In between times – the Azores Challengers arrive

There is something quintessentially British about boiled egg and soldiers (with Marmite); its the preparation as much as anything else I thought, before discovering I had not loaded an egg cup! I discovered a tea towel could be used quite satisfactorily to hold the topless egg, whilst dippers were deployed, though I will check out Aldi for an egg cup whilst buying my daily jam doughnut, which Aldi does very well (they don’t do egg cups).

Sadly Willis attention to detail had been further lacking the day my list directed me to do a rations check. In my defence, Pippin does have ample stowage spaces and I have had to put things in places I don’t normally BUT, nevertheless it was galling to find another rations’ stash in an unexplored locker 2 days later. Predominantly Baked Beans (some with sausages, though they are a feeble relation to those of yesteryear), though the Gherkins I had been hunting turned up among them. And finally on food, my list today allows me a meal ashore.

‘The list’ had for 3 days directed me to remove and bag the staysail and yankee sail, and for 3 days I demurred – so today I got a grip. The staysail was fine but the yankee is a large sail for one person, with a mind of its own in any wind and not easily manhandled and folded on a pontoon – it made me very glad Pippin is no bigger,

Meet yankee

Able to examine the yankee close hand, I must confess that Alan the sail maker was not just giving me his ‘sails pitch’ (geddit!?!) but was quite right to suggest a replacement (of all sails) – sure it might well be fine, but sufficient damage was evident to make it a wise decision. For safety sake, I also replaced the sheets for both fore sails plus the main sheet fiddle block – rope seems cheap when you look at the price per metre, but when you have to buy around 60 metres of the stuff it gets spicy!

‘The list’ further decreed I change the batteries of things like torches, and charge all portable devices, 8 and still counting ….. I will never again criticise any compulsive list makers, for I am realising exactly what makes them tick. I am now one of them. Finally the list said I could go shore side for supper for chowder and steak.

Incredibly next day dawned nice as well, which is making me highly suspicious, so my doughnut run proved a worthy distraction, before getting down to business once more. As I munched, news began to filter through of several retirements from the Jester 51/8, due ironically to lack of wind. I say ironically, as 2019 saw several retiring or not starting due to too much wind. Bill Churchouse pulled in to Falmouth, though that might be because he has has a lady friend there, but John Moody, Jester virgin, is still plugging on. We exchanged brief emails as he was close to the Scillies and he said he had all but given up, but had been greatly encouraged by the only female entrant, Katie Long, She had kept him going via encouragement on VHF. As I write this, one Challenger has passed the Bishop Rock Lighthouse – John was still maybe 35 miles off.

Mid morning brought a visitor, Donald Heath, ocean going master mariner and fellow Jester Challenger fresh in on his pocket rocket, Guppy Unchained. She is to Pippin as a Whippet is to a Pyrrenean Mountain Dog – I’ve always fancied one (a Django), but am not sure I am man enough for it and when you see her stern, below, you might guess why. I am sure she could surf like a toboggan on big waves. Guppy Unchained is 2 metres shorter than Pippin, yet only 6″ narrower, but weighs about a quarter; Don’s a tough man.

Guppy Unchained, a Django770

Look at that stern!

Meanwhile as afternoon wore on John was tacking back and forth across a very light SW wind south of the Scillies doing a stately 2 knots, but looked as though he might clear Bishop’s Rock on his next tack. Meanwhile the very experienced Tony Head in Triple Venture (a Twister 28) seemed well up into the Celtic Sea having made remarkable progress but, I later discovered, he was still behind 80 year old Roger Fitzgerald in Ella Trout (a Dehler 29). Hopefully he’ll be quick enough to ride the advancing NW wind.

Although the list didn’t allow for another night out I couldn’t let Brian and Don drink alone – especially as the chowder is excellent.

Next day Brian headed up the Tamar for a little solitude and I introduced Don to the delights of Aldi (Lidl actually) doughnuts. Meanwhile Duncan Lougee had returned to his boat and John Apps arrived making a band of 7; they are both trans Atlantic veterans, very much of the ‘senior dorm’, to be looked up to. They are a tough band, none under 60 and it is a privilege to be amongst them. Based on the last estimate, 1 more will join us.

