A random post on social media during Covid-19 had initially shaken Michael Chapman Pincher a bit. Was he the “Michael” of Puerto Rico in 1975?
A flurry of emails led to the return of a treasured item – the diary of her very first sailing trip. Not just any old trip either. Having never been on a yacht before, he was enlisted as crew for a 37ft sloop named gay gander heading for the Atlantic Ocean.
The skipper, John Francis Kearney Farrell, had sold his farm in Co Meath and purchased the Rambler Class yacht with part of the profits. The plan was to leave Devon for the Canaries and cross over to Antigua before Christmas. The passage of the young team member would be free in return for a contribution to the rations.
Farrell’s “sailing buddy” was Carola, in her late forties. It will be several months before Chapman Pincher – son of fire Daily Express journalist known as the “great spy hunter of Fleet Street” – would realize that he was not the only one on board fleeing at sea.
While the skipper taught her the basics of sailing, Carola, who was fleeing an abusive husband with Farrell, read excerpts from the Bible between two three-hour shifts. She was not shy about sharing her many strong opinions, including her disgust for this “promiscuous” young generation who now make the most of the contraceptive pill.
The author’s detailed notes and his decision to place himself firmly in time allow for “unawakened” sightings – he made the most of his time ashore and credits several readers in his thanks for catching “nautical howlers” and stopped “the sex goes too far”.
There was no life raft, no radio and only two World War II life jackets on board. “If we have to abandon ship, no one will come for us,” said its captain, reassuringly.
When the crew member was ‘fired’ temporarily, it was not for lack of skill at sea. The couple objected to his table manners. All watching was Stryder, the ship’s cat with a “primordial purr.”
It turns out that the friend in London who mentioned his father was looking for a crew in the first place was Antony Farrell, now of Lilliput Press. To come full circle, he writes a hilarious and sometimes beautifully descriptive “manuscript in a bottle” intro.