10 Mar An interview with Phil Wood
Phil Wood, Halcyon Yacht Deliveries Sales and Operations Manager takes a break to tell us a bit about himself and share a few salty tales.
Where did you grow up?
Although I was born in Wolverhampton and spent a few years in Tamworth which I think is the most diametrically distance-opposed town to the sea in the UK, we moved to Cornwall fairly early on, and so I do consider myself an honorary Cornishman, permitted to fly the non-emmet flag!
What was your dream job as a child?
I distinctively remember being asked this in class when I was about five years old and caught slightly day-dreaming, answering that I wanted to become a cow. We had family friends in mid-Wales that had a large dairy herd, and I used to love time playing on the farm. Sailing wasn’t in my DNA growing up. As a child I had no idea you could make a career out of sailing. My passion for boats came later in my life.
Who was your role model growing up?
My father has always been my role model, growing up in the summer holidays our house would always be full at 9pm every night as Dad shared his enthusiasm for all thing’s planes, tanks, military – all the good stuff for boys!
Do you have an inspirational book or film growing up?
I remember browsing the bookshelves in the study one night when I was about 12 looking for something to read in bed as I could always stay up longer! Dad gave me one of his Hornblower books – and I was hooked. Hornblower is a fictional character brought to life by Author CS Forester, based during the Napoleonic era, it follows the life of a young midshipman, and his adventures with the Royal Navy as he progresses through the ranks. I was instantly hooked, I identified with the young character, and with the backdrop to many of these adventures visible through my (well my sisters) bedroom window in Cornwall. Yes, she did nab the best bedroom. That’s where it all started.
Do you collect anything?
I used to collect stamps when that was still a thing. Seeing all these wonderful stamps marked with things like Magyar Posta and CCCP printed on them. I loved movies and having stamps that I could hold in my hand that came from places like America, that I sort of knew from TV, but felt so far away, certainly sparked an urge to find out about these places and travel. I’d spend many an hour with the Phillips Atlas open up trying to find these countries. I used to love the smell of the Atlas, the glorious use of coloured ink, it was like going on an adventure. Not quite the same as opening Google Earth, but had seven-year-old me had Google Earth, I probably would have ditched the Atlas pretty quickly!
Many years later having travelled abroad extensively with work, I always saved my boarding card for flights before they brought in e-tickets. I love the idea of Grandchildren, one day stumbling across these in an old box, smelling the ink and being inspired to find out where those places are. Much like I did when I was sorting through my stamps.
Sports, hobbies or activities outside of sailing?
Golf – A nice weekend country walk – ruined. I still keep going back though!
Best boat-related injury/scar?
Whilst working as the lead skipper on a Flotilla week in the BVI’s. I had been snorkelling at anchor during lunchtime at The Baths.
I was climbing back on board the Lagoon Catamaran when a little wave surged my head upwards, and then promptly, left me hanging whilst the barbeque attached to the stern rails came down to meet it. Thankfully we weren’t using it, but I still have that one on the forehead.
RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Ocean, 12 years professionally.
What inspired you to start sailing?
In my post-graduation phase mid-90’s, newly married, working hard in my first professional role as a sound engineer, absolutely skint, I would often call by the library to give me some escape. I liked travel books of all sorts and read several sailing and circumnavigation books. But then I ventured upon Shrimpy: A Record Round-the-World Voyage in an Eighteen Foot Yacht by Shane Acton, a book by then 20 years old. Shane left the Royal Marines and brought an 18-foot twin bilge-keeler, and with no experience or equipment, hopped in it and sailed off around the world. It lit a flame in me which would burn through all life’s highs and lows for the next 10 years.
Hairiest moment at sea.
I learnt about Motor cruisers and weather not mixing well from this experience.
We were off Bramble Bank, crossing from Southampton Water back to Cowes. It was Thursday lunchtime in January 2008 and we were on a Fairline Phantom 38 Flybridge.
The forecast that day was pretty dismal, strong SW 5-6 quite gusty all day. We took an opportunity of a lull in the weather to shoot across from Cowes, right up to Southampton Water. We wanted to practice with some mooring buoys in the shelter up there. We enjoyed a nice lunch on a buoy, carefully launching all soft fruit overboard having heard that the Yachtmaster Examiner a couple of us were due to meet in a few days’ time had a propensity for launching a satsuma overboard at 28 kts, and calling man-overboard and asking the hapless examinee to go and find it. Three of us took to the flybridge for the short run back to Cowes.
As we approached Bramble Bank the wind just started to funnel right up the Western Solent and with a few gusts, just started to blow ridiculously hard and steady. The sea state went into overdrive within a minute or so fairly short 10-12-foot waves were hammering us.
