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.
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.