Seven Gusting Eleven

I am not, definitely not, going out in this weather. Force Seven on the Beaufort Scale gusting Eleven means the wind at noon on Friday is going to be 38mph, rising up to 65 mph. That’s the forecast for Storm Eunice, here on the Suffolk coast on Friday, which is supposed to be my day off. Twelve, in case you’re wondering, is a hurricane.

I’ve done Beaufort Six before, on the Deben, by accident, last November. It was not fun. I’d gone upriver, which was the closest similarity to Heart of Darkness you can get in Woodbridge, up past the Tide Mill, where the trees can shield the wind and also set it off in a completely different direction, past the Yacht Harbour that a lot of people blame for silting-up the river downstream of it, all the way almost to Wilford Bridge, which is as far as you can go with any kind of mast. That was a difficult day. What I should have done is what you should always do on a Drascombe Lugger as soon as there’s any doubt – get the mainsail down fast.

One of the things I’m doing this winter is replacing the olde-world allegedly cute parralls which are just loops of string with wooden balls on them which link the sail to the mast. All too well, quite often, because they stick and jam and you’re then stuck with a sail blowing the boat over while a sheet of synthetic canvas flaps in your face or the pulley block on the end of it threatens your bridgework. This year I’ve bought some 10cm plastic creel rings to slide over the mast which will slide a lot faster. By a happy accident I managed to find some proper spring-loaded brass sail hanks on Ebay. Unbelievably, they were less than £1 each, so they spent two days in vinegar and lemon juice which helped clean them a bit, but not as much as Brasso. Just as your gas mileage may vary, your brass may not be quite as brassy as you hoped.

But still, this is what winter evenings are for, apart from finalising my parnter’s application for Italian dual nationality, learning some myself, which might be useful if we ever do get it together to buy a 1901 lighthouse on an island off Corsica for a euro, which is sort-of a plan. That and learning how to use a sextant, which is another story in itself. That and do some work on The Walk, of course, more of which anon.

I managed to sand the gunwhales and get some linseed oil on them last week before rain and wind stopped play. That’s made the woodwork look a lot better but it still needs Tonkinoise over the linseed when I get the chance. The idea is to get the boat in the water around March 1st. All I could do today was make sure the cover was tied on securely, so it didn’t fly away or fail itself into shreds. Proper boat cleaning gunk and polish is on order. So are some new gloves.

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Inconstant billows dancing

Catchy title I made-up, no? Well, sadly, no. Shakespeare did, in Henry V. Henry was born in 1386 and became king of England in 1413. In those days the first thing to do if you were king was have a war, preferably with France. Fifty years before he was born Edward III did the same thing, sending an army to Flanders, a long-standing English leader’s hobby. The ships to take them gathered in the Kings Fleet, a quarter of the way up the Deben from Felixstowe Ferry, where it flows into the sea.

Heading Out

I sailed towards that today. My boat lives at the head of Martlesham Creek, which as any chart shows, is very shallow indeed, so much so that I suspect at low water my boat is actually touching the bottom of the river. It’s also a wriggly little river here; coming off my mooring towards the Deben you have to turn hard north at the green pole, up and around the red cans near the north bank keeping tight on the turn to head south near the south bank, left around the green cans and only then can you start heading fairly straight east, at least for another two red cans until you have to turn south again to pass two more green cans then head north to a red can, hard right and aim for the final big green buoy and the two white leading marks on the south bank. When they line up and look like just one white stick you turn north, out into the channel. East of that is where I went aground in the Folkboat, stupidly taking a short cut across the shallows on a falling tide nearly two hours after high water.

High Water today was 13:50 and it wasn’t quite 11:00 yet when I got on the boat. There was a stiff wind blowing from the north, 11 mph according to the Met Office but it felt like a lot more than that. That should have been ideal to get off the mooring with the bow pointing east to start off with, but somehow it didn’t work out like that. After skewing round to face dead north (thanks, mizzen sail) I finally did what I should have done in the first place, pull the line to furl the jib and start the engine. The main was still up, sheeted in, and the rudder was still down, although I had got the centreboard up. It was all a bit hectic by now and we’d only just left the mooring.

I wanted to get down to Ramsholt and back today. It’s just over five nautical miles down the river and the plan was to get there an hour before High Water, turn there and use the last of the flood to make sure I could get back, given the wind was going to be pretty much dead ahead all the way back up the Deben until I turned into Martlesham Creek again, if it held.

