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.

On the theme of shipwrecks, and coincidence, the story I'm working on now is about the loss of a magnificent yacht in which luck and coincidence played major parts.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Headstone for a dead ship ... All that remains of the RMS Athens that brave Captain David Smith believed he could save 152 years ago. A South-easterly storm claimed his and his crew's lives scarcely yards from safety at Green Point, Cape Town. Many thanks to Clare Lindeque and Learn to dive today for the image.
I was delivering the superyacht Baltic Wind from Rio to Cape Town. On board were just two of us, a young woman and yours truly.

We sailed one of the emptiest oceans of the world. The voyage was going well. We were about half way across, in an area where the least shipping is to be found.

The greatest risk

When you run a yacht short-handed, the greatest risk to safety comes from shipping that isn't maintaining a proper watch. For safety's sake, we were keeping to the loneliest part.

Coincidence, however, had a ship pass through this area, perhaps that day, possibly a month or more earlier. As so often happens with container ships, one or maybe more fell overboard.

We knew nothing of this accident, of course, and in the normal course of events, as the expression goes, we wouldn't have needed to know.

Battle to save the yacht

However, coincidence had us pass over the exact spot where the container floated, and coincidence ensured that it was at night, so there was no possible chance of seeing it.

We battled to save the yacht, but the gash in her side down by the keel must have been considerable. Coincidence ensured that we could not reach it to plug it any way.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Belittled ... After the rescue, the raft rests at the foot of a mountain of containers on the good ship Nordlight.

The yacht filled with water and Beth, as I am calling her, and I climbed into the liferaft for perhaps the very worst eight days that either of us would experience. Soon coincidence ensured sharks began to congregate round the raft.

The book I am working on, and - hooray! - am very close to completing, tells the story of that horrendous time.

Coincidence, incidentally, came to the rescue. Another ship sailed into that abandoned region, and not just any ship, but a container ship.

Brilliant Stepnik and Raja

Second officer Stepnik Slawomir spotted my flares, and Captain Raja Maitra brought that huge ship, Nordlight, right up to the raft in the middle of the night. Brilliant fellows, Stepnik and Raja, heroes both.

Elaine Bunting, writing for Yachting World, reports that an estimated 10,000 shipping containers fall from ships every year.

The website, singularityhub.com , reported a few years ago, 'Right now, as you read this, there are five or six million shipping containers on enormous cargo ships sailing across the world's oceans. And about every hour, on average, one is falling overboard never to be seen again.'

A surprise dramatic extra by coincidence came at the end of the rescue. The yacht's owner refused to honour the delivery deal, nor to contribute a penny to the drama. Was this coincidence shaping Fate again? However, for people contemplating taking up yacht delivery work, let me reassure you that it was the first and only time an owner behaved in that way.

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