Crossing the Channel?

After the challenges of the past few years, it seems that things are finally getting back to normal. If you’re sailing to France this year, you won’t want to miss the first in our new series of Shore Guides from Paul Heiney, which include everything you need to know when you step ashore.

Phew! Just back from Brittany. Seventeen harbours, 1,700 miles and all in seven days. Not bad, eh? And no, I haven’t given up sailing in favour of speed-boating – I did it all by car.

I’ve sailed in Brittany on and off for many years, but the reason for taking to the road was to research two books in a new series from Adlard Coles, called Shore Guides. The first, which is available now, covers the Channel coast of France from Dunkerque to L’Aber Wrach; the second will be coming next year and it takes us down the Atlantic coast of France from Brest to La Rochelle. 

There are plenty of excellent pilot books to help you through the navigational intricacies of these coastlines – which are many – but even the best pilot books give you little support once the boat is secure and you step ashore. I know there is fun in exploring, and I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you, but it would be nice to know in which direction to head if in urgent need of milk or tea bags, wouldn’t it? Or even what sort of town you have arrived at, and what makes it so interesting? If you are sailing with family, the most urgent question might be ‘where is the beach? And which way do we go to find chips?’ They might not seem vital questions from a sailing point of view, but they are hugely important when it comes to having a good time ashore which, if we are honest, is pretty much half of a sailing holiday.

Entering a strange harbour in a foreign country is never a relaxing experience even for the best of sailors. Once you’ve worked the tides, the locks, the unfamiliar layout of the pontoons, not forgetting those cursed hooped cleats which the French seem rather keen on which makes it impossible to take a quick turn on anything. Once you’ve done all that you want to take a pause, a deep breath, put the kettle on, and get your bearings. It is my hope that this is exactly the point at which you will put the pilot books away and pick up your Shore Guide.

I always like to have a sense of history of a place, what happened here in years past that makes it the place it is today? I like to understand what makes a town tick; perhaps it was fishing or, in the case of one Brittany town, Roscoff, it was onions! There is hardly a small town in Brittany which does not have its own museum of which they are hugely proud. I am never disappointed after sticking my head into one of them, but they are easy to miss, and the Shore Guides will point you in the right direction.

I’ve tried to steer clear of offering navigational advice, which is best left to the pilot book authors, but I have attempted to give you a shorthand version of what you are in for if you are heading somewhere new for the first time. I always find it useful, when planning a trip, to have in mind which are the dead easy harbours to get in and out of, and which might cause the brow to sweat a little. It’s always best to know if you’re in for a challenge, or an easy ride.

Even though you are on a sailing holiday, normal life goes on. You need to know where the laundry facilities might be, a shop for buying the basic necessities or a superstore for replenishing depleted food lockers. Is there a train station from which you might be able to make a crew change? And if it turns out to be one of those inevitable rainy days and the cabin starts to feel more like prison, what’s nearby to provide amusement.

I’ve been taking my camera with me everywhere I go, trying to give you a quick impression of the place you’re heading for, and I find it interesting that it’s often in the back streets where you start to get a sense of the place. Many of the harbours in these books are hugely popular, and at times during the season you’ll feel it’s less like a holiday and more like being part of a rugby scrum. If that’s the case, head away from the tourist drag and you’ll be surprised at how little walking you have to do to suddenly find yourself pretty much on your own.

That would be the perfect time to find a quiet little cafe or bar, the throng hasn’t discovered, and order yourself up a coffee or a glass of the local wine, and thumb through your Shore Guide to find where to go next. Remember, the Shores Guides take over where all the other books stop.

Adlard Coles Shore Guide: Channel Coast of France (ISBN 9781472985699) is available now, RRP £18.99, or buy direct from our website with a 10% discount:

Tied to the community

Many of our authors could tell a story about the writing of their books, but Nic Compton’s is particularly touching. His new book A Knot a Day is a wonderful collection of 365 knot-based projects (from mastering a bowline to making a garden swing for the kids), and is something all of us here would have liked to have had to see us through our time at home this year.

It was just after the start of the first UK lockdown that the commission for my new book came through. It was called A Knot a Day and was intended to contain 365 knots – a knot for each day of the year – with the accent firmly on the practical and the fun. It was the perfect lockdown project, or so it seemed. And so I buried myself in my garden office and started researching 165 new knots to go with the 200 I already had. And what a wealth of interesting knots I found to go alongside the standard knot fare: there were knots for ladders, swings and zipwires; knots for bracelet, necklaces and keyrings; knots for shoelaces, ties and scarves – and a whole raft of ‘magic’ knots, which proved especially challenging.