What didn’t hold was my course. Somehow, on those southerly green cans we went too wide. It wasn’t ‘somehow’ at all of course. I hadn’t taken the mizen mast down, which would have taken two minutes and with the outboard running the throttle tiller fouls the mast if you’re turning to port, left, if you insist, which with an outboard you do by pulling the tiller to the right. Obviously. It’s boat stuff.

If it isn’t a bit stressy then it’s not proper sailing.

Going too wide around the green cans near the south shore three hours before High Water means you go aground, which isn’t unusual in Martlesham Creek and usually it’s no big deal. Except I’d managed to find the only stretch of shingle in the Deben, from the grinding sound, and I couldn’t steer out of trouble because of the mast. By the time I got the engine in reverse it didn’t make any difference. The rudder was stuck in the mud at the bottom of the river, the bows were being blown into the bank and the only way to get out of this was pull the rudder up. Which wouldn’t come up, because the rudder stock on a Drascombe is a straight piece of metal pipe which was now a bent metal pipe jammed in the rudder housing.

I used the long oar to pole us off the shingle, a bit concerned about the rudder which still worked but obviously wasn’t going to come back up in a hurry or at all. I couldn’t see how it was going to, which was going to be a problem when we moored but I decided that was a problem for the future. We goose-winged down past Coprolite Quay with its friendly Absolutely No Mooring Here sign, listening and feeling for anything odder than usual. The series of dull, flat bangs turned out to be pheasants being shot somewhere I couldn’t quite see. We were overtaken by a small yacht, but Luggers don’t sail fast.

According to my Savvy Navvy app on the phone we were running down the river at one point at 4.2 knots, which is pretty much maximum speed and felt respectably fast. More than respectably; the wind had been blowing down river for hours and with the tide against it, flooding in still, there were waves building up that the Lugger was surfing down until they outran us. Waves aren’t something you see on the Deben a lot. I started to regret sailing single-handed again, but my best and brilliant crew was working flat out, as she said she would be all month. She played a part later although the Savvy Navvy app in time didn’t, because it flattened the battery in my iPhone after two hours with the GPS function running.

We rocketed through the moorings at Waldringfield, past the Maybush pub leaving the island in mid-stream to port, then steering north east again once we were clear of it. A green buoy, then two reds and turn south, down the river. We were past halfway to the lost village of Ramsholt I’d been aiming for. There isn’t much at Ramsholt now, apart from a pub that sells the most expensive pint of Aspalls in the universe, a tiny round-tower church and a concrete quay which still has its own harbour-master with his office in a land-locked boat. Every February there’s a rather touching memorial service to remember the time a B17 with an engine on fire attempted a crash landing in the river. They misjudged the tide, but with a full bomb load they didn’t have much choice with trees both sides of the river. Most of the crew died.

I’d misjudged the time. If you can only sail at 4 mph then you aren’t going to get somewhere five and a half miles away in an hour. I didn’t want to but with the wind building and still blowing from the north, straight down the river, for once I did the smart thing and turned for home an hour before High Water. At least I’d have the last of the flood tide if the wind was impossible. And the engine, of course. And the oars, if it came to it. Which I hoped it wouldn’t.

We had to tack twice to set the boat up to take the eastern channel around the island, luffing up every time there was a gust to gain as much to windward as we could and it worked. We got clear into the big pool above Waldringfield. The wind gusts a lot there, for reasons that were never made clear as Hunter Thompson used to say. While the reasons weren’t clear, the water that came over the lee rail was, which was something I hadn’t planned for. It drained out the way it was supposed to and when I went to get rid of the rest using the pump later there really wasn’t much there to pump, which surprised me a lot. It wasn’t a great moment; water coming over the side into an open boat often isn’t. For lots of people it’s meant there aren’t going to be many more moments of any kind. Percy Shelley for one.

But it was fine. We got all the way back to Martlesham Creek with just one tack to windward before Coprolite Quay, then luffed and bore away, luffed and bore away all through the moorings above it, then turned west straight running 100 yards south of the red buoys marking Troublesome Reach, which today, for once, wasn’t troublesome at all. Then about 300 yards past Kyson Point, closing on the second red buoy in the Creek, the wind died to nothing. Jib furled, main sheeted in, engine on. Because it was pretty much dead on High Water now I sailed straight up the Creek and cut the engine about 20 yards short of the mooring. Predictably there was wind now, blowing from the East, straight up the Creek, against the ebb tide.

