Watermaker and Shrimpy

First of all – the big news: The cheap watermaker has arrived. I ordered two, and so the spare is for sale on eBay – see the “Cheap Watermaker” page.

Secondly, the more weird things happen to me, the more I tend to be on the lookout for them.

Tamsin had asked for ideas for Christmas presents – and I am notoriously difficult to buy for (although Rum is always welcome). But this time, I did have an idea: I would really like to own a copy of Shrimpy. It’s out of print and very much sought-after – the cheapest I had seen a copy was £70.

The story of the young ex-Royal Marine Shane Acton, who sailed around the world in an 18ft Caprice in the 70s, was something I read again and again as I dreamed of escaping the rat race and just sailing over the horizon. At the time, it was an impossible dream; I had a job. I had commitments. Shane just went and did it.

In 1980, I had a Caprice, too. She was called Amicus. She leaked upwards through the keelbolts and downwards through the fibreglass-sheathed deck. I went all the way to Treguier in Amicus.

Obviously, I was a member of the Caprice Owners Association – and that was how I heard about Shane. At the time, he was making his way home through the French canals. If he made it across the channel, his would be the smallest boat ever to get all the way round. This was big news – at least, I thought it was.

Fortunately, so did the News Editor of the Daily Mail, where I was a keen and very junior reporter.

In those days, before mobile phones, contacting the circumnavigator was impossible. All we knew was that he was expected at the Caprice Owners Association East Coast Rally. With a local freelance photographer (I was too junior to warrant a staffer), I set out to make my way to Stone Point at the entrance to the Walton Backwaters.

Have you ever tried to get to Stone Point – without a boat -without getting very muddy? We got very muddy (a staff photographer would have chartered a boat).

And sure enough, we found Shane – and Iris, his “pretty Swiss Miss” who he picked up in Panama when he was so impoverished that he had sold all his clothes except for a pair of black oilskin trousers (nobody wanted those in Panama).

They were quite the most welcoming, unassuming and modest couple you could hope to meet – totally unaware they had done anything remotely remarkable.

They answered all our questions, posed for all our photographs – and delivered us to Walton Quay (since, by now, it would have been a matter of swimming).

The resulting story took up the whole of page three – which was the best you could hope for when Margaret Thatcher occupied the front page every day.

I mention this in order to stake my claim to having at least something to do with the publication of one of the best sailing books of all time. If you don’t believe me, keep an eye on the comments. I bet somebody is going to back me up.

Shrimpy, when it appeared, was a low-key sensation. The yachting press reviewed it. Nobody else took any notice. But dreamers like me – people who pottered about at weekends with visions of palm trees and grass skirts and coconuts, devoured it, treasured it and returned to it again and again.

I was very proud of my copy because it had the signatures of Shane and Iris on the frontispiece. Maybe the publisher sat them down and made them sign every copy.

There was a time when I could have quoted large tracts by heart – particularly Day 31 of the Pacific crossing: “Discovered that the thousands of goose barnacles on Shrimpy’s hull had grown so long as seriously to hamper our speed. Went over the side with a knife to clean them off. While in the water, I got stung by a passing jellyfish. It hurt like hell for a while, and I lost the use of my left arm for about 20 minutes. Had to sew up the mainsail again; it’s getting really rotten now. Drank the last of the coffee.”

And how about this: “Slowly, the black point on the horizon begins to grow. From a dot into a smudge, I can’t wait to get nearer, to discover its true shape. Slowly we can make out the peaks of the mountains; the greyness changes into browns and greens; trees, bushes, grass, shadows in the cracks of rocks: The bay. Smoke, houses, canoes, people! How I want to exchange words, how I want to embrace everybody, including the island. But water is still between us. Hello – waving hands – smiles. The first step on the sand, touching it with my hand, the island dances under my feet; it makes me dance with it. I am overwhelmed with happiness; the power of my joy is travelling on before me, catching all the people around me, travelling further, right to the last house in the village, encompassing the whole island, my whole world.”

Here was a man who cruised the Tuamotos. The SailTahiti website has this to say about the Tuamotus: “Known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’. So low in the water they are almost invisible and with strong currents and swell pushing onto coral reefs. Without GPS or accurate charts, it was wise to steer clear…”

Shane had a plastic sextant, a wristwatch and an ex-army compass.

He died in 2002 from lung cancer (he would smoke anything combustible – on one occasion, tea bags rolled in toilet paper and lit with a flare! In his last months, he returned from Central America to the comforting embrace of the NHS. Iris had long before set off on a journey of her own.

Eventually, I sold the book at a car boot sale . Tamsin and I were whittling down our library in preparation for the move onto the little catamaran. I have a vague memory that I had to discount Shrimpy because there was the stain of a large coffee mug on the cover.

So, you can imagine, I was very much looking forward to my Christmas present. There was, however, one small disappointment: Tamsin had bought me the Ulverscroft Large Print version (withdrawn from Sussex County Libraries March 27th 2001). That meant no pictures and print the size of the Janet and John books. What am I? An old man?

It’s not something you ask about a Christmas Present, but I wondered how much I could get for it – would it cover the £70 cost of the original?

That was when I was astonished to find a company called WOB Books offering a copy in “good” condition for £9.99. Of course, I bought it before anyone else grabbed it.

And it was waiting for me when I got back to North Wales.

Sure enough, it had the two signatures just as I remembered them.

And, would you believe it, there was a large coffee stain on the dust jacket – that is to say, a stain from a large coffee mug, just as I favoured back in the 1980s.

OK, so it’s probably not my original copy – I mean, what are the chances?

But, I’ll believe what I want to believe.

