Charlotteville is different. Nobody in Charlotteville has any money.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re not poor – Joe the fisherman whose boat has “Joe” written down the side in big red letters only bothers to go out three days a week (he offered to take me on Monday but that’s when I’m leaving for Trinidad). The other days he spends sitting in the shade with his friends, fist-bumping anyone who comes by and asking how they’re doing.

He doesn’t sit under the coconut trees, of course. Only strangers like me would think of sitting under a coconut tree – which is why there’s a sign reminding people not to (a coconut falling from 70ft is an official cause of death around here).

No, the reason nobody has any money in Charlotteville is because the ATM machine hasn’t worked for two months and the only place that takes cards is the bright red Shopping Mart where the till is empty after two months’ of paying everyone Cashback.

I wouldn’t have come if I’d known. But Tom on Bonny said it was delightful. He could afford to. He sailed on a reach from Barbados. I was hard on the wind all the way from Grenada – and then had to put in two tacks to make it into Pirate’s Bay two hours after sunset.

Actually, I was aiming for Man o’ War Bay because the app said that was where I would find the Customs Office. However there wasn’t a single light in the whole bay, and so I picked a spot sort of midway between the two. A lot of rowing the next morning found me tying the dinghy to a tree just as the immigration officer strolled by.

Charlotteville is an official Port of Entry for Tobago, so it is reasonable to assume it would have a uniformed Immigration Officer and a proper brick-built Immigration Office – and a Port Authority Office and a Customs Office. Going round the three of them, I had to fill in a total of nine forms (everything from what contagious diseases I had to how many firearms and stowaways).

Also, I had to come up with 315 Trinidad and Tobago dollars. All I had were East Caribbean dollars – and no, they didn’t take cards.

Which is how I ended up in debt.

Here were my debts by the end of that Wednesday morning:

$315 to the Immigration Officer for clearance.

$210 to Donna the Digicel rep on her balcony opposite the football pitch for a SIM card.

$32 to Gray at the bright yellow Royal Harbour Restaurant and Bar on the beach (two bottles of Carib and a $10 loan for the bus to Roxborough and the nearest working ATM machine).

No, the bus doesn’t take cards. In fact, the bus doesn’t even take cash. You have to buy a ticket from the Licenced Ticket Trader next to the bus stop – it’s $4 each way.

And maybe this is the time to explain the exchange rate. One Trinidad and Tobago dollar is 12p Sterling. So, the bus ticket was 48p (and the bottles of Carib, £1.32 each), so maybe that’s why Charlotteville has been getting along so well without too much money.

It took the rest of the day to get mine – the bus went at walking pace for much of the way (and if you saw some of the inclines and the tortuous bends, you’d be glad it did). Then, when we got to the ATM machine in Roxburgh, that one didn’t work either.

Never mind, there was another at the gas station at the other end of town.

I missed the bus back.

When was it due?

  • It leaves Scarborough at 4.30.

So, when does it get here?

  • When it arrives.

Never mind. The only people who use the bus are schoolchildren and anyone with a bus pass. Everybody else stands at the side of the road and holds up their hand. Here is the scale of charges for ad hoc private hire vehicles in Tobago:

If they’re going your way: $12.

Part of the way: $6.

The rest of the way: $8.

How does the driver know you’re going the rest of the way, not all the way?

  • I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.

So, it was after dark again when I got back to the boat – and it turns out that now I’ve been here three days and become rather assimilated (see Joe’s offer of a day’s fishing).

Much of my time is spent on the bench outside the Royal Harbour with a bottle of Gray’s Carib using his wifi because it turns out Donna’s mobile signal is rubbish (and you can’t sit inside Gray’s because he likes his reggae at full volume).

I could take my custom to Eastman’s Restaurant & Bar, but their wifi went the way of the ATM machine.

Still, the Shopping Mart had a grater to replace my rusty one and Priya’s shop was good for fresh vegetables.

When I say “fresh”, I mean they weren’t in a tin like the ones in the Shopping Mart. However, they had been cooking in 35° under the sheets of polythene which keep the rain out – Priya’s shop is charmingly basic even though she’s got everything from motor oil to Epsom Salts in the back.

Priya and her shop

I can’t wait to go ashore again, lunch today is Sharon & Phebe’s (they have tablecloths and are on Tripadvisor). I can’t leave until Monday – if I don’t get my clearance form, they won’t let me into Trinidad and I’m getting a Starlink system delivered there.

At least I hope I am – I gave the address of Peake’s Marina without bothering to ask them if that would be OK. But people on the Navily app keep saying how friendly and helpful everyone is at Peake’s – they even organise a bus to the supermarket and put on Friday night barbecues…

More pictures on my PolarSteps site at

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1,500 miles with a broken rudder


Yes, I thought that would get your attention. Of all the things on a boat that can break, the rudder is particularly difficult to fix – being somewhat under water.

So, this was the rudder stock – just as important but you don’t get wet.

To clarify, by “rudder stock”, I mean the massive bronze casting which connects the rudder shaft to the tiller by means of a stout pair of jaws and a 10mm bolt. The whole thing is hugely over-engineered – but then there are times when there is so much strain on it that even the strongest helmsman tends to get dragged across the cockpit like a toddler being removed from Sainsbury’s in the middle of a tantrum.

So, I was a bit surprised when this happened.

Also, maybe not so surprised, since it has happened before – if you want to read about that, come back at the end and have a look at

and, if the picture seems familiar, that is from the same occasion. I forgot to take a new one.

The man who brazed it back together that time, assured me it would be as strong as ever – but maybe not, since this time it broke in exactly the same place.

Last time, I didn’t consider it my fault. This time it was: I had met an old boy on an old gaffer in Falmouth (yes, one of the many) who assured me that if I set a double-reefed mainsail behind my twin headsails in the trade winds, and steered with the wind just a little on the quarter, the boat would not roll incessantly for three weeks and leave me craving to get off and sit under a palm tree at the other end.

It worked – but the strain on the steering was tremendous – especially when those 28kt squalls came blasting through at three o’clock in the morning.

Although, it must be said that it was during the after-lunch down-time that I began to wonder why the boat was heading for Antarctica.

The best thing about this was that I knew exactly what to do – after all, hadn’t I done it all before? Without missing a beat, I lashed the broken side together with a 17mm spanner (there’s a 17mm nut on that side), got the boat sailing again and carried on as if nothing had happened – apart from the tiller waggling a bit and the Aries working overtime to catch up.

Four days later, the other side broke – and this was most definitely my fault. Why hadn’t I lashed another spanner (18mm to starboard) on that side just in case?

For the next 12 days, I didn’t make any more mistakes. Indeed, I consider those 1,486 miles to be among the most significant in all the annals of seafaring. Day after day, as the great Trade Wind rollers swept Samsara ever westwards and, each midday, I wrote carefully in the log: Wind: E5-6 occ7”, I became the world’s greatest living expert on how to hold your steering together with string.

This is what it looked like by the end.


  1. The Aries adjustment chain was lashed to the tiller as far forward as possible. This pulled the tiller back and helped it remain engaged with what was left of the rudder stock.
  2. These two lines were made up of 8mm polyester and 8mm doubled shock cord. Made off at the stern cleats and lightly tensioned when the tiller was amidships, they proved to be worth their weight in gold. When the Aries pulled the tiller to starboard, the port shock cord exerted an increasing tension backwards on that side and helped keep the linkage straight.
  3. Two lines from the autopilot pin to the aft ends of the two spanners bracing each side of the casting. Without these, the spanners tended to work backwards and disengage from the nuts.
  4. Here, a single piece of line around the shafts of the two spanners and over the top of the tiller stopped it dropping down as it worked.
  5. These are the four main lashings bracing the spanners against the broken casting and holding the whole thing together. You need to have two at each side of the break so that you can untie them one at a time for tightening. In the beginning, this needed to be done two or three times a day. Towards the end, they would last several days – presumably as the line stretched to its limit. Eventually, it would get chewed up and break (which is why every ship should carry miles and miles of 3mm line. If your rudder doesn’t break, you can always use it for messengers when removing the halyards ready for a hurricane).


Technical notes – Tying the lashing:

Although I earned my “Knots and Splices” badge in the Boy Scouts, I take issue with Lord Baden-Powell who advocated clove hitches to start and finish a square lashing. This does not allow for applying enough tension to something like a rudder stock.

Instead, I humbly propose the following:

Take 2m of 3mm line and tie a small bowline in one end, leaving a 100mm tail on the short end. Place the bight at the top of one side of the tiller and pass the long end underneath and back through the bight so that you can pull back in the opposite direction, using this purchase to increase the tension. Continue with this for as many turns as you deem necessary, maintaining the tension at every turn. Tie off to the end to the 100mm tail of the bowline using a reef knot (while playing hopscotch with your fingers to maintain the tension.)

Overall, it worked so well that I didn’t feel the need to rush into Spice Island Marine on Grenada to get it fixed immediately. Instead, I called in for a few days’ crawling the rum shops of Carriacou’s Tyrrel Bay. I felt I deserved it – after all, the bodged rudder stock steered us through the somewhat narrow and certainly lively pass north of Frigate Island and then kept a dead straight course between the anchored yachts while I stood on the foredeck yanking the chain out of its latest yoga position down in the locker.

