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I reckon our greatest cruising achievement is that we went at all. So many people dream of sailing away but never manage it. Tonight I will tell you a bit about the Mithril philosophy of cruising - “mithrilology” - and also something about where we’ve been.
These first few slides show Mithril being built. The word Mithril by the way comes from lord of the rings and for those who missed the movie Mithril was a magic metal mined by the dwarves and fashioned into swords armour etc with one Mithril boat being used by an elven king. What attracted us to this Mithril stuff was its properties - very strong and light, easily worked, didn’t rust and cost a fortune to buy. What better description of a cruising boat could you find
It took 2 and a half years full time work to build. We did everything from the keel to the mast. We had no prior experience of boatbuilding but peter does have an engineering background and I was willing to take up the challenge of any task. The hull  was lofted and plated upside down and then turned over and welded onto its keel. We got a friend to do the finish welding - it being just a bit important to get that right.
The boat is a van der stadt multi chine design, 50 feet long and 15 wide. She draws 7 feet and empty weighs 20 tons. Our engine is a 100 hp ford. Fitting out was done in a very basic way before we left Ireland in 1991 and we continued to carry heaps of plywood and tools for a few years – well a lot of years really.
The main mast is 70 feet of Oregon pine planking scarfed and glued together with no screws at all. Here you see us putting aluminium foil inside to help act as a radar reflector. We’ve no idea if this works but in theory it should. The solid blocks of wood are at the spreaders goose neck etc.
Wherever possible peter designed and built fittings like bollards and hatches and even sheet blocks. This one is of aluminium and the sheaves were salvaged from a factory conveyor. It’s been in constant use for 4 years now and when we have to replace it we have a sack full of sheaves and some pre-cut aluminium under the floorboards in the saloon. Having built the boat we can now take on just about any task on a yacht and this has proved a useful way of supplementing our income over the years. We carry a welder under the saloon table also – just in case - you understand. Self sufficiency in all things is the core belief in mithrilology.
And here is the finished product. What do you think of her? There’s generally 3 types of reaction to that question. First is there’s a lot of corners aren’t there? The second is bet she doesn’t point very well and the third which was most eloquently put by the wife of a potential crew on visiting the boat for the first time. She’s a brave strong looking big lump. Presumably it was Mithril she meant. If you thought one or two it’s unlikely you’d be able to cope with our kind of cruising. Serious long distance boats are generally not bendy toys or gin palaces. Think of some of the famous blue water cruisers - bill tilman in his pilot cutter, eric and susan hiscock in their sensible wanderers, annie hill in her benford dory and probably most famously lin and larry pardey in their engineless wooden boats. None of these broke speed records or won beauty contests but they kept their crews safe and comfortable. Anyway I can’t see what Mithril looks like sitting in the cockpit. In the anchorage I see gleaming brass and plastic topsides reflecting the sunlit water – things I’d rather be looking at than living in.
This map shows our circumnavigation between 1996 and 2002. In the years before this we’d been to the Mediterranean, Iceland and the Caribbean. And since 2002 we’ve been to the Caribbean again. In all, our voyaging amounts to 150 thousand miles. That sounds vast but averages out at about 30 miles a day. Which is why cruising boats need to be comfortable. You can put up with a lot of discomfort on a 3 week holiday but something like a loo without enough room for you to hitch up your trousers easily would drive you mad living aboard.
I talked at the boat show earlier today about cruising on a budget and I don’t really want to re-hash all that so I’ll just give the figures and the underlying mithrilology. 3 thousand pounds a year average over 14 years comes out at 58 pounds a week broken down as shown on the chart. This includes everything for the boat and for peter and me. It’s not easy to live on so little. In fact it’s a full time job. A penny saved is a penny earned sounds trite but is at the heart of the frugal philosophy. Self sufficiency in food is impossible on a boat – a pot of parsley or a plate of bean sprouts is as much agriculture as you can manage. Self reliance is however very possible. We normally carry at least 6 months supply of dry goods and our freezer will store enough meat for 3 months.
