SIR ROBIN KNOX-JOHNSTON says nothing beats a boating holiday

SIR ROBIN KNOX-JOHNSTON says nothing beats a boating holiday


Let me float your boat! Fifty years after sailing single handed around the world, Sir Robin Knox Johnston says nothing beats a boating holiday – and it’s never too late to start…

  • If you want to explore an out-of-the-way coastline, the only way is by a boat
  • And sailing is not the complicated, expensive activity that people think
  • For those who have limited or no experience, there are flotilla holidays available

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, pictured, who sailed single-handed around the world in 1969

Sailing came to me quite late. Perhaps if my parents could have afforded a boat earlier, I might have got the desire to sail out of my system as a young boy, but I had to wait until I was a cadet in the Merchant Navy before I started to learn properly.

Once I did, it soon became an obsession, aided by being on a ship manned by cadets, so we had boats and dinghies for our use in port when we had spare time.

This introduced me to the joys of exploring ports, islands and creeks all around the Indian Ocean, where our voyages took us from London, and this curiosity has stayed with me.

You can reach some places by road, and you can walk to most, but if you want to explore an out- of-the-way coastline, the only way is by a boat.

Whether your choice is the rugged shores of Cornwall, the hidden bays among the islands of the west coast of Scotland, or further afield, such as Greenland’s fjords or even as far away as the Mafia Channel of Tanzania, the best, and often only, access is from the sea.

These out-of-the-way parts of the world are there to explore for those with an adventurous spirit and a sense of curiosity.

And sailing is not the complicated, expensive activity that people think. Of course, you need to know how to hoist the right amount of sail, then adjust it to make the best advantage of the wind, but, once the sails are set, the wind and the boat do the rest. Or, of course, you can just be a passenger as others do the work!

Either way, there is something magical about sitting in the cockpit and watching the water swishing by — whether it’s in sparkling warm seas or the grey of the English Channel — knowing you are in charge of your destiny and can go where your whim takes you, be it across an ocean or just to the next port.

Challenge: Sir Robin in his famous round-the-world yacht, Sunhail in 1969 

They say that, sometimes, it is better to travel than to arrive, and a sailing voyage is all about travelling, but, for privacy and stillness, nothing can beat a quiet, sheltered anchorage far from the crowded roads and popular resorts.

For those who have limited or no experience, there are flotilla holidays from organisations such as Sunsail, available all around the world.

They can come with a supervisor or a skipper so are ideal for those with limited experience. They also tend to be stationed in attractive places such as the Greek Islands or the Caribbean.

For those who want a far more adventurous sail, you might consider the Clipper Race, a biennial circumnavigation of the world, which provides four weeks of intensive training before you set out across the first of five open oceans (

This is a real challenge and includes some of the most inhospitable areas on our planet. These seas are huge and largely empty, and there will be times when the closest humans to your team are in the International Space Station, but that is all part of the challenge.

Dive in: For those who have limited or no experience, there are flotilla holidays. They can come with a supervisor or a skipper so are ideal for those with limited experience

If visiting these oceans was easy, everyone would have done it. It is an interesting fact that the number of people who have circumnavigated the world under sail is far fewer than the number who have ascended Mount Everest.

The biggest challenge is the Southern Ocean — also known as the Roaring Forties — that stretch of uninterrupted sea that circles the globe between Africa, Australasia, South America and Antarctica.

Fifty years ago, when I was making the first solo non-stop circumnavigation, I saw a huge wave approach that I knew would swamp my boat and wash me away with a force of six tons per square metre. I quickly shinned up the rigging to get out of its way and my boat disappeared beneath the wave. There I was, with just two masts showing and nothing in sight for 1,500 miles in any direction for what seemed like ages, but was probably just a few seconds, before she bobbed back up again.

Of course, my boat was only 32ft long and, on the ocean, size matters. A larger boat is always safer and the Clipper boats are big, at 70ft in length, with a crew of 18 or more.

So give it a try, whatever level you are at. Come and experience the freedom and joy of harnessing nature for sailing pleasure. 

Sails of the century!

Sailing comes in all shapes and sizes. 

And you certainly don’t need to know your port from your starboard to enjoy life on the high seas. 

Find the trip that suits you with our definitive guide . . . 

Turkish delight

Plain sailing: A Turkish gulet (a wooden classic yacht) in the clear waters of the Turquoise Coast, which stretches from Fethiye to Antalya  

Charter a sumptuous teak-decked, fully-staffed, six-berth gulet (a wooden classic yacht) to explore Turkey’s Lycian shore, from Fethiye to Antalya, known as the Turquoise Coast.

Swim in hidden bays against a backdrop of forested mountains, snorkel over the submerged ancient city of Aperlae, clamber to the medieval castletop at Uçagiz in Kale, and enjoy afternoon tea on deck.

Fairlight Jones (, 020 3875 0351) offers seven nights’ full-board from £1,292 pp, including flights and transfers.

Croatian paradise

On a sailing holiday in Croatia, guests sail to or from the stunning city of Split on a fully-staffed cruise around the Adriatic 

Playwright George Bernard Shaw said: ‘Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.’ As should those who seek one of the main filming locations of TV’s Game Of Thrones!

