Almost Shipwrecked On Mjojo

Back in the 60’s of the last century Lotty (my wife) and I lived on a superb African built wooden Gaff Rig Cutter called Mjojo (the Swahili diminutive of Josephine, the builder’s daughter) of about 42 foot length.

A superbly sea worthy boat which had already sailed almost all the way around the world when we bought her from her builder – an amazing sailor called Rod Pickering.


One day, on what was intended to be a pleasant day’s sail out of Newhaven, with Lotty, myself and a friend from the Roundhouse, Mike Waterman, we found ourselves in serious danger of being thrown onto the rocks and drowning.

Before setting out, we had (of course) listened to the shipping weather forecast, which promised us reasonably strong winds and clear visibility.  So, we cast off from the inner harbour of Newhaven (which for you non-Brits, is a fishing port on the south coast of England) and set out for a pleasant day on the English Channel.

After about an hour’s enjoyable sailing straight out to sea, the weather began to change, the wind getting stronger and stronger.  I listened to the shipping forecast again, and it was now telling me that we were about to be enveloped in a Force 12 to 14 storm.


Force 14?   What was that in God’s name?   I had never heard that there was anything stronger than force 12, but apparently it did go up to 14, which effectively was a hurricane…

We thought we probably had time to turn around and get back to the shelter of Newhaven harbour, so we duly turned about and headed for shore and we hoped, safety.

But luck was not with us, and the wind got stronger by the minute, and wasn’t in a good quarter for us to sail our remarkably heavy (24 tons) Gaff Rig cutter.   On top of which, the wind, which was blowing away from the shore, and thus more or less coming from where we were trying to sail to, the tide was also coming in, so we found ourselves in the unpleasant situation of wind over tide, which apart from any other effect, causes the waves to get higher and higher, as the wind tries to push the sea in the opposite direction to the tide.

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