Time to Go

I learned that another Jester Challenger had been towed in by the RNLI, whilst returning from Baltimore.  He had hove to off the Scillies in very strong winds, and come morning put out a call to which the RNLI responded.  He told me by email that he felt he had let the Challenger side down, which was rubbish of course.  He had behaved sensibly and safely and planned to continue on his way again after resting.

About the same time he was rescued, it was blowing a full gale here in Crosshaven and Pippin strained against her warps as the attendant struggled to attach a notice to a dockside cleat next to Pippin.  This notice informed me to move before Sunday evening.

I told him I had read it, which didn’t sink in and then suggested it would probably get whipped away by the wind in 5 minutes anyway.  This did, though he looked upset at failing in his mission so I reassured him that there would be an empty space here come the time – decision made.


If my situation remained as is it was then, I was on the right side of safe to go.  To be sure, I hoisted the main sail and did those things I normally do to set sail before snugging Pippin down once more. Touch wood, it was ok.

Crosshaven Village (3)

Crosshaven is the centre of nowhere, famous for nothing but the yacht club a cluster of pubs, a café and a mini market.  Crows rule the roost literally, though the Herons come and go in their own way undisturbed by lesser fry.  Its a gentle mile walk which served as a pleasant daily distraction from sitting out of the weather aboard Pippin.  Angie reckons I travel with ‘iffy’ weather in my knapsack and I sometimes think she might just be right.

Crosshaven Village (5)

Crosshaven Village (4)

Crosshaven (3)

Sean, who owns the red Francis 34 Pilothouse, pooped in for a chat.  He swooped around a breathless array of subjects that took me to Saudi Arabia and back, but I was taken particularly by his granny’s certain cure for arthritis.  Take one bottle of gin, add lots of blueberries (or other preferred fruit), leave it to ferment nicely, then remove fruit.  The fruit is then added to breakfast porridge – works every time, apparently.

Sean was planning to head West early next morning, a few hours before me and we wished each other well.  I hope the next post will be from Guernsey, but there are many miles and hours between here and there – you never know.


By ajay290

Beefcake and Testosterone

Crosshaven image (8)

By 2000, ½ a ton of beefcake and testosterone was aboard the rod rigged, sexy black racer next door – at least it was sexy if you like that kind of sexy.  With millimetres of hull below the sea and towering topsides, the racer relied on a lead bulb hanging on a thin column below the waterline to stay upright, assisted of course by the efforts of the beefcake.  By comparison, Pippin looked like Mrs Tiggywinkle alongside Red Rum,  but neither she nor I cared about such things; I knew which vessel I would rather be in and anyway, I bet they didn’t have rhubarb crumble and custard aboard.

Time passed with much competitive bicep flexing and swapping of notes on girlfriends, but after a while eyes turned increasingly impatiently to the shoreline, scanning for something.  At 2045 the Henriettas finally arrived, fashionably late, all giggly twitterings and flashing smiles, completely oblivious to the urgency of departure.  10 minutes later they were all gone, off to a race week somewhere up the coast; I wondered if they knew a gale was marching towards us, and what it would be like to handle that careering racer in high winds and challenging seas.  I hoped the helicopter below would not be needed.

Cork Rescue Chopper Above Pippin

Coastguard chopper hovering over Pippin – I hid the rhubarb pie just in case

The newly empty berth next door was a salutary reminder that I too wanted to vacate the berth in which Pippin sat, before I succumbed to the charms of Crosshaven never to leave, whilst weed grew a foot thick on Pippin’s waterline and the Gentleman’s Relish ran out.  It is important to cultivate a departure mindset, to continue with sea going preparations, to maintain a positive outlook with a destination in mind – or else you’re doomed.

Reflecting on yesterday’s events from the comfort of my green maggot (Army slang for sleeping bag) , I was left choked with gratitude and humbled by the assistance I had received here.  This was reinforced this morning, when I awoke to find an email in my Inbox from Barry of UK Sails, checking if I was all sorted now – this from a man up to his ears in sorting out race teams all frantically preparing for race week.

Such thoughts took me back to my previous post, when Dick and I were cooing over car photos.  Here is a picture of a similar car to Dick’s lovely old BMW (Dick is the amazing man who worked all night to fix Pippin’s sail, so can definitely be in my platoon) …..

See the source image

And a picture of the Willis most fab car in the World, the Citroen Traction Avant …..

See the source image

I knew you would agree; no contest – sorry Dick!  Actually, if anyone is reading this, send ‘BMW’ or ‘CTA’ and then at least I’ll know if I’m being absurd.

Crosshaven image (3)

An even more  beautiful little lady

The RCYC sensibly makes use of an army of smart looking teenagers to perform the basic daily tasks around the place and a cheerful, helpful bunch they are too.  One morning I was limping along a pontoon or two, snapping some early morning pictures when one slouched past.  I greeted him politely, and received the classic teenage Neanderthal grunt, which could have meant anything from “Sod off jerk!” to “Howdy, man!”  I assumed the latter.

Crosshaven image

Across the river

Crosshaven image (7)

Kids out sailing like noisy butterflies!

I know nothing about Hurling, except how to spell it but my young helper had hurt his legs badly playing the game at county level, so I guessed it was a contact sport whether by accident or design.   I have stood on touchlines and watched my wife play women’s hockey and a more vicious game I have rarely seen, so perhaps its something like that.  Anyway this youngster not only filled my cans, but he placed them in a trolley and sweated his way to Pippin with 80 kgs of diesel in his trolley and loaded each jerry can onto Pippin’s side deck for me.  He didn’t want to take any reward; “it makes me feel guilty” he explained.  “Harumph!  Leave the guilt until you’re my age and take the money, son” I said, whereupon he reluctantly did.

Hurling, I discovered, is an outdoor 15 man team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin.  It is administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association and it has prehistoric origins, having been played for 4,000 years.  One of Ireland’s native Gaelic games, it shares a number of features with Gaelic football, such as the field and goals, the number of players, and much terminology.  There is a similar game for women called camogie.  It shares a common Gaelic root with the sport of shinty, which is played predominantly in Scotland.

The ash stick or ‘hurl’ looks a little like a hockey stick with which you belt the sliotar towards or better still, into the opponents’ goal.  I suspect the term ‘shinty’ was well chosen and wondered if that is what my young man was suffering from.

Crosshaven image (5)

Anyone for clambering up inside one of those blades?!

Crosshaven image (4)

Looking up river

Sea going preparations on the good ship Pippin follow a sort of set procedure, though I like to start in good time in order to ensure I cover those things I forget initially.  I start outside, working up the boat looking at rigging connections and blocks, checking the condition of ropes, making sure that everything is fastened securely including the anchor.  Inside I stow things securely, gather a selection of snacks and foods for my day boxes, select a book or 2 and if a long passage, get together the ingredients for the Willis Orca stunning slow cooker stew (I am working on the Willis Cook Book for Deep Sea Dogs).

I run all electronics (and remind myself how to work key functions) and make sure that everything is fully charged – such as the hand held VHF, my phone and the Garmin satcom device.  Then its into the engine, checking life fluids, topping up the oil, checking fanbelt tension, hose connections, plus gear lever and throttle cables.  I’ll check the Racor fuel filter for debris and water and trap my fingers as I put the engine box back.

I fill the diesel tank and all spare cans, which amount to another tank full for this is a cruising boat and if I wish to maintain progress, or hug the wind more closely I’ll use the little Yanmar.  With diesel tank and all cans full, Pippin can motor along for 4 days and nights or so (about 600 nautical miles).  Finally I top up the ample 200l water tank and shut the toilet sea cock just before departure.

