After mentioning that I need to get the anchor chain galvanised, I was deluged with gloomy warnings that nobody does it any more. Chain is so cheap nowadays that it’s considered as disposable as electric kettles.

But I’m very attached to my chain. I expect it’s as old as the boat – so, 48 years – and, at a chunky 10mm, is far too heavy for a boat of less than 10metres.

On the other hand, it does match the 20kg Rocna and I sleep very well knowing I have all that down there on the bottom. Also, I remember the story of how Alfred and Rosemarie Alecio lost Iron Horse in the Indian Ocean.

I have tried to look up the reference. Nevertheless, I am so sure I remember every detail that I will repeat it here (and stand to be corrected). They had an old boat too – and, although they had no reason to doubt the steel fitting which passed through the wooden mast and to hold the shrouds (no I don’t know what it’s called), they reasoned that since it had been there for twenty or thirty years, it must need replacing. They had a new one made in the Far East.

It failed. It just broke and they lost the mast – and in due course, their beloved boat which was also their home. They were picked up by a tanker off Madagascar.

I have great faith in my chain – more than I would in a new one. The saving is by-the-bye.

The place to go used to be the Wedge Group in Birmingham. They had a machine that kept it moving in the tank so that no spots got missed. However, they have moved premises and didn’t feel it economic to set up the chain facility again.

One by one. I called all the other UK galvanisers on Google. One by one,  they called back and said they had stopped doing anchor chain, suggesting I buy a new one.

Except for Highland Metals in Elgin. They said, “of course”. Apparently, they hang the chain on wires and jiggle it from time to time. You don’t get a perfect result, but most people consider it good enough.

Elgin is only 15 minutes from Lossiemouth where there is a “man with a van”. So I shall put in there on the way to the Shetlands this year. Turn-around is two weeks, apparently, so a circuit of the Moray Firth and a few days in Edinburgh seems like a plan.


The BBC says a Walrus has turned up in Pembrokeshire – a UK first.

Oh no, it isn’t: In about 1980 when I was at the Daily Mail, a Walrus washed up on the beach at Skegness. It was mid-summer – the silly season and as self-appointed silly correspondent, I claimed Wally the Walrus.

First up: What do you do with a lost Walrus? Well, you send him back to Greenland, of course.

How do you do that?

Ah, this is where the fun begins – and it lasted for the best part of a week: First, the local council has to knock up a crate for him. Who does this? The council’s works department… no, no, no, you’re losing the thread: The council carpenter is who does it – as in The Walrus and the Carpenter. We had a sub-editor with poetic tendencies who bowdlerised Lewis Carroll for the occasion.

Next, you persuade Iceland Air to air freight Wally for nothing more than the publicity it will generate (or rather, with the threat of the bad publicity if they refuse).

The World Wildlife Fund and the RSPCA sent their experts (including a very young Mark Carwardine) to see to Wally’s welfare and, of course, the Mail’s wildlife photographer Mike Hollist – a man with enough patience for all of us. We even had a fishing boat organised at the other end to take Wally across the Denmark Strait. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I hoped something… There is nothing so dull as a newspaper stunt that goes according to plan. This had the makings of a story I would tell my grandchildren, not to mention the readers (at the time nobody had invented blogs).

It started looking promising as soon as we arrived at Keflavik International Airport, and the man who owned the fishing boat backed up his lorry to load Wally’s crate. It turned out that not only did he own the fishing boat but also Reykjavik Zoo – where, he announced, Wally would be spending the night… and many other days and nights until enough visitors had been tempted to pay to go and look at him.

Mention of the word “Zoo” did not go down well with the RSPCA and the WWF. A quick inspection of a muddy park and a few bedraggled animals confirmed that Wally might have been better off staying in Skegness. As it was, he was stuck on the tarmac at the airport with the wind whistling straight off the icepack. The RSPCA’s young woman vet, who had spent much of the flight with her nose pressed up against the bars of the crate communing with Wally, announced that the present situation could well be classified as cruelty… and blamed me.

Right next to Wally’s crate was an enormous hanger, wide open and inviting.

“Would he be alright in there?”

“He’d be out of the wind.”

We pushed him in.

“Shouldn’t we ask someone?”

“Take too long…”

This was absolutely true. One thing I had learned about big organisations was that nobody ever wanted to take responsibility for anything – and this was a very big organisation. This was the United States Air Force. Pretty soon I found myself being wheeled in to see the commanding officer – a man with very short hair and more medal ribbons than you could easily count. He sat behind an enormous desk, under an enormous flag and was called something like Hiram B. Sidewinder III.

