Young crew aims to sail around Britain in record time

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 June, 2004, 12:00am

When Hong Kong yachtsman Simon Townsend felt that first thrill as the wind filled his sails and bore him over the seas, he knew he had found his calling.

'I love being on the water. When you can't see land and there is just the sea lapping up against the hull and the wind in the sails, there is no other feeling, really,' said the 21-year-old.

On Saturday the former Sha Tin College student flew out of Hong Kong to join fellow sailors preparing for an attempt to become the youngest crew to circumnavigate the British Isles.

The 11-strong crew, aged between 18 and 25, also hope to set a record non-stop time for the journey. They set sail on June 20 and expect to take between nine and 14 days.

Townsend, of Hong Lok Yuen, cut his teeth in top-class sailing at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club as a regular crew member in Etchells-class boats. And he is confident they have the right crew and vessel - a 19.5-metre Whitbread yacht - to cover the 1,800 nautical miles in record time.

Townsend, who is studying at the University of Plymouth in southwest England, said: 'Sailing this boat is simply amazing. The sheer speed and acceleration it has when powered up with wind can knock you off your feet.

'My job will be mostly trimming [the sails] and helming. We will be working two watches of four hours on and four hours off. We are hoping to do it in 10 days.

'We expect the most dangerous leg [to be that] around the Shetland Islands, which are notorious for big seas. But I think one of the hairiest bits is going to be through the Dover Straits because it is so busy.

'And because we will be going so fast we will need to think a long time in advance about how we are going to miss other sea traffic.'

Fellow crew member Jo Gambrill, 20, a student at the University of Southampton in southern England, said it was not just about the sailing experience, 'but [also] the mental challenge of being in a small space for two weeks'.