Updating The Complete Day Skipper

We have just published the sixth edition of The Complete Day Skipper, the essential guide to everything you need to know to pass your Day Skipper. Tom Cunliffe reflects on 20 years of the book’s development.

When I was teaching sailing, my favourite course was Day Skipper. This was because it cut straight to the chase and delivered the basics of the job – not much in the way of frills, and a solid grounding from which students could move forward at their own pace and in their own way. By the end of the week, folks were in a position to take charge of a modest yacht on daytime passages of a tide or so’s duration. If you can do that, the rest is just a matter of time and application.


Writing The Complete Day Skipper was therefore a pleasure for me. I recalled so many excellent passages with my crews; the fun, the minor dramas and, above all, the deep satisfaction. Adlard Coles and I published the first edition of the book before  electronics came of age to change how we tackle navigation for ever.

In my early days instructing on the water, my colleagues and I even set precedents for how to teach this new world responsibly. I well remember a conversation with Mel Bartlett, who wrote the RYA Manual of Navigation. We were discussing how we were going to deal with waypoints. These were a novel concept, right down to what symbols we should use to indicate them on paper charts. The wheel has turned some more since then and most of us have moved on into electronic chart plotters. It’s all a world away from parallel rulers and sharp 2B pencils, yet these classic stand-bys are by no means redundant. Maintaining the book in line with such earth-moving changes has kept me on my toes.

When The Complete Day Skipper first hit the shelves in 2002, roller headsails were becoming established on some cruising yachts, but they were certainly not ‘standard issue’. Hoisting, stowing and changing jibs and genoas was very much part of a skipper’s armoury of skills. Today, roller genoas are found on almost every boat the world over. They make life a lot simpler, although not always better. Operating them does, however, require a new set of skills, so, once again, the book was brought into line with general practice.

Keeping the engine available when it was needed was, at one time, a sort of optional add-on to a Day Skipper course. Now, we all understand that modern diesels are an integral part of every sailor’s skill library. The days of dodgy auxiliary engines are long gone – or they should be – and today’s units can be almost unbelievably reliable given sensible care and attention. And, if they stop, a minimum of basic training can give them a fighting chance of starting again. All that is covered in recent editions, as well it should be.

The list of changes brought about by natural progress is new with each re-birth, but some things never alter. Wind, sea state, tide rips and questions such as, ‘what do I do when I enter a strange harbour for the first time?’ have not altered since Noah’s day, nor are they likely to any time soon. I love writing about these things, and I particularly appreciate the way Bloomsbury, who are now Adlard Coles’ parent company, have pushed the boat out on quality production for my books. It makes all the difference for a reader to hold something of obvious value. I recall donkey’s years ago having to dig in my toes for colour pictures. With that battle astern, our little team has never looked back.

Enjoy the book, look forward to graduating to The Complete Yachtmaster, The Complete Ocean Skipper and, if you fancy broadening your outlook and discovering some useful  ‘how-to’ snippets, visit my website (www.tomcunliffe.com) and my YouTube channel at Tom Cunliffe Yachts and Yarns.


About Tom

Tom Cunliffe read Law at university before running away to sea. After heading up a sailing school in the South of France, he has served before the mast in small sailing ships, skippered yachts for private owners, raced offshore and worked at sea as mate on a coasting merchant vessel. He is an RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Instructor Examiner and is a consultant for the governing body of sailing in the United States.

He has cruised his own yachts with family and friends to destinations as diverse as Brazil, Greenland, the Caribbean and Communist Russia. His many books include two ‘Best Book of the Sea’ award winners.

In recent years he has presented Discovery Channel’s ever-popular series Boatyard, and BBC TV’s Boats that Built Britain. He sails his 45-foot cutter all summer long with his wife before returning to the New Forest where he keeps a large motorcycle, a 1949 Bentley, and cultivates roses.


You can buy the new edition of The Complete Day Skipper from all good bookshops and chandleries (£25, ISBN 978-1-4729-7323-8). Alternatively you can buy it direct from us and enjoy a 10% discount off RRP: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-complete-day-skipper-9781472973238/

Reflections of a Reeds editor

As we enter 2020 and a new decade the team at Reeds is working to encompass the changes that are happening to the familiar infrastructure on which we all rely.

