Necessary Personal Qualities
If you were to tarry for a moment and consider the qualities necessary in a successful long distance sailor you would probably not include:
“curmudgeon; unfit late-middle-aged bloke; border-line wine-o’holic; arthritis; asthma and PTSD tinged with a mild predisposition towards depression….”
If you had, you would probably suggest that sailor limit his or her nautical activities to playing with radio controlled boats on a model yacht pond. But whatever your make up, and I have all those a’fore mentioned ‘qualities’, I do think there are 3 broad requisites.
The 3 Essentials
I have decided that to sail round Britain is no big deal, providing you have 3 things; a suitable vessel, little or big; adequate skills coupled with bloody mindedness; plus a helping hand from “Lady Luck”. I think this summary sounds about right, so I pondered them a little more.
A-Jay is a suitable vessel, no doubt about it – many have done similar voyages in much more modest and less seaworthy craft. But she needs to be organised such that the balance of the union between boat and skipper tips towards the positive side of the scales as often as possible. I recall the rather irreverent old military adage, the 5 ‘P’s; “Preparation and Planning Prevent Piss Poor Performance”. There, in a nutshell, you have it.
Given that I am a mess of human mental and physical frailties and weaknesses, I should demonstrate that I have some qualifications for attempting this voyage. I’ll start with bloody mindedness, at which I think I excel. Wrapped within this is a pugilistic doggedness and a curiosity about how much I can take. Pushing personal boundaries, no matter how limited, keeps the spirit alive, I think. As to qualifications, well I do believe that the sea and sailing can be in the blood – I KNOW it’s in mine and I can look back at a recent salty family background.
As tangible evidence of skills, I have a fading stack of RYA certificates and thus far have always been the rescuing boat, rather than the rescued during my 40 odd years of mucking about in boats. But I mustn’t tempt fate, so will close this section on essential qualities by adding that I have dreamed of doing this for so long and told so many people that now I simply have to go!
So what of the fickle “Lady Luck”? If she were human, I think she would probably be beautiful, certainly kind and prone to visit at unexpected moments, though perhaps temperamental and not always there when you think you need her. Best not to upset her by demanding her presence, but instead do one’s best in a sensible, considerate manner, so as to deserve her presence. Thus far I think we have done ok together, albeit with a little tetchiness on both sides.
A dear, rather slim friend said before I left, whilst eyeing my portly little frame …”So John, I guess you’ll be getting fit for your epic round the World Voyage”? I corrected him by shrinking the geography of the epic somewhat and stated that, as a boss of mine once said before he and his unit left for war;
“We go with the team we’ve got, as they are”.
I don’t think I am a fool, but gym work-outs were never going to be on the agenda: instead I set the bar at ‘sailing workouts’ gradually building in duration, the aim being to get ‘sailing fit’ and to feel at one with the boat and its systems. Nothing drastic, though I was helped by having Channel Island waters as the playground for A-Jay, ‘Smiley’ and me.
I am a hopeless packer and the huge pile of clothes, shoes, re-proofed waterproofs, serviced life-jackets et al was thoroughly daunting. Help was at hand however and the First Mate saved the day. Little things like perusing the gorgeous Lakeland Catalogue for useful items (her idea) turned up vital things such as sealed vacuum packs for clothes, a knife sharpener and spare corkscrew. Those vacuum packs are amazing and reduced a bedroom full of clobber by almost 2/3!
One thing I found truly shocking was the passage of time-unnoticed … for example, until I washed and re-proofed my oilskins, I had no idea that some had been purchased 18 years ago, or that my fire extinguishers had not been serviced for 3 years, the same with the flares (now replaced with a laser one) and life raft (now serviced). Thus prompted, I checked my on-board sea going larder, with uncomfortable results. Even Fray Bentos has Use by Dates!
It is entirely fair that I am known as “the man who lunches”, so the provisioning of A-Jay assumed a high priority. I decided that I would have 3 days rations to hand at any one time and use a large Tuppaware box, on a piece of grip mat atop the work-surface, as storage. I don’t like cooking much at sea, unless conditions are very benign so chose foodstuffs that I could readily bring up on deck. Sadly, as I write this, I have been unable to locate that sea going essential – “Bacon Grill”!
