It’s life stripped down… just you and the ocean

It’s life stripped down… just you and the ocean

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Having worked in the marine industry for 28 years, Ocean Master, Yacht Master and Cruiser Instructor Mark Taylor has been there, done that! Here, Marina discovers his worst day at sea, his top tips for beginners and what he would never go to sea without…

Mark Taylor - Ocean Master and Cruiser Instructor - Profile
Mark Taylor – Ocean Master and Cruiser Instructor

Marina What are the common misconceptions about owning a motorboat?

MT “That it’s the preserve of the rich. There are boats for all size of pocket. You rarely make money from boating – it’s a lifestyle, not an appreciating asset. Also there is a common belief that the sun will always shine like in the brochures and seas are permanently flat, especially at the weekends – not true!”

Marina Can anyone learn to helm a boat?

MT “Given the right guidance and putting the appropriate time in, which varies from person to person, absolutely! The most important attribute is confidence and a relaxed mind set. It’s supposed to be a fun recreation after all.”

Marina What are your 5 top tips for beginners?

MT Firstly, do your research! Ask questions of everything and everyone no matter how trivial or silly you may feel they are, and by the same token don’t be intimidated by the experts.

Secondly, when you have found the appropriate type of boat for your needs, buy the biggest version you can afford, you’ll outgrow it sooner than you think!

Never underestimate the annual running costs. Buying a boat is one thing, putting your hand in your pocket for everything that goes along with owning one is another!

Fourthly, and I guess it’s related to budgeting, never skip on maintenance. You might end up rueing the day you skipped that engine or liferaft service!

Lastly, enjoy your boat! Use it at every opportunity, every hour on the boat and at sea is valuable experience gained and should be fun!

Marina What 3 things would you never go to sea without?

MT Life jacket, personal E.P.I.R.B and sharp knife.

Marina What was your worst day at sea?

MT “I was delivering a Princess 20M from Palma, Majorca to the UK with a good friend. It was the tail end of the year so the weather was unpredictable in the extreme and the boat was ex-charter, tired and neglected. To compound matters it turned out that the fuel tanks were contaminated with diesel bug and the engine intercoolers so constricted with salt crystals that the revs had to be monitored at all times to ensure the engines didn’t overheat.

Princess 20M Motor Yacht
Princess 20M Motor Yacht -The same model Mark had an ‘interesting’ time taking to the UK from Majorca

After days of continuous filter cleans and changes, running repairs and inclement weather, we found ourselves in Sada, just along from La Coruna in Northern Spain. We planned to cross Biscay, around 320 miles, to Brest the following day and the weather reports were all in our favour. We set off before dawn at around 4am, and had an uneventful first part of the crossing but unbeknownst to us, a low near Ireland had split and the lower edge dropped into Northern Biscay.

As the southwesterly winds picked up and the skies darkened, we knew we were in for a rough ride.

Within an hour we were down to 8 knots, waves were penetrating the hydromatic door, portholes and windscreen and water was flooding through the galley and saloon areas.

The RIB attached to the flybridge deck kept trying to launch of its own accord and then I lost all power to the navigation systems and VHF due to water damage… And on top of this, the paper charts had disintegrated into paper mache.

The 8pm ETA came and went, I was stood on the flybridge soaked through and freezing cold steering with the aid of an unreliable compass, the North star during breaks in the cloud and the loom of various lighthouses. Luckily I knew the coast reasonably well and we had done our nav prep for the trip. After carefully manoeuvring past various rocks and islands we turned at last into the Brest Estuary at 5am the following day with literally just a few miles of fuel left in the tanks.

Only then were we able to fully appreciate the size of the sea we were in as we looked behind to see these towering 7 metre waves following us.

But the thing I remember most, bizarrely enough, is the smell of freshly baked bread as we passed Brest and
into L’Ebron river!”

Marina What would you do if you were offshore with no visible markings and the GPS fails?

MT “I refer you to my worst day at sea! But it is possible, if you call them up, for the coastguard to get a triangulated fix on your position through your VHF transmission. From that, you and they can work out a course to steer to a safe port. If you are in possession of, and know how to use, a sextant it would obviously come into its own. Had to dust mine down on a transatlantic trip when the satellites in the region were retasked by the US military and navigated the last 500 miles to Barbados with passable success!”

Marina Being big fans of the latest marine technology, what are your 3 best gadgets?

MT A tablet with the Navionics world wide chart app and a charger, a handheld VHF, and a personal E.P.I.R.B.

Marina What are your favourite cruising grounds?

MT Western Isles of Scotland and the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia.

Princess 98 Motor Yacht
When you’ve found the right boat for you, buy the biggest version you can afford, says Mark. “You’ll outgrow it sooner than you think!”

Marina What’s the best part of your job? And the worst?

MT The weather and travel on both counts! Two-hour flight to Nice, flat seas and hot sunny day posing on the French Riviera is great. Cold, wet and windy delivery to Brighton and seven-hour train trip home, not so much.

Marina If you weren’t a skipper, you’d be…

MT … A forest ranger or marine biologist, if I had the brains. As long as I was working outdoors, I’d be happy.

Marina What would be in your fantasy marina berth?

MT Well I’ll be greedy and go for three. I have fond memories of a Fairline Targa 50 I did a delivery on in the Med. One of those based at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera, with summers cruising Sardinia, Corsica and the Italian Riviera would be nice! A Sunseeker 40 Portofino based in Dartmouth for long weekends exploring the South West or venturing across to the Channel Islands and Brittany when I didn’t have time for France. And if I was fabulously wealthy, a 60ft Oyster in the British Virgin Islands for some winter sun.

Marina What’s your favourite thing about being at sea?

MT It’s life stripped down in many ways. Just you and the ocean. I don’t particularly find it a romantic pastime – it is, after all, my job. But it still holds a fascination nevertheless. It’s both challenging and exhilarating and it’s become a part of who I am.