Classic Boat

The pilot

After a lifetime of cruising by sail and writing pilotage guides, Rod Heikell is one of the most familiar names in the world of sailing and, if he had the slightest clue of his sales figures, probably a best-selling author. It says much about the laid-back, modest Kiwi, that he genuinely has very little idea.

With Covid restrictions still in place, we had to content ourselves with a phone call to his home in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where Rod has been finishing an opus of some gravity, his new book . The book’s gestation really started about four decades ago, when Rod came to Europe, initially England, to pursue a post-graduate thesis in the history of science. Oxford’s Bodleian Library was the centre of this for The Mediterranean, via the French canals. “We had very little fuel, charts marked ‘not for navigation’, a lead line and a compass – we later added a hand-bearing compass.” The voyage nearly ended up as a transat rather than a meander down to the sun. “The compass was fitted near the transom,” Rod remembers, “and I swung it before leaving so I knew it was right.” After hours of uncertainty, a French frigate drew near to enquire as to their wellbeing. “I told them we were fine, but could we please have a position? It turned out we were in the western approaches, heading out to the USA.” The fault lay in the tiller bracket. Rod had swung the compass, then replaced the bronze tiller bracket with a galvanised steel fabrication. Once re-sited safely away from the tiller, the compass read true, and the couple made landfall in Saint Malo and on to the Mediterranean.

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