Monday, February 22, 2010

Small Fry, part 1

This is an account of an attempt to sail around Britain in the twenty-four foot yacht ‘Shyauk’ during the 1974, Royal Western Observer Race.

'Shyauk' at the start of the Race

A week after retiring from the Round Britain Sailing Race, I was comfortably relaxed in the snug cabin of 'Shyauk'. I was reminiscing on the events of the previous few days. All was silent, apart from the gurgling of water around the yacht’s bow as the flood tide was intent upon covering numerous sandbanks of the Exe Estuary.

July had been a bad month with gale after gale from the west, veering northwest. Big fish like Knox Johnston in the seventy-foot catamaran ‘British Oxygen’, and Leslie Williams in the eighty-foot ‘Burton Cutter’ had reveled in the strong winds, strong enough to sever a float from the trimaran 'John Willie' as she battled with a gale south of the Shetlands. By comparison with Johnston’s enormous catamaran, 'Shyauk' at twenty-four feet was merely a sprat. Furthermore, I had added a three inch false stem in order to qualify as an entry for the Race. Built in 1956, she had been designed for the sedate waters of Swanage Bay, not for the rigours of racing around Britain, but she was the best I could afford, and with luck, she would complete the Race.

The start off Plymouth Hoe was a colourful spectacle with about sixty yachts responding to the gun. To our port there was the bright yellow trimaran ‘Three Cheers’, owned by Mike McMullen, and beyond her was Alain Colas’s dark blue 'Manureva', while astern of our canary coloured ‘Shyauk’ there was the tiny pale blue ‘Bluff’, sailed by R.M. White and D. Hogarth. Managed by Clare Francis and Eva Bonham, the thirty-two foot‘Cherry Blossom’ soon overhauled us. In hot pursuit was the whale-shaped junk-rigged schooner 'Galway Blazer of Dart’, with Peter Crowther at her helm.

The wind that morning at Plymouth Sound was a light westerly that had us playing our sails while we tiptoed lightly so as not to disturb the flow of water around the yacht’s hull. We held our own with ‘Sherpa’, the twenty-six foot Fairey Atalanta owned by Alan Perkes and the Hurley 24/70, ‘Windsor Life', sailed by Sergeant Gerry Norman and John Reynolds. ‘Eclipse of Mylor', the twenty-eight foot Venus gaff ketch owned by R.A.H. Spedding lay astern. It was smugly gratifying to know we weren't last. Before long, the Eddystone Rock, which was our first mark had been left astern, and only a few distant sails remained ahead, reminding us of our purpose. The Race had well and truly begun.

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