet perfectly bitter tasting Columbian espresso, carefully prepared by the recently purchased Taylor and Hobbs De-lux espresso machine, highly recommended in last weekends Sunday Times Magazine, it is 7.15am. The daily papers are laid out on the breakfast table, neatly stacked under the morning post, next to the glass of  hand squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, and the plate of steaming hot freshly baked croissants. As the post is put quickly to one side, and the well practiced fingers quickly and effectively open the Wall Street Journal Europe to page 14 showing the closing market figures from last nights asian markets, again the eye is caught, not by the easily predicted 0.35 percent drop in the Hang Seng options and futures market, but by the glossy brochure sitting snugly within the boringly predictable regular post; another invite to an embassy dinner, and the recently purchased weekend flight tickets – business class – to Vienna. Ah! A flicker of interest as this month’s Yachting Monthly magazine is pulled from the pile revealing a full page spread of the UBS sponsored Alinghi race yacht easily slaughtering the desperate floundering of Team New Zealand. The endearing beauty of this powerful yet elegant marine engineering marvel as it slices efficiently through the moderate swell of the New Zealand coast, eating up the hopes and dreams of a South Pacific Nation and leaving them in the wash of its streamlined swell, brings quickly to the mind the passion, luxury, excitement, romance and adventure that is sailing….

 A stiff shake of the arm and again eyes are instantly open, squinting into the dim useless light that is strapped to some ones unwashed and sore head. “Get up, it is your shift!” Those fearful words are once more drilled into your semi-conscious head as you slip from the peace of your dreamworld back into the harsh reality. The light moves abruptly as the wearer is shoved aside by another unsympathetic wave that crashes into the starboard side of the small boat, endlessly imposing its power on the small craft and those who survive within it. The futility of hiding becomes quickly apparent, as you remember there is, no where to hide, no chance of calling in sick, no hope of slipping quietly under the covers in the vain hope that you will go forgotten… you rise, moving aside the now overly hot blanket, and wipe the sweat from your forehead. Looking unhappily at the clock as you subconsciously attempt to stretch the pain from your back, it reads 2.53 – a mere 6 minutes sleep. Now uncomfortably used to the feeling of constant sleep deprivation, you rise and pull over your head the Paul & Shark polo shirt, carefully selected from next seasons yet to be released collection. The now hard and almost certainly ruined fabric is coarse against the skin, after 2 weeks of wear and the closest thing to fabric conditioner being a wash in a bucket of sea water and left to dry under the hot unrelenting sun on the salt covered teak deck of your current home. Whilst prying the sleep from your stinging eyes, you fight into the harness which is obligatory to wear during night shifts, not required by any law - but by the commonsense of a sailor wishing to survive the ordeal of offshore yacht racing. The buckles tighten, and half-a-sleep you pick up the 2000 Swiss Franc bright yellow Musto Heavy Wet Weather Gear Jacket, completely useless except for the once in a lifetime adventure of an Atlantic crossing on a small yacht. The gortex, lifesaving jacket is now not needed for warmth or to keep off the effects of the harsh and unpredictable 60 knot driving rain squalls, often whipped up for no reason but that of Mother Natures cruel pleasure, but as a cushion to try and ease the painfully boring 3 hour night shift that has just been imposed upon you by the unhappy crew member who, within less than 3 minutes has now taken over your recent bed, and is snoring loudly – in what is no doubt a similar time and place to the one you have just been shaken from. You work your cautious way across the 12 feet of galley, that at night becomes a swaying obstacle course of potential toe stubbing horror, and holding onto the moist but reassuringly sturdy hand rail, climb the steps into the hot night air. As you rise into the cockpit, your exposed naked feet cling in vain  for grip on the damp slippy deck, and yet they experience a cool sensation and are refreshed by their freedom, without being constricted by the perfect fitting high quality calf leather Churches brogues that were hand built by the finest cobblers on Jeromyre street in London, to which they have become so accustomed. As you arrive in the moon lit cockpit, you notice with a heavy heart that your partner for the shift has already secured the most comfortable location in the cockpit, complete with wind proof fleece as cushion (no doubt purchased cheaply in a ghastly sale from a middle class high street store), and has subtly but yet obviously made it clear that he is there to stay. With an exhausted and miserable “good morning” you look up at the sails… main and genoa set goosewing again, and briefly crane your sore neck around the instruments to check on the heading, wind and speed. 280degrees, 12knots of wind, 4.8knots of speed. Underachieving again you muse, but with little energy to even think about trimming the sails, and no interest whatsoever in raising even the slightest possibility of the hazardous, time consuming, energy sapping, painful, and often pointless process of changing sails, you re-arrange the main sheet, that occupies part of you resting place for the next 3 hours, into a relatively comfortable cushion and settle down on the bench, instinctively clipping the loose end of your aptly named life line onto the cockpit. The subconscious constant shuffling and shifting defines the endless search for even the slightest improvement in your comfort, as you gaze up at the night sky, lit by the reflected light of a bright and beautifully round moon, patched with the fabled dark areas once thought to be distant oceans. Your half shut eyes allow your thoughts and dreams to wander once more…..

