The Logical Route

Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne

So that’s it: I’m going by the logical route.

The “Logical Route” has a certain ring to it. This was what the great French singlehander Bernard Moitessier suggested to his wife as the best way to get home from the South Pacific in time for the school holidays: Instead of flogging all the way over the top of Australia, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean to Marseille, wouldn’t it be much quicker and certainly a lot less distance to nip round Cape Horn?

This was 1966. Hardly anyone had sailed a small boat round Cape Horn – and those who had told terrible tales.

The Moitessiers made it – and, in doing so, set a record for the longest voyage in a small boat – 14,216 miles in 126 days.

But I’m not going round Cape Horn. I am going to Blyth in Northumberland – and I have been sitting here in Carlingford Lough on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic debating how to get there.

First, a little explanation: When I bought Samsara, she came with a good solid spinnaker pole and a flimsy little stick which hardly deserved the name of whisker pole. The first thing I did with this was to bend the piston mechanism on one end.

Then the mechanism on the other end.

In fact, I bent the pistons and had them straightened (and weakened) so frequently that it might not have been an accident that on the way back across Biscay in the aftermath of Storm Ellen, the wretched thing slipped its lashings and disappeared over the side.

What I needed was a proper spinnaker pole to replace it. For one thing, I wouldn’t keep bending it. Secondly, if I were to get a spare headsail, I could fly matching twins and (thirdly – and not insignificantly) quite the best jury rig is constructed by using two identical poles as an “A” frame.

I posted on the Rival Owners Facebook page a plea for anyone who had a pole they didn’t need – after all, how many people fly symmetrical spinnakers these days?

Sure enough, another Rival 32 owner said I would be welcome to theirs.

In Blyth.

I was in Liverpool at the time and feeling rather delicate after a particularly good evening with my son Theo, the medical student. As the crow flies, Blyth is hardly more than 100 miles from Liverpool.

Another point in its favour is that it is not terribly far from Matlock in Derbyshire – and I was due in Matlock for the annual family walking weekend in the Peak District. I could get a train from Blyth.

The only trouble was that the 100 miles from Liverpool to Blyth was all land.

The sailing options were to go over the top of Scotland or, alternatively, back down the Irish Sea, up the English Channel and north from there – 900 miles in all. Also, I was beginning to think of the English Channel rather as a trucker thinks of the M1.

Obviously this is going to provoke all those South Coast sailors to catalogue the delights of Salcombe, the Newtown River and even Brighton Marina. So I should explain that, if you don’t stop,  those 300 miles from Land’s End to the North Foreland really can feel like Newport Pagnell to Donington Services (I did it six times, one year).

The northern route, on the other hand, had a lot going for it: Not only was it only 560 miles but it would tick a lot of boxes. Regular readers may remember that when Lockdown was first mooted, I had a notion to self-isolate in the Orkneys (until the local authority up there pleaded with second-home and campervan owners – and, by implication, yachtsmen – not to come and swamp their little hospital).

Also, I have never visited the northern Hebrides or any of those dramatic sea lochs. I could go to Mull and Skye. I would see Cape Wrath…

Admittedly, this would be happening at the end of September and for most of October and all the books tend to dwell on how quickly the weather can change and how very rough it can get up there with wind over tide in the Minches. But weather forecasting today is remarkably accurate these days up to 48 hours.

After 48 hours, it becomes rather more like newspaper astrology.

For instance, this time yesterday, I had decided that the Scottish option was a non-starter when the Windy App offered this for the four-day forecast.

 

By this morning all that “red wind” has shifted south:

Still, if it does shift back again, there are more anchorages in the Hebrides than there are salmon and I have a whole month to cover 560 miles. I can afford to spend a few days snugged down in some deserted anchorage with the stove lit – self-isolating.

 

 

All the time in the world…

When you get old, there is great satisfaction in re-visiting youthful passions. When I was a teenager I discovered the writer Nevil Shute who, most famously, wrote A Town Like Alice and On the Beach.

Now I have joined a Facebook group called Shutists and discovered several of his books that I knew nothing about. In particular, Pilotage, written in 1924, which centred around the author’s twin passions of sailing and aviation. The publishers felt these were not of general interest and rejected the manuscript with a politely encouraging note. However, they did publish his next effort which was full of spies and murders and, to my mind, not nearly as good.

