#1 2021-08-26 22:09:35

John_Willis
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From: Guernsey
Registered: 2017-04-07
Posts: 60
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2021 - Pippin heads south until the courage runs out

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A monster in the Channel passed close by on my way to Plymouth.

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38* 43'.37N 27* 02'.91W is where this is being written from - well actually if it was, I would be floating off the island of Terceira, when I am in fact a few hundred metres beyond, comfortably tied to a pontoon in Terceira after 1,610 bruising nautical miles.

As family and very close friends know, I am troubled by depression and do not mind admitting it - but I have left out references to how this affected me, but will just add it made this voyage more of a battle with self than with the elements. But this isn't the forum to dwell on such things, so back to the beginning.

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19th June - D Day -2. We gathered in the rain on and around Ewen Southby Talyor's Black Velvet (a Cornish Crabber 30), 18 of us, to pay tribute to the great man, instigator and father of the Jester Challenge.  As we sipped black velvet, rain dripping down our necks, Bernie Banfield spoke a few words before presenting Ewen with his gift. It was a bound volume of pictures and words from each Jester over the years.  A dinner followed, low key, quietly enjoyable particularly for those in the Challenge, for our thoughts inevitably strayed towards the ocean.  (Apologies for photos of the skipper being sideways!)

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20th June - D Day -1.  The last day is a strange one; you're as ready as you can be, but your boat remains chained to the dockside, butterflies fly in the stomach, thoughts roll across the sea - you want the moment to come, yet a little tiny piece of you wishes that somehow it wouldn't.

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The forecast is adding a frisson to the butterfly feelings, for the wind will hit Force 7 - that's 30 knots - as we set off but from behind unlike 2019 JC Baltimore.  The seas will be big and we will be accompanied by heavy rain for at least the first few hours, and it will be important to get the boat snugged down and the skipper comfortable inside as soon as possible, eyes glued to the radar, peering through the windows for it is a heavy traffic area for at least the first 24 hours.

Pete and Tracy Goss came for morning tea and doughnuts, dispensing quiet words of advice and gentle words of encouragement. Such lovely, supportive and loyal friends.  Alan the sail maker, having fitted Pippin’s new sails, joined us too with his wife and little son for a real little party.

That evening we gathered quietly on the pontoon at George Arniston's boat for the very relaxed and informal non-briefing, made a little more complex because of the Covid rules we would need to abide by in Praia Vittoria on the Azores island of Terceira.  We all swapped satellite communicator numbers and emails.  George decided to delay his start as he wasn't fully ready and I am sure the same thoughts crossed other minds, but no one said anything.  Seven would be starting on the morrow, down from 30 entrants in May.

Just before we left, Graeme handed each of us an embroidered Jester badge, made by his teenage daughter and I was immensely touched.  He hadn't even known she had made them until he left and she thrust them not his hand!

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21st June - D Day. Predictably it dawned cold and grey, an early infantile rain playing and growing to adulthood as I drank my tea.  Quite frankly it’s going to be a horrid start. pushing us hard into the incoming wave stream. The rain, in varying intensity, will continue all day - the key will be to set Pippin up, hopefully on the course I want though that may not be possible, and to remain as comfortable and dry as possible.

I made sausage sandwiches and espresso for Brian and I, which helped our morale, before I finished final preparations aboard, but I can't say I am looking forward to the start, and neither, I am sure, are any of my fellow Jesters. Repeated, hopeful checks of the forecast revealed no reduction in the torment to come; this was as it was going to be.

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I noticed that the Challenge had begun because all the other boats suddenly scuttled off and Pippin followed, elegantly last as usual.  Brian scuttled up in tiny Sylvia like a Dachshund visiting a Retriever and soon Pippin was beginning to overhaul one or 2 others - though it’s not a race.  Mind you, lay down a start line and get a bunch of guys jeed up to cross it and there is no way it won't be a race.  A couple of Border Patrol craft kept station for a while, no doubt wondering what this little armada was doing mid Channel all together but we were all going the wrong way to be of interest. Night brought a very close encounter with a large fishing trawler, but otherwise traffic was light as I snugged Pippin down to pass 80 miles west of Ushant.

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A little mal de mer teased me for a few hours, but of no great consequence as Biscay began to yawn to port, the winds light. So far all was good and 125 miles slipped beneath the keel as Day 1 ran on into Day 2 and I began to eye up Pete and Tracey's Biscay package - they had even supplied an egg cup and cosy - proper job!

50 shades of grey all round and under me, unrelenting like the light NW wind but hey – I complain if it’s blowing and I complain if it’s not!  Can’t have everything.  The key is to keep Pippin sailing, go with the flow, don’t stay fixed on rigid routes or way points for sure things will change   Enjoy, rest and prepare.

