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single-handed sailing - only in solitude can true freedom be known

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For all matters concerning the Jester Challenge please contact Ewen Southby-Tailyour or Ocean Race Track

Val Howells

Val Howells
The sad loss of a great sailing legend

Valentine Noel Howells, known to all as Val, passed away peacefully at Park House Court on Monday 19th June 2017.
Born June 23rd 1926 in Port Talbot, Val became a merchant seaman aged 20 and took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy.
In 1960 Val was one of five competitors in the first Observer Single-handed Transatlantic Race, competing again in 1964 and 1976. He subsequently sailed around the world single-handed.
Val wrote two books about his sailing adventures: 'Sailing Into Solitude' and 'Up My Particular Creek'. He is survived by his son Philip, who lives in Sweden.
Val's life remembered
Val talking about the first OSTAR in 1960
Val talking about Up My Particular Creek
Val receiving the OCC Geoff Pack Memorial Award


Sven Yrvind is a noteworthy Swedish small boat designer, builder, sailor and writer, shown here with EXLEX his latest project he intends sailing to New Zealand next year.

Yrvind web site

Yrvind on youtube

Sven Yrvind

Navigating the War: A Centenary Exhibition of the Richey Archives

Charles Marvin Fairchild Memorial Gallery
June 23, 2017
September 22, 2017

Of the war itself I have little to add. It is over and, like one's schooldays,
neatly defined by its dates. I served in ten ships, the largest
a 20,000-ton armed merchant cruiser in the South Atlantic...
Operations at different times took me as far south as the Antarctic
and as far north as Russia.

--Michael Richey, from the preface of Sailing Alone

Michael Richey (1917-2009), first director of the Royal Institute of Navigation (UK) in 1947 and founding editor of its prestigious Journal of Navigation in 1948, served in the Royal Navy throughout the whole of the Second World War, most of it at sea in the North Atlantic. For one extensive interlude he was in the South Atlantic. From there, as we read in the epigraph, he went really South—nearly as far south as polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team—for a secret expedition on HMS Carnarvon Castle, the ship on which he served as Assistant Navigator (RNVR) between 1942-43 under Captain Edward Wollaston Kitson. This was Richey’s fifth ship, following a stint in the Free French Navy on the corvette, F. S. Roselys. Based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, they were offshore for significant stretches, with average trips at sea lasting a month or more.

By the end of the war, Richey had completed his specialist course at the shore-based Navigation School, HMS Dryad, and was appointed Navigator of ships involved in the D-Day landings at Normandy and the U-boat surrenders at Loch Eriboll. But what of his passage? How did he get there? What do we actually know of his wartime travels and what records of this did he leave, given censorship during wartime, the secrecy of positions, and the erratic nature of postal deliveries at sea?

Thanks first to the conservationist efforts of his mother Adelaide, and subsequently Georgetown University Library’s manuscripts librarian Nicholas Scheetz, there is now a considerable Richey archive lodged in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections, as part of its collections on British Catholic authors. After attending the Catholic boarding school Downside in Somerset, Richey had seriously considered a monastic vocation before going to artist Eric Gill’s printing press and lettering workshop at Pigotts in Buckinghamshire, where he apprenticed as a stone carver and letter cutter from 1936 to 1939. This highly formative period led to lifelong friendships with a literary and artistic circle that included Tom Burns, Harman Grisewood, René Hague, and David Jones, all of whom are also represented in the manuscript collections at Georgetown.

During the war, Richey wrote some first-rate letters from various ships and naval bases (as did his brother Paul, author of the classic book Fighter Pilot, A Personal Record of the Campaign in France, 1939-1940, first published anonymously, due to regulations at the time, in September 1941 by B. T. Batsford, and subsequently by Scribners three months later, in an edition which featured the author's name and a cover photograph by Cecil Beaton).  Michael Richey also wrote superb first-hand accounts of two events: the sinking of his first ship HMS Goodwill and the expedition of HMS Carnarvon Castle. The first, “Sunk by a Mine,” having been refused by the British naval censors “on the grounds that it might ‘lower morale,’” was published overseas in The New York Times Magazine on May 11, 1941; it won him the first John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Literature in 1942. The second, “A Taste of the Antarctic,” was written as a broadcast and read by (Sir) Ludovic Kennedy for the BBC. Kennedy became a well-known broadcaster after the war, and this was his first broadcast.

