Nightmares and rainbows

An ode to the prospect of a new boating season, by the Grand Mariner

There are nightmares and pitfalls everywhere in the boatyard at this time of year!

• A helpful rain shower just after completing the antifouling

• The boat next door spraying off after you’ve nicely polished & buffed the hull to a gleam

• Not realising you are tramping dark blue antifouling spots from the bottom of your shoes all over your nice white fibreglass deck

• Getting distracted and antifouling part of the prop in error

• Losing a critical tiny screw in the gravel

• The nearby hosepipe springing a leak and soaking your trolleyful of tools

• Worst of all – running out of teabags!

And then you look out over the water and see what awaits and the anticipation is almost tangible. The nightmares fade into an array of rainbows, beckoning all manner of pots of gold in the form of exhilarating passages, interesting landfalls or even just peaceful anchorages offering simple swimming and fishing opportunities – and watching the sun go down with glass or mug in hand of course. Bring on those days…!

No such lovely weather this year… but the anticipation is just as high


The pay off for all that hard work…


And here, in a nutshell, is what makes all the hard work worth it.

Pets Onboard

There has recently been a welcome addition to my family – Bob the West Highland Terrier, and this has led me to thinking about how he would cope onboard our boat.

Of course my first consideration was a doggy life jacket, he would definitely look adorable in need one of those.


They are available to buy in all different sizes, as well as a whole array of nautical fashion accessories for your pampered pooch.

But realistically, is taking your pet onboard really a good idea?

The answer is absolutely, I know Bob much prefers accompanying the family anywhere rather than staying at home. However, there are things to take into consideration before setting sail:

  • Just like humans, dogs and cats might take a while to find their sea legs, and sea sickness can be a problem. There are many natural remedies that can be used to ease the problem, have a browse through Adlard Coles’ Fast Fixes for your Boat for some helpful tips, or alternatively ask your vet for some advice.
  • If your dog or cat is trained to use the litter box, toilet calls should not be a problem. If not, remember to monitor what your animal is drinking and take regular trips to land to avoid accidents.
  • If the weather is sunny and hot, be sure to keep an eye on your pet. As much as animals love sunbathing, it can cause heat stroke, so try to keep them shaded and drinking plenty. Also, fibreglass boats can get extremely hot in direct sunlight, so make sure your pet doesn’t burn his/her paws.

Fast Fixes for your Boat is full of helpful tips on how to make sure your boat is pet proof

But for those of us who are more superstitious – isn’t it bad luck to take your dog or cat onboard?

The rule used to be that any animal not at home at sea was bad luck on board. According to Adlard Coles’ Don’t Shoot the Albatross by Jonathan Eyers, the rule that black cats are unlucky on land is reversed at sea, and white cats are the unlucky ones. Although a single white hair plucked from a black cat is lucky…Image

Over the years these superstitions have been proven to be untrue, with dogs and cats playing an important role in naval history.  Here are some of the most famous furry nautical heroes:

Unsinkable Sam

One of the most famous mascots of the British Royal Navy, Unsinkable Sam was the ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. Unfortunately the ship sunk in 1941, and out of 2,200 crew only 116 survived, plus Sam. Sam was picked up by the destroyer HMS Cossack, this was also torpedoed and sunk a few months later, killing 159 of her crew. Still Sam survived. He then became the ship’s cat on the HMS Ark Royal … which was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year. Sam was rescued once again, but it was decided that it was time for Sam’s seafaring to come to an end.

Unsinkable Sam was given a new job as mouser-in-residence at the governor general of Gibraltar’s office. He eventually returned to the U.K. and lived out his years at the Home for Sailors.

This story doesn’t bode well for cats on boats, it has to be said. But then there was Simon…



Simon was the celebrated ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst. Simon was aboard the ship during the Yangtze Incident in 1949 and was wounded in the bombardment that killed 25 crew members, including the commanding officer.

Simon recovered and resumed his rat-hunting duties, as well as keeping up the crew’s morale. He was appointed to the rank of able sea cat. ‘Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher were invaluable during the months we were held captive,’ said Commander Stuart Hett. ‘During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed. Simon is still remembered with great affection.’

When Simon later died of an infection, tributes poured in and his obituary appeared in The Times. He was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery (the Victoria Cross for animals) and was buried with full naval honors.


ImageJudy was the ship’s dog on board HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper before and during World War II. Not only did she save the lives of many crew members when Grasshopper sank, but she was also the only dog to be registered as a prisoner-of-war when they were captured by the Japanese. It was here that Judy was adopted by Frank Williams, who shared his daily ration of rice with her. In return Judy did her utmost to protect the crew, intervening when the guards were administering punishment and alerting them to the approach of danger from guards or hostile wildlife.