I got the sails tied down and the mooring lines on and tried to call the boatyard about the rudder, but my phone was completely dead by now. I pulled in the inflatable and rowed ashore, found the owner and got him to get the tractor started up while I got the trailer down from the blackberry bushes that had grown up around it since it came here in April.

We got the boat almost onto the trailer on the slipway before the rudder grounded and stuck, with the tide falling. The only solution was to get the other tractor with the shovel hydraulic lift on the front, put a sling around the back of the boat, haul that end out of the water and jiggle the rudder out. The shaft was too bent to pull it upwards the way it normally comes out. By the time we’d finished and got the boat tidily on its trailer, parked up for the winter, the rudder was totally bent out of shape.

Do I make an insurance claim? Or do I find a welder to bend it back the way it was? Or do I go to a metalwork place and get them to fabricate a new one in stainless steel? There’s one just 600 yards away from where I’m sitting, in an old Quonset hut on yet another abandoned USAAF bomber station in Suffolk, where the past never really goes away.

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies

In motion of no less celerity

Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen

The well-appointed king at Hampton pier

Embark his royalty, and his brave fleet

With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning.

Play with your fancies and in them behold,

Behold the threaden sails,

Borne with th’ invisible and creeping wind,

Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,

Breasting the lofty surge. Oh, do but think

You stand upon the rivage and behold

A city on th’ inconstant billows dancing,

For so appears this fleet majestical

Holding due course to Harfleur.

Follow! Follow!

Grapple your minds to steerage of this navy

And leave your England as dead midnight still.

Henry V, Act III

In a touching post-script, as I charged my phone in the car the yard owner’s daughter came over and tapped on the window. She hoped I didn’t think she was being nosey or anything, but they’d had a phone call. My partner. She’d said I was quite safe and just getting things off the boat for the winter now. It was dark as I drove up out of the yard onto the tiny lane leading to Martlesham church. And seven calls from my Best Crew and partner, wondering what had happened to me, trying to see if I was alright.

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Doubling down

Winter is coming.

It really is. There were storms at the weekend, with seaweed blown all over Whisstocks yard. The weekend before the Longshed was flooded, interrupting the work of recreating the ship buried at Sutton Hoo. There was a very high tide and the flood barriers swung shut, but either the water seeped underneath or the holding tank was full or the drain from the holding tank was blocked nobody really knew, but either way all the work on the re-creation of King Raedwald’s ship stopped, assuming it was his ship in the first place.

Monday and Tuesday by contrast have been Force 2 winds, and skies that cleared by ten, but frost on the cars this morning. Not ideal sailing weather, so I went to check the boat over anyway, and to do some basic winter preparations.

The first thing was to make sure the sails were tied to the yards so they literally didn’t flog themselves to death. Someone lost their jib the winter before last when they left their sails to flap for a month. All they had left were rags when they came back to their boat. The second job was to double-up the lines fore and aft. My Drascombe lives on a mooring in Martlesham Creek, tied at both ends to bouys floating in the river. A couple of weeks ago I bought one of those magic mooring sticks at Andy Seedhouse’s used chandlery, to see if they worked and they do, so all the better that I only paid £20 for a used one instead of the £150 figures I’ve seen online. In case you don’t know, it’s a fork with a pivoted bar over the end, with a line tied to one end of the bar. Tie that to the line on your boat you want to go through the ring on top of your mooring buoy, close the bar, push the fork at the ring, then when it’s gone through pull the fork backwards and somehow, like a conjuring trick, you’ve pulled your line through the hoop on the mooring buoy without having to dangle over the side of the boat threading a piece of rope through a moving ring while your boat floats past. Sometimes with un-hilarious consequences. Anyway, played with that for a bit to check the magic was still working. It was.

The next job was to start the engine, for two reasons. I wanted to get all the fuel out of the carburetor as I wasn’t quite sure when I’d be starting it up again, and the best way of getting rid of the fuel in the engine was to run it. But secondly, I wanted to check the fuel can wasn’t leaking anymore. Which it was, out of the junction of the outlet pipe. I’d fitted a new bronze hollow threaded pipe last week, but although that had stopped one leak there was another still going strong. A month ago I lost the better part of £10 of petrol like that, without the boat going anywhere at all. £10 is one thing, but more irritating was the fact that the idea of leaving the petrol can connected onboard was so the boat was ready to go next time I got down to it. Without petrol, it wasn’t. Petrol can back in the dinghy and a trip to the hardware store for some rubber rings and Vaseline.

