What a great evening with the talk given by members David and Helen Oakley, reminding us of what lies at the core of Chipping Norton Yacht Club’s raison d’etre. It has of course been fascinating to hear from yachting greats like Sir Chay Blyth or Mike Golding, but they inhabit a different world from most of us. David and Helen are of our world, live here in Chipping Norton -and have a boat on a trailer in their front drive. In 1997 they ventured across the Atlantic in a family cruising yacht, a Kingfisher 30, taking an unusual route (to Brazil via the Canaries and Cape Verde islands, and not the Caribbean via the Azores) because “everybody does that”. They gave every impression of having had the time of their lives.
David started off with a nautical song, accompanying himself confidently on the guitar. The song “had nothing to do with the trip” but set the tone for the evening. David was introduced to sailing young – his father had a 24 ft Tucker in which he’d explored the South Coast, Normandy and Brittany…
OK, the trip. Chichester, Dartmouth, the Yealm. Out to the open sea. The gale (I’ll tell this bit, says Helen – David would downplay it and it was actually pretty terrifying). Two days and two nights of things flying about the cabin and not being sure which way was up. They played cards on the second night, and survived to the euphoria of an open ocean view of the Milky Way, in the glory of no light pollution. Calms, turtles and a whale later they reached Porto Santo on Madeira, then off to Tenerife. They crossed paths with the junk-rigged “Badger” and met the Hills (Annie Hill wrote the famed “Voyaging on a Small Income”), and learnt something of the Hill’s technique for voyaging on a small income, namely to accept invitations to dinner, eat and drink their fill, and then leave.
The passage to Fortaleza, Brazil, took 21 days. They spent a month relaxing and hiking. Then they headed north up to the Caribbean. Chaguaramas Bay (Trinidad), Tobago (“wonderful place”), Grenada, Carriacou, Tobago Cays, Bequia, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Sint Maarten…. ah, the deep blue seas, the pale sands, the leaning palms, the shrieking parakeets and all that sunshine. And more sunshine.
So back. Sint Maarten to the Azores took 33 days. A rhythm of watches, with support from magazines, books and tapes (including Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads), was established. The final approach to the Azores involved 300 miles of motoring, and after 33 days at sea, the approaching harbour held fears as well as hope. The final leg, Azores to Ireland, took another 14 days,
David finished with a song, a saga. Written once home. This one was about the trip.
David and Helen shared the speaking, giving each other the cues and asides that married couples can. It worked.
Asked, as they were, about what they’d do differently, it was clear that for them the important thing was to do it, and together, rather than agonise over detail. Yes they’d allow more than a year if they could afford it; yes they’d choose a long-keel boat. But with a year and a modest boat they had their enviable adventure.
In March we welcomed Peter Cardy, a man born with salt water in his veins. Peter has been CEO of many organisations – including Macmillan and the Multiple Sclerosis Society – and was onetime Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (responsible for maritime law, search and rescue, safety and environmental protection). Always fascinated by the sea, he crewed Tall Ship races as a Sea Scout, worked as a ferryman on the Isle of Wight ferries (a childhood ambition), and told us of the exhilaration and trepidation of skylarking to the top of the Sir Winston Churchill’s topmast. In “retirement” he organised these races.
Peter spent twenty years running charities concerned with awful diseases: motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer. He became closely involved with providing sailing experiences for people with multiple sclerosis, including competing in the Fastnet one year. As he explained, you learn a lot about people on long night watches, and for many sailing was a life-changing experience which restored their self-belief, against the backdrop of a disease which robs many individuals of so much – jobs, hopes, abilities, faculties. As a watchleader (“oh, thirty or forty times”) Peter certainly had many opportunities to get to know crew members, able and disabled, old and young, and hear their stories.
As CEO of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Peter discovered it to be a job of extraordinary breadth and seniority, with many official responsibilities at home and abroad.
Peter was informative and forthright in his views on the organisations he’s led, and challenged and parried our prejudices about the coastguard service and the recent changes to its organisation. The talk was rich in anecdotes of sea experiences, including the dynamiting of a whale carcass (reminiscent of the well-known “Italian Job” quote: “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”!).
Having met the man we began to understand how he managed to head up complex and challenged organisations so effectively, through traumatic times. In his words: “since this is the only world of which we can be certain, we should work to leave it a better place than we found it”.
Barrie, we noted, has good knees. We know as he turned up in khaki shorts on that February evening, in Chipping Norton. The chill didn’t seem to have dampened his enthusiasm, though, which bubbled on through his talk. His wife Heidi and the other members of the team of seven he’d brought along were not in shorts.
