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500 miles non-stop in a dinghy: We talk to Mark Belamarich MBE and Phil Slade

by Mark Jardine on 19 Apr 19 April 2017
Mark Belamarich MBE and Phil Slade © Mark Jardine / YachtsandYachting.com

Mark Belamarich MBE and Phil Slade hold the Guinness World Record for the longest distance sailed in a double handed dinghy, when they sailed non-stop from Plymouth to Portsmouth, via the French coast: a voyage of 309 nautical miles.

This summer, Mark and Phil's next adventure is sailing from Plymouth to Faslane in Scotland, a distance of 500 nautical miles, in a Bosun. We caught up with Mark and Phil to find out more about the challenge, what kit they'll be wearing, and the charities they are raising funds and awareness for: the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity and Bowel Cancer UK.

Mark Jardine: Firstly can you tell me about your sail from Plymouth to Portsmouth and the conditions you encountered?

Mark Belamarich: We left Plymouth at 10am on a Tuesday, went across the English Channel into a force 6 Westerly breeze and it took us just over 18 hours to reach the French coast. Once we got near the coast we took a rest on board of around 30 minutes to get some respite and sort the boat out as we'd been bashed about a little. Then we set off back across the Channel, so we didn't stop off anywhere; it took us 17 hours on the way back and it calmed down a little bit, around a force 4-5, but we still had a 2 metre swell to contend with, but the sun was out so we were a lot happier!

As we reached the Start Point Lighthouse the wind dropped and it was really strange; we'd had two days of really rough weather and suddenly we were in a calm! So we had to go back out into the English Channel to find a bit of wind, and put the spinnaker up; which we flew for 24 hours until we got to Portsmouth after going round the Isle of Wight. We arrived in Portsmouth just before 10am on Friday: it was 71 hours and 45 minutes in a Bosun dinghy!

Mark Jardine: While the Bosun is undoubtedly an extremely hardy dinghy, it is an open dayboat. You were out in the elements the entire time; how did you keep yourself protected?

Mark Belamarich: We had our drysuits on, and that was really the only thing protecting us. We had our gloves and sailing boots as well, but we couldn't afford to have a tent or cover as - if the boat tipped over - then there would be a chance we'd be fighting to get out from under the cover, risking entrapment. It was mainly the quality of the drysuits, boots and gloves which kept us protected.

Mark Jardine: Who do you work with on your sailing clothing?

Mark Belamarich: Typhoon International designed the suits for us. It's a middle zip suit so it looks like salopettes and a smock; it's a very clever design which was very easy to take off and put on. We've very happy to say thank you to them without a shadow of a doubt.

Mark Jardine: When you're sailing for that long, what happens when nature calls?

Mark Belamarich: (laughing!) This was the point for having the zip around the middle section. We have a relief zip, and because I had bowel cancer when I was 26 I tend to have to go a bit more than most people. We have a luxury en-suite toilet on board, otherwise known as a bucket, and not much space or privacy!

Mark Jardine: You didn't just do this challenge for the fun of it, you were raising money for charity. Can you tell me about that?

Mark Belamarich: The charity on our 2016 challenge was the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity. What they do is look after Service personnel, past and present, and their families. It doesn't matter how long they've served, how long ago it was, they will still look after you if you need their help. It's a very worthy cause, and as an ex-serviceman myself if I needed them I can call on them at any stage. We raised just under £3,000. We'd like to have raised a bit more but there were a lot of people who didn't believe we could achieve this record and that without a doubt hindered us. However, now we're moving on.

Mark Jardine: This brings me on to your 2017 challenge. Not content with crossing the English Channel, you've now set yourselves a real mission. Can you tell me what you've got lined up this time?

Mark Belamarich: Phil, my sailing partner, came up with this silly idea and said, "Mark, do you fancy another sailing adventure? This time from Plymouth to Faslane, but let's go round the West Coast of Ireland!" 830 nautical miles and it'll take us around 8 days and 8 nights, living on board a 14ft dinghy in all kinds of conditions; we don't know what we're going to encounter. We will decide on our route, as to whether we go up the West Coast of Ireland or across the Irish Sea, when we get to the Fastnet Rock, which is what we're really looking forward to, and decide depending on what pressure systems are coming in from the Atlantic.

Mark Jardine: Phil, what were you thinking?

Phil Slade: What can I do next? We wanted to do something to give the Bosun a send-off from its service in the Navy. I was inspired by the Chief Instructor at the centre who sailed this Bosun back from Jersey. I was chatting with him and had the idea of sailing it from Naval Port to Naval Port, as it's a Naval icon. That's how the first challenge came about and when we finished that I didn't quite feel satisfied with myself and felt I had to go again. I came up with the idea, tying together the whole Naval theme going to Faslane in Scotland, and then thought how can we make this harder for ourselves? The West Coast of Ireland seemed the obvious choice. We are more exposed to the Atlantic weather but we are taking safety very, very seriously.

Mark Jardine: Will you again be raising funds for the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity?

Mark Belamarich: This time we are doing it again for the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity and also Bowel Cancer UK as my family and I have been deeply affected by bowel cancer. I lost by father at 46, I had it, as did my sister, at 26 years old, and my daughter at 13 has the gene which will cause the cancer. It's a great charity and people need to be aware that you can get this at a young age. I'm 20 years on from it and am doing well and want to show that you can do great things like this and can even go on and break records.

Mark Jardine: Will you be working with Typhoon International for this challenge or will you need upgrades this time for such a long voyage?

Mark Belamarich: We're going to use the same suit; it was great last time, performed extremely well for us and was comfortable. Typhoon are going to brand them for us so that we can put the Bowel Cancer UK logo on it and they're sending us two new suits. Where we're going this time if we end up in the water it's going to be quite cold temperatures and we need to know they're going to work properly for us.

Mark Jardine: If people want to support your challenge, either donating for charity or giving you another type of support, how should they get in contact with you?

Phil Slade: We have a Virgin Money Giving page at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bosunchallenge500 and we've also got a Facebook page at 'Bosun Challenge' where you'll see a picture of us holding the Guinness World Record certificates; click 'Like' and you can message us from there.

Mark Jardine: When are you aiming to set off?

Mark Belamarich: We have a 3 week weather window from the 1st May to the 22nd May. We'll have a YellowBrick tracker on board so you can track us to find out where we are and what route we've actually taken.

Mark Jardine: We're very much looking forward to following your progress. The best of luck with all your preparations, raising a lot of money for the charities and for good weather in May.

Mark Belamarich & Phil Slade: Thank you.

uk.virginmoneygiving.com/bosunchallenge500

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