Blog time : Hi everyone and i hope you are all well, in blog time it’s the beginning of March 2022 and as i write i’m just getting organized to continue with my boatbuilding project – my first job being to turn the hull over and then get on with fairing and filling the lapstrake planks, glass and epoxy coating the whole underside and then making and fitting the skeg/s. Here in my blog i left the sailing side alone for the winter because i had a whole heap of posts to finish and edit in the main other side that i write about – the men’s health and nutrition posts ; well, now it’s time to swap back again with a fresh look at the world of small boats.
In this post, and maybe a short series to come i want to talk about ‘Pocket’ yachts – this following a few comments on one of the sailing related social media sites that i follow and contribute to.
Some readers may remember that i started to take an interest in and write about ‘microcruisers’ – a class or type of boat that i and several others struggled a bit to define – microcruisers, if you will, i would now more simply class as small sailing craft used for cruising ; in my opinion that could be anything from John Welsford’s brilliant SCAMP design at 11 feet , a sailing canoe perhaps as L. Francis Herreshof once described and/or maybe the smaller end of little yachts with a cabin. What i’m building right now is at the longest and heaviest end of cruising Dinghy’s….in some thoughts that would be a dayboat or family daysailor except that in my case it’s going to be a long distance expedition sailing boat ; same boat, different purpose and set up.
It seems to me that we can tie ourselves up in ‘norman’ knots * just over our use of words that don’t quite describe boat types – in my case a sailing dinghy cum dayboat is also my intended expedition boat , plus it’s a trailer-sailer because it’s going to be moored at home on a trailer : what then is a pocket yacht……….?. I for one would say that i would recognize one when i see one but i might equally just see it as a small sailing boat but a different kind of small sailing boat than a microcruiser or trailer-sailer. One difference we might take note of is that a pocket yacht might well go on a trailer but, lets say, the pocket yacht comes with a fixed keel, then it’s difficult to launch on a slipway without completely immersing the trailer. I thought then that for this series of posts i would talk about some boats that i regard as pocket yachts, and having owned a couple myself they might be a good place to start.
Pocket yachts – my own boats.
All of my own boats could be regarded as pocket yachts except that the last one was also a trailer-sailor ; the first being a rough east German Folkboat at 26 feet, many years later a Frances 26, then after a break the much smaller Hunter Liberty and briefly the boat in the photograph above which is ‘Inanda’ – a Deben 4 tonner built in the 1930’s at Whisstocks yard in Essex on the east coast of England ; by the time i bought her she was a good 80 years old and very much the small classic gaff rigged yacht. In a way, when she was built, she was a typical small yacht of her time being built of carvel planks over Oak frames , having a small auxiliary petrol engine , 2 decent berths in her cabin and a ‘sort-of’ berth up forward in her forepeak. When i first went to see her she was still based in Ipswich , also on the east coast and under the ownership of a wodwork and metalwork teacher who had bought her for his grown up kids to race in the OGA (old gaffers association) race series…..having also completely rebuilt and restored a classic smack and having recently acquired a new (old) gaffer to also race he was keen to pass her on.
So, when i saw Inanda for the first time i’d already had the Hunter Liberty for a few years and it was partially the experience of owning the small and light displacement Liberty that pushed me towards something of about the same length because the overall size seemed about right for me, but what i thought i wanted was a heavier, more stable and much more powerful boat. The Liberty at just over a ton and a quarter is light for her size and is also very light on ballast and sail area so while being an excellent creek and river boat i found her weak and tender in any chop offshore – also because of being light and in my opinion under ballasted she was very sensitive to weight….my weight for example when boarding her. When i stepped over the rail onto the Liberty’s side deck she would heal over quite awkwardly and in contrast when i climbed aboard Inanda for the first time she hardly shifted at all.
The pocket yacht……what i was looking for.
I learnt a lot from my time with the little Hunter Liberty and my starting point for a next boat was to go for something of a similar size because i found 22-23 feet to be big enough for me on my own and do-able for us as a couple : the downside of the Liberty for me was that it was under ballasted and low on sail area thus weak upwind and especially in a chop. What i wanted then was a boat of similar size but with more actual weight, a higher ballast ratio and significantly more sail area available when i needed it. I also felt that i wanted something ‘salty’ and a bit unique and my own circumstances meant that i was going to have to take a break from sailing and i thought it would be good to have a project to work on – to be completely honest i actually liked the idea of refitting an older wooden boat.
Now, i live near the Tamar in the south west of the country and Inanda was based in the Orwell river at Ipswich – way over on the east coast so the first problem was just getting over there, having a one-shot look at her to make the either/or decision and then getting her home ; i did briefly consider keeping her on the east coast for a season and then sailing her home in a more relaxed manner. The sailing club where she was based , the Orwell Yacht Club, were very helpful and accommodating as was Pete, her then owner. It would have probably worked out to stay at the OYC for a while and travel cross country to sail her – it’s a horrible 9 hour day on the road though and i found it so tiring and expensive that i thought it best just to give the boat a quick clean-up and shakedown and then just go for it in a delivery sail style trip.
