CatZero CatZero

The Round the Island Race 2013

A fabulous weekend was had by all as the team of amateur sailors took to the waves to witness the grand overtaking maneouver by record breaking Ben Ainslie.

Click here to view the best of the photos for 2013.

Dutch Dash 2013

The crew boarded CatZero on the evening of Thursday 25th July 2013, ready for an action-packed weekend adventure from Hull to Amsterdam, and back, sailing under the direction of skipper Danny Watson, who has twice taken amateur crews around the globe in the famous Clipper race.

The second CatZero Dutch Dash departed early Friday morning from Hull and arrived in Ijmuiden on Saturday lunchtime, having sprinted across 200 miles of the North Sea.

It was then only a short trip to the beautiful and vibrant city of Amsterdam for the afternoon and an evening to remember.  Following a hearty breakfast on the Sunday morning, the boat prepared for departure in the afternoon and sailed back into Hull just before midnight on Monday 29th July.

The crew ranged from total amateurs to expereinced sailors with individuals and family groups taking part with someone from every age - from 13 year old Harry through to 80 year old Tommy - who had a birthday on board that he will never forget (thankyou all for a wonderful and unforgettable weekend -especially my birthday).  As well as the challenge of crewing a Challenge 72 yacht in the North Sea, there was also the fund-raising challenge to make a minimum donation of £600 with some participants taking part in a range of sponsored events to raise funds for the charity.

New Beacon School - What an Experience 2013

Day 1…Monday 15 July 2013 08:23

We had a good trip up: slow but steady was the order of the day.  We made the boat by 19:00, had a good meal stowed our gear, got our kit, etc.  We then planned our itinerary, based on the current weather forecasts.

Not too much sleep, I’m afraid, not through misbehaviour (I’m glad to say), but through the unfamiliarity of sleeping in a different environment….I’m sure by tomorrow that won’t be an issue!

Up this morning at 06:45, breakfast, boat cleaned and now the boys are having a safety chat.

High tide is at approximately 11:30, so we will sail at 10:00.

After an early start we got away from Hull in good time.  Sailing down the Humber, each boy had an opportunity to have a go on the helm…something which is definitely not as easy as it looks!  One of the biggest dangers on board a boat is the risk of man-overboard, and so it is essential to have a good practice as early as possible.  The boys did exceptionally well, with each one being given their own role depending on who saw what and who was standing where: the spotter, the most important boy in the boat who spotted the “man” overboard and can’t take his finger off him (the only time boys are allowed to point when on the boat…lucky Theo M-T!), launching the Dan boy (no not the skipper who just happens to be called Cap’n Dan), heaving-to by tacking the main but not the foresail, dropping the forestay when the engine has started and, perhaps most exciting of all, being lowered by the lanyard to pick up the “man”…lucky Joe!  In this instance, the “man” was just a buoy tied to a paint pot…let’s hope we don’t have to do it on a real boy at any time!

After that bit of excitement, it was all plain sailing, with the motor helping us to make good progress.  It was certainly not straightforward motor-sailing as we had a 15 knot wind at times…particularly for the two boys who had to prepare a full-on chicken dinner with potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, gravy and onions…for 17 hungry sailors and not a single complaint…top that Matthew and Ned’s mums!!

The boys were encouraged to get to bed as much as they could and, as things were getting a little “rough”, most of them not on watch were happy to oblige.  It was to prove to be a long night…

Day 2…Tuesday 16 July 2013

To quote the famous WWII US Army General, George Patton: always accept the challenge, so you can feel the exhilaration of the victory…and that’s exactly what the boys have done. 

Before leaving Hull, each boy has set himself a challenge for the week and, in addition - by the very nature of sailing - new and unexpected challenges have been set en route.  While any nautical type would say that this has been a very straightforward cruise so far with little wind at times and no sea, there has certainly been enough hiking, rolling and swaying for many of the boys to feel it, resulting in a few of the inexperienced experiencing some low-level sea-sickness.  What I have been so impressed at, however, is the manner in which the boys affected have dealt with this.  For most, they have remained unflappable, continuing with their duties and, more often-than-not, with a smile on their faces. 

