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:

How the all-seeing airship saved the Royal Navy in the First World War

Bloomsbury Publishing recently acquired Conway, the leading publisher of maritime and military history. Sitting beside Adlard Coles Nautical, Conway makes Bloomsbury the foremost publisher of books related to maritime subjects, from practical sailing handbooks to guides to warships past and present. To celebrate the arrival of our new sister imprint, we feature this blog from Conway author John Swinfield.

In the age of the unmanned drone, the role of its pioneer predecessor is easily overlooked. The early airship had a crucial, largely unheralded role in the First World War. Its task was that of Navy escort, reconnaissance craft and U-boat spotter – functions it performed with élan.

The growth in the Great War airship service was rapid. In 1914 the Admiralty had seven airships, with one in disrepair. It might have been marginally more; records are incomplete. By 1918 it had 225 airships. As the numbers of airships grew, so did the hours spent on patrol. In 1914–15 they sailed for 3,000 hours. In 1917, with German U-boats causing mayhem, the figure leaped to 22,000 hours. In 1918 it was 56,000 hours.

Unfettered U-boat warfare, which led to maritime carnage, threatened to starve Britain into submission, choking off its sea lanes and vital supplies. The Great War strategy had parallels with the U-boat menace in the Second World War, when, again, German submarines brought Britain perilously close to the edge of calamity.

Airship SSZ 37 guards a British warship (Photo: Imperial War Museum/Wikipedia)

In the First World War, as in the Second, it is acknowledged that the Admiralty’s eventual institution of the convoy system would become key to thwarting the U-boat danger. Less appreciated, however, is that in the First World War, it was the aerial guard provided by airships which discouraged U-boats from getting within striking distance of a target.

It was usual for U-boats to immediately dive on seeing an airship. As with the submarine, the airship induced a terror in excess of its capability; nobody knows how many U-boat attacks were deterred by the presence of an airship, but it’s likely to have been considerable.

There are examples of airships bombing U-boats, some with success; in the main, though, their bombing was woefully inaccurate. In acting as the eyes of the surface navy, however, they were highly effective. They could stay aloft for hours; their range exceeded aeroplanes of the time; they were swifter than surface ships, and far more so than submarines. Doughty crews, often blue with cold in their open gondolas, could see to the furthest horizon, far in excess of anything possible by a surface reconnaissance craft. Aviation was still in its infancy, with breakdowns being commonplace; but airships, when judged by the standards of the time, proved relatively reliable.

Early submarines sometimes lay just under the surface, their dive capacity being limited. This left a tell-tale impression on the surface, especially when viewed by an airship close to or directly overhead. They were further hampered by being slow to dive, which again made them vulnerable to sharp-eyed spotters in a dirigible.

Early submarines were frail and, as with aeroplanes, prone to breakdown. Repairs had sometimes to be conducted on the surface, making the craft highly vulnerable to both surface and aerial bombardment. A crippled submarine stationary on the surface was a sitting duck. It usually had very limited deck armoury and was ripe for attack from the air by an airship. In the main, rather than trying to bomb them, it was likely that the airship would direct a warship to the location, which would then administer the coup de grace.

Emphasis was given to airships by Jacky Fisher, the volatile reforming admiral who kicked Britain’s fossilised Victorian navy into an effective force. Fisher’s creation of the big-gun Dreadnought battleship, which spelled virtual obsolescence for most competitor types, was far from his sole contribution. He was an enthusiastic supporter of what I have termed the ‘new arsenal’, to the resentment of his more crusty peers, those not in Fisher’s famous ‘fish-pond’, a coterie of progressive (it is alleged) naval thinkers.

Sir John ‘Jacky’ Fisher

Fisher overcame his initial suspicions of the submarine, something widely felt in the Navy. His doubts were quelled by one of his favourite officers, the cerebral, cautious, sometimes controversial, Reginald Bacon. Bacon would become the first leader of Britain’s fledgling submarine service and, subsequently, the first captain of Fisher’s much-vaunted Dreadnought.

Fisher became an eager backer of mines, torpedoes, submarines and airships: the ‘new arsenal’. Once persuaded of their merit, he would throw himself into their promotion with a characteristic, messianic gusto. His endorsement was cardinal. Fisher was one of the few influential voices in support of the airship. As with the submarine, the military airship was subject to a sustained level of derision and disdain, much of it emanating from naval grandees.

Fisher initially saw the submarine as an addendum to the Fleet; an oddly eccentric bolt-on to be deployed primarily for home defence and harbour protection. Later, he recognised it as a weapon at its most deadly when it was unleashed, stealthily tracking its prey in distant waters, unfettered by Navy chaperones.

As the conflict dragged on, draining government coffers as wars do, the Navy needed new reconnaissance craft to help counter the worsening U-boat threat. But the money was running out. It couldn’t afford them.

Airships were a plausible alternative. Inexpensive and quick to build, they were cheap to fuel, run and crew. Sometimes, though, a small army of ground handlers were needed. This was especially so as ships grew bigger. In trying to tether airships which had become wayward through capricious winds, all types of hold-fasts were tried – from elephants (so it’s said, but I’ve never found much proof) to obsolete military tanks. Such was the phenomenal lifting capacity of an airship.

