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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No joke

Ƒor a 6.5m boat, Anna Lusja II has a very powerful foghorn.

It’s electric. It would not disgrace a small coaster.

And it is pointing into her own cockpit.

When it went off in Baltimore Harbour, I nearly jumped out of my skin – and heads popped out of hatches for half a mile around.

But then Kris Matuszewsai doesn’t mind being being noticed. This is just as well. His home-built, self-designed breaking-all-the-rules boat is bound to get noticed.

Look at the picture – because no description is going to do her justice. Some of the failed attempts at conveying the last finisher in this year’s Jester Challenge are “a floating egg”, “a box under sail”,  “The Tardis meets Captain Nemo…”

Anna Lusja II

Let’s put it this way: Kris is an engineer who approaches problems from the perspective of “Here is the difficulty. How do we get round it?”

His difficulty, two years ago, was that he had sailed his 21ft Colvic Sunbeam, Anna Lusja I, from Greece to Portugal, the Canaries, the Carribbean, back to Europe and he really wanted a boat with a Great Cabin at the stern.

At the same time, he didn’t want anything over seven metres so that he could get it onto a trailer singlehanded. Also, he wanted a boat that could take the ground, that he could build himself and (after one forestay failure and three broken shrouds over the years), he did not want standing rigging.

Meet Anna Lusja II – 6.5m overall and 2.5m in the beam. Essentially square. Flat-bottomed with two ballasted asymmetrical retractable keels, twin rudders, steered by two whipstaffs; she has two separate cabins (the great cabin at the stern), a protected cockpit in the middle (green water has never entered the cockpit), two junk sails on unstayed masts and (well, why not) a composting head.

Kris sat in his great cabin, his elbow on a chart table winking with electronics and said: “I knew what I wanted.”

Kris Matuszewsai – I knew what I wanted.

You must admit that if you don’t mind being stared at, overhearing rude remarks from people in waterfront bars and everybody at the start of this year’s Jester Challenge wondering whether you are actually going to get over the start line at all – or simply drift sideways into Plymouth Breakwater, then the Ocean-going Bathtub might be just the thing.

OK, so he did arrive in Bushe’s Bar in Baltimore a whole day after everyone else. But on the way down the North Sea from Poland, with a stiff north-easterly behind him, he was clocking a consistent six knots and surfing at up to ten.

So, if you meet him in the Bahamas, be nice.

The great cabin


The cockpit – with two whipstaffs accessible from both cabins.



4 Responses to No joke

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By the crew, I don’t mean a row of matching T-shirts on the rail – or complaints from the foredeck that the sun goes behind the sail every time I go about.

Singlehanders don’t have that kind of crew. What I mean is the autopilot and the windvane. The one was getting far more attention than it deserved, and the other, none at all.

When I bought Samsara, she came with a Raymarine tillerpilot of indeterminate age. The previous owner insisted it worked – and it did.

Until I left it out in the rain.

I don’t mean rain going sideways in a 72-hour Atlantic gale with breaking seas that fill the cockpit so that the tillerpilot goes floating off like a bath toy at the mercy of a two-year-old.

No, it just rained and the wretched thing stopped working.

“Water ingress” as the local Raymarine agent called it. Obviously, it was a lot older than I thought. I bought a new one.

Within a month, that was back at Raymarine under the guarantee: “water ingress”, the report came back.

The second time it went back, they said they’d send me a new unit.

They never did – just the old one back again – and some free advice: “Don’t leave it out when it’s not in use.”

But what happens if I need to use it in the rain?

I found out in the Cape Verde islands – water ingress … and then again in the Caribbean…

By Grenada, I had realised I was never going to remember to bring the thing in every time it rained. So, I got the local sailmaker to run up a little waterproof jacket for it with a Velcro fastening at the back and a window at the front so I could see to press the buttons. It was rather like dressing a favourite doll.

But it didn’t do any good.

