Local firefighter Duncan Paul ditched his fire hose for a cruising yacht and spent several years travelling the North Atlantic.
Duncan has visited dozens of exotic places over the years and done things most people can only dream of, including cooking dinner in a volcano and seeing Zambia’s Victoria Falls under a full moon. He also came close to death after being caught up in a hurricane.
The 46-year-old, who is currently living in March, has always had the travelling bug; he went to Israel when he was 18, perhaps not the destination of choice for many teenagers.
While working as a firefighter at Huntingdon, he continued to travel but it was only after leaving that he devoted his life to exploring new places and meeting new people.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself after finishing with the fire brigade,” Duncan said. “So I decided to go off to Brazil because I fancied fishing in the Amazon.
“I spent six months travelling around. Then I was 350 miles off the coast on a little isolated island called Fernando de Noronha. I met a guy who said he had just sailed from Africa in 10 days by himself. And I thought, that’s what I want to do.”
So on his return to the UK, Duncan and his girlfriend, spent six months looking for a boat.
They found a neglected 40ft blue ocean cruising yacht called Sinbad in north Wales and spent seven months making her seaworthy. They updated all the navigation equipment and installed extras like solar panels and wind turbines in preparation for taking her out to sea.
In early 2006, they went to France and wintered in Faro, Portugal. They went to Gibraltar, then to Rabat in Morocco. They were the third boat to use the new marina built by the King and got seven weeks free mooring which allowed them to travel around Morocco.
Madeira was their next port of call and they spent the following winter in the Azores where, among other activities, they used a volcano to cook their dinner.
It was on their return journey from the Azores to the UK, a trek of around 1,200 miles, that the couple, along with three of Duncan’s friends, met their biggest challenge – a hurricane.
“It was four days of hell. I have never been so terrified in my life. There were waves bigger than this house and 70 miles per hour winds. We were totally at the mercy of nature, fate, destiny – I don’t know.”
As terrifying as the experience was, Duncan said his friends were even more shaken up as it was their first sailing experience.
Duncan sold Sinbad after coming back to the UK and said the five years they spent on her was “a long time”.
But Duncan’s marine adventures were not the only travelling experiences he has had. In 2003, he travelled to Venezuela and visited the famous Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall.
“It took three days to get there, going by plane, boat, donkey and on foot. When we crossed the Andes, we went on the world’s longest cable car that dropped us off in Mérida, where there is also the shop selling the world’s largest number of ice cream flavours.”
When he was in Brazil, Duncan found himself caught up in a military operation after American human rights activist Dorothy Stang was shot dead and a nearby bank was robbed.
When he went to fish in the Amazon, he arrived in a small town to find he was the only European man there. The Mayor was so impressed that he loaned Duncan a boat, a guide and an interpreter on the condition that he told everyone in the UK how good the fishing was.
Duncan also fulfilled a lifelong ambition to see a Komodo Dragon in the wild when he visited the Indonesian island of Komodo.
“I would recommend anyone to do it,” he said. “It boosts your confidence and you learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. You realise how lucky we in this country are. And it makes you much more tolerant, more understanding.”
Duncan has now completed a degree in Marine Conservation and is hoping to sign up to a foreign expedition in the new year.