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The heater



This is absolutely my favourite video. You might have seen it before – and you must admit, it’s pretty spectacular: The Hampshire Heater spewing out charcoal sparks as a sort of over-blown indoor firework – and one which definitely contravenes the Health and Safety regulations.

Not only did it set fire to the bunk cushions – leaving suspicious black-tinged holes in the tartan fabric – but also it set off the carbon monoxide alarm so that I had to take out the batteries.

I know this is not recommended – but if they made the alarm a couple of hundred decibels quieter, they might save a lot more lives.

Anyway, something had to be done. It was all very well, the heater looking homely anchored off  Lamin Lodge in The Gambia or at party-time in Hogs Bay, Grenada, but back in a UK winter, I was going to need it to work.

On closer inspection, it was never going to work. The whole of the combustion chamber – a caste iron cylinder inside the stainless steel outer casing, was corroded away to nothing. This meant the burning embers could exit directly through the ventilation holes and land playfully on the cushions.

I started looking at alternatives. Actually, I started looking at alternatives in a cabin temperature of 35°C, which, you will agree, was somewhat over-enthusiastic.

The good thing about charcoal is that it is carbon-neutral (the trees having already contributed to the global-cooling equation when they were growing). However, nobody makes charcoal heaters for boats anymore – not Pansy; not Hampshire.

Now, it’s all Chinese forced-air heaters – the much cheaper version of Eberspacher and Webasto. However,  not only do they use diesel; they also use electricity – and on a short, cloudy, windless English winter’s day in Walton Backwaters, there isn’t much of that about.

I did like the idea of solid fuel. Tom Cunliffe has a couple of hundredweight of caste iron wood stove glowing away in the corner of Constance’s saloon (and another few hundredweight of fuel bunkered away behind the engine). In 32ft, I don’t have the space. It would have to be the Newport bulkhead-mounted thingy.

Twenty years ago, I would just have ordered one. Now, you check out these things on YouTube and, to me, they looked terribly flimsy. Also, a lot of people claimed they were fiddly to keep going and didn’t really put out much heat.

I could see myself cursing it. Besides, I didn’t know where I was going to end up. Samsara’s previous owner wintered his new boat north of the Arctic Circle (with a Refleks).

Ah,  the Refleks; the heater of choice for Danish fisherfolk in the Heligoland Bight. They do a little bulkhead-mounted version – which even comes with the optional extra of a tube to draw in cold air from floor level.

I ordered one. I fixed a date for Lockgate Stoves to come and install it. I even sent a deposit towards the almost £3,000 bill (all those optional extras).

It was only the next morning, checking the depleted bank balance, that I remembered: Having removed the old Hampshire contraption in order to get accurate measurements,  I had taken it to the local metalwork shop – as in: “I don’t suppose you could do anything with this…”

“Blimey, what is it?”

They never called back. I forgot all about it.

It was, as I say, only the depleted bank account that jogged my memory. I phoned them. “Yes, all ready for you,” was what they said.

And it was – welded together inside (or brazed, I wouldn’t know). Anyway, it looked as good as new.

Actually not. After years of being heated until the whole thing glowed, the once-gleaming stainless steel had been burnished to the colour of caramelised toffee.

I rubbed at it with some sort of blue paste that came with the boat. I painted it with a patented liquid that requires rubber gloves and breathing apparatus. In the end, I searched on Google for  “metal polisher near me” and ended up in Hay-on-Wye at a motorcycle restorer who had a machine that blasted salt crystals at hundred-year-old two-stroke engine blocks. They turned my heater into something that looked like an exhaust pipe. In fairness, they had warned me it wouldn’t be shiny; but I hadn’t really imagined the effect of matt grey on a metal cylinder with a pipe sticking out of one end – definitely an exhaust pipe. Still, it was clean. It looked like new (a new exhaust pipe).

And it came out at less than £300 – a tenth of the diesel thing.

And I’ll be carbon-neutral again. One day, I’ll fire it up and see if it works. I’d do it tonight; only I’ve had to move off the boat so they can gut the cabin. At the moment, I’m living in a Ford Transit camper van.

Remind me to tell you about that sometime. The first thing I had to do was buy it a new exhaust pipe…





One Response to The heater

  • In 1984 I just managed to buy the Blake/Whisstock 37ft gaff cutter Mirelle and scraping together my last hundred quid I bought a Shipmate Skippy at their stand (yes, really!) at the Earl’s Court Boat Show. It was retired twenty odd years later in favour of a much more up market Shipmate discarded by a very gorgeous Rhodes cutter that arrived on the Deben. It behaved very well on a diet of Coalite in paper bags.

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Tell me this isn’t weird.

I am in Liverpool. Last night I was in Leeds. I had taken my daughter Lottie out to dinner. She’s in her final year at the University there.

Lottie is named after the little catamaran I capsized and lost 80 miles north of the Shetland Islands five months before she was born nearly 22 years ago.

The boat was called Lottie Warren. We thought it would be fun to call our daughter after the boat – after all, everyone calls their boats after their daughters…

Actually, the original Lottie Warren was a 1,184ton sailing packet built for the Liverpool-Boston run in 1863 by my great-great-grandfather George Warren –  although, researching it now, I see the name was spelled “Lotte”. Anyway, she was scrapped  – the ship, that is – in 1879, according to the Internet.

All of this is leading up to something quite extraordinary, which happened today. I drove to Liverpool, where I am meeting my son Theo who is in his final year at the medical school. Having time to spare, I went to have a look at Strawberry Fields – I’d seen Penny Lane and The Beatles Experience on previous visits and, being a teenager of the ’60s, the song Strawberry Fields Forever is on my Desert Island Discs playlist  (if ever anyone asks).