He was also bored to tears. Everyone at USAF Keflavik was bored to tears. The only reason they were there was to provide a Search and Rescue facility if a B52 came down in the North Atlantic. No B52 had ever come down in the North Atlantic. Colonel Sidewinder was “Go” for excitement.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” he said with the certainty of JFK announcing the Moon Landing Program. “We’re gonna take the refuel tank out of a C130 – should give enough room for your Wally’s crate. Now you guys get some shuteye and we’ll have Go for 0600.”

So we closed the big roller doors on Wally and booked into the surprisingly luxurious hotel where we didn’t so much get some shuteye as have a celebration dinner and go for a dip in one of the natural volcanic hot spas that litter Iceland like puddles in Manchester.

The following morning we were back at the airport, all ready for “Go” at 0600. However, now the Colonel had morphed from JFK to Jim Lovell with “Houston, we have a problem.”

We did too. Someone had told the Pentagon.

It was like this: If the C130 was going to be out of commission, another one would have to be flown up from mainland USA to cover for it – after all, the C130 was there to refuel the Air Sea Rescue helicopter that would go to the aid of the crew of the downed B52 – if one should happen to come down for the first time ever during the precise 12 hours it would take to fly Wally to Greenland, fly back and replace the refuel tank.

Of course, the Pentagon could suspend B-52 flights for the duration but wouldn’t you just know it if the Ruskies chose that particular window to start World War III.

So what we had was a “No-Go”.

I began to shake my head. This was not good. So far, Skegness Council had helped save Wally by building him a crate, a North of England haulage company had helped save him by driving him to Heathrow and Iceland Air had helped save him by flying him free and gratis to Keflavik and now… and now…

I placed my cup of disgusting weak American coffee with obligatory cream on the edge of the desk and began to excuse myself: My deadline was approaching. The Daily Mail and its six million readers would be waiting for news of Wally…however disappointing and, possibly, however tragic that news might prove to be.

With a heavy heart and heavy tread, I rose to leave and impart to a waiting world… etc…etc…

“Wait!” The Colonel held up his hand – not an easy thing to do, given the weight of gold braid on his sleeve.

What happened over the next few hours, I can only surmise. I never saw the colonel again – but I did see a lot of the harassed young Captain who had been tasked with rescuing the international reputation of USAF Keflavik, the United States Air Force in general and God’s Own Country as an animal-loving nation.

One day that young Captain was going to be a Colonel – even a General. Here’s what he did from his little office in Iceland: He got the Pentagon to call the State Department – and the State Department to call the US embassy in Reykjavik… and the ambassador to call the Icelandic Foreign Minister – who called the Fisheries Minister – who handed the mission to the commander of their Fishery Protection Fleet.

For 72 hours the Icelandic Fishing fleet in the Denmark Strait would be left unprotected while a little grey Fisheries Protection Vessel – a sort of cross between a destroyer and a lifeboat – would take Wally home. The vet rushed off to tell him the good news.

Sure enough, the whole circus moved to the harbour where Wally was winched aboard and lashed to the deck (the vet giving him a running commentary through the bars).

The captain, a bemused man with a bushy beard and piercing blue eyes, revelled in a name that sounded something like Guðmundur Snorradóttir. The weather forecast was excellent, he said. We should have a smooth crossing (which might well have had something to do with deserting all those fishermen).

And so we ate our way to Greenland. Ask Mark Carwardine, if you don’t believe me – he spends a lot his time living on freeze-dried rations in desolate parts of the world while he makes his documentaries. But on this trip, we had six meals a day.

We started with breakfast – very Scandinavian, lots of raw and smoked fish, hearty breads to exercise the beard muscles. Then, for a mid-morning snack, we were offered a selection of cakes and flatbreads with more smoked fish and coffee. On to lunch which was a full meal of four courses with a choice of two or three dishes for each one. Tea followed at four O’clock with more cakes and then dinner at 6.30: The sort of meal that would not have disgraced a Mayfair restaurant. It took a couple of hours – but then we didn’t have much else to do… at least not until the table was filled once more with cakes and breads at 11.00n p.m. to fend off night starvation.

It was all very relaxing – except for the vet who kept up her vigil, nose to nose with Wally’s bristling moustache.

Then, finally, in brilliant sunshine, we arrived off the sparkling shores of Greenland – about a couple of miles off them.

“This is as close as we can go,” said the captain.