The water turned brown and we found our selves being pushed down towards Bramble Back. Peering over me left shoulder I could see the sand of the bank being churned up in the troughs of the waves. We were just a few boat lengths from danger. By now holding the wind just off the starboard bow, we were cresting waves and the three of us were getting airborne from our seats as we went over the top.
I was on the helm, my colleague to the right took the throttles as I needed both hands on the wheel, carefully powering up the waves and quickly off the power on the way down. We had to pick a moment to actually tack through the breeze as the risk of burying the bow on the nose was too great. I found the moment and pushed her through to starboard, through the breeze and starting away from the bank.
We couldn’t bear away too much as we would have rolled and so were making very little progress forwards and away from danger, it blew like this for 10 minutes as we carefully picked out way through the waves, tacking as we went, trying to get under some sort of shelter from Cowes.
Finally, the wind abated a little and the waves lengthened just enough for us to helm over a touch and power to the safety of the Medina.
Wide-eyed and breathing hard we just took in the calm of the river before relief hit and some whooping and shouting some expletives. Once safely docked we headed into the office to pull up Bramblemet weather station on the web, 65 knots.
Hair on the back of the neck moment?
On the helm of an Oyster 82 where I was First Mate, under full sail, carving our way into the entrance of the Morbihan on the West Coast of France. It was late Saturday afternoon and full of sailors heading in giving us room and lots of thumbs up. Later that night in the bars of Auray, we got chatting to many of these fellow sailors and plenty of good French red wine was shared.
What is in your skippers’ bag and never leaves it?
A well-thumbed copy of Reeds Skippers Handbook.
Go to sailing brand for clothing/gear?
Always been a fan of Henry Lloyd and Gill. I’m not tied to brands; I’ll often wear a high street waterproof jacket when out sailing. Our delivery skippers now all wear Halcyon Yachts branded Zhik jackets and they look very smart!
Favourite cruising spot?
The British Virgin Islands.
Dream cruising spot not yet visited?
First proper yacht sailed upon, where and when?
Contessa 32, Solent, 1990’s. First time out, whilst racing we hit another yacht and had the thing heeled over so far, I was standing sideways on the winches being yelled at to pull various colours of string. It’s a wonder I went back!
Top 5 favourite waterside drinking holes.
The Galley Bar, Nelsons Dockyard, English Harbour Antigua
Can be as close as 15 yards from stern rail to bar, and the first watering hole after a long transatlantic. Scrawl your yacht, and your crew’s names in the rafters for prosperity or until the Dulux comes back out.
The Haven Bar, Lymington Yacht Haven
Hard to beat anywhere more exotic on a sunny Friday at 5pm on the outside deck.
Foxy’s, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
The only place I have ever had a business meeting barefooted, feet in the sand. Time it right to hear Foxy himself strum the guitar. Be sure to bring an item of clothing to nail to the ceiling.
King and Queen, Hamble
Obligatory quick stop for bumping into a mate you haven’t seen in 15 years as if it was yesterday whilst giving your undies a quick spin on the 15 min spin cycle downstairs. Especially for those of a racing bent.
Pier House Hotel, Lounge Bar, Charlestown, St Austell, Cornwall
One for a mid-winters stormy evening, enjoy a pint in this little bar, tall ships moored in the harbour outside. It’s not hard to convince yourself you are back in Nelsons times. The place where Michael Caine was thrown through the window in Where Eagles Dare.
Favourite moments during sailing?
Sunrise, on a solo watch. One morning mid, channel, after crossing the shipping lanes back to the UK, I had been keeping pace with another yacht, a Twister about 500m to starboard. It was a great photo opportunity and so I took some snaps and called them up on the VHF and asked for an email address to send them to. Conversation quickly turned to breakfast as we were cooking bacon in the galley below. They said they were a bit short, so we arranged a mid-channel meet and passed them some bacon in a bucket with the boathook, we sailed together for a little while exchanging stories of where they had been cruising whilst we ate breakfast.
What do you enjoy most about passage making?
I love the routine, as you escape the land and everything it entails and become focussed on your time on watch.
Tastiest mooring manoeuvre?
Squeezing a very bow light Beneteau 40 into a 45-foot gap, with yachts rafted in front and behind. Tide and a stiff breeze pushing me off. August bank holiday weekend in Yarmouth. About 500 people watching including some nervous residents of the yachts rafted given I had aborted the first attempt – safely – I should point out. Needing some beans, a dockmaster was ashore to take the bowline, I was lined up and ROAR – the Vulcan bomber passed overhead at about 200 feet en route to the Bournemouth Air show. 500 heads looked up, I dropped the throttle, and by the time everyone looked down, we were safely in, no sweat!
Have you ever been, or experienced a Man Over-Board (MOB)?
Not personally, although whilst teaching I lost one overboard getting into the dinghy from the dockside in a calm harbour, the vest inflating them under the duck-boards, which required a little deflation to get them back out. Once everyone had stopped laughing another student got in, and after not listening to my low centre of gravity speech, did exactly the same.
