Tom Rath Unabridged Audio Books. About this product Description Sailing, Yachts and Yarns is a selection of Tom Cunliffe s funniest, wisest and most thought-provoking writing from the pages of Yachting Monthly. Tom s love of language and sense of humour shine through as he recalls the wealth of sinners and saints he has met on docksides from Southampton to South America, Greenwich to Greenland and Newtown to New York.
He has a gift for capturing the magic of sail and finding pearls of practical wisdom in the most unlikely nautical adventures. Sailing, Yachts and Yarns is a lively miscellany of a wit, wisdom and wonder. It will make you laugh and make you think and make you want to cast off to enjoy the delights of life afloat.
Publication Data Country of Publication. Show more Show less. Just pass the favour on. The nearest boat jumble beckoned, or a quick click into eBay, but I remembered that what goes around comes around, and knew exactly what to do. For reasons now obscure, my elder sister and I were discussing the implications of the world being round. Thoughtfully, he helped himself to a spoonful of sage and onion, then he asked us if we could prove we lived on a sphere. My Dad was not a navigator, but rigorous education had led him to a conclusion shared by everyone who really needs to know the truth.
Whether this is how far off the rocks we are, or whether we can believe the newspaper, the common denominator is never to trust a single source of data without corroboration. This placed his offspring on the intellectual spot. As the plates were cleared, however, he relented and showed how our point could be established by referring to a man named Eratosthenes.
Eratosthenes was a Greek philosopher, a chum of Archimedes. He had noted that the midsummer sun at noon shone straight down a well a few hundred miles up the Nile from Alexandria where he ran the library. Subsequently, he saw that on the same day of the year, it cast a measurable shadow outside his back door.
The charts had rudimentary latitude and longitude. They also featured a form of conic projection, demonstrating beyond doubt that their author understood the spherical nature of the world he was depicting. Even if a little short of ARCS standards, here, at last, was proper cartography a sailor could use. Seafarers had, of course, employed linear distance as a measurable and repeatable factor for centuries. Without it there could be no Dead Reckoning, and without that, they were more or less lost.
Things were looser on land. Here, the concept of the world shared by many is best understood by considering the Mappa Mundi, crafted in around AD. On my way to the Ptolemy Atlas in Hereford Cathedral library, I was shown this remarkable artefact, drawn on a single sheet of vellum. The Earth it portrays can only be described as chaotic. If he chose to keep his feet dry, he could leave Constantinople to starboard and go overland.
This is an eye-opener on the mindset of the folk of that era. The relevance of all this to us is surprisingly acute, living as we do in the immediate aftermath of a navigational upheaval. As I stood, fascinated by the stunning but ancient Mappa Mundi, it occurred to me that the revolution represented by the modern charts of Ptolemy to men like Cabot and Columbus leaves the recent eclipse of celestial navigation by GPS bobbing feebly in the broad wake of their caravels.
Our lives were in limbo between borrowing the cash to buy the ship and paying off the money-lenders so we could run away to sea. Behind this stood a row of colourfully dilapidated medieval cottages, inhabited by a mix of longshoremen and one elderly deckhand who always wore brass buttons and a tie. It was said he had raced against the Kaiser. He was the last of a breed that had made the Southampton rivers famous for their seamen from the s until WWII.
Eddie was his name. Eddie started work at no matter how inky the pre-dawn winter blackness, and my wife could always tell if he was taking a break from mending his nets in the lee of the loo. On one occasion shortly before Christmas, it was raining stair-rods as she set off on her dash up the dock. As for me, I was still turned in. Her brolly whipped inside out as she stepped into the cockpit.
By the time she came abeam of the gents she was already soaked to the skin. It was Eddie. Last week, I saw the yacht that Eddie looked after all those years ago. She was far from the Hamble and someone had painted the varnished hull he once maintained so superbly, but there was no mistaking her. Crewed by strangers, she sailed by like a ghost from another life, but she brought two things to mind. Her capacity to liberate her owner from his daily woes decreases by an equivalent factor.
Yet the truth of what Frank Mulville wrote has not changed. Last summer, I cruised in company for a while with a pal in a 30ft Moody. Either he left half an hour earlier or he arrived a bit later, although on one occasion he nipped out with us and had made good so much distance by the time I had my heavy sails drawing that I spent the rest of the afternoon catching him up in light airs. His hand was clapped to his brow.
That started us talking and I soon realised why he was eating in better restaurants than me. A new mainsail for his boat was less than half of one for mine. His antifouling bill seemed tiny, his annual insurance premium could have been covered by a decent case of claret, while mine would have bought my young daughter a viable used car. The list went on and soon I was remembering some hard facts about good times and smaller yachts. I am 6ft 6in tall. Back in , the National Sailing Centre used to run Competent Crew courses on Contessa 32s with six people on board for a week.