Tyrrel Bay.

Of course, you do end up with this…

And now, some showing off: How about three headsails!

… actually, it didn’t make much difference.

And (not showing off), this was the biggest flying fish on deck in the morning:

Finally, that link to the last time I broke the rudder:

Better now

Thanks to Kenrick




9 Responses to 1,500 miles with a broken rudder

  • Great job John. I have an prefer the Hydrovane as it give you a spare ruder.

    • That’s a very good argument for the Hydrovane and I would certainly want one if I had wheel steering. My first Rival came with an Aries and so did this one so I suppose it was a question of “go with the flow”!

  • I believe that sailors are the most inventive of people simply because we have to make do with what is on board. Of course it is imperative to know where everything lives if possible!
    As sister to John, I sailed with our family until I married a man who had designed his own 25 footer which we built outside Paris and then sailed to the Aegean in 1972 where she has remained. We invented all sorts of unique ways and means to solve problems (for example we measured and installed the mast and rigging from a bridge over the river Marne) and this characteristic has become so embedded it has proved useful many times throughout my life.

  • I really enjoy reading your blogs, thank you.
    Goodness me you are so resourceful…just as well .

  • Thank you. I enjoy all your blogs.

  • You are a truly amazing mariner.

  • That casting hasn’t moved since last time it broke, still lying in exactly the same place on the cockpit locker… Or did you reuse the old picture?

  • Sounds as if you coped very well John ! Well done.

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Pulled over

The Maritime Police arrived not in a coastguard cutter, nor even RIB with a pair of 90hp outboards and a blue light on the gantry.

Instead, they came chugging up in the little boat that takes the tourists to see the turtles.

But then, this was Bahia Sao Pedro at the south end of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands, where Thibaut and Cécile on Orion had written on Navily: “Pleasant anchorage. Frequent gusts but excellent holding in sand. Anchorage surrounded by green turtles. Keep your hands closed to avoid them mistaking your fingers for a piece of fish!”

They were right about the gusts. It took me as long to beat into the bay as it had to sail the six miles from Mindelo. By the time I had everything squared away, it was getting late. Never mind, I could swim in the morning.

However, the venue did not live up to its reputation.

First of all, the water wasn’t at all clear. I did see three turtles – all too deep to mistake my fingers for a piece of fish. Frankly, there were more interesting things growing on Samsara’s bottom.

Then the tour boat came by and informed me that I couldn’t anchor there. I told them I was leaving anyway.

They came back half an hour later. Instead of the tourists, this time with the Maritime Police.

Anchoring was forbidden, they informed me. The bay was not a designated port and they needed to see my ship’s papers along with the certificate of departure to my next port which I would have been given when I checked in.

Ah, slight problem, there. I hadn’t actually checked in. I was only here because a solicitor back in England wanted me to sign a document for the house sale. In the end, I did it with my finger on the pdf (which I could have done on mobile data without stopping at all – it still looked as though a spider with inky feet had crawled across the contract).

I tried to explain all this but I think a bit of it got lost in translation,

“You must go to Mindelo.”

But that’s into the wind…

“You must go. We will keep your papers.”

Now, here is an essential truth that holds good wherever you happen to be in the world. I have travelled far and wide and I know this to be true:

Never, ever argue with a policeman.

Especially if he has a gun.

So, instead I smiled. They told me their names were Alberto and George (they had them embroidered on their uniforms). They would see me in Mindelo. Everything would be fine.

Ah yes, but would it – once they realised I had been in the country illegally for two days?

As I watched the anchor chain crawling aboard, the blue 30metre marker disappearing into the chain locker, then the yellow-and-white 25metre, I began to worry in earnest.

Every cruiser knows the story of the sailor who put into a quiet bay in Samoa to fix his watermaker. It was the beginning of the global COVID lockdown and he was on his way to the Philippines with his Filipina girlfriend (it was the only country that would let them in). He called the Samoan coastguard and informed them that he would only be 24 hours and would not set foot on shore.

They didn’t reply.

Instead, they came and collected him and his girlfriend and threw them in jail – leaving the boat unguarded in the unprotected anchorage.

Pictures of their jail cell went viral – with half the comments pointing out that it was exactly the same sort of jail cell that Samoans had to put up with. What did they expect?

I wondered what a Cape Verde jail cell might be like. I used up a bit more mobile data emailing the OCC Port Officer for the islands, asking for advice. How much trouble did he think I was in? Maybe he knew Alberto and George – it was a small island. Should I suggest he might ask them to go easy on me?

At least it stopped me toying with the idea of doing a runner: I don’t know how many maritime authorities around the world are aware that the cash-strapped UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency has done away with their very grand cardboard-bound Part One Certificate for the Registry for Yachts. I’ve still got the original for Samsara issued in 1973 – you would think it belonged to the Queen Mary.

Now all you get is a sheet of paper. I keep a spare – just in case.

This meant that I didn’t really need to go back to Mindelo at all. I could just turn south west – next stop Grenada and show them the spare…

Except, for all that stuff about always complying with instructions from police officers – especially if they not only have guns but also a fast patrol boat that could catch me in a couple of hours and tow me back to that prison cell.

And even if not, was there some sort of international maritime black list? Would I arrive in the Caribbean to find myself instantly arrested and placed on a flight back to face Cape Verdean justice.

Better go back to Mindelo…

But the forecast had been for a northeasterly Force7. Then there was Anne Hammick in Atlantic Islands: “The Canal de Sao Vicente is notorious for its strong winds, the two islands combining to produce a classic venturi effect.”

Apparently 10-15kts over the open ocean increases to gusts of 35-40kts in the channel.

So, if the forecasters expected 25-30kts over the open ocean…

I reefed. I reefed again. These weren’t gusts. This was a solid 30-35kts on the nose with a sea to match.

I stopped worrying about my prison cell and began wondering how long it was going to take me to cover the six miles this time.

The answer, since I know you’re dying to know, is twelve-and-a-half hours!

All right, it would have been a bit less if I’d had a proper chart instead of Google Earth and hadn’t confused the next headland with the next island – but that’s not the point. The point is that nobody decides to beat into a Force7-8 if they have any choice.

I didn’t. I “must go to Mindelo.” In a strange way, this was the best way to look at it. If there was no choice, I didn’t have to wonder whether it was wise, what might get broken – if there might be some shelter to be found on the way. I just had to go – bash, bash, bash…

Of course, if you are going to bash into a gale, there are few better boats for the job than the Rival 32.

Admittedly, one of them is the Rival 34 – the deep keel version. It was clear early on that while the 32 with her 1.4m draft, was ideal for creeping into small coves and the like, she does make a lot of leeway when hard on the wind. I have never actually measured it – that would be too depressing. Suffice it to say that, beating up the Canal de Sao Vicente, was one time I really wished I had a 1.8m draft.

Still, there was nothing to be done about that – and besides, the sun was shining, the air temperature was 26°C and the spray, when it caught me on deck, was a not-unpleasant 23°.  It dried in five minutes. One way and another, I rather enjoyed myself.

Then the tide turned. This was a bit of a surprise. I had read in the book that in the Cape Verde Islands “Tidal ranges are small… tidal streams are also negligible…”

Had I been a bit more thorough and read on, I would have discovered “…but can run strongly in the passages between islands, particularly in the Canal de Sao Vicente where, combined with the ocean current, it may attain over four knots…”

After two tacks of three miles each, each taking an hour or so, I found myself precisely 0.86miles further up the channel.

After the next two, I had made another 0.21miles!

Clearly, this was going to take some time. I settled myself in the companionway with a kapok cushion to soften the sharp edges, I opened the Kindle and reminded myself that, with one or two notable exceptions, tides do not run in the same direction for more than six hours. All I had to do was keep going for longer than that.

The good thing about it all was that I was very familiar with the layout of Mindelo harbour after dark (complete with its unlit wrecks).

The last question was answered after I set the anchor and was walking back down the deck saying that I was damned if I was getting the table out for dinner.

The last question? What was going to get broken?

Answer: Another section of teak toe rail.

The knockdown had already destroyed about four metres, now a jib sheet must have got itself hooked round the protruding end of what remained and popped that off, too.

It could have been worse.

Nine o’clock in the morning found me in the immigration office. The officer was not remotely interested in my excuses. Instead, he gave me a form to fill in, pointed out that I had put my own name in the space for the boat’s name, stamped me in and immediately out again of the Republic of Cape Verde, and sent me round to the Maritime Police. There, George greeted me like a long-lost friend, produced my ship’s papers, added the missing Certificate of Departure for Grenada and wished me Bon Voyage for the crossing.

I felt it best not to complain about the twelve-and-a-half-hours and the missing teak rail.

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I’ve now had three people write and thank me for a single reference in Old Man Sailing.

I never thought it was anything special when I wrote it, sitting at anchor in St Helen’s Pool in the Scilly Isles. Certainly, there was no thunderclap as the words crawled across the screen. But it does seem to have struck a chord, so if you missed it, here it is from page 126:

“It is a great comfort to be stupid. Disasters about to happen do not trouble the minds of those too dim to imagine them.”

