Thursday, January 14, 2021


 14 January 2021: They say (please don't ask who "they" are) that the way to find yourself is to sail solo in hairy weather. I think the Southern Ocean qualifies as "hairy" with constant 50-60 knots winds from the West, seas comparable, and no land (except Antarctica) for a zillion miles (well, from Australia to South America). The Vendee Globe Race, a single-handed around the world contest (we posted the early days of the race a month or so back), basically instructs the competitors to sail round the world, leaving Antarctica to starboard, pass the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin, and Horn) and return back to the starting point in France. You are on your own with a land crew in France providing radio help but nothing more. Of course, if you get in serious trouble they can dispatch help, but who knows how long it will take to reach you. Rounding the final cape, Cape Horn (bottom of South America) is a celebration-worthy event as the final leg, up the Atlantic to home, is all that remains. Here is the update (as of a few days ago) on the race.



Vendée Globe Sailing Race Rounds Cape Horn For Final Sprint To France

The solo, non-stop and unassisted sailing race around the world—Vendée Globe—is notching into final gears as 14 of 27 boats still in the race have passed the third of three international ‘capes’ on their journey, which began on November 8th last year from the port of Les Sables-d’Olonne in France. 

 Click for animation of course

The first sailor to pass Cape Horn was Yannick Bestaven, in the boat Maître Coq IV. This French skipper passed 85 miles south of the cape on January 2nd, having already sailed south of the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa, as well as Australia’s Cape Leeuwin. Cape Horn lies off the southern portion of South America—on Chile’s Tierre del Fuego archipelago—where Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. Passing Cape Horn provides a psychological edge to sailors: the lonely and often cold, rough expanses of the Southern Ocean have passed, and they are on the last stretch of their arduous journeys. 

 Forty-eight-year-old Bestaven is now 440 nautical miles ahead of Thomas Ruyant (in the boat LinkedOut), and about 5,000 nautical miles from the finish point back at Les Sables-d’Olonne. Bestaven’s last Vendée Globe attempt was in 2008, when his boat lost its mast within 48 hours of the start of the race. Yet his current lead is never certain, as Bestaven explained.

‘I feel the bungee cord is going to snap back and those behind me will start closing the gap…’

The "shore support" team

Sunrise in the Southern Ocean

Overall race weather conditions have been less than favorable during this edition of the event, which takes place every four years. This has likely contributed to Bestaven’s passage of the third cape being eight days slower than the record time set by skipper Armel Le Cléach in 2016.

In their 60-foot long IMOCA class boats, the 27 sailors (down from an original 33 that began the race) are in the process of transitioning from the often-tumultuous Southern Ocean (seas located south of 60 degrees southern latitude, which fringe on Antarctica) to the Atlantic Ocean. The sailors will now enjoy balmier weather as their craft slip northward parallel to the South American eastern seaboard, then eastward to France.

In addition to needing to be on alert 24 hours a day for almost three months, sailors are constantly adjusting for conditions and making repairs. Forty-five-year-old British sailor Pip Hare, for example, just discovered on a routine check of her boat Medallia that her port rudder stock was cracked and close to being useless. Like other sailors, she narrated—holding back tears— that she was ‘devastated.’ Because she expected another 30 knot storm from the south to blast over her on a recent night, her priorities switched from competitively racing to just staying safe and stable until reaching more favorable conditions—where she can replace the rudder.

Such travails are filmed on brief daily video clips available for all to view for free on the internet. These vignettes provide insights into sailing life that were never available to viewers even a decade ago. They provide racing enthusiasts with a better sense of constantly changing physical environments and psychological challenges faced by skippers. They also highlight unexpected joys and fatigue. On the recently passed race day 60, for example, Swiss skipper Alan Roura on the boat La Fabrique laughed while he watched heavy snows lash his boat. Days later, Alexia Barrier of the boat TSE–4MYPLANET explained how even taking an infrequent shower during this race is no simple task: a device trailing in the water—a hydrogenator—transforms movement through ocean waters to electricity which, together with electricity from solar panels, powers a desalinator able to generate three quarts (liters) of fresh water daily. This results in a brief shower splash to wash off accumulated salt and grime.


Sounds like such fun! 90 plus days in full-on survival mode! Guess you either "find yourself" or go full out nuts! We will post for the finish in France in a couple of weeks. As I recall, the last Vendee finishers came in within hours of each other. Probably not going to happen this year. Stay tuned!

