My wife at the helm
At St Helier, Jersey
The largest yacht I’ve owned was a Pioneer 9, designed by E.G. Van de Stadt in 1959. Her name was ‘Aziz’, which is an Arabic word meaning, ‘magnificent’ or ‘beautiful’. She was, indeed, pleasing to my eye. Her overall length was 30’, and her waterline length was 24’. She had a draft of 4’ 8” and a medium fin keel, placed almost amidships. Her balanced spade rudder was under the stern, but forward of the transom. It was a joy to hold the curved, laminated tiller which was always light to the touch. The balance of boat was impeccable, with just a touch of weather helm, irrespective of the sea state. She was a delight to sail, often pointing higher on the wind than many a modern racer. For single-handing and long-distance cruising she had been fitted with a Hasler Gibb, servo pendulum self-steering gear.
I owned ‘Aziz’ between December, 1995 and November 1997, and sailed her from the River Crouch to La Coruna and back. Somehow, it seemed a special privilege to own her, because of her history and ‘fame’. In 1971 Nicolette Milnes-Walker bought her with the purpose of sailing across the Atlantic from Milford Haven, Southwest Wales, to Newport, Rhode Island, to become the first woman to do it alone without stopping. Anne Davison had already crossed the Atlantic single-handed in 1953 to become the first woman to do it, but along the way she put into Brittany, Portugal and the Canary Islands. Nicolette set sail on 12th June, 1971 and after 45 days, in which she experienced gales, loneliness, doubt, fear and elation, she arrived in Newport.
Nicolette’s interest in sailing began in 1966 at Salcombe, and afterwards she was inspired to build a sailing dinghy which she mostly used at Weston-super-Mare. To gain seagoing experience she sailed as a crew member aboard a 25 foot yacht to Spain and the Azores and back. Months afterwards, while at the London Boat Show in January, 1971, she felt an overwhelming desire to sail across the Atlantic, and within 6 months she had found her boat, carried out modifications, provisioned the vessel, and was ready to sail. A psychologist by training, she was interested in studying how people perform various physical and mental tasks when they are subjected to difficult physical conditions. What better situation could there be than to test herself by sailing 4,000 miles alone, while experiencing arduous conditions?
To that end, she kept detailed notes which were useful when she wrote an account of her experiences in a book, ‘When I Put Out to Sea’. She saw many interesting sights, such as a pod of whales at close quarters, porpoises, pilot fish, sharks, flying fish, and an unusual moon halo. She discovered a lot about herself, such as her response to the fear of death, the effects of tiredness, how she coped during a short time of depression, dealing with mild shock, and an acknowledgement of her belief in the existence of a God who ‘observes’ but does not intervene.
Nicolette Milnes-Walker - Wikipedia
Book – When I Put Out to Sea – Amazon.com