Some people think that I’m a grumpy old git, and others that I’m just plain opinionated. Well maybe both have a point. I always try to be polite and kind to people, but I really don’t want to spend a lot of time talking, particularly about inconsequentialities. I also have no interest in football, the beautiful game, surely they are joking, twenty-two millionaires chasing a ball about and trying to injure each other if they can get away with it? Hah! So there you see, an opinion, and not one that meets approval with what I’m told is the majority of people, not that I believe it is the majority, because none of the people I do speak to have any interest in it. Mind you, living where I do I have to keep up with the game played with an oval ball. I think that may be an oxymoron, surely balls are spherical. Hmm...
But really I do think we should all have opinions, look at the facts, get what information we can and then assemble our thoughts on the matter. The problem today is that far too many people don’t take any notice of the facts, but just go with what they feel about something. I had one guy telling me that all immigrants were like the girls he saw on the estate he lived on, black, well not white anyway, eleventeen kids and living on social security. Ha! As if there are no British girls like that! Truth is they probably are British and have British passports, or at least would qualify for one. I know that most immigrants work, often doing jobs the locals don’t want to do, and the facts show that the country profits from immigrants, but never mind the facts, those don’t support what they want to believe.
So you see, opinions!
So a lot of people don’t want to talk to me any more than I do them. I tell the truth and it pisses them off.
So I’m a miserable old git!
So sue me.
It was quite a while after I was left on my own, and after I decided that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to get me very far, that I determined that I’d like to get back to sailing. The first thing, obviously, was to get a boat. I looked around the local boat yards, and watched ebay and travelled to look at a few boats but nothing really seemed to hit the spot. I looked at an awful lot of tired plastic, mainly ugly as well, but tired plastic always looks like that anyway, and it’s an unpleasant and difficult task to do anything to make it look good and the damned things would still be ugly when you finished. The other problem to my eye is that although glass reinforced plastic is ideally suited to compound curved surfaces, most of the boats were laid up on moulds made of flat plywood panels. The problem is that if there is the one thing that glass reinforced plastics do badly it is flat panels. It can be done so that it looks good but it rarely is. You may think that is another opinion, but it is based on observed facts, just go to a boat yard and look.
So what to do? I’d built quite a few boats some years before, and I had the space, so why not build one that I’d really like. I looked at lots of plans and went back over all the old books I had and the one thing that kept coming up was a skipjack. Now what, most people will ask, is that. Well it’s a ‘traditional’, the inverted comas are because the type first appeared late in the nineteenth century so I’m not sure whether that counts as traditional, but whatever, American design from around the east coast, and comes complete with a clipper stem a long bowsprit and trailboards to support it. Construction is pretty simple from plywood on frames. From head on, through to mid section it actually resembles a WW2 MTB, PT boat in the US, with a very shallow vee hull, and aft of midships it tapers to a steeply raked transom. An interesting point is that PT boats were actually a design by British Power Boats powered by Packard engines, the British used a similar design by Vosper powered by Rolls Royce Merlins. Packard also built Rolls Royce Merlins, but these were not fitted to PT boats, despite some sources saying this was the case. There was, of course, a great deal more technology and production that came in the other direction, and we were very grateful for it.
Any way, I hunted around and found a standard design at twenty feet on deck, near thirty feet over all, with an eight foot eight inch beam, the originals were a good deal bigger of course. The beam was eight inches wider than the doors of my building shed, That, however wouldn’t present too much problem because since it was a steel panel building I could take out part of the front, and it would only have to come out once during the build to be turned over.
So I sent for a set of plans and got started getting everything ready.
Fast forward six months of long hours, and Melusine was sitting on a trailer ready to go for launching. You really don’t want a blow by blow account of me manipulating bits of plywood, I could have detailed all the ups and downs but to be honest I’d probably bore myself let alone you. She ended up looking every bit as pretty as I had hoped with varnished wooden spars, deckhouse and trim, and laid decks, the latter fake but it looked pretty good. She had white topsides and the trailboards had gold scroll work on them.
Launch day dawned bright and clear, and bright and early too, low water was about 6.00 am and I wanted the trailer at the lowest point of the slipway so that the boat would float off as the tide rose. Driving the few miles down to the harbour was no problem and backing down the slip was easy because there was sufficient space to get the rig lined up. The slip is at a very shallow angle, not the shallowest I’ve encountered, that prize goes to one at Lake Windermere where it seemed to be quite level. I later discovered that it had been used during WW2 to launch Sunderland flying boats, which accounted for the shallow angle. Worse though, probably was one in Poole harbour which in addition to being shallow invariably suffers from a cross wind. It’s actually easier on that one to turn the trailer into the wind and then load the boat. Small boats only of course. But no such problems here, because it is very sheltered.
