A taste of home

A taste of home

Jane Slade talks to racing yachtsman Andy Hindley about his love of the dram and the sea.

People | 16 Jun 2000 | Issue 10 | By Jane Slade

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It was a heart-breaking moment when Andy Hindley saw his dream literally break up before his eyes. Just days after the dramatic launch of Team Phillips, from the quayside in Totnes, and its naming by Her Majesty The Queen at Tower Bridge, Andy was witnessing the cracking and groaning hull wrench itself free from the body of the boat and drift away. Some might say there was a Titanic prophecy about the event. Thousands of people lined the streets of the Cornish village and journalists from all over the world flocked to see the most technologically advanced racing yacht being launched. They also listened to and recorded the skipper boast of his crew’s readiness to smash world records now that he had a boat which could intimidate any craft which dared to approach its wake.

But even the most hardened cynic must have felt a twinge of sorrow when the catamaran cracked up just nine miles off the Scilly Isles. "I was at the helm when it happened," Andy explains. "I heard part of the hull cracking and groaning and then saw it work its way free and float away. I felt so sick. There was nothing we could do but watch it go. I wasn't worried about our safety as it was clear the boat was not going to sink. I just felt heart-broken that our boat had shattered." It was also a case of seeing £4 million float down the Swannee (the cost of the building project), coupled with considerable embarrassment that a slice of something at the cutting edge of sailing technology had just severed itself in full view of the world's media. So what does a skipper and his second in command do after such a sickening moment. "Down a dram from my hipflask with the rest of the crew, while we wait to be rescued.”Now the 120 ft long catamaran has been towed back to its Totnes base for some badly needed repair work, the lads are busy working on raising the extra £500,000 they will need to finance the job. Andy, the second in command,is an experienced yachtsman. He has clocked
up two 'round the worlds' – one with the sailing hero Pete Goss, the skipper of Team Phillips. He is also a veteran of The Fastnet,
The Tall Ships and was training skipper for the British Steel Challenge. He has also sailed several times with The Princess Royal whom he describes as “an excellent, gutsy yachtswoman.” But packed among his sailing kit, life-saving equipment, food supplies and sleeping bag there is always a hipflask of Scotch – one of which has been twice round the world with him."Whisky is home, it is my land reference," he explains. "Quite apart from being an extraordinary drink, for me whisky is the link between where you are from and where you are going. It is a little bit of civilisation when you are out on the high seas."Some of his greatest sea-faring memories are linked with the dram. "I remember when we crossed the finishing line during the Tall Ships race in 1993. It was 4am and we were in Norway. The only things we had left on board were two bottles of Scotch. So the entire crew celebrated the champagne moment with my whisky. In memory I had the ‘4am club’ inscribed on my flask."If Andy has a choice he usually plumps for an Islay malt. "One of my favourite malts is Laphroaig," he adds. "That wonderful earthy, peaty nose and taste is fantastic when you are at sea. It reminds you of dry land, home, log fires, my local pub and family. The golden earthy colour too is a great contrast to the relentless blue landscape of the sea. I also like Highland Park – the bottle has a big neck so you can pour it faster. This is important when you are sailing because you don't want to spill a drop."For me whisky is a very convivial drink. It travels well, and is sociable and bonding. It becomes my most precious thing when I am at sea, especially when I have been away for around 40 or 50 days. So I save it for special occasions like crossing the dateline or the equator, rounding a particular headline and, of course, crossing the finishing line. "Whisky is my most valuable currency. For others it is chocolate or cigarettes. Money has no value on the water – it won't save your life in a force 10 gale. But Scotch can do many things; it is a motivating force, a calming medicine and gives me the bite, kick and chew. When you are eating dried food the whole time and drinking tea and water you can't chew or bite on anything properly – but you can with Scotch."I have some wonderful memories of enjoying a quiet dram like when I rounded Cape Horn for the first time. The conditions were fantastic. It was flat calm and we were doing about 15 knots. I had my hip flask at my side and couldn't resist a celebratory nip then. The second time I rounded the Horn it was blowing 45 knots and I didn't fancy drinking anything at all! Crossing the finishing line is usually a champagne moment, but I usually celebrate with a tot. I also like it to record emotional occasions like witnessing spectacular sunsets such as the one I remember in Tierra del Fuego off Chile. I will never forget it – there was a huge mountain on the edge of the range. Clouds suddenly appeared from nowhere and formed a halo around the peak then the sky turned an incredible brilliant red. That was a real whisky moment, and the only companion I needed."More recently Andy, 32, a physics and electronics graduate, has been employed by Goss Challenges on what he still believes will be the world's most technologically advanced racing yacht – despite the recent glitch. The idea is that the boat, when it is fully fit, will take part in The Race, a round-the-world challenge starting on 31 December. "It is a unique race because there are no rules," Andy explains. "You can sail anything, any size and have any number of crew." He and Pete Goss, who won the MBE and the Legion d'Honneur for saving a Frenchman in hurricane conditions in the southern ocean, and their four man crew have no doubts about their ambitions in the race. "To win, of course," says Andy. "The trip will be the most radical and innovative any of us have ever undertaken. We had 450 applicants for the crew – and it took us three months to select the right people.“Everything we are doing has nothing to do with the old and yesterday; it is all new. It is like starting all over again. The catamaran is built from carbon-fibre and many other untried and untested materials. No-one has even made sails from the cloth we are using. We expected some teething problems." Even the crew's deck shoes employ space-age technology. The Danish shoe manufacturer Ecco has tested the materials so they won't rot in salt water and designed a special rubber tread which can keep grip when the boat is at all angles. "We can only take one pair each, so they cannot fail us," adds Andy. Andy has written the spec for the yacht's computer software and is the navigator on the trip working with the weather router. The lads were hoping to do a practice round-the-world run in the Jules Verne challenge before The Race but now that won’t be possible. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the doyen of ocean racing, who has backed the boys' challenge, believed the giant catamaran was capable of smashing the Jules Verne record for the fastest, non-stop circumnavigation – Johnston lapped the planet in 74 days in 1994 and reckoned Team Phillips could reduce it to just 60. But we will never know since the accident has ruled out that opportunity. "There won't be time now, which is a real disappointment," adds Andy. "The boat is going to be in the shed for at least three months."The surreal image of two tons of carbon fibre floating apparently weightless in mid air down the River Dart just two months ago, was an impressive sight. Over a million people watched the launch on the internet, and crowds were mustering on the quayside from as early as dawn on the big day to secure a prime viewing slot. But there were problems even before the boat hit the water. The second of the two mammoth 140ft masts fell from its cradle as it was being wheeled out of its shed and sustained superficial damage. And a further problem with the windsurfer-style wishbones, which are attached to the masts, delayed the maiden sea passage by several days.It was just as well that UDV donated a case of its Classic Malts, and some hip flasks for the crew, together with The Macallan which lobbed in a bottle of 10 year old. The idea was that the golden nectar would attend the yachtsmen on their round the world journey. Sadly the whole lot has already been consumed. "They were much needed solace after the accident," confesses Andy. "The Scotch was my second thought after seeing half the hull drift away. Because everything is so futuristic and we are using the technologies of tomorrow, my whisky will be even more important when it comes to sailing The Race, reminding me of home and yesterday. You always need some kind of balance, and my Scotch will be just that for all of us I reckon."
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