I haven’t mentioned passage planning, the art of knowing roughly where you are going and when, but for me its a joy and I will happily play with that in the days leading up to departure.  If its a tricky route out to sea or back into port on arrival, I’ll ensure I have a good mental picture for recall when half asleep and of course, I will put my tea mug on the galley top ready for filling at reveille.

The passage plan is but an intention, to be varied according to the dictats of weather and crew condition at any moment before and after departure, but lets be honest at 5 knots or so with land 100 nautical miles off, changes en route make little immediate difference.  You tell your loved ones you’ll be home no time soon and set off in the direction of, rather than to a fixed destination following a set timetable; that’s for motorboaters.

I haven’t mentioned preparing me, never easy for I’m not a Gemini for nothing.  I do  this by trying to ensure a relaxing last day saying farewell to new friends, having a light supper usually aboard with no alcohol and heading for an early night.  Right now I plan to head off at the weekend though will only do so if the decision is the right side of sensible, so we’ll see.

I genuinely don’t worry much at sea – I do my best to stay safe and sane and try to enjoy the ride; the rest is up to Him.


By ajay290

Cabbages and Otters

I want a cabbage – nothing fancy, just one of those ordinary smooth ones (NOT the crinkly type), but every time I check out the vegetable counter there are none.  I fancy cabbage and chorizo with fried potato and know that, having got a cabbage, I’ll probably have to fly to Spain for the Chorizo but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  David said he saw 5, but I checked out his story; he had only been 20 minutes behind me into the supermarket and unless there had been a delivery just then (unlikely), he didn’t know his smooth cabbage from his cauliflower (most likely scenario).  But I am a determined sort and as the back really is  still grumbling, I may have plenty of time to find one.

Kevin the taxi, who transported Angie and I back in 2017 and is still around, is a bit of a foodie so he might be one to call; it would certainly be a great scene, taxi pulling up outside the oldest most distinguished yacht club in the World to deliver my cabbage.  Kevin the taxi used to struggle with his steering wheel as his stomach got in the way, but now he has taken up ball room dancing and has trimmed down considerably.

Pausing one morning to view the overcast in hope of seeing a little blue, I noticed a ripple in  the water, a ripple soon pierced by 2 elegant smooth grey backs and then 2 achingly pretty little curious whiskered heads.  They were otters, which I had only seen once before in the far north of Scotland.

The River Owenabue runs through Crosshaven and empties into Cork Harbour.  It is known to be home to Heron and otters, which are members of the weasel family and the Irish for otter is “madra uisce“, which delightfully means water dog.  Famously elusive and reputed to have assisted St. Brendan in his journey, the highest concentration of otters in Europe is here in Ireland.  They are not just cute, but fast too, being capable of swimming and running faster than most humans.

Dick turned up yesterday, as promised, with Barry to remove Pippin’s main sail for surgery.  I winced as I watched Barry lug the big sail onto his shoulder and stride off, promising it would be back in a day or two.  Meanwhile I lugged a couple of jerrycans around and topped up the diesel tank, which didn’t help the back but made me feel more prepared for departure whenever.

Angie and I liked Crosshaven in 2017 and I still like it now.  It has echoes of Penzance, for it is a quirky laid back sort of place.  For example, a security wall surrounds most of the RCYC and there is a closed security gate at one end, the one you go through to the village.  Going out is fine, getting in impossible for the keypad only goes up to the number 5.  The code for entry to all gates here has a 7 and a 9 in it!  Never mind, head round the other side and you can get in without trouble for it is permanently wide open.

Just as Irish is the Tourist Information Office, a half size rickety porta-cabin that wasn’t open in 2017 and isn’t now, unless they do night shifts.  It is so ridiculously sited that the first any passing motorist will see of it is a view in the rear mirror and the only people nearby are those in the RCYC.  I can only assume it fell of the lorry taking it into the village and was never picked up.

Anne behind the bar curled her lip disdainfully when I said I would like a Guinness.  “that’s from Dublin” she sneered “you’ll be wanting Beamish or Murphys“.   Not wishing to upset local sensibility, I settled before the Murphys before stuffing myself to bursting with a Chinese sweet and sour pork – with egg fried rice.  I don’t know what it is about sailing, but when I’ve been at sea a while I crave a Chinese ashore.

I have never been one for bothering much about my wardrobe, but hand washing and hanging it all around the boat very publicly rather focuses the mind – frankly I am not bothered, but looking at it fluttering like litter in a breeze, I concede that much of my attire is over due replacement.  My children would certainly be embarrassed  by my tired display of socks, underpants vests and work shirts so by way of concession,  I’ll catch the 220 bus into Cork for a little essential retail activity if I have to stay much longer.  Mind you, I might just allow myself to be diverted by the English Market in Cork, which boasts a wonderful café and restaurant.

One of the many good things about being solo is the people you meet – other solo sailors find each other and if one needs assistance, it materialises somehow as I have again discovered.  Yesterday Dick and Barry dropped everything to remove my mainsail and take it away for repair and today it is back on.  No big deal, except this is race week where every sailmaker within a zillion miles is flat out tending to the demands of racing teams.  Dick, who used to own UK Sails here, came out of retirement and into the sail loft, personally stitched up Pippin’s main sail working as long as it took and brought it back, complete with a beefy Irish rugby player to refit it and the reefing lines.  All I had to do was get in the way and make tea.  Turns out Dick is a classic car buff since giving up sailing and ok he hasn’t got a Citroen Traction Avant (JMW’s somewhat idiosyncratic vintage car of choice), but he does have a lovely 1978 BMW635 Coupe.  So we cooed over car pictures and slurped tea as my underpants flapped in the breeze inches from is nose and Dick proclaimed Pippin to be a grand wee ship – which of course she is.


By ajay290

Cork 2

Mike Collins, a Jester Challenger and trans Atlantic solo sailor, was towed into Cork whilst returning from Baltimore, with engine trouble.  Like me he likes iced buns and tea and we chatted aboard Pippin (though he ate too many of my buns).  It is the second time he has been towed in to Cork.  On the first occasion, his boat caught a lobster pot rope around the prop.  He informed the Coast Guard who told him to remain there overnight.  Next day the lifeboat was despatched, as Mike’s boat was too close to the ship channel.  It transpired that a very sheepish lifeboat Coxswain admitted that the pot was his!!  Not only that, he had brought his brother, a diver, to cut Mike’s boat free and retrieve the Coxswain’s pot!!

Later we headed for a Chinese meal with David.  During the  conversation,  I discovered that wind turbines, many of which turned lazily on nearby hillsides, are often damaged by birds hitting their fibreglass blades.  People are employed to repair the damage, whilst the blades are stopped at 45 degrees, climbing up inside with fibreglass repair kits.  I really did wonder if someone had been pulling someone’s leg, but you never know.

Heading back to Pippin, I was stopped by a British registered motorhome, the older female passenger lounging with bare feet on the dashboard (no painted toe nails).  The florid male driver asked me the way to somewhere, to which I could only reply that I knew the way to nowhere and then he said; “Well I see you are also an old git!”  I sensed an insult, but before I could pull him out of the cab and thump him I looked at where he was pointing, for I was proudly sporting my Old Git badge on my jumper, presented by my daughter Sarah, a perceptive judge of character.

I explored the term git earlier, a label I am happy to bear, so will comment further, though if you are easily offended, please look away now.   It is said that as a mild oath usually uttered by someone dear to you, the term git is roughly on a par with prat and marginally less pejorative than berk.  Typically a good-natured admonition, git is more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat when offence is intended.  I presume in my case it wasn’t, so I’m not one of those.  Got that?