Have you ever been yacht racing?
I started off my yacht sailing doing races, evenings and around the cans on an MGC27 in Portland Harbour.
When I re-started sailing properly back in 2007 in Weymouth, I just called around the local clubs asking if I could crew. It is a great way for anyone to get started in sailing for very little cost, and you need no experience, I hadn’t even done Competent Crew at this stage but was welcomed in and had some fantastic times.
I ended up meeting Weymouth based Vendee Globe Skipper Steve White through a mutual friend and spent the summer for beer and curry on preparing ‘Toe in the Water’ for the 2008/09 race and upcoming sailing programme.
One rather interesting week, we sailed the Open 60 up to Southampton, where we emptied her out and with the help of a crane had to crank her over to 90° to test her righting moment with an inspector from IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association), she had to be within a certain tolerance to be certified as safe to race.
The Open 60 was a joy to sail, twin tillers, she was as light as any dinghy. You could hold her with a thumb and finger doing 20-odd knots when she was well balanced.
Steve White would go on to complete the Vendee, finishing 8th in 109 days, an incredible achievement.
I ‘compete’ in the Round the Island every year, it’s a great weekend with the same bunch of friends we have been doing it for about 7 years. Best finish was 299th overall, we just made it onto the big screen in the racing village!
How did you get into Yacht Deliveries?
Once obtaining my tickets, I initially went on the freelance circuit applying to all the UK yacht delivery companies, deciding to base myself in the UK, you need to be open to all types of work to see the year through. I started by crewing on a few yacht deliveries, one was a nice Swan 65 from Hamble to Palma. I undertook quite a few UK yacht deliveries of both sail and power vessels. Having an engineering background certainly helped in a lot of instances. I found myself drawn into instructing and after a year or so freelance, joined a charter firm full time.
How did you get into RYA Instructing?
I did the RYA Cruising Instructors course fairly early on. Once I joined the charter company I was involved in delivering the RYA Day Skipper courses to families who were going to charter the yachts. I thoroughly enjoyed it especially teaching the youngsters how to go and pick up mum and dad if they went overboard – very personally rewarding.
Sail or Power?
Dogs or Cats?
Tea or Coffee?
PC or Mac?
Monohull or Catamaran?
White or black sails?
Transparent – I own a 2-inch square piece of the mainsail of one of the Americas Cup yachts. Sailing geek.
What’s your favourite hull colour?
Blue as long as I don’t have to clean it.
The favourite yacht you’ve ever sailed?
Name of yacht closest to your heart?
No – sailing is an image sport and a crash helmet and wet suit ruin my ability look nautical on the aft deck.
Favourite YouTube channel?
Halcyon Yachts – International Yacht Deliveries of course! https://www.youtube.com/user/HalcyonYachtsLtd
Favourite binge watch?
The West Wing
Current binge watch?
Better Call Saul
Do you support any charities?
The RNLI of course, nothing more needs to be said I would hope.https://rnli.org/
I also support The Samaritans; I lost a good friend and fellow yachtsman last year.https://www.samaritans.org/
Favourite at anchor tipple?
I do love a G&T, but it’s hard to beat a cold beer with a slice of lime to fight the scurvy.
Most embarrassing sailing moment?
Crossing the start line a mere smidgen too early in the Round the Island Race one year and having the name of the yacht read out once every 30 mins to the whole fleet for the next 10 hours. Let me tell you, you think the rest of the crew would forget about it after all these years….
And finally, any advice for anyone wanting to get out sailing?
You don’t have to be part of the yachtie fraternity. In reality, that barely is a thing. You don’t need plenty of cash or loads of gear, just some basic waterproofs and a decent pair of deck shoes/boots. Call around your local yacht clubs or associations and tell them you want to get involved. You will be welcomed. You will be able to crew for free, there is always a demand for crew, especially if you can be available mid-week sometimes.
Consider joining a group on Facebook or similar if social media is your thing. I joined Crewseekers for a year when I got started and there was plenty of opportunities to suit including my weekend racing on the Contessa! You’ll soon make contacts with plenty of varied opportunities to get out there.
If you like it, do a sailing course. The RYA Competent Crew can be completed over a couple of weekends. You’ll make great friends and have a laugh. Once you get a little more experience, try the RYA Day Skipper course. You’ll improve your navigation and seamanship skills significantly. You can then become a crew member for a yacht delivery company such as Halcyon Yachts and will then be able to sail all over the world.
Sailing is an incredible pastime. Spend a few hours on the water, followed by a few hours in the bar. Soon you’ll have plenty of salty stories to share and a bunch of friends for life.
Halcyon Yachts Ltd is a dedicated international yacht delivery specialist with highly experienced and qualified crew. For more information or to see details of their recent deliveries please visit https://www.halcyonyachts.com/