 The mind drifts quietly back to that fateful morning when the advertisement grabbed your sense of adventure and boy hood dreams. A fantasy inspired by the movies of gallant sea heroes pushing hard across unknown oceans into unchartered waters. The hardy brave captain, standing tall and laughing heartily in the face of the unforgiving terrific power of the deep seas, bravely shouting orders to his cowering men, to raise more sail, push harder, inspiring them with his wry charismatic smile, square unshaved jaw and steady unswaying stance. The sultry look in the dark deep eyes of the young slender girls who fall instantly in love with this heroic figure, as they eagerly watch him cruise perfectly into port, stepping seamlessly off his ship and into their warm embrace. Looking back at the ad “Sail around the world with Fiu Adventures, join the ARC Atlantic rally fom Cruisers, a race across the great Atlantic aboard a beautiful and fast  46 foot Gran Soleil” The decision is instant, images of pulling silently away from the dock, sails up, to the cheers and waves of adoring well-wishes, and dreaming girls, crashing wonderfully through the deep green and blue waves, ahead in the race, and in no time arriving victorious with endless stories from the high seas, enough to brighten even the most arduous dinner parties that are the bain of a life in high society. Passing by the local book shop on the brief walk to my 6th floor office within the most prestigious Swiss Bank located off the exclusive Bahnhof Strasse, I purchase a couple of books on sailing, and by lunch time, I am an expert yachtsman….

The endless wallowing of the yacht from side to side provides a sleepless state of mind, slipping in and out of semi-consciousness, the mind is left to wander. The eyes open slightly to capture the flickering of the white stars, and after a few minutes of thoughtless gazing, the most beautiful shooting star falls into the horizon and the wonderful pleasure of being hundreds of miles from land drifts into the mind….CRASH!! Another turn in the wind momentarily fills and instantly releases the pressure in head sail causing the Boom to smash again to one-side, prevented from another accidental gybe by a line carefully rigged to the stern of the boat, ingeniously know as the preventer. The shuddering of the boat, and neck breaking sound of the main sheet tightening under the strain only inches from your head, abruptly snaps you out of the dreamy state, and you sit up. The wind has settled again, at least for the next few minutes, and you have time to switch on your torch and check the sails… Genoa is almost full, and you quickly persuade yourself that trimming the working sheet wouldn’t bring any real benefit; the mainsail is flapping slightly as the wind rushes into the sail, slides off its edge causing a slight luffing. Your shift partner is gazing continuingly into nothingness, as you again check that the autopilot (named affectionately as Ronnie by the skipper – for no known reason) is working effectively, speeding you along at predominantly walking pace across this seemingly endless ocean. The final destination seams like an eternity away, and dreams of a victorious finish have long been forgotten amongst the daily chores of ocean sailing. Searching in the pocket of the Musto Jacket, a fishermans friend is retrieved, and quietly eaten. The sharp minty taste is a welcome relief to the sour feeling in your mouth that comes with brushing teeth on an irregular daily basis in salt water pumped directly from the sea. Again looking around fruitlessly for something to do, you settle down, by now quite used to the creeks from the mast, the rocking of the boat, and the jarring noises emanating from the boom and the vang. Lying back, watching the oversized steering wheel moving slightly from side to side, Ronnie patiently corrects the path of the boat against the side on swell of the ocean, and you try to romanticise the voyage and think back to the start of the adventure.

