Katie McCabe on track to become the youngest person to sail solo around Britain

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14-year-old Katie McCabe is currently sailing around Britain in her 26’ (7.92m) wooden Morgan Giles designed West Channel One Design FALANDA, in a bid to become the youngest person to complete the trip singlehanded.

On 30 June, Katie set off from her home port of Topsham in Devon, on the south coast of the UK, taking an anticlockwise route. She has already made it as far as Grimsby, on the coast, with her first solo overnight passage under her belt, as well as contending with fog, strong winds and commercial shipping.

Growing up on her parents’ 50’ (15m) old fishing trawler ROS AILITHER – the family home until recently – Katie is no stranger to wooden boats and extended cruising. Whether moored up in Topsham, or on one of two year-long cruising trips with her family, Katie has long been inspired by single-handed round the world racers, including Ellen MacArthur, who famously launched her solo sailing career with a circumnavigation of Britain as a teenager.

“I’ve always liked ocean sailing and would love to do more of it, so if I make it round Britain ok and am not fed up with salt water by then, I hope to start properly looking into longer distance sailing,” Katie explains. “I chose to start single-handed sailing with a trip around Britain, because it’s a great opportunity for me to test out my sailing and navigation skills, while land is only a couple of miles away.” If anything goes wrong, she points out, there are ports nearby where she can pause for repairs or supplies.

Katie bought FALANDA in 2019, having long dreamed of owning her own boat. Lying forgotten and full of fresh water in the corner of a boatyard in Cornwall, FALANDA was in need of attention, so Katie set about restoring her after school and at weekends, with the help of her father David McCabe, a wooden boatbuilder.

“When I found FALANDA, I knew I was going to have to put a lot of work into getting her fully restored, but although rotten, mouldy and full of dirty bilge water, I instantly knew she was the boat for me and I had to commit to making her beautiful again.”

After replacing several broken ribs, much of the cockpit and overhauling the engine, FALANDA was relaunched two days before the first UK lockdown, so with schools closed Katie was able to spend lockdown varnishing, painting and rebuilding other parts of the boat, as well as planning her future voyages. “I decided I wanted to try and push myself, so I set the target of sailing around Britain.”

When restrictions eased, Katie set off on a 400NM shakedown trip to the Isles of Scilly and back, sailing singlehandedly in FALANDA with her family cruising in company in her father’s wooden yawl. With no electronics or autopilot at the time, Katie relied completely on traditional chartwork.

Katie’s route will take her through the Caledonian Canal and back down the west coast of Scotland, past the Isle of Man and Wales, before rounding Lands End and heading for home. She hopes to be back on the River Exe around the end of August. Thanks to insurance constraints, Katie’s father is following FALANDA in his boat. However, all chartwork and navigation is being done by Katie herself.  

As she sails, Katie is raising money and awareness of ocean pollution and plastics, supporting two charities: Sea Shepherd UK and Lonely Whale. For more about her trip, fundraising and voyage updates, head to Katie’s blog at falandasailing.blogspot.com