Sailing my life away, part 10



Yes FOXOLES I’m afraid you did miss something – perhaps my account was too oblique.   The double in South Africa existed only in the mind of the speaker because that’s where he came from and he’d forgotten until later in our conversation where he and I first met.

Half a yes to DJM also. I did visit Schull, by a very round-about route, but over two years later and after going to many other interesting places I’d like to write about first.

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE’S observation about Covid Passports encourages me to digress and express amazement at recent restrictions placed on our freedom of movement.    Relatively recently I was free to sail around the world and visit almost as many countries as I liked, provided I complied with regulations that seemed irksome at the time but pale into insignificance when compared to present conditions.

I am currently confined under house arrest in solitary occupation of a small flat and allowed outside for exercise once a day as though I were a criminal in Presidio Modelo in Cuba.    I make that comparison because  I sailed to Cuba and spent two months there in 2001 after leaving the Dutch Antilles mentioned in my last Yarn, going via the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the northernmost of the Cayman Islands.          I’m not going to relate much about Cuba in this article but I’ll pretend telling you a little about Presidio Modelo is part of my Covid digression.

The prison was built in the late 1920’s and here’s a photo of its external layout.

Presidio Modelo – Isla de la Juventud – CUBA – © AM

Most prisoners were held in the circular cell blocks which look like this on the inside.

Presidio Modelo – Cells and Observation Tower – © AM

There are four such buildings with individual cells all visible to armed guards based in the Observation room at the top of the tower in each of them.    Prisoners were sometimes allowed to exercise in the annular area on the ground floor with the tower at its centre.     Guards in the observation room entered and left through an underfloor tunnel and a ladder inside the tower.     Here’s a quote from Wikipedia.

“When Fidel Castro was imprisoned at Presidio Modelo, the four circulars were packed with 6,000 men, every floor was filled with trash, there was no running water, food rations were meagre, and the government supplied only the bare necessities of life.[3]”

Come to think of it that sounds a bit like present conditions in my flat, though I do have running water and there aren’t many armed police about who are always visible.     Castro by the way was held in a single-story outbuilding in which he wrote a 5 hour long speech for his own defense on toilet paper with smuggled pencils.     He wasn’t allowed notes at his trial so he must have learned most of it by heart.     It later became known as his “History will absolve me Speech” and is now available in book form.

Back to modern times.

Life will become even more confined if Covid Passports are introduced because I expect to be denied one.     I have so far declined to be Genetically Modified by mRNA vaccination despite three ‘phone calls from my GP’s surgery, one email  and two letters plus a ‘phone call from a central NHS Office.  Meanwhile my GP’s surgery has refused to send repeat prescriptions for regular medicines by post because – “The NHS needs to cut its costs”.

This article from the off-guardian website includes a graph originally published by the Financial Times purporting to show the number of covid-associated deaths for the UK and Sweden over several months.      The author of the off-guardian article suggests it actually shows the number of false diagnoses of covid infections in people who died of other causes within 28 days of a badly performed and inaccurate PCR Test.

I’m very relieved the Government aren’t going to make Covid vaccination mandatory, but if Covid Passports are introduced and required for internal as well as international travel I may have difficulty food shopping because I shan’t qualify for a C-P (I’ve still got a traditional one but that won’t be any help).      End of Covid digression and back to comments on Part 9.

I made the same passage as Ozymandias from the Shetlands to Fair Isle but not until late summer 1997, and I wasn’t seasick.       Lots of Puffins in that part of the world.

I thank MIDLETON_VERY_RARE for providing further examples of how institutional names in Ireland continue to celebrate an historic connection with England.

As always, I also thank any readers whose comment I may have missed.


Now I was a yacht owner I naturally started to spend time and money in chandleries looking at and purchasing many of the goodies they have to offer – an expensive habit, partly for good reason and partly because manufacturers discovered putting the word “Marine” before their product enabled them to add anything up to 50% on virtually the same article sold for use on land.