When the crew were moved to Singapore Williams smuggled Judy along, training her to sit absolutely still in a rice bag. However, the ship was torpedoed and Williams was forced to push her overboard in an attempt to save her life.

Luckily Williams survived, but was unsure if his companion had been so lucky. Tales started to emerge of a dog helping crew members to floating debris as the ship sank and thankfully Williams and Judy were reunited. However, Judy had one more hardship to endure when the guards got fed up of her and sentenced her to death. She managed to survive by hiding in the jungle and hunting for food.

After the war Judy lived out the rest of her days with Williams and was awarded the Dickin Medal. Her citation reads:

‘For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness’

Williams was also awarded the PDSA White Cross of St Giles for his devotion to Judy.

Whilst I can’t see Bob dragging us to safety if our boat sank, I think the family will definitely feel better with him there, and I can’t wait to see him sat on the boat in his little life-jacket.


Bob the West Highland Terrier

Win An Amazing Tall Ships Adventure

9781408835890Check out this fantastic Waterstones competition for She Rises by debut novelist Kate Worsley, published last week, the book is set against the backdrop of life on the tall ships of the royal navy of the 18th century.

To celebrate the publication of this new book Waterstones are running a ship-shape competition to win a ‘taster voyage’ for two, courtesy of Tall Ships Youth Trust, on board the 200ft Magnificent Tall Ship, Stavros S Niarchos!

To enter, simply visit the Waterstones Facebook page and share their album and post your favourite picture of a boat or naval vessel on their wall. It could be a painting of the HMS Victory, a sea-scape by an old master, or your very own boat. Be quick as this great competition closes today at 3pm.

Read an extract from this breathtaking story of love, adventure and identity.

Camping by the Waterside

Guest Post by Stephen Neale, Author of Camping by the Waterside

SunsetPicture this. It’s dusk and you’re walking alone over the top of a plateau. Everywhere is a hazy shade of winter-green. Wood pigeons swivel and glide on the fog. They wait until they’re well past before igniting their wings. You look up briefly, and your collar catches the cold.

A small coppice sits half way down the hillside in the mist. The sun is falling fast. Just beneath the jagged horizon is the outline of a beautiful, blue lake. It’s speaking to you like a discarded 50 pence coin in a jar full of copper, but the message is muffled. Either way you decide it’s time to set up camp.

Now here’s the question. Exactly where would you camp for the night? Down by the lake? In the coppice of trees? Or here, high on the plateau, overlooking the lake? It’s tough isn’t it. Personally, I’d go down. I’m not sure about you. You might like the shelter of the trees, or the higher view from the ridge. Either way, I know this. You probably wouldn’t go and camp without the view or access to the lake, because like most people, you’re drawn to water. You want to be near it, to see it, to contemplate it. And that’s what Camping by the Waterside is about. Trying to decipher those muffled messages from the wonderful, watery outback in UK and Ireland.

I used to think that campsites beside water were a rarity. I started looking for them on Google Earth, staying up until late at night, flying over rivers and canals, and around the coast, looking for tents and caravans. After two years, I’d found more than 1,000 sites.
If you’re a camper wanting to find camps by water, you can do one of three things.

1) visit my website
2) buy my book, which lists about 140 of my favourites
3) go find your own

Finding your own is a lot of fun. I’m just back from Wales, finding new sites by harbours, quaysides, rivers, canals…

This is one:
Garnffrwd Trout Fishery, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, SA15 5BB. and

Camping by the Waterside

9781408160695Stephen’s new book Camping by the Waterside publishes today! order your copy and start to discover some of the best campsites in Britain and Ireland.

Sample a few pages from Stephen’s new book.

Your Go-To Guide for Surviving Anything!

Do you want to find out how to swim through burning oil? Or jump from a moving train? Or escape a stampede?

9781408192511Find the answers to survival questions great and small in our brilliant and completely addictive new book The Ultimate Survival Manual. Written in a wry, humorous way and packed with colour photographs, illustrations, diagrams and lists, The Ultimate Survival Manual will teach you absolutely essential skills, abilities and techniques. However did you manage to survive without them?

Author Rich Johnson was a paratrooper and demolition officer with US Special Forces. He once survived in the desert for a year, living in a cave and eating insects.

Could you survive a night alone in your office? Watch our new Survival Manual trailer, where we put Rich Johnson’s essential survival tips to the test.

Survival Manual Embed