Peter CrowtherPeter Crowther, Landlord of The Green Dragon and intrepid yachtsman, chats to By the Dart.
In Conversation with Peter Crowther
Congratulations must be extended to Stoke Fleming publican and intrepid yachtsman Peter Crowther who has recently successfully completed the 2009 OSTAR in 29 days. The Original Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race has been run exclusively by the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth since its inception in 1960 with the race starting from Plymouth and finishing in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. It was a very fast race this year and the winning boat, a 40 footer, did it in 19 days breaking the record. Peter broke his own record by 3 days. His target was less than 30 days but he says, ‘I could have been a little quicker if I had concentrated more and not gone backwards on occasions!’ Peter explained that the boats had tracking devices and every move could be followed so all his family and friends in the pub were watching his progress on-line. He got back to The Green Dragon and was harangued with ‘Why did you spend a night going backwards?’
Peter was sailing Suomi Kudu, a Swan 38 owned by Peter’s brother in law, which was built in 1976. It is a real ‘gentlemans’ sailing yacht and it has been fitted out for short handed sailing. ‘It’s a lovely boat to sail and it was very good of him to lend it to me’ affirms Peter. It was the third time Suomi Kudu had been entered for this particular race but the first time successfully completing it.
The weather conditions for the race were not too bad, a lot of easterlies and north easterlies, not too much fog, one bad gale of 40 knots lasting for six or seven hours and two or three other lesser gales. Unfortunately for Peter there was not a lot of sun which he would have enjoyed.
Curious to know how Peter spends his time when not having to fight the elements I asked if he saw much marine life and he admitted, ‘I am actually very scared of whales because of the damage they might do. Luckily, I was up on deck when I suddenly saw this very large whale alongside me and I thought it was going across the bow of the boat so I bore away. Then it blew and I realised I was going straight towards its head! So I had to go round in a complete circle to avoid it. Then on another occasion I passed two whales floating together about fifty feet away and I also saw several schools of dolphins. I do spend a lot of time reading but mainly you sit a lot thinking and actually enjoying the physical aspect of sailing and again if the boats not going well you sit and worry about what you should be doing. If you’re in your bunk and the movement isn’t quite right you won’t sleep. You get in a rhythm with the boat very quickly and really you are there just to organise the boat with the weather.’
With Peter being used to the good food served in The Green Dragon he does try to maintain civilized dining onboard. He likes his full English breakfast and Jilly Rowden in Dartmouth vacuum packed his bacon, sausages and gammon and this time he had also found some wonderful ready meals meant for campers which took just 4 minutes to heat through in boiling water. Peter admits he also likes to enjoy a beer at lunchtime and a glass of wine with dinner believing that keeping to a routine is important. ‘Some days you don’t feel like it especially if its rough but I think it is worth trying to make the effort’ he says.
In this ever increasingly technological age you are no longer out of contact even in the middle of the Atlantic. Peter can remember in his early sailing years of setting off and nobody knowing where he was. This time of course he had a satellite phone and was able to speak with his wife Alix although he says on one of his calls he was asked to phone back later because the pub was busy! On another occasion his daughter Tilly phoned him as he was heading for the finishing line and it was his turn to cut short the call. Having just spent seven hours ‘beating’ to do the last sixteen miles he said ‘I didn’t want to crash into the land!’
Peter originally got into sailing on family holidays to St Mawes in Cornwall. His father sailed and Peter followed from the age of eight. When he reached eighteen he sailed across the Atlantic for the first time as crew on a yacht that was going to charter in the West Indies and he ‘got the bug’. In 1970 in bought Golden Vanity, a 64 year old gaff cutter, which he intended to sail around the world in. He got as far as the West Indies and decided to do the season there, then decided to sail back home again and on that journey back decided he would take part in the OSTAR. He first entered the OSTAR in 1972 aboard Golden Vanity and on that occasion he took 88 days to finish. Of course not all of his sailing passages have been successful. Crossing the Southern Atlantic he capsized and lost the masts but managed to sail to Cape Town under a jury rig and in June 1976 in the same boat, Galway Blazer, he sank in the Atlantic and spent a day in a life raft before being picked up by a huge container vessel. Peter recalls, ‘I was fully expecting to spend the night as well and I was a bit worried because I had no socks on!!
First published August 2009 By the Dart