Monthly Archives: March 2013


Kass at climbing workshop

Climbing is so much fun

This Sunday morning found me in non-descript business park tucked away in an armpit of Staples Corner, just off the North Circular. I was there with eight other boat owners to attend a course on mast climbing and descending techniques, organised by the Cruising Association. The instructor, Barney Green, is the owner of Higher Safety, an independent height safety consultancy, which works mainly in the construction industry. Barney is also a keen sailor and boat owner, and so is probably more qualified than just about anyone to teach about working safely aloft.

Dave at the mast climbing workshop

‘Monkey’ Dave has a banana break

We started in the classroom with introductions and a presentation from Barney which covered the basic principles of working safely at height and the equipment we would be using, including a harness, ascender and descender. We then went downstairs and had a ‘horizontal’ practical session. Sadly this did not involve a kip, but rather trying out the equipment on ropes while still on the ground. After that it was time to don helmets and get climbing. Some took to this with monkey-like ease, while others found it a bit of a struggle. I was somewhere in between, finding that it took a bit of thought and some effort, but confident that, with practice, it would become second nature. We each got to try a few variations, including techniques for safe solo climbing, if desired. I sincerely hope I will not need to go up my mast while alone in the middle of the Atlantic, but if I do, at least now I’m better prepared.

We then returned to the classroom for a chat about techniques for working at the very top of our masts. This was followed by a lunch break, during which my leftovers from a recent visit to Mosob were the object of some envy, and then more climbing practice.

I think the course was a really good investment of time and money for me. Barney is planning to start offering the course more widely, and I would heartily recommend it if you’re into that sort of thing.


Captain of my own ship

Kass sailing Zest off Cowes Green

Sailing Zest off Cowes Green in the bright February sunshine (photo: Tom Loosemore)

Step one of becoming the captain of one’s own ship is, of course, procuring the ship. For me the process started with a bit of seemingly innocent browsing of various used boat websites. This often took place, if I’m perfectly honest, in bed on weekday mornings, as I sipped a mug coffee and put off the start of my dreary 90 minute commute.

Offshore racing has very strict rules about what makes a suitable boat, and these rules are usually pretty difficult for smaller boats to satisfy. As my budget was very limited, this meant my choices of acceptable and affordable boats were pretty restricted. We were eyeing up models like the Jenneau Melody and the Beneteau First 345, of which there were typically a handful for sale in the UK, Ireland and on the Atlantic coast of France.

In November, while on holiday to our usual cruising ground in Greece, we heard about a Melody that had been recently bought for a good price and fixed up in our local boatyard. The boat was not for sale, and the owners were off home before I arrived, but told mutual friends I was welcome to have a nose around on deck in their absence, just to get a feel for it. So one evening we took a dinghy across Vathoudi Bay to the local rustic boatyard, full of hungry mosquitoes in the fading light, and I climbed up a rickety ladder onto the deck.

I imagined myself alone on this boat, steering across the waves of the North Atlantic, which was not so easy with the olive tree just off the port quarter. The cockpit felt reassuringly small and protective, good for stormy conditions, while the expansive foredeck offered plenty of lounging space for calm, sunny days. There were rumours that this boat had been designed specifically for the OSTAR, with a deep keel and high ballast ratio. Looking around the deck I could believe that. It had the feeling of a well-engineered, mass-produced tool. It would do the job, even if it wasn’t particularly exciting.

On our return to the UK we started making tentative plans to spend a weekend or two jetting off to similar boats that were actually for sale. But before we had a chance to surrender ourselves to Easyjet, our heads were turned by a couple of intriguing boats much closer to home, on the south coast.

Both were pedigree racing machines, designed by top names, and custom-built with no expense spared. Both had recently had costly refits, only to have the owners’ racing aspirations curtailed, in one case by the sudden death of the owner and in the other by the birth of a child.

I bought the first boat we looked at. It took about five weeks from seeing it to becoming the owner. The asking price was about 50% more than I could afford to pay, but for some reason Diana, the original owner’s widow, agreed to sell to me anyway. I am extremely grateful to her for that, and my gratitude just increases the more I learn about the boat (and the more knowledgable people come visit and tell me what a great boat I have). I realise I have said almost nothing about the boat so far. Don’t worry, (much) more soon.