Another challenge that every boy has encountered, is the watch rota!  This has resulted in the boys working around the clock and through the night to man the deck.  This involves keeping lookout, working the sails and helming the boat, as well as the other essential jobs that must be done to keep the boat moving (and in the right direction!), such as performing the engineering checks and assisting with the navigation.  All of this on top of the other equally-essential-but-slightly-less-glamorous jobs that most boys would rather not normally think of, such as cleaning and scrubbing the inside of boat and the cabin….and the heads!!…Captain Dan was amazed when he asked for volunteers to do this somewhat unsavoury task and he was bowled over by the number of hands which went up and the boys’ enthusiasm! 

The boys must also prepare all the meals themselves and do the washing up afterwards, an incredibly difficult task given the confined space and heat in the galley…especially when the boat is heeling over at 25+ degrees.  With this group of boys it is very easy to forget that their average age is slightly less than 12, especially when I see how well each boy has coped with the challenges and has properly soldiered, on despite the fatigue and unfamiliarity of the whole experience…General Patton would be proud of them!

After a looonnnnnggggg night, we have arrived in The Netherlands a little before 14:30 local time.  We berthed at Ijmuiden, after just 22 hours of sailing.  Captain Dan was happy to make up a little time by using the motor to help, A) given the light winds we have encountered, and B) given that the boys deserve a little more time ashore given the Herculean efforts shown last night and this morning.

Much to my relief (and the rest of the crew’s) the boys showered at the marina (whether they felt they needed to or not!) and it was then onto the bus to make a beeline for Amsterdam, a journey time of approximately 50 minutes.

No references to sailors in Amsterdam or what they might get up to, please…these boys are British!  After a little site-seeing in this beautiful city, it was straight to a restaurant, where we could treat the boys to a well-earned dinner, followed by a Hagaan Daz ice-cream overlooking the main square.

We were quite late getting back from Amsterdam, as the buses only run once an hour.  No matter, as we slept aboard the boat moored in the marina, a pleasing prospect for the boys who have earned a good night’s sleep!

Day 3…Wednesday 17 July 2013

After a good lie in, it was breakfast at 07:00(!)  Cleaning and chores followed, with a departure time of 08:50.  We motored out of the harbour and put our head to wind to help the boys raise the sails.  It was then RYA Competent Crew time, with a load of tacks: twelve before we would even think about serving lunch!  These boys would have to work for their board!

The boys are relaxed and in good form.  Every boy has had a practice at each of the positions needed to tack, including the helm, and their competence and confidence is growing all the time.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again, it is very easy to forget these boys are only twelve!  The idle time has been filled by Competent Crew practice rope and knot-work and the boys’ bellies have been filled by lunch (baked potatoes with fillings).

Den Helder was our destination, and we hope to land early afternoon.  When we arrived, however, we learned that the lock gate would not be opened until after 18:00 and rush hour had finished, so we had to manoeuvre for over an hour, waiting.  This wasn’t a problem, as it allowed us plenty of time to sort out dinner and ensure every boy had as much as he wanted, as is the way.  Sam, the first mate, was then able to take the boys through yet more of their Competent Crew paces, looking at some of the theory to match the practice they got earlier.

Passing through the lock gate, we berthed and immediately rounded up the boys to head straight for the beach on the other side of Den Helder.  It was a 5Km walk, but the boys were in great spirits.  The “beach” only seemed to appear as a thin strip of sand at low tide, so it was good luck for us that we timed it perfectly!  While it might have been the sorriest-looking beach I have come across, it did not matter.  The sensible decision was made not to swim immediately as the boys would feel cold for the rest of the time, so the boys immediately set about amusing themselves playing beach football, crabbing in the lagoon, or building a colossal sand castle, all the things that boys should be doing on the beach and it wasn’t long before the executive decision was made to take the plunge.  This is the sort of situation that separates the men form the boys, and I am glad to say that we obviously have plenty of the latter!  Lots of fun, splashing and wrestling, with an opportunity for me to demonstrate my signature wrestling move: the guerrilla-press!