Rain and Ireland, they are like Siamese twins.  In 2015, as I turned my boat A-Jay South into a yachtsman’s gale having crossed the North Channel, the dividing line between the Atlantic and the top of the Irish Sea, the heavens opened.  Looking up at the sky, blinded by fat drops of rain, I swore that no-one did rain like the Irish and awarded them the Willis Gold award for the stuff.  Indeed, they say in Ireland you seek cover by standing bedside a stone wall as the rain drives horizontally over it.

Today I have listened to a symphony of Irish rain loud on the cabin roof since reveille, and I have decided that the Willis rain award henceforth will remain awarded to the Irish, in perpetuity.  So grotty is the weather, even the bar at the yacht club is empty, and no one has launched a dinghy from the slipway all day.  Indeed no one has done anything, if indeed there is anyone here.  Oh, and of course the gas ran out just when I was gasping for tea, so on with a full set of waterproofs and a grumpy 20 minutes on hands and knees in pouring rain, changing the cylinder.  The tea was good though.

Sailing plans should never be rigid with deadlines and destinations and mine certainly are not, though the original Willis master plan for 2019 has become wildly over ambitious, for my foredeck tussle with anchor chain in Baltimore has brought on pain from my spinal injuries.  To set forth further from home is to risk rescue and defeat.  So, whilst the rain exhausted itself on boats and pontoons I pondered and have decided to rest here a few days, before heading home direct from Cork, once a suitable weather window arrives of course.  Thereafter I hope I hope to cruise gently nearer to home with Angie and Sarah.

Of course I am disappointed, but you cannot muck about at sea and to sail distances repeatedly solo with a major handicap is irresponsible.  Period.

I have no photographs for anyone reading this today – I wouldn’t want to depress you and my camera is not waterproof.  Meanwhile I have decided to treat the crew, so a lovely sirloin steak is breathing in the galley and I will open my first bottle of Rioja since I left Guernsey.



By ajay290


A little update on things past.  It took me a miserable 19 hours to clear the Lizard and Lands End wasn’t abeam for another 6 an average speed of 3 knots at best.  By the time I reached Bishop’s Rock, I had been battling for over 30 sleepless hours, not 20 as reported.  That alone says all there is to say about how hard it is to bash to windward – Horatio Hornblower in his bluff bowed square rigged ship, would quite likely still be off the Lizard – its slow work.

As far as for that gallant band of fellow Jesters, thus far it seems there were 15 known finishers, with 9 retirements and a number of  non starters.  I said to my Royal Marine nephew Ed when he came to lunch in Plymouth, who is planning to go for Special Boat Service (RN equivalent of the SAS) selection soon; “remember Ed, not to complete selection is not to fail.  Simply to be there is success and the result is what is meant to be”.  I see the Jester Challenge in the same way and there is no shame to anyone who plans, prepares for and tries to set out on any Jester Challenge.

A Rocna is one of the World’s best anchors kilo for kilo and one graces Pippin’s bow.   A Rocna will grip the sand like a limpet, particularly if it has settled for days, so much so that it will not always want to go when you do.  That morning it grudgingly released its grip and swung up into its rest on the bow, full of Baltimore sand.   It was 0215 and Lot’s wife slept atop her dark headland as I pointed Pippin’s bows for the moon, which hung conveniently over the Baltimore entrance.  Essential cuppa in hand, I set course for Cork 54 nautical miles to the East; it was a limp sort of morning.  The ensign hung limp, the Jolly Roger and Irish flags hung limp, the wind hung limp and I hung limp.  Only the sea was alive, rolling lazily in from the Atlantic.

Lot's Wife Early Morning

Lot’s Wife Baltimore

Curious, I revised my recall of the story of Lot’s wife, with the help of Wikipedia, which tells us:

“The story of Lot’s wife begins in Genesis 19 after two angels arrived in Sodom at eventide and were invited to spend the night at Lot’s home.  The Men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and prompted Lot to offer up these Men/Angels; instead, Lot offered up his two daughters but they refused.  As dawn was breaking, Lot’s visiting angels urged him to get his family and flee, so as to avoid being caught in the impending disaster for the iniquity of the city.  The command was given, “Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away.”  While fleeing, Lot’s wife turned to look back, and was turned into a pillar of salt.”

Well I can confirm that she’s here, still in one piece though far from her original location.

It was mid summer’s day, and a couple of hours later I grabbed the camera as the sun began to ascend majestically above the nearby land still shrouded in darkness, in the hope of a picture to mark this day.

Eire Midsummer Dawn

Midsummer Morning in Eire

Apart from undersea rocks, tidal rips, headlands, wrecks, tides, lee shores et al the other very real danger to coastal navigation is the lobster pot, inevitably marked by a barely visible bobber tethered to the sea bed.  I love lobsters (which if left alone might live 100 years and regrow limbs) but not their bobbers, which are all but invisible at night.  Run over one with a bit of bad luck and its rope will wrap round the propeller and tether the boat to the sea bed.  I am too cowardly and frail to strip to my undies and, knife between my teeth, dive deep beneath Pippin and hack at the offending polypropylene watched by a curious lobster.  I’d either have a coronary trying, or simply find myself unable to submerge my flabby buoyant little body.  Off to port near a shoal I spotted two bobbers close ahead in the pre-dawn, which moved with Pippin and turned into a pair of seals.

You should remember that fishermen don’t lay their pots just anywhere; they cost money.  They put them where the lobsters are, over the sort of undersea dangers I have mentioned; check out where those are near your course and avoid them and you’ll probably miss 75% of them.  Bobbers do have their uses though – watch one and you’ll know what the tide is doing.

I have discovered the cause of the nausea and vomiting that attacked me.  I had felt nauseous occasionally for some months and checked out the side effects of a drug I was taking, used to counter potential effects from maximum dose Iboprufen; amongst the list of common side effects is nausea and vomiting.  Yey! So I’ve binned those and so far, no more nauseous feelings.

Anyway, I recommissioned the galley that morning, as the sun rose lazily above Galley Head (yes really!) close to port.  I couldn’t decide on Gentleman’s Relish or Angie’s marmalade so decided on both to go on my week old toasted bread.

Even the Jester Achilles clan couldn’t have sailed that morning, so Pippin puttered on at her solid 5 knots, heaving gently in rhythm to the lazy swell.  The journey lacked excitement, which suited me just fine, and the hours passed pleasantly until the entrance to Cork Harbour came in view.   This harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the World, yet its entrance is a tight venturi of water, which I had all to myself as Pippin pushed against the dying ebb of the tide.

Cork Entrance

Entrance to Cork

You need to be careful with your route if you choose the Royal Cork Yacht Club as I had, or you’ll be stuck on a mud bank for 12 hours, waving at passing yachts and eating toast and Gentleman’s Relish.  In such situations, of course, you pretend it is deliberate, fishing ostentatiously from the poop deck, or slopping around in the  mud scrubbing the bottom of the hull.

I had been in internet communications with some other Francis Pilothouse skippers since buying Pippin and knew that Shaun was based here, but what happened next was wholly unexpected.  Sweeping round the final bend against the dying ebb I saw the unmistakable stern of Shaun’s lovely red Francis Pilothouse.  Even more incredible he was aboard between trips to the Middle East that afternoon!  I hailed him as I held Pippin just abeam, before docking.  Later, I met him and his wife and he promised to send a man to fix my mainsail before showing me his F34PH and I him mine.  Boats like the Francis, essentially hand built, low volume, all have idiosyncrasies and mine also has the idiosyncratic set up of the solo sailor – like the cockpit bucket strung up in the cockpit ready for instant use.  They say a dog takes after its owner, or is it the other way round? Francis’ are much the same.

