A good day

Why do we do it?

Why do we live on boats?

Particularly, why do some of us live on boats alone?

Don’t you get lonely? Don’t you get bored? What about when the weather’s bad? When stuff goes wrong…

Well, all of that goes to make up days like today. For today is a good day.

I should explain: Today is Sunday. I am anchored in Moelfre Bay on the east coast of Anglesey – nine days since leaving Les Sables d’Olonne after a week of rather unsuccessfully trying to promote the French translation of Old Man Sailing.

The reason for coming back is because on Wednesday, my son Theo graduates from Liverpool medical school and I can’t miss that – any more than I can miss Lottie’s graduation in Liberal Arts from Leeds eight days later.

Originally all this was going to happen while Samsara was in Island Harbour on the Isle of Wight having the new tank and watermaker fitted.

Except the tank isn’t ready (foul-up in the paperwork, apparently). Well, that was OK. I could leave her anchored in Falmouth and take the train.

Arriving in my spot off Trefusis Point in time for lunch on Wednesday – a respectable 21 hours out of L’Aber Wrac’h – I had a whole five days to book a cheap old person’s ticket for the North.

Not so. Apparently, it’s going to be a train strike day – and the prices! £227 return! And that’s with a Railcard…

I considered the bus. I took the bus from Falmouth once before – leaving Cornwall before 6.00a.m and not arriving at home in Suffolk until almost midnight – feeling as if I walked all the way.

This is where Tamsin and a bit of straight thinking comes in: “Why are you in Falmouth? I thought you’d be somewhere up north…”

Well yes, but that’s without taking the Irish Sea into account – and getting round the Lizard…

Nevertheless, four hours after arriving, I was leaving again – just as things were livening up in The Chain Locker. I had to get round The Lizard before Falmouth Coastguard’s promise of “South-westerly 5-7 occasionally Gale 8” shut the door.

That was the first gale. Over the next three days we had three of them. Minehead Coastguard, Dublin Coastguard, Holyhead Coastguard – they all had their own particular tone for announcing the unpleasantness: “Gale expected soon” as if it was some sort of desirable event like a village fete or “Gale now ceased” (thank heavens for that) followed in the same breath by “Southwesterly gale 8 expected soon”.

At least we were going in the right direction – and there is nothing a Rival likes better than a gale of wind behind her. But, on the other hand, this was the Irish Sea, so the deck was running with water pretty much the whole way and all that crawling around gybing and reefing meant that my knees were never completely dry – which plays havoc with the sleeping bag…

By the northeast corner of Anglesey, I’d had enough of it. There were still 45 miles to go to Liverpool and although I should arrive three hours after low water with the flood to take me up the Mersey, Liverpool Bar is not somewhere you want to be with 28kts blowing straight up the channel.

And that was when Moelfre came into view – or, more precisely, the ships taking shelter in its lee. There were sixteen of them. If someone with 50,000 tons under them can drop the hook for a bit of peace and quiet overnight, I’m sure I can.

In fact, with a 1.5m draft, I can get right into the bay – another favourite spot: this time just off the lifeboat slip.

Except I was still in eight metres when the engine overheat alarm started screaming.

This is the loudest alarm on the boat (and boats these days seem to have dozens of them). Sure enough, there was no water coming out of the exhaust – just a hollow cough like an asthmatic smoker.

I stopped the engine and let go the anchor – in that order.

Suddenly everything was calm and quiet. I made a cup of tea – and a peanut butter, honey and apple sandwich – and got out the rum bottle – and found Global Gold’s Overnights on the Bluetooth speaker, now we were back with a mobile signal…

Investigating the innards of the engine could wait for morning.

…and this is where it gets really good.

Not because a first look inside proved it wasn’t the impeller or a blocked intake. There was a torrent of raw water pouring out of the side of the block and straight into the bilge. The trouble was, there was no way of seeing exactly where it was coming from – not without removing the oil filter, which would just make matters worse.

I began to think of options: Could I get an engineer to come out to a desolate bay miles from the nearest harbour? If I managed to sail all the way up the Mersey, would anyone tow me into the Marina?

