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.

11 Responses to The French Edition

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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 Tide-Forecast.com (which itself was adrift from Tidetime.org 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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