Title photograph : misty morning on the Tamar, spring 2019.
Walkabout, Rocket and Long steps
A future boat post.
Blog time : as i write it’s August 2020 and i seem to have some degree of my former writing and blogging mojo back although i do often look outside and think “i need to be out there” rather than sat writing inconsequantial stuff that few will read and less will care about. In my new life as a hiker again i’m very close to saying ‘sod it all’ and just going ‘walkabout’ and probably would except that the nice bits of the south west coast that i’d chose to walk on are now all rammed with holiday makers….beer-belly brits and England’s finest specimens !.
On a serious note this month i must acknowledge the life and death of Larry Pardey who died just recently aged 81. Both Lin and Larry Pardey had a big influence on my own sailing life when i retired from professional sailing and became a cruising sailor. I think iv’e either read or owned most of their books, one now worn and dog-eared that it needs replacing when i can find a copy. Their influence on me was towards rugged simplicity in my choice of boats, a high degree of self-reliance and ‘do it yourself ness’. I never got to meet the Pardey’s in real life except for a friendly wave from Lin one day during what must have been their cruise to the UK. Sad day…..
The design series.
At around the time i lost the will to write i was working on a new post for my long thread covering interesting boat designs and the designers that thought them into life : i’d got as far as ‘G’ with Mr Griffiths and i was about to write a quick cover of Jack Laurent Giles when i realised that i’d completely lost interest in the subject. My Maurice Griffiths post i know was a poor one given how much he put into the art of small cruising boats ; maybe one day i will re-write the post. I was really looking forward to the Herreshoff clan, having previously covered some of the output of L.Francis Herreshoff and some of my favourite boats of all time.
What i really wanted to do at that time was skip most of the second half of the alphabet and jump right down to the ‘Y’s with Kiwi Jim Young and John Welsford because my mate Al was working on a potential Jim Young build and i was beginning to get all moist about ‘Longsteps’ and/or ‘Walkabout’….both of them John Welsford designs and somebody i knew nada about either as a sailor or designer. Lets pretend then that iv’e got past all of the messy Hollands, Peterson’s Sadler’s , Thomas’s and even Vivier’s ( i must come back to Francois Vivier) and landed at John Welsford’s place in New Zealand and am taking a look at his cruising dinghy , expedition boat and micro-cruiser designs….’Scamp’ for example.
Anyway, for today’s post i thought i would do something that i haven’t done in a very long time and that is to recount a little sea story.
Couple of years back and i was on the very last leg of sailing my gaffer ‘Inanda’ from her home port on the east coast to my base in the Tamar. I’d made the passage but hadn’t considered it a success as the old Deben just couldn’t cope with the big waves of the English channel whereas she was fine in the more sheltered water of the Thames estuary.
On the very last day she threw me a bit of a curve-ball as we came across the ‘bridge’ in the reef/submarine barrier between Plymouth sound and the Narrows…..the throttle cable broke just as we entered the bridge channel and without the engine i barely had steerage but luckily the young flood and tick-over carried us into clear water. Once we passed through the narrows and got around the end of the we picked up a better breeze from the south west again and with her big mainsail we slipped nicely up the Tamar, dodging around the ferries.
At some point i noticed that a smaller boat with a red gaff or gunter mainsail (i thought) was slipping along ahead of us and also making the best of the light downwind sailing and positive tide carrying us both through the lighter patches under the 2 Tamar bridges. I followed the little ‘Gaffer’ all the way up the Tamar, sometimes catching up and sometimes dropping behind…the smaller boat accelerating better in the light gusts and then us catching up as i played the angles and tacked downwind like a pro ; the same sailing style that gave me a superb downwind tacking duel with a larger and very well sailed gaffer ‘Theta’ the day before : then, we’d had an almost America’s cup kind of downwind race and severely embarrassed the several much larger modern cruiser racers past Start point and along past Salcombe.
