A simple pleasure – looking

Having watched the yacht leave – (and totally failed to note her name), I indulged in the simple pleasure of looking at boats.

A film crew has been in Teignmouth for the past week or so filming the Donald Crowhurst story – Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz etc have been here, 1960’s fashions have been in evidence – (the reporting in this link seems to be all about Rachel Weisz).

I have a deep sympathy for Donald Crowhurst and his family. A lot has been written and spoken about him, the story sensationalised for public consumption; like the previous film (Deep Water), this film will bring it all out again. I hope they treat him with respect. Whatever the mistakes, and there were many from the very beginning, (each one stacked on the previous one), he put himself forward for a huge enterprise that had no precedent. That alone took a particular mind-set. Only Knox-Johnson completed the course. In terms of seamanship, there would have been no disgrace in turning back – or even in not starting at all. One can only imagine what he must have gone through once at sea. Retrospect is easy, Therein lies the fascination – the question is asked of each one of us, “Having got into the tangle, what would you have done?” Think carefully.

Continue reading

Back to studying

For those who tune into this blog occasionally and are wondering why I am dodging around topics, it’s because I am doing a short course with WordPress – Writing 101. It lasts a little under three weeks and involves participants posting a blog most days. The topics are varied and a little out of my usual line. My intention is to get back to a writing habit that I lost over the past year. Bear with me, something good will come from it.


For those who are wondering what has happened to Blue Mistress, the refit is nearly complete. A lot has been done in between longish pauses and I see the chance to get back in the water in the next two weeks. The boat is looking good but needs to be afloat!




And if you are also wondering when I am going to talk about New Zealand, it will come. In the meantime, this is the Bay of Islands where Webb Chiles (see below) is headed.



If you are not following Webb Chiles, you should be. Aged 72 and circumnavigating in a boat smaller and lighter than Blue Mistress. It is his sixth time round, I believe. He prefers the solitude of single-handed sailing and was reluctant to fit the Yellowbrick – technology impinging on personal space. In the meantime, we have the privilege of sitting back and admiring. He has been sailing at over five knots for most of the voyage. Fair winds to him.

You can follow him here http://my.yb.tl/gannet

(All images taken by Bill Whateley)


Bude, Sunday

Bude, Sunday, cloudy skies, low tide

Beginning of the season, the RNLI out in force


The beach crew were checking their gear


The lifeboat crew were about to launch on exercise.


Elsewhere, the surf school was in full swing.


I had just been to my favourite bookshop, Books by the Sea, which was fatal. I was walking across a beach carrying two books having narrowly avoided buying a third.

The first was a good copy of Eric Hiscock’s Voyaging Under Sail, a 1977 edition of a book originally published in 1959. It is a companion to Cruising Under Sail which I bought many years ago.

Eye-brows are usually raised when I return home with more ‘boat books’. The question has even been asked, “Why buy books when you can get most of the information for free in easily digested packages via Google?” Well, maybe you can, but you don’t get the author.

Even if the technology is outdated,( and it certainly is in the chapters on electrics and photography), Eric and Susan Hiscock’s books reflect their day-to-day learning from their own experience and their continual application of other ideas that they have picked up in their travels. The knowledge, skills and attitudes reflected here are hard won,

Put glibly, their’s is on-the-job learning. Those of us who spend a lot of time book learning a) should get out more, and b), as importantly, should very carefully pick the authors we learn from. With that in mind, the Hiscock’s books should be compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to put their nose beyond the breakwater.


I was dubious about the second book, then bought it anyway – The Design of Sailing Yachts, by Pierre Gutelle.

This is technical stuff. “The author first considers the air, wind, water and wave and then goes on to the theory of aero- abnd hydro-dynamics and such topics as friction, form-drag, cavitation and viscosity. There follow chapters on the equilibrium of both transverse and longitudinal stability of sailing yachts . . .”

It is full of diagrams, graphs and formulae, a combination that I would normally run a mile to avoid. However, I made myself comfortable in my mother-in-law’s front room, ignored the football on the television and had a go. A while later, I realised I was absorbed. This was physics at a much higher level than I normally tackle, put in a way that I can understand. Extraordinary!

Sailing Blue Mistress has taken on a new dimension.