“As close as we can go!” I think I may have exploded slightly.

We had come all this way, from Skegness beach (with the carpenter) down to London thanks to the friendly haulier – Iceland Air’s free freight – Colonel Sidewinder and Captain PR… not to mention the Pentagon, the State Department, the Icelandic Foreign Minister and his Fisheries counterpart…. and after all that, the unpronounceable captain proposed to stop a couple of miles short of the destination…

“Some things you cannot do,” he said in the sort measured tones you would expect from ancient Norse heritage.

Actually, he had a point. The final mile was blocked with solid pack ice.

“Wally will be fine,” said the Captain. “We move the crate to the edge of the deck, we open the door, he can dive in.”

Mike Hollist, the Mail’s patient wildlife photographer, had been listening patiently to all this and spotted a fatal flaw. It would take Wally about a second to dive from crate to water. The motor drive on Mike’s Nikon F4 might be able to crank out five frames in a second. In other words, the best part of a week of everybody’s time and thousands of pounds of other people’s money was all going to be zeroed into five frames – all of them pretty much identical.

We went back to the drawing board. We considered dragging the crate across the ice. We considered calling in a helicopter (the Americans could refuel it on the way)…

“We could put him on the ice,” said Mike – which showed why he kept winning awards for his animal pictures. “Put him on the ice. He crawls around for a bit. Then he dives in. How’s that?”

Mike looked at me. I looked at the Captain. The Captain looked at the ice.

“Maybe,” he said. “Not the pack ice. But maybe we get close to a big floe. Put the crate on the floe…”

“Open the crate,” said Mike.

“With you on the floe…” I suggested (this was looking promising).

But the Captain had seen that go wrong before: “Loose ice like this – very unstable. Can break up – crack – no warning. So, no people on the ice floe. Only Wally. He swims good.”

And so it was arranged: Two little rubber boats were launched to go and fetch an ice flow and drive it towards the ship. Mike stayed aboard because, as he rightly pointed out, if he was in one of the boats, he would have the ship in the background, not Greenland. If we didn’t have Greenland in the background, who was to say we weren’t dropping him in the Serpentine?

The ship’s derrick hoisted Wally in his crate high into the air and over the rail. The two rubber boats revved up and pressed the ice floe more firmly against the side of the ship.

And it was here that the Laws of Physics came into play. Oh, how I hate the Laws of Physics. If the number of times the Laws of Physics were divided into the sum of human endeavour you would get a very frustrating number indeed. On this occasion, the Force applied by the two outboard motors was transferred to the Object (The ice floe) but then it was transferred onward in the form of kinetic energy to the ship (against which it was pushed by the revving outboards) This meant we had Leverage – and with Leverage, you get a Fulcrum (In this case the centre-point of the ship) causing the whole vessel to rotate (the ice floe, Wally and the two little rubber boats with their revving engines, turning with it.)

“Wait, wait, stop!” I cried (I was on the bridge with the mistaken idea that I was directing operations).

The Captain raised a bushy eyebrow. Evidently, he was not used to people countermanding his orders.

“I’m losing Greenland!” came the faint voice of Mike from his vantage point on the rail.

“We’re losing Greenland!” I relayed to the captain in the manner of John Mills addressing Noel Coward.

“…and the sun,” Mike added for good measure.

But the Captain had had enough: “Mister,” he said. “This is a ship. It is floating in water. You cannot park it like a car!”

The pictures weren’t great when I saw them in the paper several days later. Wally emerged as a shapely black blob – backlit against the ice.

But Greenland was there – as large as life – in all its desolate glory with ice in all directions.

“Hammersmith,” Mike explained when I questioned him privately.

Hammersmith means taking two photographs, cutting them up, pushing them together and photographing them again. It got its name from the fiasco surrounding the newly-constructed Hammersmith Flyover in the early ’60s. It was so huge that even the widest wide-angle lens could not encompass all the diverging and converging lanes and bridges. So the photographer who was sent to cover the opening took several photographs, intending that they should be fitted together later.

They were – just in the wrong order: There were roads disappearing into the sides of buildings, bridges which ended in mid-air… of course, now they would mess it up with Photoshop.

I got two bottles of the Editor’s Piper Heidsieck for that.

You don’t suppose the Pembrokeshire Walrus is Wally’s great-great-grandchild looking for fifteen minutes of fame…

Postscript: (this goes on and on). My former colleague, Paul Fievez, takes issue with me and insists that the term “Hammersmith” refers not to the flyover – although that was certainly a later example – but to Hammersmith Hospital. It was there that another legendary colleague (now dead and therefore to be known only as “George”) was sent to photograph one of Britain’s first sets of surviving quadruplets.

