An ancient skill - Tim Denham
I think it’s an
ancient craft, an ancient skill. I love little clinker boats, because,
when I listen to the sound of the water chuckling under the bows, I think
that our ancestors, the Vikings, would have heard that very same sound.
And the thrill of going from A to B, just using the tides and the wind:
it’s a prehistoric skill that we can still practice.
and yachtswomen - Joyce
My father was a
yachtsman. In the 1930s, when I was small, he was away most of the summer
every year. Then in the winter, when he was at home, it was just touch and
go whether he got a job or not, he went as a road worker. In the early
days, he was on the King’s yacht, Britannia,
as one of the crew. The Rosabelle was the
last one he was on, he stayed there until just before the War. When they
went away for the summer season, the owner very often used to hand out
little presents of cash for the boys and girls - sixpence for the boys,
and the girls probably got threepence. I didn’t really take up anything
to do with the river myself, until I was over 20. But I think it was
always there, in the blood. Because the rest of my father’s brothers
were all yachtsmen.
[In the 1950s my
friend] Margaret bought a GP [general purpose dinghy], and we sailed that,
we sailed all over the place. We took it to Wales, we took it to Cornwall,
and we were known, in those days, because there weren’t many women who
sailed as a pair, we were known as ‘The Girls,’ wherever we went! And
we always had a lot of help from all the men, putting the thing on a
trailer and goodness knows what else. Then Margaret went off, and then I
started to sail with Pat [Ellis], and he’d got a GP.
water is] never the same twice. And you don’t ever know what’s going
to happen, because things can change so very quickly, can’t they. And if
there’s no wind at all, you’re fighting to get somewhere, and if
there’s a lot of wind, you’re fighting the wind! But it’s always
different. You can start off from here with a nice little breeze that’ll
take you down as far as Alresford, and then nothing, and you can sit there
and wait for the tide!
on the water
spent all my time, working time, on the water as well. I’d hate to be
where there’s no water. I’d served my time in the Shipyard, and that
was during the War, and then I went in the Merchant Navy – not during
the War, just after. I was deep sea for a while, I was on the Australian
run for about two or three years, and China, Japan, India, and all the
places through to Australia. I did about seven years, and then I thought,
‘Well, this was enough,’ and then had about 30 years at Parkeston
Quay, as Chief Engineer. That was a wonderful job, it was the ships from
Parkeston Quay to the Hook of Holland. of course. And, no, it was a nice
little job, but, you know, I just didn’t want to stick it out.
had my first sail just before the War. I was about 14 or 15, and Jack
Green, who was lost in the War – he was a Spitfire pilot - he, for some
reason, picked me up on the Quay, and said, ‘Will you come and crew for
me on the boat?’ Which I did. And then the War came, you weren’t
allowed to have boats on the river then. And buying boats and selling
boats, you couldn’t do it here.
work - Pat
Ellis, Joyce Blackwood, Don Smith
we have these safety boats, they never did have safety boats. They never
had no life-jackets, no buoyancy. Never had the rubber gear, no pansy
gloves, no cleats. You hung on to the jib! Oh, that was all rough work!
of sailing - Stan
started sailing in 1970] when I was 13. At Wivenhoe Sailing Club, we built
a kit Mirror Dinghy, and we then took ownership of it, and started like
that, as cadets, when I was 13 years of age. It would be to learn in
Mirror dinghies, and crew for other people in Brightlingsea One-Designs,
and Wivenhoe One-Designs, and then I dinghy-sailed Lasers, dinghies for,
perhaps 20 years, and Wivenhoe One-Designs.
learn sailing] you basically start off by crewing for someone, which is to
learn to tack and handle the gib, while they helm and steer the boat, and
they control the mainsail, so you learn the skills first as a crew, then
you eventually move up, start off in a small boat like a Mirror Dinghy, on
your own, and take it from there. It’s seamanship really. It’s the
whole thing, to learn the safety as well – to wear your lifejackets, and
to know the sea and the conditions. And you can do courses at the Nottage,
and then develop whatever way you want to go. I’ve done my Day Skipper
and I’ve done my Yacht Master, and we now do offshore sailing on a
40-foot yacht now, so we’ve gone from the dinghies to bigger yachts, and
we do that as well.
got a Wivenhoe One-Design, which was built in the 1930s, and there’s
still about 10, 11, 12 sailing at Wivenhoe, and racing regularly.