I had picked a busy night to arrive at the Royal Cork Yacht Club (the oldest in the World)for a Club party for 600, it was said, was soon to start.  It was an easy decision to snug down in Pippin for the night, sipping daughter Sarah’s champagne with asparagus followed by chicken curry.  It was an easy trip later down into the cavern to join Gollum.  Unsurprisingly it was strangely quiet here next morning, where I suspect some of the biggest hangovers in Eire were throbbing in various bunks, or being relieved in diverse toilets.

Talking of caverns reminded me of a story in a book by Les Powles I am reading.  I should point out that Les did 3 solo circumnavigations in a boat the size of Pippin, so not your average guy.  Anyway, in distant parts he found himself invited to join a skipper onboard his yacht moored alongside another.  Harbour boat crossing etiquette dictates that you cross another’s boat via the foredeck, not the cockpit with its open door into the cabin.  Thinking no one was aboard and encumbered with gifts of hair restorer, Les staggered across the cockpit to be met by an enormous fat Australian lady who ripped into him.

Returning several hours later, much the worse for wear, Les remembered to cross the foredeck, not noticing that the lady’s fore deck hatch was open, it being a warm night.  Down through that hatch he went like a floppy rag doll straight into the vast naked bosoms of the enormous Australian lady.  Seconds later he erupted from the hatch like a Poseidon missile from a nuclear submarine!  I do wonder what her blog might have made of the situation, but will leave that to your imagination.

Angie and I were here in Crosshaven at the RCYC in 2017 and had some lovely adventures – I remember particularly Kevin the taxi and the World’s best lemon meringue pie.  I shan’t repeat the stories – they’re on the blog.  This morning I woke knowing precisely where to find the town, a good café with delicious homemade cake and a supermarket; after all, I am practically a local.  So absorbed was I in coffee and cake and so elated at finding this month’s yachting magazines, that I returned like an excited squirrel with my swag bag over my shoulder – minus the principle item for which I had headed to town; milk.  B…….s!  But hey this is Ireland, where people smile and actually open their mouths to say hello, even if I can’t understand what comes out.  In the Club bar, I regaled the lady with my plight, she the sort whom I would happily have in my platoon as chief logistics officer.   I reckon she could have sorted the Duke of Wellington’s Army out, never mind a litre of milk for me.

Back aboard (with 2 litres of milk at no charge) it was time to tackle the fridge, which was oozing strange coloured liquids and stranger smells.  Whilst so doing, I watched a large light weight Frenchie (yacht not a person) broadside the sterns of 6 others, remaining pinned there for 30 minutes by the tide, before escaping thanks to the efforts of ½ a dozen people and miles of warps.  All down the shiny grey side of the yacht were 3 metre gauges and scratches and, no doubt, massive dents in several egos.

This set off my rant, for the incident had been nothing really to do with seamanship.  It was about being aware of your environment, noting what the tide is doing, understanding what effect it will have on your boat and countering that with a sensible plan.  And, of course, you won’t do it if you faff and tickle the throttle as that skipper had done – no; you go for it and boot that damn throttle and if that doesn’t work, you’ll make new friends as you swap insurance details and regale others later in the bar.

Talking of meeting people, whilst sorting the milk situation, I met David from the US of A, a solo sailor in from Guernsey via wherever.  I immediately forgot his name and he mine, so we repeated details and I suggested that he wouldn’t forget mine, as everyone has an uncle John and I would not forget his as I have a cousin David.  If I do I’ll check this blog.

Meanwhile I am surprised to note several dark marks on various parts of my torso, odd because I don’t bruise easily.  I am getting rather fond of them now, and no doubt they will turn from black into nice multicoloured marks.  The Willis master plan ebbs and flows at the moment in tune with my mood, which if truth be told  is a little flaky and prone to variations.  So I’ve decided no decisions on future plans for a few days, until things including my back settle down.  Then it will be anything from Plans  A-Z no doubt.

By ajay290

Jester Challenge 2019

I am sitting in my comfortable cabin with a coffee the morning after my completion of the Jester 2019 Challenge, optimistically wearing a pair of shorts.  Sadly, the sight of my hairy white chicken legs clearly frightened away the weak early morning sun, for a typical Baltimore overcast now presides as if chiding my obscenity.

I had arrived in darkness at 2300 the night before, 270 very slow, difficult nautical miles and 3 ½ days out from Plymouth, stirred and shaken, relieved and swearing “never again”.  Although only 5 Plymouth starters were ahead of Pippin at Baltimore, as I discovered from 68 years young John Lashmore who had come in first of all Plymouth starters in his Achilles 9 metre Sancerre, it mattered not for this is a personal challenge to be done in your own way, in your own time.  To finish is enough.  Still ….

The Achilles boys are a close knit Jester clan rightly proud of their craft.  You buy an Achilles for a Jester because they are the right size; because they are old and therefore cheap; because they are tough and achingly pretty but mostly because they are fast.  Yes you buy an Achilles to win!  John had told me his result with a true competitor’s glint in his eye.  “Good boats” I said” but  better sailors”, thinking as I said it of Pippin lugging Willis’s stores around.  No the Jester Challenge isn’t a race, of course it isn’t.

Baltimore. Jester Competitors

Achilles Rest in Baltimore – Sancerre First Man Home

Anyway, I was left with mixed feelings, though 2 things came immediately to mind; first there are Jester types and then there are Jester types, all to be respected.  The hardcore Challengers are tough sailors often racing types, of which I am not one, and the rest like me are there to have a go, but here’s the thing, they are almost all in smaller and therefore less comfortable boats than Pippin.  Mind you, not all are carrying a ton of Fray Bentos, Gentleman’s Relish, Baked Beans, Branston Pickle, Angie’s marmalade and Army ration packs amongst other food stores.  For my money, the epitome of the real Jester Challenger is the amazing ex Royal Marine Andy Laine in his 12 footer; indeed, I would attach the label ’bonkers’, with great respect, to many of this crowd.  It didn’t matter that he didn’t finish, battered by headwinds.

Second, I have a confession never a good thing to start with; there are very few rules in this Challenge, yet I broke one; I USED MY ENGINE! But I’ll come on to that.

A couple of days before the start, I pronounced expansively to Pete and Tracey in Jolly Jacks café, perhaps rather late in my sailing life, that I had discovered weather windows and only ever wanted to enjoy my sailing from now on, with blue skies, calm seas and soldiers’ winds very much in my mind.  Pete looked knowingly at me, crushed my hand in his huge paw and wished me luck for the Challenge, which was due to start 2 days later.

The morning of Sunday 16th June, start day, came with the promise of SW 18-25 knots (F5/6), pretty much from the direction we all wanted to go and I recalled those ‘weather window’ sailors who described sailing into a F6 as a “yachtsmen’s’ gale”.  Anyway, I settled Pippin well away from the fleet, tucked out of trouble behind Plymouth breakwater busy taking pictures as others duelled near the start line and several minutes after the start gun had gone off, Pippin and I crossed the line in solitary splendour, the skipper with cuppa in hand and waving at the Committee boat.

Plymouth Jester Start. John Lashmore

John Prepares Sancerre near Cawsand Bay Just Before the Start

Jester Start Getting Organised

A Jester Competitor Prepares for the Start

Several boats had peeled off into the welcoming arms of Cawsand Bay to await – you guessed it – that weather window but I kept Pippin’s nose pointed out to sea where a cloud of white sails was fast disappearing.  Then I sensed Pippin was gaining on a competitor, which filled my heart with pride in my craft, even if it was Andy Lane’s 12’ boat; it didn’t matter, an overtake was an overtake or does that sound a little like racing talk?