Unfortunately, when George arrived, one of the little mites had been removed to intensive care and could not attend its photo-opportunity. Undeterred, George lined up the three remaining incubators, photographed them and then, taking a babe from one end of the line-up, whizzed it round to the other – and photographed them all again.

Everybody knows that all babies are identical and look like Winston Churchill, so once the two prints had been chopped up and pasted back together, nobody was any the wiser.

And until today, I suppose they weren’t.

Fievez only knows about this because, as a young snapper at the Mail, he once received a legendary Daily Mail bollocking from “George” who by that time was his boss. Apparently, Paul had failed to secure an important photograph, and George demanded to know why he hadn’t simply “Hammersmithed” it.

Paul, still wet behind the ears, had no idea what he was talking about – and so, was treated to the whole story.

* Paul has not retired completely from photography (they never do) but, very sensibly, has taken up the pen. At least with words, you can make them up. He assures me his novel Emperor Diamond is entirely made up.

** Those in the know will have worked out who “George” was – so Paul is now trembling at the prospect of another bollocking … this time from beyond the veil.


While technology’s most significant gift to the sailor must be the GPS, there is something that, to my mind, is even more welcome – and that is the Kindle.

I have just counted up and find I have 329 books on mine (the latest, Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – an absolute delight).

Imagine how big a boat you would need for an onboard library like that?

But it is only since publishing my own book and being thrilled to find that Amazon counts it as a “Hot New Release” and deserving of a discount out of Mr Bezos’s (admittedly deep) pocket, that I have been paying close attention to how Amazon works.

While an appreciative review gives the author a warm glow of boosted ego, that’s not really what counts. This is just as well because I know that when I finish a book, I have every good intention of writing a review – and then rarely get around to it. Somehow there are always more pressing things to do than open up the Amazon account and click on “My Orders” and “write a review” – and even then you have to wait for the algorithm to approve it in case you said something that’s not allowed.

No, what counts are the “stars”. After the first half dozen reviews, it doesn’t matter how many there are – nobody is going to trawl through all of them. But the stars do matter. The stars really matter.

I know that if I am thinking of buying a book, I check to see it has four or five stars – and that hundreds and hundreds of different people awarded it those stars. After all, if there are only a couple of dozen, they could have come from the author’s family – all those doting aunties who like to tell their neighbours they have a “nauthor” in the family.

Also, please remember that your stars won’t go anywhere unless your device is online. If you bought the paperback edition, you will have to go into your Amazon account, onto the “My Orders” page and leave your stars there.


Charcoal heater

The temperature in the cabin is 9°C. This morning it was 5°C – and that was after I unzipped the two sleeping bags (one inside the other) and released the fug within. It went off like a bomb.

So the subject is cabin heaters – something that exercises the Facebook sailing groups almost as much as anchors – or come to that, guns.

So here is everything I have learned from three British winters with a small charcoal heater.

It came with the boat and a little plaque announcing that this was a Hampshire Heater – but no instructions. The vendor explained airily that there was nothing to it: “Just fill it up with lumpwood charcoal and light it by pouring methylated spirit onto the wick. You can top up with paper bags of more charcoal.”

That first winter, I learned that it wasn’t quite as simple as that – for instance, not having any paper bags the first night, I made the discovery that if you add a shovelful of loose charcoal while it’s burning, the heat blows coal dust all over the deckhead.

Lighting it wasn’t so easy either: The wick, made of some sort of solid fireproof material, seemed unable to absorb the meths which then spilled all over the base of the ash-tray causing an explosion of blue flames and singed eyebrows.

At first, I solved this by reserving a spoonful of ash to leave on the top of the wick to absorb the meths – but then found it simpler to drip the spirit onto the wick so slowly that it had time to get itself absorbed.

Then there was the problem of too much smoke. It took a long time to get this sorted: Clouds of choking grey fumes would pour out of every orifice – including the supposedly airtight seal at the top. I have decided this is what happens when the fuel gets damp (not surprising on a small boat). The solution is to shut down the vent until the smoking stops and then open it just a crack – and then more until the chimney is hot enough to send the smoke in the right direction.

So it is important to buy the fuel in plastic bags and, once opened, keep them tied up between refills.

