Refit: New sails

When Nelson took over the Victory, she was already well over 30 years old. He asked the Admiralty for a refit.
The bill came to more than the ship cost to build.
Well, Samsara is going to be 50 years old this summer, and I got her five years ago as cheaply as you can buy any old fibreglass boat these days.
Also, last year’s circuit of the Canaries, the Gambia, Cape Verdes, Grenada, up to the BVIs and back to Falmouth was essentially a trial run to see what I really needed before I headed off for the long term.
That’s right. I shall be departing in September, and the boat, at least, will not be coming back for ten years or more. So, I needed to get her right. I needed a Big Refit.
I returned to Conwy in North Wales. That was where I got her, and Barry Lovell and his crew at TLC Boat Repair had done a grand job then. I gave Barry the new list. He blinked a bit.
I’m not going to catalogue it all in this post. That would make it much too long. So let’s take it a bit at a time – and start with the best bit: The sails.
As regular followers of this blog will know, I have not had a good relationship with Samsara’s sails over the past few years. She came with three headsails and two mainsails (not to mention working and storm jibs). Suffolk sails made me a trysail – and thank heavens they did: it was all that got me back after the mainsail disintegrated 150 miles off the Azores.
Then there was the headsail, which sailmakers kept telling me had “plenty of life left in it” – but still kept gathering patches. In the end, it gave up off the north coast of Anglesey. There didn’t seem to be much point in trying to rescue it – the working jib took me the rest of the way.
I didn’t care. I’d been to the Boat Show. I’d spent an hour on the Crusader stand with Paul Lees. I had become somewhat over-enthusiastic.
By the time I hauled out the credit card and paid an enormous deposit, I had ordered a new headsail and main in Vectran and something called a “Super Zero”, which is a massive sail made out of some sort of space-age laminate to be set on its own furler from a miniature removable bowsprit.

Interestingly, this would not be poking out a metre in front of the rest of the boat – that’s for gennakers and the like. This just needed a point to take the tack which kept it away from the regular headsail furler.
I have to say it’s amazing – and I can sail closer to the wind than I can with the new Vectran headsail.

That’s pretty good in itself – much smaller than you would expect (it stops a metre short of the masthead , high-cut so I can see under it and the clew is only just aft of the mast. This means it still sets well when rolled in a blow – but it did leave me under-canvassed in light airs (hence the Super Zero).
Apparently Vectran sails will go on setting well because they don’t stretch. All that can happen is that the stitching wears out – apparently, you have to line up the holes to sew it back together because it’s so tough you can’t push a needle through it.
I hadn’t realised quite how tough until I tried to furl it – it’s like handling sheet metal. Nor had I opted for full-length battens because I’d always been quite happy with Samsara’s short ones. Also,  I have bitter memories of the tiny nuts falling out of Largo’s long ones in the middle of a Biscay gale.

The new sail, however, brings difficulties of its own. To begin with, it took me a full ten minutes to furl the thing  (I believe I’m getting better at this). Also, I notice that Kirsten Neuschafer on Minnehaha chose short battens. Apparently, the long ones can jam if you try and reef with any wind in the sail. Anyway, if short battens are good enough for the Golden Globe winner…
Meanwhile, you can’t have a new mainsail without a new sail cover – and it would never do to have a tatty old sprayhood…
Next, the rig…

12 Responses to Refit: New sails

  • Hi, I am interested what Vectran sailcloth was used by Crusader for your sails – they seem to have a few on their website. Was it their own Vektron cloth? Very interested in how the sails perform and last!

  • John – any chance you can make the images a bit bigger? with an R34 I am intrigued by the detail

  • When the ship that is tired returneth, With the signs of the sea showing plain,
    Men place her in dock for a season, And her speed she reneweth again.
    From The Laws of the Navy by Rear Admiral Hopwood.

    You’re doing a great job, John! Best wishes, Alick

  • Love your blog and at 57 hoping to get into sailing proper. More of a google sailer at the mo . Must retire !! Taking the plant based derived and now fighting off all those children bug at school! Thanks big guy!!

  • Hi John, Steve from Stroud here. This is not related to your latest post but I was walking through Weston-super-Mare today having taken my Grandson on a train trip from Stroud. As we headed for the seafront, (there’s no harbour at Weston incidentally), I noticed a tattoo parlour; Samsara Inks. Any connection? Do you have a tattoo? As all sailors used to have.
    I’m still enjoying your blog, keep up the good work.

  • My Vectran 150% Genoa for Sancerre was like that at first, a major job just to hoist singlehanded, 12k nm later it’s still going strong and looks like it will continue to do so for a long time yet and is as easy to hoist and furl as the cheap Dacron sail it replaced

  • Where is the 10 year trip taking in John. I’m refitting and then sailing to Tasmania, slowly. Mohht run across you. Stu

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Van life

The refit is almost complete. It is time to move back aboard. It is time to move out of the campervan.

Yes, for the past six months, I have been living in a Ford Transit.

This was the logical choice. Obviously, I had to move off Samsara – the cabin being torn apart to get at the chainplates, the central hatch and whatnot.

I did consider renting a room, but how much would that cost? Besides, how boring is renting a room? How depressing!

But a camper van… now that could be fun – and I would have wheels into the bargain.