The Voyage of the Storm Petrel

I am writing this on Blue Mistress. It’s 1230 on Saturday. There is a constant flow of traffic across Laire Bridge half a mile upstream, and, earlier, someone decided to try out his hovercraft.These must be the noisiest vessels ever invented.
It’s overcast and slightly cold and I am considering lighting the stove. Today is the top of the spring tides and the tide is going down fast. Low tide is around 1430. The mud along the rivers edge is rapidly increasing. Boats nearby are aground. We should have just enough water to float.
There is little wind for sailing. I have cleaned up below and have some jobs on deck to do later. In the meantime, I prefer to write.
– – – –
Three years ago I had an email from a Clarissa Vincent commenting on the blog site. I was pleased  she had contacted me because she owned a Folkdancer and had noticed the reference to a Folkboat derivative. Well, at the time, I barely knew what a Folksong was, let alone a Folkdancer (which was why I had set up the blog in the first place). So I appreciated the photograph and learnt about Folkdancers . Clarissa’s boat was called Storm Petrel, which I thought was a great name for a boat.
She also suggested that I start a Folksong Association. Now, it so happens that the last thing I want to do is to start a formal group in anything, but particularly where my boat is concerned. Call me stand-offish if you like, but organising clubs is no longer my scene. People run away to sea to avoid that sort of thing. So, having appreciated Clarissa’s comments, I felt that, if she was intent on forming clubs, then we were going in different directions. That is how blogs go. Some contacts are single comments, some continue for a while, and others result in genuine appreciation and a long-term relationship. But you are aware of where the contacts come from and why – or you think you are . . .
A couple of weeks ago, Bill’s log – (yes, I know), mentioned a book written by the same Clarissa Vincent – The Voyage of Storm Petrel, Britain to Senegal Alone in a Boat. Bill wrote a good review. You can read his account on the link above. I remembered Clarissa’s comments and enthusiasm about Storm Petrel. I bought the book and have been enjoying it ever since – enjoying it and realising that I owe her an apology. Clubby?? Certainly not. I got it wrong, Clarissa. I’m sorry.
– – –
I’ve lit the stove. We have about .5 metre beneath the keel. The tide is slackening but still dropping.
I want to tell you why I like this book.
Between 2002 and 2004, Storm Petrel made a voyage that began in Bristol to sail far enough south to enjoy a climate warm enough for a gecko. Clarissa found her geckos in Portugal and she eventually reached Dakar taking in Spain, Portugal etc. on the way.  When she contacted me in 2006, this was all behind her. I knew nothing of it and was too ‘slow’ to find out.
Somebody once said that everyone has one novel inside them. We all have one great voyage inside us too. A few – very few, have the ken to carry it out. By ‘voyage’ I don’t mean a shiny cruise, I mean a journey. Some people become hooked on travel and are always on the move, but nine times out of ten, just one journey stands out. It has nothing to do with where they go, it is all about the getting there.
Not surprisingly I leap at books that feature boats similar in size to Blue Mistress because I’m interested in what other people do and whether I can use it on the boat. I learnt some technical stuff from this one, but I learnt even more about the people Clarissa met and the places she visited and her insight from the experience. I particularly sympathise with her contrasting Peniche and Castrais in Portugal. I have been to neither but would recognise the difference between the working town and the tourist resort – and which was the more interesting for the single-hander.
Also, her description of the traditional Portuguese working craft. Her comment: “The expression of diverse and extreme forms was largely eradicated from our over-rational and technologically dominated lives.” (p.155) sounds far more formal here than it does in the book but it chimes perfectly with the ‘For love of a boat’ series in this blog.
More than this, in her candour, she has brought out that aspect of single-handed sailing which should be translated as ‘a journey made single-handed’. Yes, there’s the boat and the sea and all the things that have to be joined up to make them work together – sails and rope and navigation and engines and sleep and weather and ports and so on, but amongst all this is a person growing.
“The gecko hunter must have solitude and a delicate process of organisation and problem solving went on in my thoughts whenever I strolled alone. The winding ways of my gecko hunting and sailing were a carefully trodden path, a solitary fairy path of balance between letting go of and holding on to the world. Selfish? – completely. Content? – deeply.” (p. 167)
Clarissa has written the music of her journey. If you listen to the words, you will learn from her book. Mendelsohn wrote that ‘music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague  but because it is more precise for words’. Many try, few succeed. This book gets closer than most. That the author plays both saxophone and guitar is no surprise.
In the years since she has moved on – a neglected yacht rescued and turned into a great houseboat . . . Storm Petrel sold, a different sort of trip hinted at. But my guess is that this voyage will always remain special. I wish her well.
– – –
The tide’s turned, we didn’t touch bottom.
– – –
“. . . sailing away in search of paradise will not make one happy and content if one is not already happy and content.” Clarissa Vincent 2003.

Seb and Maya

Back in the fifties, my dad bought an LP. He played it a lot – Uffa Sings.

As a young boy, I remember being fascinated by Uffa’s introduction to one of the sea shanties:

“‘A Roving’ – that’s a rollicking song but you can only sing about the first three verses of that because this is a song the sailors sung at sea and they weren’t always virtuous in their words.”