I have been thinking about this as I sit at anchor in the bay at Tazacorte on the Canary Island of La Palma waiting for the house sale to go through back in England so I can push off to the Caribbean.

Because, the other day, I did something that was incredibly stupid. Well, it seems like it to me. You be the judge, for here is the whole sorry story:

I had pulled into the marina at Santa Cruz on the other side of the island where there is a fabulous old Spanish colonial town but also incessant noise from the ferries and the cruise ships unloading the tourists who come to see it. But at least I could top up with diesel.

And then, being a conscientious engineer, I added the diesel bug treatment – 10ml for 20litres. Tucked in the cockpit locker next to it was a bottle of something called Diesel Blast (at least, I think that was what it was called, the label came off long ago). In fact, I hadn’t seen it for years. Apparently, when everything got turned upside down in the knockdown on the way from Falmouth, the Diesel Blast got thrown to the top of the heap – thus swapping places with the galley scissors which I haven’t seen since.

There wasn’t much left in the bottle. Did this sort of stuff go off? Might as well use it up. I squirted 15ml up into the measuring chamber at the top of the bottle.

And that’s when I saw the slug. Well, that’s what it looked like – a drowned slug. On the small size as slugs go but very large for a lump of diesel bug which was probably more likely. Anyway, you wouldn’t want either of them in your tank, would you?

I’m very particular about what goes into my tank. When I took on a deck cargo of 50litres of diesel from the dodgy-looking filling station in Banjul so that I could motor the 100 miles up the Gambia River to Baboon Island and back, I put every drop of it through a 5micron filter.

But not the slug.

The slug, I reasoned, would end up in the engine’s pre-filter anyway. I mean, something that size isn’t going to get through the pre-filter is it? Even if it did, what chance has it got with the main filter?

Well none, now I come to think about it. Because it’s going to get stuck in the pipe before it gets to the filter, isn’t it?

And what will happen then?

The engine will stop.

I’m not very happy about the idea of the engine stopping – haven’t been since last summer coming into Portland Harbour.

This was during one of my incessant trips up and down the English Channel. What with Amsterdam for the Aries, Beaulieu for the OCC rally, Newort IOW for the watermaker (twice), Cowes for the Royal Yacht Squadron book club, Liverpool for university graduation, Dublin for the weather and lunch with Jim Gallagher, the family in Jersey – and Falmouth, of course, at every opportunity because it is, well, Falmouth after all … I really can’t remember when it was that I went into Portland Harbour.

But I do remember there was a gale coming. I had it all worked out. I could get there just before the gale arrived.

I was on time. It was the gale that was early.

Of course, I could have sheltered in Weymouth Bay – anchored just off the beach. I’ve done that before. There’s good holding in sand – but, of course, Weymouth sand is famously fine (hence the annual sand sculpture festival) and while my new Spade anchor has glowing reviews from all the experts, it is physically smaller than the Rocna and might therefore, not be quite as secure in soft mud or fine sand.

Maybe I would sleep better in Portland Harbour. I’d never been to Portland Harbour. Why I thought this was a good reason for going there, I have no idea – especially as the wind had now climbed over 30kts and I couldn’t take in the second reef because there were a couple of navy ships at anchor to leeward. Instead, I started the engine to give the boat a bit of a lift for the last mile to the entrance.

In fact, what with too much sail up, too much heel and, consequently too much leeway, by the time we reached the entrance, the little 21hp Nanni was the only thing that was keeping us going.

And it continued to be the only thing keeping us going as we passed (agonisingly slowly) through the north entrance with the great granite boulders of the breakwater two boat’s lengths under our lee.

I remember thinking to myself that if the engine were to stop now, I wouldn’t be able to tack. We’d just sail sideways into the harbour wall. There’s many a ship that’s sailed sideways into a harbour wall.

We didn’t of course. We just spent 40 minutes burning diesel and punching at about half a knot into what was now a full 40kts across the deck. By the time I tipped the anchor over the bow on the western side, I was thinking that really, Weymouth Bay had a lot going for it – sand sculptures or not…

So, you will understand why the slug has got to come out of the tank.

The official routine for doing this is to empty the tank, open the inspection hatch and get in there when a good supply of clean rags.

If you don’t have an inspection hatch and you’ve just filled the tank to the brim, you have to wait a bit and when there’s hardly any left, pump out what there is, pass it through the 5micron filter you should have used in the first place, pour it back, stir it round, pump it out again – and keep on doing that until it runs clear.

And you still don’t know whether the slug has been hiding in a corner the whole time and is just waiting for the right moment to reappear – like Portland Harbour in a gale…

Like I said: Stupid.

5 Responses to Stupid

  • I wonder how quickly a slug will dissolve in diesel? Anybody got a slug and a jam jar?

  • Reminds me of the time I hurried out of Chatham dockyard only to loose engine in front of incoming Medway Queen. I had forgotten to turn on the fuel delivery to the engine. Tried to put on a good show,,,,but I think I failed to entertain MQs skipper.

  • had a similar issue with a piece of paper rag in the fuel tank, heaven knows when it got in there but eventually it found its way to the outlet, variably blocking it but never completely. Extracted using a Pela pump and some luck.

  • Oh Dear!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Just proves you are human after all …… carry on tee hee hee……

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People hold opinions on storm tactics almost as vehemently as they do when the talk turns to anchors. The other night, I was part of the Ocean Cruising Club’s Zoom meeting to discuss the Jordan Series Drogue. There were almost 200 participants and nobody suggested this was anything other than the ultimate “must-have” device for serious offshore cruisers.

It’s the same on the Jester Facebook group – all the small-boat sailors gearing up for this year’s Azores Challenge have been preoccupied with their transom-mounted chainplates and whether you can have too many cones.

I kept quiet. I have a SeaBrake.

Although the OCC’s moderator mentioned this Australian-made gadget in passing, there was no doubt that the tone of the meeting was that in a survival storm, you cannot do better than throw out (sorry “deploy”) your JSD, disappear below, slam the hatch behind you and go to bed with a hot toddy.

It was difficult to argue – after all the screen was filled with the weather-beaten faces of sailors who had all used a JSD in anger (Jeanne Socrates, four times!)

As someone who has never used one at all – even to practise – I didn’t feel qualified to press the little button to raise my electronic hand.

But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

To begin with, if you have a Jordan Series Drogue, you must – absolutely must – attach it to two stout stainless steel plates each with a minimum of five bolts arranged in a non-linear pattern and bolted through to an equally strong backing plate, preferably after beefing up that section of the hull with extra layers of chopped strand mat. This modification must be capable of supporting the full weight of the boat plus an added margin to cover possible shock loads.

Then, you must be prepared when you meet your survival storm, for your cockpit to be filled with a ton of water as waves the size of houses break over the stern. Anything but the strongest washboards may well be breached, flooding the cabin and leaving the boat waterlogged, sluggish and at the mercy of the next massive breaker.

The more I heard about this, the more I thought about my SeaBrake up in the fo’c’le, tucked away behind the bike stowage, taking up hardly any room … and its line in the cockpit locker ready to double up for anything else I might want to do with 30metres of 14mm low-stretch braid-on-braid and two-and-a-half metres of 10mm chain.

So I started making a list of pro’s and con’s for both devices – and I’m going to post it here in the hope that people will add their own comments. Because the one thing I do know is that the only time I have been in a survival storm, I had just a rope with a couple of motor scooter tyres out the back and turned the boat over. Being a catamaran, she stayed that way. They came and got me in a helicopter.

So, here goes. Tell me if I’m wrong.

Jordan Series Drogue:


  • Tried and tested with many positive accounts.
  • A true “set and forget” system – works without a crew, steering or even a mast.
  • The slower you’re moving, the faster the storm will pass over you.


  • Slows the boat to 2-3knots – with the resultant danger of being pooped.
  • Requires significant preparatory work installing chainplates.
  • Somewhat bulky to stow and with no other use.
  • Danger of the bridle fouling the windvane – servo-pendelum gears should be lifted out of the water, bungies installed to keep the line away from a Hydrovane rudder.



  • Designed to allow the boat to speed up to 6-7knots and out-run a breaking crest – and yet will still maintain drag in the trough to keep the boat straight at 3knots. This means that the strain is considerably reduced. There is no need for chainplates – make fast to the aft cleat or cockpit winch. The recommended line is only three boat-lengths, so is quicker to retrieve.
  • Although the SeaBrake is not nearly as well-known as the JSD, Jon Sanders, the Australian yachtsman with eleven solo circumnavigations to his name, was very complimentary about his (although, eventually he lost it, replacing it with a car tyre).
  • When I asked on Facebook for personal experiences, Babs Tucker, another Australian, wrote: “In all our years of sailing, we’ve only used ours once and it worked brilliantly. We felt we were going to pitch pole and it held us at about 6kts. One yacht used a Series drogue and it slowed down a bit much. Another yacht was using a SeaBrake too.”
  • Easy to stow and has other uses – including as an emergency steering device when used with a bridle. This suggests that it would hold the boat dead downwind in the same way as the JSD but with less risk of being pooped.
  • There have been many reports of drogues being deployed from the bow to stop boats fore-reaching and help them stay in their slick when hove-to. The SeaBrake is said to be ideal for this.
  • While the JSD uses a bridle which can foul the windvane, the SeaBrake when used at an angle to the waves, is attached by a single line to the weather quarter.