And that’s another thing – buying the fuel. There’s no problem in the summer when every garage keeps a stack of convenient plastic 5kg bags on the forecourt for the customers’ barbecues. But you don’t need it in the summer, do you? It’s in the middle of January that you need to keep 30kg bunkered in the fo’c’sle. You can buy it from a coal merchant of get it delivered by Amazon – but that way, it tends to come in 10kg bags which are more troublesome to stow.

So charcoal is by no means perfect – although it is carbon neutral, which is more than you can say for diesel. I used to say that if I had a bigger boat, I would go for diesel anyway. Maybe it isn’t so good for the planet, but you can buy the fuel anywhere, and you don’t end up with coal dust all over the place.

Give me a bigger boat, I said, and I would have a Refleks – the heater of choice for Danish fisherfolk in the Heligoland Bight. Also, I would install it on the floor not half-way up the bulkhead so I have to sit with my feet up on the opposite bunk to stop them from freezing.

The trouble is that only once have I seen a Refleks on a 32ft boat – and that involved chopping off a third of the port berth.

Then I read Paul Heiney’s book One Wild Song about his cruise around Cape Horn and discovered that much of it was spent fretting about the diesel supply and having to ration his heater because every cosy evening was stealing fuel from his engine.

Of course, there are plenty of other options: Forced air, gas, paraffin (kerosene) not to mention weighing down the boat with half a ton of wood burner (and with wood, you’d need to tow another boat behind to carry it all). Also, charcoal is cheap: You can buy a 5kg bag for £4.50 from a coal merchant – although it might be £5.50 on a garage forecourt or £8 on Amazon.

At least with diesel, the price is pretty much the same everywhere, but I did some comparisons, and there was no doubt about it: Hour for hour, charcoal was about half the price.

Next, consider this: If you’re going to be carting diesel back to the boat, you will need cans to do it – and they will take up just as much room as the bags of charcoal. The difference is that, in the summer, the empty bags will have been thrown away, but you’ll still have to find room for the cans.

Of course, if you have a 200litre fuel tank, maybe you don’t have a problem after all – as I say, the conclusion seems to be diesel for bigger boats with budgets to match – but as so many small boat sailors have found, a charcoal heater with its small size and its simplicity has a lot going for it.

Which is where we come up against the problem: There appears to be no-one, anywhere in the world, making a small charcoal heater for boats. Early on, when I spoke to the Hampshire Heater company, the managing director, William Baird had decided to retire and was closing down.

In doing so, he was following the Cowes chandlers Pascall Atkey who stopped making their Pansy Heaters years ago. Now you can get a good price for either on eBay.

This proves the demand is still there. Surely some stainless steel fabricator somewhere would like to start up a little sideline – in which case Mr Baird tells me he would consider selling the business.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

Smoke escaping – close the vent

The wick with a spoonful of ash burning methylated spirit.


Some things on boats are just disgusting. I have written about the Joker Valve – an essential piece of the sanitary plumbing which must be replaced periodically. But if you think the Joker Valve is disgusting – at least the old one gets thrown away (hopefully sealed in a plastic bag).

But what about the Outlet Hose? This is the bit that connects the Joker Valve to the outside world – which means that everything that passes through the one, also has to pass through the other.

However, a new Outlet Hose is a lot more expensive than a new Joker Valve. Moreover, it doesn’t wear out, so you can’t justify replacing it. Instead, it has to be cleaned.

Let me explain why (you’re going to enjoy this): The combination of human waste and salt water – as passes through the marine toilet – causes a built up of calcified “material” on the inside of the outlet hose. This is rather like domestic pipes getting furred-up or arteries being choked with cholesterol.

Domestic pipes get replaced. Clogged arteries involve surgical procedures which don’t bear thinking about.

Actually, clearing the deposit in an Outlet Hose doesn’t bear thinking about either. Here’s how you do it.

Remove the hose, take it ashore, find a nice open space with a good hard surface and swing the hose three time around your head before whacking it on the hard surface.

I should add that this is tremendously satisfying. It clears the hose in no time at all. However, the cleared “material” does come flying out of the end of the hose and shoots off in all directions. Fortunately, most passers-by have no idea just what that material is.

I used to think that the contents of the Outlet Hose and clearing them out was about the most disgusting aspect of boat-ownership.

But no, I have found something even more appalling.

Here’s what happens: The galley sink drains into a “grey water tank”. Grey water is that type of boat effluent which is one up from “black water” (I’ll let you use your imagination on that one).

Actually “grey water” sounds quite attractive – like something to do with interior décor and water features.

