Portrait of a Cruiser: Long term single-hander Anthony Swanston

Anthony commissioned a one-off build on retirement and sailed off single-handed with his junk rig “loosely” around the world. After nine years on board, he has reached the Indian Ocean and finds himself at a bit of a crossroads.

Published 6 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Names of Owner: Anthony Swanston

Nationality: British

Boat Name: Wild Fox

Boat Type/Model and Size: Benford  37, Junk Schooner

Home Port: Belfast

Blog: www.blog.mailasail.com/wildfox

How did you start cruising?

I just commissioned a boat and sailed off having sailed everything since childhood starting in Cadets and working up to Admiral’s cuppers. I had a number of retirement plans and then, almost by accident, I bought Annie Hill’s book “Voyaging on a small Income”.  I thought the notion was ridiculous as I wanted to voyage on a large income!  But the idea of a junk rig took hold.  And without telling any of my sailing friends what I was doing (they would scoff and tell me I was mad) the boat was built to order by a grumpy old Pole in the famous shipyard in Gdansk.

Describe what sort of cruisers you are:

Single handed, long distance liveaboard.  I slipped the lines in Ireland in 2009 heading to the Azores with a loose plan to circumnavigate by a traditional trade wind route, but perhaps stopping if I arrived in a country where I would like to live.  I did actually find one such country (New Zealand) but they would not let me stay as the retirement visa restrictions were too onerous.

What type of cruising are you doing currently?

I am in the Indian Ocean in the Maldives bound for Chagos and all points to South Africa; however for a number of reasons this plan is now under review.  Bluntly, I am fed up with doing long passages on my own. So Anthony and Wild Fox are at a crossroads and whither we shall go is yet to be finally determined.

What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?

Ease of sail handling, ease of hull repair (plywood hull), an individual yacht of classic looks.  Every time I looked at a production boat all that I saw was white plastic unless I went to a standard which I could not afford.  By commissioning my own build I could get something which was a bit of me and, as a long term proposition that is what I wanted.  In marinas and at anchor Wild Fox is always a conversation piece.  All that I can say to most of the surrounding craft is “Hmm.  That is a nice shade of white”.  The problem with a ‘one off’ is that it is not a readily marketable commodity if you want to move on.  These days most people want to buy by brand; they need to recognize a known marque.

What other boats have you owned?

A Cadet at the age of 11 and a 33 foot TSDY in my mid thirties.  In between I sailed everything under the sun but they were always owned (and paid for) by other people.

What changes have you made to your current boat?

None.  Some of the equipment has been replaced either because it wore out or just was not the right thing for my boat.  This is one of the problems with having a one off.  With a production boat many of these things have been tried and tested.

Most useful equipment fitted, and reasons for this choice:

Monitor wind vane steering.  No power usage and a reliable bit of kit.  I broke mine a few times but that was because the steering was too heavy (another risk with a one off) but it really performs very well even in 7 knots of apparent wind.

Equipment regrets, or things you would do differently:

I would have liked solar panels, but I just do not have anywhere to put them as I refuse to have them along the guardrails.  I have a Watt & Sea water generator, but being a slow boat this does not always do the job.  My Silent Wind generator is great but needs 15 knots apparent to get optimum performance.  On a downwind trade wind route you do not get that while under way. And 10 degrees either side of the equator you rarely see wind of more than 10 knots. If you want to run a fridge then you must fit solar panels somewhere.  Davits would save a lot of hassle but are a non-starter on a double ender with an outboard rudder.  A watermaker would be nice but I don’t have the space, then you would need a generator as well.  A washing machine and tumble drier would also be nice. The list just goes on and on, doesn’t it?

List the countries you have cruised:

About 50 in all around the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.  And eight others by overland travel when I have left the boat somewhere safe.

Future cruising plans:

Watch this space!  All cruising plans are written in the sand below the high tide mark.  Nine years on I am at a bit of a crossroads.

List the oceans/seas you have crossed:

Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans on fairly traditional routes.  The map on my blog shows it all.

Approximate sea miles:

45,000 give or take.

Scariest day on the water:

Hurricane Irene while at anchor in Chesapeake Bay 2011.  Up a shallow creek forested almost all around and all on my own waiting for it to hit. There was a place called Ocean City about 25 miles to the east of me.  Then the local community radio announced “the evacuation of Ocean City is now complete”.  I did not need to hear this.  I had chosen three beaches where I thought I could lay the boat on its side without breaking the masts on the trees if the anchors failed.

Best cruising moment:

Too many to list.  But possibly making landfall in the Azores, my first 1,000 nautical mile single handed passage.

Favourite cruising area and why:

They are all good; it is just that some are more challenging than others.  What you see is what you get and all good cruisers make the most of what they get.  Always remembering that you can, at any time, pull up the anchor and move on. Or stay.  As the case may be.

Favourite anchorage:

Southern San Blas Islands, Marquesas, Azores, Fernando de Nornha.  And about 300 others.

Favourite cruising apps:

Ovital, Windfinder, Windy.  Getting Google Earth saved on Ovital is essential for places where the charts are fiction such as the San Blas Islands and the Maldives.

Favourite cruising websites:


Favourite cruising books:

All of Eric Hiscock’s.

What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to cruising or thinking about casting off the dock lines?

Don’t think about it; just do it.  And above all do not ask for advice from sailing friends.  Many of those who are not cruising will be jealous and will try to talk you out of it because they either cannot or will not do it.

Why cruise? In a few sentences, what is it that inspires you to keep cruising?

New countries, new cultures, new friends.  And it certainly beats working, well, sometimes. The trick is to know when to come ashore.

Editor’s Note: If you think you have an interesting story to tell and would like to take part in our Portrait of a Cruiser series, please contact Sue at [email protected] for a questionnaire.

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