Dick Durham speaks with John Passmore who recently decided to promote his book, Old Man Sailing, to a new audience in France
Sailing alone brings out a certain mastery of life which no other activity can provide. All sailors plan to eradicate obstacles, but out on the ocean they still arise and must be overcome. You can’t park up and await assistance; quite often you can’t turn back either. There’s no one to help.
So, when solo yachtsman John Passmore decided to promote his book, Old Man Sailing, to a new audience in France he decided not to rely on an agent or publisher, but to do it himself by sailing there.
He had 1,000 leaflets in French printed and stowed away in a spare berth and – having completed the Jester Challenge Plymouth to Baltimore, Ireland – set off from that Irish port to the capital of single-handed sailing, Les Sables d’Olonne in France, 350 miles away.
It brought new meaning to the phrase ‘book launch.’ I caught up with John on the River Medina, Isle of Wight, where he was awaiting the installation of a water-maker aboard his Rival 32, Samsara.
‘I envisaged becoming the epicentre of some sort of media storm,’ John, a former Fleet Street journalist, told me. ‘But there is too much sailing news in France. There are not enough newspapers, magazines or online portals to cover it all.’
A local journalist turned up and John managed to get some coverage in the regional newspaper, but it was ‘hardly the glare of publicity,’ he said. ‘And yet it seems everyone is into sailing there.
I had arrived early and was guided by a road sweeper to a baguette-dispensing machine. It turned out he, too, was a mad keen sailor!’
Then in the marina office he bumped into Kirsten Neuschäfer, the South African-born first-time female winner of the Golden Globe Race 2022. ‘I gave her a signed copy of the book, so at least I attained one more reader,’ said John.
But time was running out for the father who was due to be at the passing out ceremonies for both his son Theo and daughter Lottie at their respective universities in the UK.
So, he set off north once more, abandoning a planned visit to legendary solo sailor Bernard Moitessier’s grave in the Morbihan as the weather deteriorated, and crossed the Bay of Biscay to Falmouth.
From there he sailed to the Mersey in time for his son’s graduation at Liverpool University, and a few days later, his daughter’s at Leeds.
At the back of his mind was still the promotion of his book which is about a personal AZAB taken during the COVID-19 lockdown, in which during his 42-day, 3,629 mile passage, John produced a retrospective of his sailing life. It was sparked off when, aged 11, he listened to a talk given by Francis Chichester about his taking first place in the OSTAR, the inaugural single-handed race across the Atlantic in 1960.
28 years later, John sailed his own OSTAR in 1988 aboard Largo, his first Rival 32. In 2000 he tried to become the first solo sailor to round Britain non-stop. His choice of craft was a Heavenly Twins 27ft catamaran, Lottie Warren. Unfortunately, an unseasonal storm capsized the multihull and left him clinging for life to the upturned hull. He was rescued by helicopter.
As an old man sailing himself, John, now 72, is driven by the fear of staring blankly at a care home TV. So, as well as sailing, and flogging his book he is turning his blog www.oldmansailing.com into a series of podcasts.
Through his blog, the book started to sell in dribs and drabs, but then he was invited as a guest on the Jeremy Vine Show and sales took off. He has now sold 10,000 copies.
But the care home TV will drive him back to sea this autumn. John plans to sail back across the Atlantic to the bays and anchorages of the Caribbean where he will seek out yachts flying the tricolour.
‘I’ve got loads of leaflets left,’ he said.
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