Next, the cover. I haven’t had the cover fastened on the boat since June, and this year she went into the water the first week of May. It’s now the first week of November, so we’ve had a solid six months of sailing even if we don’t get any more this year. Which I haven’t decided yet. Before I put the cover on though, there’s the bird crap to get rid of. When I was a boy I was told those big, strange-looking black birds, the ones that stand on top of posts with their wings bent outstretched, those are called cormorants and when you grow up you won’t see them any more, because they’ll be extinct.

Well, they aren’t. Not by a long way. There are three main kinds of birds that arse about on my boat when I’m not there. The redshanks and avocets and the sandpipers and egrets leave it alone because they’re too busy wading about on the mud looking for their tea. And yes, I had to look them up to find out their names but they’re all there, all the time. They aren’t the problem. The gulls, the swans and the cormorants are.

Gulls just sit on top of the mast and use it as a hi-rise lavatory. That always falls in the same place, on the thwart at the base of the mast, port side. The swans – you always know when a swan’s been on board, not just by the size of the green pile of droppings but by the massive muddy webbed footprints all over the boat. No swans today. But the cormorants that didn’t go extinct. It’s not just their waste. It’s not just their muddy feet. It’s the way they dismember crabs. I didn’t even know there were crabs in the Deben, but unless they’re flying to Adleburgh deli there definitely are. And they eat them on my boat, so apart from scrubbing away their muddy track marks and the piles of guano I get to pick crab legs out of the gaps in the floorboards as well.

But all done for the day. I think the petrol can is sealing now. There are two lines at the bow and two lines at the stern, holding the boat snug against any gale. The PVC cover is on tight, held up to two peaks by a line strung between the masts. The sails are lashed tight to the yards. There’s a line of algae growth on the hullmaking a mockery of the words ‘anti-foul,’ but there is on every other boat on this river, whatever your boat and whatever brand of antifoul anyone’s used. I’ve paid for the mooring up to the 5th December and maybe, I told my loyal and trusty crew today, she needs to come out of the water then so I can blast away the algae, repaint the hull and maybe fix those hairline cracks in the gel-coat on the deck. Or just paint it, I was told.

I can’t recall how long into the winter we used to sail at school and somehow, although it was about four million years ago, it seems to matter. There won’t always be another sailing season. There won’t be another forty of them ahead, as there were at school. But it’s all snugged down tight and survivable onboard, safe against the winter winds. In six weeks it’ll start to get lighter in the evenings again, quicker than you’ll think possible. All you have to do is stay warm and remember winter goes away. It’s all ok for now.

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Doing it wrong

Today’s sailing was good. I did loads of things wrong in the four and a half hours I got on the water, following yesterday’s three hours. It’s sunny again after a few weeks of not sunny at all, and 27 degrees on the car thermometer, so shorts and no sweater or coat for a change, and make sure there’s a bottle of water onboard. Which reminds me there isn’t now, so I’d better put one in the car for tomorrow’s sailing.

A couple of days ago there was an odd lifejacket incident. I’d bought a new Crewsaver Hammar automatic lifejacket new last year and thought it was pretty good. Certainly it ought to have been better than the 20 year old manual inflation jacket I’d been using for probably far too long, the one that dated back to Drascombe Scaffie days. I bought that boat the year the Twin Towers came down along with Tower Seven, the one that collapsed because a plane didn’t fly into it. The night before sailing I went to check my lifejacket and found it was partially inflated.

I didn’t really understand how. It hadn’t got wet. The indicator was slightly off centre, suggesting the trigger had been pulled, maybe when I put the jacket in the back of the car, stuffing it tight against the back of the driver’s seat because I had the car roof down and didn’t want the jacket to fly away. But it was only partially inflated. Next morning it was fully up.

None of this made any sense. Nor did what happened next. I checked the jacket all over. On the Hammar trigger that sets off the jacket if it gets wet there is a date stamp. It said to replace the trigger in 2018 or if you can’t see a green dot in the indicator. I could only see half a green dot. And the jacket was bought ‘new’ in 2020.

