Guest Interview Callum McCormick

Callum McCormick

So, Callum, tell us a little something about your current role as Captain in charge of all things Nordhavn?

Regulars will know that nearly 10 years ago, I had a contract across my desk to sell my company for a figure just shy of £5m. Unfortunately this was about 4 weeks before Lehman Brothers went pop and to cut a long story short, the deal evaporated and over the coming years, I nearly lost the lot.

In the 4-weeks that I imagined myself as a minnow in the world of high-finance, I cruised the internet searching for an ocean-capable boat and happened to find a picture of an N62 for sale. That got me hooked.

Not being an owner, I was unable to join the owners group on Yahoo so started my own little Dreamers club which has just grown and grown. I’m still adding about 4 to 5 people per week and I am always amazed that there is a never ending procession of people wanting to join the Dreamers or become an owner. We now have around 3,000 members on NordhavnDreamers (Google will find the group).

A typical week entails pressing a few buttons on Yahoo and answering some irate individual who thinks they’re emailing a random Yahoo Support desk bunny. I personally reply to every one and help them on their journey to getting access to the Yahoo Group. A thankless task I’m afraid. I don’t actively follow every discussion any more. I’m genuinely too busy but I take time on a weekly basis to double check it’s surviving.

In parallel, up until about 3-months ago, I was posting around 50 new pictures of any Nordhavn I could find on the internet to the NordhavnDreamers Facebook Page which was fun for a couple of years but I have to remember that I’m also supposed to be working and motivating the team here at Captain Callum HQ so for a lot of reasons, I have refrained for a while. We still have nearly 3,000 “Likes” to that page though and in time, I may resurrect my picture gallery quest.

Wendy McCormick with Charlie and Jnr

Why do you do what you do for Nordhavn?

Actually, I started this whole thing for *me* but it’s just escalated. It can quite a heavy burden some days but there’s no-way out really. I’ve made it what it is. Edd White helped for a while but he’s off the grid so it rests with me to wave the flag.

I also invest a couple of days a year to visit Neil and Phil in Hamble (UK) which is a pleasant break (and they pay the dinner, thanks chaps!) and this year I went to the boat-show and had a quiet coffee with Dan Streech. I’m sure Dan would love to sell me a boat – and maybe I’d get a reasonable deal(!) however I’m a couple of years off that right now. Other than that, I run the support world for active dreamers who aspire to be owners.

Wow, you do a hell of a lot for Nordhavn. Is this a paid role?

To be honest, over the years I’ve had a couple of pleasant Amateur Radio related Christmas presents which as a licensed “Ham” has gone down very well – but no. I’m not paid. Always happy to receive donations!

Callum’s house

So, Callum, tell us a little something about marine background as rumour has it you used to run some pretty large boats in the Med?

Like a lot of Nordhavn fans, I started life in small sailing boats. I did a lot of single-handing as a lad and enjoyed the freedom of the sea. I happened to be a flunk at school. I hated structured education. School didn’t suit me and I couldn’t wait to leave and seek my fortune. I went to France and worked in various restaurants in Paris, crashing at my Sisters apartment for a while before hitch-hiking to the south of France as the summer was developing. I had set my heart on working for a genuine old-fashioned millionaire on a real “Gin-Palace”. In the ‘70s, the whole concept of large yachts in the Med was a glamourous thought and the phrase “Jet Set” was in full swing.

At that time in my life, I didn’t have a care in the world, I was 18 years old and was only worried about the next town and sometimes the next meal. I slept on the beach in Cannes and an old lady who ran a back-street café let me eat a hearty meal once a day for pennies. Actually, I seem to recall that she felt sorry for me and I believe most of the meals were free. I was seriously short on cash.

I made it my job to catch the lines for any decent sized yacht that came by for supplies or dock at Cannes so I could make some eye-contact and find an angle. One time, the first man off the boat was the Captain. He asked me if he could assist? He referred me to a boat that he was shadowing from Gibraltar and he knew they would be in Monte Carlo within the hour. He said they were looking for a young Steward to run the cabins and assist the chef.

