Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Mingming & the art of minimal ocean sailing

I had just started reading "Sailing: philosophy for everyone" but stopped to read Roger Taylor's Mingming. However they seem connected, for there is much on the philosophy of sailing in Roger's book while the following line in the former seemed appropriate to describe sailing in Mingming:

For sailors, Stoicism has much to offer as a means to create and sustain the sense of joy we seek in sailing.

Sailing in Mingming is to spurn easy comforts for the minimum necessary to voyage from point A to point B.

It is a point of principle to Roger that it is possible to achieve almost any sailing goal in a suitably prepared small yacht, in his case a 21 foot Mark II Corribee, GRP hull with a junk rig, similar to the craft used by Ellen MacArthur in her circumnavigation of Britain.

The books is a quick, easy and enjoyable read, particularly as many of the places he mentions I'd sailed to last year. With a longer time frame he was able to venture even further north, up all the way to Jan Mayen island. In other voyages he sailed up the North Sea to Iceland and back to Plymouth, and then from Portsmouth to and from the Azores as part of the Jester Azores Challenge.

He writes well, sentences enticing you further, such as this gem of an opener:

I had long harboured a burning to sail north.

Me too!

Mingming's simplicity suited Roger, and most of the time at sea was spent below, only venturing on deck the minimum required to (say) set or raise the foresail. It was like his bubble, a protecting cell from where he'd watch the endless waves and an enviable number of whales.

I must admit to a preference for double handed sailing such as Tristan and I did, together with the bonus of an engine. Yes, as Roger says, there are benefits in simplicity as there is less to go wrong and faults are easier to fix.

But our approach was that we'd take the extra gear on the understanding it could fail and we'd still be able to navigate safely. Yes, we did have the ability to download GRIBs via a satellite phone to an iPad, but when it failed we had a series of backups all the way to paper and sextant.

The opportunity to be able to know the weather a few days in advance, in particular know if a bad blow was coming in, was something that Roger lacked, and he suffered in consequence. Similarly sailing single handed on a craft without active radar or IAS he was several times surprised by close encounters with other vessels.

However you can not but be impressed at the amazing expedition style sailing he achieved to some of the most remote and wild parts of the world in such an affordable and resilient yacht.

I suspect there will be many quotes to come as part of a joint summary of its ideas and the sailing philosophy book in the weeks ahead.

A strongly recommended book.

I'll leave you with this short video that brings up many memories of when I too sailed south to Iceland out of the Arctic Circle:


Travis Boat Lover said...

Good post and video about preparation for problems and the need for redundant systems. There's no reason a small boat can't be safe at sea; it just takes the proper equipment, good planning and a well-trained crew.

Noodle said...

I think I'll go get that book. Indeed small boats can be just as seaworthy as the bigger ones. The size is mostly about the speed. Sailing round the world takes years in an 18 footer. This guy is en route, expecting to spend 300 days in a Sagitta 35:

JP said...

Indeed - it did put all sorts of wild ideas into my head ;)

However along with speed there are some safety issues of being so low down in the water, and not having power for (say) radar to keep watch while you sleep. I'd rather something a little bigger - such as Tristan's Contessa 32.