Too sensitive by half

I’m writing this with a cup of coffee at my side – as you do.

It took no time at all to make.

Well, it didn’t once I had woken at 0730 with the gas alarm going off, pulled the sleeping bag over my head, hoping the incessant beeping would sort itself out (which it did after 20 minutes).

However, it started again 20 minutes after that – and this time it didn’t stop. The gas alarm doesn’t like the wet and cold and I’m in Dublin where it hasn’t stopped raining for days.

Does anyone else have this sort of trouble? Or do you religiously turn the gas off at the cylinder every time… or maybe just trust that everything will be alright and the boat won’t blow up after all?

I have always had a rather difficult relationship with gas on boats ever since watching my father pump the bilges dry (which he did every day, this being a wooden boat) and, once he had finished, he would continue pumping for another 50 strokes, just pumping air – or, as he explained: “Getting rid of any gas that’s escaped down there.”

So I grew up assuming that there would always be some gas wafting around in the bilges, waiting for an errant spark to blow the whole shebang sky-high.

Over the years, I have made several attempts to get away from gas. In the little Caprice, I tried an alcohol stove but that was even more frightening – sheets of bright yellow flame right up to the deckhead.

Aboard Largo, my old Rival 32, I fell in love with a wonderful brass Taylor’s paraffin cooker. It was a veritable antique and looked the part. Unfortunately, it required all the care and attention you would expect of an antique. Making a cup of coffee was a project. You had to plan for it, prepare the apparatus – and even then, you might end up with similar sheets of bright yellow flame (only this time, accompanied by clouds of foul-smelling black smoke).

This seemed to exhaust all the options – although, it should be noted that one of the boats in the Ocean Cruising Club’s Celtic Rally had an induction hob which got fired up whenever they plugged into the marina mains (they had a washing machine, too).

Anyway, with Samsara, I reckoned I’d earned the right to go down the easy route and stick with gas.

I did, however, bring in a shipwright to build a sealed locker as required by the survey – and a marine gas engineer to check the installation and fit an alarm… which he did in strict accordance with the instructions.

These stated that the two sensors should be fitted “in the lowest possible position where they will remain dry. The most suitable location for the detector is near any gas appliance at floor level or just under the floorboards.”

So they ended up in the bilge.

That first winter, the boat was out of the water and from New Year until the end of March, the thermometer didn’t creep over 9°C for a single day. I know, I had some painting to do. By the time I did get down to it, the cold and the damp had kept the alarm beeping for so long it flattened the battery.

I moved the sensors from “just under the floorboards” to just above them.

It was only afterwards that I discovered why the bilges were always full of water (leaks in the freshwater tanks – with the stern gland adding enough salt to throw me off the scent,..)

Anyway, once we were back in the water in April and I dunked the lee rail trying to scrape round the wind farm off the Wallet, the bilge-water appeared above the floorboards and started lapping at the sensors – which, of course, set off the alarm all over again.

So I moved them up another level: One in the saucepan locker and the other tucked low down, right at the back of the cooker. It was the perfect place for detecting gas – just a lousy one for changing the sensors.

You see, by this time, I had spent some hours on the phone to the manufacturers being terribly polite until they succeeded in selling me two spares.

Ever since then, I have kept one pair in a sealed plastic bag and make sure the old ones are good and dry before they take over their stint as spares.

And this would be fine if only I hadn’t chosen “low down at the back of the cooker” as the ideal place. It is not ideal – especially when trying to locate four little holes for the sensor’s four little prongs – and all before breakfast. In the end the cooker had to come out, the whole cabin filled with tools, I scraped my knuckles, lost another nut to the collection in the bilges – but finally the “low-down under the cooker at the back” sensor is low down at the front – and finally has stopped beeping.

It’s not ideal. My good friend the gas engineer will probably wash his hands of me.

But I don’t care. In fact, I have an enormous sense of well-being. That’s what comes from having a cup of coffee beside you and nothing going “beep “.


