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…


There used to be a time when you could get lost on a boat – well, not exactly lost … but, maybe you might experience that nagging sensation of being not quite where you thought you should be.

Of course, this didn’t matter too much in the middle of an ocean – the sun would come out tomorrow and all that…

Then along came GPS and we all knew precisely where we were every moment of every day – right down to the last decimal place on the LCD screen.

So how is that in this age of digital navigation I found myself in the middle of a ploughed field, staring at Google Maps by moonlight and wondering where I’d left the boat?

Well, actually that’s not a fair question. I knew exactly where I’d left the boat – anchored comfortably at the south end of Kirby Creek in Walton Backwaters on England’s East Coast. Anyway, if I wasn’t sure, I could always use the Shipfinder app on my phone because I had taken the precaution of switching on the AIS for five minutes before I left (a little trick I picked up when coming back to the dinghy and finding Swanage Bay had gone opaque}. No, the difficulty was navigating the Essex countryside – particularly the myriad farm tracks which don’t feature on Maps.

It had all looked so easy in daylight. I had anchored in my favourite spot and left Samsara in the care of the seals and geese while I took the dinghy up to the little jetty on the edge of the saltings. Then, manhandling the folding bicycle up the sea wall, all I had to do was pedal along it for quarter of a mile without riding into the mud on one side or over the 10ft drop on the other, before turning left at an isolated barn – the only feature in this fabulously wild landscape – and start on the best part of a mile up a cart track through the sugar beet fields to the farm where the track turned into a concrete lane. Half a mile up this and I would come to the road. All I had to do was turn left to Kirby-le-Soken (two pubs, two churches, one shop).

This, I should add, is currently my commute to work – yes, I’ve gone back to work for a bit: You can read all about it on my Facebook page The Network Marketing Blog. It means that for a couple of weeks, the dinghy ride, the muddy ascent of the wobbly staging and the ride along the sea wall is going to become just as much a routine as the District Line used to be from Chiswich Park to Kensington High Street.

It was just that Google Maps’ version of Deans Hall Farm, Kents Hall Farm and Hall Farm itself was not a patch on Transport For London’s version.

With sunset somewhere in the middle of the afteroon, I was well aware that it would be dark by the time I made the return journey. I had two tail lights (one on the top of my high-viz cycle helmet) and three front lights – two of them flashing, no less). I was a bit like a two-wheeled Christmas tree.

And, so I progressed – highly visibly – past the first farm track: That couldn’t be the one because it smelled strongly of farm and I didn’t remember that.

The second turning seemed much more familiar. It progressed from concrete lane to muddy track. There was a farmhouse with cosily-lit windows. I imagined the ruddy-faced farmer presiding over a table with a picture-book farmer’s wife and half a dozen rosy-cheeked children tucking into home-slaughtered crackling and cider.

By the time I ended up in the ploughed field, I hoped they choked on it.

Hauling the bike out of the mire (have you ever manhandled a folling bicycle? It keeps on folding on you) I set off back up the lane – only to find that much of the ploughed field was now wedged firmly under the rear mudguard so that it was only with the greatest effort that the wheel could be made to turn at all.

How do you get a clod of mud out from under your mudguard in the dark, in the middle of nowhere and, certainly, miles from any useful implement? Well, why do you think it’s called a mud-guard?

In the end, I had to use one of only two biros I had with me – and still the wheel only rotated under protest. By the time I regained what passed for the “main road” I felt I had competed in the alpine section of the Tour de France.

So where now? Google Maps offered three farm tracks – none of which went anywhere near where I estimated the jetty to be (should have stuck an electronic pin in it). I had dismissed the first – but on the other hand, the third appeared to be miles away.

I turned left and investigated the first again. Sure enough there was a farm down there – and a pond, which I remembered. But no unpaved track going any further…

Back to option three – which was another two miles back in the opposite direction. There were some familiar features down that one – speed bumps, a high hedge… sugarbeet… a pond…

And then, of course, another muddy field.

