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Extracts from the book 'Small Boat Against The Sea' by Derek King and Peter Bird

Derek, Carol and Pete, October 1973


Rowing around Ireland.

Can't be more than a thirty-yard swim, I thought. With the water as rough as it was, against the tide and holding a bag of clothes above my head, I reckoned it would take about ten minutes. It would be worth it. I needed to get off the boat, go for a walk, talk to people. My body ached from the cramped, soaking existence. My mind was beginning to ramble. For seventy days I had been alone, struggling to row round Ireland's magnificent and brutal coastline. Just over half-way, I felt that the nightmarish events which had occurred with terrible regularity must be over. I'd had more than my share of gales, headwinds, adverse tides, collisions, injury, swamping, even whirlpools. So a short trip ashore would be a little reward.

I stripped off, bundled my already damp clothes into a nylon bag, and alter checking the anchors, slid into the chilly water. I kicked off from the weed-slimy hull and began to swim strongly with one arm raised to keep the bag dry. Suddenly the wind gusted and knocked it into the water. The rhythm of my strokes went wrong as I tried to lift the bag up. It was wet and became heavy. A spiteful bitch sea slapped me in the face. My eyes stung. 'Keep that bag up. Keep swimming,' I repeated to myself. Again the bag blew down. I got worried. I glanced back at the boat. The wind had taken her away from me, in an arc around the mooring.
I gauged the distance to the shore: 15 yards. I was growing weaker, the bag was sapping my energy. What a fool I was to attempt such a swim! A startling mouthful of burning salt water made my heart jump. Waves hurtled over me. Filthy salt scorched my throat. I sucked mucus in as I gasped for breath.

The bag got heavier, I got lower. I thought I should rest a few seconds only. Very low in the water, I stopped swimming. The hissing of the water around me abruptly stopped as I sank. No spray or slaps, but a quiet, pressing sensation around my ears. My eyes opened and I saw a green void. My mouth was open, a cold heaviness flowed into my body. Then a calmness took over all my feelings. A perfect peace for one long second. I wasn't frightened, rather extra-alert and curious. I felt part of the watery emptiness. 'What's happening?' asked the inner voice, the surviving instinct. 'I am drowning!'

My thoughts cleared. I kicked my way to the surface. My head nearly exploded after the quietness below. I re-entered the world of gurglings and bubbling sounds. Coughing up foulness, I cried for help-but there was no one, just rocks one way and my boat the other. I threw away the bag of clothes.

My eye fixed on a rock as I crawled through the evil sea. A wave humped and obscured the black rock, then foam cascaded off it in white ribbons. 'I-must-make-it,' I told myself as I dragged myself on. Five yards to go; three, two. Crunch! The turbulence of the backlash jarred me so severely that I didn't know if I had hit the rock at all. I groped in the seething foam and felt sharp limpets and solidness. The next wave spewed me out of the sea and my body scraped over the sharpness. Sprawled over the rock, legs dangling in the sea, naked, I was shaking, vomiting-absolutely terrified.

'This must be the final warning,' I thought. 'It is now time to give up. I've tried my best. I mustn't push my luck any further.'
But my life continued its run of contradictions. Later on that day I swam back to Louise, and set off rowing again. On 3rd October 1971 arrived back at my place of departure- Donegal: 113 days and 1,500 miles later. Even my near-drowning hadn't been enough to stop the crazy voyage. Sharks, reefs, surf, a killer whale and savagely painful salt water sores added themselves to the list of horrors. I really thought I meant the next day's Daily Express headline: 'Never again, says first-time oarsman'.

*     *     *

TransWorld Rowing Expedition - Intentions

How strange then, a few months later, that I drew up a detailed prospectus of my new plans entitled 'British TransWorld Rowing Expedition'. Why could I not settle down to my trade as a chef and continue a very promising career? I wasn't really cut out for such hair-brained physical ordeals. Basically I loved the soft life, a country lad with a passion for animals, food, comfortable beds and pints at the local. I hated driving, travelling and meeting new people. Where did my peculiar itchyfootedness come from?