The “lost novels” were found among Shute’s papers after his death in 1960 and published in a single volume since they contained some of the same characters. One passage, describing sailing in the 1920s, I found so evocative that I posted it on a sailing group and it seemed to strike a chord:

There was nothing to do on deck; he remained in the cockpit till the vessel had found her position and was riding quietly to her anchor; then he went below and trimmed the riding light. He spent an hour working in his little vessel, an hour of occupation and comparative happiness that carried him on till after dark. He trimmed every lamp in the ship, filled the tanks of the engine, cleaned the Primus stove, set his riding light on the forestay, pumped out the vessel, unpacked his bag and arranged his clothes in the tiny cupboards, put the patent log in a safe place with a bottle of rum and another one of turpentine to keep it company. Then he laid his supper very elaborately and supped off cocoa, bully beef, and a boiled egg, topping up with bread and jam. He scraped the mildew off the top of the jam and deposited it in the slop-bucket; he was particular about what he ate.

The ensuing discussion got me thinking about the pleasure of just being on your boat and pottering about doing the sort of things which, in a house, you would consider boring domestic chores.

At the moment, I have no choice but to be on my boat. I arrived in Liverpool to see my son who is studying at the University here. No sooner had I passed the bar buoy than he sent me a text saying that one of the staff in the bar where he works part-time had tested positive for COVID and now he had to be tested too.

Providing he gets the all-clear, we will meet for dinner on Monday. He apologised for having to make me wait another five days.

“No problem,” I replied. “I have all the time in the world…”

And I do. I am anchored in the river opposite the marina (and therefore not paying daily charges) and I spent the whole of yesterday pottering and tinkering and as perfectly content as Nevil Shute’s 1920’s yachtsman.

I re-fitted the foot of the main into the boom track where the clew had pulled free. While I was at it I marked the halyard to ensure that in future I let it off just the right amount for reefing…and while I was about that, I simplified the lazyjacks which had caused so much trouble for the old sail and had me sewing for eight hours en-route to Rockall.

I glued the piece of wooden trim back onto the galley where I had stepped on it during the passage up from Falmouth. I wriggled into the engine bay to tighten the stern gland and, while I was there, topped up the oil in the gearbox – and for good measure, checked the engine oil as well. Then there was the first of the winter supply of charcoal to be decanted into paper bags – and the chimney to sweep – that’s done by dropping the pin from the old anchor shackle down from the top with a piece of line dragging a kitchen scouring pad behind it.

I spent a happy half hour experimenting with new ways to stop the halyards slapping and, I must say I’m pleased with the result.

Not half as pleased, mind you, as I am about inventing a new knot for attaching a temporary headsail sheet when poling out. Yes, I’ve looked it up and didn’t find anything like it. We shall see if it works better than the reef knot which shook loose when there was no tension on it. Only then shall I claim my place in history.

And there was more: I removed the eyelet for the cockpit grating which was stopping the petrol can fitting into its chocks, I investigated the overheating trouble with the engine, cleaned the saloon hatch, re-distributed the stores from the bilges to the ready-use lockers, mopped up the puddle from the leaking washing-up liquid bottle, threw away two jars of mouldy peanut butter, investigated the fo’c’sle locker and discovered a bag of very soggy onions, a somewhat suspect sweet potato and a perfectly good butternut squash…

By the time I was ready to change out of work clothes for the evening and sit down with a beer at six o’clock, I wouldn’t have given you tuppence for indolence.

Sticky and smelly

Writing this, I am a bit sticky and also rather smelly. I have just completed the most unpleasant task on the boat. I feel so good about myself that I have the urge to share it.

I have cleaned out the greywater tank.

“Greywater” is that euphemism covering everything from washing-up water to the mixture of seawater, mud and rust that dribbles out of chain locker.

The reason the tank needs to be cleaned is because it is emptied by means of a float switch and in time the grease, decomposing crustacea and nameless gloop from the shower tray collects in a jelly-like, putrid mass around the switch and stops it working.

