There’s no finer reward after selling a successful business and retiring than buying a boat. Many do, but few then take to it with quite the enthusiasm of Tim Parker, the son of a World War 2 Royal Naval submarine commander.
The signs were there from the beginning. His first boat, a Sunseeker Portofino 31 bought in 1989, was kept in the UK. One day Tim decided to use the boat to go to lunch. He went to Cherbourg for the ‘Fruits de Mer’. The Sunseeker was later transported to Spain where Tim and his wife Vanessa have a house at La Manga Club near Tomas Maestre Marina, 50 miles south of Alicante on the Mar Menor. A Broom 44 took its place. With more accommodation, the boat had far greater cruising potential. So, Tim took it down to the Tomas Maestre Marina and back. As you do.
“It showed me what was possible, but I always felt like I was pushing at its boundaries a little” Tim tells me. So with a taste for distance cruising, Tim went shopping for a boat that would satisfy his needs both for covering ground and for spending extended periods aboard. “I personally prefer sports cruisers to flybridge boats. Although they have less ultimate space for a given length, I like the lower profile, the lower centre of gravity and the single level external deck area that keeps everyone together but also grants the space for everyone to spread out. With a retractable roof it also allows you to be in an open boat without being blown to bits or roasted by the sun”. After an extensive search, in 2002 Tim found the boat of his dreams, a Princess V65 for sale with Princess Motor Yacht Sales. Fitted with a pair of MAN 1050hp shaft drive diesel engines which give a 35 knot top end and an easy 25 knot cruising potential, it was a boat with both the legs and the sheer space to fulfil his needs. He called it ‘Songbird’.
“We spent the first year getting used to the boat in the Solent with the help of Princess Motor Yacht Sales.” Some modifications were made concerning the living space – the boat came with two garages for example. Tim kept one but had the other converted into a cabin, taking crew accommodation from one to three and adding an en suite.
At deck level the aft canopy was extended to a framed type that took enclosed deck living right to the back of the boat or provided shade with the sides removed. Batteries were upgraded to almost double the standard capacity, a water maker was added, a Bauer dive compressor fitted and refrigeration and cooling upgraded, including a crushed ice maker and champagne cooler. Safety kit was upgraded and even dedicated drawers for Admiralty and Imray charts added to the cockpit. The net result was a boat that could go anywhere within reason. So Tim did.
“There are only so many times you can go around the Isle of Wight, so in 2004 we started the big adventure. My good friend, a very competent seaman called Sam Toogood, joined me on board and we headed for the Med. We crossed the Bay of Biscay, initially to Biarritz then followed the coast around, past Portugal, up through the Straits of Gibralter and finally to Tomas Maestre Marina”. After a trip like that, you could forgive Tim for resting on his laurels and enjoying the quiet life close to his home port. In fact, the delivery trip was just the beginning. Aided by Sam, and joined regularly by his wife, his family and a rotating host of friends, the real adventures began.
“That autumn we took the boat to Casablanca in Morocco. It was an amazing voyage, on the way we took the boat up the Sebou River to a city called Kenitra. They’d never seen a boat like it and the harbour master insisted on organising an armed guard! For two days we had an old retired Moroccan army colonel with only one tooth sitting on a bollard next to the boat with a rifle on his lap”.
The following year they headed east via Sardinia and Corsica for Pisa in Italy, then followed the coast via the Cinque Terra villages and ports like Portofino and Monte Carlo. “There is no finer way to visit a town than arriving by boat” Tim explains. “The harbour is the hub of any coastal town. Arrive by land and you have to work your way through the usually industrial outskirts. Arrive by boat and you land right in the centre of the action and in the most attractive part”. In 2006 it was the Amalfi Coast before turning south and heading for Stromboli and the northern islands of Sicily. 2007 and ‘Songbird’ headed for the Adriatic and Venice before diving into the myriad of islands that create sheltered cruising and stunning scenery off Croatia.
2008 was a big one, four months on board and a cruise to Greece to explore the Greek Islands. “The boat worked brilliantly for living on board. It was a travelling hotel and an entertaining space as well as a boat (we could get 11 around the cockpit table, eating freshly caught fish and all manner of shells grilled on the barbecue). We always had a succession of guests joining us”. 2009 was mostly France and the following three years the Balearic Islands. “There’s not a cove we left unexplored. We fell in love with Ensenada de Eubarca. It’s a cove in Ibiza surrounded by huge granite cliffs, with good holding but a 20m bottom. Too wild for most boats. The enormity of the place shrank Songbird. Sam would entertain us by jumping 30 to 40 feet into the sea from dizzyingly high ledges in the cliffs. Mallorca, however, the next island, is the best island in the world – it’s got everything. Mountain ranges, the weather, remote coves, sandy beaches, lost fincas and meadows, beautiful coastal resorts like Andratx and Cala d’Or and there is the fabulous architecture and sophistication in Palma, not to mention the restaurants. In fact, almost every cruise we made involved a trip to Mallorca. The island is so accessible for everyone in Europe.”
In 2013 Tim turned the bows of ‘Songbird’ north and headed back to the UK, but even that was not without adventure. “There was a northwest (often force 6 or 7) blowing for a month. At one point we got stuck in Nazare in Portugal which faces the Atlantic and is the location of the largest surfed wave in the world. Twice we tried to leave and were beaten back by the waves. On the third attempt we pushed on into a two metre swell. At Finisterre (the north west corner of Spain) we suddenly found ourselves in the kind of incredibly long Atlantic swell normally only found well offshore. We were able to surf down the face of the swells at 20 knots before labouring up the next one and over the top at 8 knots. 12 hours later we were having a well-deserved drink at the yacht club at La Coruña, northern Spain”.
40,000 sea miles later ‘Songbird’ is back in the UK. After a few local trips (comparatively at least) over the last couple of years (Isles of Scilly, La Rochelle, into the River Seine to Honfleur), ‘Songbird’ is reluctantly for sale with the brokerage team at Princess Motor Yacht Sales, due in part to Tim losing his faithful crew Sam, who recently settled in Cornwall with his new lady after his father died, and Mike his brother (‘Songbird’s engineer at sea) after two hip replacements. Tim also now finds hauling lines, and reading the dipsticks at 77 hard going. “I’ve done it all too”, he says. “It has been an
amazing and incredibly capable boat, and a real credit to its designer, Bernard Olesinski. We’ve done far more with it than perhaps might have been envisaged and it has weathered
whatever we could throw at it and coped brilliantly”.
And the 12 years of nomadic cruising? “A phenomenally rich period full of millions of experiences from enjoying a G&T on the foredeck in perfect surroundings to scrabbling around town trying to drum up as much cash as possible for a refuel in a small port that won’t take cards to assisting with a medical emergency to anchoring in the most blissfully scenic bays in the world. It’s been the most life enriching experience. That voyage to the Jostedal glacier in Norway, maybe that’s for ‘Songbird’s next owner”.
‘This story is dedicated to the memory of Mark Toogood, a dedicated and much-loved friend who spent many years aboard Songbird’