At 15, Timothy Long sailed around Britain. He shares the highs and lows of his incredible voyage with Katy Stickland
‘It was such a rush to get to the start and the first time I had sailed Alchemy solo properly was the day before I left, when I took her from Hythe to the Hamble,’ explained Timothy Long.
‘It felt quite surreal when I finally left, then between Haslar and Brighton it got windy and choppy in a Force 5 and I thought: “Here I am, in at the deep end!”’
Timothy had planned six weeks of training aboard his Hunter Impala 28, Alchemy, before attempting to circumnavigate Britain solo, but March’s COVID-19 lockdown in England put paid to that.
Undeterred, the 15-year-old from landlocked Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire decided to use the time to improve his navigation and completed an RYA Day Skipper theory course.
Nothing was going to get in the way of his dream of beating the record, then held by Tom Webb, 17, who circumnavigated Britain aboard his Beneteau First 211, Danera, in 2011.
Originally, Timothy had planned to complete the challenge in his Hunter 19, Isabella. But after sailing the yacht extensively during summer 2019 he realised she was too small.
‘When it got windy, sailing Isabella was a bit like being in a washing machine,’ he explained.
The hunt was on for a more suitable boat, one which wouldn’t need too much work due to Timothy’s school commitments.
Alchemy was at Fox’s Marina and Boatyard in Ipswich and fitted the bill.
As soon as lockdown restrictions were eased, preparing the boat began in earnest.
The Hunter Impala 28 was already set up for singlehanded sailing, with all controls leading back to the cockpit; Timothy only had to go up on deck for headsail changes.
The yacht underwent an extensive rig check.
A new chartplotter, AIS, a wind turbine and solar panel with Giga turbines were installed before the circumnavigation, and a new mainsail was also commissioned.
Living the dream
Timothy’s first time sailing Alchemy was on 10 July – the delivery trip from Ipswich to Hythe.
‘It was what the French call a “fake solo” trip as Dad was with me although he did nothing but sit there while I had to sail and make the right decisions, and this let me get to know the boat.’
After a final few days of preparation, Timothy dropped Alchemy’s lines on 16 July and began making his way along the East coast.
Progress was good, with overnight stays in marinas – the pattern for most of his circumnavigation.
Low pressure systems meant a week stuck in Lowestoft, but the frustration was soon forgotten when he completed the longest solo leg of his trip – 100 miles from Lowestoft to Grimsby.
By 15 August he had left the East coast behind and began cruising through the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.
This proved challenging, not because of the sailing but due to the COVID-19 restrictions on the waterway.
The regulations meant he was unable to leave Alchemy and instead had to rely on his parents to take his lines when coming alongside.
‘In the end we had to rush through the canal due to Storm Ellen and I made it to Oban at midnight, although we were eventually stuck there for six nights,’ noted Timothy.
Weathering the storm
The delay gave him a chance to organise repairs, including fixing a split leach on one of the headsails.
The leaking stern gland on the engine, which necessitated pumping out a few buckets worth of water daily, remained elusive though.
Bad weather was to be the theme of his cruise down the west coast.
Storm Francis was the next event to interrupt Timothy’s progress, leaving him stormbound in Largs. In total he lost 25 sailing days due to the weather.
It also provided challenging conditions which tested Timothy’s seamanship skills, like hand-steering for seven hours in a Force 7 on a lee shore between Troon and Stranraer.
His passage from Milford Haven to Padstow saw him navigate through thick fog for 17 hours.
He said while some experiences, like multiple accidental gybes while sailing around Land’s End, were best forgotten, all of them had helped him grow as a sailor.
‘It was a complete vertical learning curve. I am a lot better at making decisions now,’ he told Yachting Monthly.
‘My confidence levels have shot up and I have become a better all-round sailor.’
Timothy returned to Hamble Point Marina on 1 October, 11 weeks after setting off.
He had sailed 1,740 miles, spent 39 days and 14 nights at sea.
But his circumnavigation was never just about beating the record; it was also about raising funds for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
The initial aim was £2,500. Incredibly the amount now stands at over £10,000.
‘I am amazed at how much support we’ve had. The work the charity does is really magical, taking children out on the water and giving them confidence,’ he said.
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Timothy was first inspired by Dame Ellen MacArthur when, as a child, he read about her adventures.
It fed his ‘sailing bug’ which initially was nurtured Opi sailing on a Swindon reservoir and cruising with his father (‘he taught me everything I know’) aboard the family’s Beneteau 34 Oceanis.
Timothy had a chance to meet his ‘idol’ when she paid him a surprise visit on the penultimate day of his Round Britain Challenge.
The pair shared their experiences of sailing solo around Britain; in 1995 Dame Ellen, then aged 18, sailed her 21ft Corribee, Iduna, around the UK via the Caledonian Canal, the same route taken by Timothy.
‘We had a good chat about my trip, careers in sailing and the opportunities a trip like this can open up, like it did for her.’
He has subsequently received messages of congratulations from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Alex Thomson.
Timothy hopes his record-breaking voyage will be a route into professional sailing, and help him achieve his ultimate dream: a spot on the Vendée Globe start line.
But for now, he would like to build experience racing, undertake an Atlantic crossing and just enjoy sailing.
‘For me sailing is about freedom. It is not like anything else. You are making your own decisions; I love that. There are not many times in life when you get to do that,’ he noted.
Yachting Monthly will certainly be watching his career with interest.
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