I had no idea that today the place has a thriving visitor centre to capitalise on worldwide Beatles fervour (people come from Mexico to hug the trees. Blades or grass are stolen). Anyway, it all produces a useful income for the Salvation Army, which has owned it since the 1930s.

When you put on the headphones for your audio-visual tour, the first thing you hear is that the seven acres of grounds where the young John Lennon climbed over the wall and found that “no one was in his tree”, was purchased in 1867 by Liverpool shipowner George Warren.

Obviously, I thought this was interesting – at least to me. In my enthusiasm, I mentioned the family connection when I bought a T-shirt with Lennon’s immortal sentiment that “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”

Next thing I know, I am sitting over tea with Alastair Versfeld, the Mission Development Officer, who proceeds to grill me on the history of George Warren. I was able to unload the family legend that he ran away to sea aged 16 after some trouble with an under-housemaid, dismissing the coachman at the docks with instructions to “tell the family I shall not be returning”.

Apparently, he never wore shoes on a ship (nor do I, if I can help it). But he rose to master and went into partnership with a Boston shipowner called Enoch Train. Later, he founded the Warren Line, generating the fortune which enabled him to build Strawberry Field with it’s “grand entrance hall, four reception rooms, billiards room and four WCs).

For me, it was a wonderful discovery.

But how am I going to tell Lottie we’ve been spelling her name wrong all these years…


Lottie (or Lotte…)

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Rather like the Second Coming or the new series of  The Crown, the Great Refit has been anticipated for a long time. Now it’s here, I feel somewhat overwhelmed.

For one thing, The List has been growing steadily for five years. The boat hasn’t been out of the water for more than a couple of months in all that time.

Indeed, since the beginning of last year, she’s been in constant commission: up the East Coast of England, over the top of the Shetlands, down the west coast, up the English Channel and back again, down to the Canaries, West Africa, the Cape Verdes, the Caribbean from Grenada to the BVIs, then back to Falmouth, the Channel Islands, France and now Conwy in North Wales – where all this started back in 2017.

No wonder she needs a bit of TLC.

However, the phrase “a bit” suggests a polish, a dab of antifouling and a couple of new filters.

Not what I’ve got on the list.

You want to know about the list? Here it is:

A new heater: Yes, I really do need a new heater. After mentioning on the My Classic Boat channel that the old Hampshire Heater was slowly poisoning me and that I had taken the batteries out of the carbon monoxide alarm, I have been deluged with warnings about impending death.

Of course, I could go for the cheap Chinese forced air variety, but I really like the idea of something that consumes no electricity at all and asks only for a bit of driftwood. Consequently, I became obsessed with the Dickinson Newport solid fuel heater. I imagined some sort of hippy existence – all Fair Isle sweaters and home-baked bread.

In fact, it transpires that the salt ingrained in driftwood will wreck the combustion chamber. Also, they’re notoriously difficult to regulate (coal burns too hot, charcoal too fast. Wood pellets are the answer, but you have to keep feeding it every hour on the hour, or it goes out…)

So now it looks like I’ll be going for diesel with the Refleks bulkhead mounted version – if I can find anyone to fit it.

Then there’s The New Cooker: I’m on my second Aqua Marine Neptune. It lasted 18 months (the first managed 11). In both cases, the flame-failure devices packed up – closely followed by the right-hand burners. Then the rest of this useless piece of crap dissolved into rust. It was only later that I considered it might have been designed for occasional weekend use over six months of the year – so I was giving it six times the wear and tear it was intended for.

The solution seems to be a GN Levante – admittedly, this does cost more than three times as much, but independent advice suggests it will go on forever. Meanwhile, the galley may have to be remodelled to accommodate it.

Then there’s a new deck hatch. Maybe I could get away with replacing the glass in the old one, but if I’m going to have new headling anyway, a 50 year-old-hatch is going to look really tatty.

And yes, I am having new headling. Apart from its age, there are all sorts of fastenings behind it leaving rust streaks all over the place.

New Sails: Ah yes, I had already spent a contented hour on the Crusader Sails stand at the Southampton Boat Show – and then both the main and headsail tore in the same gust off Land’s End.

And here’s the ridiculous thing: I carefully measured the headsail so the new one would be identical – and then kept it in case of any questions.

Eventually, I decided it was just cluttering up the place and threw it in the marina skip.

The very next morning, Paul at Crusader rang to say my measurements didn’t make sense – and yes, that was the day they emptied the bins.

Also, I’m going to have something called an Ultra-Large Genoa. When I did the OSTAR in Largo, Crusader made me a mylar ghoster which was fabulous but really needed to be flaked every time by a racing crew. I just stuffed it in the bag – and destroyed it in a season. The new one will be on its own furler – and I would like to see it set on a “prodder” bowsprit.

New Anchor: If I am having a prodder, I can’t have an anchor with a roll bar.

New Stanchion: I managed to break one on the way from the Canaries to the Gambia when retrieving something called a Round Sail. This was one of those mistakes you make if you’re prone to impulse-buying: Spending 900EUR on a cut-down parachute flying from the top of the mast seemed like a good idea at the time. After dropping it in the water on one side of the boat and pulling it out on the other, I left it in the skip at Banjul harbour (where the local fishermen thought Christmas had come early).

New Coppercoat: The first lot fell off – although it did take five years to do it. Actually, it worked rather well while it was doing so.

New halyards. 12mm is just too big for the cleats.

New standing rigging: It’s 15 years old, and a bunch of us Rival owners got together and had a job lot of new deck bolts made – they’re one size up and would look massive on a 40footer.

