Select from the icons below, then scroll down to read the full articles. New posts at the bottom:-

Thursday 13 October 2016

Milford Haven Sea Fair 2014

Hwylio yn Ffair y Môr Aberdaugleddau

(Sailing at Sea Fair Milford Haven 2014)
Shiney, happy people.

A crack like a pistol shot awoke me from dreams of derring-do.  A sharp blow to my temple aided the process. The realisation that I hadn’t been shot by the evil Count Rudi von Starnberg after all (reading too many “Flashman” stories in my youth , hey, what?) didn’t explain why I was apparently tied up and dumped in a dark cellar. The return of full wakefulness did not improve my situation a jot. I was in the cabin of “Four Sisters” my 19’ (5.8m) Cardigan Bay Lugger, tangled up in my sleeping bag and heeled sharply over.  I dived out into the cockpit like a stoated rabbit from its burrow, tripped on my camp stove and promptly cracked my head on the pontoon. The UNDERSIDE of the pontoon! Things were definitely not right.  Like Sir Harry Flashman V.C., my response to a crisis was pure instinct. That’s right. I panicked like a good ‘un!  Grab bag, Radio, GPS and anything else I could lay hands on were heaved up on to the pontoon, followed by yours truly, bug eyed and panting with exertion. 

Low water, Springs.
A pause.  A shrill squeal followed by a muffled hoot of triumph as another rodent goes to feed the local owl population. It was a stunningly beautiful night on the Cresswell River at Lawrenny.  A warm breeze barely rippled the water and at 2 am, with a full moon and low spring tides, all was right with the world – unless you happened to be a small rodent or the skipper of “Four Sisters”, that is.
I was attending “Sea Fair Milford Haven 2014” a biennial festival of sail alternating with the, much bigger, “Semaine du Golfe du Morbihan“ in Brittany. After a slow crawl from Nottingham (M54 closed due to police car chase and fatality) I’d picked up the boat from Swallow Boats just outside Cardigan, where she was in the process of being converted from lead to water ballast, and spent a pleasant morning trundling down the minor roads to Lawrenny Quay. 
 Thanks for the help, folks!
With help from other Swallow Boaters (Tom and Kate BR 20 “Shuna” in particular) I, and the rest of the “Sail and Oar Fleet” rigged and launched, hardly noticing the only drop of rain we had that week. Not like Wales at all, really.  The bigger boats, “Bermudan and Classic Cruisers”, they keep at Milford Marina, but we didn’t see much of them, creek crawling not being their forté.  
Most small boat sailors were camping up the hill at the Lawrenny Campsite, much improved from the bare field I remembered from my previous visit in 2010, with stunning views of the Cresswell River.  A few, more fortunate souls, myself included, were sleeping on board. Handy for the pub but less so for the showers.  So, what was I doing, shivering with shock, on a grounded pontoon surrounded with good, Welsh mud? Well, pay close attention because this is well worth thirty quid from any of the yachting magazines “Confessions” pages. 
All my own, stupid fault, of course. Low tide (Springs) was at 2am so I had taken the precaution of lifting the two profiled bilge boards and rudder, happy that the CBL would take the ground quite safely, as she had done previously. However, after a hard night at the Office, I returned to the boat, put the kettle on and settled down in the cockpit to enjoy a cup of coffee and the night sounds of the river. (Mostly snoring from a small boat anchored about 100m upstream, I think... unless there are a score of previously unnoticed Bitterns cavorting on Black Mixen.) That done, I crawled into the cabin to find a torch, meaning to check my mooring ropes but, unaccountably, fell asleep - only to be awakened much later by the aforementioned  pistol shot! At the time I thought I’d been holed by a tree trunk - all sorts of rubbish comes down with the ebb at Springs - but the truth was more prosaic, thank goodness, if somewhat embarrassing.  
It seems that while enjoying my coffee earlier, I had shuffled my backside on top of the port uphaul and accidentally released the board, which had nestled quietly into the mud, not being able to fall with its usual clonk to give the game away. As the tide continued to drop, pressing the boat into the pontoon, the board gave her just enough of a list to put the gunnel and fenders under the edge of the pontoon which then added its own weight to the ballast and 12½ stone (79 Kg) of somnambulant

 skipper as the tide continued to run out. Well, the bilge board didn’t stand a chance! It couldn’t push back into its slot because of the heel and it had snapped like a carrot.  I had an anxious wait as the tide came in, wondering how much damage had been done to the board casing but no water came aboard at all. At the next low tide I was able to lever the broken board back into the casing and sail the rest of the week using just the starboard board, a tribute to how strongly built “Four Sisters “ is. Lessons learned? Moor on the down-tide side of the pontoon. The current will hold you off  so it cannot drop on you and when the flood returns you will float before the pontoon does. Better still, use a mooring buoy or anchor off like a proper DCA member should!