Trouble was, although lockdown was an ideal time for researching and writing about stuff, it wasn’t so good for getting hold of materials and, eventually, the models I’d need to take the photos – for I was determined as much as possible to take the knots out of the studio and into ‘real’ life. For a start, I’d need a lot more rope than I happened to have on my various boats, but it was hard to know exactly what sort. In desperation, I posted a message on social media asking if anyone could lend me some rope. Straight away I got a reply from the local forest school teacher, saying she would lend me what turned out to be a rucksack full of climbing rope, including several different coloured lengths of paracord (thanks Lisa!). Next, a crafty friend from up the road offered me a bag full of macramé string of different colours and sizes, mostly unopened (thanks Caroline!).

For the next few weeks I had a great time, heading off to the woods with my kids to photograph various outdoorsy knots, up to Dartmoor for the climbing knots, and to Bantham Beach for kite and three-legged race knots (thanks Betty and Sol!). My son even helped with the simpler magic trick knots, and my daughter obliged by modelling some strange and unusual shoelace knots (her pink trainers were just the trick!). When all else failed, my wife stepped into help, as well as providing invaluable styling advice (thanks Anna!). But, inevitably, after a while their enthusiasm waned and I realised I need some fresh blood. By then, the lockdown restrictions had eased and we were allowed to meet in small numbers and mix with friends at a social distance.

It started off with a couple of my daughter’s friends, who had heard about the book and were keen to have their photos in there too (thanks Daisy and Esme!). And, if they were going to have their photos in the book, then their parents weren’t going to be left out either (thanks Jo and Steve!). By then, I had cleared half my office and turned it into a photographic studio. To get more an age mix, I asked my daughter’s piano teacher and her sister (who also taught my daughter the piano!) to model some of the scarves (thanks Tabitha and Matilda!). To help redress the gender balance, the waiter at the local quayside café had been furloughed and was more than happy to spend four days with me trying out different tie knots and grappling with the harder magic knots (thanks Graham!). And that’s not to mention the important task of modelling the various cat and dog accessories (thanks Mitzy and Winnie!)

Help came in other forms too. I snapped up a rustic coffee table a friend was giving away on a community group, which became the default background for most of my studio shots (thanks Kate!). And, when I tired of that, my builder lent me a stunning black slate (thanks Steve!). The village shop had stopped stocking the lighters I needed to seal the ends of rope, but luckily one of the assistants had just stopped smoking and was delighted to offload some of her leftover lighters (thanks Kirsten!). And those aren’t just any woods featured in the photos; they belong to the grandfather of one of my daughter’s friends (thanks Anthony!).

In the end, more than 20 people in the village contributed to the book in some form – a genuine and generous community effort, for which I am hugely grateful. For most, their only payment was a paracord ninja turtle figure (see page 335 of the book) and a free copy of the book. And yet, strangely, this community involvement was only made possible due to the lockdown. At any other time, most of these people would have been too busy to spend time modelling photos of knots, but as it turned out the project provided a break from the monotony of lockdown.

By the time I finished, Jo was back at work training guide dogs for the blind, Steve was back providing educational facilities at the zoo, Tabitha was back in Bristol studying dentistry, Matilda was in Cardiff studying music, Graham was at Reading doing a PhD in maritime history… Life has returned to almost-normal, and it seems unlikely that the circumstances which created the book will never happen again. For, apart from being a fun and informative book of knots, for me A Knot A Day will always be a snapshot of Lockdown 2020 and of a community that came to help.

A Knot a Day is published on 10th December, RRP £16.99. You can buy it at a special discount direct from our website here:

Making mooring stress-free

Duncan Wells is the author of our incredibly popular Stress-Free series, highly illustrated step-by-step guides to all kinds of sailing skills, complete with QR codes linking to Duncan’s videos. His latest book is Stress-Free Mooring, and in this blog he explains how the book was born and shares some advice from it.

With Stress-Free Sailing and Stress-Free Motorboating selling well in the UK and the USA and while working on Stress-Free Navigation, I was approached by Bill Saint from Charlotte in North Carolina.

