Tommorrow is the final day’s racing at Tarbert in the Scottish Series, a regatta which evolved out of the ‘Tomatin Race’ of the early 70s. I have done five series and made damn well sure I was booked on for the final overnight, on a good ol’ clyde stalwart of days gone by – a hunter Impala, Llamergaya I think she was called.
I am really rather lucky to have not only sailed on the upper and lower clyde, but also on the Forth, the Tay and out of Oban. Of course I have also sailed in Bergen, Oslo and the South Coast here , but my formative years were sailed on the East Patch.
Apprenticeship Duly Served at the Auld School
I served a rather late apprenticeship in sailing, being an adult new comer to the less subtle arts of racing. Firstly a season and a half on the infamous bene FC Europe ‘ Defiance II’ and then a rather more easy going pace on the Sigma 33 ‘Rajah’ with Roy Summers and Co, who are still going strong and competing this week I see over in Tarbert Loch Fyne.
In between the two boats I actually did the old school RYA course in dinghy sailing at the original Tighnabruaich sailing school ,where Derek who now has his own school down the sound, was senior instructor. It was a good grounding in seamanship as much as helming skills in there hotch potch of different dinghies.It blew old boots most of the time and we had an eclecitc bunch of folk, with Manchester school for girls in attendance and the Kirk’s minister from the isle of Barra.
My visit to the famous school was actually the same time as Scottish Series, I wasnt on the short list or the long list for Defiance (luckily, they had a bit of a mutiny I heard) and I was darn well going sailing that holiday weekend to make the most of the bank holiday. I think it was five days saturday to thursday or the like. Anyway I learned a lot of really good techniques, knots and so on. Derek was a hard task master and was looking after other sailors on the last couple of days so passed me only to RYA 2, which was a dissappointment, and there were mumbles back home that this was part of their marketing strategy! I got the rarer level 4 (surpassing three) over at Minorca sailing five years later. I still teach some of the wee tricks and general attitude to seamanship in my own instructing, which begins tommorrow night incidentally with adults this time in day sailer keel boats. I put May 1995 as a big milestone in my sailing logbook though. An hour in a dinghy is worth eight in a racing yacht has been my motto ever since!
I signed up with Rajah a month later and was thrown into the deep end so to speak with the classic Tobermory race, a Port Bannatyne start line to Ardrishaig, with Ivanhoe leading our flottila with the scurl o’ the pipes from her foredeck through the Crinan Canal. A 5 am breakfast at Crinan to catch the tidal gate at the Doris Mor was followed by some hard spinnaker work, and a long day up towards the Lorne as the wind died south of Oban. Eventually a sea breeze to the top of 4 came in and we were all in by 4pm at Tob’. As a racing chap, I do sometimes think of how we are rushing past places of my family folklore likePuilladobhrain,. meaning Pool of the Otter, and in later years places which had mythical status to me as a nipper, far away holiday snaps and log book recitals, and reminicing between the crew and my father. Small keep sakes like tiles from abandoned buildings on the Treshnish islands, and much talk of Tinkers hole with the rings in the cliff faces to tie up to. However coming up Fyne or the Sound of Mull in a fleet eager to hold their time or win their one design, with a full crew and three sheets to the wind, just beats crusing around on white sails hands down every time. What a privelidge to have raced here often!
I was starting to feel I really had some skills under the belt, afer the baptism of fire on Defiance, the old school basics at Tigh’ and now one of the longest running events in the calender behind me. A delivery cruise through both Easdale and Cuan in blustery, Scotch mist conditions cemented my feeling of having waters past my own keel.
Rajah was a very good apprenticeship with some good sailors on board, and we had the luck of Neil McGregor coaching us for Cork Week 96 when we lighted the boat to class legal minimum, and she lifted her skirts with some whipping of us all by big Neil! 96 was a great year with warm weather and wind most days, and the whole event was a spectalce. Clyde boats dominated the sigma 33 class, with St Joan winning and Vendeval, Phoenix and Pepsi all being in the top ten. We scored a firth and a tenth I believe, having been third boat around the first mark one day when we punched through on the start line and got away with clean air up the beat. That was quite astonishing, a mid fleet gentleman’s boat often accused of being ‘social sailors’ down the Northern, showing a clean pair of heels to over seventy other sigmas!
Moving On Up the Ranks
Now Rajah didn’t sail wednesday nights, so I got the chance to sail with Harold Hood on Odyssey, and that was an eye opener because Harold was a former GP14 champion and veteran of several nationals. He came new into the fleet, having sailed Etchells and some other boats, but managed to be in the top three upper clyde Sigmas within a few outings. It was interesting to sail with them, and fun to win races, and I learned just how much of any regatta is decided on the start line, where Harold was a deamon with no fear what-so-ever, which got him in trouble with Charlie Frize on more than one occaision when the sig’s were thrown into class 1.