The final fading words of Radio 5 Live marked a break with civilisation and the onset of feelings of loneliness, but I have my music.  In 3 days, I had barely touched the helm, just pulling Hercules control cord occasionally, a tweak here, a tweak there; what an amazing machine it is, an example to me.  That afternoon I was wreathed in virtuosity, smiling immodestly at my wet washing flying in the light breeze celebrating with soup, tinned fish on thins and an orange.  As the wind crept east of south, I pushed Pippin’s bows more to the south – yes, for now, we are doing fine.  There is always something to do, whether planning or actually doing, and I decided to do some fuel calculations so I would know if and when I had to use the engine, just how far the engine would take me at any given revolutions  Pippin carries enough fuel for between around 350 – 500 miles, depending on revolutions.

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25/06.  All night Pippin ran south wing on wing (main out to one side, yankee the other) directly down wind with Hercule in charge – I was incredulous, even though the wind never topped 13 knots.  My fears about a failing domestic battery seemed confirmed, for one was down to 12.17 volts; I charged the batteries for an hour and decided I would switch this battery over, replacing it with the bow thruster battery located right up in the bows a task I do not relish.  As if in response to my irritation, the two raw eggs I was holding exploding in my face as I was pushed over by the motion.

A wash, shave and bacon sarnie put me right – indeed doing such little domestic things when you are able to gives them a meaning out of all proportion to their importance.  1200 each day has a ritualistic importance, for it marks the end of each 24 hour period since the start and I found myself counting down to the hour each day before noting the day’s run in miles.

“Above all, enjoy it” advised Pete Goss before I left as he handed me 2 packages, one marked Biscay, the other Atlantic.  Am I enjoying it?  The truth is, only partly.  I gain satisfaction from setting the boat up properly and managing the never ending tasks around the boat, but my state of mind right now reflects the greyness of the sea and sky around me.  I try very hard not to focus on the days ahead, the coming of bad weather and just stick to ticking off the days and staying rested and comfortable.

At 1200, the end of Day 4, I did the housework, cleaned the cooker and at lunch time opened Pete’s Biscay package from which I lunched on delicious Cabanossi and tomato soup.  It struck me I hadn’t seen dolphins or whales, but then with the boat set up and proceeding well in the right direction I had spent most of my time inside, resting and reading.  Angie’s weather information for future days now brought on agonies of indecision, for the wind would be N/NW 10-20 knots, followed by a flaccid period of light winds and then strong southerlies.  Perhaps it will be a shitty finish.

I had begun to also soak my spaghetti for a few hours and just before meal time, pop it in the kettle and make my cup of tea.  After a little while the pasta was done and I quite liked the slightly starchy quality the water gave the tea.  The day closed as it began, grey, unimpressive and a sloppy sea.  Amazingly at least 3 of us are within 10 miles though there is no sign of anyone, as cheerful texts between Brian and I and Justin and I flew between the boats.  Their opinions on weather, combined with Angie’s, I actually found unsettling – too much information equals indecision, so I ignored all but Angie’s weather texts, which I came to cling to like a drowning sailor a life raft.

I changed Hercule up a gear as the sea was livelier, flicking frothy fingers under Pippin’s hull, the playful wind pushing Pippin at the sort of speed I had hoped for since the Western Approaches.  In the late evening my somnolent thoughts were shattered by the radar alarm, so I took my post in the pilot seat until the ship passed.  Slatting sails and the noise of passing water brought me to at 0320 on 26/06 to find the wind now NW so I pushed the bows more west and tickled Hercule’s lead to set him firmly on the new course.  I checked the battery voltage again and decided action was required, before bad weather made it impossible, so I drew up a plan including a list of tools.  I also decided to keep the led searchlight to hand to illuminate the sails in the event of a vessel approaching too close.

It took me 2 ½ hours to disconnect and remove all three 20 kg batteries, because of course the failing one was right at the back of the locker, all but unreachable.  Then I had to clear the fore cabin to get at the bow thruster battery, which I replaced with the failing one.  I am not quite sure how I managed it, but it was another task that gave me a little satisfaction, a small boost in mood and a realisation that, given a problem to be sorted in difficult circumstances, I can just get on with it.

During this exercise, we were hit by an inconsiderate squall as I was carrying a battery along the cabin, so after I had finished, I hove too and reefed as a light rain fell.  Yes, the truth is I am quite chuffed with myself for I was severely tested this morning.  Meanwhile Brian behind me was all excited because he had spotted his first whale – pah!  I’ve seen those, billions of them.