And it was Sunday.

But wait: Facebook is open on a Sunday. I filmed a hasty YouTube short. Sure enough, ten minutes later Hans-Christian Hartleb in Berlin came back with: “Water exhaust rusted through, my first guess. Would need to be changed. Welding most difficult. Good luck.”

If only I could see round the back of the filter…

But wait again: Paul Masters on Clytie once told me how he looked at the holes for his keel bolts with a thing called an Endoscope. It seemed such a good idea, having a camera that you could poke into small spaces that I bought one myself and it’s been sitting at the bottom of the bits locker ever since. Today it paid for itself.

 The hose clip on the engine block inlet had given way. I could see it all on my phone screen as clearly as if I had crawled in there myself – the whole Irish Sea pouring in.

It took ten minutes to fix – honestly, no more. And no engineer coming out from Holyhead in a RIB at £80 an hour…

Then the sun came out.

In fact, this was one occasion to get out the posh beer glass. It is, after all, a very good day.

The Graduates

5 Responses to A good day

  • Well done John ! Nothing seems to phase you too much lol. I’m just popping off to search for endoscopes.

  • This blog should have a new title: May I suggest “Young man sailing” ? With all due respect, Chr.

  • You told that well. No water: I’m thinking blockage, hope not waterproof pump or worse. Could be a real bummer. Felt the relief when you gave us the endoscope result. Bet the graduates loved it.

  • Well done John! Most rewarding. I am sitting in Longy Bay in Alderney with a glass of red, after a quick hop up from Guernsey 4/5 s/w. Onwards to Portsmouth and HMS Hornet tomorrow morning at 6am.

  • Blooming Brilliant! A good story, well explained. What an excellent result!! Congratulations on all fronts; especially with your newly graduated youngsters.

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Bulots and the body clock

Dateline: L’Aber Wra’ch

Middle of the Night

Yes. It is 0030hrs, the smell of fresh-ground coffee fills the cabin, and I am wide awake, washed and dressed (in fresh clothes). Mozart’s Romeo and Juliet is playing on the Bluetooth speaker – and so, the day begins.

Maybe this takes a bit of explaining.

My body clock is fucked.

I’m sorry, but there is no other way of putting it. I left Les Sables d’Olonne on Friday after a week in which I managed to get one interview with the local paper and handed out several hundred leaflets, accompanying each with a little French sentence. I became rather proficient with this by the end.

According to Google Translate, it said: “May I give you one of these? It’s about the French translation of my book.” Once I had that taped, I added: “To get started, it’s half-price!”

This was a big success. People smiled and thanked me – but that may be because I was saying something else entirely. Who knows?

Then, on Friday morning, the Windy App changed its mind from flat calm to westerly 10-15 knots – and I was conscious of two children about to graduate back in England. Sometimes you have to take advantage of the weather – even if you’re paid for the marina berth until Saturday.

That’s one of the nice things about France, isn’t it? “Bien sûr” to a refund – you didn’t get that in a British marina last time I tried it.

So, with a big bag of petit pois dans la gousse from the market and all the water bottles filled up (yes, a new tank is another reason for getting back), I set off up the Biscay coast.

Twelve hours later, I had managed precisely 23 miles and was looking at a night of rolling about in 3kts of wind and sleeping for 20 minutes at a time because, apparently it was a perfect night for fishing – and fishing boats have right of way. French fishing boats the more so (it was outside Les Sables d’Olonne that Alex Thomson, fast asleep and waiting for the tide in the entrance, was rammed by a fishing boat and effectively knocked out of the 2008 Vendée Globe).

Very pretty and all that – but not much good for going anywhere.


On the other hand, I could just about afford the fuel to motor three miles to a bay on the east of Île de Yeu. Anchored at one in the morning, I slept late, pottered about on the Internet (I’m now £25 over my international roaming allowance) and left when the breeze returned at midday – which was what was supposed to happen in the first place.