New furling gear (it actually disintegrated when Tony the rigger started removing it). He thinks the latest Furlex looks “plasticky” so we’re going for Profurl. I had a Profurl on Largo, and it was fine.

A new S-bend for the exhaust. It will be nice not to have a constant leak all the time the engine’s running.

New autopilot: I’m on my third Raymarine ST2000+ and daren’t leave it out in the rain in case it goes the way of the other two. This is plainly ridiculous. Watch out for an ST2000+ on eBay.

New sprayhood: apart from being able to put your finger through it, I left a dab of deck paint on it back in 2018, and it’s offended me ever since.

New beer cooler. The compressor-powered Alpicool is more efficient. Anyway, being a vegetarian, I don’t need a proper fridge.

A new length of toerail: I forgot to lash the anchor after waiting for the tide round Land’s End. The chain spent half an hour chewing through the teak while I wondered what that knocking noise was. Have you any idea how much teak costs these days?

New washboard with a window for use at sea – manhandling a three-part companionway just takes too long.

Give me a minute; I’ll think of something else…


7 Responses to Refit

  • Well that’s a wonderful coincidence John, love the sea connection with strawberry fields…Incidentally, Lottie is a fabulous name! My late grandmother who emigrated to America from Poland in 1916 and her name was Lottie. I always wished I had met a girl with the same but alas, it is a name from another era or so they say.

  • That is a long list John, but since the post is almost one month old, I hope many items are crossed already
    Got a new anchor yet? Check the sarca excel, excellent.
    Good luck with the projects and keep us posted on the progress.

  • Hi John… I have a ‘prodder’ and manage very well by letting my rocnaanchor droop, then re lift it so it sits under the prodder… used this system for 5 years. Lockgate stoves near Nottingham gave very good service a few years back 🙂

  • Thanks for your story, John. It keeps on reminding us of what a lovely life you have mapped out for yourself – envy is the word!
    Safe sailing…

  • John you’re amazing!
    Thankyou for sharing your story. As time goes on I enjoy it, every instalment is another moment along a lifetime.
    It’s one I relate to and it means so much.
    Thank you

  • “Have you any idea how much teak costs these days?”
    Yes….. that’s why I bought several hefty chunks from Robbins – their ‘Cutty Sark’ consignment – when they were having a clear-out. And I’m keeping it for the next couple of times my anchor chain goes a-chewing or the Border Force bandits bounce extra-hard off my toerail….

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After a week or two, food assumes an importance far greater than mere sustenance. Read any account of the great singlehanded voyages, and you will find references to curry (Knox-Johnston), plums and cheese (Slocum), Worcestershire Sauce (Thompson).

It was halfway through Pete Goss’s Close to the Wind and finding him desperately looking forward to an alternative to his freeze-dried diet (any alternative to his freeze-dried diet) that I decided I just had to try this Huel stuff.

It will be a long time before I attempt a voyage long enough to call for freeze-dried victuals, but I always imagined them to be full of artificial colouring and E-numbers, and besides, I’ve now gone vegan (except for the other day in St Malo when I found myself ordering the Plateau de fruits de mer).

I started looking into this meal replacement stuff. I read reviews (mixed). I read through the ingredients (very mixed).

Naturally, the Facebook algorithm picked up on all this in the same way that it calculates my age, adds my obsession with not dying, multiplies it by the occasional click on TikTok and feeds me a diet of prostate preparations and Asian brides.

So, once I stopped at Conwy for the big refit and could be reasonably sure of mail-order parcels catching up with me, I spent a happy hour on the Huel website. This is necessary because they won’t let you buy just a bag – you have to buy a whole box. By the time I had finished, had considered Cinamnmnon Swirl and Tomato & Herb, and compared Mac & Cheeze to Thai Green Curry, my credit card was lighter by £87, and the packets locker was full again.

Within seconds, an email: My order was being prepared. I could hardly wait – especially when the DPD app beeped with the excitement that my parcel would be arriving the very next day. I needn’t have waited. I could have had it delivered to Torquay or Hamble. Heavens, it would even have reached me in Bembridge.

In fact, it arrived in the Conwy marina office just after breakfast (damn, I could have had it for breakfast). Instead, I would replace lunch with a coffee shake. I think it was the ceremony that appealed: They give you a special bottle with Huel written on it with your first consignment. Come to that, they give you a special T-shirt to wear while you’re shaking it up – but it was pouring with rain, and I was splashing about the place in my Guy Cottens.

With great care and only a little more excitement, I added the water up to the mark and added two scoops of the powder. I awarded myself two scoops. I reckoned the carrot and kidney bean sandwich with mayonnaise, HP sauce and beetroot   which it was replacing amounted to at least 400calories.

It did taste of coffee – cold coffee, of course – and with the consistency and sweetness of a milkshake. It was not unpleasant. I know that the average gourmet – even the gourmet with a busy modern lifestyle that does not permit a Parisian two-hour lunch break – might expect more than a milkshake, but the idea of getting 26 essential nutrients down your neck in three minutes was a novelty that could not to be denied.

There was only one problem. As soon as the bottle was empty, I looked around for lunch.

This was not supposed to happen. What about those 400 calories? What about “keeping me going through my busy day” (taking down the headlining in the loo and disconnecting all the wiring ready for the mast to come down). I was damned if I was going to make a sandwich now.

I had a mince pie.

Then a digestive biscuit.

And a cup of mocha with a spoonful of sugar.

I don’t know whether it was this, but sometime around three o’clock, I began to feel distinctly queasy.