They’re clinker-built, about 14 foot long, and they carry a spinnaker,
gib and mainsail, and they’re two-man boats, which is two to crew, and
they race quite competitively still today.
win dinghy races] you have to have a very good boat. You have to have a
well tuned up boat with good sails, and you have to have a very good crew
and work together as a team, because the helmsman would steer the boat,
and use the mainsail, while the crewman would use the gib, and he’d fly
the spinnaker. And you have to also work in tandem together to sit the
boat out, get the weight right, know when to tack. So good teamwork
really, is very important.
lot of it is you have to know the wind, and look out for wind shifts,
especially in the river, like the River Colne, up at Wivenhoe, the
conditions can be quite fluky, so I have to judge where the wind shifts
are, tack into the wind. One side of the river there could be no wind, the
other side could be where the little breeze is. The local conditions, yes,
you build up over the years. And also, keeping out the tide is very
important. It’s a tidal river, so obviously the mainstream of the tide
is in the middle, and it’s obviously a lot more advantage to keep to the
edges of the river if you can, without going aground. It’s a balancing
act of how you do it, yes.
15 years ago we stopped sailing dinghies for a little while and we got
into a cruiser, and I’ve now got a Dufour 40, which is a bit of a
cruiser racer, and we do a lot of offshore racing now, like Cowes Week
we’re going to do this year, and so we’ve developed it, and we now
have a crew of up to ten people, to come out crewing now. But also, then
again, that’s all about teamwork, and pushing a boat hard with ten of
you on board, and working together as a team.
a lot more expense! There’s a big thing, it’s the money side of it.
But it’s just a different form of sailing, from dinghy sailing in the
river, where we could, perhaps, sail for a couple of hours, two-hour race,
to offshore, we could go 98 miles, and we could sail for 10, 15 hours,
even longer than that, and it’s all racing all the time. So it’s
completely different. And you’ve got a lot more tides and crossing the
still like messing about in the river with a Wivenhoe One-Design, on a
nice evening pursuit race, or a nice evening when the wind is just slowly
dying away in Wivenhoe, on the River Colne, is one of the nicest things
you could ever do, I think.
just had a ‘RORCR’ – a Royal Offshore Race Council Race – for the
Dufour, that started last Friday, it went from Burnham to Ostend, was a 98
mile race, and we done that with eight crew. Then we carried on up into
Holland and raced every day, up in the canals, just in Holland, and then
we raced, we sailed back 109 miles on Friday, and we’ve just completed
[and won] the WOD [Wivenhoe One-Design] Race today. So we’ve had a very
busy week sailing and racing.
Whisper? Yes. Whisper’s a Dufour 40. There’s three of us own it, so
it’s in partnership. She’s only a year old, she was built by Dufour
Yachts in France, and basically, she’s 40-foot long, the width is about
four metres. She draws 2 metres 10, on a thin keel, and she’s reasonably
fast-rated, you could go and compete in things like the Sail East, or the
East Anglian Offshore, or you could go down and do Cowes Week, or Cork
Week, or Ramsgate Week. Or you could just cruise her. It’s a very
comfortable cruiser, it’ll sleep up to eight people down below, has its
own galley, and two separate showers and heads on board, so you can cruise
it as well as just actually race it. It’s entirely what you choose to
do. We do charter work, a little bit of charter work in her, yes. She’s
linked to Britannia Sand School, and they do take her sometimes to
Holland, and she’s chartered and we do sometimes have a crew that
actually come and pay to come out for the experience of going on an
lot of Wivenhoe Sailing Club members do come out crewing, and a lot of
Wivenhoe people still come out crewing on the boat, and we take all sorts
from complete beginners to quite experienced yachtsmen, and we find a nice
balance to make a good crew up, and that’s how we do it.
sailing - Pat Ellis, Joyce Blackwood and Don Smith
A lot of the
youngsters who learned here, felt their feet here, then moved on to
Brightlingsea Club, where the racing was more exciting, because you race
out to sea. But they learned how to do it here, and the river here was a
good place because you never got a clear wind for very long, because
you’ve got all the alleyways coming down. Our local man, Malcolm
Goodwin, was the one who really went to the top. He went down there, and
[Don’s] my eldest son went, and Alan Meadows went. But they still
retained their membership of the Club at Wivenhoe. But if you want
traditional sailing with mud and the tide, then you stop at Wivenhoe. If
you want instant sailing, which means you can sail any time of day, then
you go to Brightlingsea.