Plymouth Start. Incredible Andy Lane

The Incredible Andy Laine – it was a Rough Start

The bit now well between my teeth, I tacked Pippin West unlike just about everyone else, and was soon tackling a comfortable Halcyon 27 ketch which shortly fell behind – I should add, this was a wholly uneven contest, but who cares?  An overtake is an overtake and I don’t do that often so there.

Plymouth Jester Start. Halcyon 27

The Halcyon Clipper Yawl

The wind was gusting 25 knots, the seas rough for smaller boats but Pippin was enjoying herself, feeling very comfortable though it was going to be a very long hard slog.  I wasn’t quite so comfortable and I don’t know my racing lines from my tram lines for I am more of a sailing wanderer, which perhaps explained my lonely course – I couldn’t see anyone else and I was only a few hours out.  Where on earth were they?  What did they know I didn’t?

This next section should be called “the battle for the Lizard”, a headland 50 nautical miles West from Plymouth, pretty well directly upwind.  It was very hard going indeed for me and Pippin was shipping a lot of water over her cabin top, but I couldn’t complain for all of us, most in smaller craft, were fighting this out in our own ways.  I am not sure when, but Pippin ascended a particularly big daddy of a wave, like an elevator heading for the 30th floor, before descending for the basement and somewhere around the 15th floor, my breakfast porridge ejected forcibly rom the cabin across the cockpit.  I am very rarely sea sick and this did not feel like that malaise for I felt fine, before and after but this continued at regular 3 hourly intervals as I fought Pippin West through the gathering darkness.

Its hard to tack and tack again into strong winds and seas, when you are vomiting everything you’ve got inside at regular intervals.   I looked wistfully at the welcoming arms of lovely Falmouth in the darkness close off my starboard beam, glowing on the chart plotter, tempting me in for a breather, but I had told myself I would do this.  No-one else would stop there, so why should I?  Or would they?  No Willis – you keep going.

At breakfast time on the 17th the Lizard finally lay 5 miles to starboard, almost conquered though I still could not eat.  This headland has a fearsome reputation, but the meaning of its name is much tamer.  It means in, I believe, old Cornish, a court or high court, one that has judged and condemned many a ship and its crew over the centuries.  Just then I didn’t care about such things or much else frankly.  Hoping to improve matters, I removed two smelly diesel jerry cans from the cabin, somehow shoving them deep into a stern locker.  Now I set Pippin on course for clearing South of the Scillies and Bishop’s Rock lighthouse to its West, 50 nautical miles away, wishing it would all end.

At some point my projectile vomiting stopped, but I wasn’t in good shape, losing strength without proper food, though I munched nuts, dried fruit and chocolate and kept hydrated.  Meanwhile Hercule the Hydrovane couldn’t give a toss for he had a job to do and together he and Pippin managed just fine as his skipper cursed the god of the West wind loudly.

The wind was easing by evening Day 2, which made tacking along the Scillies much easier, though it was dispiriting to lose ground on each tack South and as a light evening mizzle came in, 20 hours after the start (I think), with Pippin close in shore and Bishop’s Rock just ahead, I broke the Jester rule.  My tack was achingly short of clearing the lighthouse …. unless…. So, on went the little engine, just enough to harden closer to the wind and clear that damned rock for I gained little or no speed.  To starboard, two other  Jester competitors, close inshore, were also struggling such that they gave up on Bishop’s Rock and slipped through a Scillies Sound for Eire instead.

Bishop's Reef

Bishop’s Reef in the Evening

Bishop's Rock Yey!

Infamous Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse

No excuses, but I’ll comment on my decision, for there are times when concerns for safety at sea and good seamanship dictate a sensible course of action with all means at your disposal and this for me was just such.  I was very weak, unwell, knackered after 20 sleepless battling hours and I needed to get off a nasty lee shore before dark.  A little later, with my back to the Bishop’s Rock and Eire 120 nautical miles North across a choppy, but quiet Celtic Sea, I gave Hercule the wind vane his instructions for the night and slept guarded by the radar alarm which goes off if anything comes within a set range.  Twice it woke me and I watched a ship pass, safely distant, and twice I rejoined Gollum deep in the sleep caverns.

It took a day of light winds to get less than half way across that damned Celtic Sea.  Sailing in light winds I find is harder and certainly more dispiriting than blasting along in a good breeze except perhaps for motion.  Anyway, the wind now moved gradually into the NW and this is where my inexperience of course setting came in, for I spent far too long pondering which course would be better than another and my track began to resemble a curvy snake as I dithered.  Indecision is not my normal characteristic though, so this didn’t last long and I decided to get West to take advantage of an anticipated westerly wind shift, which hopefully would later coincide with an easterly running tide as I set my final course for Baltimore.

I knew of the anticipated wind shift thanks to my Garmin Inreach satellite device, with which I could text anyone anywhere and my wife Angie kept me updated on weather matters.  Great ocean sailor ex Royal Marine and supportive mate Pete texted his support just then and asked for updates, so there was no pressure on me there then!

I always see dolphins in the Celtic Sea, which I have now crossed alone or in company at least 6 times, but this time I was amazed to see Risso’s dolphins with their big blunt beakless white faces.  Mind you I had just ditched the best Willis stew ever made, completely untouched, just before they arrived; I do hope they are all right though they didn’t come back for seconds.  One of them seemed to have two fins, or perhaps was in to synchronised swimming.  Gorgeous creatures and such sights always give me a lift, though I didn’t bother with the camera for it was a little bumpy and I knew all I would capture would be megabytes of grey Celtic Sea and seawater on the lens.

Meanwhile work in the galley remained limited, very rare aboard my ship, for I had no appetite but knew I had to keep my strength up.  I am not a huge fan of pot noodles, but in this state, they were something I could manage and they gave me a noticeable boost along with bread and Marmite and cold baked beans – still tucked away for real emergencies of course, were my 2 Army ration packs, very yummy.

I found it quite uncomfortable in the wide-open reaches of the Celtic Sea on the last day, for there was an irritating beam sea running, stirred up by wind battling with the tide. Curling tops of breaking waves licked over the bows and ran over the cabin top and Pippin, too heavy in the stern lifted her bows for a good spanking by an occasional larger oncoming wave; she didn’t even flinch, shrugging them off with no loss of speed.  So far Pippin had been leak free, but curling fingers of wind-blown sea licked around the forehatch and a few drops found their way in, just enough to irritate but not enough to seriously dampen anything.

Wind and tide are an interesting phenomenon and I find it quite remarkable what a difference tidal direction makes.  As the tide gave up its fight with the wind and turned in the evening gloom to head East, so the sea calmed though rollers in from the Atlantic prevented me getting too comfortable.  Talking of comfort, apart from my ailment, I must have been so much more comfortable than most other Challengers, for I could do almost everything from inside my little ship.  Indeed, I arrived without that wind-blown lobster red face that so many racing yachtsmen sport on reaching land, and I read 1 1/2 good books, for trusty Hercule always stood all watches without complaint.  Fortunately I had done ok with sleep and rest too in my snug little cabin, whatever was going on outside.