By the time I got back to Falmouth, I had already placed my order as soon as the mobile signal popped up off the Scillies – and this time I would have a proper autopilot, with the compass and the circuit board hidden away below decks. This one arrived in an enormous cardboard box full of component parts and manuals – and advice about routing the cables and avoiding electrical interference…

I couldn’t make head or tail of it. I sent it back and ordered another tillerpilot – and three months later, it was still in perfect working order. I emphasised this when I sold it on eBay and got Dave Jones of AdvancedTech Marine to order up another box of component parts, manuals and what-not. Dave knows all about electrical interference.

It seems a lot of trouble to go to just to get in and out of harbour at the same time as dealing with the warps and fenders.

Because the real self-steering is the Aries windvane. This came with the boat. It’s the lift-up version like the one I had on Largo back in the 80s – the same model that Jon Sanders choose. If it’s good enough for someone who’s been round the world eleven times on his own…

Aries owners tend to be a bit evangelical about their self-steering, so it is only right that once in my lifetime, I should make the pilgrimage to a little lock-up industrial unit on the north side of Amsterdam. There an ex-plumber called Lean Nelis repairs and manufactures what he unashamedly calls “the beautiful mechanism”.



Headquarters of the Aries empire

Lean Nelis

A new Aries on its way



I reckon my Aries is a 1990 version – which makes it thirty-three years old – and in all that time, I don’t think it’s had a proper service. I didn’t realise it needed one until Con Brosnan in Ireland showed me his (lying on the floor of his dining room like a piece of farm machinery in a barn).

His didn’t wobble. It didn’t clonk either. The whole thing seemed much more “solid” somehow. This was not surprising – as Lean was to discover, thirty years’ of wear on the main shaft had moved the stainless steel axis in ways that were never intended. In all, it took him 13 hours to put it all right what with all the wrecked bushes and bearings – and there were some extra hours devoted to sitting around the workbench surrounded by tooth vane carriages and pivot shaft spacers, drinking coffee and getting to know the neighbours.

This part of north Amsterdam used to be the artists’ quarter, and it’s still a rabbit warren of artisan workshops. For instance, next door there was Nico, who could talk for hours about rebuilding old bicycles.

Of course, there’s no money in old bikes – not in the Netherlands where everyone has an old bike – so the rest of the time, he repairs saxophones…

…saxophones? Did he do clarinets?

Sure, he could do clarinets.

The next day, I delivered mine. It hadn’t been serviced since before I took off for the Caribbean in 2021 – much against the advice of the last woodwind technician. The whole thing had begun to wobble, I told Nico.

He fixed it – replaced the cork, gave it new pads – and offered some free advice: Don’t let it dry out. Get a length of garden hose. Make some holes in it and push a damp sponge inside. Then insert the whole thing into the instrument when not in use.

Or, I suppose I could leave it out in the rain…

6 Responses to Crew

  • I am learning to sail.
    Having achieved my Day Skipper recently, a couple of days out on a skippered charter in The Solent, I am ready for the 5day practical RYA course.
    Old Man Sailing I found to be an informative and entertaining read.
    Introducing to me so much about sailing I hadn’t thought existed.
    Disposal of sardine tins! Who would have thought!

    All in all, an enthralling light read I would recommend.
    Your knowledge of yachting impressed me no end. To think, I will be looking to learn what for you is, just natural.
    Stay lucky John.

  • Fascinating, John! What an interesting chapter you are recording. Best wishes, Alick.

  • I get a lot of enjoyment from your stories. Thank you

  • Good story John, well up to scratch

    • Well done John, I am glad your recent brief stay with us provided some insight into the finer workings of the Aries windvane. I am certain the refurbishment will guarantee you years of piece of mind when the seas are climbing, and the chips are down…Fair Winds John.

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You can tell the age of a tree by counting the rings.

It’s the same with boats – except, with boats, you count cable ties.

I am well aware that Samsara is an old boat because any time I investigate the wiring, I discover that generations of previous owners have been most fastidious when adding new electrical gadgets – each one making sure to keep the wiring tidy by attaching the new cable to the existing network with cable ties – more cable ties.

This means that what started in 1973 as a single wire to the nav lights on the pulpit soon doubled up with the fo’c’sle reading lights … and then the blower to ventilate the wardrobe locker, a tape player, cool box, more lights for the fo’c’sle (why?) Then, we had all the stuff for the mast – lights, wind instrument and, in due course, a great fat information highway for the radar. And that was all before the owner before the owner before last added an electric windlass.