I’d had enough of this. I’d been peddling up and down getting nowhere for an hour. I was covered in mud. I had the other half of last night’s spaghetti putanesca waiting for me (made with sardines for extra zizz).

I would ask at the farmhouse (I’m not proud).

Given that there is plenty of spare land in North Essex, the farmhouse was at the end of a long, sweeping, crunching drive. The farmer was at the door long before I reached it – which might have had something to do with the fact that I was still flashing like the Regents Street decorations.

“Ah,” he said. “I know exactly where you want to be.” And he did too – in fact it was his mooring I had borrowed for the adventures described on November 16th last year under the short but apt title of “Mud” (yes, more of it).

So where did I need to go? You guessed it, back to the first turning – the one I had dismissed right at the start of this shambles.Sure enough, there was the dinghy waiting obediently at the jetty – and, in the distance, Samsara’s automatic anchor light shining like a welcome-home beacon.

The destination by daylight

Where have all the dolphins gone?

I have just been reading Leslie Johansen Nack’s book Fourteen about sailing the Pacific and this is her decription from 1974:

Seeing the dolphins every single day never got boring or old. There were often twenty or thirty dolphins, maybe more because it was hard to count when they all came up at different times…

It reminded me of the passage in Bernard Moitessier’s The Long Way:

I hear familiar whistlings and hurry out, as always when porpoises are around. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many at once. The water is white with their splashing, furrowed in all directions by the knives of their dorsal fins. There must be close to a hundred… A tight line of 25 porpoises swimming abreast goes from stern to stem on the starboard side, in three breaths, then the whole group veers right and rushes off at right angles, all the fins cutting the water together and in the same breath taken on the fly. I watch, wonderstruck. More than ten times they repeat the same thing…

What he is describing here is the legendary incident when the dolphins warned him that Joshua was heading straight for the rocks on Stewart Island at the Southern tip of New Zealand. That was in 1968.

And between 1987 and 1991 when I sailed twice from Falmouth to the Azores and back and competed in the OSTAR to Newport, barely a day went by without a visit from dolphins or whales.

Yet this year, returning to ocean sailing, with a passage from the Western Isles to the Azores and then back to the Solent, I think I could count the sightings on the fingers of one hand.

Was I just unlucky or is this an example of what we are doing to the planet and its wildlife?

Or is it, as Douglas Adams suggested in his Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy follow-up So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, simply a case of the most intelligent life-forms leaving The Earth by “their own means”?


The Test

Tuesday November 20th

Long ago, I decided that if I was going to live on a boat, then it had to be all the year round – otherwise it would just feel like a holiday. Admittedly, I still have family commitments so I shall be going home this week for ten days – and then again over Christmas and New Year. But the house in Woodbridge is beginning to feel like a place to visit whereas life aboard Samsara is rapidly becoming “home”.

And today I have had my first taste of what that means. It was, in a sense, a test: The forecast was 25kt winds, a real winter chill of 30C and driving sleet.

In fact, when I awoke at 0830 with the boat heeling to 30kt gusts whipping across Kirby Creek, the thermometer above the chart table registered 70C. This seemed encouraging – until I considered that it probably had something to do with the fug released by unzipping two sleeping bags, one inside the other.

But who needs to get up at 8.30 on a day like today? I climbed back in, taking with me the Kindle and Neil Hawkesford’s A Foolish Voyage.

Incidentally, this book is staying in my library along with Moitessier’s The Long Way. Even though it’s self-published and largely unknown, I think it’s up there with the great sailing books. Just like Moitessier, Hawkesford digs deep into his emotions – here is a man who spent his whole life wanting nothing more than to live on a boat and go sailing… and eventually he managed it. I can relate to that. I’ve just written a glowing review and downloaded the sequel…

In the end, of course, I did have to get up. I mean, you can’t stay in bed all day, can you? Even if there’s no parent to come barging into your bedroom with a basinful of adult responsibility… even if you’re so grown up, yourself, that you’re retired and really don’t have to do anything ever again…

So, I emerged for a second time at 10.30 – and found the cabin still wasn’t any warmer. For a moment I hankered after one of those automatic forced-air central heating systems where you poke one finger out from under the duvet, push a button and wait for the boat to reach a sensible temperature.