John App’s pretty Invicta 26

Whilst Don wrestled with getting boat insurance for the trip, I wrestled with discovering what if anything is happening about my UK Old Age Pension, for 2 months on, no invitation to apply or response from my application had been received. The delightful Kelly put me straight and all seems well – strange that Jesters mostly seem to be pensioners; oh, and there don’t seem to be many tall ones either, but then you can’t stand up in most of their boats!

The Jesters gathered for a quick drink in the evening and I looked around the group. John had been in Vietnam with the Australian Army and looked as if he could chew granite. Don, super yacht skipper, deliverer of yachts across oceans radiated tough competence and Duncan; a youthful looking 68, relaxed and understated, oceans beneath his keel and now a yacht broker. Brian, up the Tamar, and I are in a much lower league than these guys in terms of experience and certainly in my case, expertise – yet I am welcomed and accepted despite Pippin being a cruise liner by comparison to their over sized dinghies.

The rain came in the evening and fronts threaten the start, but there’s plenty of time for change so stay positive I tell myself.

Next morning the list drove me out into the mizzle, post doughnut, to do final checks of fastenings and to replace the mainsail fiddle block. First I had a quiet chat with Don who assured me that no one minded Pippin’s large presence in this Corinthian adventure; Pippin was welcome.

Sunshine arrived ahead of Pete and Tracy Goss, who came aboard for lunch before whisking me off for a final shop and then back for a cuppa. Naturally Pete doesn’t miss a trick, though I seemed to pass his gentle grilling OK, until it came to the stowage of the anchor; a little work to do there. I didn’t do so well with Tracey’s medical questions, but hopefully enough to scrape a pass. Lovely people.

News came through that 3 Plymouth Jester 51/8 starters had safely reached Millford Haven, led by the amazing Roger Fitgerald oldest man in the field; amazing. An evening pontoon stroll revealed the arrival of another Challenger in solid, well set up Twister 28, but Challengers are private people so I didn’t intrude. We’ll meet soon.

Its all about the flags some say. When you’ve done something at sea, stick up a pennant and flaunt it. It’s why Pippin flies the Jester pennant so proudly – its a vanity thing really, like displaying your flashy new motor in front of the neighbours. But it does indicate your status within a group; take Jesters and Duncan Lougee as an example. He flies 4, 3 Jester Challenge burgees including trans Atlantic and Azores plus the much coveted Ocean Cruising Club pennant. Its also why I walk round the pontoons looking up to check burgees, duly bowing with respect when I pass a crowded halyard line like Duncan’s. Of course he’ll have 5 on return, a clean sweep of the 3 Jester Challenges plus one – perhaps he’s going round again, crazy man.

Its also why I wish to at least achieve 1,000 miles this trip, for this is the qualifying distance for membership of that august body, the Ocean Cruising Club. It means I’ll have another burgee! So there you have it – vanity laid bare.

That all important Jester burgee

Young Harry interrupted my ruminations when he arrived with Pippin’s new sails and Alan texted to say he would arrive in 13 minutes – and he did, that’s Alan. This last major job is rather more than just bending on new sails, as Alan and Harry will check the rigging (fortunately containing none of my knots) and the mast.

Those new sails on top of the old main sail

Alan doesn’t take prisoners, and had me hauling this, winching that finding something urgently and generally keeping this old buffer on the trot such that I rather hoped it would soon be all over. But Alan is a perfectionist and satisfactory will not do, so I persevered. He did other important stuff like sorting out my fore sail furling gear, which had been incorrectly set up and difficult to operate, and which now run much more smoothly, something I shall appreciate hugely at 0300 in a gale!

Alan the perfectionist

The new main sail rises – guess where the skipper comes from!

Four hours later, with lunch heavily on my mind, Alan said I could finish for he was satisfied. During this protracted operation, several people came to admire the sails and I suspect Alan has earned himself some new customers – I perhaps helped a little by announcing loudly whenever I could that Alan was Pete Goss’ sail maker – which he is – but then I have always been a horrid little name dropper. Mind you, I don’t have many worth dropping.

