Buying your first boat is the start of a long romance. Or is it a triumph of hope over experience, asks former Yachting World editor Andrew Bray. Either way, there's no going back

Andrew Bray

Andrew Bray

As is well known, the best two days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat and the day they sell it.

So buying another boat does seem perverse unless, like second marriages, it is the triumph of hope over experience.

I started sailing at the age of 13 when my parents packed me off on a sailing course.

I quickly realised that I was made for sailing and sailing for me. It was my first real freedom in a fairly well regimented life.

I now had a mission: to get a boat of my own. I persuaded my parents to match any cash I raised and then conned my sister into putting up £15.

She said she knew all about sailing but I suspect that it was more to do with the boys she sailed with.

I later managed to achieve effective sole ownership (without paying the £15 back) by capsizing her into a chilly Chichester Harbour that Easter.

Believe me, in a Heron dinghy that’s no mean feat but it had the desired effect.

So it was a Heron called Nellie that became my first command. The person who called her the Yachting World car-toppable dinghy had a great sense of humour.

She was red, heavy and had cotton sails and I loved her and for a year sailed her every spare minute that I had.

But for a 14-year-old, Nellie was a bit staid. Just round the corner from Emsworth is the pretty village of Bosham.

And sailing from Bosham there was a considerable fleet of what were, to my eyes, glamorous and fast Firefly dinghies.

I was seduced but once again reality got in the way of the dream. To buy a Firefly would cost around twice what I could sell Nellie for.

I could not fool my sister a second time. I had never, ever won anything in my life but for once fortune was on my side.

In mid winter a neighbour came round selling tickets for a raffle. I took a ticket, parted with sixpence and forgot about it all until that same neighbour told me that I had won the main prize, an outboard motor.

I sold it and bought a Firefly called If. She came with cotton sails, soon traded for a brand new set of Terylene Ratseys.

I discovered racing. After that it seemed that cars and girls swallowed every spare penny. It was only after a steady job at Yachting Monthly that the idea of boat ownership raised its head again.

I wanted a boat that I could race solo to America. As I couldn’t afford one, I decided to buy a hull and deck and fit it out, an ambitious plan for someone whose woodworking skills had never progressed beyond a wonky pair of bookends.

I launched my first ‘big boat’, a Pionier 10 in the spring of 1973. I did eventually make it to the world of solo ocean racing, when I entered the 1975 Azores and Back Singlehanded Race.

I arrived back in Falmouth swearing that I would never, ever sail again. Despite Chichester’s sometimes lyrical accounts of the life of a solo sailor I had rapidly realised that there was absolutely no romance in being cold, wet, tired and frightened.

So what did I do? A couple of months later I had entered the 1976 OSTAR. Perverse or what?

I have never learned because since then I have owned or part owned a further four boats and sailed most of them shorthanded. And, yes, I have said never, never again on many, many occasions.

Originally published in Your Yacht 2006