By lunchtime Pippin was 50˚ off the wind, creaming along at 6 knots, one reef in the main, a few rolls in the yankee and Hercule in second gear – 3rd is for storms and I don’t want to use it!  I know the seas will build as we head further into the ocean, but right now they are ok.  I had also tied off the wheel slightly to counter a touch of weather helm and she seemed to like that.  The Garmin is a treasure, keeping me in touch with Jesters (the 2 that had Garmins) and family, good for morale but it increases loneliness too at times.  I took several trips on deck to adjust things to keep Pippin around 240˚ in NW 15-18 relaxing in the pilot seat in between times; this modification of mine right now is number one aboard.  It is a master stroke, transforming the comfort of watchkeeping.  By now the occasional wave sent its reconnaissance troops on ahead, reaching searching fingers up over the wheelhouse, looking for leaks but failing, leaving frustrated in the overwhelming grey day as the sky aged into night.

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As the kettle heated up, I smelt burning and frantically dug down into the battery locker, suspecting I had erred in replacing the batteries, only to find my tea towel nicely on fire.  Phew, not a good idea to have a fire on board.  My dinner was to have been a relaxed affair with steak, onions and fried potatoes, but ended with me strapped to the galley at 45˚, eating directly of the work surface as the expected front hit, brining 20+ knots of wind and boisterous seas.  This was the point beyond which I was never able to deploy a plate for a meal again, instead spooning the meal from a collapsible silicon bowl wedged in my pilot seat.

Meanwhile Pippin rode the seas beautifully, before I went out to set a better course in the direction of the Azores, true a more rolly and slower one, but it was in the right direction.  Naturally whilst on deck I spotted a few Willis howlers one of which took longer as it involved rope and rope and I do not get on.  I think it is to do with each of us having a mind of our own and thus disagreeing too often.  A small glass of hair restorer in my seat, sipped to the sounds of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy seemed an appropriate way to end the day.

27/06, Day 6, 0700.  A restful if sleepless night for there is now a lot of movement which a body takes a while to grow accustomed to.  You cannot stand, before you find a hand hold and once upright, must always have a grip of something.  To be flung across the cabin is to risk a broken bone, a head injury, or death over board and then what?  Sunshine finally won the battle of the clouds as Pippin rode the Theta Passage, pushed by the surprisingly strong Portugese current.  It was time to shake out a reef, trim the course and check those batteries, still a cause for concern.

Having adjusted the course I was puzzled, for Pippin strode along at 6 knots, despite 2 reefs in the main so if she likes it, so do I.  I didn’t shake out the reef.  Now I am beginning to think it was a failing battery and that the newly arrived sunshine is pushing in a charge through the solar panel – I’ll probably always have to charge them using the engine each day, but that’s fine.

My back is reminding me that I have been moving 20kg batteries about in one hand whilst I cling on with the other, but I sense it isn’t going to go on me.  I couldn’t afford a week or more of incapacitation!!  So, I shook out a reef to, as Angie puts it “get a wiggle on!” and Pippin lifted her head sniffing for that far distant finish line, neither of us catching a whiff of it – yet.

I feel settled into a routine aboard, despite my many usually minor little faux pas, which at least give me reason to talk out loud for no matter how much I tick myself off, there I go again making another one!  Incorrigible, impossible, will never learn!  Meanwhile Brian has had an epic with an exploding curry and the loss of his spoon, eventually found in his shoe inside a cabin little larger than a coffin.  But then Brian is mad, for you have to be to be a caver like him.  Having a fear of being hemmed in, I can categorically say that the mere thought of caving reduces me to a quivering, terrified wreck.  But then I can say the same about heights.  Or the restaurant being full before I get there.  Or the Haut Medoc running out.

28/06.  Pippin chuckled and burbled through the night as she does when she is happy, and sunshine greeted me kindly next day as did a visitor, the first since leaving Plymouth.  There on the side deck was a 9” flying fish, quite plump so perhaps a pregnant female, who had jumped to escape dolphins only to find death on the side deck.  I committed her thoughtfully to the deep, deciding not to fry her for breakfast.  Meanwhile a rather alarmed Brian message to say that Orcas were finding his boat most attractive and were swimming right up under his rudder.  They are bigger than his boat and if he lost his rudder, he would be in real trouble.

