One man and his boat – the voyages of Peter Rayner

One man and his boat - Peter Rayner and 'Tom Thumb' sailing between Herm and Saint Peter Port, July 2007

In Homer's Odyssey, the hero is advised during his visit to the underworld, that to retire from the sea, he should walk inland with an oar on his shoulder until someone asked him what it was for. Another remarkable sailor, and WSC veteran, has recently done just that – Peter Rayner, long-time owner of ‘Tom Thumb’ the 22ft Pandora which used to moor near the crane.

By profession a scientist with AUWE, Peter was a quiet, unassuming member of the club who raced singlehanded, with the result that not many people knew of his extraordinary adventures cruising with ‘Tom Thumb’. Crossing the Channel in such a small boat would not appeal to most people these days, but Peter was from a generation of sterner stuff, and his record is worth sharing.

Peter would pass through the Channel Islands first; his favourite anchorage was at Sark, whence he would proceed to Saint-Malo via Jersey. This, an already impressive small boat cruise, was merely the beginning; Peter would then enter the canal system, emerging finally at Lorient, where he would proceed to cruise the lovely area around Belle-Isle, the bay of Quiberon and the Gulf of Morbihan, an area for which a small boat is very practical.

After a couple of weeks down there, Peter would then re-enter the canals back to Saint-Malo, avoiding the tricky corner of Finisterre and the north Brittany coast. From Saint-Malo, he would make his way back through the Channel Islands, whose rocks, channels and other dangers he knew like the back of his hand.

Back along, on a wet July afternoon in 2007, I was waiting with the crew of ‘Phoebe’ for the ferry back from Herm, when we happened to notice a small boat making its way between Herm and Jethou, through the Percee Passage, which we had used with some trepidation a day or so before to make Saint Peter Port after the flood had started. It was of course ‘Tom Thumb’, making it look easy, and that evening I was privileged to have the chance to discuss single-handed sailing with Peter over a glass of wine aboard my boat.

‘Tom Thumb’ had her share of narrow escapes; Peter described the feeling of helplessness sitting in fog off the Channel Islands (with no radar or AIS of course) and hearing the Condor catamaran come closer and closer at speed, an experience which led him subsequently to have a distinctive bright orange patch on his mast and mainsail, to make the boat more visible in bad weather. On a lighter note, he went on to say that the biggest obstacle to navigation in the canals tended to be cows bathing in hot weather; two or three cows in the water at once could slow the passage down considerably!

Peter’s most memorable voyage, which members can still share as there is a CD copy, was his trip from Weymouth across to France and up the Seine to Paris, which he filmed with a commentary which includes a detailed description of a warship which he recognised in the distance, pondering on the poplars at Giverny and celebrating Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower. Peter is the only member to my knowledge to have made this distinctive trip, just one episode in a long career which included 30 annual Channel crossings merely in order to begin the real adventure!

I would like to convey, on the club’s behalf, our best wishes to Peter, and to thank him for his distinctive contribution to the history of Weymouth sailing, whose meaning he helped to expand – at least it’s where he started off from, and he always arrived safely back here on his mooring again after another distinctive odyssey!

Steve Fraser

Submitted on Monday, 3rd December