Barrie aka ‘Mr Flotilla’ has several books to his name as well as many articles aimed at improving sailing skills. He received the New Zealand Society Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 for his outstanding contribution to the New Zealand Community in the United Kingdom. He is founder and owner of Sailing Holidays Ltd, the largest British owned and operated flotilla sailing holiday company. It has been in operation, one way or another, for some 40 years. Barrie joined precursor Flotilla Sailing Club in 1979 as an engineer and skipper, and met holidaymaker Heidi Seville In 1983. They ended up married and taking over the company, growing it from 11 Jaguar 27s (I remember those!) to the 178 yachts of the current the fleet.
Barrie reminded us how things have changed over the years and waved a clunky RDF (radio direction finder) at us. Those of us in the audience old enough to have used these things had nothing positive to say about them. Barrie stressed how they strive to set things up to make things easy – all the boats, for example, have in-mast mainsail reefing. Positing that the marine diesel is the greatest contributor to marine safety of the last 100 years Barrie ensures that they keep a complete spare engine of every type fitted to the fleet and can do a change “in an hour”.
Clearly Barrie has had enough dealings with officialdom and regulations, which abound in the Med., to finesse his way through them – whether they be rules around over-size life rafts, the need for hatches of questionable value, GMDSS, or location of extra batteries.
Holidays are what Barrie told us they are about – the enjoyment of which he believes hinge not only on ease of boat handling, but also on big (and many) heads, and big beds. Many of their customers move on from flotillas and return to do their RYA courses or venture into bareboat charter – for which they are agents for over 1000 boats. Barrie claimed they’d introduced a mind-boggling million people to sailing.
One of Sailing Holiday’s early customers and friends was Tony Stuart. He and his wife Gill were founder members of Chipping Norton Yacht Club. Tony, a frequent attender of Yacht Club events, had died only a few weeks beforehand, on the 7th February, after a long illness. At the start of the evening Commodore Duncan Wheatley made the sad announcement and passed our condolences to Gill, who was in the audience. Barrie had started his talk showing us a few photos of Tony and Gill in happier times, and in sunnier climes. To round the evening off Sailing Holidays then proceeded to auction a flotilla holiday for 2, with a value of £1000, in aid of two charities that had supported Tony: Shipston Home Nursing, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Bidding was lively and the winner, Ralph Wilkin, had an extremely expensive evening.
Formal business was quickly concluded. Retiring officers Duncan Wheatley , Chris Adams, Barnaby Scott, Hugh Woodsend and Roger Backhaus were re-elected unopposed. Officers Frances Miller and Phil Levermore are mid-term and continue in post. The financial position is healthy with a small but growing surplus. Membership continues to grow, slowly, and stands at 77 – new members were welcomed. Commodore Duncan Wheatley gave an overview of 2015 – a very successful year – highlights of which included presentations by Mike Golding and Sir Chay Blyth. Hugh Woodsend gave us an outline of the 2016 programme…
We then heard talks from two members, as we worked our way through the buffet.
Bob Steele broke a mould – although starting his talk by showing us a photo, of his smart Cape Cutter 19 – the remainder of his talk was illustrated with his own humorous artwork. Made a nice change. The story Bob told was of a family holiday, together with his wife and two daughters (none of whom had sailing experience), on a cheap charter boat out of Corfu. Battles revolved around whether to relax on beaches or go sailing. This was resolved at times by Bob dropping the family off and heading out solo. Excitements included his 40km last day’s sail, solo, which should have been a doddle with the prevailing winds. But the wind shifted and the easy reach became an upwind battle. Misfortunes included loosing the anchor overboard, engine failure, seawater in the diesel tank, a fouled prop and failed electrics. Equipment carried did not include a torch, a compass, or a knife sharp enough clear the prop. Good fortune brought Bob a tow from a passing yachtsman, who was less fortunate as he dislocated a shoulder during the exercise. Bob learnt quickly how to sail backwards into a marina berth. Or had luck on his side, at that moment – it having rather deserted him earlier.
Carolyn Roberts told a rather different story, of a passage around “the bumpy bit” of Ireland: the less well-known and very exposed West coast, where the prevailing South Westerly’s make it lee shore. Carolyn is an extremely experienced offshore sailor (and a Yachtmaster Instructor) so when she says “bumpy” we in the audience knew we would have inclined more towards “scary”. Those SW’s were 4s to 7s, occasionally 8s. There are relatively few havens, safe bays or estuaries, so some passages were long. As Carolyn explained, photos of bad conditions are rare as when things are rough there are other things to occupy one’s attention. Nevertheless she showed us fine pictures of gunmetal skies, and of promontories and islands partly obscured by the murk. Navigation would be easier if the concrete posts in harbour entrances stood out a bit more and were painted more clearly in the red or green they are supposed to be… memorable were Little Skellig (on which is the second largest colony of gannets in the world) and Skellig Michael where ancient beehive huts of dry stone, built by monks, are still standing, despite the weather. A shark was spotted off Great Blasket Island. Clearly a magical place, offering some great sailing, but probably not ideal for the faint hearted or novices amongst us!
