An Invitation

Here is my grandfather in 1920 – he’s the little fellow in the front row on the right. He has chartered the gaff schooner Xenia for Cowes Week and invited his friends (the one in the middle – the only one not cross legged, with the cigarette and the supercilious air – he went to prison for fraud).

My Uncle Dudley is the younger of the two boys, clearly very uncomfortable sitting on the lap of the rather dodgy-looking gent clutching the wheel. Dudley was to be killed on his 21st birthday on the Kingston by-pass in his birthday MG with his girlfriend beside him.

The reason I show you this is because I have now achieved something the Grandfather wanted so very desperately but never quite managed.

The whole point of his rather expensive summer holiday was to get himself an invitation to the Royal Yacht Squadron. The squadron was where the gentry mingled. The King had been Commodore until his coronation in 1901 and still never missed “The Week”.

The Grandfather instructed Xenia’s professional skipper to anchor in Cowes Roads as close as physically possible to the royal yacht.

Then, every morning after breakfast, he would appear on deck in his white trousers and reefer jacket, his perky little yachting cap perched on his head and train his spyglass alternately on Britannia and the Squadron steps, looking for the pinnace that would put out bearing an invitation.

It never came.

The trouble, of course, was that The Grandfather was “trade”. He was a solicitor who had made his money untangling the expensive contractual and romantic difficulties of the Edwardian England’s stars of stage and… well, just stage in those days.

When I was 15, I earned my very first pay packet sorting out the firm’s old files – except I spent far too much time reading them and poring over the sepia photographs of yachts and mistresses.

Anyway, the reason for telling you all this and reproducing the photograph which hangs in Samsara’s cabin to show me where my aspirations really should lie, is because I have achieved that which was denied my grandfather – an invitation to The Squadron.

This week I stayed there as a guest of the Royal Yacht Squadron Book Club.

Yes, I’m impressed too.

It is difficult not to be impressed by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Everywhere you look there are photographs of the crowned heads of Europe and framed letters from Nelson, brass cannons, and silverware – more silverware than seems entirely practical.

They gave me the Vice Commodore’s bedroom. This is unbelievably sumptuous – not in the style of a no no-star hotel but rather as Windsor Castle might be considered sumptuous: The best of everything but no television or minibar. Instead a full-sized bookcase full of sailing classics (from Down Channel by R.T. McMullen all the way up to Lord Strathcarron’s recent biography of Francis Chichester).

The Chairman of the book club is Martin Thomas, the editor of that enduring essential of every ship’s library Heavy Weather Sailing. He is also the former commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, current Commodore of the Royal London Yacht Club (need I go on?)

It turns out that he is a  fan of Old Man Sailing – and more particularly, The Good Stuff which features some of the races we did back in the 1980s when he was sailing the Sadler 29 Jenny Wren and I trailed along behind in Largo.

I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to attend a book club dinner: The members take it in turns to say nice things about the book and the author sits there eating a splendid dinner and drinking some excellent wine while trying to appear self-deprecating but secretly bursting with pride.

The Good Stuff is available on Amazon in Kindle format, paperback and Audible (stow it between H.W. Tilman and M. Wylie Blanchet.)

The Empress of Russia with her daughters aboard the Russian Imperial Yacht Standard. Cowes August 1909



The Good Stuff




7 Responses to An Invitation

  • A nice little bit of history their John,
    Being an Aussi, we all have a few skeletons in the cupboard.
    Cheers the Grumpy of sailor, from down under

  • John, congratulations on your ascent to sailing royalty, well deserved.
    I missed the release of The Good Stuff (another one for the kindle) should keep me entertained for a while as the winter evenings draw in.
    Many Thanks and we’ll done

  • M’Lud – there’s no topping that!

  • Fame at last. Soon you’ll be wanting peaceful anonymity again.

  • Congratulations, and very well done for achieving a generational ambition!⚓

  • What a joy it is to read your words, Thankyou!

    It’s good to hear that I’m not alone in appreciating them. The Royal Yacht Squadron know their stuff!

    Many congratulations and thanks again

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Needs Oare Point

There are precious few places in The Solent where you can anchor for nothing – certainly not with shelter from all quarters.

Of course, you can be a cheapskate and refuse to give a fiver to the National Trust in the Newtown River – but the volunteers are so charming when they come round in their dory that it seems churlish to refuse.

The other spot I can think of is Needs Oare Point in the River Beaulieu – an utterly beautiful and desolate anchorage just inside the river entrance where the spit protects you from the south and west. I’ve been coming here since the 1970s when I used to snuggle down in my little 18footer with a hurricane lamp and a copy of Nevil Shute’s Requiem for a Wren.