Well, much more by accident than design, Pippin began to ride the new East going tide to a soldier’s wind as she cork-screwed on the quartering sea, but all in the right direction with Hercule the wind vane, imperturbable as ever, in charge of operations.  I passed the infamous Fastnet Rock and ran on towards Lot’s wife, the tall stone beacon dominating the eastern entrance to Baltimore, until I could see the welcoming flashing green light of the Baltimore channel marker.  2 or 3 yachts crawled West close inshore to round Fastnet, before returning, motor sailing after a long hard bash I suspect, for they were directly into the wind.  Here I decided not to sail into the narrow entrance in the dark and took down the sails as Pippin rolled in the gusty darkness.  To my disappointment, I was careless in my weakened tired state and allowed the sail to contact a spreader, ripping it near the upper leach of the mainsail, skipper error; otherwise, Pippin had come through everything unscathed and done everything asked of her with dignity and grace.

Well, I have no usable mainsail, the wind will turn East and harden with scattered showers to boot at the weekend, so I have made the decision to leave in the early dawn tomorrow (Friday) to run down under the yankee jib on a W/SW/S wind to Crosshaven, a lovely spot to rest and recover and get my mainsail fixed for whatever comes next.  This is a great pity, as I will miss the pirate-week party, but as I don’t leave the boat in strong winds, I probably wouldn’t be ashore if I stayed at anchor here in Baltimore anyway.  Instead, I’ll dress in my pirate gear and sip a glass of hair restorer in a toast of great respect to Jester Challengers everywhere.  Great bunch but I suspect my Jestering days may be over …. but you never know.

The course on the chart below was hastily compiled and doesn’t show the many many tacks out of Plymouth and before the Bishop’s Rock, the blood sweat and tears – or the vomit.  Good night.

Pippin's Jester Route

By ajay290

Plymouth 2

The funny little boat above is a junk rigged Folkboat called Jester and Lt. Col. ‘Blondie’ Hasler DSO OBE Crois de Guerre, Royal Marines in Jester’s command hatch is shown in the picture to the right.  Below deck he had an old dentist’s chair which he strapped himself into in rough weather.

After a distinguished military career, Blondie had the dream of creating the smallest safe yacht that could be sailed with little effort anywhere, in all conditions.   So he converted a Scandanvian 25′ Folkboat (think of VW Beetle), decked it over with a small command hatch and fitted a junk rig for ease of handling.  Something of a frustrated engineer, he also created a wind vane self steering gear and set about creating the singled handed trans Atlantic race.  The difference was in the almost complete lack of rules – there would be a start line, a start time and date and a finish line and as far as Hasler was concerned, if his boat sank, he would drown like a gentleman.  The rest was up to each individual competitor.

Eventually health and safety and corporate sponsorship destroyed the original ethos of the race, so the Jester Challenge was created, in memory of Blondie (who died in 1987) and his boat Jester, a replica of which still sails the race.  The Challenge now has 3 forms – the trans Atlantic race for very brave types, the Azores for slightly less brave types and the Baltimore Challenge – I need not jest, for anything can happen at sea wherever you sail.  True to Blondie’s original ethos, there are sill no rules.

Anyway, that is why Pippin and I are heading for the Baltimore Jester Challenge start line off Plymouth breakwater tomorrow, Sunday 16th June – or whenever the weather makes it likely to be a pleasant challenge in my case, and that of many others, I am sure.  True Pippin is bigger than most other competitor boats, but her skipper’s complete lack of competitive experience and the weight of her stores, will provide sufficient handicap for her size advantage to be more than neutralised.  Anyway, I don’t like spilling my tea.

There is another attraction to the event and that is Baltimore Pirate Week, which by design happens to be the week after the start, to be enjoyed by the Jester Challengers who get there in time.  Back in the bad old days, Barbary pirates ransacked Baltimore (I can think of better places to pillage), taking away many of its population for the slave trade and in typically Irish fashion, defeat has been turned into cause for celebration.  Actually the British Army are quite good at that too, for I recall my old unit, 7th Armoured (‘Desert Rat’) Brigade (then a division) celebrated the battle of Sidi Rezegh in WW2 where they got stuffed by Rommel; it was at one of those celebrations that I discovered gazpacho and brown bread ice cream, but I digress.  Anyway I’m up for a party and will confess that I have a full pirate costume and Jolly Roger aboard, for I am told one will stand out like a cutlass in a monastery if  not fully kitted out.  That is if the weather is good enough to actually get off your boat, which for most of the time I was last there it was not.

That being the case, I shall parade in full gear on the poop deck and raise a glass to those ashore in  lovely warm pubs before I sit up all night bleary eyed on anchor watch, grumbling like a trooper.

The final purchase of provisions from Aldi with fellow Challenger John amply demonstrated our respective differing approaches to provisioning.  He emerged with a loaf and milk; I emerged with full shoulder bag and an Aldi shopping bag, also full.  But as I am want to say, you never know when you might need to barter with natives or survive on a desert island, or be marooned aboard in a wind swept bay.

Meanwhile, as ever, there is much else to do by way of preparation like tightening a bottle screw or two (to do with rigging, not drinking), checking the battens, split pins, electronics and not forgetting to fill the water tank etc.  Provisioning was complete, last items ticked off, including my resupply of Gentleman’s Relish courtesy of Team Goss, who only charged me a glass of hair restorer each (not my nice stuff mind!).

To put the exploits of the real Jester Challengers into context, imagine being in a very small boat a couple of feet off the water, in which you cannot stand up and which rolls, crashes and bangs around just as soon as the weather becomes even moderate.  Water will sweep the decks constantly, frequently finding its way inside, soaking sleeping bags, clothes, food and books.  There is no chance of knocking up a suet pudding or plum duff and the noise is indescribable.  You cannot, of course, get off when you’ve had enough and being a small boat, the laws of hydrodynamics dictate that progress is slow; put simply, you are at sea enduring all this for much longer.  As if that isn’t enough, many of these sailors are of mature years – real toughies and I don’t think they will mind me suggesting they are all a tad eccentric, a club I am proud to be a member of.  By comparison, Pippin is a cruise liner, though the same conditions can apply – the conditions just have to be more extreme so I have greater margin of comfort.

Take a look at the yellow boat below; it is 12′ long (yes twelve feet!)!  Imagine what that will be like in a seaway.   I simply couldn’t do it in a titchy boat as I would be wholly unable to stow my essentials; anyway,  I will be first in the queue to buy that skipper a Guinness in Baltimore.

Image may contain: people sitting, outdoor and water












Later I bumped into a German crew inspecting my bow sprit, who informed me that Pippin was a German royal name, for Pippin (or Pepin) was the father of Charlemagne;  so he wasn’t just a hobbit.   I also met little David from Weymouth again, who told me of a skipper who named his boat Return – a good Mayday namebecause he would head out and if he didn’t like the conditions, turn round and return Now that sounds like a sound plan.  David is a survivor of ‘terminal’ cancer and still sailing the ocean at 82 and I have the utmost respect for he and wife Muriel.

I will have forgotten something, made wrong assumptions, planned an impossible route and so on, but assuming I get up in time, assuming the weather remains as forecast and assuming my stars are lined up, Pippin and I will be off the west end of Plymouth breakwater sometime before 1100 tomorrow with upwards of 40-50 others.

So I’ll leave you here and will luck next write to you from Baltimore.







By ajay290

Plymouth 1

Its always sensible to have a Plan B, so long as you have a Plan A of course, but complications arose after a convivial evening ashore with family last evening, for indecision – not a usual Willis characteristic – set in.  Merrily back aboard Pippin, the Willis Plan A had the most attraction as it promised longer in my green maggot (sleeping bag) – but then Plan B had a tad more margin for error.  So to bed with Plan A in my head; but the Angel Elf and Safety visited me in the night and placed common sense in my brain, so it was Plan B that got me up at dawn, just as the fishing boats were all preparing to leave.  Clearly Willis Plan B had something going for it, or perhaps the Angel had visited them too; whatever, I do find that locals do tend to know what’s what.

