Award for Scots who sailed DIY boat to Caribbean

Ullapool-based Dan Johnson and Charlotte Watters sailed their hand-built boat Hestur. Picture: Contributed
Ullapool-based Dan Johnson and Charlotte Watters sailed their hand-built boat Hestur. Picture: Contributed
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THEY handcrafted their own wooden boat, set sail across the Atlantic – and returned to win the world’s oldest cruise ship honour.

Dan Johnson and Charlotte Watters spent almost two years sailing the 34ft-long wooden schooner Hestur from their home in Ullapool to Grenada in the Caribbean, via West Africa and the Azores.

Their intrepid ocean trek, and occasional inland foray, such as sailing 200 miles up a river in the Gambia, caught the eye of the Royal Cruising Club, which decided to award the couple its most distinguished award – the 119-year-old Challenge Cup – which will be presented next month.

Their exploits included a 17-day transatlantic voyage with no means of communication apart from a distress beacon during which they saw hardly another vessel and steered clear of stormy weather by using charts downloaded on shortwave radio to a solar-powered iPad.

The club was also impressed with the boat’s ability to blend in wherever it dropped anchor, enabling the couple to arrive almost unremarked by local people less favourable to larger visiting craft.

Log judge WM Nixon said: “It’s a wonderful tonic to read about the competent ocean voyaging and detailed coastal cruising of a delightful little own-built boat which skips across the ocean like a flying fish, yet when she gets to coastal waters, her masts are so modest in height she can sail far up rivers where other taller craft would be obstructed.

“Then too, in some of the more remote and attractive cruising regions of the world where conspicuous affluence has yet to arrive, if you turn up in a shiny big modern boat with all today’s bells and whistles, you might be seen by the locals as an affront to their simple way of life.

“But this little boat, with her minimal carbon footprint, is seen as a threat by no-one, and thus her husband-and-wife crew were able to cruise in detail and be made welcome in places where bigger craft just don’t fit in.”

Mr Johnson, 32, a boat builder and master wood craftsman, followed a 1970s’ American junk-rigged dory design for Hestur, one which was used by adventurers Pete and Annie Hall, who wrote the cult classic Voyaging on a Small Income.

Ms Watters, 31, an artist, helped out with the construction, which took three years using plywood and Douglas fir.

Their trip to the Gambia took in Cornwall, the Scilly Isles, Brittany and Spain.

After an incident-free 2,200-mile trip across the Atlantic, they visited Barbados, Antigua, Bermuda and Grenada.

The couple arrived home last September after returning via the Azores, Ireland and Wales.

Ms Watters said being alone in the Atlantic had been an “odd” experience, but they soon got into a routine.

She said: “By the third day we were in the swing of it. We read a lot, and took it in turns to do four-hour watches at night.

“By downloading charts we were able to see weather ­patterns developing and avoid them by zig-zagging our way back.”

The former cadet members of the club, who met at Edinburgh College of Art, are now considering taking Hestur even further afield, having already sailed to Iceland and the Arctic.

Ms Watters said of the Atlantic trip: “It was a fantastic experience. There is a classic round-the-world route, but it is not necessarily the most interesting.

“We might plan a journey to explore more of the Americas or a different continent.”

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