1 June, 1962, was a fine day, with the sun shining in a blue sky, a calm sea, a light breeze and it was perfect for the start of a transatlantic race. I say ‘race’, because I was racing against my deadline of thirty days, just as much as if I had been racing against a crowd of competitors. I boarded Gipsy Moth at 9 a.m. which I thought was in good time for an 11 o’clock start.
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I had nothing more to do; even the Customs clearance had been obtained the night before. How mistaken could I be? I was working away, getting my sails up and hanking them on, when a big launch came alongside, which disgorged two Customs men. They said that they had heard that the BBC had lent me a tape recorder, and they wanted to inspect it. They even cut open the battery box, and turned out all the batteries, looking at them one at a time. It appeared to me as a deliberate piece of obstructionism on somebody’s part; they were so slow about every slightest movement they made. Unfortunately I could not find my clearance slip, but I do not believe it would have made any difference if I had. I was hopping mad at the thought of all the people down at the starting line waiting for me to appear at 11 o’clock. When I did finally get away, Sheila took the helm, while I worked like a beaver. Sid Mashford, the boat builder, was also on board to give me a hand. When we reached the starting line with Sheila and Sid still on board, I shouted to someone in a near-by yacht, ‘Has the first gun been fired? ? ‘Yes, ’ he shouted back, as I frantically hoisted my mainsail and started sailing, while Sheila and Sid scrambled into the launch alongside and shoved off: in the end, I managed to cross the line only a few moments after the starting gun had fired.
What could be more thrilling than a 3,000-mile race across the Atlantic? It is true that the romance of doing something for the first time can never be equalled, but now I had not only the fascination of a 3,000-mile voyage, and the romance of heading into the adventures I could be sure of meeting, but also the thrill of sailing a yacht in first-class racing trim.
My first day was almost too fine. I seemed to be trimming or changing sails all day, and moving slowly. At one time, the wind swung from south-west to north-west within a minute. By the end of the day I was still not in a single-handed frame of mind; I could not stay below for more than a few minutes without popping up to see if there were any ships or land near. I knew that later I should be content to stay below, because I should hear or feel the slightest change of conditions around the yacht.
I planned a route farther north than my 1960 track. Every route across has its pros and cons; the amount of fog, strength of current, wind, weather and ice are everywhere different; in fact, no two square miles of Atlantic are the same. My route took me north of the Scillies and that clump of rocks known as the Seven Stones. So far I had fine weather; the sun shone out of a cloudless sky, and there was a lovely dark-blue sea. For a while I lay sunbathing on the cabin top, stretched out on a sail. I had never had a day’s weather like this in the 1960 race. I was running before a gentle breeze and here was another contrast to 1960, when the biggest sail area I could set for running was 600 square feet, and that was soon out of control in the big storm which hit me. Now, with my new rig and self-steering gear, I set 1,100 square feet, and felt in control of it, so that I could sleep peacefully. And Miranda really was in control of the steering. I had no more fear of her being smashed in a jib.
The second day out a great event occurred; I found a handsome homing pigeon with bold black bars slashed across its folded wings sheltering in the lee of a sail on the foredeck. Pidgy, as he was soon to be called, was shy and not to be caught. He was intensely curious, and as soon as we had met he followed me about the ship, watching closely everything I did, his head cocked slightly to one side, one bright round eye attentive. Each time I went below he perched on the companionway. As I was tuning up the radio for my daily talk to The Guardian, Billy Cotton suddenly came through with his wisecracking. This was too much for Pidgy, who promptly hopped on to the edge of the chart table, listening intently Next morning I gave him some of my breakfast, muesli, a Swiss peasant dish made of oatmeal, raisins and nuts, but without a grated raw apple and honey which I added for myself. Pidgy enjoyed it, and sipped some water from a saucer. While I was sunbathing on the cabin top, Pidgy slipped inside the cabin, and by the time I found this out he had made the most frightful mess on the cabin floor (fortunately not on Sheila’s new nylon carpet). I had to shush him out into the cockpit.