Two women, alone, as in without men? Tracey Johnstone catches up with two women who have banded together to make their dream of sailing the world become a reality.
Two confident single young English women, living their dream of cruising the world alone on their 14m yacht, make an unusual sight in Australia's cruising community, where traditional couples and solo sailors proliferate and two women sailing together an exception to the rule.
Fiona Kidd and Claire Price, both in their late 40s, are bright women from different backgrounds who are united in their dream to cruise the world two-handed on their yacht, SáVahn.
It is a modest adventure for them. They are not trying to break any records or wave the flag for feminism. They are on their way to doing something that they want to do – setting their own challenges and meeting them head-on.
City girl Kidd has lived most of her life in the greater London area. She completed a university degree in economics and geography before going on to practise accountancy with a large London accounting firm.
She arrived in Sydney in the late 90s to work for a local accounting firm, saw the sails that graced the harbour each weekend and decided that she needed to be out there enjoying life. After joining the fleet at Middle Harbour Yacht Club and taking some sailing lessons, she got right into the racing.
“I didn't want to be ballast. I wanted to be part of it, so I went and did the yacht club sailing school and then raced with the guys,” Kidd said.
On returning to the UK she went out and bought some oilskins and then headed to Southampton to do more racing and to the Mediterranean for a few yacht deliveries in her summer holidays.
Price is a country girl at heart. Born in Carlisle, just six miles from the Scottish border, she gradually made her way to London after completing her university degree in leisure marketing.
She jumped into the sport, learning her sailing skills while competing aboard Spirit of Juno in the Millennium Round-the-World Yacht Race.
“I did a week's sailing holiday and then saw the advertisement for the Round-the-World Race and thought 'right, I am going to do something for me, something different.' I learned on the way really,” Price said.
Kidd was already aboard Spirit of Juno when Price joined the crew. They found themselves on the same watch, which gave Kidd the chance to mentor Price.
“A professional skipper who is getting a bunch of amateurs across one ocean to another isn't effective in teaching you. But Fi spent a lot of time with me, as we were on the same watch, explaining what was happening ð the cause and effect of sailing, the weather and all that sort of stuff – and I had an implicit trust in what she was telling me, and still do. I felt very safe, very confident and very at ease in some pretty hair-raising circumstances. That is what attracted me to Fi in terms of sailing and learning more through her,” Price said.
Returning to the UK and their jobs, the two women took only two months to realise they were destined to continue their friendship on the water.
“We wanted to head off again but we knew we had to keep sailing while we were in the UK saving money for the trip. We bought a boat (Contessa 33) together and sailed, pushing our learning and knowledge and also that trust,” Price said.
Six years in the planning
Theirs has been a very methodical approach, six years in the planning. While racing the Contessa 33 the women searched the world for their ideal boat, settling on the 14.3m Bowman design.
“We found one of these in Southampton. All UK boats of this design were built in the 70s and the wiring was shot, the engine shot and the electronics shot but we fell in love with the design. Nice big cockpit, well built, solid boat, twin-masted and good for ocean crossings. Well, there was not one of these in the UK that we liked the look of, so we decided to look elsewhere,” Price said.
Just over two years ago they travelled to Scarborough in Queensland to look at a likely purchase. Disappointed by what they came to see, the women were just about to pack up and head back to the UK when friends in Adelaide told them to check out a boat sitting in Port Stephens in NSW. Looking sad but with a solid hull originally built in the 80s in WA, this boat was going to become their piece of heaven.
“We went to see her and sailed her, shaking hands on the deal before we left to go back to the UK,” Kidd said.
“We wanted to name our boat Heaven, and we wanted to find a language that it sounded good in. In Singapore where we found a bar called SaVahn, which is heaven in Lao. We thought that sounds good,” Price said.
SáVahn sat on the hardstand at Port Stephens for almost two years while Price and Kidd worked hard in London to save the money to pursue their dream.
On 23 November 2006 the hard work really began as Price and Kidd returned to Australia to start the process of preparing SáVahn for their adventure. It took them until April 2007 to start their journey.
There have so far only been a few hiccups along the way. A run-in with a marine mechanic tasked with fixing the boat's gearbox was a learning curve for Price and Kidd.
“We made a mistake. We allowed them (mechanics) to disable the boat by taking the gearbox out before we had pinned them down on a time and price,” Price said.
“Our understanding of motors is reasonable. We carry some books and have lots of friendly people at the end of the phone. We are learning fast,” Kidd said.
There is no goal or real structure to their adventure.
“It is basically having some time out, going and exploring, seeing new countries, travelling to all parts of the world that we have seen on the television. We have both followed the classic path ð school, college, university, job, worked really hard, got a little bit of money along the way ð and we both want to spend some time using the left side of the brain doing some reading, some art, learning to play a musical instrument, doing something which expands our learning and our knowledge along the way,” Kidd said.
“I think you can say 'okay, I will carry on with my career and then retire at 60 and then I am not fit enough to do it.' You might be lucky. I did not want to wait and hope that I was fit enough to do it. I wanted to do it when I was fit enough,” Price said.
Good and bad
Price and Kidd appear to be a team that will weather well the good and tough times they will face in the future. They share all of the tasks on board including cooking, servicing the engine and double-checking their navigation calls. They do however admit to each having characteristics that set them apart.
“Sailing in rough conditions when you both think something needs to be done, invariably up on the bow – by the time I have looked at it and thought we need to do that, Fi would have gone and done it. She is always that slightly ahead,” Price said.
“Claire, whatever her fears and emotions, if it needs to be done she will do it. It doesn't matter if you are a little bit scared or a little bit nervous, or you are suffering from vertigo, Claire will be halfway up the mast and get there, come hell or high water,” Kidd said.
Is there an end to their dream ? Kidd believes if you get to the point where you think you have completed your dream, you have to think again. Price says if one dream ends, you have to find another one.
The SáVahn women have a whole world ahead of them to experience ð it is just a matter of deciding whether to turn left or right out of New Zealand.
Tracey Johnstone has spent 25 years working in sailing administration in Australia and overseas. She now writes about sailing as she and her partner cruise their yacht White Pearl. The author first met Kidd and Price while they were caught in port at Rosslyn Bay awaiting a report on the condition of the boat's motor. She then interviewed them when they reached their final Australian port, Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, before they headed off to New Zealand.