  • The SeaBrake is designed as a steering aid rather than a “set and forget” survival tool. That said, in the first Golden Globe Race, the vastly-experienced Jean-Luc Van den Heede chose not to use a drogue aboard Matmut, but to steer at an angle to the waves. In this, he was following Bernard Moitessier who, in his first Cape Horn passage, cut away his makeshift drogues and felt Joshua rode easier and more safely without.
  • It is not clear whether Jon Sanders did the same. He has (notoriously) failed to write about his voyages. However he did praise the SeaBrake. Did he use it to help his Aries lift-up gear steer a course at an angle to the waves like VDH and Moitessier?
  • Unlike the JSD, which acts on the water throughout its length, the SeaBrake could, theoretically, break out and skip across the surface, losing all its drag. However, no one has ever reported this happening (although, admittedly, they might not have returned to do so…)
  • Going faster means it takes longer for the storm to pass.

Have I missed anything?


After all the comments, I started thinking about this some more – and then tried to leave my own comment. However, maybe I’m not allowed to do that – at least not at length. So, I’ll add it here

As expected, this discussion has concentrated the mind somewhat. I ended up looking again at the Fiorentino para-anchor – and find that this now appears to have fewer lines between the attachment point and the canopy (which had tangled so easily in the one I bought off eBay seven years ago). Also, they are tied to a “patented stainless steel para-ring” rather than pulled together into one big knot as I remember.
With that still on the screen, I then flipped through my Kindle to find Lin and Larry Pardey’s Storm Tactics Handbook. They had many good experiences of heaving to as the weather worsened and then, when it got really bad, and there was a danger of the boat sailing out of her protective slick, they would deploy the parachute on a bridle to hold the bow at 20degrees off the wind. This meant the boat did not yaw about and they had a much quieter ride.
Also, if something should go wrong and they were to lose the parachute, leaving the boat at the mercy of the sea, she would still be hove-to.
It all seemed to make very good sense.

So, I started making a new list:
Fiorentino Para-Anchor

• The boat rides with her bow to the waves as she is designed to do. There is no danger of being pooped
• Drift is negligible – a safety factor off a lee shore but also it means that the storm will pass over a lot more quickly than if you are running with it at 3.5kts knots on the Jordan Series Drogue or worse, 7kts with a SeaBrake.
• Like the JSD, a para-anchor it is a true “set and forget” system: Go below. Make tea. Go to sleep – although, of course, the prudent sailor will check regularly for chafe and so on.

• A para-anchor would appear to be more complicated to set and recover than either the JSD or SeaBrake. Maybe that is just down to practice and it would be a good idea to establish a routine of using it once a year just to make sure it still works and you know what to do with it…
• A para-anchor is more expensive than a SeaBrake and is bulkier to stow – but comparable to a JSD.
• There’s 100m of 14mm line to stow (I’ve already got 80m. Maybe I could just splice another 20 onto that). At least there will be other uses for it.

I conclusion, I think that before shelling out more money, I should start by finding a way to get the boat to heave-to properly – that is to say, to drift at right angles to the wind, creating a protective slick.
I have tried to do this with all sorts of configurations of sail and rudder but every time, she moves slowly forwards as well as sideways. Of course, the solution to this would be the SeaBrake set off the bow. Maybe that would be enough for most storms. But Lin writes that ultimately, when the waves become so steep that there is no wind in the troughs, you will definitely need a parachute.
At the moment, I’m thinking that if it were to get that bad, I would tie a 10mm line onto the 14mm SeaBrake tether with a rolling hitch, release the latter from the bow, haul it round to the stern quarter and race off downwind. At least I would be under control, and outrunning those breaking crests.
Also, it will save all that practising with yards of billowing nylon…


16 Responses to Drogues

  • Hi John,
    Nice to see good healthy debate and hear the reasoning behind folks choices of heavy weather tactics and what kit they carry to survive the ultimate storm. For my own part with only the experience of surfing a couple of bars with a simple drogue on the east coast of Australia I have gone for a JSD which I bought new from Ocean Brake Ltd of Portland Dorset last year. Fortunately I have not had any need to deploy it yet and hope I never will but the quality and workmanship seem superb and instil confidence and the price was very fair considering the work that went into it. Taking up only the size of a 30 litre kitbag stowed in the lazarette I don’t think that it should be condemned on the basis of size alone.
    In my particular case the fact that my 31 foot Nantucket Clipper has a bowsprit heavily influenced my decision to go for the JSD because of the distinct probability of fouling anything deployed from the bow.
    I was also lucky enough to pick up a sea brake drogue just like the one John has pictured above at a car boot sale and I can think of a few scenarios like running a bar when retrieving the gear quickly afterwards might be an important part of a successful outcome too. So worth having aboard too but I went for the JSD as well because I thought that there might be times when some degree of position keeping might be needed too. Running downwind at 2 to 3 knots with a JSD deployed could give vital extra hours over surfing towards a lee shore at 6knots. All hypothetical I know but “you pays your money and takes your choice”.
    And back to John’s photo of his Sea Brake and the mention of my great countryman Jon Sanders! Having visited Fremantle Nautical Museum where Jon Sanders famous yacht “Parry Endeavour” is suspended from the rafters, the SeaBrake drogues he used on his epic triple circumnavigation were quite different from the blue fabric one john has shown as his Sea Brake. Those that “Parry Endeavour” carried were solid fibreglass bodied cone shaped drogues towed by the apex of the cone. Inside was an internal spring mechanism that automatically opened flaps and ports to adjust the flow of water through the device dependent on the speed of the drogue through the water. You can see two of the devices attached to the pushpin of “Parry Endeavour” in many photos. Tried attaching a photo but couldn’t get it to stick!
    Bluey Hellier.

  • Thanks John. It’s something I’ve been thinking of lately. Years ago had a sea squid which worked quite well, easy to deploy, slowed things, could use as steering I reckon. But can’t buy em anymore. Have been tossing up between these two mentioned. I inclined to agree with your pros and cons. I have a 10m cat with stern hung rudders. I worry about potential tangles with jsd as I’m mostly solo. Probably going to opt for the sea brake to replace present ‘system’ of warp and chain.

    • The reason you can’t buy the Sea Squid is because SeaBrake claimed it had stolen their design. I learned this from the very comprehensive Drag Device Database –
      And now I find a very complimentary review from none other than Sir Peter Blake:

      • Thanks for the links John, great info. I’m in the process of buying one, tho they seem to be out of stock here in Sydney. Have been trying to find out its packable size as it has to go in a suitcase. (Boat in in Lisbon. Its like servicing the space station. Everything is about payload.) Someone told me that the solid ‘ring’ that gives it shape is foldable. We’ll see. at 50cm I can just about manage it into a bag.
        Interesting to hear about the sea squid. I have seen a few for sale second hand, but kinda hard to transport. Not to mention stow as my boat is not really blessed with a lot of places for storage. Which is not such a bad thing I guess. Ive been guilty with other boats of ‘filling up all that lovely space!’
        The piece about the racing tri was interesting, particularly as they deployed it without a bridle. I always thought the wider the base the more stable the track. But what do I know.
        Anyway considering how I can best employ my anchoring bridle to tow the drogue.
        Here in Australia Seabrake is handled by Burke Marine and there’s a video that I found on You tube, but its god awful: sounds like it was made in the 80s and the resolution is so bad that parts of it are unwatchable.

  • An example of the way in which untested hypothesis gets handed down as having value in this field comes to mind. For decades, merchant ships’ lifeboats were equipped by law with old fashioned drogue sea anchors, and the standard textbook on seamanship for the merchant service advised that an oil bag should be hauled out to the sea anchor on an endless whip.

    I have used one of these. As soon as the load copies on the warp the drogue spins. Obviously the writer of the standard textbook had never tried it.

  • I wasn’t on the OCC Zoom meeting and I haven’t ever deployed my sea anchor in anger but a paper based study suggests that the JSD found favour with the US Navy and the older method of heaving to with a sea anchor remained the preferred option for cruisers such as Lin and Larry Pardey.

    Another significant drawback of the JSD is how to attached it to the stern plates in a seaway. Often times when I see stern plates I ask the owner if they are for a JSD and if so how they manage to attach the system, let alone in a gale, it is too late to attempt this by the time a storm arrives. I have rarely been given a convincing answer but this is probably because most offshore sailors have never been in storm of sufficient intensity to require more than towed warps or heaving to.

    Having said this, Susanne Huber-Curphey swears by her JSD and if you want to know about offshore sailing she is the person to talk to.

    • It was emphased on the Zoom meeting that the idea is to have it all hooked up and ready to go before you leave port.