The more I thought about it, the more of a brilliant idea it seemed: I could do a tour of the children at their northern universities, I could visit friends – including the old school chum in Scotland I hadn’t seen since we were both 19 and hitchhiked to the South of France…

And so, for six months, I lived in a space even smaller than the boat – 2.9m by 1.8m and with headroom of just 1.4m to be exact – but then, didn’t I once spend weeks at a time in an 18footer?

And it was fun. 

For one thing, I became a part of that little-known undercurrent of 21st century culture: vanlife.

This is what happens to people who fall out of the bottom of society, hand back the keys to their grotty flat and take to the road where they blossom and flourish (there’s a film about it – look up Nomadland).

I joined the VanlifeUK Facebook group – which turned out to be full of advice on the error codes of Chinese heaters and where to find a water tap. Then there is an app called Park4Night which tells you the nearest place you can stop without getting moved on by the police and provides useful information about the scenery, the local pub and whether you will be troubled in the middle of the night by doggers trying to peer through your curtains.

I chose a Transit over an out-and-out motorhome. Purist vanlifers would not be seen dead in an AutoSleeper deluxe. With a van, parking overnight on a residential street, you might be mistaken for a tradesman. It’s called “stealth camping”. Maybe I should have invested in a bit of signwriting rather than the go-faster stripes it came with.

On the very first night, parked off the road in the middle of nowhere on the way back from the dealer in Derby, there was an enormous crash on the side. Honestly, I thought someone had run into me. 

It was only the local farmer going home late on his quad-bike and probably resenting someone being tucked up without a care in the world.

Another time, somewhere in the wilds of Cambridgeshire, a polite tap on the door: I was cooking dinner and looked out to find two uniformed men and a van emblazoned with “Security”. With the utmost courtesy, they explained they were contracted by the local parish council to break up travellers’ encampments.

Commenting only on the delicious smell of frying onions which wafted from my sliding door, they agreed: “We can see you are a mature gentleman. You’re not going to cause any trouble, so we will wish you a pleasant evening and ask you to move on in the morning.”

I assured them I would – just as I assured the churchwarden in Yorkshire that I was only in the car park at ten o’clock in the morning because I had flattened the engine battery trying to charge my laptop. The AA would be along directly.

Reading about it now makes me think that, actually, it was all a bit more interesting than I remember. The original plan had been to write a book about it: Old Man in a Van – I think I may have the first chapter tucked away in the microchips somewhere.

But in fact, life in just over seven cubic metres soon became fairly mundane because I was not constantly on the move, seeing new places, meeting new people. In fact, I stayed for most of the time in the marina, parked right next to Samsara and plugged into her electricity supply at night (she hogged it during the day to run the dehumidifier).

Also, I had to get out before eight in the morning to avoid being blocked in by the boatyard staff with their travel lift, tractor and trailer, JCB and so on – quite apart from the possibility of them plonking a 50footer across my exit. I’m sure they did it deliberately – although maybe living in a space somewhat smaller than a Devil’s Island prison cell might have sparked a bit of paranoia. 

One way and another, the more I think about it, the more interesting it seems. Maybe there’s a book in it after all.

Meanwhile, if you fancy sampling vanlife, I can recommend it – and, if you like small boats, there’s the ideal vehicle on eBay just at the moment:

2 Responses to Van life

  • When I was building the toilet for my boat (yes, I had to build it because the so-called composting heads offered comercially are too big and too expensive), I visited several of these van web sites and Youtube channels to do my research as most of them have a desiccating head in one form or another. Its amazing how self sufficient these people try to be, hats off to them, living a lifestyle not too different from us cruisers. I hope you didn’t mention that cruising on a sailboat you could a lot farther and a lot more fun. The anchorages are already over populated 🙂

  • I had a lovely lady, a Spanish physiatrist, who worked with me on rebuilding my boat. Her dream was to own a van, and so she did, she owned two of them. Now I understand there is a van culture. Good luck with the rest of your boat projects, they never seem to end.

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The Cooker


It’s a bit of a beast, the new cooker. This was always going to be a major part of the big refit: A decent cooker. A cooker that wouldn’t break down – and since this is a boat for life, it had to be a cooker for life.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will have seen regular rants about marine cookers – I’ve tried them all: The ancient brass Taylors, an alcohol affair that took my eyebrows off. I had two venerable Flavell Vanessas from the 70s (in beige, of course). I had a very shiny, all stainless steel thing that wasn’t stainless at all.

And on Samsara, I’ve been going through cookers like Wet Wipes at a birthday party for three-year-olds. 

When the second Vanessa broke free of its fastenings jumping off a wave a week from The Lizard, I didn’t turn a hair. I had already blamed it for the gas leak and the consequent disastrous experiments with Nutella salad in place of hot food. As soon as I docked at Pendennis, it was going in the marina skip. Already, I had selected its replacement from the Force4 catalogue: All stainless steel this time and with a heroic, salty name – The Neptune 4000. It had flame-failure devices. It had a thermostatic oven. It was the real deal.

It lasted fourteen months. The right-hand flame-failure device packed up. It was going rusty. I sent it back under the guarantee, and Force4 replaced it (I forgot about having to pay a gas fitter £100 to connect the new one).

That lasted eighteen months. The right-hand flame-failure device packed up, and it was going rusty…

There was something wrong here, surely. But when you think about it, boatbuilders are working to a budget – a budget that assumes that even their keenest customer is going to be using the product at weekends only for six months of the year – apart from a two-week cruise in August. So the cooker is only going to be in use for 62 days a year (38 if you assume they eat ashore on Saturday night). 