How I longed to hear the fourth verse!

I was reminded of this while watching Seb’s clips on You Tube.

Earlier in the year, Seb and I met at Newbury train station. He bought Blue Mistress’ old spray hood which is now attached to Maya somewhere in the Mediterranean.

I mentioned Seb at the start of his voyage. He is on a great adventure that he should one day look back on with pride. The lessons learnt will be there for ever.

He is sharing those lessons with us via short video clips from his phone. Perhaps, one of those lessons should be that because he is ‘less than virtuous in his words’, what works at sea doesn’t necessarily work for those us on land, sitting on our comfortable chairs gazing at glasses screens. (To be fair he has toned it down as time has gone on).

Here is the dilemma in the use of language. Is he recording events for himself and a small group of friends, in which case he has the right to say what he likes – (always remembering it’s difficult to put anything on media without someone misunderstanding you –  it’s totally unrealistic to think that no one else will see it – and better your friends see it first), or for a wider group – us.

I am sure we can all handle the language individually, but I would have avoided watching the clips with my mother if she were still with us – and I am certain my children would prefer to watch with me out of the room.

All the above because I, for one, am fascinated by these clips, firstly because Seb is sailing a boat like mine, secondly because he is doing something I’ve always wanted to do, and thirdly because he has found a way of recording the voyage with an intense immediacy. If he takes care in putting it all together it will be a valuable resource to him in future.

Here is Maya rounding Cabo Vincente:

You can find the rest of his clips by searching Sebinasia on You Tube.

Be(a)ware and enjoy

When all is said and done,  I’m home here talking about it, Seb’s out there doing it.

Wherever they go, I wish him and Maya fair winds  – (whenever they blow).

Fair winds

I bought a boat in 2006 – a Folksong 25. I knew little about the class and started this blog in search of other owners.
The boats were built for home completion – a different pedigree from modern production boats. After the hulls left the yard, personal preferences and individual skills took over. The preferences were as varied as the skills. It would be rare to find two identical Folksongs.
People found the blog and kindly contacted me. They have been helpful and resourceful, and I have learnt a lot that is now built into Blue Mistress for which I am very grateful.
Five years later,  a younger generation has come into the picture. The Folksong Yacht group exists. The mobile phone has taken over from blogging, instant access being the key. One person can contact the whole group and get an appropriate reply in a minute, an hour, a day.
Now one of those members has begun a voyage – Seb Rogers on Maya, last heard of in Falmouth at the weekend, looking for weather to take him across Biscay and beyond.
The excitement in that phrase!
Seb has taken on a challenge that most of us just think about.
Fair winds to him and a successful voyage. I look forward to his colourful clips and news from wherever, whenever it comes.

From Steeple Point – character and individuality

I found John Howlett’s book in my favourite second-hand bookshop – Books by the Sea in Bude.

‘Mostly About Boats’ could have been the title of this blog.

Three pages in: “We are so controlled and directed and generally bedevilled from the cradle to the grave, that any activity engendering personal initiative and self-reliance – qualities in serious danger of extinction, is surely laudable in itself . . .”

I’m beginning to like this man.

Talking of a trip to Flushing and the Scheldt, “. . . we were so fortunate as to see a Schevingen Bom. Nearly as broad as she was long and completely rectangular, save that the angles were rounded off, she was immensely strong, and was built to run in anywhere on the sands, where she was loaded or unloaded from carts at low water. Like so many things of character and individuality, they are now extinct.

. . . and about cruising: “Escapism? Well, that is an easy taunt to throw at those who ignore the values of the herd; but if we seek contentment and, perhaps, some enlightenment on those same values, here is a road for those who will take it.”

. . . and then a sentence that resonates: “The flood of man’s ingenuity has overwhelmed his power to create beauty.”

I looked at the short biography of the author on the cover – Mr Howlett, the Editor of the Cruising Association Bulletin, who calls his book a “hydrobiograpy” . . .

The date of publication? – 1956.

He must have been more or less the same age as I am now.

What would he think of 2010?

On sailing a Folksong – Betsy

The last I heard of Betsy, she was fitting out for a trip from the Algarve to Lisbon.

I look forward to hearing how they got on.


In terms of maritime history, this is a coast of great importance, the early Portugese navigators leaving a legacy that is still relevant to us today.

Looking through the links, I came across this report – The Wreck Report for ‘Hantoon’ and ‘Rothesay’ 1882, which occurred some 50 miles north of Cape St Vincent. Although it doesn’t compete with the early use of astronomical tables for navigation (or even events like the Battle of Cape St Vincent), for those  interested in seamanship, particularly where the Collision Regulations are concerned, it’s worth reading – and remembering even though it happened over a century ago, it could have been yesterday.