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Meet Robert Mcdowell...

I’ve always seen myself as a Jack of all trades and a master of non. Rather than being able to rely on a pre-existing trade or profession, enthusiasm and the passion to get stuff done, has been my bedrock! I brought an old 1920’s wooden cutter a decade ago, taught myself to sail and in doing this, immersed myself in a community of like-minded individuals. Today, the connection between traditional sailing and being out on the ocean is what fires my soul. My old boat is long gone and I’m now a trustee of a charity, the Cornish Maritime Trust. With shared responsibilities of operating three rare working vessels including Barnabas, an 1881 twin masted lugger, I’m privileged to be a skipper. The core of what I’m passionate about, is sharing the skills needed to sail and maintain these heritage boats, especially with our local community and my teenage boys. The ocean is central to our life and cultural heritage, whether its influencing history is seen through ancient stone quays, several wrecks or in an archive museum. Through traditional sailing with our members, we recapture a little of the past, so folks don’t forget the inherent skills that are slowly dying away.

How do you connect with water?

Since I started sailing old wooden boats, I’ve connected with water a little too closely on several occasions. Every seam has the possibility of leaking and some seems leak more than others. My worst experience was mid-channel from the Scilly Isles (15 miles from land), when a crew member went below deck and was horrified to discover water sloshing above the floor boards! This is one time that I connected with water intimately for several hours, as we bailed, pumped and jammed hemp into a seam. To me, water is an adventure, it’s virtually uncontrollable and demands total respect at all times. Looking back, my connection with water started on Lake Malawi, in Southern Africa. The lake was referred to by Dr David Livingston as the ‘Lake of Stars’. Approximately 365 miles long, 54 miles wide, it’s the fifth largest fresh water lake in the world. It is deep, mostly crystal-clear and still retains the charms of a bye-gone era. I was born here and our family still own several acres of its foreshore. We were overlooked by lush hills filled with wild animals and fish eagles, however, at the bottom of the garden, there was a golden beach and several uninhabited islands. This was our home and the lake was our playground. Life here, or exploring its southern river systems towards the ocean was always an adventure. As kids growing up, we were taught to dive, fish, water ski, track animals and so much more. People often find it hard to believe that hippo regularly grazed our lawns at dusk and the occasional crocodile was seen passing by in the moonlight! I feel privileged to have lived in and explored wild places, where water was the source of all life. I went on to study tourism before the phrase sustainable tourism was really a thing. With that mindset, I headed off and worked in the safari industry for nearly two decades. Thinking back about connecting to water, three of my top wilderness destinations that I’ve explored, include the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, the Zambezi River which drains much of southern Africa and the Antarctic peninsular. All of them are wild-water places, creating and sustaining life in every form.

What fuels your love for the ocean?

Some would say, my life has been filled by the spirit for adventure. However, as I’ve matured, ‘water’ now provides an entirely soulful experience. Adventure feels like a by-product, perhaps that comes with age! Whether it’s sailing on an ocean, scuba diving in a lake or paddling down some remote river, water is where I find my inner peace. Nothing’s predictable about water. Being caught sailing in heavy seas could be as memorable as floating around for several days, in windless conditions. It’s during times like these, my life is put into perspective. In a world where water is probably the most important single element, I appreciate its importance to my mental, physical and spiritual survival. Nowadays, there’s a primeval instinct to preserve it. Today, I’m lucky enough to live with my family in Cornwall. It’s a wild place down here, between Land’s End and the Lizard Peninsular. As ‘land-lubbers’ we convince ourselves that we’re really sea people at heart. My wife and I regularly joke, saying we need to see the ocean to feel connected and alive. Whereas, my wife’s Cornish godfather Dick ‘Glasses’ (as he was known), had a life-time fishing from sailing luggers, in order to stay fed. His biggest regret was retiring to a valley. Perhaps, times are changing and we’ve come full circle. If you’d like further information on our links to community sailing, preserving these floating maritime pieces and our education programme, please contact us via
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