Loss of the port bilge board did not seem to affect sailing performance too much. She was a little reluctant to point to windward on the “wrong” tack, perhaps, but that was the only difference I noticed so I'd got off more lightly than I deserved. Even with both boards I didn’t expect to keep up with the BayRaider 20s or the Pathfinder 3,  except downwind  - you don’t need boards for that - where the only thing better among the small boats was a non-standard Welsford Houdini with a big, well cut, balanced lug and a small mizzen. A shame we didn’t see any Deben Luggers  this year as in 2010 “Wabi”, an early prototype, also with a big balanced lug and mizzen rig,  made a good showing  in the sail and oar fleet. The range of small boats was, however, typically diverse. Caledonian Yawls, Whilly boats, Tideways (Walker and mock-Tutor) a Heron, a Laden Paradox, various Drascombes, BayRaider 20s, a BayRaider 17 and an immaculate gaff-rigged Heard Picarooner were all in evidence and had no problems with the conditions, the winds and weather being more or less perfect all week.  
If you didn’t have an engine and your destination was up wind and tide there was no shortage of offers of a tow from support boats or other participants either, so no worries for even the smallest boats.
Moored up for the night at the Dog House.
Registration for the event, by the way, costs £86 (£100 if using Milford Marina) now that there is no EU sponsorship, which probably accounts for the lower numbers this year. Of that, £50 goes to the Tall Ships (Wales) Trust for all the organisation and £36, I was told, to Lawrenny Yacht Station for the privilege of using their excellent slipway, giving you the choice of launching the boat or 12 pints of Festival Bitter instead.  As usual, the event organizers and the staff of the Lawrenny Arms, (or Doghouse, as the locals call it) did us proud with a full programme of social and sailing activities, and the food on offer was just what a hungry sailor would want – and plenty of it. I particularly enjoyed the seafood chowder laid on by the Lawrenny Arms on Tuesday lunch. So much so that I reproduce the recipe (with permission) below.  It’s at least as good as Breton Cotriade, a favourite of mine from the Morbihan.  

Cawl pysgod o'r Lawrenny Arms
(Fish Chowder a la Lawrenny Arms ) Serves four.
450g Smoked Haddock filleted and skinned
25g desiccated coconut
50g butter
175g Chopped onions
6 sticks of celery, chopped
350g Old potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 Small green pepper (capsicum) de-seeded and chopped
300ml (half a pint) Milk
125g peeled prawns
Chopped Parsley and Dill, salt and black pepper, to taste.

1/ Place the coconut into a measuring jug and make up to 300mls with boiling water.
 Cut the haddock into bite sized pieces. 
2/ Heat the butter in a large pan. Add the onions and celery, cover and cook for about 5 mins until starting to soften. Add the potato and peppers and cook for 1-2 minute
3/ Strain the coconut liquid and add to the pan with the milk and  a further 600 ml water. Add the fish and bring to the boil, season, cover and simmer for about 20 mins or until the fish is flaking.

4/  Mix in the prawns, warm gently and adjust seasoning. 

 Serve with chunks of good, crusty bread.
ANOTHER PUB! The Cresselly Arms this time. Funny how the BayRaiders always get to the Bar first!

No doubt it was by the purest accident that most of the sailing events included a pub in the passage plan. A fortuitous circumstance taken fullest advantage of by an appreciative and discerning clientele, notable hostelries being the “Cresselly Arms” at Cresswell Quay, where beer can still be had poured from large enamel jugs and drawn straight from the cask (No pumps, no gas! ) and the “Old Point House” at Angle Point whose staff  managed to produce an apparently unlimited supply of excellent fish and chips at short notice.

The pub at Angle Point - before the mob arrived.
Non-stop Fish and Chips.
Forgetting my stomach for a moment, a few words about the area might not go amiss. Milford Haven is a Ria, or drowned river valley. It has a long history of ship building and fisheries dating back to before the Roman Occupation and has enough early industrial archaeology for several Ph.D.s .  
Since the 1960s been the site of a number of oil refineries and a major Liquid Natural Gas storage plant.  Despite this most of the shoreline and mud flats seem to be  designated SSSIs and approximately two thirds of the area lies within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  It is also part of the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation with every corner shielding an endangered species of some kind. With tankers and LNG ships not to mention Cruise liners, the Irish Ferry and the largest fishing port in Wales you might think that it wasn’t a place for small boat sailors.  
Not a bit of it! There is plenty of advice available from the Port Authority for users of the waterway both in written form and from the river patrols.  Knowledge of ColRegs and a VHF radio would be a good idea in the busy bits ....and if you have any sense at all you don’t start muttering about power giving way to sail when faced with a dirty great tanker and her acolytes on a flood tide.  Upriver from Neyland Bridge you won’t meet anything much bigger than a family cruiser, anyway.