The seller couldn’t be found. So far, so Ebay. What was odder was Crewsaver’s reaction when I emailed them with the serial number, asking when the jacket was made, describing the partial inflation of the jacket and how it took all night to inflate fully, which is a bit slower than I’d like if I fell overboard unconscious, even though my Drascombe hasn’t got a boom to smack me about and sweep me over the side, one of the things I like about Drascombes. Crewsaver said…..nothing at all.

Nice website. All very straightforward and Ellen MacArthur used Crewsaver when she was wrecking boats and would I like to register for updates and all that blah. And when a customer has a query the response, as so often now, is simply nothing at all. Call me old, but I remember a time when Customer Service didn’t mean simply ignoring the stuff you as a company can’t be arsed to do. Answering emails asking why your product doesn’t work, for example.

I got a new lifejacket, fairly obviously not from Crewsaver, one much, much heavier but oddly much more comfortable to wear. It’s the alarmingly illiterately titled Ocean Safety Kru Sport Pro, with so many Newtons of floaty that if I ever do fall off a boat then conscious or otherwise, I’ll be coming back out of it like a Polaris missile. Without the exploding end bit. If they still make them.

I wore it for the first time today. All the way up to Bouy 30, up with the tide, down with the ebb (it’s a Lugger. You don’t fight the tide in a Lugger) I didn’t fall in or come anywhere close to, although one gust did see the boat heel far enough to see the bow wave visible over the gunwhale. The wind on the Deben is problematic at the best of times. There are hills as well as trees as well as shallows and silting and an anchorage, not forgetting the geriatric arses in boats the size and style of a block of flats who either don’t know or don’t care about ColRegs and seemed utterly indifferent to pointing their boat’s bow at me 30 metres away. As I used to tell gobby smart-mouth kids who thought they were hard when I was teaching, I’ve had several people point guns at me over the years, all of them professionals. It’s still just rude.

Words were spoken

Fairly short words, at some volume. They seemed to have an immediate effect though, which was what I intended.

I had enough to deal with, with the gusting and trying not to run out of water and short tacks through the anchorage, sailing the Lugger as if it was a dinghy, which isn’t ideal as it isn’t. But it was fine. Mostly, anyway. There was a point when the jib shackle came undone which meant firstly that the jib ran off on its own, so half the power gone. More bizarrely, the shackle managed to close itself again, over the starboard shroud. A couple of days ago I’d perfected heaving-too, otherwise known as a sailing crash-stop. You tack, push the rudder away from you making the bow of the boat turn through the wind to go the other way. When it turns you normally let go the jib sheets on the side they were on and tighten the other side after the boat. has turned – you’ve now got the mainsail and the jib out the same side of the boat.

If you want to stop fast, or if you want to stop to sort something out, or even both, you only do half of that. Push the tiller away, the nose of the boat comes through the wind and … No. That’s it. Because the jib is still on the wrong side the boat somehow stalls in the wind, not going anywhere. You’ll drift if there’s a tide but it stops forward progress very quickly and it gives you space to sort things out. So that’s what I did, albeit after more words were spoken, albeit to inanimate pieces of metal.

After that a good long reach doing a decent enough speed for a Lugger back to the entrance to Martlesham Creek, a couple of very short tacks through the little anchorage at Kyson’s Point but the boat and I had the measure of each other now and we managed just fine. We even sailed all the way up the Creek onto our mooring right at the end and only dropped the boathook over the side once. It floated. Loads of things went wrong. And everything worked out fine. It’s what I like a lot about sailing these days. I’m learning a lot of things I’d forgotten. And I’m learning that I actually can do so many things I didn’t really think I could. All you have to do is try.

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The cut of my jib

First sail in the new Drascombe yesterday. Well, new to me, anyway. According to the maker’s plate they stopped using about 1975, it’s early 1970s, like lots of good things. Oh, you know, David Bowie, Queen, Mud, the Sweet, Slade, Bay City Rollers. And yes do actually do like all those things, even though you couldn’t say so at the time with some of them. I learned to sail then, too, or started to.

We went on holiday to Cornwall, as was the custom. My mother, not knowing what else to do with a teenager, commendably packed me off on a dinghy cruise off Padstow. It was a fantastically sunny day, open water, warm, a little boat, a blue sky. And an instructress only a few years older than me, which would put her in her late teens, tanned in shorts and looking so altogether like a racier version of a Betjeman idol (so short in sleeve and strong in shorts – oh come on, you DO know…) that I couldn’t actually speak to her, let alone listen to anything she said. I spent a lot of time not looking at her t-shirt. Or her shorts. Or her face. Or her hair. None of which helps the tuition process, I’ve since learned. Poor girl.

