the cover of Roger's latest offering
"There are, according to the tetrahedral view of the earth, four oceans; but of these three only are generally necessary to navigation, for the Arctic Ocean is only used by Polar bears and Polar explorers, and in any case not navigable."
So mused the intrepid Irish circumnavigator Conor O'Brien in the opening sentence of his account of his sail around the globe 'Three Oceans', published in 1928. 82 years on, I think Roger Taylor would take exception to that, though certainly not to it's author, whose adventurous spirit mirrors his own.
'MINGMING & the Art of Minimal Ocean Sailing' is Roger's second book. His first, 'Voyages of a Simple Sailor', tells of the events which have led him to his current philosophy and practice of ocean cruising. This new book deals with the implementation and execution of his ideas, and the results of his experiments in real tests, his cruises. He is building on the innovations and experience of his mentors, Blondie Hasler and Mike Ritchie, pioneers of small boat singlehanded ocean cruising. He also brings to his projects a wealth of hard won personal experience gained through a lifetime of sailing. But I don't want to give a false impression. These are not clinical trials. Roger's cruises are his passion. Though he only goes to sea once a year for six to eight weeks, leaving behind his duties as head of an investment management company, his entire year revolves around the planning and preparation for this escape to the solitude and grandeur of oceanic wilderness. It's remarkable that Roger conducts his forays into the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Arctic Ocean in a little 20'7" Corribee MkII, Mingming. Not only is she small, she's also junk rigged and has twin bilge keels, which according to some sailing pundits should make her next to unsailable. Roger's adventures prove otherwise, and I'd hazard a guess that at times he regards her as a living being. She's been heavily modified to allow singlehanded sailing from the warmth and safety of her cabin. Here's Roger on first the planning for his 2007 cruise, then his preparations and modifications to Mingming:
"The winter evenings gripped tighter, darker, colder, but I cared little. I had work to do. I may well have been intending to simply set off and see what happened, but this did not in any way presuppose some sort of lax approach to the project. True freedom of the seas, especially for the sailor of a tiny, engineless yacht, can only be derived from the most rigorous preparation. More than fifty years of sailing had honed my wariness to razor sharpness. Having concieved the general shape of my intended journey, I now had to drill down into the smallest navigational details. Every aspect of the potential routes had to be explored. I had to think through every possible adverse situation to ensure that, in the worst case, I would not be putting myself and Mingming at risk."
And later on, three major modifications to Mingming: Tuning his self steering to allow for infinitely fine adjustments...without having to go on deck, adding protection from spray and weather around the main hatch, and giving her a proper bowsprit.
"My winter preparations for the voyage north were therefore of a dual nature. Contemplation was supported by carpentry. The kitchen worktops, ideal for heavy duty clamping requirements, particularly when it was too cold to work in my garage workshop, were littered with weird works in progress and their constituent parts, along with the saws, files, chisels, glues, screws and so on used to construct them. In the lounge and by the bedside the piles of charts and pilot books and almanacs grew steadily higher. To sail properly, and by that I mean to go to sea unequivocally and without compromise for a month or two each year is a year round business. The preparatory ten months are as integral to the project as the weeks afloat. They are almost as satisfying, too. The more time and effort that go into creating a successful modification, and indeed a successful cruise, the greater the pleasure of experiencing that success during the weeks at sea."
One has to wonder where the time was found to write this book.
Roger goes on to recount three voyages taking place in '07, '08 and '09, two tales of northing and one southern cruise to the Azores. His straightforward accounts of sailing are interspersed with musings on the nature of his projects, and they pull you along with him and Mingming quite skilfully. This is not, in my estimation, your run of the mill cruising yarn ( and I've read lots ). In the interest of brevity here, and so as not to spoil any surprises, I'll leave the rest for you to discover.
The scale of what Roger Taylor is achieving with these cruises brings to mind Joshua Slocum and Webb Chiles, to name a couple. Like those intrepid sailors, he is pushing at the edge of the possible.
Inevitably, I questioned Roger on his influences. Here's his reply:
My real guiding light, for all his faults (see the article on my website for that) is Bill Tilman. He was of course sailing big fully crewed craft, so with him it’s not about technique but attitude.
And of course Moitessier, whom I met in NZ in the 70s."
I asked Roger to expand on his meeting with Moitessier. His response :
"Nothing to tell, really. He had Joshua on the hard for a while at Opua in the Bay of Islands, where I kept Roc after her Tasman crossings. This was mid-70s, so he hadn’t quite established his legendary status. He was just a fairly well known French sailor. We just had a nodding acquaintance. Can’t even remember exactly what he looked like, apart from a shock of hair. I look back now and think what a missed opportunity it was. If I knew then what I know now I’d have made a much greater effort to get to know him – and I’d have been down there with a camera looking for photo opportunities!
Too late now..."
I hope you'll enjoy Roger and Mingming's adventures as much as I do, and please visit his website.
You can order the book directly from Roger here, or from my Amazon bookstore, too the right.
A great last minute gift idea.
I've never met Roger Taylor in person, but we have had many exchanges (see my earlier posts) and some dealings over the years, and I count him a friend. I'm sure that he's a quiet, retiring type in a crowd, but he opens up deeply when writing. And, I recently persuaded him to join facebook, look for him there.