Of course, I could have roused myself to get up and light the charcoal stove but that seemed like a slippery slope – pretty soon I would have it running it all day as well as all evening and, while matters might yet come to that, I don’t want to start down the wimpy route until I have to.

The answer was to keep moving: Without going outside into the cold and wind, that meant rubbing down the bulkhead ready for painting (and clearing up all the dust that produced) carving a new knob for the heads door… you can imagine the kind of thing…

It got me as far as a late lunch and a second cup of tea but after sitting still for an hour finishing the book, 70C didn’t seem so homely any more. I lit the stove at 3.30.

By 9.30 I was sitting so close to it that I was beginning to singe.

By 10.30 I was a back in the two sleeping bags – now with Hawkesford’s second book A Foolish Odyssey.

Odd really, I wouldn’t swap places with anyone…





In the rigging, the foul weather gear drips beige water onto the deck. The dinghy floats obediently astern, looking as though it’s just come out of its box – and in the cockpit locker, the kedge anchor sits snug in its stowage with the chain and warp flaked into the canvas bag awaiting the next emergency.

I hope it’s a long time coming. I’ve had enough of the kedge for a while.

All this started with the non-existent oyster bed and the big orange mooring buoy which you may have read about the other day (www.oldmansailing.com/captain-calamity). At the end of that slice of embarrassment, we left the kedge on the bottom with a fender marking the spot. Ever since then, I have been trying to recover it.

Since it was quite clear that pulling it up from the dinghy was never going to work, Plan B was to use Samsara’s famously buoyant bow to exert the pull. All I had to do was get it over the anchor, keep the stern straight with a line to a buoy and reverse off, pulling the wretched thing with us.

There was only one flaw to this plan. The anchor – which I set with the idea that it was somehow going to pull me off into deep water, was not in deep water at all. Maybe I’m being naïve but since it wasn’t far from a mooring buoy, I sort of imagined that this would indicate a reasonable depth. Instead, the recovery attempt stopped a good 20metres short as the keel met the bottom all over again.

Never mind, Plan C was to tie the warp to the spinnaker halyard to increase the angle and trick the anchor into thinking the pull was coming from above. This idea was brilliant: The boat dipping forward and anchor popping out with the sort of sound eight-year-old boys make with their fingers in their cheeks.

Not so. That will only work if the pull is exactly over the bow. A couple of degrees off and the boat just heels… and, of course, gets dragged further over the shallows. By the time we were at 300 and things in the cabin were falling over, this seemed like a very bad idea.

Time for Plan D.

I was not looking forward to Plan D. It came under the heading of “Last Resorts” and involved going out there to dig for the anchor. I knew, with great foreboding, this was going to be messy.

One option was to do it wearing next to nothing – or even nothing at all since Walton Backwaters is proving to be one of the most desolate places on Earth. However, there are only five weeks to Christmas. Maybe full protective clothing was a better idea – my top-of-the-range foul weather gear and Southern Ocean gloves. Also, I would need something to dig with – at least, in that department, I was prepared: Samsara carries a shovel…

Well, she carries one of those little scoops that used to tuck into the back of Edwardian coal scuttles. I use it for doling out charcoal for the stove.

So, fully equipped at nine O’clock in the morning, an hour before low water, I plunged into the mud.

…up to my knees.

You know those stories you hear about people getting stuck in the mud and the tide coming in and drowning them? That’s what I was thinking about as I discovered that the more I tried to pull one leg out, the more the other drove itself deeper into the goo. By the time I was in up to my thighs, it was obvious there had to be a better way…

There was. I remember seeing it years ago on those huge mud flats in the Bristol Channel: Mud horses – the sledge-like contraptions fishermen use to get out to their nets. The horse supports the man’s weight while he pushes with his feet. The dinghy could be my mud horse. It was brilliant, I scooted up the slope in no time at all. I found the fender, found the chain. Taking the trusty shovel, I began to dig.

