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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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
might have. Then I will conclude my homily on mithrilology.
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.
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.