Bernard Cornwell interview

  • When & where did you learn to sail?

In the Thames Estuary. A friend of my father’s ran a shrimper, the Girl Heather, which did most of its work under sail (it was the 50’s and I’m guessing money was tight). She was a gaff-rigged cutter (sound familiar?) so from a very early age I learned to handle the rig. She was berthed in Hadleigh Ray and it was fairly tricky work getting out to the main channel. I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t sail . . . I owned a Heron for a time, but then real life intervened and I became a BBC TV producer so for a decade or more I really didn’t have the opportunity.  Then when I became a writer I had the time again . . . .

  • What drew you to your Crabber 24 originally?

The look of it! I started writing in Devon and sailed a Drascombe Lugger on the Exe and I remember passing a moored Crabber. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I fervently believe in lust at first sight. I had to have one!  I did love the Drascombe, but once I’d found my own Crabber I never looked back and eventually had her delivered to Massachusetts where my (American) wife and I live. Mine was originally called Crabapple, which has the merit of being a mild pun, but one which would be lost on Americans, so I changed her name to Royalist. There is, of course, a superstition that changing a boat’s name will bring ill-luck, but I was assured by a fisherman in Cape Cod that the ill-luck could be averted by having a virgin piss in the bilge. Well, you can imagine what a challenge that was, but we met it! She’s been in Stage Harbor now for 24 years and is much admired!  Her name has been changed again (yes, we christened her properly), because seven years ago I fell among actors and now spend my summer on stage in a repertory company and really my sailing time has been cut right back, so I sold her at a knockdown price to a very close friend on the condition that I could go on using her, which I do. She’s now the Hannah B.

  • Have you ever included your sailing experience in any of your books?

I think there are five ‘thrillers’ all set around the theme of sailing, so yes! They were written a long time ago . . . I enjoyed writing them, but really was happier writing historical novels.

  • If you were off to enjoy a day cruising with 3 others who would be your dream crew (past or present, real or fictional)

Judy (wife), Whiskey (dog), and then take your pick. Nell Gwynne would be fun!

  • Do you have any unfulfilled sailing ambitions?

I really don’t!  For years and years my ambition was to sail the Atlantic, then in 2004 a good friend asked if I’d help him and his wife sail a Shannon 38 from Savannah to Lisbon.  We went via Bermuda and the Azores and it was everything I’d ever hoped it would be. It still remains in my mind as the best vacation I ever had. I remember how we regretted sighting the Azores, wishing that we could just go on and on! It was a magnificent adventure, but I’ve never had the urge to repeat it. I would, I think, given the chance, but completing that passage was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream and that’s sufficient! Then, as I said, the theatre intervened. I used to be out in Royalist every day, but after the crossing? I really felt I’d done all I wanted to do and could just relax. Besides, I’m getting old, so I now have a Wasque 26 which starts at the press of a button and, God bless her, has a bow thruster.