Bronwen and John Vearncombe have just returned from an adventure of a lifetime.
John got to fulfill a lifelong dream, completing the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and Bronwen traveled the entire route solo; waiting to greet him at every port.
During the twelve months that John and Bronwen were traveling, John raised money for children’s’ charity St George’s Foundation (which benefits homeless orphans in Sierra Leone) and Bronwen ‘travelled with purpose’, volunteering or doing charity work along the way – and finding time to send a postcard from each destination to her goddaughter Matilda.
John explains “I started sailing at the age of 28 after moving to Dundee, where I was able to join a local sailing club and fulfill my interest in sailing. It was here that I first came across the Clipper Round the World Race, and so began my journey to be a part of the most grueling amateur global sea race known to man. As I take part in this once in a lifetime challenge, I want to use my experience to help others. This is why I chose to fundraise for the St George Foundation, asking people to sponsor each mile of my journey where I will dedicate the entire £40,000 sponsorship target to helping the street children of Sierra Leone”.
The race circumnavigates the world in 13 races, crossing the equator twice where heat and lack of wind become a real challenge and crosses the Southern Ocean and North Pacific where icebergs can become a risk and the cold can be extreme. At times the heat below decks was 40 °C while on deck there was no shade from the tropical sun. At the other extreme the boat can be cold and wet, sailing at the edge of the iceberg limit in winds of up to 70 knots, waves up to 50ft (15m) high. The air temperature may be a few degrees above freezing, but with the wind chill, it will feel several degrees below. Dressed in many layers of thermals under a dry suit, the cold still gets through and face and hands verge on numbness with cold.
Beyond the basic steering of a yacht over the ocean, and John became one of the key helmsmen on the yacht, sail changes in the challenging conditions can be hard work both physically and emotionally as you face the fear of being on the foredeck with waves crashing around you. The boat will be pitching into the waves, heeling over at up to 45° with the wind and water trying to wash everything into the sea.
At other times breakages put the boat into danger such as a forestay shackle failing which could lead to the mast collapsing or the steering mechanism breaks leaving you with no directional control of the boat. In these situations, the experience of the skipper is essential in keeping the boat safe.
It is still very early to assess what I have gained from the experience. An ambition achieved, some wonderful friendships forged, beautiful sights and experiences, challenges faced and overcome. I have loved the opportunity to share the knowledge I gained on the early races with the new crew who joined on the later legs. Maybe the main point is how Bronwen and I have proven to ourselves that we can be on an adventure around the world and still run our business in the UK, providing us with a future full of opportunity.”
Despite being a long-held vision, the finish line became more elusive to John, as he battled exhaustion and a skin condition. But having Bronwen there on land was definitely a motivator.
The highlights of Bronwen’s own journey included “, Working as a volunteer on a farm in Namibia, helping with animal research and looking after the orphaned animals including Cheetahs, baboons, meerkats, monkeys, lions and many others. From picking up old Lion scat (poo) to taking the baboons for a walk, mapping out a scorpion nest and overnight watches on a platform above the lion enclosure – all such fun and huge learning. Working as a volunteer in New Zealand at Conservation Volunteers NZ – planting trees, clearing pathways and picking seeds. In a shared house I enjoyed the hard physical work and rough count I planted around 600 trees!
Whilst in the South Island I did a heli-hike up the Franz Joseph glacier. Amazing experience. John’s boat arrived in Cape Town the day before our wedding anniversary and as we were married in the city we were able to celebrate it together. That was special. We walked up Table Mountain and enjoyed the special memories of the place.”
How They Achieved Their Dreams
Taking a year out became a reality due to the passive income that Bronwen and John earn from property investment. After being told that she wouldn’t be able to retire until she was 67, Bronwen and husband John both took the decision to quit their corporate jobs and invest in their first rental property. Since then they have built up a portfolio – which also includes guest houses – in the Hampshire area (which is now home for them) and run training courses and webinars to share their knowledge with others.
Bronwen kept the business thriving whilst on her travels “, Working remotely has its issues when timezones, wifi or phone signal is poor. One of our properties needed to be remortgaged and I found myself standing on a road at 11pm at night trying to speak to a call centre person and desperately hoping the phone signal would hold out through the identification process! “
Life is For Living
John summarises his adventure: “Life is for living. But for me, living is about learning and experiencing new things. There is a great quote I have used many times and I don’t know where it comes from: “If you want something you have never had you have to do something you have never done”. And that, to some extent, means adventure in one way or another be it going into a shop you have never been to before or climbing to the top of the mast in the middle of the ocean. To me, it is this going out of your comfort zone, moving beyond your normal, that provides the excitement in life. It is in facing up to the challenges that come your way that you live to the fullest and get any sense of fulfillment.
Sailing around the world was a bit extreme but no single step n the journey is too big, they are all doable and by just taking each step along the way, anyone can achieve amazing things. Often the goal seems too big to be achievable, but it is only by dreaming and following your dream that you can get that sense of achievement, and that sense of achievement will only come from going beyond your comfort zone and facing the challenge.”
John and Bronwen run Property Investing Foundation, sharing their knowledge of the property industry through webinars and courses.