He asked me whether I had ever considered doing a pictorial version of the books so that when on board, a skipper could look at what the wind and tide were doing, flip through the book and find a technique for casting off or coming alongside, or indeed any close quarter manoeuvre.

“No, I hadn’t,” I replied. “But I will now.”

And so Stress-Free Mooring was born.

Stress-Free Mooring Front Cover

It covers all the close quarters situations you will find for sailing boats and motorboats and delivers ground-breaking solutions. And all techniques can be managed by one man from the cockpit of their boat.

Anyone who has read Stress-Free Sailing or Stress-Free Motorboating will know that I favour techniques that use rope for attaching to or detaching from the dock. And generally, particularly for coming alongside, we need something on the shore that we can get our rope round. Remember we never step ashore until the boat is lying alongside and holding to a bridle or a spring. Most marinas and docks either have T cleats that we can lasso or are moving over to them as they upgrade their equipment.


But river banks can still have mooring rings, which we cannot lasso and of course France still favours the tacquet circlé – hooped cleat – and short fingers with a bar at one end. Neither of which are lasso-able.


I showed how to get onto short, narrow, wobbly French fingers in Stress-Free Sailing. I cover this too in Stress-Free Motorboating but as motorboats mostly like to moor stern to, the lack of anything to lasso on the seaward end of a French finger is not an issue as the motorboat backs into the berth and lassos the T cleat – which is generally available – on the shore end of the berth.

In Stress-Free Mooring I have added the use of stout devices to help us – mooring hooks.

If we attach a mooring, snap hook/caribiner to a line and then run the line through the mid-ship cleat and to the cockpit, we can offer up the snap hook on the end of a boathook – assuming it has a fitment for this.


Now when faced with a bar at the end of the finger we whack the snap hook at it, remove the boathook, take up the tension on the line and click the engine into ahead so that driving against this, the boat is held alongside the dock. We can then step off and set our mooring lines, before returning to the cockpit and with the boat nicely moored taking the engine out of gear and turning off the engine.


I also make great use of the Rustler’s Hitch in Stress-Free Mooring when it comes to casting off and especially for springing out the bow or stern. Have a look…


Bill Saint, who owns Classica Homes ( take a look at the website; they are fantastic homes. I just wish I lived in North Carolina!) is very pleased with the book he inspired.

IMG_7633 Bill Saint

Stress-Free Mooring is published on 14th May (ISBN 9781472968357, RRP £12.99). You can order it direct from us with a 10% discount here. Keep up-to-date with Adlard Coles and Reeds on Facebook and Twitter.

A new beginner’s guide to sailing

When all of this is over, we’ll be desperate to escape our homes! Read on for some great advice from our author Simon Jollands – all the sailing essentials, perfect for sending on to any would-be sailors in your life dreaming of days of freedom, preferably on the wide open waves…

I was inspired by my daughter Freya to write Go Sailing. For the past few years, she and her husband Chris have been on annual bareboat sailing holidays with a group of friends, some of whom have limited sailing experience. “Dad,” she said, “how about writing a book that covers the basics for sailing novices who want to join in the fun? We have several friends who would like to give it a go.” So I sat down with Freya and Chris and we made a list of things to cover in the book. They kindly took loads of photos on their next holiday, many of which are included in Go Sailing.

With events cancelled and sailing clubs closed due to Covid-19, it doesn’t look as though many people will be able to go sailing over the coming months. However, I hope those with limited experience might instead have the time to enjoy reading up about some of the sailing theory covered in Go Sailing, so that when they eventually do have a chance to get out on the water they will be able to make the most of it and gain maximum enjoyment from taking part. Here’s an extract from Chapter 6: ‘Crewing Tasks Underway’…

Keeping the sails balanced involves making adjustments to the sails as the wind gusts or changes direction. This is the job of the sail trimmer.

Having the sails balanced and trimmed correctly for the course that is required will result in the most smooth and efficient ride possible, allowing the person on the helm to focus on steering to the desired course.

When a cruising yacht is underway, most of the time it will have two sails hoisted – a headsail and the mainsail. Once hoisted, the two sails need to be adjusted so that their shapes harmonise and work together, resulting in the most efficient performance and a balanced helm. A balanced helm is where the boat is not being pulled either towards the wind, known as weather helm, or pushed away from the wind, known as lee helm.