That stands for Isle of Man Tourist Trial. The fastest and most dangerous road race in the world: Madmen on motorcycles flinging themselves around 37 miles of town squares and mountain roads at average speeds of 130 miles an hour. Top speed is over 200.

The “madmen” thing comes from the middle Sunday – “Mad Sunday” when anyone with a motorcycle can ride the course. The death toll since it started in 1907 has now reached 146.

So, I have come to the Isle of Man.

I happen to like motorcycles – I like the way they look. I like the way they sound – as long as they don’t disturb my peace and quiet – and there was a time when I owned a motorcycle: In my early 20’s, I had a BSA Bantam and came within an inch of killing myself in Streatham High Road.

… an inch each side, that is: That was the distance between the bike and the bus I was overtaking on one side and the oncoming lorry on the other.

I sold it soon afterwards and haven’t had one since. I’m quite dangerous enough in a car.

But, finding myself in Islay in the Hebrides and happening to see that the TT was about to start – and having nothing more than a vague plan to visit Dublin before I’m due in Pwllheli on June 8th – the chance was too good to miss.

Also, I needed to dry out against a convenient harbour wall to grease the feathering propeller and see to the anodes. The perfect place would be Ramsey on the island’s East coast: A drying harbour with three of the best spectator spots on the course – including Parliament Square. The idea of negotiating a town square and still keeping up the 136mph average would be something to see.

It was all settled: I could anchor overnight in the bay, enter the harbour at high water first thing in the morning and be up against the wall by lunchtime: Plenty of time to get the boatwork done and see something of the bikes.

You can guess by this stage, that something is going to go wrong.

First, the harbourmaster came round. He was a friendly chap and very helpful. One of the fishing boats had broken down and his mate was going out to get him – which meant that they would need some space to manoeuvre and would I move to a berth further down the quay?

No trouble at all – except neither of us appreciated that the water was a bit deeper there – and this being neaps. I had to creep around with it half way up my wellies.

While all this was going on, it started to rain – and of course, the TT death toll is quite high enough without allowing wet roads into the mix. So, practice was cancelled for the day.

Never mind, maybe Thursday’s session would go ahead. On the evening high tide, I moved out into the bay and anchored as close to the South West corner as I could get – the forecast being a brisk southwesterly.

Actually, I couldn’t get very close at all – the Isle of Man is one of those places where the beaches stretch for miles. It looked a long way in my tiny, lightweight inflatable dinghy – just 1.6metres long and weighing only 10kg. When I chose it, the idea was to inflate it in a trice and carry it around on my head. Now I fancied a big RIB with 30hp on the back.

All day the TT news played in Samsara’s cabin: Again, the afternoon practice was cancelled. Maybe they would resume at 1820.

At 1700, I inflated the dinghy. With the little 2.2hp outboard hammering for all it was worth into the wind, I set off for the beach.

Half-way there, I realised I hadn’t switched on the AIS*. It’s always a good idea to switch on the AIS when you leave your boat at anchor. Not only can you use your phone to check that she’s still there but if you search on this blog for a post called “Lost at Sea” you will learn how it saved me and my son Hugo one foggy day in Swanage – and if (unimaginably) the boat should drag her anchor and disappear out to sea, you can always charter a fishing boat and track her down.

Still, I was half-way there. Too bad…

The beach that had looked so welcoming through binoculars, now revealed itself as a quarter of a mile of wet sand – up which the water was advancing as if it wanted a race of its own. If I left the motor at the water’s edge and carried the dinghy above the high-water mark, the motor would be swamped by the time I got back to it.

If I took the motor first, the dinghy would float away…

The answer was to leap-frog them – 20 paces with the motor, then dash back for the dinghy, hoist it on my head and wobble hurriedly past the motor as far as I dared.

I have seen people in Africa carrying enormous loads on their heads. They all had perfect posture and seemed to know where they were going.