Where you go to on the water is at the discretion of the tides. The experience of thrashing along with a wake like a destroyer, heeled over on your ear with every sinew straining for more speed is, of course exhilarating  but it rather loses its gloss when the GPS tells you that you are only doing 1.5 knots – and backwards at that!  
Studying the tide tables ( and not mixing your GMT with your BST) is essential, pretty much. At SeaFair, of course, all the organised trips are planned by folk with local knowledge (and a support boat) so you are guaranteed to get where you intend to - and bearing in mind the lunches and pubs on offer, primed ready to go, it’s not a bad idea to stick to the Plan.  However, small boat sailors, especially DCA members, are a bit, shall we say, independent. Organizing  SeaFair  must be a bit like herding cats, which is where the lure of a free lunch might be a deciding factor during the morning briefing as an aid to passage planning. Not many of the crews would willingly forgo a sponsored or pre-paid meal and it might help the organizers to sleep better at night if they, like  Brian Hanrahan “counted them out and counted them all back in again”  at the end of the day. 
These organised trips were well chosen for contrast. One day you are creeping slowly up the Cresswell River with the tide, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside. Keeping in the channel and off the mud is the challenge here, with a great pub as your reward. The next day you might be blasting down the Cleddau River with the tide, surrounded by the busy traffic of a working port, with the peace and tranquillity of Angle Bay as your goal, where your reward is – another great pub! 
Sailing anywhere on the Haven is interesting and, in parts, technically difficult. Learning to master the shallows and fluky winds around the Cleddau Bridge at Neyland or getting past the awkward dog-leg and wind shadow at the north of Castle Reach will certainly improve your sailing skills. This, along with the sheer beauty of the upper reaches, make Milford Haven an excellent Festival venue for sail and oar fleets and I wish the organisers every success in their aim to develop the event further to rival those of Brittany.    

I had equipped “Four Sisters” for cruising mode as follows:-
Anchor 5kg Bruce type with 30m white 12mm octoplait. I have 6m chain to put between the two, if required, but prefer not to use it because of its mud gathering propensity and the chunks it takes out of the gunnel. I also carry a 3kg grapnel on 30m of 10mm nylon braided line.
Oars Great for slipping silently away on early mornings – not that I did, much – and for close quarter manoeuvring when coming alongside, especially in very shallow water.
Outboard motor A 4hp Yamaha. Plenty of grunt for going anywhere against the tides, towing folk without their own engines as required  - and for running like a rabbit when the Tankers turn up.
90 litre Drybag Loads of room for a couple of changes of clothes, (The rest of my extensive wardrobe being in a suitcase in the back of the car.)  sleeping bag, night attire and self-deflating mattress.
Fresh Water   Two five litre water containers for coffee, washing….and extra ballast.
Camping gear Stove, kettle, pan, ingredients for one easily cooked meal, dried fruit, nuts, coffee, half bottle Islay Malt and the rest of the first aid kit, Duck Tape, personal radio with earphone (for weather forecast and the Archers) large fishing umbrella (to keep the cockpit seats dry at anchor or act as a sun shade, as required. People say that the two most useless things on a small boat are an umbrella and a Naval Officer. I have found both to have their uses in the right circumstances!)  
VHF Radio   A useful safety aid on Ch 16 and Ch 12 but SeaFair organizers used 72 at Nyland and 37 at Lawrenny – or said they did. One was never sure. I didn’t get a response for radio checks from either channel. The Port Authority River Patrol answered promptly to Ch 16, though.
Depth sounder My posh electronic sonar stayed at home in favour of a bamboo cane.
GPS Well, you aren’t going to get lost up a river, are you… but my old Garmin 72 is permanently set to record my track and show speed over the ground. The first, to examine tacking angles later and the second to help me get the best from my old sails.
I had other gear, of course, but the list is long and boring enough already. 

Saturday 17 September 2016

The Cardigan Bay Lugger.

The Cardigan Bay Lugger.

Designer:- Matt Newland
Builder:- Swallow Yachts (2006)
Specification:- Length:  5.8m
                            Beam:   2.0m
                            Weight: 250kg  300kg in touring rig. Plus 90kg lead ballast (optional).
                            Rig: Balanced lug main, sprit mizzen.
                            Engine:  Yamaha 4hp, 4 stroke
                            Accomodation:  2 berth  

(The BayRaider Expedition was designed as an improvement on this boat but there’s life in the old girl yet!  She’s still a good option for long distance touring.)

“Four Sisters” is a Cardigan Bay Lugger  (Basically a Storm 19 with a cabin) designed and  built by Matt Newland after a chat we had at the 2006  Southampton Boat Show. He suggested a project he had in mind called the Storm 21 ( better known now as the BayRaider, I think) but at the time  I couldn’t afford the extra cash.
(Note from family.... “Whatever he says, he still can’t!   Have we got THAT straight?”)