Whilst in ‘3 day mode’, I felt that fuel equivalent to 3 full tanks was a sound plan, which translates roughly into an additional 6 x 20 litre jerry cans, split between the cockpit locker and under berth locker. The Yanmar burns about 1/2 gallon per hour, so I should be safe for a little over 3 days continuous motoring.
A good long sail is all the better for a glass of “hair restorer” at the end of the day, so I was delighted to note that A-Jay came equipped with storage for 16 bottles beneath the saloon seat. I also stored 15 litres of water in bottles in saloon lockers, in addition to the 150 litres of fresh water in the tank. Believing that life rafts and grab bags are there for survival, I also ensured that I had sufficient food and water to take with me for the moment I might have to step up into the life raft.
I am clumsy, so a little over kill on the safety front seemed a good idea. As well as sailing gloves, which I always wear I bought a sailing helmet, which I suppose also helps with UV protection for the scalp beneath my thinning ‘barnet’, whilst doing little to enhance my sartorial elegance. Safety lines port and starboard, a clip on harness, a good life jacket and a harness cutter are standard items no-one should sail without. I added additional personal lights and carry my EPIRB at all times.
The seat beneath the spray-hood, the self-steering gear, music for morale and a regular supply of liquid and grub I consider to be key to reducing the stress and strain of long solo hours at sea.
Sleep can be a friend to me, though sometimes fickle, no more so than when on the boat. I wasn’t sure how bad this would be, but decided that stress should be minimised. So, out with deadlines, in with resting when exhausted, a glass of “hair restorer” at journey’s end, decent weather forecasting and future treats along the way, such as a meet with loved ones or friends. I felt an irrevocable but attainable target early in the voyage was a good idea so put a pin into the city of Dublin on my map.
I was once a boarder, 8,000 miles from home at a very tender age so don’t get home-sick and am pretty good on my own, though contrarily I love good ‘craic’ with friends and acquaintances, especially over lunch or dinner. Equally I am happy to retreat into my cave like a hermit at other times. I hope to fill my hermit days with scribbling words and making bad drawings. I also have a waterproof Ion camera, which is so simple to use, even I can do it.
I suppose personal preparation should be tempered with a healthy dose of fatalism…”que sera, sera” and all that. To worry incessantly about the “nth” degree of preparation, perfect routes or the location of the nearest marina wherever you might be may not be the best way. I was constantly asked: “which way round will you go?”, which route will you take and where will you stop?” and “when will you set off?”
1. “Clockwise because I am right handed“.
2. “I hope to cross the Channel, turn left and then right at Land’s End…thereafter we’ll see”. Flippant? No. Realistic? Yes, given thefrailties of kit and man and the vagaries of weather. After all, a plan is only a guide and is out of date as soon as you cross the start line.
3. “As soon as the weather is suitable for a solo cross Channel trip.”
Saying good bye is never easy. People will worry about you and your voyage, more than you might realise. I guess you should try to be considerate, grateful and sensitive to the worries of others and, for me at least, try to avoid emotional scenes on the pontoon come departure time. I probably haven’t done too well with most of this, but I am trying.
I believe A-Jay’s safety systems and equipment to be adequate, if not perfect for long voyages. Indeed I carry much the same now. The key features are:
- Self steering gear and autopilot.
- Life raft & ‘grab bag’.
- Serviceable & accessible dinghy.
- Good sails with 3 reefs in the main.
- Sea anchor.
- Cabin fire extinguishers and fire blanket.
- GPS plus handheld back up.
- ICOM main VHF.
- ICOM hand-held VHF.
- Emergency VHF antenna to which the hand held can be connected.
- Speed, wind and depth instruments.
- Sheltered, comfortable perch for the skipper.
- Decent binoculars.
- Sufficient (waterproof) charts, pilot books, Almanac & tidal atlases for the entire trip.
- At least 2 high performance anchors with sufficient chain and rope. My main anchor is a 10 kg Rocna, which I swear by, on 15 m of chain and 100 feet of rope with lead in the final few feet.
- Powerful LED navigation lights.
- High performance radar reflector.
- Stay warm, dry and adequately fed and watered
I am sure I have forgotten something, but there we are …… bon voyage!