After many years fun sailing Daisy from North Wales and the Clyde, some charters in the more remote parts of Scotland and the warmer climes of the Med. I was diverted for 3 years as roadie, logistics manger and financial manager for my daughter’s Topper campaigns growing through club, regional and national racing circuits to 2 UK championships and a world championship in China. Now outgrowing the most competitive size for a Topper we were looking for the next adventure. Also thinking ahead, in a couple of years Jan and I would hopefully have some more time to sail together again without the competing demands of the children at home.
Since my teens I have wanted to sail some distance, say around Britain and beyond to the coast of Europe. Whilst Daisy is ideal for day sailing up to long weekends, and good weather weeks in relatively sheltered coastal waters, off shore sailing for weeks at a time demands something a little larger. Three basic requirements needed to gain management approval were: –
a “proper” cooker (including an oven),
standing headroom below decks and
a proper heads.
For some reason Jan is not a fan of crouching to cook or the bucket. In addition, my requirement was a navigations space big enough to lay out a (folded) chart and hold some instruments out of the weather. Whilst these requirements can just about be crammed into some 26’ boats the compromises are rarely elegant. So, we targeted the 28-32’ LOA range.
Charter holidays in Mediterranean marina boats with fin keels and flat sections were lovely on Mediterranean summer days. But off the West coast of Scotland running reefed before a force 6 from St Kilda to Barra with the charter yacht slamming badly and pulling its rudders out of the water on a broad reach, I was not endeared to this hull form. The sea kindliness of a deep vee bow with ballast moulded deep in the long fin keel or fin and skeg brought more confidence. Evenings trawling the yachting press, Apollo Duck and eBay yachts drew me towards the designs of Kim Holman, Chuck Paine and David Saddler.
The elegance of the Kim Holman Twister had long appealed. Faultless and elegant above decks and below the water line. Available in timber, GRP hull timber deck composite and all GRP. The later all GRP models made the long list. Below decks “compact and bijou” springs to mind. Early models had a two burner hob, sometimes with grill opposite a chart table. Moving forward the saloon would just about sit 4 people, with the table usually folding up against the bulkhead. Sleeping headroom in the saloon provided by trotter boxes fore and aft. The sink in the heads usually a fold up model. The forward cabin with vee berth largely given over to stowage often with an anchor chain hanging down the middle. Prices were generally sub £20k with some remarkably decent examples going for less that £10k and some mouldy examples sitting on the market for much more. One late example with a rear facing chart table full galley including oven grill and hob, also a fitted sink in the heads caught my eye but unfortunately, I was not ready to take the plunge before it sold for a song. “If only” the saddest word combination in the English Language.
Frances / Victoria
Chuck Paine’s Frances 26 had impressed me when I crewed on one in the 1990s. The flush deck version would not pass management scrutiny, the short cabin version or the decadent full cabin Victoria 26 or 31 might just gain approval, but they are rare and sought after. By the time I found one worth considering other factors had come into the equation.
Old friend Ian was about to retire, and his recently married son Jonathan was about to relocate back to North Wales. They were interested in joining us in a small syndicate to share the fun and expense of a cruising yacht. This moved the requirements slightly to a yacht suitable for two couples to cruise in reasonable comfort. Jonathan’s desire for a classic boat with lots of wood work was modified by a two to one majority in favour of a sailing project rather than a wood working project. GRP hull & deck, minimal external woodwork, so a plastic classic. Sailing two up for any length of time effectively means each person needs to be able to sail the boat single handed.
In reality two adult couples cruising in relative comfort means a 6 berth yacht. Quarter berths may be the berth of choice for the hard racing skipper / navigator in foul weather. In a cruising boat less that 35’they are either the home of the still supple, the masochistic contortionist or stowage (aka a dumping ground) for everything large and loose that people want out of the way, close to the companion way but not on deck (cushions, deflated dinghies, oars, spare boat hook, sweaters, dog bed etc etc). The conversion of the saloon table into a “double berth” creates either a very cosy double, in which both occupants can enjoy enforced body contact but neither will get much sleep, or a spacious single. The opposite berth makes another adequate single, lee cloths can turn both into quite good sea berths. The Vee berth in the bows, either with or without the infill, creates a reasonably sizable double / twin berth at the head, and footsy playing at the toe. For more racing inclined owners Jeremy Rogers offers pipe cots for the forward cabins of Contessa 32s.
On with the search. Enter the Rustler 31s, Contessa 32s, Sadler 32s and 34s.
Big sister of the Twister occasionally Rustler 31s come on the market. Solid conservative yachts often overshadowed by their larger incarnation the renown Rustler 36, the yacht of choice for the leading skippers in the Golden Globe Race. The 31s we looked at had a reasonably conventional layout, bespoke to the original owner. Many adopting the rear facing chart table and additional cockpit stowage, rather than the quarter berth. The two that we looked at were both project yachts. Immaculate examples were well above our budget. The projects would have required considerably more overall investment than buying an immaculate example.
David Saddler designed the Contessa 32 in the late 1960s as a step up from the popular Contessa 26. The design did not push the limits of IOR but did popularise the fin and skeg arrangement. Already popular as a round the cans racer and training boat the Contessa 32 became renown when Willy Kerr’s Assent, skippered by his son Alan, became the only boat in Class D to complete the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race. Willy went on to sail Assent to the Arctic, Antarctic, Pacific coat of Canada and Alaska.
David Sadler went on to modify the design of the Contessa 32 to the Sadler 32 a slightly beamier boat and more commodious below, then elongate the design to the Sadler 34. The collected opinions favoured the Contessa 32. The Sadler 32s we saw were in poor condition and would require a lot of work and money to bring them back to reasonable condition. The 34s were either major projects or out of budget.
Back to Contessa 32s
A good range of Contessa 32s were on the market. Some from the photographs were obviously in poor, neglected condition, mould visible, green stuff growing over all the decks and running rigging. Other’s appeared reasonable. Some had been done up to a high cosmetic standard and were asking silly money. A short list was drawn together, ranking was primarily based on overall condition, inventory and big cost items needed in years 1 and 2. Fringe benefits came further down the list. Visiting a few gave a better feel for what to look for, also asking price vs value.
With a short list of two and a reserve in North Wales we headed to Scotland on a lad’s weekend with Martin. First night in New Lanark youth hostel amid the model mill town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An early start to get ahead of the Glasgow traffic, then up past Loch Lomond to one of our favourite hostelries The Drovers Inn for breakfast.
Our first viewing of the day was just north of Oban. From the ground the boat looked in good condition, on deck similarly, well though out layout, well maintained and even a wind vane steering to play with. Descending the hatch was a different story, well used and the quick tart up coat of varnish was still sticky and entrapping mould. A new engine only heightened the worn out look. We had no doubts that the soft furnishings would not pass the scrutiny of the three sets of senior management at home. £10-15k off the asking price may have made a reasonable refurbishment project, but we were in search of a “sailing now” project. The search went on.
Heading south to Croabh our next appointment was with Jeff, owner of CO32 White Knight of Purbeck since 2001. The heavens opened as we made our way to the end of the pontoon. Jeff greeted us with a pot of tea and Tunnocks wafers to sit around the immaculate saloon and listen to Jeff talking in his soft Lancashire burr for an hour as the rain beat on the deck above. White Knight had originally been built for the Army in 1979 then sold in the early 1990s, The owner prior to Jeff had undertaken a major refurbishment relining the main cabin with teak veneer, refitting the galley, installing a refrigerator and calorifier (pressurised hot water throughout), and fitted new bunk cushions, all carried out and maintained to a very high standard. The overwhelming smell entering the cabin was of bee’s wax furniture polish rather than mouldy bilge and diesel. One of the many tales Jeff told was of having the hull stiffened after White Knight had fallen off a wave in the Sound of Jura flexing the hull and delaminating a stringer.
With the rain having passed we undertook the detailed inspection, hoisting the sails in a flat calm then a sort trip up towards Loch Melfort to try out the engine and manoeuvring. A deal was agreed including a berth at Croabh Marina until the end of the season, a spare engine and a van load of other spares.
Its Friday evening, Radio 2 Drive time requests are playing on the car radio, the Muppets theme has just played. School is behind us and a long road stretches ahead into the gathering night. The two, or occasionally three, of us are heading off for the weekend and a Topper National Series event. For 4 years my youngest daughter Elin sailed Toppers.
Elin started sailing at a very young age coming with us in dinghies, kayaks and Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger, then Daisy our Cornish Shrimper. Then aged 6 she started trying Optimists on our local Flash, was initially scared, but liked the weekly sweet shop with sailing that is Gresford SC Juniors also meeting up with friends from other schools. But she grew to dislike the “Tea Chest” like Opie. Excitement came back when the club got a pair of RS Fevas. Far more exciting than the Opie, with its see through racing sails and asymmetric spinnaker. First crewing with an older girl then grabbing the helm herself she loved the power. With another girl they started travelling to other clubs on the RYA North Wales Club Youth Racing Circuit (CYRC). The big event at the end of the North Wales Junior Circuit is the annual On Board Festival held at Bala SC. It is the selector event for Regional Squads. Five Gresford Juniors were selected for the RS Feva Squad. Through the course of that winter we hauled the kids and their dinghies to various venues around the Welsh coast and larger lakes. Pairings and roles were changed, teenage squabbles driving some pairings. Elin was paired with a lad from Anglesey who’s parents bought him a new Feva, so he was helm. Through the next season it became clear that the relationship was not working. Elin was being blamed for all the poor results and started losing her self-confidence. Training together was not fun. As his Dad put it “When it was good it was very very good, but when it was not it was horrid”. To help her regain some confidence, Elin was lent a Topper at the Flash and loved it. Capsized it a lot, but still loved it. Entering the Wednesday Evening Pursuit Races with a scratch handicap she capsized five times in her first race, four times in her second and only once in her third race.