When this happens, the pump does not run and the “greywater” oozes out of the top of the tank into the bilges where it slops around making everything else sticky and smelly.

Then the whole apparatus has to be disconnected from its four hoses (three pouring in, one pumping out) and also from the electrical connection which, of course, has rusted solid.

Just to add to the fun, since this relies on gravity, it has to be sited as low as possible in the bilge so you have to do all this upside down.

Which is the easy part.

Once you have it out and into the blessed fresh air of the cockpit, you have to put your hand inside the revolting receptacle and fumble for the nuts to remove the switch. Any satisfaction in discovering that indeed it has been immobilised by a deposit the consistency of blackcurrant jam but smelling strongly of drains is outweighed by the disgusting process of spooning the stuff out on the blade of a screwdriver.

I hope I haven’t put you off you tea but now that I have it sealed once again out of mind beneath the cabin sole and have washed my hands three times to remove some of the whiff of putrefaction, I have a request:

Can anyone suggest anything I can pour down the sink that might do the job for me?

A bouquet of violets for the first person to come up with a workable solution…

Chain locker

No, it’s not a pretty sight. But this is what I found in the chain locker after I had emptied all the sails out of the forepeak – and the big ball fender – and wrestled with the fastenings of the access hatch … while drifting around outside the anchorage at two o’clock in the morning.

Admittedly, I was drifting around in the middle of Falmouth Harbour so there was plenty of room – especially at two o’clock in the morning.

As you can imagine, I felt pretty smug about being prepared. I knew there was a chance this would happen. I had just crossed Biscay on the coat-tails of Storm Ellen and it was one of the roughest passages I can remember. Despite having the wind on the tail right up until the last five miles, the boat got chucked around so much that the Bluetooth speaker jumped out of the deepest fiddle on the lee-side and hurled itself uphill onto what was supposed to be the windward berth. Then the autopilot hopped out of its supposedly secure stowage and made its way via the navigator’s seat to the floor (it still works).

So, I knew what the chain would be up to. Actually, I could hear what the chain was up to. The best description I can come up with is the sound you get from shooting a load of gravel out of a tipper truck. That is the sound 50metres of 10mm chain makes when it is thrown into the air, turns a slow-motion somersault and lands upside down. Given that it weighs over 100kg, you now have some idea of just how rough a crossing this was. I thought I was riding on Ellen’s coat-tails. Clearly, I was sitting on her handlebars.

Whenever I suspect acrobatics have taken place in the chain locker, I make a point of hauling all the chain I’m going to need out on deck well before I get into the anchorage. On this occasion, it took the usual jiggling at ten metres, a good yank or two at 20… but at 30 metres, the chain would not budge at all. No wonder, when you look at the knot it had got itself into. Normally the solution is just a matter of taking the weight off and giving it a good shake. This time I had to pick it apart as if it was a shoelace.

So, perhaps now is a good time to recant all my previous advice on how to stop the chain piling up in a pyramid so that as soon as the boat heels, it falls over and jams itself.

That is not a chain jam. A chain jam is the result of the normal laws of physics in action. All the same, I did once buy a traffic cone (no, I did not steal one off the road, I went to Toolstation and bought one). The idea was to cut the top off it and bond that into the floor of the locker so that the chain would be disposed around it.

This did not make the slightest difference.

The next idea was to create a slope for the chain to slide down in an orderly fashion. I painted a plank and wedged it in place – and, I must say, this worked very well for a year or so. Once the paint wore off, the chain stopped sliding and started its pyramid on the board – meaning that the top reached the deckhead and blocked the hawsehole so the last few metres wouldn’t go down at all.

Anyway, neither option defied the effects of a really rough sea. I imagine nothing will. This is just something we are going to have to live with – like foul-weather clothing that becomes porous after two seasons and fishing boats that turn off their AIS.

Bean sprouts

I would like to introduce you to my bean sprouts. I would give them all names if this wasn’t a proper farming enterprise in which sentimentality has no place. Anyway, they’re destined for the pot after three days so there’s hardly time to get to know them as there would be with chicks or piglets.

This is the final piece of the self-sufficiency jig-saw – that is to say, I am now able to survive without going ashore for a hundred days.

