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Tour Leader Spotlight: Sailing Around the World With Ian and Fiona

Meet the husband and wife team behind our exclusive World ARC round the world sailing trips.

Ian and Fiona are the passionate sailors who host our exclusive World ARC trips. When they’re not sailing around the world, the couple calls Norfolk in the UK home. They have decades of sailing experience between them and some of the world’s most prestigious yachting qualifications under their belts.

We caught up with Ian and Fiona and spoke about their love for sailing, sharing incredible adventures and their amazing around the world trip.

How Did You Get Into Sailing?

Ian: I have been sailing all my life since I was a child. So, it’s in my blood. I’ve done lots of racing, sailing racing, big yachts, and dinghies, I’ve competed in world championships, and national championships. I’ve never been a world champion, but I’ve competed in world championships. I’ve raced big boats, small boats, and big campaigns. Then 10 years ago, I decided to become a professional sailor. So I’ve been a full-time professional sailor for the last 10 years, working on predominantly just big boats.

In the UK I run a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) training centre. We train people on powerboats, on navigation, on radar, a whole host of things, relating to bigger yachts. What’s great about this is that on the boat I’m not just a sailor and a skipper, I’m also a professionally qualified Yachtmaster instructor, so we can teach people as much as they would like to learn about sailing.

I’m a marine surveyor as well. So in terms of looking after the boat, any maintenance, any issues, we’re constantly finding something to improve, not that there’s lots to improve on the boat, but just maintaining the highest standard we possibly can, when we have the opportunity.

Fiona: Well, my father was in the army, but he sailed whenever he could because, in the armed forces, they encourage you to do whatever sport you want. So my father was a sailor, and I spent time with him, but I never really got actively involved till about 1982 when my late husband said he’d heard about this thing called the ARC that had just started, and he said, “let’s sail across the Atlantic!”. So, I said, “Well, we better learn to sail first”.

So, back in 1982, that’s when I started. From right at the bottom, doing the first level of dinghy sailing and then, you know, life got in the way. We had four children and I got into other sports, kayaking, cycling, and triathlons. I did all these sports and when we went on holiday, we sailed, on dinghy sailing, you know, did a bit more. Then in 2005 we were on the point of moving to America and decided to get the RYA Day Skipper qualification because it would mean that we could charter yachts and go sailing by ourselves.

So we did that and moved to America, only to find out they didn’t recognize the qualifications, so I did all the American equivalent qualifications. Over the next few years, we chartered yachts down in the Caribbean because that was the closest place. By 2014 we still kind of had a little laugh about sailing across the Atlantic but thought it would never actually happen.

How Did You Two Meet?

Fiona: It’s quite an interesting story, actually. My husband passed away from cancer in 2015, and I moved back to the UK from America because my children were still there; they never moved to the US with us. I bought a house, and after I had been there for about a year, I noticed a widow’s group. Someone in the group had chartered a yacht in Greece, and there was an extra cabin available. So, I contacted her and said I’d like to join.

She and her husband had owned a sailing school in Greece. While they were there, Ian had done some work for them. She knew Ian was there and wanted to sail near him, knowing that he could help her in case of any sailing mishaps. And, well, she did have a disaster, which Ian indeed helped her with. So, that’s how I got to know Ian when he jumped aboard – like a knight in shining armour.

We hit it off, and after a while, I asked him, “Do you have a bucket list?” He replied, “No.” I said, “Well, mine is to sail the Atlantic.” He responded, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Let’s get a boat.” So I thought, “Nailed it! I’ve got myself a yacht pass to cross the Atlantic.” Unfortunately, he added, “Fiona, we need to get your sailing skills up to scratch.”

He definitely put me through the paces. I wanted to achieve the best I could, so I continued my training. Thanks to him, I am now a commercially endorsed Yachtmaster Ocean Skipper, and I also do Celestial Navigation. It’s the highest RYA qualification you can get.

As we sailed across the world, we realised we needed a bigger boat. We sold the boat we had in the Caribbean after crossing the Atlantic, flew back, bought a bigger yacht, and are now in the process of taking her around the world. That’s the story, in a nutshell.