 Leaving the Zurich office at midday, in Lambretta jeans, a Marco Polo sweat shirt and Sebago deck shoes, with a Paul & Shark sack bag thrown carefully crookedly over the shoulder, you wave goodbye to the farewells of your worried staff. Arriving in Las Palmas, a curt “to the port” is all that is required, for surely the taxi driver knows from his passengers attire and adventurous glint in the eye that he is headed for one of the large expensive racing yachts preparing to compete in this prestigious off shore yachting regatta. The taxi ride to the marina makes a pleasurable change from predictably boring and slow Swiss drivers, and the excitement and anticipation begins to build. Stopping the taxi far enough away from the quay side and size up the competition, I set off for pontoon 10, where my destiny awaits. A couple of well placed “what ho!s” and “ahoy there!s” alert the other competitors to my arrival, and then… ore inspired by the sleek 60 foot race yacht in front of me with towering mast, and glinting shrouds, finally it appears I have reached pontoon 10…. Next to it is our boat. I swagger up to the stern of the boat, greeting those deck. After a five minute wait to get below and meet the other crew members, due to the engine compartment being open for essential last minute repairs (it is 9pm at night), I climb assuredly into the cabin. 8 crew members now  fill the small space, which I can only assume is the entrance lobby to the boat. They all seem friendly enough though, and soon I am shown into my on-suite forward cabin. Throwing my bag onto the one bed, next to a pile of other peoples clothes and assorted sailing accessories, I realise that I will be sharing the one bed cabin… with 3 other people. Undeterred, there is wine tasting taking part in the galley. After pouring from a cardboard carton a 2003 red rioja, I bypass the smell test and settle for the ‘trying to pour it down the throat without letting it touching the taste buds’ routine – “very good” I command. (We later forgot to buy any of the cartons of the wine which we had so carefully selected). Off to the bar for the crew, free beer and cheap port awaits us at the official ARC leaving party, followed by food, dancing girls and fireworks… all together, a splendid affair! 

Day one, Sunday 23rd November 2003. 12:00 – The Start…

With the alternator now fixed, 3.5 tonnes of food loaded and stored (we have an Italitan crew member, whose hobby is eating), the Skippers only computer (holding the only navigation maps on board) in pieces on the Nav table, sunglasses and sailing caps are donned. The engine is started, the last stern line is released, and we motor calmly out of the marina. Cheers and waves from the several thousand people lining the harbour walls lift the spirits and provide a wonderful setting as we leave the safety of the marina, and join the 224 other hopeful competitors in the open ocean. The main is raised, the genoa is unfurled and the engine left to rest, as the skipper turns into the wind … “Boys, we are sailing!” The countdown begins, as the yachts tack and gybe for position to get the best timed run at the start line. 4 – 3 – 2- 1 and the gun is fired… a puff of smoke rises into the patchy sky signalling the start of the race. The sight is ore inspiring, hundreds of boats racing onwards away from the safety and security of land, raising colourful spinnakers to capture and harness the power of the wind, carefully trimming and finely tuning the race tailored sails…. We grind to a miserable halt as the wind pathetically dies, and start the engine… the excitement of the start soon slips away as the feeling of nausea and the first traces of sea sickness set in. Soon the ‘round the clock’ shift plan is announced, and is becomes quickly apparent that this is going to be no pleasure cruise. 

Leaving the Canary Islands, we head South with the rest of the fleet, the first night is amazing as the running lights light up the dark and cloudy sky, a moving city of red lights on our Starboard beam, and green off our Port side. As the sun rises from the ocean over the horizon, there is no land in sight, and one by one the other yachts disappear into the ocean as each chooses his preferred route over the featureless watery surroundings.  

After a couple of days, the sea sickness dissipates and is replaced by unexplainable feelings of mild agoraphobia, wonderment, and inspiration at the immensity and latent power of the open ocean. The weather is changeable, with cloudy skies creating a reasonable swell, and steady winds intersperced with heavy squalls of up to 50knots. The sailing is good, as we predominantly stay on a beam or broad reach, averaging speeds over ground of 6-8 knots. The wet weather gear is required for the unpredictable night shifts, but in general the weather is good. As we continue South West, the air and sea temperature begins to noticeably rise, from the low to high 20s. The squalls become less frequent, and the sun starts to burn through the thinning clouds.  

Day two is highlighted by the arrival of a small group of friendly bottle nosed dolphins, who spend a couple of hours chatting to us and playing with the bow of our boat. Dolphins bring, as always a wonderfully reassuring sense of peace, comfort and security to the deep dark depths of the open ocean. Their clicks and whistles wish us well on our way across their endless playground. 

The boat is looking good, a brand new 46foot Grand Soleil, one of the better makes of cruising yacht, well know for its high level of workmanship, and racing standards. It is a real treat to be on a new yacht where everything works as it was intended. Day 4, the cabin doors start to fall off. Day 6, the genoa furler breaks and is irreparable. Day 7, the spinnaker tears on its first successful haul. Day 8 the genoa sheet snaps. Day 9, the re-stitched spinnaker is completely destroyed and almost lost at sea. Day 13, the lazy jacks fall off. Day 14, the toilet becomes blocked. Day 16, the head sail lines start to break on a regular basis. Day 17, the waterproof cockpit compass gets water in and short circuits. Day 18, the salt water pump becomes ineffective…. 