You remember I said the shovel came from a coal scuttle? That I used it for charcoal? What I should have packed was a garden spade. With the first scoop of mud, the shovel bent at right angles. There was nothing for it. I would have to dig with my bare hands – or, rather, with Messrs Gill’s very expensive Leather&Gore-Tex Helmsman’s Gloves.

But, what did it matter? By that time, the even-more-expensive Henri Lloyd offshore suit was the colour of cappuccino.

I found the Fortress about 30cms down, clearly headed for Australia. Down there, the mud was a serious blue-grey colour and the consistency of potter’s clay. There was no other way this was coming up without the shank going vertical. It was one hell of an advert for an anchor.

It took me another three hours to get cleaned up – a matter of endless buckets of water and going round the dinghy, the topsides, the deck, the cockpit and, of course myself again and again until everything ran clear.

Well, this being the East Coast which is four parts mud to six parts water, beige is the best you can hope for.




Captain Calamity

Captain Calamity appeared every August, regular as clockwork. He would be an old man sailing a wreck of an old boat that he’d picked up for a song and he would be navigating by road map – usually an out-of-date AA handbook.

And, of course, the lifeboat would go and fetch him.

It is one of the great benefits of sailing in UK waters that the lifeboats are manned by volunteers, funded by charity and free at the point of use.

No matter how many times you use them…

Because, having been towed safely into harbour, Captain Calamity would have a shower in the quayside facilities, a good meal ashore and then set off again – only to get into difficulties once more and be towed in by the next lifeboat down the coast.

At about this point, the lifeboat coxswain would advise the old boy that his vessel was really not seaworthy or he needed some navigation classes or perhaps the whole expedition was a terrible mistake.

It would be at about this point that the newspapers would become involved – and sure enough, at the Daily Mail, I was the recognised “Captain Calamity Correspondent”. I would hasten to Hull or Skegness or wherever and record the next stage of the unfolding disaster because, you see, nobody could stop Captain Calamity. In the UK you don’t need permission to go to sea. You don’t have to have passed exams or carry any safety equipment. If you can put up with the shaking heads on the quay and doleful predictions of the local fishermen, you can go – whatever the Lifeboat coxswain may say.

Sometimes at this stage, the ancient mariner would succumb to the embarrassment he had brought down on himself – sometimes not. Either way, there was usually a good story in it…

Ever since, I have been acutely sensitive to the prospect getting myself smothered in ridicule – like for instance going aground on at the top of the highest tide for the next ten days. Which is what happened today.

If you have been keeping up, you will know about the abortive expedition to fetch water from the pub at Kirby-Le-Soken, trespassing for a pee on Horsey Island and the “Beware Oyster Beds” sign which had blow away. Anyway, yesterday I went round to the marina on the pretext of replacing an empty gas cylinder and filled the water tanks while I was at it.

And while I was at, my fisherman friend, David with his permanently damp dog, phoned to ask whether I could possibly help him investigate a leak in his heat exchanger. It was awkwardly right underneath the engine and he thought I was more nimble than he was.

It was arranged that I would go back to Kirby Creek today – which, of course, is where I must take the big orange mooring buoy and not anchor in the middle of the oyster bed (even though David, who has lived here all his life, says there haven’t been any oysters in the creek for years and they only say that because they don’t want any more moorings).

I could see the orange buoy as I felt my way down the channel between Horsey Island and Skipper’s Island, the Navionics app on my phone pointing the way.

I have great faith in Navionics. The other day, I trusted Google Maps to find me the way to Kirby Quay and it got me just as lost as Captain Calamity with his AA map.

Last time I came this way, I had left Honeypot Island to starboard but there was more water then and Navionics seemed to suggest the other way round. There were some moorings there, it made sense…

And that was where we came sliding gently to a halt.

First, I put the engine in reverse and wound her up to full throttle. No joy.

Then I started hanging off the shrouds, hoping to heel the boat to reduce the draft.

Next, I waited a bit in the hope that the tide might rise further.

