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Sailing Around the World: Pursuing the Dream of 'Escaping Under Sail'

23rd May 2019
Mary Cooney and Leonard Skinner in Cork this week Mary Cooney and Leonard Skinner in Cork this week

I met two wonderful sailors this week who, sailing around the world, have come to two conclusions about yachting.

One is: “There is a significant amount of horse manure that abounds in the yachting world; it would be a great pity to let that put you off when you encounter it, but encounter it you will.”

The other: “The yachting world is also filled with kind, supportive and generous people who are eager to share their experience and skill and it is useful to take every opportunity to learn from them.”

With both conclusions, I agree. I have personally experienced both as a marine journalist.

"It started with a “kitchen table conversation”, to leave ‘normal life’ and live on a boat, but in this case, they knew little about sailing"

Leonard Skinner from Cork, who learned to sail at the age of 34 and his partner, Mary Cooney from Tipperary, - “we have found that sailing around the world actually translates as ‘sailing about the world” - are the two sailors who “escaped” from Bere Island in Castletownbere Harbour, West Cork, to become ‘liveboards’ as they pursued their dream of sailing around the world. Their 39ft. yacht is Faoin Spéir (Under the Sky), built in 1976 at Hank McClune’s boatyard in California and how it came from there into the possession of an Irish couple who decided to change their lifestyle from “normality to a yacht cruising world with teenage twins” is a heck of a story. The children are ‘boat schooled’ – their version of ‘home schooled’ because the boat is their home!

Faoin speirFaoin Spéir in good company in Cowes with the UK Sea Cadets on the TS Royalist in 2016 Photo: Twitter

It started with a “kitchen table conversation”, so often mentioned in decisions to leave ‘normal life’ and go living on a boat, but in this case, it was started from scratch, literally, because they knew little about sailing. I met them in Waterstone’s bookshop in Cork, while they were back in Ireland for a week; the boat is in Spain. The legendary Laurel and Bill Cooper who wrote what is regarded as the definitive liveaboard cruising book, Sell Up and Sail, have endorsed their new book, Escape Under Sail, just published by Adlard Coles, as its legitimate successor, high endorsement indeed. It is also a missive of advice to anyone yearning to set sail to distant climes and written unusually so that you can identify which of the couple is saying what and when. And they do have differences of opinion!

“Many held the view that we were ’mad or daft’, our ‘sailaway boat’ cost €4,350, but to make a boat sail from one port to another takes very little,” they say and tell of the chap who visited them aboard in Bere Island and who had “every piece of equipment yachting magazines recommended on his boat” and thought they “weren’t very nautical” because they had a laptop and used “a GPS dongle that cost €20.” They “escaped” from Bere Island only because it was their starting point and the marina people there “were so nice we could use it as our home port!”

I interviewed them on the spot in Waterstone’s and it was one of the most enjoyable interviews I have done and you can hear below just how that kitchen table conversation started their “liveaboard life.”

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for He presents the monthly programme Maritime Ireland on Podcast services and Irish radio stations.

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