And dinner came early. Rather in the manner of my Parisian counterpart, I opened up the packets locker and perused my menu. I could have Mexican Chilli or go for the Chick’n & Mushroom. In the end, I opted for Cajun Pasta, only because it was the one with its picture in the brochure, with mixed peppers, sweetcorn and “a kick of cayenne pepper and paprika”. I must say it did look good – rather in the same way that the photographs outside restaurants on the Costa Brava always look so good.

I doled out two scoops into a bowl. I added 200ml of boiling water (I measured it out exactly). I covered the bowl and allowed my cajun pasta to cook while retaining the vitamins which might otherwise escape with the steam.

It tasted of cajun pasta. It was not unpleasant.

I looked around for dinner.

This was ridiculous. It was lunch all over again. I decided it was my fault – after all, I’m the one who goes out for tapas and then says: “Right, where shall we go for dinner?”

The pub just across from the marina office does a passable vegetarian burger (and pre-mixed cocktails on draught,  for heaven’s sake) but that would be flying in the face of the Huel corporation’s much-vaunted economic principles: each meal costs only £2.66.

Except if you do what I did. I mixed up another bowl.

And then had a mince pie.

And three digestive biscuits.

After that, I had to have a lie-down.

I woke up at four in the morning and decided the whole thing had been a bad idea. I still had the unopened bag of Mexican Chilli – and the Chick’n & Mushroom. I would put them on eBay (I have). I would get up and write a blog post about my experience. I could save others from making the same mistake. If I had read something like this, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted £87 and half a night’s sleep on the experiment.

Although I know my curiosity would still have got the better of me.

If it gets the better of you, there’s a bag for sale on eBay (actually, there are a lot of bags for sale on eBay).

Just make sure you have some mince pies handy.


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People kept asking if I would do a video tour of Samsara. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide anything, but rather I couldn’t work out how to do it while holding the phone in one hand. Then last week, my son Hugo came to join me in Jersey, and we ended up in St Malo and the River Rance – where a windless and sunny morning provided the perfect opportunity.

You can find it on the Oldmansailing YouTube channel – I’ll add the link below. However, I should mention here the one thing I forgot to include – twings (no, I didn’t know what they were either).

For years aboard Largo,  I  had struggled to find a way of adjusting the genoa cars without getting wet. In the end. The mistake I made was trying to move the cars remotely. All I needed was leave them where they were and add a pair of twings.

A twing (don’t you just love the name?) is a ring around a sheet and a line to pull it down – so adjusting the angle of pull. With mine, the lines go forward to a redundant deck fitting and then back to a pair of jammers in the cockpit. All I have to do is pull them in before I start winching the sheet – and then let them out until I’m happy with the set of the sail. It’s cheap. It’s simple – and it works.




Meanwhile, here’s the rest of the tour: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdcR6l3UFssnS6zVPU96UAg

5 Responses to Twings

  • Hi John,

    thanks for your great articles, always a good read.

    The sheet lead adjusters you call TWINGS were very common on 1960’s racing dinghies – known as ‘ Barber Haulers ‘ – I still use them when required on my Anderson 22 cruiser / racer.

  • Twings have only got better.

  • John thanks for the tour and the twing idea. I find the trisail stay very interesting, I have not seen one before, only mast tracks. A Google search did not turn out any usable return. Would you be able to provide some information, as how the top and bottom are connected, length and diameter, and your comments on the usage, etc. Much appreciated.

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This is going to be a “Think Piece”.

A Think Piece – from my old newspaper days – was when something significant happened, and the editor needed to give it the appropriate amount of space but had run out of facts to put in it. All that was left were “Thoughts” – and very often, I was the one who had to think them up – and jolly hard it was, sometimes.

This time, the thoughts came battering at my door. I had just returned from lunch with a pair of long-lost cousins (lost for 20 years and 50 years, respectively – so you will forgive the bottle of wine which I seemed to have all to myself). Anyway, there I was, lying on the bunk attempting to sleep it off when all I could think of was Guy de Boer.

He was a competitor in the Golden Globe Singlehanded Round the World Race. If you’re following this blog, you probably know all about it: The main point is that it is a race without electronic navigation. The competitors have to rely on sextants and compasses and clockwork alarms to make sure they know where they are and stick their head out from time to time to make sure they’re not going to bump into anything.

And last night, 13 days after setting off from Les Sables d’Olonne in western France, American Guy de Boer bumped into the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries.

It is every solo sailor’s nightmare. Those parts of the internet that pay attention to this sort of thing are alive with pictures of his boat Spirit aground in the surf – alongside comments that everyone is so glad the Spanish rescue service managed to get him off safely. Now there are hopes that the boat may yet be salvaged and sail again.

No one is indelicate enough to ask how it happened – no more than they have asked what were the “personal reasons” that caused fellow competitor Edward Walentoynowicz to retire after less than a week – and that after two years of preparation at the cost of most people’s life savings.

As the remaining 14 skippers press on towards Cape Town and on from there for a total of 30,000 miles (call it somewhere between 200 and 300 days), singlehanders all over the world are thinking: It could have been me.

We all know the golden rule: You work out how far you are from the shore. You calculate how long it would take you to reach it if the wind should change. If your windvane, as faithfully as ever, should turn you in the direction of the rocks. If, come to that, you might even speed up a bit and get there sooner…

So you set your alarm accordingly – and the second alarm in case the first doesn’t work or you just sleep through it.

