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Ireland’s Solo Ocean Voyager From Blessington Uses The Moitessier Method

5th January 2022
The dream starts to become reality. Molly Claire at Lanzarote, having sailed out from Ireland before her Transatlantic passage
The dream starts to become reality. Molly Claire at Lanzarote, having sailed out from Ireland before her Transatlantic passage

The French ocean sailing pioneer Bernard Moitessier became famous for trying not to be famous. In the Golden Globe challenge of 1968 with his Colin Archer-style steel ketch Joshua, he was very much in contention in the non-stop circumnavigating contest south of the Great Capes. But the more miles that he logged, the more he reckoned that it was almost an insult to the natural wonders of the world and the sea to sail competitively round the globe. So he gradually slowed down and when he got to Cape Horn, instead of turning left and heading to a finish in Europe, he continued on eastward for the second time in the Great Southern Ocean, and eventually hid himself away among the islands of the Pacific.

Jim Schofield (57), a photographer from Blessington in County Wicklow who sails from Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club in Dublin Port, will be known to regular Afloat.ie readers since last year for having self-built a 19ft plywood ocean voyaging boat for the McIntyre Challenge, which aims to provide an affordable version of the classic four-yearly MiniTransat.

The framework of an idea……Jim Schofield building Molly Claire in the confined spaces of his extended garage in BlessingtonThe framework of an idea……Jim Schofield building Molly Claire in the confined spaces of his extended garage in Blessington

Despite all the inherent problems in such a totally home-based project being made even more challenging by COVID-caused delays, he completed his boat Molly Claire and sailed her on time to Lanzarote to join the rest of the inaugural flotilla in November. But by then he’d decided that he wouldn’t seriously race in the Transatlantic challenge to Antigua, but would sail in his own good time, with the objective of finishing on December 26th, St Stephens Day.

It was as well he’d set this modest target beforehand, as the first boat finished on December 13th, yet with Jim’s very limited means of communication, those at home who were concerned with his whereabouts knew to expect little info until after Christmas.

Jim at sea – in the Trade Wind passage across the Atlantic, the nights were restless as darkness often brought squalls. Photo: Jim SchofieldJim at sea – in the Trade Wind passage across the Atlantic, the nights were restless as darkness often brought squalls. Photo: Jim Schofield

And then Jim did a Moitessier of sorts. Having reached the Caribbean, he heard the other boats were headed from Antigua to the French island of Martinique. He re-shaped his course, created his own charts, and reached Martinique in the small hours of the morning of Christmas Day.

If you want to slip under the radar completely, the shrewdest move is to arrive at an unexpected destination on Christmas morning, when the only traffic anticipated is a large airborne sleigh driven by an unfeasibly jolly fat man in a red suit, and towed by reindeers led by a nasally-challenged neurotic called Rudolph.

Molly Claire and her tired but happy skipper were none of these things. And they became even more invisible as the Sydney-Hobart Race took over global sailing attention. Which was maybe just as Jim Schofield wanted it be, for he was left in peace to snug down his little boat for shipping back to Europe, while at the same time preparing to avail of arrangements to fly home to Ireland and Blessington via Paris.

The ensign of the Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Cub flies proudly in the northeast trade wind at Martinique. Phot: Jim SchofieldThe ensign of the Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Cub flies proudly in the northeast trade wind at Martinique. Photo: Jim Schofield

Thus Christmas was a lively time for Blessington sailing in distant parts, as Jim Nixon of Blessington ancestry raced his 27th Rolex Sydney-Hobart as Sailing Master on the restored vintage S&S 34 Azzura, and finished an excellent fourth overall, while in Martinique Jim Schofield was still getting used to the idea that his little garage-built boat had sailed the Atlantic. He takes up the story here:

THE VOYAGE OF THE MOLLY CLAIRE

The five boats departed Lanzarote on the 17th November, a day early to avail of the dropping wind. I moved slowly down east of the Canaries and met variable airs off the African coast until the 23rd when Molly Claire finale got moving well. Within two days, the wind and seas had built up and I stayed well reefed until the 2nd of December when we were just west of the Cape Verdes. I later heard this time was 30 to 35 knot winds and 3 - 4 metre seas. Big seas for a 19ft boat……

Early December began our open ocean voyage properly, full trade winds and seas, and no going back. A one-way conveyor belt to the Leeward Islands. The grind continued every day, eating, sleeping, checking Molly Claire and keeping my mind and body in order. Days were hot and, sunny with consistent wind and wave. Then every evening, the cloud built all around and after dark, the wind usually picked up and the odd squall kept me on my toes.

By the 16th of December, I saw on my little satellite text machine that the other four had reached Antigua. I was a long way behind but since I was not racing, it came as no surprise. Rocking on until the 19th of December, the plan changed to head for Martinique. The other boats were being moved there so I tacked back again south across the Trades. I had charts of Antiqua and nearby islands but not Martinique, so I spent several hours drawing pilotage plans from Navionics on my phone.

Conditions in Martinique were everything Jim had hoped for. Photo: Jim SchofieldConditions in Martinique were everything Jim had hoped for. Photo: Jim Schofield

On Christmas Eve, I shouted “Land Ho” when I saw land for the first time in 35 days. It was a grey day and blowing well. As night rolled on, I sailed just south of Phare de L’Ilet Cabrits lighthouse and tacked north into St. Annes Bay. I saw dozens of boats anchored as fireworks flared up into the sky and music blared from the bars along the shore. Sailing as close as I dared, I shone my head torch into the water and was delighted to see white sand no more than 5 metres below. Down came the sails, over went the anchor and I sat in the cockpit just soaking in the end of our voyage. I had arrived at 1.30 on Christmas morning. Next day, I radioed Eteinne, the first competitor home. He organised a French sailor friend to tow me into La Marin marina.

The next three days were spent getting Molly Claire ready to be shipped home and I flew home via Paris, in time to be back for New Year.

Overall, the voyage was a lot tougher than I had expected, both physically and mentally. I found depths of persistence and resilience I had not known were there before, which can’t be a bad thing!

A snug berth at journey’s end. To put this voyage in perspective, the home-built Molly Claire is the same hull length as a Squib, while she is a foot shorter than a Flying Fifteen, and a foot longer than a Shannon One Design or a Belfast Lough Waverley. Photo: Jim SchofieldA snug berth at journey’s end. To put this voyage in perspective, the home-built Molly Claire is the same hull length as a Squib, while she is a foot shorter than a Flying Fifteen, and a foot longer than a Shannon One Design or a Belfast Lough Waverley. Photo: Jim Schofield

More on the design of the Transat 580 here

Published in Solo Sailing
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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