In May 2019 74-year-old Tony Curphey became the oldest person to sail solo, non-stop around the world. Here he tells Ali Wood why his Nicholson 32 is the ultimate sea boat
“In the six years I’ve owned Nicola Deux I’ve sailed 77,650 miles in her. I just love Nicholson 32s. My father-in-law had one and to me it was the ultimate sea boat: strong and seaworthy.
“I searched every one that came on the market, and found Nicola Deux in Perpignan, in the South of France. I went down on my motorbike to take a look. She belonged to an English chap who felt he couldn’t sail her anymore. He was the second owner; the first had thrown a lot of money at her.
“Everything was right. She wasn’t too expensive – I just fell in love with her!
“I’ve been living on boats since 1985 when I split up with my wife. I’ve got three sons and one of them lived on board a converted lifeboat with me in Emsworth until he was 19 and left to go to university. Like me, he loved the outdoor atmosphere.
“Would I want to live in a house? No, I don’t think so. I couldn’t afford it these days, anyway. As long as I’m physically able I want to do long-distance sailing.
“When I’m at home I pay a fixed fee for the yard. Because Nicola Deux has a deep draught I can’t go in and out. She has to be stored ashore over the winter and I head off in the spring. As I keep all the gear on board she’s fit to go anytime. In fact, I hardly did any preparation for my last circumnavigation other than shopping. I bought 350 cans of fish!”
“I learnt to sail in the 1980s. I was running a family business and was drawn to sailing so I bought a boat in 1982. My first round the world voyage – in the Folkboat Storm Petrel – took five years. I was back and forth in between working as a lorry driver to build-up the cruising kitty.
“Nicky isn’t my favourite boat. I actually preferred my previous boat, Galenaia, which I owned for 19 years. She was a 27ft plywood cutter with fibreglass sheathing. A wooden boat with wooden spars has more ambience than a fibreglass bloat with aluminium spars. There’s a different smell and different noises. But I‘ve no reason to change Nicky. She’s a good sound heavyweight cruising boat.
“Nicholsons have been made since the early 1960s and most of the Nicholson 32s are still going strong.
“Most liveaboards stay in warm climates but I’ve overwintered in all sorts of places – Alaska, New Zealand, Australia. I used to think I preferred hot weather but it’s nice to have a change once you’ve had too much. We had a terrific winter in Sitka in Alaska – not too warm, not too cold.”
“I don’t have anything special on board. It’s not like camping, though; Nicola Deux is my home. I have ordinary duvets.
“Nothing’s modern – she’s not crammed with electronics. I ripped off the old-fashioned radar and threw it in a skip. I took a load of stuff off the mast – including a radar detector, because I just don’t believe in them.
“I have often radioed other vessels to ask if they could see me on radar and they always could, despite having no radar reflector, so it was an inconvenience. I got rid of the lazy jacks too, though kept the rope and blocks.
“I hardly ever shop in chandleries. Most of the stuff I make or repair myself. I buy very little in the way of boat gear; you mention the word ‘yacht’ and suddenly the price quadruples.
“I do love my Davey & Co heater, though – it’s really efficient and burns wood or coal. I’m also fond of my barometer, which came from the original owner of my previous boat. The boat was made in 1957 but the barometer could be 100 years old. He gave it to me before he died.
“I have AIS, VHF radio and two handheld GPS sets. I’ve got a laptop but I don’t use it for navigation. I have a YB tracker, which is fantastic. I like the fact you can call them up and a human being will answer the phone. While I don’t like being in touch too much, it is nice to have regular contact with people.
“I’m not bothered about getting weather updates but a friend of mine texted them to me anyway. She said, ‘I’m your weather girl whether you like it or not!’ But on a boat that goes this speed you can’t get out of the way of a storm anyway. You wouldn’t be any better off for knowing – it just makes you more scared.
“The world has changed a lot during my four circumnavigations (two in Nicola Deux, one each in Galenaia and Storm Petrel). I like the South Atlantic and the South Pacific, but the Southern Ocean is so busy these days.
“What used to be dirt tracks on the French Islands are now tarmacked roads full of 4x4s. I haven’t explored much of the Pacific since the first two times. The Tuamotos in French Polynesia is my favourite place – it’s mostly just atolls and reefs.
“I’m still ashore due to the Coronavirus but I hope to launch soon with no definite destination in mind but maybe into the South Atlantic. There are no hurricanes there…”
Originally published in Practical Boat Owner magazine: Summer 2020