If I didn’t look down, I was going to trip over something. Add to that the dinghy’s 10kg is without the seat and the oars. By the time I reached the top and tied the painter to a stump, every time I turned my head, I could hear things creaking inside.

It was a mile to Parliament Square – and sure enough, there was a pub crowded with people in black TT racewear clutching pints of lager in plastic glasses.

Just to be sure (before I bought my own pint) I asked the nearest: “Is this a good place to watch?”

He turned from his beer: “It’s cancelled.”

“What? When did they cancel it?”

“About 20 minutes ago. We’d left our tent on the campsite. Got here and then we heard.”

A smattering of small raindrops blew into his plastic glass.

I had checked the five O’clock news before blowing up the dinghy. That was an hour and ten minutes ago.

So what was the good news?

The good news was that if I left the pub now and went straight back to the boat, I wouldn’t have to worry about her disappearing.

That was all yesterday. Today there is a 35kt wind blowing the rain sideways and whipping the half-mile fetch from the beach into the kind of waves that break on the bow and send spray onto the decks outside the heads window.

I’ve got a better idea: It’s due to drop tonight. I’ll leave for Dublin – plenty of pubs there…


*AIS – Automatic Identification System: A radio beacon broadcasting a vessel’s position and other details.



The Best Sailing in Europe

 The authors of the Clyde Cruising Club’s pilot books are gentlemen not given to hyperbole.

One assumes they are gentlemen – with starched collars and whiskers and deckhands in the fo’c’sle to work the vessel. After all, their guide to the waters from Kintyre to Ardnamurchan begins with a poem from the Log of the Blue Dragon in 1903.

Advice for a passage through the fearsome Gulf of Corryvreckan is that it should be taken in calm weather, at slack water – and then goes on to recommend that “all hatches should be closed and all crew would be well advised to have a lifeline attached if going forward”.

So when they say that this stretch of coast and its outlying islands offer some of the best and most varied sailing that can be found anywhere in Europe, it is time to sit up and take notice.

So why didn’t they mention that it is like going back to school? I have just spent more than an hour with the Gentlemen’s comments, the tide tables for Oban, the two charts that cover the area in question – and an exercise book which is rapidly filling up with information such as “Firth of Lorn: SW going 0600 – 1225 BST (then clockwise)” and “Ardinamir to S point of Luing: 2 miles (anchorage Kilchattan Bay – await north-going stream through Sound from 1225 BST – then Loch Spelve?”

I put that down only because Tinkers Hole was looking doubtful with a North Westerly. Or, of course, I could just stay in the Sound of Jura which gives me such options as Lowlandman’s Bay or going into Loch Sween…

The trouble with “The Most Varied Sailing Anywhere In Europe” is that there are too many options. I’m not even going to bother to count the number of possible destinations just for tomorrow.

Or, of course, I could just stay here.

“Here” is a tiny little hole in the rocks between Luing and Torsa called Adinamir. It boasts, according to the Gentlemen “a notorious narrow entrance” – and it is. First you have to identify a white cottage, then a gravel patch, after that a white mark on the shore then a green perch and then a red perch with only a metre of water between them at low tide – and when you get there, holding is “sometimes poor in weed”.

But I had no choice: Luing has a Post Office and I had a letter to post. More remarkable, Luing has a working phone box – with a telephone directory on the shelf. Hebridean islands are not like other places: The population of Ardinamir is 162 (ten children in the primary school). At the end of the 19th century the census counted 632 – but that was with the slate-mining in full swing. Now it’s holiday cottages, a bit of lobster-fishing and curious brown cattle inspecting the solitary visitor on his way to the Post Office.

In fact the solitude – the sense of temporarily being somewhere off the planet – is almost tangible. Sit in the cockpit in the evening and time seems to stand still… for the very good reason that the evening lasts until nearly midnight.