In the leisure boating environment, the emphasis continues to move toward motor boats, the sales of which far exceed the sailing equivalents. Sailing yachts are generally larger and the generation of boat-owning family sailors from the boom years of the 70s, 80s and 90s have given way to a more charter orientated market.

To this end we are seeing renewed investment in marinas and harbour facilities with new, longer pontoons and better access. Along the south coast the regeneration of Dover Western Docks is approaching fruition; Brighton has invested in facilities and access; both Lymington and Beaulieu have embarked on re-modelling of the pontoons for visitors. Investment is growing in Ireland and West Coast Islands of Scotland with ever-growing visitor numbers. To the east, Whitby and the Wash ports are renewing facilities too. The harbour entries reflect these.

Reeds Nautical Almanac 2020

The tapestry continues to change. The expansion of offshore wind farms continues apace as installation costs fall. This is married by a reduction in the older oil and gas platforms which are becoming obsolete. We have yet to see a ‘green’ revolution in the marine leisure sector and reliance on diesel engines and petrol outboards is legion. The changes in car production have yet to be reflected afloat, but given the sparsity of charging points at sea, sail is likely to regain prominence. We cannot ignore the increasing regulation and pressure on domestic facilities and the unknown complications of sailing to Europe – so simple for so long.

Increasing reliance on digital electronic equipment results in the reduction of physical navigation marks and aids. Chart plotters, tablets and phones have relieved the mathematically challenged of the tedious chore of tidal calculations. Interestingly this shift has also reduced the awareness of tides, tidal streams and how to use them to advantage. Time and tide wait for no man, but the charter market runs to the clock by the day and hour. The weather is more accurately forecast than ever before yet becomes increasingly unpredictable. We cannot match the full range of information available but provide the essential ‘manual’ backup on which the hardy may rely when all else fails.

The challenges of setting forth to sea in small craft have in reality altered little. The perception of these and the associated hazards and dangers has however dropped. The passage information has been extensively reviewed and condensed at the start of each area to make it more easily accessible. Reliance on digital data has dulled the skills and perception – as it has on the motorway. Sailors are often removed from the environment protected by wheelhouses, pilot houses and sophisticated clothing. Underpinning this is belief in the infallibility of the emergency services – who may have to risk their own lives. We provide concise safety advice and aide-memoires for all eventualities.

The Almanac reflects all these facets and many more. The physical alterations to chartlets are relatively straightforward to capture with the help from Reeds’ unique network of agents, harbour masters and marinas. The detail is included for the professional operator of small craft. It is more difficult to capture the ever-increasing data available and distil the essence on which the less experienced and more technically dependent may have to rely at short notice but that is, after all, what we at Reeds are known for.

The Reeds Nautical Almanac 2020 is available now in both print and ebook. You can save 10% on Bloomsbury.com. If you buy the print edition you will also be able to buy the ebook for half price. To get your Almanac annually for only £32.50, you can also join our exclusive subscriber programme – click here for more information. The Almanac is updated monthly between January and June – download the latest updates here.

Women on sailing ships

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (written in 1797 – 1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge relates the unfortunate tale of a mariner who shot an albatross that had guided his ship out of dangerous icy waters in the Antarctic. Spirits then led the ship northwards until it became becalmed near the Equator in uncharted waters. In their thirst, the sailors turned on the mariner and tied the dead albatross around his neck. All the sailors except the mariner then died, and after some horrific encounters and the ship rotting and sinking, he found himself left to wander the earth for evermore, telling his story, still with the stinking albatross around his neck, as a lesson for others.

Coleridge wasn’t himself a sailor, yet with this poem he tapped into and depicted the very superstitious life of seamen, in which the normal phenomena of the sea (winds, storms, phosphorescence and water spouts) were bestowed with malevolent magical powers and often blamed on women, as witches. Little wonder, then – as Dorothy Volo discovered in the course of her extensive research – that females were not popular on board. Despite this, there was a tradition of women at sea in the Royal Navy through the 18th and 19th centuries, though it was against regulations, on ships that were dubbed ‘hen frigates’. Moreover, in battle the women would fight alongside the men as best they could, or assist the surgeon with treating the wounded.

