Roman Titov repaired his dismasted yacht but was sadly later lost at sea. Solo sailor Roger D Taylor describes what happened

Roman Titov was sailing south past Rockall, several hundred miles to the west of Scotland on the first day of January in 2022, writes Roger D Taylor.

In a storm that local fishermen confirmed as one of the worst they’d ever seen, the Russian sailor’s 33ft Colin Archer-type cutter Vperyod (Onward in English) was pitchpoled, losing her mast and bowsprit, and suffering considerable damage.

Roman himself took several blows to the face as he hung over the bow trying to release the bobstay chain on which the mast was caught, threatening to hole the yacht’s hull.

It took him two days of hard work with a bucket to clear the water from the cabin, water that had destroyed his electrics and drained almost all the charge from his batteries.

A sailor wearing wet weather gear on the deck of a boat

Roman Titov sailed over 300 miles by jury rig to reach Ullapool after his dismasting. Credit: Roman Titov

In an extraordinary saga of self-rescue, Roman Titov managed to bring his yacht into the port of Ullapool on Loch Broom, with no outside help whatsoever.

This took 17 days of brilliant seamanship under the most basic jury rig imaginable.

He was constantly cold and wet, had no hot food, no means of communication and no navigational aids except for a small-scale coastal paper chart.

He also knew that with the battery almost drained, and the alternator put out of action by water damage, he had only one chance to start and utilise his engine.

Roman, who was in his late 50s, originally trained as a Merchant Navy navigating officer and had seen service as a navigator in nuclear submarines.

Damaged coachroof sheathing on a yacht

Damaged coachroof sheathing on Vperyod. Credit: Roger D Taylor

This experience showed in the calm and logical way he overcame his predicament, literally presenting himself at the door of the Ullapool Harbourmaster’s office before anybody had any idea of what had happened.

He’d been sailing south from Norway with the aim of completing his qualifying miles for the 2022 Golden Globe Race.

The pitchpole was a severe setback for his plans.

After being extremely well looked after by the fine people of Ullapool, and with Vperyod safely ashore at the Johnson & Loftus boatyard, Roman returned to Moscow to look for sponsorship and to earn some money for the necessary repairs.

At that point, he still felt he had a good chance of repairing his yacht in time for the Golden Globe Race.

A few weeks later war broke out between Russia and Ukraine and his world was once more turned on its head.

In the financial turmoil of war, sponsorship was impossible to come by, the rouble fell sharply against the pound and international payments were suspended.

Travel between Russia and the UK was severely curtailed. The only work he could find was as a modestly paid sailing instructor.

Hexagon mast partners to take the new spar on a yacht

Hexagon mast partners to take the new spar. Credit: Roger D Taylor

Any chance of participating in the 2022 Golden Globe Race was gone.

He faced an uphill struggle to find the means to repair his boat and once more put to sea.

His dreams were in tatters.

A bowsprit on a yacht

Vperyod’s new bowsprit. Credit: Roger D Taylor

For nearly two years Roman Titov stayed in Moscow, saving what he could from his meagre pay.

He wrote a short book about his self-rescue, appropriately titled Stay Strong! but the earnings were limited: Russia was in a state of crisis.

In November 2023, armed with a short-stay visa, Roman finally returned to the UK and Ullapool, not much better off than when he left, but determined to patch up Vperyod as best he could and put to sea again.

His first destination would be Istanbul, home to many Russians, where he reckoned he’d be better placed to finalise the repairs.

Roman’s limited means meant that a new mast, whether timber or aluminium, was out of the question.

The search for a suitable second-hand mast in northern Scotland had been fruitless. The outlook was still uncertain.

Roman’s luck was not all bad.

Vperyod had ended up, quite by chance, at the Johnson & Loftus yard.

A sawmill in a boatyard in Scotland

The Johnson & Loftus in-house sawmill – a rare sight in a modern boatyard! Credit: Roger D Taylor

Just a short distance further up Loch Broom from Ullapool, it’s a small, traditional boatyard which specialises in historic boats and which can turn its hand to anything.

The yard even has its own sawmill, allowing it to rip planks up to 52ft in length straight from its store of tree trunks.

When Vperyod arrived there in January 2022, the yard’s main job was the reconstruction of the 50ft Zulu St Vincent – a traditional dipping lug-sailed herring drifter built in Banff in 1910.

