Thursday 28 May 2009

YOGAFF this weekend

With good weather forecast for the weekend Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight is a good place to go. The weekend will see the town hosting the annual YOGAFF festival.

Yarmouth's picturesque harbour will be filled with life and colour with more than 100 visiting traditional sailing, steam and motor vessels, including the cream of the Old Gaffers Association fleet.

Racing will take place in the Solent in full view of the town.

Or if the thought of racing is all too much, take the time to enjoy the view and all the boats in the harbour.

This years festival will be opened by Geoff Holt. Geoff hit the headlines when he sailed solo around Britain in a 15-foot trimaran -remarkable because he is paralysed from the waist down. He is also the fastest disabled person to sail round the Isle of Wight.
There's lots happening including:
Street Entertainment
Live Music
Spectacular Classic and Gaff-rigged Boats in the Harbour
Exciting Racing for Gaff-rigged Boats within sight of the shore
Visiting Classic Vehicles
Craft Fair and Market
Flower Festival
Lifeboat Demonstration
And lots more …..

Monday 25 May 2009


What with one thing and another we realised that we hadn't been to Cowes for well over a year. With light winds and bright sunshine forecast for the holiday weekend (well at least for Saturday and Sunday) we though it would be a good destination for baby Joe's first overnight on the boat.

A former seaport town on the north of the Isle of Wight, Cowes describes itself as - "at the centre of yachting" hosting as it does the famous Cowes Week Regatta, which has been running since 1826 and the spectacular Around the Island Race when over 1700 yachts race 50 miles around the Isle of Wight each June.

The Medina river divides the town, the two halves logically called East Cowes and West Cowes, here's the view sailing up the main channel of the Medina river.

Cowes enjoyed Royal patronage during the Victorian era when it developed as the "Yachting Capital of the World". Off the East Cowes shore are moorings for keel boat classes for which Cowes is famous, the boat is the foreground looks like a Dragon class, while the one to the left could be a Daring, a keel boat class unique to Cowes

Opposite is the town parade at West Cowes, there are some remarkable buildings like the art deco apartments in the center (below). It is also the location for many of the famous yacht clubs. At far right is the Royal Yacht Squadron, also in that parade, but not in any order, are the Royal Corinthian YC, Royal Thames YC and the Royal London YC. There are a number of other yacht clubs in the town who don't enjoy a royal warrant, the Island Sailing Club, Cowes Corinthians SC and East Cowes SC.
Just upriver is the old town part of West Cowes, below is The Prospect, former home of Sir Max Aitken, yachtsman, fighter pilot and newspaper magnet. The building now houses the Sir Max Aitken Museum.
Anyone who has sailed in and out of Cowes will be aware of the strong tides, in these two pictures you can see there's a strong ebb tide running.
Just upriver and past the ferry terminal in East Cowes is the chain ferry which is the main link between the two parts of town. The river starts to narrow here and well - can get rather crowed especially on holiday weekends!

Moving upriver the scene becomes much more industrial, reflecting the tradition of yacht and ship building in the town. This picture (below) for me sums up Cowes a modern work boat is on the slip, ashore next to it are two America's Cup racing yachts while in the foreground is a Harrison Butler designed classic.

The weekend weather was as promised, sunny and settled, perfect for just watching the world going by. This was our last view of Cowes looking west toward Egypt point, as we set sail on Sunday morning.

Saturday 23 May 2009

How did you learn to row?

I seem to be doing a lot more rowing than sailing these days, and certainly a lot of my posts (and indeed the blogs I follow) are about rowing. Which all got me to thinking about how I got started in rowing and how maybe others didn't perhaps get the opportunity to learn to row as youngsters and develop a skill which frankly I tend to take for granted.

There was no opportunity for rowing at school , but my Dad always messed around with boats on the Thames near our home. In my early years we had a collection of rather tatty wooden motorboats, all of which spent rather more time in the back garden than they did on the water. One exception was a small clinker sailing dinghy, which was small enough for me to row when I was around six or seven.

It was in the Sea Scouts that I really had the chance to develop some rowing experience (1st Datchet troop, which was actually based in Langley close to the Ford factory but who's counting) . The scout leader was an ex merchant navy stoker called Tony Mann, rough as they come, but good hearted with it.

We would go off to weekend camp (at every opportunity) to a site called Longridge near Marlow, where the Scout Association had an activity centre on the Thames. There we learned to row in wooded four man gigs. The Skipper would tell us, "you're Sea Scouts so it's up to you to show these green 'brussel sprouts' how it's done".