I carry 230 litres of water and can get by comfortably on 2.2litres a day.

I bake my own bread once I’ve exhausted the astonishing longevity of Kingsmill’s 50/50 sliced variety. The boat is full of canned beer and tinned food – and, of course, Pink Lady apples seem to have discovered the secret of immortality.

That left only two essentials – salads and fresh vegetables.

So, welcome to mung beans.

You may remember that on the self-isolation cruise back in April and May, I complained that these refused to germinate after three years – they just went a funny colour and started to smell. Now I have a new bag. In fact, the smallest I could find in the Amazon store was 1kg which seemed an awful lot considering I need only a tablespoonful a day – and not every day at that.

I have three little plastic pots with 2.5mm holes drilled in the screw tops. A spoonful of beans just covers the bottom of the pot. Soak them for 24 hours and then drain the excess water into yesterday’s pot… and from there into the one started the day before that…

It’s perpetual motion. In three or four days, that tablespoonful which just covered the bottom of the pot will be filling it right to the top – even poking its little pale green tendrils through the holes in a bid for freedom.

Bean sprouts are, of course, full of all the goodness you would get from lettuce or broccoli so I souse them in salad dressing or throw them in the pot at the end of cooking. The best thing about this is that there is none of the guilt you get with lobsters – all that screaming…

Bean sprouts are mute.

But the greatest discovery is that they are just as good a gherkins in my trademark mayonnaise, gherkin and HP sauce sandwiches. The problem with gherkins is the bulk and the weight of all those enormous jars. Bean sprouts taste just as good and you still get that satisfying crunch with the first bite. Also, they’re always fresh so they don’t go soft over time.

Flushed with this success, I plan to branch out and experiment with alfalfa sprouts. Meanwhile, I hope this has been useful. I had thought of telling you why I am sitting in a ria in NW Spain instead of with the family in Portugal but that seemed pretty dull stuff, full off complaints about quarantine regulations.

But bean sprouts… you have to admit it: Bean sprouts are exciting…

Here we go again.

 

Preston is back in Lockdown, more face-covering regulations are about to come into force for the rest of the country. I’ve had enough of this. I’m off.

I’m supposed to meet my family in Porto in ten days. There’s a following wind. I could be there in five.

The question is: Will they be there to meet me? At the moment anyone returning from Portugal has to self-isolate for 14 days – and they have jobs and studies to go back to.

Me, I don’t have to be anywhere and quite honestly, I’d rather be elsewhere.

So here’s the plan: As soon as a new pump for the galley arrives (delayed by fog in the Scillies) I shall head south, get close enough to the Portuguese coast to make a phone call and find out whether the holiday is on or off. If it’s off then the last thing I need is marina fees, paperwork and all the tapas bars closing at 8.00 p.m.

I think I might just turn right instead.

There are no COVID regulations in mid-Atlantic. There is, at the moment, an enormous area of high pressure so I could find myself spending the next month sitting in the cockpit with a sunhat, a cold beer and a good book.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

That’s done, then.

Well, that’s it. The book is finished. After my ten minutes of fame on the Jeremy Vine show, his agent contacted me and said he was convinced there was a book in it – if only he could get in the shops before people stopped talking about Lockdown and moved on to the next big thing (Brexit again?)
Anyway, two weeks of sitting in front of a screen for twelve hours a day and it’s done – sent off, out of my hands now.
Tomorrow I shall say goodbye to St Helen’s Pool and move down to St Mary’s where, hopefully, a new pump for the galley will have arrived and I can top up with a few fresh stores and then the forecast looks good for leaving for Porto at the weekend.
Meanwhile, you will find there is a new page on the blog: Cheap Watermaker. I have always wondered why these have to cost £1,000 when the technology has been around for years. It would have been a great comfort when I was down to eleven litres and a few cans of beer.
But now someone is making one for less than £100. You can see it at on the tab above.

Russian interference in UK elections?

How very odd. I’ve got a book about that. I wrote it in 1983 and published it on Amazon in 2017.  This was the review by Geoffrey Wansell in the Daily Mail:

Former Daily Mail reporter Passmore first wrote this novel in 1983, when it was dismissed by publishers as ‘a little far-fetched’. How wrong they were.