I was aware of all this, of course – and not unduly troubled. I just added a few more ties when I decided the perfect place for the fan was between the fridge and the heater (the theory was that it would draw cool air towards the one and then blow the warmed exhaust across the other – as I say, that was the theory).

And then, today, I set about installing the new “active” antenna for the Navtex. This meant routing it from the chart table back to the pushpit – although, of course, you do it the other way round because you’d never get the aerial through all the little holes.

Also, it meant taking out the old cable.

I believe I may be the first owner to think of this. Every time I look in a locker, I find redundant wiring – some of it already snipped off…some, indeed, still connected to 12volts at the other end…

Now I understand why. The old Navtex cable was secured at every opportunity – either to the cable for the stern light – which, like the port and starboard on the pulpit, had obviously claimed first mover’s rights. The stern light’s cable ties were screwed to the deckhead, the back of the navigator’s seat, the shelf above what might once have been a quarter berth. There was even a bit of conduit in there at one point.

And where the stern light cable went, so did the Navtex cable – and the autopilot cable – and a tiny and ancient bit of domestic two-core with a piece of plastic tape wrapped around it clearly stating “ply~??x”. I suspect that this must be some obscure translation of “compass light”. It was disconnected at both ends.

Meanwhile, how was I supposed to extricate it now that it had been joined by a GPS, a plotter, a wind charger and a water charger – each with its own collection of cable ties? I found five of them at one point – by which I mean five in the same place, literally on top of each other.

Like an enthusiastic gardener with a new set of secateurs, I set to work with the wire cutters.

This can be a problem. It’s not long since I snipped off the port forward cabin light. How was I to know someone had decided to route it through the front of the heads compartment and then back down the other side?

Gradually the pile of snipped-off cable ties grew – like dead-heads in July. A heap of ancient wire piled up alongside it. I could feel the boat getting lighter as I worked.

It would be interesting to know just how many redundant cable ties there were. It should be 50, of course – since the boat came out of her mould in 1973. But by the time I thought of counting them, I had already thrown them away.

Anyway, it would have been pretty pointless: I’ve been finding more all evening – under the table, under the tea towel, in my coffee cup (noticed that just in time) and – I knew there was something wrong – inside my shirt…



9 Responses to Wiring

  • With every respect, after reading this I must decline any invitation to go to sea with you in Samsara.

    But good luck to all who sail in her!

  • Always useful to remove all cut cable ties. They’re the perfect size to end up in the bilge jamming bilge pumps…

  • I can well relate to your pain. The original owner had asked for all skin fittings to be grounded, the extra wiring is good for attaching everything else to. To add to it they all run through conduit – whoever thought putting the cable ties on at regular intervals before pulling it through the conduit should be shot.

  • I really do enjoy reading your posts !! Living the dream !

  • And all the wires are the same colour. Tracing anything is a nightmare. I keep a “special “ length which can reach anywhere from bow to stern with a connector to join onto my multimeter. Oh the fun we’ve had. Btw my boat is 1974.

  • Wiring! oh what a joy……One question JP. When choosing the word ‘Secateurs’ did you have to look up the spelllling 😉

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Refit: The Rig

When you think about it, aeroplanes don’t go flying about with 50-year-old wings, do they?

The question came up while standing beside Tony Jones’s mobile rigging workshop with Samsara’s mast laid out horizontally. Tony was explaining how the sheave assembly at the bottom had dropped out in front of his eyes, the headsail furling gear had disintegrated in his hands and what really puzzled him was how I had managed to hoist the main – there being nothing left of the bearing at the top.

But a 50-year-old mast – built in the days when they were just starting on metal masts – would, he insisted, be good for another 50 years.

Particularly once we’d epoxied a steel plate in the place where there was currently a gaping hole.

Tony doesn’t believe in replacing stuff that doesn’t need replacing – as evidenced by his ”Mobile Rigging Service” – an ancient Mercedes van which hasn’t moved from its corner of Conwy Marina car park in living memory.

The rig was going to be another aspect of the Big Refit: A new Profurl system (Tony thought the new model Furlex looked a bit flimsy). Then there was new standing rigging, new halyards. He even talked me into a new VHF aerial combined with a Windex – “although we’ll have to move your little man”.