For I had a terrific desire to row off again. This time, The Big One! My decision was made while John Fairfax and Sylvia Cook were still rowing across the Pacific: there could be only one voyage to cap that. I thought I could do it; I was young and strong and daft enough; I could row a good stroke; I could survive the life. And someone would surely sponsor my effort. I could think of no reason why I shouldn't have a go. So I got organised for the trip of a lifetime. Why? What for? asked my friends and family.

The frequently voiced but nevertheless dubious clichs rolled off my tongue: 'Because it's there!' 'Man's desire to better himself,' 'Because I'm British!' But I wasn't sure about them. Perhaps it was far simpler-selfishness, egotism, escapism, shirking my responsibilities. But I knew what was involved. It would demand more of me than I had ever given to anything before.

At twenty-four I had time and youth on my side-no ties, and the doggedness to transform dreams into realities. I had also nurtured an insensitivity to other people's comments. Ever since the Atlantic rowers came into the limelight in the Sixties, 'rowing round the world' has for many come to be a jocular expression of impossibility mingled with pointlessness. I certainly needed all my ability to ignore those who told me what not to do with my life.

After six months of initial planning I began to look around for two companions to make up a team; one of them was to be a girl. After Louise had been destroyed by a lire in Northern Ireland two days before she was due to be shipped to England for exhibition purposes, my idea of raising money to build anew boat quickly fell through. I had therefore to make quick money to keep up with the planning costs while I tried to raise finance elsewhere.

' Heads and freaks daily bread. Call Wendy on...' pronounced an advertisement I saw in a paper. With visions of easy cash I investigated further. As I suspected, the job was selling. Chalk drawings on velvet-type backgrounds were certainly not my style. I collected a bundle of the horrible things and waited to be allocated to a group who would be driven out of London to pollute the artistic atmosphere of unfortunate suburbia.

'Derek meet Peter Bird, your supervisor,' said the sales manager. A bespectacled character, over six foot tall, topped by a huge mass of curls and ending in bright blue boots, swung towards me. He proffered a great ham of a hand and said:
Hi man!'


The reason why I was standing in an office surrounded by twenty or so hairy salesmen was because I was a refugee of the times at twenty-six years of age. I had left school at fifteen and, completely unqualified, gone straight into an advertising agency as tea-boy-cum-production-assistant. Happy and independent, I had then begun my education. Nearly a year later, the agency went bust. I snatched the opportunity of this sudden freedom, bought a sleeping bag and hitched off around Europe. Like many of the young of that time, I had been influenced by Jack Kerouac's holy book for misfits, On the Road. It was the beginning of a way of life-travel. Any time the urge came I dropped whatever I was doing-from advertising to photography and scores of jobs in between-and went: driving, hitching, walking, sailing. I made two round-the-world trips as a ship's photographer. My horizons extended.

Always I kept my one creed-never to be committed. Commitment, I saw, was a ball and chain. It meant responsibilities and ties that would make it difficult to stick two fingers up at the boss if he got unreasonable.

Why not work for yourself? I tried it. Peter Bird Photography came and went. For unreasonable boss read unreasonable Bank Manager.

I felt totally unemployable, so the only answer was to duck and weave more quickly-in, out and away. My wanderings brought me back home to London and the velvet painting business. I was soon promoted to Supervisor and financially I was doing quite well. I intended to stay in the job for the summer of 1972 and with the proceeds hoped to build a catamaran and become even more mobile.

Then I met a tough, compact-looking man who wore a black leather jacket and smoked a cigar. He didn't look like the rest of the casual types assembled around us in the sales office. In fact, he appeared to be the odd one. As I shook hands with Derek King, a searing pain shot up from my fingers. I hoped he wouldn't shake hands with a customer before trying to sell!