It was then up for ice creams for the boys, perfectly placed and perfectly timed to enjoy the beautiful sunset, as the sun slid slowly into the North Sea.

The 5Km walk back was hardly noticed by the boys and, despite the brisk pace we set, the boys arrived back at the boat by about 23:30.  A quick shower to freshen up the swimmers, a fajita wrap for everyone and it was bed by 23:59. 

Two comments that I heard over the day, one made by a boy, the other about the boys: “Mr O’Prey, this is the best New Beacon school trip, ever!” (thanks, Cameron: I would agree, by the way!), and “the boys must be knackered after their 10-11Km walk, swimming and playing all evening, and the late time they got back”…to which the reply was, not a bit of it…have a look at them!  As I might have said, once or twice, it is easy to forget the boys’ average age is slightly less than 12!

Day 4…Thursday 18 July 2013

A proper lie in today (07:30!) the boys have, needless to say, gotten up in great spirits.  A quick clean up and we are hoping to set sail for 10:00, destination Oudeschild.  A direct sail should give us plenty of time on the island today.  We have a load of things planned for the boys to do, and we will sail tomorrow evening at 20:00 to give us plenty to time to make it across to Hull in good time to meet the high tide.
Until then, here’s hopin’ for fair winds, a flat sea, and a fat merchantman on the horizon…aaarrrgghh!!

A little before lunch, we arrived at Oudeschild after a straightforward motor from Den Helder.  On arrival at the harbour we were instructed to moor alongside the Egbertha, a 1930-built tug in pristine (and still working!) order!  The owner was kind enough to let me and some of the boys look into the engine room (my background is running tugs in Belfast Harbour…over 150 years of family history there) and I was wowed.  An old engine (possibly from the 1960s), it was a straight six cylinder, with each cylinder about 10.5 litres in size.  My car has four cylinders at a total of 1.6 litres in size!  The tug “only” had a rating of about 450hp, but it was rated at a maximum of 600rpm, so the torque going through the enormous 6’ propeller is huge.  Wow.  What a beautiful machine.

After a hearty lunch, there was plenty that needed doing aboard the CatZero.  The boys needed to demonstrate their ability to control a row boat for their Competent Crew award.  They also needed to demonstrate their ability to overcome the ultimate challenge: to go all the way to the top of the 30 metre mast, for no other reason than it is brilliant fun!  The boys were split into their watches, with one group tackling the mast climb and the other the row boat.  The boys would then swap over so they all had a go at both activities.  To add an extra level of fun, it was decided to make the rowing into a competition, with each boy’s score being recorded and combined to determine the overall winner. 

I am unsure who enjoyed the activity the most: the boys who, as per usual, have once again thrown themselves into the rowing activity with their usual cheeriness and aplomb, or the sea staff who nearly split their sides from laughing so much as the boys rowed themselves in circles!  Of course there were one or two who managed to nail it first time (not literally, of course, as the row boat is only an inflatable dinghy), and by the end of the session all the boys had managed to demonstrate a decent level of handling.

While the rowing was great fun for all concerned, the mast-ascent beat it hands down for the sheer adrenaline factor….better even than PGL?!?!  While a certain teacher was extremely disappointed that there wasn’t time for him to go up (no, seriously, he was really disappointed!), each boy was able to go up as high as he liked, and could see the entire island of Texel from the top!  It was a real team-bonding task as each ascent needed the help and muscle-power of each of the boys in the watch: a constant theme of the trip: communication and teamwork are essential to run a boat this size and the boys have excelled…it’s easy to forget that the average age is a little less than 12!  Perhaps it was just as well then that there wasn’t time enough for a certain teacher to go up…I think that might have pushed even the most determined crew’s ability to teamwork to the limit!!

Proceedings were halted by the arrival of the ice-cream man.  I had bumped into him with his little “Ape” three-wheeled, two-stroke ice cream cart (if you’ve been to Italy you’ll have seen these: crazy little things they are), and asked that he comes back at about 15:30, when the boys will have deserved a well-earned rest.  Sure enough he came back right on time and each boy had two scoops of delicious, homemade Italian ice-cream.