Prostitutes also went on board ships, though they seldom went to sea due to the fact that at the start of a voyage the sailors had probably already spent all their money, a scenario that gave rise to the Dead Horse ceremony described by Maud in such detail in the 1880 diary and by Roslyn Russell, who shows a charming contemporary painting of ‘Throwing the Dead Horse Overboard’.

The majority of women allowed on board were warrant officers’ wives, and sometimes the coopers, cooks and sailmakers were also allowed to have their wives aboard: women were ‘an unavoidable nuisance’. It says something that often women’s names were omitted from ship’s passenger lists, and their deaths were frequently not recorded.

The conditions for the seamen’s women and children on board were even worse than those of the men: they had to share hammocks in the crew’s quarters, and rely on their men to give them some of their food since they were not provided with their own rations. Their days were often spent in darkness below decks because they were supposed to keep out of the way until the evening, when they were finally allowed on deck to take part in any entertainment or dancing. Women gave birth in the dark below decks with little or no privacy or assistance, even in times of battle.

This lack of consideration for women carried through to land life, especially if the men were to die. Few benefits were available to sea widows, and often the regulations prevented them from accessing even the benefits that they were due, although some charities assisted them. Moreover, if a seaman died from his own actions, his wife was ineligible for any compensation whatsoever.

The warrant officers’ wives fared better than those of the seamen: they could share their husbands’ cabins, perhaps had a little more money and could spend their time ‘working’ – doing needlework and knitting. In addition, they may have been allocated 11 – 12-year-old cabin boys to do their odd jobs, such as polishing shoes or assisting with cooking.

Finally, women whose husbands were of higher rank – ladies of quality such as Maud, the captain’s wife – had a more comfortable cabin, a much better diet, and luxuries such as wine.

Despite the relative comfort of her quarters and conditions, life for the wives of the higher-ranking men was generally lonely. On board, Maud would have been socially isolated by the conventions of the time that would frowned on her fraternising with the crew, excepting the steward and cook, or with men other than her husband. To pass the time, Maud undertook simple tasks such as copying out the log for Henry, as she mentions, and walking on deck with him when he was free.

Nor was life on a sailing ship fashionable. One photo of Maud on board the Walmer Castle shows her as a young woman wearing the formal crinoline of the time, possibly made from silk, but this obviously would have been impractical at sea, particularly when climbing up and down ladders, as she did from time to time. Indeed, in a diary entry made when leaving San Francisco she mentions that her formal clothes are put away and she resorts to something like a black woollen wrapper or work dress, shown in a later photo. She must have had some serviceable shoes too.

9781472954237.jpgGiven these privations, one cannot but wonder why Maud accompanied Henry to sea so often. The answer perhaps lies in the simple fact that they didn’t want to be apart, a view that is reinforced by the following quotation from Hen Frigates in which Joan Druett cites one of her diarists, Mary Rowland, who wrote in 1873 of another Henry: ‘As Henry says, we have only one life to live, and he cannot be at home, and it is very hard for us to be separated so much, and a very unpleasant way of spending our lives when one is thousands of miles away.’

Extracted from The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge: The seafaring diaries of a Victorian lady, available from www.adlardcoles.com


Riddle of the Waves: A Watery Solution

Steven Price Brown served in the Grenadier Guards for an arduous tour in Afghanistan in 2012. His platoon suffered appalling losses and as advance team medic he was at the centre of the most horrific incidents. After leaving the forces he retreated to Africa but became increasingly ill. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in October 2014 he returned to the UK but ended up homeless, living in a hostel and undergoing therapy. In October 2015, he was introduced to the military sailing charity Turn to Starboard, and discovered a new love of nature and a new purpose in life. This ultimately led to him writing Riddle of the Waves, a unique and inspiring account of the Spirit of Falmouth 2016 voyage around the UK with the Turn to Starboard crew.