Salcombe Fishing Boats

Salcombe Fishing Boats Prepare to Leave

I followed a fat bottomed trawler towards the open sea and squeezed Pippin round the sand bar at the harbour entrance and with her skirts flying, she sniffed the breeze and took off for destination Plymouth, 25 or so nautical miles off to the north west, with bossy Hercule cracking the whip (not that I dare tell him he is bossy).  Deep in Bigbury Bay, tea and toast staved off starvation in the chilly morning air, as a sinister looking patrol boat came up astern and sniffed like a curious Rottweiler looking for sport; fortunately it clearly found Pippin of no interest and roared off to find entertainment elsewhere.

Cawsand Bay

Cawsand Bay

As Pippin closed a strangely deserted Cawsand Bay, my designated finish line in Plymouth, Frigate 334 came in from starboard gathering way fast, burnt kerosene from her gas turbines trailing in a translucent plume from her funnel, evidence of effort and power.  It’s sensible in such situations not to argue the toss about right of way even though it was mine.  Instead, the old  unwritten but universally understood adage, ‘might has right’ is the order of the day, so I hove Pippin to and had a go with the camera as she sat quietly, wholly unimpressed with the racy grey ship roaring past.

Plymouth Frigate

Behind me stretched the long Plymouth breakwater, the western end of which marks the start line for what I have come to Plymouth for, but I’ll come on to that later.

Plymouth Breakwater West

Plymouth Breakwater

An hour later, Pippin slipped neatly (I thought) alongside Berth Delta 7.  The gentleman on the pontoon who took my line was clearly something of a joker.  “Job well done!” said he.  “Thanks” said I, graciously accepting his praise.  “I didn’t mean you he said.  There’s no answer to that one.

I have written stories about Plymouth, but won’t repeat them here; you can find them in the 2017 blog, written during my first and not very successful voyage in Pippin.

Pippin Plymouth (2)

Pippin Plymouth (3)

Pippin in Delta 7

There is no peace for the wicked and I had VIPs coming to visit on Day 1, so Pippin got a wash and brush up and the skipper had a brunch just to keep him going.  I managed also to squeeze an onboard lunch date with Royal Marine nephew Ed into my busy diary for the morrow.  I am not sure quite where Ed’s genes came from, as he is everything I am not from the lofty crown of his head to his six pack stomach with good looks to boot – oh and he is bright and sporty; I reckon he got a full house when God put him together.  He does share one thing with his diminutive curmudgeonly Uncle John though – he does like his scoff, so I’ll have to raid a locker or two.

An evening dinner full of humour and shared stories with VIP friends Pete and Tracey Goss  proved that they know a thing or two about true friendship, for Tracey promised a resupply of Gentleman’s Relish before Pippin and I set sail again.  Well, you can’t say fairer than that!  Good people the Goss’!  They know what’s good for morale.

Plymouth Fleet Auxiliary

Plymouth Sights – this Monstrous Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship was 10 Stories High!

I have of course perambulated around every pontoon here and examined all boats of interest  (er – more than once, rain or shine except I’ve had none of the latter here).  I suspect like dogs, boat names say much about their owners and one particular peccadillo of mine is to check out boat names, and then imagine a Mayday conversation on the VHF radio  when you repeat your boat name 3 times, whilst trying to keep the panic out of your voice.  I suspect the RNLI, on listening to the name, might suspect one thing or the other as they approach the stricken casualty.  For example, Shoal Waters, White Swan, Dream Chaser – all good and Pippin (excellent!).  Here in Plymouth the Willis award for crap boat names went to Legless, fine for a jokey chat over the radio with mates, but not so in a serious survival situation I felt.  Perhaps I am just being curdmudgeonly – quite likely, though I care not.

Late last evening I shared a dram aboard Pippin with a kindred spirit also here to have a crack at the Jester Challenge.  He a veteran of the event and me a novice, we couldn’t help talk of weather, which remains unrelentingly dire.  I almost can’t bare to look at the forecast, preferring instead to save my efforts for cringingly pleading night time prayers; I genuinely have a sense He will be there on the day, so I reckon He’s listening.

Fortunately Ed brought most of his own rations for lunch, so only a minor restock of Pippin’s food lockers was required this afternoon, though I can officially confirm that Lidl do not stock Gentleman’s Relish – indeed the lovely shop assistant had never heard of the stuff, and I found it hard to describe it in an appetising way (“its a sort of smelly fish paste”), judging by the look of utter distaste on her face.  “Ugh! Sounds like Marmite but MUCH but worse” she said, curling her lip.  She was a strawberry jam sort of girl I suspect.

By ajay290

Battle of Lyme Bay

That jelly fish; it was, I subsequently discovered, a Barrel Jellyfish with a mild sting that can grow to a metre in diameter.  These ancient bizarre creatures have drifted through our oceans for over 500 million years, despite lacking a brain, heart or blood.  Their soft bodies are over 90% water, and they move in a mesmerising pulsing motion operated by a simple set of nerves whilst consuming plankton.  The Barrel jellyfish is the UK’s largest, with a diameter of up to 90cm and can weigh as much as an incredible 35 kilos.  In summer and autumn they may swarm off the UK coast, sometimes washing up in large numbers (information from buglife.org.uk).

A friendly quayside chat before Pippin slipped out to sea – rather well I thought smugly for there are always onlookers – into a blue-sky afternoon.   I had met new friends Muriel and David, he a tough tiny man with impressive moustache but appearance can be deceptive.  I should have guessed from the very workmanlike layout of their boat, but it was as he was telling me about sailing into St. Helena deep in the south Atlantic, just the 2 of them aboard, that I again felt very small indeed.  Modest, unassuming, they would be lost in a crowd, yet twice the person of all they passed.

At the last minute I chose to round Old Bill close inshore, because I had never done it before,  it was a benign day and I felt my frequent passages through the moody Swinge off Braye had provided useful experience.  Pippin simply shrugged off the occasional irritable salty challenge as she powered through at 8.5 knots, and I triumphantly managed to press the right button on the camera for a change.

Portland Light

Portland Inner Race

Portland Lighthouse and west end of the Bill

The light SSW wind pinned Pippin close inshore round the sweeping curved edge of Lyme Bay as the afternoon turned into evening, but I was determined to sail.  Incredibly, despite a wind that never topped 8 knots true, Pippin and Hercule the wind vane managed just fine, jogging gently along even if it wasn’t where I wanted to go.  Deep in a locker, my stew simmered gently in the slow cooker, sustenance for the long night ahead.  Meanwhile the female England footballers did better in their international match than their male counter parts ever seemed to do, even if their victim was Scotland, for I have split loyalties being ½ Scottish.  An interesting phrase of the commentator describing a player had me musing;

She is a big unitYes, a big unit for sure.

That remark came from a lady and whilst I could wax lyrical about its possible meaning, I decided it meant she was probably a girl I would not wish to cross.  I wonder what a little unit might be like?

Iron discipline provided the resolve not to eat dinner before 1900 but patience was quite another thing.  As the sun gave up for the day, Pippin continued to zig zag deep in the bosom of Lyme Bay testing my patience, as I tacked and tacked again to make progress west.  I felt better considering that very British hero, Horatio Hornblower whose bluff bowed square rigged ship would never have managed what Pippin was doing, i.e. sailing close to the wind, but nevertheless I did not want to take 2 weeks to reach Plymouth as he might have done.