But it did mean I was 26 miles closer to the Golfe de Morbihan – a wonderful inland sea and nature reserve and, incidentally, home to the grave of the great singlehander Bernard Moitessier. I had never visited either. It was halfway to the English Channel. The westerlies were due to hold for a few days yet. I could afford one stop…

Or two…

 The thing about the Morbihan is that the tides between its many islands run at upwards of six knots. It is not a place to be mucking about in the dark. On the other hand, there was a little bay only 13 miles away on the island of Hoëdic where I could anchor and get another good night’s sleep.

Well, that’s what I could have done if I hadn’t spent the day making painfully slow progress the 43 miles from the last place.

To while away the time, I did some more research on my cunning plan to slip in between the rocks to the south and discovered that all the beacons were unlit, and the Navionics App insisted: “Approach from the North”.

Instead, I spent the night wafting very, very slowly the 13 miles across to the Morbihan, arriving with the dawn and a rising tide. By lunchtime, I would have paid my respects at the graveside and be sitting down to a celebration Plateau des Fruits de Mer.

I had promised myself this on the sale of the first copy of Le vieil homme hisse la voile. Amazon assured me someone had indeed bought one (apart from the six I had ordered myself as review copies). I was reduced to sending out three of them on spec – which is a bit like posting them directly into the recycling bin.

On closer inspection, it turned out the mystery purchaser was in the UK, not Les Sables at all. But since both my sisters insisted (with apologies) that it wasn’t them, I convinced myself a celebration was still in order – particularly with the extra €32 from the marina refund in my pocket.

Except that didn’t quite work out because the 13 miles to the Morbihan took so long that I still hadn’t made it when the Windy App changed its mind again and announced that if I didn’t get out of Biscay by Wednesday, I would be trapped by a strong north-westerly airflow that would sit there well into graduation season.

Which was how I came to spend another much-interrupted night – and you can’t do that indefinitely. Your subconscious gets so used to alarms that eventually, it just ignores them. You end up not waking up at all. The secret is to vary the alarm setting – have the occasional decent kip for 45 minutes or so.

I set a course to the southwest of the Île de Groix – at least I might get some peace and quiet out there.

The blasted fishermen were there as well.

Also, there was a time when you could rely on a trawler to go in a straight line for a bit. Now they link their fish finders to their autopilots. They’re all over the place. At one point, I was setting the alarms for 10 minutes – which, basically, meant spending all my time getting in and out of bed.

Would you believe I still woke up to find one of them on a collision course at what the AIS measured at 863 feet? You’ve never seen anyone roll up a super-zero and gybe so fast…

By the time we reached the Raz de Seine, I was seriously spooked. It’s a long time since I’ve made this notoriously tricky passage (39 years, I worked it out). Also, I sold all the Brittany pilot books at car boot sales in the early 90s. All I’ve got aboard now is the 2021 Reeds – and the Internet, of course.

Reeds offered this on the Raz: “In moderate to strong winds, it must be taken at slack water. In strong wind-against-tide which raises steep breaking seas and overfalls, the channel must not be used.”

All well and good, but when was slack water? Navionics put it 0330 – or 0430 when I noticed the little exclamation mark and “Guernsey time” (why?)

Reeds insisted I should wait for High Water Brest +5½hrs  – which would be not until 0530. Then there was the Yachting Monthly site: they seemed to suggest +6½hrs.

Everyone agreed that the window for this “nastiest of Europe’s tidal races” was half an hour at most (some put it at 15 minutes). It would have helped if the My Tide Times app agreed with Tide-Forecast.com (which itself was adrift from Tidetime.org by four whole minutes).

And which of them was on GMT+1 and which +2?

You never got this sort of thing before they invented the mobile signal.

Once I entered the Raz, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. I might get a few catnaps crossing the Iroise, but you have to maintain 5½ knots if you’re going to catch the tide up the Chenal du Four. Even with three sails up, that meant motor-sailing all the way and nobody can sleep with my engine insulation.

By the time I made it into L’Aber Vrac’h, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to tie up, get off the boat, march straight into the Restaurant Le Vioben and order the biggest Plateau des Fruits de Mer they had on the menu. I’d been reading reviews all the way along the north coast: a German guest was very complimentary about his six-course meal.