“I tapped on the window to the area just outside the recording booth and the occupants sitting inside all looked up. Henry, who was from Bloomsbury and had kindly escorted and guided me through my first radio interview, seemed a little unsure about what I was up to, but you can’t let opportunities like this pass you by. Apart from moral support and a little advice, I think he was there just to make sure my nerves didn’t lead me to throw up into one of the plant pots.

Prince Harry was one of the reactors to my tap tapping.

I mimicked shaking hands through the glass and he nodded with understanding. My first interview had been a bit of a baptism of fire, an early morning chat at BBC Radio 4’s Today Program.

I was here to promote Riddle of The Waves, my debut book about a group of military veterans who had all suffered from the impact of conflicts and had decided to sail around the UK in a 92ft gaff rigged schooner, but that was only a part of it. The crew had shared their stories with me and I had included these poignant and often amazing stories about them. I really want to tell this story, how people can move on, how there is help out there.

I’d got the radio gig because our famous royal warrior was here to visit the BBC, of course having a veteran like me talk about something close to his heart seemed a nice fit. Prince Harry came out and we chatted, getting a couple of photos together – he had wanted to ask me a question whilst I was on air, but sadly time had been short so it never happened.

He asked, “What do you think the media are like with this subject?”

My sycophancy aside, it was a good question. In my opinion, the media are very supportive, I’ve so far only had positive responses, both about the subject matter and storytelling from the media.

The only thing that concerns me is that there is an underlining ‘story’, one that accuses the Forces that they don’t do enough to rehabilitate those who have suffered from military life.

It’s fair enough to think that, as is with the normal way of life, if someone is part of the cause they normally get saddled with being part of the solution. There’s not much doubt that the Forces are heavily involved in the creation of various issues, not because they want to, but because since time began war has always created casualties.

But my recovery came at sea, we, the crew, were first strangers to each other, but we slowly built trust between ourselves, being able to share stories that we generally never share.

Our boat was called Spirit of Falmouth a wonderful pilot boat that had been gifted to the charity Turn To Starboard by Prince Charles, another Royal doing his bit.

The ‘Riddle’ in the book’s title refers to the magic that seemed to happen to us over our trip. Watching people regain strength right in front of me, growing in confidence, losing the shackles of the past and start to return to the person they want to relate to, is somewhat other worldly. It also happened to me.

But then maybe it’s just the opposite, was it nature just repairing us? Being out in the ocean and so close to the elements, at the mercy of raw nature for our trip’s propulsion, we experienced something that was unique and restorative.

Sometimes it’s best not to try hard to work it out, just accept that something good has happened and let others take from it what they can, that’s what the book is about.”

Steven’s account of the 2016 Spirit of Falmouth voyage Riddle of the Waves is available from www.adlardcoles.com

From Rescue Pilot to moviemaker…

One of our bestselling books of 2015 was RESCUE PILOT, the story of Jerry Grayson, who at age 19 was the youngest helicopter pilot to ever serve in the Royal Navy, and by 25 was the most decorated peacetime naval pilot in history after his courageous rescue efforts during the 1979 Fastnet Race. After leaving the service Jerry embarked on a new career – flying the lens to capture aerial footage for the likes of Ridley Scott, Werner Herzog and James Bond movies. His new book, FILM PILOT, is published in the UK today. He writes:

When I first picked up the diary in which my Mum had written a page for every day of her life since the age of nine I realised that it had been both a discipline and a labour of love for her. So it has been for me in writing Film Pilot.

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How many people even get to do a job that they really like, let alone one they look forward to every day? My eight years of flying in the Royal Navy had taught me how to pilot a helicopter to good effect, but as soon as I started to use my machine as a camera platform a whole new canvas of opportunity opened up before me.


It was the opportunity to share with others the privileged perspective I had from a vibrating seat above the ocean; racing yachts and power boat scything through the dawn, the first hot-air transatlantic balloon flight diving into the cold Irish Sea, Tall Ships catching the east wind in their huge white sails, and submarines appearing from the depths like mythical leviathans.