  • Well, as long as you put him back facing to starboard. He has to face to starboard, or he doesn’t work.

The Lego Man is now leaning at a crazy angle. I can’t see why it should make him any less effective. If you want to know how a Lego figure dressed as a pirate and with the ship’s name across his chest comes to be at the top of the mast, you’ll have to read

But there’s not much point in new rigging if it’s attached to old fastenings. I’d been carrying around the deadweight of the new deck bolts for a year – a fellow-member of the Rival Owners Association had been given a quote for fabricating new ones, and the owner of the machine shop explained: “Of course, they’d be cheaper if you had half a dozen sets all at once – or a hundred would be cheaper still…”

He never did get a hundred takers, but there must have been about a dozen of us who chipped in. But was it really necessary to go up from 10mm to 12? They’re massive.

Actually, this didn’t seem to be such a bad idea when I removed the old ones, and one of the nuts turned out to be cracked right across.

Then we got at the chainplates. If you know your Rivals you will recognise that these come in two parts – one each side the main bulkhead and they’re designed to be bolted together to squeeze the wood between them and it’s the friction as much as the bolts themselves which is supposed to stop them moving.

On each side, one of the plates has a flat top like the figure 7. This is to take the deck bolt.

Except some extra strain by some daft skipper holding on to too much sail for too long (not me – never me, of course) had caused the 3mm steel to bend so that the flat tops of the 7s were now angled awkwardly upwards.


We took them to Richie.

Richie Williams runs a metal workshop out of a cowshed in Glenadda. It hasn’t had much attention since the cows moved out, but Richie can do marvels with metal. He once replaced the bushes on my self-steering without having the slightest idea of what it was or how it was supposed to work.

The new chainplates are 5mm, and the flat tops are reinforced with what somebody decided to call “gussets”. I don’t think they’re likely to bend – although I mustn’t delete the picture of the old ones. Maybe it will help me see reason when I get over-enthusiastic about beating into a Force Seven – even if I do now have an extra layer of chopped strand mat on each side of the bulkhead.

And yes, the mast is up again – and it has taken me from North Wales to Amsterdam where, yesterday I painted over the epoxy rather in the manner of a crone applying make-up with a trowel.

Nobody at Sixhaven marina (a third of the price of St Katherine’s) has said anything. Indeed, I have even had some compliments – there’s no point in going to all this trouble if you don’t get compliments…

4 Responses to Refit: The Rig

  • Good to have good look at the real engine of your boat, the standing rigging and the sails!! Our boat (and mast) will be 50 years old next year. Next winter I will give the riggen an extra inspection and intend to replace some seacocks. Also critical items.
    ( tip: some harbours around the Haringvliet in the south of Holland are even cheaper than the Six harbour in Amsterdam)

    • Great reading your blog as my sailing days draw to an end. That you sail a Rival makes me wonder if Two Brothers Sailing have ever checked their rigging to this extent. Thanks and keep blogging!!!

  • It makeś you wonder how long it would’ve been until the mast failed on you. The good thing is you got there first and you have someone sensible doing the work. I don’t think in the longer term you’ll regret 12mm bolts or reinforced chain plates with gussets!

  • As I have said before not sailed but have a great interest in boats from land find all this information fascinating thanks

