It was the best summer imaginable

Three months off, a lifelong ambition and a failed GPS in a fog all added to Dr Sarah Fagg's round-Britain sail

We were halfway through our trip as we cast off at midnight from Stromness, Orkney, and headed into an ominously starless night.

Once out of Scapa Flow, the sea, which had been whipped by three days of storms, boiled under us and we rapidly turned green. The freezing night turned into a bitter day. Dawn brought thick fog. Ships thundered by unseen, Cape Wrath was lost in a shroud of grey and the GPS navigation decided to die. It was as hollow shells of our former selves that we crawled into Kinlochbervie in the Highlands of Scotland that evening.

It had all started eight months earlier with a call from a university friend, Jane. She was taking a career side step, into palliative care, leaving three months free. She had decided to do something different with her spare time and wondered if I fancied joining her. As a GP locum it was easy enough for me to arrange the same amount of time off work, so I agreed.

Both keen sailors, we quickly settled on a trip we'd only ever dreamt about - a circumnavigation of the UK.

The months prior to the 12-week trip were a blur of activity. Phone calls back and forth, endlessly growing lists and more equipment landing on the doorstep. My 22' Hurley yacht Huffin was fitted, fixed, scrubbed, antifowled and stuffed to the gunnels. We hoped we hadn't forgotten anything.

At 8am on 1 July 2006, I let go of Huffin's mooring, headed out of the River Exe in Devon and turned left. Excitement, anticipation and apprehension mingled with the relief of finally setting sail.

During the trip, some diving friends we met in Stromness dubbed us ‘the yachties', then invited themselves aboard for a gin and tonic. While this may make it sound like we lived in the lap of luxury all summer, this was definitely not the case. Don't get me wrong, I love my boat but she has a few shortcomings.

Twenty two foot is not a lot of boat. Jane slept over the loo, next to the vegetables, by the cooker. I was no better off, down ‘the hole'. We couldn't stand and knocked ourselves constantly, and moving about made Huffin rock. The only days when we ‘yachties' could sip our drinks were days when we would sit outside on deck. But it was more often soaking wet on deck.

However, despite what might seem like hellish living conditions, we thrived on it. Where normal people might have killed each other, we had the best summer imaginable. One particular highlight was watching seals play around the boat while it was anchored off Grimsby. We visited so many places because we stayed most nights in port, often for only one night. But the Scottish Islands, particularly Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, were among my favourite.

Now home, it's back to the grindstone. Locuming gives freedom but uncertainty. This week there is very little work, next week no time to think, but I wouldn't change it. As I look back over the summer, images of dolphins, quaint anchorages, heather and stunning sails fill my mind, but what really makes me smile is remembering the people we met - the kindness of harbour masters, advice from old sea dogs and invitations on to the boats of strangers who rapidly became good friends.

Added to that, our trip helped to raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Association and Help the Hospices, which made our summer of adventure even more worthwhile.

- Dr Fagg is a locum GP in Exeter, Devon

How to donate

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Just published

Sign pointing to hospital

NHS England seeks to clarify GPs' responsibilities when using advice and guidance

New guidance from NHS England has set out the clinical responsibilities and medicolegal...

Widespread joint pain - red flag symptoms

Presentations and red flag symptoms that may alert you to potentially serious conditions...

Talking General Practice logo

Podcast: Supporting neurodivergent doctors and staff in general practice

Talking General Practice speaks to GPs Dr Beckie Akroyd and Dr Catherine Bell about...

BMA Scotland GP committee chair Dr Andrew Buist

General practice in Scotland 'in serious trouble', warns BMA Scotland GP chair

General practice in Scotland has reached a tipping point, with demand far outstripping...

Hospital entrance

NHS England issues warning over norovirus and rising winter pressures

Almost three times as many people were in hospital with norovirus last week compared...

BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout

Northern Ireland GPs face deepest-ever crisis as practices hand back contracts

Northern Ireland's GP leader has warned that general practice in the region is facing...