Day 8, as we get further from land, and close to our half way mark 1100 miles out in the open ocean, it becomes quickly apparent that there is no one here. It has now been days since we have sighted another boat, and it feels like months since we have been engaged in anything that resembles normal society. The probability of colliding with another boat in the Atlantic, when not in a shipping lane, is about equal to the likelihood of making the correct comment when asked by the wife which colour dress best suits her for an evening out – no chance! “Skipper on deck please, there is a large Portuguese fishing boat on the horizon, on a collision course!” Fortunately, there are sacred traditions among sailors enforcing the common laws of the ocean, so upon notifying the fast approaching vessel of our position, they inform us to pass on their port bow (in front). They even reverse engines, and come to a complete stop about 200 metres off our starboard bow. Again, freshened by the good will and common understanding of that wonderful culture of sailors, we procede, under full sail across their bow…. On deck of the Portuguese fishing boat, the crew are laughing in hysterics as they line up their target - the annoyance of the ocean, the pleasure sail boat. As it moves within striking distance, the engines are thrust into full speed ahead, and the boat lurches forwards…. “Hard to starboard” the crew shouts, as the helmsman heaves the wheel, and the sails flap as we just manage to avoid the fast approaching 300 tonne steel monster, as it passes in front of us leaving us wallowing in its wake, stinking diesel fumes fill the air. Faith in humanity once again destroyed. 

The voyage continues, long periods of inactivity are interspersed with short chaotic periods of madness brought on by a combination of a slight change in the weather, or ‘good ideas’ brought on by the need to relieve the boredom. 

Day 11, still 900 nautical miles from the nearest land and our final destination. The first of the big yachts from the racing division has crossed the finish line in record ARC time, just over 11 days. We are stuck in the doldrums, chugging merrily along at 4.6 knots under engine power as we report our current position to the race officials, 15.50N 41.33W, light North easterly winds, and no engine hours…. We are close to running out of diesel. The day passes slowly… the only hope of reaching St Lucia within a reasonable time, is by raising the spinnaker... Two days ago we lost the spinnaker during what can only be described as the most unplanned, chaotic, dangerous and yet somewhat highly predictable events on board, during which we attempted in 20 knot winds to re-attach a 12 foot long aluminium pole, fixed at one end to the mast, and swinging freely at the other. Onto one end of a line attached around a winch at the stern of the boat, is a madly frantic 160 square meter parachute affectionately known as a spinnaker. The scene is one out of a Hollywood disaster movie… two crew members fight at the bow of the boat with the pole as it slams 90 degrees from side to side, conveniently at head hight, 2 crew members at the stern of the boat pull at the tangled mass of lines in a vain attempt to do something, no body is sure what. The skipper spins the wheel from side to side, in what appears to be a maniacal moment of unadulterated panic as his boat picks up speed, and out of control surfs down a 10 foot wave onto its side – the technical term is broaching. The remaining two crew members are below attempting to whip up another delightful meal… soup again! One moment, whilst stirring the no doubt tasty concoction, looking out of the galley hatches, perfectly located at eye level, at the wonderful blue sky on the horizon, the other frantically trying to close them as the calm and peaceful sky is replaced in an instant by a torrent of salt water, as the ocean rushes over the deck and into the boat, as it heals over on its side to a near 90 degree angle – not ideal. Fortunately, the spinnaker rips in two releasing the power of the wind that so suddenly endangered the boat. The two crew hanging from the shrouds are dumped back on deck, and the boat rights itself. Quickly the remains of the sail are pulled from the water and replaced to where they rightfully belong – in the safety of the sail locker.

The variety of edible fish in the ocean is amazing, with over 5000 known species. The potential culinary delights that can cooked into a wonderful series of menus aboard a boat with a whole host of different fishing lures, lines and tackle is a wonderful thought during a 3 week trip trans Atlantic voyage…. We caught two types of fish, and they both tasted the same... This said, they were well prepared into that world famous marvel of cuisine and National dish, fish and chips, only lacking in newspaper.  

Even if the trade winds are not stable, you can at least rely on them being Easterly at this time of year.Day 15. The wind is blowing head on ….  Westerley.  

We should have arrived by now, but with a head on wind, the ocean once again reminds us that it is more than capable of making a mockery of mans best laid plans. 

Day 19. 200 miles to go – hopefully less than 2 days before we hit land…