Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Islander' and Harry Pidgeon (1869-1954)

The age in which Harry Pidgeon was brought up was vastly different to that of today. There were no TVs or radios, and certainly there were no GPS navigational aids, only sextants and unreliable timepieces. Even in 1917 when Harry started building ‘Islander’, his 34’ engineless yawl, there were but few small working vessels equipped with gasoline internal combustion engines. Almost all coastal craft relied upon sails to harness the power of the wind to convey them and their cargoes from port to port.

Harry was born in Henry County, Iowa, the second son of Isaac Marion Pidgeon, Jr and his wife, Mary Ables who died when Harry was a toddler. Isaac married again, and Harry shared home at his father’s farm with twelve siblings. Life on the farm did not satisfy Harry, and at the age of twenty-seven he left home to fend for himself. He went to Alaska where he collected specimens for American museums, and there he and a friend built a small boat. Later in Minneapolis he constructed a raft-like, live-aboard vessel that he took downstream on the currents of the Mississippi to Port Eads where the delta enters the Gulf of Mexico.

Adventure on the water became an irresistible calling that could not be ignored as he tried to settle in Los Angeles while earning his keep as a photographer. Chancing upon the sailing magazine, ‘Rudder’, he was enthralled with the lines of a 34’ ‘Seagoer’ yawl drawn by Frederick William Goeller. She was an extended version of Thomas Fleming Day’s famous 27’ ‘Sea Bird’. This boat promised to be a fast, seaworthy vessel. She could easily be handled by a lone sailor; furthermore, she could be made to steer herself by the trim of her sails. After eighteen months of intensive labour she was ready for launching from the beach where Harry had built her. He lived aboard her for thirty years, despite the fact that she lacked full standing headroom. Costing just over a thousand dollars, she proved to be more than excellent value! Frugally furnished, she was fitted with a wood-burning stove that Harry used for cooking his food and heating his boat. He did not drink alcohol or smoke, and by adopting a minimal lifestyle he could manage on a dollar a day.

He set sail in November, 1921 for the South Seas islands, and by the time he reached Samoa, he knew he would continue westwards towards the setting sun. Over a period of four richly satisfying years he circumnavigated the world. By doing so, he became the second yachtsman to accomplish the feat - Joshua Slocum was the first. He never hurried, preferring to stop wherever he found a welcome. His laidback style was the proper way to cruise – the leisurely way, taking in the sights, the sounds and the tastes - always learning about the cultures of the people he met. His book, ‘Around the World Single-Handed’, eloquently described his remarkable voyage that ended on 31st October, 1925. Unlike Slocum, his route took him through the Panama Canal instead of the Strait of Megellan. On arrival at Los Angeles, after a tough final leg, he was astonished at the reception he received. His popularity and fame ensured ready audiences wherever he went. He would tell of his adventures and arrange displays of fascinating photographs he had taken at exotic locations such as the Marquesas Islands and the Cocas Islands.

Not content with one circumnavigation, he did it all again; setting out in 1932 from Long Island, returning in 1937 to Prince’s Bend; thereby at the age of 69, becoming the first man to circumnavigate the Globe twice on his own. Six-and-half years later in May, 1944, the life-long bachelor surprised everybody by marrying Margaret Gardner, a lady he had known in Connecticut. Harry’s luck ran out in July 1947 when sailing with Margaret and another woman from Los Angeles. His beloved ‘Islander’ was wrecked on a reef at Espiritu Santo during a hurricane. That put paid to a third circumnavigation attempt, but a number of friends raised enough money to buy a 27’ part-built ‘Sea Bird’ hull that Harry completed in 1951. He named his new boat, ‘Lakemba’ after a fellow who had helped him in New Zealand. He and Margaret occasionally sailed her to Catalina Island, but in February, 1954, he became seriously ill, and he was unwillingly taken from his boat to hospital where he died at the age of 85.


Details of ‘Islander’
Class Seagoer class yawl designed by Frederick William Goeller, Jr.
LOA 34’
LWL 27’ 6”
Beam 10’ 10”
Tonnage 12
Sail Area, sq ft 635
Rig Gaff Yawl
Construction Wood: Oak, Douglas Fir and Oregon Pine

Voyages etc

1917-8 Construction of Islander on a mud flat of Los Angeles, CA.
1918-20 Explored Southern California Coast and Islands then sailed to Hawaii.
1921-5 Completed Solo Circumnavigation in 1,441 days, 17 hours and 30 minutes- via "Out and Back" Route (Around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal).
1925 Awarded 3rd Blue Water Medal in history of the Cruising Club of America
1928 Raced Islander from New London, CT, USA to Bermuda (Winning his class)
1932-7 Completed second Solo Circumnavigation (2 yrs, 10 months)
1947 Departed for Hawaii attempting third circumnavigation with wife Margaret, Islander shipwrecked on the rocks of Hog Harbor, New Hebrides during this attempt.
The Book: Around the World Single-handed – There are several second-hand copies at Amazon UK.