There are but 2 days before the start and tomorrow we gather for a very casual Jester dinner (shorts, sandals, sailing shirt – that sort of dress), followed on Sunday by the Jester non-briefing, which as I have described goes something like this. Have you completed and signed your disclaimer? Good. Start line is off Plymouth breakwater at 1200 whatever the weather, leave Draystone Buoy and the Eddystone Lighthouse to starboard. See you at Praia de Vittoria in the Azores. No silly stuff and no daft questions. That’s it – refreshing.

I shall have visitors again before I go as Pete and Tracey are popping down for another cuppa; I suspect that’s all they come for and I shall certainly have to get more tea bags before they drink them all. Like other Jesters, I’m sure, I don’t do ‘fluffy farewells’ so we shall all slip quietly away without fanfare.

That’s it from Plymouth – unless I don’t leave.

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By ajay290

In between times – Jesters arrive, and leave

The Harris Hawk is back

Flabby, insignificant irritating little fronts have followed me here, probably from Jersey of course, which is no surprise to me. They delight in stealing sunshine and views and precipitating feebly, not enough to saturate but just enough to drown recent memories of sunshine and summer and to reduce me to drawing up new lists of indoor jobs. It didn’t take long to check out the bilges up for’ard (dry), count the emergency water bottles (1 less than I thought), blitz the fore cabin (sort of), find a forgotten thingy or 2 (useful), fit a tie for the bow thruster and anchor winch switches (nugatory but useful) – impressive for sure, but if I don’t slow down, go with the flow, and chill I will quickly run out of indoor jobs for Pippin is not a very large lady. So I left the amidships jobs for another day, another front.

My daily exercise is a 2 mile round trip to Aldi, and by the time I got back, it had stopped raining and my outdoor list said I had to scrub the waterline …… a quick job as the Mullet had got there first.

Soggy Plymouth

,,,,

Raindrops on steel – & a pretty little gaffer

A Plymouth princess

Star of the show

Cpl Volt, my electric crewman

My indoor list next morning directed me to the main cabin to count tins and packages of rations; it proved a very useful exercise as it reminded me of what I have and why Pippin’s waterline, raised 2″ during her refit, lies once more just above the surface. This took quite some time so I turned to the outdoor list for a change and took the dinghy to refuel my jerrycans. At this point I will welcome another member of my team, the electric outboard which I have named Cpl. Volt and my mission, according to my list, is to drive it until it runs flat.

Whilst trying very hard to do that, I came across an ocean scarred little boat I know well from YouTube and the Jester website called Bolean, a tiny Westerly 22 (that’s right 22′!!) – note that the Jester Challenge is actually for boats up to 30′, though a few are larger. Its skipper is the colourful, irrepressible Jester veteran Bill Churchouse and Bolean is his home. Think about that – could you live in a space perhaps 11′ (narrowing at one end) by 6′ wide and maybe a little over 5′ high, with everything you need and own; I couldn’t. I asked Bill if he minded my taking a photograph (of his boat) to which he replied; “clothes on or naked?” and I felt quite sure he would have stripped off if asked.

He is joining 18 other Jesters to take part in the the Jester Baltimore Challenge replacement event, known as 51/8 that runs out into the Celtic Sea to N51 W8 and back to Milford Haven and one of them intends also to do the Azores run, which in my books makes him a bottle short of a 6 pack, though a fine seaman for sure.

Bill Churchouse’s famous Bolean

I parked Cpl Volt near Bolean and invited Bill for a cuppa and he arrived just as John Moody joined us, another 51/8 Challenger, for it is emphatically not a race. As Bill said, everyone is accorded the same respect and welcome, no matter when they finish.

Anyway, I watched embarrassed as Bill’s eyes took in the palatial saloon of Pippin, for you couldn’t swing a ration pack in his boat, and began to guiltily blurt out that Pippin was a small 34′; a very, very small 34′ and actually she was only 28′ 6″ on the waterline…. This of course cut no ice with Bill who continued to rib me gently whilst acknowledging his respect for every Jester. Unfortunately he didn’t help when he looked thoughtfully at the Azores entry list and predicted that probably not all 11 would turn up and just 3 would get to the Azores – including me. Well if that isn’t a challenge I don’t know what is, but as this modest, great sailor said, everyone who arrives at the start line is a winner and good seamanship is about knowing when you have had enough. I shall remember those words.