That’s not always true of course because sometimes the materials used are genuinely more suitable for the marine environment.     Type 316 stainless steel for example is more corrosion resistant than Type 304 because its constituent elements typically include about 18% Chromium, 12% nickel and 2.5% Molybdenum, in contrast to the typical 18% Chromium and 8 % nickel of the cheaper material.     Both types are mainly Iron with a small quantity of carbon and even smaller quantities of other elements.

Those remarks are just an introduction to an account of a conversation I had one day with the man behind the counter that went something like this –

Me: “Hi, I’m the owner of a new yacht you may have seen in the Marina”

Man: “Oh yes, I’d heard there’s a new Crealock here”

Me: “I’ve had some great expeditions since being here including locally, to the Scilly Isles and to Kinsale in Eire. I’d now like to go a bit further afield and fancy a trip across the Channel to St Malo.      D’you know any-one who might like to join me as crew?”

Man: “I’ll come”

This was a rather random way of finding a sailing companion that I later improved upon but on this occasion I was lucky.

Measured in miles the distance from Falmouth to St Malo is actually less than that to Kinsale but the passage is more challenging because the route is directly across the English Channel with its strong transverse currents and large numbers of commercial ships.      Currents around the Channel Islands and the Cotentin Peninsula are even stronger with high tidal ranges and rocky shores adding to the hazards.

Our intended passage plan was to sail overnight and arrive at St Malo in daylight on Sunday.

Adapted from a Copy of Open Street Map licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 in accordance with these terms.

Accordingly we left Falmouth at 16:30 on Saturday 17 August 1996 when my companion came off duty in the chandlery, expecting to return by Tuesday 20th or Wednesday 21st at the latest.

At the start  the winds were very light and we had to motor sail to maintain an average speed of just over 5 knots.- a requirement with which I was becoming familiar.

With just two of us on board we had agreed to operate a 3 hour watch system and that worked OK but we had to keep motor sailing because there just wasn’t enough wind to keep us moving across the shipping lanes.     In the period when I was on watch between 02:00 and 05:00 my log records – “always 5 or more ships in sight” – but fortunately the sea was calm and the visibility good.

So conditions continued all morning until we passed Jersey in the early afternoon.     Then, at last the wind picked up to around 15 knots and we were able to enjoy a really good sail without the engine for three or four hours until having to revert to motor-sailing for the last couple until arriving at the Marina, Port les Bas Sablons at 8:00 pm, about an hour before sunset.


The town was heavily fortified by the Germans during WW II and suffered enormous damage as the Allies swept through France after the Normandy Invasion in 1944. The medieval town walls and 80% of the buildings including the Cathedral were destroyed by bombing and the ensuing fires.

The old town was substantially rebuilt after the war with aid provided under the Marshall Plan, mostly financed from America as Britain had changed from being the least indebted country before the war to the most indebted afterwards.    The USA was the richest nation of all and creditor to all the others, leading to its geo-political hegemony that now seems likely to be approaching its end as the National Debt keeps rising very much faster than GDP through seemingly unlimited money creation.

Here is an excerpt from one account of the reconstruction –

“Those in charge of St Malo’s reconstruction planned it to be as close to the original as made sense.  The mansions now have identical facades of granite and a 60 degree pitch to their grey slate roofs; the hospital and prison were relocated outside the walls; and only a few half-timbered houses of the 1600s were retained.     The ramparts, the castle (now city hall), and the cathedral were replicated exactly.     The Malouins did well – the result is a national treasure, stunning both from the sea and from the streets.”

“St Malo from the ferry” by Paul Stephenson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The tidal range at St Malo is one of the highest in the world averaging around 12 m during Spring Tides.     There are consequently two marinas – the Port les Bas Sablons outside the “Old Town”  that has a low sill to maintain enough depth of water within it at most states of the tide – which is where we moored on our day of arrival; and the Port Vauban Marina just outside the city walls. to which we transferred the following day.     Port Vauban can be entered or left through lock gates at scheduled times between 2 1/2 hours before High Water and 2 hours afterwards.

The Old Town doesn’t cover a very large area and can be entered easily from the upper marina.     We walked all round it on Monday 19 August and enjoyed a typically French dinner in one of its restaurants in the evening.

