The Woman Who Sailed Around The World In Her 60s

The Woman Who Sailed Around The World In Her 60s

For nearly 30 years, Jacqueline Kirkpatrick and her husband had talked about buying a boat and seeing the world. With their children grown and time finally on their side, they entered the Atlantic Race for Cruisers in 2019, crossing the ocean from the Canaries to St Lucia. Then the pandemic forced them to cut their trip short and return home. Here, Jax tells us more about their unique experience and why the adventure isn’t over just yet…

It was always my husband Iain’s plan to sail around the world. It’s been his life’s dream since he was 13 years old, when he used to race his 505 dinghy at Gorleston. When we met, Iain was 23 and he told me during our first serious conversation that one day he would buy a big yacht and sail it round the globe. He and his parents always sailed, so it was in the blood.
Suffice to say, this trip of a lifetime didn’t happen right away – in fact, we missed our deadline by about 28 years! But once our children had fled the nest and our youngest son Dugald had finished university in 2019, we started to get serious. We entered the Atlantic Race for Cruisers (ARC), which starts in Las Palmas in the Canaries and crosses the Atlantic to St Lucia. 
Iain spent years researching the ideal boat for the trip. We had finally bought it in 2017, visiting Palma in Mallorca to look at it several times beforehand. But it was in a very sorry state and Iain spent 18 months renovating it in Ipswich. It was a full-time job, which at times was quite arduous, especially during the winter months. In short, it needed a total refit – from the bilges to the interior and the systems. Thankfully, Iain knew exactly what he wanted everything to look like and was totally capable of fixing it.
The boat was ready two weeks before we started. The amount of preparation was staggering – the cleaning, repairing the hull of the boat and a lot of shopping for provisions. The ARC organised lots for us, too, and it was lots of fun meeting our fellow competitors. Iain, Dugald and I left Ipswich for Las Palmas in August 2019. 
I have to admit I didn’t do the Atlantic crossing – I flew. Iain and the crew left Las Palmas on 24th November and headed for the Caribbean, choosing a more northerly route to get there. Dugald was on board and loved sailing the boat at night, especially through some of the windier stretches. I think, for him,  it was an equal mix of fun and scary. They had a couple of really challenging days when there was no wind, and tempers started to fray a bit…but, ultimately, it came down to teamwork and being clear about who was responsible for what.

It still feels like we haven’t scratched the surface of our trip.

There was also an issue with the mast. The windvane on the masthead unit failed, but luckily the team were able to make a new one from credit cards, duct tape and an Allen key. A crew member – Chris Agar – was winched to the top of the mast under racing conditions to exchange the broken one with the homemade version. The man is totally fearless! It took about three attempts for them to be happy that everything was in order. 
One highlight was the cooking. Our daughter Sophia was the chef on board and used to whip up things like pork in mustard sauce with glazed carrots, new potatoes and broccoli. Dugald also said he quite enjoyed being cut off from the rest of the world in a digital sense – not having to be on his phone all day and being able to spend time with seven other people with one common goal. 
The boat arrived in St Lucia on 10th December as the tenth finisher and first in class. The crossing took just over 13 days and I was there to meet them – the champagne was flowing and it was a really momentous day. It felt like a huge achievement all round. As a family, we stayed on there through the rest of December.
By the end of January, Iain and I had moved on to Bequia. The wind was a steady 14 knots so we had a lovely sail just under the jib. It was an easy two-and-a-half-hour trip and we found ourselves on a filmset – the bay featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The customs office was in a building with the film set still attached to the facade. It was fascinating to walk round – I guess it’s now a minor tourist attraction, even though it’s mostly fallen into disrepair.
In February we headed to Barbados to deal with some visa issues. We were due at the American Embassy but needed to get there from St Lucia (where we’d returned to visit an old school friend) and, thankfully, the trade winds had shifted slightly towards the north, which meant we could make the journey in one fetch. We upped anchor at 5:45am with the wind blowing, which forced Iain to do the unthinkable – we reefed! However, we were heading straight into a large Atlantic swell which was slowing the boat to between 7-8 knots and creating an uncomfortable lumpy motion – the boat was underpowered. 
By midday, Iain had changed the sail configuration, so our speed increased. The boat steadied and we flew along in a much happier motion, arriving at 7pm in the dark. Whenever we arrived in a new place, we always tried to visit the local yacht clubs to get a feel for the yachting scene. We went to the Barbados Yacht Club and they allowed us a week’s membership in recognition that we’d recently crossed the Atlantic.