Shute fans will know all about Needs Oare Point. It is where Janet meets Bill (but you’ll have to read the book to understand the heart-breaking consequences of that fateful day in 1944).

Anyway, it’s not free anymore. Secretly, I have known this for a few years but always took the view that if anyone came asking for dues, I would pay up – but they could hardly expect me to blow up the dinghy and row the two-and-a-half miles to Buckler’s Hard to volunteer my grubby tenner.

I should explain that a free night in the Solent had become something of a priority because one of our new “Brexit Benefits” here in the UK is that my new watermaker (yes, the one I ordered back in May) is stuck in East Midland’s Airport waiting for the shipper to sign a “DDP form” to change the “Method of Service” – something which cannot be done by the “Consignee”. (I know this is a Brexit Benefit because I asked the young man at DHL, and I quote: “Of course. We get this all the time.”

It means that I have just spent two wasted days waiting for delivery at Island Harbour Marina while paying £33 a night, which I suspect I am not going to get back from DHL, the Shipper or – come to that – Jacob Rees Mogg.

Tomorrow – presuming I am still waiting – I shall get a free night at the Royal Yacht Squadron’s haven when I go and sing for my supper at their Book Club – and by Friday, it will all be rather academic anyway, because DHL will have returned the “consignment” to Barcelona.

One way and another, I needed something to take my mind off the utter stupidity of leaving the EU – a man go mad dwelling on “Brexit Benefits”.

What I needed was a distraction: I would fit the new cleat on the foredeck.

Single-handers will now be wincing. They know that this involves crawling upside down into the anchor locker to use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to stop the bolts turning while fitting the nuts (and, of course, not having dropped the washers into the pile of chain) before getting some mole grips on the business end while you tighten up said nuts. The whole operation is necessarily accompanied by a good deal of swearing  (see washers) – which is why a remote anchorage is desirable in the first place.

Inevitably, a polite tap on the hull goes unnoticed.

It was only when insistent rapping penetrated to the forepeak that I emerged, red in the face and with my head-torch over one eye, to find a man in a dory saying: “Sorry if I woke you. Harbour dues…”

I explained about the forepeak, the bolts, washers, the pile of chain (you have to justify that sort of language): “It’s a bit of a job when you don’t have anyone to hold the screwdriver on the other end.”

That was when the man in the dory said: “I’ll hold the screwdriver if you like.”

Now, that’s what I call a benefit.

5 Responses to Benefits

  • Hi John. I enjoyed your book immensely and also the regular blogs. You are living my dream. If only I ………. Anyway, would very much appreciate details of the supplement you mention. At 72 I’m as smug as you are about your wellness but now believe the time is right not to take it for granted.

  • Those fabled two-and-a-half miles up the Beaulieu River take you to the BH marina, with its harbour office and newly ambitious chandlery. They’ve been making an effort over the past few years to actually provide some goods and services including, on the weekends, newspapers. Just for the record, the Daily Torygraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Times are available in abundance, while the Saturday Guardian and Sunday Observer arrive, if you’re lucky, in their ones and twos. I’ve often wondered, given the newspaper buying habits of the fucia trousered yachty set, what their feeling about Brexit is now. Or maybe customs duties, cross channel paperwork, clearing in and out of Europe are still considered a fair price to pay for the benefit of seeing William and Nigel on Fox wannabee cable news outlets. Don’t get me started.

  • It’s lovely when people help each other. Small kindnesses matter.

  • Would you care to give me contact details for the helpful harbour-dues collector? I have bolts to hold, nuts to turn, and swearing to forego….

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A little local difficulty

You don’t appreciate just how big Poole Harbour really is until you row from Pottery Pier to the little beach in the fishing boat marina.

That’s 1.3 nautical miles (Poole Harbour being the second biggest natural harbour in the world – second only to Sydney, apparently).

I row at two knots – but then, I have all the time in the world…

Rowing back and thinking about last weekend’s trip to Jersey to visit my son Olly and his family, it seemed astonishing that it is 40 years since I used to ferry Olly and his younger brother George across the harbour in a dramatically overloaded inflatable.

In those days, it was from the mooring off Brownsea Island to the Lilliput Yacht Station (now a block of flats).

Admittedly, I wasn’t rowing; we had a Suzuki 2hp, and the inflatable was a Tinker Tramp with double buoyancy chambers.

But we were definitely overloaded – particularly on the outward passage. The boys had their bags on their laps in the hope of keeping them dry. I needed a free hand to steady the pile of victuals as we navigated the Middle Ship Channel with its freighters and ferries. If we met the pilot boat, everything was going to get soaked anyway.