I might leave my own review for the Vioben. For a start, their website says they are open from 10am to 10pm but there were some very doubtful faces when I walked in at 2.30. Then they wanted me to order dessert before I’d even speared my first bulot.

Actually, I never did get to spear a bulot. There weren’t any on my plateau. At least half the bigorneauxwere empty as well.

And the final insult that will make it a one-star review was that sitting on the top of it all was an araignée. I kid you not – a spider crab. Now that’s cheap.

I said so.

The waiter said crabes were rare. No, they’re not. They’re just more expensive – the sort of thing, in fact, that you might expect for a meal costing €76 – and what was with the wet-wipe in a plastic sachet that was completely impossible to open once your fingers were covered in mayonnaise and bits of seafood?  How about a finger bowl with a bit of lemon floating in it?

Worse than that, I hadn’t consulted Google Translate before getting started on all of this, so I may have come across not only as rude but ignorant as well. Moreover, it had nothing to do with the beer before lunch or the bottle of Muscadet…

I can only claim lack of sleep.

I don’t remember getting back to the boat – just waking up at half-past midnight

If you’re still with me after what is apparently 1,662 words, that’s because it’s now four in the morning, and in the middle of everything else, I’ve been trying to find out why Facebook is refusing me permission to comment.

Maybe they know something.


Le Vioben’s version


Alternatively, last year in St Malo with Hugo.


…  in fact, there’s a bit of history to the plateaux.

5 Responses to Bulots and the body clock

  • Hi John, you can get fresh lobster etc. to cook on your new cooker just some nm away W at Aber Benoit. Next to paradise for me and so far, really cheap mooring. Christian

  • Serves you right! A grizzled boating ‘boulevardier’ calling himself Joe Bloggs should know better than to try to race then chase the tide around Bretagne, then be surprised by the ‘menu touristique’ aimed at ‘arrivistes’….
    A rather better Grande Plan would have been a small diversion into Camaret Sur Mer and an altogether stellar culinary experience in the dining room of the Hotel Du Styvel, a quietly celebrated provincial treasure that the civilised Western Celts keep to themselves.
    Long and repeated experience reveals that the subsequent transit of the Chenal Du Four is much more satisfactorily completed on a replete belly and a bottle of good Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, with a serving tidestream of one’s choosing.
    This aging eonophile has found it rewarding, both this century and last, when in search of a good lunch in La France Profonde, to ask the local artisans. They know their onions!!

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Breakfast is served

This is the big news.

Forget meeting Kirsten Neuschäfer in the Marina office. Forget the local paper coming to interview me today – they did.

The big news is that I have a cockpit table!

Being able to sit up for breakfast in the sunshine with your plate in front of you and not drop apricot jam all over your lap is, I would suggest, one of the (few) advantages of new boats over old ones and something I have been trying to contrive in my 1973 Rival for as long as I can remember.

In fact, this ambition for al-fresco dining pre-dates Samsara. I wanted a cockpit table in Largo – and that was back in 1981.

The problem was always where to put it – for one thing, the Rival cockpit is snug, to say the least – which is just what you want for bashing into half a gale, but not a lot of good for fine dining. Also, what are you going to do with a cockpit table when you set off into said gale?

The obvious solution – as always with small boats – was to delve into the Lin and Larry Pardey philosophy of making everything on the boat serve two purposes (half a dozen would be better).

I thought about the lid of the chart table or a bunk board (too big); maybe a washboard (too small).

Meanwhile, there were other things to think about – a new one-piece washboard for one. By the time I had slotted in the old one’s three pieces behind me, it was time to go out again.

And, I must say, the new washboard with Its window so you can see why you don’t want to go out there after all and its 12 coats of varnish, really is a work of art. It is only now that I realise it is neither too big nor too small for a cockpit table. In fact, if only I could find some way of fitting it with legs, it would be perfect.

But maybe…

If there was some way of mounting it on top of the tiller, it wouldn’t need legs, would it? Maybe some folding attachment underneath…

I will spare you the trial and error – there is nothing more boring than mad inventors trying to explain the development process. Suffice it to say that because Samsara’s original owner, the extraordinarily innovative Birmingham engineer who fitted her out from a hull, had contrived two raised locker lids for the lazarette (which could double as seats high enough to see where you were going), one end of the washboard (sorry cockpit table) could fit under the handles. Then it turned out that the plastic container which soaks my breakfast porridge was just the right size to support the other end (more dual-purpose).