But there used to
be a lot more action between Clubs, earlier on. You’d have a race day
from Brightlingsea, race days from Wivenhoe, even up the Colne, up the
Blackwater, Steeplestone and Clacton. We used to sail round to various
Clubs for organised days. The Colne and Blackwater Championships, and then
there was what they called the ‘Cock of the River.’ All the family
used to, like, drive round to Steeplestone, or you’d go to Clacton in
the boat on the Saturday night, and sleep aboard, you know, that sort of
thing. Oh, they were very good days. But it’s a different type of racing
now. It’s not family racing any more, is it. It’s a lot of it’s
individuals, with your lasers, and your 470s and goodness knows what else.
I’ve always sailed - Ken Green
sailed, of course. I started my sailing in Wivenhoe One-Designs, because
my father had Elise – Elise crops up again, of course! He had a Wivenhoe
One-Design built in the mid-Thirties, 1930s, number 17 it is, so I sailed
as soon as - well, as soon as I was able to get aboard there! I sailed
with him, and all my brothers have sailed and we’ve always been very
interested in sailing. Grandfather was a very keen sailor, and yes,
sailing has always been part and parcel of the fishing scene.
Sailing dinghies was competitive, oh
yes, yes. Crikey, yes! The Wivenhoe One-Design is very competitive. You
sail for the Sykes Trophy and we sailed against Peter Sainty, who was a
very good sailor. I think Peter had the edge on us from the point of view
of expertise, he was always very good at the job. But amongst Peter, Doug
and myself, quite often we were in separate boats and competing with each
other. Sometimes we were together, and sometimes we were in separate
From dinghies to cruisers - Ray
Then it was not unusual to see at
least twelve One-Designs out, and at the time when new classes were coming
in, and especially the GP, that took on a bit. That would have gone on
much longer if it hadn’t have been for the Mirror. Once the Mirror came
in, and the people found that they got a lighter-built boat, but a faster
boat, and a very safe boat.
But we never had rescue boats in
those days! It was quite often that one or two of the One-Design owners
would actually leave the boat downriver and walk ashore and walk home, and
then go back on the next tide and pick it up, because if there was no
wind, you just couldn’t battle against the tide, you see. We never had
anybody to tow us back! And, of course, there was all cloth cap and
plimsolls, and no waterproofs! I don’t ever remember lifejackets. I
think the first set of waterproofs I had was in 1959, these very heavy
The first cruisers started to appear
in the Seventies. Pat Ellis bought a Pegasus, to start with, and Alan
Meadows, who’d got a folk boat, and that just gradually built up from
there. Mr Worsp had them made, he made a Wyvern, and he launched that in
about 1947 I think, or about that time, but he actually was going to build
that before the Second World War started, and he’d got most of the
materials – the wood and everything – for her, which he stored during
the War. And then where his greenhouse is now, is where he built her. One
of the local shipwrights, who worked for Mr Worsp, built it.
When I was in the RAF Air/Sea Rescue
at Felixstowe, quite often, I used to come here at the weekend, and if
there was racing, I used to race with Tony in number 12, Sapphire, and we
could sort them out! I think Tony’s name was on most trophies for a few
years. A damned good sailor was Tony. Of course, we always had the
competition from people like Doug Green, and David Petter in Peewit, and
his brother, Michael. We weren’t without competition, that’s true, and
Peter and Arthur Sainty in Ranger, they did want some beating! There was
no doubt. But Tony and I, obviously, at that time, we were the right
weight. Never any arguments. He only ever said about three words to me,
as, ‘Ready?’ ‘About.’ ‘Lee oh,’ and the boat was there.