“Did you ever think that was just a teeny bit irresponsible?” I asked over the Braye beach café’s crab linguine.

“Not at all,” said Olly. “I assumed you knew what you were doing.”

“Ah, such faith!”

“Until you got me up in the middle of the night to look for rocks…”

I had rather forgotten about this. But now it’s out there, I suppose the story must be told…

It must have been a few years later because Olly was about 14 and George 12. I had delivered Largo to Plymouth in anticipation of a West Country cruise without having to spend 18 hours bashing them across Lyme Bay into a Force 6. But as we travelled down on the train, the sun shone, and a northwesterly 4 promised a perfect passage to the other side.

“If we set off as soon as we arrive, we can be in Morgat tomorrow in time for a late dinner in Café du Port,” I enthused.

Olly and George were up for it.

Isn’t it amazing how trusting children can be?

Suffice it to say, dinner the following night did not find us diving into cauldrons of moules. Instead, I suspect it might have been something rather hurried, like a handful of biscuits as I searched for Les Plâtresses in the gathering dusk.

It was sometime in the middle of the night when both boys were tucked up in their sleeping bags, and the night was as black as only a moonless night can be when you have neglected to look up the time of moonrise, that the Grande Viotière (Fl. R. 4s.) seemed to get itself mixed up with the Tournant et Lochris  (Fl. (2) R. 6s.)

Somehow, this did not seem the moment to go below to get the Seafix out of its bracket and start looking up frequencies for radio beacons (NW France).

Olly took up the story, aware that my grandson Benedict’s opinion of me was shrinking with each unfortunate turn of events.

“You woke me up and said you needed me in the cockpit to keep a lookout for rocks,” Olly went on, rather in the manner of midshipman Hornblower pointing out to the First Lieutenant that the French were now behind them as well as in front … and on both sides…

Well, I had suspected something might be wrong because a fishing boat had spent an awfully long time shining a searchlight at me – presumably wondering what a single navigation light was doing where no light had a right to be.

And the searchlight must have ruined whatever night vision age and nature had left me, because, no sooner did Olly poke his head out of the companionway than he said: “There are rocks over there…”


“Just over there. You can see the waves breaking on them.”

It didn’t seem the moment to argue. I spun Largo on a sixpence and headed straight for the fishing boat – presumably, he knew where he was…

It was breakfast we had in Morgat instead of dinner– and a lovely week in the Îsles de Glènan. The unfortunateness was all forgotten on the trip back – setting out as we did in broad daylight with courses and transits all drawn out carefully on the chart.

Anyway, it shouldn’t happen again. Now, I’ve got Navionics on two phones and a tablet – and the Garmin plotter… and two VHFs with GPS…

Just as well, too. I’ve looked up radio beacons (NW France), and they don’t seem to be there any more…

Olly, then.

…and now.

…and Benedict.


3 Responses to A little local difficulty

  • U haven’t navigated until you have used an old sock on a piece of string and a watch as log plus the Townsend ferry or an RAF airways chart for plotting!

  • Yes! Navionics is our beacon today too!!
    We used to have only a compass our walker log and seafahrer dept indicator
    Than rhe Seafix wich was better than the.transistor radio with a long wave functon but we never got a proper position from it. It was nice for homing on a beacon but that was all.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


The trouble with being smug is that sooner or later, you get your comeuppance.

For instance, I am well aware that I can be annoyingly smug about having nothing wrong with me at the age of 74 – well, nothing physical anyway: No aches and pains, no stick, no specs, no dentist’s bills and so on…

Worse still, I keep going on about the nutrition supplement I take instead of pharmaceutical products.

For instance, if I do get a niggling little twinge, I just take more of the stuff – as happened the other day when the big knuckle on my right hand started to ache. Sure enough, I took another helping in the evening for a few days, and the ache went away.

But then it came back – and that shouldn’t happen.

For about a week, I have been wondering whether I should share this on the blog – after all, it’s a bit dishonest not to report all the news – good and bad.

I was thinking about this as I doled out the morning spoonful – and if you are anywhere in the United Kingdom at the moment, you will not be surprised to hear that breakfast is being taken in the cockpit: We’re just embarking on the summer we seemed to have missed…

Also, those who have been paying attention will be aware of the new cockpit table – or, to put it another way – the new single-piece washboard wedged on top of the tiller so that it doubles as a cockpit table. It’s the perfect size, and you’re never going to need a cockpit table and a washboard at the same time, are you?

It is also exceptionally beautiful because of the month I spent in Amsterdam, giving it twelve coats of varnish.

…with the result that now it gets stuck in the grooves, and I have to give it a thump to free it.

