In February I went to Vence for a check up of my lung by Jean Mattei. Every day I timed myself up the Baou Blanc, 2400 feet, as a measure of how fit I was getting. The complete break from office work was invaluable. I did practice transmitting Morse every day, but I had to stop this when I found that my set, which was designed to teach Morse to Boy Scouts, spoilt the hotel television picture downstairs.
At the beginning of March, work started with a meeting of technicians on Gipsy Moth at Buckler’s Hard.
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The cold wind in the bleak dim boat shed pierced one’s spirit, and sent it chilled to one’s boots. Place had to be found for four heavy banks of accumulators in acid-proof boxes, with Atlantic proof tops; also for a special charging motor, which might seem light to them, but was heavy to me; and for a radio-telephone of half a man’s weight, which had to be high above the water line. All this weight would put the stern down, increase the rolling movement and decrease the sailing power, but the brilliant technical bandits were merciless to Gipsy Moth.
My chart table and navigating department had to be partially wrecked to make room for the telephone. There followed trouble with the transmitting aerials, trouble with the receiving aerials, trouble with the earthing arrangements, trouble with electrolytic action, trouble with noxious fumes from the batteries being charged. Fortunately Marconi’s were really keen that the R/T should transmit, and the GPO men were determined that it should be received. The boatyard was due to launch Gipsy Moth at the end of March, but she did not get into the water until the end of April, and then there was delay because the mast had to be stepped twice, the first time for measuring the length of the rigging. Unfortunately, there was only enough water beside the crane at certain times of the month. Once again the trials and sail drill which I had promised myself had to be mostly forgone.
I had only three weeks left before the start of my Atlantic crossing. I did manage to swing my compass, but had no opportunity to calibrate the D/F loop. I used to wonder why ships of the line took months to fit out; I wonder no longer. I believe that my 13-ton Gipsy Moth has just as many items of gear and stores to go aboard for an Atlantic crossing as had the Agamemnon, Nelson’s favourite ship of the line, which was built at Buckler’s Hard in 1781. The quantities are different, for instance, my armament is one Very signal pistol instead of sixty-four guns, with red and white flare cartridges, instead of ball and grape shot; but I dare say I have more food items. I doubt if the Agamemnon carried tinned cods’ roes or chinook salmon. Both ships carried sextants, but I have an echo sounder as well as a leadline, also a radio D/F set, an R/T and two engines to service, which the Agamemnon did not have.
The Shell Company made me some special cans for my petrol (needed for the charging motor), and for my paraffin, which helped with the stowage, but I should have been hard pressed if Sheila had not taken over the stores again. The stores list was much the same as in 1960, except for the liquids. In 1960 my chief drink had been whisky; I seemed to need it, as if it supplied an essential vitamin (I think that this must have been connected with my illness). Now I no longer needed it, and my favourite drink on board this time was Whitbread’s pale ale, of which I carried several cases. (After all, we are always reading how ocean voyagers need to conserve their water supplies! ) This time I did not intend to take an oven to bake bread, because on the last race my wholemeal loaves had lasted me until I reached Long Island. I did carry some flour and yeast, however, planning to bake in a saucepan in case of emergency.