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.

Rain and light


Rain and rainbows, Brittany

Very lucky to have enjoyed two weeks' sailing, from southern England over to northern Brittany via the Channel Islands and Iles Chausey - which chiefly accounts for the lack of blog posts recently. 

The Brittany coast is a fascinating sailing ground: pretty but fantastically rock-strewn and with an astonishing tidal range - typically more than 10 metres if you can imagine that. In other words when the tide is in it can easily swallow your average house, and then some.  

_GE06300_blog And when it goes out it reveals rocks that are ... bigger than your house. Navigation is more than ever by the numbers. 

We had great weather, for the most part: good breezes, and only one day's real rain - but some sharp late afternoon showers in the delightful little town of St-Cast-le-Guildo. This has a very new marina, with excellent facilities - albeit more exposed to (south-) westerlies than you might think from looking at the map. 

A five-minute walk away from the boats is a headland, with a huge cannon commemorating some famous battle they did not teach us about in school in England. Ah - probably because it did not go terribly well.

Anyway it has a marvellous view over the Pointe de Saint Cast and other headlands to the north, one with the magnificent Fort Latte, and beyond that, Cap Frehel with its lighthouses. 

As the heavy showers went through I huddled in the lee of a convenient large bush atop what was otherwise an exposed bluff, emerging to venture down the slope overlooking the sea to make my  photographs.  

The clouds were huge, the sun more-or-less broke through - and to cap it all, after about an hour's wait, a stunning rainbow (briefly, to the south, a double one) completed the scene.

I have a number of pictures from this location that needed minimal post-processing. I'm very pleased with them. 

We rounded off the day with fresh local seafood and a few pichets de vin rouge

Sailing trips revisited

I was sort of volunteered (!) to make up a photo display board to promote the Ariel Yacht Club, through which I do a lot of my sailing, as part of an open day for the overall BBC Club (social activities for staff and affiliates). Happy to oblige, I spent a very pleasant day sifting through photos from sailing trips in the Solent, the West Country, Scilly Isles, Brittany and the Inner Hebrides from the past few years, reliving memories of the people, places and weather. I pulled out 20 shots that I felt were representative of what the club is about. These I printed on A4 photo paper with short captions - figuring it was better to try to make a fair-sized impact for a display of this sort than have a hundred cluttered little shots. As you can see the overall result is generally blue. This is partly because the club’s constitution states that sailing must only take place in sunshine. Appropriately we were blessed with fine weather this lunchtime for the event, which took place on the greensward outside the White City building in west London. Our commodore, John Harmer (left in picture), had pitched us alongside the dinghy section, who had brought along two dinghies to promote themselves and by extension, he reasoned, other people who sail. As it would have been hard for us to have put a couple of yachts on there, the photos were at least better than thin air in helping to make a good impression and in fact seemed to go down rather well. So that was worthwhile. Thanks by the way to Christella Robertson and to Nick Watson who shot two of the pictures.

New venture

I’ve been working hard this week on keywording and uploading photos for a new commercial development that I’m really excited about. Here’s a flavour. More soon I hope. Back to Lightroom. 

Going with the flow

Prospero in action: more at Your Boat here.

On a boat, everything is moving. The water moves, the boat moves so the deck moves, you move, your arms move and the camera moves, the thing you’re trying to shoot moves - independently. It’s a very moving experience. Stick on a long lens as well, and getting your target in frame can become a somewhat random exercise!

Sailing at the weekend in the Solent, I rattled off a load of shots of other boats. Among them we also came across my club’s other boat, Prospero, doing some practice for the Warsash Spring Series race the next day (subsequently cancelled for lack of wind). They sure were having fun…