Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility.
The Jester Challenge was created for skippers of small boats who want to test their skill and self-reliance, is a uniquely successful experiment in single-handed ocean sailing. This site tells you everything you need to know about it: its history, philosophy, guidelines and future events, along with the views and experiences of skippers who have taken part over the years.
There is a Challenge every single year and new skippers are always welcome. If you like the idea of developing your offshore seamanship in a relaxed and supportive environment, visit the Jester Challenge website.
This is the first of a 10-part post where solo sailor Bernie Branfield shares his first hand account of his single-handed, 2022 Jester Challenge, from Plymouth, UK to the Azores, in his 26′ Invicta Mk2, Louisa. You can read more about Bernie at the end of the post.
Part 1 – Getting to the Start
The challenge this year is to Newport, Rhode Island, USA. I have been getting Louisa ready for this over the past 12 months and getting her ready for offshore passages for the preceding 12 months. The final preparations have been stores for the 50 days I expect it to take me plus a contingency. If things get desperate I reckon I can stay out for 80 days at a push but this really will be a stretch. I have lists for everything; food, water, jobs, clothes etc. Every single space on the boat is in use and she feels heavy.
Monday 25th April I set off, two friends taking me out for dinner in Rochester before ferrying me out to Louisa. First problem, the bank has declined the direct debit for the satellite tracker. I was hoping to have a quiet night aboard before an early start but instead I spend it with phone and computer trying to change the bank details on a most unfriendly Garmin portal.
When I do get away I set off just before the tide and into the wind. At Margate I anchor off for the tide change and get some rest. When the tide does change I make it to North Foreland before the wind is in my favour. I spend the next 24 hours roaring along until I reach the Solent and anchor in Bracklesham Bay to await the tide into Langstone Harbour where I anchor up and rest for a couple of days. Then it is into Gosport to visit my mother and sister.
I leave Gosport into a good breeze and make it to Keyhaven where again I wait for the tide. At midnight I set off with no wind and motor to the river Dart. 17 hours, 18lts of diesel used and by 8PM I am moored up to a visitor buoy as I fail to find my preferred anchor spot. I pass Denis Gorman’s old boat, Lizzie G, Albin Vega. It is a stark reminder of how life has to be lived. The river is far fuller of moorings than I remember but the next day, after being relieved of £30, I set off for Plymouth. I sail and motor up to the Lynher River where I anchor until I am ready to head to the Mayflower Marina and meet up with the others. After a couple of nights rest I make my way to Mayflower to join in. The others are already there and we have a very pleasant couple of days including being interviewed by a young couple who have a YouTube channel, 2:40 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhbmNP4x8ho&t=560s if you are interested.
You can read the complete story on Bernie’s blog page here.
About Bernie Branfield
I have been sailing since I was 7, I started in Mirror dinghies at the local gravel pit and made my way up to VLCCs for a large oil company as Third Mate. After a break for family life I bought a MacWester Rowan 22’, Chantilly, which I sailed to Holland, Belgium, France and Ireland as well as around the UK East Coast. I still have Chantilly. For a short time I owned an Achilles 24, Mischief, that I had hoped to sail to the Azores but abandoned this plan after an eventful trip back from Ireland. My current boat is an Invicta 26’ Mk2, Louisa, which I bought just before the Covid lockdown. Due to timing, work commitments and various other factors I decided to enter the 2022 Jester Challenge to Newport Rhode Island. When I am not sailing my own boat I try and crew on a yacht delivery each year to build up experience. I have around 30,000 sea miles in yachts and various qualifications including YM Offshore under my belt. Louisa was built in the early 1970s and suits my singlehanded sailing needs to a tee, she is moored at Hoo Ness Yacht Club on the River Medway in Kent.