Then came the fresh skills of co-ordinating an aerial ballet in order to capture the power and majesty of other flying machines; a Spitfire, a pair of Tornadoes and a young girl making the first crossing of the English Channel by hang-glider. The latter not only went down in the history books but also nearly caused my heart to stop when the flimsy aerofoil was released from beneath the hot air balloon that had been carrying it. The balloon pilot employed nothing more technical than a hunting knife to cut the rope by which she’d been lifted, at which point the hang-glider tried to roll upside down.

As time went by the tempo and profile of being a Film Pilot increased with every new assignment. The synchronicity of time and place took me to my first movie – a James Bond film for heaven’s sake! – and my first sports gig; the Winter Olympics.

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Eventually I began to actively seek out the hot spots of the world to capture on film and share with those who would never otherwise have the chance to see New Orleans under water, the deserts of Kuwait on fire, or the surface of another celestial body. As I morphed from a Film Pilot to a Film Director I began to tell cohesive stories with my hands on the controls of a flying machine.

With the advent of drones and an entire generation who think nothing of controlling a flying machine with just their thumbs, I hope that my book provides the inspiration to get out and create an image that changes the world. As I’ve learned at every stage in this remarkable journey; a picture doesn’t just speak a thousand words, it has the potential to change minds.

FILM PILOT is published in the UK today, RRP £12.99 (or buy direct from us at a 10% discount: http://bloomsbury.com/uk/film-pilot-9781472941077/)

Christmas Gifts for Sailors


Searching for that perfect nautical gift this year? Whether you’re buying for a seasoned skipper or armchair sailor, we’ve got Christmas covered. Take a look at just a few of this year’s Christmas picks, then shop the sale where all our books are 45% off!*

* Sale ends Sunday 11 December 2016, excludes Reeds Nautical Almanacs


9781472918857A History of Sailing in 100 Objects
£20.00 £11.00

Which civilisation first took to water in small craft? Who worked out how to measure distance at sea? Why did the humble lemon rise to such prominence in the diets of sailors? A quirky look at history through one hundred objects that changed the way we sail.

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9781844863143The Sea Chart
£25.00 £13.75

To sail the oceans needed skill as well as courage, and the sea chart was the tool by which ships navigated their course. This magnificent book looks at the history of the chart and nautical map as a means of safe navigation.

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9781472922786Des Pawson’s Knot Craft and Rope Mats
£16.99 £9.34

Knotting guru Des Pawson gives step-by-step
instructions on how to put together beautiful rope

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9781472927088Narrowboat Life
£18.99 £10.44

Filled with beautiful, enthralling photography, Narrowboat Life answers all the questions we’ve wanted to ask about the ins and outs of living on the inland waterways.

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Click here to find all our gift books at 45% off


9781472916730Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic
£16.99 £9.34

The result of a drunken bet between three rich 19th century Americans, the first race across the Atlantic would change the course of yachting history and leave six sailors dead…

“A jaunty and surprise-packed retelling of a wonderful story” Times Literary Supplement

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9781472936004.jpgIn the Wake of Heroes: Sailing’s Greatest Stories
Introduced by Tom Cunliffe
£8.99 £4.94

A collection of amazing stories of great seamanship, bringing together some of the best sailing accounts from the last few centuries. Renowned sailor Tom Cunliffe introduces each extract by giving insightful background on the writer, their book and what makes their experience so worth reading.

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9781472908841Sea Fever: The True Adventures that Inspired our Greatest Maritime Authors, from Conrad to Masefield, Melville and Hemingway
£8.99 £4.94

This enthralling book takes us on a tour of the most dangerous, exciting and often eccentric escapades of literature’s sailing stars, and how these true stories inspired and informed their best-loved works.

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9781472928320Untie the Lines: Setting Sail and Breaking Free
£8.99 £4.94

Former stressed-out city girl Emma is in Malaysia, living on a yacht with handsome Guy, with plans to explore the world’s most remote and exotic places. Life couldn’t be more perfect. But when she is eventually forced to return to her old life in London, Emma finds herself struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. Running, or sailing, away is just not an option any more.

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For big savings on all our bunkside reads, head to www.adlardcoles.com


9781472935342The Pacific Crossing Guide 3rd edition
RCC Pilotage Foundation
£50.00 £27.50

A complete reference for anyone contemplating sailing the Pacific in their own boat. From ideal timing, suitable boats, routes, methods of communication, to seasonal weather, likely costs and dangers, the comprehensiveness of this book will both inspire dreamers and instil confidence in those about to depart.

