I usually have a quick look through Ebay once a week just to see if there is anything interesting : and you never know when the absolute boat bargain might just be there. Two weeks back there were 3 of the trailer-sailer Dehlers that i am taking an interest in and i am definitely leaning in that direction . Last week i saw the little Deben yet again, visitors may remember me saying that i had one once but the immediate problem with the current one even at that price would be first getting it the 300 miles by road just to even start on the job : then at minimum it needs a complete rig and ideally an engine so its a no-go….they aren’t even particularly great boats !.
This is another completely different route in the simple and cheap boat that would maybe get somebody on the water : quite an old boat now as they were built from the late 60’s onwards. For those that don’t recognise the class they are a Macwester : at one time a cheaper alternative to the ubiquitous and caravan-like Westerly’s. These aren’t great sailing boats but they will get you there with a bit of care and they do work very well for the muddy and thin bits that i am finding a lot of fun with in my own boat. There are a couple around here and one of them at least sails pretty much all year around : i think the owner does a lot of similar things to me, often see him anchored in the local hideaways.
When i first saw the photographs i thought that this must be somewhere in the Essex rivers or similar : turns out this is in the north-west and actually photographed in the same place where i did some racing from when i was working in Lancashire way back in the last century. Just near this section are a series of wooden staging/piles berths in the mud that we used to lean our IOR boats alongside with their keels making a slot in the mud.
This range of boat i seem to remember starting at around 24 feet and then gradually got larger as a sloop, i think there are some 27 and 28 foot versions around and then a larger centre-cockpit ketch. They aren’t an exciting boat by any means : they were never intended to be that , rather these were safe, sturdy and moderate boats that served their owners well. The main sailing drawback with them is their stubby bilge keels and not much rudder so there isn’t much ‘bite’, functionally they work better as motor-sailors on the wind. The interior is a bit bleak and caravan-like in a very 60’s kind of way although i have seen a very nicely refitted one with a much classier interior and the space is quite good.
My story with these boats is that i did accidentally sail one right at the end of my professional sailing career when i did some occasional teaching for one of the south coast sailing schools as a freelance cruising instructor. I was hired to take on a young couple that had been giften one of these by an elderly parent who retired from sailing but couldn’t bear to see the boat go. The couple had sailed a dinghy and wanted to cruise on the Mac but didn’t feel they could handle the boat in marina’s and so on : i worked with them for a weekend living on the boat with them and cruising around Portsmouth harbour. I seem to remember that for the first day i had them doing ever more difficult berthing and leaving under motor : every combination that i could think of and they really got into the spirit of it. Late on the first day it was obvious that we needed to sail for a bit to go and find an anchorage so with their increasing confidence i set them the challenge of beating up the harbour….and the boat just wouldn’t go upwind, best even i could get was about 60 degrees…..square rig beating angle !.
The basic story is that not only was the rig raked poorly but it was super-slack and the sails were pretty old and full too. Once we had anchored i could see that they were a bit frustrated with the poor performance : i would have been, so i walked them around the boat and pointed out how each factor was robbing them of the boats already small performance ability. I remember that it was the female partner that asked me if anything could be improved and pointedly whether I could improve it. It took about 3 hours but in that time i raked the rig back a good few inches and then centred it side to side and then re-tensioned everything so that the mast stood better but also had some curve in the column to take some of the depth out of the main, i seem to remember rigging a flattener out of one of the reefs too !. The difference was startling and dramatic : that little boat came alive, rather than sagging off all the time now it had some windward ‘feel’ and the flatter sails would get us upwind so i gave the boat and its new owners a solid windward workout short tacking up one of the channels.
The story has a good end, they took to the boat and used it well with at least one cross-channel cruise and plenty of cruising on the south and east coasts….these boats i feel are are very much at home on the east coast. GRP of this era is often better than what came later as it tended to be heavily laid up, usually engines will have been replaced at some time. I have a liking for these unpretentious little boats.