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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 sixth 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.

Trying to balance keeping people informed, not causing undue worry and pandering to my needs for information was something that I found relatively hard to achieve. A group of my friends were following me, so were my family and these groups and sub groups had different levels of knowledge, interest and worry thresholds. To tackle this I posted public comments through my Garmin inReach Mini satellite communicator that were of a fairly bland and neutral nature. Slamming into a rough sea state was termed ‘bouncy’ and a strong wind became a ‘breeze’. At a personal, one-to-one communications, level I tailored my messages to the individual. Close family was general progress reports and discussions about home life. I only enabled one-to-one messaging for close friends who had some knowledge of offshore sailing. With this group I restricted discussions to those things that they could help with and this was primarily weather. There is a 160 character restriction on any one message and the younger family members, my daughters, worked out how to use this very quickly.

A factor I had failed to take into consideration was that the other challengers would be posting about their experience and while I was posting that it was breezy and bouncy they were fairly close by and saying it was horrendous and that they were either turning round or worried about their boats. Also, I hadn’t considered the thirst for information about the challenge from potential jester challengers. The organisers (primarily George) re-posted my public posts to the Jester Challenge web site and when I got home it appeared that I had been posting public comments daily while the others had been doing so a lot less frequently. Situation reports were also produced and these were summaries of positions reached and status based on public messages. At one point the situation report included a section on my rigging problem. They very graciously toned down the details of my problem when I asked them to as I didn’t want to cause undue worry to anyone ashore. I knew how I was going to tackle the problem and manage it until I could resolve it. I couldn’t see how shore side support could help so decided to restrict who knew what to those equipped to understand the situation. I do appreciate that this was great material for the Jester community but it didn’t fit in with my personal situation.

I took a short wave radio and while this was excellent for weatherfax and for listening to pre-recorded music I didn’t bother trying to tune into broadcast voice services. I made use of VHF communications for collision avoidance a couple of times, once I tried to raise an American flagged passenger ship on VHF as they were on a near collision course. They didn’t answer on either international or US specific channels and in the end passed me less than ½ mile away which is very close in offshore terms. I hope all of those passengers are safe but I didn’t feel that the watch keeper had a clue what he was doing. Other ships responded positively and safely and there was only the one close encounter. AIS made collision avoidance almost too simple for its own good and this was brought home to me when two fishing boats were heading south at 10 knots, neither had AIS active but they may have had their receivers on. It reminded me that AIS was not infallible. These fishing boats were about 400 nm from the nearest land and made no attempt to alter course. There is no way a fishing boat can be fishing at 10knots and these were both stern trawlers who normally fish and shoot / haul nets at around 3 knots.

Other communication systems on board were limited to emergency systems and I didn’t need to use any of those. I wouldn’t want any additional systems but I would consider a more formal protocol so that others could make best use of the messenger.

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.

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