We fish a lot and bottle meat and vegetables. We left southern Argentina in February 2002 after stocking up and my next supermarket was Carrickfergus in June. You get to enjoy cooking while cruising and a stock of spices and a selection of cook books are essential. This is how our 20 tons empty rapidly becomes 25 tons cruising weight - and I haven’t even mentioned the wine cellar. The point about a budget is to live within it. If you can afford to go to the weekly pig roast and calypso singalong do so and enjoy it. We can’t. But we can barbecue the lobster we caught that day and listen to a CD while watching the stars. To me that even sounds more fun than the pig roast.
Would you be surprised to hear that we sometimes need a holiday from this job of frugality?  If we ever happen upon a cheap secure berth we might take a week’s holiday – cold beer at lunchtime, a bus ride inland or some food the region is famous for. We might even lie on a beach. Why do people go swimming from a beach? The sand gets in everywhere. The only way to swim is off the back end of a boat.
We did take a much longer holiday in 2000 when we spent 10 months travelling round Australia in a converted van. The mithrilology then became the biddyology – this was what we named the van because she was red and game for anything. We drove more 42 thousand kilometres round oz which is further than sailing around the world. Our fuel costs obviously were greater but otherwise the budget was similar to cruising and we didn’t ever ever have to even think about the weather. We cruised at around 60 kilometres an hour which made passage planning easy – a klick a minute. We’d have been dizzy going any faster - us sailors aren’t used to speed. Oh yes - when we were finished we sold the van for twice what we’d paid for her.
By now you’ll have realised that mithrilology is all about self reliance and self sufficiency. And this applies also to the persons on board. You need to be self sufficient in your own head – able to entertain yourself with books, music puzzles, hobbies etc. this is especially true on the long passages – crossing the Atlantic or whatever. This photo is of 2 of our crew in the Caribbean last year. One of whom is here tonight and I hope she doesn’t mind me using her as an example of self sufficient amusement. In all my photos there’s not one of peter or me reading on board – we wouldn’t spend the money on an unnecessary picture I suppose. You get lots of new interests on an ocean passage – fishing, bird watching, astronomy and I managed to read worthy but quite tedious books like the Koran or the history of Australia one chapter at a time every day. I was most proud of getting through Ulysses between New Zealand and Chile – sometimes even 10 pages of Joyce took most of the day but I had to finish my chapter before I could open the latest thriller.
Our longest non-stop passage was 81 days from south Georgia back to Ireland. That’s longer than it took ellen macarthur to do her whole circumnavigation. 81 days of sea and wind with only the odd bird or whale for company. On a good day we’d make about 130-140 miles. But when the wind drops we stop. The fuel we had was needed for battery charging and running the fridge. Just as we entered the tropics the winds grew very fickle and we made only 100 miles in a whole fortnight - yes ONE hundred miles in 14 days. Patience then, isn’t a virtue it’s a necessity. I actually enjoyed that time – my mother always said I was daft – I did enjoy it - sitting in the shade of the limp mainsail watching the family of small fish that lived under the boat and continued about their business as we lay becalmed. At night I lay in my open air planetarium watching the stars.
Think how long 81 days is. You need to get on with your crew mate if you’re to be in an area 50 feet by 15 feet and not murder one another. Compatibility – a new word in mithrilology. Most couples ashore are not together 24 hours of every single day. There are jobs, friends, family, social outings, t.v. and shopping keeping them apart for huge chunks of the day. They aren’t reliant on each other for all their companionship. Then they go off sailing and find they neither know nor like each other. I can’t tell you how to fix that because peter and I met 22 years ago while sailing and have lived together on a boat for about 90% of that time.
