Think of the greatest voyagers and pioneers in our sport and you inevitably land on Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth, Francis Chichester, Clare Francis, Ellen Macarthur, Michel Desjoyeaux, Eric Tabarly, Pete Goss and the list goes on. They inspire through their travails and they push boundaries of belief, doing the things that simply can’t be done. And they do them with charm, humour and wit atop steely determination, resourcefulness and skill aplenty.
Add to that list the name Katie McCabe who has just completed the challenging round Britain course at the tender age of 14. It’s a stunning achievement in a restored 26 foot Morgan Giles wooden yacht and proves, once again, the power of youth and that determination matters. A million reasons and excuses not to do it could be offered but it’s adventurers like this that move the dial on human endeavour. The sailing world salutes and pipes onboard its newest member into the pantheon of the greats.
To do this trip solo takes guts. Never mind that her father was mandated to sail a distance behind her (she calls him a “dot in the distance”) due to insurance reasons, she still had to traverse and navigate some of the trickiest waters in the world with vicious tidal gates, random sandbanks, mudflats, commercial shipping, chests of drawers floating beneath the surface and foreboding rocks on her own.
Conditions were tough, kitchen-sink stuff and all on a shoestring yet Katie weathered everything that the not-so glorious British summer could throw and came through shining with the most refreshing attitude and can-do spirit.
In years to come she may well reflect on the madness of it all but it’s a beautiful insanity showing the world just what can be done. We love these stories of the human spirit.
And what’s more, Katie captured it brilliantly in her blog diary. Just have a read of a passage of her final post: “For the last 7 and half weeks, I have quite literally been living the dream, just me, and Falanda (with dad a small spot in the distance behind!). We have been through the solent, across the Thames, across the firth of forth, through the Caledonian canal, and back down through the Irish sea to Wales. Then sailed through Ramsey sound, to Milford haven, across the Bristol channel, around Lands end, the Lizard, and back to Topsham. Falanda has taken good care of me, and I hope I have shown as much appreciation towards her. She is a beautiful, seaworthy vessel, and the hardest part of this trip was walking away down the pontoon today.“
There it is. That’s the connection that the really good sailors talk about. The vessel becomes a part of the sailor, almost a piece of their soul and leaving it tied up on a pontoon is a wrench. I love it. And she captures that so eloquently and innocently. It’s remarkable writing from the heart and through the wonderful lens of a 14 year old.
Coming shoreside up the River Exe to Topsham Quay, a welcoming party lay in store. The local lifeboat acted as guard boat as a small armada of yachts came out to welcome Britain’s new sailing star. Shoreside her lines were taken and a vocal crowd thronged the marina. One of the nicest touches was Timothy Long, the previous holder of the youngest circumnavigation of the UK, standing dockside in the rain to greet and congratulate Katie – a very classy gesture.
And the donations to her fundraising page went banzai…she’s now just shy of £15,000 raised for Sea Shepherd UK which is a pretty remarkable achievement. Donations are still being accepted here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/falanda-roundbritain and it’s a heck of a good cause.
If you get a moment, have a read of Katie’s blog and step into youthful exuberance, wide-eyed enthusiasm and utter determination. A star is born onto the sailing landscape and she’s bright, self-effacing, funny and utterly charming. It’s the best thing you’ll read this year: https://falandasailing.blogspot.com/
I am waiting for the book to come out and the round the world attempt in a few years’ time. Katie McCabe, the sailing world is yours – we are lucky to have you and you thoroughly deserve every accolade coming your way. This is a record that could well stand the test of time for decades to come. She’s set the benchmark now. Beat that.