The Topper was originally designed in the late 1960s by the renown Ian Proctor as a plywood beach boat with a hull form which surfs very easily. Very soon afterwards it was re-developed as a large polypropylene injection moulded hull. The largest single moulding in polypropylene at the time. This provided a mass producible light-weight resilient hull that was exactly the same from the first moulding to the current mouldings 40 years later. A true racing “One Design”, winning is entirely down to the skill and luck of the helm. Minor developments have been moving from rear sheeted to centre sheeting, variations in the kicker and down haul and the halyard arrangement. Maintaining this robust dinghy to top level competition standard is not expensive with parts readily available (and easy to fit) to cover the occasional breakages and whims of teenagers (do red downhauls really make the boat go faster than black ones?). The original 5.3m2 rig remains the standard, a smaller 4,2m rig allowed younger and lighter children to join the fun. The latest development is a larger 6.4m2 rig introduced in 2020 after 2 years testing by the RYA National Squads. The class is widely supported from club level through to RYA regional and international squads, a network of coaches and a very active Class Association (ITCA). In the UK along with the Optimist it is the Junior single handed feeder boat into the RYA Youth and Olympic squads. RYA and Team GB’s Olympic success has encouraged other countries, especially China, to follow a similar pathway programme for their own Olympic Squads. I had sailed an early Topper in the 1970s and loved it. But having just built a Mirror Dinghy, Dad was not for letting me have one. It would also have involved buying a wet suit, almost unheard of for fast growing sailing children at the time.
Enter “Ruthless”. Searching Apollo Duck, we found and bought a reasonably well equipped second hand “Squad ready” Topper with a range of 4.2m and 5.2m sails, a good trolley and a weathered cover for £850. Her name “Ruthless” giving hints to the literary influences of her Lake District based previous owners. In her first race in “Ruthless” Elin stayed upright for the whole race and moved up from the back of the field. “This is my lucky boat, I love it” was Elin’s verdict to her still slightly sceptical mum. Within a few weeks Elin was starting to win the Wednesday Evening pursuit races and was having her handicap increased to keep her wins in check. My role, as parent of the person most likely to need it, was in the Rescue Boat.
While persevering crewing the Feva Elin quietly gained skill and confidence in the Topper. Her squad coach Dave Eccles ran a weeklong summer camp at Bala each summer. So as her Feva helm was elsewhere, Elin took her Topper along. Racing against other similar children found she was quite successful, contrary to what her Feva Helm kept telling her. The crunch came at the On-Board festival. There was a decision to be made. Move up to Welsh National Squad in the Feva or Regional Squad in the Topper. Elin chose Topper Regional Squad explaining that her Feva Helm needed somebody closer to him to train with.
As a Junior Squad Parent you have many roles:-
Kit Manager/ bosun,
First Responder (both medical and mental well-being),
Behavioural “Responsible Person”,
Accommodation & Catering Manager (AKA warm roof over the head, cook, bottle washer and filler, clothes picker upper and laundry operative).
This, at a time when the natural progression of all teenagers is to see their parents diminish from being Heroine / Hero to “ZERO”. The ultimate accolade a parent can hope for is to be “AN EMBARASSMENT”. So ideally not seen or heard, preferably not even in the same universe. Unless needed, at which point instant presence is expected and demanded. Also to take the blame for everything in the teenager’s world that is “WRONG”. Fortunately by this time the teenagers are also starting to become more independent so can, with a bit of encouragement, be left to sort themselves out. Though binoculars can be handy for the nervous parent’s piece of mind, they should also be used very discreetly. Competitive parents do exist in all sports; though in my experience of Topper Parents most generally manage to keep a lid on their vicarious competitive nature, in public at least. Topper’s reputation as “the Friendly Class” is largely deserved.
Logistics Manager: Regional Squad would involve a round of winter residential training camps and committing to competing in a round of ITCA National Series competition cross the UK culminating in the GB Topper Nationals in Pwlhelli. This adds up to about 4-5000 miles of travel to various local, regional and national events each year with 20 or so nights away. The mileage and nights away increase as the competitor raises through the ranks. So how to meet the logistic challenge. The Topper is car topable. But with a dodgy back and a relatively small car along with all the other kit clothing, not my preferred option. This was confirmed when we dropped a Topper onto the bonnet of my car putting a couple of scratches in it.
We started out with an old Mirror Dinghy Trailer which I gradually modified to carry the Topper inverted (so as not to distort the hull) then added a box to carry “foils” (rudder and dagger board) and various other bits of kit. We then added a pair of “rig tubes” to carry the spars and rolled up sails. These I made from a sawn up length of plastic piping from our local builder’s merchants, though commercial equivalents are available. This rather Heath Robinson contrivance served us well that first season, being low profile it was just out of sight of the rear view mirror until I fitted the box. But it failed spectacularly within a couple of miles of home on our first trip to Weymouth. A suspension arm fatigued and fell off in a cloud of hot rubber and grinding metal. Dragging the remains to the side of the road we arranged to borrow a friend’s large camping trailer, transferred boat and kit and were back on the road less than an hour behind schedule. 5 hours later we rolled into Weymouth’s Premier Inn and what was left of a night’s sleep.
Our next trailer was an Ifor Williams box trailer to which I fitted a Unistrut frame to carry the boat and rig tubes leaving the box for kit. 10,000 miles, later it is still almost as good as new, easy to tow behind our cars and with a resale value about what we paid for it.
Chief Financier: Sailing has an unfortunate reputation of being only for the rich. Yes like any passion it can use up a lot of money if you want it to, but it does not have to. After the initial outlay on the boat and trailer, the biggest costs were travel and accommodation, then sailing clothes. A serious campaign of 5 or 6 National Series event weekends and a week-long National Championship cost little more than the equivalent “staycations”. We got to keep meeting a great bunch of like-minded people and established a nationwide network of friends. In winter we used Premier Inns booked well in advance to get the best deals, then shared holiday cottages for Nationals. Sometimes we camped, others had motor homes.
Good comfortable warm clothing is essential to the enjoyment. Training in the snowy midlands in February needs good kit. Yes there are the brand loyalties and pressures, but bad kit is very quickly seen through and bad reviews gets around the teenagers very quickly. Colour preferences are individual. One of Elin’s friends always races in his trademark yellow. Some were pretty in pink, at least until puberty hit. Most went for uniform black with the occasional accents of red and blue. Woolly hats and bandanas were part of the individual’s character.
Keeping the boat maintained and dealing with minor breakages was part of the fun. It helped to be handy with a drill and pop rivet gun to replace and upgrade parts of the rig. We quickly developed a small tool kit which Elin took great pride in. Even now she carries rolls of electrical tape in her school bag. Russ Dent, Topper’s production manager attended all the National Series events with a van load of spare parts and ran a workshop for running repairs and aiding less technically confident parents. Sorting out the leak in Ruthless’s hull with a soldering iron helped saved Elin’s first National championships. Thanks again Russ.
Serious injuries are rare, occasional cuts and bruises, occasionally some muscle strain from trying too hard without warming up, most often cold bordering on hypothermia during winter training or when “The Beast from The East” hit the winter nationals at Weymouth. Coaches and safety crews are alert for this. Two capsizes and you are ashore was the rule for that event.
Teenage children are a law unto themselves as they break free from parental control and start to experiment with their growing freedoms. Hormones also kick in and must be learned to be managed as friendships evolve and change.
Racing is a disciplined sport with rules strictly applied, however pushing the boundaries to the limits and beyond is how many learn to excel. Overall the Topper sailors were a reasonably self-regulating group with minimal need for parental intervention. Self-discipline could and did break down as particularly the younger sailors became dehydrated, tired and “hangry”. Savvy parents quickly learned the benefits of some hot quick calories and fluids, then the need to give space.
Having this wider circle of friends gave Elin a lot of support and balance when she was having problems with some other children in the narrow world of school. Social media contact with the Topper friends was a far greater benefit than threat. Within the Topper family friendships formed, some did not last but all learned how to evaluate and enjoy those friendships which did.
At the end of a long day on the water either training or racing the boat had to be brought ashore, put to bed (or at the end of the weekend onto the trailer) and the tired helm showered, changed and taken to the venue for the night. Early snack food and drink was essential to get past the hangry phase. Through the winter we tended to stay in Premier Inns. Identikit we knew what we were getting without having to think too hard. Sustaining food was on hand early and with little trouble. There were always other families staying in the same venue, so socialising continued until the call of a warm bed took over. In the summer we were more likely to stay on site where herds of teenagers would roam around socialising. A particularly memorable venue was the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club in Lowestoft where we stayed in the garret at the top of the club’s Edwardian dome. 360-degree views from our room in a very old-world setting. The promenade created a great venue for the teenagers to hang out in the evenings while parents enjoyed the dining room and bar. Group hiring holiday cottages for the weeklong nationals also worked well.
It isn’t all about the kids. Some parents enjoyed sitting in the club house drinking tea and chatting, others finding a quiet corner with a laptop to catch up on work or social media. My preference was to help where I could while trying (usually unsuccessfully) not to cramp Elin’s developing style.
My first role was running the Tally Board to keep track of which children were ashore or on the water. A vital part of the safety organisation which required a flurry of activity as boats were launched and recovered.
For the next event, because I had a VHF licence, I was asked to run the Bridge. This provides the communications link between the Event Director and shore-based teams, with the Race officers, Mark layers and Safety teams on the water. Usually this is busy as the race management and safety boats go on the water and check out, then again as they check in at the end of the day with occasional bits of traffic as competitors are brought ashore. But a sudden and severe change in the weather at Bala one year moved what was fairly routine into a major rescue and recovery exercise. As Bridge officer part of my role was to keep the logs of all radio traffic and help direct efforts where they were needed. That all the competitors were brought ashore and accounted for within 10 minutes and the whole fleet including many abandoned boats was safely recovered ashore within half an hour called for a great deal of coordination across the whole race management team.
After a few events running the Bridge I wanted to try something on the water so joined the Safety fleet. I already had a Power Boat 2 qualification with a Safety Boat endorsement from my work as a Dinghy Instructor. Generally, this ment long days on the water following the fleets around a designated portion of the race course or escorting boats to and from the beach, occasionally providing assistance where necessary. To comply with Safeguarding all coaches, safety boats and other race official’s boats need to have a crew of at least two. Often a parent filling at least one of the crew roles. Between races the safety fleet is kept busy herding competitors into a reasonably small area and keeping an eye out for stragglers. One particularly memorable trip was again at Lowestoft where I got to crew and have a go at driving an ex RNLI Atlantic 21.
At the Pwllheli Nationals we got to try different roles, so in addition to Safety Boat I crewed for the on the water jury one day and helped on the committee boat another. Over the course of the next season I rotated these various roles.
The big step-up came towards the end of the UK National Series season where I was invited to train as a Mark Layer for the world championships in China. The ITCA Mark Layers are a very close-knit team of long-established partnerships. A daunting prospect to be invited to join this elite team, many of whom are on the RYA and World Sailing lists of certified Mark Layers and some were part of the team of 2012 Olympic race officials. I was initially sent a load of training material from the official RYA course to start getting my head around the role. My training came during the Weymouth Nationals week where I joined Andy Millington for my first day’s training.