The next thing to do was step the mast. This I had deck stepped in a tabernacle and it was a simple job to locate the foot, attach the shrouds and use a line attached to the forestay to pull it up. With the forestay shackled the shrouds could be tightened and job done. I had already taken the trailer off the tow vehicle which I had driven further up the slip and attached a rope from the hitch to the trailer. I didn’t mind the trailer getting wet, but not the car. So all that was left to do was wait for the tide to float her off. And enjoy a cup of coffee, the galley was operational.
About 08.00 I started the motor, an outboard fitted in a well and within a few minutes I motored her off and tied up alongside. Then I went and pulled the trailer out, hitched it and parked. My berth would be in the inner harbour in which water was retained by a sill, so I would have to wait until the tide was high enough to get in. So this time it was breakfast in a local cafe. When I returned the harbour master was there and told me he would take me across to my berth when there was enough water.
“Should be okay now, she only draws eighteen inches.”
It’s funny, but although we have been metric, supposedly – you still cannot buy an all metric tape measure – for almost half a century, it still seems daft to say ‘four hundred and fifty millimetres’, forty five centimetres I could cope with, but don’t get me started on the impractical idiots who decided we’d use the ‘Systeme International’ rather than the metric system that everyone else in the world uses. That’s another opinion, this time on ‘British exceptionalism’. Oh yes, and impractical idiots.
Whatever, the Harbour Master came aboard and we set off. She seemed very responsive to the tiller, having a short stub keel containing a drop keel, the outboard performed well, and in a few minutes we were moored stern to under the gaze of the holidaymakers who were now flooding into town from the local caravan sites, intent on making the local chip shop owners even wealthier, and their waistlines ever more extensive.
Before he left the Harbour Master asked:
“When are you going out for your first sail?”
“I thought I’d catch the tide tomorrow, the weather looks good, take a run down the coast and back.”
“Sounds good. I bet you’ll have a bit of an audience from the yacht club.”
“Waiting to see me make a cockup of it no doubt,” I grinned.
“You’ll just have to try not to then.”
He didn’t seem too heavy on the sense of humour.
I spent the rest of the day getting sails sorted and generally doing all those last minute things that need doing. So with sails bent on ready and everything ship shape, I walked over to where I had parked and went home.
The next morning I was on board in plenty of time and spent a while fiddling about. I was in the cabin when a female voice called out.
I came out into the cockpit and saw a girl standing on the quayside. A nicely built girl with short fair hair and a pretty face.
“How can I help?”
“Can I come aboard?”
“Dad said you might need a hand today. So I popped over to see.”
“Right. That your gear on the quay?”
“Better bring it aboard.”
“Better have a name first, I’m Martin.”
We shook hands.
“Tell me about yourself...”
She obviously knew what I meant because she simply said, “Yacht Master.”
“Excellent! Welcome aboard. I’ve got a coastal skipper’s ticket from oh, must be thirty years ago so hopefully between us we can avoid any of the cockups I referred to with your dad yesterday.”
“He told me. He reckons there’ll be some interest from the yacht club, probably a big audience on the balcony. Lot of people are interested in the boat though. By the way, why aren’t you a member?”
“Oh well, I’ve always been with Groucho, I don’t want to belong to any club that’d have me! Seriously, I’ve just never really thought about it.”
I looked across at the entrance where there was a board showing the depth of water over the sill.
“Time to go.”
I started the engine and let it run for a minute or two whilst we cast off. Tick over in forward gave us enough way to negotiate our way over the sill and then, as we turned to starboard towards the harbour exit, I increased speed. There was indeed an audience on the yacht club balcony and we waved to a round of applause. We motored for about ten minutes to give us a bit of sea room and then I turned into the wind and we set about hoisting the mainsail. The wind was about force 3 to 4 and we had little problem. First we dropped the keel. With a gaff mainsail we had to haul on the throat halyard, and then the peak halyard to bring the gaff up. We then retired to the cockpit, let the head fall off the wind and hauled in the lee sheet of the inner jib to unfurl it. The boat picked up speed, Cerys took the tiller, and I turned off the motor and tilted it clear of the water. The original boats would have had just one jib or foresail, often referred to as ‘two sail bateau’, but I had decided that it would be easier to handle if it was split into two. There was also had a topsail but we weren’t playing with that today. We set the outer jib, and we picked up more speed. Time for coffee.
Ten minutes later I came out into the cockpit with two mugs of coffee, to see a girl who was obviously enjoying herself.
“How is she?”
“Fantastic! I really didn’t think she’d be much good, but she’s brilliant. The Dragon Lady flies! I’ve sailed all sorts from dinghies to ocean racers but this is something else”
“Why didn’t you think she’d be very good?”
She blushed. “I shouldn’t have said that. Well, old fashioned design I suppose.”
