An Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never came.

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

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

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

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

Yes, I’m impressed too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Good Stuff




7 Responses to An Invitation

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

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

  • M’Lud – there’s no topping that!

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

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

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

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

    Many congratulations and thanks again

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Needs Oare Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inevitably, a polite tap on the hull goes unnoticed.

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

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

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

Now, that’s what I call a benefit.

5 Responses to Benefits

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

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

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

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

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A little local difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, such faith!”

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

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

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

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

Olly and George were up for it.

Isn’t it amazing how trusting children can be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Olly, then.

…and now.

…and Benedict.


3 Responses to A little local difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve stopped doing it now.

Yes, exactly…

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

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

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

A one-piece washboard…

…or a cockpit table.

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The dilemma of the single-handed sailor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, there was an ice maker.

And next to it, a Sodastream.

Next to the Sodastream was a coffee machine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The French Edition

My clever plan to promote the French translation of my book Old Man Sailing turned out to be not so clever after all.

Arriving in Les Sables d’Olonne, the singlehanded sailing capital of the world, I envisaged becoming the epicentre of some sort of media storm.

It turns out there is far more sailing news in France than there are media outlets to cover it. In the end, all I got for the 700-mile round trip was this piece in the local paper – mildly encouraging – but hardly the glare of publicity.

Consequently, just three people have bought the Audible edition, but nobody at all has ordered the paperback or downloaded it to their Kindle.

So: Plan B.

Plan B is to offer the book as a free download and ask all 10,000 people who bought the English edition to now download the French. This will kick it so far up the bestseller lists that the Amazon algorithm will pick it up and start flashing it onto the screens of potential new readers.

Of course, if you have already read the English edition (and you liked it), there would be nothing to stop you from awarding five stars to the French – don’t worry, I wouldn’t expect you to read it.

I don’t think there is anything immoral in this – after all, the translation is a triumph (so I’m told).

Of course, most readers will never see this plea, so it is all the more important that those who do see it will actually go ahead and download the book (important to me, that is). So, please would you do that now, before you forget? Just search for “ Le vieil homme hisse la voile: Certains rêves prennent une vie ” (copy and paste it to get the accent) on your Amazon marketplace and click the Kindle edition. You should see an option to “Buy for £0.00” (not the Kindle Unlimited if you have subscribed to that).

If you never read it and would like to read it in French (or you would just like to help), this is your chance.

As a special thank you, I have been labouring away, recording the entire oldmansailing blog as a series of podcasts. I have managed four so far and am still fighting the technology. Since the blog has been going since 2018 and each podcast runs to 40 minutes, this may prove to be a life’s work.

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A good day

Why do we do it?

Why do we live on boats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigating the innards of the engine could wait for morning.

…and this is where it gets really good.

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

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

And it was Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

Then the sun came out.

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

The Graduates

5 Responses to A good day

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

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

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

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

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

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Bulots and the body clock

Dateline: L’Aber Wra’ch

Middle of the Night

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

Maybe this takes a bit of explaining.

My body clock is fucked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Or two…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blasted fishermen were there as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said so.

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

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

I can only claim lack of sleep.

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

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

Maybe they know something.


Le Vioben’s version


Alternatively, last year in St Malo with Hugo.


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

5 Responses to Bulots and the body clock

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

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

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Breakfast is served

This is the big news.

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

The big news is that I have a cockpit table!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But maybe…

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

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

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

So don’t all turn up at once.

6 Responses to Breakfast is served

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

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

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

  • Ahh, dinner no longer a washout….

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

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

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The old man and the golden girl

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

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

Or is it just me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, the box of letters…”

Her colleague went to look.

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

There was something terribly familiar about her.

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

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

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

She laughed: “If you must.”

So, I did.

And I gave her a leaflet.

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

Then I gave her a book – and inscribed it.

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

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

And she posed with me for a selfie.

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

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

14 Responses to The old man and the golden girl

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

  • You jammy dodger!

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

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

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

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

  • Nice one John.

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

  • Good on ya john!

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

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

  • Fortuitous, bien sur!
    Bonne chance!

  • Formidable Mon cher ami!

  • Cold market Academy springs to mind JP

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