Somewhere high up the Tamar i lost track of the smaller boat as we prepared to pick up a mooring with my partner playing the improvised mole-grip throttle from the hatch while i worked to bring the long keeled Deben around in the brisk flood in the narrow river. Ashore though i all but bumped into the other boat’s owner and it turned out to be none other than local boat blogger and You-tuber Steve Parke of ‘Arwen’ fame and somebody who i’d been following for a while. I think Steve was going further upriver and we were busy in an end of voyage kind of way so we didn’t get time to talk although we’d both enthused about how well the other’s boat had handled the light downwind conditions of the river that day.
Despite me having followed Steve’s channel i didn’t know much about his boat ‘Arwen’ except that it was a chunky looking cruising dinghy of around 14′ and a seamanlike looking yawl rig. For some reason the name of Arwen’s designer just didn’r ring any bells but then i don’t have a background with dinghy sailing really at all and none at all with the sub genre of Dinghy cruising…except perhaps thinking that they all sailed Wayfarers !….funny how my keyboard always spells that as ‘Wayfaffers’….oh my bad, as they say !.
Now, it took a while for me to join the dots with designer John Welsford and other boats that i was taking an interest in , at the time i knew that Inanda had to go and i was beginning to think about putting an Everglades challenge boat together. It just so happened that one of the boats i was really excited by in the Watertribe/Everglades challenge fleet was a John Welsford design called ‘Walkabout’. Knowing a tiny bit more now iv’e since found out that the version of ‘Walkabout’ that i was watching is a stretched version and to bring things right up to date that the same modified boat might be just the kind of thing i would most like to build as my ‘bushcraft’ boat.
Steve Parke and Arwen
Since then ive’ met up with Arwen’s owner Steve, he very kindly came up to the yard and dug me out from under WABI”’ when i was doing the filthy work of sanding off antifoul. At a later point in the design series i clearly had to try and cover John Welsford’s designs and ‘Arwen’ would have been something tangible to build the post around ; while i will use other people’s photographs i much prefer to use my own and as much as possible to give my own take on things and tell my own story. In this case it’s slightly more difficult with John Welsford boats because there just aren’t that many around in the UK and just in the same way as the ‘link’ here….
The link being that my bessie mate ‘Big Al’ down in New Zealand was working up his plans to build a Jim Young ‘Rocket’ design and i was like …..Jim Who ? while Al was the same with John Welsford and they are even in the same country : Jim Young and John Welsford both being New Zealanders and very well known down there for their designs. When Al came over here last year for a visit we were super excited to find that the original ‘Rocket’ is here and in fact just down the road in the Falmouth area but even with our best contacts we just couldn’t track her down….’Camp Freddy‘ by the way.
Last year , both Alan and i were working on our kind-of parallel plans to build ‘Rocket’ and Pocket-Rocket as i was thinking of my potential entry for an Everglades challenge boat : at the time i was thinking about using a race retired Merlin Rocket, re-rigged as a modern Lugger and the pocket rocket epithet seemed to fit.
Camp Freddie….i think.
Today, i know a bit more about Jim Young’s design because Al has kept me up to date and then this year i joined John Welsford’s social media page to enable me to listen to the chat about his designs and see boats in build. John has been very kind to answer some of my questions about the kind of boat i am groping my way slowly towards and really, he is already there with at least 2 of his designs : first ‘Walkabout’ and more recently ‘Long Steps’….the latter being where my expression ‘Billy Bigsteps’ comes from !
John will have to forgive me for now if i over simplify things for now but that his designs seem to go down 3 main design paths, those being : firstly ‘chunky’ cruising dinghy’s like the Navigator and Pathfinder (Arwen is a Navigator), then there are the MPV style expedition boats (sail and oar) Walkabout and now Long steps…..and lastly the true Micro-Cruiser designs like ‘Scamp’. I really need to talk to a ‘Scamp’ builder , not only for a blog post but for my stalled book project, but that deserves a whole separate post.
Well, this post has turned out to be a much longer piece than i intended to write and iv’e only just got to the point i was aiming for and that was to talk about the 2 John Welsford designs that are most relevant to my potential project : Walkabout and Long steps.
I had to borrow this photograph of the modified version of Walkabout.
My new Facebook multi-adventure group page : https://www.facebook.com/groups/1257497434599364