Yachting World|January 2020


The ‘Yachting Journal of a Hebridean Sailor’ by Cully Pettigrew offers an unusual insight into the mind of a deep-thinking man. His relationship with a small yacht over 30 years and 28,000 miles gives his readers access to a fund of knowledge about the Scottish islands while the sea teases out his more abstract thoughts and ideas.

Among the charming, informative and challenging accounts that make up much of this book, I came across the following description of something which every male reader dreads: the fall over the toerail into cold water while making an after-dark visit to the deck in search of simple relief. Cully’s description of what happened and his inner transformation from accepting fate to finding a refusal to quit is something to which those of us who have been in the water and survived may well relate.

Ever the modest man, an entry in one of his log books from 1990 remarks, ‘Why do I bother to write all this down, as nobody will ever read this stuff.’

Thirty years on, as we all profit from his diligence, I’d like to think that he finally understands why he took the trouble.

Leisure sailors rarely lose their lives at sea, which should make sailing one of the safest activities. Sadly, this hobby claims several victims each year, a loss easily avoided as most of these accidents occur a short distance from safety.

Papillon of Carden is a 28ft Dufour Safari built in La Rochelle, Brittany, in 1972, and has been in my ownership since 1979. The 2012 delivery cruise from my winter base on the Island of Luing near Oban to the summer mooring at Crinan in the Sound of Jura should have been routine, but was to serve me a sharp lesson in early season over-complacency.

When completing the biannual refit before Easter, I little realised the survival ordeal ahead. The 12 mile trip was undertaken single-handed around the middle of March, the plan being to stop overnight a short distance from Crinan at the popular summer anchorage of Goat Island in Loch Craignish.

After a pleasant motorsail through the Dorus Mor, I anchored and settled down for my first and nearly last night on board. Goat Island was sheltered and deserted, no other yachts venturing out so early in the season, and the boat lay still in the evening calm of a dark, cold winter night. The stars were out and tomorrow’s forecast promised a sunny and pleasant motor to Crinan Harbour.

Around 10pm I decided on the customary visit over the side. I hadn’t put on a harness or lifejacket as this ritual had been successfully performed over the last 33 years without mishap. My arm was hooked around the backstay, a normal precaution against losing balance, and next thing I remembered was a whooshing effect, followed soon after by the weird sensation of waking up in my warm bunk having had a nightmare of swallowing water and drowning in the sea... except that this worst dream was real and I was actually drowning.


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January 2020