Two and two.

Old man stands in companionway of small sloop.  One very weathered hand holds lightly onto a halyard stopper.  The other a jib winch.  A big grin is on the old man’s face as he watches a small sloop rush though the ocean, little more than an arm’s length away.  And because he is precisely where he is.

        Use yourself up, old man.  Use yourself up.” (Webb Chiles)

In this post i am going to talk about 2 boats and their owners.  Both owners are highly experienced sailors and they are both sailing modified small boats of almost exactly the same size. Both boats relate to the series i have been doing about small starter boats.

The 2 sailors are respectively Roger Taylor (UK) and Webb Chiles (USA) and  both of these sailors have done extremely long ocean voyages in their  respective boats.  It is also month 2 in which i am starting the second big project of the year although hopefully not destroying the second hoover of the year…..Henry seems quite happy so far so  Hooray Henry !

In the blue corner we have Roger Taylor and MingMing 2.

SF-DSC-1771 (1)

I contacted Roger last year asking him if i could visit his boat and interview him for my website, unfortunately he was too busy but said to use any of his material that was already in the public domain.  He has a youtube channel which i will link below and for those that enjoy seeing boat refits his refit/rebuild of a standard (and leaky) Achilles 24 into a dry and competent ocean going boat is one of the best.


The launch of Mingming 2

One episode of the rebuild project.

The first connection here is that i was recently looking at the Achilles 24 in the budget boat/starter boat thread.  These are quite old boats now as they were designed and built in the late 1970’s.  The one that Roger rebuilt did start off in a very poor condition but ends up as a very tight little craft indeed.

So : Roger Taylor.   Roger is famous for a couple of things in sailing, first that he was written some very good accounts of small boat sailing, in fact he totally believes in small and radically simple sailing boats.  Nowadays he is best well known for his arctic voyages in 2 small boats.  He regularly spends up to 7 weeks actually at sea, doesn’t land and sails solo.  His first arctic/high latitude voyages were in an even smaller boat the 21 foot Corribee….a boat i must cover some time as yet another famous sailor did some of her early voyages in one (Ellen Macarthur).   I would strongly suggest reading his book “Voyages of a Simple Sailor” my copy is so good that somebody else has ‘borrowed’ it.

It might be apparent in my website that i am fascinated by the margins of sailing, from maxi yachts right down to the small and lumpen!   I am particularly taken by the idea that a lot can be done with a small and seemingly unsuitable boat which is why i am featuring Roger Taylor and MingMing 2 again today.  If you have ever seen a Corribee or an Achilles 24 you would hardly look at one and instantly think of them as seriously capable ocean going yachts and i guess in standard trim they probably aren’t.  What i think that Taylor shows is first that small boats can be capable offshore/ocean boats and that he has worked out very simple and rugged solutions to the problems that long distance and short handed sailing creates.   He would go so far as to say that he believes that a smaller boat is often better and safer than a big boat and  its hard to argue given what he has already done with these little craft.  One thing that occurs to me from my experience of small boats offshore is how uncomfortable his daily life afloat must be but in fact he strives to make his boats as comfortable as possible and there are very good lessons to be taken from his boat modifications in this regard.

Original Corribee.


In terms of our budget boat/starter boat thread a Corribee is a very good starter boat and would most likely only set you back about £1500.  I have seen the odd Achilles at about the same price as well.    The last post in the starter boat series will almost certainly feature a Corribee because i intend to halve the current budget and see what we can find, right now there are 2 of these just on one website at around the same negotiable base price and some nicer ones on the owners forum.   Something that Taylor said about the change up from the Corribee to the Achilles is that the latter boat has that little bit more sailing length which on his long voyages gives him greater range.  There have been times with the Liberty, notably cross channel, when more waterline length and sail-power would have got us in before a change of tide and another 3 or 4 hours battling adverse current.

Mingming 1 (Corribee)


Now for the red corner : Webb Chiles and ‘Gannet’.


