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I've always been a bit of a water baby, so when I was invited by Phoebe Oliver, representing the Grand Hotel, Brighton, to take a sail on The Grand's new 43ft Bavaria yacht the AnnabelOlivia, I was almost delirious with excitement. The fact that it was also Paddle Round the Pier weekend made it seem like Christmas in July...

I arrived at our rendezvous, the Mermaid statue in Brighton Marina, to meet up with Phoebe and the rest of the crew: fellow photographer Charlotte Macpherson, Rob Hill from One Media, Clare Wallace of Etc magazine, Andrew Kay of Latest magazine and James Oliver of Find and Build. Phoebe introduced us all to skipper Tom Hancox, who after welcoming us aboard with a drink, got us under way. We motored gently out of the Marina into perfect sailing weather - brilliant sunshine and a gentle breeze. Once clear of the Marina Tom gave his rookie crew a few simple instructions, handed the helm to a delighted Charlotte, and with the assistance of James raised the sails. The engine was switched off and the most glorious peace descended as we cruised gently west towards the Brighton Piers. I sat for few moments on the foredeck revelling in the solitude and the shush of the waves before rejoining the rest of the crew in the cockpit where Tom had magicked up aperitifs and nibbles. The spacious cabin below wasn't going to be needed on our voyage, beyond a quick trip to the bijou bathroom, but I had a little fantasy of what it could be like if we headed for the Caribbean - luxurious…
Back in the English Channel I couldn't help but think of the paintings of Canaletto as we made our way along the coast with the other craft dancing on the water in front of the glorious backdrop of Brighton and Hove's classical architecture. Keeping in the Canaletto theme, there was a true carnival atmosphere as we rounded West Pier and met up with the "Paddle Something Unusual" class from the Paddle Round the Pier Beach Festival. I'm not sure though, whether Venice has ever seen anything quite like James Bond and Miss Moneypenny, paddling their car in hot pursuit of a floating tombstone in its turn paddled by a crew in top hats. These were just two of the many zany home built rafts being escorted round the course by the safety teams [which included anything from a paddle board and kayak to the full size Shoreham RNLI boat]. Despite the busy water, Tom's careful guidance and chilled out confidence in our abilities to manage the boat inspired even an Anxiety Annie like me to relax. Clare took over the helm, whilst Tom brought up from the galley a feast prepared earlier in the kitchens of The Grand, which met with approval from everyone, including the discerning palate of food critic Andrew Kay. We sailed quietly along towards Shoreham with Tom helming as we ate, then headed back to watch the Paddle Round the Pier race. AnnabelOlivia made the perfect viewpoint to appreciate the sheer size and mayhem of this event as a huge flotilla embarked from the flag bedecked shore. Surfboards, canoes, kayaks, Paddle Boards, inflatable dinghies, dolphins… Anything that would float it seemed, was pressed into service by teams or solo participants who propelled themselves with arms, feet and paddles in the direction [in some cases vaguely!] of the West Pier, and the rescue teams were kept busy rounding up the stragglers. We lent a hand by raiding the galley for energy bars to throw out to the paddlers. I think the English cricket team might like to take a look at Phoebe's throwing arm for tips!
With the excitement of the race over tranquillity descended once again as we headed back towards the marina with Rob at the helm. Time for one last drink and to watch the world gently slip by whilst reflecting on the perfection of the day - a beautiful spacious boat, sun, gentle sea breezes, learning the ropes with the worlds most relaxed skipper [and his wry sense of humour!], lovely food and drink, magnificent views, space and time for contemplation. It just doesn't get better than this. As I wistfully thought how I'd love to do this again Phoebe handed me the booking details. Starting at £40 per head for a sunset sail [minimum of two people, maximum 8] its surprisingly affordable. So I may be off again soon with delightful skipper Tom and the gorgeous AnnabelOlivia - if you don't beat me to it!

For more details on the AnnabelOlivia and how you can enjoy a sail with her, go to

For more pictures from the Paddle Round the Pier Beach Festival go to http://photography.juliaclaxton.net/paddle

A big thank you to The Grand for the AnnabelOlivia, Phoebe Oliver for organising our trip, my fellow crew members and particularly the worlds most relaxed skipper Tom Hancox. Plus all the volunteers and sponsors who made the charity event of Paddle Round the Pier Beach Festival possible, especially the RNLI and various club safety boats who kept watch over the adventurers on the water.

All photos ©Julia Claxton. Copies can be purchased for personal use through this website. For press and commercial use, and all other enquiries or to commission photography please use the contact page to get in touch.
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