Handy tip: You will find that some yacht crews and skippers are continuously adjusting their sails while others hardly seem to touch them. If you are aboard a racing yacht, the adjustments will tend to be continuous, as the wind shifts and varies in strength. In these circumstances the whole crew concentrates on getting the absolute maximum performance from the boat. If on the other hand you are sailing aboard a laid-back cruising yacht, you will probably find that once the sails are hoisted and a course is set that sail adjustments are kept to a minimum. A well tuned boat will sail faster and will tend to heel less than a boat with badly adjusted sails.

Adjusting the sails
The sails are adjusted by “easing” or “sheeting in” the jib sheet and main sheet, in other words by either letting out or pulling in the sheets. This action causes the sails to change their shape to take advantage of the direction of the airflow over them.

As the boat sails closer towards the wind’s direction the sheets are pulled in, which flattens the sails. As the boat sails away from the wind the sheets are eased, allowing the sails to be more curved in shape.

Most sails have telltales to help the sail trimmer see how the air is flowing both sides of the sail.

Sails have short lengths of ribbon or wool attached to them, called telltales. Telltales indicate how the airflow is moving over the sails and whether they are working at maximum efficiency. If the telltales are streaming horizontally, then the sails are correctly trimmed.

Once the boat is heading on the correct course, then the trimmer adjusts the sails until the telltales are flowing horizontally. If the telltales stop streaming correctly, this indicates the boat has either gone off course, in which case the helmsperson needs to steer back on course, or the wind has changed direction, in which case the sails need to be re-trimmed.

Mainsail trimming
• Telltales flying horizontally, luff slack – correctly adjusted.
• Sail flapping – sheet in.
• Sail tight up to the mast – ease the sheet.

Genoa / jib trimming
• Telltales flying horizontally on both sides – correctly adjusted.
• Telltale on the inside of the sail is lifting – sheet in.
• Telltale on the outside of the sail is lifting – ease the sheet.

Aside from being head-to-wind, a boat can sail at any other angle relative to the wind. In order to do so, a boat’s sails have to be adjusted to create the best aerodynamic shape for the sails to work efficiently.
Together, the different angles are known as points of sailing and a number of terms are used to describe the boat’s course relative to the wind direction, not unlike the points of a compass.

The points of sailing are:

Head-to-wind – a sailing boat cannot sail directly into the wind as its sails do not fill, begin to flap and have no effect. When this happens the boat is referred to as head-to-wind and the boat slows down and stops. Depending on the design of sails and boat, the sails will not usually fill until the boat is pointing at an angle between 40º and 45º away from the direction of the wind.
Close-hauled – as close to the wind as possible. Sails are pulled tight. The boat heels away from the wind but is prevented from being blown over by the counter balancing effect of the keel beneath the hull which not only holds the boat upright but prevents it from sailing sideways.
Close reach – the wind is forward of the beam. Sails are eased out a little. The boat continues to heel over away from the wind.
Beam reach – the wind blows directly across the side of the boat. The sails are eased further out. The boat continues to heel.
Broad reach – the wind comes over the rear quarter, aft of the beam. Sails are eased well out. The boat no longer heels.
Training run – the wind is almost directly behind the boat. Sails are eased well out. The boat does not heel but may rock from side to side, known as yawing.
Run – the wind is directly behind the boat. The sails are eased right out and the head sail is pulled onto the opposite side to the main so it can catch the wind. The boat may continue to yaw from side to side.

GO SAILING is published on 30th April (RRP £12.99). You can pre-order it with a 10% discount direct from our website here. Simon’s earlier books (Safe Skipper and the Reeds Lights, Shapes and Buoyage Handbook) are available for a 30% discount (45% for ebooks) for a limited time only.

Scotland – finest coastline in Europe?

2020 is Visit Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, and on 2nd April we are proud to publish Stuart Fisher’s new book, Coastal Scotland. Stuart wrote our perennial bestseller, Canals of Britain, and last year we published Coastal Britain: England and Wales, in which he completed the most comprehensive survey of the English and Welsh coastlines. Now he has done the same for Scotland’s coast, one of the most diverse and attractive shorelines in Europe. In this exclusive extract he paddles in the magic of Skye.