     I wanted an easily trailed, seaworthy Cat.C  boat to take on my annual August pilgrimage to Paxos , a drive of about 1300 miles each way, and the CBL/ Subaru Impreza combination did the job admirably for the ensuing six years.   Rising fuel costs have put a stop to this trip – the ferries have almost doubled in price – and “Four Sisters” has been replaced in the Ionian by a Deben Lugger hybrid called “Wabi” (See Watercraft Magazine No. 97 ) which I towed out in 2012. There was no way I was going to leave “Four Sisters” out there sitting on a trailer. She was built to go places and go places she will!
    This year (2014) we have enjoyed our third SeaFair at Milford Haven and she is registered for her fourth trip to the Semaine du Golfe in Brittany in May of 2015. I intend visiting Lake Bala, Ullswater, the Norfolk Broads and the West of Scotland, too, if time allows.  I’d love to take her on the English Raid sometime but I have a previous engagement that month – as ever – in the Ionian.
   Other places to visit abroad include the Baltic, Finnish Archipelago, the Netherlands , French Lakes (Aix-les-Bains) and estuaries (Bordeaux) – the list will last as long as I do!

    All boats are a compromise and no boat will do all the things I have it in mind to do sometime but the CBL is a design that still has much to recommend it for versatility. She’s not as fast or seaworthy as a BRe 20, perhaps, but she is much easier to fit in a hotel car park. Just unhitch and shove her around like a wheel barrow. No problem for an OAP single hander!  She even fits (just) in a single car space if you’re forced to unhitch.
    No hotel?  No need for a tent.  You’ll be cosy in the cabin.
    A tough, balanced lug ketch rig on unstayed masts means she’s rigged and launched in a few minutes.
    The 4 h.p. Yamaha is maybe too much engine most of the time but it will power you anywhere at six knots in a seaway and has the oomph to tow a couple of other raid boats out of trouble, too.  She’ll sail on a reach or a run at much the same speed with a capful of wind. She’s a double ender so won’t plane but I’ve surfed down the odd wave before now! ( I think I prefer to slow down a bit.)
A decent set of oars let you row all day at two or three knots on a calm sea.
Going to windward? Well, she’s no racing machine but I’ve out-pointed (badly sailed?) 30’ hired flotilla AWBs in the Ionian more than once, and the cabin keeps the cockpit dry in a seaway even without the sprayhood.  A  BR 20 would certainly do a much better job to windward, though, as most Bermudan rigged boats will outpoint most Luggers.  Exceptions might be high aspect ratio luggers like Roxane and Romilly and “performance” luggers like the Goat Island Skiff.
Light winds:- She’ll  ghost along at three knots in an F1-2, leaving no wake. For an extra knot on a reach, unroll the jib for a brilliant slot effect. (You’ll have to furl it to tack, though, until I fit that bowsprit I’m always on about, as it overlaps the mast by c. 50% and catches on the yard.)
Stronger winds:-  Sailing single handed in a strong breeze reminds you that the CBL is, at heart, a big-ish dinghy and I am more comfortable once the 90kg of lead ballast is put back into the boat, bolted down on top of the keel.  Winds of F 4 will have you roaring around at hull speed and wondering whether to reef or not . (Which usually means you should have reefed 10 minutes ago! ) Put in one reef and you’ll lose no speed but everything feels less frenetic.
At F5+ you’ll certainly need that first reef, while pulling in the second reef (all done from the cockpit, by the way) keeps things calm. The mizzen will start to produce too much weather helm in the gusts, though. It might be a bit large for the boat, perhaps, or I should look at how I’m setting it.  Off the wind there is some advantage to furling it away.
Incidentally, the standard “get you home” rig for most Swallow boats caught out by a big wind is very simple. Drop and secure the mainsail (how does that work on a BRe?) and continue under jib and mizzen. On the CBL you would still be over powered with this combination – her jib and mizzen  give you 5 knots to windward in an F4 – so you are better off with the double reefed main.  It’s much more controllable and doesn’t thrash around at all when you luff up to your mooring or pontoon....noise  = sail wear! ...and, of course, you don’t have to work around all those sticks and laundry lashed to the cabin top.
Must try a bowsprit to get the jib further forward so the yard doesnt foul it when you tack.
Will try to set the mizzen differently so I can introduce some twist in the sail when it’s sheeted in hard.  This will allow it to spill more wind when heeled and make it more user-friendly in a blow.
Water ballast?  I’m finding that humping the lead about is hard work and time consuming to the extent that I tend to leave it in all the time – losing quite a lot of performance in light airs. Retro-fitting water ballast seemed like the answer –  being able to fill and empty the ballast tanks on the move would be a tremendous advantage. Matt and the guys at Swallow Yachts had a good go at doing just that but it couldn't be made to work and all their hard work went to waste.
Mast in Tabernacle option.  The mast, a beautiful piece of work, hollow, with birds-beak joints throughout, is my pride and joy.  It looks so much better than carbon fibre....but the trouble is it’s still heavy enough to have a mind of its own when you are standing on the cabin top trying to post it through the mast partners down to the keel. It’s bad enough doing this on the trailer prior to launch. Trying to raise or lower the mast on the water is asking for trouble – one wave and you’re in the water - and having a mast around your neck that will certainly float is no consolation!  This problem rules out cruising a number of areas, such as parts of the Broads, most of the river and canal networks, and the upper reaches of most estuaries.  Anywhere with a low bridge needing to be shot on the fly, in fact.  A great loss for  a “go anywhere” boat like the CBL.  The solution might be to replace the mast (sob) with a two piece version.  A solid wood “plug” reaching from the keel, through the deck and up to a point above the cabin top.  A tabernacle (basically a hinge) here would carry a carbon fibre replacement mast . The idea is that the lug sail, boom and yard could be dropped down past the joint, then the mast hinges back down across the cabin top and cockpit, at a height allowing the boat to be rowed , the spray hood to be raised– and, when on a mooring,  a tarp to be thrown across to shelter the rear of the cockpit, a no-go area in the rain at the moment.
The theory is good but, in practice, that unsupported hinge of a tabernacle would have to be one Hell of a good piece of design and engineering to cope with the stresses.
I really must get a decent cockpit tent made up. The spray hood keeps the rain out of the cabin - unless the wind's from dead aft and blowing hard - but it would be more comfortable to have somewhere reasonably dry for cooking and for removing wet weather gear without dragging it into the cabin. A hoop at the back of the cockpit and a couple of hours on a sewing machine should sort it out - finally!