John Moody’s Jester steed

John is a Jester virgin, though already a winner and I suspect he will do just fine – he certainly has a good boat (Mirage 29, built in the 80s by Thames Marine). Anyway, just then he probably wasn’t helped either by Bill, who likes to tell a story. He began to recount a harrowing Jester tale of an inexperienced sailor in his small ill prepared boat. His unsuitability for the event was clear to all and so he was not allowed to take part in that Azores Challenge, though as a consolation he was permitted to sail across the Plymouth start line. He then somehow got across the Channel and coast hopped through French, Galician and Portuguese ports, before crossing to the Azores long after the other Challengers had left. October came and, ignoring all advice not to set sail, he set out for Portugal.

His life raft was discovered days later, half full of water inside which was his half dressed dead body; no sign of his boat was ever found. Then there was the Pole who fell overboard – they found his boat, Bill could have gone on, I’m sure. When John left I suggested to Bill that such stories were not what he really wanted to hear, whereupon he wandered over to chat and encourage John.

After such tales, I urgently needed a distraction, so marched to Aldi, with no idea what I wanted, returning with custard – which I find you can never have too much of. – and I can categorically state, after protracted investigation, that Aldi don’t stock Gentleman’s Relish, or Black Pudding.

Next day sunshine arrived but it didn’t make the outskirts of Plymouth any more appealing than before. Funnily enough I didn’t need my tyres changed, or a tattoo, haircut, reject furniture, KFC or bang bang chicken. A Chinese restaurant appealed at least in my head but not when I saw it 1.5 miles out – certainly not worth the walk, certainly not when I discovered 40% of its online ratings were one star. So I suffered instead with a fresh doughnut and heart stopping coffee aboard whilst I reviewed the list. Luckily it had one or 2 outside jobs, one of which was to begin removing and bagging up my sails ready for the new ones to be fitted on the weekend.

Meanwhile Jester boats competing in the 51/8 continued to trickle in during the day, though numbers seemed down.

Today was Jester 51/8 departure day though regardless of such important things, my list informed me that I had clothes washing to do, not a Willis favourite job; unfortunately God had given me a perfect drying day, so there was no excuse though I prevaricated as long as was decent.

Afterwards I met George, skipper of the lovely wooden yawl Good Report, who is the starter for today’s 51/8 Challenge. He is also in the line up for the Azores and informed me that we are now down to 8 in number. In May there were 30 more and I assume one of the reasons is that neither France nor Spain offer boltholes whilst Covid restrictions remain.

There was no fuss about departure, everyone just quietly got on with their own preparations and left without fanfare for Plymouth breakwater about 2 miles off. John looked quietly determined and Bill was his normal irrepressible self, though he was obviously highly focused. Probably the youngest entrant, Chris Ling in Pocket Battleship, a very speedy Django 770, seemed well prepared for some high speed sailing.

And then they were gone. Even though the weather looks set fair, certainly better than in 2019 possibly because I’m not in it, anything can happen at sea and I wished them all the very best of luck.

Bill Churchouse leaves

Bob Litton’s pretty Sadler, Jalina

Chris Ling’s racy Django 770

Afterwards Graeme, a fellow Azores Challenger, stepped aboard for coffee and it was good to chat. He is skipper of an Albin Vega 27′ a type which though petite, has both circumnavigated and sailed to the Arctic and Graeme seemed no mean sailor himself. He left to take his boat back up the River Tamar (just round the corner from here) and to sort out work affairs before our Challenge.

Time for my exercise and at least in this part of Plymouth you meet interesting people. As I puffed up across Stonehouse Bridge with Aldi in my sights, I was closing on a lady of younger middle years when she stopped, placed her large shipping back down, pulled out a pair of knickers and put them on.

As you do.

By ajay290

In between times – part 1

Princess motor yachts – a rare British marine success story

Two days after I had stabled Pippin in Plymouth’s Mayflower Marina, Pete and Tracey Goss arrived with lunch for 8 and we happily stuffed ourselves to a standstill, though not before I had bored them rigid about Pippin’s latest modifications. They must be good friends as they always look most interested and their eyes only glaze over ever so slightly when I’m in full flow. But it was a rare sunny day, so they let me ramble on before we adjourned to their little home set in a 9 acre wood and yarned companionably into the night around the camp fire, serenaded by effervescent birdsong and the comforting sounds of sleepy sheep on the hillsides.