To Ptolemy it was Scitis Insular. To the Norse it was Skuyo, the isle of clouds, because of its cloud cap. To the Celts it was the winged isle, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach. In Gaelic it is also Eilean a’ Cheò, the isle of mist. At 77km long and covering 1,740km2, it has over 1,600km of coastline yet nowhere is more than 8km from the sea. It is the largest of the Inner Hebrides, inhabited for at least 4,000 years and under Viking control until 1263. In the mid 19th century, before the Clearances, the population was triple its present 10,000. It was opened up by the Victorians when they brought the railway to Kyle of Lochalsh but nearly half still speak Gaelic and the Sabbath is widely kept, including by most of the few petrol stations. It is mentioned in more songs and poems than any other place, including in Somhairle MacGill-Eain’s The Island. Dog enthusiasts know it for the Skye terrier.


From the Point of Sleat the Cuillin hills come into view, first the Black Cuillin to the west and then the Red Cuillin as well to their east. With the sun on them or a changing pattern of sun and clouds there is no better view in Britain. Moving north brings them ever closer. The Black Cuillin with their jagged frost 990m shattered crown of peaks consist of 50,000,000 year old gabbro with plutonic intrusions, elsewhere only found in northern Norway. The Red Cuillin are more rounded granite with acid plutonic intrusions, often looking more white than red. The name is thought to come from the Norse kjölen, high rocks or kjöllen, keels. This is the incomparable backdrop to this route. Also visible are various combinations of the Small Isles to the west.

Overlooking Ob Guascavaig is Dunscaith, the castle of gloom, ruined but well preserved with a drawbridge. This is one of the longest fortified headlands in the Hebrides, built by the MacAskills in the 14th century, the home of the MacDonalds from the 15th century until 1570, when they moved to Duntulm. The site had been home to the legendary Queen of Skye, Scathach, who taught warfare to the 3rd century Irish hero Cuchulainn and who had ramparts protected by an iron palisade with severed heads, then a pit of poisonous snakes and then a collection of beaked toads. He beat them all then married Bragela, the lonely sunbeam of Dunscaith, and the large Clach Luath stone is where he tied his dog after hunting.


He then left to defend Ulster against the Vikings but was killed and Dunscaith became a ruin. The present castle was built in a night by a witch or by Cuchulainn and his Fingalians. A young MacDonald daughter, married in the castle to a MacLeod against her wishes, fed her two sons to her husband and father in law. A Summer in Skye tells a long story involving the musician Ossian who one day fell asleep for a century in a fairy hillock, giant deer, a magic whistle and much more fantasy. In 1506 Donald the Stranger, the chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat, was stabbed by his illegitimate brother while inspecting a galley being built on the beach.

By comparison, the fort on Eilean Ruaridh seems to have been a much more placid and straightforward place. Fishermen in oilskins turn out to be cormorants that are perched on yellow rocks and the water contains nothing worse than seals.

At the end of Glen Lorgasdal there are stacks on the cliffs and in the water. Between them is an arch, behind which is a powerful waterfall and near which is a cave with a curtain of water across its entrance, a feature of a number of caves along this coast. It lacks only a sandy beach, the boulders being slippery except under the waterfall where there is dense weed like moss on the rocks, so a cold power shower can be taken standing or seated on a hot day. In the middle of the day the sun lights up the fall through the arch and there is not just a full circle of rainbow but much of a second ring. This has to be the most magical spot on the entire British coastline.


Coastal Scotland: Celebrating the History, Heritage and Wildlife of Scottish Shores is published on 2nd April (ISBN 9781472958709, RRP £25). You can buy it from any good bookshop, or for a 10% discount direct from us here:

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 ( 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:

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:

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.

Finding triumph in disaster – Fastnet ’79

Cowes Week may be the highlight of the British sailing calendar, but it’s a significantly different event every second year, when it culminates in the launch of the world-famous biennial Fastnet Race.

Famous names to have sailed across the Solent start line over the years have included former Prime Minister Ted Heath, American media mogul Ted Turner and Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon. The race’s 600 nautical mile route takes competitors into the English Channel, across the Celtic Sea, round Fastnet Rock then back to Plymouth via the Scilly Isles. It usually takes the winning crew two to three days to complete the course.

The 1979 race was expected to attract about the same level of attention as all the others that had preceded it – a loyal following from the yachting fraternity at the launch, some mild curiosity from the rest of the Isle of Wight, and barely a byline from anywhere else. Instead it went on to become the most notorious disaster in British yachting history.