We gathered in the new Terrace Room at the Cotswold Club – a good space, nicely decorated for the event – for our celebratory meal. Hugh Woodsend showed and talked us though a summary of the 2015 talks and events, reminding us of how interesting and diverse these were, and we saw the entries for the annual photo competition, and the winning picture of course. There was a vaguely nautically themed quiz won by the usual swots who do, in the case of this club, actually get out more. A very relaxed and convivial evening.
Bob Bradfield has been a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation for 35 years and made his first chart in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.
After retirement Bob headed out to the Antarctic and to the Arctic, getting to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and in 2008 he sailed round the UK. He became interested in charts, and learnt through experience how inaccurate and out-of-date so many charts are. Six years ago he founded Antares Charts and has since surveyed and completed more than 300 charts covering some of Scotland’s best (and trickiest) anchorages.
As he explained, there are paper charts, of course, as well now as electronic ones – raster or vector – but despite the fine presentation and technology it is amazing how limited and old the underlying survey data usually is. If one adopts the test of “fit for purpose” many waters are effectively uncharted. He showed us examples of charts from the 1860s that were more accurate and detailed than modern Admiralty charts, or their derivatives. He showed charts with such massive errors that they at best useless and, at worst, worse than useless. Scale is often inappropriate for anything other than passages; many lack positional accuracy; many misrepresent features – e.g. existence and location of rocks and wrecks!
Bob’s charting process is akin to cutting grass – to-ing and fro-ing in the dinghy to a tight pattern – but with GPS and echo sounder instead of mower. Then soundings are “reduced” to chart datum on basis of tidal state, and background from Ordnance Survey added. He has a side-scan sonar that gives an image of what is on the bottom, for further detail.
A fascinating tale of a lack in the market, the addressing of which turned into a hobby, that later became a full production activity. It was fascinating to hear how modern technology, coupled with skill and diligence, can make it possible for an individual to do things to high standards that even a few years ago could only be done with huge resources and big budgets.
Chris, our Vice Commodore, enthuses about Bob’s jewel-like charts that combine pinpoint accuracy with exquisite design, each a work of art. Best run on a helm-mounted iPad, they make some of the world’s most stunning anchorages accessible to mere mortals and are now featured in the updated Imray/Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions.
With Mike Golding, whom we welcomed to our October meeting, we continue to attract some of the biggest names in yachting. Mike is one of the world’s most successful offshore racing sailors, with 250,000 racing miles under his belt. He’s crossed the Equator 25 times and rounded Cape Horn six times. He’s the first person to have sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in both east and west-about directions (1993/4 and 2000/1), and holds many sailing records.
A former career fire fighter, Mike turned to professional sailing following his win in the BT Global Challenge – a crewed, round the world race – in 1996/7. In 2006 he made international headlines by giving up his own prospects of winning the Vendee Globe (a solo around the world race in which he has competed 3 times) to rescue fellow sailor Alex Thomson whose yacht was sinking in the Southern Ocean. Mike was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for bravery.
Mike’s started his talk with a promotional movie designed to wow potential sponsors. It certainly wowed us. The kind of racing he does is a very high tech and big budget activity, and getting the necessary sponsorship is almost as challenging, one suspects, as battling round the Horn. There was a time (in say Slocum’s, or Moitessier’s day) when single handed round the world yachting was a solitary, lonely, activity. Now, as Mike made clear, it is the opposite – the networking, team building, and project management before the races and the communications during it make it more suited to extroverts. For everyone involved (including sponsors) it is an unforgettable experience.
The 60 foot (plus 6 foot bowsprit) Vendée Globe boats are not of fixed design. Mike’s boat, the Gamesa, displaces a mere 8 tonnes, of which 3 is the lead bulb in the hydraulically controlled, 45 degree canting, keel. To achieve this low hull and rigging weight, it is constructed almost exclusively of carbon fibre – and the attention to detail in weight management is so strict that food (nutritious though unappetising!) is carried dehydrated. A memorable picture showed a mess tin containing baked beans (real ones, from a tin), some scrambled egg (not real, made from powdered egg) and a piece of toast made from 74 day old bread. This represented a celebratory meal to mark a milestone. It put in mind the recently released film “the Martian” in which the hero also puts aside a few “real” meals, to consume when there’s something very special to celebrate. Long distance solo sailing has its parallels with astronautics.