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9781472918130The Complete Ocean Skipper: Deep-water Voyaging, Navigation and Yacht Management
£30.00 £16.50

The Complete Ocean Skipper covers everything a yachtsman needs to know when planning an offshore cruise or ocean passage.

“Essential reading for anyone planning for or dreaming about sailing long distances” Soundings

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9781472923196Heavy Weather Sailing 7th edition
£35.00 £19.25

For 50 years Heavy Weather Sailing has been regarded as the ultimate international authority on surviving storms at sea aboard sailing and motor vessels. This is the seventh updated edition, ensuring that in its 50th year the book remains as relevant and as essential as it has been for the previous five decades

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9781472923202Splicing Modern Ropes: A Practical Handbook
£20.00 £11.00

For any seafarer, splicing rope is an essential skill. But the traditional 3-strand rope is fast disappearing. So how do you splice braided rope? This is the definitive guide to this crucial skill. Most of the techniques are quite easy to master – and they are also fun to do!

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Click here for course books, cruising guides, maintenance manuals and more – all 45% off!


9781844864096Britain’s Historic Ships
£20.00 £11.00

The British Isles have a long, rich seafaring history stretching from the earliest times through the victories of Drake and Nelson, the voyages of discovery of Cabot and Cook and the defence of the realm by vessels in the present century. This lavish book explores twenty of the most celebrated ships in Britain.

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9781472930804Tom Diaper’s Logbook: Memoirs of a Racing Skipper
£16.99 £9.34

Tom Diaper’s memoirs, written on scraps of old cigarette papers, tell of dramatic races with the German Kaiser, working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, both World Wars and other exciting adventures during Tom’s lifetime. This is a rare opportunity to read first-hand about the drama, conflict and fascinating details that made up the life of a for-hire racing skipper during the glory days of racing.

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9781844862344Cutty Sark: The Last of the Tea Clippers
£20.00 £11.00

A beautiful volume describing the eventful history of one of the world’s most celebrated ships – from her construction at Dumbarton in 1869, her famous tea voyages, through to a career under a Portuguese flag and subsequent return to the Thames, the dramatic fire, painstaking restoration and glorious reopening.

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9781844862894Captain of the Carpathia: The Seafaring Life of Titanic Hero Sir Arthur Henry Rostron
£20.00 £11.00

Henry Arthur Rostron was the captain of Carpathia, the first ship to reach the distressed Titanic, defying the ship’s limitations to rescue 706 survivors. Following the rescue Rostron became the most celebrated master mariner of his generation.

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Browse our full collection of maritime history & save a festive 45%!

Merry Christmas from Adlard Coles!

Sailing in Heavy Weather – a Close Encounter with a Waterspout

One of the longest-standing books on the Adlard Coles Nautical list is the international bestseller, Heavy Weather Sailing. K Adlard Coles himself wrote the very first edition, and we are proud to announce the 7th edition (edited by Peter Bruce) has just been published ahead of the book’s 50th anniversary. Thoroughly revised to bring it right up to date, the 7th edition remains the essential book about coping with storms at sea.

In this exclusive extract, another Adlard Coles author, Bill Cooper, describes a close encounter with a waterspout:

Bill Cooper has an account of an extraordinary experience in the Bermuda area aboard his 17.7m (58ft) steel ketch Fare Well. He, his disabled wife Laurel and a lady friend Nora had sailed from Bermuda heading for New England when they heard on the radio that Hurricane Alberta was coming their way. The forecast gave conditions in which ‘elderly gentlefolk should not be at sea’ but they had nowhere else to go. Having made relatively light work of the hurricane, happily quite distant, something totally unexpected and sinister then took place.

