Following my posts might seem a bit confusing at times, one moment i am talking about taking an inshore boat ‘ocean’ and in the very next post talking about converting an IOR quartertonner for the same task or……. what i really want is a classic long keeled boat. To be honest sometimes i confuse myself ! With this year’s inevitable hiatus in my actual sailing though it is a very good time to step back a bit and have a good thinking session now and be ready to take on whatever project i do decide to run with next. I do feel that it’s a critical turning mark in my own sailing life, not just with my knee/back problems which will alter the kind of boats that i might own but also in the kind of sailing that i am likely to do in the future.
The Dayboat has to go simply because i am never going to sail with toe-straps ever again and i do like a cabin to crawl into at the end of the day. My Liberty has been a truly great boat in opening up the access to shallow rivers and creeks that i have come to enjoy over these last 2 years. However, the Liberty does have a limited ‘envelope’ as a sailing boat even though i have often pushed at it’s limits a bit. I have taken it across the channel in both directions and taken it out in brisk weather although i am also very conscious that i have avoided certain passages….for example long windward beat’s. This year for example i found that nearly all my sailing decisions were based around short weather and tidal ‘windows’. Well partially that’s just smart seamanship in a small boat but i also realise that a passage i have avoided in the Liberty is one that i took on with few worries in a very old, partially rotten and leaky long keeled boat with virtually no gear. That boat was the Deben 4 tonner that i owned briefly with the intention of rebuilding it into a proper little offshore yacht. I didn’t like that boat but even now i have to admit that it got on with a steady beat all the way across Lyme bay : in fact the whole trip westwards from Chichester was upwind.
Same type, was on Ebay and now back on the market at £600. This is a deck-edge cabin variant of the Deben. This would need a total refit/rebuild and be at least a years work.
I don’t ever intend to race again and even if i did it wouldn’t be in my own boat ! having said that i will always try to outsail anyone that i meet on the water going the same way. In the Deben for example i picked it up in Chichester after the most minimal setting-up, sailed her through the Solent and out to the west. On the second morning as i left Keyhaven where i had anchored overnight a slightly longer but much more modern IOR cruiser-racer followed me out and clearly tried to overtake me on a close reach. Now, the Deben had a huge aperture and a huge fixed blade propeller (but no engine) , the mainsail was some 3 feet short in the hoist and the only decent sail i had was a secondhand genoa that i couldn’t sheet-in close because the boat had no winches…..you get it….and yet it still outsailed the more modern boat. I wonder to this day what it would have done with no aperture and a proper rig and sails on it. That boat would also take the ground with a short pair of beaching legs.
Something like this (Inanda) * Photo courtesy of Clare Thomas.
It’s taken a hell of a long time but i feel i am only just at the point that i am open minded about boats and know basically just enough to start to talk about them. Nearly all of my early sailing, and most of my sea-miles, has been on IOR race boats and cruiser-racers so i am heavily influenced by that type. Perhaps that type of boat is merely a temporary fad and fashion in boats that has now passed by. Its funny but the IOR wasn’t actually around for very long and those boats are old-fashioned today. Today if i was a keen young racing sailor i wouldn’t be day-dreaming about slow IOR maxi-yachts but V70’S and the super-wide sleds of today. I only came late to other boats although when i did go ‘alternative’ i did go to the opposite and extreme end of sailing with a Wharram catamaran. Last week when i sailed back up the Tamar this little Wharram Tiki 21 was on a mooring. This is the famous little ‘Cooking Fat’ which has not only been around the world but raced across the Atlantic in the Jester challenge.