Featuring a new Left-wing British Prime Minister committed to scrapping the Trident missile fleet, a Russian President meddling in foreign elections and a U.S. President determined to put his country first, it feels astonishingly contemporary.

The plot revolves around a Trident submarine captain and his Admiral father intent on ensuring Britain keeps its nuclear options open, a newspaper reporter and a secretary in the Defence office who falls into a honeytrap set by Russian intelligence.

Fast-moving and immensely prescient, there are echoes of the early works of Ken Follett and Frederick Forsyth — and that is no faint praise.

The tragedy is that it remained hidden in the author’s attic for 34 years. Let us hope he has time to write many more.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trident-Future-out-control-happening/dp/1521800731

Departure

La Jument Lighthouse

The land is complicated. Life is simpler at sea. I have now been in Falmouth for 42 days – exactly as many as I spent going nowhere and back again.

It just seems longer.

The boat is loaded with food (another 49 cans of sardines). All I need to do is fill the water tanks (no longer leaking) and I am ready. The Shipping forecast offers northerly force 3-5, fair, good. Lying at anchor in Falmouth harbour I can see sails shaking out all around me as the locals revel in being allowed out at last.

I could go too. I could accept that the last spare part will just have to stay at the harbour office while I pass La Jument light off Ushant just in time to pick up the north easterlies across Biscay. It’s 1,300 miles to Lanzarote. Another 400 round the islands and then 875 to Porto.

Of course, I could stop – or maybe make a detour to Madeira. Last night I sat over the six o’clock beer working it all out and saying: “Sod it, let’s go!”

I could imagine the anchor breaking out and the bow swinging to the wind. The friendly couple on the 45ft cutter next to me waving goodbye – the children on the little beach, standing waist-deep in their shortie wetsuits and staring … the surge of the first swell off St Anthony’s Head. Would she carry the spinnaker?

Except that, this morning the wind is dying. The ensign has folded itself over the pushpit and I have missed my weather window.

The trouble is there’s absolutely no urgency. I have all the time in the world: 1,575 miles is 18 days at 90miles a day which is what I managed last time. I don’t have to be in Porto to meet the family for another 37 days. I other words, I have all the time in the world. It is an extraordinary thing to have the luxury of time. Why not revel in it?

I could make a fastening for the lid of the chart table so that it wouldn’t open if the boat turns over. I mean, how likely is that? But it’s easy enough to do and there’s some important stuff in the chart table. I could varnish the companionway – that needs doing three times a year.

But the fact is that I’m ready. Just to make sure, I went and propped the boat up against the little quay over on the Flushing side and spent a tide scrabbling around on the wet sand underneath scraping off pubescent goose barnacles and greasing the propeller, replacing the anode…

People came and interrupted me – a relief because there is nothing quite as unpleasant as scrubbing away above your head with a stinking pan scourer while green slime drips into your eye. The only upside is that you didn’t buy a bigger boat.

The new cooker is installed but I still haven’t put away the cigarette lighter (not quite believing I have electronic ignition). The new pipework doesn’t leak. The replacement mainsail is bent on and fits perfectly. The upgraded reefing system is ready to try in earnest. In fact, after 42 days, I can’t even remember all the entries in the “To Do” app which have been despatched with that self-satisfied click as“Done”.

But there is one thing that isn’t “Done”.

After all, those 42 days and 3,629 miles or whatever it was, just as we squeezed passed the Manacles and I went to let out some more headsail for the final close-reach into Falmouth, the furling gear jammed.

This is, of course, one of those ultimate nightmares. It’s right up there with sinking, dismasting, knock-downs, roll-overs and running out of beer. Many a boat has limped into port with a headsail fluttering in shreds because a fortnight ago someone didn’t keep the tension on the line and ended up with a riding turn, jamming the gear and leaving a fraught crew battling to make headway with the boat effectively in leg-irons.

I have a love-hate relationship with my furling gear. If I had my way it would be a Profurl or a Furlex – something that was simple and reliable and accessible.

Mine is a SeaFurl, made at about the time Noah was debating whether to give up hanked-on headsails. It is enclosed in a discreet stainless steel cowling which you have to unbolt (dropping the bolts) to get at the works.

