Uncommon Courage

When journalist Julia Jones discovered some of her father’s old papers, detailing his experiences during the war as part of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve, she realised she had met some of his extraordinary comrades without realising what they had done to help defeat Nazi Germany. Now in her new book, Uncommon Courage: The Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War II, she tells many of their stories, some of them for the first time. In this blog she gives some background to the book and the men it features.

There are many books which could have the title Uncommon Courage, telling the story of ordinary people, in wartime, stepping away from their usual existences to do extraordinary things. We see this happening again on our television screens as the people of Ukraine take up arms to defend their homeland.

The focus of my research in Uncommon Courage is the men of the RNVSR (Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve). These were yachtsmen who added their names to an Admiralty list, established late in 1936, pledging their willingness to serve ‘in the event of an emergency’. They were not provided with training, or uniforms, or expenses, like the ‘regular’ RNVR or RNR, but were expected to organise their own advanced navigational study for the Board of Trade and find their own opportunities to practice station keeping or signalling at sea. If there was the chance to spend a week on a destroyer, they paid for their keep.

This wasn’t quite as callous as it sounds on the part of the Admiralty. Most of these amateur sailors had not wanted to join the established RNVR since its weekly drill commitments and compulsory holiday training took too much time away from sailing. The RNVR was generally more popular with people who didn’t already own boats. Its numbers were also capped as the interwar Navy had been through a period of severe financial stringency, with many of its regular officers being dismissed or placed on the retired list. As Britain and Germany entered a new naval arms race in 1936 the focus was on construction but the personnel question could not be ignored. Hence the cost-free RNVSR.

There were rare yachtsmen who had managed to combine membership of the regular RNVR with time spent sailing. Denys Rayner designed and sailed his own small yacht Robinetta as well as being a totally committed member of the Merseyside RNVR. In 1941 Rayner would become the first volunteer officer to command one of the new Flower-class corvettes that played such a central role in the Battle of the Atlantic and escort duty generally.

The voice most usually associated with those vessels and that role, is Nicholas Monsarrat in The Cruel Sea, who served 1940–1 on HMS Campanula on convoy escort duty before moving to the Kingfisher-class patrol vessel HMS Guillemot on the East Coast convoy route. Monsarrat was a prewar dinghy sailor and occasional yachtsman whose pacifist principles initially deterred him from volunteering for active service. In Spring 1940, however, his father sent him an advertisement from The Times, aimed at ‘Gentlemen interested in yachting…’ and Monsarrat changed his mind. He immediately began to write about his experiences. Uncommon Courage offered me an opportunity to compare what could be published at the time, with what he felt able to say later.

Initially the Admiralty was uncertain how to use its RNVSR yachtsmen volunteers. Many were sent to serve on patrol vessels, protecting the approaches to British harbours and also on contraband control, attempting to prevent supplies reaching Germany. Blockade had been a successful tactic in the First World War, it was more problematic in the Second. Nevertheless large numbers of he Minor War Vessels – including fishing boats and requisitioned merchant ships – were despatched as soon as hostilities were declared.

Minesweeping was another activity that commenced immediately (as did mine-laying) and continued from the first day of war until long after its end. RNVSR member Robert Hichens, a solicitor from Cornwall who became the most decorated RNVR member before he was killed in action 1943, spent most of his first year of war in Halcyon-class minesweepers. ‘People don’t realise what a grim war we are waging at sea with the Germans,’ he wrote, at the end of that first winter. ‘A cold-blooded war, requiring the maximum of bravery from the men of both sides in the long run as it is so ceaseless and intangible. You just don’t know whether the next moment will be your last.’  

Hichens was awarded a DSC for his service on the mine-sweeper HMS Niger; his later decorations were earned in the more hot-blooded arena of Coastal Forces, regularly engaged in direct combat with E-boats. Many of the volunteer yachtsmen were eventually drafted into MGBs, MTBs, MLs as their experience with small boat-handling and navigation, as well as their willingness to use initiative and take responsibility, fitted them for this form of service. There were surreptitious operations too – running agents across the channel or to Norway, supporting clandestine reconnaissance or sabotage missions. Thinking back to Erskine Childers’s classic Riddle of the Sands made me realise how often a cruising yachtsman’s peculiarly amphibious skill set was exactly what was needed as the Allies attempted to reinvade the territories from which they were ejected in 1940–1.

Many of the RNVSR yachtsmen whose war service I researched in Uncommon Courage could not have envisaged the way in which their careers would develop. They signed up with the expectation of ‘executive service’ at sea. Several, like Ewen Montagu, Ashe Lincoln and Nevil Norway (Shute), found themselves back on land as soon as their particular skills were discovered. Montagu spent his time in intelligence, Lincoln in mine warfare and Norway in weapons development. The group I found most extraordinary were the weekend sailors who volunteered for ‘special service’ and were sent out, with the minimum of training, to defuse magnetic mines that were dropped on land by parachute but still counted as a RN responsibility because they’d been designed for use at sea.

I’m sure that the Admiralty could never have envisaged the multitude of ways it would benefit from that service of its weekend sailors. At the outbreak of war volunteers were not eligible for service on submarines, by 1943 Edward Young, pre-war production manager at Penguin books, was commanding officer of the newly built HMS Storm. (Characteristically one of his innovations was a ship’s newspaper.)

For historians, I hope that looking at the war at sea from the perspective of the RNVSR yachtsman will highlight the extent to which WW2 was a small ships war, where giving individual responsibility to volunteers was a prerequisite for success: how else would all those landing craft have got across the channel on D-Day? For the general reader (and I include myself) it reveals yet again the capacity for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.

Uncommon Courage: The Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War II (9781472987105) is published 14th March, RRP £20 or with a 10% discount when bought direct from our website: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/uncommon-courage-9781472987105/

RMS Queen Mary – Her Maiden Voyage 85 Years On

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the maiden voyage of RMS Queen Mary, one of the most famous ships in the world and the last survivor of the golden age of the transatlantic super liner. To celebrate her, we have published historian and TV documentarian David Ellery’s book RMS Queen Mary – 101 Questions & Answers. In this blog, David details the build up to the ship’s maiden voyage, and her glorious career after.

