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.

Janet of Cambridge began reading Sailing to Purgatory on the way home from the book shop, she tells me, and immersed herself in the story right away.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Brave sadly missed yacht ... Sophie took this shot in the Atlantic of my superb little yacht. The prosecution snatched the yacht and sold her.

Last night she reached the chapter where I encountered a recently drowned sailor, a crewman from a fish factory ship. It was, as Janet suspects, a really disturbing moment on the voyage.

She emailed, 'That part about that dead young sailor floating face up. That is really intense.

'You said that if you hadn't looked that way at that moment when he floated by, you would have missed him.

'It makes one think how insignificant one life is in this vast world.'

Yes, Janet, an experience like that can certainly leave you feeling that way. An extraordinary part of it was that the yacht was racing really hard.

The wind was just the right strength and in the right direction for that amazing little yacht to reach almost her top speed.

The body rose with the wave

The yacht was racing towards the Azores archipelago in the hurricane season. I was steering, to help her race her fastest.

The sea was rushing past, great mounds of it in a rather traditional way, and a swell was whooshing along higher than the gunwale.

In that exact moment of looking to port, the body rose with the wave, and dashed past me at my eye level. In Sailing to Purgatory, I write,

'I'm scanning the horizon from time to time, as ever. A high wave rises at the bow and washes along the length of the boat. It's followed quickly by another. A body surfaces. It's beside me in an instant. The water turns him slightly. I'm staring into a young face, no more than a metre away. He is dead, Chinese, Singaporean perhaps. He floats on his back, eyes open. He wears a survival suit. He returns my open-mouth stare.'

And then he was gone.

Janet wrote, 'At his home his family was waiting for him when his voyage was over. Only he will never go home. How terribly sad it is.'

Did it haunt you?

Yes, it is sad. In all my years at sea, and all those thousands upon thousands of miles of ocean, this was the only time I ever saw a human who had drowned.

'How did you deal with staring death in the face literally,' Janet asks, 'all alone out there, when it could have easily been you? Did it haunt you that night all in solitude?'

How do we deal with death, Janet? Yes, it was a tremendous shock to stare into that youth's face for the brief moment. I felt desperately sad for him, and the shock of it was to haunt me for a long time.

When the horrorshow began a few months later, the prosecution tried to make something of this worrying encounter. They didn't persist for very long, I'm glad to say. Probably even hardened lawyers know when they might be going too far.

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