Doctor at Sea

Dr Ed Southall

On Thursday 28th February the Society was treated to an amazing talk by a former GP, sailor and all round handyman Ed Southall.
Ed Southall  - T&DMS Speaker - sailing in the Arctic Ocean

Dr Ed Southall

Images on page Copyright © Ed Southall

Beginnning a Life at Sea

Having qualified as a helmsman with the Sea Scouts at twelve, Ed bought his first boat at 16 - for the princely sum of £4.
A year after he moved to Torquay, and inspired by the 1976 round-the-world yachtswoman, Clare Francis, Ed purchased his first boat with a cabin, took a more detailed theory course and sailed his 27 foot boat to the Channel Islands.
This was the start of a sailing career encompassing over 60,000 miles at sea including a 5,000 mile journey from Cape Town to Australia across the notorious Southern Ocean.

1996 Clipper Race

Not content with weekend sailing, in 1996, Ed entered the inaugural Clipper Race - a round the world yacht race created by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson for non-profesisonal crews.
Although he could not leave his practice for the whole race, Ed sailed from Fort Lauderdale in Florida to Hawaii, via the Panama Canal and the Galapagos Islands.
As Ed highlighted, conditions were harsh:
  • No Frills
  • No Fridge
  • No Furling
The civilian GPS had been downgraded by the US military so only gave a rough location; not good enough to avoid rocks. Luckily President Bill Clinton stepped in and approved the full system at which point it became accurate to within a metre.
Surprisingly, the twists and turns of the Central American Isthmus means that in transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific you are actually sailing from West to East.
The Canal fees are $1500 - which sounded expensive until Ed explained that it avoided over 4000 miles sailing around Cape Horn.

Ed Southall's "emergency medical kit" for those suffering from dysentry at sea!

One of the challenges of the Galapagos Islands was avoiding the numerous turtles and other sea creatures.
From Galapagos, it took another thirty days to reach Hawaii where they were greeted with rum punch from the locals.
The main demand for Ed's professional skills was for sunburn although he was needed when one of the crew drank some dodgy water after getting lost in Hawaii.

Sailor turned Boatbuilder

For most people this journey would have been the trip of a lifetime but Ed did not sit back.
In 2001 he sailed to the Mediterranean and in 2004 decided to build a boat based on a 1000 year old Norwegian design.
A recent DNA test found him to be 20% Scandinavian - which might explain some of his enthusiasm.
With help from a professional boat builder his garage became a boatyard. The photo of his boat launched onto the Dart had the caption “it floats”.
If anyone is interested it is now for sale!

World ARC 2008

In 2008, Ed joined the World ARC - an around-the-world sailing rally.
Although a large number of yachts left St Lucia at the same, time within twenty four hours they were alone at sea.
The crew devised a shift system of three hours on and six hours off.
This time, they had autopilot, radar, GPS and a plotter giving details of other ships.
They even managed sightseeing in places such as Machu Picchu in Peru.
It was on this trip that Ed also learnt the importance of having a compatible crew.
After a heavy storm three of them congratulated each other with high fives but one tried to blame everyone else.
He eventually left the boat...
When a crew member fell ill at sea Ed contacted Falmouth Coastguard for advice.
They suggested taking him to a hospital in Hawaii, 3000 miles away.
As Ed commented, they were experts in health but not experts in geography. With Ed’s help and advice he recovered.
After revisiting Galapagos, the crew made the 3,700 nautical mile sail across the Pacific Ocean to the Marquesas.
On one island they met a delightful couple who were also sailing round the world - taking the route through the Suez Canal.
Sadly, he heard later that they were captured by pirates from East Africa and killed in cross fire when the Americans attempted a rescue mission.
On the Island of Vanuatu one of the locals, knowing he was a doctor, asked him to look at his daughter.
She was lying on the mud floor.
Ed had no equipment and so examined her as best he could, pressing his ear to her chest and feeling her forehead.
He decided that she was not seriously ill, a diagnosis which proved correct when he heard from the father later on.
In Australia one of the other yachts from the rally was written off when it hit the Great Barrier Reef.
Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Ed returned to St Lucia via Durban, Cape Town, Namibia and St Helena.
When Ed heard that there might be pirates he was offered a “pirate persuader” in Australia - a double barrelled shotgun.
On Devil’s Island he saw the ruins of the prison where the only graves were the prison staff.
When the prisoners died their bodies were fed to sharks.
After returning to St Lucia, Ed sailed on to Bermuda where he was delighted when he was called Captain Ed Southall, Master and Commander, on a customs certificate.
On the voyage back to the UK he stopped at the Azores and faced a storm with 40 knot winds.

Into the Southern Ocean

After returning to the UK, Ed received a call from the Clipper Race organisation.
As a trusted ocean sailor, they were asking if he would deliver one of their boats from Cape Town to Australia.
5,000 miles, across the Southern Ocean, battling the Roaring Forties!
The next voyage was on...

From Roaring Forties to the Arctic Ocean

Back in the UK, after crossing the Southern Ocean, Ed discovered that the boat from 1996 Clipper Race was now based in Iceland as a charter boat.
Too much temptation for Ed!
He went to Iceland, chartered the boat and sailed to Greenland where he saw polar bears and whales.
So what did Ed learn from 60,000 miles of sailing?
He passed his Yachtmaster exam and proved, to his own satisfaction, that the World is round!
For our part, we learnt a great deal more from this fascinating talk.
Ed made the rest of us feel that we could have packed a great deal more adventure into our lives.

Review by Peter Moore