It turns out the whole thing is as solid as a rock. The raised seats make an excellent sideboard. Now you could hold a dinner party in Samsara’s cockpit. Well, a dinner party for two, perhaps.

So don’t all turn up at once.

6 Responses to Breakfast is served

  • Great idea John ! I might look at doing the same on my little Sadler 25. Fair winds.

  • A cockpit table is a symbol of one of those luxury yachts and hight of decadence. You’ll be fitting another rudder next 😉

  • This just gets better and better! Sail on, buddy!

  • Ahh, dinner no longer a washout….

  • Love your idea. Duel purpose just makes sense on small boats. I only met one smaller boat than my 30 footer in the last 8 weeks (a Vancouver 27) as I chatted with them I devoured all their great ideas. Small is more fun and it keeps your mind active. Thanks for passing on your knowledge I use a lot of your it. Enjoy the rest of your summer. Greg

  • I say how very civilised – wot a clever chap!

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The old man and the golden girl

Does everyone have those days when everything goes wrong? When, in fact, things go wrong from breakfast through ‘til suppertime for days on end?

And yet, while the catalogue of disasters piles up like unopened bills on the hall table, a tiny voice at the back of your mind keeps insisting that at any moment – it could be the very next moment –  something absolutely wonderful is about to happen.

Or is it just me?

I came to Les Sables d’Olonne because it is the world centre for singlehanded sailing. If there was anywhere on earth to launch the French edition of Old Man Sailing, this was it. Only last week, the whole town turned out to celebrate Kirsten Neuschäfer not only winning the Golden Globe singlehanded-round-the-world Race – but becoming the first woman to win any round-the-world sailing event, ever.

And in the process, becoming the single most famous sailor on the planet.

 I had this idea that all I had to do was turn up in Les Sables d’Olonne, and I could somehow siphon off some of the residual excitement and turn it into publicity for what is now called Le vieil homme hisse la voile (apparently, that works better in French).

My one bit of good luck had been running into an Australian in Lymington who had read the blog and came to say hello… actually, he didn’t at first. Instead, he stood on the quay watching me faffing about at the top of the mast, wondering if I would be able to get down again (I had accidentally disconnected myself from all means of support and was hanging on with my knees, so I knew I would be able to get down – just a bit quicker than I hoped).

All of this culminated in the astonishing coincidence that the watcher on the quay had grown up in Australia in the same small town as Don McIntyre, who runs the Golden Globe Race. He could put me in touch. I could ask Don to pass me on to all his media friends. I would be all over the local television news! My picture would be in the paper! The chat show hosts would be lining up their sofas on the dock! This was going to be brilliant!

Actually, no. Don emailed to say that the trouble with sailing and the French media is that there is too much sailing and not enough media. In fact, he hadn’t been able to get a single outlet to review the GGR film…

And as for my offer to send him a copy of the book: apparently, he hasn’t read a book in five years – unless you count the trashy novel on the Atlantic crossing in his Mini 5.80…

So, it is something of an understatement to say that things were not going according to plan. I had emailed everybody I could find on Google. I had asked politely if I might leave leaflets on the counter at the chandlery and the sailmaker (at least that’s what Google Translate said I was asking, it could have been something else.)

And then I got a puncture in my back tyre – and then another one straight after because I must have pinched the new inner tube with the tyre lever when I was changing it. So, I had to walk all the way across town to the repair shop following Google Maps (which meant going by pretty way).

After all of which, would you believe the Amazon parcel with the six copies of the book I had ordered for all those journalists and chat show hosts and reviewers, had not been delivered to the marina office after all.

“But certainly, not at all, for you nothing,” as the girl behind the counter put it.

But see here. Amazon has said my package has been delivered in your box of letters…

“Ah, the box of letters…”

Her colleague went to look.

