In 1960, when Sir Francis Chichester first raced single-handed across the Atlantic, it was widely regarded as an insane stunt. Nowadays, the Singlehanded Transatlantic Race is held not only in great respect, but is recognised as a true test of stamina, seamanship and navigation. But this does not mean that it is a race for heroes only. In 2005, writer and broadcaster Paul Heiney, an amateur sailor in any respect you care to mention, entered the race to prove that the Corinthian spirit of the transatlantic pioneers can still get you from one side of the Atlantic to the other, if you try hard enough. He sailed in what would be widely regarded as a standard family cruiser in which he had great confidence; but his trust in his own abilities was less certain. This is an honest account of what it is like to be out there, alone. Even the strongest yacht takes a battering after 3,000 miles: bits break and there's no pit stop for repairs. Sails are torn, water turns sour, the last apple turns to mush and there's still three weeks to go before a sight of land.
And then there's the crew - the poor sod on his own, making all the decisions, taking all the blame, enjoying the credit for when things go right, inevitably responsible when they fail. There is no one else to scold or praise, no shoulder to weep on, no one to joke with, no one to kiss, nobody to argue with about who washes up. There are books aboard for comfort, but probably not Perfect Storm. Paul Heiney fully expected to be the last man across the Atlantic in the 2005 race and says it won't bother him in the slightest. 'It's enough to be able to say you climbed Everest without having to run up it as well. And this is the sailing Everest, for me anyway.'
Paul Heiney is a well-known writer and broadcaster who will be remembered from his appearances on That's Life. More recently, he has been part of the BBC's Watchdog team and presenter of Radio 4's Home Truths. In a richly varied life, he has also been an organic farmer and a cart-horse enthusiast.