It was during a holiday in Torrevieja in 1996 that I first got interested in boats.
Dave (Moss), Arthur (Hollingshead), Cuppa Tea Al (Alan Herbert) and myself, had driven down to Spain, and on arrival we encountered some of the worst weather Spain had experienced in years. Consequently we spent the next day wrapped up against the cold, and ended up walking around the harbour looking at the yachts tied up alongside. To my amazement, Dave informed me that people sail around the world in boats as small as 30 feet. I thought he was joking, but no, he was serious. Over the rest of the week we mooched around the many marinas in the vicinity, and by the time we headed off back to the UK, I was hooked.
On our return, we went scouting around local boatyards and marinas, until we stumbled upon a Telstar 27 trimaran called Trinity in Brightlingsea. We resurrected her over a period of a few months, renamed her Nazgul and got her on the water. We had a good seasons sailing, but having 3 owners and 3 skippers led to a few disagreements and so rather than fall out, we sold her on for a profit.
Dave was then asked by the owners of Bridgemarsh Marina at Althorne (where we had kept Nazgul) if he was interested in buying a James Warrem designed catermaran called Hula Kai. Apparently the dues hadn’t been paid for five years, and they were about to torch it. Dave put in a silly bid and it was his. We spent six weeks of the summer of 97 refurbishing her, and so another one was brought back from the dead. We had another great season sailing her in the River Crouch plus Dave, Andy & myself had a weeks trip to Walton, up the River Orwell to Ipswich and then to Woodbridge via the River Deben.
The return journey back to the River Crouch turned out to be a hairy ride though. Andy had to leave us in Walton, so Dave and I ventured out in an inconclusive weather report, that said we might get strong winds, then again, we might not. It was all OK when we set off, but after a few hours, the wind strengthened from the South West, and we suddenly found ourselves the only boat out there. We had a chat about turning back but to be honest, rightly or wrongly, it’s not what we do. So the plan was to carry on down across the mouth of the River Blackwater and if it got too rough, turn and head into Brightlingsea.
Well it did get rough, and so we put a reef in the main, only to have the cringles pull out and rip the canvass. We were stuck with a full sail. It also became apparent that there was no way we could turn and head inland, as bearing away to gather enough speed for the tack would have had the bows dive in, the boat pitch pole and sink. Jibing wasn’t an option either as by now the wind was far too strong and would have carried the boom and mainsail away. We had no option but to pinch up into wind to depower the sails and maintain our course best as we could. Well it was hearts in the mouth for the next hour or so, until we got past the entrance to the Blackwater. Although it was draining away OK, water was coming over the bridge deck by the butt full and swamping us. It was like something from a comedy sketch and we were soaked through.
After a while we found ourselves in the lea of the land and things became lot calmer. We continued on and eventually made the Crouch a few hours later. After battling the outgoing tide, we eventually tied up at Burnham late that afternoon.
As it happened, pinching up turned out to be the right decision, as an inspection on the boat later that week found that a ply hull panel on the inside of the starboard hull was close to being pulled away from the stem post by one of the forestay bridle mounts. Had we put more strain on it by powering up the jib to tack, we probably would have pulled the panel clean away and sunk her.
One Sunday afternoon, on a ride out on the Bandit, Dave & I discovered a 36" Thames Bawley, Jacqueline, seemingly abandoned on the Walton backwaters. Dave was already tiring of Hula Kai and wanted something bigger, so we left a note asking her owners to contact us. After about a month, we got a call saying she was for sale. Dave did the deal, and so now we had two boats. Jacqueline was motored down from Walton to Brandy Hole near Hullbridge, taken out ready to become another one of our projects, whilst Hula Kai was taken out at Bridgemarsh. Apparently the guys at Brandy Hole on seeing the state of Jacqueline,collectively decided that here was ‘another one come here to die’ and that would be the end of that.
Surprise! Surprise! By the following weekend I had stripped the hull and cabin top back to bare wood, and over the next eight weeks she was repainted inside & out, antifouled and back in the water. Over the next season we raced in many of the Old Gaffers meetings both in Essex & Kent.
Hula Kai was eventually brought down from Bridgemarsh to Brandy Hole, where we laid her up in the saltings, whilst we looked for a new owner. She was eventually sold to a guy in Faversham in Kent. We had agreed to deliver her so one fresh Friday morning we set off from Brandy Hole against an Easterly wind for the Havengore Bridge. We hadn't got a mile down river before the 12 horse outboard packed up, so out came the puny little Seagull. We battled against an incoming tide to try and make Havegore and get out onto the Maplin Sands before the tide turned. We just made it in time, but as we popped out into the Thames the wind freshened and the Seagull was useless. In danger of being blown onto the sands we quickly broke out the sails and manoeuvred our way along the channel, withy by withy, finally sailing clear, and headed across to Kent. By now it was starting to get dark but we had no electrics. We had stripped out the electrical equipment as they were not in with the price. And so we had no navigation lights, radio, depth finder, nothing. A hand held compass a torch and a two mobile phones. Had the main outboard not have packed up we would have been well across by now and probably heading into Faversham. We never expected to be so late getting through, but we had come this far and we weren’t turning back.