Backstay bridle lengthened with chain on a yacht

Backstay bridle lengthened with chain. Credit: Roger D Taylor

By the time Roman Titov came back to the yard in November 2023, St Vincent had long since gone.

However, her old spars, which had been replaced, were lying unused in the yard.

Dan Johnson and one of his men set to work on St Vincent’s old solid Douglas fir mainmast, cutting it down in length and girth and re-shaping it for Vperyod’s new hexagonal cabin roof partners, which they also knocked up in double quick time.

It took them just two days to have the new mast ready.

It was heavy and basic, but it was a workable mast.

Topmast shrouds lengthened with chain and rigging screws on a yacht belonging to Russian sailor Roman Titov

Topmast shrouds lengthened with chain and rigging screws. Credit: Roger D Taylor

Roman Titov now had a mast but no boom, the original having gone by the board after the pitchpole.

A client at the yard, John McIntyre, had an old boom from his Tahitiana ketch, and generously gifted it to Roman.

It was aluminium, and therefore somewhat out of place next to the timber mast, but it was a serviceable boom.

Dan Johnson fashioned a steel hexagonal mast band to take the boom’s gooseneck fitting.

Staying the mast was the next problem.

A boat plaque

Refurbished Johnson & Loftus plaque. Credit: Roger D Taylor

The new, spreader-less mast required seven stays – twin topmast shrouds port and starboard, inner and outer forestays for the cutter rig and a single backstay with a bridle.

Most of the stays salvaged by Roman had been cut with bolt cutters to release the broken mast and were now too short. Never mind!

They could be lengthened using bits of anchor chain and spare rigging screws.

Roman hand-spliced hard eyes into the ends of each stay, served the splices and strengthened each one with two bulldog grips.

The result was not especially pretty but was robust enough for the job at hand.

A cabin table on a yacht belonging to Russian sailor Roman Titov

Suspended adjustable cabin table. Credit: Roger D Taylor

The original bowsprit had been constructed from heavy wide boards, and had been snapped off during the pitchpole.

Once more Roman was lucky: the solid laminated top section of a broken Douglas fir mast from a Tamarisk 27 was lying redundant in the yard and was quickly resized as a replacement.

The stainless steel fittings which anchored the old bowsprit served perfectly for the new spar.

To my eye, the new bowsprit was more in harmony with the Colin Archer style of yacht than the original.

Things were starting to look more hopeful for Roman.

Tim Loftus had confided to me that Roman had been in very low spirits when he arrived back from Moscow, faced as he was with an almost impossible task, given his limited means.

Now he was starting to smile again.

Vperyod’s bulwarks had taken quite a bashing from the fallen mast.

Damaged boards were cut out and patched up with spare lengths of timber.

A boat with a new mast and rigging

Vperyod’s new mast in place and rigged. Credit: Roger D Taylor

The yacht’s big stainless steel stern gantry, which had housed a large solar panel, had been crushed by the capsize and was beyond repair.

It was removed and discarded, improving the look of the yacht, but not its power-generating capacity.

Immediately following the pitchpole, the action of the broken mast banging and scraping on the coachroof had ripped off a wide strip of the fibreglass coachroof sheathing on the starboard side, leaving bare plywood exposed.

Some patches of ply were clearly in a poor state and needed replacing before being re-sheathed.

This was not a job that could be done quickly and easily, especially outdoors during a Highland winter, so the damaged coachroof was left as it was, to be repaired at a more opportune moment.

There remained one major problem to solve – sails.

Vperyod’s original mainsail had gone overboard along with the mast.

Her best headsails had been cut up to serve for the jury rig.

A mast and boom on a boat belonging to Russian sailor Roman Titov

The short mainsail foot leaves plenty of excess boom. Credit: Roger D Taylor

Luckily for Roman, the yard had a store of old discarded sails, from which he was able to choose a suitable main.

He decided on a fairly small mainsail made of well-stitched cloth in reasonable condition.

The head of the sail was 3m short of the masthead when raised, and a metre or two short on the boom, making it about the size of a double-reefed main.

There were good reasons for this choice, as we shall see later.

He was able to use a couple of Vperyod’s old spare jibs to complete the cutter rig.

On 11 December 2023, almost two years after the pitchpole and just six weeks after Roman’s return from Russia, Vperyod, transformed from a sad-looking wreck into a serviceable cruising yacht, was relaunched.