I was using mine almost ten times as much.

So to be fair, my dead cookers had really had a lifespan of 15 years.

Never mind, Samsara was coming up to her 50th birthday. All sorts of things were going rusty. But then I anchored off the Island of Santa Luzia in the Cape Verdes and went ashore just because the book said the island was uninhabited. Don’t you find there is something about uninhabited islands which just cries out for someone to go and inhabit them – even if just for an afternoon?

In fact, I found that it hadn’t always been this way. There was evidence of stone walls poking out of the barren red earth.

When I got back to the beach, I found Santa Luzia had two inhabitants: Ruffian, the big Westerly, had turned up, and Iain swam ashore to invite me to dinner. I remember taking a spare oar, reasoning that if I broke one, I would end up in Panama.

More than that, I remember the cooker. Fiona showed it off like a 1950s TV advert. It was so good they had imported it from their last boat. 

Their last boat? It looked brand new.

“It always looks brand new. It doesn’t get rusty because it’s made of absolutely the best materials money can buy.”

  • You mean it doesn’t go wrong? The flame-failure devices don’t pack up after a year?

“It’s never gone wrong.”

I determined that I was going to have one of these cookers. It was called a GN Espace. I made a note in my phone.

I started researching GN Espace. I went to see them at the Southampton Boat Show. I asked the price.

Right, OK, so it was never going to break down. I would be a cooker for life (you took it with you when you changed boats). It was seriously expensive. I was used to cookers costing £600. This thing was £2,400! 

Also, it weighed 27kg! Even the little knob that locks the pan rack could do double duty on an emergency lead line.

I bought it, of course. This winter’s refit has been so extensive that £2,400 is a mere detail (new standing rigging, new running rigging, new furling gear, chainplates, sails – and don’t even get me started on the Lewmar bill.)

The new cooker is substantially bigger than the old – I think the idea is that I will be able to roast a Christmas dinner for six down among the Abacos. In fact, the oven is going to be used for stowing small electronic items ready for the lightning strike. If ever I light it, I shall be serving roasted microchips.

Anyway, I managed to lift it onto its mountings – having had to demolish the locker behind it in order to give it room to swing. It’s just as well I won’t be taking it out again (Samsara being my last boat, and therefore, everything having to last another 47 years.)

There is only one tiny little fly that needs fishing out of the ointment: When I went to collect the thing from the bijou trading estate somewhere in Hertfordshire, I found them busy developing the new electric version.

Of course! In ten years’ time, we’ll all be running electric boats (and I can’t wait).

I’ve just done the maths: Ten years divided by the eighteen-month life-cycle for the Neptune means buying at least six new cookers. Add another £600 for the gas engineers to fit them, and you still save nearly £2,000 with the GN.

Besides, think of the fun I shall have showing it off…

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“All I want for Christmas, “I said when Tamsin asked, “is Shrimpy.”

It’s out of print and very much sought-after – the cheapest I’d seen a copy was £70.

The story of the young ex-Royal Marine Shane Acton, who sailed around the world in an 18ft Caprice in the 70s, was something I read again and again as I dreamed of escaping the rat race and just sailing over the horizon. At the time, it was an impossible dream; I had a job. I had commitments. Shane just went and did it.

In 1980, I had a Caprice, too. She was called Amicus. She leaked upwards through the keelbolts and downwards through the fibreglass-sheathed deck. I went all the way to Treguier in Amicus.

Obviously, I was a member of the Caprice Owners Association – and that was how I heard about Shane. At the time, he was making his way home through the French canals. If he made it across the channel, his would be the smallest boat ever to get all the way round. This was big news – at least, I thought it was.

Fortunately, so did the News Editor of the Daily Mail, where I was a keen and very junior reporter.

In those days, before mobile phones, contacting the circumnavigator was impossible. All we knew was that he was expected at the Caprice Owners Association East Coast Rally. With a local freelance photographer (I was too junior to warrant a staffer), I set out to make my way to Stone Point at the entrance to the Walton Backwaters.

Have you ever tried to get to Stone Point – without a boat -without getting very muddy? We got very muddy (a staff photographer would have chartered a boat).

And sure enough, we found Shane – and Iris, his “pretty Swiss Miss” who he picked up in Panama when he was so impoverished that he had sold all his clothes except for a pair of black oilskin trousers (nobody wanted those in Panama).

They were quite the most welcoming, unassuming and modest couple you could hope to meet – totally unaware they had done anything remotely remarkable.

They answered all our questions, posed for all our photographs – and delivered us to Walton Quay (since, by now, it would have been a matter of swimming).

The resulting story took up the whole of page three – which was the best you could hope for when Margaret Thatcher occupied the front page every day.

I mention this in order to stake my claim to having at least something to do with the publication of one of the best sailing books of all time. If you don’t believe me, keep an eye on the comments. I bet somebody is going to back me up.

Shrimpy, when it appeared, was a low-key sensation. The yachting press reviewed it. Nobody else took any notice. But dreamers like me – people who pottered about at weekends with visions of palm trees and grass skirts and coconuts, devoured it, treasured it and returned to it again and again.

I was very proud of my copy because it had the signatures of Shane and Iris on the frontispiece. Maybe the publisher sat them down and made them sign every copy.