But we also enjoyed in the afternoon another noteworthy experience.

St Malo was for a long time a French Nautical centre as Portsmouth and Plymouth were in England.  It was from here that Jacques Cartier made the first European voyage up the St Lawrence River in Canada in 1535 and stayed for a time near the site of present day Quebec.      He went farther upriver the following year to the site of modern Montreal.

One way that achievement is celebrated nowadays is in the form of a yacht race held every four years from Quebec to St Malo.     The winner in 1996 was a sailor called Loick Peyron on a Trimaran named Fujicolor II after its Japanese sponsor. He took 7 days 20 hours and 24 minutes to cover approximately 3,000 nautical miles, thus moving at an average speed of just less than 16 knots!      That is roughly four times Alchemi’s long term average and about the same as a modern commercial ship – formidable! (French pronunciation please).

Loïck Peyron’s trimaran Fujicolor The original uploader was Markappa at French Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

I haven’t been able to confirm exactly when he arrived but I think it must have been on the same day that we did because Vauban Marina filled on the 19th with hundreds if not thousands of adoring fans who burst into a roar of applause as he appeared on deck, immaculately clean and coiffed in beautifully laundered clothes, to wave to his public.     It was salutary for a somewhat untidy and elderly Englishman to appreciate other countries have their sporting heroes too.


We set off towards Plymouth on the 20th August and were through the lock gates by 08:15.

Once again we were to experience a balmy summer’s day without much wind and only managed about 4 knots until mid afternoon when the wind picked up to a better 14 knots for an hour or so before dropping down again.

We decided to divert to St Helier on Jersey.     St Helier, like St Malo, has a large tidal range and the main marina is again situated behind Lock Gates outside which an adequate depth is preserved by a shallow sill to prevent the area from drying out at low tide.     Again like St Malo there is another small outer marina, called the Collette yacht basin, that can be entered and left at all states of the tide.    Strangely enough, it is close to the island’s Power Station, also called La Collette, whose refurbishment with new equipment was managed by the company I was running in the penultimate stage of my working life.

That is where we moored overnight and re-fuelled in the morning.


I’m not sure why we didn’t leave until 11:30 on Wednesday 21 August but that’s what my log sheet shows.     Nor did we make good progress until early evening when the wind increased first to 17 knots and then to 22. I remember coming on watch on this leg of our voyage to find my companion had hoisted the mast-mounted pole and used it to hold the clew of the foresail away from the boat’s side to catch the following wind.

I was pretty shocked because I had never tried to do that before and amazed that he had done it on his own without waking me.

But he was clearly an experienced sailor used to crewing on fast boats who found our slow pace frustrating.      He said so by telling me the problem was that the “sheeting angles” on Alchemi were all wrong.     His preference for designs optimised for speed was clearly different from mine prioritising safety and comfort.

We arrived at Sutton Harbour marina in Plymouth by mid-day on Thursday and he rapidly left to make his way back to Falmouth by choosing a faster method than sail.     We didn’t exactly fall-out but looking back on matters as I write this account I fear our late arrival may have caused him to lose a day’s wages.


I had never tried to sail single-handed at this stage of my career and didn’t fancy attempting it now, so I contacted my brother who had never been sailing but had crewed on fishing boats.

He joined me a couple of days later and we went for a day-sail in a light breeze around the sheltered waters outside Plymouth Harbour to familiarise him with the boat and its controls.

My brother became a bit agitated the following day when we were under full sail in 16 knots of wind and the boat started heeling more than usual. He soon calmed down and started really enjoying our speed when I told him that Alchemi would still be brought upright by her 2 1/2 ton lead keel even if the top of the mast was well under-water.     He took some great videos of the water and spray rushing past the hull as we moved along at more than 6 knots.

We stayed overnight at Fowey and reached Falmouth on Saturday the 28 August , one week after I had left, and after I’d climbed up another steep part of the learning curve on which I found myself.

To be continued ……….

© Ancient Mariner 2021

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file