Although i knew about some of Webb Chiles’s exploits i had largely forgotten about him until recently when Stephen Mundane posted a clip of ‘Gannet’ on passage in the Indian Ocean and that piqued my interest partially because i have been down that way and mainly because Gannet looked to be a very small, wet and uncomfortable boat to be sailing and then i thought “hang on…..Chiles must be getting on a bit” !

In fact he is 75 this year i believe and doing ocean passages in the equivalent of a J24 with zero concessions to comfort.    As i read it he has done a passage from Australia to South Africa and then SA up pst St Helena up to the Caribbean .      The following is taken directly from his own website in case you haven’t come across him so far :  ”

If you arrived here by chance and don’t already know, Webb Chiles is

a writer and a sailor, an artist of words and wind.  Married six times, he

lived with passion on land as well as water and at one time liked to

believe himself an artist of women, too, but this may have been a

delusion.  As a writer:  seven books and hundreds of articles published.  As a sailor:  five circumnavigations and several world records; and long ago he became the first American to sail alone around Cape Horn.  He wanted to live an epic life.  Perhaps he did.  Spend some time and decide for yourself.

At Greater Length in the First

I am 64 years old as I establish this website in August 2006.  It is my intention to use it as a repository for my writing, published and unpublished, past and future, and to share some images.

Twice in my life I have lost everything.  Once the loss occurred over a period of years while I was sailing CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, an 18’ open boat, west around the world.  When I was falsely imprisoned as a spy in Saudi Arabia in 1982, I did not own a single object, not a teaspoon or a tee-shirt, that I had owned when I sailed from San Diego, California, in 1978.  The second loss was as complete but took place during a single night in 1992 when I sank the 36’ sloop, RESURGAM, off the coast of Florida, following which I floated and swam for 26 hours and was carried more than 125 miles by the Gulf Stream before reaching an anchored fishing vessel.

I mention this only partly in pride that I lived on the edge and risked everything for so long–as I once wrote:  almost dying is a hard way to make a living–but also because it explains omissions.  Possessions can usually be replaced, but some of my writing and many photographs were lost and can’t be.

“Old men should be explorers.”  I first read that in a book by Jan de Hartog, but subsequently came across it in T. S. Eliot’s FOUR QUARTETS, which predates Hartog by several decades.  I don’t know if there is an even earlier source.

I divide my time at present between being with Carol, an architect and my wife of twelve years, in a condominium in Evanston, Illinois, and my 37’ sloop, THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands.  While I have kept some passion as well as my waistline, I don’t deceive myself that I am not old.  But I am still exploring and looking forward to the next words, the next image, and the next voyage, if not the next woman.

People who know of me at all probably do so as a sailor; but I have always thought of myself as an artist, and I believe that the artist’s defining responsibility is to go to the edge of human experience and send back reports.  Here are my reports “