And so we headed out into the shipping lanes, and by keeping a good watchful eye and staying well clear of the traffic, we made it across to the Kent side without mishap. Well almost!
For a while as we approached Whitstable, we were too far off to clearly make out the navigation lights, but finally I recognised the Whitstable Street Buoy by its flashing light sequence and took a fix. I then took another on Southend across the Thames, and headed off to the chart table. Under torchlight I put her on the chart only to find in horror that we were right up on the shallows, about half a mile off Leysdown, Isle of Sheppey and on an outgoing tide. I shouted to Dave to bear away, but it was too late. We were aground. Within minutes the water receded, leaving us about a mile from the water’s edge.
This wasn’t good. With a strong Easterly wind blowing, we would be in danger of being blown onshore once the tide turned, and having the bottom bounced out of the boat. First thing was to walk out across the mud and dig the anchor in well deep. Then we phoned one of Jaquelines race crew, gave him our Lat & Long and told him if we had to phone him in the early hours we were in trouble, and to immediately phone the coastguard. That way we could concentrate on dealing with our predicament whilst he put the call out. As it turned out, the fears were unfounded. We set an alarm for 3am and on rising, the wind had swung around to the South West, the sea was dead calm as we were in the lea of the land, and once afloat, we wazzed along at 8 knots in flat water away from Leysdown. In fact it was probably one of the best sails we had ever had, and we felt like staying with it till we hit land, which would have been somewhere near Vissingen in Holland. After a while, reality kicked in, and we tacked back towards the Swale. We ran aground quite a few times as we were overtaking the tide, but eventually we entered Faversham Creek. As mentioned before, we had no depth finder, so we navigated by calling out the marks on a plumb line.
We finally delivered Hula Kai to Faversham at around 6.am, another adventure over!
In 1999 a friend of ours, Dennis Buckley, asked us if we would assist him in delivering a brand new Dufour 35 from Toulon (South of France), to Odysseus, a flotilla company he was working for in Corfu. We agreed and there began another adventure.
Berneray was another project just begging our attention. To be honest, at that moment in time I was out as I was disappointed in the decision not to go ahead and re-rig Fashion. After all the research it seemed such a shame to walk away from her. Anyway, upshot was Dave bought Berneray for a very reasonable price and Fashion went to the yacht brokers from where she was finally sold. I headed off to Thailand for 5 months and when I got back, Berneray was reduced to a 45’ dingy. Her story is told on the Berneray Pages.
It was late one afternoon after spending all day painting the hull on Berneray that I met Jenny Edwards. The tide was dropping away when I spotted a boat heading up to the pontoons. A quick glance at the water level told me they were not going to make it. ‘Here we go, bloody Romford Navy have left it too late to get back in and the only place to tie up is going to be alongside us. Not a chance against my fresh cream paint’ and so I ducked down below and left them to look at the NO MOORING sign that I had hung over the gunnels earlier.
Anyway the boat carried on past our stern. Turned in and ran aground. I heard a bit of shouting and recognised Adrian the Shipwright shouting for them to throw a line attached to a fender and they would try and pull it in. It was obvious that if Aidy was offering help it must be someone local. I popped up and saw the fender floating just off the next boat on our pontoon but quite away off where they were trying to get to so I hopped off, climbed aboard the adjacent boat, hung off the side, retrieved the fender and threw it across to Ade. I then ran out of our yard, into next doors and helped the lads in dragging them up the mud and into a berth.
I had been back onboard Berneray about half an hour when there was a knock up top and Jenny came aboard to thank me for helping. I fessed up that I had originally kept out of the way and not got involved because of the fresh paint and she told me she had seen me painting earlier and that’s why she had stayed clear. Turns out Jenny lived just up the road in one of the cottages, crewed on the Thames Sailing Barges and definitely was not a fully paid up member of the afore mentioned Navy. She admitted taking out some friends, had not paid attention to the time and was somewhat embarrassed at getting back so late. Anyway, we got them in so no damage done.
She then went on to tell me about L'Ondine, a 70 foot Steilsteven Dutch Barge she was in the process of buying that was currently in Toulouse, South of France. Once bought it would be motored along the Canal de Midi, up the Rhone, into the Soane and through the Northern Canals finally crossing the Channel to finish up as her live aboard in Maldon. I told her that Dave and I had often talked about making the trip in the other direction and had it pencilled in for the future. I was quite envious of her trip.
Well imagine my surprise Jenny came bouncing aboard to announce that she had bought L'Ondine and would I help bring her back. I didn’t need asking twice and so we flew out to Toulouse where we met up with Rod, the barge skipper who had been engaged to bring her back.
The story continues on L'Ondine’s Pages