- Pat Ellis, Joyce Blackwood
I’ve still got a boat. I’ve got a
cruising boat now. But I like the one I’ve got now. I’ve got a Sadler
26, and you can stand in that one. I doubt if you would, but you can cook
by the door. It says it’s a six-berth, but we’ve had four on board and
managed, but two is best! [When we were both retired] we went across the
other side several times, didn’t we, for six weeks at a time, because
we’d got the time to spare. And that was lovely, going all through the
Dutch canals. We used to go round to Harwich and the Deben, didn’t we?
Oh, we’ve done the Deben, yes, and the Crouch, and the Blackwater.
Woodbridge, Ipswich, and London River, we sailed up to St Katherine’s
Dock, which was quite an experience, because there are all sorts of things
in London that Pat had never seen, and we could do it with the boat as the
base, it was lovely.
sailing - Joyce Blackwood
But now, like Pat says, day sailing
is quite enough for me. I don’t like sleeping on board, I can’t get up
and wander about! I only had six nights on board last year. But we go a
lot for a day sail. When we say a ‘day sail,’ it’s sometimes just
four hours, but if we go with the tide going out at eight o’clock in the
morning, then we needn’t come back again until eight o’clock at night,
so you can be out all day.
in Company - Don Smith
In the Sixties, when the Club was
still mostly dinghies, we used to have what they used to call ‘Cruise in
Company,’ we used to go down to the ‘Second Beach,’ over the St
Osyth side, and we’d probably take 40, 50 people down, and we’d gather
driftwood and have a damned great fire, and the ladies would fry up.
We’d play cricket. Down there, the water’s so clear. So clear. You
know, you see the bottom there at six, eight feet. And when we were down
there, we used to go cockling and bring buckets home, and cook.
the Baltic and Atlantic - Alan Tyne
Whilst we were [in Brittany in 1991],
talking with friends, the plan was hatched that the next year, we would
sail to Russia, since Russia was just beginning to be opening up, and the
Berlin Wall was down, Glasnost had happened, and it was about as far away
as you could get, and still be in Europe! And we wanted to try something
big and exciting, so in ’93 – as early as we could get away in the
season – four of us set off from Walton, to sail to Helsinki, and in
Helsinki, our wives joined us, and we sailed on from there to St
Petersburg. And we had little more than a week in St Petersburg, but that
was great fun while we were there. They told us that there had only been
12 English boats there previously. But it was very difficult to be a
couple of thousand miles away from home and the season drawing on, so we
scurried out of there as fast as we could! Came back through Holland.
And then we began to plan another
trip, part way across the Atlantic, but we didn’t do that. In the end we
went to Ireland, the next year, for all sorts of reasons. And I think that
must have been ’85, wasn’t it, when we went to Ireland. Spain, was it?
Yes, we went there, to the North Coast of Spain, cruised all the way along
the North Coast of Spain. We did circumnavigate the United Kingdom, but
that was spread over two years. And we sailed down to Brittany one summer,
and spent the summer there, and came back as far as Devon, and laid up in
Salcombe, and then the following year, we took the boat from Salcombe up
to Scotland, and via the Irish Sea and the East Coast of Ireland, and we
spent the summer in Scotland, and had several very nice sailing holidays
geriatric aids - Ken Green
But, yes, I have a very competitive
attitude to life, you know. Even now, when I’m cruising, I’m competing
with the boat that’s nearest to me, seeing how he’s doing against me.
I need to be beating him, actually, I have a need to be beating him –
but I don’t always achieve it! But I enjoy it immensely.
That’s the important thing. I enjoy
sailing, and I’ve now got a cruiser. She’s French, she’s a deck
saloon, so she’s got big windows at deck level. She’s very much a
sailing boat, but she’s got a good engine – 56 horsepower, diesel –
but she’s still predominantly a sailing boat. And every what I call
‘geriatric aid’ that you can possibly have aboard, so that I can carry
on sailing into my dotage, so we’ve got electric anchor winch, and
electric Genoa winches and self-tailing winches, and in-mast furling, so
the sail rolls up in the mast, and furling on the Genoa as well,
everything so that I can keep going. I find it very hard to fault the boat
I’ve got, she’s been built from a consumer’s point of view, and
she’s good. She’s good. And sails very well. When we’re sailing, we
go as far as the Continent – to France, Holland. We’ve been as far as
the Channel Islands. It’s very nice to go port hopping on the Continent.
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