Are Vendée Globe boats fast? Exciting? 30 knots is not uncommon, 34 can be achieved at times. 400 miles is a normal day’s run, Mike’s record is 474. Around 26,000 miles is covered at an average speed of 10 to 14 knots. There is an unrelenting grind of hard work, against a background of noise and discomfort. Sleep is grabbed in very short bursts. Mike has a car alarm on a timer to get him up, but he does of course wake before it goes off. Not for many, this.
The Vendée Globe is run every four years and is hugely popular in France. Some 3 million people visit the start before each race to admire and stroke the boats, and (if men) twang the rigging appreciatively. It was nice to hear about the involvement of primary school children – both in France and the UK – where a class visit the boat and are given an opportunity to participate – by for example, following the race online and preparing gifts to be unwrapped at key moments. They seemed to be mostly cards and hats – there are strict limits of course on weight!
Phil Shayler opened our 2015/2016 dinner and talk programme with Pilotage on the Thames. Phil is a working pilot, a pilot trainer and examiner, and a port controller, and knows his stuff. He’s been a pilot for 24 years and the enthusiasm he still has for the work shone brightly through. Taking control of navigation (not as he explained “command of the vessel”) for enormous, unwieldy craft in the confined, busy, shallow and tidal waters of the Thames and its estuary has plenty of excitement to offer, even for someone as experienced as Phil. With bow and possibly stern thrusters, a few tugs, high-precision GPS (they carry their own kit to supplement whatever the ship may have) big ships are nudged into and out of tight berths in all weathers. The job is 24/7 – dashes in taxis, perhaps an hour or so in a Pilot “cutter” (£1m’s worth of boat itself) precede the actual duty, typically. The regulations preclude climbing ladders longer than 9 metres, but in the UK (unlike say in NL) the regulations also preclude single-engined helicopters so climbing ladders is what they do. If the weather is so bad that leaving a departing vessel is too dangerous – above a Force 7 say – the pilot will stay on board and be flown home later… this perhaps explaining why it is a traditionally male-dominated profession, as the work is a poor fit with home life.
Training is long and multi-staged, and a budding pilot works his way up from “little” 125 metre vessels (Class 4), to 320 metre (Class 1) and “unrestricted”. The bridge simulator looked quite fun. Perhaps we could persuade Phil to give us go, sometime?
The images that really grabbed our attention were those of the prangs. All this close quarters manoeuvring is not without incident – many of us have suffered or caused the odd bump and know something of the emotional effects. So there were a few gasps. Not from Phil, though.
All in all a fascinating insight into a marine profession that not only keeps us sailors and our seaways safe, but also keeps the ports working efficiently to support the vast amount of modern ship-borne trade without which us islanders would be eking a pretty meagre existence. So it is for more than a talk that we should be thanking Phil. Thanks!
Weather was unusually wet in Northern Europe where many of us sail, so more of us were around this summer. The summer BBQ, generously hosted by Hugh and Annie Woodsend, drew in an unexpectedly large crowd. It took an enormous amount of organising and preparatory work, so on the night it was relaxed and convivial. Thanks Hugh, Annie and all the other members whose efforts contributed to making this such a good evening.
In June Rear Commodore Barnaby Scott welcomed us to his design studio, furniture workshop and showroom in Chadlington, where, in a corner beside his Computer Numerical Control (CNC) routing machine, lies his 30 foot yacht in build.
Barnaby has carefully thought through and defined the kind of boat he needs (insofar as any of us need a boat!), which led him outside the range of production craft. As well as meeting practical requirements he also wanted a vessel of elegance and beauty, and found the design of what he wanted in a Haiku, a 30 foot sharpie from Iain Oughtred’s drawing board. Iain is one of the most respected small wooden boat designers; “sharpies” were developed on the East coast of America in the 1800s and are flat-bottomed, shallow-water craft. They are simple in every respect, including the building, yet remarkably capable. Many consider the acme of the genre to be the ‘Egret’ built by ‘Commodore’ Ralph Munroe in the 1880s. This boat was the inspiration for the Haiku.
A yacht build is a big project. The hull is nigh on complete, and rather unusually (and made possible by full computer modelling) this boat is being built from the inside outwards, rather than infilling a hull. So although still upside down, it already has most of the interior structures, including the centreboard boxes. With lead keel already in place, righting the boat is the next challenge. This process is fully designed, and the turning equipment built. Some of us hope to be invited back to help (unless it is fully automated, in which case we’d like to watch, and raise another glass!). Keep an eye on his blog.
Barnaby had recently given a talk to another club, the Bromsgrove Boaters, and he galloped through the presentation he’d given to them, giving us tantalising glimpses of the Solway where he sails, of historic boats that inspired the design of the boat he is building, of other boats he might have gone for, and of the build itself. Barnaby’s Haiku is named Luely, in honour of the lusted-after lass of a ribald Scottish poem.