I wear larger foot wear aboard, as my feet swell and if necessary, I can put thick socks on.  This sometimes causes me issues as my brain is programmed for Size 8 – Not size 10, so sometimes when it is instructing my 8s what to do, I find the manoeuvre only ¾ complete before my brain has moved on elsewhere, leaving me tripping over an errant foot.  Morale needed a boost so I washed my hair shaved and generally smartened myself up, not terribly easy at 45˚, before sweeping out the cabin and tidying up.  Two things I do NOT want to do are to think about the distance ahead, or the strong headwinds that will prevent me shaping a course anywhere near the Azores.  I don’t want nightmares, so I’ll bury myself in the current Sven Hassel.  So far it has been at times satisfying, at times tough and at times to be endured, depending on where the needle of my mood barometer lies.

Overall, looking at it now, my satisfaction will come from completing the voyage, rather than the journey itself, perhaps a little sad.  But then the fact I am doing it reflects strong determination and a resolve to complete the task despite the fairly strong limitations bestowed upon me by my physiological make up.  Pondering my navigation options, I decide to make N40˚ to give a good angle of attack to the target – and anyway, “forty north” has a nice ring to it.  We are in an area of high pressure and light winds, but through the door ahead lies the opposite.  Most of the time I can just about make way, but when charging my batteries, I put the engine in gear to continue progress.  I don’t feel this is cheating, for one of the tenets is good seamanship, and if it is necessary for your campaign to power up occasionally, then so be it – after all none of us carry enough fuel to do it often.

I have moved to a main meal in the middle of the day, partly because sleep is easier on a lighter stomach – I have also stopped my adored espresso, anything I can do to aid slumber.  Does it work?  I don’t know, but I feel better about it for trying.  I ate my last steak at lunchtime, more or less on the level, whilst my back throbbed with complaint.  It is important I do nothing right now to exacerbate it, so I am pleased we are in light winds whilst I recover with the help of Iboprufen.  Of course, I have my Gabapentin bombs for very serious nerve pain and hope to Hell I won’t need them.

29/06.  A bright orange sunrise tried very hard to lighten the day, before being consumed in the all-encompassing grey murk.  I washed and changed clothes and made a list of things I should do for heavy weather, waiting just outside the doorway into the high-pressure area.  From then on, it’s going to be windy all the way to the finish.

Well, the wind has appeared from the SSE, treading lightly now but here nevertheless and it will gather up its forces for the skirmish, which will come soon.  From east of south to south is not so bad but SW is definitely not good and for now my aim is to head more south for now.  Each time I tack, I move house, putting my bedding on the other side of the boat and pulling up the lee cloth, which is to stop me falling out when it gets really bad.  I also washed my clothes as I felt this might be the last chance before the finish.  No – mustn’t think about the finish!

As the wind built, slowly at first, I set full sail and refuelled, as I have to run the engine sometimes twice a day and refuelling in rough weather is impossible.  Time to open Pete and Tracey Goss’ Atlantic package – yum yum!  I kept busy with tasks, doing anything to reduce anxiety and stress I could think off, resting reading not helped by the projected forecast for the days ahead.  It will be very good to finish.  As evening approached, the wind rose to 15-18 knots right bang on the nose naturally and the seas became shorter, hindering progress as each time one hit, progress was slowed but the next was lying in wait, punching just too soon for Pippin to gather her way again.  It helps at times like this, to think of the others in their smaller boats but most have the advantage of a. being certifiably insane and b. more experienced.  Well, I might qualify for a. – indeed my GP stated I was bonkers before this Challenge - but not really for b.  I handed the stay sail and reefed the main, more for comfort and dinner more nearly on the level than necessity.  When I say dinner, I usually mean something pretty basic, sometimes not even heated.

31/06.  An increasingly delighted Pippin seems to know better what to do than I, and I don’t mind being told.  I tweak Hercule perhaps 3 times a day and reef for comfort rather than speed, especially at night for I reckon good seamanship means as little deck work during the dark hours as possible.  I have seen no ships on radar now for 4 days. I was woken at 0530 by the radar alarm, set off by rain storms.  It was fascinating watching rain storms on the radar and I was able to see exactly which one and when it would hit, bringing with it a deluge and stronger winds.  Fascinating but scary too.  The radar screen was splatted by blue blobs, like insects squashed against a car windscreen, as lightening lit up the sky and thunder bellowed all around.  I am actually ok in terrifying circumstances, as frankly there is nothing I can do about it so just get on with something else.  Worry doesn’t help; good old fashioned fear does, as it makes you alert and receptive to good ideas.  So, I switched on the steaming light to illuminate the fore sails and made a cuppa, as the Heavenly inferno bellowed and flashed.  The wind briefly swung east, before turning south again and blowing hard.