After about ten days, I was most excited to visit Deshaies in Guadeloupe. I’m a big fan of the BBC drama Death in Paradise and Kris Marshall’s portrayal of the detective who is sent there to solve the crimes. We just had to visit the island. The people there are so warm and sophisticated, and the food and bars are wonderful, too. There are also lots of small artisan shops and an excellent botanical garden (it was a filming location for one of the DIP episodes). Sadly, it was when we were there that the world started closing down – in fact, it was the last island we visited freely. 
After that, we headed to the British Virgin Islands. We left at 6:30am for my first overnight passage and our first double-handed sail in 20 years. We were both a little nervous, but we soon settled into the day and all was well. We had a perfect wind angle and we passed several islands which distracted us. We saw dolphins for the first time in months and flying fish were abundant. Night watches had been agreed and I only had one from 10pm to 2am. Iain decided to rest as much as possible during the day in case I couldn’t manage the night. Thankfully, I did complete my shift – albeit just the one! I remember missing my children a lot that night…
When I woke up, we were approaching the BVIs. The sun was rising, and Iain was looking very pleased with himself – so he should have, he had got us to safety. The customs office wasn’t open, so we picked up a mooring buoy and waited. Iain got all our papers ready and we made ourselves presentable. Despite being first across the harbour to the customs office we were told we were too late – the borders had been closed at midnight as a result of the impending pandemic.
Border control suggested we try the US Virgin Islands as their borders were still open – but only if we had visas. Suddenly the trip back to Barbados to sort the visas felt like the best decision we ever made. We made a high-speed dash to Cruz Bay in St John’s and anchored off. We telephoned the customs office and were welcomed with a relaxed 'come on over'. At the time, President Trump was still denying there was a serious problem, so all the amenities were open and life continued as normal. 
Soon after, the US Virgin Islands also went into lockdown. Iain was convinced the situation was going to intensify and, although he was never a boy scout, he’s always prepared. Spreadsheets, schedules and various procedures all played a prominent part in our daily lives. It also made the ridiculous (or so I thought) provisions shopping we did back in Ipswich look inspired. Endless canned foods and rolls of loo paper…we knew we could survive when nothing else was open.
We stayed in touch with our loved ones via Zoom, regular phone calls and our blog. The blog was our daughter Sophia and Dugald’s idea – they thought it would be a good way for us to meet other travellers, stay in touch with our family and friends, and keep a record of our journey. It would also be something they could show their own children one day. Dugald created the website and has been very patient in teaching me how to use it. 

I’m most proud of how the two of us jumped into this with both feet.

The biggest setback came in March 2020, when we decided to come home. We had talked about returning home the minute the world shut down and we naively thought the closure would only last a short while. At first, Iain was reluctant to return as he feared we wouldn’t ever set off again. However, travel only became more complicated, and we felt surrounded by rules, procedures and restrictions. It made our decision inevitable in the end. 
On the crossing back to the UK, the boys in the boat experienced a big storm. An enormous wave knocked the boat on its side – luckily, all three crew were down below and the boat quickly righted herself. There was some minor damage, but it’s a testament to the strength and quality of the build that it wasn’t worse. 
It still feels like we haven’t scratched the surface of our trip – there are so many places we weren’t even allowed to go ashore, and others where everything was closed. A lot of the time we felt we were just waiting for restrictions and rules to be lifted. It was probably the same for everyone else, only we were on a boat. For now, it feels like unfinished business, and I feel particularly sorry for Iain. He worked his whole life for this moment only for it to come to such a sudden halt.
I’m most proud of how the two of us jumped into this with both feet. It’s not my dream, but I’m happy to be doing it with my husband. Life is short, Iain had a dream, it had to be lived, I promised him we would do it 30 years ago. I’m sure we still will. If you have a dream, make it happen while you still have the time. 
We’re signed up to start again on the World Arc Rally in 2023. The boat is coming back to Ipswich Haven for the winter, and Iain will be doing more maintenance and renovation up until March 2022. That’s when we will start sailing again around the British Isles and Scotland, until it’s time to head south to continue our adventure.

To follow Iain and Jax’s journey, visit and follow @SY_FatJax on Instagram.

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