We’re so used to high-tech, fast paced lives full of instant communication it’s hard to imagine the impact Britain’s largest ship made on the world in the 1930s. It was huge.

To fully appreciate why, we need to look back a few years prior to Queen Mary’s maiden voyage. The new liner’s keel was laid in December 1930; Donald Skifflington, Yard Manager of the famous John Brown Shipyard in Clydebank, proudly hammered home the first rivet and the building of Cunard Line’s newest North Atlantic liner was underway. The ship had been years in the planning and the British public had waited eagerly, none more so than in Clydebank; construction provided thousands of local jobs.

‘Job number 534’, as the new ship was known, went well; initially at any rate. This, however, was the time of the Great Depression, one of the worst recessions in history, affecting economies around the world. Cunard managed to keep its head above water but money for the new liner ran out. The construction was put on hold. This meant nearly 4,000 local men employed directly on the build were out of work and a further 10,000 contractors and sub-contractors involved in the supply chain suffered the same fate. This alone indicates just how massive a project it was.

The half-finished ship towered above the Clydebank yard gathering rust for nearly two-and-a-half years; an ominous reminder of Britain’s financial crisis and an image which appeared in newspapers across the nation. Eventually a deal was struck, and a loan was made available by the UK government for the completion of ‘534’ and for the building of what would become Queen Mary’s running mate, RMS Queen Elizabeth.

It was a moment of huge jubilation when the yard gates finally re-opened and work resumed in April 1934. Not only were local people back in employment, the whole nation saw this as a morale-boosting indication of things getting better. It even caused a sharp rise in the value of shares on the London Stock Exchange! Six months later the ship was launched by Her Majesty Queen Mary and the new liner took to the water for the first time.

After fitting out and sea trials Queen Mary was ready to be handed to her owners Cunard (now officially known as Cunard White Star Line). RMS Queen Mary’s port of registration became Liverpool as this was where Cunard’s British offices were based, but her homeport would be Southampton.

Queen Mary was designed specifically for Cunard’s North Atlantic service between Southampton and New York calling at Cherbourg in France for European passengers. At 81,000 tons she was Britain’s largest liner and first British ship with a length of more than 1,000-feet. (Queen Mary would have been the largest liner in the world had the French not pipped her to the post with their slightly longer Normandie, which entered service in 1935.)

The publicity machine did its thing to promote the liner. Mind boggling statistics flowed in abundance and were lapped up by an eager British public who followed the story of ‘their’ new ship with pride and excitement: ten million rivets had been used in her construction and 70,000 gallons of paint applied to her outer hull! But the stats didn’t end there. Illustrated comparisons appeared in the press to help convey Queen Mary’s vast size: “The diameter of each funnel would permit 3 modern locomotives placed abreast to pass through” or “The sirens of Queen Mary can be heard at least 10 miles away.”

Cunard was inundated with requests for tickets for the ship’s first Atlantic crossing. Two thousand places were available, but the Line could have sold ten times that number. The ship was split into three distinct classes, originally designated: Cabin, Tourist, and Third. They varied in opulence and decorative detail. Prices ranged from £18 and ten shillings up to £102 for a luxury return during the ship’s first season. A hundred of the initial tickets were allocated to the world’s press. Queen Mary was big news.

Shortly before her first outing with fare-paying passengers HM King Edward (later the Duke of Windsor) flew to Southampton where he met his mother HM Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of York and his nieces Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, along with other royals, ministers and MPs. The royal party toured the ship. HM The Queen took special interest in the kitchens, while the princesses watched Micky Mouse cartoons in the Cabin Class Playroom!

The public also had opportunity to look round the vessel. During a three-day period around 15,000 visitors each paid 5 shillings (25 pence) for a glimpse of the ship’s interior. It didn’t fail to impress. The public rooms in the Cabin Class area of the liner, located amidships, were magnificent.

Visitors would have seen the huge restaurant and the stunning art deco swimming pool with its mother of pearl ceiling, a gymnasium, squash court, main lounge and Observation Lounge & Cocktail Bar with view forward out to sea. (This would prove a popular haunt of film stars and the aristocracy throughout the ship’s commercial service. Queen Mary is now in retirement in Long Beach, California; most of these rooms survive to this day with many of their original features. They are still very impressive.)

Finally, the day of Queen Mary’s maiden voyage arrived: 27th May 1936.

Special souvenir editions of national papers like the Daily Mail, who ran a 4-page spread, hit the news-stands and vast crowds formed at vantage points along Southampton Water.

Heather Beagley, now 99, was one of the 2,000 passengers lucky enough to be aboard the ship. Just 14 years old at the time, it left a lasting impression: ‘It was the most inspiring trip of my life,’ she says. ‘The quays were absolutely full of people and bands playing; there was an enormous celebration.’

At 4.30pm, loaded with tons of provisions for the 5-day crossing and her passengers boarded, Queen Mary was edged out of her Southampton berth. An estimated quarter of a million people turned out to see the historic departure. In an interview for Regal & Retired, a documentary about the ship, another passenger, the late John Barnard, recalled: ‘All the way down, both sides of the water were crowded with spectators and we were surrounded by hundreds of boats. They stayed with us for quite some considerable time.’

The local newspaper, the Southern Daily Echo reported in the day’s final edition: ‘Tens of thousands of people, who travelled to Southampton and neighbourhood by road and rail, by air and sea, joined in giving Britain’s finest ship the greatest send-off which the land of her birth has seen.’

You’d be forgiven for thinking that was probably the highlight of the voyage, but no, more drama was to come. After crossing the English Channel, the ship arrived in Cherbourg where new facilities had been built specifically to accommodate the new ship.