      • I was very struck by the modifications that Tony Curphey has made (and most certainly used!) to the cockpit of his Nic 32.

        I have a feeling that these should be included in the outfit for a JSD along with the chain plates.

        • What modifications were those?

          • From my recollections of being shown over “Nicola Deux” by Tony, he has halved the volume of the self draining well by building a locker with a dogged lid at the aft end, and he has replaced the washboards and sliding hatch at the companion way with a dogged transparent hatch which is not vertical but which slopes up from the cockpit sole to the top of the coach roof.

  • We have a Galerider – sounds similar to your frigid John – designed to slow the boat to 3-6 knots.
    Have not used it – did once use a simple warp with a length of chain on the end and that slowed
    Us from 10-14 down to 6-8 and kept the bow oriented right.

    Don’t much like the idea of the JSD but like you, don’t particularly want to shout out against it.

    Happy sailing!

    s/v Toodle-oo!

  • “Have I missed anything?” Well, yes. Quite a lot. The above is an unbalanced argument, crafted to favour your own particular choice. There’s a ‘logical fallacy’ or two, in there….

    You’ve made your choice. An Act Of Faith. Fine. Your prerogative. Your right. But when you set out to persuade others, some ‘journalistic ethics’ rear their heads. ( remember them? )

    I’ve made my choice. I chose a long time ago to ‘Put my trust in God and Martin-Baker’…. and Irwin Parachutes. To do that, I researched the hell out of the issues. Where there was an ambiguity, I researched even deeper. And I found I could include aeronautical engineers like Don Jordan in the small team I could trust. But – not a blind faith or trust. Informed….

    I’m still alive because of that approach to risk management.

    The OCC Seminar was not intended to argue respective merits of various means of protecting a boat in a survival storm. It WAS intended to explore the ‘how to do it’ of the JSD for those who wanted to know more from those with real ‘hands-on’. Yes, there were frustrations of listening to extended monologues from some with no lecturing/speaking skills who couldn’t manage their allotted time, but most of us 200-odd could cope with that.

    Don Jordan set out to solve a problem, did so in 1980, and gave it freely to the rest of us to develop. We have far better materials today than he had, so e.g. we have no need to carry very bulky, very heavy nylon rodes. We have stress engineers handy to advise on optimum through-bolt patterns and local reinforcement needs. We have a broad community ‘feed-back’ mechanism which promulgates lessons hard learned and what amounts to current best practice, and that’s what we were listening to in the OCC Symposium.

    • Thank you for responding – as you suggest, it’s a personal opinion. A few years ago, I agreed with your view about parachute anchors and bought a secondhand but unused one off eBay. Admittedly it had come off a bigger boat, but I was astonished by the weight and bulk.
      Also, no sooner did I examine it at home than I got it all tangled up and decided that I couldn’t risk the same happening on a small boat in bad weather – again, my experience (or, rather, inexperience) and my opinion.
      I agree with you that the webinar was designed as a “how-to” session for people who already had a JSD or were thinking of getting one. That was why I didn’t take part in the discussion.
      My blog post was intended to provoke a discussion on the relative merits of the two systems. I am quite ready to be persuaded…

  • I think this whole discussion is above my pay grade. I’ve never used either. I can see that by if someone has spent a lot of money on a system, they will probably be looking for validation of their choice.

    • For a start, I am not a blue water sailor, but have had ambitions for 50 years – am 62 now. I have however been in severe conditions ( NOT Southern Ocean ! ) and see advantages and see pro’s and cons to both the JSD and the Seabrake – The JSD seems like a lot of hassle to stow then deploy, and I don’t fancy being pinned down by the stern at very low speed in huge breaking waves – better have ultra strong washboards ! Then again the Seabrake at 6-7 knots seems a tad fast, asking for a broach – but I like the semi-steerable possibility – ether system seems to me to require ultra strong specialised aft chainplates and a well prepared boat.

      I know this is sacrilige, but I am a very strong believer that ‘ FATIGUE IS THE KILLER – I wonder if one of the modern quarter-wave sensing autopilots – and the battery / generator power to keep it going – coupled with something between the two drogues mentioned here may be the future ? Of course it’s all money and relying on electrickery, the Seabrake taking quartering seas sounds a nice idea but what about vicious cross seas ?

      On a tinier scale, a long time ago when I was an experienced dinghy sailor but new to cruisers – even my Anderson 22 – we got it wrong and mixed up in Portland Race in unforecast heavy weather, SW F-8 – we didn’t have an efficient reefing system so I slalomed us between the overfalls, successfully. Meanwhile a Twister who’d set off at the same time got frightened, reefed down to the eyebrows and got clobbered, pooped and was very indignant our little boat got to Yarmouth well before him, unscathed !

      However that was a short daylight trip across Portland to IOW – in real blue water conditions I’d want a drogue, and it must be said an experienced crew – maybe these modern autopilots – with a very good electrician before kicking off and backup – this may be becoming the answer, as too many Joshua Slocumb types have succumbed.

      I knew a very skilled & experienced IT bod at my club decades ago who reckoned he’d designed a 3D inertial sensor driven autopilot, capable of handling Southern Ocean quartering seas – maybe with a drogue to help – then I never saw him again; I hope he’d gone on to work for one of the big marine autohelm companies, otherwise ‘ nice try, Goodnight Vienna ‘

      • Like you, I’ve been thinking a lot about both systems – and I agree, it’s difficult to form an opinion without trying them in extreme conditions.
        Of course, if you do meet those conditions, you don’t really want to be experimenting – which is why so many people trust the experts and get themselves kitted out with the JSD, chainplates and all and hope they never need them.
        But I’m afraid I still have my reservations: The idea – as you say – of being held back at 1.5 – 3kts in front of huge breaking waves just gives me the shivers.
        On the other hand, I don’t share your concern about the SeaBrake allowing the boat to go too fast. I believe its ability to allow the boat to speed up on a really steep wave is what is going to allow it to stay ahead of the breaking crest. At that speed, there would still be a lot of drag to hold the stern into the wind – and yet enough “give” to allow the system to be fastened to the normal stern cleats rather than special chainplates.
        Also, I have been re-reading Lin Pardey (Storm Tactics) and Susanne Huber-Curphey (the Storm Tactics chapter in Heavy Weather Sailing). Pardey advocates heaving-to in even the most violent weather providing the boat can be prevented from fore-reaching out of her protective slick – and the Pardeys did this countless times but always in their two full-keeled pilot cutter-style boats.
        Huber-Curphey gives a nod to Pardey’s experience but insists that not every wave has read Lin’s book. And, while she does not say as much, there may be something in those long, stem to stern keels with no cutaway forefoot creating more of a slick than you would get from a more modern design.
        I had never been able to get my fin and skeg design to stay within her slick but had heard that I might manage it with a drogue, so I set up the SeaBrake with a short length of chain between two lengths of 14mm polyester and arranged this over the bow so that the drogue followed the boat at an acute angle to windward – and it did, indeed stop her moving forward.
        My plan is that in really heavy weather, I would use this to heave-to under trysail. If the waves “which have not read the book” threaten to overwhelm the boat, then, I would put a second line onto the thimble where it is shackled to the chain and bring the other end over the stern and onto the windward cockpit winch. Then, I could release the drogue’s line from the bow and the boat would turn downwind.
        Next, I could winch in the line until I could reach the chain and the original line which had been fastened to the bow, bring that round the stern and onto the leeward stern cleat.
        After that, it would be a matter of dousing the trysail and running under bare pole.
        But if, as Lin writes, the slick subdues even the biggest crest, it would not come to that. Instead, I would make about a knot of leeway and the storm would pass over me three times faster than it would with a JSD (and up to seven times faster than with a SeaBrake).
        So now I am in the enviable position of actually looking for a really violent storm!

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Stones in the pot

I have just spent an awfully long time sitting in the cockpit looking at the wrecked yacht on the beach. The tide is out, and half the hull is exposed. The mast moves as each wave lifts and then dumps her back on the sand with a thump.

I wonder whether the owner has “wreck removal” insurance. I have wreck removal insurance – and I might have been making a claim today…

This is a paean to the philosophy of stones in the pot. If you have read my book The Voyage (#1 BVIs to Falmouth), you will know all about stones in the pot. Briefly, the idea is to imagine that a small earthenware pot sits in the corner. Every time you do something for the good of the boat, you toss a small pebble into the pot.

The stones represent the boat’s store of good luck. Every boat needs good luck: A lucky boat will sail past the floating container, not into it. On lucky boats, shackle pins fall into the scuppers, not over the side.

And, as happened the other day, when a line catches under the cap for the chimney and removes it smoothly (because it hasn’t been used since North Wales in March and gets greased on the first of every month), the cap bounces daintily across the coachroof and comes to rest against the shrouds instead of going plop.

Now that the varnishing is done, I have moved out of the marina at Pasito Blanco. I no longer need the mains electricity to run the hot air gun. The anchorage outside is lively in a brisk easterly, but I have to wait until Monday to see whether the gas depot can fix their connector and fill my Calor cylinder. So Saturday seemed like a good day to go into town for lunch, wi-fi and a new Bluetooth speaker.