There was a time when I could have quoted large tracts by heart – particularly Day 31 of the Pacific crossing: “Discovered that the thousands of goose barnacles on Shrimpy’s hull had grown so long as seriously to hamper our speed. Went over the side with a knife to clean them off. While in the water, I got stung by a passing jellyfish. It hurt like hell for a while, and I lost the use of my left arm for about 20 minutes. Had to sew up the mainsail again; it’s getting really rotten now. Drank the last of the coffee.”

And how about this: “Slowly, the black point on the horizon begins to grow. From a dot into a smudge, I can’t wait to get nearer, to discover its true shape. Slowly we can make out the peaks of the mountains; the greyness changes into browns and greens; trees, bushes, grass, shadows in the cracks of rocks: The bay. Smoke, houses, canoes, people! How I want to exchange words, how I want to embrace everybody, including the island. But water is still between us. Hello – waving hands – smiles. The first step on the sand, touching it with my hand, the island dances under my feet; it makes me dance with it. I am overwhelmed with happiness; the power of my joy is travelling on before me, catching all the people around me, travelling further, right to the last house in the village, encompassing the whole island, my whole world.”

Here was a man who cruised the Tuamotos. The SailTahiti website has this to say about the Tuamotus: “Known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’. So low in the water they are almost invisible and with strong currents and swell pushing onto coral reefs. Without GPS or accurate charts, it was wise to steer clear…”

Shane had a plastic sextant, a wristwatch and an ex-army compass.

He died in 2002 from lung cancer (he would smoke anything combustible – on one occasion, tea bags rolled in toilet paper and lit with a flare! In his last months, he returned from Central America to the comforting embrace of the NHS. Iris had long before set off on a journey of her own.

Eventually, I sold the book at a car boot sale . Tamsin and I were whittling down our library in preparation for the move onto the little catamaran. I have a vague memory that I had to discount Shrimpy because there was the stain of a large coffee mug on the cover.

So, you can imagine, I was very much looking forward to my Christmas present. There was, however, one small disappointment: Tamsin had bought me the Ulverscroft Large Print version (withdrawn from Sussex County Libraries March 27th 2001). That meant no pictures and print the size of the Janet and John books. What am I? An old man?

It’s not something you ask about a Christmas Present, but I wondered how much I could get for it – would it cover the £70 cost of the original?

That was when I was astonished to find a company called WOB Books offering a copy in “good” condition for £9.99. Of course, I bought it before anyone else grabbed it.

And it was waiting for me when I got back to North Wales.

Sure enough, it had the two signatures just as I remembered them.

And, would you believe it, there was a large coffee stain on the dust jacket – that is to say, a stain from a large coffee mug, just as I favoured back in the 1980s.

OK, so it’s probably not my original copy – I mean, what are the chances?

But, I’ll believe what I want to believe.

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The heater



This is absolutely my favourite video. You might have seen it before – and you must admit, it’s pretty spectacular: The Hampshire Heater spewing out charcoal sparks as a sort of over-blown indoor firework – and one which definitely contravenes the Health and Safety regulations.

Not only did it set fire to the bunk cushions – leaving suspicious black-tinged holes in the tartan fabric – but also it set off the carbon monoxide alarm so that I had to take out the batteries.

I know this is not recommended – but if they made the alarm a couple of hundred decibels quieter, they might save a lot more lives.

Anyway, something had to be done. It was all very well, the heater looking homely anchored off  Lamin Lodge in The Gambia or at party-time in Hogs Bay, Grenada, but back in a UK winter, I was going to need it to work.

On closer inspection, it was never going to work. The whole of the combustion chamber – a caste iron cylinder inside the stainless steel outer casing, was corroded away to nothing. This meant the burning embers could exit directly through the ventilation holes and land playfully on the cushions.

I started looking at alternatives. Actually, I started looking at alternatives in a cabin temperature of 35°C, which, you will agree, was somewhat over-enthusiastic.

The good thing about charcoal is that it is carbon-neutral (the trees having already contributed to the global-cooling equation when they were growing). However, nobody makes charcoal heaters for boats anymore – not Pansy; not Hampshire.

Now, it’s all Chinese forced-air heaters – the much cheaper version of Eberspacher and Webasto. However,  not only do they use diesel; they also use electricity – and on a short, cloudy, windless English winter’s day in Walton Backwaters, there isn’t much of that about.

I did like the idea of solid fuel. Tom Cunliffe has a couple of hundredweight of caste iron wood stove glowing away in the corner of Constance’s saloon (and another few hundredweight of fuel bunkered away behind the engine). In 32ft, I don’t have the space. It would have to be the Newport bulkhead-mounted thingy.

Twenty years ago, I would just have ordered one. Now, you check out these things on YouTube and, to me, they looked terribly flimsy. Also, a lot of people claimed they were fiddly to keep going and didn’t really put out much heat.

I could see myself cursing it. Besides, I didn’t know where I was going to end up. Samsara’s previous owner wintered his new boat north of the Arctic Circle (with a Refleks).

Ah,  the Refleks; the heater of choice for Danish fisherfolk in the Heligoland Bight. They do a little bulkhead-mounted version – which even comes with the optional extra of a tube to draw in cold air from floor level.

I ordered one. I fixed a date for Lockgate Stoves to come and install it. I even sent a deposit towards the almost £3,000 bill (all those optional extras).

It was only the next morning, checking the depleted bank balance, that I remembered: Having removed the old Hampshire contraption in order to get accurate measurements,  I had taken it to the local metalwork shop – as in: “I don’t suppose you could do anything with this…”

“Blimey, what is it?”