Voyages of Harry Pidgeon

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

‘Jester’ and Mike Richey

Early on the morning of Monday, 21st August, 1978, little ‘Zeta’, my Hunter Europa 19, was anchored off Bembridge, on the Isle of Wight. I had spent the night aboard having a comfortable sleep recuperating from a 70 miles sail the previous day from Cherbourg. When I awoke and took a look outside, I discovered the famous, ‘Jester’, anchored only a stone’s throw away. She looked workmanlike, entirely painted in dark green. She was the original, ‘real’ carvel Folkboat that Blondie Hasler had rigged as a junk. Aboard her was Mike Richey who had bought her in 1964 and had raced her in three single-handed trans-Atlantic races: 1968, 1972, and 1976.

At 0900, before heading up Channel to Newhaven, I sailed ‘Zeta’ around ‘Jester’ while taking photos of her. Mike popped his head out the circular hatch at the front of ‘Jester’s’ cabin and greeted me. He asked where I had come from and where I hoped to go. After replying, I sought permission to take his photo, and he agreed, but not before he had combed his hair! He also requested that I send him a copy of the photo which I duly did. Mike subsequently raced ‘Jester’ in four more trans-Atlantic races, but in 1986 while on passage from Nova Scotia to Plymouth she was flooded, because her observation hatch failed when she was rolled through 360 degrees during a storm. Considerably damaged and with her mast broken in two, she was taken aboard the British ship, ‘Geestbay’. Later that year, she was restored at Alec Blagdon’s yard, but on 15th July, 1988 while participating in her final TRANSAT, she was abandoned because a rogue wave had severely damaged her superstructure. The 60,000 ton bulk carrier, ‘Nilham’ took her in tow, but she succumbed to the seas. Enthusiasts formed the Jester Trust to have a replica built in time for the 1992 Race. When Mike was, in his own words, “closer to 90 than 80”, he suggested to the Trust that they should sell her to someone who would look after her. They agreed to let her go to Trevor Leek, who was a prime mover of the Jester Challenge races.

Well, it was with sadness that I learned of the death of Mike Richey on 22nd December, 2009. I had met him for the second time when I was the skipper of the ‘Speedwell’ based at Brighton. The 1908 Whitstable smack, then a ketch, was on loan to the Discovery Dockland Trust for the purpose of training unemployed people under a Margaret Thatcher scheme. Mike heard of the Trust and wanted to offer the use of an open junk-rigged boat he owned or had access to - I’m not sure which, but the directors of the Trust felt that the boat was not suitable, and declined Mike’s offer. This generosity was typical of him, and over many years his contribution to the world of yachting has been appreciated by those who have benefited from his imparted knowledge, particularly in the realm of the ‘art’ of navigation. He considered it an ‘art’, rather than a science, and he would have known, because he was a founding director of the Royal Institute of Navigation.


Jester’s Ultimate Storm

Times Online Obituary – Mike Richey

The Royal Institute of Navigation

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Atalanta 26

I used to own a Fairey Fulmar named ‘Petronella’; she was a 20 foot shortened version of a Fairy Atalanta 26. Instead of having two drop keels she had one, and she lacked the aft cabin astern of her cockpit, but I’ve always been attracted to Uffa Fox’s lightweight 26 foot hot moulded four berth Atalanta based on Alan Vines’s 24 foot prototype, the A1. Alan Vines was a senior executive of Fairey Marine on the Isle of Weight when they produced the Atalanta 26, the Titania, the Atalanta 31 and the Fulmar, besides a number of dinghies, including the National 12 Firefly. Uffa was their design consultant during the 1960s.

A friend of mine bought an Atalanta 26 and I had opportunities of crewing for him. She could carry full sail up to Force 4, which was great, because we seldom had to shorten sail by using the boom roller reefing. She had a substantial boom horse for stowing her boom and mainsail when the boat was not sailing. Her large centre cockpit with a whipstaff tiller gave her crew security and protection from green water. Her halyards and sheets could be controlled from her cockpit and her headsails and anchor could be deployed from the forehatch. Being moulded with agba veneers impregnated with resin, she was light and strong, but care had to be taken not to allow her to settle on unfriendly objects that may puncture her hull. The same could be said of any vessel that dries out directly on her hull. Bilge keels protect a hull, but the Atalanta’s iron keels were housed in boxes within her hull, giving the great advantage of a draught of just 1’ 6” when they were fully raised. She could sail with them up, but understandably her windward performance suffered. When her keels were fully down, she drew 5’ 9”. Her beam was 7’ 9”. As far as I can remember, my friend’s boat did not have standing headroom, but I know that at least one Atalanta was built with an extra moulding to her cabin top that gave her crew full standing headroom.