We then had a confab to work out what we should do for the rest of the afternoon.  We could finish the activities, or we could pick up the bikes I had prearranged with the bike shop and go adventuring, with the proviso that we finished our activities in the morning, as well as the deep clean.  Given that the boys were on a proper adventure and that this was likely to be one of the many highlights, funny enough this was what the boys wanted to do.  So off we tottered to the bike shop to pick the bikes up and see what this beautiful island had in store.  Most of the boys had mountain bikes, but some of them, and all of the adults, had the sorta-cool California-Cruiser-style Dutch bikes that are so popular here…for some reason!  Certainly they are not popular for the speed and a few times, when we ran sprints with the boys (where do they get their energy from?!?) I only managed to come third.  Never mind.  I blame the fact it was 21 gears versus 7!

The ride to the beach was between 10-12Kms and took us about an hour at a mostly gentle pace.  The beach was fantastic: the hot weather helped, the sand was spotless and the water clean and warm.  There was a stiff breeze which meant the boys got cold quickly when they got out of the water, but a good sailor NEVER complains about a strong breeze and I didn’t hear a peep out of the boys! 

After a good cycle back to the boat (at about 21:30!!) Danny was waiting with dinner already cooked (the star!).  The boys filled their bellies on tuna-pasta and it was straight to bed for an early night… at 23:30!  How they continue to manage to cram so much in to each long day and remain so cheery and upbeat is beyond me.

Day 5…Friday 19 July 2013

Our final day, and a lot to put in.  This one would have to be thought through carefully!  The boys awoke slowly: they had definitely earned their 07:30 lie in this morning!  Breakfast followed by the first half of the deep clean was the order for the morning: not a pleasing task to do but one in which the boys attacked with their usual cheery aplomb!  Lunch was prepared by Nigel, one of the sea crew, and packed into bags for the next part of our adventure, while the boys finished their rowing and mast ascents.

Almost exactly to plan, we finished off.  It was then back to the boat to pick up the food and on to the bike shop to pick up the bikes followed by our 12Km cycle ride to the beach.  The barbeques were lit by the adults when we arrived, while the boys busied themselves with the important task of playing, going to the shop and building a “Jacuzzi” in the lagoon on the beach…don’t ask where they got the bubbles from!...

As I have said, it’s all about food: something we all take very seriously on a boat!  After a huge spread of food was devoured we then set about yet more important business: swimming and building sandcastles!  Again, the water was warm, and the boys played so well together: sharks and fishes…I seemed to be the shark all the time for some reason.  No worries, as we soon moved back to the beach, as the tide had just turned and we had to build sandcastles and sea defences to protect Princess Seashell.  An hour or so later and the defences were soon to be put to the test, but unfortunately, as all things do, we had to bring things to a sad end for our beach trip and so were not able to continue our running repairs to save the beautiful Princess.  I did ask, and most boys said they have not built a sand castle for between 2-6 years and they couldn’t believe how much fun it could be!  How nice to see boys being boys!

A quick tidy up and it was then onto the bikes for our hour-long trek back to the bike shop for exactly 16:00, just as planned.  Despite cycling about 45Kms over two days, the boys were loving it, although a few of us were walking like John Wayne for some time afterwards!

We had a little time in the souvenir shop (we faced mutiny if the boys didn’t have the chance to spend the rest of the doubloons burning holes in their pockets!) and it was then back to the boat to prep for departure, which we managed to do exactly when we had hoped.  As the wise man once said, I love it when a plan comes together!

I’m afraid though, it was back to the business at hand which immediately involved leaving Oudeschild, which is quite possibly the friendliest town on Earth!  Cheery farewells from the harbour master and the onlookers greeted us as we sailed out…..and into the watches……

The boys worked together to get the sails up, while dinner (chicken curry) was prepared down below.  Dinner was served after the main and foresails were up.  For the Shark Tales it was then back on deck for their watch, while the Aquatic Skorpions (sic) headed straight for their bunks for some important sleep.