Post-war, Michael Richey became a legend for his singlehanded transatlantic sailing adventures in his famous little boat, Jester, which he bought in 1964 from Herbert “Blondie” Hasler, wartime hero and inventor of the first practical self-steering gear for yachts. He had signature postcards printed for his solo voyages: on the front, a blackand- white photograph of himself sailing the boat; on the back, the incomplete address in black type, “Yacht Jester at ______.”.

This centenary exhibition is a snapshot of one of the most distinguished British navigators of the twentieth century, and one of its most reluctant autobiographers. The epigraph has been taken from an unfinished work, Sailing Alone. The title was suggested to him by his great friend, the novelist Graham Greene, whose centenary Richey celebrated at Georgetown in 2004.

More information here
Navigating the War pdf


Bravo Zulu
As I approached Plymouth, the breakwater in sight, our first challenge was achieved: Godot and I had successfully passed our first crossing of the Channel and I will be part of the Saturday dinner at the club house of the Tamar River Sailing Club. Just tied up and not yet stowed, unknown faces with caring attitude asked me:

“Hi Oli! Do you need anything?”

I had not slept much for I had to steer for a week non-stop from Amsterdam. My teammate had almost no experience and had to struggle all week against his stubborn seasickness, and I had never spent more than three days at sea without making a stop. And moreover I carefully hid the palm of my right hand which had been deeply burnt because of an accident at a lock by IJmuiden. Even if the boat seemed to me ready I could evidently be regarded as this year’s no-hoper. This first encounter seemed almost too friendly to be true, suspicious, I was not yet accustomed to the urbanity of pontoons, and I answered jovially:..
read more


Len Hiley gave an excellent talk at this year’s  Jester Challenge Symposium on ‘Sheet to Tiller Self-steering’ Len sailed over 5,500 miles in the 2014 Jester Challenge using the sheet to tiller method he talked about. This is a chapter from ‘Self-steering for Sailboats’ by Gerard Dijkstra recommended by Len………… Using Sails to Steer the Boat
Len talks about his self steering techniques on YouTube

Another book recommended is 'Self-Steering for Sailing Craft' by John Letcher. John has very kindly allowed his book to be downloaded, for personal use only. download here

A Voyage to the Sea

A Voyage to the Sea
by Denis Gorman

'A Voyage to the Sea' is a true story about a boy from a disadvantaged background who yearns for adventure and a better life. This touching human tale takes the reader into his world, his dreams and ambitions, the constant limitations, disappointment, setbacks and the suffering of loss. In spite of this, in his own humble way, every difficulty is overcome.
What follows is a riveting story of family strife, war, failure and success culminated in a gripping single handed voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean with the Jester Challenge.

“It is a story of hope prevailing in the face of adversity."

Jake Kavanagh, Sailing Today magazine.


Order your copy online here

Or by telephone 0116 279 2299

Highly recommended!

I’m going to break the  habit of a lifetime and recommend you read Denis Gorman’s book ‘A Voyage to the Sea’

I first met Denis in 2008 when he was amongst 42 starters in the Jester Azores Challenge of that year. Like many of us rookie ocean sailors he shared the same uncertainties of not knowing whether he had what it took to sail to the Azores in a boat sub 30 feet and quite frankly not knowing whether we would return.
In his book he vividly describes that first site of land after nearly 16 days at sea and those first steps ashore knowing something in life had changed without being sure of what. Denis went on to cross the Atlantic in 2010 whilst I had to wait another 4 years for my opportunity.

A good book should make you stop for a moment, think about who you are, where you are going and from time to time draw a tear. Denis’s book does all of these in spades. This is not just a sailing book. He embodies what it takes to be a true single-handed ocean sailor as he takes you from his happy but troubled childhood as a 1960’s child of the Glasgow tenements to the Royal Navy and the Falklands War, Submariner, Cab driver, Bank Manager, losing all he had won before finally discovering everything he needed.

I had the pleasure of having a quiet cup of tea with Denis and Rory McDougal (probably one of the most unheard of and under rated ocean sailors of our time) on-board Lizzie-G. I saw the much quieter and thoughtful side of the man as motivations and dreams of sailing the Atlantic were discussed and shared.