They never called back. I forgot all about it.

It was, as I say, only the depleted bank account that jogged my memory. I phoned them. “Yes, all ready for you,” was what they said.

And it was – welded together inside (or brazed, I wouldn’t know). Anyway, it looked as good as new.

Actually not. After years of being heated until the whole thing glowed, the once-gleaming stainless steel had been burnished to the colour of caramelised toffee.

I rubbed at it with some sort of blue paste that came with the boat. I painted it with a patented liquid that requires rubber gloves and breathing apparatus. In the end, I searched on Google for  “metal polisher near me” and ended up in Hay-on-Wye at a motorcycle restorer who had a machine that blasted salt crystals at hundred-year-old two-stroke engine blocks. They turned my heater into something that looked like an exhaust pipe. In fairness, they had warned me it wouldn’t be shiny; but I hadn’t really imagined the effect of matt grey on a metal cylinder with a pipe sticking out of one end – definitely an exhaust pipe. Still, it was clean. It looked like new (a new exhaust pipe).

And it came out at less than £300 – a tenth of the diesel thing.

And I’ll be carbon-neutral again. One day, I’ll fire it up and see if it works. I’d do it tonight; only I’ve had to move off the boat so they can gut the cabin. At the moment, I’m living in a Ford Transit camper van.

Remind me to tell you about that sometime. The first thing I had to do was buy it a new exhaust pipe…





One Response to The heater

  • In 1984 I just managed to buy the Blake/Whisstock 37ft gaff cutter Mirelle and scraping together my last hundred quid I bought a Shipmate Skippy at their stand (yes, really!) at the Earl’s Court Boat Show. It was retired twenty odd years later in favour of a much more up market Shipmate discarded by a very gorgeous Rhodes cutter that arrived on the Deben. It behaved very well on a diet of Coalite in paper bags.

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Tell me this isn’t weird.

I am in Liverpool. Last night I was in Leeds. I had taken my daughter Lottie out to dinner. She’s in her final year at the University there.

Lottie is named after the little catamaran I capsized and lost 80 miles north of the Shetland Islands five months before she was born nearly 22 years ago.

The boat was called Lottie Warren. We thought it would be fun to call our daughter after the boat – after all, everyone calls their boats after their daughters…

Actually, the original Lottie Warren was a 1,184ton sailing packet built for the Liverpool-Boston run in 1863 by my great-great-grandfather George Warren –  although, researching it now, I see the name was spelled “Lotte”. Anyway, she was scrapped  – the ship, that is – in 1879, according to the Internet.

All of this is leading up to something quite extraordinary, which happened today. I drove to Liverpool, where I am meeting my son Theo who is in his final year at the medical school. Having time to spare, I went to have a look at Strawberry Fields – I’d seen Penny Lane and The Beatles Experience on previous visits and, being a teenager of the ’60s, the song Strawberry Fields Forever is on my Desert Island Discs playlist  (if ever anyone asks).

I had no idea that today the place has a thriving visitor centre to capitalise on worldwide Beatles fervour (people come from Mexico to hug the trees. Blades or grass are stolen). Anyway, it all produces a useful income for the Salvation Army, which has owned it since the 1930s.

When you put on the headphones for your audio-visual tour, the first thing you hear is that the seven acres of grounds where the young John Lennon climbed over the wall and found that “no one was in his tree”, was purchased in 1867 by Liverpool shipowner George Warren.

Obviously, I thought this was interesting – at least to me. In my enthusiasm, I mentioned the family connection when I bought a T-shirt with Lennon’s immortal sentiment that “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”

Next thing I know, I am sitting over tea with Alastair Versfeld, the Mission Development Officer, who proceeds to grill me on the history of George Warren. I was able to unload the family legend that he ran away to sea aged 16 after some trouble with an under-housemaid, dismissing the coachman at the docks with instructions to “tell the family I shall not be returning”.

Apparently, he never wore shoes on a ship (nor do I, if I can help it). But he rose to master and went into partnership with a Boston shipowner called Enoch Train. Later, he founded the Warren Line, generating the fortune which enabled him to build Strawberry Field with it’s “grand entrance hall, four reception rooms, billiards room and four WCs).

For me, it was a wonderful discovery.

But how am I going to tell Lottie we’ve been spelling her name wrong all these years…


Lottie (or Lotte…)

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Rather like the Second Coming or the new series of  The Crown, the Great Refit has been anticipated for a long time. Now it’s here, I feel somewhat overwhelmed.

For one thing, The List has been growing steadily for five years. The boat hasn’t been out of the water for more than a couple of months in all that time.

Indeed, since the beginning of last year, she’s been in constant commission: up the East Coast of England, over the top of the Shetlands, down the west coast, up the English Channel and back again, down to the Canaries, West Africa, the Cape Verdes, the Caribbean from Grenada to the BVIs, then back to Falmouth, the Channel Islands, France and now Conwy in North Wales – where all this started back in 2017.

No wonder she needs a bit of TLC.

However, the phrase “a bit” suggests a polish, a dab of antifouling and a couple of new filters.

Not what I’ve got on the list.

You want to know about the list? Here it is:

A new heater: Yes, I really do need a new heater. After mentioning on the My Classic Boat channel that the old Hampshire Heater was slowly poisoning me and that I had taken the batteries out of the carbon monoxide alarm, I have been deluged with warnings about impending death.