After a three-hour hitch-hike I found the yacht – and got the job. I was genuinely thrilled to be part of the action. I have written a blog post somewhere on the internet of the precise details of this 1979 summer since it was quite an experience.

Being the crew of one of the most famous yachts in the harbour gave us some privileges though. For instance when we got drunk on our nights off (Thursday’s I remember), rather than being arrested by the police, we were instead politely escorted back to the boat by the very nice policeman that wanted to keep on the right side of their boss. Of interest, the Chief of Police would occasionally visit the yacht for afternoon tea. I have no idea what deals were happening!

70 feet about to turn left under that bridge

What was your cruising highlight back then?

Monday through Friday, in the main the “Boss” liked to be docked in Monaco on his permanent berth. However Friday nights, we’d always go to St Tropez. It must have been an extortionate cost since we always had the best berth, right opposite a bar that seemed to have the biggest crowd to observe our arrival. Sunday mornings were the same. We’d be in the queue to leave with all the other yachts. Inevitably a diver would have to be called because of the habit of boats all docking stern-to-dock meant that all the anchor chains would be tangled up. It was a right comedy. One time the harbour diver couldn’t be found so one of our chaps went down. He happened to be an ex Royal Navy diver and sorted out the tangle himself with the help of us “up top” and the big winch.

After doing Monaco – St Tropez for a few weeks, I believe the Captain suggested to the boss that rather than going a few miles each week, maybe a genuine cruise might be in order? The plan was to go to Venice, stopping over at Corsica and then Sicily before heading up the Adriatic coast to Venice. We also did some harbour stopping on the way just for the scenery. Some harbours were pretty small and the locals would come to see the “big ship”.

The trip was incredible, full of adventure. As crew, we had a few nights off and I managed to lose my passport in a bar in Messina (Mafia country). I had no recollection of the loss until the next morning. I went back to the bar and it was given back to me with my money and papers all intact.

When we stopped for supplies, Grant our Chef, always put on his best chef whites and he would insist I dressed in white too and we’d walk to the market. All the market stall owners would be trying to impress Grant with their produce, enticing him with testers. Grant would sample the delight, grunt accordingly and buy up a month’s supply to the delight of the stall owner!

He used me as a pack mule and I would be loaded up with bags of shopping. This was Grant’s first year as a yacht chef and he was about as impressed as I was with all the amazing adventures. He often commented about the scenery, the weather, the food. This from a hardened Glasgow boy from a working-class family. He was so funny.

I’ve just remembered that in Venice, we had another day off and Grant insisted on buying everyone a drink in one of the very fancy bars in St Mark’s Square. Grant was “Oh my, look at this place, I must take it all in so I can tell my Mom”! I can’t remember the price of the round of drinks but it was totally astronomical. Poor Grant suffered the pain in silence, good as his word.

70 foot narrowboat moored up, Henley on Thames

Did any of the boats you worked on have animal/s on board?

We didn’t have any animals bar a few insects that would arrive on the fresh flowers we had delivered daily when we were at port. “Madame” and I would do the flower arranging in the main salon.

In the harsh world of a men-only crew, it was refreshing to have her female company for an hour and I have warm memories of helping her with the scissors, and fetching lovely vases for the flowers with this very pretty lady who treated me with such care and warmth. I would vacuum up afterwards and fluff up the cushions, delaying my departure back to the galley as long as I could!

What training or skillset would you consider a “must have” prior to buying a boat?

Never being an ocean boat owner, I’m not qualified to suggest formally what skills and training one would require but after considering this from my point of view – and bearing in mind that I’m a fast learner, I believe I’d take the shortcut method of hiring an interim captain as a mentor for a few months. Prior to that though, I believe at least some sort of formal navigation qualification would be in order.

The owners attitude is probably the greatest hurdle. Any boating needs a cautious approach, balancing risks vs gain. Saying that, a “can-do” mind-set along with a certain about of intelligence will be mandatory.