Saturday 24 January 2015

A Lugger goes into the Blue!

An East Coast Lugger goes to live in the Ionian.

“Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins.”   

Lawrence Durrell          

Imagine the scene.
Its cold, grey and wet outside. Two people sit in their living room in silence as the rain is dashed against the windows by a cutting easterly gale. Two people lost in their own thoughts, joined at that moment only by the shared need for the box of "Man-Size" tissues between them. 
I heave a sigh, loaded with more  melodrama than a Barbara Cartland novel, and push my notes and calculator away.
“We can’t go on like this!” I say, the anguish cracking my voice.
“It’s too much... I just can’t do this anymore!”
“Hmmm?”  Said my wife, peering over her copy of “Granta”, the glint in her eye reflecting  the red flames of the wood burner – but without the warmth.
“If it’s a divorce you’re after just say the word.” 
Sherwood in winter. Not a lot of Blue!
She reaches for another tissue and blows her nose, vigourously. Not a fan of the goodwife Barbara and a touch brusque, perhaps, but it was a Saturday evening, after all. One of the few moments in my wife’s week not taken up with things educational. The last thing she wanted was the possibility of some angst-ridden nonsense disturbing her peace before Match of the Day.
“A divorce?  No, I don’t want a divorce.”   ( It’s a thought..... but no.)
“ It’s just that I’ve been adding up all the bills from this Summer holiday ...”
She turned back to her book, muttering something indistinct which might have included the words “nothing better to do” and “promised to paint the spare room” but I carried on regardless. (...strange how your hearing alters as you get older..) 
 “Do you realise that the Greek ferry costs have nearly doubled in 5 years... and as for the petrol and hotel bills...Phew!   There’s no way we can keep towing “Four Sisters” to Greece every year.”

Ferry No 1. Dover to Dunkirk
Ferry No 2. Ancona to Igoumenitsa

Ferry No 3. Igoumenitsa to Gaios
(Notice how much more BLUE there is?)

To cut a long and only slightly acrimonious story short, my wife, who does not sail on cold water, absolutely refused to give up her summer with a suitcase full of books on the island of Paxos.  Over the last dozen years she has worn a groove on her favourite flat rocks at Glyfada beach and saw no reason why my sudden interest in small boats should prevent it becoming ever deeper and more comfortable. An alternative summer destination was therefore ruled out. Even the Scilly Isles were not even remotely an acceptable substitute and were laughed out of court. (Can't think why!). She enjoyed driving through France and Italy each year (although it would be better if we were not towing "that  damn boat") but if we want to fly to save money on the travelling  costs why not drag it out again next year - and leave it there? Perhaps in winter the Greek robins would cover it with leaves?
Unthinkable! “Four Sisters” had been designed and built by Matt Newland of Swallow Boats in Cardigan specifically for towing the 2,600 mile round trip each year.  Light, for shoving around the confines of hotel car parks but seaworthy enough to cope with the seas and winds of the exposed bits of the Northern Ionian – well, most of the time.  I love that boat. She is pleasant to live with, elegant and lightly built, rather like the wife, (..but made of epoxy-ply rather than  carbon steel!) There was no way I would leave her (the boat) out there for 10 or 11 months of the year to rot. Anyway, what would I sail for the rest of the year back home? The inescapable conclusion was that we needed to become a two boat family.  
Duw! There’s posh for you, Bronwen! 