The role is to lay a series of race marks to a precise pentagonal arrangement dictated by wind direction, strength and the Race Officer’s desired race duration. In tidal waters there are various adjustments to account for tidal set, drift and the relative strength of wind. Mark laying accuracy is to within a very few meters on a course which can be up to a kilometre long and wide in whatever sea and tidal conditions prevail. The mark positions are roughly set out from prescribed tables using GPS, then more precisely positioned using compass bearings and laser range finders all orientated from the first mark, laid near the committee boat. Handling the anchors, warps and buoys is wet and physical work and requires a lot of organisation to avoid warps tangling, getting wrapped around the boat’s propeller or dropping an anchor without it being properly tethered. Laying the marks to allow for tide and wind moves the game from the precise science of navigation to an art. Then comes the mystique. At the bottom gate mark, will the boats split evenly showing no bias in the set of the course? Will the first boat finish exactly on the time dictated by the Race Officer? Then come the traditions, a Mars Bar after the first set. Drinks on the Race Officer if an even split of the boats around the bottom gate.
The Mark Layer’s toy box full of kit develops quickly: VHF radio, Iris sighting compass, wind vane (sometimes attached to a hand bearing compass), laminated sets of course cards and dimension tables, clip board with protractor to recalculate course angles quickly and reducing the amount of mental arithmetic, Garmin 72 GPS, tide gauge sticks, wind speed gauge, optical or laser range finder, waterproof case. Then the bigger bits of kit; fog horn or other sound making equipment, heavy duty snap shackles for attaching marker buoys to the RIB, Jersey rings and buoys to lift the marks from deep water, Signal flags, course shortening boards (folding). The favoured boat for Mark Layer’s is a RIB with a 50-90HP outboard. The second seat is sometimes sacrificed to make more room in the back of the boat for anchors and warps. A towing post behind the seats is an advantage as is a stainless steel frame over the engines to which marks can be attached high out of the water for towing. A good bilge pump is essential.
The Mark Layer’s day starts early with safety and race committee meetings, then off to the boat to rig up for the day. Marks, warps anchors and dumbbell weights are usually loaded up and the fully fuelled RIBs launched the night before an event. Food and kit for the day stowed and the toy’s deployed. Each lead Mark Layer has his or her own preference for pimping up their RIB and stowing their kit. The Crew fitting in around the lead. The Lead Mark Layer’s role is to get the RIB into the best position to lay the marks accurately and adjust accordingly. A very high level of both RIB navigation and handling skills is essential. The crew’s role is mainly to manage the marks, warps anchors and dumbbell weights. Fast accurate knot tying is an essential skill. Upper body strength is desirable. The Crew also assists with the finer navigation work taking cross bearings and sometimes gets to use the range finder.
Signing out with the bridge the Mark Layers usually follow the main committee boat onto the course area. Top level race officials do this with some style with the four Mark Layers RIBs following in strict vee formation behind the Committee Boat as they leave the marina and head out to the course area.
Once the committee boat is anchored and the Race Officer happy the first gate is set out from the committee boat. This is the fixed point around which the remainder of the course is aligned. Mark 1 the windward mark goes in next. This has its own dedicated marks boat “Marks 1” as it will be the mark moved most frequently as wind shifts come through. Mark 2 and Mark 3 (a gate mark) can then be laid and referenced back to the gate mark, each again with their own dedicated Marks Boat. “Marks 4” looks after the start and finish marks and with the help of “Marks 3” manage the outer end of the start line and any general recalls. The Marks boats can also be used for signalling to the race fleet shortened course or other course alterations and monitoring boats as they round (or miss) the various marks.
Wind shifts mean the course needs to be realigned. Sometimes by dragging a mark and its anchor to a new position but more often lifting the whole kit and caboodle, including the pair of dumbbell counter weights which keep the marks upright and the warps below keel level. Flaking the anchor rode as it is lifted then relaying in the new location. The mark is then left to settle to wind and tide then checked for positional accuracy. Maybe adjusted slightly or re-laid again if it is dragging. A good day is when the course only needs minor adjustment. A bad day when the course must be lifted and relayed 6,7 or 8 times. A particularly bad day is when the committee boat must move several times during the day and the whole course area moves with it. Respite came as the race progressed, time for a quick snack or hot drink, watching for our helms and other competitors we knew. Between races the course resetting, adjustments and realignments then back on station for the start.
As the last boats finished the last race of the day the Marks team collected in all the race marks coiled down, secured the marks to the back of the RIB, cleaned up and headed for the marina to refuel the boat and head back to the berth, hot showers, dinner and a drink in the bar……. Well not quite. There was also the helm to catch up with, feed, console or avoid as necessary, possibly boat and equipment repairs along with social and accommodation secretary duties to attend to. A few hours in a warm bed then do it all again the next day.
Four years of great fun and an unrepeatable time with my daughter at a formative stage of her life.
I first became interested in St Kilda nearly 40 years ago and there it sat, like a distant star, tantalising but seemingly out of reach.
We awoke to a glassy calm and watery light. With Martin on the helm we made our way down the flat calm Sound of Sleat. Ian, in Guiness hat, on watch. Stewart and Gordon preparing breakfast. Rounding the Point of Sleat we put Eigg abeam, Rhum floating ethereally above a ring of low cloud and the summits of the Cullins wreathed in clouds. As the morning wore on the wind filled in and the clouds over the Cullins slowly lifted to reveal the fearsome saw-toothed ridges and a pair of Minky whales, mother and calf, rolled by.
The 24 hour + forecast was questionable for St Kilda with East winds making Village Bay untenable. Our tactical decision was to head for Leverburgh on the Sound of Harris to await the next forecast while considering Taransay or the sea lochs off the Minch.
Close in the under the cliffs at Gob na Hoe gannets were fighting with a skua and Black guillemots flying low while we listen to Celtic band Daimh (pron Dive) on the stereo. Once past David Alan Stevenson’s 1909 Niest Point lighthouse, we took our point of departure to cross the Minch to the Sound of Harris passing just to the north of the Niest Point TSS.
Off Rodel we started running our pre-planned transits into the Stanton Channel through the Sound of Harris. Transit marks include small cairns on distant islands, Jane’s Tower (a painted cairn), the left hand end of a building, and the top of one of the many rocks. We anchored in Leverburgh Harbour off the pier with 4.9m below the keel.
Landing we got chatting with the lifeboat crew, just returning from a shout, then wandered through the village listening to cuckoos, being followed by a dog with children playing on their bikes. As we passed the Church of Scotland church the minister for “South Harris, St Kilda & Rockall” David Donaldson and his wife Jean invited us in. Over tea & banana cake we shared common connections and found how seriously religion is taken with five churches serving Levenburgh’s sparse population. David painted an apocryphally picture of cockerels being separated from hens from Saturday night until Monday and children’s swings being tied up on Sundays in Free Presbyterian Church households. All pondered as we strolled gently back to the harbour and an amazing sun set.
When it came the weather forecast was good enough for a passage to points west and delivered by the loveliest of lilting Gaelic voice from Stornoway Coast Guard. Departing at midnight, we ran a watch system with Gordon and I each taking 2 hour watches turnabout and the crew taking 2 hours on and 4 off. Passage through the Leverburgh channel and out into the Atlantic was straight forward.
Our guiding star (Jupiter) set into the haze ahead just before a spectacular red moonrise. The International Space Station arced across the stars to the south while Venus & Mars rose from astern. It was never completely dark. St Kilda became a smudge slightly more solid than the clouds on the horizon in the twilight.
Back on watch at 06:00 a pair of grey mottled (Risso’s) dolphins passed to the south of us. Puffins, guillemots, razorbills, gannets, fulmar passed close by as they headed away from St Kilda. Boreray, Stack An Armin (Gannets) and Stack Lee like a Bishops Mitre stood out ahead. We tracked north of the rum line to approach the archipelago from the ENE. I started sketching the islands in the monochrome light, then adding the colours as they started to fill in with the rising of the sun.
With the sea so calm we were able to put Stewart in the sea on his surf board with his cameras to film the birds on Stac An Armin & Boreray from the water. Thousands of Gannet’s started circling Stewart as he made his way towards the stacks totally ignoring the boat. Skuas, fulmars and guillemots joined the circling throng. Seals basking on the rocks ignored us, while one kept watch from the water. Gannets and skuas were fighting over fish caught by the gannets. A gentle swell broke over low lying rocks as we kept well outside the line of pot buoys tucked close to cliffs.
Leaving Boreray, we crossed towards Soay and Hirta, then turned into Glen Bay. Puffins abounded skimming close past the sea caves which punctured the cliffs. Glen Bay is described as a possible anchorage but with 20m under the keel very close to the cliffs even at the head of the bay it would only be worth considering for a yacht in ideal or desperate circumstances.
Leaving the bay we passed close to the mighty arch through the cliffs then kept close under the northern cliffs of Hirta. Fulmars and guillemots nesting on narrow ledges while walkers occasionally appeared high above us on the horizon and the radar station sat silent above all.
Dropping sail to enter Village Bay we anchored off the restored old feather store. Gordon had partied there with the army detachment during his visit in 1977, a disco and bar set up in the ruin left roofless following a submarine attack in WW1. As we ate our lunch a pair of Minky whales were feeding further out in the bay and a male Eider Duck dabbled along the water’s edge.
Too excited to catch-up on sleep, we landed and walked up through the village, then fell asleep in the sun on the grass in front of the Museum.
Refreshed, postcards were posted to friends and families, an old tradition for visitors to St Kilda. Then a wander round the Free Church of Scotland and adjoining school room. Both filled with an overwhelming sense of the sadness and constraint they had inflicted on the islanders. Demands which coupled with influxes of Edwardian steamer tourists, whose life view and ideas were so incomparably different from the way of life the islanders, had ultimately precipitated the evacuation of the last 36 remaining islanders in 1930.
Around the head of the bay below the old village lie the 1960’s MOD prefab buildings strapped down to their concrete foundations to serve the radar station on the summit of Mullach Mor.
We climb past the dry stone cleits used by the islanders to store the dried fulmars they lived on and the walled enclosures used for their sheep up to “The Gap”. A pair of Great Skuas mating and ragged Soay Sheep grazing, then from the ridge we looked down onto Fulmars nesting a few feet below and the sea far below. With stunning views out over to Boreray and the stacks, the mountains of Lewis, Harris and the Uists just visible on the horizon.