It was while I was rowing back into the marina – well, being blown there at a quite astonishing rate, that I found myself going over the anchoring arrangements, and came up short with a jolt: I had left the chain on the windlass.

You’re not supposed to do that. The windlass is not designed to take the weight of the boat for long periods – especially jolting with every wave.

Of course, she shouldn’t be jolting – there was a chain hook and a three-metre strop to take the snatch loads. But all the same – if the hook jumped off (it’s never happened). All the same…

I should go back. I should turn round and row into the fresh easterly. I would get wet. The bike would get wet (with salt water – and I hadn’t brought its little waterproof coat). Was this really necessary? I hesitated, half turned round. A wave slopped onto my knee.

Then I saw the wreck, now underwater, just her mast and the shredded furling genoa pointing at a crazy angle.

So yes, I did go back – and yes, I did get soaked. So did the bike.

But it was just as well.

It turned out that the chimney cap landing in the shrouds had emptied the pot of stones, and Samsara’sluck had run out. What did I find? Not only had I had failed to make the chain fast on the starboard cleat, but I hadn’t even checked that the strop was properly secured on the port.

And it wasn’t. It looked as though my hurried reverse turn as the foredeck bounced like a fairground ride, had missed completely. In half an hour, the whole lot would be over the side (and you can’t buy galvanised chain hooks any more).

Besides, how long would the chain have held on the gipsey with the constant snatching of the swell. I could just see it – the whole 50metres running out until it stopped with a bang at the ancient rust-stained bit of codline on the bitter end.

How long would that last as I sat in Pitos y Flautas eating spaghetti frutti di mare and downloading Leave the World Behind on Netflix?

1 Responses to Stones in the pot

  • I certainly agree with you. I twice persuaded a former employer to sell a ship on the grounds that she was unlucky. I owned two boats, for a total of forty years, which I considered lucky on the grounds that they had both sunk before I bought them and having tried it they would not do it again.

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Watermakers in small boats

A subtle change has come over boat life in Gran Canaria since the last time I was here.

Oh, the anchorage off Las Palmas beach is as full as ever – and just as rolly. But, amazingly, it still as cheap: Only €1.25 per night for a 32ft boat.

The thing that is noticeably different is what happens at the dinghy dock in the marina. Last time, the crews from the small boats – the ones on a budget – would arrive with the inevitable collection of 5-litre plastic water bottles, which they would fill one by one from the nearest marina tap.

Hardly anybody does that anymore. In fact, it was seeing a young French couple busy with the chore that made me realise how unusual it was – and what a change had come over the cruising scene.

Because I don’t do it either. As regular readers will know – I now have a watermaker (in fact, it was the interminable wait to get it that caused me to leave Falmouth so late… which in turn led to the knockdown… which is the reason I’m still here awaiting repairs and have leisure to analyse life at the dinghy dock.)

What has changed, of course, is that two years ago, watermakers were considered a luxury reserved for big boats – and, by definition, big budgets. But, when you think about it, they are no more expensive than a couple of new sails – and sails are considered essential.

But where are you going to put it on a small boat?

And how are you going to power it with only 220ah of lead-acid batteries?

But my friends Iain and Fiona on Ruffian of Amble wrote: “There is life before a watermaker, and there is life after a watermaker. If there is any way you can get one, you won’t regret it.”

Well, I’ve answered the first question in the previous post: A singlehander doesn’t need two 100-litre water tanks – not if he’s got a watermaker.

Then there’s the power – and this is something I have refined at anchor here over the past month. It was fine on the way down – believe me, there was no shortage of wind power beating down the Iberian coast this year. The difficulty arises when the generation business is left to the solar panels.

I have 80watts of fixed panel and 120 in a folding contraption the size of a briefcase when I can prop up on deck. That is enough on a December day in the Canary Islands.

The secret, surprisingly, is not because I have a small, low-energy watermaker but, instead, an Eco-Sistems Splash 25, which draws between 16 and 18amps and churns out 25litres an hour.

Because, you see, I only need to run it for 20 minutes a day. Twenty minutes at 25litres an hour is more than eight litres – and that’s all I need, even though I’ve forgotten all about being economical with the freshwater pump and fill the washing up bowl as if I were at home.

On a cloudy day (and yes, we do have them – it even rained yesterday), I set a timer for five minutes to remind myself to keep an eye on the voltage. Maybe I’ll switch off after 15 minutes and put in the other five after lunch.

“But isn’t this just laziness?” I hear you cry. “What’s wrong with filling cans?” Besides, most of the time, you can fill up alongside with a hose…

Of course you can – in Europe. But wait ‘til you get to the Caribbean: That was why I went in 2021 – to see if I needed things like a watermaker. And I found that Iain and Fiona were absolutely right. Not only does every island charge for it – whether out of a suspicious-looking hose on the dock or a pair of 40-gallon oil drums mounted on a sort of motorised raft (add a delivery charge). But when you get it, it’s actually rubbish.

Really! In three days, it smells of bad eggs, and you have to boil it – so now you’re using extra gas just to leave a glass of water in the kettle.

And one other thing to remember when you install your watermaker: The pump has to be below the level of the high-pressure unit. In a small boat, that means in the bilges.

And what do you find in small boat bilges but seawater? So put the pump on a plinth to keep it dry – and if it should get swamped, do not, under any circumstances, turn it on “to see if it still works”.

I know this from experience.

Instead, remove it and soak it in a bucket of fresh water for 24 hours – changing the water at least twice – more if you can spare it. Every three hours, turn the motor by hand.

Shake the water out and let it dry in the sun – completely.

Reinstall and you should find it is none the worse for the experience. If it makes a screeching noise, you still have salt in the bearings. These can be replaced. But if you continue to run it, the added load will burn out the wiring, which will certainly mean a new pump (and possibly a new boat if you burn that down as well).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have water to make.

I don’t really need it. I just like making it.

The Splash 25 under the starboard berth where there used to be a 100-litre water tank.

The low-pressure pump after its soaking.

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The other half


The yacht was an Oyster 885 – essentially 90ft long – so it was a bit of a step up from the pontoon.

Actually, at the end of the automatic, electrically-operated passerelle with LED lighting and folding handrail was one of those little collapsible step ladders you keep in the broom cupboard so you can reach the top shelf in the kitchen.

It looked somewhat out of place on the big boat pontoon at the ARC, but the crew were having trouble connecting the passerelle app to the ship’s wi-fi, and besides, a tiny design flaw meant the miniature hatch in the transom got in the way.

I know all of this because my cousin Sophie is the cook aboard Babiana and invited me aboard to see how the other half lives.

The other half have it hard, I can tell you: They also had to contend with a glitch in the app for the sparking water system:  It came pouring out of its designated tap without any bubbles. Never mind, they can always drink champagne. They’re carrying 250 bottles of wine from the owner’s award-winning Vondeling vineyard near Cape Town (It’s a hobby bought with money from the hedge fund he founded with money made from buying enough cocoa futures to give everyone in the country 83 Mars Bars each).

The Financial Times calls him “Chocfinger”, but in fact, he’s a surprisingly modest guy called Anthony Ward who was even then on his way with his wife Sophie (1) and determined to win the ARC’s racing division. It would have been better if the crew hadn’t returned the night before from pizza ashore to find the freezer on the blink.

Sophie (the one in the galley) had spent two days preparing and freezing ten meals for the 12-strong ship’s company. She’s catering for a 14-day crossing, so had another day over the stove to look forward to.

The skipper – that’s her partner James – as calm as a man can afford to be when he has retractable bow and stern thrusters, asked whether they might leave the freezer until the morning.

You don’t need to know the details of Sophie’s response.

But sure enough, by the time the owners arrived, Babiana had bubbles, the freezer was back at -18°C (they disconnected one of the fridges – they’ve got five of them) and we were ready to go out and try the whompa.

You need a whompa if you’re going to win the ARC. It’s the biggest sail you can get on a 120ft mast – which means it is 639sq/m (or, if you like big numbers 6,878sq ft).

We put up the whompa and sailed faster than the wind. Then, we put up the A3 and sailed faster than the wind. There is something curiously pedestrian about putting up big sails when the only effort involved is in keeping your toe on the button for the electric winch.

The helmsman has buttons too – different buttons for port and starboard steering positions.  Of course, it all takes a lot of electricity, which is why they have a starboard generator and a port generator – although why nobody can make a washing machine that works at a 30° angle of heel is a mystery.

By the time you read this, they will be over the horizon, deciding whether to go north and sail deliberately into a gale or south and risk being becalmed.

Anyway, just in case, they topped up the fuel tanks. It took the best part of an hour. An Oyster 885 carries three tonnes of fuel.

Oh, it’s not for motoring through the calms (they’ve got the whompa, don’t forget). But what if the generator stopped – port or starboard – with five fridges and the washing machine to run?

Not to mention having to cross the Atlantic without bubbles….


The Whompa

Port steering controls

Starboard steering controls

The engine room – with port and starboard generators.