As we drove up the Ì1 I began the 'get' the newcomer comfortable' technique by asking a bit about him. With three others in the car I tried to make him feel part of the family. He told us he was doing some writing.

'Like what about, man?' asked a voice from the back seat.

'About a trip I made last summer.'

'Where to, man?' came the back seat.

'I rowed round Ireland,' came the nonchalant reply.

I was astonished. I asked questions. How long? What boat?

He certainly didn't expect so much enthusiasm from me. As I plied him with pints of Guinness ('my training,' he said) in a
wayside pub, he dropped another bombshell.

'I'm planning to row round the world,' he declared with the greatest conviction.

'What in?'

'I asked Uffa Fox to design a 40-foot row-boat, based on the lines of Britannia II. You know, the one that-'

'Yes' I interrupted, 'the Pacific rowboat.'

'Well, last week Uffa sent me the blueprints. She's going to be a beautiful boat.' He stared into his pint and smiled.

'What route?' I was intrigued.

'I think the best place to start from is Gibraltar. You can't row against the headwinds farther north, if you leave from the U.K. for example. Gib is the nearest British colony to the beginnings of the north-east trade winds which will be in my favour across the Atlantic. Then through the West Indies, Panama, the Pacific, North Australia, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Suez and back to the Rock.' He downed his drink. '26,000 miles. Probably take about three years in all with stopovers for repairs, food and water.'

 Surely he'll need a crew, my mind raced. He won't go alone. Not in a 40-footeã.

'Er - going with you?' I ventured.

'Well, actually I haven't got a crew together yet. I'm hoping to find another bloke and a girl.'

I heard a tiny alarm bell ringing in my head. A girl. Two men.

'Why a girl?' I enquired. I didn't fancy the idea of sharing.

'Why not,' he laughed. 'I don't like the idea of all that time at sea without a bit of female company. And there's the personality difference which I think is important. If three men went- well, I think there'd be more problems. Limited subjects of talk, possible rivalry for leadership, and so on.'

'Why not a twosome then?' I suggested.

'Three people ña work more efficiently than two. Don't forget it's not like sailing. If you stop rowing-you stop moving, except for a wind-drift. So the boat's got to be moving most of the time, or it'll take years. And there's so much to do on top of the rowing. There's cooking, navigating, sleeping, maintenance and all that. With three people, all the jobs are looked after without affecting the performance of the boat.'

Derek sounded very knowledgeable. It was obvious that he'd put in a lot of research. The route was unusual for round-the-world voyages-but then, this wasn't a usual voyage. As rowing can't be done against winds, it was the obvious choice. The well-known routeing by clipper ships and, more latterly, eccentric yachtsmen would I knew be impossible for a rowboat-the seas would be too rough, the weather too cold for an open boat, and there would be a lack of suitable landing places in the Southern Ocean-the arsehole of the world, as Derek succinctly put it.

'But,' he added, 'don't think I haven't considered that route.'

I admitted that he must have considered everything.

'As far as I can see, there is only one weak point in the route. Suez,' he said. 'But I reckon that by the time I'm up the Red Sea, it will be open, officially. Though I've heard of small boats going through already.'

The two days that followed were drastic as far as selling went. Derek and I yarned for hours about his venture and the more we spoke, the more I wanted to join him. Derek set the ball rolling by talking about the qualifications needed in the crew.

'Neither of them need know how to row-they'll get enough practice. They've just got to be keen, with plenty of stamina and nerve, and be totally uncommitted.'

'I'm your man!' I blurted out.

'I think you are,' he said.

Would we get on for three years? I thought. I thought so- hut obviously there would be a few arguments. Yet it seemed we complemented one another. The big question was the girl. That alarm bell still rang. But I felt confident in my ability, both mentally and physically. I also had a very real need to go; call it a need to fulfil, I don't know, but it was the first time in mylife that I had committed myself for more than a month ahead. From that day on, the sales of velvet paintings plunged.
Derek suggested we work on a demolition site to toughen ourselves up. As great steel roofs crashed around us, I couldn't help thinking ~ on earth have I let myself in for?'