Work took me to Manchester for almost three years, and I of course met some sailors in the most likely setting of the Church Inn at Uppermill, about as inland as you can possibly get wothout being up Scafell Pike in England. Dave Cummaford was a regulat and invited me to do some irish sea racing, ISORA, and being young free and single I could spend my late youth bashing around all weekend in the Irish Sea, and then doing half of Celtic Week out of Pwhelli. That was interesting again, because they were a bunch of glamour-pusses in matching jackets on a Corby 35 with a deamon CHS rating. It was a fast, cleanly laid out boat with some really good sailors on board, but nearly all the time was spent sailing in our own wind, quite far from the faster Sigma 400s, and then sitting over a hot laptop waiting to see how we might place. Not that it put me off handicap racing, nor offshore. It was very good experience.
I was ‘booked’ for Converting Machine again for Scottish Series 1998 but got on board another boat who needed me all week, and kind of ignored Dave’s protestations later and got flicked from the crew list no dounbt for this misdemeanor. We were able to stay at someone’s hoose, Uncle Willy, who was an old retired fisherman with a big front room to his house with extra beds for about five of us. John from Ardershier was in two with Rob Inglis and some others, and we had a rather jolly time, us being commandeered onto the Irish IMX 38 ‘Braveheart’. I remember meeting them in the pub on the friday night after the delivery, and they were looking dejected, after a poor result and a lack of crew for the event. Me and john and perhaps another punter were as delighted to offer our services as they were to welcome us to the team.They were all called Brian if I remember rightly. Brian Matthews, a veritable legionnaire of Scottish Series and the Irish cicuit, was their coach and gave mes some of the best advice and tips on trimming I have ever had. I kind of forgot to sail with conveting machine which was running an odd mainsail in dacron to go trophy hunting in a CYCA class of all places, I mean Tarbert was the annual shake down for IRC craft and their new sets of sails!
I think I will have to blog again from this point forward, but basically with this and then 2000 at Minorca Sailing in performance dinghies for a week, cemented my skills and knowledge and made me a useful guy on any boat, be that front, back or the middle bit where the boxing matches happen. I am far from a master dinghy sailor, nor I am Sir Ben on the stick of bigger boats, but i feel a certain road to mastery was taken by my route and Minorca honed my skills for boats of all sizes.
I moved to Edinburgh from my stint in Manchester and ended up working for what was then quite a high profile internet design and programming agency as a project manager. The pay was mediocre but it came with wheels, so I was able to shoot around the place. This meant I could sail at Port Edgar and Dalgety bay, keel boats and my own Tasar and other dinghies respectively. Also I decided to do some more west highland weeks, on my own terms, with a share of the helm.
Oban replaced Rhu as my ‘home port’ for two very enjoyable seasons sailing with Twig Olsen and Peter Duggan, with various crew including Gill Reavley, one of the Thomas brothers, Sandy Loynd from Tob’ and Alistair Olsen. It was a rather illustrious time for the boat ‘Fly’ and my helming too with wins at West Highland Week and Round Mull, and Peter and Sandy won of course the Scottish Two Handed on the clyde.
Like my father before me, I felt that the ‘real stuff’ begins once you’re over the top of the Crinan canal summit and venturing westward, so this move was cutting out the middle man. Also I got to sail on one of my favourite designs of all time, the Hunter Impala, called Fly. Much nicer than the Sonata to live in and far more sporty in feel and response than the Smeg when you consider David Thomas’s other two big UK successes.
Round Mull must surely be one of the best stage races in the world as far as scenery and craic goes, and I see it has grown in popularity and hull length ever since, with a move I believe to a week later in the calender coming more into holiday sweet spot. It is done by quite a select band of sailors who commit to having their boat up there for the season.
We were also lucky in competing in feeder races to both WHW and Round Shuna, the latter necessatating sailing under spinnaker through the Cuan sound, although we avoided Easdale. Round Shuna is another wee peach of a race and social, which anyone who happens to have sailed WHW should consider keepng their boat on God’s side of Kintyre just to do this event, once in a lifetime at least.
WHW 2000 was wonderful weather by in large, with the Hunts winning the event overall having eaked a fine tune out of their laser 28 ( relatively it didnt have a bandit handicap like say a comfort 30, and they could have won on IRC I dare say!) We had a support boat , Twig’s Nelson and we did Ken Grant’s after party at the light house at Corran ferry, with a final, peaceful late evening cruise back to N. Ballachuilish.