By noon on Monday 13th August the leading yachts had rounded the Fastnet Rock and were on their way back. The shipping forecast predicted south-westerly winds at force 4 to 5, increasing to force 6 or 7 for a time. By late afternoon that had been revised to a warning of gale force 8 winds. Most of the skippers missed that forecast. A later revision for an imminent severe force 9 gale never made it to the BBC studio in time for the evening shipping forecast.

The fleet of 303 yachts and their crews taking part in the Fastnet Race sailed on into the night, unaware of what was coming their way. But even the latest dire warning was wrong. By the middle of the night, many of the helpless racers found themselves stuck in the heart of a raging storm force 10 gale.

Jerry Grayson

In August 1979 Jerry Grayson was not yet thirty, but already nearing the end of his time in the Royal Navy. After he spent the early part of his military career flying helicopters from aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal he transferred to Culdrose airbase in Cornwall and joined the Search and Rescue squadron based there. Day to day his job revolved around picking up people stranded on cliff faces or giving dramatic fly pasts for local fetes that were hard to spot from the air.

Jerry headed to Culdrose for the early shift on Tuesday 14th, arriving at 3.30am to be told of reports coming in of several yachts taking part in the Fastnet Race which had run into trouble around the Scillies. ‘What race?’ Jerry asked. By the end of the following night it’s not a question he would ever need to ask again.

As Jerry and his crew took to the air and flew into the night, the radio went haywire. One helicopter after another was being scrambled from Culdrose, all heading in the same direction. The Coastguard emergency channel was also going berserk, with yacht after yacht issuing emergency Mayday calls and crying for immediate assistance.

Jerry had been expecting to help a few stranded sailors aground in the Scillies. Instead he and his crew were flying into 70mph winds, and were going to airlift people from yachts foundering in the troughs of waves that crested 40ft above.

Jerry and his crew were used to hovering at only 15ft when lifting people to safety.

But they managed it anyway, because they had to. Flying through the night, returning to Culdrose when his helicopter was running on little more than fumes, refuelling, then heading back out to pick up more, Jerry helped save grateful sailors who knew they owed their lives to the risks the Search and Rescue personnel were taking.

Some of the yachts that took part in the race were able to escape the worst of the storm and retire in time to avoid the disaster. Of the remainder, caught in the worst of it, 75 capsized, and several were lost altogether. Jerry was one of 4,000 people involved that night in what became the biggest rescue effort since Dunkirk, and the largest peacetime rescue in our history. Eighteen people died, of which three weren’t competitors – they were rescuers. For his gallantry, Jerry was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Rescue Pilot

Jerry has written all about his varied experiences in the job in his book, Rescue Pilot, which is now available in paperback (ISBN 978-1-4729-1794-2). It has an RRP of £8.99 but you can buy it with a special 10% discount direct from the Bloomsbury website here.

Last year Jerry also took part in this BBC Radio Four special reuniting people involved in the Fastnet disaster. There he met Nick Ward (pictured below, with Jerry, left), the last sailor to be picked up alive during the storm after being abandoned by his crewmates (a story he related in our book Left for Dead, also available at a special discount from the Bloomsbury website here).

Jerry and Nick Ward

The loss of the Lancastria – Britain’s worst maritime disaster

17th June 1940. The Nazis had occupied Dunkirk. Operation Dynamo was over. The last of the Little Ships had long returned to England. As far as many in Britain were concerned, the evacuation was over, and the British Army survived largely intact to fight another day.

However, over 200,000 British personnel remained in France, stuck in an ever-shrinking pocket of unoccupied Europe as the German military closed in. There was a rush for St Nazaire, where ships waited off the coast, with small boats ferrying people out of the shallows of the Loire estuary. Operation Ariel was not just about evacuating the remaining troops, but also civilian staff and their families. This was even more urgent than the retreat from Dunkirk. Once Operation Ariel was over, any British people who remained in Europe would be stuck there until the end of the war.

One of the ships waiting at St Nazaire was the liner RMS Lancastria, which could have gone on to be remembered for bringing up to 9,000 evacuees back to Britain. Instead she went on to suffer the deadliest disaster in British maritime history, which would hardly be remembered at all.

The Lancastria (image: Royal Pioneer Corps website)

By late evening on 16th June, the queue to get on to a ship at St Nazaire was 5 miles long. The Lancastria reached the Loire estuary at 4am the next morning, but had to anchor miles offshore rather than risk running aground by getting any closer. Royal Navy officers told her captain, Rudolph Sharp, to take as many people as he could fit. All he could do was sit and wait whilst the evacuees were brought out to his ship. The first arrived at 7am. Sharp expected 3,000 in total, which was already over the legal limit of 2,200.