The Shipping forecast warned of strong winds to come so time to head for shelter. We departed for a lively overnight passage south to the Sound of Barra, leaving St Kilda to drop into the twilight behind us.
Following our successful cruise out to St Kilda, we were wind bound on Uist for the next two days so a road trip around S Uist, Benbecula, N Uist, Berneray, and Eriskay was called.
Dawn of the Gresford Commandoes
In a hired car we headed north to Lochmaddy for gas and elevenses at the museum. A mosaic of a mackerel adorned the nearby rocks. Wending our way around to Berneray, we walked across the machair out through the dunes to be greeted by the irresistible white sands and clear sea of the sounds of Pabbay and Boreray and went swimming off Bernaray. Thus invigorated and after a debriefing, we put our damp modesty protection into the boot of the car and became the GSC “commando unit”, looking for a “mission”.
Watching seals basking on the rocks on the E side of Bernaray we noticed a black bird with a yellow / orange beak and red legs. A chough? But isn’t the beak supposed to be red. Text to the oracle – Martin’s big brother Nigel. Reply:- Chough with yellow beak is a first year non breeding. The “mission” had presented itself.
Word was out (confirmed by Nigel) that there was an extremely rare Black Billed Cuckoo on N Uist which had flown in from Canada. The hunt was on. A heard of red deer in a field close to the road took a standing leap over a high fence. At Bay Head a party of Birders (Twitchers after a specific bird) looked disillusioned. No sighting of the Black Beaked Cuckoo all day. Then a grey bird caught our eye and Stewart’s lens. Texted photo to Nigel. Reply: male Hen Harrier. Nigel heading to the pub in the New Forrest with Mrs Nigel to drown his sorrows in Guinness.
Down over the causeways to Benbecula and South Uist, caught sight of an Owl quartering the ground. Another photo texted to Nigel. Reply: “Short Eared Owl hunting, typical flight pattern when hunting”. Another Guinness was sunk in the New Forrest as we listened to the rasping cry of Corncrakes but were not able to get a photo for Nigel.
Looking over Beinn Mhore a speck flying high. Some sort of eagle? Too far away to be sure. Nigel informed, no reply. Mission accomplished.
Next stop the remains of a black house birthplace and childhood home of Flora McDonald who in 1745 saved Bonnie Prince Charlie from the English, who were hunting him after the disastrous Battle of Culloden. Famed for disguising the vain Prince as her “Irish Maid” and taking him by rowing boat from South Uist “over the sea to Skye”, and his eventual escape to France.
On over the causeway to Eriskay, site of the sinking of the SS Politician in 1941 while carrying 264,000 bottles of whisky. Later immortalised by Comptom MacKenzie as Little Todday and the Sinking of the SS Cabinet Minister in the classic novel “Whisky Galore”.
Dinner in the ‘SS Politician’ pub on Eriskay. Here we met visiting US professor of economics and author Edward Raupp who was researching for the writing of a historical novel with a protagonist who comes from Erisaky but works with various historical people and MI6 / Bletchley Park. Signed the pub’s book of visiting Yachtsmen.
Returning to Loch Boisdale, otters were playing in the pools behind the Marina and the wind was still howling across the Loch. Another raisin moment.
On the road again
Wind F7+ blasted across the Loch all night. Reports from the Minch “rough”. So another road trip day, this time concentrating on South Uist with the 5 of us crammed into a Corsa.
First stop the Kilroan Museum, home of “Aileach” Wallace Clark’s retirement project a reconstruction of a medieval sixteen oar galley as used by the Lords of the Isles.
Meadow Pippits were sighted in the fields as we headed north Then as we approached Beinn Mhor a large speck was seen in the sky obviously the object of interest to a couple of fishermen standing on the road side, a quick turn into a lay. All piled out of the car, Stewart in the middle of a phone call grabbed his camera and snapped away. Too far away, but the fishermen confirmed it was a White Tailed Sea Eagle being mobbed by a seagull, and that there were several Sea Eagles around the area.
Continuing north then turning east to Loch Carnan, and the Salar Smoke House for a tasting. A selection as starters was secured for dinner. Lunch at the Hebridean Jewellery workshops, a distinctive style not to everybody’s taste, though lunch went down well with all. Chatting with the owner we were given clues to finding Otters in Loch Skipport.
Another winding road to the East brought us past the “Eagle Trail” and a pair of amorous ponies onto an old puffer pier, by which an Otter was feeding on crabs. All enjoyed the raisin moment as we lay in the grass watching the otter warmed by the sun with the breeze playing in what is left of our hair and the smells of the sea mingling with peat bog and wet grassland.
Then returning to the main road a speck in the sky grew and turned into a White Tailed Sea Eagle. Still too far away for normal cameras but Stewart’s amazing machine captured enough of an image for Big Brother Nigel to confirm the sighting. We watched as our Sea Eagle swooped down on something on a small hill a mile or so away, then flew off towards the coast.
Behind Borrodale burial ground we looked for some iron age roundhouses and were startled as a Golden Eagle (confirmed by Nigel) swooped out from the adjacent field, a large bird but not as large as the Sea Eagles.
Final destination for the day was Eriskay’s St Michaels Church which was unfortunately and unusually locked. Built by Father Allan famous for collection of Gaelic verse and songs, the church has a bell form the German battle cruiser Derfflinger scuttled in Scapa Flow, and an alter base made from the bow of a lifeboat from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.
Returned to Loch Boisdale and the boat for dinner: Salar Smokehouse Salmon starter followed by Spanish Tapas. Ian’s last night aboard as he had to catch the early ferry to Mallaig and trains south to take his mum to attend a distant family members golden wedding celebrations in Scunthorpe.
Back across the Minch.
Overnight the winds started to drop. A paced start to the day with hot showers, breakfast and clearing the decks and cabin of the detritus of three days in port. With Stewart on the helm we headed out into the Minch. A gentle slop remaining from the swell. The mainsail halyard jammed both raising and lowering. Eventually we managed to raise the main to 2 reefs, then one reef and finally after 2 hours all the way up. Wind on the nose so tacking but the wind was dying. Engine on and motor sail for Canna.
A series of sextant sights for Meridian Altitude worked out to 0.1M different from GPS latitude.
Ran Martin’s passage plan into Canna harbour for afternoon tea at the café then a walk along the coast to the medieval prison tower perched on a sea stack overlooking the entrance to the harbour. Legend has it that in the 18th century a laird unsuccessfully imprisoned his daughter there to keep her from her lover Iain Ban Og of Skye, but Iain rescued her and carried her off to his home.
We returned too late to go into Canna House home of the late Dr John Lorne Campbell, so explored the gardens, before returning to the boat for Stewart a swim with and photograph the jelly fish.
Leaving Canna for Rhum we spotted a rippling on the surface a mile or so away, this got nearer apparently heading towards Canna Harbour. Soon we could make out occasional fins breaking the surface. Then the pod started changing direction and we were surrounded by a huge pod of Common Dolphins. Swimming alongside the bows and breaking surface. Before breaking off and heading for Canna again.
Texts pinged into our phones as we rounded Rhum and came back into signal. Ian had gone to the station to find the only train available was the famous Jacobite steam train; he managed to get the last seat for an unforgettable journey back through Glen Finnan to Fort William. Slight compensation for missing Canna and the Dolphins.
Into Loch Scresort for our last night. After dinner a walk up to the head of the Loch and the fantastic red sandstone Victorian Kinloch Castle, former holiday home of the Lancashire industrialist George Bullough and his descendants.
Early departure from Loch Scresort to get back to Armadale to hand Sleat Odyssey back to her owner and catch the ferry back to Malliag and the long journey home. We broke the journey for Martin’s first taste of haggis as we stopped for lunch at the amazing Drovers Inn near Loch Lomond.
“Yachtmaster”, has a bit of a ring to it. In the early 1990s I started working towards it completing the RYA Yachtmaster Theory course for the first time. Then one of life’s crash gybes put a stop to sailing for a few years. Gradually through dinghies, a Drascombe Lugger some charters and our Cornish Shrimper Daisy I was able to rebuild miles. I also retook the RYA Yachtmaster Theory Course to support an ICC application. But can a Shrimper sailor get to be a “Yachtmaster”? Only one way to find out… Go for it.
Coastal or Offshore: My lifetimes experience was above the requirements for Yachtmaster Offshore but RYA seemed to require the pre-entry miles, days at sea and nights to all be within the last 10 years. My experience within the previous 10 years would place me just above Coastal Skipper (now “Yachtmaster Coastal”) level, provided boats under 20’ were accepted. Daisy is only 19′ LOA, the lugger even shorter. Chatting with a couple of YM examiners suggested that though the syllabus is the same for both levels, the level of competence expected can be markedly different. The Sailing Schools take different approaches. Storm Force suggested doing their Preparation Course and deciding part way through the week. Hamble School of Yachting set the level in advance.
Having havered, researched, procrastinated and otherwise put off making a decision for several years, in March 2015 I booked myself onto the early September Yachtmaster Coastal Preparation and Exam course at Hamble School of Yachting. Decision made, committed, run with it. Gulp. Am I really ready?
Revision revision revision
Next step was to reread James Stevens RYA Yacht Master Handbook. Then out with the old flash cards for lights buoys, shapes and sound signals. After a few evenings playing the cards the memory started to become more reliable. Those I have seen in real life I can picture no problem, but many of the more obscure lights are rarely used in the quiet northern waters I sail. Going to the busy waters of the Solent would sort that out.
One of the key exercises in the exam is to prepare a passage plan. For Coastal level this would be a coastal passage, for Offshore level this would be a sea crossing probably to or from France. I have a template developed from the passage planning form found in Reeds PBO Small Craft Almanac. Using this and some old pilot books I roughed out some passage plans. A copy of Tom Cunliffe’s The Complete Yachtmaster, found in a second hand book shop, was like gold with Tom’s thoughts on a cross channel passage plan laid out clearly and simply in his inimitable style.
The Solent is not an area I know well, so I familiarised myself with the general area using electronic charts and old pilot books.
Practice Practice Practice
Having dumped Daisy’s unreliable beast of a Mariner Outboard and replaced it with a “relatively reliable” but noisy and under-powered Seagull, most of our sailing that season was under sail, including anchoring and picking up the mooring under sail. Other manoeuvres like heaving to and sailing backwards under sail were practised under a range of conditions as was feeling our way up narrow invisible channels over the mud flats without running aground. The deck log was kept religiously, and flag etiquette practised. No long trips but lots of fun.