In short then, because iv’e already told the story in a series of blog posts, i spent a day just washing her out and another two days doing essential jobs like re lashing all of her shrouds…..and then late one afternoon i cautiously manouevred her out of the OYC basin and started motoring down the Orwell . Iv’e never sailed or cruised on the east coast and aside from shallow water and copious mud i didn’t know what to expect – the industrial bleakness of Felixstowe and Harwich was a shock, i guess i’d read too much of Maurice Griffiths……but the next couple of days spent at anchor in the Walton Backwaters i really enjoyed. Aside from an already long list of jobs that kept getting longer one of my main tasks was to plan my passage south across the whole width of the Thames estuary to Ramsgate on the other side. I’m a reasonable navigator but even so i found the Thames estuary crossing disorientating and one of the more difficult things that iv’e done while simultaneously trying to sail an unknown boat that had nothing in the way of modern gear.
Inanda was my first and so far only traditional gaffer…..traditional in that she had a big gaff mainsail which had already been altered with a longer boom….and a cutter orientation up front of a small jib out on the end of a long bowsprit and with a staysail behind that. In a blog post just after the event i commented on how much i hated the jib furling gear (link below) ……i ended up taking it off and setting the jib as free-flying : much more critical though was that i found out during that first passage that the Deben was Ok in the flat water of the Thames estuary but didn’t cope at all with the English channel a couple of days later. I hoped that with the heavier, better ballasted and higher sail area boat that i would have a more powerful sailing boat for upwind conditions in the channel – and that’s exactly what i didn’t get ; a short and deep chop just stopped her almost completely and despite everything i tried i just couldn’t get her to drive upwind and ended up motor-sailing to windward. At the same time i found that she was very wet inside from spray and one miserable night of heavy rain at anchor in the lee of Dungeness……i’m glad that she had a charcoal Pansy stove because all of my gear was wet.
To be fair to Inanda she was a surprisingly good downwind boat with that big gaff mainsail – we had an impromptu race with a slightly larger gaffer (Theta) when we came out of Dartmouth later on in the trip and the pair of us tacked downwind like it was the America’s cup – in the process easily outsailing three much larger modern cruising boats.
Of the things that i really wanted from a pocket yacht she did some of them well enough- she would dry out easily upright in thick mud for example, there was enough space inside for me solo or with my partner although the ‘clonk’ of my partner’s head hitting the break in the cabin roof became a frequent occurrence !. My idea for her, which was to take an older boat and refit her really fell down though because she clearly needed much more fundamental work done first – she needed most of her frames replacing for instance and then a rebuild of her cabin top ; those jobs alone would have meant stripping the interior and taking the engine out. The big problem with all of that was the amount of time that i would have had to spend on my knees…..and i was awaiting a knee replacement at the time.
Pocket yachts and tabloid yachts…..the English perspective.
The Deben 4 tonner was one of the better tabloid yachts of her time, which were the 1930’s when purpose built cruising boats were generally far smaller than the average yacht of today. She was, in many ways, also a production boat of her era and very much an east coast boat – a boat intended for shallow water, drying out in mud berths and for sailing in somewhat sheltered water. For those less familiar with sailing and cruising in English waters remember that the east coast was the prime cruising ground for the small boat cruising sailor at that time – reading into the social history of sailing vs yachting of the time it seems that owning and sailing small yachts like Inanda became suddenly popular with the new London based middle classes and it was the east coast that was important because of it’s proximity to the capital and in the 1930’s because of the excellent rail service there.
In England at least there were similar boats – the smaller Hillyards for example, the Blackwater sloop and Itchen Ferry – there were also what i would now regard as much better sailing boats of the same era….many of Harrison Butler’s designs for example although i don’t think many made it as production boats. Deben’s are fairly common , i found another one in a mud berth along the way and since then iv’e seen several of varying age and condition offered for sale – the pre war ones seemed to be better built of better materials than the post war boats…..a shortage of good timber perhaps. From a USA perspective i only know of one similar design and that is L.Francis Herreshof’s little H22 which is of similar size.
In retrospect i view my small classic yacht as pocket yacht idea as a failed experiment although i had a lot of fun that year in setting up and completing the long delivery voyage from the east coast all the way around to the south west. It was partially a case of the wrong boat at the wrong time and also the wrong boat for what i wanted to do next – almost as soon as we arrived back in the Tamar i had to check in for my knee surgery and within a year i left for France in my little Hunter Liberty. Had i kept Inanda i would have most likely spent my post retirement year doing the refit and struggling with it because of my knee replacement ; instead i had the best year of sailing that iv’e ever had…..110 days in Brittany and in many ways the Liberty gave me better options and more range than the Deben would have done. Crucially the Liberty just allowed me to beach and dry out on almost any reasonable surface and i just learnt to make do with the weaknesses of the Liberty’s design. I learnt a lot in my time with the Deben , had a good long sail in her, found out quickly enough that it wasn’t the right boat for me and as quickly as i bought her i passed her on.
In the next post of this series i’m going to look at my take on the small yacht as as a full-on offshore and ocean cruising boat.