It was going to be a long night…

Day 6…Saturday 20 July 2013

The sea is an amazing place.  So vast, majestic, powerful.  It affects so many people in so many ways.  For Tolkien, his elves couldn’t hear the sound of the sea without a longing forever welling in their hearts to sail out of Middle Earth.  For me - having been 20 years since I was on a sailing boat, and perhaps nearly 15 since I stood on the deck of a tug - I did not know how empty was my soul until it was filled…for the boys it was “ding-ding, seconds away….round 2!”.  I was so impressed by the boys who were so laid low on the outward journey with sea sickness and the spirit they showed over the course of the night, knowing what they were likely to face.  They showed dogged determination as they endured strong winds (we were able to sail across in fantastic time – at times hitting 10 knots over the ground – without the engine), and stronger seas than they were used to.  They turned-to for their watches and many of them really did try their utmost best, despite the roughness of the sea and their renewed seasickness, this time hitting more boys than it did on the first night.  I do not blame them one iota when some of them could not last the course of their watch or could not be roused in the morning for their next watch: they have had such an amazing, energy-sapping week, with such long days and so much crammed into them.  I think this was the moment when it caught up with many of them… and the realisation caught up with us that actually, the average age of these boys is a little younger than 12 years old.

Morning dawned slowly and, like the boys’ moods, it was damp and sullen.  Some of the boys were exhausted and had nothing left.  There was certainly no expectation that they would have to turn-to if they were not up for it and so we managed each watch with skeleton crew.

As the day wore on, so the boys’ spirits rose and more and more of them shook off their slumber and illness, dug down deep to find reserves they did not know they had and headed for the deck to take up their watches.  By the afternoon, every boy had turned-to and every boy had seen his watch through.  Such great spirit… such determination and tenacity! 

Then, at about 18:00, the famous words so beloved of every weary sailor went up:  LAND-HO!!  We were nearly there!  Each and every boy could justifiably hold his head high as we approached Spurn Head and headed towards the Humber.  You could palpably feel the boys’ sprits rise with every cable that brought us closer to Hull.

At about 22:45 we dropped sails and weighed anchor, waiting for the high tide that would allow us to enter the lock into the marina.  It will be a long anchor-watch, run by the sea staff to allow the boys a well-earned rest and the everyone will be getting up in the morning with the sun as we enter the marina at 04:30 and prepare for the second part of the deep-clean.

We then have a nearly-birthday to celebrate (long story!), a debriefing of what happened over the week: what each boy enjoyed, what they found tough and what they found funny, and the world premiere showing of the video the boys have made over the course of the week. 

I am sure there will be sadness as the boys say goodbye to the CatZero and her crew: Cap’n Dan, Sam the First Mate and Nigel the watch leader (with Vincent being the other watch leader who will be coming home with us).  They will all be looking forward to meeting their families again, to sleeping in their own beds (in fact, sleeping in any bed that does not rock or creak!), to playing with their pets and friends…in short they will be looking forward to getting back to normality. 

They will all have such wonderful tales to share when they return and such memories to cherish for the rest of their lives.  I have no doubt that some of them might never step foot on a boat again, while others, like Tolkien’s elves, will have been smitten by the sea and will be counting down the days until their next voyage with a yearning in their hearts.  All of these boys have been changed to a greater degree.  For all of them they have seen that they can still accomplish so much despite being laid so low.  They will become somewhat fearless, ready to tackle anything that life can throw at them with a steely determination that they did not know they possessed.  They will have discovered that they have facets of their own character and personality that they previously thought only existed in the heroes they could only read about in their favourite novels.  They will have learned how to cook, clean, wash the dishes….and clean the heads!!

I am so proud of these boys and the sea-staff have been constantly amazed by their tenacity and willingness to get stuck in, even when things were not looking good from the boys’ eyes.  When the boys are safely home and the tales are told, there will be some VERY proud parents in Sevenoaks and rightly so.  This is a group of boys that have gone abroad as ambassadors representing their country and their school with dignity and honour, showing respect to the other visitors and users of the ports and marinas we visited and to both nautical and local traditions.  We had so many comment from passers-by about how well-mannered the boys were: this is a group of boys I am proud to have in the sailing club and which the school can very proudly call “New Beacon Boys”.