“And home made?” Might as well dig the hole for her.
“I suppose so.”
“Better have an open day for all the doubters then,” I joked.
“That’d be a good idea, there’s a few of them.”
Great, me and my mouth.
We sailed about twenty miles down the coast, turned into a wide estuary and up to the town quay where we moored. We found the nearest fish and chip shop, yes I know what I said earlier, but we were expending quite a lot of energy. Lunch over we tacked out through the estuary to get a feel of how she handled. The answer was extremely well, we encountered no problems, not as close winded as a modern rig of course, mind you it did help having a very experienced crew.
On the return we had the wind on our quarter. It had increased to a full force 5 and she really flew, surfing most of the way. We arrived back a little earlier than I had anticipated, so we turned and tied up alongside the yacht club. We tidied up and stowed and got the cover on the mainsail.
“Come on in and have a drink,” Cerys told me.
We had a drink but in the main we answered questions about the boat, so not much time to put glass to mouth. After an hour or so it was time to take the boat back to her berth. We got her tied up nice and tight, locked up, and walked back to the yacht club car park, in fact just a general car park but on the wrong side of the harbour to be over used, where we were both parked.
“I really enjoyed today, can we do it again?”
“No problem,” I said, “I enjoyed it too, sailing with good company is always better.”
We exchanged phone numbers, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek and left.
The weather wasn’t very good for the next week and other than popping down to check that all was well I decided that I didn’t want to take out an untested boat in poor conditions, particularly by myself, although the boat had been laid out to be sailed single handed.
I was having breakfast one morning when the phone rang.
“Hi, it’s Cerys. Are you going sailing?”
And she proceeded to tell me what the tide times were and the weather forecast. Basically what you’d expect from any competent skipper.
“D’you mind having an extra crew member, she’s very good.”
“Sounds fine, I’ll be down in about half an hour, I’ll see you then.”
When I got to the boat Cerys was there with a very attractive lady a bit younger than me standing behind her.
Cerys gave me a kiss on my cheek. “Hi,” she said, “this is my mum.”
“Hello Cerys, and good morning Doctor,” I said, addressing the older lady.
“You know each other?”
“Cerys, where does your mum work?”
“Oh! The surgery.”
“Right, you may not go there very often, but as you get older you get to know everyone there. Including your mum. After all, she is the head honcho.”
“I didn’t think...”
“Shall we get aboard?”
The doctor was standing there with a broad grin on her face.
“I had no idea who she was talking about all week. In fact she’s been talking about the boat, but you did get a mention Mr...”
“Shall we dispense with the formality? I’m Martin.”
“And as you know I’m Lisa.”
“Good,” I said helping her aboard.
Cerys started taking the sail cover off whilst I opened the cabin and put the bags inside.
I started the motor to warm it up.
“So your Cerys’s mum...”
“And you are wondering about her dad? We’ve been divorced for years, we’re friends, but that’s all now.”
“You’re right, I did wonder, bit difficult taking some other fellow’s wife out sailing ... even if their daughter is on board as a witness.” I laughed.
Cerys was in the cockpit at this point so nothing more was said in that direction.
“There’s enough water, let’s get under way.”
Cerys went forward to let go the bow line and as soon as she signalled to me I slipped the stern line and put the motor into gear. We left the inner harbour to find quite a lot of traffic milling about trying to get out, so we proceeded with care.
“Shall we go up the coast this time?” I asked.
With the wind not more than force 3 we weren’t in for an exciting ride so I suggested to Cerys that we should try the top sail. Lisa took the tiller while we went to sort it out. When we were ready I called out to Lisa to turn us into the wind, and then we hauled the top mast up and sheeted the topsail to the end of the gaff. Lisa let the boat fall off the wind onto our original course. The acceleration was quite amazing, Melusine picked up her heels and started to surf as waves passed under her. Most people don’t think that gaff rigged boats are very fast, but this one had been designed for speed and was now showing it.
A couple of hours later we rafted up on a visitors pontoon at the marina in the next harbour, and went into the yacht club for a drink and a snack.
I have to say that I was delighted with the turn of events because I had fancied Lisa, from a distance of course, ever since I had met her. She was, as I’ve said, very attractive with a nice easy personality, but in her position getting involved with a scruffy boat owner might not be the thing.
Cerys was at the bar getting drinks and ordering some sandwiches.
“Are you and Cerys...” she left it hanging waiting for an answer.
I laughed. “If I was thirty years younger maybe, she’s a lovely girl, but I think she looks at me as a recently discovered avuncular, but even then I’m not sure, it’s Melusine that’s the main attraction. She’s certainly taken there.”
“That’s true,” Lisa said. “She’s talked about little else for the last week, practically dragged me along, not that I mind. Do you think I’m here for protection?”
“That, or perhaps she’s got another idea,” I grinned.