Unfortunately, an error had occurred in the calculations. Consequently, when the wide gangway was slid out from the dockside building for the first time, instead of connecting with the ship’s door, it was found to be 6 feet (2m) short! A temporary fix was made and after a delay of around 2 hours the ship was on course for New York.

As the voyage progressed the public were kept up to date of events on board. The BBC had installed twenty-three remote controlled microphones in various locations so twenty broadcasters from five countries could make live radio broadcasts!

In addition to Queen Mary’s crew and passengers there were two names which didn’t appear on the ship’s manifest. Two stowaways managed to hide on board at Southampton and are mentioned in the Captain’s log. The first was Frank Gardner, an unemployed labourer from Cardiff, the other, a woman who it’s believed was part of a newspaper publicity stunt. The woman was put ashore at Cherbourg, but Mr Gardner wasn’t detected until later in the voyage so was put to work in the kitchens. He was promptly sent back to Britain by US immigration officials when the ship arrived in America!

The liner’s inaugural arrival in New York on 1st June 1936 has gone down in history as one of the most rapturous welcomes ever given by the port. Remembers Heather Beagley: ‘All the ships came out, big and small and they all sounded their hooters. VIPs came out to meet us and crowds lined the quays – it was absolutely incredible.’

As Queen Mary berthed at Pier 90 in New York her maiden voyage was over, but an ocean-going career of 31 years, 1,001 North Atlantic crossings, war duties and nearly 4 million passengers lay ahead… this was just the beginning!

Queen Mary is today the very last surviving 1930s ‘superliner’ left in the world.

You can read more about this incredible, historic liner in the fully illustrated and freshly updated RMS Queen Mary – 101 Questions & Answers, which we have just republished. It is available in both print and ebook editions through all good retailers (ISBN 9781472993113) at an RRP of £9.99 or with a 10% discount direct from our website: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/rms-queen-mary-9781472993113/

The book you need the next time you go to the boatyard

We have just published The Boatyard Book – a unique approach to the maintenance and repair all boatowners can expect to have to undertake, how to spot problems before they become serious, and how to tackle them in a cost-effective and long-lasting way. In this blog author Simon Jollands explains how he developed his idea for a comprehensive reference manual with an emphasis on the practical.

It is no secret that the Adlard Coles list includes some of the best practical boating guides ever published, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I pitched my original idea for The Boatyard Book to publisher Liz Multon back in April 2019. The idea was to create a book that would be “a boat owner’s guide to yacht maintenance, repair and refitting”. It was important to differentiate this guide from others on the list and to define the objectives clearly. Liz was a huge help with this and after some to-ing and fro-ing of emails we summarised these as follows:

  • Boat care requires understanding the importance of knowing how to carry out boat inspections and troubleshoot problems before they develop into major issues. Boat care also entails understanding when and how to carry out essential annual maintenance. When major repairs and refits become necessary, a knowledgeable boat owner with greater understanding of what needs to be done will be in a better position to remain in control of the process and be confident when dealing with boatyard managers, professionals and suppliers of services and parts. All these aspects of boat care are dealt with in this book.
  • The inclusion of advice and tips from professionals will provide very valuable information for owners, whether they are hands-on DIY fanatics or are happy to pay others to do the work for them. The aim is that the advice given will help owners to save money when any work needs to be done. This will apply to those who keep their yachts abroad as well as closer to home.
  • The book will include case studies of real life experiences, not just step by step instructions on “how to” but clearly demonstrating pitfalls, difficulties encountered along the way and how problems were solved and the work finally completed. This will help owners to manage their expectations, to expect certain types of work to be more difficult and take longer than they anticipate and help them decide whether they are able to undertake the work themselves or better advised to call in the professionals.
  • Another key objective is to provide advice on planning and budgeting aspects of boat ownership. Once again, this will include real life case studies of owner experiences. 

The next couple of months proved very exciting as we developed the concept into a fully-fledged proposal that included the detailed editorial framework for the book, something that would be needed before the go ahead for the project could be given.

The original plan was to involve several UK boatyards and for it to be published in September 2020. I was keen to visit the yards and to document some case studies of repairs and refits which we could include in the book along with step by step photos of the work being carried out. The initial response from the yards was very positive. All was going fine until COVID-19 came along and scuppered our plans, as access to the yards was not possible during lockdown. A re-think was needed, as well as more time. Liz was very supportive and publication was re-scheduled for September 2021.

Having a well-planned editorial structure helped and I decided to research each chapter in depth and gather as much information as I possibly could about every aspect of the maintenance, repair and refitting of boats. I also decided to include case studies of the work I had carried out on my own boats over the years, which had not been part of my original plan. Thankfully I had a kept a photographic record of much of this work and this helped save the day. The extra time also enabled me to work on the graphic illustrations, something I enjoy doing but is often slow going.

I was very fortunate to have the input of several friends and connections who contributed to the book. These included Viki Moore, who helped me with her excellent yacht maintenance log. This provides a detailed annual plan for carrying out routine maintenance work and with Viki’s permission I featured this in the book as I thought readers would find this very helpful. Another key contributor was Henry Bettle, who is a first class surveyor and kindly wrote the Surveyor’s Tips which feature throughout.

I hope boat owners will find The Boatyard Book useful and help them with all aspects of boat care, however limited their practical skills and ownership of boats may be. The objective is to help owners build a detailed knowledge of their boat’s systems and help them troubleshoot, solve and fix potential problems, whatever their DIY expertise may be.

Which reminds me, my boat is due to come ashore soon so I’d better get my skates on…

The Boatyard Book is available now (ISBN 978-1-4729-7710-6, RRP £25) from all good bookshops, chandleries and our own website: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/boatyard-book-9781472977106/

Reeds Almanac 90th anniversary

It’s going to be quite a special year for the Reeds Nautical Almanac. Not only is it the year the Almanac comes of age with Adlard Coles, having been part of our nautical family for 18 years now, but we are also celebrating the Almanac’s 90th anniversary.

