In June of 2014, the wayfarer Hafren set sail from Castle Cove SC near Weymouth, and completed a circumnavigation of mainland Britain in 32 days and 3 hours, a remarkable achievement given the previous (unofficial) record stood at 76 days. The voyage involved several legs with overnight passages, and some serious sea crossings. My longtime friend Jeremy Warren was one of the sailors who undertook the circumnavigation, and also happens to own Hafren. The thing with Jeremy is that he is unbelievably passionate and enthusiastic about anything he does, and so after a few exchanges of emails my friend Martin and I found ourselves at Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club, launching Hafren for a trip to the Isle of Wight. At 03:00. On December 13th. One of the more curious aspects of small dinghy cruising is that fellow sailors find it difficult to understand the appeal. The vast majority of sailors that I know are racers, and claim not to understand the attraction of a long passage in a small boat. The most common reactions are:
- You are stupid and reckless
- How do you go to the toilet
- How do you sleep
- How do you eat anything hot
- Why don't you borrow my cruiser and do it in comfort, staying in Marinas
- Why bother ?
- You are stupid and reckless. I hope your RNLI membership is up to date.
So I thought I'd write a short Rooster article, explaining our motivation for dinghy cruising. Perhaps one way to understand the attraction of extended dinghy cruising is to draw a parallel with other sports, for example, why would any person would want to run a marathon? I pick marathon running as my wife is a marathon veteran of several decades, so I get to see the investment involved. The training is unrelenting, time consuming and tiring, the outcome of the first marathon itself is usually a pair of legs that are so tired you have to walk down stairs backwards. There are very few jobs in our society where running a marathon is a requirement, there are plenty of other ways to keep fit, so why do people do it? In my view there are two primary motivations for long distance running. The first is the sense of satisfaction that comes with planning, executing and achieving a challenging objective. This is difficult to articulate, but the sense of achievement that comes with completing a marathon is persistent – as well as the temporary elation that comes with crossing the finish line, you can now be confident in your ability to tackle grueling endeavors, and this is confirmed as a dimension of your core character. The second motivation for long distance running is competition. Racing sailors will readily identify with this aspect (although how many are prepared to invest time in progressing their position in fleet? Very few at club level in my experience, it is a curious dynamic of our sport). The first of these motivations holds true for long distance cruising in a dinghy. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from boat preparation, meticulous passage planning, and execution of the plan. There are a large number of unknown variables that influence the passage, these need to be carefully considered and planned into the voyage. Certainly there can be a degree of discomfort involved – it can be cold, wet, windy, wavy, etc – but these challenges serve to make the sense of achievement all the sweeter. The second motivation of competition needs to be interpreted for the dinghy cruising setting. Safety needs to be the principle objective of long distance dinghy sailing, and an objective of ‘getting there as fast as possible’ can compromise the safety of the passage. A balance of priorities is required. Looking at an extended passage, my motivation would be to execute it in the most efficient and seamanlike manner, not to make the trip in a specified number of hours. One of the pleasing aspects of completing a marathon is that you have a finishing position that ranks you amongst your peers. We don’t have this for long distance cruises, and we shouldn’t seek it either. The exception is the round Britain passage made by Jeremy and Phil of 33 days, but I have concluded that safety and seamanship are more important than beating a set time. For me, in the context of dinghy cruising, competition is best interpreted as the acquisition and deployment of the seamanship skills required to complete extended passages in a safe and efficient manner. Very difficult for a dinghy racer to accept this! Back to our trip, we arrived in Bembridge just before dawn, having narrowly avoided unlit fishing boats in the meandering approach channel (to be fair, I imagine they don't see too many wayfarers in the dark in December). After questioning a dog walker on the beach we were steered towards the bakery in the town that was serving a Full English breakfast from 07:30. Perhaps I should list Bembridge bakery Full English as a third motivation, after crossing the IoW shipping lanes in a Wayfarer at 0600, food has never tasted so good, the lady who works there is an angel. I'll most likely post again on the Bembridge voyage itself, it was an interesting trip and we learned some interesting lessons. Our next outing is scheduled for late April, starting at Emsworth and seeing how far West we can get. Mark Riddington
Hafren, just after dawn, resting on Bembridge anchorage.