Atalanta’s were conceived as trailerable boats, not as trailer sailers. Their trailers generally had four wheels - a few had six, for distributing the weight of the two ton boat, plus the weight of the trailer. These comfortable ‘family’ yachts were capable of being taken by road to new cruising grounds, perhaps for extended holidays afloat. Setting up their rigging, and preparation for launching was too time-consuming for day sailing or short-stay outings. Atalantas were mostly used for coastal sailing, but some crossed oceans.

I have been speaking in the past tense; however, the Atalanta Owners’ Association’s web site maintains that 100 or more of these classic yachts are owned by the Association’s members, which brings me to assume that most of these fine vessels are in commission today. Sadly, production ceased in the early 1970s; in the main, this state of affairs was brought about by the manufacture of cheaper fibreglass boats requiring less maintenance.


Where does the name ‘Atalanta’ come from?
In Greek mythology, Atalanta was a skilful huntress, very fleet of foot. Born in Arcadia, she was left to die, but was suckled by a bear. She played her part in the Calydonian boar hunt when she drew first blood, and she was rewarded by Meleager with the pelt of the boar. Warned by an Oracle that she should not marry, she made a condition that her suitors must run a race with her, but only he who could beat her would wed, and the others would die. Craftily, Hippomenes won by dropping three golden apples which Atalanta foolishly stopped to retrieve. Later, she and Hippomenes desecrated Cybele’s sacred temple by making love there; consequently they were punished by being turned into lions that were yoked to Cybele’s chariot.


Atalanta Owners’ Association

Atalanta 26 ‘Joann’ for Sale

Monday, December 28, 2009

West Wight Potter

Stanley Smith
Early Potter - possible B-Type
Brazilian AX on trailer International Marine P15

Synonymous with the West Wight Potter is the name of her designer, Stanley Smith, who had designed his famous ‘Nova Espero’ and sailed her across the Atlantic from West to East in 1949. After modifying the boat by adding a cabin top, he sailed her back across the Atlantic in 1951. Later he established a boat building business on the Isle of Wight and in 1960 he produced the first version of the West Wight Potter 14 trailer sailer, eventually building 150 of them. This very basic, two berth gunter-rigged boat was made from marine plywood. Having a shallow draft of only 6” she was perfect for gunk-holing. Stanley said of her, “The high shoulders forward, give the boat those few important inches of freeboard and just where they are needed to discourage the bow wave from getting carried up by the wind. The lower freeboard in the waist is where the natural form of the surface of the sea dips down when the boat is moving and a green sea seldom finds its way on board here. The kick-up towards the transom: it is very reassuring when contending with awkward following seas to have more freeboard aft."

A customer from Sweden ordered a West Wight Potter 14 and Smith decided to deliver her in person by sailing her up the English Channel, across the North Sea, and around Denmark to Kloster Fjord. Due to pressure of business he made a very late start in the season, on 12th October, 1965, eventually reaching his destination on 17th November, after a series of traumatic experiences, including running before a Force 9 gale and abandoning his boat in surf as she was about to be driven onto the beach just north of Hvide Sande Harbour, Denmark. The full, dramatic story can be found here: . Smith was fortunate to get away with his life, when he broke the Golden Rule, never to leave the boat, which was later found with no damage, except to the deck where the Samson post had been torn off during a last-minute failed attempt by the skipper of a passing fishing boat to tow the stricken vessel back out to sea.

Already a popular small trailer sailer, the account of the above voyage was good publicity for Smith’s boat, and as a result, West Wight Potters were sought after, not just in the UK, but in the States and Canada. Even now, International Marine in the US, boast that they have been building their AX version of the Potter, which they call the Potter 15, for over 42 years. She’s an entirely fibreglass vessel in the spirit of the original wooden sailboat, but with improved accommodation and the advantage that she’s almost maintenance free. ( In their web site, International Marine state that over 2,600 Potters sail world-wide. Altogether there have been various versions: The A-Type, the original plywood boat; the B-Type, the first-UK fibreglass Potter 14, built in the late 60s, and in the US Herb Stewart developed a fibreglass version. Afterwards there came the C-Type which was produced by different companies, including West Wight Laminates on the Isle of Wight. A D-Type was manufactured, but, but I’ve not been able to find details of who built her; neither do I know if she differed to any significant degree to her predecessor. In 1987 the Potter Boat Company in Dorset was building what they called the Nova version and by 1991 she was sporting a quadrilateral sail similar to US Potters, but essentially, she was the C-Type without side decks either side of the cockpit. This boat had quarter berths instead of V-berths up forward. The AX Model is being produced in Brazil, and an E-Type is for sale in the UK. (See link below) The E-type is different in several respects to the original Potter, but has the general ‘feel’ of the classic 60’s version, despite her GRP hull, and her wooden cabin top treated with epoxy.


