Reflections on the Shrimper Years

With a heavy heart we sold our beloved Cornish Shrimper Daisy last autumn. We have owned Daisy since 2012 and during those 8 years we had many adventures in her. Some of the more fitting tails have been published here on the blog, others remain best untold. She has delivered just what we wanted and more. So how did we come to buy a Cornish Shrimper in the first place and then get so lucky?

A very cold wet wind over tide passage through the Menai Straits in Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger convinced us that at our age we were ready for a boat with a small cabin, somewhere to get out of the weather and keep warm. The requirements agreed for the new boat were: –

  • Good looking, trailable boat, capable of coastal sailing and fun.
  • Small cabin, with cooking space to brew up and get out of the weather.
  • Not excessively expensive to buy but would hold value.
  • Inexpensive to run. Swing half tide mooring rather than expensive marina.
  • Easy to store at minimum cost

Sam Llewellyn’s Minimum Boat series in PBO struck a chord with our thinking.

Many of the 1960s and 70s trailer sailers by this stage were little more than mouldy money pits and easy to dismiss. The Drascombe Coaster and Cruiser were considered but did not quite hit the mark. The Cape Cutter 19 was very new and expensive but had a lot of desirable features. We kept coming back to the Mark 1 Shrimpers. For about a year I had tracked the Shrimper Ownere Association web site ( https://www.shrimperowners.org/ ) For Sale pages comparing; age, condition, inventory and asking price. Our wish-list refined, and a curve emerged. Going through Ken’s Technical pages, the common faults gave me a great checklist for when the search started in earnest. In early 2012 Sam’s Shrimper, the eponymous Daisy, came on the market. Being closer than the next nearest candidate in Perthshire, we arranged a viewing.   

Even as Shrimpers go, Daisy is a bit special. She was fitted out in Germany to a very high standard by her Engineer first owner Axel. Teak cockpit, foredeck and main hatch, numerous fixtures and fittings, mahogany shelves abounded, and a custom-built toolbox formed a step into the cabin. The hull and rig were well maintained with none of the regular problems. The engine was a beast of an 8HP Mariner with a cowling modified to not quite fit under the tiller. The inventory included spare sails, a cruising shute, 2 cockpit tents, a meths stove, fold down chart table and a host of other goodies.  The piggyback trailer included guide poles and a widow-maker winch. A deal was reached, funds transferred, and Daisy came into our care.

South Stack astern

Our first season was spent on the Menai Straits, day and weekend sailing getting to know Daisy and the tides and shallows of her new home. Our second season was more adventurous from the start. Launching in a snowstorm, then sailing round Anglesey for the first time. Also, I had a weekend trip with my 10-year-old daughter Elin along the North Coast, she loved it. The Beast started to give problems but nothing serious.

2014 was a big year. Our first major trip was an attempt to sail across the Irish Sea to Dublin, however foul weather forced a change of destination to join other club boats sailing down the Llyn Peninsular. The club race back from Porth Dinllaen astounded all of the bigger boats as Daisy romped in ahead of boats nearly half as long again and took the race on handicap by a considerable margin. Off the wind under full sail and working the tide Daisy flew over Caernarfon Bar, Gordon crawling along the bowsprit untangling the furling line. The competitive Sigma 33 owner was even more grumpy than usual that night.

Next destination was Scotland. Those thieves of time; bad weather, wrong tides, family and work commitments meant we had to abandon our original plan of sailing North via the Isle of Man. Back on the trailer, home for a quick refit, then the long trail north to Largs. Elin and I then had a week sailing around Bute and the Clyde before Gordon and family joined us for the Commonwealth Games Flotilla into the middle of Glasgow with hundreds of other boats.  

Gordon and family kept Daisy in Port Bannatyne on Bute for the remainder of the season with family trips around the Clyde and a solo trip up Loch Fyne for the Inveraray Music Festival. We towed Dasiy back to Wales for her winter refit on my drive.

In 2015 I set myself the target of going for my Yachtmaster certificate. The mutinous Beast was finally left ashore being replaced with a Seagull Silver Century . This all brought a new dimension to Daisy sailing; improving seamanship, boat handling under sail, precise navigation through the invisible channels over the Menai mud flats and reducing reliance on the brute power of the Beast. All good practice for the September Yachtmaster exam. Yes a Shrimper owner can become a Yachtmaster

Sailing with a Seagull,

Disaster struck at the end of the season when Daisy’s mooring broke in a North East gale. Gary “The Glass” repaired the damage to the hull and brought her back to life over the winter. Repairing Cornish Shrimpers is relatively straight forward with their solid GRP lay-up, easy lines to follow and an excellent original build quality. With her new Awgrip black paint and white boot line Daisy was back “Better than new”. We only just resisted Gary’s suggestion of adding a gold cove line.

2016 had us back on the Menai Straits, but with my daughter’s dinghy sailing campaigns starting to take off, we only managed a few day sails. Late in the season Gordon traded the undependable Beast and a restored Seagull for a more appropriate Tohatsu 6hp sail drive outboard.  I spent much of 2017 as a Topper Roady, only using Daisy as a floating base for the Topper Nationals in Pwllheli. This was not a roaring success as the weather was foul nearly all week and I was fighting a sever cough.  Sharing a cramped damp boat with an exhausted but elated teen racer and her wet sailing gear was not the best environment under the circumstances, even if Daisy was “cooler than a tent”.

Gordon was by this time starting to relocate back to Scotland and took Daisy to her new base on Holy Loch while Elin worked through GBR squads and National events to the Topper World Championships in China. With our children becoming independent, Jan and I can sail together again.  Jan never really took to the bucket and crouching to cook, so her requirements for standing headroom, “proper heads” and a “proper cooker” have now been met in an old Contessa 32 which we are gradually sailing around Britain.

Would I have another Shrimper? Yes. Everywhere we went with Daisy she was admired as a beautiful boat. Even broken on the beach the love shone through. Even the grumpy Sigma racer admitted (through gritted teeth) that she had style. We could sail her like a large dinghy or as a little ship, across seas or up muddy creeks. Minimal running costs meant that even in the fallow years she was never a drain sitting wrapped up in the barn. One spar per winter was the major maintenance programme. Her diminutive size meant re-commissioning was a quick job; a wipe over with a damp rag, a coat or two of teak oil, a touch up of varnish and a bit of beeswax polish around the cabin. One tin of antifouling took a few minutes to apply.  With a Shrimper the fun quotient is very high.

My next Shrimper will probably be a retirement refurbishment project, but that is a few years away yet.

Daisy on her mooring near Beaumaris Photo by Gordon MacKellar

Daisy’s First Time Round Anglesey

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.

Anglesey, the route, way-points and deviations

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.

Anti-clockwise I 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 route.

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.

Daisy

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 voyages.

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.

Preparing ourselves 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 horizon.

Approaching South Stack

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 backed Malltreath 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.

Wisps of Cirrus foretell the change of weather

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 round Britain 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. 

Flood tide sweeping us past the Skerries Rock Lighthouse

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.

Back on the mooring, back on the mud

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 Clubhouse floor.

Sailing with a Seagull

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 little effect.

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”.


The author’s Navy Plug wafts through the intervening half century of enforced political correctness since gems like this were penned.

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.

Setting expectations 1950’s style

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.   


A Brace of Seagulls: 1961 vintage “Forty plus” on the tender, 1978 vintage “Silver Century” in Daisy’s well.

Quotations are copied from the 23rd edition of the British Seagull Handbook c1961