It’s not: Do you have a kitchen drain at home that sometimes gets blocked with grains of rice and slivers of onion and coffee grounds? How does that smell once you’ve neglected it for a few weeks.

Now imagine all of that in a plastic tank in the bilges. It should be emptied by a “gulper” pump – that is, one which is designed to cope with rice and onion and coffee grounds. What do you suppose happens if the gulper pump gets switched off accidentally. The Law of Gravity will still cause the sink to drain all that “grey water” into the tank and if it doesn’t get pumped out, it will overflow – escaping into the open bilges.

And since the bilges are down there somewhere (out of sight and out of mind), you won’t know anything has gone wrong until you smell it.

This is when you take off the top of the engine casing and shine a torch down through the pipes and wires into the bottom of the boat.

For a moment or two, I couldn’t understand why the usual puddle of seawater was orange. The last time I saw orange seawater was in Bilbao in the 1970s – before anyone got excited about pollution. But, when you think about it, I do use a lot of paprika.  Paprika turns the washing-up water a brilliant orange, doesn’t it?

So the bilges – indeed, every part of the boat underfoot – is now coated with a sticky deposit of orange goo which smells, unmistakably, of drains.

I don’t even want to think about what I’m supposed to do about it.


When I was eight years old we graduated from a dinghy to a “proper boat”. Torgunn was a Folkboat  – 25ft long. She had a cabin. The whole family could sleep on her. We could sail to Holland!

It was time to get properly equipped and so my father took his crew to be fitted for oilskins.

This was 1957 so they weren’t really oilskins – not sailcloth treated with linseed oil. On the other hand, no-one had thought of Gore-Tex either. These were hard PVC which stuck to itself and was cold and clammy when you first put it on – and then got hot and sweaty if you went and did anything.

My two sisters, being the foredeck crew, had trousers and smocks with integral hoods so they could crawl around with the North Sea breaking over their heads.

Father and I, being in charge of the cockpit, were more dignified in long coats and short black boots (nobody had thought of yellow boots). On our heads – or course – we wore sou’westers.

Mother didn’t have any of this stuff as far as I remember. I think the idea was that in any sort of weather that called for oilskins, somebody would have to be making tea.

By the way, this is no reflection on 1950s women on boats – after all Beryl Smeeton had sailed round Cape Horn by this time, being both pitchpoled and rolled on the way (and still countersinking the screws when she repaired the smashed deckhouse in the middle of the storm.)

And now, more than sixty years later, I have gone back to oilies.

Judging by the Facebook arguments on the subject, I won’t be the only one. Everybody seems to be asking everyone else for recommendations for the best “foulies”. For years I was a Henri Lloyd devotee – then Musto came along. Helly Hansen, I tried – and finally, with Samsara, back to Henri Lloyd.

And, of course, all of them were brilliant – warm, comfortable and dry. Also, the clever Gore-Tex fabric was able to “breathe”, doing away with all that clammy, sweaty business on the inside. I remained a Gore-Tex devotee for years.

Until this summer. You see, now I am a full-time sailor. Before, it had been weekends and holidays (five years living on the catamaran didn’t count – we tried not to go out if there was the possibility of getting wet). But now, after three years aboard a proper seaboat, the latest suit seems to be completely porous.

This revelation crept up slowly: First, the stylish jacket and salopettes seemed strangely heavy when it came to hanging them up after a lively trip. Then they were still damp the next time it came to put them on – and finally, there was the discovery that my clothes underneath were sopping wet around the knees and elbows. By the time this had reached the back and shoulders, I was asking for advice. I had washed them in special waterproofing detergent. I had sprayed them with waterproofing spray. What was going on? They were only three years old after all…

The advice came flooding in: Iron them – the waterproofing is activated by heat. Paint them with liquid Fabsil – the aerosol product is useless and expensive: Apply the stuff with a paintbrush – the more the better.

I bought three litres and used the lot – and then ironed it in for good measure.

None of this made the slightest difference. I began to suspect that manufacturers of foul-weather clothing rather like the idea of their customers spending the best part of £1,000 on a new set every three years or so.

Then someone suggested the French-made Guy Cotton clothing. It’s what fishermen wear – PVC and tough as old boots. Of course, you can’t buy it in chi-chi yacht chandlers – at least not the ones I frequent. But in a proper ship chandlers in Mallaig, I found shelves in all colours and sizes.

