I recently dug through the dusty contents of my personal library, which has been living in exile ever since we moved to our current house four years ago. Shame on me, I know. But picking through stacks of books was reminiscent of browsing a well-stocked nautical used-book store before that species went extinct.
It gave me a chance to reconnect with good old friends between hard covers: Childers, Conrad, Kipling, London, Tompkins. But I quickly got past these sailing writers and kept digging, stacking and repacking until I finally got to the writing sailors, such as Marcel Bardiaux, Francis Chichester, Vito Dumas, Robin Lee Graham, Bernard Moitessier and, of course, Joshua Slocum. All were exceptional seamen who traveled the oceans alone in their fragile craft when that was the stuff of heroes. But their distinction goes beyond fortitude and ability. They also wielded pens that turned their exploits into delectable stories. And in that capacity they have become idols for Paddy Macklin.
Paddy who? Patrick, or “Hippy Paddy,” as they call him back home in Falmouth, England, is a house painter and decorator, though that’s just a ruse. Paddy is a free spirit who loves to watch the last sliver of land drop astern over the horizon. Last summer he completed a 17-month, one-stop solo jaunt around the world on Tessa, an engineless wooden 27-footer that was built more than 50 years ago for the rough waters of western Scotland.
At 53, Paddy isn’t of the cute teenage variety. He didn’t have a sugar daddy waiting along the route, ready to hop on board and fix what needed fixing. And he didn’t have a public relations machine to increase his media exposure and brand visibility. Paddy is his own man. Not more, but nothing less. In an age of social media and narcissistic hype, he’s an anachronism.
So what, if not money, drove Paddy to circle the blue pumpkin on a Spartan craft? “Slocum was the first, and I read his book twice on the voyage,” Paddy tells me when I track him down at his mother’s house, where he is easing back into life on terra firma. “Every time I read it, I enjoy it even more. He’s just an understated and truly great seaman, the greatest of them all. I also admire Moitessier because he didn’t finish the [Sunday-Times Golden Globe Race]. I read ‘The Long Way’ many times. He’s the kind of sailor I look up to.”
Other inspiring characters are Bardiaux, a Frenchman who went around the Horn east to west in a little boat called Les 4 Vents and, not surprisingly, the Argentinean bon vivant Dumas, who took his double-ender Lehg II, a modified whaleboat, around the world in the Roaring Forties in 1942. “They are my heroes. They are the early people who had nothing. No VHF, no electrics at all. They would have died. There were no EPIRBs or life rafts,” says Paddy.
Ah, the fine art of going to sea and being prepared to drown like a gentleman in the event of misfortune or plain bad luck. It’s the kind of self-reliance that’s associated with Herbert “Blondie” Hasler, one of Britain’s World War II Cockleshell Heroes. Hasler allegedly bet Francis Chichester, one of five competitors in what would become the famous Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race in 1960, half a crown for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. (This wager is disputed as myth by Hasler’s biographer Ewen Southby-Tailyour, but it’s the solo crossing that’s important here.) Paddy never sailed in any of the OSTARs or its successors, but he did his own single-handed crossing of the Pond in a humble Folkboat in 1987 as a prelude to his recent solo circumnavigation.
Soon after he set out from Britain for his last trip, he found himself in a winter gale in the Bay of Biscay, which caused concern back home and triggered a search. “I wasn’t at any point in any trouble. That’s a fair bit of misunderstanding,” Paddy explains, mildly annoyed. “I did phone the Falmouth Coastguard to say that I’m in heavy weather and give my position. I just logged in with them, which I thought was responsible at the time, but somehow it was taken up as a sort of an emergency. At no point did I put out a mayday call or ask for assistance.”
It was preparation for what later hit him down in the Tasman Sea, where Tessa had to pass her biggest test. “The boat was knocked down four times and rolled twice,” Paddy recalls. “The wind generator pole was bent and a solar panel was ripped off.”
No charging power was one thing, he says, but water in the boat and contaminated food was another. So he decided to abandon his non-stop ambitions and put in to Timaru on New Zealand’s southern island, where he spent four months putting himself and the boat back together.