“What on earth ... oh!” she blushed. “Surely not.”
I just grinned.
“What are you two talking about/” Cerys returned with a tray of drinks.
“Your mama thinks you have an ulterior motive in bringing her today.”
Cerys coloured up immediately. They were both trying to stutter something, but neither of them could raise a coherent word.”
“Have a drink and see if that’ll help!” I was laughing. “Well I think that confirms that. Naughty girl Cerys, you don’t have to sell your mother, you can borrow the boat whenever you want.”
The women hit me from either side at the same time. Neither of them were weaklings. Lisa was looking at Cerys with the sort of look that says ‘we are going to have words later young lady’.
Cerys, after a moment to recover: “Can I really?”
“Well, if I don’t want to use her and you make sure she doesn’t run out of petrol, your dad wouldn’t be happy if I had to get in under sail for as daft a reason as that.”
“No, probably not.”
The sandwiches arrived putting an end to conversation for the moment.
On the way back to the boat Lisa asked me if I meant what I said.
“I don’t see why not, she’s better than I am and she’s very quickly learnt to handle the gaff rig. I think Melusine will be in good hands. Besides, it can’t be too long before she wants to go off and do something else.”
“True enough, another adventure will beckon, she’s never settled yet.”
It took us a while longer to get back. The wind was much the same but we had to take a long leg out to the west before we had a broad reach home. We could have done a number of shorter tacks closer in but by this time the tide was against us.
When we were moored and stowed I got a kiss on the cheek from two ladies before they left.
A couple of days later I got a call from Cerys.
“Can I borrow Melusine?”
“Oh all right,” slight exasperation, “May I borrow Melusine?”
“You may. Do you want to call round for the keys?”
I told her where I lived.
“About half an hour.”
When she arrived I gave her a spare set of keys.
“D’you know Jack Elkins? I’m taking him and his wife out, they are members but they don’t have a boat. Is that okay?”
“Yes, sure. I don’t think I know him, but I didn’t make any rules about who you take and I’m sure you’ll look after her. If anything does break it’ll be no bad thing to know where there are any weaknesses. Keep the keys, by the way, there’s no point in you coming back here. On a different subject, how’s mum? Did she enjoy the day out?”
“Yes, she did. I reckon if you were to ask her she’d go again.”
“You’re trying to set us up again?” I grinned. “I don’t think I’ve got a phone number for her, other than calling work, I’m not sure she’d appreciate that.”
“Probably not,” she said, and gave me a number.
It was a couple of days before I worked up sufficient nerve to make that phone call, and in the mean time something else happened.
Cerys gave me a call later that day and said they were just approaching the harbour and could I come down? That girl, I thought, is going to be the death of me, but I got in the car and went down to see what the problem was. They were just mooring when I got there. She introduced us and Jack immediately asked if I could build another boat for him. Cerys was grinning like a Cheshire cat. The upshot was that he and his wife would come and discuss it with me the next day when I would have had a look at the costs and would be able to give him an estimate.
When I did work up the nerve to call Lisa I got her voice mail and left a message to call me back. It wasn’t long before she did so and agreed to take a trip out a couple of days hence. The evening before the forecast was pretty dreadful, so I called her to give her the option of cancelling.
“Oh! I was looking forward to it too.”
“Perhaps we could go out and play at being tourists and find a pub for lunch.”
“That sounds good, yes I’d like that.”
And so at a rather more reasonable hour than we would have had to leave sailing, I picked her up from her home. She was wearing jeans and a very nice jumper which, if it wasn’t hand knitted, was very expensive. We spent the day together, found a nice pub for lunch. I’d like to say that after lunch the rain let up and we went for a walk, but to be honest, in this part of the world you generally only comment on the weather when it isn’t raining. And it was. We were driving back up the main road when we passed the sign for a museum.
“I’ve never been there,”she said.
“It’s not really a ladies thing.”
“Maybe I’m not a lady...”
I should be so lucky.
I had to turn the car round since we had passed the turning.
“Right, The Museum of Internal Fire”, as the lady requested.”
Pumping water for one reason or another seems to have been a preoccupation of man since there was a chance that someone could build a mechanical device to do it. It started off with the early atmospheric engines of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries perfected by Watt, draining mines, to the steam engines invented by Trevithic, and built in ornate Gothic by the Victorians, many of which still exist, and then the various forms of internal combustion engines to which this museum is dedicated and which were replaced by modern electrically driven pumps. The engines here could, and did, run almost for ever at perhaps 600 to 800 rpm. And when you go in, that is what they are all doing, accompanied by the smell of oil and exhaust fumes.
After we had been round the exhibits we had a cup of tea.
“Well,” she said, “I’m glad I came. I can’t say that it is a subject I’d want to study in depth, but it is interesting.”