Of course, I could go for the cheap Chinese forced air variety, but I really like the idea of something that consumes no electricity at all and asks only for a bit of driftwood. Consequently, I became obsessed with the Dickinson Newport solid fuel heater. I imagined some sort of hippy existence – all Fair Isle sweaters and home-baked bread.

In fact, it transpires that the salt ingrained in driftwood will wreck the combustion chamber. Also, they’re notoriously difficult to regulate (coal burns too hot, charcoal too fast. Wood pellets are the answer, but you have to keep feeding it every hour on the hour, or it goes out…)

So now it looks like I’ll be going for diesel with the Refleks bulkhead mounted version – if I can find anyone to fit it.

Then there’s The New Cooker: I’m on my second Aqua Marine Neptune. It lasted 18 months (the first managed 11). In both cases, the flame-failure devices packed up – closely followed by the right-hand burners. Then the rest of this useless piece of crap dissolved into rust. It was only later that I considered it might have been designed for occasional weekend use over six months of the year – so I was giving it six times the wear and tear it was intended for.

The solution seems to be a GN Levante – admittedly, this does cost more than three times as much, but independent advice suggests it will go on forever. Meanwhile, the galley may have to be remodelled to accommodate it.

Then there’s a new deck hatch. Maybe I could get away with replacing the glass in the old one, but if I’m going to have new headling anyway, a 50 year-old-hatch is going to look really tatty.

And yes, I am having new headling. Apart from its age, there are all sorts of fastenings behind it leaving rust streaks all over the place.

New Sails: Ah yes, I had already spent a contented hour on the Crusader Sails stand at the Southampton Boat Show – and then both the main and headsail tore in the same gust off Land’s End.

And here’s the ridiculous thing: I carefully measured the headsail so the new one would be identical – and then kept it in case of any questions.

Eventually, I decided it was just cluttering up the place and threw it in the marina skip.

The very next morning, Paul at Crusader rang to say my measurements didn’t make sense – and yes, that was the day they emptied the bins.

Also, I’m going to have something called an Ultra-Large Genoa. When I did the OSTAR in Largo, Crusader made me a mylar ghoster which was fabulous but really needed to be flaked every time by a racing crew. I just stuffed it in the bag – and destroyed it in a season. The new one will be on its own furler – and I would like to see it set on a “prodder” bowsprit.

New Anchor: If I am having a prodder, I can’t have an anchor with a roll bar.

New Stanchion: I managed to break one on the way from the Canaries to the Gambia when retrieving something called a Round Sail. This was one of those mistakes you make if you’re prone to impulse-buying: Spending 900EUR on a cut-down parachute flying from the top of the mast seemed like a good idea at the time. After dropping it in the water on one side of the boat and pulling it out on the other, I left it in the skip at Banjul harbour (where the local fishermen thought Christmas had come early).

New Coppercoat: The first lot fell off – although it did take five years to do it. Actually, it worked rather well while it was doing so.

New halyards. 12mm is just too big for the cleats.

New standing rigging: It’s 15 years old, and a bunch of us Rival owners got together and had a job lot of new deck bolts made – they’re one size up and would look massive on a 40footer.

New furling gear (it actually disintegrated when Tony the rigger started removing it). He thinks the latest Furlex looks “plasticky” so we’re going for Profurl. I had a Profurl on Largo, and it was fine.

A new S-bend for the exhaust. It will be nice not to have a constant leak all the time the engine’s running.

New autopilot: I’m on my third Raymarine ST2000+ and daren’t leave it out in the rain in case it goes the way of the other two. This is plainly ridiculous. Watch out for an ST2000+ on eBay.

New sprayhood: apart from being able to put your finger through it, I left a dab of deck paint on it back in 2018, and it’s offended me ever since.

New beer cooler. The compressor-powered Alpicool is more efficient. Anyway, being a vegetarian, I don’t need a proper fridge.

A new length of toerail: I forgot to lash the anchor after waiting for the tide round Land’s End. The chain spent half an hour chewing through the teak while I wondered what that knocking noise was. Have you any idea how much teak costs these days?

New washboard with a window for use at sea – manhandling a three-part companionway just takes too long.

Give me a minute; I’ll think of something else…


7 Responses to Refit

  • Well that’s a wonderful coincidence John, love the sea connection with strawberry fields…Incidentally, Lottie is a fabulous name! My late grandmother who emigrated to America from Poland in 1916 and her name was Lottie. I always wished I had met a girl with the same but alas, it is a name from another era or so they say.

  • That is a long list John, but since the post is almost one month old, I hope many items are crossed already
    Got a new anchor yet? Check the sarca excel, excellent.
    Good luck with the projects and keep us posted on the progress.

  • Hi John… I have a ‘prodder’ and manage very well by letting my rocnaanchor droop, then re lift it so it sits under the prodder… used this system for 5 years. Lockgate stoves near Nottingham gave very good service a few years back 🙂

  • Thanks for your story, John. It keeps on reminding us of what a lovely life you have mapped out for yourself – envy is the word!
    Safe sailing…

  • John you’re amazing!
    Thankyou for sharing your story. As time goes on I enjoy it, every instalment is another moment along a lifetime.
    It’s one I relate to and it means so much.
    Thank you

  • “Have you any idea how much teak costs these days?”
    Yes….. that’s why I bought several hefty chunks from Robbins – their ‘Cutty Sark’ consignment – when they were having a clear-out. And I’m keeping it for the next couple of times my anchor chain goes a-chewing or the Border Force bandits bounce extra-hard off my toerail….

