The Sidmouth pensioners who sailed the globe
- Credit: Archant
“My dawn watch was fantastic - a pink and gold sky under a fading sickle moon and a calm sea – that’s when being at sea has the most magical of moments.”
Those were the words written by a Sidmouth pensioner who embarked on a life-changing journey that saw her and her husband sail the seven seas, travelling thousands of miles in a round-the-world tour that took over four years.
Sidmouth has a vast array of quirky and interesting residents from all walks of life that each have their own story to tell. Resident spoke to Judy Fish, who owned a photography shop with her late husband Harold before retiring to travel the world following the death of one of their sons.
Judy and Harold, who passed away in 2002, owned Hayes Studio, in Sidmouth High Street, before they retired.
The couple hit the news stands in September 1979 after the pair built Ghida, a 40ft ketch, in their garden before setting sail on a journey that saw them travel 85,000 miles – the equivalent of circling the globe three-and-a-half times.
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During their trip, they completed a world circumnavigation and three separate cruises to the West Indies, crossing the Atlantic five times.
In their diaries they wrote about their many adventures, including their travels up the Panama Canal, where they saw Spanish gold from the Incas being loaded onto galleons for shipment to Spain. In the Galapagos Islands, they met Lonesome George when he was a younger giant turtle, as well as the other unique wildlife that inspired Darwin’s voyage.
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The pair spent one voyage between the Galapagos and the Iles Marquises without seeing a single other person besides each other for 25 days, while they sailed the 3,000-mile stint.
Judy, now 91, said she first met her Sidmothian husband in Australia before getting married and moving to the East Devon town (where Harold was born), and opening a photography studio.
After retiring, Harold decided he wanted to fulfil a lifelong dream and travel the world with his wife.
They started off small, travelling to the Channel Islands before embarking on their big trips to the Caribbean; Gibraltar; the West Indies; the Panama Canals; the Galapagos Islands; Australia; Fiji; Tahiti; Great Barrier Reef; Sri Lanka; and Yemen, as well as many more countries.
“I think it was something Harold had always dreamed about,” said Judy. “I had not really thought about it – I just went along with whatever happened.
“My friends all said ‘what if’ a lot when I told them, but you can not live your life on ‘what ifs’.
“On our first trip we got caught in a storm and had to batten down the hatches and wait for it to pass. I was terrified. I thought that might be it, but Harold was an experienced sailor so did all the right things, so we survived. When it happened again I was not scared.
“Out of all the places we went to, Tonga was my favourite place – the people were just so nice.
“I have not been back to many places but I have visited Sri Lanka since. Although, when I went there a tornado had gone through so most of the places that had been there years ago had been destroyed. It had not changed a lot in 20 years, the people were still terrific.”
When asked what it was like being stuck on a boat with one other person and the difficulties that may have presented, Judy said: “We worked together for 40 years so we normally got on OK under each other’s feet, but there was one occasion in the middle of the Atlantic when we had a row and I jumped overboard.
“The thing was, I could not get back up onto the boat until Harold put the steps down. So I was stuck – I swam around the boat a couple of times and he put the steps down… We ended up laughing about it.”
In the last 25 years, the number of young people taking a gap year or going travelling to broaden their horizons has skyrocketed, but in 1985 it was not a common thing to do, putting the couple ahead of the curve, especially as older sailors.
Judy says: “Going travelling when we retired was right for us. You are too busy when you are younger, bringing up kids or getting cash in the bank.”
She recommended that others wanting to travel should listen to locals and other travellers’ recommendations to avoid things they did not want to get caught in.
She added, during their travels, they were told to not go to certain places because of pirates.
“You know you are going to go to an island and you know things are going to be different. It is interesting to see how they all live. It is half the fun of going to another place.
“Our four years passed very quickly but the pleasure of sailing, the ports, and above all, the meeting of friends both old and new, will stay with me forever.”
Judy said, last she heard, Ghida was now moored in Exmouth and was owned by a Welsh couple. n