The (teeny weeny) Adventures of Water Rat Begin

Little Water Rat re-entered her natural environment in October 2022, but remained tied up in her berth whilst final engine preparations were carried out and the skipper and first mate did more important things like visiting the grand children, Alice (5) and Izzy (3), in Spain. But once the New Year celebrations were done, I could wait no longer to go to sea.

Although I have done 44 round trips to Jersey in my boats, I hadn’t been since 2018 so it seemed logical that Water Rat should head there first and so plans – delightfully simple ones – were made though I am still recalibrating from ocean sailing to coastal motorboating, which isn’t so easy as old habits seem hard to shift. I didn’t care that I had chosen a weekend with freezing temperatures for my first real foray; we were off on a little adventure literally into the unknown. I am not ashamed to confess to a tinge of excitement, born of heading somewhere with the promise of a little excitement and challenges along the way, not that I wish to push too far through the barriers of my comfort zone anymore thank you very much.

Water Rat won’t do less than 3 1/2 knots on tick over, so harbour manoeuvers need a little care if I am not going to thrust her blunt snout into the shiny flank of some gin palace or whizzy outboard thing, but we cleared the harbour entrance without drama and I turned the little boat in the direction of Jersey, 20 or so miles off. It was bitterly cold January morning with a northerly Force 3-4 and choppy sea that threw freezing spray high over the boat as she sits low in the water, pushed into the elements by the big Volvo engine that thrummed away below my bum.

The sun began to rise with Corbiere clear ahead and I couldn’t quite get the idea of how much sea had been covered in such a short time, as I am used to 5 knots or so, and Water Rat cruises comfortably around 2 1/2 half times that. It wasn’t rough, just choppy enough to show she is a sea kindly little vessel that promises to punch well above her weight and yes, I was impressed for I don’t think she is bluffing. If it looks and feels right on the sea, it probably is, and I felt I would rather be in Water Rat in bumpy seas than a yoghurt pot with a 300 hp outboard hanging off the stern.

As I looked around inside, I saw a little leak here and there, which, twenty years ago would have had me crawling around on all fours in a funk hunting for the cause, but I’ve since discovered all boats leak somewhere and if the skipper says his boat doesn’t leak, then that’s because he hasn’t spotted it yet.

With an unidentified leak, the first thing to check is whether the water is fresh or salty. If the former, no real problem. If the latter, get urgent. Half way there, I looked down and saw water on the cabin floor and bending to dip and lick my finger, found it to be salty. Its amazing how quickly an old codger can react under such circumstances and I leapt off my engine box perch and flung open the toilet cubicle door – and found the culprit. A jet of freezing sea water was spraying out of the sink plughole as high as the not very high ceiling, every time the boat hit a wave – of course it wouldn’t have if I had shut the seacock, but I hadn’t yet, as I had just finished using the facilities. Excitement over, it was time for a brew, but I soon discovered that it is nigh on impossible to boil the kettle on an un-gimballed stove, in a little motorboat at speed in a chop. Another lesson learned. Oh well, no worry as we would be there in a jiffy.

Technology is a wonderful thing and Water Rat has all the necessary aids to see and perhaps more importantly be seen. Her AIS system informs any other vessel so equipped of her name and radio call sign and her radar tells me where any vessel within range is, whether or not they have AIS. Useful when Condor is racing up behind you at 17 knots or you find yourself in thick fog, or your just being plain nosy. Just to make absolutely certain Water Rat is spotted high up on the bridge of a vast ship by some myopic watchkeeper, she is also equipped with a radar target enhancer. This bats any received radar beam straight back from whence it came with brass knobs on, which ought to make a very large blob on the radar screen of the transmitting vessel. Indeed, I am informed the image it creates is similar to that of a 160′ steel vessel, which makes you wonder what the watchkeeper high on the bridge mid English Channel will make of it, looking far out but not seeing anything – except a tiny, wee little motorboat trundling along at 12 or 13 knots.

Life is never dull when your on the sea and as I passed Noirmont Point on Jersey’s south coast and began to close St Helier Harbour, I passed a rowing boat with 2 people aboard, rowing energetically the other way. Being a friendly sort I gave them a couple of toots on the horn, which I had never used before and was shocked how loud it was. I thought one of them waved, but it may have been a two fingered salute – after all, they were Jerseymen and I was flying the Guernsey ensign. Anyway, a couple of hours later I listened to the radio as the life boat deployed – to rescue 2 rowers who had capsized off the south coast. It must have been pretty chilly waiting for rescue and I wasn’t surprised that one was taken to hospital. It all seems to happen down Jersey way.

I always enjoy the usual banter with the Jersey marina staff, silly stuff like ‘where have you come from?’ ‘Guernsey’, ‘oh we won’t hold that against you – this time’ and ‘what’s the surcharge for a Guernsey boat?’ ‘It’s just gone up.’ It was gratifying to note how much cheaper it is to moor a 6.7 metre boat, rather than a 10.4 metre boat such as Pippin – you can also tuck a tiddler in almost anywhere, even at the busiest times, another bonus.

Of course the really nice thing about adventuring is that it provides plenty of very good reasons to eat a hearty meal ashore and drink just a little too much hair restorer – after all, it is just and fair reward for healthy endeavour. Back at the boat I crawled into my green maggot (sleeping bag) in mellow mood and wriggled around exploring the confines of my cosy berth. I had never spent a full night aboard and I must confess that it is a good job I am a little lacking in feet and inches, if not avoirdupois these days. It was possible to get quite comfortable, but with not a lot of room to spare. Outside the temperature dropped below freezing, but the little cabin with its heater stayed nice and warm as I dreamed of leaks and teeny weeny adventures.