And the works include a silly plastic disc which is supposed to stop the coiled line riding up into the top of cowling and jamming (which it wouldn’t if the cowling wasn’t there). Obviously, being plastic there is a possibility that this disc might get damaged somehow and need to be replaced. Also – obviously – you wouldn’t want to have to remove the entire assembly in order to do this.

So the designers came up with a brilliant idea: They would make the silly plastic disc in two halves which would clip together round the drum. The fact that this made the whole thing even more flimsy somehow escaped them.

It broke two years ago. Now it had broken again – and sure enough, the line grabbed the opportunity to jam itself once more. This time in the most inaccessible place, right against the back of the cowling. Beyond the reach, indeed, of someone lying on the foredeck with the big screwdriver and the occasional wave breaking over his head.

The obvious solution – taking the sail down – is never an option in this situation because it only arises when the sail is partly-furled. That means removing the sheets, leaving the sail flying in the wind and motoring round and round in circles until it furls by itself.

In such circumstances – the open sea with a stiff breeze – this is impossible. It would need the sort of engine people install when they don’t intend to put up sails in the first place.

It wasn’t until I was inside the harbour, in flat water, that I was able to execute this embarrassing manoeuvre (in full view, naturally, of all the amused blue-water sailors who gather in such a celebrated jumping-off point).

I got the sail off just as soon as the wind dropped, picked out the tiny pieces of the silly plastic disc and set about ordering another…from Tampa in Florida…in the middle of a global pandemic…

I suppose 42 days is not really so long. It was three weeks before I could get anybody on the phone – a harassed man on his first day back in the office looking at a list of emails that seemed to stretch around the world (many of them mine).

Then I became acquainted with the phenomenal efficiency of the US Postal Service tracking system. My consignment was in transit to the Next Facility. It had arrived at the Regional Facility and then progressed to another Facility … and another … before being Processed and arriving at its Origin Transfer Airport (Miami) and Departing (two days later).

I became obsessed, like a teenager on GroupMe. Hey, it had Departed Heathrow (had it arrived?) and was In Transit to Destination.

The Destination was the Harbour Office in Falmouth and therein lay another problem. The Harbour Office was locked down. That is to say, you had to ring the bell and someone would come clumping down the stairs to open the door and tell you not to come in. But they would agree to look in the cupboard and see if your parcel had arrived.

In the past, they had done just this – many times (Allen keys, mung beans, repaired autopilot…) Indeed, one of the Harbourmaster’s assistants made it quite plain that I was abusing the HM’s hospitality. I didn’t feel like calling after that – not until I was sure my Item had arrived.

And it did arrive – but in Coventry for Customs Clearance. Then, after another 48hours, Frabjous Day: “Your Item has arrived at the delivering Post Office.”

Isn’t that great? Nothing about having to pay duty on it, either – that’s what happened last time. I was getting to like pandemics.

But somehow my Item seemed to get stuck in the Delivering Post Office. I waited for the obligatory 48 hours for the final message “Your item has arrived at Destination” or even “We’ve decided you have to pay Duty on it after all” but the screen remained stubbornly blank.

I telephoned Falmouth Post Office. They were unimpressed with my US Postal Service tracking number. I called Parcel Force. Parcel Force is online.

In some desperation, after three days, I puttered across the harbour, slithered across the muddy seaweed (low tide, should have thought of that) and scrambled up the ladder to pay the Harbourmaster a call. Mr Grumpy was off duty. Instead, his charming colleague looked in the cupboard and said there was a letter for me. She brought it to the door. It was from Parcel Force: They would deliver my parcel just as soon as I paid the duty. The letter was three days old.

It is now scheduled for Delivery on Monday. It has its own UK tracking number.

I reckon I could be away by lunchtime. The wind is due to return at two o’clock.

48 hours of fame

They do say that one small, spur-of-the-moment decision can change your life.

The last 48 hours have been like nothing I have ever experienced before.

It all began very innocently: I was underneath the galley trying to stop the water pump squirting all over the ready-use stores when Jeremy Vine popped up on Radio Two to tell Ken Bruce he would be talking about “What we will miss when Lockdown ends.”

