During the first day of June 2010 I set sail in 'Equinox' my 24ft 6' Cornish Crabber from Chichester Marina and headed West down the Solent on a once in a lifetime adventure. Three and a half months later I completed my challenge; having sailed solo around the entire UK; visiting the Scillies, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Hebrides; going with huge trepidation over the top via Cape Wrath - the 'big right turn', before the next 'big right turn' heading south, at John o'Groats. This blog is my diary, written most evenings as I took stock of the day's progress; often with a huge lump of Cheddar cheese in hand and a pint of Speckled Hen to keep it company. Sometimes I was almost in tears; tiredness and frustration having taken its toll. Other nights exhuberant after breathtakingly beautiful passages along our stunning coastline with favourable following winds. It describes the ups and downs; the tears and laughter; the extraordinary kindness shown by complete strangers who offered a tired sailor in their midst refuge, solace, warmth and company; their generosity often humbling. My hormones were, I'm sure, in a mess making me perhaps rather vulnerble; as just six months earlier I'd endured the surgical removal of a cancerous prostate gland; laprascopically - a six hour procedure that left me physically weaker than before. You can read the background to the illness and the reasons for the challenge - to raise awareness of this terribe disease; that could have so easily have killed me elsewhere on this blog.

I am indebted to many; and recorded their names elsewhere; but as I reflect on the voyage many months later, I have not fully sung the praise of Cornish Crabbers, the builders of my sturdy little yacht and Roger Dongray the yacht's brilliant designer who drew upon a hull shape that had developed over hundreds of years by men who worked and fished at sea and whose very life depended on their vessel's seaworthiness. It's long keel, sail configuration and weight distribution in seemingly monsterous seas; quite incredible for a yacht so small. A Crabber 24 is not the swiftest yacht to be had for her size, for sure. But what she lacks in that respect she makes up for by her abilty to take heavy weather and harsh conditions in her stride. Built solidly without compromise, Equinox delivered me safely home after a voyage of well over 2500 miles in some of the most hostile and dangerously tidal waters you can find anywhere in Europe. In Wales, for example, the RNLI were phoned by an experienced commercial fisherman watching Equinox from his harbourside office; reporting to them, that a yacht was struggling in heavy seas and a F7 a mile outside the harbour entrance. By the time the lifeboat had been launched, I was tucked up in Aberystwyth marina; a little bruised and battered it has to be said, but safe and sound; I never even saw the lifeboat!

I've recently set up the blog so that readers can cover numerous diary entries in one go. To access earlier diary entries just click on the link 'Older Posts' at the foot of each page. Only a few clicks are needed to get to the entries at the beginning of the voyage and my preparation beforehand.

I hope you enjoy reading it; and if you do, or have done, please be kind enough to leave me a message. For which, in anticipation, I thank you.
The voyage also raised over £10,000 for the Prostate Cancer Charity - not my main goal but those who donated on my 'Just Giving ' page made a huge contribution too; as I was notified by email of each donation as it was made; each raising my spirits immeasurably. My main goal was to encourage 2500 men to get PSA tested - one for each mile sailed; and I beleive that goal was achieved too. And finally, I would also like to thank the growing number of men who have, both during and after the voyage ended, taken a PSA test, as a result of the publicty the voyage attracted; been diagnosed with the disease and taken the time and trouble to email me.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Getting ready to get ready..........!

3 months before I set sail and what was just a pipe dream has now become a reality. My appointment with my surgeon on the 9th Feb together with the recent PSA blood test result of >0.1 means, I hope, I'm in the clear. Preparation for the challenge can now begin in earnest!

12 Feb,
My life raft has just returned from an overhaul. Comforting to have it, but hope I never need to use it. I feel a bit like a pilot carrying a parachute - having to resort to it is an admission of failure!

Roger Upham, a marine electrician is scheduled to undertake a full check of all the on board electronics. He hoped it would be mid March when he and I can hook up on Equinox and go through my check list. GPS, Plotter, Depth, Wind, Speed and VHF DSC Radio, all need the once over. In addition, he'll be supplying and coaching me on using an Epirb (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) a Navtex for weather, marine and safety updates. He is also installing a stereo with MP3 and iPod interfaces. This, I am sure will provide enormous comfort on the long and lonely voyage legs.

I dropped off two dodgers, Tonneau and sail cover with C&J Marine Ltd (Chichester) for refurbishment and strengthening. They should be back in mid March.

15 Feb,
Using wood, I've constructed and varnished two strong Fender Boards of 1.2m each; an absolute 'must have' according to other circumnavigators; to protect my hull when mooring against quays, docksides and mooring piles.

Checked all the cordage, the jib and staysail sheets, furling lines and mainsheet needed replacing, as they were looking tired. The rest seem in sound shape.

17 Feb
I've ordered from an online stockist a recommended set of engine spares - belts, impellers, oil and fuel filters. I need to put a date in the diary to fully service the GM20 Yanmar diesel engine sometime in the week leading up to my departure. Doing so will give me enormous peace of mind.

19 Feb
The dinghy sits in my office fully inflated - checking for slow leaks. A replacement Lodestar repair kit was ordered over the phone together with a spare inflation pump. On checking, I found the repair patch adhesive had set solid in the tube, although it has never been opened. A new, longer and much stronger painter has been attached securely to the dingy and a small folding anchor purchased - for shore excursions - being a sensitive soul, I hate dragging dinghies up beaches and ramps, if it can be avoided.

20 Feb
I've spent the day stripping down, cleaning and servicing my 47 year old Seagull outboard engine and packed up a selection of spares for the voyage.

23 Feb
Updated both my Ofcom VHF licence and the Coastguard's database with Equinox's details online. The Coastguard now have a picture of Equinox under full sail (Thanks to Peter Moore, for taking it.)
I'll need to register, with Roger Upham's help, my new handheld EPIRB, once the details are known.

24 Feb
An email arrived from the Prostate Cancer Charity saying they are organising hull stickers using a wonderful and very helpful firm called SAC Graphics Ltd. The charity are also sending an X large T-shirt for me to wear for media events too! The Daily Mail are due to be in touch soon too! I've taken on board another circumnavigator's tip and produced and printed little 'boat cards' with mine and the boat's details on them.
I've also printed out safety and personal data sheets and laminated them against the all pervasive damp found afloat!.
More good news, James Moody at Premier Marinas have confirmed they are linking my blog to the Group's website.

The list of things to do seems to grow each day. It is proving fatal reading other voyager's tales! Their recommendations and suggestions, as to what kit to take, makes such sound sense, I feel obliged to include it. Poor old Equinox will need a periscope if the list of stores grows any further!