Portrait of a Cruiser: Phil and Yvonne Chapman
January 2018 sees our 9th “Portrait of a Cruiser”, this time a UK couple, Phil and Yvonne Chapman, who started cruising as novices 14 years ago – joining the ARC to get across the Atlantic. Since then they have based themselves in the Caribbean for many years and have now returned to Europe to be closer to family.
Published 5 years ago, updated 4 years ago
Names of Owners: Phil and Yvonne Chapman
Boat Name: Chaser 2
Boat Type/Model and Size: Hunter 44 Deck Saloon
Home Port: Gosport, UK
How did you start cruising?
From a young age, I (Phil) have had an interest in the water. Yvonne’s father had a tug business on the River Thames, so she was brought up on the water. I built several canoes at school and Yvonne and I built a speed boat and later we built an 8-metre fishing boat with a friend from work.
In 1992 we moved to Spain to live, with the help of a voluntary redundancy package from British Telecom. We had a nice lifestyle but we needed a boat. We bought a secondhand motorboat, a day boat with a 200hp inboard engine. On our first trip out with our 3 children, who were 16, 14 and 12, we hit a small wave and somehow Yvonne managed to fall off the seat and land badly fracturing vertebrae. That was the end of the adventure with that boat. But, the following year we bought a secondhand 34ft American motorboat. We were working in Spain so our time aboard was limited to weekends, but we loved it. The problem with all stinkpots is they are expensive to run and you are restricted on how far you can travel by the amount of fuel you can carry. We wanted to go further. The solution – sell it and buy a sailing boat!
We first sailed to the Balearic Islands during August 2004. It was our first ‘long’ trip aboard Chaser. We didn’t want to come back, but we had to return to work. We did the same the following year, and while away decided this was the life for us. We returned and retired early from work, with the intention of cruising the Mediterranean. We bought all the cruising guides for Italy, Malta Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, etc.
Then Yvonne and I flew to the London Boat Show and signed up for the ARC rally! We decided that while we were young (mid 50’s) we should go to the Caribbean and return the following year, but, we stayed nearly 10 years!
Describe what sort of cruiser are you: A Live-aboard couple.
What type of cruising are you doing currently?
Having moved back to the Mediterranean from the Caribbean, very little, just short trips out to anchor in nearby bays.
What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?
Yvonne says naivety, which is partly correct. I had only ever sailed a dinghy and windsurfer, Yvonne had sailed with an old guy in our marina who needed a crew member, and later Yvonne did an RYA Day Skipper course, so our experience with sailing boats was near zero.
Consequently, we felt buying a secondhand sailing boat was risky, we knew engines and electronics, but sails, winches and rigging was something else, therefore we decided to buy new. As a result, we did as much homework as possible on the internet and magazines. We went boating shows with a view to buying the then-new Bavaria 39 Cruiser. On the same stand was the Hunter 42 Deck Saloon, in our inexperienced minds there was no comparison.
We looked at all the boats in our budget but decided this was the one for us. 30,000 miles later we know we made a good decision, but we were probably lucky. It’s a great Ocean cruiser and comfortable liveaboard,
What other boats have you owned?
Canoes, 2 Speedboats, an Enterprise sailing dinghy, an 8-metre Angling boat, an 11-metre motorboat, and Chaser 2.
What changes have you made to your current boat?
Many, we removed a water tank and replaced it with a diesel tank, bought a smaller PVC collapsible water tank that we put in the bow, then bought a water maker. We fitted a Fischer Panda diesel generator, a wind generator, and 450 watts of Solar Panels together with larger house batteries. We’ve fitted Davits and also replaced the wire guard rails with 1-inch tube rails. We discovered empty spaces in bulkheads and underfloor which now allows for extra storage. We removed the standard Bose sound system, which although very nice, used a lot of power. A ghetto blaster is totally unnecessary on a sailboat. We do have a TV and laptops. We moved our gas locker outside for safety reasons and put in a couple of other gas safety ideas.
Most useful equipment fitted, and reasons for this choice:
The most useful was probably the A.I.S. – now we would advise everyone to have it. Technology moves on in leaps and bounds and new plotters etc. may have it built-in.
Then for us being at anchor much of the time, our water maker.
Equipment regrets, or things you would do differently:
If we started again with the benefit of hindsight and new technology, I would not have had reverse cycle airconditioning. At the time we were working and spent time in marinas in Spain and it was nice to have, we had no plans to cross the Atlantic, but we did and rarely used it. Also in cold climes like the UK, the heating doesn’t work because the seawater is too cold. I would prefer a 12-volt water maker and more solar panels rather than a diesel Genset.
List the countries you have cruised:
Spain and the Canaries, St Lucia, Martinique, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, including Canouan and Union Island, Carriacou, Grenada, Tobago, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Curacao, Bonaire and Venezuela and its many offshore Islands.
Future cruising plans:
Now, upon our return from the Caribbean, our plan was to be nearer our family and new grandchildren and cruise the Med, possibly basing ourselves in Malta. But having flown to Malta to check out the marinas we found it was not for liveaboards. The marinas handed us lists of do’s and don’ts. You can’t discharge sink water, shower water, can’t hang washing out, can’t have bicycles on the dock, can’t have a barbeque, (our favourite method of cooking). We couldn’t put up with all those can’t, so Malta was out.