In fact, just to test it, leaving Loch Spelve for Jura a few days later – and not having pinged off the blog post because there was not so much as a smidgeon of a mobile phone signal – it seemed like a good idea to sail overnight just for the experience. Twilight lasted from after dinner until I dropped anchor in Loch Tarbert in broad daylight in time for breakfast at 5.00 a.m.


Samsara in Ardinamir




Twilight in Ardinamir at 11.15 p.m.


Midnight on passage to Jura




The Birds

Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, looked up into the cockpit one dark and stormy night and saw the pilot of Drake’s ship The Pinta at the wheel.

Jean Le Carn in the Vendee Globe Race held his sister in his arms – and woke up hugging a sail bag.

Hallucinations, when you’re alone at sea, are not unusual.

Feeling someone touch the back of your neck, however, on only the second night of a passage from Falmouth to Caernarfon – especially when pushed by northerlies into that empty gap between the Smalls and the Tuskar Rock separation schemes where there’s just nothing but empty sea (and on this occasion, not a breath of wind) – well, something’s up…

I’d had nothing to do for the past 18 hours but sleep and read and sit in the cockpit drinking coffee and watching some tiny land-birds flutter about the boat and try to balance on the guardrails…

So this was just plain creepy… but there: It happened again, just as I was pouring hot water into the pot: A feather-light touch on the back of the neck…

That was when I realised that the birds – having given up on the guardrails – were now in the cabin: Six of them whizzing about like rockets, exploring. It was a scene from Hitchcock.

Then they got into the fo’c’sle which, now it’s turned into The Shed, full of sails and the bike and the dinghy and the new enormous ball fender – well, it’s easy for a small bird to get lost in there – and start panicking.

With all six of them simultaneously bouncing from off the chandlery and banging their heads on the windows, they didn’t do much for my state of mind either. I got in there too and started waving my arms about and shouting.

In the end, of course, we all calmed down enough to take some pictures. One of them perched on my hand and even allowed me to carry him to the companionway and toss him into the sky like Noah and dove.

I hope he made it back to land (he hasn’t re-appeared with an olive twig). Another made a nest in the cockpit with a couple of non-slip mats for a cushion. He was gone by the morning. It was only then that I found another had settled down beside the petrol can. Maybe it was too cramped down there to spread his wings. I don’t know. Anyway, he was dead in the morning.

I gave him a sailor’s burial complete with a short prayer appropriate to a poor dead bird. I’ve no idea what he was. Maybe there’s a twitcher out there who can help…

The farmer, the bull and the windlass

Did you hear the story of the Spanish farmer and the bull?

This farmer had a brand new calf and it was time for it to move out of the stable and into the field during the daytime.

But the calf wouldn’t budge out of his stall. No matter how much the farmer cajoled and rattled a bucket of grain, the calf refused to move.

In the end, the farmer lost patience, hoisted the animal onto his shoulders and carried him across the road to the field.

The next day, he tried again with the bucket of grain – and even a slice of bread (calves love a slice of bread). But no, the calf was adamant. He wasn’t going anywhere.

With a sigh, the farmer bent down, put his head under the animal’s belly and straightened up, the calf lying across his shoulders – and, once again, walked across the road to the field.

And this happened the next day… and the next. Eventually, the farmer gave up on the bucket of grain and the bread – and even the pointless attempt to coax the calf to walk by himself.

In other words, carrying the calf across the road became a habit.

But as the calf grazed the good grass in the field, he began to grow. Imperceptibly, day by day, he grew bigger – and he grew heavier.

But the routine continued and every day, as the farmer lifted the calf onto his shoulders, he grew stronger – and stronger.

And it is said that if you go to a particular village in Andalucia early in the morning, you can see a crowd gathered around a farm gate to see an old, grey-haired farmer walk across the road carrying a full-grown bull on his shoulders.

I don’t know where this story came from but I’ve always loved the moral – which, of course, you can work out for yourself.