It was while he was looking that I noticed the woman at the back of the queue – the one with the wild golden curls and the faded T-shirt advertising Epifanes yacht varnish and not pushing in when it wasn’t her turn or demanding this and that of everybody in sight.

There was something terribly familiar about her.

Surely, it couldn’t be Kirsten Neuschäfer herself – only the most famous sailor in the world, the darling of the media, the one person with access to more free publicity than you can shake a fluffy microphone at…

The marina assistant returned holding an Amazon package with my name on it.

I thanked him absent-mindedly, while saying to the patient Epifanes person: “Should I be congratulating you?”

She laughed: “If you must.”

So, I did.

And I gave her a leaflet.

And I told her my story (she did ask).

Then I gave her a book – and inscribed it.

And gave her a whole bundle of leaflets to give to her friends (her influential friends in sailing and the media).

And she was friendly and down-to-earth and thanked me as if she didn’t have every PR person in the universe pressing their products on her.

And she posed with me for a selfie.

When I got back to the boat, there was an email from one Blanche Poisson, of the Les Sables Vendée Journal. She would be very interested to meet me for an interview.

We’re meeting on board on Thursday. She says she speaks some English, but otherwise, M. Google will be our friend.

14 Responses to The old man and the golden girl

  • When you roll out of bed and stub your toe on the way to the head, then a jar of pickles falls out of the refrigerator and covers the cabin sole on pickle juice and bits of glass, you may suspect that this is “one of those days”. This is confirmed when every traffic light is red while driving to the local Chandlers. This portends the chain of small events that will color the rest of your day. Small tests of patience that in relating them to spouse and friends will garner you no sympathy but only little smiles that silently ask; what is your problem? Well, the problem is that there’s no way around it, it is “one of those days”.

  • You jammy dodger!

  • Bravo to Kirsten for becoming the first woman to win a round-the-world SOLO sailing race, but let’s not forget Wendy Tuck, who was the first woman to win a round-the-world sailing race (the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World race).

    Good luck with your interview tomorrow. I will look for the article in the paper next week.

  • What a lady.
    I was sure you were going to show us how it got worse, not the silver lining.

  • John,your amazing life journey keeps getting better and better. Joie De Vivre

  • Nice one John.

  • Fantastic! Hope you enjoyed the whole experience, by the looks on your face you did!

  • Good on ya john!

  • Wow! You got to meet the Most Famous Sailor in the World!

  • Absolutely brilliant!!
    Thanks for illuminating serendipity
    Three cheers Kirsten

  • Fortuitous, bien sur!
    Bonne chance!

  • Formidable Mon cher ami!

  • Cold market Academy springs to mind JP

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The baguette

It is a law of nature in France (maybe it is a law of the Fifth Republic) that nowhere in the country is more than ten minutes’ walk from a bakery.

This means that at 7.00 a.m, as another blazing day began in Les Sables d’Olonne, the town was up and out for the morning’s baguette du moulin.

And I was up with them, nose to the screen, following Google Maps’ little blue dots to La Moulin de la Chaume (boulangerie et viennoiserie).

Actually, I wasn’t just up. I was up and bathed (well, a flannel, the little blue bowl balanced on top of the loo and a kettle of water courtesy of the marina shore-power). A fresh T-shirt and ready to face – not just the day – but a most important week.

For I am here to promote the French edition of Old Man Sailing: Le vieil homme hisse la voile (literally “The old man hoists the sail”). The translator, Christian Calliyannis, normally translates poetry and insisted it was a much better title – it has emotion in the words, apparently.

Apparently, he is right because Olivier Piquer in Montreal, who has narrated the Audible edition emails: “You have a beautiful book.”

This was important because it is a bit presumptuous to rock up in the world’s headquarters of singlehanded sailing and offer oneself for interview (via an interpreter, of course) to TV and radio stations, the local paper – and, frankly, anyone else who will give me the time of day. Particularly, when only last week, they were debriefing Kirsten Neuschäfer on becoming not only the winner of the Golden Globe Race but the first woman to win any Round-The-World sailing event.