The Almanac was first published by Harold Brunton-Reed in 1932. He commissioned Captain Oswald M Watts (one of the youngest Merchant Navy officers to hold a Master’s certificate, at the age of 23) to compile the very first edition, and Watts continued to edit it until his retirement in 1981. The first edition was published on 1st January 1932 and cost 2/6 (12.5 pence in today’s money).

The Almanac’s finest hour undoubtedly came in 1944, when the Admiralty ordered 3,000 copies of the Almanac so that all the vessels involved in the D-Day landings would have a copy to take to Normandy. We have a copy of most editions of the Almanac dating back that far, but the D-Day edition is one of the notable exceptions – they are exceptionally rare beasts these days, so if you do have one, we would love to see some photos.

The 2022 edition of the Almanac will be published on 19th August at an RRP of £49.99, but you can buy it with a 10% discount direct from our website: Reeds Nautical Almanac 2022: : Reed’s Almanac Reeds (bloomsbury.com)

To get the best deal on the Almanac each year, you can subscribe by direct debit for only £32.50. This way you will be sent your Almanac as soon as stock hits the warehouse, and you are guaranteed our best price. What’s more, you will get exclusive subscriber benefits, including 5% off purchases over £50 at GaelForce, 30% off any books bought at Bloomsbury.com, with more offers set to be announced soon. You can read more about the subscription offer here: Reeds Nautical Almanac 2022: : Reed’s Almanac Reeds (bloomsbury.com)

For those who prefer to have all the Almanac information on their tablet or laptop, you will probably be more interested in the PDF ebook (which also incorporates the Reeds Marina Guide that comes separately with the print editions).

Finally, don’t forget that we provide important updates for the Almanac every month between January and June. To receive the latest PDF(s), email adlardcoles@bloomsbury.com with a proof of purchase, and let us know whether it is the main Almanac, regional edition or the Reeds PBO Small Craft Almanac you need the information for.

A farewell to puffins

Paul Heiney has been a familiar face to TV audiences for over 40 years, presenting That’s Life alongside Esther Rantzen, Watchdog, and more recently Countrywise on ITV. However, Paul is also a highly experienced yachtsman, and has written on the subject many times, including the sublime narrative One Wild Song, and his guide Ocean Sailing. His new book, Farewell Mr Puffin, started off the story of his voyage to Iceland, but became about a lot more when Paul found things had changed en route since previous trips. In this blog he sets the scene.

It wasn’t my initial idea to sail to Iceland to look at puffins; that was to come later. I simply wanted to discover why all the fuss about this lonely, volcanic island within spitting distance of the Arctic circle. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone was talking about Iceland as it became one of the world’s fastest -growing tourist destinations. The whole island found itself bursting with visitors; the coffee shops packed, the sole international airport bulging at the seams. It’s a tourist boom like no other.

I’m not into that kind of tourism. I am, however, into sailing, and going by small boat is a kind of travelling like no other. The harbours you visit and the places in which you shelter often have none of that brochure-like glamour, and that’s the way I prefer it. On a boat, you plug into communities in ways that no tourist would ever think about. For example, in a remote spot on the north west coast, I found myself in urgent need of stout, but flexible, pipe to repair a broken lavatory – such things can be seriously urgent. It required a conversation with a harbourmaster, a cup of coffee, a visit to a distant workshop and another a cup of coffee, plus many conversations along the way – of a kind that a conventional tourist would never have. That’s what I call travelling.

And there’s another reason to head north: I like the ‘edge of world’ feel of places like Iceland. After all, I have sailed, partly solo, as far as Cape Horn (as told in my book One Wild Song, also published by Adlard Coles), which is probably the closest you can get to the end of the earth. I like the clear, vivid landscapes, and I feast on the chill, high-latitude air that never fails to lift the spirits. And although I am the very last person to seek out danger, there is a sense in these places that when things go wrong, they can turn seriously bad indeed, and that keeps your mind focussed and your senses tuned to the nature of the sea.

Puffins didn’t come into it until I stopped at the Farne Islands, off Northumberland, on my way northwards from my home port on the East Anglian coast. These islands are famous to the abundance of seabirds, puffins amongst them. I remember the first flock of puffins I came across, way back in my early sailing years, off the west coast of Ireland. Puffins there were so thick on the surface of the sea that it was like trying to steer a boat through an ever-shifting football crowd. I have always found it impossible not to raise a smile when I see a puffin. They’ve been called the ‘clowns of the sea’, and that’s partly true. That multi-coloured beak, always vivid when set against the grey of the north Atlantic, is always a cheerful sight and to watch them duck and dive as the boat heads towards them makes me chuckle. Almost as much as that swaying gait they display when ashore and walking on land. They are simply funny to watch, there’s no more to it than that.

But delve deeper and read of the truly remarkable life of the puffin and you will find that it is no fool. Their winters are spent entirely at sea; come storm or calm they will ride the waves until the spring when they come ashore to breed, at the same place they visited the year before and for many seasons before that. And always with the same mate. They will fly hundreds of miles in search of food to feed their young, and once the chicks have fled the nest it is back to the harsh Atlantic for yet another winter. It’s an unusual combination of courage and dedicated domesticity.

I am no ornithologist, but to see puffins you shouldn’t need to be. If you are in the right place, they come to you. Except, in the Farne Islands, they failed to appear. That made me sad. Assuming bad luck, I sailed on. I don’t want to spoil for you my subsequent puffin encounters, but the title of my book (Farewell Mr Puffin) may give you a clue.