Swing, swing together

A few years after that my school, in one of the very few superbly great things I’ll always thank it for, revealed the fact that it actually had a sailing club and if you didn’t want to play cricket (couldn’t see and didn’t know the rules) or football (see above, or try to) or rugby (made the First XV once, but we didn’t have a Second XV and after being thrown literally over a scrum I decided this really wasn’t my sort of thing at all) then you could go sailing, Wednesday afternoon, Westbury railway station lake, bring a change of dry clothes in case you sail like an idiot.

We had precisely two Enterprises and two Mirror dinghies. Call me an old-fashioned aesthete if you will, but there was always something about the squared-off bow of the Mirrors that turned my stomach. It’s not right. I couldn’t comment on the cut of its jib, not least because I always sailed the Enterprises. The cool kids did, or the kids I thought were cool, anyway. The kid who was going to inherit a local department store. The girl who lived fashionably far from the school who was sometimes his girlfriend, who smoked liquorice-paper roll-ups and had one of those names that could be a boy’s or a girl’s. Wendy sometimes; not Peter Pan’s Wendy, but equally a muse. Another girl with a huge amount of golden – no, not blonde, golden – hair curling down her back in the style of the times.

It was vaguely supervised. For reasons never clear to me we had the two coolest teachers overseeing the proceedings, an ex-paratrooper, from a time and of an age when that meant he’d probably been in line for Arnhem, and Mrs Shearn, who was lean and blond and fair. You didn’t mess either of them about. They took it in turns to drive the Ford minibus. Back then, a woman driving a minibus was way up there on the sex wars front line. Way up.

We even learned a bit about sailing. But not enough not to go aground on my first sail this year and my first sail in the new boat. I used the engine to get out of Martlesham Creek into the Deben itself, then turned up river, in the wake if not of Conrad, then at least Edward Fitzgerald, who used to live there. I learned that you can’t unfurl a sail wrapped around a mizzen mast single-handed while you try to steer an outboard. Lesson One. I moored-up to a buoy in the river for a bit, while I sorted the sails. I decided, this being first time out, to just use the jib on its own. The wind was Force Three, occasionally gusting Five but not for very long and yes, I do know. I used my anemometer.

It was supposed to be a furling jib, but it didn’t, as I found out when I tried to gybe. All that happened was that the furling line jammed around the drum and while I was sorting that the tiller didn’t alter the direction of the boat any more. Obviously aground, for a change in the Deben. The wind was coming from what I always think of as the Saxon shore, where once a king was buried. Unlike Raedwald, I ended-up being blown onto the West Bank, and stayed there until I worked out how to get rid of the jib for the moment, then get off the mud.

Today I spent three hours trying to sort the furling jib drum. I bought a special shackle link. A rotating one. I found the shackle-bag I’ve been looking for for nearly a month, put where it should have been for once. I bought two used blocks for the mainsheet from Andy Seedhouse’s magic chandlery as well, for £20 the pair. I got out to the boat an hour before high water.

It took over two hours to sort the jib. New shackle, old shackle, no shackle, all without dropping anything into the water for once, but it didn’t make any difference. It wouldn’t furl without either jamming or spilling line out of the drum and wrapping itself round anything nearby, then jamming. Then it came to me. Someone, for reasons unclear to me, has fitted the ******** drum upside down. Utterly unreal. But true.

I’ve no clear idea why anyone would do that. It can’t possibly ever have worked like that. That would seem to rule out the previous owners. It would also seem to rule out Anglia Yacht Brokerage who I bought it from, who know a bit about Drascombes and have done for years. It’s not something you’d think to look for. So who? When? Why?

Like a lot of things in life that seem important, it doesn’t actually matter. I took the thing off, inverted it, put it back on without any fancy shackles, just upside down or rather not and it worked perfectly first time. And the second. And the third.

So we now have a working furling jib. The centreboard stuck in the mud because Id put it down to give the boat some stability while I worked on it, but that sorted itself with some brute force and a Third Year rudimentary grasp of the workings of levers. I shackled up the two mainsheet blocks and threaded the main sheet through them. I’m not convinced it’s long enough, but then I’m not convinced I need a double block each end for the sort of force a Drascombe sail is going to exert, either.