The Potter 19 is an entirely different vessel, and although produced by International Marine, must not be thought of has having been evolved from the West Wight Potter 14, or 15.


Old Potter Brochures

History of the West Wight Potter 14

West Wight Potter Web Site

Dave’s Potter WIKI

AX Model - Brazil

West Wight Potter E-Type

Friday, December 25, 2009

‘New Bedford’

'New Bedford'

Thomas Crapo (1842-1899), tried his hand at whaling, being a diver, a ship’s mate, a sailor in the US Navy and a fishmonger, but none of these occupations satisfied him. He had it in his mind to cross the Atlantic Ocean by sailing his own boat alone. In his autobiography he wrote, “I had for years been thinking about crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat, in fact I was very anxious to outstrip any attempt that had ever been made. . . . The more I thought of it the more decided and determined I became.” In order to fulfil his ambition, he had a 19’ 7” dory built which he named ‘New Bedford’ after the seaport where he lived. She was deliberately made shorter than Johnson’s ‘Centennial’ to take the record for sailing the smallest boat across the Atlantic. She had a beam of 6’ 2” and was rigged with two leg-o’-mutton sails on independent masts. Similar to Johnson’s boat, Crapo incorporated a flush deck with two cockpits, one forward and another aft for the helmsman. She did not have a bowsprit, and resembled a whaler of the sort he had crewed in when hunting whales in his youth.

As he set about preparing her for the voyage, the forthcoming venture was the talk of the town, especially as Crapo had reluctantly agreed to take his wife, Joanna, as a non-active crew member. She had insisted on being with him, and as she had been courageous in the past when riding a storm with him aboard the brig ‘Kaluna’, he agreed. She had demonstrated her courage and tenacity by holding a lantern close to the ship’s compass for many hours to enable the helmsman maintain a course before the wind on that dark, tempestuous night. The binnacle light had been washed away when a large wave crashed over the brig causing much damage to the aft cabin, as well as smashing the ship’s boat.

On 28th May, 1877 the couple departed from New Bedford, bound for England aboard their tiny vessel. During their voyage they experienced all manner of difficulties, including gales, dense fog, blinding rain, a near-collision with a steamship, a broken rudder and an encounter with a pod of sperm whales. After a gruelling fifty-five days at sea they arrived at Penzance where they were feted by crowds, not so much because of Thomas’s achievement, but because Joanna had survived the ordeal. No woman had accomplished a long voyage across an ocean in such a small boat before! In 1893, Crapo self-published an autobiography, ‘Strange, but True’, giving an account of his life, including graphic descriptions of the couple’s Atlantic adventure.

Early in 1899 he tried to sail a nine foot boat, the ‘Volunteer’ from New Bedford to Cuba, but the skiff capsized during a severe gale, and he drowned. His body was recovered off Charlestown beach. Joanna had Thomas’s book re-issued in 1904 to supplement her income.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Howard Blackburn (1859-1932)

Blackburn after the loss of his fingers
Blackburn at the wheel of an unknown vessel
The 'Great Republic'
Schooner 'Hattie I. Phillips' on book cover

Anyone who knows anything about solo crossings of the Atlantic by famous sailors has heard of Howard Blackburn. Just enter his name in the Google search engine and hundreds of links appear, but there is surprisingly little about the boats he sailed. Nearly every article tells of his survival in a banks dory after not being able to return to his mother ship, the ‘Grace L. Fears’, while fishing on the Grand Banks for halibut. That was a tale of great suffering, so great a hardship that Blackburn lost his fingers and the tips of his thumbs through frostbite while rowing 60 miles to the Newfoundland coast. His companion died on the second day, but he stoically rowed on for a further three days, using his blackened, frozen fingers that had been shaped like hooks to pull the oars.