The routine was to come alongside smartly, at the command "way enough" oars were brought aboard, crutches (no such thing as rowlocks) fitted into holes in the thwarts, fenders put out and at the last moment the cox would ship the rudder, as the boat slipped to a halt alongside the main jetty and the "bridge" where the skipper would be keeping watch. Woe betide anyone who dropped a crutch or forgot to put a fender out, or the cox who dropped the rudder on the bottom boards with a thud. "Round again" and we'd set off to do it right next time; round again meant once around the island, about a 15 minute row. We all learned pretty fast and for those who were especially lax or lazy there was the occasional "volunteer" for man overboard drill!

For three or four years in my early teens, that's how I would spend summer weekends, cycling the 12 miles or so each way to go rowing at any and every opportunity. All too soon though the rowing gave way to other teenage pursuits, motorcycles and girls. For a while the rowing was forgotten. The university I attended was as far from the sea in any direction as it's possible to be in the United Kingdom, there was little scope for rowing other than the occasional hire boat on the river at Stratford-Upon -Avon.

It wasn't until I bought a small yacht a few years later than I realised how much I enjoyed rowing, there was as much fun to be had pottering around the anchorage in the tender, as there was sailing.

Thirty odd years later and those lessons are still with me, I find as much pleasure rowing along the river in the quiet of a cold winter day as I do giving it all in the local regatta.

So drop me a line - how did you get started?

Sunday 17 May 2009

Double Ender's

I had an email from Patrick who has an Atkin designed "Eric" undergoing restoration in Kansass , I'm guessing it's something of a rarity in the prairie state, which is not exactly known as a mainstream sailing location. Patrick has some great photos on his flickr site.

The Eric design was by William Atkin and is described as "32 feet, 1 inch in overall length; 27 feet, 6 inches on the water line; 11 feet in breadth, and 5 feet draft. Freeboard at the bow is 4 feet, 6 inches; amidships 2 feet, 3 3/4 inches, and at the stern 3 feet, 4 inches. The displacement is 19,500 pounds; ballast on keel 4,700 pounds; trimming ballast 1,200 pounds.

Eric is not a type of boat for the beginner to tackle and any such should confine their efforts and labor to some of the simpler and more elementary designs which have been published previously, or which will follow later in this series.

The lines show a typical Colin Archer Norwegian lifeboat of the type used by the fishermen and pilots of the North Sea, but the rig and the arrangement of the deck and interior are after the manner of American practice. "

From the pictures it looks like Patrick is making a fine job of the restoration. His email prompted me to think about double enders or canoe stern designs. This side of the Atlantic there can't be too many yachtsmen who haven't heard of Colin Archer and the legendary Redningsselskapet rescue boats he designed for service on the wild Norwegian Atlantic coast.

Much has also been written of the advantages of the canoe stern and it's ability to break following seas which might smash upon a conventional transom.

Despite this heritage double ender's are few and far between even in the Hamble river where around 4000 boats are moored. Here are the few local boats I could find.

First up is Rula, I believe made by Windboats in Norfolk, she's one of my favorite boats on the river. I'm not sure who the designer was but she definitely has influences of the Archer and Atkin designs. She came up for sale a couple of years ago and I was very tempted to buy her, but at the time I had just sold our 16 ton TM cutter and really wanted something smaller and faster.

David Hillyard started his boatyard in Littlehampton back in the 1920's building a pretty little 2 1/2 tonner. By the 1950's the yard had a reputation for the center cockpit yachts,with the familiar canoe stern, mostly 12 tonners like the one below. The Hillyard yard had a reputation for strong construction, I seem too recall that all the planks were full length as David Hillyard wouldn't allow any joints.
Besides Ianthe there are two or three other similar Hillyards on the river.

I confess I don't know anything about this pretty varnished yacht apart from thinking she looks Scandinavian. The owner always manages a wave when I'm rowing by. She is very pretty and very well kept.
There are three or four of these Chuck Paine designed Francis 26, double ender's on the river, inspired by the Scottish fishing boats Chuck had seen on his travels, they were produced in the UK by Victoria Yachts.
Another friend's yacht - Grace, she was build by Windboats to a design called a Norske 35. When he bought he she was in need of some TLC, but our friend, a naval architect soon had her back in shape and looking terrific.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

More on Blondie Haslar

My March post about Tim McCloy and China Blue caused a slight controversy when I suggetsed the OSTAR was founded on a bet for "half a crown" (two shillings and sixpence in the old UK currency, equivalent to 12.5 pence now) between Haslar and Sir Francis Chichester.