On through a blue sky sort of day, towards the frontal system up ahead, like a barrier between me and the Azores.  My plan remains to continue west, even with a little northing until the west winds starts in 36 hours or so.  Yes, the next 24 hours will be very lively and tough, at least for me if not my redoubtable steed, Pippin.  Angie’s weather information has been amazingly accurate and I found myself clock watching until the time of her next forecast, sent by SMS to my Garmin.  It was manner from Heaven, even if I increasingly did not like the message!  I always feel nervous waiting for bad weather, but never enough to put me off eating, or resting – I lie below quite comfortable almost regardless of the weather with my radar alarm on.  Indeed, I have been inside so much that I have seen no whales or dolphins – but I had my flying fish and now the shearwaters come, skimming low around the boat.  They are gorgeous, sleek, swift, economic masters of sea and sky.  Physically I am lean (ish!) and mean but this is much more about can I do it?  Do I have the balls to do it?  Do I have the skills to do it?  Well, I am not far off answering those 3 questions.

Glittering stars in a black sky, tearing hissing white foam ripped open the seas, and Pippin simply shouldered these new imposters aside – what’s all the fuss about?  Amazingly I slept a little – but here’s the funny thing.  In the lead up to something big I have, time and time again, done just that; slept ok.  Waves now smashed over the bows, which reared and crashed with artillery like explosions in the darkness, and eventually at 0330 I relented, went on deck and pulled in a reef as the wind was at a hard 25 knots (F6/7), gusting and we were heading right slap into it.  They say gentlemen never sail to windward – well all I can say is that particular breed of gentleman probably never leaves the Solent and verbiages about ocean sailing in the comfort of the yacht club bar.  To go anywhere, you have to.

Anyway, I wasn’t surprised I had to clamber out on deck, but I was a tad disappointed to have to leave the fecund warmth of my pit.  Pippin and Hercule responded by setting a better course and losing little if any speed – time for a cuppa.  At 0715, a squall hit taking the whole shooting match to a new level.  I was in my first storm of the trip as the winds hit 30+ knots, gusting over 40 (F8/9) and I made a complete balls of furling the madly flailing yankee, an action that resulted in the yankee wrapped tightly in its sheets (the ropes that lead from it back to the cockpit).  Up on the bowsprit, in the gloom of dawn, in 4 metre waves, the wind howling like a banshee, I stood and unfurled those sheets, falling frequently and being totally immersed as the bows plunged down and down at 30˚ into the coming wave; at least the water was quite warm.

I had now to get Pippin settled, I couldn’t just leave her, so I dropped the main, hauled out the stay sail and turned on the engine, taking Pippin gently forward right into the storm, about 45˚ from the wind.  Hercule seemed happy, Pippin seemed happy and apart from the noise and indescribable motion, she could have been leisurely skipping across a pond.  It was a relief to get back inside, strip off, put on dry clothes, brew a cuppa and try to convince myself this would be a short affair.

I had known I was coming as I’d seen it on radar, a big blue blob creeping up on me bringing with it its attendants of wind and waves, the whole quickly becoming a frenzy like some nature party on acid.  Waves hammered against the boat, deluging it entirely right over the wheelhouse and into the cockpit.  The motion is wicked – God knows how my fellow Jesters were faring in their bath tubs (I later discovered they heaved to until better times – I could keep Pippin plugging through it and so she began to draw ahead of the main pack).  My tactics now are simply to keep trucking waiting for things to calm a little before going back on deck to finish my tasks.

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(hours later) Well it’s still pretty horrendous 4 metre waves and winds in the 20s on the nose.  I am losing ground east but gaining south, my most comfortable option for I am completely and utterly exhausted.  But, that old determined spirit burns brightly, for I am chuffed with my efforts, my heroics on the fore deck/bowsprit!  Immodest, sure, true - Hell yes!  Thus fired up, I went back out to complete the untangling of sheets so that I was back with the option of being able to sail on either tack – we were back being ready for whatever came next.  Of course, a better sailor would have got in such a muddle in the first place, but then I am stuck with me and all my failings.  I haven’t found myself wanting when push comes to shove but God, I want this weather to F##K OFF!  Maybe there will be another 8 hours or so of this. 

It was a lumpy, bumpy crashing night with the wind still in the 20s, until early morning which broke under a canopy of cloud, with the promise of brighter from the west.  The seas are still huge and confused, like me, and my daily engine checks revealed that dreaded gunge from the fuel tank in the Racor filter shaken up by the frenzied movements of the boat.  I have to change it, so I wrote out a plan of what to do and all the tools I would need to complete the job, all the while Pippin danced her merry jig.

