sail­ing life

Big­ger isn’t al­ways better. As age­ing joints make some jobs harder, Ju­lian Mounter re­dis­cov­ers the fun and free­dom of a smaller boat

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

‘Should your boat’s length match your age?’ asks Ju­lian Mounter

Like a night­time mid-at­lantic squall it comes – vaguely an­tic­i­pated, and yet un­ex­pected when it ar­rives. Sur­pris­ing, un­wanted and yet you know that it’s in­evitable. The first clear sign is the rough­ness of the main­sail; it pulls at your fin­ger­tips as you fold it. You used to lift one that size on your own. When was it you needed help? How long ago was it the sail­maker asked you to let go and sent for his col­league when it was clear your back was com­plain­ing? The cap­tain could han­dle the ship, but could no longer dress and un­dress her.

The sec­ond sign was the ques­tion­ing look on my Ad­mi­ral’s face (she’s al­ways been ‘my Ad­mi­ral’, I a mere cap­tain). She used to have such con­fi­dence that any­thing the sea, the boat or for­tune threw at us, I could han­dle. But now? It was just a glance, but it held the ques­tion: can he?

‘The wind­lass is strong enough to raise the an­chor. But can he, by hand? I mustn’t show it, but has he lost his strength, his agility?’

At first you shrug off the doubts. You push your­self and test your strengths un­til a year or five later, that back twinge be­comes a back pain, the nag­ging doubt be­comes worry, and then you know. Fear takes over. Will this be the last sum­mer? Are these days of sit­ting on warm teak, with cold stain­less on my back, as a sun­set fades an an­chor­age into twin­kling black… Are these days al­most gone?

Sod age­ing! Damn Old Fa­ther Time. What right has he to take my boat? I thought winches worked with but­tons, rud­ders steered by elec­tron­ics and an­chors raised by power would let me sail Leone, our Grand Soleil 50, for decades more, un­til that metaphor­i­cal squall fi­nally sneaked into my con­scious­ness. But sailors are fight­ers. After 50 years and all those miles in es­tu­ar­ies, seas and oceans, it can­not just end so I planned an es­cape. Does the main­sail have to be as big? Would I be able to han­dle a lighter an­chor and slim­mer chain? If the hull was smaller and the decks shorter, the mast eas­ier to climb and not a jump to that pon­toon, just a step down, would there be Our Grand Soleil 50 Leone was the largest of our boat own­ing ca­reer

more years, more sun­sets, more pas­sages? For five decades, ev­ery spare penny has been spent on go­ing to sea. A friend helped us buy the Contessa. The Nic 31, which took us safely to Gi­bral­tar and on, was funded by chang­ing homes. After that, ev­ery time we had a pay rise, were pro­moted or changed house, the spare money bought a new larger craft: a Con­test, a Light­wave, a Baltic, then the Grand Soleil 50. What was it that Nor­we­gian cap­tain said: ‘A boat’s length should match your age.’ They al­most did. But, once I be­came 20 years older than the foot length of Leone, it no longer re­mained true. She had to go.

‘Down­siz­ing.’ The word is crude and cruel but, forced as it is upon us age­ing sailors, it is ac­tu­ally less cruel. And so, I have found my so­lu­tion in the shape of an­other boat.

Mus­ke­teer is 14 years old. When we found her, her paint­work was tired, her main pulling in the wrong di­rec­tions, but now her 11m of newly painted blue hull shines, while the new spray­hood, stack pack, main and jib, hal­yards and sheets make this Swedish beauty look born again. I have spent way too much re­new­ing her; she is wildly over-cap­i­talised, but with Leone off our hands there were pen­nies left for other work. So this year, Mus­ke­teer, my Ad­mi­ral and I will ex­pe­ri­ence new ad­ven­tures.

I have sailed sev­eral of our boats to the Mediter­ranean over the years, sailed them across the At­lantic three times and ex­pe­ri­enced bays and winds as far afield as New Zealand. Leone was bought in the Med and sold there sev­eral months ago. Be­ing nearly 9ft deep, there were places she couldn’t go – places that we can now go with a 36ft boat that only draws 6ft.

We wanted to cruise the Mediter­ranean again, but as we dis­cussed get­ting Mus­ke­teer to the Med, the Ad­mi­ral had that quizzi­cal look again. So in­stead of long night pas­sages, we let a yacht-carrying cargo ves­sel do the work. At an av­er­age of 14 knots, it took her less than a week to de­liver Mus­ke­teer to Mal­lorca. Noth­ing could have been eas­ier: sail along­side in Southamp­ton, step off, take a flight and meet her on ar­rival. Mast up, she was in a berth and ready to go within hours. Of course, we have over­stocked her, but Mus­ke­teer looks happy in the Span­ish sun­shine, and I feel equally bright in the knowl­edge that I can more eas­ily hand sail, an­chor and moor­ing lines.

I also know that when Mus­ke­teer is, in turn, one day too big, there could be a 20-footer and after that, a day­sailer or a keeled dinghy. It is not what I had dreaded: it is not the end. My ad­mi­ral, too, looks more con­tent, know­ing that I have fi­nally faced the in­evitable. I now know that as long as I can move a wheel or tiller, pull a rope or a string, see a nav­i­ga­tion mark and feel the wind on my cheek, I will sail. Down­siz­ing is a new ad­ven­ture. It may even be more ful­fill­ing than all those years of up­siz­ing.

Our Light­wave 48, Pa­cific Pearl

En­joy­ing Med sail­ing in our Con­test 37

Steadily grow­ing boats: our enor­mously ca­pa­ble Nichol­son 31

Fun afloat with the fam­ily in younger days

JU­LIAN MOUNTER Ju­lian has logged more than 100,000 sea miles, in­clud­ing sev­eral At­lantic cross­ings

The ‘Ad­mi­ral’ Pad­die and our son Chris, pleased with the new, smaller boat

A sam­ller boat is a neat so­lu­tion to the age­ing prob­lem

Hav­ing de­cided on ship­ping Mus­ke­teer, load­ing her couldn’t have been eas­ier

Mus­ke­teer safely de­liv­ered to the Med

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