Part 2 of the thousand pound boat.
I wrote the original post for this some 2 years ago but never scheduled it for the blog ; the reason i never made it public was that it was perhaps the first time that i realised that my ideas and writing were just all over the place….like a drunken maxi sailor after a hard session on the rum !. In blog time it’s some twenty years since the original story and in that time iv’e bought and sold several boats and spent much more time doing the things that went with the original story but that aren’t part of sailing as i saw it back then. What i’ll try to do now is recreate the story and the idea with a simpler and hopefully more cohesive post.
My idea then came shortly after the events i touched on in ‘E’ is for Egret and at heart that was an intense desire not to live as i was doing ; just a cog in the wheel or ‘another brick in the wall’, rather i wanted or thought that i wanted to be ‘out there’ on a permanent life adventure in a Henry David Thoreau kind of way. His ‘way’ had been to escape to the woods and live, hermit like, in a small cabin and to ‘live deliberately’ as he put it…..that he seems to have spent lots of time back at his mom’s place presumably being fed and having his laundry done is moot !
At the core of my own idea was the slightly Thoreauvian idea of economy….that instead of wasting years of effort and stress saving up for the perfect boat and feeling utterly miserable, that i should set my sights as low as possible , find something that was just good enough and get out there and do it on my own terms and hang the consequences. In practical terms i worked the budget down to half it’s original, thus two and a half thousand pounds, out of which i determined to find the actual boat for one thousand and leave the rest for essential kit and refit. What that means of course is a slight cheat….that the initial boat might only be £1 k but would most likely have a lot more than that spent on it before it hit the water.
My parameters then were :
1.Find an actual boat with as much gear as possible for close to £1000
2.That the boat itself be capable of being a small home, capable of the kind of sailing i do now and crucially, being capable of crossing the Atlantic at least by the easy, southern route.
In 2017 i started that search with conventional brokerages such as Apollo-duck, by literally walking the back rows of muddy boatyards , watching for seized boat auctions by harbour-masters and of course with sites like Ebay and the local networks. Conventional brokers boats at that level were pretty thin as you can well imagine although one boat type did come up more than once : the 21 foot Corribee design which is a great little boat although physically too small for me….great boat for a smaller person though. There were some auction boats too and most of the ones i saw went for very small sums but there was a consistent problem in that most of them had very bad looking engines, were often stripped out, poor on gear and would have represented very big refit/rebuilds to get on the water.
That experience made me review my options to the point where i said that i needed a boat of an acceptable size with as much gear as possible but that i wasn’t too worried about the engine ; i’m a sailor first and for this project i was happy to invest in a sweep oar and/or a small outboard motor if the boat had nothing.
This is what i found and is the boat i started to build the whole story and concept around.
For those visitors who don’t recognise the type it’s an Achilles 24 design, originally drawn by Oliver Lee and Chris Butler , around 600 have been built up until 1985. Funnily enough this was the boat that me and my mate Sam talked about quite a bit when we crewed together in the Whitbread race in 1989-90 : he and his brother had owned one and had a lot of good times with it. Of course now these are old GRP boats and many of them are very tired and even abandoned : i keep a look out for them and they’re one of the boats that often pops up in someones farm or backyard in a stripped out state and what the owner really wants is someone to take the hulk away !.
The boat itself is one of the small ones that i have a lot of time for, iv’e had a good poke around inside one and i could see a way of turning one into a small, comfortable cruising boat with a bit of modification ; iv’e also seen one sailing locally and kind-of run along with one when they were racing. Compared with my own boat they’re more powerful and capable upwind because they’ve got a bit more waterline, more sail area and of course a lot more effective keel/ballast weight.
There are 2 versions that i know of , a fin keel version and a triple keel variant which is an easy boat to dry out and therefore the one that i was looking for. The one in the picture was up for sale at just over the £1,000 mark although i don’t remember exactly how much it went for : i didn’t go and actually see the boat either because i already had my Hunter Liberty and i was already concentrating my efforts into turning that boat into my voyaging boat. From memory and the few photographs i have kept on file the Achilles needed a thorough refit but it did have a usable motor, several sails , an anchor and so on. In my thought experiment i then imagined that i’d bought that boat (i think it was in south Wales) gone over there, spent a week putting it in basic order and sailing it home to the west country. That might seem a bit mad but iv’e done that twice already , once from Chichester in a very marginal boat and one even longer trip with a much older and sicker boat all the way from Sussex.
What i did next for the blog was a kind of ‘what if’ story…..a made up adventure of dashing across the entrance to the Bristol channel, rounding cape Cornwall and the Lizard and coming home , mostly in one piece, to my home boatyard in the Tamar river. The next part of that story was a genuine, semi-practical exercise in which i set out to find a way of preparing that boat for voyaging….working out what the priorities would be to get it on the water in good order and within my total budget. Of course, what i didn’t know was how good or bad any of it’s gear actually was so i may have had to completely re-rig her and buy new sails but….and this is the crucial but….if i took the slow approach and sailed carefully i would have probably been able to get away with only slowly replacing gear over a couple of years while actually sailing….and that’s pretty much the approach iv’e taken with my own boat.
My little boat itself is a kind of model of this approach : her hull was in basically sound condition, her sails and motor were already old and tired but they have already got me through 4 years and 4 channel crossings. Over the 4 years that iv’e had WABI”’ iv’e slowly invested in 2 good anchors, the charcoal stove and this year, for the first time, a new mainsail. On the Achilles i suspect my first major purchase would have been some new shrouds , new halyards and a new furling genoa : i worked out the cost of all of that and that would have been the initial budget spent and spanked…..but i would have had a boat on the water and sailing for around £2,500.
What i feel i have to mention right at the end is what the little Achilles is capable of and what a competent small ocean going boat they can become. At the start of this post i mentioned the smaller Corribee design and i should have talked then about Roger Taylor and ‘Mingming’ , a modified , junk rigged Corribee in which Taylor did a transatlantic voyage and has taken into the arctic many times. Well…Rogers’s story of arctic exploration sailing continues with his second boat, MingMing 2 which just happens to be a heavily modified Achilles 24. By all accounts what Roger wanted was something with ‘longer legs’ than the Corribee and he chose the triple keel Achilles as the hull to base his project upon.
MingMing 1 (Corribee) Roger Taylor photograph.
Achilles 24. (Fin keel variant)
Achilles 24 . Triple keel.