The largest boat I have personally owned was a 70 foot “Narrowboat”. These are flat-bottomed boats designed for the slim English canal system. So although 70 feet long, she was only 6 feet 10 inches wide! However, we had all the toys including 5KW generator, bow thruster, satellite, wifi etc. etc.. Things went wrong sometimes and as we all know, when things do go wrong when you are boating, it’s normally happening at a fast pace. Ones ability to manage the crew (often family) and the situation can be the difference between a very broken boat – or just a close shave.

There is a rumour that you are in fact, in love with Pendana, if you owned her what upgrade do you most wish you could make to her?

Haha. The owners of Pendana are well aware of their contractual obligations we have which states that upon arrival at their home-port after their adventures, Pendana will instantly pass to me! Maybe I have read that incorrectly. I must get the paperwork out again.

To be fair, the Pendana crew have done a great job of keeping this example of a beautiful N62 in pristine condition (certainly from a distance!) so I will accept any conditions she’s handed over in.

However, as a very active Amateur Radio operator, I will need to upgrade the vessel’s SSB capabilities which may require a nice foremast and a horizontal wire to the back of the pilothouse upper deck. I will finally demonstrate that a fibreglass boat can be a fine transmitting vessel.

Callum on his radio

Callum as a young boy, nice skirt mate!

You know she’s your for UK$42M right?

I’m afraid, you’ve read the contract wrong. That’s the *penalty* (which you are liable) for not handing over the vessel in Australia.

In your current life what do you and your wife Wendy do?

Our main income and time is spent running our family business, Barclay Anderson (my middle names no less!). We’re an IT Recruitment Agency. Things are buoyant right now and I’m working hard, so fingers crossed – I may “make it” yet.

I also started a digital web agency which is also doing pretty well. We started this when I thought we were about to lose the lot a few years ago. Although difficult to juggle the two together, I meet some very interesting people – and bank some savings in the process.

Effectively, we work together. We genuinely never thought we’d be able to accomplish this task, but we’ve proved it can be done – so maybe sharing a boat could yet be on the horizon!

dawn (big sister) and Callum only

Callum, if there is one thing Wendy does that irritates you what would that be?

Wendy is the perfect wife. She’s pretty, funny and clever. I wouldn’t change her for the world.

And Wendy, if there was one thing Callum does that irritates you what would that be?

I’m not going to ask her. I don’t think I could suffer the truth!

What is the shortest trip you have made?

Like not getting out of the marina because we forgot tons of stuff? Chargers, clothes, supplies etc. etc.? Been there! Trip delayed for a night!

What is the longest passage you have made?

I believe we’re one of the very few families that have made a 27 day trip from (wait for it) Birmingham to London on the Grand Union Canal and then “circumnavigated” from London, up the Thames river, through Oxford and back to Birmingham. It’s the “Great Loop” but England! I can’t remember how many locks there were, but it was in the hundreds. All manual, all with muscle power using hand-cranked windlasses. As the Pilot, all I had to do was steer. The poor family did all the hard work, often in the rain with a muddy tow-path.

Moored up at Brentford Lock prior to Thames trip

What have been the tallest seas and strongest winds you have encountered?

In my younger days, coming down the Adriatic coast, off Italy, we went through one heck of a storm. Big seas over the bow – and this in a very capable 108 feet steel yacht. In the morning, the wind had died a little but the seas were still big. I had discovered by this time that if I ran up the stairs to the pilothouose at just the right time, I would end up weightless for a moment as the bow started to fall in time to me. I would hover for half a second before landing on a heap on the floor. I found this rather funny much to the questionable looks of the Captain.

As always though, I had to take this one step too far. I decided the best effect for this would be to stand at the bow and jump just at the right time. I went pretty high and as I looked down from my great height, I realised that the bow sort of “wandered” as the vessel found her way down the wave and I nearly almost went over the side. Phew, that scared the nuts off me and I rushed back inside.

When do you purchase your Nordhavn, what were the key features you are looking for?

I’m after a home-from-home environment where on the one hand, we can chill at port and have some friends for dinner but on the other, I need to be able to do some serious coastal work. My ambition is still the same as it was eight years ago. Iceland and Norway are on my map, so I need a boat capable of doing a two or three-day crossing. I’m not motivated to cross the Atlantic or the Pacific particularly, although I sometimes dream of scoping New York New York harbour on the radar, pulling the power back and contacting harbour control for instructions on the VHF. What an achievement that would be!

