The Boat

The Boat

Samsara is a Rival 32, designed by Peter Brett and built in 1973.

She is my second Rival – from 1983 to 1993, I owned Largo and took her twice to the Azores and once across the Atlantic (in the 1988 Singlehanded Transatlantic Race).

They are not the fastest boats – and they’re not at all good in light airs. But they have a wonderfully easy motion in a seaway, good wide sidedecks for getting around and, to my mind, they just look so pretty, like little birds sitting on the water.

Of course, they are not modern boats. If you go to a boatshow these days, you will find huge cockpits with tables and enough room in the saloon to hold a dance.

But boatshows take place in marinas – or even ashore in exhibition halls. Boats at boatshows do not heel over or bounce about – and their crews do not get thrown from one side of those wide cockpits to the other. They do, however, eventually discover that the only way to move around the cabin when the boat is at 35o is to jump – because there will be no handholds on the way.

Boats designed in the 1960’s – which is when the Rivals started – are rather different. And they were built with one purpose in mind – to go to sea.

And that is why I feel a particular pride of ownership. People walking down the pontoon stop and look at Samsara in the way that people will admire a well-kept vintage car – and invariably they compliment the skipper, which is nice.

And if they turn out to be knowledgeable and recognise a Rival when they see one, they might get invited aboard – because Samsara is no ordinary Rival 32. That is why I fell in love with her in Conwy Marina in the summer of 2017.

First impressions, though, were not so encouraging. Arriving on the evening before I was due to meet the vendor, I checked into the worst B&B in town and took a walk down to the marina to find out what I had come all this way to see. It was not an encouraging excursion. Samsara was nearly 50 years old – and she was showing her age.  The hull was covered in scrapes and dents – the worst of them, repaired haphazardly with gelcoat filler which didn’t match. Around the stem it was clear that the anchor – a rusty 35lb CQR – had been allowed to crash against the bow. The anti-fouling was as thick as a navvy’s jam sandwich – and pitted and pockmarked all over.

I borrowed a ladder and found the decks thick with bird droppings – and not just any bird droppings: It seemed the nearest tree bore some deep red berries of some kind – which went straight through the avian digestive system.

The decks had been painted – and the paint was lifting in places and the rail was made of black plastic which had shrunk, leaving three inches of aluminium showing at each end like the bare leg between sock and trouser.

I went out for dinner feeling I had had a wasted journey.

The next morning, the vendor was there well before our agreed time – hurriedly trying to tidy the cabin – and that was where Samsara began to show what she’d got. It turned out that in her 44 years, she had more ocean crossings than I had – and in the winter of 1995-96, her then owners, a West Country doctor and his wife, had decided they were going to take the bull by the horns and get on and make all those improvements they had been thinking about on those long days rolling down the Trades.

I knew exactly how they felt. During my second trip to the Azores, I had ended up becalmed for three days in the middle of nowhere. I occupied myself by writing down the all modifications I would make to Largo if every I had the time and the money.

I would have a hatch in the coachroof, a detachable inner forestay, a bigger water tank… But the thing I really wanted to do – which was clearly impossible without buying a bigger boat…was to have decent berths in the saloon – wide enough to sleep on. Largo’s were OK at sea, when you were squashed up against the side. But in harbour, the only thing to do was empty all the stuff out of the fo’c’sle and sleep up there.

Of course, if I had company, we could turn the dinette into a double – but now I am now 69 years old and don’t think I need to worry about that any more…

And this was why I had made the trek all the way from the East Coast of Southern England to the North-West tip of Wales: According to the photos on the Boats for Sale website, Samsara did not have a dinette.

During the 1995-96 refit, the Doctor and his wife had completely ripped out the cabin – even to the point of removing the mast compression post and replacing it with a massive stainless-steel RSJ. This did mean that in the photos, there was no sign of a saloon table – but anyway, at sea, there is nothing quite so useless as a table – on long trips aboard Largo I used to take up the floorboards and unbolt it. On the other hand, there are occasions when I might invite guests for dinner – and it would be rather embarrassing to have to ask them to eat out of bowls on their laps.

I needn’t have worried. The clever doctor and his wife had thought up a table that slotted into two tubes bonded into the keel. It was even angled slightly to give just enough room to slide round to get to the loo between courses.

Later on, I discovered you could still have a double bed. They had designed it so cleverly, that you now put it up athwartships (although The Old Man is so adamant he is past all that nonsense that he has removed the supports).

There was much else besides – a lot of it becoming apparent only later as I began to get to know the boat… worked out the reefing system, learned to appreciate the sense of space you get if you have storage in open racks instead of having to look at a row of locker doors…wrestled with the vagaries of the charcoal stove…

And there’ll be more to discover as I go along. I’ll let you know…

The Old Man

24 Responses to The Boat

  • How I envy your courage.. I have a Rival 32 (1972) sail no 52..Based in Brixham. Very original and well found. The only later addition is reefing etc back to the cockpit helps for single handed passages. Also a decent 28hp engine.. Everything you say is true about Rivals. I will send for your book.. We must compare notes. Happy sailing.