After WHW 2001 we also enjoyed some interesting crusiing in some bloody aweful weather. Jackie Stewart of motor racing fame was celebrating his 60th or 70th birthday and had hired I beleive the entire Hebridean Princess, with Sir Sscchean on board. We saw her steaming north as we made it to either Arisaig or Coll. We were ‘storm bound’ in both ports, with a dash in better weather made from Arisaig to Coll with a really big beam sea on the go, great mountains of green would suddenly rise and I had to turn the bow up on more than one occaision to bob over rather than risk being rolled (that extra lead on the keel is only a wee bitty bit on an Impala actually!!)
We had two nights on the tourist moorings there, each time walking the rubber dinghy the half mile up to the hotel, and then drifiting on the strong north westerly down the creek of a loch, aiming the dinghy as best we could at the impala and hope to hell we did not overshoot or loose grip on Fly ! It would be a long trip to Bunessan or Staffa in that wind with a half skinful in you.
Finally it came time to travel back home and we did a fairly ambitious Coll to Ballachullish three up wi’ the then wee man, Alistair Olsen. On the way up the firth of Lorne, there lay the Hebridean princess in that sandy bay on the Morvern side, we had heard there were a good few sea sick from the tour and I can remember why – force 8 two days and top of 6 several other days, with temperatures as low as 8 ‘c at night! The temperature picked up too that evening, and we slept off a long day on the mooring at the little pool there which I cant remember the bloody name of, but is a kind of cosey little Caladh type place. With itinerant midges of course, but we slept pretty well in the dead calm of the bay.
That actually marked the end of my love affair with sailing the west coast at that point in time. I knew you cannot really go back and expect things to be the same, and Fly was due an inboard and so on. In truth I wanted to do more helming as i felt that I had come as far as I possibly could with crewing, and Pete was of course most interested in helming most of the time, especially when I pulled out Fly’s first and rather illustrious win on the Oban-Tob leg of WHW in 2001, in the old sea dogs class 5 as it was then, against all the bandit handicappers and all the local back eddy knowledge, and three other impalas in class!
I regret losing touch for a few years with Pete and Twig but hope we can get a sail together next year.
East is East
At the same point in time I was also sailing on a 707 over in the east coast, and got my company to sponsor East Coast Week. This was run at Dundee out of the Royal Tay, and I was able to sail a few times with the once infamous west coast boat Rhett Butler, then passing to the sober hands it has to be said of Dave Suttie. The DB2 was a proper old race boat, a little tired but still able to impress up wind. I got to sail a couple of days at the ‘week’ and was on runners when we hit the shelf at Broughty castle. Bump. It was a falling tide and we did not really know about the shelf. The boat developed a slow leak and needed repairs, Silvers taking on the job that winter.
The 707 was a good experience too, because before I had done a winter series on a lone FC 8m, whcih was fun but often a little hairy. We had the sail maker Simon Jackson on boat ‘ Activ8or’ and I learned a good few more tricks it has to be said, plus more fine details on use of the rules from a fantastic sailor. The 707 was also hairy, we often sailed just three up which made upwind a struggle and off wind a blast. However after a decent broach at 12 knts I got used to the feeling of not quite trusting the helm, another Dave IIRC, and enjoyed the wee machine. Once we were going so fast under the forth bridges that the displacement boats literally looked like they were sailing backwards!
Never Quite Fitting In
It was really high time to concentrate on my own boat, but a year of part time work and a mediocre salary in my new job at Inchinnan meant that Ididnt have budget. I tried sailing with a couple of other boats on the clyde but I was a bit of a spent force if truth be told in terms of social network there.
On the Clyde I never felt I quite fitted in, or was accepted into the core of crew around my own age. They had all been dinghy and day boat sailors in their teens, most had crewed on Drum in her day, and really I was an outsider who also got labelled as pretty rubbish from my early days out as a virtual novice to keel boat racing, and then sailing with the rather unfarily branded ‘ social sailor’ boat Rajah. The trouble there was that they were all older on board and the usual crew bonding and beer swilling in the throbbing crowd in the beer and bands tent was lacking. Being with other crew was ok, but it would have been better to be in a team and bond with folk around my own age then I can see that in retrospect.
I don’t regret a god-darned minute though, and my social awkwardness is something I just have to live with.
The east coast followed including East Coast Week out of Royal Tay, on the now no longer infamous ‘Rhett Butler’ and planing under the Forth bridges on a 707. Three more Tarberts and a total of four West Highland Weeks and I had my spurs and some scars to show.
Where now though?
Well it has to be a new blog that one too I am afraid! I need my kip and my berth awaits.