‘BY THE EVENING OF 19 JUNE we were hove-to under storm jib and very close-reefed mainsail. Our wind was averaging 40 knots with the gusts going well off the clock. I think the seas were about 4.6m (15ft). These conditions persisted all night; the average wind not rising much but the seas built up a bit, and I estimated 6m (20ft) in the morning watch. Each broadside wave shot a little jet of cold water through the perished rubber sealing of the deckhouse window onto the protesting form of Laurel in the stand-by berth. Otherwise all was dry and sound below. The yacht was behaving very well indeed. The decks were awash most of the time, but the high poop had only spray, and the cockpit, which is really a sheltered area at deck level, had received no green sea, but enough itinerant slosh to justify one storm board in the hatchway.

The storm centre was then reported to be in position 41 degrees N 66 minutes W, some 170 miles away to the northwest, and probably the closest we came to it. Our position was based on DR, of course, for we had seen no sunshine for some time.

fare well

A feature of these violent and fast moving storms is that the advanced semi-circle has strong winds over a much greater radius. Behind the storm the radius was only 50 miles and conditions soon started to improve. The sea was slow to give up, but the wind moderated quite quickly. We tacked when reasonably sure the storm had passed, and headed 290 degrees T, leaving our reduced sail up for the night.

When I took over the watch at 0400 on 20 June the wind had eased to force 4, but the seas were still considerable, though not dangerous. We rolled badly, and the main was not filling properly. I furled it, and decided to set the genoa and mizzen to get some way and stability. It was very dark, and raining heavily. There had been a couple of thunderstorms during the night producing moderate squalls: there was thunder about at that time, but nothing exciting.

I had got the mizzen half-way up when I heard, rather than saw, what looked like a wall of very heavy rain approaching. In a second or two it arrived, rain of unbelievable intensity. I had been glad of our cockpit shelter, but it was of no help against this sort of rain, when even the splashes wet everything. Then the wind arrived before I had time even to move. It came across the few yards of water I could see, blowing the waves flat. It hit us an almost solid blow, and we were flung over to starboard; how far I cannot say for there was no point of reference, but certainly more than 90 degrees, and I fell onto the starboard bench at the limit of my lifeline. While we were over, a sea broke and swept us, wresting the boom from the gallows, parting lashing and gaskets.

I scrambled up as the ship righted. The mizzen blew out. The main boom shook like a slipper in a puppy’s mouth and, with a loud report, the 14oz (397g) main split and blew to shreds. The genoa, which had been rolled up, stretched in the wind and, without the core turning, allowed a few feet to unroll; the clew then blew out. My oilskin was ripped open; all buttons gone and the zip pulled apart.

As I tried to gather myself to deal with matters, I felt all the power to move leave me. I stood holding the leather-covered wheel feeling strangely euphoric as if being drawn steadily upward off my feet. The feeling went on and on as if time had stopped, and I could not breathe, though my lungs were full. I could not move at all.

Then the lightning struck. Instantly, tension disappeared. The whole space around the yacht seemed to be glowing but I had absolutely no sense of time. I was aware of Nora appearing in the hatch followed by Laurel, looking very white. Both had been rudely propelled from their bunks when the gust had heeled us over, and all the above had taken place as they scrambled to the deck, say 20 or 30 seconds. Laurel describes me as standing motionless at the wheel, mouth wide open, with water streaming down me as if I were standing under a waterfall. I had to be roused to move. Presumably I was in a state of shock.

The ladies turned to, and gradually I joined in, largely doing as I was told. Together we tamed the main boom, which had broken its gooseneck. When it was safely in the gallows we bundled together the collection of streamers that had been a mainsail. The mizzen was grappled in. The genoa was more of a problem. The sheets had slackened as the clew pulled out, and had tied themselves into a spaghetti knot so tight we could neither furl the sail, nor get it down its extrusion core. I did not fancy my chances half-way up the forestay at that time so we let it go.’


There was big trouble in the engine room, and compass deviation went from zero to 90 degrees W then slowly to 25 degrees W, which only came to light through logging the direction of the swell. But what was it, apart from the lightning that struck the ketch at 0430 that morning? Bill Cooper now thinks that he encountered a waterspout.

HEAVY WEATHER SAILING (ISBN 978-1-4729-2319-6) is available now through all good bookshops and chandleries. It has an RRP of £35, but you can buy it with a 10% discount via the Bloomsbury website here.