A cuppa and I set to work, lying on the wheelhouse floor, head and hands inside the engine compartment and managed to complete the job.  The Yanmar engine, which had never yet complained, seemed happy with my efforts as it charged the batteries, so I clambered back outside and let fly a reef to get Pippin sailing comfortably, more in the right direction but still, naturally, hard on the wind the least comfortable, most exhausting angle of attack.  How I wished I was one of those gentlemen who don’t go to windward!  I even considered pulling in to San Miguel for a rest, but there wasn’t that much difference in distance and anyway, I would then have to set sail again for Terceira, the finish.

I decided to continue as is and review my options at 1200, the end of the day so to speak.  Meanwhile I decided on a wash (too rough for one, so antiseptic wipes all over the body) and shave before yet another cuppa.  The only leaks thus far were through the cabin top ventilators when waves covered the boat, and I wanted to seal them with butyl tape as I had the hawse pipe, most successfully.  But could I find it? No.

This wind is maddening, for you are largely condemned to going north or south, yet you want to go west.  Holding a long tack one way buys you but a few miles westing, the other, the same.  Grrr!  Of course the Portuguese 0.5 knot east running current has joined the opposition too.  My daily on deck checks revealed another rope faux pas, which I quickly resolved and I managed to get some diesel into the tank, not that I really needed to.

I think it is 02/07. Thank Heaven for isotonic drinks from my Army ration pack because you feel instantly better after having one – it’s really quite extraordinary and probably proves my body is desperate for those vitamins and minerals.

I am awaiting a wind change to the NNW, expected perhaps around midnight, a change I pray will allow me to hold a line more in the direction of the finish – a still very long line indeed.  In the night, my radar alarm alerted me and I watched a 1,500 ton coaster coming straight towards us.  I called him on VHF - I switched on extra lights, grabbed my spotlight to illuminate the sails - nothing. Pippin was careering along flat out, throwing waves right over her and here I was about to take dramatic avoiding action as if I hadn't enough on.  I swung Pippin a few degrees and the coaster slipped past, perhaps 1/2 a mile off.  S##T!  That was almost curtains and the buggers never even saw me!!

03/07, another lovely morning actually and although I am well rested I am very, very tired, woolly headed and bleary eyed.  I am increasingly uncertain of what course to set and this raises my anxiety levels to uncomfortable levels because its hard enough making ground to the finish in any direction.  My current plan is to continue SSW, the best I can do until the wind swings to WSW when I can tack north – but is that best?  I am besieged by doubt and texted Pete Goss, who agreed I should get north as did my wife.  OK, I may already have had that idea, but to have them agree was a real tonic; my tail was up, I had a plan, the best one available.  So, what of Pippin and Hercule?  Never better, just getting on with things, no fuss, no drama.

I kicked myself into action and knocked up a better breakfast than usual and a pint of hot sweet tea and set myself some tasks, nothing that would stress me, just being pleasantly busy.  A positive is that I can now see Pippin and Terceira on the chart plotter, so we must be closer!  I had tacked north and begun a helter skelter ride under full sail, glorious; I was really going somewhere at last.

A rip roaring afternoon in glorious sunshine, I left Pippin pressed under full sail in 15-18 knots and she took it well, smashing into the waves that threw water high up the yankee in protest completely covering the wheelhouse.  I will calm things a little before dark though, as I am done with fore deck heroics.

Now it looks like SSW for another 48 hours and then northerlies, which I hope and pray will be the case.  By evening 03/07, it was time to reef and again I ended in a tangled muddle, winds in the high 20s and big seas.  This was a situation when I looked at the problem and simply did not know what to do to resolve it, yet that I must do, because there is no one to help and the finish was miles off.  I sat strapped to the foredeck, waves in my face and looked at the problem – there was only one thing I could do to save the sail flogging itself to death so I got on with it.  2 hours later, I got back inside, a warm glow of achievement in my veins, spoiled by my getting in the muddle in the first place!

After the roughest night yet, when the boat literally reared and crashed down like a stone onto concrete, or slammed over on to her side throwing water over the entire boat a nasty grey dawn began to be born.  I decided to go for it and tacked down south and here I add a note from afterwards; dinking and diving around down south probably cost me a day, but that’s wisdom in hindsight.