The owners – Sophie and Anthony Ward

Skipper James

Cousins: The old man and Sophie the cook

11 Responses to The other half

  • This is a great read. I’m Lynn (Irving), Sophie (in the galley)’s aunt. Thanks for such a great article. I’ve been on Babiana, in Palma, when she first arrived from the UK, she’s an amazing boat. And Sophe, in the galley, and James , the captain, are amazing too.

  • Hi John
    To see the real “Other Half” Google the sea yacht Sea Eagle on which my grandson is a crew member-
    Keep up the blogs of your travels.
    Cheers John Wilky

  • Wonderful. The overwhelming amount of automation and gizmos on these magical yachts is awesome. What an absolute joy you lucky b……. .

  • So no-one will be sleeping on a heap of wet headsails in the forepeak…..

  • Matching Passmore noses!


    I have a close friend with a 100 year old 100 foot schooner kept lovingly prepared.

    I think: It is not monies you talk about in final days but passions followed.

    -why I love your writing!!

  • I wonder what Eric and Susan Hiscock would have to say about this cruising boat? (^L^)

  • What planet are you on….?

  • Let’s hope they win.

    But I thought the big boat crew code of omertà forbade naming an owner?

    • You’re right. But if the owner invites you aboard, gives you champagne out of a silver glass and says you can write about the boat on your blog, I guess it’s OK. I did say he was surprisingly modest…

      • Indeed so! In fact I had guessed that, given your professional background!

        Strength to his arm and may he win!

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You know those rogue waves everyone talks about? The real monsters, big as houses with breaking crests way higher than the mast. And steep – so steep there’s no escape. The boat is going to be knocked flat.

I found one.

Two hundred miles north of the Canaries on October 22, inbound from Falmouth for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Six o’clock in the morning BST – still dark, and I was asleep, having gone to bed at midnight, setting alarms for 90 minutes.

It was blowing 28 – 33kts out of the SSW, and Samsara was double-reefed and making 5-6kts hard on the wind in not quite in the right direction. That was the reason for the 90-minute alarms. I wanted to be sure that if the wind changed, I didn’t go charging off in a new and entirely inappropriate direction. At 0130, nothing had changed. At 0300 nothing had changed – although the barometer had started to rise after its fall from the previous afternoon. I reckoned I could set the alarms for three hours. So it didn’t look as though we were going to get a full gale like the one of Lisbon. But what I did not know was that back in the UK, they were calling it Storm Babette.

At 0330, I was fast asleep (and dreaming of the legendary Portuguese Trades) when then this happened.

That’s my track on the Navionics app – at 0330, just after I went back to bed. The boat was being steered by the Aries windvane which, faithful as ever, followed the wind round what in was a very, very sudden wind shift of 30°. This was good news. Now we were heading in the right direction.

Actually, it was partly good news. The bad part is that if you look up “rogue waves” or “extreme waves” or “exceptionally steep waves,” you will find that when two wave systems intersect at an angle of 30°, that is when the monster wave can be generated. Don’t ask me why. It’s all to do with hydrodynamics and highly technical. Ordinary sailors wouldn’t understand.

But this is what it did to the inside of Samsara’s cabin.

The first I knew was that I woke up but couldn’t get up because there was a lot of stuff on top of me. Also, there wasn’t any floor. Just a lot of water.

Thinking about it now, I’m surprised how calmly I accepted the situation. My first concern was that I wasn’t wearing any trousers. After three o’clock I didn’t think I’d be getting up in a hurry and it’s much more comfortable without…

Then I noticed the rechargeable light that hangs from the forehatch was on – except I couldn’t see it – just a flood of white light coming through the forehatch. Which was wide open. So, the first thing to do was close the forehatch. I always bolt it, but because it takes a bit of wiggling, I never bother to lock the bolt in position by turning it sideways into the little slot. Yet, somehow, that had come undone.

Then I turned back to the cabin and switched on a light. Seeing everything piled up in the middle like that, there could be only one explanation. We had suffered a knockdown.

I don’t think we’d been completely rolled because I had no sensation of being on the deckhead, but what had happened to the rig? That was the big question. I picked my way aft, noticing with some surprise that the big adjustable spanner was in the sink.

Outside, I found the sprayhood had been flattened, and we were hove to and riding quietly in a very big sea with 33kts on the wind speed indicator. The mainsheet had parted from the boom, which was now lying against the shrouds. Well, she could stay like that. There was no point in trying to fix the mainsheet if I had no idea where the tools had got to.

Normally, the tools live under the head of the starboard berth. There are four turn buttons to hold the lid down in the event of a capsize. Guess what? I hadn’t fastened them. I wasn’t expecting a capsize. The locker was pretty much empty. At least I knew where the big adjustable spanner was. Everything else, not so much.

The first thing to do was find my phone so I could photograph the chaos. I’m always wishing I had stopped to photograph dramatic moments. I‘m pleased to see that I was thinking clearly enough to photograph this one.

Then I started the big clear up. First, my pride and joy, the Alpicool fridge. I put it back, plugged it in. It didn’t work – but that was probably a simple connection problem. Then I put the bunk boards back so I could heap everything on top of them and get the floorboards down so at least I could walk about. The floorboards have pre-drilled screw holes so they can be secured against the possibility of capsize. But that’s where the spare beer lives, and they weren’t secured because I wasn’t expecting…

I never knew I had so many batteries. AA, AAA – there were batteries everywhere – including lodged in the handhold that runs along the sides of the cabin under the windows. There was sweetcorn in there too – and nuts, bolts and small screws.

Normally, these live in a large plastic box – a rather successful impulse buy from B&Q with little compartments for different-sized fastenings and small items which may come in useful one day. This thing had not burst open completely (I would still be sorting screws instead of writing this), but one catch had come undone just enough to fill the handhold on the other side of the boat.

Most peculiar was the storm jib, which lives right up in the forepeak – how did that end at the aft end of the saloon?

And the hatch over the log impeller. That was another odd thing. This hatch is under the shower grating. Now it was on top – the grating back in place. Piece by piece, item by item, I put everything back where it belonged (or at least where it will be out of the way until I get round to a proper sort out). Meanwhile, I had to deal with the outside. For one thing, I didn’t like the idea of the mainsail flapping itself to pieces.

First, how to get the boom back? Maybe I could haul it in with the preventer, which is permanently rigged to the end and made off within reach of the mast – but apparently, that too had been attached to mainsheet fitting, so was hanging loose.

In the end, I got the boat sailing under jib, lashed the helm down so that the backdraught kept the main off the shrouds, and I could get it down. But that still left the end of the boom swinging about out of reach. In the end, I tamed it by letting off the topping lift and stood ready with the stainless dog clip on the end of the bracing line. When the boom swung inwards, I snapped the clip onto the topping lift. Now I could get the boom in and braced and see what had given way. I remember being inordinately pleased with the way that went.

It turned out that 45 years of a stainless steel shackle wearing on the aluminium casting at the end of the boom was just too much.  When I bought the boat five years ago, I replaced this with a soft shackle, but the damage had been done. It turned out that I didn’t need any tools. There were two other attachment points on either side for twin tackles, and the Dyneema shackle was just long enough to reach through both of them. Don’t you just love soft shackles?

Within 15 minutes, we had the main back up and the boat on course. At least the cockpit lockers hadn’t burst open.

Well, not without trying. The weight of warps, fenders and gash bags in the starboard locker had pulled the facing off the lid, so there would have been nothing to stop it all falling out. It seems only the number of gash bags blocking the way saved everything from being lost.

I did lose the piece of teak facing, though – as well as the nicely carved cover for the fuel cap. It would have been so easy to make up a safety line for it – and teak costs a fortune now the trade has been banned.

That was when I noticed what had happened to the toe rail. This, too, is teak. Or was. Now, about three metres of it was missing on the port side. For several days, I was at a loss to explain how this could have been ripped off – surely not the force of the water?

Ah yes, right in the middle was a fairlead and if a sheet got caught in that and then, with the weight of water in the sail…

Then there was the broken stanchion: The spinnaker poles are fastened to the stanchions. I don’t suppose that helped.

I was going to say how impressed I was to see the sails (the new Vectran sails from Crusader) had escaped unscathed – until it transpired that the weight of water falling onto the sail and ripping off the mainsheet had also caught the luff on the wrong side of the reefing horns. The sail tore – you can’t really blame it; the 10mm stainless bolt supporting the horns snapped too.

The sprayhood turned out to have one small broken fastening on the end of one of the struts, and the zips are apparently designed to burst open before the fabric gives way – thank you again, Crusader.

I stayed a long time in the cockpit, just watching the sea, not caring when a wave broke over my head – I couldn’t get any wetter, and the water was warm. But it was now nine o’clock, and I hadn’t put the breakfast oats in to soak before I went to bed (I think I had some idea that the motion would be easier in the early hours). Well, we know all about that, don’t we?

More seriously, the cooker had been swamped (again) and wouldn’t work. It took two days to get a very low flame out of one of the burners. Infuriatingly, the little electric kettle had packed up a couple of days before, and I was waiting for calmer weather to get out the multimeter and find out why.

In the end, breakfast was cold rice pudding out of the tin with the Nutella jar tucked into the corner of the berth beside me. That and two digestive biscuits with a small glass of rum (it had to be a small glass; the big one got smashed).