And I have been reminded of it over the past few days because of the anchor windlass. If you look back through this blog you will find various references to the windlass. It has worked on and off for the past two years. From time to time – for no reason that I can deduce – it will just go “click” instead of winding in the chain. I have checked everything that can be checked. The brilliant electronics engineer Art Butler of Deben Marine Ltd has toiled over it on several occasions – most recently, only a couple of weeks ago when he drove up to Lowestoft to clean the commutator. He even ordered a special cleaning implement for me so I could do this myself.

And what happened on Saturday evening in the Falmouth Haven anchorage with an hour to dusk and a spritely 20knots blowing across the deck?


I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t used it once since Art’s ministrations. Of course, the only thing to do was pull the thing up by hand. I had always assumed that with a 20kg anchor on the end of 10mm chain and me being an old man of 70, this was not an option.

But I did pull it up. I took it slowly, nipped back to the cockpit from time to time to drive the boat forward – and then back again to break out the anchor.

And I’ve been doing this ever since – twice when I sailed overnight to Plymouth and anchored in Barn Pool, did a short stay in Mayflower Marina to pick up the spinnaker and then back to the pool before returning to Falmouth the next day. Here I anchored off St Just and then moved last night to Falmouth banks ready for the overnight wind shift.

And, just like the farmer and his bull, I began to get into the habit. The secret, I found, is to take your time and let the boat move up as the weight of catenary takes over the pull – and wear gloves, of course. Eventually, you end up with the chain straight up and down and the anchor still well dug in. Breaking it out is going to be really hard work so this is where you put the engine into reverse and, once again, let the boat do the work: As soon as she starts to move back showing that the anchor is free, click into neutral and now all you have to do haul up the remaining chain and the anchor itself.

Of course, the deeper the water, the more there is to haul up. At the moment, on Falmouth bank just after low tide, I have 8.6metres from the bow roller to the bottom which means 17kg of chain and the 20kg anchor – a total of 37kg to begin with, but of course, less as it comes in (and I begin to tire).

I know there will be times when this last part of the process has to be completed in double-quick time as the boat begins to drift; but if the worst comes to the worst, I can leave it dangling for a moment or two while I nip back to the cockpit.

The odd thing is that, as I get more confident, I am beginning to see the benefits: For a start, I can stop paying Art to come out and try and fix it. The last resort of sending the windlass back to Lofrans might not be necessary after all…

Also, if I can do this now – and continue to do it every few days from now on, then presumably I will still be doing it when I’m 80 – and won’t that be something to be proud of!

Is it possible that I may be able to remove the wretched thing entirely? That would reduce the clutter on the foredeck – and take 25kg off the bow which would do wonders for the trim.

Do you think that, just like the Spanish farmer with his bull, I might attract a bit of a crowd?

Update May 22nd 2019: Of course, the real test was going to come when I had to lift all 50 metres of chain vertically. That was going to weigh 120kg…

Well, of course, if all of it was hanging straight down, that would mean I had anchored in something like 250m – and I can’t imagine anywhere I would want to do that.

But there would come a time when I would have all the chain out…

It happened in Loch Spelve on Mull in the Hebrides. The corner sheltered from the South Westerly right down at the end of the left-hand spur looked just right – except that it shelved so steeply that either I was going to be in 13metres or on the beach.

It had to happen sometime. I let it all out. Adding 2m for the difference between the depth transducer and the bow roller, I should really have had 51m but in fact, given the necessary amount on deck and slack on the snubber, there was probably only 49m.

Still, it all had to be hauled up – and the vertical lift would be 50kg. I left the engine ticking over ahead and started pulling. Once the chain was going into the water sideways, I sauntered back to the cockpit and clicked her into reverse (which gave me a chance to catch my breath).

Then, back to the foredeck and more hauling. The blue and yellow 35m markers appeared, then the white and yellow 25m.