The day was cold, with a bitter north-easterly wind. High tide was about 1730, well after dark in the northern Scottish winter.

As the afternoon progressed, several locals arrived to hand Roman bags of provisions.

The neon light and electric radiator loaned to Roman by the yard were taken off Vperyod.

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Roman Titov dressed ship as best he could for the occasion, hauling a Union Jack a little way up the mast and raising the Swedish flag – Vperyod is registered in Sweden – at the stern.

Dan Johnson expertly manoeuvred the boat lift around the tight space of the yard.

The lift was inched into place and the boat props knocked away.

After straining to get purchase over the rough terrain, the tow tractor moved off with its load.

More delicate manoeuvring had Vperyod lined up for her descent of the slipway and within a minute or two she was afloat again on a pitch-black loch.

Roman had originally been aiming to participate in the Golden Globe Race, following in the wake of his compatriot and former Jester Challenger, Igor Zaretsky.

He still had plans to participate in a future edition, should he qualify, but in the meantime, he had his sights set on another equally formidable challenge; a circumnavigation eastwards through the Northeast passage, then south through the Pacific Ocean, around Cape Horn and north to his starting point at Gibraltar.

That was his plan, once he had Vperyod back in the shape he’d like her.

Russian sailor Roman Titov with the Ullapool Harbourmaster Kevin Peach by his boat

Shortly before his departure, Titov pictured with Ullapool Harbourmaster Kevin Peach. Credit: Roger D Taylor

The immediate challenge, though, was to sail the yacht safely to Istanbul.

There is a certain irony in the fact that, having been so badly damaged in a winter storm in the North Atlantic, he was once more putting to sea at exactly the same time of year.

Roman Titov was well aware of what he was likely to face.

He showed me the Bay of Biscay wind-rose on his passage-planning chart, with its predominance of extremely strong westerlies.

This was why he was happy with his smaller mainsail.

He aimed to make the voyage to Istanbul as quickly as he could, using his engine whenever necessary to keep moving quickly.

He’d taken on over 400lt of fuel to give himself a maximum motoring range.

Roman would never have been able to get back to sea without the incredible generosity of the people of Ullapool, sailors and non-sailors alike, and the freely given skill of Dan Johnson and Tim Loftus.

Sadly, it was all to no avail.

Despite only relaunching on 11 December, Roman decided to set sail two days later.

The yacht belonging to Roman Titov about to be launched

Vperyod ready to be relaunched after repairs. Credit: Roger D Taylor

The local people, including the Ullapool Harbourmaster Kevin Peach and community stalwart Topher Dawson, did their best to dissuade him, convinced that he needed to test his new rig in sheltered waters before leaving definitively.

His engine had lain unused for two years; the yacht had no fully-functioning self-steering system; a fellow-sailor at the Johnson & Loftus yard, Jonathan Biddle, had donated an old but serviceable Aries, but there had not been time to construct and mount brackets for it.

Moreover, the weather forecast was atrocious, with days of strong south to south-west gales in prospect.

Roman Titov was unswayed by the many entreaties to delay his departure, seemingly resigned to whatever awaited him.

He put to sea, into the confined waters of the Minch, the stretch of water between the north-west Scottish coast and the Outer Hebrides, and at a time of year when there is little more than six hours of daylight in every 24 hours.

Although the weather was fine when he left, it quickly deteriorated into the forecast gales.

We’re unlikely to know exactly what happened to Vperyod, except that she was driven either onto the mainland or onto outlying skerries, and comprehensively destroyed.

A top section of the mast, with shrouds and chainplates still attached, was first spotted in a bay south of Lochinver, to the north of Ullapool, 10 days or so after Roman set sail.

Small sections of the yacht have been discovered elsewhere: a transverse strip of coachroof, the fore and after decks.

In early February a body, thought to be Roman, but yet to be formally identified, was found on a beach near Lochinver.

His family was informed.

Roman leaves a wife and sons in Moscow.

He also leaves us with a cautionary tale whose lessons are clear: the sea always demands the highest respect, especially in winter.

For safe passage-making meticulous planning and preparedness are paramount.

For a long offshore passage, especially when single-handed, it’s always better to depart with favourable winds, to create plenty of sea room as quickly as possible.

Why Roman chose not to follow these basic tenets is still a mystery.

Roman, who scarcely spoke any English, was well-liked by the people of Ullapool.

They quickly adopted him and his cause, and are devastated by his loss.