After 15 minutes, it was clear that desperate measures are called for. If you don’t take desperate measures when you have the chance, you’ll wish you had when it’s too late. I broke out the kedge anchor, inflated the dinghy, added 50metres of warp to the 20 on it already and rowed the lot across to the other side of the creek.

Then, with the engine flat out astern and the warp on the sheet winch, I stirred up a lot of muddy water – and went precisely nowhere.

The tide was still flooding but Samsara seemed to be welded to the bottom. The only saving grace was that the creek was utterly deserted. My ignominy was as yet, a secret.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a secret if I was here for ten days. They would put up grandstands and sell tickets as the boat dried out downhill and filled with mud and water as the tide rose and she stayed on the bottom….

From time to time I switched off the engine and waited. Eventually, I transferred the anchor warp from the stern to the bow and got it on the electric anchor windlass. There was a moment of euphoria when the boat began to turn.

But would so go forward?

No, she would not. Not by so much as a blade of grass in the transit across the saltings. I began to think of calling for help. But what did I expect? Already I had a warp that was bar-taut. No launch was going to be able to do better than that.

By this time, high tide was ten minutes away and I was beginning to consider what would happen if I just left her there for the winter (at this stage I hadn’t checked the almanac and somehow had it fixed in my head that this was the highest tide until the spring equinox).

Without any great hopes of a different result, I tried more of the same: Revving the engine, winding the anchor back through the mud…

I put the helm hard over to line up with the anchor. With the prop wash flowing over the rudder, Samsara heeled obediently to starboard but went nowhere. I switch tacks and put her hard over to port. Was that a movement? There was definitely a rocking motion…

Agonisingly slowly, we began to wriggle through the mud. You could almost hear sucking noises as the creek bed released its grip on the keel. Quickly, before anything else could go wrong, I recovered the 50m warp and tied a fender to the remaining 20metres. I can go back for it tomorrow.

We were free. Indeed, I am writing this anchored defiantly in six metres in the middle of the non-existent oyster bed and thinking that there was, in fact, one other weapon in my armoury: I could have attached the spinnaker halyard to the anchor warp and heeled the boat to 30 degrees, dragging her off that way. Would the higher angle have pulled the anchor out of the mud? Not with that length of warp, surely.

Maybe that will be one for next time.

If there is a next time.

Don’t worry, Sod’s Law demands it…

The Clever Scheme

Recently, I posted the fabulous news that this little blog had received 500 views so far this month – and we were only a third of the way through it!

I invited people to subscribe – and they have. Scrolling down through the replies, I see one complimentary comment after another. It seems that my lifelong dream of going sailing and writing about it may be coming true after all…

Then, there was a comment saying that “this appears to be a clever network marketing scheme to sell a dietary supplement”. That stopped me in my tracks.

Maybe I have some explaining to do. After all, the site does feature a page called “Good Health” which, indeed, promotes a dietary supplement from a Network Marketing company.

Incidentally, there is also a page called “The Novel” where you will find a clever scheme to sell my book on Amazon – and another one: “Bad Back” which is full of free advice (maybe I should charge for it.)

Anyway, I must hold up my hands: Yes, I am a Network Marketer. I started in 2005 for the very good reason that I was 55 years old and nobody would give me a job. That business was in the utility sector. It paid for the boat and now supports my family ashore.

By contrast, the dietary supplement business is very small indeed. Last month I earned £61.05 – hardly enough to justify buying a sailing yacht as a promotional tool!

No, the reason I promote the health product is because I am very anxious that the company which makes it should survive in what is a very over-crowded market. Their product is unique and if they go under, I won’t be able to get it anywhere else – and I firmly believe that I would not be able to continue like this without it.

I still carry with me a vivid picture of my life back in 2015 when I was so ill that I ended up in hospital because I had banged my elbow. Had I continued on that path, what condition would I be in now at the age of 69? A lot of people of 69 can’t walk a mile. Yet during our family weekend in the Peak District in September, I walked 12 miles on the Saturday and another eight on the Sunday. It’s not a marathon but it’s what any normally healthy person should be able to do.