You know, I’ve been a housewife all my life, a mother of four kids, and now I have six grandchildren. But I want to be that adventurous granny. I don’t want to be a boring person.

What Do You Love About Sailing?

Ian: I’m so in love with sailing. I have to admit, Fiona might not like me saying this, but the boat comes before her. All my boats take precedence over Fiona, and part of the reason is safety. You take care of the boat, and it takes care of you. Sailing, for me, it’s not just a hobby; it’s in my blood, it’s my life, it’s a passion. I get as much joy out of being out on a small dinghy as I do on a large yacht.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed a preference for larger yachts because, well, I’m getting older and I like more comfort. But it’s the freedom that sailing offers that keeps me hooked. It’s the freedom to go wherever and whenever you want. It’s the chance to meet different people and make new connections. It’s the opportunity to explore new places, perhaps places you’ve never been before.

There’s also the technical side of sailing. Navigation, for example. It’s a bit of a cliche, but no two days are the same; it’s always different. It’s a constant test, and you’re learning all the time. Every day brings something new, and you never stop learning. It’s a continuous learning process, and when you put it all together, you’re always learning, always exploring new places.

You’re venturing into secluded bays and swimming with wildlife, experiences that most people don’t have the opportunity to enjoy. That’s the magic of it. It’s just incomparable, and I never get tired of it. I’m extremely passionate about it, and it shows when people come on board. I think that’s what clicks between us, the passion for what we do, and our guests feel it too.

Fiona: I’m probably a bit different in that Ian has lived and breathed sailing for most of his life. On the other hand, I would say I’ve lived and breathed adventure. I’ve dabbled in various sports, like when I did triathlons, they weren’t your typical triathlons. They involved mountain biking, cross-country running, and other unconventional elements.

I’ve always sought to challenge myself, but I must admit my body isn’t what it used to be. I’ve done marathons, I’ve canoed for Scotland, but now I can find adventure in sailing, and I’ve really relished the learning process. I’ve pushed myself in terms of sailing, not just the physical aspects of sailing but also navigation – I absolutely love navigation. Sailing allows me to embark on the next chapter of my life.

What makes it even better is that with modern communication, we can keep in touch, including Ian’s family and the people who come aboard. Many of our guests are older, more mature individuals, often retired, and for them, the ability to stay in contact with their children or grandchildren while they’re at sea makes a significant difference. It’s something we couldn’t offer even just two years ago when we crossed the Atlantic. We had satellite phones for emergencies, but we couldn’t provide that daily connection with family and friends.

Thanks to old Elon Musk[‘s StarLink], we can now offer this communication. We won’t have it 24 hours a day because we don’t want to lose the sense of isolation, but it also allows us to access more accurate weather forecasts, which is crucial for our safety and overall journey.

Why Do You Take People on Board?

Ian: Safety is a significant reason. When you’re doing an ocean crossing, if you have just two people, it means two hours on and two hours off, and it can be exhausting and not very enjoyable, or safe for that matter. However, if you have others join you, you can get two hours on and then have six or even eight hours off. It makes the journey a lot more manageable and, most importantly, safer.

But beyond the practicality, we genuinely want people to come aboard and be part of our adventure. When they join us, they become an integral part of the experience. If they’ve booked a particular leg of the journey, say, part of the Indian Ocean, they can also do their research and suggest places to visit. We discuss it, plan it, and hopefully make it happen. We want to collaborate on this adventure together, and it’s not just a one-way experience. We’re also open to other people joining us on this incredible journey, and we want to be part of their adventure as well.

That’s precisely what we’re offering – an adventure. We’re not crowding the boat with as many people as possible. While we do have the capacity to take more guests, we deliberately choose not to, because we want everyone to thoroughly enjoy the experience.

What Are Some of the Amazing Experiences You’ve Had?

Ian: One of the best experiences is when it’s nighttime. Sailing in the peace and quiet, far from light pollution, provides real-time to think about life. Not everyone would do it, but I find it very therapeutic. Sunsets and sunrises never get old. However, the ultimate experience is when you arrive at a new port or anchorage you’ve never been to before – that’s always exciting. There are so many amazing moments to capture.