There’s plenty of time to explore the city’s medieval streets and boundary walls (six metres thick in places) on this fully-staffed Adriatic cruise as you sail to or from Split, dropping anchor to swim, sunbathe and sip champagne on islands including hotspot Hvar, and tiny Korčula, the only place to see a moreska (sword dance), before returning to one of 19 air-conditioned and en-suite cabins to dress for the captain’s dinner.

Sail Croatia (, 0800 193 8289) has a half-board, seven-day cruise from £769 pp.

Greece getaway

A seven-day flotilla tour of Greece takes in Paleros, Lefkas and Cephalonia, pictured, which is the location for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Your biggest headache on this seven-day flotilla tour of Greece will be nothing worse than deciding which secluded bay you prefer. 

It starts on the mainland in Paleros, and takes in the unspoilt charms of Lefkas, Cephalonia (the location for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), Kalamos and Ithaca.

Neilson (, 0333 014 3351) has seven nights from £875 pp, including flights, transfers, yacht charter and lead boat crew support. Flights are from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester or Bristol.


It’s the pirate life aboard the Coastal Exploration Company’s smuggler’s trip, which takes place on a traditional 30ft wooden whelk boat 

Try something different as you receive training from a former Royal Marine in traditional smuggling techniques such as concepts of covert operations and seamanship skills including knots and tides, before putting what you’ve learnt into practice. 

Depart Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk on a traditional 30ft wooden whelk boat with a wood-burning stove and canvas tent, in a group of no more than six people.

The Coastal Exploration Company (, 0784736283) offers day trips from £200 pp and night trips from £300 pp.

Caribbean high life

Holidaymakers can step aboard sailing boats and cruise around the Caribbean, stopping off at islands such as Martinique, pictured

Channel your inner Christopher Columbus, who landed on the West Indian island of Martinique in 1502. New for 2019, step aboard sailing boats or motor yachts that are either skippered or crew-free and enjoy snorkelling in warm Caribbean seas, lounge on beautiful beaches and anchor in secluded bays.

On shore, try the four-hour round-trip hike up the volcanic Mount Pelée, bathe in hot springs and sample the national cocktail Ti’ Punch.

Moorings (, 0333 253 7894) has seven nights on a four-cabin catamaran with a skipper for £1,581 pp.

Take the helm

Norway’s fortress town of Fredrikstad, pictured, is the starting point of spectacular Tall Ships Races 

Be a part of the spectacular Tall Ships Races (more an adventurous ‘cruise in company’), starting from Norway’s fortress town Fredrikstad.

You’ll be sailing on one of only two tall ships in the world that are purpose-built for disabled sailors to join the crew.

Wheelchair users can admire the view from 20 metres up the mast, blind crew can take the helm and steer the ship overnight, and everyone is treated equally. The Jubilee Sailing Trust (, 02380 449 108) is a charity; the contribution to join this 11-day trip is £120 pp per day.

Christmas cruise

Sailors can spend Christmas in the Canaries on board a brig, a two-masted, square-rigged ship. The trip starts in Tenerife, pictured 

Board a brig (a two-masted, square-rigged ship) and spend Christmas in the Canaries.

Set off from Tenerife, and arrive via La Gomera (with plenty of time to explore) at La Palma, where tall ships gather for festivals, fireworks, and an optional midnight service. 

Classic Sailing (, 01872 580 022) has berths in shared cabins from £710 pp for December 21 to 27.

Learn the ropes

On the Royal Yachting Association’s Competent Crew course, budding sailors learn how to helm a yacht, raise and lower sails and even sail in darkness 

Spend five days on board with your family and an instructor learning all aspects of the Royal Yachting Association’s Competent Crew course and sailing to different places daily, including Spanish and Moroccan ports.

You’ll be able to helm a yacht, raise and lower sails, keep lookout, row a dingy and even sail in darkness.

Jolly Parrot Sailing (, 023 8097 0829) offers courses with full board from £549 pp.

Close encounter

On the elegant expedition yacht, Zuza, guests cruise around the rugged Outer Hebrides and the unihabited World Heritage Site, the St Kilda archipelago, pictured

Join the elegant expedition yacht Zuza with her double hull and Bermudan Cutter rig — this means she’s smooth and steady on the water, smaller than cruise ships, and quiet.

All the better to get up close with the abundant marine wildlife and to appreciate the magical solitude of the rugged Outer Hebrides and the unihabited World Heritage Site, the St Kilda archipelago.

Explore the islands on foot and then admire a view only accessible by sea. VentureSail Holidays (, 01872 487288) has all-inclusive berths for ten days’ sailing from £1,250 pp.

Enter the dragon

Holidaymakers can cruise the pristine islands of Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, pictured, from the supreme comfort of the luxurious Dunia Baru yacht

Here be dragons! Mighty, fork-tongued and fierce, Komodo dragons — a species of lizard — are capable of eating a water buffalo, and baby dragons escape up a tree as soon as they’re hatched to avoid being eaten by their own mother.

You’ll be safe cruising the pristine islands of Indonesia’s Komodo National Park from the supreme comfort of the luxurious Dunia Baru yacht with seven en-suite cabins (and 18 crew) and underwater LED lights that attract nightly schools of fish, dolphins and even sharks.

Black Tomato (, 0207 426 9888) has seven nights for £7,180 pp, excluding international flights. 

By Kate Johnson 

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