Ewen Southby-Tailyour of the Jester Challenge kindly send me a correction, below is an extract from a letter which Ewen sent to the Royal Western Yacht Club.

"By the time Chichester entered the arena Blondie had spent two years in correspondence, with, among other organisations and individuals, the Slocum Society of America, seeking sponsorship and a starting line. It is true that Chichester, in the closing months before the race, took on much of the administration but that is a very different matter: he took no part in the conception, the drafting of the rules nor, as an individual, with the 'half-crown bet'. That this wager existed was disputed by David Lewis and still is by Val Howells and if it had existed then it was not a Chichester idea (although, in two of his own books, he implies it was). Although lost in the mists it is feasible that at some point all four of them together (Lacombe had yet to declare) declared that if no sponsor could be found they would each put in a half-crown with the winner taking all - but even this is not verified by Val Howells, the soul remaining participant."

Ewen has thoroughly researched and written a book on the subject - Blondie published by Pen and Sword 1998

In my defence, my source was The Greatest Race in the World by JLR Anderson published 1964 (and which is actually about the 1964 race). On page 23 Anderson writes: "He {Chichester} saw a note by Haslar about the race on the notice board of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and at once it fired his imagination. He got in touch with Hasler, and the two of them agreed to organise the race themselves if nobody else would - and if nobody would enter, to race each other singlehanded across the Atlantic for half-a-crown." He continues "The Haslar-Chichester partnership was undefeatable" which supports Ewen's comment that Chichester was involved with administration for the race.

It is also clear from Anderson's book that the Haslar-Chichester partnership began in 1960, equally that Haslar had been working on the idea for the race since 1956 and was engaged early on with the Solcum Society, who had written to The Guardian newspaper in 1957 promoting the idea of a race between Cowes and City Island, New York to take place in 1960. It is said that Haslar wanted the race to be run in July1958, but accepted the later date.

The idea of the race had its critics, not least on safety issues, which caused some reluctance amoung potential organisers, including the Solcum Society, and it was thanks to The Royal Western Yacht Club and The Observer that the OSTAR took place in 1960.

Given that these events took place 50 years ago, we shouldn't loose sight that all the participants and the organisers, sponsors and supporters have left yaching with a land mark legacy. I was delighted to hear from Ewen that Val Howells is still alive.

I think we can see the Chichester heritage reflected today in the likes of Ellen McArthur, Samantha Davies, Mike Golding, Alex Thompson and their peers who sail the corporate sponsored rocket ships. Equally I would suggest that the Jester Challenge represents a fine legacy to Blondie Haslar.
On a personal level I think sometimes Blondie doesn't get the recognition he deserves, which is perhaps suprising as his way of sailing has far more relevance to the vast majority of today's sailors.

For my part, I have no aspriation to offshore racing, but when Erica and I sailed from England across the Atlantic by way of West Africa, we did so in a well found, 30 year old sloop. No support organisation, no satellite communications, no watermaker, no email, just basic, reliable equipment. Of course we had GPS, our hand held set cost £90 and a set of AA batteries got us safely across the Atlantic, I thnk Blondie would have approved.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Hamble River Raid

Saturday saw a record turnout for the Hamble River Raid. The boats and their crews assembled on the foreshore for the event organised by the Hamble Sea Scouts.

The majority of the entries were Bursledon Gig's; fibre glass rowing boats based on a Falmouth Oyster boat, but now firmly established on the Hamble river.

Chris Partridge came to the event and his blog Rowing for Pleasure has some great pictures of the event, he was joined by Langstone cutters who crewed two of the local gigs.

The Hamble gigs have a crew of four, I entered Gato Nego (Spanish for black cat) singlehanded.

The start was from the beach by the Hamble town quay, the crews had to run down the beach and launch their boats like a nautical version of the "Le Mans" start. The course ran up river to the Jolly Sailor pub (the landlord John, had entered a team and very kindly provided beer for the event by way of sponsorship). Once around the turning mark it was back downriver. A sea breeze had picked up making the final stretch from Crablake past Bunny Meadows a hard pull to windward.

Above I'm on the final stretch, crossing the river and tying to avoid passing yachts, the photographer's boat in close pursuit.

The race wasn't over until the crew stepped ashore back on the beach, after 53 minutes of flat out rowing I could just about stand! Overall I finished fifth and won the "odds'n'sods" prize for the first non Bursledon Gig to finish.

