Win A Trip To New York

That day I put my house in order; I filled the petrol tank, the paraffin storage tins and bottles, also the stove, the meths priming cans, swept the carpet, cleaned and dusted and tidied. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon Gipsy Moth began to sail, at first ghosting in light airs alternating with calm. She seemed to gather herself together, and began moving fast and efficiently in the little wind there was. There was much calm and fog, but she knocked off 100% miles that day. Then she began sailing across the Grand Banks and down the eastern seaboard for the last 1300 miles of the voyage as she had never sailed before.

I had one or two minor adventures. The night of 23 June I was fast asleep, with Gipsy Moth sailing at 4 knots through fog on a dark night. I woke up and stepped into the cockpit, rubbing my eyes, to see a huge fishing steamer across the bows. It was vague in the fog. I grabbed the tiller, over-rode Miranda, and pushed the tiller hard down to bring Gipsy Moth up into the wind to avoid the steamer. I reckoned that we were going to collide so I brought the tiller hard up the other way to turn downwind and pass astern. Then I could see that I was going to hit her amidships. She was a blaze of lights there. The sleepy daze was clearing from my brain and I said to myself, ‘I must be able to range alongside if I head up into wind,’ and with that I pushed the tiller hard down again. Now I was close enough to see through the fog that the steamer was stationary. This was what had foxed me. I passed across her bows, and as I did so she sounded a foghorn.

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I trimmed the sails to get back on course before going below and mixing myself a stiff hot grog: my hands were so cold that it was difficult to hold a pen to the log.

That day Gipsy Moth knocked off 131% miles. I crossed the bows of another trawler 100 yards away; a third I heard, but did not see in the fog. There seemed to be fog all the time at this stage of the passage. Occasionally I could see the sun through the swirling mist overhead, but no horizon. I took a sun-shot with my bubble sextant, with its automatic averaging device, but I do not think that I could have succeeded but for the thousands of shots I had taken when we were developing the bubble sextant for flying in the war.

During the night a bird kept circling the ship chittering and mewing and I wondered if it was the same one that I had heard on the Banks in 1960. On 24 June I wrote in my log, ‘This is the sailing that sailors’ dreams are made of, across the misty mysterious Grand Banks smooth as the Solent with water gliding along the hull gurgling and rumbling.’ The magic of the voyage was in my blood. It was sheer joy to set or trim a sail to keep Gipsy Moth sailing at her best; it was sport getting over difficulties. I laughed at incidents like coming across that steamer on the Grand Banks. It began to seem as if life was a joke, and should be treated as one. I was bursting with fitness and joie de vivre that seemed to build up after a few weeks alone. Perhaps it had taken three weeks to shed the materialism of ordinary living. I had become twice as efficient as when with people; my sensations were all greater; excitement, fear, pleasure, achievement, all seemed sharper. My senses were much more acute, and everything was much more vivid – the shape and colour of sky and sea; feeling spray and wind, heat and cold; tasting food and drink; hearing the slightest change in the weather, the sea or the ship’s gear. I have never enjoyed anything more than that marvellous last 1,000 miles sailing along the eastern seaboard of North America.

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