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Refit: New sails

When Nelson took over the Victory, she was already well over 30 years old. He asked the Admiralty for a refit.
The bill came to more than the ship cost to build.
Well, Samsara is going to be 50 years old this summer, and I got her five years ago as cheaply as you can buy any old fibreglass boat these days.
Also, last year’s circuit of the Canaries, the Gambia, Cape Verdes, Grenada, up to the BVIs and back to Falmouth was essentially a trial run to see what I really needed before I headed off for the long term.
That’s right. I shall be departing in September, and the boat, at least, will not be coming back for ten years or more. So, I needed to get her right. I needed a Big Refit.
I returned to Conwy in North Wales. That was where I got her, and Barry Lovell and his crew at TLC Boat Repair had done a grand job then. I gave Barry the new list. He blinked a bit.
I’m not going to catalogue it all in this post. That would make it much too long. So let’s take it a bit at a time – and start with the best bit: The sails.
As regular followers of this blog will know, I have not had a good relationship with Samsara’s sails over the past few years. She came with three headsails and two mainsails (not to mention working and storm jibs). Suffolk sails made me a trysail – and thank heavens they did: it was all that got me back after the mainsail disintegrated 150 miles off the Azores.
Then there was the headsail, which sailmakers kept telling me had “plenty of life left in it” – but still kept gathering patches. In the end, it gave up off the north coast of Anglesey. There didn’t seem to be much point in trying to rescue it – the working jib took me the rest of the way.
I didn’t care. I’d been to the Boat Show. I’d spent an hour on the Crusader stand with Paul Lees. I had become somewhat over-enthusiastic.
By the time I hauled out the credit card and paid an enormous deposit, I had ordered a new headsail and main in Vectran and something called a “Super Zero”, which is a massive sail made out of some sort of space-age laminate to be set on its own furler from a miniature removable bowsprit.

Interestingly, this would not be poking out a metre in front of the rest of the boat – that’s for gennakers and the like. This just needed a point to take the tack which kept it away from the regular headsail furler.
I have to say it’s amazing – and I can sail closer to the wind than I can with the new Vectran headsail.

That’s pretty good in itself – much smaller than you would expect (it stops a metre short of the masthead , high-cut so I can see under it and the clew is only just aft of the mast. This means it still sets well when rolled in a blow – but it did leave me under-canvassed in light airs (hence the Super Zero).
Apparently Vectran sails will go on setting well because they don’t stretch. All that can happen is that the stitching wears out – apparently, you have to line up the holes to sew it back together because it’s so tough you can’t push a needle through it.
I hadn’t realised quite how tough until I tried to furl it – it’s like handling sheet metal. Nor had I opted for full-length battens because I’d always been quite happy with Samsara’s short ones. Also,  I have bitter memories of the tiny nuts falling out of Largo’s long ones in the middle of a Biscay gale.

The new sail, however, brings difficulties of its own. To begin with, it took me a full ten minutes to furl the thing  (I believe I’m getting better at this). Also, I notice that Kirsten Neuschafer on Minnehaha chose short battens. Apparently, the long ones can jam if you try and reef with any wind in the sail. Anyway, if short battens are good enough for the Golden Globe winner…
Meanwhile, you can’t have a new mainsail without a new sail cover – and it would never do to have a tatty old sprayhood…
Next, the rig…

12 Responses to Refit: New sails

  • Hi, I am interested what Vectran sailcloth was used by Crusader for your sails – they seem to have a few on their website. Was it their own Vektron cloth? Very interested in how the sails perform and last!

  • John – any chance you can make the images a bit bigger? with an R34 I am intrigued by the detail

  • When the ship that is tired returneth, With the signs of the sea showing plain,
    Men place her in dock for a season, And her speed she reneweth again.
    From The Laws of the Navy by Rear Admiral Hopwood.

    You’re doing a great job, John! Best wishes, Alick

  • Love your blog and at 57 hoping to get into sailing proper. More of a google sailer at the mo . Must retire !! Taking the plant based derived and now fighting off all those children bug at school! Thanks big guy!!

  • Hi John, Steve from Stroud here. This is not related to your latest post but I was walking through Weston-super-Mare today having taken my Grandson on a train trip from Stroud. As we headed for the seafront, (there’s no harbour at Weston incidentally), I noticed a tattoo parlour; Samsara Inks. Any connection? Do you have a tattoo? As all sailors used to have.
    I’m still enjoying your blog, keep up the good work.

  • My Vectran 150% Genoa for Sancerre was like that at first, a major job just to hoist singlehanded, 12k nm later it’s still going strong and looks like it will continue to do so for a long time yet and is as easy to hoist and furl as the cheap Dacron sail it replaced

  • Where is the 10 year trip taking in John. I’m refitting and then sailing to Tasmania, slowly. Mohht run across you. Stu

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“All I want for Christmas, “I said when Tamsin asked, “is Shrimpy.”

It’s out of print and very much sought-after – the cheapest I’d 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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