Mingming Mania in Moscow

»«April 2012

Roger Taylor, 'voyageur extraordinaire' and an advocate of 'simple sailing', has sailed his 21ft junk-rigged Corribee 'Mingming' on single-handed voyages every year from 2006 to 2011. These voyages are the inspiration behind his books, "Voyages of a Simple Sailor" and " Mingming & the Art of Minimal Ocean Sailing". Having completed translations into Russian of his books, his Russian publishers invited him to attend the Moscow Boat Show in March...

I’m recently back from six days at the Moscow Boat Show, long repetitive days: hotel, metro, exhibition hall, metro, hotel. My Russian publisher had thoughtfully booked me into a nice hotel close to the centre of Moscow, so that I could walk around and see the sights in the evenings. Trouble was, by the time I got back to the hotel, usually between 8:00 and 9;00pm, it was all I could do to drag myself down to the hotel restaurant, or one of the nearby eateries.

I was excused duties for a few hours one morning, and so was able to walk up to Red Square and the surrounding area, last seen in 1963 (Krushchev was still in power!). All was forgiven on the last day of the show: after an early finish I was taken to an amazing Ukrainian restaurant hidden out in the suburbs and known only to the locals. Ukrainian food has to be accompanied by regular glasses of their peppery vodka – karchma – downed in one draught with much ‘na zdorovye’ing. It snowed every day, and particularly heavily on that day. What with the snow, the vodka, the fiery pickled food and the waitresses in national costume, I finally felt I’d arrived in the real Russia. Sadly I had to leave the next day.

The Boat Show itself was big, and mainly aimed at oligarchs looking for something nice for the weekend in Monaco, or for wannabee Putins after a suitable huntin’n’fishin’ boat. There were only two cruising yachts on display – and a selection of dinghies – including Oppies. Despite that, there was a steady stream of really interesting Russian yachtsmen to my publisher’s stand.

I had great fun improving my rusty Russian, as the week went on, as I chatted with the sailors and signed their books (each with a personal dedication in Russian, which won me no end of reader kudos). A surprising number of Russians keep yachts abroad; yacht charter, particularly in the Mediterranean, is becoming very popular too.

The highlight of the week was on the Saturday, when three Transatlantic Jester Challengers came, from St Petersburg, Yaroslavl and Velikiy Novgorod, so that we could all meet up. These are long distances to travel, in two cases involving overnight train journeys, so I was very touched.

The three were my great friend Aleksei Fedoruk, an outstanding singlehanded yachtsman, Igor Zaretsky, Russian Yachtsman of the Year 2010, and Mihail Soldatov, ex-captain of a Russian destroyer. Mihail brought a northern chart along with him, as he is sailing back from the US this summer, first to the UK, then to Iceland, Jan Mayen and Murmansk. He wanted to pick my brains on a variety of aspects of Arctic sailing. It was great to see everyone again, and all together, and the buzz around the stand on that day was the liveliest of the Show.

All in all it was hard work, but great fun. For almost every book of mine that was sold and signed (about two hundred), I posed for a photo with the purchaser(s). As can be seen from the accompanying selection of photos, this was very tough work, as it meant having to get up close and personal with all kinds of unsavoury characters, but I forced myself to do it!

The most touching moment came when Sergei, a sailor from Siberia, who sails on the amazing Lake Baikal (400 miles long and 4000 feet deep), and who came to the Show every day, presented me with a book of fabulous photos of Lake Baikal.

It is strange to think that little old Mingming, usually tucked away unobtrusively and unnoticed at Rice and Cole, is now something of a star so far from home. It seems that many Russian sailors, like their European counterparts, are fascinated and inspired by the idea and possibilities of uncomplicated ocean sailing in small boats.

Roger Taylor