When they changed up to 30 feet they must have wondered what to do with all the space. Six hundred miles up to Norway, perhaps, or a Biscay crossing. As soon as my boat eases her sheets with a fair wind, she hardly knows how to do less than six knots. Furthermore, if all else about two boats is equal, the larger will be the better load carrier — my tanks hold gallons of water, for example. This can only be achieved in two ways. The majority fall somewhere between the two. Look at us Brits. From some perspectives, little has changed, but every so often my English streak is jolted into recognising that we are closer to other people than we might think.
Take last summer for instance. My wife and I were chilling out, running the tides and cruising some of our favourite North Brittany haunts. Make do with a night in this highly professional port and you can plan the tides for a drying haven of your choice.
It proved to be the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the tiny, sill-locked marina and also of the launching of the town lugger. All we had to do was sit tight in the plum berth to which we were ushered and a good time was, we were assured, guaranteed. The squeezeboxes wheezed, the dancers twirled, and one bottle led to another, as they do, but by sun-up I was back in basic working order. He had brought a gigantic bouquet which he set down carefully on his coachroof.
It is for those who have perished in deep water. This year is special for me. I own ten trawlers. One was lost last winter. With eight men. When the boats put to sea at the top of the tide, we followed them under short canvas. Out at sea, we cruised to and fro for a while wondering what to do, until we noticed a modern trawler hove to a cable to seaward of the cliff-top shrine. Boats were slowly passing her port side and we saw one toss a posy onto the sea. We tacked over and headed into the crowd.
Those who perish in the ocean are an international community. They were just accident-prone guys who seemed to spread their own ill luck over the ship at large. Consider Oddjob for example, a shipmate of mine who got his name from sailing in a hat like a hard-brimmed bowler. We limped into Guernsey, had the diesel rebuilt, then pressed on. Oddjob delivered his next catastrophe in Lisbon.
After topping off his requirements in a dockside bar towards midnight, he stepped over the sea defence wall to pump ship, slipped on the slimy boulders and slithered into the dark water. There seemed little to be gained from jumping in after him, so Jack legged it back to the ship for a heaving line while he clung precariously to a strand of seaweed. We hauled him out, rubbed him down and he swore to lay off the booze in future. It threw us down unceremoniously into the trough, leaving Jack and I buried beneath a pile of debris below under the lee deckhead. Jack throttled back while I peered frantically across the grey waste of the ocean for any trace of our shipmate.
I was asking myself whether perhaps the gale would now mysteriously subside, when I heard a feeble voice calling my name. It was his all right, but it seemed to come from the heavens. For a second I feared he was already an angel, until I glanced up and saw his round hat silhouetted against the sky above the wheelhouse.
With the boat still on her side, and lacking the convenience of a passing whale, a second sea had tossed him against the lid of the house. Jack set the autopilot to head slowly into the waves while we dried out the swimmer for the second time. When we returned to the helm we were impressed by the change in motion. Gone were the violent lurches of a small craft in a dangerous beam sea. Instead, she remained upright, rolling gently and nodding as she soared up the steep faces of the swells, breasted the peaks and nudged down their windward sides.
We made virtually no headway but maintained enough steerage to keep her bow up to the crests. We steered manually to dodge any breakers until conditions took a turn for the better. A week later I was safe in St Tropez with the hands paid off. Until recently it has not been considered a yacht survival option, but things have changed. The nature of many modern yachts means that they must never be allowed to lie beam-on to seas steep enough to break yet, unlike their predecessors, they cannot shoulder them by heaving to. Neither may be available. Dodging makes sense for the ordinary cruiser caught without specialised gear by a summer gale.
I dipped in, and was captivated. The work is illustrated with charming sketches and watercolours, plus a few monochrome photographs. The text is deliciously uncomplicated. The 21ft yacht has the tightest of headroom and a minute petrol engine whose consumption would be measured in pints, so little was it used. The son, somewhat older, dosses down on spare sails between his parents. The writer, Jocelyn Greenway, does comment that their holidays are very economical. They row out, come wind or weather, in a clinker-built dinghy which they then tow to wherever they are going.
The children are encouraged to use this to develop their seamanship skills, which, of course, in the absence of an outboard engine, they do. When it rains in harbour, things are a bit tight, but somehow they manage. They cruise to the Solent and all the usual South Coast destinations, but they also spend time in the Seine Bay and twice make it to Holland and the Ijsselmeer.
A man of experience few of us can equal, and no fool. My breakfast reading was rounded off by a session with the RYA Magazine. In fact, the RYA do well in monitoring what the authorities have dreamed up next to make our lives a misery, and at least trying to keep the worst excesses in check. The message of my morning reading, however, has been that to accept this without looking further into the question is to miss the point of why we go sailing. This is about buying things that may give us another chance when the boat has failed us or we have failed ourselves.
Primary safety, on the other hand, is about having a well-found yacht that is properly seaworthy in shape and displacement, then operating her in a seamanlike manner. I conclude that they kept a weather eye out for trouble and steered well clear of it. By avoiding obsession with gear, or paying huge money for a yacht far bigger than they really needed then relying on others for their ultimate survival, their stress levels stayed at rock bottom.