I found my journey north took me through a richer variety of cultures, waters and landscapes that I could ever imagine. When the North Sea gives way to Scottish waters, and the landmass fragments into the Orkney Islands, there is much to discover, and not all of it on an intellectual plane. In Kirkwall, the Orkney capital, I found a gem of a watering hole where tea is brewed as thick as treacle and the scones as hard as granite, but with an inspiring character that no modern coffee house could match. Tourists don’t go to such places, but sailors need them. The Faroe Islands are different again, and are not the rehearsal for Iceland that I had expected. The Faroes are ancient, Iceland is quite new. The Faroes are rocky and green with lush grass; Iceland is volcanic, covered in black dusty lava and trees are as rare as sunbathing weather. There were many surprises along the way.

I have tried in this book to convey the voyaging experience, and share with you the richness of the places I visited. I have tried to convey the ups and downs of sailing life, and the pleasures that ever-changing crews (usually) bring.

Most of all I want to convey what a lovely little creature the puffin is, and what the puffin stands for. We are being endlessly told of the dangerously changing world in which we live, and often the warnings wash over us because the scale of them is beyond our understanding. But when you head north and see the puffins, it is then you realise that things really are changing. The puffin is often called a ‘comedian’ of the bird world. All I can say is that, at the moment, the jokes are running out.

Farewell Mr Puffin: A Small Boat Voyage to Iceland is published 8th July, RRP £12.99. You can order it with a 10% discount direct from our brand new website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/farewell-mr-puffin-9781472990976 (please note that following the launch of our new website, all Bloomsbury account holders will need to reset their passwords).

How to become a nautical nomad

Husband and wife team Patrick and Sheila Dixon are two philosophers who went to sea – though their philosophies are often very different! Patrick was once a consultant working with cancer and HIV patients, and is now a consultant of another kind – a futurist working with corporate clients including Google to help them understand current trends and predict future ones. Sheila is a magistrate, juggling the differences between law and justice on a daily basis. When they decided they needed a break, they knew the ocean would provide it. But they were surprised to discover how their philosophical approaches helped in unexpected ways, and how the sea challenged those philosophies.

In this extract from their new book, Salt in the Blood, Sheila details how their family reacted to her and Patrick’s plan to become nautical nomads for the next few years:

Our four children and spouses happened to be with us for lunch the following Sunday, sitting around a glass table in the kitchen. We began to explain what we had been thinking about. At first there was stunned silence and blank faces.

‘It’s a great idea, and I get why you want to do it, but what about your pension?’ pointed out John, our oldest, who has always been a careful saver, unlike us. ‘It could kill the lecturing. And the last time you hired a yacht, you had to be rescued by two lifeboats and thirty nine crew. It doesn’t sound very well thought out.’

‘I admit we went aground,’ replied Patrick. ‘But –’

‘Mum had to make a Mayday emergency call.’

‘I know we may not be the best sailors in the world,’ I continued smoothly. ‘But to be fair that was over a year ago. Dad and I have sailed smaller boats a couple of times since. And it wasn’t that many rescue crew, twenty nine to be exact.’

And you nearly decapitated the entire crew of another yacht on the Norfolk Broads, with most of us on board. We saw it all with our own eyes,’ interjected Caroline.

‘We didn’t actually hit anyone or bash the other boat, as it happens.’ I replied. ‘It was a little scary, turning under a very low bridge with that huge lowered mast sticking out forty feet behind us. But it was a few years ago. And we have done a Day Skipper course since then.’

Our younger son Paul leaned forward. ‘Well, I hope you’re getting insured. And please don’t expect me to sell our flat to pay a ransom to pirates! I’m not saying the whole idea is bonkers, far from it, but –’

‘We have no intention of being captured by pirates,’ I blurted out.

Caroline, a family doctor, asked earnestly, ‘But what about your health, Dad? You need to think about it if you’re doing some serious sailing. But I get why you want to, and it might do you both some good.’

Lizzie then asked how I really felt ‘deep down,’ her social work training kicking into gear. ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do, Mum? It’s quite a change. And how will you manage such long periods together? Won’t you miss your friends, the church and everyone? What about being a magistrate and being away from court?’

‘As it happens,’ I replied, ‘I’m more positive about it than Dad. And it’s not as if we would be on the boat all the time. Far from it.’ I was trying not to be defensive under their gentle and loving interrogation. It felt as if family roles were being reversed. Our sons sounded just like Patrick or me lecturing one of our own children about acting responsibly in the past.

‘We do need to find a new interest in life, now you’ve all left home, or we will become grumpy and boring,’ explained Patrick. ‘We’re looking for adventure, a challenge. We both enjoy sailing and love seeing new places. I also need new insights for lecturing. I wrote ten books in ten years, but I’ve since had ‘severe writer’s block.’ He omitted to add that we thought it might also be quite romantic, even a spiritual experience.

Our children’s spouses were, by comparison, very affirming.

‘Sounds great!’

‘What make of boat did you say?’ They started Googling.

Some close friends we shared with were very positive and encouraging. But others were puzzled, bemused or worried.

‘Can’t imagine anything worse. Puking over the side, freezing cold, wet through. What if you’re caught in a storm?’

‘I read that most people buying boats regret it from the day after, until the day they sell,’ said another encouragingly. ‘Like tearing up loads of fifty pound notes in the shower.’

My sister Grace began sending Patrick books through the post with ominous titles such as Disasters at Sea, Sunk Without Trace, or How I Nearly Died Crossing the Atlantic, each one inscribed with a little friendly note that made it quite clear that each book was her personal plea to us, designed to save us from certain drowning.

But they had the opposite effect. Her gifts turned out to be engaging, exciting and informative. And we could see that there were wider lessons to be learned, from all these stories of being blown by the wind.

They were also amusing at times. There’s comedy aboard any boat. Hats or vital papers blow into the sea, things break at funny moments, dinner slops down the hatch, someone gets stuck upside down in a locker, doors fall off, bad eggs explode, the heads erupt, and life aboard generally lurches from one small calamity to another.