It was at about this time that the people on the little motor-cruiser from the other side of the anchorage returned from taking the dog ashore in their RIB. They made a detour to get within hailing distance: “Do you need any help?”

I hadn’t realised I looked as though I was struggling. I must say, I was slightly disappointed… which sounds churlish.

“No thanks,” I called back. “Some people go to the gym. I do this!”

Update October 2019

I did get it fixed (new control box) but then, in Alderney, UK Channel Islands, anchored in 11.5metres in a 25 knot wind and with 47metres of chain out, the windlass packed up again. I reckoned I had 12 hours to get the anchor up and scoot across the channel before a forecast northerly gale set in – Alderney being no place to get caught in a northerly gale.

In fact, it was a lot less trouble than I expected: I put the engine in slow ahead and pulled in a metre of chain, belayed as the boat veered to one side and the chain became taught. Eventually, her head swung through the wind and the chain went slack – pulled in another metre.

This process continued and I later realised another benefit. Each time the pull changed direction, the anchor must have been rocked from side to side, loosening its hold. Eventually it came up without my even noticing when it broke out.

Meanwhile it looks as though the wretched thing will have to come off and go back to the Lofrans agent this winter…

Climate Change

Monday April 22nd 2019

Setting off to sail 350 miles from Lowestoft to Falmouth, you would think you could get away from the Extinction Rebellion people bringing central London to a standstill…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for saving the planet – also, I’d rather climate change didn’t start setting off unseasonal hurricanes.

But Global Warming and Greta Thunberg and the pink boat in Piccadilly Circus seemed to take over the whole voyage: Every time I picked up Radio 2 there were more arrests and when the 4G signal reappeared off St Catherine’s point, someone on the BBC website had calculated that in order to be carbon neutral by 2025, we are going to need another 130,000 wind turbines.

That’s right:130,000! Apparently, they will take up an area twice the size of Wales – except of course they won’t actually be in Wales, they’ll be offshore. Nobody minds offshore wind farms. After all, there’s nothing offshore is there? Just a lot of sea…

Well, yes – and that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I like wind turbines. There is something elegant them – the sails rotating in endless slow circles pumping out the kilowatts. They’re strangely beautiful – in a technological sort of way.

I just don’t want to have to get in among them – especially with the tide running and the wind dropping…

And they’re all over the place: I never knew about the Greater Gabbard Wind Farm. I am familiar with the Gunfleet Sands Wind Farm – although the Gunfleet Sands (2) was a surprise – as was Gunfleet (3) and, come to that, Gunfleet Demonstration Wind Farm.

The course did avoid the London Array and the Kentish Flats Wind Farms but that still left the Thanet Wind Farm which, being just off the top corner of Kent, is really inconvenient.

It was a relief, somehow, to dive into the traffic of the Dover Strait – at least the ferries get out of the way. But what a minute, what was this off Selsey? According to the chart, The Rampion Wind Farm is “under construction”. Oh no, it’s not. It’s up and running with some jazzy new turbines complete with, stylishly curved sails tipped off with red paint like a new airliner.)

I don’t want to be a Global Warming denier because that’s worse than being an offshore tax advisor or an MP and my predilection for sailing a small boat for my own pleasure doesn’t count for much when set against the survival of the planet – but is this going to be the end of sailing as we know it?

I’ve just looked at the map and discover that when I go and see my son at university in Liverpool next month, I will have to find my way either through or round the Rhyl Wind Farm and then the Gwynt-y-Mor Wind Farm – and that’s before I even get to the North Hoyle and the Burbo Bank Wind Farms…


There are three things Roy Marshall likes to do.

He likes to spend his mornings sitting in his Aladdin’s Cave of nautical junk and wait for people like me.

He likes to raise money for the Lifeboat.

And he likes to talk.

I’ve been in Oulton Broad, just up the lake from Lowestoft for five weeks now – or at least Samsara has while I went home and took my youngest skiing. But I’ve spent enough time here to get to know a bit about Roy.