The rewards of mithrilology are many fold. I've seen some of the most famous sights in the world - Table Mountain, Cape Horn, the statue of Christ at Rio de Janeiro and Sydney harbour bridge. I've been so close to a dolphin that its breath steamed up my glasses. Penguins have pecked at my legs and I've had monkeys throw coconuts at me not to mention the parrot that pooped on my head in French Guiana. I’ve also spent many lazy hours swinging in a hammock sipping a rum punch - just listening to the seagulls. There's not many people can say that through the same living room window they've seen a live volcano, whales, icebergs or men in grass skirts. All these things have come to me rather than me going to them.
Isn’t rounding Cape Horn just about the biggest achievement you can think of for any sailor? When we got there we found charter boats offering 5 day trips round and back. They were mostly French operated - of course - complete with toddler and dog. Of all the great capes in the Southern Ocean this was the only one we got really close to and we were invited ashore by the lighthouse keepers to buy a certificate for $10 commemorating our visit; there’ll likely be t shirts next year. We didn’t go – you’re surprised? Actually we lost the engine at that point and couldn’t get back to the anchorage. The clutch plates in the gearbox were worn away. We had to run east for a week to the Falkland Islands.
During that time peter removed and stripped down the gearbox making a temporary repair with the ends of baked bean tins. He used 8 of them and then by the strict rules of mithrilology we had to be creative with the beans – wind we were not short of. The repair worked and we were able to motor up into Stanley harbour. It was only when we gathered up the rubbish that it dawned on us that each tin has 2 ends – it need only have been half so windy.
The Falklands were a funny place. 2 thousand people in an area the size of Wales. 2 thousand people and 2 and a half million sheep. An Irish person can feel very at home there with a boggy Connemara landscape and a wind that would skin you. There’s imported Tesco products in the shop right down to frozen sliced pan and yesterday's paper. The local radio plays Philomena Begley In one house we saw a signed photo of Daniel O'Donnell on the wall as if he was a member of the family. There were also some very bizarre things - if a photo of Daniel is normal that is. For example it's quite common to see sides of mutton hanging on a gibbet in the garden - this is the family meat store, no fridge necessary. We stayed a winter there eating mutton and wild goose and burning peat which we cut for ourselves.
Really though we’re more at home in sunnier, warmer places where we can swim and sleep in a hammock. Which is why we, like so many other cruisers, keep going back to the Caribbean. Last year we decided to try and make our voyage self funding – an experimental doctrine for mithrilology. I made a website and we advertised for expense sharing crew. Splitting the running costs of the boat means peter and I save. We don’t charge a lot and everyone is expected to do a fair share of the work.
For the month of March we had 6 backpackers on board - 4 of them Irish and we went to Montserrat for St Patrick’s day. In the 18th century most Montseratians were Irish but there were also African slaves and while everyone was drunk on paddy’s day the slaves revolted so the festival now is a bizarre mix of African witch doctory and very oyrish things like the 100 thousand welcomes barbeque and miss emerald beauty pageant. It's a weird experience for anyone who's used to the green beer and leprechauns type of Paddy's day. This lot thoroughly enjoyed it and returned to Mithril at dawn bleary eyed and green wigs askew empty of money and full of bottled Guinness. The population of Montserrat is now all Afro Caribbean but with surnames like Ryan, Sweeney and Sterrit.
I think now is probably a good time for any questions or comments anyone might have. Then I will conclude my homily on mithrilology.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about mithril’s voyages – past present or future we have some cards with our website address. You’ll notice that these are re-cycled from an earlier effort in self reliance.
So where has mithrilology - self sufficiency and self reliance - got us then. Mithril was the first Irish boat into the Falklands since Connor O’Brien in 1927 and to the best of our knowledge we were the first one ever to make South Georgia seen here alongside the abandoned whaling station at Leith. It was a great surprise to us to make any kind of history in our cruising. We’re just ordinary folk who wander at will – no sponsorship, no vast fortune behind us and no big book advance in front.
 If I’ve inspired you a little to go cruising  - go now – take a leaf from the mithrilology missal and think on this – you could be cruising the world for the price of your marina fees.