Next morning I woke up to World events that had completely escaped me – minor matters such as the G7 conference round the corner at Carbis Bay on the Cornish west coast, which started today. The upshot of this mega event, coupled with a regatta for very large boats is that berths in this area are like rocking horse shit and I don’t want to lose mine here for reasons that we’ll come to. It is particularly unfortunate though as I had planned to head for Falmouth for a few days and catch up with family.

There are 2 main reasons to stay put; the first is that this marina is the gathering point for 2021 Jester Challengers, which include muggins, and the second is that Pippin’s new sails, which are being made in Fowey, are due to be fitted and the rigging tuned sometime in the next few days.

This years Jester Challenge is to the Azores, which I find a terrifying prospect, particularly as we are now a field of only 11, down from 60 or so hopefuls. My reason for joining these Corinthian solo sailors is simply to find the motivation to achieve a long held ambition, and in their company my pride will at least get me over the start line. There is another reason, one I’ll be happy to achieve if the Challenge proves beyond me and that is to obtain the qualifying non stop distance of 1,000 nautical miles for membership of the elite Offshore Cruising Club. I have come reasonably close to that distance before now, but close isn’t good enough – Its a vanity thing really, but Pete Goss offered to second my membership application so that’s it; I must do it!

Being here early means I can meet other Jester solo sailors as they arrive, like Duncan Lougee, a solo trans Atlantic veteran in his pretty, diminutive 25′ Folkboat derivative. He arrived yesterday and seemed calm, organised and competent; he is a man I have long looked up to so it was a pleasure to meet him; along with Duncan there are several other entrants I also know from their past epic feats. Five of us did the 2019 Baltimore Challenge and there are solo trans Atlantic, Azores and trans Pacific Ocean passages on the CVs of some but here’s the thing; it’s not a race or about past achievements – it’s about competing with yourself, in your own time, in your own way. I know my weaknesses and will need to work very hard to overcome them, and that’s before dealing with whatever the weather gods have in store for us on this 1,200 nautical mile voyage (as the poor old crow flies).

Duncan’s Jester Challenger

I suspect we are all a bit odd, happy in our own company, not averse to some privation and up for an adventure; my GP, on hearing of my plans disagreed. He said I wasn’t odd at all and instead pronounced me completely bonkers, an ailment for which he felt he had no cure! Well, I am happy with his diagnosis.

Of course having made the Azores, there is the small matter of the uphill struggle to come home, but I’m not thinking about that unless courage fails me completely! Instead, I am focusing on other things and with time on my hands, I must be disciplined and organised, which starts with a list, something I am neither good at making, nor keeping. So I have made one and it begins with Hercule …..

To me, Agatha Christie’s inscrutable Hercule Poirot was a vain, fussy little man, never less than sartorially immaculate and you may think it strange that Pippin’s Hydrovane self steering gear is named after him. But his greatest strength was his indefatigable reliability, a quality shared by the Hydrovane, though not its electric sidekick, Pippin’s autopilot, which naturally had to be called Hastings after Poirrot’s sometime assistant, the thick but nice Captain Hastings.

Anyway, after 6 hard years, it was time to restore Hercule’s sartorial elegance, a task that is a cross between pulling on a very tight scarlet Durex or a pair of fine tights, though naturally I know nothing of either – at least not red ones. This was a task I had kept putting off, as I do with anything I consider difficult, but I could delay no longer as ladders were rapidly appearing in Hercules’s sun bleached pink suit.

I estimated that someone who knew what he/she was doing could manage this task in 30 minutes, so I decided 3 hours was about right and set to making a flask of tea to keep me going. I was spot on and 3 hours later, with the tea long finished, I sat back immodestly pleased with the result, one I felt the great Hercule Poirot would have approved of.

Hercule’s new suit

Aglow with achievement I am a little disappointed that there is no one around to impress, or more accurately – no one that could give a fig for my amazing success – so I stalked the mile to Aldi for a little retail therapy at minimal cost to our bank account.