It started off when I messed up the delivery address for a parcel and Roy took it in. A condition of Roy taking in parcels is a pound the Lifeboat box – but that entitled me to a 25% discount on a snap shackle.

Then I went back and donated my old anchor connector. After that, it was a hawse pipe for an aneroid barometer. Places like this can become addictive.

Roy hobbles about his treasures, knowing exactly where he can lay his hand on a 9mm bulldog grip or a tank for a 1968 Seagull.

He hobbles thanks to a kicking he got from a pair of visitors at HM Prison Blundeston. They were busy delivering a consignment of heroin when Roy, as the prison’s security officer, decided to confront them.

Roy isn’t worried about confronting anyone – it might have something to do with boxing for the Navy in his youth (Combined Services Light-Heavyweight Champion, 1975).

All this I learned while sorting through anodes and clevis pins and full-flow ball valves and a complete stern tube lubricator.

“I had a bit of a reputation for being aggressive,” he remarked as if talking about the weather. “That’s why they made me the gunner in the Falklands.”

The gunner. Not a gunner?

Yes, the Admiralty had posted him to a requisitioned trawler. They took off all the fishing gear and refitted it as a minesweeper – but most of the time Roy and his shipmates ferried the SAS and the SBS around South Georgia. The trawler didn’t have any armament when they started out. But then, in view of what they were getting up to, the powers-that-be found a spare 20mm cannon and gave it to Roy so that he could blast away at the Argentinian bombers in San Carlos.

“Never hit a sausage, though.” he said. “But then nor did they, most of the time. They’d fitted propeller fuses to their bombs and then came in so low that there was no time for the propellers to spin long enough to arm the explosive. Most of the bombs just bounced off.”

So how much has he raised for the Lifeboat?

He pulled out a sheaf of receipts: “I’m the third highest donor…”


“In Lowestoft.”

Good for you, Roy!


Soggy Bottom

I don’t think I have posted anything about my folding bike. The only time it has been mentioned at all was when it got me lost one miserable winter’s night in the sugar beet fields of Essex.

But in fact the Brompton is just about the best thing on the boat.

Brompton bicycles are very fashionable now – you can see people in Hugo Boss suits carrying them off the Underground at Bank and Westminster. They are certainly expensive enough to be fashionable – you can buy a flashy racing bike for less. But your carbon fibre thoroughbred will not collapse into a bag no bigger than a brick salesman’s briefcase.

Of course, mine was free – but that was 25 years ago when hardly anyone had heard of them – certainly I hadn’t.

I had just announced in the Travel pages of the Daily Telegraph that Tamsin and I had given up our jobs and henceforth would be living aboard our tiny catamaran and exploring the UK from the outside – and there, to illustrate it, was a picture of us doing nautical things – and in the foreground, lashed to the rail, were two folding bikes.

They were early Bickerton’s – a type you don’t see any more. I’m not surprised: Being made entirely of aluminium, the frame would bend as you pedalled along, giving the whole thing the riding characteristics of a bucking bronco machine in a Liverpool pub.

No sooner had the photograph appeared than Andrew Ritchie, the inventor of the Brompton, wrote and said that under no circumstances should I set off on my adventure with a Bickerton. He insisted I would need something much more sturdy – and he would donate one of his own machines.

By this time, Tamsin and I had become rather blasé about being given things. Now that we were in the paper, shoes and clothes and bit of equipment turned up almost daily. Still, a brand new Brompton was a real coup.

Looking at the competition’s website today, it appears that the Bickerton people have caught up – indeed their latest folding bike looks a lot like the Brompton. But it is too late. I am a Brompton convert. I rode it on excursions all round the UK. I rode it on the wonderful cycle paths of The Netherlands where bicycles are the highest form of life. It carried all the shopping, it delivered 20litres of petrol back from the garage. There seemed to be nothing it could not do.