His disability did not put an end to his venturesome life. On the contrary, he was challenged to do what many able-bodied men would not dare to do. After successfully running a liquor saloon in Gloucester he organised an expedition to the Klondike, hoping to get rich through prospecting for gold. Instead of travelling overland, he bought a schooner, the ‘Hattie I. Phillips’ in 1987, and sailed her with his partners around Cape Horn, but at San Francisco he sought more finance by lumbering at Portland, Oregon; thereafter lost his desire for gold and returned home.

What really set him apart from others was his insatiable quest for a challenge, and this time he decided he would sail single-handed across the Atlantic. Alfred Johnson had done it in 1876, but he was not literally ‘handicapped’, as was Blackburn. On 18th June, 1899, he sailed from Gloucester in the ‘Great Western’, a 30’ gaff-rigged cutter based on the lines of a shortened Gloucester sloop, and after 62 days he arrived at Portishead, England. Not content with his achievement of being the first handicapped person to sail alone across the Atlantic; in 1901 he did it again! This time in a smaller boat, the 25’ sloop, the ‘Great Republic’, only taking 39 days. He had set out from Gloucester on 9th June, and arrived at Lisbon, Portugal, after a fairly easy passage.

In 1902, after having shipped the ‘Great Republic’ back home, he sailed her to New York, then up the Hudson to Albany, along the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and Chicago, from where he followed the Illinois River to the Mississippi and into the Gulf before cruising around Florida. There he sold his well-travelled and beloved sloop.

Wanting to make his third crossing of the Atlantic, he ventured to sea again on 17th June, 1903, in a purpose-built 17’ Swampscott fishing dory he named, ‘America’, but he had to accept defeat when worn down by a series of gales in which his tender vessel was twice capsized and had her hatch stove-in. He had dearly hoped to reach Le Havre, France, from where he would do an inland voyage through the canals and the River Rhone to Marseilles, before coasting westwards in the Mediterranean to the Straits of Gibraltar, afterwards completing an east to west crossing of the Atlantic.

Howard Blackburn died at the age of 73, and he was buried at Beechgrove Cemetry, Gloucester, in the Fishermen’s Rest section. He was a man who ‘truly’ lived by facing and overcoming adversity.


Howard Blackburn

Lone Voyager: The Extraordinary Adventures of Howard Blackburn Hero Fisherman of Gloucester (Paperback)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

‘Centennial’ and Alfred Johnson

The Rig
Lowering the mast
Seen from stern
Port Side

Danish-born, Alfred Johnson (1846 – 1927), was an exceedingly brave man who ‘took on’ the Atlantic Ocean by sailing single-handed in a 20’ dory from Gloucester, New Brunswick to Abercastle, Wales, in 1876. Celebrations were taking place in America marking 100 years of independence, and the 29 year-old schooner man believing he could capitalize on his fame after a successful crossing was motivated to prove his friends wrong when they said it was an impossible feat for him to do.

On 15th June, 1876, with hundreds watching, he set off in his red, white and blue dory, the Stars and Stripes flag fluttering from her masthead. He had modified the otherwise traditional halibut fisherman’s dory by completely decking her, save for a double hatch amidships and a smaller one aft from where he could steer his vessel. The dory’s beam was 5’ 6” and her depth amidships was 2’ 6”. She carried iron ballast in the form of ‘pigs’ secured within her bilges. She was rigged as a cutter with a short gaff-mainsail, staysail, and a bowsprit for setting either of two jibs. She also carried a square sail for running before the wind. For better windward performance, Johnson fitted ‘Centennial’ with a centreboard, and to prevent her from sinking, he built-in three watertight compartments. To reduce top-hamper, he devised a method of unshipping her mast prior to the onset of rough weather. It is thought that he may have had a tabernacle arrangement that allowed him to lower the mast. He also deployed a sea anchor when conditions warranted it, but this was not entirely successful in keeping his ship’s head to the seas. During one storm his boat was fully capsized and he found himself in the water, but fortunately for him he had tied himself to his craft with a length of line and he was able to climb onto the upturned hull. By hauling on a rope he had secured to the underside of the vessel and by synchronizing his movements with the waves while standing on the upturned hull he managed to upright her. During capsize he lost his square sail and his bread was ruined - also his clock and watch stopped. Not the least of his problems, his dory was threatened by the attentions of a persistent shark that he successfully fended off, but not without a tussle. At the end of his eventful voyage lasting 66 days, he arrived at Liverpool, England, on 21st August, after first stopping for a couple of days at Abercastle to take on stores and water and to regain his strength.