When the Mistral came rattling down the nearby Rhone valley the dinghies were grounded, but I kept the show on the road with somewhat hairy picnic trips in the lugger. The policy was to hug the lee of the land, but on one occasion I had a lively crowd who fancied a walk on the wild side. So out to sea we went, reefed so deep you could reach up and touch the yard. I thought nothing of it until I happened to glance astern to see one of our likely lads bobbing in the wake. This was in the days before the RYA method and nobody had taught me anything about Man Overboard drill, but I was a decent enough sailor.
We all had a good laugh, he went back to his baguette and I got going again. As easy as that. My wife and I were preparing to anchor off a palm-fringed beach in a stiff breeze and I was swigging up the topping lift when my day took a turn for the worse. The rope was an ancient length of manila. The strands seemed to be growing longer and it was taking on an ugly grey sort of colour instead of the beautiful buff so beloved of Dutch old masters.
To cut to the chase, the boom was heavy and I was throwing my whole weight outboard when the topping lift parted. There was only one way for me to go, and I went. This, of course, left the lady solo-sailing a gaff cutter with no engine, feeling obliged to pick me up into the bargain. I swarmed aboard up the bobstay and that was that. A third incident that ended with an unscheduled swim came while I was a charter skipper. The yacht was anchored off and the charterers had decided to go ashore for a serious dinner.
The gentleman was lining up for the dinghy, wearing a full tux; a glass of brandy in one hand and a Churchill cigar in his mouth. As he stepped down into the RIB, he turned to crack a joke to one of the girls. It was now that he showed his class. Within minutes, he was on parade again with the same smoke clenched securely between his teeth. It made you proud to be British. A shame in a way, because around its faded rim runs a legend that has helped me through many a nasty night at sea.
Time was when a family was content with a footer. Some managed well with far less; so did many an ocean walloper. I do it myself. A generation ago, the trip up to Holland from the Solent could well have taken three or four days. Today, I can blast off with a tank-full of diesel, use it where necessary to keep my average boat speed up to six knots, and be in Flushing 36 hours after leaving Pompey. Beside the path to the porch a half-dug grave gaped at me, and a shovel was propped beside the studded door. In the pitch-pine silence inside, a votive ship hung from the rafters, illuminated by the low sun streaming through a slit window.
She was a four-masted barque of the type used by the local Eriksson line on the Australia run as late as He was the gravedigger. I replied that perhaps the big model was donated in thanks for a delivery from danger, or maybe as an oblation to protect local seamen.
On a sailing ship, a passage can easily last four months. Until recently, distance was understood in terms of how far somewhere was to walk, or maybe ride a horse. Modern transport has hacked this perspective to pieces. A good thing too, in many ways, but its broad wake carries a distorted view of our own slot in the world. The trip measures a real percentage of our days. On a smaller scale, the same thing applies when cruising locally, so I for one am going to slow down this year.
The reality of arrival sometimes disappoints. While it lasts, the journey of hope never does. It goes back to my childhood, where I learned it from my grandmother in a terrace near the wharves in Sunderland, who had it from her own forebears. As the boat heaves and lurches her way south, we will be busily engaged stripping the outer skins from a pound or two of onions. On Easter morning, to the consternation of the French, we roll these competitively along our side decks. The prize is immaterial. Once, I made an extended cruise in the company of a hero.
He never missed his watch, never lost his temper and, it must be said lest he be thought a saint, never failed to point out the error of my ways. In another life he had been a professional hand aboard one of the great yachts of the previous generation, and he would no more sleep through than miss the chance for a nip of 32 GLAD TO BE TRAD my best rum when it was offered.
In the tropical evenings, as the sun bit the horizon bound on its nightly passage for Panama and points west, he took them in again and stowed them with proper reverence. Even sailing-yacht owners have been known to subscribe to a permanent berth, but marinas do have their drawbacks. As of March , a compromise of sorts is in uneasy existence. The wall-to-wall marina plans are not quite on hold, but seem to have been diluted at least to some extent.
All is not lost. Perhaps the most insidious side-effect of all, however, is the wretched sameness of marinas. Take the small town of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, for example. Yarmouth is a community of character with a harbour to match. Its salty, seamanlike atmosphere is an increasing rarity on the Solent. To date, the harbour commissioners have resisted the demands of those who would plug into the mains and stroll into town no matter what the cost, and turned aside from the allure of the increased dues that would follow.
Side-stepping the will of the majority of the diverse stakeholders, new plans show the whole harbour as, literally, a wall-to-wall marina. Not even their legendary berthing staff were told until after the plans had been drawn up, but a ray of sunshine may yet cut through the gloom of this potential horror story. If the commissioners can bring themselves to listen with open minds to such well-informed input, all may not yet be lost. Sailors in the Solent will hold their breath. The rest of the nation should take more than a passing interest.
This pestilence is a growing sickness that can infect us all; it would sow a seed of reason to report next year that Yarmouth, loved by so many, lives on. The fee will be. Beginning with the tale of his birth at sea in the vicinity of Tristan da Cunha, they go on to describe a life of adventure on the edge of the law.