Cosy with the heater on

Sunshine came to see us off and lift the temperature a little, as Water Rat headed back out to sea and I seemed to be off Corbiere in no time. It is often choppy here, with powerful eddies whirling around wicked rocky teeth, all the more visible at low tide but with such a shallow draft and powerful engine, it is quite possible to get a good view as you pass very close. There was hardly a breath of wind and the sea had relaxed, allowing me a fair passage with no leak worries as Water Rat chugged along at 12 knots and the big Volvo sang and I sipped heart stirring espresso from my flask. I had brought my book, but it was all so new and too exciting to settle down and read – I was like a school boy in a sweet shop that sold the banana fudge I bought with my 2 old pence once a week on Wednesdays, my school boy favourite at boarding school. Mind you, sherbet fountains were a close second, or was it gob stoppers? I can’t quite remember, but then it was nearly 60 years ago.

No other other idiot was out there on that freezing January Sunday, so there was little to see on the crossing until we closed Herm where several whizzy things buzzed around and small fishing trawlers chugged home. This provided another childish burst of excitement when I discovered that, for the first time in over 30 years mucking round in boats, I could actually go faster then some of them.

Off Corbière homeward bound

I docked perfectly, but no one was around to applaud – they only seem to be there when you make a hash of it. Safely tied up and engine off, I sat drinking a fresh cuppa in a glow of relaxed contentment, until I discovered a little salty water where there shouldn’t have been any and spent the next 2 hours head down in the bilges. It’s particularly important to be alert to leaks into boats like Water Rat, as she does not have a self draining cockpit, so any water in stays there – unless you help it out. Of course, it would take a catastrophic leak to cause real problems and she does have a powerful automatic electric bilge pump, but its best to learn of such things before you get into trouble. But such is the life of a skipper – but at least I had noticed the problem and was able to fix it before the first mate picked me up, bruised, battered, wet and filthy, but happily chattering way to the patient first mate as she drove me home from my teeny weeny adventure.

I felt I had learned a lot in my ‘new’ boat on my first proper outing with her, and there are now 13 ‘to do’ things in my note book, but I don’t care. Water Rat had proved herself to my satisfaction and that’s what counts and I can happily do all those things myself.

So it won’t be long before I stretch the adventures just a little more, but not until I have made everything just right for the first mate to step aboard.

By ajay290

Living on the Dark Side – the Refit

“Oh! So, you’re deserting us and moving to the dark side, then?” sneered a sailing friend recently, on hearing my news. True I made the change maybe a couple of years earlier than I had planned, but an opportunity not taken is an opportunity missed.

There is a logic to moving to the dark side, or at least that is how I have convinced myself and the argument I impressed upon the first mate, who deserves a medal for listening (or pretending to listen) to my ‘boaty’ rambles, for I do drivel rather a lot on the subject.

First, I know that at 67 I no longer wish to wander alone on the ocean hundreds of miles from home, and secondly my body is rather glad of that. If I dredge deeper, I could add simple economics and the fact that we have downsized our lives, so doing the same with our boat is entirely in keeping.

I have eased my restless urge to roam and feel I can remember the longer voyages I have made since 2015 with satisfaction. I don’t look back as I’m not going that way, so there are no regrets, just powerful memories and a delicious tingle of excitement at the different voyages to come.

Water Rat undergoing refit at Boatworks+ in St Peter Port

So let me introduce you to Water Rat, formerly Foxy Dog, a Channel Island (CI) 22 designed by Alan Buchanan and built in Jersey from around 1979. About 400 were made and every one of them delivered on their own keels, at least one as far away as Finland. They have a semi displacement hull, unlike Pippin’s displacement hull, which means they still have a yacht like underwater forward section, but a much flatter bottom from around midships to her relatively broad stern, thus given enough power, this hull type can rise onto the plane and almost over the water, rather than through it like the displacement hull. Whereas the maximum speed of a displacement hull is limited to a formula based on waterline length, about 7 knots for Pippin, the semi displacement boat can motor well above displacement speed, which for a CI 22 is around 18 knots, cruising at around 12 knots. The beauty of this hull type is that you can also motor very comfortably and economically at displacement speed (for the CI 22 around 6-8 knots).

Water Rat was born in 1982, but not launched until 1991 and in the meantime her carpenter owner fitted her out to a higher standard than normal although he was clearly no electrician, given the spider’s web of DIY wiring now being replaced. A 160 hp Volvo diesel engine provides her motive force and two can sleep reasonable comfortably aboard and 4 or more can enjoy a day trip. Of course, there is much I have to get used to such as engine noise and the very much livelier motion, not to mention fuel bills. Pippin was quite happy and comfortable going through a gale, but Water Rat was never designed for that. She is a tough, sea kindly boat, but she is only 22 and a bit foot long, so nice days and calm seas will be the order of the day and that’s fine by me and the first mate. Talking of whom, one of the priorities of her refit is to provide additional security and comfort for the first mate and crew, hence the guard rails around the sides and the bathing platform with boarding ladder at the stern.

Stern showing bathing platform – ladder yet to be fitted

Being so small means berthing fees are less and she should be able to sneak in anywhere, even in the very congested south coast marinas, for I certainly intend to traverse the Channel in her and it will be so nice to do it in daylight, but first there is much to finish off before she will be ready.

Her all new electronics include radar, sonar and AIS but to make absolutely sure that her tiny form is seen by those monsters ploughing up and down the Channel, a Sea-Me Active Radar Target Enhancer sprouts from her little mast. This little device is an active system which receives a radar signal, amplifies it and re-transmits it, which ensures a stronger return signal and a more even strength around the full 360° azimuth. Great, though I was rather alarmed to read somewhere that it can provide a signal akin to that produced by a very large ocean-going steel trawler – I can just imagine a skipper 70′ up in his bridge seeing this image on his radar screen and looking out for a ship and seeing nothing! I would have to explain on VHF that the vessel on his screen is a minnow of 6.8 metres and barely 2 off the sea!

I shan’t bore anyone here with nerdy details of the refit, but if you do want to read of them, do let me know.

Well, this is all very serious stuff, but perhaps my most difficult re-alignment will be learning not to take food for an army, wine for several weeks, clothes for everything from Arctic to tropical conditions and a library plus charts, jerry cans of spare fuel, 25 litres of emergency water, not to mention 1/4 ton of tools and spares, because weight kills speed and eats fuel. So, I’ll cut down my toothbrush, slice my soap bar in half, travel naked, leave the hair restorer ashore, take just the book of the moment and pack a picnic – though I suspect I won’t manage to leave the Cobo sizzler sausages and bacon behind; oh, and eggs, and perhaps black pudding, not to forget Gentleman’s Relish. You see? This is going to be tough!!!

Meanwhile the refit is nearing completion and I hope Water Rat will return to her natural element in a fortnight or so.

Reaction to her livery has been varied and often been amusing. A lengthy pause followed by “Well no-one’s going to miss that are they?” (probably a no then) or “what’s the rat got to do with anything”? (he’s probably scared of these little rodents on dry land) or, from my sister “Oh what a fabulous name!” (but she is uber loyal and hasn’t seen the livery yet)!

Before you decide, let me explain that the rather bold red rat on her bows is the emblem of 7th Armoured Brigade, with which I proudly served in the last century; it’s actually a Jerboa but “Water Jerboa” doesn’t have much of a ring to it methinks.

Reader survey:

Livery – Y for yes, or N for No!

Name – Y for great N for rubbish!

(no prize draw offered)

By ajay290

Job done

The Anabella saga continued until late, when the life boat finally reached her. The Holyhead CG had done a fantastic job advising, supporting and arranging help, all credit to them.

Dinner was eclectic though none the worse for that; stag bol without the spag, with chopped banana and heavily buttered French toast. My meal was interrupted by a very large blob on the radar that morphed into a huge superyacht, approaching at perhaps 7 knots. Following behind it like a faithful hound was a powerboat, probably full of minders, bows sometimes pointing at the sky as it could neither plane nor go at hull speed! I could just imagine the conversation of the disgruntled heavies on board and was surprised they didn’t pop over for a little light relief.


Arran slipped darkly by as my 67th Birthday arrived without fanfare, unnoticed by anyone but me; this leg was was becoming quite challenging navigation wise, requiring experience, a sharp lookout, total trust in the instruments and regular marking of the chart. I had a number of emergency anchor spots in mind for I was knackered, but it never got totally dark, so I was able to continue, unlike my attempts to sail which were repeatedly doomed because Boreas teased but never blew, so I dropped the mainsail before I got too busy with navigation, as a yacht motored 1/2 mile off clear on radar but no AIS. A little later a second one slipped by also without sails, again showing no AIS signal.

Miss Lemon and Hercule beavoured away, though frequent corrections to the course over ground were necessary as there seemed to be inumerable currents, eddies and skipper errors all combining to push us off course.

Up ahead, 2 miles from Rhu, bright white lights aboard an approaching ship blinded me such that I could not see its navigation lights. Too close, it’s bow wave clearly visible, I finally saw its red port light and grabbed the helm from Miss Lemon and swung Pippin out of danger as the large dredger slipped past 100 metres off.

I found it confusing that there are so many lights along the many channels on this route for it is nuclear submarine country, though fortunately they seemed to be in bed that night. I knew enough not to pass between two approaching tugs as they would have a sub slung between them! Mind you, the 2 sinister back RIBS full, of Royal Marines that shadowed these little convoys would be on you before you could say “cup of tea chaps”?

The first flush of dawn lit the sky as I prepared for docking and at 0400 I secured Pippin in her new home and stepped ashore. I was pleased as I had planned on 20 hours and it had taken just 15; a moment later, totally exhausted, I joined Gollum in the dark deep caves for a couple of hours.

It had been a trip of 650 miles, not all of them pleasant, but as ever the journey was highlighted by the friends and people I had met along the way – not least keith, Pippin’s new owner – generating wonderful memories I shall treasure until time steals them from me.

Pippin in her new home
Pippin’s sister ship, Wren

Job done.

By ajay290

The final lap

It isn’t quite the last lap, as I’ve got to get home but there’s time for that.

My Jester friend cast off quietly and without fuss in the wee hours to continue his journey south towards the Hamble without disturbing me. That’s the thing about Jester types, self sufficient and contained, quietly gregarious amongst their own kind, always ready to assist each other, non judgemental, followers of the KISS principle. Its a select rather eccentric group and the first mate said I would miss the whole thing – but as with being a soldier, once a Jester always a Jester; the mindset doesn’t change.

Right now I am following the 2 remaining Jesters in the 2022 trans Atlantic Challenge. Bedogged by horrible weather, two of the 4 have retired and the 2 others are heading for the Azores to retire with various problems – the first ever Jester Challenge with no finishers. My Azores jaunt was 1640 miles one way and the thought of doubling that doesn’t bear thinking about; these guys are seriously tough and my heart goes out to them. To retire is good seamanship not failure.

Comforting to know the lifeboat is nearby

The clouds were magnificent over Bangor Tuesday morning, tumultuous and black, promising a miserable few hours so a mad dash (the word dash being relative) to town before it hit. I was in need, because my Ardglass sweet and sour remained lodged stubbornly in my dental nooks and crannies; having acquired tooth picks, I felt a chocolate éclair to be suitable reward. Sadly they only come in twos, so I had one for tea as well. Toothpicks and éclairs – Heaven.

Skipper wondering what’s happened to Pippin’s name

A little passage planning as the Bangor rain settled comfortably, rather like a dirty beanie atop a head. It wasn’t pukka Irish rain though as a wall would offer no protection – a brolly would be more use. There are such lovely names on this next route, like Ailsa Craig, Arran, Firth of Clyde and Isle of Bute and it was a pleasure to sprawl over the chart for a good look. The pity is that it will be dark for much of the interesting part, though the possibility of a submarine encounter added a frisson of excitement.

I’m heading past Arran and Bute, right a bit at Dunoon towards Helensburgh hoping little Rhu, my ultimate destination, will jump out at me in the early morning light. Keith, Pippin’s very patient new owner forwarded a flurry of information to help us on arrival, which was very helpful. More importantly he booked the steak restaurant.

From Belfast across the North Passage and on past Arran

Talking of charts, I have electronic charts on my plotter of course, but the satisfaction of opening a proper chart and transcribing your position on it in chinagraph cannot be matched by staring at a screen. It’s a good safety feature too, because in the unlikely event of electronic failure, you have a recent position clearly marked on the chart. It’s also something to do during long hours on passage.

I was in a bit of a panic before leaving, torn between common sense and a huge desire to stuff the near empty food lockers with grub, despite there being but a day and a half to go; it’s tough as I get nervous at the thought of empty lockers. Well you never know – I might get stuck on a desert island or have to barter with natives, though no native is going to have my Gentleman’s Relish or Bacon Grill. Period.

Interesting window position
Belfast CG HQ

I have a fractious relationship with weather in these parts and know only too well that if it gives something, it will take something else. My old mate Boreas, God of the north wind was in charge on departure day and whilst he teased with some sunshine, he snubbed my hopes by swinging irrevocably NE, precisely my heading across the North Passage. I was too tired and too ready for journey’s end to want to argue so gave extra special attention to the Yanmar, changing the secondary fuel filter amongst other checks, for he would be on duty much of the time.

Leaving Bangor

Wednesday 1245. I borrowed a couple of knarled old salt, my sort of age, to hold Pippin as I prepared to leave, though they tut tutted over her bow thruster until we exited smartly stern first and on our way with barely a thrust. Pippin nosed out of the marina into Belfast Lough, where I raised sail more in hope than expectation , and pointed in the direction of Stranraer and Isle of Arran beyond. An Asda salt and chilli chicken goujon wrap and a mug of lobster bisque served as a very satisfactory lunch.

I had to pinch myself as blue calm sea spread before me and the sunshine invited me outside, only Boreas spoilt the day as Miss Lemon and Hercule took us smartly across the North Passage. My old stomping ground islay, Gigha and kintyre stood clear to the north and the Corsewell coastline, my destination, ahead. Its never dull and I followed length conversations between Holyhead CG and yacht Anabella with an incapacitated skipper, struggling to make progress towards Holyhead.

Most un Belfast like weather

As the story unfolded it seemed he had suffered a stroke or concussion, serious whatever and his crew were inexperienced; sometime later, the CG tasked the Holyhead inshore lifeboat to gomto their assistance. I think I have witnessed incidents involving the RNLI on most of the legs of this trip, and I sympathise with any crew who encounter situations that require their help- it can happen to anyone, anytime.

Mid afternoon I dodged a pretty trawler and overhauled a yacht making less than 3 knots – 3 weeks aboard, with a pile of dirty washing in the forepeak, plus wishing to press on, it was no day for me to wallow in self righteous sailing mode. So the Yanmar sang its tune and and glorious scenery closed around us.

Stranraer ferry

Tea time and I turned to pass close to Ailsa Craig, a startling pointed feature towering 337 metres from the sea, aloof, uninhabited and yours for £1.5m. But with the nearest land 7.5 miles and much more to anywhere significant it could only appeal to a rich hermit. Somewhere in the foggy depths of my brain I recall this rock featuring in an Alistair McLean novel?

Ailsa craig

By contrast Arran, lying beyond, is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde at 167 Square miles and an imposing 874 metres above the sea. Bigger than Guernsey, but with 1/14th the population!

This is a beautiful cruising area and I sensed Pippin taking it all in – no more ocean bashing, instead civilised, gentle cruising with quiet nights at anchor deep in the bosom of beautiful landscape.

Right now I’m going on a locker hunt, in search of dinner so I’ll come back later……

By ajay290

Finish Line in Sight

Holyhead was getting to me, even though it was where I received my first salute for voyages made from a very pleasant fellow inmate. I shall remember the final night, 26th May 2022, as Pippin tugged and surged at her restraining ropes that jerked and squeaked in protest as I rolled in harmony, sleep a distant shadow. The morning came grey, cold and windy and so desperate was one crew, they left only to turn round at the end of the breakwater and scuttle back.

The forecast suggested the elements would calm by the afternoon and I wasn’t waiting a minute longer, so I cast off helped by a new friend and raised sail in the safety of the huge harbour. The seabed and breakwater belong to the ferry company and it was suggested that they are instrumental in the delay of plans to rebuild the marina destroyed in thecstorm of 2017.

It was still breezy and choppy but I didn’t care we were off and anyway I was transfixed by a new hazard up ahead. Over the years I have diverted to avoid many types of floating obstacles – but never a flying one, until now. Just up ahead was a small helicopter, hovering 50′ above the sea intent on what I have no idea. Just before I called him up to ask him to blow me across the sea to Ardglass, he pulled up and flew off, Pippin 100 metres off.

I had determined not to drop below 5 knots, jogging pace, so it was a journey much aided by the Yanmar though just then Hercule the Hydrovane and was in charge. He doesn’t like me to interfere so I dug out my battered copy of Das Boot and got comfortable. At 5 knots, it takes a very long time before you feel you are getting anywhere and I became certain that the Isle of Man, 20 miles off, was jogging alo g beside us so static did it appear to be.

Isle of Man on the chart plotter

But with night came signs of progress, and I let Miss Lemon the electric tiller pilot, come out to play with inscrutable Hercule as I rummaged around for some scoff. There are strong tides in the Irish Sea and I kept Miss Lemon busy with course changes – you can’t sleep at all in coastal waters with tides, not just because of the traffic, but also because of the need to regularly check and adjust course.

Ardglass, my destination, is a tiny place and though I had been there before, I had no wish to enter in the dark so slowed down to arrive with the first flush of dawn. Accessed down a very narrow shallow channel flanked by rock and mud banks there is little room for error, but with 2′ beneath the keel, I brought Pippin alongside – helped by Paul who jumped off his boat onto the guano strewn pontoon, wearing nothing but his underpants; it was 0330!

On my last visit in 2015, an old man and his cat Arthur, hugely magnificent and disdainful of all, met me. Imagine my surprise when they greeted me next morning, the old man now 89 and Arthur a stately 16. Ardglass was a previous home of Pippin and Gerry Burns, master mariner and a previous owner came aboard later, crushing my arthritic fingers in his huge paw. He had just bought a boat but still agonised for 2 days when Pippin hit the market. Kindly, amusing and indomitable, Gerry described his first heart attack and 5 subsequent bypass operations, though looking at him you would never know. At 67, he is the same age as me and I felt quite inadequate with no such stories to tell – yet.

Naturally it was grey, dark, cold and blowy, but what do you expect? This is Ireland for Heaven’s sake, the place you stand behind a wall to shelter from the rain because it blows horizontally. It is also the place I have awarded the Willis prize for rain as noone does rain quite like the Irish. But I was on a mission, for I was desperate for sweet and sour pork for reasons unknown to me so I headed for the Chinese restaurant I had discovered in 2015, a place where quantity marginally pips quality and the wine comes in tiny plastic bottles. I was too embarrassed to ask for 4.

0900 and I was going, full oilies for it was, you guessed it, a freezing, grey, blowy Irish morning. Two neighbours helped me but instead of following as they had planned retreated back to their warm cabin for bacon and eggs. It really was very tight and I had to really gun the motor seemingly inches from the mud banks to force Pippins bows through the wind. I felt quite chuffed as I knew several pairs of eyes were following my antics through cabin windows and I was pleased to disappoint them.

Nosing out of the channel, I turned Pippin North, straight into 16 knots of wind and quite big seas. But there was no option as I had to make Donaghee Sound, between Copeland Island and the shore at the corner into Belfast Lough before the tide turned; and it was 35 miles away, so no time for mucking about. Staysail out, sheeted in tight, hang on tight, put Miss Lemon in charge and go for it. So we banged and crashed our way, but Pippin isn’t easily deterred and she managed beautifully though movement on board was impossible without hanging on like a limpet.

Pippin in Bangor Marina

A few hours later we were closing the Sound when a windsurfer shot out from the shore and screeched to a halt 15 metres from Pippin, took one hand off his sail, waved jauntily shouting “Hi!” before spinning effortlessly and careering shorewards at 20 knots. I would have called him a dirty show off, as he was clad only in briefs and was sporting a disgustingly impressive 6 pack – but I was so darned impressed, I could only admire.

A fellow Jester, down from Tobermory, was there to meet me at Bangor Marina and it seemed a good opportunity to consume the chilled bottle of Lanson Black Label in Pippin’s fridge. Before we hit the town, though haring 137 years between us and both being arthritic, it was a gentle, hobbling sort of hit.

Bangor Marina office

The weather is variable, but latest indications are that escape might be possible in 2 days, across the infamous North Passage where the Irish Sea spews it’s tides back and forth into the Atlantic. Keen to finish now, the Willis master plan includes the option of pushing on to the end, without stopping. But who knows for plans are but the intentions of the moment

It’s empty – because it’s raining again
Sancerre, my Jester friends very well organised craft

But in the meantime, there’s a town to hit again – if we can manage to hobble there as on pedestrian crossing en route requires us to make maximum speed to clear the road before the light goes red. Frankly we’re safer at sea!

Cheeri as we Guerns say

By ajay290


Damaged remains of the Holyhead storm

I don’t have my log books with me, but Pippin and I have covered thousands of miles together, not all happy for me if truth be told, but that says more about my limitations than hers. We’ve been together in winds from 0 to 40+ knots, waves from ripples to maybe 25 feet, and the only one who has ever been concerned on occasion has been me; Pippin has been mistress and Hercule Lord of all.

Oh you’ll miss her, friends said, but the funny thing is I won’t for I don’t look back as I’m not going that way, so I will carry only fond memories with me as I trudge on, no regrets. The important thing is to have plans, but even more important is to actually enact those plans, for there never is a best time to go and do – so just go and do.

Except I am sitting here in Holyhead, 5 days without a shower, awaiting an easier ride, listening to 24 knot gusts build to 33, so I am not going to go and do; heavens sake I’m an OAP! But I am lucky, for just as being a Jester earns membership of one select group, so custodianship of a Francis 34 Pilothouse of which there are only 6, brings membership of another even smaller group.

Gerry Burns, master mariner, won’t mind me involving him in this blog for he is a previous owner of Pippin, and lives near my next destination, tiny Ardglass in NI. Who better to assist with my interpretation of local weather and indeed, to meet me there? His advice proved a great comfort as I swung wildly, like Irish weather, between sod it lets get out of here, to let’s have a glass of hair restorer and await better times. Though I do find the latter emotion comes more naturally these days.

As some will know, I have a love hate relationship (mainly hate) with the Irish Sea, a body of water pummelled from above and below by tidal water jets squeezing between narrow rocky necks, accelerating tidal flows and creating maelstroms of colliding water in high winds. This is further stirred up by the depressions that track high across this sea Hell bent on seemingly endless mischief.

But I remained surprisingly upbeat, even when a boat filled with cruise ship passengers pulled alongside as I stood in my birthday suit, scrubbing my marbled limbs in the pilothouse, whilst the wind blew and Pippin tugged restlessly at her tethers. Perhaps I’m now on YouTube, but whatever no more came, and my local neighbour opined that I probably had put them off though he also felt they were a tad too posh for Holyhead. I subscribed to his latter theory, though liked him a little less when he theorised that the weather was all my fault.

Pippin alongside in Holyhead

It was chilly so I decided to seek a fleece at the chandlers and met a nice young chap, except he said just what I didn’t want to hear – this time last year he was sunbathing on the beach in perfect sunshine. The first mate has often said I carry a front in my rucksack and it seems she’s right, but maybe there’s a little sunshine and a fair wind in the pocket of my new fleece.

I also needed gas and just as there was no hot water in Holyhead, so there was no gas, but I was not to be defeated and mounted a taxi in pursuit of the evasive ether. I will report success in obtaining gas, but would rather not report at what financial cost! There is no diesel either, but that was OK as I had plenty.

Downtown Holyhead is tired but if you allow your eyes and mind to feast only on the evidence of dilapidation, you will miss the whole point of the place. What you get is unerring friendship and kindness and not one dog walker, of which there are many, passed without a cheery greeting. For my mile walk to town I took off my smart shades and wore my older clothes so as to fit in more, and was not surprised to discover I had no chance of replenishing my stock of Gentleman’s Relish or dark roast espresso.

Pippin relocated for strong winds

Talking of rations, a quick trot to a nearby hostelry resulted in the worst curry ever, period. It was so bad it was amusing and I certainly didn’t have the heart to tell the nice waitress, who came to check all was well. Contrast that with a very simple, basic little Thai restaurant which provided excellent fare for £12.

Sea Cadets arrive. Tight squeeze


Sea Cadets arriving. Tight squeeze


Holy Island

Incredibly the sun is out and the noise of the wind in the rigging is down to a moan so hopes have risen for a break out tomorrow. So I’ll leave you hare and hopefully report next from the other side.

hwyl fawr

By ajay290


I have been known to enjoy the occasional meal and glass of hair restorer with friends, convivial events filled with laughter and friendship. It explains the additional ballast I so comfortably wear.

On rare occasions such a meal has led me unexpectedly onto a new path, such as happened in 2000 when a particularly convivial meet resulted in both a hangover and a job as general manager for Shell – but that’s another story.

Fast forward to March 2022, when I reported to the Taj Restaurant for a curry supper with a lovely friend, dynamic serial entrepreneur – and ex chief stoker. He raised his Cobra and sighed, for, he reported, he was simply too busy to use his little motorboat – would I like it? Yes I exploded, spraying chewed Poppadom, for I had been considering what sort of boaty adventures I wanted next.

I love thinking, dreaming and planning ahead but if truth be told, this was a little premature. But I knew such an offer would never happen again and I believe in fate; some being had arranged this for me.

My extensive research had led me to realise that what I wanted was a minimalistic tough little motorboat with a single diesel, cross Channel capable and fast enough to at least halve my current passage times. It had further revealed that this breed of boat no longer existed for they have been replaced by speedy ‘yoghurt pots’ with huge, thirsty outboards, costing upwards of £100k new, an amount the first mate was never going to accept.

And what I wanted was being offered to me over a vindaloo at a 10th of the cost.

Back home there was a brief awkward moment as I briefed the first mate, an accountant, on my scheme to buy another boat, but the ice was melted when the price was mentioned. Thus I became Admiral 2 boats Willis, proud owner of a fleet. Great, except it was perhaps 3 years premature and I hadn’t told Pippin.

My Azores trip had shown up my inadequacies and brought the realisation that I no longer wanted to play alone on the oceans; been there, done that as my first mate put it and anyway she said, you need a project for my little battle cruiser is several years older than my kids, both well into their 3rd decade.

It just happens that a Jester pal is a yacht broker and he offered a generous discount for a fellow Jester and so Pippin hit the market and phones began ringing within 3 hours. YES REALLY.

To cut a not very long story short, Pippin was bought by a lovely man who had previously owned a Francis Pilot House 34, which he sold and regretted doing so ever since. Yes he paid top price, but Pippin is a very cosseted boat indeed.

Which is why I am writing this from a cold, windy, deadbeat Holyhead for I had offered to deliver Pippin – before I discovered he lived in Glasgow, over 600 miles from Guernsey.

I left home for a very pleasant and enjoyable cross Channel trip to Plymouth to deliver some kit to friends Pete and Tracey Goss. Naturally a little hair restorer and some hearty meals were shared, before Pippin and I pushed on to Penzance against wind and too often tide. Anchored off the harbour, the seas rose as I tried to commune with Gollum deep down in the caves of darkness, to little avail.

So, grumpy and bleary eyed, we set off for Milford Haven, a challenging distance for a geriatric solo sailor for in coastal waters you dare not sleep. Passing Longships Lighthouse on the back of a galloping tide at over 8 knots boosted morale and I began to believe we might beat my expected 24 hour passage plan.

I don’t know why, but trawler near misses always seem to happen at 0300, when you’ve dog tired and so it was again. Things got very sticky as the gap closed to 1/2 mile. He had switched off his AIS identification transmitter and refused to answer my VHF calls; why? Because he was where he shouldn’t be, doing what he shouldn’t be doing!

It is very hard in such circumstances to know what direction a working trawler is going, particularly as some go round in circles and with a top speed of 6 knots Pippin simply can’t sprint out of the way. We passed each other 200 metres apart in pitch darkness with the wind rising.

With 21 knots across the deck, Pippin was going like a train and I slapped her wheel and grinned with pride; good girl! Milford Haven is a huge harbour, one I had sailed into before and it was a joy to drop the Rocna in the comfortable lee of cliffs near Angle Bay, 5 hours ahead of schedule.

We rested in Milford Marina, before locking out for the long passage to Holyhead, a marina destroyed in the storm of 2017. Again Pippin astonished ne with her speed and comfort even as the wind rose, though comfortably from behind. Hercule the windane and was in his element, ably assisted by Miss Lemon, a newly acquired portable autopilot to which he was connected. Miss lemon had the calming effect of steadying him as we powered down the bigger waves, working together in satisfying harmony.

Once again Pippin made a mockery of my passage plan surging several hours ahead, with the disadvantage that we arrived in the pitch dark rather than early morning. By now the wind was a full throated 25 knots and the idea that I could find a lee under Holy Island was quite wrong. Once again I found myself far out on the end of a pitching bowsprit tackling wildly gyrating hopelessly tangled sheets (ropes that control the fore sail) just as I had had to do whilst fighting my way to the Azores – except this time the water wasn’t warm.

Fortunately I was in familiar territory for I had been here 7 years before and it was a relief to tie up, albeit to the shattered remains of a pontoon, 6 hours ahead of schedule and sleep.

I’ll leave you here, as the wind begins to sing in the rigging, winds that will keep ne here a few days yet, before I can push on up towards the Clyde.

By ajay290

Terceira postscript

Christian, possibly the best sailor among us, and certainly the most modest and unassuming, received a Jester burgee from George, representing the Jester Helm. Christian was absolutely delighted and shot straight up his mast to fly it!

A very happy Christian
Christian begins to realise what’s coming. Graeme looking on
A delighted Christian received that famous burgee ……..
and shoots straight up his mast to fly his new burgee
Rony takes coffee

Meanwhile for those of us still here, there was always time for tea or coffee and conversation aboard Pippin, the Jester mother ship admired by all.

Glenn and George come by
Duncan with his lovely new tiller

Glen made this gorgeous tiller of a local cedar type wood, laminated and glued with epoxy. The incredible things is its weight, no more than perhaps a kilo or so. Having checked it for size, Glen took it home to epoxy. Duncan was delighted and will leave here with his little ship better fixed up than ever before.

Now as I look back, I reflect more on my journey, which is nicely put into perspective by the table below;

Brian JuddSylviaSadler26’09/07/21 0650
Donald HeathGuppy UnchainedDjango 77025’07/07/21 0740
Duncan LougeeMinkeFolkoat25’11/07/21/1050
George ArnisonGood ReportClassic sloop31’11/07/21 1050
Graeme ShinwellPanaceaAlbin Vega27’06/07/21 0610
John AppsAreliaInvicta26’10/07/21/0230
John WillisPippinFrancis PH34’06/06/21 1830
Justin ButlerRoquettaTwister28’07/07/21 0230
Christian GallotKalavalaSea Breeze31’05/07/21  0930
Stephen MooreyHelixTwister28’DNS

The routes (above – Pippin red) each competitor took and the messages sent along the way can be better seen at Jester Azores Challenge 2021 – Jester Challenge ( Brian somehow managed to find time to write a book on his tiny Garmin Inreach during his voyage, quite a feat in a 26′ boat tossing around on the rumbustious ocean!

I pretty well sailed the route I had planned, with no down wind sails, just the yankee one side and main the other when running, without a pole. Pippin goes very well like this and I probably only lost out marginally to the spinnaker flyers, but where Pippin came into her own was the rough stuff during the last 4 or 5 days. She has the weight and hull shape to cut to windward very well, and to keep going almost whatever the conditions, something I found most reassuring. One Jester reckoned that there were gusts of 60 knots where he was, but I stopped looking when it topped 40! Whatever, Pippin was quite happy under staysail; overall I am more proud and impressed with her performance than my own though I guess I had a hand in her progress.

GOOD BY LOVELY TERCEIRA (courtesy of Rony & Katrine)

Terceira bureaucracy is delightfully laid back if a little long winded, with lots of bits of paper for even the simplest things. It reminded me of my time in Kinlochbervie in 2015 just below Cape Wrath in Scotland, where I was adopted by the locals for a few days as I sat out a gale. One talked of this and that, and that and this, usually over several cups of tea or hair restorer, before much was achieved.

Frankly there is only one way to deal with it here – change down a few gears, smile and go with the flow; chat back and never mind the 20 people behind you as was the case when I went for my Covid test. Seconds for the test, 20 minutes for the chatty bureaucracy, which isn’t without error for I discovered they had mistyped my email address, which is critical for the result.

In the evening, Rony , Katrine, Jester George and I dined convivially at a street cafe where I enjoyed fried octopus and little mackerel. This morning Rony cast off, heading his lovely Victoria 34 Blue Alligator off to Santa Maria. A little later I helped George cast off in his wooden sloop Good Report, beautiful, wayward astern and slow to turn – not the best traits for marina manoeuvres but he got away very nicely, also headed for Santa Maria. With their departures I felt the final chapter of the book of the Jester Azores Challenge 2021 close; it felt lonely.

Back aboard Pippin, I checked again for my test result, the last piece of my departure arrangements and one I shan’t relax about until it arrives. If it doesn’t, I’ll be posting again from here!!

By ajay290

Final Days in Terceira

If love within family is the greatest gift one can receive in life, then friendship must be the next greatest. My Swiss friends Rony and Katrine had kept in touch with me during my journey and had arranged a little arrival reception party. Totally exhausted, relieved it was over but with a little glow of achievement growing inside me, I was overwhelmed by the welcome from these lovely people as I have described. These pictures (from Rony and Katrine) tell the story of my arrival and the magnificent welcome I was given. I cannot thank them enough, then and now.

Rony looks out – its much foggier at sea
Rony proudly displays the Guernsey flag as lovely Pippin comes slowly in – its shallow there!
Rony and I greet each other – Jesters Christian and Graeme admire Pippin

Gradually the Jesters left, one or two to visit other islands, others heading straight for home. I kept in touch with Justin via Garmin Inreach, sending weather reports, which I hope will help him on his way. Christian came over to my boat, which is a fair distance from his, to give me a hug and say how much he had enjoyed meeting me and asked to stay in touch, which of course I will. He is one of those people whom a yacht club bar ‘commodore’ would dismiss as a scruffy eccentric; indeed he would probably bar access to him! In so doing he would of course miss the whole point of this great, kind tough man who could sail the pants off any bar hugging yacht club type.

Which reminds me of another typical Christian story. He has a 1955 175 cc motorbike, with a little side car and he used to have a Labrador, which travelled in the sidecar, each of them wearing ancient Biggles type goggles as they rode slowly and smokily along, the dog loving the whole experience. Christian’s problem was that they made such an amazing sight, he was constantly being flagged down by people wanting photographs and of course Christian being Christian, he always obliged! Christian has a home and I think a partner, but spends most of his time living aboard when not crossing oceans; a true sea gypsy.

I received messages from Brian the mad caver, who described how they had sailed along the island’s south coast to Angra, where they anchored. Being Brian, he was towing an inflatable catamaran and being Brian, he and his crew mate Colin paddled off on the catamaran round a headland for a beer.

Brian and Colin towing their inflatable catamaran. Note the self assembly Hebridean wind vane, crude but effective

Being Brian they encountered contrary tide and weather and could barely make way, which was worrying as they were being pushed out to sea. Assisted by 2 swimmers, they finally made shore, completely unfazed by their experiences, and enjoyed their well earned beers – before they mounted up and paddled back out to sea, and round the headland to their boat Sylvia. Bonkers, but then I guess you have to be to dive down into deep caves, something I regard to be as terrifying as running out of Gentleman’s Relish. Brian plans to cruise a while before laying Sylvia up in Terceira for the winter.

Things happen in their own time and in their own way here. Paulo the friendly harbour master had advised me for peace of mind to pay the lighthouse tax, which almost no visiting yachtsman does. So I summoned Heldeberto the taxi and we set off arriving a little after the end of lunch hour, but the officials had obviously shifted the goal posts and arrived in their own time. They mainly deal with 20,000 ton ships and my request to pay light house dues for my 8 ton visiting boat seemed to puzzle them. Taking advantage of their confusion I thrust my passport and ships registration document at them, along with a small wad of notes, assuring them that that is all they needed, whilst Hildeberto translated. Umpteen photocopies, several signatures and much confused head scratching later, I had my requisite pieces of paper – job done, and another little experience filed away.

Meanwhile Justin was making good progress towards home and I kept in touch by Garmin Inreach – someone said the Jesters were of a certain age, which is true (40s to 72), and of course of a certain mind set. Unconventional might be a reasonable description; for example, there are no lawyers, accountants, or bank managers among us, which probably says something. Retirees, sea gypsy, ex soldiers, ex Police, civil servant, engineering business proprietor – this is the mix of our little group, the smallest Azores Challenge possibly ever and the only one where every boat finished, a point I am proud to repeat.

As my departure draws nearer, I confess to feeling more anxiety than when sailing here, for I have not kept up with the bewildering requirements for travel in this Covid age, but Angie patiently inducted me into the welter of dos and don’ts and I dutifully trotted off to book a pre-departure Covid Test at the laboratory in town. Hopefully I won’t be seeing the inside of a Portuguese jail, or be at the wrong end of a hefty fine during my journey.

Meanwhile its time to begin getting things ship shape, so Pippin is festooned with washing – naturally the signal for a nasty squall and torrential rain! C’est la vie – at least its warm and will be of short duration and the sun will re-dry my clothes later.

Here I’ll leave you, the end of my Azores journey, and the beginning of my journey home.

Até logo

(which I am told is Portugese for goodbye)

By ajay290

Down time in Terceira – 2

Operation Rudder – Duncan,George, Don, Colin

Irrepressible Brian the caver and friend Colin, also a barmy caver, dived with snorkels to refit Duncan’s rudder, lost due to a split pin failure. I cannot begin to express my admiration for Brian, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the whole operation like a puppy with a toy.

Operation Rudder – George, Don, Paulo, Brian, Colin, Duncan
Terceira Marina view

Today was almost the first day that the clouds lifted from the nearby hills to reveal these lovely views from the marina. Almost next to me are Rony and Katrine, who have done so much for me. I mention them by way of grateful thanks but also because they have fallen so in love with the islands, that they are buying a full time home on the beautiful little island of Santa Maria. They have a Victoria 34, the same hull as Pippin, minus the pilothouse. Yes I am surrounded by real friendship and support, which has helped me more than I can say.

Terceira Marina view

If you don’t mind, I will let the pictures that follow tell most of the story. They were all taken during our wonderful tour with Hildeberto, and his Taxi Amigo. He asked for no payment, though we bought him lunch and gave him a tip at the end with which he was so delighted.

Holsteins graze peacefully – there is a herd of Guernseys here too! Twice a day, the farmers come with portable milking machines and the cows gather to be milked, without any need to herd them. The dairy then collect the milk from the various pumping units around the island. There are more cows than people, for farmers receive subsidy for each animal. What I can say is that the beef, from these placid unstressed super fit animals, is wonderful. From here we looked out across what is known as the the Quilt. Most of the rain falls in this and the central are of the island, so the people leave it to the cows!

Here on Monte Brasil, British anti aircraft guns, installed in WW2 and never used, point blindly at the sky. Nearby is a monument shown below to the unfortunate Alfonse 6. Lame and apparently mentally deficient, he was most unfortunate. However, he was clearly intelligent for his words are most poetic. Described as the king, his brother took the throne, his wife and his freedom and Alfonse wrote to the effect; “I am king, but never reigned, I am married but with no wife, I am free yet a prisoner”.

A typical view out from the heights, this from Monte Brasil.

Jester Don communes with Alfonse 6.

The Holy Spirit Chapel at Judeau, SE corner of the island. There are 71 of these chapels, none controlled by the Church but for the people and run by the people; understandably the Church aren’t happy but I know where my sympathies lie. They are not places of worship, but places you go to say a prayer or to use the sceptre to make a blessing and they are highly valued and carefully, lovingly maintained. Whilst we were there, a farmer stopped his truck, with which he was towing a cow in a trailer, came inside, took the sceptre, climbed onto the trailer and blessed the cow – which was on its way to slaughter!

The farmer blessing his cow with a sceptre.

The Jesters doing what they do second best to sailing! This was lunch during the tour at Os Moinhos restaurant in Sao Sebastiao – a beef pot meal, alocal dish not unlike our beloved Guernsey Beanjar, perhaps without the explosive after effect!

I know there are people who will be interested in rock formations, so here is a typical shot of layered rock. There are two types of lava – one very hard and one very soft.

A typical beach lave scene, this one near the natural pools at Biscoitos.

A small volcanic crater, now with a shooting range across its bottom, near the Christmas caves shown below

Jesters deep inside the Christmas cave system.

The natural pools at Biscoitos

George considering a swim, but we persuaded him the locals might object to nudity!

This is Glen and Nancy’s house, which they are gradually developing. These are the most kind people you could ever wish to meet. He has been many things, including a Jester sailor and he will do anything to support a fellow Jester. Lovely people.

Christian the winner, Nancy, John and Glen facing camera. Below are two magnificent views from their lovely home. Today Glen is making a new tiller for Duncan! That’s the sort of man Glen is.

Pippin is to remain whilst I fly home to join Angie for our trip to Spain to see our second grand daughter for the very first time! Our son Sam asked her 3 year old elder sister whether she was excited about seeing granny and grandad very soon; “oh yes she said, because they are very old!” The honesty of childhood!

Meanwhile, my dear friends Pete and Tracey Goss, who have never been to the Azores, are coming over for a little holiday, returning in Pippin which they owned before me. That will be another lovely adventure for Pippin and I wish Pete and Tracey God speed and fair winds.

By ajay290