The Lottery win having never exceeded a tenner, funding was going to be tight especially as it had to fit a number of criteria developed from my experiences when sailing in the area.  
  • It had to be the sort of boat I could launch, single handed, from the sand and shingle fishermen’s slip at the back of Lakka harbour – once I’d wiggled it past the quayside tavernas, drying nets and sleeping dogs which populate the place. 
  •  It should be RCD Cat “C”, at least, to cope with the seas; 
  •  strongly built to stand the probable low maintenance and rough treatment;
  •  stable enough to allow swimming and re-boarding;
  •  deck space suitable for full length sunbathing;
  •  shelter available for the hottest part of the day (37 °C this year!) or for occasional nights aboard and last but not least....
  •  dry stowage for all those books.
I spent the best part of a year on the search. There are plenty of boats for sail in Greece right now – if you want an ex-hire 30 footer look no further - but it appeared that my kind of boat, whatever it was, had to be bought in the UK and towed out. That ruled out a couple of Sailfish, an old Jenneau  and a Westerly Nimrod. They all had rotting trailers. I soon found that, in sales-speak,  the term “needs a little tidying” means a hull like wet cardboard. “Must be seen!” means fifty quids worth of petrol on a damn fool’s errand and “recent survey” supposes a timescale of geological proportions. Mooning over the pictures of my “ideal” boat, (the BayRaider Expedition from Swallow Boats...the one Matt Newland designed after “Four Sisters”!), was a waste of time. I couldn’t justify the expense - and if I could, would I want to leave such a boat in Greece? Obviously not.   Old Drascombe Luggers were, perhaps, my best bet. I don’t like the rudder arrangement or the boomless mainsail but they are well proven and tough and, more to the point, readily available within my price range. Just to see if I could find one that didn’t need a deal of money to get it road and seaworthy, I logged on to Anglia Yacht Brokerage’s website and found this advertisement:-

For Sale: Deben Lugger Hybrid - “WABI”

She differs from the production Deben Luggers by having a heavier GRP hull with plywood sheaved internals/decks, a profiled dagger-board, larger mainsail and bermudan mizzen. She has large sea kindly decks, carbon fibre masts and a flying jib on a bowsprit. She is a case of ‘Function over Form’ and certainly performs extremely well with excellent performance.


Original black GRP hull with cream decks and white antifouling.
LOA 18’3”
Beam 6'3"
Draft 14" – 4’ Dagger board
Weight 500kg Approx


Balanced lug yawl with Bermudan sprit boomed mizzen and flying jib on carbon spars.


Main Tan made in clipper canvas cloth by North Sea Sails with slab reefing.
Jib Cream made by Lawrencesails with jib furler.
Mizzen Tan made in clipper canvas by North Sea Sails.


Mercury 3.3HP 2-stroke outboard.


Bilge pump and Sail cover.


2008 model galvanised easy-launch road trailer with winch and jockey wheel.

I knew this boat! I’d seen it at Sea Fair Milford Haven in 2010. The second pre-production prototype of the Deben Lugger - and  “WABI” was going cheap. 
Definitely worth a look.
I arrived at  Rougham to a warm welcome from Alex Haig and an initial shock from “Wabi”. What was that ugly gallows for? The boat looked a bit rough and ready -  but used rather than abused – and I’d seen her sailing. Only from a distance, it’s true, but that big mainsail had presence and I never managed to catch her in "Four Sisters". (Not that I was trying...particularly hard!)
I was interested enough to arrange a second visit and a test sail on the Deben. 
On the day it was blowing F5 and a bit gusty so Alex launched without the jib or mizzen. Just full mainsail – and it’s a big one! I had my reservations about that but they evaporated as soon as I put one foot on board. It was like stepping onto a pontoon! I weighed 13 stone at the time (thanks for asking) and she hardly moved. We motored out, away from the moored craft, and Alex raised the mainsail. No expensive blocks, cars or battens, just sticks and string artfully arranged. These “sticks”, I noticed were all carbon fibre and, like the rest of the boat, over-engineered for their job to Lloyds “brick outhouse” specification (i.e. better than A1).  Archimedes, had he found somewhere firm enough to stand, would have approved of them.   I was expecting to have to throw myself around to balance all that sail but there was no drama at all, just rapid acceleration to 6.5 knots and a wake like a destroyer.  
Reader, I wrote the cheque!
Daughter Amy sails a re-painted "Wabi" at Carsington.