Then add to this the fact that in the Golden Globe, you don’t know precisely where you are because you don’t have a friendly readout to tell you. Instead, there is just a pencil mark on the chart a couple of hours ago – and that was an update from a couple of hours before that – based on distance and compass course, corrected somewhat haphazardly for leeway and current…

And, be honest, how many of us have woken with our hearts in our mouths, finding ourselves heading straight for the shore? I did it only this week, sailing from Jersey to the Solent. The Navionics track shows me clearly going backwards towards Les Trois Grunes. The boat had tacked herself, the tide was running against me, and I had the alarm set for 20 minutes. OK, so that was plenty. I never came closer than three miles. But what if I hadn’t woken up? What if I had drowsily hit the “dismiss” button on the phone and rolled over, gone back to sleep while the boat – neatly hove-to – slid sideways to disaster?

Foul tide, headwind – and the boat tacks herself while you’re asleep…

What if, for heaven’s sake, I had been forced to rely on a tin alarm clock and thought I had wound it up when I hadn’t – or just set it wrongly? Show me anyone who hasn’t turned up late for work, claiming they slept through the alarm.

Now try telling that to the Spanish Coastguard when your boat is on her side with the breakers pushing her further and further up the beach.

It could happen to any of us. It really could.

Of course, that is the appeal. Who would bother to do this sort of thing if there wasn’t a frisson of danger? It’s like hang-gliding or climbing Everest, or walking across the Arctic. It’s bad enough that the organisers of such races are forced by their insurers to insist on thousands of pounds worth of safety equipment (including two lifebuoys – you’re expected to climb back on so you can throw them to yourself). The competitors have already decided to take the risk.

But I bet they were thinking they would meet their end being pitchpoled off Cape Horn; the boat smashed open by a wave they would hear coming like an express train, the floating container – just falling over the side…

Yet, to run onto a beach after less than 1,500 miles – nobody thinks that is going to happen to them.

The fate of Guy de Boer, a massively experienced sailor who had thought he had covered every eventuality and Spirit, meticulously prepared and ready for anything the ocean could throw at her, just shows that singlehanded sailing and pre-conceived notions make poor bedfellows.

One Response to Shipwreck

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A new book – out today!


When I returned to the UK from the Caribbean, people asked: “Did you have a good trip?”
And I said: “Yes, lovely, thanks.”
Because it was – but it was more than that. As with any voyage, it had its own special character – the moments that will remain in the memory forever (and others which are probably best forgotten).
Following on from the interest in my lockdown cruise, which led to the Old Man Sailing book, I found myself wondering whether people might like to read about this as well.
I had no idea if it would be any good – after all, there were no moments of drama, nothing important broke, nobody ended up getting rescued. It was just… ordinary. And yet, what came out of those 44 days and 3,437miles was a sort of stream of consciousness – everything from random thoughts that popped into my head because, apparently, there was nothing else in there, to what I ate and read and listened to…
At one point, I appear to have made a pet of a baby Portuguese Man o’ War. I called him Arnold – remember this was six weeks with no contact with the shore; no satphone, no high-frequency radio, no emergency beacon. No news of Boris Johnson’s downfall, come to that.
And yet, when I read it through, it seemed to be anything but dull. I stared at the words on the screen and remember saying out loud and unexpectedly: “D’you know, this is rather good…”
(There was no one to contradict me.)
So, now it is out there for the world to judge – or at least the world of Amazon – it is available as a Kindle edition and also in paperback – just a little book with a small price.
As you will see, it is called “The Voyage” with the subtitle: “#1: BVIs to Falmouth.” If it’s a success, I could write #2: Canaries to the Bahamas – maybe even #3: Panama to the Marquesas. This thing could run and run…
I would be most interested in seeing what you think of it – don’t forget to leave a review.
Otherwise, there’ll be no stopping me.

13 Responses to A new book – out today!

  • I read Old Man Sailing, then The Voyage and now reading The Good Stuff book one with book two ready to read next. So easy to enjoy even for a landlubber like me John. Please don’t stop.

  • John – you have a gentle humour and lightness of touch which is always very enjoyable to read. I’ve just ordered “The Voyage #1” and look forward to finding it waiting on my doormat when I get back…from my own (rather more modest) voyage from Plymouth to the Isles of Scilly and back. Best wishes, George (SV Good Report)

  • You cach me when I’m in need of some displacement activity. The ‘free read’ got me out of sweeping the early leaf-fall today. Thanks, John. Ordered. The book should turn up later this week….

  • Expect we’d better then. Hope it’s good for a fiver.. and what about a YouTube tour of the boat? Tips and tricks from a life on the ocean?

    • Do you know what…. I bet for a fiver this book will be worth a hundred times that minimum is a wealth of info and going by what we’ve already read then who needs a boat tour we have the full picture from John’s excellent and at some times hilarious wording…. crack on John with the rest you deserve the royalties sir!

  • Good to hear you have a new book John! Looking forward to another good read. But it begs the question- why the end (book 1) was done before the beginning?

  • Just off to buy this new book on Amazon and to be honest you have a style that is comfortable and unforced so if there are more spin offs I will buy
    Keep up the good work because vicarious it may be but it is as close as most of us will get to those places

  • Thank John. I’ll download and enjoy!

  • I shall clear a space in my bookcase for the complete series.

  • I’m ordering it now !
    Read your previous books and loved them.
    Keep sailing and writing

  • Wonderful. I’ll be in touch.


  • I’ve enjoyed your previous books…looking forward to reading this one….keep em coming

  • Thanks John. Heading over to purchase. Ron

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It is five o’clock in the morning, and I have just woken up to hear the wind charger in full cry as the boat jumps off a wave and the phone joins me in bed, painfully.

Well, I won’t need the alarm now, will I?

This is what you get for promising your 15-year-old grandson you will sail from Falmouth to Jersey before the end of the school holidays.

