Oh for a sunny day like this only in my home land, on a quiet loch or a tranquil sound with the grand vistas of Jura, Mull and the Western Highlands as company. Sunlight making the diamonds dance on the water and an easy breeze blowing us along to nowhere in particular perhaps.
I am warming to the idea of cruising after almost three decades of racing. Being however amongst the lucky ones to have raced in the majesty of western Argyll, I have of course done not only four west west highland weeks, but also a Tobermory race and been honoured to have helmed under spinnaker through the Cuan sound in the Round-Shuna delivery race. However very much of the scenery and of course nearly all the nooks, crannies, hook-holes, beaches and not least bars are just just whizzed past at 7 knts with an eye on the luff of the sails.
If i do miss Scotland then in fact I miss inexorably bachelor life and had I stayed on there is a chance I may have worked hard and played a little less hard in the cities, and been more out in boats. Where I doubt very much I would have met a lady love to be honest, not going into details, perhaps things have changed. A self made, educated Gentlemen of yore could affrord a thirty five footer and have two weeks away with the family each season plus some racing holidays. Not now. Especially not for employeess. None of my well paid pals own boats even. But however there is not that much holding them back, especially when the average foreign holiday costs well over two grand for a family of four.
I think most of them are spoiled with OPB (other people’s boats) over 40ft with full head room and new carbon sails, and of course immaculate and untouchable IRC certificates! In the 70s these folk would have been Sonata owners, maybe the odd one upgrading to an Impala. These days they buy new hooses and BMWs and holidays in Gran Canaria or Corfu and wonder why they never have cash spare for a boat. Sonatas seem to be being snaffled up by the younger generation even! Those who are determined to do some sailing, rather than putting quality demands on interior and high profile sponsorship and parties perhaps?
I never have quite liked sonatas. It is a snob thing I will admit. They popped up in the 70s all over the Clyde and have never looked very elegant with their chopped transom. They were always to be a bit kind of looked down on, as racing caravans, for the hoi palloi some would say. However they are an extremely attractive package for the money, then and now. They feel like a bigger boat once on board, because they are chopped off by at least four feet of transom where you are not often looking and a relatively deep proportioned cockpit and companion way.
Accomodation is of course Tardis like on a Sonata, rivalled only the great Scandinavian ‘people’s boat’ the Maxi 77. It really is a racer cruiser which fullfills both very admirably if you are looking for that kind of one design racing and compact, four up cruising. Some of the best sailors on the Clyde have owned or helmed Sonatas and the fleet is friendly and a good place to hone skills and get your head around owning and campaigning a boat which features in class or HC starts in all the main events of the Clyde.
As I said I am a bit of a snob in terms of aesthetics and the other draw backs for me in the Sonata are the outboard which can spend half its time out of the water in a following chop, and their roly-poly DDW antics which really do not suit any crew members who are a bit ‘feart’ .They even seem to make better VMG in those violent antics sometimes!
For that sunny morning heading off from anchor or berth up the Lorne, what boat for me then? Given I would be modest of budget or running a racing boat / dinghy in the la’lands, what fir the Heelan’s? Well there are a few boats that stand out and which are incredibly affordable.
Firstly there is the Maxi 77, and despite being a little long in the tooth, well rennovated examples are to be found around the UK and ireland with good itineries, and importantly for family cruising, roller furling headsails. They seem to be fairly bombproof so a sub 5000 pound example as a rennovation project may be worth a survey and consideration if you can do glass work and redo gel coat. My brother had one with an inboard, which looked quite prof’ so I wonder if they were offered with this as more or less standard for the British Isles, being more open to serious seas that the shelter of the Swedish coast. The outboard sits a bit nicer than on a Sonata though and the boat sits better in the waveform, having a hull form really much more like boats which came 10 years after when tonne designs had gone out of favour. That tumble home gunwhale gives a nice window, often in need of sealing !, but also of course a good headroom inside, and a nice flush deck with only that stupid little gaurd rail near the mast on some models to trip over.
The Maxi 77 sailing wise is quite a surprise. Despite its’ rather puny mainsail, the boat trucks along to windward driven by its generous genoa, which is about 160% it seems! I have sailed with full genoa in abour 13knts true and it starts getting a bit hairy, but boy, when you crack off just a bit from a beat the easily driven and very stable hull form is doing 7 knots! Another surprise , which may be a bit too much of one for families who are eager sailors, is that the Spinnaker is pretty huge, being masthead. Unlike a Sonata or many old, thin ended designs, the 77 trucks dead down wind in the sea train when racing, and sits very comfortably on a broad reach with the kite dare i say cleated while No.2 makes a cuppa down below.
Another wee peach of a boat is the Contessa 26. This was quite a popular boat around the western highland lochs in its day, with I guess many folk upgrading the the 32 version and into other bigger boats. They do look quite small, having quite a low freeboard, but they have four berths, galley and heads and their owners love them for their practicality, affordability and most of all seaworthyness. I do not know if they have the same ‘bench mark’ stability of the Contessa 28, but they certainly look the job for crossings to Colonsay and Tiree. For racing, well you would need to look at the CYCA and Portsmouth on them, there are very few raced which kind of suggests they are either very sort after by cruiser sailors, or avoided by racers. There was a very well sailed example out of Ardfern in the 2000s, but I dont remember it winning anything.
Boat chosen then, for some elegance and seaworthyness, I chose the Contessa 26. There I be exiting one of the western anchorages into the sound of Islay in my 26 with Girl Friday, a good book, camera at the ready, and a big glass of malt!