 After a few modifications and a couple of weeks weeks test sailing on Carsington Water, tarting her up with deck paint and Cetol 7 (and a new set of trailer bearings just to be on the safe side) we trundled off to Dover wondering how my old car would cope with the extra weight for the next 1200 miles. No problem at all! A touch slower in the Alps, a very little more petrol consumption – and remembering to choose hotel parking spaces large enough to avoid unhitching, was about the only difference.  Four days later – uneventful except for the discovery of an old family restaurant in Senegallia – we negotiated our way past waterside  tavernas, fishermen’s nets and sleeping dogs,  launched “Wabi” into Lakka harbour and set off for her first sail in the Ionian. 

 How would an East Coast lugger cope? Would she be a disaster? First impressions were good. We were only about half a mile offshore, heading south east along the Paxos coast when we were surrounded by dolphins. At least a dozen of all ages. More than we had ever seen together at the same time and definitely, we thought, a sign of local  approval. Neither of us thought to reach for the camera until they were off and away towards the Corfu channel,  but we did get one shot, somewhat blurred by over enlargement and spray. 

Dolphins !   (You might need a handlens.)

That big mainsail was brilliant down wind. Ease off the downhaul to let the boom move across the boat and you have a powerful, easily managed sail that had us surfing down the swell at 7 knots at times. Across the wind she reached impressively, the mizzen adding its contribution. She is twice the weight of “Four Sisters”, shouldering the seas aside as much as riding over them and maintains progress very well as you hardened up into the wind. She’s a bit wet in a strong wind, though!* Miss a gap in a curling wave crests and you’ll get a face full! Some kind of dodger would be an asset, even with an air temperature of 34°C. In an hour or two the "spray" won't feel so invigorating and you will need more than a soaking wet T-shirt to keep you warm.  
*(I later found out that, unknown to me or the previous owner, several kilos of lead ballast were hiding under the floorboards in the hold. Removing this will make her much more buoyant in the bows without affecting stability.)

Being a lugger she doesn’t point quite as high as you might like - if you are used to highly tuned racing dinghies, that is. I felt at the time that more area to the mizzen sail would help, a notion reinforced by my inability to get her to lie head to wind and sea when left to her own devices with the mizzen pulled in hard – something “Four Sisters” does to perfection, despite the cabin windage.  “Wabi”  has a keel that deepens towards the rudder, which I thought might be encouraging the bow to weathercock. This trait would be a problem if there is any hitch when raising that big mainsail. Even streaming to leeward, a half raised sail will drag her broadside-on to the wind and seas – not a pleasant prospect – so I kept the outboard ticking over,in gear, keeping a flow of water over the rudder. She’s a very stable working  platform in these conditions, heading into the wind with the rudder centred and locked, at around one or two knots and she’ll keep it up until the petrol runs out! (Again,  I found out later that she will sit perfectly well head to wind. I just needed to drop the dagger board! Production Deben Luggers don't have this problem as they have a   centre board. Wabi is a prototype, after all.)
 The jib – almost as big as a Genoa – is set from a Wykeham-Martin Furling gear on an unstayed CF bowsprit (stiff enough to hang elephants from). It adds at least a knot on a reach and helps point higher on the wind but, unless you want to muck about with whisker poles, is not much help on a run, of course. The only problem we had with it was when mooring bows-on in Lakka harbour,in the locally approved fashion. The bowsprit keeps “Wabi” a metre away from the quayside. Too far to jump with the dock lines!  Removing it on the water is simple enough but on one occasion we had to be rescued by Dave ***** skipper of “Rhea” when I got myself into a knot with it and drifted aground. (Thanks again, Dave!) If the crew isn't in the mood to "play sailors" it tends to spend most of its time on the foredeck getting in the way of serious sunbathers.
I was only  once disappointed with “Wabi’s” sailing abilities and I found out later (inevitably) that it was  my fault, not the boat's.  We had sailed south-east, the length of the island and across the narrow channel to Anti-Paxos. The wind had been F 3 to 4 and rising - as it does through the day – but as we crossed the exposed stretch of water between the islands  it became obvious that the swell would be sweeping across Lakka harbour mouth even more  strongly by the time we returned to the unsheltered north of the island.  I was not the only one of that opinion as, by the time we had looked into the tiny port of Agrapidia Bay, the super-yachts were leaving the  honey-pot sandy beaches of Vrika and Voutoumi  in ones and twos and  tripper boats were being rounded up. It was all too busy so we cut our losses and sailed back across to the main island for lunch at Moggonissi, a deep and very sheltered anchorage with a taverna! 
Some hours later we were back on the water heading north, and found that the wind had veered and freshened to the extent that we could not weather Nissos Panayia at the entrance to Gaios harbour. We were reaching at 6 knots, back and forth, exhilarating sailing but making very little progress towards our destination. We could have pointed higher with a reefed mainsail, perhaps, but a trip to the mast across a bouncing foredeck with no hand holds did not appeal. (Next year I will rig slab reefing lines back to the aft end of the boom, as I have with “Four Sisters”.) 
It turns out that I did not need to reef at all. 
Wabi’s tack downhaul is adjustable for different sail configurations and I needed to move it further forward on the boom. (Thanks to Alex for spotting that.) Thirty seconds to check and reposition it would have made all the difference!  As it was,  I gave up, started the blameless Mariner 3.3hp 2-stroke and motorsailed inshore for a lee. 
Dropping the mainsail we continued motoring out into the headwind and swell, with the mizzen set as a steadying sail. It had to be at this point that we met with “ Golden Odysseus”, an Atlantic Skipper 53, heading in the opposite direction, towards Gaios.  Kosta and Kate, the owners, live aboard and run her as a charter boat (one I can heartily recommend if you like your food as much as the sailing) and I would have dearly liked to have shown “Wabi” off at her best, with all sails set. I was mollified by the fact that they were motoring, too, and remembered Kosta saying “You don’t mess about with an angry sea. The ocean is always the boss.” ( It has more gravitas in the original Greek.) 