In fact, today there is nothing wrong with me at all. I don’t have arthritis any more. I don’t wear prescription glasses, I don’t have liver spots on my hands, don’t have to get up in the night to pee…

I have not seen a doctor since 2016 and do not carry any pharmaceutical products on my boat at all – not even an aspirin.

As long as the company keeps producing its product – which means, for as long as enough people keep buying the stuff … then I will be able to continue to live the life of my dreams. That is the reason I promote it on this blog – not for the sake of £61.05 a month…

Also, you will notice that the supplement is not “in your face”. There is no flashing advertisement on the front page – just a reference here and there in the text and a page given no more prominence than the other eleven.

I have realised that it is better not to be strident about it: In the Azores, I met a man enjoying his retirement living aboard a Contest 48. His only complaint was having to fly back to the UK every three months to see his doctor. I began to tell him my story – but I can still see the distain on his face as it dawned on him that I was trying to sell some sort of snake oil.

So, the blog will continue to focus on the adventures (another attempt to reach Kirby-Le-Soken coming up.) Only a tiny percentage of readers will be interested in the “Good Health” page. But I like think that if the sceptics continue to follow me as I grow older and older, cheerfully defying the ageing process as I go, then maybe they may look again at my “clever scheme”.

The expedition

Everywhere I look, I see land. Rather muddy land, admittedly. But here, half a mile further up Kirby Creek, surrounded by saltings and winding water, with only the birds and the seals for company, I am as protected as I can be.

Last night we had a bit of wind and it barely raised a wave big enough to slap against the hull. We did heel over as a gust caught the mast and revved up the wind generator. The coffee pot fell off the cooker but otherwise, Samsara stayed as rock-steady as if she had been chocked up in a boatyard.

This was all because of The Expedition: It’s now a week since I arrived here and the water tanks ran dry on Thursday night. I have another 30 litres in cans and a couple of emergency bottles but what with that and running out of apples, the time had come to go and find civilization.

Round here, the village of Kirby-Le-Soken fits that bill. It has a pub and a shop and – presumably, a water tap. All I had to do was take the dinghy up to the head of the creek where, apparently, there is a quay accessible at high tide. That was going to be at 1234 yesterday and so I set off at about 1100, properly dressed in wet-weather gear with all the gash and the empty water cans and Google Maps on my phone to stop me following the wrong branch of the creek.

For some inexplicable reason, the outboard engine wouldn’t start. Odd, that. Now that it has a new fuel tap, it’s been very reliable… maybe all it needs is a moment to cool down – 2-stokes are funny like that. I started rowing.

An hour later, after several stops to try the engine again during which I drifted backwards into the mud and the seal, with its head out of the water like a Labrador with no ears, watched silently as if wondering what on earth I was doing.

Actually, what I was doing was checking Google Maps and realising that after an hour of hard rowing, I was still only half way – which meant that at this rate, by the time I got there, walked up to the village and back carrying 30kg of water and with the shopping on my back, the tide would be falling fast. What if I ran aground on a falling tide – marooned for eight hours in a dinghy surrounded by thigh-deep mud?

Some things just don’t seem sensible. I admitted defeat and turned round. Of course, this meant rowing against the tide. I remember thinking that I was earning my lunch and calculated how long it was since breakfast – and, come to that, how long since I had drunk half a litre of vitamin and mineral supplement and a large cup of coffee…

…and how it is that one of life’s more undignified manoeuvres is peeing when you are in a tiny inflatable dinghy and dressed up in chest-high waterproof salopettes…

Casting around for a solution, I spied a jetty – well, a haphazard collection of old timbers sticking out of the mud with a few rotting planks on top. It would have to do.

Somewhat gingerly, I stepped ashore and walked up the staging to what passed on Horsey Island for solid ground. I know all about Horsey Island. It is privately owned and a bird sanctuary – no landing allowed. In fact, Tamsin and I came here in 1995 and interviewed the owner, Joe Backhouse, when we were writing about our adventures for the Daily Telegraph’s travel pages. This might very well have been the spot where Blue the dog disgraced himself by catching a Brent goose (I don’t know who was more surprised).