He tackles huge icebergs assisted only by a three-legged dog, faces down pirates and hard-nosed authorities with equal panache, and generally keeps his ships at sea against fearful odds. He also drags a small yacht across South America to sail on the highest navigable water in the world, Lake Titicaca. This exploit took place in the early s and his book The Impossible Voyage was published shortly afterwards.
By coincidence, my wife and I trekked 12, feet up the Bolivian Andes at around the same time. I still have the faded photographs. As a budding journalist, this put me in an awkward position. He inspired thousands and he entertained millions more. Last week I made a business trip to the United States where chance led me to the mining settlement of Quartzsite Arizona.
Sailing, Yachts and Yarns by Tom Cunliffe – Book Review
As I rounded the corner of the cracked clapboard shed fronting the burying ground, a sign over a batwing door announced implausibly that I had arrived at the Quartzsite Yacht Club. The buzz of conversation switched off like a light bulb and a hush descended as the stewardess peered at me from behind a Coors Lite pump.
She eyed me up and down, then relaxed. Just hang any side arms by the door. It was lunchtime and only three were in use. Reassured, I settled at the bar where I fell into conversation with a grizzled old miner who seemed to be a sort of rear commodore. Big time. Most have learned a smattering of celestial navigation in order to qualify.
The last time I crossed the Atlantic I only took my sextant out of the box once. In the dead of one remarkable night, the moon was pouring out enough light to give me a horizon, and there was the Pole Star shining through the blaze, low in the northern sky at the tail of the Little Bear. I knew my latitude without it, of course, but the extraordinary beauty of the scene demanded that I associate with my surroundings more profoundly than by merely staring at them.
The body I was sighting on was of an immensity that dwarfs anything in our locality and, even as I watched, it was marching with unimaginable velocity away from me at a distance I cannot begin to comprehend. Electronics are here to stay, and I of all people realise this. Astro navigation depends on the sun for the absolute time which is its life blood. When the issue of longitude was foremost in the minds of every mercantile nation, it just so happened that the problem was solved in England and that the Astronomer Royal had set up shop in Greenwich.
It all came right again in about a year, so no problems were caused, and the navigation tables took it into account. Not all the nations were thrilled about this name. Every second, the Caesium atom emanates precisely 9,,, oscillations of radiation at ground state. Unfortunately for supporters of this otherwise perfect arrangement, our dear old Earth is slowing down.
Not a lot, but enough to throw the atomic clocks out by a second or so every four years. By my calculations, it will be in Paris in about years, giving the French what they always wanted, before it drifts ever onwards into the wastes of Russia. Never mind if a stand against the atoms upsets a few mobile phone and software companies.
If a plebiscite were to be offered, I hope that all freeborn sailors, be they ancient or modern, will stand up and be counted. My act of folly was a singular affair and at the time I was inclined to set it aside as bad luck, but I soon found out that luck at sea — be it bad or good — is generally of your own making. Now we were bound back down after breakfast. It soon became apparent that we must beat most of the way to the sea. We could, of course, have motored, but on so sunny a morning that would have been a shame.
The channel was wide enough for a Contessa to work to weather without straying into the well-spaced moorings at all, but the genoa was a big sail so we decided to minimise the number of tacks and use the full breadth of the river. Unlike many of her modern counterparts, the idea of such a yacht griping up in a gust among the moored craft was unthinkable.
The skipper of the day was an ex-dinghy racer. We had everything possible in our favour. Down towards the sea we beat, rattling the winches and scaring the ducks. The tide was helping us along, making the judgement calls interesting as we crabbed past yachts whose owners were doubtless earning a carefree crust up in the City. So long as the boats we were approaching were moving relative to their background from both bow and stern, all was guaranteed to be well.
It was only as we shaped up to pass downstream of a lovely wooden yacht with a gentleman and his wife taking coffee in the cockpit that things turned unexpectedly pear-shaped. The gent smiled encouragingly, noting that we were well clear. Suddenly, his yacht heeled hard over and started to follow us down-river, the coffee pot hit the cockpit sole and his wife looked as if she had swallowed a cricket ball.
Our helmsman was struggling to keep the Contessa from gybing round into the other boat, but he managed it and so the two boats staggered on, locked in this ghastly embrace, for what felt like a minute but was probably more like three seconds. Mercifully, it carried away before any worse damage was done. There had been nothing wrong with our assessment about whether the boats themselves would collide, but nobody had thought to check aloft and we certainly had no masthead man sizing up the opposition. I ran back down to our victim and apologised. Indeed, it seemed all the drinks were on me until our race training yacht arrived in from Lymington.
The windex was bent at 90 degrees and there was a large gap where the anemometer should have been. The wind instruments are still hanging on the topmark. Bit of bad luck really. The trouble with forecasts in this country is that they never seem to be broadcast when we want them. The dear old BBC is just one case in point. I love the Shipping Forecast ritual. As for the Enough said. My personal gripe is about the gratuitous manipulation of forecast times. For years, generations of British seafarers were subjected to The Archers while waiting for the bulletin.