What to take?
My kit list has been developed, run in and worn out over many years. Some bits of kit are old and needed replacing (my deck shoes) others are old and serviceable (my oilskin jacket, windcheater smock & wellies), none of it is remotely stylish. As my mother in law puts it I am a naturally scruffy person. Others had more up to date and stylish wardrobes. Largely down to personal taste.
The Nav bag took more thinking about: A4 loose leaf Log file and associated notes including:- May Day card secured to the front cover, Log, Passage Planning forms, Met forms for recording and drawing out the shipping forecast, Safety Briefing Crib Card, Portsmouth, Southampton and Chichester tide curves laminated for repeated use with a chinagraph pencil, Skipper’s and Navigator’s Checklists drawn from years of misadventure with things going wrong and for checking boats at the start and end of charters, calculation pad for rough notes
I also took my Isis 50 Hand Bearing Compass, one that I am familiar and happy with (Used a lot), Sailing Knife (an Opinel safety knife kept in a leather sheath made from an old sailing shoe), Smart phone (so useful it is nearly essential with navigation, tidal data and access to grib and other weather forecasts.) Head torch with a red filter (used a lot, particularly for recharging the luminous compass card).
YM Examiners are renowned for being “old school” navigators shunning the convenience of electrickary and the digital revolution. The arguments are well found and the logic irrefutable. So in the last few weeks before the course I reread Mary Blewitt’s 1970’s classic Navigation for Yachtsmen and leafed through dad’s 1976 Reeds Nautical Almanac saved from the charity shop box. To relax, my old favourite “Sods Law of the Sea”.
Prep week started on the Sunday evening meeting instructor Terry (ex-army, currently “sea gipsy”) and other candidates:-
“Fastnet” Dan; Navigator for multi-Round the Island Race winning Folkboat, who completed the Fastnet Race and RORC qualifying races as a bit of a mile builder. Looking to change career from publishing into the marine industry.
Louise; Ex RYA development officer, currently working as mate for a yacht charter company. YM Offshore would enable her to skipper charter yachts.
Mario; from southern Italy had recently completed the Clipper Race from London to Rio. Many years of Mediterranean sailing. Likes the British professional approach to yachting.
Me, part owner of a Cornish Shrimper kept on the Menai Straits who in a good year gets in one 5 day cruise and a few day sails.
The challenge for all of us during prep week was to work with an unfamiliar crew, on an unfamiliar boat, in my case in unfamiliar waters and in Mario’s case an unfamiliar language and get to a standard high enough to shine.
Over the next 5 days in glorious sunshine and in light winds we worked through a wide range of navigation and boat handling exercises in daylight and in the dark. I was able to get familiar with the layout of the Solent and see real Day Shapes and Light combinations. We were tested to our limits and made mistakes, then practiced and refined until we got it right. As a group we all went through the classic “Forming”, “Storming”, “Norming” and eventually “Performing” stages. The storming crisis coming on the Tuesday evening when we were all tired demoralised with our perceived poor individual performance, lack of performance as a team and feeling distinctly sun burnt, dehydrated, tired and grumpy. It drove a much organised “normed” crew over the next couple of days, developing tight routines for each operation and checklists before we relaxed enough to perform individually and as a team through our examination.
“Fastnet” Dan commented that his Coastal Skipper Practical Course was easy compared with the intensity and depth of our YM Preparatory Course. However the preparatory course did exactly what it said on the tin and prepared us well for the offshore level examination. It gave us time to get to grips with an unfamiliar crew, an unfamiliar boat, in unfamiliar waters and for Mario an unfamiliar language.
The winds picked up and the skies darkened as our Exam approached.
The Exam started on the Friday evening when our Examiner Nigel came on board. His introduction “Treat me as a demanding owner” set exactly the right tone for the exam phase. The assessment started after a series of briefings with me skippering a lively first sail into the nighttime Solent, finding an unlit buoy in the dark and anchoring within a boat length of a defined point. The exercises required planning, precise use of hand bearing compasses, creative use of transits and a willingness to change the approach to meet the changing conditions. A night entrance into Beaulieu River in a rising gale to pick up a mooring completed the first evening. Rain hammered down over night.
In the morning our pre prepared passage plans were scrutinised and interrogated. Then a series of theory questions, half asleep I was making schoolboy errors trying to remember the knots equivalent of Beaufort scale for winds I would not take Daisy out in. Back up on deck the wind was gusting force 8 but the rain had eased off. Out into the Solent for daytime navigation exercises, picking up Man over board kit under power and sail as the wind over tide kicked up a steep swell. A wave knocked me off my final approach but keeping things under control and going around again (successfully) was not fatal. Picking up a mooring running down wind under bare poles against the tide was a lucky break. The more I had practised the luckier I got. Into Lymington for some pontoon bashing and a cup of tea. Then back into the Solent and on into the night for more exercises, the wind dropping all the time.
In the early hours of Sunday morning we returned to the Hamble for one last round of pontoon bashing before returning to the marina to coil down and debrief.
We all passed. I was awarded “Yachtmaster Offshore” based on the 25 years + records in my RYA logbook and my performance during the exam. “No point in coming back in a year’s time to show what you can already do”.
Yachtmaster is a serious qualification and the standards are very high. It is a sobering thought that I am now considered competent to be Master of vessels up to 200 Tonnes operating up to 160 miles offshore, provided I have a First Mate who is at least Yachtmaster Coastal qualified, or to be First Mate globally. Also with a couple more short courses and a medical to do that on a commercial basis.
Can a Shrimper Sailor achieve Yachtmaster? Yes if they can navigate, handle a boat and manage a crew to a high standard and look as though they are enjoying it. Would I do it again? I don’t have to.
“Always keep a good sailing knife handy. You never know when you will need it” growled the Bo’sun. I was the youngest member of the crew of Sir Winston Churchill and at the time struggling to get to the ex MOD clasp knife buried deep under layers of oil skin in my trouser pocket. The Bo’sun was a rigger from Hull whose wisdom you ignored at your peril. But what is a “good sailing knife” and how do you “keep it handy”?
My ex MOD clasp knife kept a good edge but was prone to rust and difficult to open with cold wet hands. A souvenir from my Churchill days was a stainless steel “Curry Lockspike Bo’sun”. Though resistant to rusting it was also difficult to open with cold wet fingers. It did me well for many years, if I could remember which pocket I had left it in.
The macho riggers knife sets with sheath knife, marlin spike and pliers are not something the Police likes one to have “handy” ashore. We keep a boat’s knife and marlin spike secured by Daisy’s companion way close to the halyards and easy to reach from both cockpit and cabin. It is also useful for gutting fish.
My ideal combination travelling across Africa was a Swiss Army Knife in a belt holder with honing stone, sewing kit and pencil. Invaluable in the savannah for everything from opening bottles to mending radios and basic first aid. On my belt it was always “handy”. Returning home, as the old gun slingers used to say, I did not feel dressed without it. Society’s attitude was different. The standard size Swiss army knife is not an ideal sailing knife.
In his later years Dad had an Opinel No8, almost the ideal knife and it floats. I then found the Opinel No8 “Outdoor knife”. Like Dad’s only better with a serrated blade for cutting rope, a shackle key in the blade, a brightly coloured plastic handle with rubber grips and a built in whistle, easy to open even with cold wet hands, and a lock to stop it closing.
How to keep it handy? My old sailing shoes had deteriorated beyond even being fit for gardening, the nubuck leather was dry but redeemable with beeswax leather balm. An upcycling project was born. The tongue and upper when cut out was just the right size and shape to make a sheath. The perfect diameter to just grip the knife and long enough to hold the knife either open or closed. I fashioned a belt loop from some spare leather and stitched it all together with sail repair needles & thread. A leather shoe lace was platted into the knife lanyard with a snap-shackle at the other end. Just the right size to fit around my wrist or to clip the knife to my belt. Mounted on the belt of my life jacket it is always “handy”.
Beware:- Knives can be an essential tool for work or safety. On a boat they serve both purposes. In other situations the same tool can be an offensive weapons rightly controlled by law. The RYA guidance on knives and the law can be found here:-
The original plan had been to sail Daisy from her mooring in the Menai Striates via the Isle of Man and Ireland to Scotland for the 2014 Commonwealth Games Flotilla and a summer cruise around the Clyde and Inner Hebrides. But those thieves of time; work, uncertain weather and family commitments forced us to invoke Plan B, load Daisy onto her trailer and with a brief stop on the drive for some maintenance & polishing, Gordon & Stewart towed her to Largs Yacht Haven and rigged her. Elin and I took the train to Largs a few days later to find Daisy launched, basking in 30oC sunshine and ready for fun.
After stowing gear, a thorough check of the rig and smoothies in a shaded café to rehydrate we motored out in to the Largs channel and motored around Great Cumbrae to check over our usually mutinous engine. The clean Scottish waters seemed to suit the “Beast” which started without protest on only the 4th pull and ran smoothly thereafter. Seals and Porpoises played in the currents and Elin found the hatch a great place to sit with the binoculars and spy ships and wildlife aplenty.
This little trip gave Elin the chance to get a feel for the scale of the inner Clyde, not quite the vast oceans Mum had got her fearing. Dinner was Elin’s concoction of flask cooked couscous with a Chorizo and tomato sauce.
Flask Cooking Flask cooking works well with couscous, rice and noodles. We use a 500ml (1pt) stainless steel food flask (£10 from Mountain Warehouse). 1/3 fill with couscous or 2/3 fill with Rice or Noodles, add a dollup of vegetable stock to taste and fill with boiling water. Seal and leave to stand while you cook your sauce. Bonne Appetite
A later variant I discovered was to use low calorie vegetables like spring onions, pak choi, celery, mushrooms and miso to make soups similar to the ones I had enjoyed while working in Thailand. Adding a chilli spiced things up a bit for variety. The vegetables can all be chopped and put in the flask cold in the morning before taking to work. Simply adding boiling water and leaving five minutes for a crunchy tasty nutritious slimming broth.
Day 2 dawned clear and fine with the prospect of another day of Mediterranean conditions. An ideal day to go round Bute. The shipping forecast from Belfast Coastguard confirmed what we were seeing. So after a bacon butty breakfast we slipped lines and motored out into the Largs channel. The wind picked up then died then filled in again as we crossed Millport Bay leaving the mighty Chinese coal carrier unloading at Hunterston staith. As we left Millport Bay we were able to cut the engine and sail out into the Firth of Clyde. A pair of puffins with their bills dull at the end of the breeding season scooted across our bows. We held a steady 4.5 to 5 knots as we rounded Garroch Head and made our way up the west coast of Bute, keeping pace with a Sadler 32 until we cut into St Ninnian’s Bay to anchor for lunch.