For the 18 years I lived ashore, it was my daily mode of transport around town – even though the family insisted I looked ridiculous and why didn’t I get a mountain bike like everyone else?

The Brompton really is the most brilliant invention and the fact that my 25-year-old bike is very much the same as the latest version, shows you that Mr Ritchie had designed that ultimate rarity, an almost-perfect machine.

I say almost-perfect because I have just discovered the one design flaw.

As I mentioned, you may have read about us (me and the bike) getting lost among the sugar beet – and all the mud we collected under the mudguard (which is why it’s called a mudguard).

Well, a couple of days ago, it occurred to me that there was still an awful lot of sugar beet field bound up in the mechanism and this might not be good for even the most reliable piece of machinery. So I bought an aerosol of special cycle cleaner. You spray it on, wait for all the muck to dissolve and then hose it off. Obviously, the best way to do this is with the bike upside down.

Having never looked closely at my bicycle upside down, I had never noticed that there is a big hole in the bottom right in the middle next to the pedals – just where I was directing the jet from the hose to clear away all the now-emulsified mud. The water gurgled away merrily down the hole almost as if this was a bath emptying.

Of course the hole is not a bath plug at all. It is the open end of the saddle tube – on the other end of which is the saddle … the specially-designed Brompton saddle – a legend in cycling comfort and, more than that, waterproof when rained upon while parked outside the pub… at least, when rained on outside the pub providing the bicycle is upright…

If the bicycle is not upright and you direct a hose straight down the saddle tube, all the water will emerge at the other end and promptly fill up the saddle from the inside.

Now, the reason the Brompton saddle is so comfortable is because it is made from a clever sort of semi-rigid sponge.

And we all know how a sponge and water go together.

It was not until yesterday when finally, we got some sun, that the saddle dried out. In the meantime – well, you will have noticed the title of this post…


If you wondered why people write sailing blogs, here’s an answer for you:

You get to meet all sorts of useful people.

My friend Jeremy is one such. I’ve never met him, of course. He’s a “virtual friend” – although, we have exchanged an enormous number of emails as he attempted (and finally succeeded) in ordering the health supplement that keeps me going (see the “Good Health” tab above).

Anyway, I mentioned that I had been sitting on a mooring at Felixstowe Ferry for the past 48 hours waiting for a weather window to jump to Lowestoft (tomorrow looks good).

Whereupon Jeremy sends me the following:

Lowestoft – fished out of there back in the 70’s, skippering a 50 foot longliner, Cod in the winter and Spurdog in the summer, together with a bit of trawling.

Bloody horrible entrance with a good ebb tide and a bit of slop. Tide runs hard across the entrance, trying to push you into the north wall, then as soon as you get your nose into the harbour, it pushes your stern around trying to get you to hit the south wall.

They had a massive tragedy there back in the 1800’s. A summer storm came out of nowhere and they lost many lives at the harbour entrance with the sailing boats unable to make it into the harbour before being smashed against the north wall.

All I got from Reeds was: Shelter Good. accessible H24. Wind over tide, especially on the ebb, can make the entrance lively.”

I said I’d let him know how I get on.


More on Bad Back (Health)

I have started learning Yoga from Desmond Dunne’s 1961 classic Yoga Made Easy – and discover that the exercise I recommend on the Bad Back page is, in fact, a pose called The Cobra (Bhujangasana):

“An exercise to make the spine amazingly supple and flexible, at the same time it revitalises abdominal muscles. Kidney, liver and pancreas are stimulated so that appetite improves and bodily heat increases. This asana is of great value to persons who do a great deal of stooping – sedentary workers and women overburdened with housework – and all who suffer from habitual backache.

“Caution: If your spine is stiff, proceed cautiously. Remember that whereas a smooth, slow stretch  will benefit you, a wrench may be painful or even harmful.”

There you are. I said I’d learned it from someone else…