England, France, Channel Islands, Spain, Portugal: Summer 2003
The year 2003 has been panning out nicely so far. With one of the warmest summers on record it seems I’ve spent most of this year following the sun. Selling my share of my business and spending 2 months in New Zealand from March was perhaps the best move I could have made, so when I returned in April the last thing I wanted to do was go back to work. To cut a long story short I decided a sailing trip across the Atlantic was my calling. Don’t ask me why, it just had to be done.
The three months with my recently-retired parents back in my home town of Saffron Walden was fantastic. A chance to hang out with my folks, hit the pub with my Dad, allow my Mum to iron my underwear (I specifically requested her not to but you know how mums are), and catch up with some old friends and make some new ones. Much of this was done in my local, The OEG (Old English Gentlemen), except the ironing of my underwear.
In short the last six months has consisted of very little working, lots of drinking, chilling with some great people, oh and flirting with some lovely ladies. So to up and leave this and take on something that I had only previously had one week’s experience of was difficult. The fact that I was planning to cross the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic in a home-made 37ft yacht was insane. This was helped not at all by responses like “you’re mad”, “there’s no way you’d ever catch me doing that” and “you’re not a sailor until you’ve sailed the Bay of Biscay”. My favourite was a comment shouted out to me down the road as I left the OEG for the last time: “Shark fodder”. Cheers!
I met Sailor Sam (my nickname for him – a character from Rupert the Bear) via the Crew Seekers website, a place for skippers to advertise for fools to join them on insane trips (like crossing the Atlantic on a 37ft yacht).
Sam is a doctor of Upper Atmosphere Physics, spent five years creating instruments to assist in the study of the Northern Lights and sees the world through a photomultiplyerspectroscope.
He built his ferro-cement yacht from a wreck over a 15 year period, decking out the interior with gubbins gleaned from second hand boat fetes.
A qualified Royal Yachting Association (RYA) offshore yachtmaster, Sam has already crossed the Atlantic a number of times. His piece-de-resistance, however, must have been sailing the original Ramprasad (a traditional open Indian fishing boat made from teak) from India to Australia single handed. Check an Atlas to put into context just how mad this bloke is.
Sam can speak about 27 different languages and is a member of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. We’re in good hands.
I was led to believe that Lorraine came from Wales, so I was relieved to find that she’s actually a south-London grrrl (bling bling) who was forced to live in Wales against her will. Lorraine is actually one of those super brainy people without having to try and has a proper English sense of humour. Bit like Conny, who she describes as “the Crazy Kraut Canoeist”.
I first met her on the pontoon whilst waiting for the river taxi to take us to the boat and full of enthusiasm she asked me if I was Jamie. When I replied ‘yes’ she backed off and her skin-head dad stepped up to show me who’s girl she really is. Her dad is actually a bit of a geezer, a volunteer for the RNLI with a lot of sailing experience behind him. His parting words to me were ‘there’ll be plenty of times when you think “this is it, I’m a gonner”’. Yeah, cheers mate.
Meet Conny. This Bjorn-from-Abba look-a-like spends most of his time kayaking the cold Baltic seas just for a laugh. He kayaked from Brighton to Chichester to meet Sam (taking 2 days with a headwind to make his destination), though his Germany-to-Sweden-to-Denmark-and-back-again trip wins him the Medal of Hardcore. At 37 he lives in a camper van and describes himself as happily divorced and when I met him he was sporting a Wallace and Grommet t-shirt: crack a joke and Conny turns into a disturbing likeness to Wallace. I’ve tried to capture this distinctive feature on film but you’ve gotta be there really.
Oh, and he’s German. We’ve already mentioned the war and he explained that not only does he get blamed for the war but for the death of Jesus and global warming as well. Good lad.
Officially Ramprasad is a ferro-cement 37ft cruising yacht. Unofficially Ramprasad is a ferro-cement 37ft cruising yacht. Basically I’m not allowed to say anything derogatory about this vessel as it’s seeing me across some of the roughest seas known to man. In truth I don’t have anything bad to say about it anyway. Skip has spent years doing this baby up and whilst all the la-di-da sailing types opt for super-light fibre-glass modern vessels, Ramprasad is a solid, ocean-going work-horse and she’s a beauty. Sam reckons if he tried selling her he’d not get much for her because she’s ‘home-made’, but I think the two are inseparable. Sam also reckons that she performs best whilst packed down with weight, which is why we’ve filled every possible stowage space with alcohol. And there’s me thinking I was gonna lose a few pounds on this trip. I strongly urge you to read all about Sam’s 12 year project building Ramprasad from a rotting hull, it makes fascinating reading –