Monday, October 22, 2007

Running into Danger

At the age of 16 I often crewed aboard a converted St Ives lugger. She was owned by a man nearing retirement and he had fitted her out as a gaff cutter with a small cabin. There was kneeling headroom and enough floor space for two people to lay out their bunks. Cooking was done on a single gimballed Primus stove. I learnt a great deal about handling this boat under sail from her owner who had sailed all his life. I discovered ‘Petrel’ could easily be balanced on a steady course by lashing her helm, and slightly backing her staysail. I learnt how to reduce the power of the wind in the mainsail by dropping the peak, tricing the tack, or topping-up the boom, and how to reef by tying reefing tails - not around the boom, but under the bundled foot of the sail, as it was loose-footed.

During the school holidays we would spend two to three weeks cruising along the south coast of the South West Peninsular from Dartmouth to Falmouth and back. My memory is of long sunny days when the sparkling turquoise water blended with a clear azure sky, while over the distant land there hovered white cumulus clouds, but there were times when storm clouds rushed above us while we raced up Channel with crested waves pressing us onwards, and there was a time when we ran to the south west with a south easterly bowling us along in thick fog. Our hope was that the sun would break through, enabling us to establish our position, as our dead-reckoning had placed us to the south east of Salcombe. We desperately needed a bearing of Prawle Point before heading for Bolt Head, which marked the entrance to Salcombe. Obligingly, the fog lifted and we took a sight with the hand-bearing compass. We had sailed far enough westwards to have a view of the craggy cliffs above the Mewstone south of Salcombe and we set our course towards it, but within minutes we were again engulfed in thick fog. Another half-an-hour and we should see the Mewstone loom out of the fog, from which point we could sail due north while keeping the steep cliffs to our port and periodically casting the lead to monitor the shoaling bottom.

Half-an-hour passed and we were relieved to see craggy rocks loom out of the fog to port, but there was no Mew Stone; maybe it was hidden to the south. So we turned northwards, triced up the main and took in the staysail; meanwhile our punt streamed astern with a bucket tied behind her to stop her rearing up and smashing into the transom because of the oncoming waves. All of a sudden there was a shout of alarm from the skipper, “Breakers ahead!” followed by, “Bring her round to starboard!” I yanked the tiller to port, but our boat would not come round. The beach ahead drew closer. My companion rapidly hauled in the punt until her bow touched our transom, and with all his strength he used a boat hook to hoist the bucket out of the water. “Take her round,” he commanded, and this time she slowly responded. “Up staysail!” and after much noise, snaking of sheets, flapping of canvas, the sail was hoisted, and ‘Petrel’ gradually clawed to windward, up and over the advancing waves.

It had been a near miss. We both realized we had not allowed for the east-going tide, and no doubt our course steering had not been too clever, consequently we had run up the eastern side of Prawle Point, mistaking it for the eastern side of Bolt Head.

As we sailed seaward the fog lifted, and for a second time we made for the entrance of Salcombe where the flooding tide took us to a peaceful anchorage in The Bag. Back in 1950 that stretch of water was an idyllic spot where there were only a few moorings and a houseboat nestled close to Snapes Point. The most delicious fresh prawns were there for the taking among the seaweed.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


What is Around-in-Ten? Some who have heard about it may reply, ‘Around the Bend’! But without being prejudicial, it’s a race for 10’ sailing boats around the world. Having regained our breath after taking in the enormity of the task before the intrepid skippers, let’s soberly look at the prospect of circumnavigating the globe in such small vessels via the Panama Canal west going from the Bahamas, a distance of approximately 27,000 miles. The scheduled start will be in January 2009 - that’s just over a year and two months remaining before these micro-yachts cross the start line. Participants will have built and fully tested their yachts before arriving at the Bahamas. They will have equipped their vessels with essential gear and put aboard provisions of food and water and everything necessary for their complete self-sufficiency while crossing oceans up to distances of perhaps 4000 miles.

The origins and spirit for this race go back to the remarkable achievement of Serge Testa, who in 1987 completed a circumnavigation in his 11’ 10” aluminium yacht ‘Acrohc Australis’; in so doing he became the record-holder for having sailed the smallest boat around the world. He arrived back in Brisbane after a gruelling three years of being tossed to and fro while crossing the oceans of the world. During this epic voyaging he suffered many setbacks, including a fire onboard from which he and his boat narrowly escaped oblivion; sleep deprivation, salt water boils, groundings, a hurricane and always continuous movement while cooped up in a space providing barely enough room for him to lie down for respite.

Given this knowledge, why would four people to date commit themselves to such a tortuous undertaking and no doubt others will volunteer for the same venture? Because it will be a ‘venture’ with the outcome unknown – possibly fame and a book recording their achievement, bringing to them a million dollar fortune, or at the other extreme, death and critics saying, “I told you so!”

If we take a sober look at the logistics, it took Serge 500 days of voyaging over a period of three years (1095 days) to achieve his record. The racers will be sailing smaller and slower boats, but like their hero they will have to dodge hurricanes and use the prevailing winds and ocean currents equally well. Unlike him they will be competing in a race for the world record which may spur them on for even more super-human efforts. Only the fittest, most well prepared and the most determined will win.

I don’t doubt the smallest boat circumnavigation record can be beaten and I believe it will be done, if not by one of the venturesome Around-in-Ten sailors, it will eventually be broken by one who will deserve the honour and the accolade he or she will receive.
(Around-in-Ten web site: )