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Ocean Safety 2023 - New Identity - LEADERBOARD

Shrink in the Drink update - July

by Andrew Hill-Smith 18 Jul 2023 09:23 UTC
Shrink in the Drink - the Barrow boys © Andrew Hill-Smith

I am about two-thirds of the way round the UK in my solo and unsupported laseraroundtheuk mission with HMS Betty the boat.

My appreciation of the still conditions in June when I was at Duncansby Head, Pentland Firth AND Cape Wrath has gone up, as the more testing weather has been blowing in over the last few weeks, aided by a series of lows off the West coast. I have been out in a couple of force 7 breezes, been knocked off the boat by a breaking wave out at sea, and have had to practice my luggage overboard procedure at least three times even though it is all tied on.

Apologies to Betty (my boat) for my incompetence at Blackpool since I popped a couple of batten pockets plus bent the mast during a messy landing. Fortunately when I capsized in front of the RNLI building near Blackpool tower, everyone noticed so I made it to the Manchester evening news as well as the shore. I had thought Betty had landed unscathed, since the mast was pointing out to sea avoiding the classic mast head on the sea floor / boat / wave sandwich with inevitable broken bits consequences, but it was not the case. Betty nearly landed on the beach before me but, in line with a great relationship, I think we will call it a draw.

Having pulled Betty and myself out of the surf the local lifeguard, and then the local coastguard, turned up, slightly berating me for not letting Holyhead coastguard know about my passage for the day. I did try and mitigate my crime my letting them know that I had contacted Belfast coastguard that morning, not realising that the responsibility had switched from one to the other as I crossed Morecambe bay. They went off to tell their seniors.

About 45 mins later, having de-rigged and moved the boat most of the way up to the ramp over the breakwater (which was my intended destination) a smart looking yellow booted RNLI brigade took a break from their 'saving lives at sea' shoot to come and lend a boat moving set of hands. This was very welcome indeed since my desire to be next to the sea was waning. To top that off, Betty had a restful and calm night in the very smart RNLI shed.

That is not what happened at St Bees a few days earlier. I stopped only 11 miles into my journey because the wind was being too enthusiastic for my liking. A crowd of students helped Betty up the beach and onto a lovely patch of grass and that was me done for the day.

It was getting very windy that evening so I went back after dinner to check Betty was OK before going to my own bed. But Betty was gone. Not a trace of anything. I looked up the slope for signs of debris or damaged property in case Betty had done a flier but I did think that was pretty unlikely. I asked around in the local hotel. I rang the coastguard. I called the police who said ring back in the morning 'if you are sure it is stolen'. I rang the local RNLI building which was only 100m away to see if they knew anything, but there was no reply. This could be a major disaster. It could be game over for the trip. It took me months to assemble all the necessary kit so I would have to continue next year. With a rising sense of panic and a state of huge confusion I was thinking I would have to bite the bullet and go to bed. I was sure I wouldn't sleep so instead went out in the wet gale to see if I could find out who had taken my beloved Betty.

And then there she was, neatly parked up next to the RNLI building with all the foils etc still locked to the foot strap. What a monstrous relief.

But then I noticed a nasty white gel coat coloured toxic trail marking the route over the paved forecourt. Turning Betty over she looked sore with a nasty gash in her gel exposing fibreglass covering an area equivalent to the Centre plate housing. And right next to that was my phone number written in large black letters. And next to that, the website and QR code which includes email links to get in touch. And yet there has been no communication to me at all.

I was furious. Well meaning and wise is fine thing, but this was something else. My life depends on Betty day after day, mile after mile on the open sea. I am very well aware that someone might come and get me if I get into trouble 5 miles off shore and they might be quick enough to stop me drowning but my very best chance of survival is with Betty. So a nautical novice satisfying their wind swept concern at the potential expense of my safety, did not land well.

We have moved on.

I mistakenly landed at Barrow Sailing Club (I didn't know it was there) and was met with fun and laughter, a trolley and an emergency gel coat repair. My faith in humanity has been restored. Many many thanks to Gareth, Ash and Al for helping out so selflessly.

So on we go. It will be Wales this week and Cornwall after that.

On a sad final note I was very sorry to hear of Ron Pattenden's passing at the end of June. Being the original Laser round the UK circumnavigator in 2004, he has inspired both Neil Peters and myself to take up the challenge. I often think of him on my travels with his camping filled and technology light version of the journey - a true adventurer. I hope we can give him a good send-off at the funeral on the 25th of July, 1500 at Wealden Crematorium.

In the meantime, do keep following the journey and many thanks for any contributions you can make to one of the excellent causes I have selected. All this and more is accessible via my website,

Do please make a contribution to one of the chosen charities, however large or small:

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