The North Atlantic Challenge 2011-2012

Leg 1 The Biscay Challenge

Departed 24 October 2011

Arrived 5 November 2011

Departing from Hull in late October, and arriving in The Canaries two weeks later, this trip had it all!

Beginning with a crossing of the infamous Bay of Biscay, a true test for even the hardiest of sailors, the weather and wind direction was varied as we passed from the temperate climate of Northern Europe towards the tropical climate of the Canaries.

After the Bay of Biscay, One Hull (now CatZero) picked up the trade winds, providing amazing downwind sailing conditions for the final part of the voyage.

Leg 2 The ARC

Departed 20 November 2011

Arrived 10 December 2011

After training in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, One Hull (now CatZero) set off with a full complement of excited and motivated crew. Boasting a diverse range of participants from across the globe, and including members of 4 different family groups with crew as young as 11 and 13 year- olds, the crew were impressive in their work together. Danny Watson, Skipper of One Hull (now Catzero) recently described this journey as his “most enjoyable crossing of an ocean ever”.

One Hull (now CatZero) was competing in the race division of the ARC, crossing the Atlantic to St Lucia. Traditionally downwind sailing using the trade winds, the long spinnaker runs in sunny tropical conditions made for some exciting sailing.

With three young people on board under the age of 13, the One Hull (now CatZero) crossed the finish line, arriving in the tropical setting of Rodney Bay, St Lucia to win its class, more than 2½ days ahead of the next Challenge yacht and here, every hour was happy hour!!

Leg 3 The Azores Challenge

Departed 5 January 2012

Arrived 27 January 2012

After a few days island hopping training and acclimatizing to the boat, One Hull (now Catzero) sailed northerly up-wind in the trade winds, passing the Sargasso Sea, before heading easterly for some exhilarating downwind sailing. This was a great voyage for learning more about meteorology and weather routing.

A warm friendly welcome was offered by the historically sea- faring community of Horta, an essential port of call for the returning ships to Europe in the age of discovery.

This leg was better than any classroom environment for learning about sailing!

Leg 4 The North Sea Challenge

Departed 31 January 2012

Arrived 12 February 2012

Departing from Horta on the 31st January, this was the pinnacle of the Challenge. Combining all the elements of the previous legs with some imposing heavy weather, this leg saw the crew navigating across the Bay of Biscay and into one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, The English Channel. After passing the Dover Straits and the mouth of the Thames Estuary, One Hull (now Catzero) sailed up the Humber to successfully complete the North Atlantic Challenge!
Fastnet Challenge 2011

Departed 14 August 2011

Arrived 17 August 2011

On August 14 at 12.30 16 people raced One Hull (now CatZero) from Cowes on the Isle of Wight round the Fastnet rock off the south coast of Ireland and back to Plymouth in the infamous Fastnet race.

Exceeding even their own expectations the crew managed to be the first Challenge 72 yacht back by over 14 hours, a remarkable achievement. For many of the crew this was their first experience of off shore sailing, and for some their first experience at all.

CatZero used their 72ft Challenge Round the World Yacht to raise funding to help continue the running of their very successful youth development programmes. The entry into the Fastnet Race also enabled local people to experience being a crew member in such a challenging environment.

The crew consisted of:

Danny Watson, Tim Magee, Jim Dick, Ewan Masson, Mike Mould, Nicky Duncumb, Ben Duncumb, Ged Hale, Dennis Sewell, Nigel Rose, Quentin Thompson, Debs Smales, Rob Reid, Caroline Reid, Sam Hodgkinson and Gavin Wheeldon

By taking on additional challenges, CatZero Chairman, Jim Dick and Nickie Duncumb raised in excess of £10,000 in addition to undertaking the challenge of racing. Jim was challenged to cook a 3 course meal for the full crew including a pudding with pink custard and Nicky took on the challenge of climbing to the top of the 100ft mast.