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.

By ajay290

10 comments on “In between times – the Azores Challengers arrive

  1. Hi John

    Currently in Fort William having just done Ben Nevis yesterday with 2 non walker pals who wanted to do the hill as part of their bucket list .. we also did Scafell Pike with them last Monday.

    We bought a caravan during lockdown and this is my first long distance towing experience. Bit of baptism of fire towing over Rannock Moor and Glen Coe …

    ..but I strongly suspect not as challenging as solo to the Azores..

    I bought a Skoda Superb to tow, reckoned to be the best budget tow car available. 2 litre, Volkswagen engine twin turbos and permanently engaged 4 wheel drive pulls like a horse…

    Nice to think that us old farts are still out there challenging growing old

    All the best for your onward journey..

    Keep us updated…

    As ever


    On Fri, 18 Jun 2021, 16:35 The Solo Voyages of Pippin, a Frances 34 Pilothouse, wrote:

    > ajay290 posted: ” 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” >

  2. Hail skipper John,
    ‘Tis I, Roger P manning the lookout at Prawle Point NCI 50•12.2’N 003•43.2’W and a fine sunny evening it is overlooking 500 sq miles of blue sea perched 200 feet up but alas zero wind!
    Have been following the old blogs and just wanted to wish you and Ston de Croz fair winds, moderate seas and successful landing in Praia da Vitoria!
    How exiting! Can’t wait for the next instalment. Bon voyage to all the Azores bound Jesters!

  3. That mainsail looks a beaut, and I do like the Guernsey motif at the top. There is a request for used sails on the GYC noticeboard, for upcycling, whatever that means. Convert to a ‘Bag for life’, or a sailing smock with your sail number on it, perhaps. How about a canvas doughnut carrier.

    Keep safe, and bon voyage.


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