So intense was this Archers-dependence that many of us took to enjoying our frugal sandwich during the afternoon episode before stiffening our upper lips for the ugly forecast that so often followed. After getting us well and truly hooked, the Corporation arbitrarily moved the day-time forecast to noon on long wave only, and shoved the Ambridge visit back to For years, I had hung on, awaiting my lunch until the unnaturally late hour of Now, I must tighten my belt until after Worse to tell, unless I also switch on at noon, I miss the weather into the bargain.
If you too are groaning beneath the emotional burden of this high-handed action, you are not alone. Take Navtex, for example. Broadband access to the various met sites is the ideal answer at home, but I doubt whether one yacht in ten manages an internet connection on the water. Waiting for a download is like boiling a kettle over a candle. Here in modern Britain, even my home mooring on the West Solent is in a black hole. Lovely, should you be listening when the nearest shore station repeats the Shipping Forecast every four hours.
Unfortunately, the timing and the channels vary with each coastal zone. Sure, the relevant data are posted in the Almanac and the service is generally announced on Channel The trouble is, as a peripatetic sort of skipper I often end up choosing the wrong channel from the selection recommended by the operator. Over in America, none of this nonsense is tolerated.
As you sail down the coast and one channel begins to fade, you just switch to the other, and so on, all the way from Maine to Alaska. Reception never failed me in two years, and the service is absolutely free. They change. Many simply chum up, zooming along the shifting valleys of the waves, then soaring over the masthead.
Who knows what goes on in their bird brains? But these are pelagic operators who only come ashore for a week or two annually for a bit of hunky-bunky and to pay the school fees. The land birds who happen by are a sorrier bunch altogether.
Sailing, Yachts and Yarns (Audiobook) by Tom Cunliffe | itocagawoler.ga
He looks lost and feeble, because he is. Blown offshore, he is confused and desperate. The trouble is, the sparrows and warblers nearly always end up ditching, which is terminal for them and depressing for me. One came to Norway, and a brace set up home on the foredeck of a large training yacht under my command halfway between Ushant and our destination in northern Spain. They lurked under the bulwarks as the hands tried to feed them on Quaker Oats and milk, but they turned up their beaks at these offerings.
We pointed out the way, we shook a trail of crumbs across the deck towards the weather bow, we even tried launching them to windward, but they kept coming back. In the end we gave up, accepted them as shipmates, and signed them on as Ordinary Seabirds Pidge and Podge. Twenty-four hours later a big, fast yacht overtook us, also bound towards Spain.
As he came abeam, he broke out a massive French ensign and gave us a merry wave. Pidge hopped up onto the rail for a better view. Podge joined him. The French seemed to be fussing them up as they all disappeared over the horizon and we thought no more of the incident, except to log the birds as deserters. Two days later, we anchored in a Spanish harbour beside the same Frenchman. The crew recognised us and one buzzed across in the Zodiac to invite us for drinks. Behind the skips stands a large shed where new or nearly-new items discarded by wealthy summer visitors are sorted by the thrifty locals.
On a back shelf I discovered a box stuffed with identical books about, of all things, European seabirds. I liberated these full-colour offerings, took one for my bunkside locker and have been dishing out the remainder to likely boats ever since. Learning to recognise the locals as you plough the sea is an enriching experience that does not fade. He was referring to working sailing cutters built without formal plans. So there we have it. Most of us have come across yachts that have never been anything but trouble. I remember one which a friend of mine commissioned from new.
She was rammed twice on her mooring, then, one summer day, she was lying quietly at anchor when along came a large motorboat and drove straight into her cockpit. Next, she fell over when dried out alongside, and so her miseries compounded. In despair, my pal sold her and took on a different craft. It was his old boat that had been inherently wicked. On the other side of the coin, I cruised a pilot cutter for 15 years that had every chance of delivering grief in sack-loads, yet she never did.
She weighed in at 35 tons, measured 65 feet including her bowsprit and had a tiny engine with a spectacularly off-set propeller. Yet in all that time the only major mishap she suffered was in the United States when a huge vessel smashed into her while she was anchored. That put her out of action for months, yet somehow she contrived her lay-up so that it coincided with the hurricane season. She never lost that personality. Character can be a matter of temperament. Some yachts make you feel secure and homely. Others are wet, wild and exciting. Some are inherently cheap to run. What about production yachts, then?
Three Easy Ways to share your Sailing Trips
Yet it does. So should we. These days, one of the most infuriating sources is the gratuitous bleeping of electronic equipment, but more direct threats to serenity on board go back a lot further than this. Many years ago I was moored on the inside of a raft of three boats on a town quay. Beyond her, a nondescript yacht had parked without shorelines. When I went on deck at sunset to lower my colours I found the motor-sailer man doing the same.
