It’s not just casting-off on an ocean-going catamaran that reduces the stress levels for Dr Revle Bangor-Jones. Choral singing is another passion and when this current sailing trip draws to a close it’s highly likely that the next port-of-call will be a Perth performance of Handel’s Messiah.

“When I think about sailing, music and being a doctor I always wonder which particular bit is really me? But what I do know is that it’s very important to have an interest outside the practice of medicine. I find being a doctor quite stressful at times, and music has always been an escape from that.”

“I discovered sailing later in life but it certainly fulfils the same role as music in many ways.”

“We bought a French-made catamaran in 2014 after looking at a lot of other boats, including ones here in Australia. We named her Intrepid Elk. It’s 51 feet-long which is about as large as my husband and I. We can comfortably manage it on our own. It’s quite a fast boat, too.”

So, why a catamaran made in France?

The perfect boat

“We did try to get an Australian boat but the timing for our departure was becoming increasingly tricky. My husband, who’s been sailing since the age of 12, put a lot of time into researching the boat that suited us best and we pretty much knew what we wanted in terms of sail configurations and internal layout.”

 “In the end we went to the factory and chose a particular model with fibreglass hulls that was comfortable to sail with just the two of us on-board.”

“We picked the boat up in the Mediterranean in March 2014 and spent the first six months sailing around there while we learnt how to handle it. We then headed to the Canary Islands, across the Atlantic to the eastern Caribbean and then on to Europe.”

“Then it was up into the northern latitudes, England’s south-coast, the Baltics, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. We had to take the boat out of the water and leave it there because all the waterways freeze in winter. When the weather warmed up we headed further north to Norway, the Shetlands and the west-coast of Ireland.”

“We stepped back on-board Intrepid Elk last year in northern Spain, sailed to Portugal and Morocco before mooring it in the Canary Islands.”

Ocean passages in a sailing boat aren’t all about gently flapping mainsails to the tune of a gin and tonic. It’s no time for the faint-hearted when the waves get higher than the mast.

Challenges of the sea

“We’ve had some rough moments, more than a few actually. It can be very frightening and on every trip, about the third day out, we both suffer from sea-sickness. That’s as much about exhaustion as anything else because we’re both getting used to the cycle of going on and off watch every three hours. Until you get back into that cycle it’s a bit of a challenge.”

“But being on the boat is such a wonderful opportunity. It allows you into the lives of others, to experience different cultures and be a traveller rather than a tourist.”

“That can be tiring, too. We’re living with the locals and that means going out and doing things like shopping and having to speak a different language. It can be hard work, until we come back to Perth we’re rarely in a place where much English is spoken.”

Organising a trip takes time and effort, as does keeping the boat seaworthy.

“It’s surprising how little time there is between planning one voyage to the next. You have to have a close look at intended destinations, the route and potential weather conditions. Once you get on the boat there’s always plenty of domestic maintenance, everything from dragging out my funny old sewing machine to repairing electronic equipment.”

“There’s cultural ‘homework’ as well. We do a lot of research related to our various destinations because it’s important to have an understanding of the history of the places we’re heading to.”

All in the prep

“And it’s also important to mention that, unlike my husband, I didn’t have an extensive sailing background. This entire venture was about six years in the planning and that included courses in radio navigation and meteorology combined with a couple of hands-on sailing courses in Bunbury.”

Medical Forum’s last correspondence with Intrepid Elk was an email sent from Curaçao in the ABC Islands. Next destination was Panama and then on to Perth.

“We were contemplating sailing around Australia when we get back but we’re feeling the pull of life back on dry land. So we’ll probably stop at that point, which will be very sad in some ways. But we’ve got two adult children and we’re missing out on a lot of family things.”

“I’ll take one very important thing away from my time on Intrepid Elk and that’s an appreciation of just what’s important in life. I’ve got a much more finely honed sense of life’s priorities.”

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