Equally fascinating was Barnaby’s furniture gallery Waywood, where we saw, admired, puzzled-over, stroked, and sat on the works of art to which applying the word “furniture” seems slightly insulting. There are sweeping curves, engineering precision, woods and grains coaxed and glued into beautiful pieces.
We were chased out after an hour or so as dinner had been booked at The Tite Inn in Chadlington, our exit slowed by the gathering of admirers around one Club member’s vintage Bentley, which sounds as good as it looks. (The turning circle reminded me of some boats I’ve conned – Ed.)
Vice Commodore Chris Adams took the floor for our May meeting, and gave us a lavishly illustrated talk on sailing the Bohuslän coast of Western Sweden. Chris is, would you believe, almost as enthusiastic about these waters as he is about his home waters of Scotland. He got close to suggesting that the seafood might even be better. (Perhaps I misheard that – Ed.)
Despite being only a week’s sailing from the Solent, British boats are a rarity in this part of the world, which offers large areas of sheltered water, good anchorages, and superb sailing around its 3000 islands and 5000 skerries. Water is deep, days (in summer) long, and breezes reliable. Navigation among the sparkling granite rocks needs care but is not intrinsically difficult, and there’s no shortage of pilot books and sailing directions. These are all in Swedish but Chris insisted it was a very easy language (! – Ed.)
Locals sail in a short and well-defined season, leaving the place fairly deserted at other times, with late August being the best time to visit, nicely (from our perspective) coinciding with the best weather. Locals also have a habit of mooring to rings set into the rock, to a stern anchor, leaving the bays largely empty for the few like Chris who prefer to anchor off. The place is very picturesque, with rows of cheerfully painted houses.
Access by air is easy (there are cheap flights from the UK to Gothenburg), and charter rates are well below those of the Med.
A lot of exploring (and seafood) can be fitted into a fortnight’s cruise, and wine is not at the inflated prices of neighbouring Norway.
At the heart of the area is Ellös, home to Hallberg-Rassy, renowned manufacturer of high quality yachts. Chris is the proud owner of one.
This is exactly the kind of thing we like to hear from Chipping Norton Yacht Club members – about places and experiences that could tempt us into expanding our own sailing horizons. Thanks Chris!
April’s speaker was Sticky Stapylton, a trainer and teacher certified to teach practically everything in the sailor’s repertoire up to Yachtmaster Instructor and Yachtmaster Ocean.
Sticky rather surprised us before the meal by leaping to his feet and saying a bloodthirsty Grace, calling for the sending of doves with sharp beaks to cut the throats of those who sell bad beer to sailors. (Visit this website if you’re curious – Ed.)
Whence the “Sticky” sobriquet, someone asked? At some point in his army career (as Sticky tells it) and at the height of the Cold War, he was responsible for stores. Found he had 385,000 bottles of Gloy glue in his charge, resulting from an annual standing order from the 20’s that no one had remembered to cancel. Being a man of resourcefulness and imagination he persuaded the powers that be to experiment with making a weapon of it, by putting the stuff in shells. So successful was this at stopping tanks in trials at Larkhill that Gorbachev got wind of it. Glasnost and the collapse of the USSR followed shortly after, and Sticky got his name…
Sticky’s theme was Man Overboard, a subject that is richer than one might think, and can be a matter of life or death. This could have been a bit dry (or wet? – Ed) but Sticky kept us on our toes, entertained, provoked and educated us. He brought a wealth of experience and spoke with the authority you would expect of a military man, and a man who’s covered a lot of sea miles. There are clever devices on the market that claim to help retrieve a MoB. Some help, many are expensive. Many makeshift devices can work fine, if you’re quick and know how to use them. A decent 6-part tackle is a good start. But to really address the risks there are more fundamental things to look to. Can you heave to? Have all the crew been properly briefed on the essentials of safety and boat handling? Have they, for example: tried their lifejackets on; know how and where to clip on; know where the flares are and how to fire them; where the first aid kit is and what’s in it; how to start the engine?
One anecdote recounted the couple who holed the boat, managed to deploy the life-raft, find the flares, and fire one – unfortunately into the life-raft, setting it alight. Had they not been towing a tender we might never have heard this tale. Sticky’s subject matter may have been narrow, but he was right to persuade us to go for it.
It is important stuff, well worth discussing in detail, and many of us were inwardly reviewing our own arrangements as we listened. One day any one of us could find ourselves indebted. (Sticky’s website is here – if you want a copy of the crew briefing checklist he offered mail him at email@example.com mentioning that you are a Chipping Norton Yacht Club member.)