One foot in Davey Jones’ locker
Scary as these knockdowns were, Paddy came even closer to meeting his maker when freighters nearly ran him down at night. The first time, near the Canary Islands, a behemoth cut across Tessa’s bow less than 50 feet away. “It wasn’t actually that frightening because I was fast asleep. I eventually woke up and there were all these lights above me. And then he was gone.”
Trusting that the watch on these ships would pick up Tessa because of her radar reflector or see her running lights nearly did Paddy in. The second encounter, far from all shipping lanes, occurred in the South Atlantic with Tessa running before the breeze under poled-out jibs. Paddy says he saw the culprit coming and tried to hail the bridge on channel 16, with no reply. In the end, only an emergency maneuver that required uncoupling the self-steering mechanism and a drastic course change saved him. “I shone a searchlight on his bridge window, but got no response,” Paddy says. “It was as if he really wanted to run me down.”
Paddy also took pains to debunk the myths about navigating only by school atlas, which surfaced in the tabloid press. “That was a bit of a joke,” he says. “I had charts for the entire trip, but not from Cape Horn to 43 degrees south. You got the Falklands 300 miles on one side and South Georgia 300 miles on the other, so there’s not much to hit, is there? I did use [the atlas] but only for a few days.”
Now what about the accounts of his recreational drug use? “I don’t know, I shouldn’t have opened my mouth,” he says. “I like being stoned and I miss being stoned. I mean, in Britain it’s no longer a question of who does, but who doesn’t. It’s no big deal.” Although his stash quit on him right before he entered the Drake Passage, which he chose in order to keep clear of the perils of Cape Horn, he insists he made it home fine. “I’m not like a Rastafarian, sitting, puffing and blowing every day. A little taste every night, maybe. The alcohol ran out much quicker.”
As much as Paddy admires a minimalist approach, he put some kit on Tessa that would have made Slocum blush. There were two solar modules with a total capacity of 85 watts for charging the batteries (remember, Tessa had no engine) and a wind generator, which he rarely used. In New Zealand, “someone gave me an EPIRB and I reluctantly took it. But I didn’t want it because there’s a school of thought: If you get yourself in trouble, you should not expect others to come to your rescue.”
The one luxurious gadget he brought was a satellite phone. “There was a girl behind me, one of those young record-breakers. She was rolled and had lost her mast,” he says, referring to American teenager Abby Sunderland. “I heard on the [BBC] World Service that she got into difficulty and that they hadn’t had any form of communication with her.”
Sailing in the same nasty weather system, but farther to the east, he broke out the sat phone to call rescuers in Canberra, Australia, and offer help. And what a story that would have been: Old Paddy and old Tessa, without engine or sponsor, turning around in a gale to pick up a well-funded teenager who wanted to set a record, but was bobbing around helplessly on an incapacitated yacht. “Without wishing to flatter myself, Tessa and I were up to the task,” Paddy says.
An engine next time
In so many ways, the journey was the culmination of what began when Paddy was a kid and puttered around with his father on a motor launch. Dad was a daredevil race car driver in Britain, Paddy says, and would have been supportive of his son’s ambitions. “I think he would have been proud of what I did. In fact, I had a little jar with some of his ashes, which I put overboard after Cape Horn.”
Looking back on those 17 months, what did Paddy get out of his trip? “Now that I’m a Cape Hornier, I can have an earring and toast the Queen with one foot on the table,” he says jokingly.
He also told me he learned to distrust the lookouts on commercial ships, who too often fail to detect a sailboat in a seaway. The boat’s Automatic Identification System receiver, which he says he retrofitted in New Zealand, did not work when he needed it.
So what’s next? “I already plan to do the Northwest Passage with Tessa,” he says. He won’t put the engine back in, which he had removed to store extra food and water. Instead, he might take an outboard to the Arctic. Not that Paddy will go soft on us, but for purely practical reasons he thinks adding another form of propulsion might help him get through the ice.
And yes, he’ll go back to work as a house painter and decorator, but only as long as it takes to earn enough money for his next adventure. In parting, he confided that he also plans to write a book.
Well, Paddy, when you’re ready, let me know where I can order an advance copy. It’ll be an entertaining read, I’m sure, one that’ll fit right in with Chichester, Dumas, Graham, Moitessier and Slocum.
Dieter Loibner is sailing editor for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.