Well, not quite all colours: Bright orange for the fishermen or yellow and blue for the yachties. And it appeared that PVC has come on a lot in the last sixty years: This was soft and pliable. The fabric had a sort of lining bonded to the inside to take off the chill as you pulled it over your head. Naturally, there was no attempt at “breathability” – but then, as every fisherman knows, if you want to keep the water out, the best way is to keep out the air as well.

Also, at around £80 a throw, compared to £800, it had to be worth a try. I could spend that much of Fabsil.

And here’s what I found: Not only is this PVC completely waterproof but I’m not even inconvenienced by the cold and clammy/hot and sweaty dichotomy: Because they don’t come with a loose inner layer to keep you from the soggy outer layer, they are much easier to put on in an emergency and take off while waiting for the next one (knowing that it won’t take long to put them on again when the emergency arrives).

All of which means that as soon as I get below, I do take them off… with the added advantage of not soaking all the cushions when finally I do sit down with that cup of tea.

Guy Cotten Peche Smock


There is so much discussion about Coppercoat anti-fouling I thought I should post my pennyworth.

For non-sailors who would like to persist with this post, Coppercoat is a brand of antifouling paint intended to stop things growing on the bottom of your boat. It does this not by using the normal chemicals but copper powder held in epoxy paint. A light sanding exposes the copper and, as Nelson knew, there is nothing better than having a copper bottom.

When I bought Samsara she had about ten layers of conventional paint below the waterline. Since all of it would have to come off, it did seem like the ideal opportunity to upgrade.

Besides, she was a cheap boat. I could afford to splash out on extras.

However, I did have a bit of history with copper antifouling. Back in the 1990s, I had tried something called CopperBot on the catamaran Lottie Warren. Within a year, it developed enormous blisters.

The consensus was that because the boat had been built in a shed in Falmouth without today’s strict humidity controls, the Atlantic winds had blown a good helping of moisture into the lay-up.

That wasn’t going to happen this time. Not only had Samsara been epoxy-treated already but it was now mid-summer and anyway, she had been sitting on the hard for months. Indeed, the survey found not so much as a percentage point of moisture. The yard made a beautiful job of it. The finish was like glass.

So why did it come up in blisters three months later?

As you can imagine there were a lot of anxious phone calls between owner, yard and manufacturer (with everyone blaming everyone else).

Eventually, we all decided to blame a fourth party – the company which had applied the epoxy treatment back in the 1990s. Conveniently (or perhaps consequently) they were long-gone. Anyway, the consensus was that the treatment had been done the cheap way: Instead of three coats of filler and then two of epoxy, they had applied one of epoxy first which smoothed out a lot of the bumps so they could get away with only two applications of filler before finishing with a single layer of epoxy – which, of course, didn’t keep the water out.

Since nobody was offering to finance a new application, I decided to live with it until I couldn’t avoid painting over it.

And then something odd happened.


It didn’t get any worse.

The blisters broke and fell off, leaving little white spots like a teenager’s chin. But by the third year, I realised there weren’t any more of them. Each time she came out of the water, I photographed the problem and there seems no doubt about it: The before and after photos were identical (and the one above shows the worst of it).

Admittedly it does look a bit odd but the spots are mostly well spread out and in between them the copper does do its stuff: When I dry out against a quay in June or July to grease the prop and change the anode, I take a pack of pan-scourers underneath and, scrambling around in the mud in my B&Q waterproofs, I can clean the slime and the occasion strand of weed in a couple of hours.

So yes, Coppercoat does work. However, I would suggest applying it only to new epoxy – or, best of all, a brand-new boat.

Lockdown 2

There was no escape from Lockdown 2.

November 5th was not the time to stage a dash into the Atlantic like I did in the summer. Instead, I found myself anchored in Kirkwall Bay in the Orkneys, waiting for the weather so that I could jump to Peterhead which, being on the mainland, was a better place to send away the mainsail for repair.

Anyway, Scotland wasn’t in Lockdown. Scotland was in the tiered system – not that it made a great deal of difference: All the pubs were shut and the restaurants weren’t allowed to serve alcohol. Even the magical little Wireless Museum was closed for no better reason than it was simply too small to operate social distancing.

Peterhead was also in the Scottish tiered system – which was just as well because, as usual, the marina wi-fi didn’t stretch to the visitor’s pontoon. However, they did have it in the café at the Fishermen’s Mission and The Dolphin chipper down by the quay – and Peterhead, being a major fishing harbour, has very good fish and chips.

It was the next stage of Sailing Home for Christmas that was going to be the difficult bit: England was in full Lockdown once more and there are precious few all-weather anchorages on the north-east coast. It would have to be marinas – which were all closed.