And now four days when I can’t really get to the boat any way. But it’s ready, finally, ready to sail, with a silent thanks to an unknown tanned blond girl in shorts, a long, long time ago. I wish I’d said at least something.

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First coat

I don’t think I’m very good with painting. Not galleries; I’m fine wandering around a gallery, Covid-allowing. One of the first things I’m doing when I’m allowed to is going to Eastbourne, to see the wondrous Eric Ravilious exhibition at the Towner Gallery. I missed it when it was in Dulwich because the queue was so long, six years back and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. There are some of his paintings at the Imperial War Museum and pathetically, just one at the British Museum, and an atypical one at that.

Aldeburgh, by Eric Ravilious. The bathing machines have gone.

Today was boat paint day, the first time it’s been warm enough or dry enough to even attempt to make the Drascombe look decent. The thing that happens with boat painting has happened: it looks ten times worse than it did when I started. They always do.

I got the first coat on. It’s run. It’s blotchy. I can’t get another coat of paint on today without dragging paint off that I’ve already put on. I couldn’t see the bits I’d missed until I’d put all the paint away because I thought it was going to rain, which it hasn’t yet but look as if it’s going to a lot tonight.

I’m not really worried about the paint coming off in the rain, because it’s boat paint, obviously. It’s not just that it’s supposed to resist water, but more the fact that a lot of boat people paint their boats on a slipway at low tide. There are two tides every day, 12 hours apart. That means paint would have to dry enough to stay on in about three to four hours. So that’ll be ok.

It’s just it looks terrible. It’ll be ok. It’ll certainly be ok by the time I’m allowed to go to the boatyard again, which looks like 12th April, just over a month away. But I mean, just look it it now.

White over black anti-foul. The way boats should be.

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Parrall lines

Pretty much all I need.

Boats give you a wonderful opportunity to spend money you didn’t know you had spare. Usually. The oddest thing about the Drascombe Lugger I bought myself last year is (whisper who dares..) it doesn’t really need anything bought for it.

My thoughtful partner insisted on giving me a 4hp Honda outboard for Christmas, whether to avoid rowing or to make sure I spent rather a lot more on her Christmas present than perhaps I’d originally planned, so that expense wasn’t an option. Some rowlocks came from the local Facebook marketplace thing, so that was £1 left on a doorstep.

We got new lifejackets last August and amazing strobe personal lights at a boat jumble just before the first lockdown – every time we go to that it’s absolutely freezing but worth it to pick up Jotun strobes for £10 when the first time I’d bought them 12 years ago they were nearer £50. Like any emergency gear, the best you can hope for is that they’ll prove a total waste of money by never having to use them.

So I was a bit stuck for something to spend money on. Luckily I looked at the parrall. In case you’ve never heard of one (in which case you don’t have a Drascombe) it’s a bit of string with some beads on. Not for your neck. To go around the yard and the mast. It’s not supposed to fix it tight, just to keep it roughly there. And the one that came with my boat was manky.

We have Webb Brothers, a very, very good odds and in this case ends shop in Church Street in Woodbridge, where outside lockdown they sell odd ends of rope in hanks in a basket outside, the way they do in films. That’s where I bought the white line in the picture. The first idea was a new, shiny parrall, but then I thought that might come in handy round the top of the mast, with some epoxy resin on it too, in case it ever looks like splitting. Or just because it looks right. The little metal clips were from EBay, to put a high-tech quick-release on the parrall. As one does.

The red and green line was just too tempting to leave in the basket. On the Drascombe Lugger the main sheet runs through a block on a traveller bar. The block has a habit of smacking into the gunwale, because there’s nothing to stop it. It makes a noise and it’s just not right, so I thought a metre or so of line wrapped around the traveller, green for starboard, port for left (the handy way to remember being either that’s the way you pass the port, or less yah, port and left have the same number of letters. I meant one passes the port, obvs.).

Well under £10 for all of it. As conspicuous consumption goes it’s not very good, is it?

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And so it begins

I’ve found out that the “new” Drascombe Lugger isn’t new. I know! Amazeballs, yah? In fact I always knew that, but I’d blanked the fact that it’s getting on for fifty years old.

