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

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