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Former soldier sails across the Atlantic in aid of charity

by Mark Hardaker 23 Sep 2018 10:01 BST
Former soldier Chris Fleet sails across the Atlantic in aid of sailing charity Turn to Starboard © The Black Dragonfly

Daily dolphin visits, glowing plankton and a close encounter with an enormous blue whale were just some of the highlights for one army veteran who sailed across the Atlantic in aid of the sailing charity Turn to Starboard.

Chris Fleet and his crew covered more than 4,300 nautical miles sailing from Key West at Florida to Brighton in the UK on board a Formosa 47 – The Black Dragonfly. We caught up with Chris to find out more about the incredible highlights (and lowlights!) of the epic two-month endeavour that raised more than £1,100 for the charity.

Why did you decide to take part in an Atlantic crossing?

CF: It was a favour for a friend really, in 2011 he had sailed his 47-foot ketch from Norway to Panama and subsequently been carving the turquoise waters of the Caribbean for 7 years, living the high life. Fast forward to today and with a new wife and baby now in tow he had decided to sail home to Norway and so he called in a favour. Sailing across an ocean is item #36 in my bucket list so it was an easy decision to make.

How many people were on board? How did you get on with each other?

CF: There were only three of us onboard, Jan from Norway, Michael from Canada and myself. We all got along like a house on fire, we had a healthy respect for one another and trusted each other's abilities.

How long did the journey take?

CF: Beginning to end was about two months but much of that was spent on land, be it waiting in the Bahamas for the ironically named hurricane Chris to pass by, spending two weeks in Bermuda fixing the troublesome generator or simply celebrating or sobering up in any of the other ports we dipped into. When we were at sail we made good time, covering the Bermuda-Azores crossing in 14 days, proudly filling just one bin bag and using up just one water tank.

What was the most challenging aspect of the voyage?

CF: We had an unusually calm Atlantic crossing, even by following the best weather systems out there we still found ourselves motoring for uncomfortably long periods. The engine was running for so long that we found ourselves running on fumes still 200 nautical miles from the Azores and without so much as a mosquito fart of wind in the air. We were forced to ask a passing cargo ship for some fuel and perform a risky lasso manoeuvre just a few feet from the massive beast.

Tell us about some of the highs and lows?

CF: There were many highs, they far outnumbered the lows. Anything from our almost daily dolphin visits to our close encounter with an enormous blue whale. Of course reaching each port was a huge high for all of us and we had some wild dock parties at every stop meeting some amazing people and making great memories.

There were a few lows in the form of breakdowns, some small things here and there, some bigger problems. We had spent two weeks in Bermuda fixing the generator but it didn't last one day once we finally got out to sea, leaving us at the mercy of the alternator.

Would you do a similar expedition again and is there anything you would change about your preparation?

CF: My 'sail across an ocean' bucket list item is firmly ticked now, and next I want to cruise the Caribbean island chain at a far more leisurely pace. The main thing I would want for any future trip is more time, more time to deal with the unexpected, more time to enjoy the places you end up and more time to ease the weight of deadline from our minds. That and a cod lure, could have really used a cod lure at the end of our fishing rod towards the end.

Looking back, what did you enjoy and dislike the most?

CF: I enjoyed so much, from seeing the stars like I had never seen them before and the bioluminescent plankton lighting up the hull on my night watch to seeing the sun rise and letting the sun warm me up on my day watch. If I had to choose something that I disliked it would have to be the one leak that soaked my bunk every time we were on a port tack. I named him Larry, he was my nemesis. For weeks I fought with him, tearing up the teak on deck and below, caulking anything and everything but to no avail. To this day he lives on, dripping Norwegian rainwater onto anyone who dare sleep in the starboard cabin.

Why did you choose Turn to Starboard as your nominated charity?

CF: Turn to Starboard was an easy decision form me. As a veteran myself, I have been helped a great deal by the charity. They provide a valuable opportunity to ex Servicemen and women to draw upon their core military skills and focus on learning a new and challenging discipline, sailing. I am delighted to be able to give a little back to Turn to Starboard as I utilise the skills they taught me.

Chris and the crew set sail from Key West, Florida on July 4 and arrived in Brighton, England on August 28, 2018.

You can donate to support Chris's fundraising efforts: mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/theblackdragonfly

For more information about the charity call 01326 314262 or visit www.turntostarboard.co.uk

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