I did consider sailing the 400 miles to Essex non-stop but what with the thermometer never getting above ten degrees and only eight hours of daylight, you’d have to be a bit of a masochist for that. Besides, the wind never stayed fair for more than 24 hours at a time.

The clincher was that I had been offered a second spinnaker pole in Blyth and I wasn’t going to turn that down. I rang the harbourmaster: Would he let me in?

Oh yes, the port was open. It was just the marina that was closed.

Well, did he have somewhere I could tie up – perhaps in the fishing dock…

His advice – by which I took to mean “official advice” – was to go into the marina anyway. After all, there wouldn’t be anyone there to tell me not to.

I did, arriving at four in the morning for good measure. The visitors’ pontoon was festooned with plastic tape designed, in the absence of a dockmaster, to signify “Go Away”. I tied up anyway, not realising that one of the consequences of the pontoon being closed was that nobody had hosed off the seagull droppings – something I discovered only later having trodden them all over the boat inside and out.

Also, of course, with nobody in the office to give me a code for the gate, I couldn’t get out of the place – not even for a takeaway at the chippy across the road.

I stayed for four days – not plugging into the electricity since I didn’t expect to be charged for being shut in.

The next stop involved a bit more subterfuge – which is why I had better not say where it was. Everybody I rang cautioned: “Don’t tell anyone you’ve spoken to me.”

This proved to be a bit awkward when, five minutes after making fast, a berth-holder checking on his boat (permitted under the regulations, apparently) asked straight out if I had permission.

“Oh yes,” I told him airily. “I know everyone. I’m quite a regular in the winter, you know. It’s all OK. I’m aware of the regulations. I’ll be very careful.”

On the strength of that, I got straight on the phone to a friend who had planned to drive over for coffee. He had presumed I wasn’t “anal” about regulations. I had to tell him that suddenly I had become precisely that.

Six days, I stayed there – until the Windy app promised a spinnaker run down to Walton Backwaters. I could slide in there without telling anyone at all. Indeed, nobody would even know I’d arrived.

Indeed, nobody did – until I was obliged to put into yet another marina because the “spinnaker run” turned out to be six hours of engine – something that never happens in the summer. It was such a surprise to the machinery that the relief valve on the calorifier took fright at the heat and pumped all the freshwater over the side.

Still, given what usually happens to me in “Lockdown Cruises”, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.


It appears there are now many non-sailors following this blog (notice how I refrained from calling them land-lubbers).

They are, of course, welcome. However, some have pointed out that a lot of the content seems to be written in a completely foreign language. What is someone who has never been sailing to make of cringles and thwarts – let alone futtocks and bumkins?

So, now you will find a tab at the top of the page taking you to a glossary. If there are any omissions, please let me know…


In the farthest and dustiest corner of the attic, hidden behind the water tank and covered in cobwebs and bits of decayed birds’ nests, you might be lucky enough to find a battered old trunk.

Prise it open and, just maybe, it will be filled with yellowing papers – letters, receipts, old certificates…

Piece them together and there is your grandfather’s life story.

Most exciting of all, it might be an untold life story – or at least a long-forgotten one – suddenly brought to life as if the years have fallen away and it is yesterday all over again.

In rather the same way, I have stumbled upon an online copy of of the 1988 edition of the Rival Owners’ Association newsletter – and there on page 11 is a collection of my newspaper despatches from that year’s singlehanded transatlantic race.

It might as well be another lifetime but I can remember exactly how it felt to sit at Largo’s chart table, laboriously dictating over the single-sideband radio to the Evening Standard. In those days – when newspapers were still written on ancient OIympia typewriters, journalists out of the office would file their stories over the telephone to “copy-takers”. These men (they were always men in those unionised days) who would sit with bakelite headsets clamped over their ears saying: “Yes… yes…yes…” and, occasionally: “Is there much more of this?”

No matter how good you thought your story might be, the copy-taker had always heard a better one.

In my case, dictating on hi-frequency and having to bounce every syllable off the ionosphere, it was even more tiresome – which is why “spume-filled decks” became “fume-filled” and the readers were treated to the concept of “carpet skippers”.

All of this is particularly timely since, in just a week’s time, we will be pulling out our smartphones to download live video feed from Alex Thompson and the other competitors in this year’s Vendee Globe Race.

Still, if you want to see what it was like in the old days, you can find those ancient despatches here. (For authenticity, I have not edited-out the carpet skippers.)