Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nick Cole - Daring to fulfill a dream

Nick Cole, an Anglo-Australian with strong Algarve connections, is about to reach a key moment in fulfilling a dream that has been brewing for six decades.
At an age when most professional men are looking forward to taking it easy, Nick has taken on a daunting physical and mental challenge. Having spent virtually every day for the past six months single-handedly refitting a sailing boat he built by himself in the 1980s, he is preparing to put her back in the water and set off alone from Portimão into the wide blue yonder.
His boat is called Dumpling.  Nick delights in her simplicity. Most sailing boats nowadays are high-tech, luxury items, but Dumpling has no engine, square sails and is equipped only with basic necessities. She's "green".
Nick's latest adventure is fostered by a seemingly insatiable wanderlust. Born in Melbourne, Australia, he went off with his parents to Singapore at the age of two. A year later, they took him to England where his father set up a dental practice in London’s Harley Street. After graduating from Cardiff Dental School, Nick started his first job - back in Melbourne. He was soon on his way again, to a string of far-flung locum appointments in Somerset, London (where he met his wife Sally), the far north of Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.
He took a break from dentistry, bought a 45-foot trading boat in Java, sailed her to Bali for a refit and later “pranged” her on Christmas Island.
After a short spell working in Charing Cross Hospital, the intrepid traveller followed in his father’s footsteps and bought a dental practice in Harley Street. That was in 1979. A busy decade followed. Sally gave birth to twin boys. Nick created Dumpling from a design he had found in a book in a Melbourne public library. He completed a master’s degree in advanced restorative dentistry before sailing Dumpling to the south of Portugal where he opened a dental practice in Lagoa in 1990.
Six years on, the twins, David and James, completed their secondary education at the Porches International School. The family returned to England so that the boys could go to university. Since then, Nick has worked as a dentist in various places, all close to the sea: in the port of Plymouth, on St Helena island in the South Atlantic, Totnes in south Devon,  the Isles of Scilly, the Shetland Islands, North Wales, Scarborough in North Yorkshire, and the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.
His passion for sailing was aroused as a child by the stories of English author and journalist Arthur Ransome. His childhood hero was Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail around the world single-handed. Nick greatly admires Slocum’s qualities: “He was skilled, brave, enduring, modest, kind, funny.”
So is Nick.
Having sailed dinghies and small boats from his school days, the design that took his fancy in the Melbourne library was an 11.6 metre ketch, gaff rigged and with square sails on the main mast.
After four years in the building, the voyage on Dumpling from England to Portugal in 1989 was most eventful.
Nick recalls with typical self-deprecation: “I got a bit beaten up in Biscay and felt like a hero when I dropped anchor just east of Sagres. But I felt like a berk shortly afterwards when I ran aground off Ferragudo.”
Worse was to come on a subsequent trip off Portugal’s south coast.  “I went out without checking the weather forecast and got clobbered. Lost my mast and had to sail back under jury rig. Tried to get into Portimão but missed. I anchored off Praia da Rocha but had to be rescued by a Portuguese naval patrol boat.”
Dumpling has been standing propped up on a grassy patch in the Cole’s rural home near Silves ever since.
Over the past four years, Nick has periodically taken time off from private practise in the UK to restore her, always on a tight budget.  Crucially, he has enjoyed the unrelenting understanding and endorsement of his wife and sons. Dumpling now has a fully repaired hull, new masts, better accommodation, a proper galley and a ‘head’ that works well.
It was on the remote island of St Helena that he came up with the idea of getting back to an old-fashioned unpowered sailing boat with a hold for transporting traditional cargoes. All rather arcane and looked down upon by those who spend most of their time anchored in expensive marinas, but Nick has incorporated most of his fundamental ideas.  Dumpling has no way of going anywhere without wind in her sails. Her navigation lights will be powered by a solar panel but all other lighting will come from paraffin lamps, candles or a head torch. While a small GPS will be on hand for emergencies, he will navigate by the sun and the stars - just like his hero Joshua Slocum.
Dumpling will be back in the water next week and departing - first stop Madeira – a few days later. Initially anyway, Nick does not plan to sail around the world like Slocum. But who knows?

* We will report on the  final preparations in our next blog and keep track of Dumpling’s progress thereafter. 


  1. Fine article, on a man who is, as Len says: "skilled, brave, enduring, modest, kind, funny.”

    (Just like Nick's father in fact.)

    Sailing a boat with only sail power : that's real adventure for you!


  2. I admire Nick, him and people like that! Perhaps it is because I am so old, but I would have a small out board-motor and a few more hi-tech bits and bobs. Navigating by the stars is fine in the ocean's or deserts. A Bermudan gig rather than a gaff rig. Some folks like to do things the hard way. I wonder if we will ever see a solar powered electric ocean going boat. That would be more up my street. I must admit I think Nick is a remarkable man. And you latest blog is a pleasure to read.

  3. Thanks Len for a delightful article. And thanks for overlooking irrational, illogical and pigheaded! Anonymous, thanks for your comments. I do have an outboard I can put on my dinghy alongside (and a pair of big oars for Dumpling), and I don't think gaff rig is doing it the hard way at all. Square sails are less scary that a big spinnaker single handed. Although I do want to leave a minimal carbon footprint, I am not doing it with zealous fervour.