The First World War saw a frenetic period of development. A diversity of new airship types were built, each successively more capable. A total of 41 airship bases and smaller mooring-out sites were constructed across Britain. Airships sailed on near non-stop missions, covering two million miles in the First World War, sailing for almost 90,000 hours.

While the submarine grew into one of the world’s most potent weapons, the airship is scorched into the pages of maritime and aviation history. Those which came to grief were the leviathans which came later: Britain’s ill-fated R101, and the German Hindenburg, whose fiery pyre effectively finished world airship production. First World War airships, with a different role to the intercontinental behemoths which followed them, were undoubtedly far more primitive, but markedly effective.

A century on and the European and US airship industry is stirring once more. Myriad manned and unmanned craft are being developed. Today’s creations bristle with innovative electronics. Their designers are following in illustrious footsteps.

John Swinfield is the author of Airship: Design, Development & Disaster, first published by Conway in 2013. You can buy it through all good high street and online retailers, or direct from us here:

Cheating the sea – the life of a Search and Rescue Pilot

Today sees the publication of RESCUE PILOT, the memoir of Jerry Grayson, the youngest helicopter pilot to ever serve in the Royal Navy, and by the age of 25, the most decorated peacetime naval pilot in history.

I was asked in a recent Australian radio interview, “What was the biggest danger you faced when flying Search and Rescue missions?” Without hesitation I was able to reply, “A flying car.” It’s perhaps not the first thing that might pop into anybody’s head when talking about flying a helicopter but the event is seared into my memory and is one of the stories told in my book Rescue Pilot, published today. In brief summary can I suggest that if you’re rushing to a clifftop to watch a helicopter hovering beneath you it’s a very good idea to apply the handbrake firmly before leaving your car!

There are a couple of other good pieces of advice in the book such as “Never walk close to the edge of a cliff, it will crumble” and “Don’t go out to sea on a li-lo when the wind is blowing offshore”, but mainly it’s a collection of stories – some funny, some tragic – about a very average guy who was fortunate enough to be allowed to do an extraordinary job. Some days were spent plucking holiday makers from the cliffs of Cornwall (and avoiding flying cars!) while other days were long, fraught and intense. Chapter 1 (available for free at ) narrates just such a day when my diver, my aircrewman, the doctor and I spent many hours watching a Greek cargo ship slowly stagger its way towards an inevitable demise on the rocks of North Cornwall. It was not until we wished the crew a fond farewell and goodnight that they decided they would like to abandon ship after all.

No such persuasion was needed for the yacht crews battling with unprecedented seas during the infamous Fastnet Race disaster of 1979. I have never seen seas like it, before or since. The poor yachtsmen had sailed right into the teeth of the storm and not all of them were to come out of it. It was while reading Nick Ward’s extraordinary book Left For Dead that I suddenly realised it was time to write down some of these tales from the perspective of a Search and Rescue Pilot. At the time it was just the job we did, but as the years passed I increasingly realised that I’d been privileged to experience some extremes that others would find hard to believe.

But amongst all the drama there was also a good deal of laughter and HRH Prince Andrew, in his kind foreword, hits the nail on the head when he says “Reading this book I am also reminded of the undeniably strong camaraderie of aviators as well as the wonderful sense of humour that arises in the face of adversity.”

I’m forever grateful to the team at Bloomsbury who have taken this project to their hearts and published it in the year that the baton for SAR passes finally from the military to the civilian sector. It’s a controversial move with some interesting birthing pains but I have no doubt that the naval tradition of telling stories to each other will carry forward. My biggest hope for Rescue Pilot is that it will serve as a celebration of all that has gone before in the 61 years of SAR in the Fleet Air Arm and of all the people who have given so much and saved so many. If our website at and the associated Facebook page act as a conduit to those who served together then the launch of the book at the National Maritime Museum tonight will not be an end but just a beginning.

RESCUE PILOT is available to buy from all good bookshops and online retailers. You can get a 10% discount if you buy the book direct from our website: It is also available as an ebook.

From the Marco Polo to the #CuttySark, this beautiful new book captures the clipper ship era.

The Most Dramatic Era in the History of Sail, Brought Vividly to Life


In the era of commercial sail, clipper ships were the ultimate expression of speed and grace. Racing out to the gold fields of America and Australia, and breaking speed records carrying tea back from China, the ships combined beauty with breathtaking performance.

From mutinies, rivalries and the Cutty Sark’s longest voyage via the inspirational story of Captain Mary Patten and her battle with Cape Horn, Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail brings this unique era vividly back to life, recounting thrilling descriptions of the most dramatic races, beautifully illustrated with the finest paintings and illustrations.

First-hand accounts, newspaper reports and log entries add exciting eyewitness detail, while the exquisite images bring home the sheer elegance of these racehorses of the sea.

Read a few sample pages from this beautiful celebration of these racehorses of the sea.