But then recently, I have received an ego-boost. A review for the last book, The Voyage, from someone called Cassidy in the United States on May 11th reads:

“John Passmore is my new favorite writer.

“It’s truly wonderful to read someone who infuses all their work with wit and charm. For better or worse, he is a self-aware individual who never attempts to hide his warts. Truly it’s the opposite, he embraces them with humor and acceptance. I can’t recommend his books enough. If you love sailing, you will of course love his works, but I’m certain you could never set foot on a boat and still greatly enjoy the time you spent in John Passmore’s tiny floating world. This is a quote from “Old Man Sailing” I now find myself sharing with everyone, “It is a great comfort to be stupid. Disasters about to happen do not trouble the minds of those too dim to imagine them.” If you can read that and not laugh, you simply have no sense of humor. We have all had that feeling. That moment when we realize the only reason we find ourselves amid a disaster was our own inability to see what was obviously coming our way. Read his books!!”

So, on the strength of that, in Baltimore at the end of the Jester Challenge, I went off on the bus to Skibbereen and got a thousand leaflets printed in French, complete with translations of some of the best reviews of the English version – along with boastful little sub-heads like “10 000 exemplaires vendus en anglais” and “882 évaluations Amazon. 4,6 étoiles”. If I didn’t get on telly, at least I could hand them out in a town which can’t really tell the difference between singlehanded sailors and minor deities.

I wasn’t deliberately setting out to test this theory as I embarked on the search for baguette. But Google Maps landed me outside the boulangerie Moulin de la Chaume only to find the door firmly closed. An ancient, curling print-out informed customers that the establishment would be closed from the 22nd of June until the 6th of July. A hand-written note beside it advised them that their baguette du moulin would be available from the distributor on the quay.

Retracing the little blue dots, I found no sign of a bakery on the quay. There were cafés open at a quarter past seven with Frenchmen arguing about politics over small cups of coffee and even smaller glasses of cognac. But no baguette du moulin.

Not wanting to interrupt their discussion about the riots, I looked around for someone else to ask. There was only the road sweeper in his orange jacket, emptying the bins. I polished a simple sentence and tried it out on him.

Only in France would you find a road sweeper who not only makes an effort to understand your tortured grammar but actually takes you to buy your bread: “But certainly one may buy baguette du moulin. One may buy it from the automat for pieces.”

And certainly one might: A machine delivers warm bread down a chute every morning (and hot pizza by night, according to the sign).

It was a good start to the day – and given that, I turned to my new friend, the road sweeper and asked him: “Do you like the sail?” It was a reasonable question. He was, after all, resident in a town which turns out several times a year to line the breakwaters and wish Bon Voyage to one bunch of sailors or another.

But yes, he liked the sail. In Les Sables d’Olonne, all the world likes the sail.

I gave him a leaflet. He paused to read the headline: “Fascinating history which addresses well also to sailors or landlubbers”.

He smiled. He thanked me extravagantly.

And he put it in his pocket – not the bin, which was most gratifying.

An early morning walk through the back streets of Les Sables d’Olonne for the breakfast baguette.


10 Responses to The baguette

  • Hi John,
    I ‘m glad the classic boat channel on utube featured your yacht. As a 65 year old bloke, I thought I was too old to take up sailing. But you have inspired me. Like the isea of sailing around the world when you are a hundred.
    Also would like to enjoy a few beers without going to the head all night. Could you please send me the name of your supplement.
    Regards Mike Connors

  • Love the new hat and shades.

  • We enjoy your stories very much!!
    Rob and Anke van Breda

  • Good read John, have read your book and enjoyed it immensely! By the way do you have any tips for taking the mineral powder? I dissolve it in hot water but find it leaves a terrible taste. Cheers from another old sailor.

    • Yes, it’s absolutely disgusting, isn’t it. I dissolve it in the Fizzy Vitamins effervescent drink which is flavoured with pomegranate – reasoning that, at £11.47 a month, they’re not expensive and I’ve got to get my vitamins from somewhere.

  • thank you I love your stories

  • As usual I read and envey your lifestyle

  • They sure like Hollyhocks there

  • Nice one, John

  • Magnifique JP

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