One of the most incredible experiences was in Scotland this year. We had guests on board, and we anchored in a remote Scottish loch with a mussel farm nearby. We sent them off in a dinghy to buy fresh mussels, and as we cooked them in white wine on a misty, autumn-like evening, it was truly special. Watching our guests, who were so remote, eating the mussels they’d just collected was a memorable moment. It’s these unique experiences that make our journey so fulfilling. We get to share in other people’s excitement, especially if it’s their first adventure.

Another joy is allowing our guests to be as involved in sailing the boat as they want. From navigation to actual sailing, it’s amazing to see their faces light up when they take the helm and understand the boat’s movement. The smiles on their faces make it a fantastic feeling for us onboard.

Fiona: Special moments include when we witnessed a shark breach. It was a jaw-dropping sight – three of us were on deck at that moment, and the shark leapt out of the water. It turned out to be a thresher shark, a rare and spectacular encounter that will stay with us.

What Advice Can You Give Sailors and Aspiring Sailors?

Ian: The advice I’d give to someone is to seek as much experience as possible in various locations. Additionally, get proper training – aspiring sailors should look for good quality training from a recognized teaching establishment. However, what truly defines a sailor, whether experienced or aspiring, is the wealth of experience they gather. So, go on as many different sailing adventures as you can, from ocean crossings to coastal sailing. Accumulate as much experience as you possibly can, as that’s what truly matters in the end for anyone aspiring to be a sailor.

Many people express a desire to become a sailor, to be part of this world, and they might think sailing is an elitist, expensive sport. There are cost-effective ways to get involved. I often have people come to me saying they can’t afford it, but I tell them they can. I’ll direct them to local sailing clubs that are often looking for crew members or people to join them on their boats. It doesn’t usually involve a hefty fee; they might ask for a contribution towards food. Getting that practical experience is what counts in the end.

Do You Need Experience To Join a Trip?

Ian: While it’s not really necessary to have experience, I do believe that having some experience enhances the enjoyment of the trip because it gives people an idea of what to expect, which is crucial. I think it’s essential that anyone planning a longer voyage, say more than a week, should try sailing to ensure they genuinely like it because we often embark on 30-day passages where there are limited opportunities to disembark if they discover that sailing isn’t really for them.

Tell Me About Your Boat

Ian: Our boat is spacious enough for us to only take four guests on board (in addition to ourselves). Each guest has their own cabin, and the boat is slightly larger than many other boats doing similar trips. The key benefit of the size is that people can find their own space when they need a break. They can retreat to their cabins for an hour or two and have that personal space.

Fiona: We want people to remember the experience. That’s why we make sure the boat is immaculate when they step on board. We want to give them the “wow factor” the moment they come aboard. The boat is impressive, and it’s what we aim to provide to our guests.

Ian: That’s what we want to give people. It’s not your ordinary yacht. She’s manufactured by a company called Oyster Yachts, which is on par with luxury brands like Bentley and Rolls Royce. The boat is comfortable and luxurious.

Fiona: Just like when you stay at different hotels, you notice the quality of the mattress, the sheets and the food. These are things you remember. So we pay attention to these details. The bedding on our boat is top-notch, and people who have slept on other boats notice the difference. They often say, “Wow, your beds are so comfortable.” That’s because our mattresses are professional-grade and thicker than what you typically find on boats.

What Makes the World ARC So Special?

Ian: It’s the camaraderie that sets the World ARC apart. It’s the other ships and sailors, the entire community that forms around it. While you’re physically separated during the passages, when you all arrive at your destination, you get the chance to meet up with other sailors and share stories about your journeys. It’s a unique opportunity to connect with others, and in the end, you realise you’re all in the same boat, both literally and figuratively.

Fiona: Also, between the major passages – not all of the legs are long passages – we often find ourselves in the company of other yachts. This allows us to meet more people and engage in activities like evening drinks and swimming parties. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other interesting people who might be joining another boat for just one leg of the journey.

Ian and Fiona are some of the warmest people we’ve ever met, with a calm energy that only comes from years of sailing across rivers, lakes and oceans on boats of all shapes and sizes. They are on an adventure of a lifetime and love sharing that adventure with others, whether it’s only for a couple of days between islands, or a year and a half epic voyage around the world.

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