One of Denis’s great contributions though is to share a post analysis of his fellow competitors, some successful and some not. It is a reminder that there is a special breed of sailor out there. At your peril think you can conquer an ocean. It lets us pass but not without testing our resolve.'
    Paul Mead

Energy supply : From Expansion to Contraction

Many people ask: Are we running out of oil? The simple answer is; Yes, we started doing that when we consumed the first gallon. But running out is not the main point when what matters much more is the onset of decline which now dawns as we enter the Second Half of the Age of Oil. Britain’s energy policy begins to attract much comment, mainly in connection with the threats of climate change, but the underlying issue of oil supply may deserve more urgent attention.

Some 400 million people lived on the Planet at the time of Christ, and the number no more than doubled over the next seventeen centuries as people lived sustainable lives, relying on muscle-power, delivered by themselves, their slaves or oxen, and supplemented by minor amounts from wind, water and firewood........ read more


You can witness a lot of environmental horrors, but there comes a moment when something snaps. It came for Rebecca Hosking last year when she was filming wildlife in the Pacific. What sounded like a nice job turned into something from a David Cronenberg film.

Hosking was on a beach on Midway island, a remote Hawaiian atoll. But instead of finding some pre-lapsarian wilderness, she and a colleague were confronted with the horror of hundreds of albatrosses lying on the sand........ read more

And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea: 'Quiet now. Be calm.' And the wind dropped, and there followed a great calm.
This passage from the gospel of Mark (I use the Jerusalem Bible) brings to mind a curious incident in Faial when I first sailed Jester to the more

MBE, Hon FRIN (1917-2009) by Kai Easton

I suspect I am the only one here who didn’t know Mike in his transatlantic sailing days with Jester, but our lives have circled around each other for years, since I grew up, as it happens, not very far from Newport, just across Narragansett Bay in Barrington.

We met very soon after his 90th birthday in Brighton when my husband Robert, our rough-haired Jack Russell terrier Harry, and I moved into the same regency house where Mike had lived since his early days as the Director of the (Royal) Institute of Navigation.  He was still cycling his 10-speed Peugeot bicycle along the undercliff, a daily exercise of some five miles, and he still kept his classic more


Jester's Ultimate Storm
by Mike Richey

In Heavy Weather Sailing, Adlard Coles defines a survival storm, as distinct from a full gale, as those conditions in which, the wind at Force 10 or above and perhaps gusting at hurricane strength, wind and sea become the masters; there is little the unfortunate mariner can do. It is impossible for anyone in a small boat in the middle of an ocean storm to judge wind-speed or sea-state accurately, if only because the height of eye will be too low to see enough of the sea surface. However, an experienced observer will be able to distinguish between storm-force and gale-force more


This years event proved very difficult with 23 starters and only 10 finishers.
Deep depressions tracking further south than would normally be expected for the time of year were the main cause of the problems encountered.
One of the most amazing crossings was by Olivier Delebecque in GODOT (20ft). Not only was he the smallest entry, but he sailed to Terceira and back with no self-steering! Only using a sheet to tiller steering method he had read about shortly before the start in Self-steering for Sailboats’ by Gerard Dijkstra. as well as a crash course given by Len Hiley.
Jester Azores Challenge 2016 Results

I left Whitehills on the Moray Firth on the morning of 4th July, heading first for Björnøya – Bear Island. Bear Island lies about halfway between the North Cape of Norway and Spitsbergen, and is the most southerly of the Svalbard group of islands. I ducked through the Fair Isle passage to be better placed for a short blow form the south-east, and sailed up the west side of the Shetlands, past my old friend, the island of more

Mingming's 2009 Northern Voyage

Left Whitehills Harbour on the Moray Firth, northern Scotland, at high water, 0200H on Friday 26th June. Ran up through the Fair Isle Channel, past Fair Isle, then outside Foula, the westernmost Shetland island. With settled weather from the east, though with occasional calms, I was able to lay down an almost straight track to Jan Mayen, which we reached 121/2 days later, on Wednesday 8th July. The highlights of the leg to Jan Mayen were two encounters with pods of killer whales, and a close shave with a Russian factory trawler, the Armanek Begayev, of Kaliningrad, which we met just inside the Arctic Circle. We had crossed the Arctic Circle......more

