(And almost killed me)
It’s become a cliché hasn’t it? “This book changed my life”.
I hesitated to use it as my title but I had no choice. Because it’s completely true, even the bit about it almost killing me. I’ll reveal all very soon, but first I need to set the scene.
It’s the early 1980’s, I’m young free and single. Life is good.
I’d been having fun. Three years in the Royal Navy followed by two years working in South Africa.
Whilst in S.A. I’d been able to indulge my passion for motorsport, rallying in particular. I’d followed the sport since childhood. In S.A. I’d been participating and with some success.
When my work contract there ended and I returned to the UK the only thing on my mind had been to continue the momentum. My life centred around rallying.
I worked on other people’s cars during the day, and at night I worked on my own. At the weekends I competed. Hurtling around on dirt roads deep in the Welsh forests.
Social life extended only as far as the local Motor Club once a week. There I’d found a girl as enthusiastic about the sport as I was.
Like I said, life was good.
I was about to learn how fast that can change.
In the space of two weeks, everything fell apart.
On a particularly tricky and very fast stage, I ran out of talent. The car barrel-rolled several times and ended up in the trees. My co-driver Dave and I escaped shaken unhurt. The car did not.
My sponsor pulled the plug. That was that. No money = no rallying.
A psychotic boss made me ‘redundant’ from my job.
My girlfriend left me for a guy who still had a car.
So there I was. Living with my parents, no job, no girlfriend, no passion and no idea what the hell I was going to do with myself.
The next six months were tough. The way I’d been treated at work had pissed me off. I took some advice and went after them for unfair dismissal. It was a huge gamble. I couldn’t get another job in the meantime. Nobody was going to hire a guy taking a previous employer to a tribunal. The odd cash-in-hand job under a bonnet was all I could expect It took months, but I got my day in court. And I won. The payout peanuts to the Company, huge to me. Now I had a few quid in the bank and decisions to make.
My passion for rallying had died. The sport had become a playground for kids with cash to burn. I could compete with the talent. There was no way I could compete with the money.
Disillusioned summed me up. Disillusioned with the world of work. Disillusioned with the world in general.
This is where the book comes in.
I’d had plenty of time for reading, books about sailing and the sea were always top of my list.
One in particular had sown some seeds.
Called ‘Shrimpy’ it had been written by ex-Royal Marine Shane Acton.
Shane had bought a small (18ft) plywood cruising boat and gone sailing.
Eight years and 30,000 miles later he’d arrived back in the UK having circumnavigated the globe.
The book was filled with adventure and excitement.
Shane had abandoned the rat race to become a roaming gypsy of the sea. He’d sailed his small boat across the oceans of the world. Oh, and he’d hooked up with a beautiful Swiss girl along the way.
He’d stuck two fingers up to everyone and everything and found a better life.
The stars aligned. This was how I felt, this was what I wanted, and this was my escape.
Long story short, I turned my dream into reality.
I bought a boat almost identical to ‘Shrimpy’.
I taught myself to sail, untied the lines and sailed off into the sunset.
From that point on my life changed completely.
Forty years later I can look back and see that reading ‘Shrimpy’ changed everything for me.
It not only shaped the person I am today but one hundred percent led to me:
- Sailing thousands of miles.
- Solo building a 38ft catamaran
- Spending years as a permanent liveaboard in the Mediterranean
- Writing three books
But now a spoiler alert!
I’ve shown how Shrimpy changed my life, now I must explain how it almost killed me.
The full story is in my first book ‘A Foolish Voyage’.
So if you haven’t read it and want to, then stop right here.
My dream was to follow in Shrimpy’s wake. Sailing around the south coast of the UK wasn’t enough for me.
So I built experience, prepared the boat, and made my plans.
Then in May 1984, I sailed out of Falmouth headed for Northern Spain. I’d grown to love single-handed sailing. There was something magical about being at sea alone. Being offshore with a 360° horizon and no other vessels in sight gave me a real buzz.
Several days later the buzz had gone.
A storm blew up as I entered the Bay of Biscay.
It found me out.
Seasickness, exhaustion and hypothermia left me weak and incapacitated.
I had no VHF radio and no means to call for help.
Fate brought a French fishing boat close by. My survival instinct kicked in and I found enough energy to pull the cord on a red flare and hold it aloft. As it spluttered and died I slumped into the cockpit, as spent as the dead flare now sinking to the depths of the ocean.
My memories of what happened after that are but snapshots.
The fishing boat alongside, towering over my tiny boat.
The crashing, juddering and splintering of wood as the waves threw the two boats together.
Oilskinned arms dragging me over the thick timber bulwarks onto a slick wooden deck.
The stench of fish, diesel fuel and garlic.
The frantic shouts of the fishing boat skipper asking if I was alone.
“Vous êtes seul ?!, ”Vous êtes seul“ ?! Somehow I answered ”Oui, oui, seul“
Being helped down a metal gangway into oven-like heat and a bunk.
I lost my boat and almost lost my life.
And all because of that damn book.
Shane Acton died in 2002. He had lived for many years in Costa Rica, and he died of lung cancer at the age of 55
A short life well lived.
And I’ll always be grateful to him.
Because ‘Shrimpy’ made me who I am.
‘Shrimpy’ really did change my life.