At the time of Johnson’s success, ‘Centennial’ was the first vessel to have been sailed by a lone sailor across the Atlantic Ocean from west to east. His passage was well documented by those on ships who met and talked with him en route. He was sighted at 40.11 degrees latitude and 67.10 degrees longitude on 9th July when he was considerably more to the east at 46 degrees latitude on 19th July. He averaged 70 miles a day, mostly sailing at night after snatching sleep during daylight hours. He suffered greatly from cramp and from being constantly wet because of spray and seawater entering the boat. After exhibiting ‘Centennial’ in Liverpool, the man and his boat returned to America, he aboard the steamer ‘Greece’, arriving at New York on 21st February, 1877. The famous vessel can be seen at the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester where she is preserved to this day.

Later in life when asked why he had done it, he said, “I made that trip because I was a damned fool, just as they said I was.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bill Churchouse at the finish 2008
Bill Churchouse with 'Belgean'
Bill Churchouse with trophies
'Annie's Magic'- Westerly 22 for sale

‘Belgean' - Westerly 22

On Thursday, 19th July, 2007 Al Law and I sailed our Paradox micro-sailboats into the Exe estuary at the end of a glorious cruise to the Scilly Isles. On the rising tide we used the current to make our way to the river bank at Imperial Park. As we set our anchors, a tanned, sprightly figure clad in shorts and blue welly boots waded in the shallow water towards us. He introduced himself as Bill Churchouse, and the name clicked straight away; I knew he was one of the Jester Challenge sailors who owned ‘Belgean’, a 40 year old Westerly 22. Immediately we were into chatting about boats as if we had been friends for years. Bill was living aboard his smart bilge keel cruiser which he kept at anchor on the nearby sandbank. For six months of the year he lives aboard his beloved sloop and the other six months he earns his keep by working for a millionaire who uses his various skills. Complete with dome and servo-pendulum self-steering gear, ‘Belgean’ looked great.

Looking at the Jester Challenge web site I note that Bill Churchouse came in 25th place out of 28 competitors to finish in the 2008 Jester Azores Challenge. Thirteen starters retired and one sailed to Ponta Delgada. Bill is looking forward to the 2010 trans-Atlantic Jester Challenge due to start on 23rd May. This will be a great spectacle with 93 entries so far.


The Westerly Web Site states:

The Westerly 22, from which the Company took its name was our very first design back in 1963. Westerly was then Commander Rayner's company and the 22 was a development of the plywood West Coaster. The 22 was followed in 1964 by the Westerly 25. Both had simple, open plan layouts and were powered by Gunter rigs and outboard engines (typically the lovely old Evinrude's with their wonderful 'Henry Moore' shapes). There was also an optional Bermudan rig which soon replaced the Gunter in popularity.

Specification of a Westerly 22

LOA 22’ 3”

LWL 18’ 4”

Beam 7’ 5”

Draft 2’ 3”


Jester Challenge

‘Annie’s Magic’ for Sale 1964 @ £ 2,960

Sunday, December 20, 2009

‘Elaine’ – 18’ Sydney Regatta Boat

Paul Christian Julius Sproge, a.k.a. Fred Rebell, was unlucky in love, but was more fortunate in using his skills of survival, particularly during his 8,000 miles Pacific crossing from Sydney to San Pedro harbour, California. Setting out on 31st December 1931 he arrived on US soil on 7th January, 1933. Incredibly he had sailed a modified 18’ regatta boat alone with only a makeshift canvass cuddy to protect him from the elements. His toughest time was when his vessel, was nearly capsized in one of several northerly gales during the last 800 miles before reaching the security of the Californian harbour.

Motivations of long-distance sailors vary, but with Rebell, he simply wanted to flee to place of security where he could start life afresh, not for the first time. Unrequited in love with a girl in Perth named ‘Elaine’ he had moved to Eastern Australia and there he sought a bride, Emily Krumin, from his native Latvia whom he duly married, although she carried the baby of another man with whom she had an affair while on passage in the Sydney-bound ship. Needless to say this relationship failed because of continued infidelity on the part of Emily. Highly adaptable and inventive, Rebell, undertook whatever employment he could get or make, including being a bank clerk, stoker, railway construction worker, carpenter, a partner in a damp-proofing business and developing farmland he acquired through an Australian land grant.

After his divorce he sold his land and found himself on the dole during the great world-wide slump, when he could only find a series of very low-paid jobs, but determined to make it to the US, he saved enough to buy a local racing craft which he strengthened by adding intermediate ribs. This boat he would use to sail to the Land of the Free. With little cash to equip his vessel he made his own sextant from a Boy Scout telescope, hacksaw blades and pieces of coloured glass. He even made a tow log by adapting an old alarm clock and fitting it with a line attached to strips of aluminium set into a short length of broom handle to make the rotator.