Amongst the bergs and bergy bits, 80 miles ENE of Scoresby Sound on the East Greenland coast
Amongst the bergs and bergy bits, 80 miles ENE of Scoresby Sound on the East Greenland coast
On Reflection 2
My first sextant was bought from an instrument maker in Glasgow, for 30 shillings I think. It was, of course, a Vernier, and from time to time I would rub graphite, mixed with a little oil, into its elegant silver arcuate scale to bring up the markings. Its mirrors were as bright as the day they were made and a drop of salt water on the corrector screws after adjustment kept them from shifting.
I imagine it dated from the early days of the century, but I had fitted a new telescope which was used for all bodies. My first appointment after buying it (this was during the war) was as assistant navigator in an armed merchant more

Edward Andrzej ZającEdward aboard Holly with Trevor Leek and Denis Gorman following his epic voyage to the Azores in 2012

Edward Andrzej Zając
It is with great sadness that we have to report the loss of Edward Andrzej Zając,  a much admired Polish Jester Challenger. Edward died at sea on 5th July 2013 after falling overboard from Holly II sailing back from the Baltic to Ustka in Poland. The funeral took place on 12th July 2013 in Ustka.
He was honoured with a posthumous national award for his sailing: President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski, in recognition of Edward to promote the freedom of sailing, and the whole of his selfless social activities, posthumously awarded him the Gold Cross of Merit. Distinction February 26, 2014 received at the hands of Edward's sister Pomeranian Governor, Mrs. Stanislaw Walczak.
Edward sailed in the 2012 Jester Azores Challenge and intended to participate in the 2014 Jester Challenge.

Andy Lane's new video of his 2014 Jester Challenge is now on YouTube here

1972 OSTAR

Download pdf copy
Pete Hill Trophy

At the start of the 2006 Jester Challenge, Pete Hill, Bill Churchouse and Roger Taylor had a £1 wager over who would be the first to arrive in Newport RI. Pete the subsequent winner is seen here receiving his trophy from Bill Churchouse.

Matt Rutherford awarded the OCC Jester more
Sailing into Solitude
Sailing into Solitude by Val Howells

An eventful series of voyages in the Merchant Service pumped salt into Val Howells' young bloodstream, resulting in a succession of sailing dinghies and the eventual acquisition of a Scandinavian Folkboat. This vessel, launched in 1958 and named Eira after the owner's wife, was sailed in the 1960 single-handed trans-Atlantic race when Val was invited to take part by Lt Colonel H. G.Hasler. At the time the whole concept of a singlehanded oceanic race was novel. The boats were small and wooden, the word electronics was not even in the dictionary and sponsorship was non-existent. Author and boat thus played a not insignificant part in helping to establish what has become a major event in the international yachting calendar.
The account of this trip was published as 'Sailing Into Solitude' in 1966. Nearly half a century on, the sailing public's appetite for a good seafaring yarn remains as strong as ever, and now Val has extensively re-written 'Solitude' and set up his own publishing company to produce a beautifully bound book that is at once a cracking yarn, a study of a deeply interesting individual and a piece of yachting history.

"From the days of Joshua Slocum there have been many interesting accounts by ‘single-handed’ sailors of their adventures on the high seas. This one differs markedly from most of them, in its intensely personal exploration of how it feels to be alone in the unremitting partnership of sea and boat during a long ocean voyage. The emphasis is far more on the inner man, than on the usual outward events.
Such a book takes a lot of doing, and it is Howells frank, searching introspective that gives it its unusual content, and sheer ability to write entertainingly, penetratingly, and originally that pulls it off.
Val Howells is over six feet tall, with a large beard. His boat was a Folkboat, twenty-five feet overall, little more than nineteen feet on the waterline, with the cabin space offering no more than four feet ten inches of headroom. By any standards, a small boat to embark on an ocean passage; yet he and four others in widely assorted craft, set out from England to race across the Atlantic to New York.
The circumstances that befall them are peculiar enough, but what will enthral the reader the most are the things that go on in this man’s imaginative mind and very human body."

Click here to visit Val's web site and buy his book.

How to Scull

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