(Photo of our granddaughter on the beach at Cayo Herradura, Venezuela). We drove to Portugal, lovely beaches but the water was too cold for me.
We hung around in Gibraltar for the winter, but the winters are cold on board and it’s boring in the marina.
We then sailed to Almerimar in Spain, but being British we are not allowed to stay more than 6 months without becoming resident, and with the UK flagged boat that is not allowed. Importing it would cost a fortune and with the corruption in Spain would leave us open to highway robbery (we know, we’ve been there).
Turkey now is out, so too is Tunisia. Greece was a possibility, but still warm weather sailing and swimming are only possible 4 months of the year. Consequently, we have decided, sadly, to sell Chaser 2 and look for some other lifestyle, just don’t know what yet.
List the oceans/seas you have crossed: Mediterranean, Atlantic, and the Caribbean
Approximate sea miles: 30,000
Scariest day on the water:
We were nearly run down by a container ship at night. We could see its portlight, but our radar said it was heading straight for us. We altered course to starboard, but it continued coming straight for us. We continued altering to starboard. We called on the radio, but no answer. When it was in sight it was on a collision course with us.
We shined our high powered lamp at the bridge, we were now sailing on a beam reach at 8 knots and we started the engine on full power giving us an extra knot or two. The ship then appeared to alter course to starboard. He passed 50 metres to our stern. Looking back with our hearts pounding at the stern of the ship, we could still see his starboard light.
That is what leads us to buy an AIS.
Best cruising moment:
I suppose being inexperienced sailors, arriving in St Lucia having crossed the Atlantic double-handed in 18 days cannot be topped.
Favourite cruising area and why:
Venezuela and the offshore Islands – without a doubt (photo of Isla Blanquilla).
The water is blue and crystal clear, the Islands are amazing, the beaches and anchorages fantastic. Most of the islands you have to yourself, nobody lives on them apart from a few fishermen. The beaches are powder white and empty, the fishing and spearfishing are excellent. Truly desert islands.
So many people advise you not to go somewhere, though they hadn’t been themselves. Haiti and Jamaica were two of those places and Venezuela was an absolute no, no. They turned out to be great family places.
Favourite anchorage: Las Aves, Venezuela.
Favourite cruising Apps:
Much has changed over the years, but the internet wasn’t and still isn’t available offshore. Close to shore we use grib file, but no apps until recently.
Favourite cruising websites: Has to be noonsite!
Favourite cruising books: Bob Bitchin was always a favourite, especially magazines.
What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to cruising or thinking about casting off the dock lines?
It’s probably been said before, but “don’t dream your life, live your dream”.
Too many people think about it and find an excuse not to do it. Maybe next year when the children are older etc. But you can always find an excuse. If you cast off and don’t enjoy the lifestyle you can always return. But if you don’t do it, you will always regret it.
Sailing in the Caribbean and especially the Venezuelan Islands, has spoilt us. Absolutely fantastic with many happy memories and new friends. The Med, we’ve decided, is not for us. It’s crowded in the summer and cold during the winter months and basically means we are marina based.
Why cruise? In a few sentences, what is it that inspires you to keep cruising?
During the 12 years we’ve been cruising (10 years in the Caribbean), I think meeting like-minded cruisers and making new friends has inspired us to keep cruising. Then seeing different cultures and peoples. Obviously, it depends where you are cruising, we were off the beaten track. Many times at anchor, normally with friends from another boat, we would dinghy ashore to a deserted beach, gather driftwood, build a fire and barbeque freshly caught lobsters, maybe another cruiser would join us. Nothing beats that. Sometimes we went into a marina and took off backpacking with cruiser friends inland.
In contrast – now back in the Med, we are marina based and the camaraderie doesn’t exist in the same way. There are many liveaboards, but not many that have done anything or have any tales to tell (apart from perhaps the best tapas bar, or a good walk or cycle route).
Any other comments:
We bought our boat in 2004, we crossed the Atlantic in 2006 with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). If we went back again we would certainly do the same. The ARC gave us the first opportunity to meet new cruisers, we made many friends and still keep in touch, probably because it’s quite an emotional time. Leaving family and friends behind, then crossing an Ocean, is something very, very few people do. But with the ARC, the send-off was fantastic. The whole town turns out to wish us well, there are bands playing and people cheering. But for many cruisers like ourselves, there were tears and fears and highs and adrenalin. After 48 hours we never saw another boat until we reached St Lucia, apart from halfway across when we sailed off our course to assist in a Mayday during the night when a sailor was lost overboard. Our reception in St Lucia was good too, a fine welcome by the ARC team, with hooters and rum punch, excellent.
We’ve written to noonsite a few times over the years about the delights of Venezuela, and that safety is not the issue that many people (who hadn’t been there) suggested. However sadly that is now not the case. The government has brought the country to its knees and the people are desperately poor. Consequently, anyone who has anything, and I mean anything such as money, medicine, food, even toilet rolls and nappies, are a target. Even fisherman are having their outboards or catch stolen. I would now suggest cruisers avoid the area until there is a change of government. It’s such a shame, it’s a beautiful country, we built a house there, but will not return until things improve.