The newly lit dockside arc lights glinted off its rich silk reveres as he graciously offered me a sundowner. The old gentleman, it turned out, had survived the whole of WWI at sea with the Royal Navy before achieving some remarkable yachting exploits so long ago that Hitler and his gang were still limbering up. I never discovered how this ill-starred machine pushed the boat along, but it was spectacular for noise and fumes.
We continued to sip our cocktails and nothing was said directly for about 15 minutes. I just wanted to give you a hand. That at least is a direct affront. Safe their cookers may be, but such yachts often feature plug-in kettles. One of my greatest moments of liberation came when all my efforts to defuse this horror had failed and I resorted to the book of instructions.
In tiny print right at the back was a line in italics — To silence sound signal enter setup scroll mute enter. It demanded a serious effort of will not to heave this gobbledegook out the porthole, but as soon as I did what the manual was trying to say, tranquillity was restored and I felt the sort of triumph Archimedes must have enjoyed when his bath slopped over. Now, all I have to do is deduce a global method for gagging that most irritating of all improvements, the universal echo-sounder depth alarm. He was a sportsman himself and had assessed me as a man who enjoys driving a vessel to her limits.
It was blowing Force 6, so with giant headsails and not a reef to be seen we had a rough time of it, but he made his point. My wife and I were selling because she was eight months pregnant and our lovely craft was not going to accommodate three. I advertised in YM and two customers nibbled at my hook. I realise now that this was upside down, but it seemed sensible enough then, so we agreed a date.
He brought his wife, a friend and an aged aunt. The yacht, however, had other ideas. This tiny sail sets from the bowsprit end and is vital to balance a gaff cutter. Off the wind, she may sail with staysail and main; to windward, without a jib she walks with a pronounced limp. As predicted, with nothing on the bowsprit the boat sailed like a pig, so I roused out the Number Two, set it in a frightening thunder of canvas, and away we went with my old friend the lee rail as far under as it had been on my own trial sail.
To disguise this sorry performance I suggested starting the engine. The ladies agreed with obvious relief, so down came the sails and on went the Volvo, which ran like a trooper until halfway back up the river. Whip up some rag and away we go, is my maxim. We lay hard over amid screams of woe and terror, and ended up well stuffed in the mud on the lee shore.
I carried out a kedge with the dinghy and prepared to wait patiently for the tide. We thrashed clear of the ooze and luffed off the last of our way alongside the Royal Lymington pontoon where a bosun with an eye for a good laugh took our lines. We never saw them again. The next person to view the ship understood what he was buying just by looking at her, and he wrote the cheque on the saloon table there and then. The boat approved. She was partial to people who knew their own minds. I parted company with her ton successor nearly 20 years later for the opposite reason. The yacht I have today is just right.
I just hope none of my customers turn up with hampers. They all chose this natural product to protect, rejuvenate and lubricate their rigging. Stockholm Tar is made by some mysterious technique involving boiling up the roots of pine trees, and a little goes a long way. We live in enlightened times, however, and most people now know that discarding used lubricant indiscriminately is a criminal offence.
Many oil cans even feature useful advice against drinking the stuff. At the time of writing the Finns and Norwegians are having a rough ride trying to negotiate a third dispensation to go on treating wooden churches with it, some of which have lasted a thousand years with no other preservative. If you sail a modern yacht, you probably have more important things to lobby your MP about than this particular piece of silliness, but we sailors do need to grumble rather more loudly. Earlier this year I happened by a boat on the hard whose wooden mast was surrounded by scaffolding.
Left to ourselves, we generally make the right decisions. The absence of these unlikely aids to eternal life in our oilskin lockers pays mute tribute to our collective common sense. Journeying by sea presents opportunities that are beyond the reach of those restricted to land T he more that human activity becomes regulated, the happier I am to be a sailor. The feeling of independence once the shorelines are slipped is one of the core delights of cruising.
That, and the ever-present lure of the unknown. We are designed to cope with uncertainty, and dealing with it delivers more than its share of job satisfaction. The upside is that landfall on a strange coast can produce unscheduled sources of satisfaction. The music was thundering in my head. Many years later, I visited the old haunts, this time from the land in a rental car. To approach anywhere near the wilderness, vast deserts of man-made mediocrity had to be traversed.
The sea was the only way. As well as the joys of nature, turning up somewhere by boat can often lead one to the best parties in town. Unlike the community represented in Midsomer Murders, which must by now be measurably down in population on account of the toll taken by the unlawful killings, Ystad is a real place. They sold everything a modern yacht needs, but they also specialised in all the goods required to keep a serious sailing ship at sea. The place smelt of Stockholm tar, hemp and linseed oil.
It was like heaven. Instead of the highly civilized lady who had served me with a ball of tarred marline and a mooring spring, a shifty-looking character lurking in the gloomy recesses behind the fenders refused to give the honest guardians of the law a straight answer. Instead, the real chandler told me about the 18th century opera house the town had just refurbished. That night was the grand-opening, featuring an agenda of pure Mozart. There are two choices of halyard. Then I sit back and chuckle. If only all decisions were that simple!