As with humans, and my own life, I’ve been thinking ‘1975, yes, so?’ 1975. That means, IU don’t know, The Sweeney? Awful tee shirts with collars layered over the outside of equally dreadful chequered sports jackets? 10cc singing “I’m not in love”? Roxy Music? You see, it wasn’t all bad.

What I don’t think is ‘1975. That’s 45 years ago.’ Just O.M.G. At my age the biggest question is ‘How?’

Not that it really matters. Without gloating, lots of other people didn’t get here, but I did, along with my not-very-new but definitely lovely boat. As with anything 45 years old, it appreciates a bit of touching up, so I’ve started having a look at what needs doing, despite the resolutely foul weather lately.

The gunwale is split on the starboard side, but not all the way through so that’s been simply glue and a clamp. It’ll need sanding down when the glue is set and then the whole gunwale needs a few coats of varnish or my preferred not-really-varnish Tonkinois, which doesn’t look as if it’s been done for the past 40 years at least.

The bumpkin hadn’t been varnished either, so I did that today. First I removed all the old, splitting varnish with a pad sander, then despite the weather, two coats of Tonkinois. The nicest thing about it is that it doesn’t smell much, and it doesn’t make you go a bit funny when you work with it, unlike a lot of varnishes. You don’t even need a mask.

What it really needed was somewhere to dry, preferably hanging up and luckily I was able to borrow a barn, as one does when one lives at an eighteenth century Hall in Suffolk. I chucked a ball of twine over a roof tie-beam, tied that off to the fitting at the end of the bumpkin and hauled it up until it was a few inches off the ground. Just one coat of Tonkinois makes a difference.

So obviously, I put another coat on today. It’s not drying very fast in this damp, cold weather, so I’m just going to leave it tomorrow.

A bumpkin, in case you didn’t know, is a stick that juts out from the back of the boat, that the sheet – oh rope then, if you insist – that keeps the mizzen sail taught is attached to.

Much more potentially serious is the beginning of a split at the top of the mast. I don’t want it to get any bigger, and if water gets into it, as it will left outside in winter, and it freezes then the split will get bigger. I’m thinking dry it out in the barn, layer some very thin fibreglass matting over just the top foot of mast, then put white whipping cord around it and essentially glue it all together with fibreglass resin.

That’ll keep it from splitting, surely. And there’s one way to find out, after all. As 10cc used to sing, big boys don’t cry.

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A matter of Honnor

Honnor Marine was one of the companies which made Drascombe Luggers and they were definitely the company that made mine. It was delivered on the second day of December, after the Covid lockdown delayed getting it. It was pouring with rain when we went to find it and it’s freezing fog today, the first time I’ve had a chance to have a look at it at my house.

It isn’t new, and at £16,000 for a new one there’s never going to be one of those in my yard, but I can’t understand why anyone would pay that anyway. There are some things to do, but nothing major. The most ‘structural’ thing is a crack in the gunwale about six inches long where someone obviously messed-up docking.

This is clearly not what anyone would call a big deal.

As you can see though, at some point someone decided the original GRP hull was the wrong colour, so they painted it. And predictably, the paint needs sanding off and putting back on again. I’m thinking white, the proper colour for a boat, but maybe the top strake should be a pale, pale green and the lower strake white. Or maybe the other way around. Maybe. Whatever, the anti-foul should be black. Mainly because I have a brand new un-used tin of it.

So what else? The very first job was to get a lock for the trailer and a lock for the outboard, to stop someone borrowing either or both of them. The GRP lugs surrounding the ends of the traveller bar are a little bit chipped, which isn’t a huge job but because it’s small is going to be a fiddly one. I could just do some fancy rope work on the traveller bar and cover that over. That needs to be done anyway to stop the main block banging into the side of the boat. If that had been done in the first place it wouldn’t need to be fixed now, but who knows when it happened between now and the mid-1970s when it was built?

Or was it? There’s no serial number I can find. They used to have a number stamped into the bronze stem head, but there certainly isn’t one on mine – I checked, despite the freezing fog. All I could find is this little circular disc, with the number 46093. Right now I don’t know whether that’s the number of the boat or the makers, like a membership number for the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. Or this federation.

Either which way, as soon as the fog’s cleared and the temperature rises some way above the zero it’s hovering around today a little bit of renovation will see this boat shine again. And then the Spring and then the Summer and then the Autumn, all to be spent sailing. 2020 hasn’t been all bad.

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