Jez and I were introduced by a mutual friend in 2003. He was beginning to develop his family farm with the addition of 6,000 free-range egg laying hens and soon after meeting I was helping with the business in every spare minute of my time off from my ‘day job’ as a management accountant.
For me, farming was a whole new experience and together we looked after the hens and a small flock of sheep. Egg collecting, grading, packing and selling took up many hours of the day, seven days a week. Lambing was rewarding too, and I was always looking forward to bottle feeding and nursing the weaker ones. We were soon known as ‘Susannah the egg collector’ and ‘Jeremy the chicken farmer’ by our young niece Lily. Jez’s family farm is surrounded by beautiful Kentish countryside, full of wildlife and nature. We were living ‘the good life’, growing all our own vegetables in our polytunnel, raising our own fattening hens for the table and, of course, consuming the best free-range eggs in the South East. After a year or so we set about renovating some of the farm buildings to enable us to increase and improve the stable facilities for our slowly expanding DIY livery yard.
In 2006 we opened a Restaurant and farm shop on the outskirts of the local town, the property was a converted coach house and came with a large walled Victorian garden. I gave up my career and we set about renovating the overgrown garden to include a kitchen garden to supply the restaurant. The place was soon transformed and we opened our doors to the public, with an overwhelming demand for tables on the terrace overlooking the gardens. Juggling this business with farming became such hard work. With 4 chefs in the kitchen and my Mum baking all the cakes, we were open all hours offering brunch, cream teas, cakes, lunch and dinner. I remember driving home one evening at midnight after giving two members of staff a lift home, and finding Jez ironing the restaurant napkins in front of the TV after a full day on the farm. It was almost a turning point for us, deciding we needed some ‘us’ time before we both reached breaking point.
Jez’s love of the water developed in his childhood, enjoying many holidays aboard his Grandparents’ various motor yachts with the rest of his family. Cruising the canals of France and the Mediterranean, Jez could often be found rowing about the harbour in the tender. He had often talked of his boating experiences, so it was no surprise really when he suggested a motor boat, although I wasn’t convinced. My childhood memories of the sea were unfortunately not so rosy. In my teens I went on a winter Med cruise, crossing the Bay of Biscay I spent two days on the top deck wrapped up in coats and blankets on a deck chair, falling in and out of consciousness as the horizon rose and fell. My failure to control mind over body didn’t improve with age, in my early twenties I went on a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas, Australia. The trip out to the reef was fine, mind occupied by talks and slide shows of critters and coral. But shortly after mooring at the reef the motion and sun exposure took its toll, and I spent more time occupying one of the few toilets than I did snorkelling the reef.
Never one to be beaten, my anxiety was soon quashed when we booked a two day RYA powerboat course in Chatham that autumn. Despite the chill in the air the weekend was great fun, working as a team plotting courses, navigating and boat handling – without even a hint of sea sickness. We had discovered a new passion and soon after bought a second hand Windy 37 Grand Mistral from Berthons at Lymington. We now had our getaway from work, whizzing along the coast to Brighton for lunch or a night away, with Pickle our Labrador. She enjoyed boating as much as we did, always pushing in front with her waggy tail desperate to be first on board when we arrived at the marina. Boating became a family outing.
When we sold the restaurant in 2009 our first long awaited extended adventure was planned, reliving some of Jez’s childhood memories by taking the boat across the English Channel, through the canals of France and into the Med. It took a fair bit of planning as by now we had added another flock of 4,000 hens to the farm, but with my Mum and Jez’s parents’ invaluable help along with staff Anna and Jan, we managed to get things covered. Pickle was issued a pet passport and we were good to go.
We had several weeks of cruising the interior of France and the Med, Pickle loved every minute having new places to walk every day. Arriving in Menorca we were rather proud of ourselves for getting there under our own steam (well, actually it was diesel) and sitting on the deck with a coffee in the early morning sun we started to dream about going further afield…but without the diesel costs. Perhaps, we thought, we should give this rag and stick thing a try. It had always looked a bit daunting to me, with all those ropes and flapping sails, not to mention the snails’ pace. After all, we were used to speed. How would we feel about all those motor boats roaring past us leaving us rocking in their wake, as we had done to others in the past? Dirty stink-pots!
We returned after 9 weeks still craving further adventures. The following year I booked a sailing weekend out of Christchurch as a birthday treat for Jez, and when the sails came out and the engine went off we grinned at each other, this was heaven. The spaghetti of ropes and flapping sails didn’t seem so daunting after all. No smokey noisy engines, just the sound of the water rushing past the hull and the wind powering the sails, it was exhilarating. Our beloved Windy soon went up for sale.
After a long hunt for a sailing yacht that ticked most of the boxes, we found Joy berthed in Italy and flew out on a day trip to view her. It was love at first sight. It took almost four weeks for Jez to sail her back to the UK with the help of crew, I had just had one of my many knee ops and so remained hobbling at home looking after the farm and Pickle.
With Joy back in the UK we started to plan some extensive travels and things snowballed from there. When Pickle sadly passed away in 2012 at the grand old age of 16, we booked a place on the 2013 ARC rally and started to prep Joy for an Atlantic crossing.
In April 2013 we left behind our families and friends and sailed out of Dover heading first for the Solent for Jez to take his RYA Yachtmaster qualification on Joy before crossing the English Channel and making our way first to the Med.
“It Couldn’t be done”
by Edgar Albert Guest
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That ‘maybe it couldn’t’, but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
Somebody scoffed: ‘Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it.’
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That ‘cannot be done’, and you’ll do it.