Shortly after that family lunch, we also shared the news with my mother-in-law, Anne, the matriarch of our family. Patrick’s mother was living on her own at the age of 78, entertaining more than 25 regularly at home on Christmas Day, as well as providing lunches and dinners for many of her friends, her 20 grandchildren and an increasing number of great grandchildren.

At first she appeared not to have heard. She was far more interested in explaining to us about her last visit to the doctor, plus her latest plans for reform of the entire NHS. She paused. ‘Oh, are you? On a yacht?’ and thereafter returned to another continuous stream of words on other matters.

Anne reached for a huge earthenware bowl of brown sugar and shovelled six heaped teaspoons into a large cup of Earl Grey tea.

‘WHALES!’ she exclaimed, staring into the mid-distance between sips.

‘Yes, I expect we will see some whales,’ agreed Patrick


‘Well, hope not.’


‘Well, not very –’

‘And what is more, every time your father went out with Sheila’s father in that yacht of his, he came back with another story of some terrible disaster. Propeller fell off. Engine blew up. Sounds a terribly bad idea that will cost an awful lot of money… Not sensible at all if you ask me.’

The feedback from family did make us pause for thought for a short while, but after yet another speaking event involving long haul flights, Patrick remarked: ‘I do need to slow down. I can’t keep on going like this, without something snapping. I’m completely trashed.’

‘Well then, let’s have another look at that boat,’ I replied.

Salt in the Blood is Patrick and Sheila’s story of how they made changes (some more challenging than others) that they knows other sailors could make too, regardless of where they are at the moment – how they changed their priorities but managed to sustain a new career that fitted in around life rather than the other way round. It is the story of their personal journey, both physically (across the Atlantic and to little-visited corners of the Mediterranean) and metaphorically – how a doctor who treated cancer patients coped with a partner facing the same battle.

Through their personal story, with plenty of mishaps that led to insights (both about sailing and life in general), and encounters that turned into opportunities, Patrick and Sheila explore the importance of prioritising the right things in life, and the simple benefits of travel. The book is packed with inspiring but practical advice for all those who have salt in the blood.

We publish Salt in the Blood (9781472986269) later this month. You can pre-order it via our website with a 10% discount on the RRP (£10.99): https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/salt-in-the-blood-9781472986269/

Taking the stress out of sailing

Next month we publish a brand new edition of Duncan Wells bestselling Stress-Free Sailing. Since the first edition was first published in 2015, Duncan has taken the same approach with a whole range of boating topics, packed with practical advice and QR links to videos, giving you a taste of the one-on-one tutoring he gives students at his sailing school. In this blog he gives a stress-free guide to all the books, existing and upcoming.

Stress-Free Sailing

Who is it for?

All sailors from novices to old salts.


It doesn’t matter if you are new to sailing or have been at it all your life, getting your boat off the dock and back on again will always raise the heart rate and merit care and attention. Stress Free Sailing gives you ground breaking, robust techniques to ensure you execute the perfect casting off and the perfect coming alongside, every time, whether single-handed or fully crewed.

Plus there are host of tips and techniques from getting the best out of your sails in light airs and heavy weather, to peace of mind anchoring – even how to tie your leather deck shoe laces. And there are videos of the techniques in action. A photo is all very well but a video really shows you how it’s done.

Stress-Free Motorboating

Who is it for?

As it does for the motorboaters what Stress Free Sailing does for the sailors, it is for all motorboaters.


Close quarter manoeuvring of your boat mastered. Getting her on and off the dock single handed in a relaxed fashion using ground breaking robust techniques – that’s what you get from Stress Free Motorboating. Plus tips to make things easier for you and the crew, how to coil and finish off lines neatly, lighter lines for coming alongside, how to care for the engines so they won’t let you down, thinking ahead, planning, everything to make life on board as stress free as possible. And the videos of course.

Stress-Free Navigation

Who is it for?

All budding Day Skippers and Yachtmasters – and their crew.


I teach RYA navigation all day long and I have ways of explaining the fundamental disciplines to students that make sense to them so they get the idea straight away. Some people learn by picturing things, some by hearing things and some by getting hold of things and exploring them with their hands. I understand that and I give my students what makes sense for them. And that’s what you get in Stress Free Navigation, all the techniques, tips and aide memoires for remembering things, plus the simple short cuts for things that people have always been told are complicated. There’s no need to get brain fade when thinking about Secondary Ports, I show you how to work them out in your head. Straightforward, really. Plus handy videos.

Stress-Free Mooring

Who is it for?

Everyone. I have combined the techniques for sailors and motorboaters into one book.


Exactly as for Stress Free Sailing and Stress Free Motorboating from the casting off and coming alongside perspective whether you be mooring to a dock, a mooring buoy or anchoring. It was inspired by an American who wanted a handy book for the cockpit when he was mooring.

101 Tips for Stress-Free Sailing

Who is it for?

All sailors and motorboaters – the ideal Christmas present for anyone who already has Stress Free Sailing, Stress Free Motorboating, Stress Free Navigation and Stress Free Mooring.


101 neat tips, some from the existing books and some new.

When is it published?

September 2021.

Stress-Free Engine Maintenance

Who is it for?

Sailors and motorboaters alike. Anyone who has an engine in their boat.


To make sure that engines operate reliably and do not let you down you have to look after them. This book tells you what to do. It won’t train you to become a mechanic or to strip a 4 cylinder diesel engine but it will train you to stay on top of the needs if your engine to give you stress free reliability. Full of tips and handy hints of course, like how to syphon diesel from a can without getting a mouthful! And handy trouble shooting flow diagrams if anything does go wrong. And there will be videos.

When is it published?

April 2022.

You can order all of the Stress-Free books that have already been published direct from our website with a 10% discount code: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/search?q=stress-free&Gid=1

Treasured Islands

The British Isles comprises some 6,000 islands, though only 194 of them are inhabited. In his new book, Treasured Islands, Peter Naldrett explores 200 of the most beautiful and most interesting, making it (to quote TV presenter and writer Ed Stafford), ‘The definitive guide to Britain’s quirky and rugged islands. Islands have always had a mysterious allure – Peter has managed to capture the magical essence of our old favourites and lesser known gems.’ In this blog, Peter looks at some of the most remote and isolated.

