I have done quite a lot of sailing, in terms of time spent at sea, but I was a very late starter. No one in my family ever sailed or had a boat and I only discovered sailing when I was in my late twenties. After finishing at university, followed by a brief spell working in the heart of London, an opportunity presented itself for breaking free from the smoke and city grime. I relocated to the Isle of Wight to become a sailing instructor on a 35ft steel yacht. Not knowing how to sail was not the impediment that it could have (should have?) been, but being responsible for a crew of paying customers drove me to learn the ropes at superfast speed. Although I hadn’t been sailing for long, I soon had enough logged hours and experience to get my RYA Yachtmasters. So for three years I took crews along the south coast of England – from Cowes to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. When the winds and forecast were right, we would hop across the Channel to Cherbourg, dodging the nose-to-nose shipping all the way.
It’s difficult to narrow it to just one. Very close runners-up have to be sailing from Arnamurchan to St Kilda in a Beneteau 34 and sailing to Flekkefjord in Norway in a Moody 29. For the St Kilda trip, the wind was blowing from just the right direction and we were able to anchor in Village Bay for 3 nights – very lucky. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was raging at that time and we had to be very careful not to accidentally bring anything ashore that could contaminate the famous Soay sheep. For the fabulous Norwegian trip, we headed across the North Sea in Sonas, owned by BSC members Gordon Alder and Martin Birrell, along with other crew members, Lynn Jamieson and Bill Archibald. But the voyage of all voyages has to be sailing across the Atlantic in a 40ft Jeantot catamaran. It was a delivery job. Setting off from La Rochelle, we passed through a very lumpy Biscay to reach La Coruna and then on to Madeira where at last we picked up the trade winds, which got the cat purring all the way across to St Martin in the Caribbean.
What’s your BEST sailing experience?
What’s your WORST sailing experience?
Again, there are many to choose from. However much sailing you do, you always discover new ways to make mistakes. We were sailing out of the Beaulieu River in the 35ft steel sloop. It’s a long way from Bucklers Hard to the entrance of the Solent and the tide was running strong with us. The wind also was blowing hard from astern and the headsail was all we needed to set a cracking pace. The headsail was manoeuvrable and plenty adequate as the narrow river has frequent changes of direction. As we veered up on the final approach to the entrance, the full force of the wind hit us broadside and spun us to port out of the channel. If we had had the (reefed) main up as well, we would have been able to dig in better and hold the course. The joy of racing down river at top speed probably also obscured understanding of exactly how strong the wind really was behind us. Lessons learned. I remember the truly horrible feeling of the keel juddering on the sandy sea bed and the rigging straining and sagging as it constrained the shivering mast.