Sailing to Purgatory
The final scene in this true adventure shocked the author, too.

‘The reader will be enthralled as Paul, former Fleet Street journalist turned professional yachtmaster, takes us along on his ‘swallowing the anchor’ voyage, his retirement from the sea.

'This self-confessed newish ancient mariner … has spent almost a lifetime sailing solo, as both an ocean going competitive yachtsman, as a DoT Commercial Yachtmaster, and during his circumnavigation to become a singlehanded Cape Horner ... Sailing to Purgatory has all the roller coaster elements of a heart stopping adventure — drama on the high seas, observing life ... undersea volcanoes, a love interest, and waves high enough to scare the pants off most of us.’ - Brenda Vowden, journalist, avid reader






Home from the outside ... St Helenans,
'Saints', round their South Atlantic
island in Midshipman,
en route for Stockholm.


















Enterprising forebears ... The house Paul's father designed, and the car his paternal grandfather designed and built.














Running repairs ... crewman Declan checks rig fittings on the superyacht, Midshipman, which Paul sailed from the Cape to Sweden.


















Sail power ... Gavin's Howe's beautiful yacht in the Mediterranean.



















Rescue in the Southern Ocean ... Yachting World's international edition this month features Paul and Captain Fantastic in its Great Seamanship series.


















Pat and Gerry Adamson, two wonderful supporters get Spirit of Pentax ready for her circumnavigation.















Home sweet home ... St Helena islanders, after a voyage round their island home on the superyacht, Midshipman.


















Baptism of a Cape Horner ... Lady Chichester names Spirit of Pentax in a ceremony at Brighton Marina.
















Homeward Bound 2 is prepared for her attempt on the longest open boat record.


















Tri trials ... testing Paul's entry in the singlehanded race across the Atlantic are great friends Ron Pell, Jerry Freeman plus a keen helper.


















Cover up ... Bob Abrahams works on cover ideas for Sailing to Purgatory.

















Stocking up for 18 months ... Last minute farewells before Spirit of Pentax and Paul left on the long route to become Cape Horners.
















Death of a racer ... Baltic Wind flounders after running into a container in the South Atlantic. Paul and a lady shipmate spent eight worrying days in a liferaft.

I was telling about a horrible shock that happened while visiting friends, one of the biggest surprises of my life, and one that most of us wouldn't imagine could happen in a modern democracy like Britain, not outside television, anyway.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Serious intent ... A worrying confrontation by Capone and company from a famous film, The Untouchables. The scene reminds me very much of the ambush I experienced suddenly at a friend's home. Thanks to AC magazine for the scene.
Of course, coping with extraordinary events is part of a mariner's life at sea. But an ambush?

To be living a normal life, visiting friends, and then to be ambushed, and to be imprisoned, and not to know freedom again for years and years?

It was an astounding drama that began with that visit to really good friends, people who had helped get Spirit of Pentax ready for my singlehanded circumnavigation many years earlier.

Overly dramatic?

Commenting on yesterday's blog, Jan from Glasgow questions whether I am being over-dramatic using the term ambush for a raid by Customs. The then customs department, I should say.

I use the term ambush because that’s precisely what it was.

I had just stepped inside the home of great friends with my fiancée and my young daughter.

Hardly had the front door closed than the uproar of a stampede followed. Cars pulled into the driveway, my car was wedged in fore and aft, and a whole gang of men began racing round the house, encircling it.

They decided, perhaps during some Friday night pub session, that the drugs must have come from Sunday yachtsmen who collected the cargos in the Caribbean and sailed them up to Britain.
One at the front door came in demanding to be told which was me. And I was arrested immediately for smuggling.

Unpleasant shocks

Many unpleasant shocks have happened to me at sea. But here on land, close to the city of Portsmouth, an ambush?

A Brit public servant arresting me? And for the unlikeliest of charges, of smuggling drugs? When, where? How?

They’d explain at headquarters. I was bundled into a car and raced off to London, and strangely enough by an almost devious back route.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Far fetched ... The crazy modus operandi had amateurs sailing from the bottom left of this chartlet up to UK, top-right, in yachts laden with drugs worth millions. The jury, decidedly of landlubbers, swallowed the story. Thanks to Google Maps for the chartlet.
I never saw my fiancée again, though she did write every day for many weeks. Then the department announced that they might bring her in for questioning.

Having seen and been utterly shocked by the ambush, she returned to the sea.

Electoral roll

Why would they ambush me? Why not pop round to my home? In journalism days, if I wanted to find a stranger, I would look first in the electoral roll.

Had their 'investigators' done that, they would have found my address, and could have popped round.

And yet rather than call at my home, they staged an ambush far from London.

I learned afterwards that carloads of them had been seen relaxing for days on end in cars in the neighbourhood.

Why that address? It was the address I used as my maildrop whenever I was at sea.

And yet my last voyage, my 8,000-mile swallowing-the-anchor journey told in my book, Sailing to Purgatory, had ended months before.

A 'gang' waiting in prison

The department - now replaced, I’m pleased to report - had imprisoned a 'gang' who they said traded in drugs.

Where did their supplies come from? Most people know forbidden products usually arrive in shipping containers.

However, for whatever reason, these public servants invented the most unrealistic of modus operandis.

They decided, perhaps during some Friday night pub session, that the drugs must have come from Sunday yachtsmen who collected the cargos in the Caribbean and sailed them up to Britain.

No thought by the investigators for the few times of year when an amateur could make the passage relatively safely,
no thought of the prevailing head winds most of the way back,
no thought about whether any drugs supplier might entrust millions of pounds of goods to a sailing boat with an amateur crew.

Of course, as I was to learn with English justice, the envy of the world, you just need the right jury with the majority of gullible people not exactly intellectually gifted, to win your argument.

The trial became the longest criminal trial in England. And to keep out any questioning reporters, it was held ‘in camera’, in secret.

More revelations here tomorrow ….

Thanks very much for visiting the mostly Tuesday and Thursday blogs for my adventure book, Sailing to Purgatory, which are introduced each time on Facebook Facebook dot com/Sailingtopurgatory

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