Thursday, December 10, 2009

‘Zeta’ – Folksong

Over the years my memory has become hazy and I cannot remember days and months; they have become blurred, but I can remember very clearly the day I launched ‘Zeta’, BIG ‘Zeta’. She was a highly modified Folksong to take me around the world in three years. The days of small ‘Zeta’, my Hunter Europa 19, were behind me. I was off on a new adventure. The launching took place at my local yacht club on the upper reaches of the River Crouch early in 1984. I had retired from teaching and I was looking forward to a very long sabbatical, exploring countries and numerous islands with exotic names like Dominica, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji and Cocos, learning firsthand of cultures and ways of life I had read about when studying the voyages of heroic predecessors, such as Joshua Slocum, Harry Pigeon, Alain Gerbault and Marcel Bardiaux.

I had toiled three years in my spare time to complete ‘Zeta’ from a Folksong bonded hull and deck supplied by the designer and builder Eric Bergqvist. She was almost identical to a wooden, carvel Folkboat, except she had been laid up with re-enforced GRP and longitudinal stringers to provide strength to her hull. For ease of handling, simplicity and easy renewal of parts I chose to have a sloop junk rig. This was supplied by Robin Blain of Sunbird Yachts, who helped me set up the rig on a flexible, tapered Needlespar mast. The day arrived for my departure. The boat had been stocked with enough supplies to last three months, and an entire collection of charts, pilots etc for a circumnavigation of the Globe. She had everything: windvane self-steering gear, paraffin oven, stainless steel water tank. You name it – she had the lot. On the Club slipway my youngest daughter and my wife were there waving goodbye, and I noted tears rolling down the little girl’s cheeks. There was a big lump in my throat, and I nearly succumbed to involuntarily discharging saline drops through my tear ducts! The scene of sadness was a shock to the system that never left my mind. I had restless nights as I made my way to the Scilly Isles, and after a pleasant sojourn exploring the Islands I plucked up courage and set sail for the Azores - an unusual route I know, for the Canary Islands give a better opening to the trade winds for a passage to the West Indies, but I had always hankered for the Azores.

The first night at sea, was truly weird. The moon was veiled in haze, and the undulating swell with transverse rhythmic waves, caused the mast to make repetitive, eerie metallic groaning sounds. They were like the playing of an out-of-tune violin by a demented being; perhaps Neptune himself in a fit of madness wielded the bow upon the strings. Soon, other squeaks and whistling shrieks could be heard through the hull as we were accompanied by a shoal of dolphins. My nerves were on edge, and all I could see was the sad face of Farewell, my precious child, with tears running down her cheeks. With resolve I determined to continue, but the next morn brought little comfort. Another day and I plotted our position. Yes, it did work. The graph paper became my chart. Into the second night there was no respite. Again, my throat tightened and I knew I could not continue. I purposefully threw the tiller over until ‘Zeta’ was sailing a reciprocal course for Bishop Rock, homeward bound. In my heart, I knew I could not leave my wife and daughter for three years of selfish indulgence. I owed it to them. They had given me my freedom, but I had stolen their right to my support and my love.


Folksongs were built by Eric Berqvist, and they were intended for home completion, but some were finished by professional boat builders. ‘Zeta’s’ hull was solid GRP and the deck was filled with a foam core. She had 2,500 lbs of encapsulated lead ballast wihtin her glass fibre keel. Her beam was 7' 3, her draft 3' 9 and her length overall was 25' 2.

One seldom hears of those who fail to achieve their global circumnavigation ambitions. On returning from the Scillies I sold the boat and thought that perhaps I would never own another, but how wrong I was.


Here’s a very nice ‘Folksong’ Blog

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