Sailing Yacht Florence, by Liesl King.

Matt Humpreys and Amy Cartwright, both in their late twenties, set off from the UK in 2016 in Florence, one of 35 Oyster Heritage 37s ever built. With an 18mm solid fibreglass hull, integral ¾ length keel, skeg hung rudder and keel stepped mast, she is a traditional ocean going cruiser. The couple, both with dinghy sailing backgrounds, have always wanted to sail around the world, but figured they had to wait until they had the money for a big catamaran, and even more money to support their journey. Fortunately for them, Fate had other plans.

“I had been working for the same company for 14 years”, Matt explains, “and they were bought out by an American company. The American company decided to shut the UK office and seeing as I had worked there for so long , they had to give me a year’s salary. They also asked me to hand over a load of projects to the US office. So they gave me nine months to complete the handover. I spent two days looking for another job. Then we had a bit of a chat and we came up with the idea that maybe if we went on a smaller boat, we could possibly do it now.

“And so we did a spreadsheet, did a lot of calculations and worked out we could just about do it.  From that point on, we gave ourselves the nine months that I had been given as my notice period, one month to work intensively on the boat and then we would leave. So we gave ourselves ten months till departure. But we were dinghy sailors, we didn’t have a yacht and while we raced yachts we hadn’t even started looking for a boat.”

Amy takes up the story of how Florence was acquired: “Once we started looking for boats we realised that we were way off in what we thought we would have to spend on a boat. It was an early retirement plan, we didn’t really know anything about blue water boats or what to look for. Our entire focus had been on dinghy racing. That was our life outside of work. We set ourselves a really hard deadline as we were scared that if we didn’t go then, Matt might find another job and we would get sucked into our careers again.”

“They say giving up your job is one of the most difficult things to do, but luckily somebody did that for me”, quips Matt. “So it was a good opportunity to go. We were looking for about a month and a half before we found Florence. We were literally driving around every weekend, looking at boats. We needed to find a boat in the UK, as we didn’t have time to go elsewhere and we also needed a boat that was almost ready to go. We soon discovered that if you if find a boat that is almost ready to go, you will inevitably need to do another six months of work on it.”

They looked at lot of boats, some were horror stories, photos were years out of date and often didn’t even resemble the actual boat. Thankfully they found Florence after a month and a half of looking. She had been used as a cruising boat. Spending three months every year cruising and then nine months on the hard. Unfortunately her owners had become ill and she hadn’t left the yard for three years. Other than a few cosmetic leaks, she was in a very good shape. They added a bimini, fitted solar panels and replaced the entire battery system. Fortunately for them she had been fitted with a brand new engine while she was on the hard and had a relatively new set of sails.

Two weeks after their ten month deadline, Matt and Amy set sail.  “Our thought was that we potentially had three maybe four years if we could stretch the money”, Matt explains. “We wanted to really push as far as possible as quickly as possible. Hence we sailed from the UK to New Zealand in 18 months. Wanting to stop in as many places as we could, we made a spreadsheet of how long each passage was going to be and how many days we could stay in places.

“To be a boat bum around the world you actually have to be surprisingly organised.  Therefore we had a running list of how long we potentially had in each spot and if we had an extra day somewhere because we liked it, we had to take that time off somewhere else, otherwise we wouldn’t have got to New Zealand before the cyclone season. Once we got there, we realised that we could make it four years. So after taking 18 months to get from the UK to New Zealand, we then spent a year getting from New Zealand to Australia sailing through the Pacific islands.”

Then Covid reared its head and made a mess of their spreadsheet. They ended up stuck in West Sumatra in Indonesia for 14 months. Initially there was a huge amount of fear and not a huge number of foreigners. “We were pushed out, we weren’t allowed to stop for food, we weren’t even allowed to anchor. It was quite scary for a month, as we were running out of fuel and provisions, and all the other countries that we could get to, were closed”, says Amy.

Thankfully, once things settled down, they were given anchorage in the bay of a deserted island. Food was supplied once a week and after four months they were finally allowed to move around. Once the world started opening up they were on their way. Visiting Malaysia, Thailand and the Seychelles, before arriving in Richards Bay. From there they sailed down to East London, then to Hout Bay and now with departure imminent they are based in the RCYC marina.

I broach the subject of what happens if they get home and don’t want to be home, would the journey continue? Matt explains that while they didn’t cover the costs for the first three years, they are now covering their costs with their videos, mainly through Youtube advertising revenue and donations from their Patreon subscribers. “We will get back to the UK in about 14 to 18 months.  We are going to spend the winter seeing our family. Amy recently had to fly home, but I haven’t seen my family for five years. We knew it would happen, but we never thought it would be this long.

“So the idea is to get home for the UK winter. Do some work on the boat, and then we want to go north the following season. Norway, Iceland, we haven’t planned it but that sort of area and then back to the UK for the winter. Amy concurs: “That will give us a feel for what kind of cruising we want to do and what we want to do with our lives. We don’t feel that the end is in sight any time soon, as long as we can keep making the videos work.” Matt, ever the businessman, adds that they also don’t want to be making videos all their lives.”

“It’s amazing to even be considering carrying on”, says Amy. “The original plan was to sail for three years, go home and sell the boat and go back to work. You have to both want to do this. It is a risk. Never mind what age in life, or what boat you are setting out on, it is a risk. You think of a list of places that you want to see and then you see those places and you just keep adding to that list.” “That is normally our discussions on the long ocean passages”, adds Matt, “the list of places we want to add for the second lap.”

They will be departing as soon as a weather window opens, next stop Luderitz. Then Walvis Bay, St Helena, Ascension, French Guiana, Surinam, Trinidad, Tobago, hang around till the hurricane season has gone through and then up through the Caribbean and home to the UK in the summer of 2023.

Matt and Amy we wish you well on your adventures and hope that we see you again sometime soon!  If you want to follow their travels on Florence, their Youtube channel is called Sailing Yacht Florence and watching their passage around Cape Point is well worth it. Click here to view the video.

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