I have been known to enjoy the occasional meal and glass of hair restorer with friends, convivial events filled with laughter and friendship. It explains the additional ballast I so comfortably wear.
On rare occasions such a meal has led me unexpectedly onto a new path, such as happened in 2000 when a particularly convivial meet resulted in both a hangover and a job as general manager for Shell – but that’s another story.
Fast forward to March 2022, when I reported to the Taj Restaurant for a curry supper with a lovely friend, dynamic serial entrepreneur – and ex chief stoker. He raised his Cobra and sighed, for, he reported, he was simply too busy to use his little motorboat – would I like it? Yes I exploded, spraying chewed Poppadom, for I had been considering what sort of boaty adventures I wanted next.
I love thinking, dreaming and planning ahead but if truth be told, this was a little premature. But I knew such an offer would never happen again and I believe in fate; some being had arranged this for me.
My extensive research had led me to realise that what I wanted was a minimalistic tough little motorboat with a single diesel, cross Channel capable and fast enough to at least halve my current passage times. It had further revealed that this breed of boat no longer existed for they have been replaced by speedy ‘yoghurt pots’ with huge, thirsty outboards, costing upwards of £100k new, an amount the first mate was never going to accept.
And what I wanted was being offered to me over a vindaloo at a 10th of the cost.
Back home there was a brief awkward moment as I briefed the first mate, an accountant, on my scheme to buy another boat, but the ice was melted when the price was mentioned. Thus I became Admiral 2 boats Willis, proud owner of a fleet. Great, except it was perhaps 3 years premature and I hadn’t told Pippin.
My Azores trip had shown up my inadequacies and brought the realisation that I no longer wanted to play alone on the oceans; been there, done that as my first mate put it and anyway she said, you need a project for my little battle cruiser is several years older than my kids, both well into their 3rd decade.
It just happens that a Jester pal is a yacht broker and he offered a generous discount for a fellow Jester and so Pippin hit the market and phones began ringing within 3 hours. YES REALLY.
To cut a not very long story short, Pippin was bought by a lovely man who had previously owned a Francis Pilot House 34, which he sold and regretted doing so ever since. Yes he paid top price, but Pippin is a very cosseted boat indeed.
Which is why I am writing this from a cold, windy, deadbeat Holyhead for I had offered to deliver Pippin – before I discovered he lived in Glasgow, over 600 miles from Guernsey.
I left home for a very pleasant and enjoyable cross Channel trip to Plymouth to deliver some kit to friends Pete and Tracey Goss. Naturally a little hair restorer and some hearty meals were shared, before Pippin and I pushed on to Penzance against wind and too often tide. Anchored off the harbour, the seas rose as I tried to commune with Gollum deep down in the caves of darkness, to little avail.
So, grumpy and bleary eyed, we set off for Milford Haven, a challenging distance for a geriatric solo sailor for in coastal waters you dare not sleep. Passing Longships Lighthouse on the back of a galloping tide at over 8 knots boosted morale and I began to believe we might beat my expected 24 hour passage plan.
I don’t know why, but trawler near misses always seem to happen at 0300, when you’ve dog tired and so it was again. Things got very sticky as the gap closed to 1/2 mile. He had switched off his AIS identification transmitter and refused to answer my VHF calls; why? Because he was where he shouldn’t be, doing what he shouldn’t be doing!
It is very hard in such circumstances to know what direction a working trawler is going, particularly as some go round in circles and with a top speed of 6 knots Pippin simply can’t sprint out of the way. We passed each other 200 metres apart in pitch darkness with the wind rising.
With 21 knots across the deck, Pippin was going like a train and I slapped her wheel and grinned with pride; good girl! Milford Haven is a huge harbour, one I had sailed into before and it was a joy to drop the Rocna in the comfortable lee of cliffs near Angle Bay, 5 hours ahead of schedule.
We rested in Milford Marina, before locking out for the long passage to Holyhead, a marina destroyed in the storm of 2017. Again Pippin astonished ne with her speed and comfort even as the wind rose, though comfortably from behind. Hercule the windane and was in his element, ably assisted by Miss Lemon, a newly acquired portable autopilot to which he was connected. Miss lemon had the calming effect of steadying him as we powered down the bigger waves, working together in satisfying harmony.
Once again Pippin made a mockery of my passage plan surging several hours ahead, with the disadvantage that we arrived in the pitch dark rather than early morning. By now the wind was a full throated 25 knots and the idea that I could find a lee under Holy Island was quite wrong. Once again I found myself far out on the end of a pitching bowsprit tackling wildly gyrating hopelessly tangled sheets (ropes that control the fore sail) just as I had had to do whilst fighting my way to the Azores – except this time the water wasn’t warm.
Fortunately I was in familiar territory for I had been here 7 years before and it was a relief to tie up, albeit to the shattered remains of a pontoon, 6 hours ahead of schedule and sleep.
I’ll leave you here, as the wind begins to sing in the rigging, winds that will keep ne here a few days yet, before I can push on up towards the Clyde.