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After a week or two, food assumes an importance far greater than mere sustenance. Read any account of the great singlehanded voyages, and you will find references to curry (Knox-Johnston), plums and cheese (Slocum), Worcestershire Sauce (Thompson).

It was halfway through Pete Goss’s Close to the Wind and finding him desperately looking forward to an alternative to his freeze-dried diet (any alternative to his freeze-dried diet) that I decided I just had to try this Huel stuff.

It will be a long time before I attempt a voyage long enough to call for freeze-dried victuals, but I always imagined them to be full of artificial colouring and E-numbers, and besides, I’ve now gone vegan (except for the other day in St Malo when I found myself ordering the Plateau de fruits de mer).

I started looking into this meal replacement stuff. I read reviews (mixed). I read through the ingredients (very mixed).

Naturally, the Facebook algorithm picked up on all this in the same way that it calculates my age, adds my obsession with not dying, multiplies it by the occasional click on TikTok and feeds me a diet of prostate preparations and Asian brides.

So, once I stopped at Conwy for the big refit and could be reasonably sure of mail-order parcels catching up with me, I spent a happy hour on the Huel website. This is necessary because they won’t let you buy just a bag – you have to buy a whole box. By the time I had finished, had considered Cinamnmnon Swirl and Tomato & Herb, and compared Mac & Cheeze to Thai Green Curry, my credit card was lighter by £87, and the packets locker was full again.

Within seconds, an email: My order was being prepared. I could hardly wait – especially when the DPD app beeped with the excitement that my parcel would be arriving the very next day. I needn’t have waited. I could have had it delivered to Torquay or Hamble. Heavens, it would even have reached me in Bembridge.

In fact, it arrived in the Conwy marina office just after breakfast (damn, I could have had it for breakfast). Instead, I would replace lunch with a coffee shake. I think it was the ceremony that appealed: They give you a special bottle with Huel written on it with your first consignment. Come to that, they give you a special T-shirt to wear while you’re shaking it up – but it was pouring with rain, and I was splashing about the place in my Guy Cottens.

With great care and only a little more excitement, I added the water up to the mark and added two scoops of the powder. I awarded myself two scoops. I reckoned the carrot and kidney bean sandwich with mayonnaise, HP sauce and beetroot   which it was replacing amounted to at least 400calories.

It did taste of coffee – cold coffee, of course – and with the consistency and sweetness of a milkshake. It was not unpleasant. I know that the average gourmet – even the gourmet with a busy modern lifestyle that does not permit a Parisian two-hour lunch break – might expect more than a milkshake, but the idea of getting 26 essential nutrients down your neck in three minutes was a novelty that could not to be denied.

There was only one problem. As soon as the bottle was empty, I looked around for lunch.

This was not supposed to happen. What about those 400 calories? What about “keeping me going through my busy day” (taking down the headlining in the loo and disconnecting all the wiring ready for the mast to come down). I was damned if I was going to make a sandwich now.

I had a mince pie.

Then a digestive biscuit.

And a cup of mocha with a spoonful of sugar.

I don’t know whether it was this, but sometime around three o’clock, I began to feel distinctly queasy.

And dinner came early. Rather in the manner of my Parisian counterpart, I opened up the packets locker and perused my menu. I could have Mexican Chilli or go for the Chick’n & Mushroom. In the end, I opted for Cajun Pasta, only because it was the one with its picture in the brochure, with mixed peppers, sweetcorn and “a kick of cayenne pepper and paprika”. I must say it did look good – rather in the same way that the photographs outside restaurants on the Costa Brava always look so good.

I doled out two scoops into a bowl. I added 200ml of boiling water (I measured it out exactly). I covered the bowl and allowed my cajun pasta to cook while retaining the vitamins which might otherwise escape with the steam.

It tasted of cajun pasta. It was not unpleasant.

I looked around for dinner.

This was ridiculous. It was lunch all over again. I decided it was my fault – after all, I’m the one who goes out for tapas and then says: “Right, where shall we go for dinner?”

The pub just across from the marina office does a passable vegetarian burger (and pre-mixed cocktails on draught,  for heaven’s sake) but that would be flying in the face of the Huel corporation’s much-vaunted economic principles: each meal costs only £2.66.

Except if you do what I did. I mixed up another bowl.

And then had a mince pie.

And three digestive biscuits.

After that, I had to have a lie-down.

I woke up at four in the morning and decided the whole thing had been a bad idea. I still had the unopened bag of Mexican Chilli – and the Chick’n & Mushroom. I would put them on eBay (I have). I would get up and write a blog post about my experience. I could save others from making the same mistake. If I had read something like this, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted £87 and half a night’s sleep on the experiment.

Although I know my curiosity would still have got the better of me.

If it gets the better of you, there’s a bag for sale on eBay (actually, there are a lot of bags for sale on eBay).

Just make sure you have some mince pies handy.


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People kept asking if I would do a video tour of Samsara. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide anything, but rather I couldn’t work out how to do it while holding the phone in one hand. Then last week, my son Hugo came to join me in Jersey, and we ended up in St Malo and the River Rance – where a windless and sunny morning provided the perfect opportunity.

You can find it on the Oldmansailing YouTube channel – I’ll add the link below. However, I should mention here the one thing I forgot to include – twings (no, I didn’t know what they were either).

