Made in Gosport: the 45-year-old yacht that crossed the Atlantic | Nostalgia

I wonder how many of you sailors out there with your own yachts have ever thought of sailing the Atlantic just for the craic?

Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 1:34 pm
The Girl Margaret sails past the Twin Towers. Picture taken by Peter from the boat's dinghy.

I wonder how many of you sailors out there with your own yachts have ever thought of sailing the Atlantic just for the craic?

That is what two local amateur sailors, Colin Hull then 40, and 25-year-old Peter McNair did in 1992 but not without some misfortune before they finally set sail.

Their boat was a 30ft carvel-built ketch called Girl Margaret, built at Gosport by Morris & Sons in 1947.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Peter and Colin with Girl Margaret while she was being refitted in Gosport.

Colin and Peter bought her in Wales and spent many years rebuilding the vessel while she was moored in Gosport Marina.

The interior was completely reconstructed and a wheelhouse added because until then the wheel had been open to the elements.

The plan was to sail from Lisbon to Antigua.

When they arrived in Lisbon the two men went ashore where Peter, a motorbike enthusiast, met with a racing champion who had a bike for sale.

Girl Margaret at anchor in English Harbour, Antigua.

Peter made the purchase and thought he would test the bike on some waste ground.

What Peter didn’t know was that there was a 60ft cliff face out of sight. He careered over a bump and straight over the cliff all but breaking his back.

He was taken to hospital where he spent many days.

When the time came to leave, the hospital wanted to charge him for the treatment as his passport said he had been born in Gibraltar.

With Colin Hull at the helm, Girl Margaret passes the Statue of Liberty.

They said the British embassy failed to help even though Peter had a green card giving him a European right to free treatment. Luckily Colin met a Portuguese man who spoke fluent English and the matter was resolved.

The two bought a second-hand Ford Cortina and Peter, encased in plaster caste from waist to neck and with the bike dismantled on the back seat – and Colin drove back to England via Spain and Le Havre, France, and ferry to Portsmouth.

After treatment at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, and recovery the pair travelled back to Lisbon to pick up their boat and finally began their Atlantic adventure… or so they thought.

But no. The mainmast was in two sections, a mainmast stepped with a top mast which snapped.

Off they went to the local sawmill and bought a 12ft block of wood and with makeshift tools converted it into a mast which they fixed into the mainmast with a V joint to save stepping it. After two months they at last set sail for the adventure of a lifetime.

An early form of satnav assisted their voyage but was nowhere near today's standards. They also had a basic radio.

By sailing in the south of the Atlantic they picked up the circular-blowing Trade Winds and after three weeks made landfall in Antigua.

Colin tells me they did not have any really bad weather normally associated with such a crossing. In fact, at one time they were becalmed with the sea like treacle and flat as a board.

Some months later, while on the return journey, Colin looked at the radar screen and saw what he thought was a shadow.

As the boat was on auto pilot he took no notice but kept an eye on the screen from time to time.

An hour later he was looking out to sea and saw a huge iceberg and they were heading straight for it.

They were able to steer clear. The location was about 100 miles from where Titanic sank.

I asked if they saw much shipping on their voyage? Colin said unbelievably only about three or four ships and they were in the distance.

However there was one frightening moment when the radar picked up something astern. It came closer and closer and then a large white yacht passed on their starboard side with only 50 yards clearance. There were no navigation lights and perhaps no one on board, but it overtook the Girl Margaret, perhaps never to be seen again.

Finally they sighted land, the satnav having done its job. The pair landed in English Harbour, in St Paul Parish, Antigua, where they rested for a few days. They then made their way to Florida.

Between the mainland and the coast of Florida is a natural canal-type seaway called the Intracoastal Seaway, some 350 miles long. Colin and Peter were aiming to arrive in New York and the safest journey was along the seaway. After some miles they stopped for fuel and a local customs sheriff arrived asking awkward questions and for their passports. he told the pair they had to register their arrival. ‘Where is that?’ asked Peter. ‘In town, a half-hour bus ride away,’ replied the sheriff. ‘Do we both have to go?, Peter asked. ‘No. Just one of you will do but take both passports.’

So Colin boarded a bus to the local town had the passports registered and all was well. What the sheriff didn’t seem to see was that either of them could have disappeared into the country and been illegal immigrants.

They made their way up the coast to New York where they anchored Girl Margaret alongside Liberty Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty where they remained for three days. No one bothered them and they explored the city.

From New York they then made their way up to Nova Scotia from where they were planning to return to Gosport.

They landed in Lunenburg and while walking around they looked in estate agents’ windows and saw a house for sale for 18,000 Canadian dollars. They offered 12,000 and it was accepted. In sterling it was the equivalent price of a second-hand Ford Escort. They put down a one dollar deposit and sailed for home.

During the next 25 years they flew back and forth to repair the house and make it habitable. They then bought another cottage by a lake and again made many flights to make it habitable. They spent many a happy holiday there.

The Girl Margaret was sold to a Dutchman to finance the first house and as far as Colin knows she is still sailing.

After the voyage Colin gave up sailing and now lives in retirement in Purbrook while Peter is still working.