For all the people who kindly sponsored me, thanks for supporting the event, here's the trophy the "Hamble River Raid Harrar!"
Special thanks also to Andy, Annette Tom and everyone involved with the Hamble Sea Scouts for organising the event

Monday 4 May 2009

Hamble Weekend Scramble

The holiday weekend plus the nice weather meant that the Hamble was especially busy. Having breakfast at the town quay made for a great opportunity to just watch the comings and goings on the river.
The Pink Ferry went backwards and forwards across the river between Hamble and Warsash with people out stroling, serious walkers and cyclists, all out for the day.

A steady and seemingly endless stream of boats went down river heading out into the Solent in the near perfect sailing conditions. Few were as striking as this classic racing sloop, which was enjoying the north easterly winds to sail out of the river.

One of my favourite boats, a Memory gaff-rigged sloop, inspired by the small fishing smacks of Brighlingsea on the east coast, they are built locally on the river.

Several dinghy fleets were racing over the weekend, here a Wayfarer slips along at low water close by the Warsash shore.

Down at the river entrance the full scale of the holiday exodus heading out into the Solent, just a little too much like rush hour.

Inevitably there were one or two problems over the weekend, this large motor cruiser went the wrong side of the red marker and ran aground in the shallows - the clues were all there in the foreground.

Friday 1 May 2009

Keep on - Keep turning Left

I’m sure many of you will have seen Dylan Winter’s “Keep Turning Left” series of video’s on youtube, which document his circumnavigation of these British Isles in an elderly Mirror Offshore yacht.

I got a really nice email from Dylan the other day and asked him for some more background to his trip.

Episode one started locally, on the Isle of Wight, covering a trip from Bembridge to Chichester Harbour.

Dylan admits that in the early stages of the trip he was just working out how to combine the camera and the sailing. In his own words “Lots of wobble- vision and wind noise in the early vids.”

Does anyone remember Hot Metal the sit com from the 1980’s, editor Russell Spam (Thomas Hardy) introduced a different version of “wobble vision” on page 3 of the fictional newspaper – send me an email if you want more detail!

Dylan has been doing both sailing and working as a cameraman for many years – but not at the same time. He seems to have mastered both disciplines, his later progams are all shot HD.

He reports on the trip.

“When I started out I had intended to do just a series of coastal hops – like most circumnavigators. I thought it might take me two summers. But work commitments meant that I stopped on the Medway for two months. I hired a drying pontoon mooring for £10 a month and had a fantastic time on a river I barely knew existed. I now feel bad about having swept past some great rivers – the Arun looks wonderful from google earth (fantastic resource) and to spend just one night in Chichester harbour was bordering on the criminal.

I then realized that to sail past the mouth of Britain’s splendid rivers was a terrible wasted opportunity – so plans changed and the journey is much more about the rivers than the sea passages. I have resolved to go as far up all the rivers I come across, as my keels, mast and tide will allow – and I am even prepared to drop the mast and venture inland. The upper Medway was beautiful but I hate the sound of the engine. I am working on a viable sculling set up.

I love old boats and birds – and even mud”

Just as a bit of background Dylan is really an east coast sailor and used to race E-Boats and Sonatas, as well as dinghies (Enterprises, Firefly’s, GP14s and Hornets).

“The reason for doing the journey is that I feel it is a bit sad to have lived on an island all my life and never sailed around it.

I know the mirror offshore is probably one of the ugliest boats ever made – but it is the smallest boat I could find with a diesel inboard and a separate heads – mine was built in 1965 in the days before they invented osmosis.

And it’s British.

It sails like a slug compared to the E-Boat and Sonata but it does offer full crouching headroom, two six foot six inch berths.

But it was cheap (£2,200) and sits on the mud or sand or concrete and I intend to keep on abandoning her to return home for work.

I can lower the mast by myself as it is only 17 foot long – I lay it along the cabin top and put a giant tarpaulin over the whole thing. It’s a mobile boat shed.

I have a massive list of jobs to do on it – but decided to set off and do them as I go. You would be amazed to find out how many “essentials” seem unnecessary – although a gear box that allowed me to select fwd or reverse without removing the companionway steps would be nice. The roller reefing is in a pretty dire condition and the boat leaks a little – but I don’t know where from. “

Dylan’s in good company with his choice of a Mirror Offshore, I recall an account in the early 80’s of a trip the length of the Danube in one, when the Danube was still in the eastern block.

You can find his videos

The old ones are all here in the right order

Finally Dylan would welcome any feedback from sailors about the mix of boats, birds and battles.

I think it’s all great, clearly the more gaffers the better, I also agree with him about the rivers, please leave your comments.