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The Kellmans ride the waves

Gercine Carter

The Kellmans ride the waves

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For seasoned seafarers Sarah and James Kelman, a 25.5-day voyage just completed across the Atlantic Ocean with their seven-year-old daughter Elizabeth and six-year-old son Matthew has been a new adventure.  
Relaxing on their classic yacht Croix Des Gardes as it bobbed up and down in the placid waters of the Inner Basin of the Careenage last week, the couple spoke to EASY magazine about the experience. Theirs were the only children accompanying sailors  on the non-stop Panerai Classic yacht race from Lisbon, Portugal, to Barbados.
Elizabeth said she first heard about the race from friends who had participated in the first one from Morocco to St Barts and persuaded her husband James to participate.
He was game,because apart from his job as a fire expert for insurers, police and fire brigades, the Cambridge, England, resident has spent his life sailing, having been introduced to the pastime by his father when he was just three weeks old.
No wonder Elizabeth and Matthew were the only children who came across with the race.
“The organizers realized how special it was for us to be taking them,”  Sarah said. It was a fact not lost to the Panerai race organizers who noted that the six and seven-year-olds were “the youngest crew crossing the Atlantic”.
At seven, Elizabeth appears to be just as brave and  adventurous as her parents.
“On the first day I got a bit ill because it got rough and I was seasick but it wasn’t scary,” she said. “The few times I was on the boat when I was younger it was more scary for me and I got a lot more seasick.
“The only time I was scared was when I went up the mast when we were sailing,” she said. That was when, according to Sarah, her daughter had climbed up the mast that day to take photographs and Elizabeth “wanted to come up as well”.
“So we put her in a harness, though not all the way to the top.”
It was one of the  most exciting moments for the little girl who every day, along with her brother, had to follow a routine that ensured school work was not neglected during  this break from school.
Outlining the routine for the children as they sailed to Barbados, Sarah explained the children would normally wake up about 7 a.m. when she was just finishing her “watch.”
“I would be sitting in the cockpit watching the boat and all of a sudden a little face would appear through that small hole there,” she said pointing to an opening leading from the living quarters of the boat.
As soon as they turned up in the dockhouse Sarah would go down below, make them breakfast and brush their teeth, after which they would settle down on narrow shelves facing each other, securely strapped in with seat belts, and spend a couple of hours doing school work at the short table.
They were even allowed to get away from school work on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Each day dad also did some school work with them..
They were allowed free time to play before the midday lunch prepared by their mother and again before the sunset dinner. Bedtime for everyone except the person on watch would be at 7.30 p.m.
For Sarah that midday snooze was vital. With a crew of four, each one was required to do three or four hours’ watch day and night as Sarah took on the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. duties while her husband’s watch was 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.
The two other crew members, fellow yacht owner Dave Spensley-Corfield and his son Ollie manned the boat during those hours when the Kelmans took their breaks.
“I did my watch,” Elizabeth interjected, as her parents detailed the watch schedule – a claim supported by her father who said she had once joined him at 2 a.m.
Croix Des Gardes is James’ second boat. He bought the 50ft Bermudan cutter after his wife’s suggestion that they needed a bigger boat to accommodate children. She was not a sailor “until I met James” she said. A commercial pilot in Europe, Sarah told EASY that “on one of our first dates he said ‘do you want to come sailing’, and I went “okay”. Now we have two children and a bigger boat.”
The wooden yacht is believed to have been built for a French Count in 1947, with timber that had been hidden from the Nazis during World War II, and James devotes a lot of time to its maintenance.
He hauled it from the dock to their Cambridge barn six months before the Panerai Classic race to get it ready, adding an extra propeller to the back to generate electricity; installing satellite phones; extra pumps in case of a leak and an emergency beacon – all for the safety of the long voyage.
In the Careenage James and Sarah were busy mending sails, and engaging in other chores on his daytime beat – walking around the deck checking sails, rigging and masts, checking batteries, ensuring that the water-maker was in good working order.
The family arrived in Barbados on December 27, after spending Christmas Day at sea enjoying a typical English Christmas dinner of “good old figgy pudding, Christmas cake and a bottle of bubbly” in festive surroundings decorated with Christmas crackers and paper decorations which the family had fun making together.
However, while Elizabeth was revelling in the whole experience, her brother protested with a pout that “it was boring sailing across the Atlantic.”
Matthew refused to be persuaded by his mother’s prompting that the Nintendo games, the science lessons, the sailor’s rope work he learnt and school work ruled out the possibility of boredom. Instead, the clearly unimpressed six-year-old insisted: “I don’t want to be a sailor. I want to be chemist.”
He was not even excited about having swam in 15 000 feet-deep water in the vast Atlantic on a really hot day when they were nearing Barbados. Neither was he happy about being hit by a big wave in Carlisle Bay and going under on one of the days the family went for a swim in the marine park there.
While Matthew and his parents talked on deck, Elizabeth disappeared below and settled down with a book, one of the many in a pile she had stacked for the trip.
The Kelmans spent 11 days here before sailing for Bequia last Monday.
James said he intended working his way north through the islands and hoped to reach the Bahamas in March, sail on to Florida, and in April to the eastern seaboard.
Sarah returns to her pilot job at the end of April, leaving the children on board the yacht with her husband for a month, before he is joined by the other two crew in June for the trip back to England.