SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE

IN A BAT­TLE AGAINST PREVAILING WINDS AND THE TEMPTATION TO CUT AND RUN FOR THE SHEL­TER OF THE IR­ISH COAST, PAUL HEINEY PERSEVERES ACROSS THE AT­LANTIC SIN­GLE-HANDED WITH NOTH­ING MORE THAN FIN­ISH­ING THE COURSE ON HIS MIND

Yachting World - - Great Seamanship -

Paul Heiney is a cruising sailor to the core who has suc­ceeded in some no­table ocean quests. The first of these to ap­pear in book form was his suc­cess­ful en­try in the 2005 ‘Orig­i­nal’ Sin­gle-handed Transat­lantic Race or­gan­ised by the Royal West­ern Yacht Club of Eng­land. The event was to re­claim this his­toric con­test for Corinthian sailors from the highly spon­sored, pro­fes­sional event the old race had be­come. Paul must have been the per­fect en­trant for the or­gan­is­ers. Quiet, mod­est and to­tally without com­mer­cial as­sis­tance, he states in the early pages of his book, Last Man Across the At­lantic, that he doesn’t mind tak­ing the wooden spoon. For him, com­plet­ing the course will be vic­tory enough.

His boat is a heavy, long-keeled, largely un­changed fam­ily cruising ketch of 36ft and his rac­ing as­pi­ra­tions are min­i­mal, yet he comes through with a cred­itable elapsed time to New­port of 35 days. Not bad in the light of Chich­ester’s 40 days to New York in the first race.

The hid­den de­light about Last Man is Heiney’s style of writ­ing. In this ex­tract, his com­ments on the moral­ity of sin­gle-handed rac­ing when he’s just a week out shine with the clear voice of rea­son, but lest we imag­ine he is tak­ing him­self too se­ri­ously, he cracks a se­cret grin over his socks and some hi­lar­i­ous ar­range­ments for eas­ing his per­ilous pas­sage to the heads.

This is a book – still in print – that all of us who fancy our­selves proper sailors would do well to study. With each suc­ceed­ing page, one feels that Paul is an old friend we’d love to have as a ship­mate. I hated throw­ing fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles over the side this early in the race. Af­ter less than a week, some were al­ready turn­ing to mush, so I em­barked on a high-fi­bre diet to con­sume them. Meals now con­sisted of any­thing green, doused with a lit­tle oil, lots of salt and pep­per, and a can of fish – sar­dines my first choice. This be­came my idea of proper sail­ing food, pro­vid­ing it was not re­peated too of­ten.

I was hugely grate­ful when a heav­ily feath­ered bird landed in the cock­pit. I think we took each other by sur­prise, and we ex­changed blank stares for a while, pos­si­bly shar­ing the same thought – who the bloody hell are you? I know noth­ing about birds: I can tell a robin from an ea­gle and that’s it, al­though this tiny thing I recog­nised as no al­ba­tross. How­ever, its ar­rival was a rite of ocean pas­sage. In many of the ac­counts of long voy­ages, an ex­hausted bird col­lapses on board to keep the lone sailor com­pany, be­com­ing a ma­jor in­flu­ence in his life and a fo­cus for all man­ner of com­plex self-ex­am­i­na­tion. Once a firm re­la­tion­ship has been formed, the faith­less bird then flies away, leav­ing the skip­per an emo­tional crip­ple, weep­ing at the wheel of his ship, while thoughts of iso­la­tion bear down on him. The bird had be­come his only com­pan­ion, a metaphor for the whole of hu­man­ity, and now it has turned its back on him. Well, I can only as­sume my vis­i­tor took one look at where he’d landed, de­cided there was never go­ing to be any kind of re­la­tion­ship here and legged it back to land. In the time it took to make a mug of tea, he’d crapped on the Walker log and gone.

The tea in­evitably brought about the need for the piss-pot. For­give me if you find this of­fen­sive but it was al­ways the in­ten­tion that this race should be for the devel­op­ment of sin­gle-handed sail­ing tech­niques, and isn’t this one of the most fun­da­men­tal? I sliced the lid off my last fresh-milk bot­tle and el­e­vated it to its vi­tal new role. I no­ticed that it had con­tained or­ganic milk from a com­pany called Rachel’s Dairy and so my new bot­tle be­came known as Rachel. I apol­o­gise to Rachels

Above: The sturdy long-keel Bis­cay 36, Aye­sha kept Paul Heiney safe

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