My last litre milk has exploded messily and foully in the fridge (not turned on) so I set to mopping it up.  Life was so much better on this tack, which I found strange as wind strength wasn’t so very different – I suspect it had to do with wave direction.  I am expecting winds to swing WSW around lunchtime, which should give me a much better heading to the finish.  A small shape on radar 4 miles off my starboard quarter falling very slowly behind might have been a Jester, but there was no response to my VHF call; if so I hope he is ok

We crabbed SW until after lunch when I pulled in a second reef and turned Pippin’s pretty bows north, which I will continue to do during what I am expecting to be another very blowy night.  I did so in the nick of time for the wind was back in the 20s, on the nose naturally, hoping to be in a good position for the coming north wind to drive be down towards the finish line something I can’t yet bear to think about.  What I find incredible is that despite the pasting we have had, there is not a squeak, rattle, flexing of hull or any other sign of stress in Pippin and all remains comfortably dry inside.  Proud skipper that I am, I KNOW this would not be true of shall I say, the average modern white blob.

05/07.  Not sure what happened to 04/07!  Another rip-roaring night with the WSW wind hitting F7 yet for some strange reason I slept quite well despite Pippin having it out with wind and waves on the nose, like a hammer on an anvil yet somehow smoother than before.  I will tack in daylight, nearer the time the wind shifts north and hopefully begin the very long run in for the finish.  Eventually I tacked in 22 knots (F6) on a grey morning in big seas with nothing going for it except that I am on the home straight.  With the wind now NW, in came its cousin squally showers, which coupled to the big seas made everything damply unpleasant; horrid.  Thoughts of mad schemes to get off the boat at any price flitted through my head, as they had once or twice before – bonkers, but it shows how little I am currently enjoying this.  I don’t want much right now, just a glimpse of the sun.  Not much to ask.

There are a little less than 150 miles to go, depending on what course I can manage, so say 35 hours which means maybe 1500 GMT tomorrow (06/07) and I will admit it cannot come soon enough.  Even as the weather slowly brightens, the seas throw an occasional wave right over the boat, wheelhouse and all.  Well maybe someone was listening for the sun shone from a blue sky and the wind began to play lightly from the east.  I am so tired I am hallucinating, the noises of the sea alongside the hull briefly translating into perfect speech, though I can never recall even momentarily afterwards what it said; it’s not an unpleasant experience and because I have experienced it before, not alarming at all.

Its 1,200 miles to the Azores and yet because of the days of contrary winds, I will have sailed over 1,600 – that’s astonishing.  Pete Goss said the best sailor is the one who completes the journey in the shortest distance and that certainly will not be me!  I am going to allow myself the luxury of motor sailing the last tens of miles once I’ve passed the finish line if there isn’t a supportive wind.  I tried out Hastings, the hydraulic/electronic autopilot, only discover he didn’t want to know, so it will be down to me and Hercule to manage if we motor sail.  Well, I am motor sailing now and have paired Hastings with Hercule, each helping the other as it is a tight course we have to steer.  They seem to get on quite well!  Agatha Christie would be proud!

As the last evening before the finish drew to a close, I rewarded myself with a small glass of wine with supper.  The gods had promised a nice easterly wind to blow us in and, predictably it is a west wind that has turned up blowing straight out from the distant harbour entrance!  After everything we have been through this is tough to bear.  A mizzle settled smugly in as if to say “we haven’t finished with you just yet”.

I just checked outside and found the boom swinging jauntily free, its controlling sheet unattached to anything but fresh air!  Bloody hell, I had to sort this quick for I cannot sail like this and a flailing boom is a killer.  I put on my crash helmet, plucked what courage I had left from the bottom of my barrel and clambered up onto the pilot house roof, strapping myself on.  The gods had been kind, for the fitting that should connect the sheet to the main sail cars was lying there, unbroken – the chance of that shackle and its pin to be still lying there by the time I got up must be miniscule.  Minutes later, I had secured it properly and clambered thankfully down into the cabin.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t undo my chin strap, so left the helmet on my head!

Again, I feel that sense of elation at another problem solved, though gnawing away at my confidence is the crud that still clearly lies in the fuel tank like artery clogging cholesterol – please God it doesn’t stop the engine.  I was now able to swing Pippin’s bow directly for Praia de Vittoria, 40 miles off, and Hercule the magnificent kept us on track whilst I began SMS correspondence with my Raymarine engineer and between us we tried this and that.  It was good of him to respond – I am most grateful to him.  A wash and shave followed by Bacon Grill, Baked Beans and fried eggs was just the job and set me up nicely for working on the pilotage necessary for the final miles.  I always draw a map of the final approach, noting all communication details and things like lights.  OK it’s in the Almanac, but the simple act of drawing it commits it to memory plus I put my sketch in a waterproof folder kept next to me.  It always surprises me just how many little things go wrong and now the jamming cleat that holds the main sheet tight broke so I had to run the sheet to a winch.  Then as I furled the yankee, I ran out of furling line meaning I was left with enough sail flying to make the harbour manoeuvres particularly tricky as I was not going forward to dangle precariously once again on the bows.  Oh well, c’est la guerre.

