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Seamanship - An interview with Stick Daring

by 9 Apr 11:14 BST
Stick Daring 'Round UK' © Neil Peters

In a series of articles on seamanship, we speak to Neil Peters, better known as Stick Daring, who sailed around Great Britain in a Laser dinghy, raising over £17,500 for the charity Prostate Cancer UK. In each of these interviews we look at whether years of racing practice at open meetings is enough to keep a sailor safe out there when the race officer and safety team are not present. Is cruising really an easy life compared to racing?

Stick told us he had done a little yacht sailing in the past, but mostly dinghy racing. Whilst he did take his Yachtmaster course, he claims he was "spectacularly bad" in the written exam, and only just made the pass grade. So he had the official training, and knew how to plan a passage.

If you've only sailed round the cans, it's a whole new world, Stick reports. You need different skill sets. Dinghy sailors will have great practical skills on the water, maybe better than some yacht cruising sailors, but you need the mental knowledge to be safe when cruising a long distance.

Stick felt the three main issues facing him were: "getting off the shore, landing, and not breaking stuff." These are very different considerations to racing, where the shore is the least of our problems, launching from a club with slipways or jetties. In racing we accept the occasional breakage because we are pushing hard, and there is always a safety boat nearby. When cruising alone you must fix it on the water or quickly land somewhere which might not be suitable.

Stick says much of seamanship is planning before you leave. Every day he would write out a list of "bail out options" - places along his route where he could get ashore if the weather or a breakage forced him to. This safety blanket wasn't always available, say, round the Mull of Kintyre where there are sheer cliffs for 20 miles. He also had a note of risks and obstacles, meaning there was less to memorise, and every change of weather or situation could be appraised in the light of what was coming up next.

However, these "bail out options" are not always useful: you might land, then find you can't launch again due to a shore dump or strong onshore wind. When approaching Aberdeen Stick saw waves going across the top of a 30ft high harbour wall! He didn't feel it could possibly be safe, and so landed at a beach he later realised was famous for surfing; this meant he got stuck there for three days.

Planning ahead in chunks was no good when Stick found himself sailing further than expected within the day! He would often 'outrun' his information. In a Laser you can't sit down with a chart or almanac, though it might be possible in a two-man boat in moderate conditions. Off the coast of Cornwall, he arrived at 'The Manacles' at the wrong point in the tide, finding whirlpools and all manner of things he ought to have never been exposed to, if he had set out at the right moment.

However, at other times, Stick felt that the Laser did feel safe because there was barely any draught - you can pull up the centreboard and get across anything.

Letting someone else know when you are departing and arriving is a standard practice for cruisers, whether with the coastguard or with family/friends. Stick missed reporting in on time, very often, due to being stuck at sea, or having no mobile phone signal near cliffs - he says this may have caused more headache than it was worth for his friends!

Stick also advises, "run at 70% all the time". It is probably obvious that a helmsman shouldn't go at it like he's racing. You end up breaking things, hurting yourself, and making mistakes. Instead of costing you a race, these can cost your safety. A more consistent pace is best overall. Take rests, says Stick, particularly when sailing upwind. De-power the sail and ease sheets. You don't lose masses of speed. It matters in a race, those tiny bits of speed, but not when cruising. You still get where you want to within a day.

Something you don't realise, says Stick, is how many firing ranges there are around the British coast. He got shot at twice sailing into danger zones - even on his very first day, when cutting a corner. Being asked to divert four miles offshore is a bit much in a Laser. Particularly off Weymouth in 35 knots. Apparently there is a rule about demanding permission to cross a firing zone if you need to do so to be safe. But all Stick heard on the VHF was, "At your own risk". Stern voices then asked Stick to give his position, but juggling with a mobile phone isn't easy in a tiny dinghy. Shells were fired and terrified him.

"I can't think of one day where it all went exactly to plan... except the days I was ashore," says Stick. Sobering words for newbie cruisers.

Every day, something had to be changed, when weather went against the forecast, or current seemed worse that predicted, or some ship appeared out of nowhere. You have to "plan to improvise," advises Stick.

Stick's final parting words of wisdom are gold. Always go to the pub, he says - it's important. The first thing to ask is, "Does anyone go fishing?" Without local knowledge from fishermen, you can get in trouble, no matter how good your almanac is. He recalls an unmarked wreck in Eastbourne, very near a navigation buoy, and the standing waves which make Southwold harbour so hard to enter. It seems you can't just bowl on up and stay between the red and green markers without a care in the world.

If you want to know more about Stick/Neil and the book he is writing then visit

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