Time is running out and the weather has been rubbish for days. Home lies an ugly 80 miles to windward. Nobody but an idiot would put to sea.
Or would they? A fat lot of use that is. You could live with four, even on the nose. The usual group of bedraggled fellow-prisoners has clustered around the bulletin. A few white faces peer out from companionways and one bold spirit gives you a wave. The boat falls off a square wave and buries her foredeck into a hole big enough to garage a corporation bus. The whole rig shudders, the engine slows momentarily and your heart falters. Perhaps you should have stayed put with the faint-hearts.
The trouble is, what do you do now? After all, some of the best memories come from bad experiences. The next time it pipes up it hits 28 knots and one of the crew throws up. Back in harbour, you make a brave face of it with your pals. Anyone can judge decisions with the wisdom of hindsight, but when it comes to the sea, the weather is the mainspring of the whole business and sailors have been second-guessing it since the dawn of history. As long as we make diligent efforts to gather all the data available we can do no more.
The decision was right when we made it. It just turned out wrong. The main topsail halyard it is, then. Happy Christmas! As I strolled on, however, I found myself losing the will to live. She lacked a deep freeze, double bunks fore and aft, electric heads and complex radio equipment for talking to my friends if I felt lonely, but she had a lovely motion and massive water tanks.
Not long ago I was crossing the Atlantic with a friend when his water maker packed up. Demand for water was heavy and tankage less generous than it might have been without the machine. Never having shipped much in the way of technology, I have managed to avoid becoming a prisoner of my own systems waiting for spares in far-off lands. This worked adequately in a clean marina with a small pipe and a controllable tap nearby.
The canvas piping had the bore and consistency of a dead python, and as we fed the mighty brass nozzle down the companionway we suspected we might be in for trouble. I stationed myself in the cockpit to call the shots while the cook held the hose in place and waited. From below came a scream followed by a noise normally only heard at waterfalls. Diving down the steps, I found the cook clinging grimly onto the nozzle, apparently possessed of a demon.
The downside is the lurking spectre of failure when you least want it. Given average rainfall potential, however, a different solution may appeal to lateral thinkers. Being children of civilization, we tend to regard drinking water as originating from pipes on shore, forgetting that the stuff really falls to us straight from the sky at the popular price.
I used to cross oceans with my wife on a boat that carried only 40 gallons. We were once six weeks at sea in the tropics, yet still arrived with our tanks over half full. I always envied better set-up yachts that had water catchers integral with their sun awnings, but my favourite arrangement is on a simple steel cruiser designed, built and owned by an unsung hero of the deep, Nick Skeates. All he has to do is wait for a good downpour, block up the scuppers with tailor-made bungs, open the caps and sit back. His reply showed the question to be profoundly inappropriate. Every day is different.
Half a day to the westward of the Sound of Harris, the main island of this remote group bears the same name as the one given to the boat in the s by the man who owned them both. Typically for those bound towards the only roadstead, Village Bay, we were stopped in our tracks by gales ripping down from Iceland. After three days of damp, freezing weather, we were running low on coal for our bogey stove, so I rowed ashore to strike a deal with the post mistress, whose neat stack of turf had caught my eye.
The following day the wind was still howling, but overnight the moon had been waxing big above the driving wrack. I went forward to check the cable at sunset and saw the half-inch chain standing out bar-taut in front of the boat. When I rose at for a healing brew, it was blowing harder than ever, and by coffee time, the beach was showing more of its bones than I wanted to see.
We bumped that midnight. Instead of the spell of moderate northerlies we might have expected, however, he replaced it with a stiff east wind which would be blowing straight into Village Bay with a mile fetch. The batteries would also have taken a needless drain. The second, perhaps more important point, was that examining charted depths in detail would not have made any difference to the fact that my chosen spot to anchor ultimately turned dodgy.
I always suspect a Yachtmaster candidate who looks too closely at soundings and adds them into the equation of his depth calculation for anchoring overnight. The sounder should be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. My plan had worked well. Here, I thought, was a chance to pick up a few nuggets from the great man, so I asked him the question that has since been posed to me more times than I can number.
Then he chuckled. So long as we hold onto the right to police ourselves, a few will always do nothing, but many will strive for higher things. The Germans now must submit to examination, whether or not they intend operating commercially. Others on the continent are teetering on the brink. Maybe Saucy Sal is plain lucky while Supersailer is not, but perhaps the truth lies in which questions are being asked.
Fortunately, British citizens with pre-June vessels can still do as they please within the limits of common sense and the laws of the sea. Many years back, I shipped with a well-respected elderly yachtsman who took young folk to sea in an ancient working craft. Her transom planking was so rotten that a board literally fell off it in Holland. That plastic bag became notorious as he made the trip again and again, bringing joy, laughter and a lively sense of their own mortality to a generation of sailors.