He named his boat, ‘Elaine’ after the Perth girl who did not respond to his desires and without notifying anybody he sailed out of Sydney harbour for a great adventure - a time alone when he could truly be free from bureaucrats who had plagued his life. On the Ocean he could make up the rules as he went along and his spirits rose after a short spell of seasickness, but he had not bargained on the charms of several young ladies he would meet at various islands along the way. After six turbulent weeks at sea, often lying to improvised sea anchors, and having to repair a split plank with pitch, he thankfully arrived at Yanutha, an island south of Vita Levu in the Fijis. Further on at Suva, he repaired his centreboard that had just about disintegrated, but there he fell in love with a seventeen-year-old. His passion was short-lived and he sailed to Naitamba, where yet again he fell for another girl ‘gentle Betty. After only nine days of bliss exploring island trails with her, he knew things would not work out, and he sailed again. Arriving in Apia, the capital of Somoa, it was not long before he was under the spell of a sixteen-year-old native, Eda, and after an ‘enslavement’ of six weeks, in his own words, he “tore himself away.”

After reaching Christmas Island where he was made welcome by Paul Rougier, a French painter, he listened to his advice to draft a passport for entry to the United States. His homemade passport stated: ‘The bearer of this passport – Fred Rebell – of no allegiance, is travelling from Sydney, Australia, via the Pacific Ocean, United States of America and the Atlantic Ocean to his native town Windau in the country of Latvia. Description of bearer: Sex: Male. Age 46 years. Height 5 ft 8 in. Eyes: Blue. Complexion: Fair. Photograph of Bearer F. Rebell. Dated 3 March, 1932. Signature F. Rebell.’ Rogier signed the passport to verify Rebell’s arrival on 15th August, 1932 and his departure on 25th August, 1932. Nearly ten months after leaving Sydney, Rebell put into Honolulu and with bureaucratic difficulty his passport was finally accepted in Hawaii. There he stayed five weeks basking in public admiration while receiving hospitality. On 3rd November he embarked on the longest leg of his voyage, two thousand-two hundred miles of solitary wintry seas and unrelenting gales causing damage to the pintles and a broken tiller. At one point his boat nearly floundered on account of being flooded when the sea anchor came adrift and he improvised by making the centreboard suffice as a sea anchor.


Fred Rebell wrote an account of his voyage, ‘Escape to the Sea’, published by "Digit

Books" - Brown, Watson Limited, London.

Born: 22nd April, 1886, Windau, Latvia, Russia.

Died: 10th November, 1968.


Blog with information about Fred Rebell

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Duck Punts

Virtually everything I know about West Mersea Duck Punts has been taken from this web site . These long, lean low vessels are built by their owners and they are sailed and raced at West Mersea, Essex. I feel it’s a shame they are not more widespread, because it’s obvious they are a lot of fun for their owners. There would appear to be 19 of them. I note that Ed Phillips who lives at Walton, asked a question through the comments page on 10th June about the availability of plans for building a punt, but sadly, no one has replied to his question. The simplicity of the open boat with a basic spritsail incorporating a boom appeals to me. She is steered with a short paddle, and she does not have leeboards or a keel. Lateral resistance comes from the hull shape - very much as per Matt Layden’s Paradox, except there are no chine runners. Punts of the types by John Milgate and Bill Wyatt are permitted to race during the Autumn, Winter and Spring series. They can be rigged with Duck Punt or Optimist sails. The length of a steering oar is approximately the same as the distance between the helmsman’s nose and his feet. Lifejackets must be worn when racing. Points are awarded to boats, not helmsmen. The subscription for racers is £20.00 a year which pays for ‘tucker’, including hot ‘tuddy’, prizes and the lay-up supper.


Punting at Old Hall

Duck Punt Racing at West Mersea

Keep Turning Left Chat with the owner of Duck Punt 17, Dave Allen ‘Warspite’

‘Lady Ashquelon’

In April 1988 I became the owner of ‘Lady Ashquelon’, a Van de Stadt Buccaneer. She was a lightweight hard-chined plywood yacht that had been built by her first owner to sail from the UK to Israel where he intended to live. Things did not work out for him, so he decided to sail the yacht back to the UK via the Straits of Gibraltar. Both crew and yacht survived capsizing while in a gale in the Mediterranean. After arriving in the UK ‘Lady Ashquelon’ was sold to a captain of a cross-channel ferry. He kept her at Sandwich for several years until I bought the boat from him and sailed her to her new mooring at Fambridge, on the River Crouch. There I prepared her for a cruise to the Scilly Isles and I set off on 22nd June for what proved to be a great adventure. I had equipped the boat with a Wasp wind charger for powering an Autohelm and the combination worked well.