What name would you call her?

We called our narrow-boat “Wherethehell-Rwe” (Where the hell are we). This is in keeping with the canal fraternity who often name their boats with some crazy stuff. However marine boats really need to pass the Mayday test, “Mayday Mayday, Where the hell are we” doesn’t sound very good. So I’ll figure a way of getting the word “Dreamer” into the boat name since that’s what’s been inspiring me for so many years.

Callum and Wendy’s children, Emily and Lochlan

Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gathers?

Wendy gathers, I hunt.

What is the one lesson every boater should learn?

How to laugh when she didn’t sink (and maybe “how to laugh even when she did sink”?).

 What is your favorite activity while aboard?

Playing radio and managing / contributing to all my yahoo and facebook groups.

What is your favorite Marina and why?

Venice, for the people watching and the amazing entrance you see on the radar as you approach.

What is your favourite quote and why?

“May the force be with you” at the end of a phone call. Just because it normally creates a fun reaction!

Callum on his FatBoy

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?

As a rookie, being told by the Captain to use the boat hook to lever the power cables over the radar arch whilst traversing the Messina Straights. This is when massive power cables connected Italy and Sicily. Of course as we got closer, they were hundreds of feet off the ocean and everyone fell about in fits of laugher. Madame was sheepish since she knew about the hoax too.

What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?

Not concentrating and managing to hook the back of the boat on the ledge on a particularly deep lock. We were on the way down and the bow started to sink into the water. The lock had anti-vandal locks and we had one key. I shouted at my daughter, Emily (12 at the time) to throw the key over the lock to me. She can’t throw, but to save her Mum (in the boat), she threw it perfectly (so she can throw!). I managed to use the key and crash the paddles in a few seconds. Good job Emily.

What is your most hated boat job?

My bloody dingy. It was old, heavy and my Dad used to complain every winter about having to repaint it!

Tell us a little something about Callum?

If I had my life again, I would have been a full time drummer and/or sound engineer but my Dad wanted me to wear a suit and get a proper job. I still drum. I have a studio at home and I also love being on my radio talking to some strange (and often pleasant) folk around the world.

Drumming at the big brum bash

What is the one thing you are most afraid of?

Spiders. Don’t ask. I have no idea why.

What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?

In Venice, I’m lurking by the Salon door waiting for the bell to serve Madame. I’m all in white, dressed like a prince with a size 26 inch waist.

What would you never leave behind (besides each other)?

Drum sticks.

Wendy tell us something about yourselves that nobody knows?

I’m creative and paint furniture which in the hobby world is called “up-cycling”. I also don’t like the sea very much. The thought of being in a storm on a boat is a horrific idea!

If you were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of cruising the world, what would it be?

Do it earlier than later. You can always make more money but you can’t make more time.

If you were advising someone as to the best area of the world to go cruising, where would it be, and why?


And finally, what’s next?

Next boat will probably be another inland cruising boat that has an element of being able to do a 200 mile run. Wendy really likes being able to see land, ideally within swimming distance!

Thank you very much for your time!

To read more about Nordhavn Dreamers visit: HERE

Proudly bought to you by: Pendanablog


2 thoughts on “Guest Interview Callum McCormick”

  1. Sverre Koxvold

    Ah, I recognise that white bridge; Bulls Bridge in Southall. I spent 10 years on a mooring there, on my 65 foot dutch barge; Kong Sverre. Best years of my life.

  2. Callum Mohawk McCormick

    Response to a post by Sverre Koxvold who said:

    Ah, I recognise that white bridge; Bulls Bridge in Southall. I spent 10 years on a mooring there, on my 65 foot dutch barge; Kong Sverre. Best years of my life.

    Sverre, that’s it mate. I took that photo just before I started the turn. We parked up by the prison that night, near the big Gas works and Wendy slept with her clothes on in case there was a madman on the loose! Dutch Barge.. LOL That sounds like an adventure..

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