At school sailing was my passion. It was my escape too, with no way to go home from a very large public school where I was bullied extensively. I sailed in all conditions on Toppers – from weather where all the other boats were turned turtle, my surviving the gusts by easing sheets and bearing away, to glass calm over at this website. There I was there, and school was in sight but out of mind.
The bigger the wind the better to be honest as in glassy calm my mind would return the quarter mile to school, but in a blast you had to be switched on to an extreme level of consciousness to get around Alton Water, and if a thought of the hell ashore crept into your mind you’d lose it and have to sort out the capsize.
A year before the mast on HMS Rose
I probably got straight E’s at A level due to sailing. Through connections stateside I’d landed a gig as a Smallie Boy (an apprentice crewman) aboard the 186 foot tall ship Rose, then out of Bridgeport CT. The management of the school apparently feared me going on a 3 week drunken rampage after the exams finished but school continued. I should have attended Speech Day and Commemoration Sunday (a 200 year old tradition at the school) but for some reason I was allowed to fly to the States early… Why did I fail? I had a series of leaving parties before the exams and was sloshed when I sat them. That’s my excuse anyway…
I flew to the States a big shot and rapidly learned that once again I was the little boy who knew nothing and had a lot to fear. Forgetting the way I disgraced myself on the final night in Erie PA (how I remember is anyone’s guess) I had to get my head around 4 miles of rigging, rigging that went via a 130ft mainmast and a 119ft foremast. I brashly say it took me a week to be any use up there (it was probably two) but soon enough I learned enough to teach.
The year was a crazy adventure, and where I’m sure many an anecdote I regale you with is blown out of all proportion it certainly did mark me for life. Chasing the chilli up and down the mess table in 50mph winds when a 65-70 knot gust hit, rolling us hard. Someone came down below to the Great Cabin and said quietly, “Captain, we have a bit of problem. Would you come on deck please?” Much of the crew had dashed on deck at the same time as Captain Richard Bailey, and we all saw the 65ft, 18inch thick main course yard had snapped in two and was swinging above our heads, held up by the Dacron sail. That was a bit stressful!
The one thing I did carry away was the ability to write. I was trying to woo an old friend from North Carolina into becoming more than friends through an ancient art form – letter writing. I didn’t succeed but she gave high praise for my beautiful writing. We remain good friends to this day.
Sailing days since
I sailed whenever I could depending on my lifestyle afterwards. I have a BSc (Hons) in Maritime Studies from what is now Solent University in Southampton. It was the only sailing degree at the time and because I lost my way I didn’t take full advantage. I am open about the fact I was losing my mind in those days and freely admit my foot was hard on the accelerator on the road to hell. Many a 20 something loses their way and 1% of us end up with the illness I have.
My parents bought a house in Spain with a dock and for many years I sailed with them and friends on various boats out of Roses in Catalonia. When I was diagnosed and treated, so I was told to write therapeutically. I saw this as a way out and took an adult education course and then an MA in broadcast journalism to get away from the disabled world. At Falmouth I raced in the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, and did a delivery from Spain to Dartmouth. Playing catch as catch can with a tanker in a F7 headwind in the wee hours of the morning on the Bay of Biscay put me off sailing for a while. I felt this was a major argument with my old friend Neptune. Proper friendships never die from one screaming match…
Sailing journalist - Weymouth 2012
I moved to Weymouth with my wife and cats in 2010 to land a writing gig and hopefully cover the Olympics. None of the obvious doors were open to me, but by chance I started writing for Boating Times Long Island. In late 2011 I discovered that there were two Long Islanders who were bidding to get into Team USA. I watched the Olympic Trial for the Eliot 6 metre match racing from a press boat with a journalist for Sailing World. Stu Streuli seemed to like my work and determination to write for the big boys, so gave me the ability to pitch to the magazine.
I pitched to several other titles – have a look at my sailing portfolio to see how well I got on! The pressure was phenomenal. Working from 8 in the morning for UK clients, and working with US clients from 1400 – midnight on some nights. Chatting up sailors from around the world, staying onside with various teams. I may have cracked the big time?
I won’t recount why I didn’t here. Perhaps ask me in person?
The road since?
I have owned and sold a boat in Bedfordshire since. I write for Boating Times Long Island and blog for The Boating Hub still, and have done a number of one off gigs for a variety of clients including the America’s Cup World Series hospitality team and a few sailing businesses. If you want me to blog for you? Contact me through my website – I’d be happy to discuss terms!