I am very sad to say that Steve Turner who built the GRP Wharram’s and lived locally died just recently. Steve surveyed my boats for me whenever i needed it and was the top bloke for solid advice.*
My first boat was of course a very bad East German Folkboat but i never did sail her very much and at that time knew virtually nothing about sailing. Today i seem to have come almost full-circle in my thinking about boats , ie that i come back to thinking that maybe the natural evolution of small sailing yachts from small sailing fishing boats might still give us a viable cruising boat. All boats are clearly a compromise of some sort, my Liberty is an excellent boat for exploring the rivers and creeks but it is weak offshore, it also wastes a lot of its available space on its huge and family friendly cockpit. The I0R boats that i raced would go upwind offshore like a rat up a drainpipe but give a violent ride and can’t easily be dried out on a beach like the Liberty can. Most of them also have complex fragile rigs that need spinnakers to move at any speed downwind. The Wharram i had could be a blisteringly fast boat reaching and downwind, and it would beach easily but the living spaces were awkwardly small….to get a decent space on the type you need a 35 foot boat at minimum and then that’s a lot of boat to store and maintain. Most of you know what i feel about the generic and mediocre plastic cruising boats so i won’t even bother to go there.
Today i don’t have a single set idea of what a boat must be like except for the list of requirements that i set out in earlier posts. I do know that with every positive feature in any boat there will be something that doesn’t work as well. Once again all boats are compromises to some extent . Today i know that i like poking around the shallow creeks and anchoring in them and that almost certainly excludes a deep and narrow fin keel. Equally i have to get to those places first and that requires a more rugged boat and capable windward boat around here certainly. Then when i stop for the night or want to make a drink or hot meal on passage i want somewhere warm and comfortable to sit, sleep and cook.
Once again i come back to the list of requirements that i worked up in the past to define what i wanted in a boat and more recently i used that idea in the starter boat series. I know that i demand a boat that actually sails, can look after itself (and me) at sea, will go upwind in a stiff chop in the channel and won’t be broaching all over the place downwind. Recent experience tells me that i like the shallow and difficult to get at rivers and creeks because the big generic-eric fin-keeled yachts can’t or won’t and that tends to give me peaceful anchorages. That means that i need to settle the boat in mud or beach it on a harder surface without worrying about it. I crave peace and quiet more and more now which is also partially why i like to sail ‘early and late’ when everyone else is still shoreside. That pulls me towards warm and dry cabins with some form of heating. I don’t ‘have’ to have a particular boat or type of rig but will honestly look at the ups and downs of each one, i have for instance considered Junk although i don’t particularly like the look of it. I would be quite happy with gaff now having seen the Falmouth oyster boats totally spank the modern boats during races. My own short-gaff (Dutch high aspect) sailed very well for instance.
A long keeled boat might work well, i can easily imagine this in the Isle De Brehat or Ruan creek.
A big influence when i considered going long term cruising was Lyn and Larry Pardey who built and sailed 2 long keeled and engineless boats just about everywhere in the world and i based my Frances 26 on that set of ideas. The Frances was a very capable boat and made ‘steady’ miles offshore without ever getting stressed, she was also the most comfortable boat i have ever sailed and lived aboard. Today i wouldn’t be able to afford such an expensive niche boat but she has left me with a very good feel for ‘chunky’ boats that have a load of character as well. This coast and the east coast have a long history of tough and rugged sea-boats derived from working boats. I know that the ultimate windward performance isn’t as great as a deep fin keeled racing boat but off the wind it really isn’t a problem. Of course a long keeled and most likely wooden boat comes with its own problems and compromises but maybe those compromises are acceptable.
Frances 26 La Luz (not my boat)
In this post i hope i have given some degree of explanation as to why i seem to be bouncing around all over the place in my thinking about boats. I know that what i want to do is keep a boat here, locally, in the mud or on a shallow mooring, leave sheltered waters and go offshore if needs be, sail steadily, consistently and competently and then anchor somewhere quiet. I want the boat to have some ‘heart’ and i may add some ‘balls’ and it has to have a salty character….not be just the same generic and mediocre white plastic seen by the hundred in marinas today. I’m not quite sure where this is taking me but we have a plan…..to be off cruising for an extended period in 2 years from now. I now have that time to get the bearings fixed, go find a boat and get it set up the way i want it. That’s just about acceptable time for a big refit or to find something maybe pricier but more ready to go and learn to sail it.
In memory of Steve Turner who died recently.