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 third 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.
Boat Preparations, “The hardest part is getting to the start line”
Summary of this blog so far, I bought Louisa from a couple at MCC for whom this was the wrong boat. It was largely set up for offshore sailing with numerous features that they had no concept of; self steering wind vane system, strengthened bulkhead under the mast, sea cock on the exhaust outlet, rope and sail locker in place of a berth and spare forestay with strengthen deck eye to mention some of the obvious features.
It still took me 2 years, with almost a year out for covid and associated restrictions to get ready. This included;
- new sails
- Short Wave radio and antenna
- Lee boards
- Gimballed spirit cooker
- Additional bilge pump
- New lower shrouds – see problems!
- New running rigging
- Side locker netting
- Main halyard winch in coach roof
- Additional sheet winches for downwind sail handling
- Life raft on coach roof
- EPRIB, Sat tracker,
- Solar power
- Split power distribution
- Storm jib
- Jack stays
- Companionway ‘shower curtains’
In all about 130 changes, some of which were improvements and some just because I wanted to.
Things I had hoped to do but hadn’t included; not enough sea miles, not enough range of sailing conditions, no overnight offshore sailing and practising emergency drills. I had a list of them and the actions in bullet form.
Things I wish I had done:
- Companionway seat
- Black mould problem
- Replaced the coach roof handrails
- Checked the boom more carefully
- Boom preventer
- Chaff protection
Considering the lack of sea time and covid, things worked out very well. The damages were limited to the steering compass that lost it’s damping oil and light after I fell on it and the lower shrouds which were a classic case of cutting too many corners and then not seeing the rectification through. This one problem caused me the most grief and worry. It took about 2 hours to fix in Angra with the parts I had onboard.
I mainly prepared by making lists of everything I could think of and then either tackling them or adapting things to reduce their impact. Food planning involved me with a set of scales in the kitchen cooking rice and pasta until I knew the working proportion of water to starch. For pasta it is 2:1 by volume pasta to water and a beaker of pasta (plus ½ beaker of water) is enough for two days. With rice it is 1:2 by volume rice to water. ½ a beaker of rice cooked with 1 beaker of water is sufficient for 2 meals. But the rice usually turned to mush so I opted for ready cooked rice.
Calorie intake was also considered. I reckoned on 1,500 kcal per day + a few sweets. This is below my normal intake by a considerable margin so I was expecting to lose some weight.
Cereal bar (199kcal)
Oat cakes (300kcal)
6 Rivita (200kcal) OR couscous (380kcal)
Choc spread (100kcal) OR Can sardines (160kcal)
Slice fruit cake (132kcal)
1/2 Tin of curry / chilli (196kcal)
1/2 pack rice (168kcal)
Tin soup + TVP
5 sweets (100kcal)
Mars bar (150kcal)
I loaded the boat with sufficient supplies for 80 days, this was based on 50 days to USA + 30 day contingency in case I had to leave promptly, such as for changed covid restrictions. For water I loaded 180 litres on the same basis. This was stored in various containers spread around the boat.
Sleep for me has never been an issue offshore as I don’t sleep particularly well and can manage for extended periods on napping and resting. I had tried a vitamin supplement that was supposed to help but couldn’t tell any discernible change so dropped that idea.
For fitness I relied on walking, I live in a hilly area of countryside so could do quite a bit and tried to do it at pace. It was adequate.
Strength – I did nothing and had adequate for everything I needed to do. I did try flexibility exercises and practicing Asian squats but neither to any avail. Losing weight made me more flexible as did basic movement around the boat.
Mental fortitude – I prepared several strategies for the drop in motivation that I expected. What I didn’t expect was that the drop would be so steep and almost none of my strategies could be activated or implemented due to the conditions on board. The boat movement made all but lying in my bunk or basic boat management all but impossible. What did help was having shore support. A very simple message, not motivational in any regard, helped me through a dark patch without the sender realising it.
Health – I have a couple of minor health issues in the run up to departure, I pulled a muscle in my shoulder in early 2020 and finally got physio for it in late 2021. It was OK but still a concern when I set off. Since setting off it has not given me any problems and is cured. Having suspected covid, again in early 2020 before testing became an option, caused a few weeks of flu like symptoms and after effects. The longer term issue was stamina and possibly related is a loss of sense of direction. I have always had a good sense of direction and can transpose a north up display onto a head up display in my mind’s eye without a problem. Now, however, I struggled to relate targets on my AIS to their location around me and converting true wind direction into apparent also required concentration. In 2019 I pulled my Achilles tendon. I had driven to meet a client and when I got out of the car I could barely walk. This still niggles me and while I haven’t had any professional help with it I do regular stretching exercises and these seem to help but are harder to do on the boat. For a 60 year old man who doesn’t have a health regime I don’t think this is too bad. None of it hampered my sailing.
Money – to enable home life to continue and reduce my stress levels I needed to ensure that all bases were covered for up to 6 months. This was primarily achieved by standing orders and having suitable reserves in the appropriate accounts. I had budgeted £2,000 for living costs during the adventure after pre-payments for things like insurance and satellite communications had been taken care of. Home life was based on £1,000 per month.
Business – to shut down business operations for 6 months, even though I’d probably only be away for 4 to 5 months was made very easy by my primary sources of income who both wished me well and suggested I contact them upon my return. I already had work booked in for my return from another source so this also contributed to reducing my financial concerns. Someone I met on my trip summed it up, “you know you can do it but your just not quite sure when”. Or to put it another way, if not now, when?
Home life – the few activities that are solely mine at home include the cars and cutting the grass. We got an electric lawn mower and car break-down cover. Almost everything else fell to my wife, as it happened she became a plumber and was already a decorator.
Communications – I wanted to stay in communication with a wide variety of people and this proved to be the most difficult element. The Challenge organisers and sailing community wanted to know the details. My family and I wanted an element of family life to continue and my mother and aunt wanted to know I was safe. Non sailing friends and work colleagues might or might not be interested but were probably not conversant enough with the environment I was going to be in to relate to the information I might post. To tackle this I set up two groups; one who would be able to message me, the other who would only be able to see my general posts. This situation worked OK but there was a point when the challenge organisers received information and posted it on the challenge web site even though I hadn’t let my family know. The information referred to a potentially serious problem with the boat, the lower stays had lost tension. Nothing anyone ashore could do to help but information some would find very interesting and others would find very worrying. Luckily the organisers took it off the web site before the worry kicked in. The two biggest factors in communications was being able to stay in touch with home life and getting support from ashore. The shore support was mainly weather related but turned out to be motivational as well.
So was ‘the hardest part getting to the start’? So far the hardest part was the passage to the Azores. As very little of the preparation prevented me from getting to Newport with the possible exception of the rigging issue which I fixed in the Azores and probably accounted for about 15% of the time at sea getting to the Azores, I don’t think this stopped me.
What would I have done differently is very hard to identify at this stage. I should have completed the work on the rigging and some more sea time would have been useful. It will have to wait until I get home and have made a proper assessment of the trip before I’ll be able to say if I did the right preparation.
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.