The consequences of the thump are why I am telling you all this. The thump has to be on the inside. If I am administering it from the cockpit, I reach down and bang as if thumping on a table to applaud a particularly notable speech. Job done.

If I am inside, the ergonomics are rather different. Somehow, it comes more naturally to punch the companionway with my fist.

I’ve been doing this every morning: Knuckles on one end. Eighteen mil plywood on the other.

I’ve stopped doing it now.

Yes, exactly…

The same effect can be achieved with the table-thumping technique (after all, it is a table the rest of the time).

And guess what? My knuckle doesn’t hurt any more.

Do think I can claim the supplement has intelligence-enhancing properties?

A one-piece washboard…

…or a cockpit table.

5 Responses to Smug

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The dilemma of the single-handed sailor

Be very careful about inviting a single-hander onto your boat – they’ll drink all your gin, and then you have to throw them over the side to get rid of them.

I grew up with this – it was my parents’ philosophy whenever a scruffy old boat ghosted into the anchorage with a single, scruffy old man at the helm.

Of course, now I recognise myself in the role – and so, I am rather reticent when it comes to social life.

But last weekend was uncharacteristically convivial. It was the Ocean Cruising Club’s West Country Meet.

This opens with a formal dinner at the Royal Cornwall in Falmouth – loyal toasts and whatnot (I passed the port the wrong way).

Of course, this meant it came back to me with some left, and so it was a slightly unsteady old man who manhandled his dinghy over the side of the club slip and rowed back the half mile or so wearing a Laser sailor’s buoyancy aid and two head torches – one facing forward, one aft (I only had the aft one turned on – the for’ard light is for emergencies only – otherwise, I have no night vision at all.)

But the high point of the weekend is the raft-up on the pontoon up the river at Ruan. An advance party stakes our claim and erects the gazebo (how many ocean sailors does it take to erect a gazebo?)

By six o’clock, there were some 30 people cowering under this thing as the rain dripped down the necks of those in the back row. Never mind, the sausage rolls stayed dry. It was only going to be a matter of time before we had to decamp to somebody’s boat – but even the biggest – a beautiful 44footer – could never accommodate thirty people in soggy Mustos.

“What we need,” people started to say, “is That…”

“That” was a Leopard 50 catamaran towering over all the other occupants. The top deck (of three) reached practically to Samsara’s crosstrees.

And then – would you believe it – the crew of the Leopard turned out to be members too. They had sailed from Cape Town but had no idea about any West Country Meet – and of course, they would be delighted to welcome 30 rather damp fellow members and their sausage rolls.

Within five minutes, we were all settled in the Leopard’s two dining areas (well, actually, there are three, but the top deck is really only for tropical evenings). I thought it was more fun than the formal dinner.

Also, I learned a thing or two about enormous catamarans and the people who sail them.

Yes, there was an ice maker.

And next to it, a Sodastream.

Next to the Sodastream was a coffee machine.

Next to the coffee machine (with milk-frother) was the airfryer…

And yet, the owners were a very down-to-earth family without any of the airs and graces you associate with superyachts. They just happened to have worked all their lives in the Middle East with no income tax and an evidently good accountant.

It was the following morning, after most of the other boats had left to beat the tide back to Falmouth and as I was depositing the gash (how many pontoons have a gash-bin?) that the Leopard skipper invited me aboard again for a coffee.

Now, as we know, this can be dangerous – even at that time of the morning. But what I hadn’t realised was that this time, it was me on the wrong end of the “Mad Old Singlehander” dilemma.

Somehow the skipper had got it into his head that Samsara would be the perfect boat for his university-student son to get some real boot-strap sea time. Would I take the lad to Jersey with me?

This was a difficult one. How could I say No without giving offence – especially after all that hospitality (the Leopard seemed to come with an extensive wine cellar – well, it was extensive before we got started on it.)

I protested that my liferaft was out of date and please don’t ask about the flares…

I complained that I was no good at giving orders (they never made me a prefect at school).

Basically, I have been on my own now for so long that I have acquired an absolute horror at the prospect of crew.

The university student seemed to realise this long before his father. He began to edge back towards his cabin (stateroom).

I think it was the lack of an EPIRB that did it in the end.*

All the same, we parted on the best of terms, and I am writing this in St Helier after a delightful passage with a full moon, a following wind and a flat sea – ultimately catching the tide perfectly off La Corbière.

Yet, even then, it never occurred to me that this might be a moment to share. Instead, I hugged it to myself and opened a solitary beer – just the one…


  • Please don’t post outraged comments about the irresponsibility of not carrying an EPIRB. It’s all explained in Chapter Six of Old Man Sailing.

6 Responses to The dilemma of the single-handed sailor

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.