By ajay290

Cross Channel to Plymouth

I can see there will be altercations aboard Pippin, for my very smart phone decides on a whim not to recognise my thumb or face, reducing me to a noisy tantrum and much fumbling. To be fair to it, I suppose a salt encrusted thumb calloused with rope pulling might look different from the freshly scrubbed digit it was introduced to. As for my face, 24 hours aboard without sleep introduces enough extra bags and lines to utterly confuse its AI – but that’s not the point for it chooses its moment, like when I’m trying to grab a picture of a rapidly fading object and not my stubbly chin. Such highfalutin thoughts occupied the little grey cells as Pippin slipped gently to St. Martin’s Point and 2 hours later, we took leave of Les Hanois and probed out into the Channel. Meanwhile Hercule the imperturbable (the windvane) is above such pettiness and led Pippin on, indifferent, mute, solid – my rock.

St. Martin’s Point astern

Guernsey inshore fishing boat

Seagulls round the (Hanois) lighthouse ….

I was in more forgiving mood as I turned Pippin north to cross the shipping lanes and she charged for England under full sail into the dusk and on through the night, close hauled in 12-15 knots, a gift from the gods of the NW, ‘perfick’!

Saturdays and Sundays are better for crossing this dangerous Channel motorway as traffic is much leas dense; I never had more than 6 vessels on the radar screen, though there was still the occasional ‘biggie’. I knew from past experience that 3 of them were trawlers that are always there. On other occasions I have had 26 ships captured on the screen, which tends to sharpen the mind especially at 0200,

This MSC monster was 1,000 feet long, with containers stacked 9 high on deck and we almost kissed as we passed a half mile off and as it was only travelling at 7 knots, it took forever to clear off.

Unlike my bolshy phone, dolphins appear just when you need them and my friends appeared as evening turned to night. They are wonderful showoffs, beautiful creatures and lift the spirits just when needed for I sense they know, so they stay to put on an extra show. I never tire of watching though I remain as hopeless at catching them on film as ever.

There is no chance of sleep on this 18-20 hour trip, for having braved the shipping lanes you are greeted by the inshore fishing boats, dozens of them but technology does makes things easier, By setting the radar alarm, I was able to relax comfortably below, alerted whenever anything got too close and in this modern World you have to trust your instruments. It is at times like this that I swear by radar rather than AIS, for fisherman are understandably combative, fighting their rivals for dwindling stocks, so one tactic is to switch off their AIS to hide their position. Wishing to sail for as long as possible, Pippin was swept a little further east than I wanted, adding an extra hour or so to the trip but my reward was 12 hours under sail through the night into a glorious dawn.

Shortly after sunrise I dropped the Rocna into the calm waters of Cawsand Bay and slept for a couple of hours, although it felt more like it must feel to be in a coma, for I was wildly disorientated on waking. Nothing that a fat boy’s breakfast couldn’t sort and by lunchtime Pippin was snug in Mayflower Marina and I was below listening to the rain; my family say I travel with a weather front or 2 in my knapsack, which I suspect is partly why I sail solo!

Having settled Pippin, I was disturbed by the raucous sounds of scared raptors, hundreds of seagulls wheeling and crying high above. The cause was soon established for perched on a railing was a jaw droppingly magnificent Harris Hawk, quite undisturbed by all the fuss up in the sky above. Stretching his 4′ wings he flew to his handler – together they patrol the pontoons and it works as there are never any Seagulls paddling hopefully around your boat!

Magnificent raptor

Looking out through Plymouth Sound

Looking up the Tamar – notice that Willis frontal weather

Typical Plymouth architecture

Plymouth is the home of Princess motor yachts, a rare British commercial success. Now, I know my opinion on anything is of no consequence and certainly threatens not the World price of St. Emilion, so I’ll say nothing of the next two pictures. I’ll leave them with you, though perhaps you are reading the wrong blog if they excite you. Mind you that hot tub atop the Princess has appeal after a rough sail.

No comment …..

Perfect for a trip Guernsey to Herm perhaps

The deck of this 58′ Hansa is level with my chin ….. and I would hate to park it, or climb its mast.

That’s it folks – except to say VERY QUIETLY, that the sun is out!

