Julia Jones reviews Old Man Sailing, John Passmore's account of his 3,639 mile solo voyage to escape the COVID-19 lockdown

Old Man Sailing
John Passmore
Samsara Press £10.24

Old Man Sailing has become a word-of-mouth bestseller among sailing titles — and deservedly so.

In March 2020 John Passmore was contentedly on his Rival 32 Samsara the wrong side of the Lowestoft Harbour bridge.

He heard of cruising families being refused entry to ports, of lock gates staying closed. Within an hour Passmore shifted his berth to ensure access to the open sea.

Three months lockdown was imminent. He did some careful provisioning and moved to the solitude of the Walton Backwaters to complete his preparations, put himself through a period of quarantine and pick a weather window.

Then he was away. Passmore’s plan was to get himself into international waters and remain there for the duration.

If he wanted to head for the Azores this meant taking the northabout route beyond the Shetlands.

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Time and destinations were immaterial, it was the quality of the voyage which mattered.

Passmore’s subtitle is ‘some dreams take a lifetime’ and there are a significant number of older sailors who will understand the need to seize the moment and go before it’s finally too late.

As the PM might say ‘if not now, when?’ Passmore was already an experienced sailor, used to his own company (though with an affectionate, supportive family) but this voyage clearly marked some personal epiphany.

When he returned, six weeks and 3,629 miles later he would discover that his action had caught the public imagination.

Meanwhile, sailing with only a direction rather than a destination encouraged introspection and reminiscence as well as a necessary focus on the minutiae of boat maintenance and personal survival.

As a former journalist, Passmore is an accomplished writer able to shape his anecdotes and remain wryly entertaining as well as thought-provoking throughout.

These qualities should ensure Old Man Sailing continues to be read even when the circumstances of lockdown have faded from memory.

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