Well, of course, my lockdown was a bit different. As you now know, I skipped it entirely – or rather, I took the social distancing instructions seriously. Boris said: “Two metres”. I went for 3,629 miles.

I sent in my pennyworth to Radio Two. After all, my sister had suggested that particular instalment deserved a wider audience.

Years ago, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I had a column in Yachting World – and another in the Daily Telegraph. But now I’m old and past it. Most of my former colleagues are long gone – although old hacks never die. They just pontificate on Facebook.

I did send a couple of emails to the Guardian, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost them. Certainly, they never got back to me.

But Jeremy Vine not only read my email. He read it out on air to all his 7.42million listeners. I have it here: “I am over 70 and they were telling me that I would have to stay indoors for three months. Instead, I went sailing on my own. I thought I might get arrested if I went through the Dover Strait and so I went over the top of the Shetlands, down to the Azores in mid-Atlantic (didn’t stop) and then back to ask ‘Is it all over yet?’ It doesn’t seem to be and I had such a good time that as soon as a spare part arrives, I’ll be off again.”

It was a shame I missed it. I was on the phone at the time. Still, maybe there would be a flurry of listeners wanting to contact me saying: “Has he got a blog? Has he written a novel? Does he have a magical health supplement? Can I join his remote business and get paid to go sailing too?

Actually, no. I spent the afternoon with Woody Allen’s autobiography – and then sat up until two in the morning watching Love and Death on Prime.

So, I was still in bed idly marvelling at the news from the USA when the BBC rang: Would I do a ten-minute interview with Jeremy Vine?

Well, of course I would do an interview with Jeremy Vine. I felt sure I could find ten minutes at 1.30 (it doesn’t do to seem too keen).

No sooner did I press the “end call” button than I was out of the sleeping bag, making a list of points to cover and rehearsing my off-the-cuff rhetoric. Mustn’t forget to mention the blog. What would he ask? Just how far offshore is Rockall? Is it cheating to measure from the mainland? The Nutella joke is good… Remember the blog – write that down in big letters and keep it next to the phone…

So: An early lunch, charge the phone, ringtone to “silent” … not the best signal off Trefusis Point but we’re doing it on WhatsApp…

Of course, the rest – if not history – is certainly destined for my collection of favourite anecdotes. I was still talking when the messages started pinging in: “You’re on Radio Two!” (Yes, I know).

I remembered to mention the blog – in fact Jeremy repeated it at the end, bless him. The afternoon went by in a blur. Everybody rang up. Everybody had heard it – although when Tamsin gave her mother advance notice, Eira said: “But our Radio’s on Radio Four.”

– Well, change it, then.

“I don’t think we know how…”

Hits on the blog shot up to 5,000 – and counting…

The BBC got through to say “thank you” and how well they thought it had gone – and then rang back to say that a literary agent wanted to talk to me. Would it be all right to give him my number? (Please, can I pay you to give my number to a literary agent?)

This turns out to be Jeremy Vine’s literary agent – and Anton du Beke’s – and a whole lot of other people who I’m sure I would know if I paid more attention to popular culture.

Would I write a book? He was sure he could find a market for it. I had a novel too? Self-published on Amazon? Maybe he could find a home for that as well…

Of course, I mean yes – please… A proper publisher… and book tours… and chat shows and all that champagne and those little canapes with the caviar that falls off onto the carpet…

Ah, but wait: Maybe I should get back to him – just in case there was an email in my inbox with a million-dollar advance from Random House…

He sent me his CV.

I have spent this morning writing furiously to make up for lost time – except that I keep stopping every time the phone goes ping and somebody else wants the magic supplement. It’s just as well Facebook doesn’t ping – the part-time money people come in on Facebook because I need to check their profile pictures first (don’t ask). Also, Kindle Direct Publishing has to be refreshed every 20 seconds in case someone else has bought the novel.

Naturally, Random House let me down (and the galley pump is still leaking) but the blog is up to 55,000 hits. More than 300 information packs have gone out for the magic health supplement and I’ve raised the good-taste threshold for profile pictures before I agree to talk about the money thing.

Meanwhile, the agent has gone off to play the recording to all those proper publishers.

If you missed it, here it is: