Hard Tack Biscuits off Ushant

”Biscuits Brown – S” is modern day speak for good old fashioned hard tack found in Army ration packs 40 years ago.  I know this because it’s what I am munching 20 miles past Ushant, with Army issue peanut butter.  Anyway, this story begins 450 nautical miles south.

Mist reduced Spain to a smudge before darkness could steal it as I tried to work Pippin north.  I consoled myself with the thought that Horatio Hornblower’s ship would have struggled more as Spain lay disappointingly close off starboard beam while Pippin ran just north of east for the night.  Still it was a good sail and I managed a sleep, though a review of my red position marks on the chart, scattered around like the holes in the target during my annual personal weapons test as a soldier, spoke of the blood, sweat and tears of the previous 24 hours.  I felt I had lost a day and it seem we were  doomed to remain stuck in Biscay for eternity.

During the night the radar screen had been alive with the shadows of Spanish trawlers, as if the entire fleet was out to say farewell.  Grey clouds and mizzle provided the opening salvo of day 2 as the wind shifted east of north, all 3 knots of it so on went the little diesel with an oily chuckle.  The rain squall set off the radar alarm, which might be what attracted the dolphins, as with little sailing to think about, I deliberated on the menu choice for the day.

It is important to establish a routine of little tasks and activities to keep on top of things and to maintain morale.  No point in sitting around in a funk, no matter how miserable you might feel.  I decided on the luxury of a fresh shirt, shave and options for rounding Ushant, albeit some days ahead – and to kill that cabin fly that continued to drive me crazy.  Every time I got one, his mate would appear and I had to control myself from becoming fly crazy.

By coffee time the wind was NNE 15 knots, so I let Pippin loose though not really where I wanted to go, the plan founded on KISS and flexible as ever – sometimes because I forget what the current plan is.  Finally I was able to snug Pippin down heading NE for the night.  I make light of what until then had been a hugely frustrating struggle to get north.


At 0430 on Day 3 I sleepily took advantage of a windcshift and got Pippin doing what she does best AND IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!  I felt only now had we really crossed the start line.  Few vessels were about, so I managed a little more sleep.

Positive thought requires positive action so I burst into the sunny cockpit with mug of tea and the paraphenalia for a strip wash, a satisfying if not pretty event.  Pippin ignored me and dug down her shoulder in the general direction of Ushant.  Looking later at the set of the sails, it was tempting to do a tweak here and there in pursuit of speed as I hoped, but not so loud the Devil would here me, that the wind would remain thisxway for a day …  or 2.  The wind built during the morning, teasing white foam off wave tops as Pippin crashed on guided as ever by that iron soldier, Hercule the wind vane.  He followed the wind of course, so s a good indicator of what the wind is doing at any moment.  I keep a hand bearing compass by my bed so as to check the course without leaving my sleeping bag, though at present it is lost somewhere within its ripe folds.

By late afternoon Spain lay 105 nautical miles astern, though I was disappointed to have made a mere 60 miles in the previous 24 hours, but hey!! The sky was blue, the sun was shining and I had just seen two whales slap their tail flukes.  As I topped up the fuel tank, I realised Pippin floated 4,800 metres above the Abyssal Plain, which didn’t bear thinking about.  I had to motor through the serene night and into a diamond morning on Day 4, made perfect by a decent fat boys breakfast.  It is at times like this that I think about what lies ahead and ponder fuel consumption figures, for I don’t carry enough to get home under engine.  “How much fuel is in the tank?”, “How much in cans?” “What if this and what if that?” and I was glad I had bought three extra cans and laboriously filled them one by one at the garage 3/4 a mile away.  Pippin doesn’t need much wind to get going, so I was happy that resources were adequate – the rations wouldn’t run out for sure.

It is frustrating when there is nothing more you can do and the wind is AWOL, your destination far over the horizon and you are knackered.  It is time then to put trust in machinery and electronics and reach for yet another good book, as I did for the next 12 hours.    A change in the boats attitude alerted me downstairs and I popped up to see the wind now was more south and west, though it had as much oomph as an overweight jogger, but I loved him anyway and Hercule soon took charge pointing Pippin for that busy corner of the sea called Ushant.

Progress became pleasingly good, time for maintenance and an hour with my head up the engine and down in the bilges.  A half litre of oil for the old Yanmar, some fresh diesel in the tank, wise with the threat of bad weather later.

The sea bed here rises 3,000 metres to 200 in less than 20 miles and Pippin was over the top of the slope as the afternoon closed to the sound of rasping sheets, hissing wake and a gentle cream from the boom the wind 125 off the quarter.  You can imagine what sort of sea could get up here.

Morning on Day 5 was disappointingly wet and grey, a flabby non day with insufficient wind to make way under sail, as I mulled over plans for rounding Ushant deciding to take the Passage de Fromveur along the east side of the island of Ouessant.  I was tired, but had achieved some more sleep so I was functioning ok – no hallucinations, seasickness or dehydration I thought as Pippin progressed agonisingly slowly.  Time for the Yanmar again.

It’s funny how trawlers always converge on your bit of the ocean, as happened today in the final run in to Ushant.  To give them their due they altered their courses to stay just outside mine, for which I was grateful.

I had picked up the forecast, which promised a rough and tumble later so decided it was time for the last Army ration pack … which is back wich is back where I started.

See you in Guernsey



By ajay290

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