On Lindisfarne it comes with the twice-daily rising of the tide.

Islands such as Eigg off the west coast of Scotland find it arrives when the ferry departs for the fall time of the day.

However the quiet hush of isolation greets you, it’s something you’re not likely to forget. Being cut off from the bright lights of the nearest mainland town or village has an allure of discovery, the adventure of surviving in an environment you’re not used to.

Island life is not for everyone, I’ll readily admit. Don’t think about moving to Barra if you’re the type of person who has to pop out to the nearest Tesco Express every night. But even the most ardent urbanite will find magic in the silence that descends on many of our British islands at night – even if it’s only for a short stay.

And there is no shortage of opportunities for a trip to a British island. There are literally thousands of them, with a couple of hundred being home to humans. And if you’re looking to explore, you’ll find there are islands in our waters to suit all tastes.

If theme parks and ice creams are your thing, head to the Isle of Wight or Canvey Island. For beaches and fine weather, venture to the Scillies. Rugged beauty can be discovered on many Scottish isles, with food treats waiting in Wales and traditional music among other attractions in Ireland.

Whilst travelling around Britain, Ireland and further afield to write this book, I focused on just over 200 of our finest, most treasured islands and exactly what their allure is.

And all the time I kept coming back to that one constant feature; isolation and a break from the mainland rat race.

Lindisfarne, a tidal island in the north east of England, experiences this solace twice a day. Huge posters remind day trippers to set off back in time to beat the racing tide and photos of flooded vehicles urge them not to leave it too late. After they have deserted the island – and many of the island’s workforce have left, too – the place takes on a completely different feel, taking you back in time to experience a peaceful kind of silence.

Eigg is not a tidal island, but it experiences a similar kind of isolation every day when the ferry leaves the jetty, and a sense of excitement when it returns with new supplies and visitors.

Bad weather can – and frequently does – bring an end to the timetable and sometimes it can mean folk are stranded for days by the harsh weather felt in these parts. When I was making my trip, I met people who had visited the vets on the mainland and had to stay an extra couple of days because of a storm. Even the simplest of tasks need a risk assessment on some of our islands.

Writing this book has been a fabulous challenge over the last three years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting these incredible places, revisiting some but heading to many for the first time. The people who live on our islands face tough challenges, that much is clear, but they are also blessed with inspiring landscapes and a superb array of wildlife. They are often serene destinations, and I could see myself living on some of them in the future, so much was I smitten by the character of places like Orkney. More than once I found myself looking longingly at an estate agent window weighing up the opportunities.

Island life often reminds you that you’re part of a bigger picture where nature is king. I’d urge you to spend as much time as possible in that bigger picture and explore as many of these fantastic places as you can.

Here is a sample of the types of places you can expect to read about in the book – so check out my brief guide to some of our quirkiest island destinations.


1. Spend a night on the tidal island of Lindisfarne, enjoying the quiet when the day-trippers go home.

2. Climb the ancient steps of Skellig Michael to discover the stone buildings made famous in the Star Wars series of films.

3. Book an overnight stay on Lundy to find tranquillity in the Bristol Channel.

4. Peace, quiet and fabulously dark skies make Coll the perfect island for stargazing.

5. Leave your car on the mainland and take your tent to Bryher for an idyllic stay on the Isles of Scilly.

6. Soak in the views of the Old Man of Hoy, standing on the cliffs of this quiet island in Orkney.

7. Walk along the gorgeous white sand beaches of Berneray to give your travels a tropical feel.

8. Iona is famous for spiritual solitude and personal retreats, but even a day trip here will nourish the soul.

9. Walk on the magnificent limestone pavements of Inishmore, enjoying fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean from the west coast of Ireland.

10. Spend a few hours rummaging through the creative and artistic wares on sale during the open days on Eel Pie Island.

Treasured Islands is published on 26th June, RRP £18.99. You can pre-order it with a 10% discount direct from our website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/treasured-islands-9781844865925/

Our spring reads highlights

With Europe’s most successful vaccination programme and the coronavirus now apparently in full retreat, Britain can hopefully look forward to a long, hot summer of largely unrestricted freedom to enjoy time out on the water. In this spring reads blog we highlight a carefully curated selection of our books, both new and well established, all of which will help you and everyone else get the most from sailing in 2021.

All of these books are currently available at a discount price if you buy them direct from the Bloomsbury website. Just click on the promo price links to take you to the right pages.


Go Sailing (RRP £12.99, promo price £11.69) is our new guide for complete beginners. Assuming no knowledge of what to do when sailing, this is a practical, inspiring and accessible guide to all the basics (and beyond), packed with colour photos and other helpful illustrations. If you want to encourage anyone to join you on the boat, or take up sailing as a new pastime, then this is the book you – or more importantly they – need.

The Sailing Bible (RRP £25, promo price £22.50) is exactly what it says on the cover. It is the complete hands-on manual packed with detailed step-by-step diagrams, lively photographs and helpful advice on getting the most out of sailing, at whatever level. It covers everything from knots to navigation, racing to rules of the road, maintenance and repair to reading the weather, plus lots more besides.


Reeds Skipper’s Handbook (RRP £8.99, promo price £8.09) is one of the best-selling books we have ever published because it is quite literally the book every sailor (whether skipper or crew) needs in their pocket. It is the essential aide memoire to everything you need to know when on board, written in a concise fashion for quick and easy reference, with clear colour illustrations throughout.

Complete Day Skipper (RRP £25, promo price £22.50) is the book you need if you have decided this year is the year you finally go for your Day Skipper qualification. Written by sailing legend Tom Cunliffe, and updated only last year, he covers everything you need to know, following the Day Skipper syllabus but also adding his own personal insights so you get the full guide to getting the qualification but a lot more besides.