We motored on, our only worry being how long the built-in tank on the outboard was going to last, there being no option for using an external tank with the little Mariner. However, Loggos harbour was only 10 minutes away and we dropped anchor behind its breakwater, a favourite spot of ours, for a rest, wring out our soaked t-shirts and refill the tank. We knew that conditions were unlikely to improve on the next stretch to Lakka harbour and, had we been sailing “Four Sisters”, I think we might have tucked in amongst the fishing boats outside the “Taxidi Bar”  and scrounged a lift home. Despite it being wet and bouncy out there I wanted to test “Wabi” out a little. I knew that, in the event of engine failure the rocky coast was an unforgiving lee shore but I was confident that we could hoist the jib quickly enough, douse the mizzen and run back to Loggos without too much drama so we upped anchor and stuck our noses out of the harbour.  By now the wind had eased a little but the sea was, if anything, angrier. No massive waves but a host of 4 to 5 footers of short wave length, rearing up as they feel the sea floor and breaking whitecaps, all wanting to come aboard. Successfully steering for the gaps and flat bits was rewarded by less of a soaking but even so, as the sun dipped below the hills to our left, we were beginning to think that Factor 50 was less protection than we needed against wind chill, even with an air temperature still well up in the thirties. A spray dodger and waterproof jackets might have been useful.   Just as the sun touched the horizon Lakka harbour entrance opened up but we continued plugging into the wind and waves at 4 knots until we were almost past, (in the locally approved manner)  then looking for a smooth, turned hard left and, at 90° to the swell, legged it -  6.5 knots at full throttle – into the lee of Cape Lakka before the next breaker got to us. Phew! 

Sunset !  We find a lee behind Cape Lakka

   The harbour was crowded with sheltering  AWBs, flotillas and super-yachts moored all over the place and filling the fairway so we had to weave in and out between them, wiping the salt out of our eyes and acting nonchalant – as if we always sailed in F6 winds at sunset.  We squeezed into our accustomed spot next to “La Bocca” and, happy with the little lugger’s performance in its new role, turned our thoughts to the welcome smells of grilled fish and lamb on the spit blowing across the harbour, along with the odd tablecloth,  from Yanni’s Restaurant.

 First impressions. Is she going to hack it in the Ionian? 

  • "Wabi" is true to her name. (It's Japanese, apparently: "....also refers to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object..Functional, rough and ready." (From Wikipedia)  Not a name I would have thought of for an East Coast Lugger but it suits her.) She's a good seaboat for her size and inspires confidence when the going gets bouncy. 
  • She stands up to her canvas well and she WILL sail to windward in a blow – but the skipper has to know his boat!
  • She is a bit wet in a short chop. (Maybe taking out the lead ballast will help when she's loaded up with camping gear, but a spray dodger and a knuckle on the hull would probably do the trick.)
  • That big ol' barn door rudder is just the job. No problem launching or beaching her for a picnic.
  • The dagger board works well and takes up less room in the cockpit than a centre board. Pulling it up for shallow water doesn't cause any great trauma or much lee way as she has a long straight, keel. 
  • The Dagger board gallows is a bit of a problem. It does the job but is in the ideal place to act as a hand hold when moving between the cockpit and the foredeck. It wasn't built with that in mind and one day it's going to be ripped out of its screw holes by a clumsy sailor trying to avoid that overboard experience!   Also its as ugly as sin. 
  • It works but it ain't pretty!
     The obvious thing to do is replace the ply  gallows with a stainless steel version, incorporating a transverse handhold and, perhaps a spray dodger. It'll probably be a trip hazard until we get used to it.
Stay tuned for more Mods, wrinkles and improvements (so called) when I get time to write them up!