So far, it has taken 39 hours against the wind, and now we are in that nasty little triangle between the Roches Douvres, Les Minquiers and the iron-bound south coast of Jersey. The cosy marina in St Helier might as well be on the moon.

Last night before dinner, I set full sail in the hope that we might catch the morning tide off La Corbiere, but that’s not going to happen now. Meanwhile, it’s time to put the reef back in.

Singlehanders spend a lot of time reefing (partly because there’s nobody else to do it). Every time I open Facebook, there’s another one crowing about how they have all lines led back to the cockpit and how safe this makes it.

But as I climbed into my oilies to go on deck (two minutes), I decided I wasn’t so sure.

Fast-forward another twelve minutes (I have a fetish about timing things), and I am hanging up the oilies to drip into the shower tray, but I can’t go back to bed because my head’s still wet from washing off the salt and nobody likes a wet pillow.

So instead, I am going to sit up and pose the question: Would it really have been better if I could have nipped out in my jim-jams and conducted the whole business under cover of the spray hood?

Think about it:  If reefing involves going on deck every time, you get pretty used to being out there in heavy weather. I get more used to it than most because of the way my reefing system is set up. I think it must have been thought out by more than one person: After putting the cringle on the horn at the mast, I have to come back to the cockpit and make up the halyard  – and then go back again to take in the pennants. It’s a lot of clambering about and holding on.

Is it unsafe – or does it make me more safe?

It would be tempting fate to suggest I know the answer.

If the boat arrives in Jersey without me, we’ll know.

2 Responses to Reefing

  • We prefer reefing by the mast.
    The boat we had before our present one had all lines led back to the cockpit.
    Too much friction and a lot of rope under the sprayhood.
    Keep it simple is our motto.

  • The more basic (or thoroughly tested) the system the closer foolproof and fail safe it may be, and out of the spray hood your senses work better, if wetter

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The very big anchor

This was being sensible: Tom Fisher was on his way over for the Yealm in Bonny. The first time I met Tom for a drink, we sat up over the rum bottle until three in the morning.

Add to that Connor Brosan and Alan Laine on their way from Salcombe in Feeling Groovy, and obviously it would be better if I did not try and row back to the boat at closing time without falling in. Just this once, I would fork out the £38 for a berth in the Haven marina.

I must say this hurt a bit because it was only the day before that the smart new harbourmaster’s launch came alongside and the harbourmaster’s polite assistant had informed me that no longer could I anchor for no charge in my favourite spot (it had been my favourite spot since about 1979.) Now the harbour commissioners wanted to charge me £10 a night for it.

While my mouth was working with nothing coming out, he added that, if I liked, I could pay for a year’s harbour dues instead: £10 a metre – £97 until April.

It seemed a lot, but I would be able to use the showers and launderette at the marina. I could land at the dinghy pontoon instead of climbing the ladder at Customs House Quay (and wading through the mud to get back in the water at low tide). Hey, I could fill the water cans with the marina hose and get my Amazon parcels sent to the Harbour Office…

I paid the £97 and rather looked forward to getting my money’s worth. Then I set about winching up the anchor. That was when things started to go wrong. It wouldn’t come. I couldn’t understand this. I had anchored here countless times before – that was why I hadn’t bothered to buoy the thing.

Although, now I came to think about it; this wasn’t my favourite spot after all – not the one marked by the anchor symbol on the Navionics app. Another boat had pinched that. I had been obliged to pick a spot a little further over towards the Falmouth side and a little closer to the mooring field – a spot where there was something on the bottom fouling my chain: I could raise about ten metres, and then the windlass started straining and making screeching noises. There was still 25metres down there, so it must be the chain that was fouled, not the anchor (so at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that an anchor buoy wouldn’t have helped, anyway.)

I did the obvious thing: I slackened off the chain and drove around it – first one way and then the other. It made no difference. Eventually, the windlass went on strike (well, the thermal cut-out stopped it burning itself out). I pulled by hand. Something shifted. The chain came in with a rush, and I had to pick myself up off the deck with a bump on the back of my head the size of a pigeon’s egg.

Then the chain jammed again.

There was nothing for it. I pulled out the phone and started Googling “Divers in Falmouth”. There were plenty of dive centres. They all said they weren’t insured for anchor recovery. I phoned Seawide Services, commercial divers “subsea welding, cutting and repair work”. They could offer a five-man dive team at £600 an hour.

Alternatively, they could send a workboat with a winch. The workboat arrived. It was enormous. The winch was enormous. The chain hummed under the strain. I stood clear. The workboat heeled alarmingly. This wasn’t going to work.

I turned to Facebook: Did anyone know of a diver in Falmouth? Of course, I had to explain why – which meant the advice came in thick and fast, everything from “drive around it” (tried that) to “get a mask” – I did think about it. I even have a wetsuit. But in five metres, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay down there long enough to do anything useful.

Seawide services called back. A couple of their lads had volunteered their own time for £200. I grabbed at it.

Sure enough, two young men turned up in another workboat. One of them climbed into a drysuit and disappeared over the side. Five minutes later, he came up to report that my chain was wrapped around the biggest anchor he had ever seen in his life. It must have been down there for 150 years.

What happened over the next quarter of an hour proved the claim on the Seawide website about “diligent project completion”. What this young man did down in the mud and weed at the bottom of Falmouth harbour was to take a 5mm Allen key, undo the retaining screw on the anchor swivel, drive out the bolt (which I always find difficult on the foredeck even with the big hammer) put the bits in his pocket without dropping them, remove the chain, untangle it from one turn round the Victorian anchor shank and another round the fluke – and then re-attach it.

“All OK, now,” said his mate. “You can winch it up.”