The place didn’t seem to have changed. It was just as desolate as I remembered – in fact, having dealt with the urgent matter at hand, I took out my phone and recorded a quick 360 for Instagram (you can see it on john.passsmore.756).

“As, you can see,” I told the commentary. “Absolutely nobody about… totally desolate…”

That was when I noticed I wasn’t alone. An equally old man with a white beard and a woolly hat arrived with two plastic bags.

I think I should be congratulated on finding something to say. This was it: “Oh, hello. I’ve just stopped for a pee. I hope you don’t mind.”

I’m afraid, I can’t remember what he said in reply (would you?). But he did ask me if that was my boat anchored further down the creek.

“You can’t anchor there,” he said. “That’s an oyster bed.”

“Really? I didn’t know about that. There’s nothing in the books about it…”

“There’s a sign,” he said.

I peered. “A sign? I didn’t see it. Where is it?”

“It blew away.”


But he did suggest I should move to one of the vacant moorings: “Anyway you wouldn’t want to be there tonight. There’s a Force Nine coming tonight.”

And with that, he climbed into the ancient dinghy and rowed off across the creek, gesturing as he went, towards an enormous orange mooring buoy and saying: “You can take that one. The boat that’s usually on it just came out for the winter.”

So that’s where we are – in a deep hole surrounded by shallow water (we’ll never get out except at high tide) – and the shallow water surrounded in turn by soggy but protective land.

All I need now is for the outboard to work tomorrow. I just rang my friend David the fisherman who helped me catch a herring and a brace of whiting. He tells me I’ll get water at the pub. If I ever get there, I think I might deserve more than water.

How to light a Hampshire Heater (technical)

An dessert spoonful of ash on top of the wick…

….absorbs the meths and keeps the flame in the right place.

It’s taken long enough but finally, I think I’ve cracked the business of lighting my Hampshire Heater.

The company does send out instructions with every new heater but these are fairly basic and I have to admit, I struggled.

So, getting on for half-way through my second winter with the heater, I have this advice:

  1. Rake through the cold remains of last night’s fuel with a long-handled screwdriver to knock the ash into the ash-tray. Remove the ash tray. Save a dessert-spoonful of ash and dispose of the rest. While doing this, have something like a baking tray underneath to catch any stray pieces of fuel or ash.
  2. Before replacing the ash-tray, put a small amount of lumpwood charcoal into the cylinder – no more than 30mm deep. The reason for this is to allow plenty of air to flow up through the fuel – so don’t use the end of a bag of charcoal for this because it will block up the gaps with coal dust. Do this without the ash-tray attached. You do not want unburned fuel to drop into the tray because it will ignite from the hot ash falling on it. This will set off your Carbon Monoxide alarm as the gas escapes through the vent rather than up the chimney. Some small pieces of fuel will drop through into the baking tray. Add them back to the top.
  3. Carefully pour the dessert-spoonful of ash onto the top of the wick.
  4. Equally carefully, pour a capful of methylated spirit onto the ash on the top of the wick. The reason for doing this is because I found that the wick itself does not absorb all the meths and the excess runs down into the tray which can cause a disconcerting blaze – and even blow out the wick. The ash on the top of the wick absorbs all the meths and keeps the flame where it should be. (The manufacturer now recommends barbecue lighting gel instead of meths – it stays put but it smells awful).
  5. Replace the top of the heater. Open the vent and light the top of the wick. Replace the ash-tray.
  6. Do not add more fuel until the heater is well alight. Adjust the vent – a quarter turn is enough to keep it burning.
  7. From this point on, you may continue to add more fuel as you please. However, if you just add a shovelful of charcoal to the top of the cylinder while it’s burning, the hot air rising will blow coal dust all over your cabin. To avoid this, load the refills of charcoal into paper bags and keep a supply of them ready. One bag lasts about 90 minutes.