Once at sea, you adopt certain routines, one of which for me is bucket and chuck it mode, which can pose messy challenges in strong weather, though I shall spare you further description.  Suffice to say I was often busy during the long night, for I had eaten a suspect boiled egg earlier, which didn’t help my frequent need to also tweak sails and alter course.

Light wind sailing is in many ways quite as challenging as strong wind sailing, particularly if you’re a pretty average solo sailor as I am and want to maintain progress towards your destination.  It tests the patience and lacks any of the thrill that speed and a foaming wake provide.  But I persevered as lightening lit up the now dark horizon and fishing boats took up station around Pippin, invisible except as blobs on the radar screen.  I set the guard zone on the radar to warn me of anything that came within its range and was alerted twice as busy inshore fishing vessels slipped slowly close by.

Mission Control at Night

Pippin’s ‘flight deck’.  Radar top right, purple ring represents the guard zone

At around 2300 I wrote in the ship’s log after yet another tack;

I should be able to hold this tack through the night”.  Never tempt fate.  An hour later as the wind became indecisive and Pippin could do no better than head for Paris, I furled the foresails and motor sailed for a couple of hours before sailing again as the fickle wind backed north of west.  As dawn came the engine came on again and I decided to pause in Salcombe to rest whilst the next blows came through, before making for Plymouth.


Start Point, early morning

I like Salcombe and had sailed there before but you need to concentrate to avoid the sand bar as you enter the harbour, especially with a lump of lead hanging down 1.5m from underneath your boat.  Unflustered as ever, Pippin chugged happily upstream and a friendly harbour official passed my line through the ring on the mooring buoy and  back to me.  I had travelled around 85 nautical miles at an average of a little over 4 knots, which I felt was no disgrace though the ratio of effort to knot was unimpressive.  The Channel is a dangerous place, chock full of other vessels and swept by strong tides such that there is no possibility of sleep, which is why I try to keep Channel passages under 24 hours; this short passage had taken 20.  Snug in the calm waters of Salcombe, I joined Gollum deep in the caves of sleep for 10 hours dreaming of rotten eggs and buckets, as torrential rain and strong gusts buffeted Pippin.


Salcombe from Buoy 127

Poking around my lockers this morning, checking for leaks (none – yeay!!) and reminding myself what was where, I considered essential stores never to set sail without.  Take my wife Angie’s flapjacks, which lasted a week (very delicious), and the fruitcake made inexpertly by me to Mrs Woodman’s recipe.  Previous experience had taught me that one cake should last 750 nautical miles, about a teaspoon per mile.  Not to be eaten except when out at sea, I now broke the rule justifying this breach on the basis I had not left the boat in over 2 days and the weather had been crap for the past 24 hours and remains so.  Call it a morale booster – anyway, one of the joys of being solo is that you are always the boss; so there.

Salcombe Towards the Entrance


Salcombe, looking back towards the entrance (round the corner left)

Cousin Sarah and husband Roger live close by Salcombe and I am going to join them ashore this evening.  I’ll be in touch next time from Plymouth, unless …..

Salcombe Crabber

 Cornish Crabber 30 (too modern for Bristow’s Book of Yachts 1973/4)

Salcombe Boat

Salcombe Boat

P.S. no apologies for ‘boaty pics’

By ajay290

Weymouth 2


Weymouth Harbour Entrance from the sea

In Penzance – another Willis favourite – you can buy a chocolate stiletto of any hue, though I’ve never seen anyone eat one.  Not to be outdone, Weymouth can offer you a Penang curry or 3 bean chilli – for breakfast.  I have an iron constitution but …. mind you, sautéed jelly fish might be just the thing.  Instead, it was porridge and raspberries  that morning, though I think I could be on to something as my porridge would need minimal additives for use in plugging holes in boats.



Weymouth Cross Harbour Ferry – ALL Other Vessels Give Way!

I am sorry, but one cannot do the touristy bit anywhere, without lengthy walks to take masses of photos, though the best ones are taken without the lens cap still in place I have discovered.   So it was that I strolled to Nothe Fort, in itself of no consequence except that I met a volunteer called Mary, who whispered lest others hear, that I absolutely MUST go into the basement to see the matchstick fleet.


WeymouthFortNoth (2)

Nothe Fort

Not expecting much, I descended into the bowels of the fort and wended my way down twisting narrow passages until I met volunteer George, guardian of the fleet.  I sensed Mary might have tipped him off with her secret walkie talkie, for he seemed to be expecting me.  What I saw laid out on platforms was astonishing.  It was a mass of models of the Royal Navy through the 20th Century in perfect miniature, down to tiny aeroplanes, helicopters and flight deck trucks, all made with nothing but matchsticks and match boxes.  George demonstrated the miniature F111 swing wing fighter plane mechanism, twirled a helicopter rotor blade or two and pointed to minute letters, all painted by hand without glasses.  There was not a matchstick to be seen, yet the detail on every vessel, plane, helicopter, truck and gun was perfect, all made by an 89 year old gentleman, who had been building for 70 years.  I was totally gob smacked and pleased to have it all to myself for a good while – thank you Mary.


One day the boys came to town – 9 Service boats arrived having raced from Cherbourg as part of the Joint Services Regatta.  What was particularly exciting for me was that 6 were Victoria 34s (same boat as Pippin minus the wheelhouse), arriving ahead of the other 3.  I say exciting because I am a boat nerd, happy to look at boats as a twitcher is to watch birds – I started young with the purchase of the Bristow’s Book of Yachts 1972/3, essential bed time reading for the juvenile Willis.  I like to ruminate over a yacht’s vital statistics, things like the Comfort Factor formula  (Pippin very comfortable) and hull speed, calculated through a brief flirtation with a square root and multiplication of waterline length – Pippin 7.2 knots.  It does mean I can be a bit of a marina bore, but do I care?!

Weymouth STC V34s (3)

STC Victoria 34s (picture taken only after brief visit to camera shop to discover which wrong button I had pressed rendering the zoom feature defunct)

I can write light heartedly of this and that, but passage planning is something you should take very seriously indeed, for it is the time you sit down to reflect upon the hazards and dangers of the next part of the journey.  I do not worry too much, or I could never sail far solo, but you need to be aware that to fall overboard as a solo sailor is to make an appointment with your maker.  It is not a case of if you fall, but when, which is fine so long as you don’t go over the side; you strap on and always keep one hand holding onto the ship.  Inside and out in rough weather, I wear a canoe helmet and lifejacket to protect head and ribs, not elegant but, thus far, effective.

Weymouth Passage Planning

It is also important to take due note of tides and weather, particularly for headlands like Portland Bill.  Get these wrong and you will probably go backwards, whilst being bashed up by a great big bully of a sea particularly with wind against tide.  Fortunately, I like passage planning and enjoy spending very agreeable hours at my task.  So far, Pippin and I have managed to reach somewhere sometime in our own steady way at a stately average of 5.75 mph (= 5 knots).  That .75 is very important.  Think of a 100 mile sea journey; 20 hours at 5 mph but you save 2.6 hours at 5.75 mph – that’s a lot when you are exhausted.

Meanwhile my sister visited again and splashed out on fish and chips and a crème egg each – as you do.  If you think that weird, we could have had them fried in batter!  My sister says there is only one way to eat a crème egg but I won’t elaborate – she’s a physio, so not squeamish and blunt.

I can only sit still for so long, but a gale is due shortly, though I can spy a  weather window on the other side, which has given me a departure date to plan for, so its time for a list of boaty things to do and shoppy things to buy – like toilet rolls and ever lasting white bread, which makes excellent slightly burnt toast for my Gentleman’s Relish and Angie’s homemade marmalade.

I’ll be heading west.  Farewell from Weymouth.


By ajay290