John Passmore is a man unafraid to move with the times. A professional journalist with a distinguished newspaper career, he now hosts a powerful online presence in the guise of his channel oldmansailing.com. The quote at the beginning of his recent book by the same name is from Søren Kirkegaard and it sums up his attitude. ‘Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.
When Covid lockdown hit, instead of hunkering down in his office, John, now in his 70s, got on his boat and went to sea. Forty-two days and 3,629 miles later, he was on national radio advising the rest of us about how to live the dream.
In this extract from Old Man Sailing, John re-lives the capsize of an earlier boat as he shares a unique description of what goes through a thinking man’s mind while perched on the bottom – or is it the top? – of his inverted Heavenly Twins catamaran, Lottie Warren, in a North Sea storm. The book is a great read from a professional storyteller who always sees the funny side, even when laughs must have been hard to find.
Standing at the wheel, I watched the log hit 13 knots – then 16. Looking astern, two white wakes stretched out with the tires kicking up plumes of spray, and then, behind them, the crest of the wave. It was high, of course, but it was a long way behind so it didn’t seem particularly threatening. Meanwhile, the little boat continued to track dead straight downwind. I engaged the autopilot, and she continued to thunder along.
I got out the camera and took pictures. Then the boat gave a lurch, flinging me from one side to the other so that I landed painfully on top of the lumpy EPIRB mounted on the starboard bulkhead. I carried on taking pictures, although, I did wonder why the flash kept going off?
But it wasn’t the flash going off. It was the strobe light on the EPIRB – which meant that the EPIRB was switched on. I must have activated it when I sat on it. Now it was firing off distress messages. When this happens by accident, you are not supposed to switch it off – that just confuses everyone. On the other hand, if I didn’t switch it off now, they would launch a full-scale search and rescue operation. I don’t think I could have lived with the embarrassment. I switched it off.
It was too late. At home in Woodbridge, Tamsin received a call from the Falmouth Coast guard. They had received one ‘ping’, they said – but then, nothing. They wanted to know if she had heard from me. In the end, they said they would treat it as a false alarm. If it happened again, they would act.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this. Certainly, I didn’t need rescuing. The little boat was flying dead straight downwind in brilliant sunshine with excellent visibility. And so the storm raged and Lottie Warren rattled on in the direction of Bergen or Tromsø or somewhere and I slept and woke, and slept and woke again until I woke to the sensation of going up in a high-speed lift. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the fruit bowl tipping over, spilling apples and oranges across the table.
Out loud, I said, matter-of-factly: ‘She’s going over.’ And she was. The whole cabin rotated – quite slowly, it seemed – and I found myself on the deckhead. Water squirted in around the door, all sorts of loose objects were floating about, sloshing back and forth as the now stationary boat bobbed quietly upside down.
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