Other damage, since we’re on the subject: Two shelving units became detached from their fastenings – not because they contained anything particularly heavy – it must have been just the impact.

The cockpit grating broke.

The fridge is definitely kaput (the instructions say it must not be inverted.)

The low-pressure pump for the watermaker is making a strange noise and not producing the required pressure. It has to be below the level of the high-pressure setup, hence its home in the bilges, but it does sit on a little platform designed to keep it above any water down there (but not if the water is up to the cabin sole.)

Of course, the 50m of 10mm chain (weighing 50kg) hit the deckhead, demolished the wiring for the windlass and then crashed back down as comprehensively tangled as Auntie Nellie’s knitting wool after the kitten got into her basket.

So, what happened?

I believe the exceptionally steep wave hit from the starboard bow, and the boat, sailing fast, started to go straight into it. If you have seen the film The Perfect Storm, you can guess what happened next. The bow was forced up and up until the hull was almost vertical – that would explain the storm jib being catapulted five metres from its place in the forepeak halfway back down the saloon. Also, the peculiar behaviour of the shower grating – and something else that supports this theory is the shelving system above the port berth. This features a piece of wood which slots into two grooves to act as an optional divider. This can only be removed (normally with difficulty) by lifting it out vertically. It turned up in the bilges.

So, rather than being pitchpoled, I believe Samsara was very nearly tipped over backwards, but as the hull approached the vertical, she fell sideways across the face of the wave. The mast may well have been below the horizontal, but given the steepness of the wave, that would not necessarily have put it in the water, causing her to roll (there was no damage to the anemometer or Windex).

The wave would then have fallen on top of the boat, demolishing the sprayhood, breaking the boom casting and tearing the sail, ripping off the toe rail, breaking the stanchion etc…etc…

I’m quite glad I wasn’t out there.

Eventually, of course, the weight of the keel brought her up – which, as I know from experience, is not something that happens with a catamaran.

Oddly enough, I count myself lucky.

Because the boat tipped backwards before being knocked down sideways, the big adjustable spanner flew diagonally aft to land in the sink. If this had been a simple sideways knockdown, it would have been propelled directly across the cabin from its stowage beneath the head of the starboard berth, straight for the head of the port berth – to hit me squarely in the face.

And that, my friends, is what they call positive thinking.

Now, if you will excuse me, I still haven’t found the galley scissors…


The reefing horns: The 10mm stainless steel bolt snapped like a twig


Aluminium casting broken

…and fixed with a soft shackle


Toe rail ripped off.

5 Responses to Knockdown

  • Ouch, ouch, ouch!

    So glad you’re still here to tell the tale.

    Must check my mainsheet fixing!

  • Hi John, you seemed to have survived very well considering your quite terrifying experience.
    I remember many years ago researching the incidents of rogue non sinusoidal waves. The article included the fact that eventually researchers were given time on a European satellite to look for non sinusoidal waves in the Southern ocean. They were astounded to find a high frequency of such a occurrences.
    Not only had there been occurrences recorded on drilling platforms in the North Sea but also a ship in the southern ocean had been severely hit and if my memory serves me correctly a huge new container ship disappeared off the South America coast many years ago and from debris recovered it was assumed it had to have been hit by a huge rogue wave. I think life boats davits were recovered bent! (don’t know how)
    I unfortunately can’t find the article in question but here is a start off point.

  • Strangely I was checking your position on AIS about this time mid passage and thought you weren’t making much progress. Hope all getting straight again. Thanks for the excellent blogs.
    Alan. (North Star – Titchmarsh Marina )

  • Well John ,

    That was an experience well described for sure and your calmness is palatable

    As you have said before the Rivals are bullet proof and your little ship survived and brushed herself off ….

    Actually as a kid l saw about 10 of these being fitted out at Westing Motor Works which strikes me now as being a very odd name for a poor man’s boat yard based on the Hoo Peninsula Kent

    This approach thinking about is smart -given the collective knowledge around and motivation needed sometimes for this mammoth task

    Admired these boats then – little did l know how legendary these would become

    Glad your safe and able to tell the tale

    My father crossed the Atlantic in a Hillyard very slowly !

    As he said to me- you’ll never drown in a Hillyard just starve to death

    Best – Adrian

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us, especially the detsils on what could have been secured. It helps all of us think about, and be better prepared for, the unexpected on our own boats.
      Most of all, I’m glad you are okay.
      All the best to you.

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A tough passage

The back of the North Atlantic passage chart has this to say about leaving the UK for the Canaries: “September is a good month”.

Last time I did this trip, I Ieft on September 10th, got there in 13 days and spent most of the time rolling south at six knots under twin headsails with the Portuguese Trades blowing as steadily as they did for the Cutty Sark.

October, says the chart, is “acceptable, but get a good weather report.”

I left on October 4th. I had a good weather report – at least the Windy app offered me moderate north westerlies for 48 hours to get me halfway across Biscay. If I left it for a couple more days, however, there was no end to the prospect of south westerlies, some of them in orange…

Actually, I did consider waiting a couple of days because – would you believe it after the Great Refit – at the last minute I broke a stanchion coming up to the fuel berth in Falmouth.

Anchoring off Trefusis Point, I considered a delay to get a new one. There was one at half price on eBay. I could have it by Thursday.

But by Thursday, the south westerlies would have arrived – and I had 24 days to get to Gran Canaria, check in for my stupid Brexit visa and get to Pasito Blanco in time for the Ocean Cruising Club party.

I ordered a new pair (I think I need a spare) to be sent to Agustin the OCC Port Officer for the Canaries. “Was that all right,” I emailed him. “Of course,” he replied by return. Agustin is great.

So, I left on what I imagined would be a straight-forward 1,400-mile passage. “Two or three weeks,” I told Tamsin.

It was going to be three. It just seemed longer.

For a start there were the calms off Finisterre. Days of calms. Calms and headwinds. In desperation I even motored for 20 hours in the hope of finding some wind. I had screenshots of a week of Windy forecasts, and they suggested that if I were to get further into Biscay, there might be enough wind at least to keep me moving.

Motoring is not something I like to do on long passages – what difference is it going to make over a thousand miles? But I was pleasantly surprised to see how far I could get with the little Nanni 21hp ticking over at 1750 revs.

All the same, when I got to where Windy said there was wind, there wasn’t.

In the end it was the new super zero that got me out of there. This is the enormous lightweight sail set on its own Dyneema luff rope from a short bowsprit and sheeted back to the spinnaker blocks. It is essentially an upwind sail, and the idea is that the merest puff gets the boat moving and generates enough apparent wind to keep her moving. It works.

At least it worked until I put a hole in the leach trying to furl it when it was caught on the crosstree which – I then discovered – had lost its smooth protective boot.

I almost wept with disappointment, shame and frustration. The worst part would be having to tell Paul Lees at Crusader sails what I had done to his beautiful creation.

So, it was fully nine days into the passage before I saw any real progress down the Iberian coast. Of course, I could have cut the corner – abandoned my waypoint 100 miles off Cape Finisterre but, if there is one thing that frightens me as much as lightning at sea, it is the prospect of meeting the marauding Orcas.

I know that people say Orca attacks are statistically very rare and they only want to play but Samsara doesn’t carry hull insurance and I manage to break quite enough stuff without any help from “playful” marine mammals.

Incidentally, here’s a politically incorrect observation: If they’re so bored, can’t they go and learn to do tricks in a nice Disneyland marine park?

(Now, of course, I’m going to be in real trouble. They’re intelligent enough to read this.)

Anyway, I moved the waypoint (it was an exclamation mark) from 100 miles off Finisterre to 50. Apparently, the advice for yachts sailing down the coast is to stay 20 miles offshore, so I should be well out of the way.

Certainly, I was out of the way. I still found myself 100 miles offshore – tacking against persistent southerlies.

These got stronger the further south we bashed. In an area famed since the 17th century for northerly winds, I spent day after day switching between one reef and two, all the hatches shut, the inside of the boat becoming clammier and clammier as cast-off oilies, wet boots and flying food grew into a sort of putrid compost heap on the floor.

Then, one afternoon off Lisbon, the glass dropped like a stone and the wind speed shot up to between 30 and 36 knots. I considered the sensible thing – heaving to. But that would mean going backwards at two knots and I just couldn’t bear it. Also, the boat seemed to be loving the conditions, crashing along at between five and six knots in clouds of spray. Of course, we were only making one knot towards the Canaries as the Navionics track zig-zagged painfully across the screen – and this went on, would you believe for 36 hours…

Then, after just a 24 respite (there was even some north in the wind) would you believe the same thing happened again – the sudden drop in pressure (but only 28-33 knots this time.)

And that was when I got knocked down – in a Force 7. You don’t expect that (nobody expects a knockdown). I’m not going to describe it here because I’ve written a full explanation in another post.

By the time I got to Las Palmas, quite frankly I’d had enough. Also, I have to organise the repairs – which are beginning to resemble another refit.

I think I’ll take the bus to the party.

After the knockdown

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