Up the West Kyle we passed the Waverly outbound for Loch Fyne then tacked our way up the narrows to the beautiful Canna Harbour, introducing Elin to the Maids of Bute as we passed. Lions Mane jellyfish wafted beneath us fascinating Elin by their sheer size. Her school project on jellyfish had not prepared her for the reality, expecting something more like the luminous smaller creatures.
Head winds up the East Kyle and an advancing hour encouraged motor sailing. Lifebelt overboard brought the derision of “I told you so” from Elin and an excuse for man overboard practice. The slight bend in the Kyle and the opening of Loch Striven brought the wind further abeam and a break from the engine as we gently races a Westerly Fulmar round Ardmalaish Point and in toward Port Bannatyne Marina (or Port Banana as Elin called it).
Elin was soon swimming in the clean waters of Port Bannatyne marina getting to know Catriona the girl from the Motor Cruiser we berthed alongside.
Cleansing showers and dinner of flask cooked noodles with chorizo in creamy mushroom sauce. Elin’s recipe was cooked by Dad while the girls exchanged loom band knots and patterns, followed by whiskeys on the flying bridge under the bimini watching the sunset over Bute.
With 2 days to the Commonwealth Flotilla the smell of polish and sounds of cleaning rose from several of our neighbours next morning. After taking Catriona and her parents for a quick drift around the bay we made for Largs to pick up some suitable unguents to buff up Daisy ready for the show. Calm soon gave way to a rising wind as we made our way across Rothsey Bay, by the time we passed Toward Point we had a reef down, coats on and Elin handing out the lifelines as F4 turned to 5+ and the short wind over tide chop sent spray over us. After an hour the wind started to drop as we approached Great Cumbrae By the time we entered the Largs Channel the wind had dropped completely and it was back on with the engine to keep out of the way of the ferries. I spent the afternoon with fine wet and dry then cleaners and polishes taking the bloom and muck off Daisy’s cockpit then buffing up to a shine. Meanwhile Elin went for another swim. She was lent a mask and snorkel then a “seadoo” electric propulsion unit to scud around the berth. I could resist no more and joined her in the warm water to try out this wonderful toy under the pretext of inspecting Daisy’s hull and centerplate.
Gordon joined us after dinner with all his kit including his “Sea Kilt”.
Our destination for Friday was James Watt Dock Greenock, mustering point for the Commonwealth Flotilla. First however Gordon wanted to get his car to Port Bannatyne, so with Elin asleep in the cabin, Gordon and car travelling courtesy of MacBrayne, Daisy and I raced for Port Bannatyne. No contest, Daisy won hands down on looks, MacBrayne on timing. Breakfast was at the Post office café with a view up Loch Striven and the East Kyle, before we headed up the Clyde to Greenock.
From the freedom of our cruise we were now entering the tightly organised event, with 250 other boats ranging from 72’ Challenger round the world yachts, Swan a Lerwick Fifie and VIC32 the last working Clyde Puffer to Daisy and a Wee Annie a 16’ Oysterman. Miles of bunting fluttered in the gentle breeze as wine corks popped and ring cans were pulled. RIBs buzzed about officiously but unable to direct us to our berth so we dropped into a vacant finger and hoped for the best. The last thing we wanted was to be the fender at the inside of an 8 boat stack no matter how friendly the company.
The evening’s entertainment started in the redundant sugar warehouses with the skipper’s briefing and the arrival of the rest of the MacKellar clan. Kilts donned and sporrans arranged we made for the bar, food and band. A dance troupe performed Scottish dances to modern pipe versions of 1980s rock music. The sun set over the cranes, warehouses and fleet. Then the dancing started….
Flotilla day broke light grey and pleasantly cool after a week of Mediterranean weather. Joined by Alison & Stewart we cooked the bacon butties on the pontoon while stowing awning and kit in the cabin. With Gordon fully regaled in Sea Kilt 08:45 saw us leaving the pontoon and joining the crush as 250 boats made their way out into the Clyde to start mustering in five predetermined groups. Radio traffic flew, all the questions that had already been answered at the skippers briefing were asked and answered again. Then at 10:00 the start was called and the groups made their way down river to turn around Clyde Plot Cutter “Toward” off the Ocean Terminal then process up river for Glasgow.
Crowds gathered at every vantage point. Fog horns blared. We connected Daisy’s foghorn to the dinghy bellows to create a sound more akin to a dying cow. Past Greenock Town Hall and Port Glasgow the Flotilla settled into a steady pattern. Past Dumbarton and under Erskin Bridge the crowds grew and the river narrowed. By Braehead shopping centre the crowds were 8-10 deep. Then the shout went up. Oggie Oggie Oggie, our Welsh flag had been spotted. Oi – Oi – Oi, and so the cry went on, and on and on as we made our way up past the old shipyards.
Our synchronised waving was matched by a synchronised Mo-bott from the Parker 21 astern of us. To mighty cheers, the men in Blue one piece suits with Saltires waved from the 35 footer ahead and a fleet of Puffers led by VIC32 followed us from Bowling.
As expected organised chaos returned as 250 boats queued up to berth in Princes Dock. That this was achieved in a little over 2 hours without incident is a testament to the organisation RYA Scotland had put into the event.
The next day Gordon and family took Daisy back down the Clyde for their 2 week cruise to Loch Fyne Arran and beyond. But that is another story
Circumnavigating things has an inexplicable attraction to yachtsmen. For some the world alone is not enough, it has to be a first or the fastest or by the hardest route. For others dashing round a few buoys trying to be faster than the competition is an end in itself. Our ambitions were somewhere in between:- To sail our Cornish Shrimper “Daisy” around the navigationally challenging island of Anglesey in North Wales.
The waters around Anglesey are renowned
for tidal streams of up to 8 knots; through the notorious rock strewn Swellies
in the Menai Straits, the mighty tide races off South
Stack and the Skerries Rocks off Carmel Head.
There are also many delightful sheltered bays, but they may not provide
shelter when and where you need it. Many are also strewn with some of the
oldest and hardest rocks in Britain and backed by storm beaches testifying to
the great forces mother nature has used to make and shape Anglesey. At 75 miles the circumnavigation of Anglesey
is 50% further than rounding the Isle of Wight.
Though from Beaumaris it is feasible to complete the round trip through the three principle
tide gates in a little over one tidal cycle, a break at Holyhead is more
usual. Knowing the capricious nature of North Wales’ weather we allowed four days over the 2013 Whit
Bank Holiday for our first attempt.
The next question is
clockwise or anti clockwise. If going clockwise from Beaumaris the first tide
gate is high water slack in the Swellies. However a fluke of the Anglesey tides
means that slack water and high water do not necessarily coincide in the
straits. This would allow us to carry
the ebb down to and across Caernarfon Bar. The Bar is approximately 4 miles of
shifting sands with shallow water which picks up a steep and dangerous swell
when wind and tide are opposed. Next comes a 20 mile plug against a light ebb
current up the west coast to South Stack this current gets stronger as South
Stack is approached. However low water slack at the Stacks avoids the fearsome
race, before carrying the first of the flood into Holyhead. The next tide gate is the narrow gap between
Carmel Head and the Skerries. In wind over tide with a rough sea bed this gate
has a deservedly fearsome reputation. At slack water or with light wind with
tide it is a much more realistic proposition for a small boat. The tide along
the north coast runs at up to 6 knots in springs before rounding Point Lynus
for either the open crossing to Puffin Island or hugging the coast to Moelfre
before crossing to Puffin Island and the last leg up the Straits to
Beaumaris. Light to moderate
southerlies favour this route.
would aim for high water slack at Point Lynus then carry the ebb to Holyhead or
if possible to avoid the race past the Stacks onto the south coast then carry
the flood over Caernarfon Bar to get to the Swellies for High Water Slack. Light to moderate Northerlies favour this
At spring tides high
water is around mid-day / midnight. At neaps 6am / 6pm.
Daisy is a Cornish Shrimper built in 1988. She spent the first years of her
life sailing in the Baltic. She then passed to Sam Llewellyn the sailing writer
who used her as one of his muses for the inspiring “Minimum Boat”
series published in Practical Boat Owner. We bought the eponymous Daisy from
Sam in 2012.
The Cornish Shrimper is a very popular design of trailer sailer, a
“Plastic Gaffer” of which over a thousand have now been built. At
19’3″ long 7’3″ beam and a galvanised steel centreboard she is small
but quite seaworthy in coastal waters. Sam had written articles about sailing
Daisy around the remoter parts of the Hebrides north of Ardnamurchan in convoy
with a select group of friends in similar boats. The Shrimper Owners
Association website includes logs of many adventurous and not so adventurous
To preparing Daisy
for the trip we added a ghoster, a storm jib (ex-mirror dinghy jib) and pride
of the ship a new 2.5m long bamboo jib stick, to our normal rig of double reef
able high peak gaff mainsail and roller reefing genoa.
For navigation our
standard set up is PBO small craft almanac, Anglesey and N Wales Pilot, UKHO
tough charts for the area and latest information on the Caernarfon Bar buoys
downloaded from then Caernarfon Harbour Trust website. To try out this
electronic navigation stuff, we added a couple of Garmin hand held GPS units and
a 3G IPad with Imray raster chart plotter and tide plotter apps. For
communication we carry a Standard Horizon handheld VHF radio and an old world
band receiver. We also carry mobile
smart phones with Pocket Gribb, Marine Weather and AIS apps. 3G reception
around the island is generally very good.
included checking life jackets and upgrading Gordon’s 20-year-old waterproofs
to breathable Helly Hansens. A suit with the added advantage that Gordon could
also breath in it.
We arrived at NWVYC club house near Beaumaris
late on Friday evening with strong NE winds blowing straight into the bay. Too
rough to contemplate launching the dinghy then rowing out to Daisy’s mooring in the dark, we slept on
the clubhouse floor.
Saturday 25 May 2013
Overnight the wind had dropped to a pleasant
F1 still from the NE. Fried up breakfast, then inflated the Avon, fired up the
Seagull and out to Daisy. Following our usual practice of beaching Daisy on a rising tide we loaded the kit
and victuals, deflated the Avon and stowed it
under the cockpit floor. Half an hour after beaching we were off, Gordon
finishing the stowage below as we headed up the straits to catch our first tide
gate, HW slack at the Swellies. The usual crop of high speed gin palaces played
havoc with the moored boats.
