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'Going where the wind takes us!' - An interview with the crew of Pepper

Phil Alberry and Hatty Millar are one of eight crews in ARC+ this year that have sailed the route double-handed. Reaching Rodney Bay sees them begin a new chapter of becoming full time cruisers, after owning their boat Pepper of Nihou, a Feeling 1350 for 7 years and preparing her for the crossing. WCC’s Communications Director Jeremy Wyatt talked to the couple about their refit, preparations and how they have approached achieving the long-harboured dream of live-aboard cruising.

Tell us a bit about how you came across Pepper and decided she’d be the boat to fit your cruising aspirations

It all started one Sunday afternoon at a BBQ when someone flicked open a copy of Yachting World. There were some boats for sale, and we spotted one we liked – a Falcon 45, which we were gazumped on. Then we saw this, so we only looked at two boats. Previously, we were both in the military so would sail on the Joint Services fleet out of Gosport, but this is the first boat we have owned

Did you have a refit plan when you bought the boat, or was it a case of see what happens first?

Our long term aim was always to do this sort of sailing (ARC), so we learnt as we went along and worked out what we needed to change. She needed a new engine, we changed the standing rigging, put a generator in. We gleaned information from books and magazines, chatted to other cruisers and learnt more about what else we might want to change. In the summer we’d go off for a month long cruise, so the experience of doing that taught us a lot about the boat. The bit that took me by surprise was the power requirements. When you switch from coastal cruising around France, to living on board full time, you use a lot more power. We’re using the autohelm all the time, plus fridges and lights. We’ve changed the batteries and added a diesel generator. Plus we have solar panels and a wind turbine.

I know that you’ve given a lot of thought to self-steering

“The previous owner sailed it single-handed, so it came with two completely independent self-steer systems. There is a ram drive on either side of the quadrant. Each system has a head so you can switch between them. They were old units – a 6000 and a 7000 - and on the trip down to Gran Canaria we realised just how much we relied on the autopilot and that the old one was not up to it. I had a week back in the UK and bought a new Raymarine EVO2 and fitted that so the control box is the same. I refurbished the Type 2 drive, so that we have the new one and the 6000 is now the back-up.

What about sail handling systems. Did you need to change those?

When we bought the boat, it had after-market in-mast furling which although it was great for coastal cruising, we felt it needed to be more robust for offshore bluewater sailing. So when we had the standing rigging done, we had it taken off and added the black tides-track and went back to slab reefing, which is fine – clearly a lot more work, more strings and not as convenient, but it gives us the confidence that we can get the sail up and down when we need to.

It was cutter rigged; but we found that the inner-stay was always catching and made it hard to tack, so we took the inner-stay off. We didn’t miss it at all coming down. We used polled out double headsails.

What about creature comforts aboard? Have you invested any of your refit budget in that area?

Well, we’ve brought with us a domestic washing machine that we bought in the UK, which I had to fit against the bulkhead. Had to use an angle-grinder to make it fit, however I’ve not yet connected it. We also have a watermaker. It had a watermaker when we bought the boat, but then in the last month before leaving we decided to upgrade it to a new machine, which I fitted in the Canary Islands before the crossing.

One final question about your refit. Relative to your purchase price, what % of the purchase cost have invested in the refit?

About 50%.

Was that more than you thought you would spend?

I think that after we got the new engine, and the generator, we weren’t surprised by the increase in cost.
So after all this effort and the seven year gradual upgrade, what are you plans now?

Well we’re planning on going sailing until we get fed up with it. I have now retired, in fact I finish work on a Friday and we left for this trip on the Monday morning, so there wasn’t much time to adjust from working life to sailing life.

Psychologically, when did you feel that you had become a cruiser?

Uhm,, about now actually. It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster. In fact the reason we did the ARC was that we had a date and it couldn’t be changed. So we’ve been on this conveyor always heading towards the ARC. It is only now that we’ve got to Saint Lucia that for the first time we have no deadlines and nothing to plan for apart of families coming out to join us.

Is that a surprise?

Well, a bit of a shock really! All the way down we’ve been with people and the ARC has been very social. So when everyone (in the ARC) goes and we are on our own it will be very different.

What are you looking forward to most about your new cruising life?

Just the ability to go and do what we want to do, with no schedules, no deadlines, and no one else’s agenda. Going where the wind takes us! Oh and it needs to be down wind as were are never going to beat into the wind again!!

Joking aside, we do have an aspiration to go up the east coast of America and through Northwest Passage. Whether it would be on this boat we don’t know yet!