Ok so in brief : 6 circumnavigations, 6 wives (so far) several books, several boats, at least one total loss of a boat and now at age 75 sailing a 24 foot ultralight race boat on long  and arduous ocean voyages.    Lets take a look at his latest boat Gannet ,i had to search on this one because i wasn’t familiar with the class but its pretty close to a J24.  For this post by the way i have had to take all the pictures from the internet and don’t have the information to credit them to their authors.  Some of the pictures come from Webb Chiles’s website and some from Roger Taylor’s so the best i can do is give credit to both and provide links to both so that you can go and hopefully visit the original material.
This is the actual boat and once again its a borrowed picture.
Some pictures of the interior from Chiles’s website.
Just for comparison here is a J24 and interior, similar looking boats.
I know the J24 and sailed one a few times many years ago, i don’t know the Moore 24 which is mainly a class racing boat in Southern California but they look pretty close.  My experience of sailing the J24 in the Irish Sea many years ago looks very similar to Webb Chiles video of Gannet close reaching in the Indian Ocean ie cold and wet and really the only way to keep the boat sailing fast is to get the crew weight up on the windward rail.  I have had a J24 come planing past me and it looks as though the Moore is similar in that respect, but equally wet upwind !.
Fun downwind though.
In the later clips of his video series from the Indian Ocean Chiles seems very tired and the boat horribly uncomfortable and wet with water sloshing around the lee bilge. It doesn’t look at all that he can sit comfortably in the boat except on a nest of cushions on the soleboards and only see a patch of sky aft out of the main hatch.  He admits to having had ‘gunnel-bum’ (salt water sores) and hardly ever having the hatches open because of the amount of water coming across the boat.   It reminds me exactly of small boat offshore racing in the English channel and Irish sea : at times absolutely miserable and we only did that for about 16-20 hours before getting ashore.  In the video series Chiles says he has been at sea for 50 days so he is getting up there with Roger Taylor and his 7 week voyages.
I have make the inevitable comparison between the 2 men, the 2 boats and the 2 very different approaches to sailing.  I may have sailed small fast boats at one time and quite liked them as long as i could get ashore at the end of a race or delivery trip.   But even i find the idea of 50 days in a cramped, wet and salty cabin like that of the ultralight Moore  absolutely grim.       I can’t see that Webb Chiles makes any concession to personal comfort or that he has set the boat up in any way to give himself some shelter ,even a sprayhood over the main hatch  would be better than nothing.    On my own boats i have always tried to rig some cover so that i can sit or stand in the companionway and keep watch as it’s not only good seamanship but seems to improve my morale.    I can’t help notice that his cooker is only a Jetboil or similar and that he relies on small gas canisters which are horribly cost inefficient.  Equally he seems to live on a very marginal diet prepared from freeze dried products.   Roger Taylor on the other hand goes into the high arctic in a much better prepared boat and seems to come home in good condition every time although even he sometimes talks about the misery and discomfort of long distance sailing.    He doesn’t anchor or land and says that after 7 weeks at sea it’s about enough and he just wants to get ashore.  Well i have been there and done that with one 7 week continuous passage and i can certainly attest to wanting to get off the boat ! although the main reason for that was simply that i’d had enough of some of the crew .
Webb Chiles
Undoutably these are 2 tough and self reliant sailors who are really outside the mainstream and going there own way . Taylor i think i understand more because i can follow the rational choices he makes in fitting out his boats and there is almost nothing that he does in his practical work that i don’t do myself other than sailmaking.  I suspect and hope that they are ok with being on their own for long periods but after that they seem to have very different levels of discomfort in their sailing.   Given a choice of having to chose one of these boats and one style of sailing i know which one i would prefer.
 There is little connection here with my own boats.  When i bought and prepared my own boat for extended offshore and ocean sailing it was a larger , heavier and potentially much more comfortable boat but still only 26 feet.  The real connection here is something i noticed a lot a few years back when i had the Frances and was spending as much time aboard as i could.  I would go out locally just to anchor out for a couple of nights and would usually see one or two boats out of maybe a dozen or so that were also out there regularly.  Then when i went up or down the coast, say down to Fowey or Falmouth i would see the selfsame boats there as well and then when i did my own solo cross-channel trip met one of the smallest ‘regulars’ halfway up the Aulne in western Brittanny.  Because we were on ‘nodding’ terms i made a slow close pass and we spoke for a while. His little boat was about 21 feet but with an almost comically large windvane on the stern and clearly he too had made the solo trip over from Falmouth.  It seemed to me then that it was often the small and unpretentious boats that not only was i seeing but that i was always seeing and it was the larger 35-40 footers that were always tied up in marina berths.
There are very sound and practical reasons to have a smaller boat than you think you would like and very little reason not to push at the edges a bit and do more difficult things than the normal ‘milk-run’ yachtsmen of today only seem to do.  Both of these sailors are an inspiration to me for what can be done later in life and with much smaller boats than the mainstream would accept.


1 Comment

  1. I know Webb and have been aboard Gannet (at the dock) and there is no doubt it is not comfortable. For a short legged sailor getting below is an act of faith, Alice in Wonderland-like you drop down the rabbit hole into the space where he actually enjoys living. He only comes ashore to please his wife. Of the two profiled I’d rather sail like neither. Though Webb is a great conversationalist, so the trick is to catch him ashore!


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