The French have a name for spring tides. Living waters. One thing the sea reminds me about each summer is that I, for one, am never too old to learn. Despite the proliferation of organised berthing and locks to cheat the tide, there are still plenty of places to drop the hook. Indeed, my pal Dutch Rob spent a whole summer in the Channel not so long ago and never once paid a harbourmaster.
His ground tackle did the work most of us leave to our cheque books. The problem with this policy is spring tides, especially down in the Channel Islands and the waters around St Malo. This allows you to tuck in nice and close, feel safe and not have to row what seems like halfway to America to get ashore. Late summer of saw some exceptionally big tides. I used the might of the big streams to blast me up there in light airs from Brittany and arrived two hours before sunset. Anticipating a still night, I swung into my chosen roadstead.
The tide made mincemeat of the 20 or so miles and I was safely over the sill before dark. Passing a shoal with loads of water over it, the boat suddenly began leaping about like a duck in a fairground shooting gallery. As the huge tide rattled over the uneven bottom, it was cutting up the otherwise glassy water into a fair copy of the view through the window of my washing machine. Spring tides again. Ignore them at your peril.
The following morning I came across an unexpected manifestation of the old enemy. I paid the charming harbour mistress four Euros to access their WiFi for my on-board Internet connection. I managed my emails and slid off for a spot of lunch, returning at low water with the tide well down despite the protecting sill. After a snooze, I tried to go on-line again for the latest weather and, guess what? Not a peep could I get until the rising tide had levitated me from my private black hole of zero reception.
I did the only thing I could. I clapped on my best hat, shut the hatch and headed straight for the Bar du Port. We were outward bound from the Hamble towards Madeira and it was February. The boat was a shapely ton wooden trading ketch recently retired from the Baltic. The mate and I had the middle watch and we were hove to. Nowadays, such heavy copper units are reserved for pub walls. Ours were mounted in traditional lamp screens seized to the shrouds at shoulder height.
Seeing anything in those conditions was a hit-and-miss affair, and squinting into the gale was so painful that we were half-blind in that direction. Suddenly, around , two white lights appeared high up in the eye of the wind. Steamer masthead lights, for certain. We could tell they were close, because they were pitching and writhing slowly in the waves.
They were also squarely in line and our boat was dead in the water. Seconds later, we smelt her oil smoke as she rose on a big one and showed us her side lights. Red and green, and too far apart to offer a crumb of comfort. We were about to be run down, very soon indeed. With our insides turning to water, we considered calling the hands to try and get under way, but it was going to be far too late. Then the mate reached a decision. I grabbed it and waded forward past the battened-down cargo hatch.
Despite being half under water, I had never made the journey to the focsle head so smartly. The towering mass of the backed staysail was illuminated for its whole height.
So was the deep-reefed main, as well as a massive swell rolling away with foam down its back. Turning to weather, I confronted our certain doom. The ship passed so close I could see the rust on her plating. I chucked it over the side and tottered back aft like a zombie. The cook was up. Without a word she handed us the whisky bottle.
These include strobes which could cause chaos in narrow seas if enough of us used them. Special yacht radar transponders have been mooted, radio calls, active AIS for yachts and heaven knows what else. Few western yachts enjoyed this opportunity and my time with the Central Yacht Club of Trade Unions proved a salutary experience. The members were as bemused by our circumstances as we were by theirs.
Unfortunately, there was a rather serious catch. Arriving miles from home, in our own time, in our own yacht, such draconian restrictions were hard for us to comprehend, especially as the comrades at the club were highly civilised people, more widely read than most westerners, with an appreciation of the arts and sciences that would have left many a UK undergraduate gasping in the weeds.
The situation we found in the Soviet Union demonstrated forcibly that the freedoms we had hitherto taken for granted were, in fact, privileges secured by Magna Carta and the Common Law. One of the joys of EU membership has been the relaxing of interstate borders. The protocol on Customs and Immigration on much of The Continent means that we can drive or sail from one country to another without formalities. The answer is that the UK never signed up for unrestricted passage through immigration. Over the years since the EU arrived, Customs and Immigration have wisely acknowledged that checking every boat in and out as though they were coming from outside the Union is a time-wasting nuisance for all concerned.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, they recognise that we pose no threat to national security and leave us alone. So long as they do this in a sensitive way, few of us object. Most actually applaud the strategy which, helps to deter undesirables from trying their hands at yachting in favour of the comparative luxury of hanging off the underside of a truck in the Tunnel.
What grim news it is, therefore, that when the opportunity arises for technology to secure our borders electronically, those charged with doing so are talking recklessly about our having to report each and every trip outside territorial waters. At a recent seminar organised by the Northwest RYA, a show of hands was called for as to whether, in principle, we should secure our borders. Very few disagreed. We live in times where the potential for electronics to ease our administrative burden is substantial.
It will happen sooner or later anyway. So far, so good. When it comes to the EU, however, matters are very different. This choice has made us feel more inclined to assist them in their efforts to keep our borders tight, and I defy any bureaucrat to produce evidence of illegal immigrants and terrorists in large numbers sneaking into Blighty on private yachts.
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