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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