Words Lottie Lewis and Max Campbell.
An Offshore Adventure;
The journey of four friends in search of perfect waves and authentic, sustainable travel.
Circumnavigating the world on the hunt for unexplored shores and perfect waves in a sailing boat from the 70’s; it sounds like an adventure only read about in old novels or the plot to a wanderlust-provoking film, but for Max, Harry, Chloe and Lily, life onboard their beloved Elixir is a reality.
We thought a little inspiration was due in order to rekindle the flames of adventure within us once again.
Bird caught up with avid water-man Max Campbell, to discover the ins and outs of his surf-and-soul-searching trip around the world onboard their wooden boat.
When did you first dream up the idea of sailing away?
I was born in Bristol and spent most of my early years in the city. I started sailing at the age of four, in Bristol Harbour, and instantly became completely obsessed with it. Something about the simplicity of it all — as well as the seemingly endless possibility of adventure — made it incredibly exciting for me. My stepdad gave me a small wooden dingy with yellow sails, and I would sail it up and down in front of the SS Great Britain. The water was a sickly brown, and there was concrete everywhere, yet I remember those days as the first time I connected with the ocean.
Later, my family moved down to Cornwall. We lived in Falmouth, and I quickly fell in love with the ocean. I was amazed by sailing on salt water and started to surf too; all of my free time was spent doing one or the other. I had a string of sailing boats, which evolved from a 16’ day sailer, to a 19’ cabin cruiser, and eventually a 22’ wooden sloop called Flying Cloud.
“I had a burning desire to travel, as well as an affinity for the ocean, and as a result dreamt up plans to sail away.”
The boat when Max first found it.
There was something special about Flying Cloud, she was elegant yet seaworthy, and had already been on adventures to Ireland and France with her previous owners.
A month after finishing uni, I watched Falmouth melt into the horizon. Along with my best friend Harry, we left Falmouth with no intention of returning. We were unprepared — our food consisted of a bag of pasties, and we knew nothing about offshore sailing. We were naïve, wide-eyed and open to the world. 24 hours later we arrived in France.
We spent that summer cruising south, surfing Europe’s best waves and chasing adventure all the way down to Lisbon. Harry fell in love and left to do a ski season in the Alps, and I carried on sailing by myself.
Over the following two years, I sailed Flying Cloud single-handed to the Caribbean and back. The journey was incredible, with unbelievable highs and devastating lows. On the return transatlantic crossing I spent 50 days by myself. It’s amazing to take a step back from society for a prolonged time, I had found a simplified existence without the artificial pressures of life on land, and it was addictive. I arrived back in Falmouth at the age of 23, with 10,000 blue water miles under my belt. I never forgot the fleeting emotion that I had found in the middle of the Atlantic, and after a few months back on land I began to crave it again.
I wanted to share that ephemeral feeling I had found at sea with my closest friends. My voyage in Flying Cloud had given me an intimate relationship with the ocean, and I wanted them to experience the same aquatic bliss. I sold Flying Cloud and took on a new project — Elixir, a 1970 Swan 37.
Elixir was green, covered in moss and leaves. It took us almost a year to get her sailing, which would never have been possible without the many extra hands that came to help. I’m so grateful for my friends, it was amazing to see so many people get involved in a collective passion project.
It makes me happy to know that we’ve restored a boat, that otherwise may have never been saved. So much hard work has gone into getting her back on the water, and I know she’ll serve us well in return.
In November 2019, we launched Elixir for the first time in six years. We spent two months sailing around the coast of Cornwall, before setting off to cross the Bay of Biscay on January the 20th.
Where are you headed? Will you return to Cornwall some day or are you in search of new lands?
Our aim is to circumnavigate the planet. The route will take us across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal (or possibly through Patagonia if we can find sponsorship), and then across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Finally, we will round the Cape of Good Hope, before returning to the UK.
The idea is to seek out perfect waves, but also to do it in a way that’s sustainable and non-polluting. A sailing boat provides the perfect platform to do that.
How long have you been at sea?
After leaving Falmouth, we managed two months of sailing before the onset of coronavirus in Europe. We had made it to the Canary Islands, and we were just about to set off on the transatlantic, before getting caught up in the strict Spanish lockdown. Luckily, Elixir was full of provisions for the two weeks we spent quarantined in a sleepy harbour in the north of Tenerife.
Who’s on board?
The core crew is currently Me, Harry, Chloë and Lily. Harry remained my best mate, even though he ditched me for a girl in Lisbon. We still hang out every day and I’m so happy to be sharing this adventure with him. Chloë is another one of my closest friends. We share the same passion for the ocean, and she’s probably the coolest person I’ve met. Lily is a photographer and maker, she’s our creative inspiration and an amazing cook too. She’s hilarious and brings an air of light heartedness to the boat.
I know that many other people will experience other parts of the journey, the idea is to share it with as many people as possible. Elixir sleeps eight people, but I think that four is the perfect amount, otherwise the cabin gets a little cramped.
How much planning went into the trip? Are your plans and destinations constantly evolving or are you set on an unchanging course?
The year running up to our departure was very busy. The trip became an obsession, and we all invested a lot of time to make it happen; we sketched out routes and constantly added to the jobs list.
We’ve guessed that it will probably take around 4-5 years to completely circumnavigate the planet. So far, we’ve had a little sponsorship, but mostly we’ve funded the trip off our own backs. The idea is to sustain the journey through our combined writing, photography and film-making work.
We are flexible on time and location, and I think that’s part of the beauty of sailing. It’s almost impossible to stick to a schedule, and you must be content with surrendering to forces beyond your control.
Do you have any ship rules?
Only a few… take it in turns to cook and wash up, don’t turn up late to your watch, and never tease Harry about his funny belly-button.
Where did you score the best waves?
We stopped off in Peniche and had a few fun surfs around the harbour. We also managed to hitch a lift to Nazare to watch the World Surf League competition, which was completely insane.
There are great waves in the Canaries too! I’m very excited to get through to the Pacific, I think that’s where we’ll really score.
Last question… Can I join you?
In all seriousness, we are always looking for other creatives to collaborate on ocean related projects. Elixir is a unique platform to view the world, and I think our story can be told in a compelling way.
I also believe that our story plays into a much larger cultural shift – one of our generation making the conscious decision to travel in a non-polluting way. Sailing has brought us both the excitement of adventure, as well as peace of mind when arriving in a new place without the burden of air miles. We’ve witnessed the extent of plastic pollution, which reinforces our beliefs further.
It’s been an incredible, life-changing journey so far, and we can’t wait to share the rest of it with you.