As soon as we started talking, I decided that Pete Bird sounded very much like the man I was looking for. It was obvious he would have a go at anything, and his traveller's tales convinced me that he would appreciate the experience. I thought that what he would go for would be the journeying rather than the achievement. He certainly looked fit enough; I could think of o argument against him. And that outrageous sense of humour: very useful for the long, long days on the ocean.

Both of us set out to find our number three, though I detected Pete had certain reservations about a female being involved in such an enterprise. Nevertheless, he thought it proper for both of us to have a crack at her on the casting couch before any decision was made! I was totally aware of the possibility that there would be a sexual problem: namely, the old familiar of 'wo into one won't go'. Pete just saw black and white on this point.

There was another reason for the inclusion of a girl in this project: pure publicity. We needed publicity to pay for the voyage; #

But I was aware of the very real problems that publicity can bring.

The first pressures came from the press, sponsors and friends:

'Where', they asked, 'is the girl?' We desperately needed a girl. Of the few who asked to join the team, all were enthusiastic and certainly would have been physically able to endure the rigours of such a voyage. Unfortunately, these fine women were built like Charlton Heston and did not possess the feminine charm that I wanted to live with for three years.

One evening, in Dartford, Kent, I met an old college friend of my younger brother's. I had known Carol Maystone slightly and we chatted. She asked what I was doing for a living and I told her about the voyage. Jokingly I asked her if she'd like to come. Her dark-brown eyes looked serious. She thought for a minute and said: 'Tell me more'. Carol was a very attractive twenty-year-old. She was dressed in a track suit that evening as she had been playing badminton at the local YMCA where she worked. She told me she had left the Army after her basic training to get married-but later she had broken off her engagement. She wanted to travel and she appeared genuinely enthusiastic about the voyage and said she understood the dangers and problems of the trip. She wanted to think about it for a week.

Three days later she rang up and said she wanted to go.
Carol was attractive, enthusiastic and she looked as if she could handle interviews quite well-thereby promising to add plausibility to our image. She was a sweet, pleasant-natured girl, giggly, cheerful and self-confident. But would she really be able to cope with a boat, the sea and two men? How could I be sure she wasn't kidding herself and us? Indeed, how could I be sure about Pete or even myself? The answer could only be-try it.

We decided to accept Carol as a member of the crew

Then in April 1973, following a talk with Peter Tappenden, our contact at British Petroleum, John Fairfax phoned me. He had heard from Peter that we were having no luck trying to raise the money to build the boat. Would we like to borrow Britannia II for the project? She was on exhibition in Australia at the moment but would be coming to England in June. Very gratefully we accepted. And then everything began to slot neatly in place. The attitude of potential backers warmed at the news of the expedition's latest asset, namely one boat.

Casablanca. April - May 1974

The relationship between Carol, Pete and me has almost broken down. Let's try to analyse it. First, I have been stubborn and tried to convince myself and Pete that the girl would change once we were at sea. All the glamour, posing for photos, TV, etc, would no longer distract her from her job. Pete, now it seems quite rightly, refused to believe this would happen. The situation between those two soon became very strained- especially on the Barbate-Casa run. I soon found I was in total agreement with Pete. It became apparent that Carol's seamanship was inadequate to our tasks, despite our laborious instruction in even simple things such as knots. She realised this inadequacy and then seemed to get worse. And when she smiled for the first time when I announced we were going in to Casa, I realised that ever since the idea of the row had been suggested to her she had been completely deceiving herself on her capabilities.
The gales are still blowing-we'll no doubt be here a few days more. I think I know what will happen, but I do baulk at losing a crew member.