Around the Coast in 80 Days (RRP £16.99, promo price £15.29) is the perfect guide to anyone heading to the coast this year, regardless of whether they arrive by car, bike, foot or boat. Author Peter Naldrett has selected 80 locations around the British coast that represent the very best of what our country’s seaside has to offer, whether that is an exciting coastal town or a remote and tranquil spot ideal to unwind after the stresses of the past year.

The Boat Cookbook (RRP £18.99, promo price £17.09) is just what you need before the restaurants reopen properly again – and perhaps afterwards too. Going beyond the usual pre-packaged approach to preparing meals on board, this book is full of tasty, inspiring and filling recipes that can still be prepared in the smallest of galleys with the minimum of washing up. Many of them are so good you’ll want to make them at home too.


Canals of Britain (RRP £30, promo price £27) is the most comprehensive survey of Britain’s canals ever compiled. Uniquely drawn from author Stuart Fisher’s travels along the entire network by canoe, it is packed with colour photography, maps and fascinating text covering everything from history and architecture to folklore, wildlife and art. All key attractions close to the canals are featured, for a great day out.

Great Waterways Journeys (RRP £16.99, promo price £15.29) is even more of a travel guide to the canals, focusing on specific routes, through cities, spectacular landscapes and idyllic countryside. With route maps and practical information for boaters, cyclists and walkers, however you’re thinking of visiting Britain’s inland waterways, this is the one-stop guide to the many stops en route.

An Unsurprising SUPrising

Later this month we publish The Paddleboard Bible, just in time for spring and the gradual relaxing of Covid restrictions as we head towards the summer. In this blog, author Dave Price explores how a niche pastime a couple of decades ago has become the fastest-growing watersport, even before it became the ideal staycation activity last year.

2020 saw an explosion on our coasts and inland waters, a massive boom in stand-up paddleboarding (known as SUP), which is a combination of surfing and canoeing. The lockdown-induced desire to break free, aided by a beautiful sunny late spring, led to this cocktail of watersports bubbling up to much greater popularity, with individuals, families and small social groups taking the plunge. With every man, woman, and in some cases their dogs, embarking on SUP trips, safety is a significant concern.

As this spring begins it is vital that paddlers understand the role of flows, tides and different weathers. In some ways ‘Suppers’ may feel less at risk than kayakers, with not being trapped from the hips down. However, wind will have more effect on a paddleboarder, particularly when standing. Fortunately help is at hand! The Paddleboard Bible, being a complete guide to the activity, explains all the considerations necessary to plan a safe outing and many more things besides.

How long has SUP been going and where did it originate?

Many cultures and parts of the world could claim to have come up with the idea of paddling small canoe-like craft in a standing position. Much of the credit for originating the sport goes to Hawaii. It is believed that as early as the 16th century paddles were used with large surf boards. In the 1950s Hawaiian ‘Beach Boy’ surf instructors began paddling with surfboards to see swells earlier and to photograph their clients. In 1995 top surfers there began ‘Supping’ as a form of training and had paddles specially made. Around a decade later production paddleboards became available and SUP was diversifying from surfing into racing, touring, river paddles, yoga and fishing.

During the last ten years paddleboarding became the world’s fastest growing watersport, but last year took this to a much higher level. From leading brands like Red Paddle Company to budget-friendly boards at Decathlon, sales saw an increase of over 400% on the previous year. This is despite a growth in the number of brands. The explosion in inflatable boards (particularly but not literally) is also due to the ease with which they can be stored and transported, making SUP one of the most accessible watersports. The Paddleboard Bible has a chapter to help you choose the right equipment for your needs.

Why the sudden surge?

With more ‘staycations’, more time off work for some and less to spend money on for others, Supping became a source of joy in a challenging year.

Paddling is a great way to socially distance. Unlike walking or cycling, you’re not limited to tracks. You have the freedom to take your own path. Obviously steering helps and the book explains all the techniques you need! The air feels particularly fresh on the water and sunlight lowers the chances of virus transmission as well as providing valuable vitamin D. If you take a tumble, a refreshing dip will stimulate your immune system. The book has tips to help you avoid falling along with many games and challenges that could have the opposite effect, though laughter is the best medicine.

The benefits of ‘blue space’

Mental health has been in the forefront of people’s minds during lockdowns. Supping is particularly good for helping with this. ‘Blue space’ has become a term referring to the calming effects of water. Simply lying on a gently rocking board is wonderfully relaxing. A few minutes paddling on a river can wash your worries downstream. The physical side works off the frustrations of the day while communing with nature massages the deeper reaches of your emotional well-being.

SUP yoga is extremely popular. Yoga teachers sometimes suggest imagining a beautiful beach or lake. With SUP yoga you might not need to. Like yoga, SUP is particularly good for strengthening your core, realigning your spine and stabilising the muscles around problem areas like knees. The combination of the two activities is particularly beneficial and challenging! The Paddleboard Bible features SUP yoga but also more adrenalin fuelled branches of the sport including SUP surfing, racing and even white water.

Put the fizz in your physique

SUP is brilliant for physical health too, being a great all-round workout against the resistance of the water. You’ll feel and look your healthiest. For this reason it is very popular amongst celebrities such as actors and singers. Fortunately you don’t have to be famous to embrace this accessible sport. You’re not only in good company, you’re part of an inclusive, life-enriching, rapidly growing and undeflatable club! There are many local groups you can join too and the book’s final chapter describes the flourishing social side.

So it’s like walking on water; it’s a miracle cure for bad backs, dodgy knees and stress; sadly it can’t turn water into wine but it is pleasantly addictive and sociable and The Paddleboard Bible is your essential guide to enjoying it to the full!

The Paddleboard Bible (9781472981479) is published on 18th March, RRP £18.99. You can pre-order it with a 10% discount direct from our website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-paddleboard-bible-9781472981479/