Paul Fisher has the sea in his blood. At the age of 9 he attempted to run away to sea, showing better judgement in packing sandwiches and “pop” (his term), than in his choice of vessel – which failed to depart before food and drink was exhausted. He slunk home.
But before long, as a teenager, he and a friend acquired a starter boat and with a library copy of “Teach Yourself Sailing” they taught themselves to sail on the Thames, progressing through numerous boats including a rotten Norfolk Wherry bought for £50 quid, at which price it was clearly no bargain. Paul designed his first boat at the age of 15, read Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding at Newcastle University and after graduating joined the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.
He cut his designer teeth with McGruers and Silvers Marine (later to become DM Russell Ltd.). This family company, with its enormous loft for full-size layout, foundry, and construction shed was one of the UK’s premier yards. Here Paul learnt about the reality of design – of things that could be built as well as drawn. He learnt about mast-making, about (extremely) dirty racing on the Clyde, and about handling clients….
In 1982 Paul moved to Devon to start Selway Fisher Design, going on to produce some 400 designs covering an amazingly wide range of craft – canoes, dinghies, day boats, yachts, junks, slipper launches, steam vessels… building up a well-deserved reputation for producing good boats for modest budgets. He was a pioneer of and champions modern wood/composite construction (e.g. clinker ply, stitch and tape, “egg-box”, strip planking).
In addition to his real-world designs Paul runs a line in replicas and models for the film industry, which needs a steady flow of historic craft from galleons to U-boats. Not in any way to downplay the long hard work that Paul has put into his craft (in both meanings of the word) but one has to admire and envy a man who turned a lifelong hobby into a career – one in which he has excelled.
I suspect some of us in the audience were a little apprehensive. Chay is one of the biggest names in the UK for adventures and feats on the high seas. Knighted for it.
We were wrong to worry. Chay was charming, self-effacing and entertaining. And he really did have a story to tell.
Chay joined the Paras from the factory-floor and was soon rowing the Atlantic in an open 20 footer with John Ridgeway, having never rowed before (!). Was there any strain in this relationship? Did, someone once ask Chay, John row too? In a rare contemporary public speech Chay dispelled the doubts. John, he told his audience then, certainly did row – when Chay was cooking…
Chay entered the first single handed round-the-world race, having never sailed before (!), in a 30 foot bilge-keeled family cruiser. He got as far as the Cape of Good Hope, and broached so often he thought this was just normal behaviour for a small yacht. This was the race from which Donald Crowhurst was not to return. In fact only one competitor finished – Robin Knox-Johnson.
Chay was the first person to sail non-stop around the world “the wrong way” i.e. against the prevailing winds and currents, in the Clarke designed “British Steel”. Signalled mid-ocean from a passing vessel, as to where he was bound, he signalled back “Southampton”. To the next question “Whence from?” he signalled “Southampton”. To the last question “via where?” he signalled “Southampton!”. Chay is not a man to waste words. This historic voyage lasted 292 days and a grand welcome was organised with The Ark Royal, massed ratings, a band, and crowds of thousands. The last few days of the voyage had been faster than expected and Chay was at risk of arriving before his welcome party. He was told to “get lost for 2 days”.
After numerous excitements aboard ever bigger boats including a trimaran that capsized during a record attempt off Cape Horn, Chay turned his hand to power boating, co-skippering with Richard Branson.
At some point Chay organised a trans-Atlantic rowing race, expecting a handful of boats; perhaps 5. In the event there were 28 competitors – half of them pretty clueless. (One of the competitors was an ex-mayor of Chipping Norton – ed.)
The talk ended with a short movie, showing the battering of the boats and crew in the Global Challenge – the organisation founded by Chay that allowed ordinary men and women to experience the extremes of round-the-world yacht racing. Most memorable was a “blink and you’ve missed it” clip in which a cockpit full of crew is suddenly completely empty, apart from some green water and foam. Wow!
Impressed, were we? Well, you could say that!
POSTSCRIPT: I heard the other day a quotation from Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron (1809–92) and I hope Chay will take no offence from my quoting it. It seemed apt. (Ed.)
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name..
The January AGM was well attended. With sandwiches and a glass of something “on the house” we plane sailed through official business, heard Commodore and Treasurer reports, were given an outline of 2015 plans, and discussed the Club’s future direction. Topics included training, crewing service, Members’ directory, gatherings on the water, the balance of internal/external speakers, and the Cotswold Club as our continuing principal venue.
Jonathan Smith gave an enthusiastic and colourful presentation on tall ships and the lives of their sailors, including one local man whom he quoted: “Witney is a very quiet place, what a great difference one sees out here in San Francisco, where all is life, pleasure and excitement, to the quiet ways of our country town”. To us modern sailors the rigs and cordage of these topsail schooners, ships, brigantines, barquentines, etc. are awesome. Apparently one, the “Stavros S Niarchos”, is on the market but our Treasurer was unsupportive.
Roger Backhaus then talked with equal enthusiasm about his kind of sailing – on a small wooden boat, which he keeps and sails in the Netherlands. The simple classic unstayed lug yawl rig is better than anything else (he assured us) and the Zeeland waters he sails in perfect for him and for this long-keeled shoal-draft boat. These waters are a largely protected playground, established under the mammoth “Delta Plan” by the Dutch, after the disastrous 1953 flood.
Chipping Norton Yacht Club Christmas get-together was held at The Cotswold Club, which looked very festive dressed overall (nice nautical expression, eh?) with bunting and flags. They greeted us with a glass of Prosecco, and laid on a special celebratory buffet. We ran a continuous slide/video show of members’ recent photos and videos, provoking, as had been hoped, questions and comments; and re-awakening memories of a season on, around, or thinking about, the water. The bespoke crackers contained nautically-themed gifts of which the miniatures of rum were particularly popular with us tars, although one has to confess that the hats suited us no better than is usual.There was a not-too-serious quiz questionnaire on each table, which got a few arguments going.The winning table won a box of chocolates; another prize, a bottle Prosecco went to team Spencer and Levermore for best photo, taken in the Corinth canal. It was a relaxed and most enjoyable evening.
Sam LLewellyn, sea novelist, celebrated storyteller, columnist for Classic Boat and PBO and editor of the Marine Quarterly, talked about Britain’s attitudes to, and relationship with, the sea.
Sam was the first CNYC speaker not to use visual aids. We did not miss them however, as Sam is an author by trade, and a wordsmith who can conjure up images with a well-turned phrase. His talk was humorous, personal, provocative, erudite and challenging- refreshing, in a word.
Sam’s theme was the sea in the context of our island nation and not, as he put it, as a “bathing platform for the bourgeoisie”. He offered six perspectives: the sea as nuisance, moat, motorway, fishery, heritage and playground. He stressed the importance of understanding the sea, not from looking at it from the land, as though it were a backdrop to a watercolour, but by getting up close and dirty. (My inelegant phrasing, not his – ed.)
Sam dismissed the moat perspective as being a ”Daily Mail” view… (politics showing, Sam?), and told us that the Navy still run those “useless 35 knot sharp grey ships” – frigates and destroyers – because one can’t rise to the rank of Admiral without commanding one. Rationally they’d be better off with less sexy craft, in the style of container ships, carrying helicopters.
We tragically waste the opportunity of the sea as a motorway, given how many small ports can still accommodate coasters. There are 150 that can take a 3000-ton coaster, he told us. Think of the lorries that could be taken off the road.
We have made quite a hash of managing our fisheries, according to Sam. He harked back to the day, long gone, when the then novel technique of trawling was outlawed, on pain of death. Not, he hastened to point out, that he favoured capital punishment.
Heritage? Pity we’ve spent so much parking the Cutty Sark aground on a greenhouse, when for the money we could have built one (and a half, he claimed) replicas that could sail.
As playground, ‘tis a shame, Sam opined, that 33% fewer people get out on the water than did 10 years ago. Sam has a strategy to reverse that, and get us all out there, and not just for a few minutes between yachtmaster courses. Sam’s teenage experiences included character-forming time at Les Glénans sailing school (“boot camp?”) with a languid Gauloise-chewing instructor, and he recommended the Glénans Sailing Manual to us. It transpires that Sam’s characterful Aunts were sailors, and did at some point sail around the world but didn’t want anyone to know, as that would be “showing off”…
We had some culinary advice, centring on ships’ biscuits’ tendency to rot if only cooked once and the meaning of “bis-cuit” – which is, naturellement, French for twice-cooked. That stops the rot. In the context of safety at sea and changing attitudes he told of the captain who insisted his crew wear lead divers belts, so that he wouldn’t have to waste time going back for them if the went overboard…
Sam talked of boat show paranoia, and the way the salesmen size up their victims. He dislikes big plastic boats, TVs on boats, marine mortgages (“you can’t call that freedom”), and inboard engines (outboards have the great advantage that when troublesome they can be taken off and sent away). Sam asked if any of us have experience of a Yuloh. None did. But at least one of us knows what it is, which is unusual. That’s Chipping Norton Yacht Club for you.
Frances addressed our October meeting, following much hard work by her and Rear Commdore Hugh Woodsend in gathering and shaping material into an exemplary presentation.
James had planned a round-the world voyage for his retirement. He bought an Endurance 35 ferro-cement (i.e. concrete) bare hull and spent 5 years creating the ketch, “Tara”, out of it. Projects like this are incredibly time, money and effort consuming; and are not for the faint hearted, impractical or pessimistic. James was clearly none of these.