The Lancastria‘s stewards lost count after 6,000 came aboard. By the time Sharp decided to refuse any more at 2pm, estimates for the number aboard range from a minimum of 7,500 to in excess of 9,000 souls. The last to board couldn’t even get below decks. They would have to spend the journey squeezed onto the open deck. Lifejackets had long since run out too.

The first German bombers had appeared at about 1.50pm but Sharp was more worried about submarines. He was planning to leave in convoy at 4pm, but at 3.48pm several Luftwaffe Junkers attacked the ship. Three bombs landed direct hits in holds 2, 3 and 4. Some 800 RAF personnel were crowded into hold 2 and most were killed instantly.

The bomb that hit hold 4 tore a hole in the hull beneath the waterline. Sharp made it to the bridge and saw a rush of white water bursting up through the middle of the ship. The Lancastria was going down by the head and listing further to starboard. Sharp gave the order to abandon ship.

The Lancastria going down by the head (image: Lancastria Association of Scotland)

Unfortunately his order would struggle to circulate on a vessel overcrowded to perhaps more than four times capacity. Thousands were trapped below decks in chaos as the lights flickered on and off. Passages had been destroyed by the explosions, and were now filled with smoke or boiling-hot steam from burst pipes, and exits were blocked by fire.

The ship was listing so badly to starboard that people jumping from the port side had a potentially lethal fall of 70ft to the water. Meanwhile on the starboard side people could step off into the sea. The crowds pouring on to the top deck had made the ship top heavy.

Yet deep down in the bowels of the ship, there was a very orderly evacuation taking place. A Catholic priest, Father Charles McMenemy, who had been in France to serve as chaplain to the troops, led men through ankle-deep waters at the bottom of the ship until they found a way out through the side, only a few feet above the waterline.

That was one of the rare stories of survival from those trapped below decks. As the ship slipped deeper into the water, there was a crush on the wooden staircase. It collapsed from the weight of too many people trying to climb it at the same time. There wasn’t enough to time for those stuck at the bottom to find another way out, and the passages were too crowded anyway. The water was rising so rapidly now that none of those people had any hope for survival.

The Lancastria took only 20 minutes to sink, in which time only two lifeboats were launched successfully. When the ship rolled over, many climbed onto her capsized hull. Some found dry cigarettes and smoked them whilst there was still time. Others joined in songs, including There’ll Always Be an England. When the ship finally sank, thousands were left floating in the water. Other ships taking part in Operation Ariel were already overladen, but more than 2,500 people from the Lancastria were saved.

The Lancastria after capsizing (image: BBC)

The first five weeks of his premiership came to define Winston Churchill’s entire career. Three of the four speeches for which he is most famous were delivered in little over a month. Churchill knew that many in Britain doubted the country’s ability to resist a Nazi invasion. All of Europe already lay at Hitler’s feet. However, Churchill knew that a lack of self-belief now would only help ensure defeat.

So Dunkirk was recast, mythologised immediately into a great success that ensured Britain had the means to fight on. The fact that so many more British personnel remained stuck on the continent afterwards was not publicised, and the loss of the Lancastria would have been a new and wholly demoralising end to the victorious Dunkirk story. If the upper estimates of the number of fatalities are accurate, then the military personnel lost aboard the Lancastria represented about a third of all British casualties since the declaration of war the previous September. The government issued a D-Notice, an official request to the press not to cover a story if it was in the national interest not to do so. At the time, all of the newspapers obliged.

The British government accepts that 1,700 died – 200 more than died when the Titanic sank. This number includes all those who can unequivocally be proved to have been lost when the ship sank. Meanwhile the memorial at St Nazaire commemorates 4,000. The actual figure could be several thousand higher than that precisely because nobody is sure just how many people went uncounted when they boarded. The British government’s files on the disaster were sealed for 100 years, so the extent of their knowledge won’t be revealed until 2040. Only then will we perhaps know the true scale of Britain’s worst maritime disaster.

You can read more about the Lancastria and other deadly maritime disasters – many of them similarly little known – in our book, Final Voyage: The World’s Worst Maritime Disasters (ISBN 978-1-4081-5894-4, RRP £8.99). If you buy it direct from the Bloomsbury website you will get a 10% discount: