Chapter Three: A London winter and Scottish summer
In these Notes: Studying navigation and how Brian King came to know Bernard Moitessier.
Studying navigation: A coastal passage from the north of Scotland to the south of England in a partly open boat was my initial ambition in 1971. To prepare for this, 1966 Atlantic oarsman John Ridgway, at the Adventure School at which I was working, enrolled me in a Coastal Yachtmaster’s Certificate Course at the UK National Correspondence School. Their welcome package included a pair of brass dividers, a drawing compass, a Harries Course and Bearing Indicator and sundry charts, copious notes and practical exercises. I worked on it for months and loved every minute. I have since used The Harries Rule on paper charts for years. I still have it today, together with the brass dividers.
You can learn more about the Harries Course and Bearing Indicator, a novel instrument that I found invaluable, in The Journal of Navigation, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 1956 , pp. 65.
Long before any electronic aids were available (apart from Radio Direction Finding), the course gave me a thorough grounding in practical coastal navigation and (theoretical) seamanship. Exemplary passage planning, and chart work were emphasised. I learned navigational practices and established habits that have stood me in good stead, not just aboard The Aegre but subsequently on many other passages, including a circumnavigation via Cape Horn.
In these early days, celestial navigation, using a sextant, chronometer and navigation tables to plot a position when far offshore, was beyond my thinking. I’ll come to that in future Chapter Notes.
Elsewhere on the book website, I have already written short pieces about navigation, including here Plotting our Position at Sea, Measuring accurate time aboard The Aegre, Measuring Distance Run at Sea, Suunto hand-bearing compass, and Navigation Charts. I’ll write more in future Chapter Notes.
How Brian King came to know Bernard Moitessier
As I write in the book, back at the Adventure School in the spring of 1972, I met Brian King, one of a small group of new instructors recruited by John and Marie Christine Ridgway to work at the School over the summer. I wrote in the book about Brian and his influence on me that summer, and I won’t repeat that here, but I want to tell you what happened to him next.
Continuing his US undergraduate degree by travelling around the world, Brian went to New Zealand, where he joined the crew of Fri, a Baltic trader built in Denmark in 1912, to help raise money and prepare the boat to protest against the French nuclear testing by sailing into the test zone around Mururoa in French Polynesia.
The story of Fri and the contribution of her 1973 protest voyage to the raising of awareness of French nuclear testing in the Pacific can be read here. The French military conducted more than 200 nuclear tests at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls over a thirty-year period, forty of them atmospheric, only ceasing in 1996).
While Brian was working with Fri in NZ in 1973 he met the famed ocean voyager Bernard Moitessier and stayed with him aboard his steel ketch Joshua.
While writing The Voyage of The Aegre, I wrote to Brian, and he sent me copies of letters I had sent him from The Aegre. Later, for these Notes, he wrote to me about his time with Bernard Moitessier, saying:
Nick, I have dug out some old notes from the early 1970s, which I made while I stayed on Joshua with Bernard. He had arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ, when I lived on an old sugar barge pulled up into a mangrove swamp. I was taking a celestial navigation course from the barge’s owner, Capt. James-Jim Cottier. It was down below on that barge that I first met Bernard, who I found to be a deep thinker and who had clearly been on a long journey of discovery through his many miles at sea. He came walking down the companionway after waiting three days to make landfall because of bad weather. Jim had met Bernard before, so it really didn’t feel odd to Jim that he just went over to a corner, lay down on a rug and went to sleep!
Later, Bernard shared a lot about his love of simplicity, which you might see in my notes. He was extremely generous with his time, so much so that we would stay up till way after midnight talking about sail construction, watertight bulkheads, and the Volvo engine he had been given by Volvo, which ultimately was thrown overboard because it was too heavy!
Brian sent me four pages of the notes he made talking with Moitessier back in 1973. You can view them here.
More on Bernard Moitessier is available here.
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