The cruise was memorable for strong winds that kept me anchored or port-bound in between sailing, but exploring my favourite islands, the Scillies, was wonderful. I arrived at Hugh Town on 9th July, and on 12th I moved to Watermill Cove to avoid the swell and sit out the bad weather, but by the next day the wind had gone around to the North West which brought about uncomfortable conditions. The only option was to shelter at Porth Cressa. There I had a real battle to beat into the anchorage, and on the way, the bottom of the dodger was torn from the pushpit by the seas. I had a pleasant surprise on Sunday, 17th when I saw Dave Williams’ ‘Shamekee’ anchored nearby. I had met him before he set out to sail around the world and here he was on the home leg. That evening along with his crew and the Irish crew of the yacht, ‘Camelion’ I enjoyed a barbeque on the beach before retiring to the ‘Turks Head’ for a drink and to play darts. On Tuesday, 19th I met Elvin and his crew, Martin and Margaret aboard the Tahitiana sloop, ‘Dapedus’.

Finally, I broke away from the Scillies on 20th and made it to Helford before dark. There I met Chris Reece who at the age of 19 designed and built his steel junk-rigged double-ender that he lived aboard at Millbrook. There was a force 8 on Monday 25th which caused me to set two anchors for fear of being driven ashore. While at Falmouth I met Bill Robinson aboard his ‘Idle Bird’, another Buccaneer. Bill wrote a Pilot for the Scilly Isles. I also met Chris and Sue Trott cruising their beautiful German Folkboat.

From the above you can savour the flavour of the cruise. To describe it in detail would take far too long, but I must mention the glorious week of sailing I shared with my youngest daughter exploring the Solent, before sailing up the English Channel and across the Thames Estuary to my Fambridge mooring, arriving there on Friday, 26th August.


Statistics of a Buccaneer

Length 24' - 7.31m

Beam 7'

Draft 4'6"

Keel / Ballast Steel

Links – similar Buccaneer for Sale

Thursday, December 17, 2009

‘Father’s Day’

In 2006 I visited the Falmouth Maritime Museum, and among other interesting boats, I saw ‘Father’s Day’, the 5’ 4” record-breaking, minuscule ‘capsule’ sailed by Hugo Vihlen across the Atlantic from Florida to Cornwall, England, arriving there on 26th September, 1993. I think I’m right in saying his micro-yacht was the smallest vessel to have crossed the North Atlantic from west to east. Indeed, she must be the smallest ‘yacht’ to have sailed from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Vihlen had taken rations for 85 days, but eventually he had to eke out his supplies of 65 ready meals, 2 gallons of M&Ms, a gallon of dry fruit, 100 cans of Hawaiian Punch and 34 gallons of water to keep him alive for 105 days. I believe ‘Father’s Day’ was mainly constructed from Airex foam that had been sandwiched between layers of fibreglass. She was equipped with twin running sails, each with a separate boom, which when joined to the other made a single sail for reaching. I doubt she could have sailed to windward, on account of her smallness and unsatisfactory underwater profile. Tiny, as she was, Vihlen found room for a water-purifying system, a VHF radio and a SSB radio. He told of his experiences in his book ‘The Stormy Voyage of Father’s Day’.

To successfully do this sort of extreme ‘sport’, individuals like Hugo must be highly motivated, well prepared, and absolutely determined to succeed. They must have a belief in themselves that they can, and will overcome all obstacles. They must go into it knowing there will be moments of fear and times of physical hardship and perhaps there will be occasions when their mental faculties are tested to the full. Usually, when working to the limit under extreme conditions, technology can make the difference between success and failure. Strong, lightweight equipment, long-lasting, easily prepared nutritious foods, suitable clothing and bedding for maintaining body heat, all contribute to success. In such a small boat, good ventilation and the maintenance of dry conditions for her solo crew are essential for their physical health and mental wellbeing. Conversely, prolonged exposure to a damp, humid atmosphere, especially when the skin comes into contact with clothing soaked in seawater, will bring about painful skin rashes, even sores resembling oozing boils, open to infection, possibly leading to blood poisoning.

Ocean crossing, record-breaking attempts in small vessels are not for the faint-hearted. Vihlen knew what he was letting himself in for because he had previously crossed the Atlantic in 1968 from Casablanca, Morocco to Miami aboard the 5’ 11” ‘April Fool’ to successfully take the record from the Englishman Tom McNally for the smallest vessel to cross the Atlantic. Only the fittest, most dedicated, and extraordinary people will succeed.