Book review: Long Lost Log chronicles one man's adventures on the seas

Michael Chapman Pincher left school at the age of 17 to work as a stagehand in London’s West End, but disenchanted, he then ran away to sea and his book chronicles his adventures on the waves. 
Book review: Long Lost Log chronicles one man's adventures on the seas

Michael Chapman Pincher. Picture: Byron Newman

‘I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life’

A line from John Masefield’s epic poem ‘Sea Fever’ comes to mind as I read this seafaring yarn by a complete novice.

It is more of a travelogue than a ship’s log and laced with some witty exchanges amongst the crew and some ribald adventures ashore by the writer.

Sailor he was not when he agreed to sail across the Atlantic Ocean but he was a quick learner. As for the virgin bit, he certainly was not before the start of the voyage, and diary of a lusty sailor would be more accurate.

The skipper is a gentleman-farmer type from County Meath with an officer-class accent and well versed in the classics after his education in Harrow.

He pours scorn on Mick’s lack of education who foolishly admitted that he had failed all his O-levels in England.

The deal is a free passage to Antigua in return for a contribution to rations. Mick is currently jobless and homeless and signs on. There might be someone else coming along, he’s told but for a month of hard work preparing the boat, it’s just the two of them.

So in early September 1974, Mick finds himself literally up the creek without a paddle. He’s not impressed with the size of the yacht (a rugged 37 foot cruiser) commenting with growing concern “she’s not very big”.

The skipper replies testily “Gander is large enough to live on and small enough to manage on my own. You’ve time enough to change your mind if she’s not grand enough for your taste.”

There is a long list of jobs to be done but Mick is fairly handy with his hands and can fix just about everything. Just as well as the money is tight and skipper avoids the expensive yacht chandlers.

With preparations almost complete, the third crew member arrives — a middle-aged woman who is promoted to mate and Mick spends the whole voyage trying to figure out if she is actually the skipper’s mate.

Carola was born in India and had a privileged upbringing. Mick soon learns that Carola “knows she is a class above me, confident in her self righteous and entitled view of the world”. So the scene is set for some lively exchanges in weeks ahead.

Meanwhile Mick enjoys his first of many dalliances ashore. At the nearby hostelry which had been his local for the past month, the landlady says drinks are on the house as it’s his last night and promises him a present at kicking out time.

“Well, my lovely, you know what all sailors need,” she says when the last of the other patrons had left. Mick is not slow on the uptake as she adds, “a woman in every port, me ’ansum!”

After spending a month moored in a quiet backwater, reality dawns as they set off and the virgin sailor gets his first taste of salt air and rolling seas.

Remarkably for the time of year, the crew on Gander enjoy a fast, downwind sail across the English Channel, along the coast of Brittany and across the notorious Bay of Biscay.

Approaching the northwest corner of Spain, a storm develops. On deck, with the wind howling, the skipper says in a cool voice born of experience, “we’re in a force ten. Prepare to heave to,” and they go below to sit it out. Not in the least bit phased by the storm, it soon passes and they make landfall after a week at sea.

Mick is a quick learner and learns the rudiments of sailing and navigation. They make several

stops along the Iberian Peninsula before making their departure for the Canary Islands, 700 nautical miles away.

A note in the log off Lisbon is puzzling. “Now that we are 63*N, the same latitude as Gibraltar — 250 miles to the east...” would place the intrepid sailors south of Iceland! Degrees matter when you’re at sea as one degree equals sixty nautical miles.

Anyway, a week later they found Lanzarote but Mick is in for a big shock.

He gets fired. Dumbfounded, he asks why and skipper explains his seamanship was not in question but his table manners. He suggests a week’s shore leave for Mick and our randy young tar makes the most of it.

That he returned to the boat after a week is a wonder but, on reflection, the skipper could not attempt the crossing without him.

With the time for departure approaching, a dozen or so yachts, all bigger and better equipped, had gathered in Puerto Rico on Gran Canaria for the crossing.

Safety equipment comprised of two Second World War flotation vests, no life raft, and no radio. Skipper dismisses Mick’s concerns, “if we have to abandon ship, no one will come searching for us. Once in the life raft, the chances of rescue are next to none.”

He goes on to say that the crossing wasn’t dangerous, it’s the vastness that’s intimidating and, besides, they had already sailed the nasty bit.

He was right about that as they made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the NE trade winds to their back and the equatorial current pushing them along.

It’s not all plain sailing. Becalmed midway across, tempers frayed, skipper brandishes a revolver.

Claiming he had the authority to do anything necessary to ensure a safe voyage, at point-blank range he fires a live round over Mick’s head. “Take that as a shot across the bow,” he declares.

After a month at sea, they arrive in Antigua at Christmas whereupon Mick is summarily dismissed. “I don’t know what your plans are but Carola and I will be going from here without you,” he announced.

The skipper’s parting shot is a letter enclosing an account for Mick’s rations and the address of his bank.

“Good luck!” he says, “and Mick, forgetting a debt doesn’t mean it’s paid.”


Michael Chapman Pincher — Son of Chapman Pincher, the famous investigative journalist, young Mick left school at the age of 17 to work as a stagehand in London’s West End. Disenchanted, he ran away to sea. After sailing the Atlantic and Pacific, he worked in the Middle East as a quasi-spy, returning to the UK after a terrorist attack on his hotel to try his hand as an IT journalist. He found his niche as a communicator at the bleeding edge of technology and settled down to family life. He now plays music and is preparing a sequel, Long Lost Love.

  • Long Lost Log: Diary Of A Virgin Sailor by Michael Chapman Pincher
  • Lilliput Press, €16

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