Right on time for “Slack Water at the
Swellies”, even so between the Menai and Britannia bridges passing the Swellies
and the fearsome Gribbin Rock, eddies and boils played with Daisy’s keel. The sun shone, sun tan
lotion was applied and coats were kept buttoned high against the cold. Past
Plas Newydd and Porth Dinorwic, we motored “as fast as the wind”, but at f0-1
that is not a great claim. Avoiding the
fleet of Optimists race training from Plas Menai we closed the Anglesey shore below the parish of Llanidan, home of my
ancestors. The wind changed to SW as we passed the imposing ramparts of
Caernarfon Castle, then onto the opening vista of Abermenai and the Fort Belan
Narrows. All the while the mighty shoulder of Snowdonia filled the Eastern
We turned the South Westerly wind from
our head to our beam as we crossed the bar, stopped the engine and laid course
for the Stacks. We ghosted past Llanddwyn
Island legendary home to St Dwynwen, Wales’ patron saint of love, on across the dune
Bay and the low cliffs of
Aberfraw. The wind turned more Westerly and our speed was countered by the ebb
tide, so we fired up the engine again to keep to time for the tide gate at the
stacks. We killed the engine by Rhoscolyn then dozed. Tacking our way across Trearddur Bay we passed anglers hoping for a bite
and sea kayakers playing the gentle swell.
Close tacking in-shore we caught the back eddies of the dying ebb which
carried us to Penrhyn Mawr and the start of the rising cliffs of Holy Island. With slack water approaching we ghosted
close in under the guillemot coated cliffs, reaching South Stack in bright cold
sunshine just as the tide turned. But with eddies spinning Daisy it was time for some steerage way and a motor past North
Stack while a porpoise played in the eddies.
As the sun fell below the peak the first wisps of cirrus, gave a hint of
the trouble brewing. Holyhead breakwater was beckoning ahead, but it took
another half an hour to pass it then a further twenty minutes inside before we
reached the Marina.
“Free Berthing for Gaffers” was an offer we
could not resist; thanks go to the Old Gaffers 50th Anniversary
Challenge. By the time we had secured, tidied ship, booked in and abluted, the
party was well underway in the sailing club restaurant. Greeted by that ever
enthusiastic Old Gaffer Sue Farrer we joined the fun. The threat of gales from
the north was a hot topic of conversation. Refilling our spare petrol tank was
achieved thanks to the generous Sue, her car and a quick dash across town to the all
night filling station. Then back to the bar to complete our own refuelling. 20
hours after leaving them we returned to the warmth of sleeping bags, with alarm
set to catch the early shipping forecast.
Sunday 26 May 2013
After the dreamlike quality of yesterday,
high winds and a wind shift overnight left a dull early morning. The lowering greyness
threatened more to come, with the shipping forecasts confirming it. Back to the
realities of sailing Welsh waters. No chance of staying for the gaffer’s post
hangover festivities, the early tide for us.
We were not alone as we quietly motored out
past sleeping Gaffers. Comrades a
blue hulled nobby was also heading out for Carmel Head as we made our way to
sea past the long breakwater. An oily swell from the SW greeted us as we
crossed Holyhead Bay. Approaching the Skerries our speed
picked up and the fingers of tide started to play gently with Daisy’s keel. Gordon prepared a hearty
breakfast of bacon butties, as the swirls and up-wellings from the submerged
stacks became more pronounced.
At Skerries Slack + 2 Hours: We took the
middle passage keeping well off the headland and the Skerries, while Comrades slipped through close under Carmel
Head. 210oT back bearings on North Stack with South Stack just
opening, confirmed our line while the GPS showed increasing “Speed Over Ground”.
A standing wave across our route
rose from the depths then was soon behind us. More boils and eddies followed until the 260oT cross bearing
from the Skerries Light gave us our turning mark. Up sails and off with the
engine to start the 6-8 knot travellator ride along Anglesey’s North Coast.
A late decision to cut inside Middle Mouse
almost lead to disaster as the tide swept us uncomfortably close to the rocks.
A quick burst of engine saw us clear and another lesson learned. Tracking close in under the cliffs we aimed
for Porth Wen. Ferry gliding to jump off the travellator we explored deep into
this sheltered anchorage backed by the abandoned brick works. Then back out
into the tidal stream to be swept past East Mouse, Amlwch and Point Lynas.
Then the wind hit us. One reef quickly pulled
in stabilised matters as we close hauled across Fresh Water Bay, Dulas Bay and closed
into Moelfre. The stream of yachts and motor cruisers leaving Moelfre as the
skies darkened giving a forewarning of the lack of shelter, so we eased sheets
for Trwyn Du and the entrance to the Straits. On the horizon other gaffers started
to appear heading for the shelter of the straits and beyond. Turning in past Puffin Island
we made long tacks over the sands and up to Beaumaris. The wind was increasing
all the way to the mooring.
Leaving Daisy on the mooring
we went ashore for a brew and lunch in the club house. But with the winds
picked up from F4 to 5 to 6 and above, there was no getting back to Daisy safely until the tide dropped. The
sky cleared but the wind blew up and up. Eventually we waded over the mud to
collect clothes and bedding before settling down for another night on the
Preparing Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger for the 2008 Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raid.
Racing is “not
a very Drascombe thing to do” but raids are different. In essence a raid is a
very sociable series of rowing and sailing races over a week covering about 60
to 100 miles. Raids have increased in
popularity since their inception in the late 1990’s when French Lawyer Charles-Henry
Le Moing set up Albacore to organise the River Douro Raid in Portugal.
Caledonia Great Glen Raids follow the Caledonian Canal starting at Lochaber Yacht
Club south of Fort William via Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and Loch Ness to North Kessock on the Beauly Firth. Accommodation ranges from the hotel boats
Fingal of Caledonia and Eala Bhan, through camping with gear transferred
between sites in a van to the Highlander Trophy “camp and self sufficient”
standard. Event management includes the
provision of safety boats, evening meals and entertainment often in the shape
of “Mark the Bard” the only piper I know who slips Flintstones and Adams Family
themes into his vast repertoire of more traditional music. There is of course
the last night ceilidh.
Entries in 2008
were grouped into three classes, Class1 (Traditional boats), Class 2
(Centreboard boats) and Class 3 (Drascombes). Class 3 was made up of three
Luggers a Dabber and a Swale Pilot.
can range from sailing and rowing in winds ranging from calm to force five gusting
six. Safety is paramount with tows available for boats that do not feel up to
the conditions. Many boats carry outboards for non racing sections, but are
banned for the Highlander Trophy. In this part of Scotland winds from the North East
generally mean bright sunshine. Winds from South West are usually accompanied
by overcast and rain.
Our starting point was Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger Mac Puff’ (an unfortunate conjunction of McPuffin and MacDuff, the boat’s original home port). Gordon has owned McPuff’ since 2002. The boat is a fairly standard late Honour Marine Drascombe Lugger with the standard single rowing position and 8’ ash oars (rarely used) and the standard boomless gunter yawl rig. This rig has limited performance into the wind and on the dead run. Performance on the reach is reasonable given the relatively small sail area. For the raid though racing is either into the wind or running.
characteristics of the Lugger are legend, a stable balanced hull form, based
loosely on an east coast coble. Thought very safe and seaworthy Luggers are not
known as flyers. From a safety perspective the boat’s main vice is in a severe swamping
when water floods above the centreboard case requiring a towel to stuff into
the gap when bailing. The standard pump is only useful for removing rainwater
Both Gordon and I have been messing about in boats since childhood and started sailing together in 2003 with day trips to the North Wales coast. In 2007 we took McPuff’ to the Drascombe Associations Largs Grand Fleet event and fitted in a short camping trip circumnavigating Bute.
started with reading Hans Vandersmissen’s inspiring book “The Shallow Sea
Drascombe” (published by the Drascombe Association). Gems included using reefed
main and staysail to get to windward in winds over F4, rather than the usual
staysail mizzen combination which works better off the wind. Also keeping the
gaff as close to the mast, in our case using high parrel beads. Others used a
twin halyard set up.
Off the wind (running)
we set up whisker poles on the staysail and main (a boathook). On the mizzen
the whisker pole allowed us to power up and de-power the rig very effectively. Over
force 4 however it did tend to induce broaching.
confined water meant we needed to be able to stow sails quickly. With the
staysail, roller reefing is almost standard. Hand rolling the main tightly around
its leach proved a very quick way of taming the beast.
the outboard motor was a huge leap of faith. The Lugger at 350kg is no light
weight, add in camping and other gear and a couple of under exercised middle
aged men and half a tonne all up displacement is a fair estimate. To rig the
boat for rowing we set up a double scull arrangement. An email exchange with
Stewart Brown at Churchouse Boats brought back sound advice and the necessary parts,
a pair of rowlocks, sockets and teak infill pads. We fitted these on the Friday
afternoon before driving up to Fort William so had no time to check the
additional set of oars we borrowed a redundant pair of 10′ carbon fibre maccon
racing sculls from a local rowing club. We used these in the stroke (aft) rowing
position where crossed hands were not a problem. For the bow rowing position we
used the standard 8’ wooden oars. The short inboard length allowed the oars to
pass the person rowing stroke. To provide foot bracing we fitted foot rests
made from off cuts of pontoon decking secured to the floor boards with bolts and
penny washers. Not pretty, but effective.
rowing race is 12km so somewhere to sit comfortably for 3-4 hours while rowing
is essential. Sliding seats are not allowed. We chose foam cushions on the
centreboard case. The chafe was uncomfortable. Next time we will make some proper
With no practice
rowing the Lugger the rowing races were always going to be a bit of a leap into
the unknown. Strong headwinds did not help but we found that if we kept a steady
pace with each of us taking a drink every 20 minutes we could maintain a
reasonably steady pace. Power came from long strokes leaning back and not from
our arms. We minimise windage by removing the mizzen and gaff. Under water we
kept the rudder fixed with shock cord and the centreboard down to stop us
drifting sideways and give us steering control.
headwinds drove us to try man-hauling the Lugger for one of the non racing
stages. The arrangement that worked best was a long (kedge) warp tied part way
up the mast to keep it above the vegetation and gorse stumps along the towpath.