  • Hi John, really enjoyed your interview on Radio 2. Would love to do something like that one day!!

    • Got to agree, it was a fantastic listen. I couldn’t wait get home to get into the internet 😉

  • John, I too caught your interview on the BBC. It was during a heavy downpour and strong south-westerley. So had added effect. Have done a bit of Ocean sailing, but not on your scale.
    Enjoy the next voyage and keep safe,

  • Hi John, it was great listening to your story today on the JV show. Will look out for you next time we pass through Lake Lothing and out of Lowestoft. Good Luck. Regards Tim

  • I was on a flight to the Middle East and then on to the Far East in March 1988 when I read your. article in YM about the single handed Atlantic crossing. Very moving. I still remember it as if were yesterday.

  • I’m in Washington, DC and listening to your interview on the Jeremy Vine Show on the BBC Sounds App. Really enjoying it! Congratulations!

  • Hi John , Missed the broadcast but sat reading your blog .I’m in France , about to buy a boat , but faced with a choice – Holman 35 or Dufour 4800 – I know it depends on what I have planned but as I don’t know yet !!! Sensible head says Dufour but I like the idea of something more traditional and I think ”Seaworthy”

  • Oh, those Rivals! I had little funds but yearned for boat ownership so satisfied my saturated mind by buying the hull and as many parts as possible then with the help of a local farmer’s cornfield corner, completed a 27ft Sabre sailing yacht.
    little in the way of tools meant hand sawing and carving teak for the interior completion then, after five year’s sailing I sold it and used the cash to look for a Rival 34 yacht. After a couple or so months I came across one seated in the owner’s rear garden and which he had failed to progress with, particularly when his wife preferred a bigger, better house!
    It was transferred to Gosport where after some time I’d done all the necessary and it was launched without a log but otherwise seaworthy and we went to sea where I soon realised the benefit of roller reeling on the genoa at the front of the craft so a change was made which also included a log – cash had at last accumulated sufficiently for such perches.
    The rest is real pleasure, excitement, and total satisfaction, as well as much more!

  • I really enjoyed listening to you on the radio today, your story about your travels is fascinating, I wish you many more happy years of sailing. Enjoy your time in Falmouth, pop in to Trago’s while you are there x

  • Hi John, loved your interview on Jeremy Vine, incredible & inspirational.
    I’m not a sailor, (although I spend a lot of time bodyboarding in my spare time, LOL) but I guess deep down there must be a pull to the sea, love any documentaries about sailing.
    I was born in Plymouth & lived their for 30 years & I was lucky enough to have a big connection to the RWYC in Plymouth.
    I was there & I met Sir Francis Chichester when he came ashore at the steps of the RWYC after his first single handed cicumnavigation back in 1966/67 (was only 8 years old but I remember it vividly)
    Keep on sailing & keep up the blog.
    Stay safe.

  • enjoyed your conversation today on the jv show,very refreshing during difficult days.

  • I listened to the call you made yesterday and then the interview you gave on radio 2 with Jeremy Vine.
    Amazing story, I am going to read all the information on this page, perhaps there should be a film made on your adventures.
    Good to know that there are some positive stories to come out of this corona virus epidemic.

  • Inspiring story told on Jeremy Vine today, loving reading your blog and all about Samsara, we have a Southerly 100,(Opps… with a huge saloon!) and taking our first overnight sail this weekend since lock down and can’t wait.

  • I heard you on Jetemy Vine , really enjoyed listening to your travels.
    Would love to go sailing, only hate sardines!

  • Hats off to you , many dream about venturing out of the norm but hesitate, due to financial restraints , Hopefully one day I would like to travel the world in a campervan and leave the rat race behind,
    If anything Covid 19 has taught us ,there is more to life then Money and to appreciate Nature ,Family,Friends and The NHS which we take for granted. Stay safe and good Health …. BP solihull

  • Brilliant, listening live now on Jeremy Vine,
    Great story to listen to !

  • I just listened to you on Radio 2.What a great story and super inspiring!Good for you and good for your encouraging sister!!!

  • Just heard you on BBC radio 2. Lovely story, and well done for doing what you have done. Ps it’s raining and dull here today!!

  • Loved your Jv interview, know Woodbridge well. Have fun boy .

  • If u ever want company I have always wanted to try something like this and learn more about boats and the way of sailing lol

  • Absolutely wonderful…… Well done……

  • Hi John I listened to you on the Jeremy Vine show. Very inspirational stuff. Being a Sailor myself, I found your story amazing. So glad I turned on the radio when I did, I caught your slot by chance. Good luck regards Mike

  • Great interview…loved it we live in a narrowboat and also the isolation… Will look forward to reading your blog.