Pete understood well and said it was my decision. He, like me, agreed that the cooking would be a hated job if we had to do it ourselves. And something else that both of us didn't fancy doing
-the awfully painful job of telling Carol we didn't want her.
On 5th May, Carol returned after vanishing for nearly two days. I was sitting in the boat repairing a broken foot board. Pete crouched on the pontoon next to the boat sawing a piece of batten. Carol sat down between us. The problem of who would tell her to leave was resolved. She looked me in the eye and said:
'I've decided not to go on.'


Press article. The Times. 24 July 1973

Miss Sylvia Cook, left, and Mr John Fairfax inspecting the Britannia,
the boat in which they rowed across the Pacific in 1971,
at Sheerness yesterday, with Mr Derek King, aged 24, a former chef;
Miss Carol Maystone, aged 21, a social worker; and Mr Peter Bird, aged 26, a photographer.
They are to attempt to row the boat round the world starting from Gibraltar in October.
The boat had been brought back to England from Tasmania on Friday on board the &O cargo ship Manapouri.

Press article. 30 October 1973 (Newspaper name n/a)

Members of the crew of Britannia II, who in December
will attempt to row the boat round the world, attending
a re-launching at Shepperton yesterday of the craft
which John Fairfax and Sylvia Cook rowed across the Pacific.

The three crew members are Peter Bird, 26 (second from left),
quartermaster and radio operator; Carol Maystone, 20, cook;
and Derek King, 24, the expedition leader.
With them are Silla Mason (left), Peter Bird's girl friend,
and Maggie Wollard, Derek King's fiancee.

Press article. 27 December 1973 (Newspaper name n/a)



Two men and a young woman are to set off from Gibraltar next week in the first attempt to row round the world.

They hope to make the 26,000-mile voyage in an open glass fibre boat, 35 feet long. For two of them it will be their first experience of rowing on the high seas.

John Fairfax, who used the same boat, Britannia II, to cross the Pacific last year, said: "I wish them the best of luck, but I don't think that all three of them will make it all the way."

Three years of hard rowing, often through storms, face Carol Maystone, 20, a hairdresser of Dartford, Kent; Derek King, 24, a chef; and Peter Bird, 26, a photographer, from Hackney.

For three weeks they have been training in the little boat off Gibraltar. The first leg of the journey will be across the Atlantic to Panama, and throughout the voyage Britannia II will try to maintain radio contact with British Petroleum tankers.

"Great adventure"

The only experienced member of the expedition is Mr King, who got the idea after rowing round Ireland.

"At first we thought he was joking when he asked us to join him" said Miss Maystone. "But we talked it over, and decided it would be a great adventure."

None of them has experience of the kind of hardships facing them. Mr Bird said: "People might think we are asking for trouble, but we are convinced that we can do it."

The little boat, like half a walnut shell, will be buffeted by giant waves, and probably whales. But provided the crew hangs on, they should survive, for Britannia II cannot be capsized.

Mr Fairfax said: "Nobody could imagine how tough a voyage like this will be. But apart from dangers and physical ordeal, they will face immense psychological problems from spending so much time together in such confined space."


Press article. The Guardian. 13 August 1974

Gales beat rowers

An attempt to row around the world has been abandoned after 'nightmare" conditions during a two -month crossing of the Atlantic. British Petroleum and Independent Television News, the sponsors, were told yesterday that Mr Derek King, aged 24, of Dartford, Kent, and Mr Peter Bird, of Hackney, London had said they were mentally exhausted and could go no further. They arrived at the Caribbean island of St Lucia on Sunday.

BP said the pair had indicated that 60 per cent of the crossing from Casablanca- which they left on May 7- had been made in Force six gales or worse.

They had come close to death a number of times: Derek fell overboard while trying to catch fish and was chased by a shark. Twice they were nearly run down by passing ships.

The two men had set off from Gibraltar in April with Carol Maystone, aged 21, of Dartford, as cook. But she left at Casablanca saying she could not get on with them.

The boat, Britannia Two, was designed by Uffa Fox for John Fairfax and Sylvia Cook, who rowed the Pacific in 1972.


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