We could maintain a steady walking pace without too much exertion.
principles of stowage in a Drascombe are:-
Trim which is vital to keeping the boat
Having space to handle the boat so keep
the cockpit as clear as possible
Accessibility 1st priority
given to safety equipment, 2nd to operating gear with oars & rowlocks stowed
tied on deck, warps and fenders in side lockers with the boat hook and sail
ties, 3rd day time needs and 4th camping gear.
Secure everything to the boat.
Keep sleeping bag, clothes and tent as
dry as possible.
Our stowage plan
had Safety Equipment accessible from the deck or if necessary water. The flares
pack was lashed to mizzen, a bucket drogue was secured to the engine mountings
ready for immediate deployment in case we needed slowing down approaching
locks. A complete change of dry clothes was stowed in a watertight drum secured
in the engine well. Bucket bailers and an old towel to plug the centreboard
were stowed by the foot of the main mast. We also fitted rope strops around the
main sheet horse to help get back into the boat from the water. This was to
prove vital escaping from a lee shore in Loch Lochy. Sail Caledonia
provided a guidance list and carried out a thorough safety inspection before
boats were allowed to join the raid.
were stowed around the foot of the main mast. The anchor and chain stowed in a
bucket which helped when moving it around the boat. The tent and sleeping mats
were stowed in a large rucksack dry bag double wrapped in the boat cover. Heavy
food (tins, bottles) were stowed in a cool bag. Beer was stowed in the bilge,
but unfortunately during a minor swamping the cans floated and got crushed.
Light gear was
stowed in the stern locker. With no engine or petrol tank we could afford to
put a lot of gear aft. Clothes, double
wrapped in dry bags inside holdalls, were pushed high right aft. Plastic boxes
that could sit in bilge water held the cooking kit, boson’s stores, and light
(dry) foods. The standard stern locker door was not secure enough for the
conditions. Easy access items like day food, drinks, water, flasks, oilskins,
hats and suntan cream were stowed in the cockpit lockers.
Did it work?
generally agreed that the conditions on this years Great Glen Raid were
unusually challenging with force 5+ headwinds for the first four days. A day
storm bound in Fort
Augustus provided a much
needed rest and maintenance time before following winds down Loch Ness and a near
calm out into the Beauly Firth. Our windward rig of staysail and reefed main
worked particularly well allowing us to better two knots to windward up Loch
Lochy despite gusts well into F6. Off the wind the whisker poles worked well
but not as well as the beautifully laminated half wishbone boom on the Dabber Aoibhneas.
scull rowing arrangement was very successful but thwarts are essential. A week
sitting on chafed bum is not an experience I want to repeat. Ditching the
outboard gave us a marvellous opportunity to improve our seamanship.
In all racing
events the proof of the pudding is in the results. We won Class 3 (Drascombes)
and took the Highlander Trophy for completing the raid unaided, without
motorised assistance and carrying all our camping gear. Not bad for two under
exercised middle aged blokes in a boat not known for its racing credentials.
Most of all it is the most sustained fun I have had for years.
Dad preferred Seagulls. In the 1960s this was not unusual,
that Great British piece of Engineering hung from the transoms of most boats
under 20’. By the mid 1970s like our motorbikes British outboard motors were
giving way to cool hooded and painted Japanese engines. Why did Dad stick with his uncool Seagulls?
“Because it works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers and
the right spanners”. Dad’s well stocked toolbox took pride of place at the foot
of the companion way on each of his boats. “Yeh right Dad”.
Like this we sailed much of the year on Ullswater with a
Seagull 40+ hanging off the transom of our 20’ sailing cruiser. In the summer
we sailed for 2-3 weeks at a time and around the Clyde and Inner Hebrides with
a family of five on board and a Seagull Silver Century Plus (with clutch)
hanging off the back.
My own boats came with more modern outboards until I became
the keeper of Gnat a Mirror dinghy I
had helped Dad to build in 1973, which through another keeper had gained a 1961
Seagull 40+ with its original manual, workshop notes and was still stored in
its original factory packing case. And there the little Seagull remained for
many years, only opened up to view as a curio.
Enter Daisy, our
Cornish Shrimper complete with a quiet, powerful Mariner 8 (with
generator). The beast filled the well,
the hood had been modified to not quite fit under the tiller. Its immense weight
affected trim and nose weight when towing unless it was lifted and stowed in
the cockpit or the car. With dodgy backs this was not an operation to be
undertaken lightly and avoided if possible. So the Anglesey mud and barnacles got
to do their worst, blocking waterways and encrusting the prop. The Beast
rebelled and became mutinous. Lavish and expensive servicing by professionals had
The little Seagull was exhumed from its box and given a wipe
over. The manual was read. This priceless little book came from an age when the
nearest a lad could expect from his Dad in the way of sex advice was along the
lines “Now son, always remember after a ride to give your bike a wipe over with
an oily rag. Don’t matter what the girlfriend is mithering for, this will set
up a patina for life”.
After 30+ years lying asleep in its box the little old
Seagull started second pull. First attempts to use it on the inflatable were
less successful. It was set too deep in the water. Back to the manual. Too much
back pressure on the exhaust. Raising the engine bracket on the inflatable did
the trick. A bit wobbly but it worked.
Heading for Scotland the little Seagull was slipped into a
corner of the aft locker. (See “Daisy’s
Cruise to the Commonwealth Games” The Shrimper autumn 2014). A few weeks later
I had a call for help from Gordon. The Beast would not start and he had missed
the tide. Aged petrol gumming the carb and excessive pulling on the starter
cord leading to flooding was diagnosed as the problem. The option of dropping
the Beast over the side and fitting the little Seagull was only just avoided
when next morning the Beast was coaxed into life and behaved for the rest of
the trip up Loch Fyne and back to Port Bannatyne. But patience with the Beast
had finally evaporated like the biofuel to leave a nasty residue. A new 6hp
Mariner with a high thrust prop was contemplated, but after anti fouling,
varnishing the mast and replacing the 25 year old standing rigging and mouldy cushions
the annual maintenance budget was pleading poverty. An interim solution was
called for. £100 “won” us “The best
outboard motor for the world” a British Seagull “Silver Century (with
clutch)” courtesy of E Bay.
The “new” Seagull emerged from the darker recesses of a
garage on the Wirral covered in dust, oil and the flaking remains of an attempt
to manage corrosion on the drive shaft and flywheel. It was dropped into a
green wheelybin “test tank” and started first pull. A pencil thick stream of
lukewarm rusty cooling water ran from the cylinder block. The starter cord, a
widow making block of wood on the end of a frayed bit of nylon, was politely
declined. The engine fitted in Daisy’s
engine well. Cash was passed over and we headed off to Anglesey to launch Daisy.
In seawater at the foot of the slip the engine started
second pull and being in gear pushed Daisy back onto her trailer. A push down
on the clutch lever disengaged the prop, a hard shove on the trailer set Daisy
free (no reverse gear here) and the clutch was flipped up again to engage the
prop. Exuding smoke in all directions, coughing, spluttering and creating a din
fit to wake the dead we crawled around the Gallows Point back onto the mooring.
The previous owner had said the carb needed cleaning which explained the uneven
running. 10:1 fuel to oil mix accounted for the smoke and a slightly loose fuel
tank accounted for some of the excess decibels. The relative lack of thrust was
a bit concerning as the Anglesey tides set in.
I took the new Seagull home for some TLC.
An internet search
brought me to the www.saving-old-seagulls.co.uk
website. From the serial code on the side of the engine I was able to identify
the engine as a Seagull Silver Century made in May 1978 and delivering, when
new, approximately 4HP. This was one of the first Seagulls to be fitted with
the wider bearings which would allow use of a 25:1 fuel to oil mix.
A call to John Williams proprietor and high guru of Saving
Old Seagulls confirmed that the engine would have been factory fitted with the
right carb jets for 25:1 running and that the undersized 8” “weed less” prop
was the standard fitted to these engines. John was also able to supply all the
spare parts I might need to renovate the engine.
Scraping off the flaking paint revealed a clean flywheel and
a rusted, formerly chromed, drive shaft. A coat of Hammerite provided renewed
corrosion protection to the drive shaft. Next the carb. An adjustable spanner
freed the clamp holding it to the engine. Then judicious application of grips,
a vice and a bit of heat separated the major components. Following John’s
advice a screwdriver handle applied to the end of the needle separated the
float to reveal a thick build-up of silt and crud in the float chamber. The
second stage fuel filter was missing and the jets were partially blocked. Jizer
degreaser and a scraper removed the crud. Assuming problems upstream a finger
into the petrol tank came out coated in silt, so out with the spanner and off
with the petrol tank to give it a thorough clean. I surmised that this
venerable engine had not only been “baptised” at some stage, but had also spent
some time imbibing the mud of the Dee estuary.
Removing the spark plug revealed a healthy colour and the
0.5mm gap to be about right (roughly the thickness of a thumb nail if it needs
to be checked in an emergency). The emulsion in the gear box was off white.
Seagull never tried to keep water out of their gear boxes relying instead on grit
resistant bushes, low temperatures and case hardened gears. An oil change was
recommended every 15 hours running. An old can of EP140 retrieved from Dad’s
garage provided fresh brown lubricant. A clean up with Jizer, a rub with some
wire wool on some of the more persistent stains and a wipe over with an oily
rag completed the clean-up. All reassembled with a new second stage fuel filter,
new compression washers under the banjo bolt and fresh 25:1 fuel the Seagull
started on second pull. So ended a very satisfying morning in the workshop.
Back on Daisy the
light weight of the Seagull (25kg verses the 50+kg Mariner) makes for much
better trim and allows Daisy to float
even more prettily than before. The light weight also makes lifting the engine
out at the end of the day a synch. The Seagull usually starts within 3 pulls.
Advice from the Manual is if it does not start within 3-4 pulls then stop
pulling and check the plug. 25:1 fuel mix makes for considerably less smoke,
particularly once the engine has warmed up. The engine sits well below the tiller, but
with an exposed revolving fly wheel one needs to be seaman like with the sheets
and keep young fingers out of the way.
4hp is a bit underpowered for fighting Anglesey’s 4-8 knot
tides so reading the tides and eddies is a skill to be honed. However GPS
trials with the 40+ show it can push Daisy along at 3.5knots in calm water.
With a bit more time I would go for a later Silver Century
Plus (with clutch). At 5hp this should be more than capable of pushing Daisy along at displacement speeds. Yeh
Dad’s right “It works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers
and the right spanners”.
The noise does discourage unnecessary use of the outboard.
So with a Seagull on board we do much more sailing.
Quotations are copied from the 23rd edition of the British Seagull Handbook c1961