Until next time, 

                                Fair Winds,    

                                     Old Salt




Wednesday, January 6, 2021


6 January 2021: Well, here we are. A shiny new year just waiting for people to screw it up... or make it a better one than 2020! With a vaccine for the virus now available (to some point!) there is some hope of improvement and for now, we prefer to maintain a cautiously optimistic outlook. 

We are starting the new year with what we hope will be of interest - Naval expressions that have crossed over into everyday usage, mostly maintaining (more or less) their original definition (though not too often does someone get flogged with a cat o' nine tails!). See below! This from the Portsmouth (UK) Royal Dockyard News. 


Show your true colours

In the 21st century this idiom means that someone shows their true character or personality, especially when it is unpleasant.

This idiom also has a naval origin, it dates back to the 18th century. Ships had to fly their ‘colours’ in battle - meaning the flag of the country they were from.

Some ships would fly a different flag to trick their opponent into thinking they were an ally, then when they got close would show their true colours and attack.


If you say that someone is aloof in the modern age it means that they are cool and distant, not friendly or forthcoming.

However it comes from the Middle Dutch word loef meaning the weather side of a ship. It was used as an order to keep the ship's head to the wind and stay clear of a lee-shore. It may be why it has taken on the meaning ‘at a distance or apart’.

Clear the decks

Now it shouldn’t be any surprise that this saying has navy origins.

It now means: ‘prepare for an event or course of action by dealing with anything that might hinder progress’.

However it originally was used when ships were preparing for battle and sailors would remove objects on the deck of the ship.

Over a barrel

This idiom means that you are in a helpless position or at someone’s mercy.

In the navy sailors were either tied to grating, mast or over the barrel of a deck cannon before they were flogged.

Long shot

This is a phrase I’m sure all of us will have used or heard at one point or another.

It means doing something with little chance of having success.

It comes from the navy, when attempting to fire a cannon beyond its range - with a low chance of hitting the target.

This idiom means that you are in a helpless position or at someone’s mercy.

In the navy sailors were either tied to grating, mast or over the barrel of a deck cannon before they were flogged.

Take the wind out of someone’s sails

 This idiom means to frustrate someone by unexpectedly anticipating an action or remark, in the modern age.

It comes from a naval manoeuvre where a ship would intercept the wind of another, causing it to slow or stop.

Learn the ropes

In the modern age this saying means that someone needs to learn or understand the basic details of how to do or perform a job, task, or activity.

It has origins in the nautical world, in the past, the phrase ‘he knows the ropes’ written on a seaman’s discharge meant that he was inexperienced and only familiar with a ship’s principal ropes.

Pipe down

In 2020 if you tell someone to pipe down you are telling them to stop talking or be less noisy.

This is yet another everyday saying with a navy origin.

On a ship, the pipe down was the last signal from the bo'sun’s pipe each day and meant lights out and told sailors to stop chatting.

Feeling groggy

If you are feeling groggy it means you are weak and unable to think clearly or walk correctly, usually because of tiredness or illness.

This phrase also comes from the navy.

Admiral Edward Vernon who served in the West Indies in the 18th century. He was known for wearing grogram jackets to keep warm which led to him being known by the nickname ‘Old Grog’.

He also was known for watering down his crew’s rum - and this drink came to be known as ‘Old Grog’ and then later simply grog.

And if you were feeling groggy it was because you had had too much grog the night before.

Not enough room to swing a cat

This saying means that there isn’t much space in a room.

In the Royal Navy the cat o’ nine tails was a type of whip used to physically punish sailors, which was shortened to cat.

With the saying meaning that there wasn’t enough room to whip someone.

Let the cat out of the bag

To let the cat out of the bag is to reveal a secret either deliberately or inadvertently.

As previously mentioned the cat o’ nine tails was a whip used to punish sailors in the Royal Navy and was kept in a cloth bag.

So if a sailor said anything that got himself or another sailor in trouble the cat would be taken out of the bag to be used for a flogging. 

HMS Victory (in deference to origin of this post) at Royal Dockyards, Portsmouth UK


That will do it for this one, friends. Maybe you learned something to give the new year a positive beginning. 

As a matter of interest, MARITIME MAUNDER finished the year with just shy of 117,000 readers! We are impressed!

Until next time,   

                                      Fair Winds, 

                                            Old Salt