After retirement from the Navy James joined a local authority and was, as it happened, recruited by Frances, who went on to became his companion – not only on this monumental voyage but for the rest of his life. Frances had sailed before – dinghies, she told us, as a teenager in the Tripoli Dolphin Services’ Yacht Club, in the days before Gaddafi.
The plan? To go! For how long? Well, it would evolve. Where to? Well, that depended on the weather, how the boat fared and which bits broke, where; what rebuilds they would do, what visas they could get…
The circumnavigation started conventionally enough with a transatlantic passage to the West Indies, but soon they decided to add Canada, the USA along the Intracoastal Waterway, and Bermuda to the itinerary before resuming the passage westwards through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to New Zealand. Once in New Zealand, The Bay of Islands became a base from which to spend several years of cruising the Pacific Islands and Australia. I lost count as to how many times they shuttled between New Zealand and Australia…
The boat was rebuilt two and a half times during the voyage. One of the disadvantages of building ones own boat to a budget, as James had, is that compromises often have to be made (in James’ case, fitting a used Perkins 4108 diesel). One of great advantages, however, is the intimate knowledge you’ve gained, so you can nearly always fix things, or know how to work around problems….
Frances’ mother had grown up in Bermuda, and the couple seemed to have friends, or quickly make friends, almost wherever they went. So visiting places with family connections, picking up with friends, success in getting help, and long stays in port, were a core feature of this grand voyage. Fishing, on the other hand, wasn’t….they caught 10 fish in 15 years.
The return voyage took Tara round the top of Australia and on to South Africa, finally completing the circumnavigation in the Azores.
We have heard and read many times about the extent to which blue water cruising sailors value, and have to develop, self-reliance. But James and Frances seem to have taken this to another level. It seems they uniquely combined self-reliance, a strong partnership, and the ability to make friends and get help wherever they were. These are the enduring messages from this presentation. And it is good to be reminded that it is not only the young who have ambition, drive and ability. James was sailing well into his eighties, and even then did not “swallow the anchor”. Tara was sold and replaced with a Dutch motor boat, now in the South of France (and for sale – RB), in which they then cruised for several years, but that’s another story…
Commodore Duncan Wheatley paid tribute to James Jacques, who died this month after a long illness. James was one of the Club’s most distinguished members and will be greatly missed; Duncan extended condolences on behalf of the Club to partner Frances, who was with us in the audience. We look forward to hearing Frances tell us more about James, and their 15 year circumnavigation, at our October meeting.
Our speaker was Tom Cunliffe – a big man who has done some big and fairly intrepid things, many of them in big, heavy, traditional, boats. Tom’s theme was pilot cutters – boats that have a deserved reputation for seaworthiness, capability and elegance. He has owned several, pumped a lot of water through some of them, and was infectiously evangelical as to their virtues.
Many of us associate pilot cutters with Bristol, and although this is not wrong they are not limited to that part of the world, despite the Bristol heritage. The Bristol Channel has strong tides of large range, and few havens. Shipping needed the guidance of pilots, whose boats had to be capable of sailing (and heaving-to) in difficult waters, and being crewed by a man and a boy – sometimes just the boy. We heard about the privations and dangers of being a pilot and Tom recounted the example of a pilot’s wife, who had kept marrying pilots after she was widowed by them, one after t’other. Seven of them, apparently.
Bristol Pilot Cutters are solidly built, long-keeled, gaffers with counter sterns, low freeboard and a gentle sheer. The Norwegian variety tend to be double-ended, often Colin Archers. As to seaworthiness and sea kindliness Tom explained stability curves, which show how the righting moment of a vessel relates to its angle of heel. These curves, though factually correct in their own terms, are misleading as they only show what happens to a heeled boat statically, in flat water. The dynamic of a boat moving through lumpy water is something else. Typical pilot cutters have large moments of inertia deriving from their construction, ballast and heavy spars. This gives them a slow reaction to upsetting forces – so slow that the problem wave or gust will often have passed by before the boat reacts in a significant or dangerous manner, unlike many modern designs.
Modern boat designers tend to think in terms of accommodation and equipment – pilot cutters were built first and foremost as boats; then and only then did the builders work out what to put in them.
In attempting to defend against an accusation of working on the Sabbath on a boat, in Brazil, Tom had mentioned that Jesus was a carpenter. “Maybe so”, came the reply, “but he didn’t have a power plane!”
We were accused of having a bourgeois attitude to leaks. Tom sees no problem in having to keep pumping, as long as one can keep up, and the pump doesn’t fail. Admittedly he had to half-inch his young daughter’s plimsoll sole on one occasion to replace a leather flap-valve…
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