Well, actually, I couldn’t. The windlass was still on strike.

“Never mind,” I said cheerily. “I can pull it up by hand. I’ve done it before.” I have, too – all through the summer of 2019.

The two young men looked at my grey whiskers, considered how they would explain a dead old man to the authorities and pulled it up themselves – hand-over-hand in a trice.

I must say, it all made an excellent story in the bar of the chain locker that night. My greatest regret was that nowhere in all the drama did it occur to me to take any pictures – the workboard solemnly winching itself down to the bottom was most dramatic.

The following morning – after a good deal of urging from a beer-fuelled Tom, not to mention Con and Alan on Cornish cider, I presented myself at the harbourmaster’s office ready to claim a refund of my £97 harbour dues; the argument being that the said harbour was not fit for purpose (i.e. anchoring).

The harbourmaster came down to the front desk, ponderous with authority, his shoulders creaking under gold-braided epaulettes. He sympathised with my experience. He explained that the Harbour Commissioners could not guarantee that the seabed was totally free of obstructions. He suggested that I might be able to claim on my insurance (it’s third party).

The end of the story played out today – 48 hours later. Somewhat delicate after the previous evening’s welcome for Tom’s brother Sebastian and nephew Joe – who obviously deserved a session in The Stable and dinner at Balti Curries (brandy on the house), I returned to anchor in my favourite spot – now free – and was just having lunch in the cockpit when this turned up.

Over the next 20 minutes, while I raced to inflate the dingy so I could get round the other side of it and take better pictures, the peculiar craft raised the offending anchor as if it was nothing more than a 10lb CQR.

The diver was right. I had never seen an anchor as big as that either. The shank must have been three metres long. The flukes dwarfed the man directing operations from the deck.

I would love to know who paid for this operation on a Saturday. Was it the Harbour Commissioners? (ensuring without delay the harbour was free of obstructions after all?) Did Seawide services’ staff have their eye on a bit of scrap value in their spare time? Do I get a cut – after all, I discovered the damn thing.


19 Responses to The very big anchor

  • Johnny, here’s the review I left for you on my Kindle – apparently Kindle and Amazon (same company) don’t share reviews

    Top reviews from the United States
    Dan Jackson
    5.0 out of 5 stars Love of Sailing
    Reviewed in the United States on August 25, 2022
    Verified Purchase

    I really liked this book for many reasons. First John and I are about the same age, so I can relate to a lot of the things he writes about. Secondly, his love of sailing in quite evident, His love of family is also brought out. I big thing is he shows the mundane parts of sailing, the gripping parts, the wonderful parts.
    One of the greatest moments in my life was at Ambergus Key in Belize in the 1980’s. Everyone in the town was at Captain Loco’s Bar partying til dawn. As the sun came up the fellow next to me (whom I had been drinking and conversing with all night, stood up and yelled “time my children”. With that, the band quit, everyone in the place filed out and went next door to a small chapel. The Preist (surprise to me my drinking buddy) opened the door and every single person who was at the bar (everyone- customers, bartenders, servers, cooks and me) filed in. The chapel was a very simple one, but I did notice the double doors on the back (behind the alter) matched the entrance doors at the front. With everyone inside, the Preist held up his hands and signaled for quiet. He then opened the doors behind the alter and shouted as the sun arose “Good morning God! All of your children are here to thank you for the blessing you have bestowed on us!” With that everyone let out a loud cheer, started kissing and hugging everyone around them. All to the tune of one beautiful sunrise slowly climbing up over the alter. If I had not been sailing than this memory would never have happened. This memory can never be taken away from me, lost or destroyed. It is treasured forever in my mind. To sail is to experience life it its fullness. John and I are of the same mind. He said he wants to circumnavigate the world when he hits 90. I’d like to race him.

  • Hi. Have you made a claim on the Victorian anchor before it goes to the British museum.

  • Did you make a claim on the Victorian anchor?

  • Hello Finished one book. Another on the way. Reall interested in health concept. Can you send me the info ? Inspired sir !!! Phil A

  • Another wonderfully written story

  • Wow….that is a huge ####ing anchor….new follower here Jim, almost done with the book….Phil A

  • Maybe they wanted to avoid further complaints about fouled ground tackle. I think you got your point across. Thankfully they didn’t charge you for finding it!

  • Hi John

    I ordered and paid for the natural supplements as per your article but it was not delivered notwithstanding various enquiries.

    Can you perhaps advise any other method for enquiries/



    • Hi Hennie, Apologies for this rather public reply, but I’ve been in touch with the company, who say they emailed you several times between March 23rd and 28th but received no reply. Although you have paid twice with two different cards, they don’t have an address to send the product, nor a full name or phone number – so obviously, they haven’t been able to send it. Please would you email me directly – john@oldmansailing.com so we can get this sorted out. Best regards, John

  • Still loving your adventures.


  • Hello Sailor,
    Hope you had a good passage despite the Pringles.
    Were you able to get a good repair of your damaged goose neck fitting?
    Cheers Jonas

  • Great story. One imagines the ship

  • If you hadn’t produced the photos to prove it I would have sworn you made the whole thing up in the midst of some sort of alcoholic fuge. It knocks “you should have seen the one that got away” for six.

  • Great story John. You had me hooked.

  • Thoroughly enjoyed this blog old man.
    Cheers and hopefully many more to come

    Best of luck from another old man.

  • Wondering if it would have been cheaper to cut your anchor loose and buy another? Or is that a maritime no-no?

  • That looks like an old Admiralty anchor and looking like it’s the best part of 3 tonnes at least. It could be really interesting to learn where it came from but I guess that will never happen.

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