By ajay290

Pre-departure Preparations

Pippin is of the ocean, quite at home whatever the elements might choose to throw at her. If she was an aquatic creature, she would be a dolphin, elegant, sleek and delightful. If she was a dog, she would of course be a Retriever for she does I sense, love her master and wags with delight when I get her going properly, which I wasn’t doing very well the other day 15 miles off Guernsey during my 2021 work up.

It was a spirited forecast, without being too challenging though the seas, disturbed by the wind battling a Spring tide played a different game as they so often do out here. Building to perhaps 2.5-3 metres, they broke frothily with unbounded joy wherever and whenever they felt like it. Of course I wasn’t looking when one decided to join me in the cockpit, exploding with delight over the wheelhouse reaching foamy fingers 1/2 way up the reefed mainsail. A real show off of a wave and clearly one that had my name on it, as there is always one somewhere waiting for you.

Naturally I wasn’t wearing oilskins, nor had I shut the cabin door but I can report that the sea seemed quite warm on the skin, and the automatic bilge pump works just fine. Typically things went a little downhill from there, for my sailing skills are rusty and my body more beach ball than hunk, but Pippin responded in her calm patient way never criticizing or complaining and eventually I turned Pippin round across the seas onto a long tack to clear Les Hanois invisible in the distant haze.

The sail ended most pleasantly aboard a friend’s gaffer (2 gaffers aboard a gaffer!!) with a can of cold Doom Bar, which could very easily have become 3 or 4, but I had to get Pippin back into her berth in good order, as I had an important visitor in the shape of Alan, MD of Sail Shape/Quay Sails of Fowey, coincidentally on holiday in Guernsey yet volunteering his precious time to check out an issue with my reefing system. Good man; can be in my platoon any day.

Amazingly he met me on the dockside as I docked and it soon became apparent that Alan, a professional racing skipper as well as a sail loft proprietor, did not take prisoners and set the bar very high, certainly higher than diminutive me can reach. As he buried deep into Pippin’s running rigging, like a surgeon picking over ligaments and tendons, he muttered and corrected a little something here and there, with the occasional expletive and questions like “who tied this knot!” Of course I probably had, but like the coward I am, I managed to think of others to blame until I could think of no one else.

By now, feeling like a schoolboy who has both failed the grade and displeased the teacher he was trying to impress, I asked him if average, or perhaps satisfactory – grades I am entirely comfortable with – were acceptable. His glance told me all I needed to know. Alan doesn’t do average. Ever. Period. At last he found something that met with modest approval and I levitated with pleasure and near burst with pride as it was indeed a Willis DIY job.

This all reminded me of another reason I sail solo, for I suspect if Alan ever had the misfortune to sail with me, he would soon be looking for the first passing vessel to jump ship to and in the meantime would be checking the life raft very thoroughly. You see, I tend to do things my way …..

That evening ended badly when, having hauled sails up and down, in and out as evening turned into night, Alan recommended new sails sails for serious offshore stuff for reasons I shan’t bore you with though they are not all of my making. The good news is he will get a set made and fitted before I leave Plymouth and the even better news is my wonderfully supportive, first mate, who as a professional accountant had every right to chafe at the further depletion of our retirement capital, happily agreed we should go ahead. You see, boat ownership can never be a solo thing – sailing the boat yes, but not ownership because that affects us both.

I usually never leave without a visit to my Polish barber, an event that has become something of a pre-voyage ritual, one that begins by my instructing him very clearly – “not too short please”. But it makes no difference, l might just as well say “I’ll have steak and chips please”, for he simply looks into the far distance and proceeds to reduce my thinning pate to a near stubble. As my barnet is still recovering from his last ministrations, I risked not visiting him. After all, I’m not superstitious ……

The life raft being serviced. At least I now know what it looks like

Of course being ex military, one would imagine that I keep the 6Ps in mind as I prepare, but that would be to overestimate me. The truth is I spread my preparations over such a protracted period, that I generally muddle through with most things aboard by D-Day, which is 4th June. Gosh that’s tomorrow!

No ‘Guern’ could sail without a Guernsey Donkey aboard

All being well, I will sail safely across the Channel for new adventures.

See you on the other side.

By ajay290