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August 2016

On the Colne crewing in Crow

Old Gaffers racing Gary Eason -9040

"We drifted out ... "

My previous sailing experience, from my own 14ft cruising dinghy through a bunch of AWBs to a former Volvo Ocean 60 racing yacht, has all been on Bermuda rigs.

So I was excited to be invited to take part in the Old Gaffers Association's East Coast Race in a gaffer with not only a big mainsail but also a mizzen sail – which in Crow's case furls around its own mast.

I never did get a straight answer to my enquiry, "What class of boat is Crow?" A hot shot. A one-off. A deck length of 38ft but drawing only 2ft with the centreboard - yes, centreboard - hoisted up. And certainly my host Bob Berk's pride and joy.

He commissioned her based on a Phil Bolger design and completed the topsides himself. The cockpit is deep, wide and as well as comfortable is a spacious and well-organised work area.

I was bemused to see that the  self-tacking jib had its own boom – swivelling a little way in from its front. This meant it could be hauled around to 'pole out' the jib when running. Cunning.

Slow going

Everything aboard seems set up to make it easy to manage short-handed, as it usually is by Bob, his partner Lena - and their salty sea dog Matey the 15-year-old terrier cross.

Originally sporting a hefty tiller, as you might expect from the type, Crow these days has a wheel, which is linked to the rudder through, of all things, a Land Rover steering gear. This is hidden inside a box at the rear of the cockpit – on which a saddle fits to steer from. It is unusual but it certainly works!

In fact the whole caboodle is so well organised I soon realised that instead of the non-stop action I had experienced the last time I went racing, in the pit in a Sigma 33, this was going to be an entirely more gentlemanly business.

Old Gaffers racing Gary Eason -9049I am assured things can get more hectic – but you won't need me to tell you that the 2016 East Coast Race was characterised by airs so light they were a meteorological phenomenon.

We drifted out of the Colne. A pretty gathering of painted ships on a painted sea.

We drifted – sideways, mostly – out to the Colne Bar buoy, the turning point for the shortened course. And we tried to tack just a teeny bit too early ...

Realising we wouldn't get round, we were going to put in another short tack to make up the few metres we needed. At which point what faint breeze there had been dissipated entirely. We began drifting backwards, in the company of a several other similarly stalled boats.There was nothing for it but to drop the anchor and have lunch.

Eventually the air did stir. And in fact we had a cracking sail back up to Brightlingsea, hitting a giddying 5.8 knots at one stage.

As the tide was still against us Bob used Crow's shallow draught to hug the shoreline. I well recall seeing 1.2 on the depth gauge.

Where did we finish? I have no idea, and frankly I'm not sure anyone cared much. On such a day the achievement lay just in getting round the course.

And it was all done with a maximum of good humour. It was very obvious that everyone on the boats around us knew everyone else and the relaxed pace of the race meant there was a good deal of banter to pass the time.

My hosts were delightful company. They apologised for the lack of action, but they needn't have – it was a terrific day out and if they are looking for volunteer crew again I'll be first in the queue.