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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2 Responses to Old Man Sailing episode #7: Some characters and falling-down drunk

  • Really enjoyed the Podcasts John. Keep them coming. My wife thinks I’m bonkers going off sailing for months at a time. Little does she know that I don’t even figure on the Passmore scale of bonkersness.

  • Well done, John, I’m late, but on my way at 79.

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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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