I had sent my dear friend Rony at Terceira an SMS, so my reception party were ready albeit they thought I had meant BST, not GMT and paraded an hour early uncomfortable for them as a heavy mizzle had settled in as if to say here we are here comes John the man with a weather front all his own in his rucksack!  “Smoke it” said Pete Goss, “burn diesel” so I did though the land was completely invisible buried deep in the bosom of horrid rain until I was less than a mile off the harbour entrance, where I dropped all sails as the Portuguese current dragged Pippin inexorably back out to sea!

Look out for the Guernsey flag said Rony and there it was being waved enthusiastically from a marina pontoon with big smiles all round, Rony, Katrin and 2 other Jesters who took total charge of taking and fastening my dock lines.  Graeme even stepped aboard and sorted my yankee in a trice as I collapsed in the cockpit quite unable to communicate, grinning like an idiot and muttering thank you, oh thank you.  Even as I sat with them all over a lovely meal so carefully prepared by Rony, I felt detached as if I was watching it from a distance – it was time to hit the sack.

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The phone semi woke me and a jubilant Pete shouted congratulations, Tracy too from the back ground but I found I couldn’t speak, only make strange grunting sounds.  “Bloody hell!” said Pete “you’d better go back to sleep mate – speak later”.

Well, this voyage has been a journey of discovery, one that took me, an unfit little old pensioner, way out of my comfort zone on numerous occasions.  I suppose the highlight of which I am proud is that my resolve never faltered and the more crap was being thrown at me, the better I seemed to perform and I can’t say fairer than that.  Amen.

I will highlight 4 things that became essential to my successfully completing this tough voyage.  First, my inside watch keeper’s seat, safe and comfortable whatever tack and whatever the weather.  Second my Garmin InReach through which I got forecasts and kept in touch.  Third my radar, which definitely saved me from disaster and quite possibly death.  AIS may not have, had that Channel trawler or coaster not had it switched on.  Fourth, and so simple, a web strap slung inside between pillar and mast, with which I could haul myself out of my pit and hang on to when moving along the cabin.

Whilst at Terceira, we Jester's met many ocean going crews, all of whom treated us with respect and friendship.  Even the President sent his representative to award us with a few gifts and nice words of praise.  This was followed by Glen, himself a Jester now resident in Terceira, and his wife Nancy who gave us a tour of the island and helped us whenever they could - special people.  Pictures of Terceira below, taken during our tour.  I even discovered a herd of Guernseys on the island, real excitement for a Guernseyman!

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We found time for a good lunch during our tour (author in blue shirt).

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On the second day in, I enjoyed dinner (wearing a tasty orange T shirt) with those who had welcomed me, and other Jesters who had arrived by then.

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I cannot close without a heartfelt tribute to all my fellow Jesters, who must have worked harder in their little boats than I.  In particular to Christian, below, who crossed the start line and was never heard of again - until we got to Terceira where had long been waiting for us.  To put his achievement into perspective, he sailed 200+ miles less than I did!  He is the sort of person, looking as he dose like Wurzel Gummidge, who would be completely ignored by that gentleman who doesn't sail to windward.  He would be shunned in any posh yacht club, assuming they even let him in, as he sat quietly sipping his beer in a corner.  Yet he would silently put to sea and sail the pants off them all.  Quiet, unassuming and stick thin, he is the epitome of a great French sailor – and a true Jester.  He received his well deserved Jester burgee from George.

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#2 2021-08-27 22:37:18

Charles_Grossie
Member
Registered: 2017-08-10
Posts: 92

Re: 2021 - Pippin heads south until the courage runs out

Thanks for sharing this great account of your 'Jester' success John. A lovely account.
Well done!

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#3 2021-08-28 08:26:14

John_Willis
Member
From: Guernsey
Registered: 2017-04-07
Posts: 60
Website

Re: 2021 - Pippin heads south until the courage runs out

Thanks Charles - and for your help in getting it posted.

An unforgettable trip certainly!

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#4 2021-10-04 00:29:43

Guy_Warner
Member
From: Petersfield Hampshire
Registered: 2015-06-07
Posts: 20

Re: 2021 - Pippin heads south until the courage runs out

A great account of a tough trip, told with modesty, humour and sincerity. I wish I had a pilot house on my Victoria 34.

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#5 2021-10-04 19:01:19

John_Willis
Member
From: Guernsey
Registered: 2017-04-07
Posts: 60
Website

Re: 2021 - Pippin heads south until the courage runs out

Thanks Guy. 

Pippin was the hero and ever will be with this skipper.

Onwards and upwards

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