For years aboard Largo,  I  had struggled to find a way of adjusting the genoa cars without getting wet. In the end. The mistake I made was trying to move the cars remotely. All I needed was leave them where they were and add a pair of twings.

A twing (don’t you just love the name?) is a ring around a sheet and a line to pull it down – so adjusting the angle of pull. With mine, the lines go forward to a redundant deck fitting and then back to a pair of jammers in the cockpit. All I have to do is pull them in before I start winching the sheet – and then let them out until I’m happy with the set of the sail. It’s cheap. It’s simple – and it works.




Meanwhile, here’s the rest of the tour:

5 Responses to Twings

  • Hi John,

    thanks for your great articles, always a good read.

    The sheet lead adjusters you call TWINGS were very common on 1960’s racing dinghies – known as ‘ Barber Haulers ‘ – I still use them when required on my Anderson 22 cruiser / racer.

  • Twings have only got better.

  • John thanks for the tour and the twing idea. I find the trisail stay very interesting, I have not seen one before, only mast tracks. A Google search did not turn out any usable return. Would you be able to provide some information, as how the top and bottom are connected, length and diameter, and your comments on the usage, etc. Much appreciated.

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This is going to be a “Think Piece”.

A Think Piece – from my old newspaper days – was when something significant happened, and the editor needed to give it the appropriate amount of space but had run out of facts to put in it. All that was left were “Thoughts” – and very often, I was the one who had to think them up – and jolly hard it was, sometimes.

This time, the thoughts came battering at my door. I had just returned from lunch with a pair of long-lost cousins (lost for 20 years and 50 years, respectively – so you will forgive the bottle of wine which I seemed to have all to myself). Anyway, there I was, lying on the bunk attempting to sleep it off when all I could think of was Guy de Boer.

He was a competitor in the Golden Globe Singlehanded Round the World Race. If you’re following this blog, you probably know all about it: The main point is that it is a race without electronic navigation. The competitors have to rely on sextants and compasses and clockwork alarms to make sure they know where they are and stick their head out from time to time to make sure they’re not going to bump into anything.

And last night, 13 days after setting off from Les Sables d’Olonne in western France, American Guy de Boer bumped into the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries.

It is every solo sailor’s nightmare. Those parts of the internet that pay attention to this sort of thing are alive with pictures of his boat Spirit aground in the surf – alongside comments that everyone is so glad the Spanish rescue service managed to get him off safely. Now there are hopes that the boat may yet be salvaged and sail again.

No one is indelicate enough to ask how it happened – no more than they have asked what were the “personal reasons” that caused fellow competitor Edward Walentoynowicz to retire after less than a week – and that after two years of preparation at the cost of most people’s life savings.

As the remaining 14 skippers press on towards Cape Town and on from there for a total of 30,000 miles (call it somewhere between 200 and 300 days), singlehanders all over the world are thinking: It could have been me.

We all know the golden rule: You work out how far you are from the shore. You calculate how long it would take you to reach it if the wind should change. If your windvane, as faithfully as ever, should turn you in the direction of the rocks. If, come to that, you might even speed up a bit and get there sooner…

So you set your alarm accordingly – and the second alarm in case the first doesn’t work or you just sleep through it.

Then add to this the fact that in the Golden Globe, you don’t know precisely where you are because you don’t have a friendly readout to tell you. Instead, there is just a pencil mark on the chart a couple of hours ago – and that was an update from a couple of hours before that – based on distance and compass course, corrected somewhat haphazardly for leeway and current…

And, be honest, how many of us have woken with our hearts in our mouths, finding ourselves heading straight for the shore? I did it only this week, sailing from Jersey to the Solent. The Navionics track shows me clearly going backwards towards Les Trois Grunes. The boat had tacked herself, the tide was running against me, and I had the alarm set for 20 minutes. OK, so that was plenty. I never came closer than three miles. But what if I hadn’t woken up? What if I had drowsily hit the “dismiss” button on the phone and rolled over, gone back to sleep while the boat – neatly hove-to – slid sideways to disaster?

Foul tide, headwind – and the boat tacks herself while you’re asleep…

What if, for heaven’s sake, I had been forced to rely on a tin alarm clock and thought I had wound it up when I hadn’t – or just set it wrongly? Show me anyone who hasn’t turned up late for work, claiming they slept through the alarm.

Now try telling that to the Spanish Coastguard when your boat is on her side with the breakers pushing her further and further up the beach.

It could happen to any of us. It really could.

Of course, that is the appeal. Who would bother to do this sort of thing if there wasn’t a frisson of danger? It’s like hang-gliding or climbing Everest, or walking across the Arctic. It’s bad enough that the organisers of such races are forced by their insurers to insist on thousands of pounds worth of safety equipment (including two lifebuoys – you’re expected to climb back on so you can throw them to yourself). The competitors have already decided to take the risk.

But I bet they were thinking they would meet their end being pitchpoled off Cape Horn; the boat smashed open by a wave they would hear coming like an express train, the floating container – just falling over the side…

Yet, to run onto a beach after less than 1,500 miles – nobody thinks that is going to happen to them.

The fate of Guy de Boer, a massively experienced sailor who had thought he had covered every eventuality and Spirit, meticulously prepared and ready for anything the ocean could throw at her, just shows that singlehanded sailing and pre-conceived notions make poor bedfellows.

One Response to Shipwreck

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