CNYC Meeting Archive – Year 2015
The January AGM was well attended. With sandwiches and a glass of something “on the house” we plane sailed through official business, heard Commodore and Treasurer reports, were given an outline of 2015 plans, and discussed the Club’s future direction. Topics included training, crewing service, Members’ directory, gatherings on the water, the balance of internal/external speakers, and the Cotswold Club as our continuing principal venue.
Jonathan Smith gave an enthusiastic and colourful presentation on tall ships and the lives of their sailors, including one local man whom he quoted: “Witney is a very quiet place, what a great difference one sees out here in San Francisco, where all is life, pleasure and excitement, to the quiet ways of our country town”. To us modern sailors the rigs and cordage of these topsail schooners, ships, brigantines, barquentines, etc. are awesome. Apparently one, the “Stavros S Niarchos”, is on the market but our Treasurer was unsupportive.
Roger Backhaus then talked with equal enthusiasm about his kind of sailing – on a small wooden boat, which he keeps and sails in the Netherlands. The simple classic unstayed lug yawl rig is better than anything else (he assured us) and the Zeeland waters he sails in perfect for him and for this long-keeled shoal-draft boat. These waters are a largely protected playground, established under the mammoth “Delta Plan” by the Dutch, after the disastrous 1953 flood.
I suspect some of us in the audience were a little apprehensive. Chay is one of the biggest names in the UK for adventures and feats on the high seas. Knighted for it.
We were wrong to worry. Chay was charming, self-effacing and entertaining. And he really did have a story to tell.
Chay joined the Paras from the factory-floor and was soon rowing the Atlantic in an open 20 footer with John Ridgeway, having never rowed before (!). Was there any strain in this relationship? Did, someone once ask Chay, John row too? In a rare contemporary public speech Chay dispelled the doubts. John, he told his audience then, certainly did row - when Chay was cooking...
Chay entered the first single handed round-the-world race, having never sailed before (!), in a 30 foot bilge-keeled family cruiser. He got as far as the Cape of Good Hope, and broached so often he thought this was just normal behaviour for a small yacht. This was the race from which Donald Crowhurst was not to return. In fact only one competitor finished – Robin Knox-Johnson.
Chay was the first person to sail non-stop around the world "the wrong way" i.e. against the prevailing winds and currents, in the Clarke designed “British Steel”. Signalled mid-ocean from a passing vessel, as to where he was bound, he signalled back “Southampton”. To the next question “Whence from?” he signalled “Southampton”. To the last question “via where?” he signalled “Southampton!”. Chay is not a man to waste words. This historic voyage lasted 292 days and a grand welcome was organised with The Ark Royal, massed ratings, a band, and crowds of thousands. The last few days of the voyage had been faster than expected and Chay was at risk of arriving before his welcome party. He was told to “get lost for 2 days”.
After numerous excitements aboard ever bigger boats including a trimaran that capsized during a record attempt off Cape Horn, Chay turned his hand to power boating, co-skippering with Richard Bran.
At some point Chay organised a trans-Atlantic rowing race, expecting a handful of boats; perhaps 5. In the event there were 28 competitors - half of them pretty clueless. (One of the competitors was an ex-mayor of Chipping Norton - ed.)
The talk ended with a short movie, showing the battering of the boats and crew in the Global Challenge – the organisation founded by Chay that allowed ordinary men and women to experience the extremes of round-the-world yacht racing. Most memorable was a “blink and you’ve missed it” clip in which a cockpit full of crew is suddenly completely empty, apart from some green water and foam. Wow!
Impressed, were we? Well, you could say that!
POSTSCRIPT: I heard the other day a quotation from Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron (1809–92) and I hope Chay will take no offence from my quoting it. It seemed apt. (Ed.)
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name..
Paul Fisher has the sea in his blood. At the age of 9 he attempted to run away to sea, showing better judgement in packing sandwiches and “pop” (his term), than in his choice of vessel - which failed to depart before food and drink was exhausted. He slunk home.
But before long, as a teenager, he and a friend acquired a starter boat and with a library copy of “Teach Yourself Sailing” they taught themselves to sail on the Thames, progressing through numerous boats including a rotten Norfolk Wherry bought for £50 quid, at which price it was clearly no bargain. Paul designed his first boat at the age of 15, read Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding at Newcastle University and after graduating joined the Royal Institute of Naval Architects.
He cut his designer teeth with McGruers and Silvers Marine (later to become DM Russell Ltd.). This family company, with its enormous loft for full-size layout, foundry, and construction shed was one of the UK’s premier yards. Here Paul learnt about the reality of design – of things that could be built as well as drawn. He learnt about mast-making, about (extremely) dirty racing on the Clyde, and about handling clients….
In 1982 Paul moved to Devon to start Selway Fisher Design, going on to produce some 400 designs covering an amazingly wide range of craft – canoes, dinghies, day boats, yachts, junks, slipper launches, steam vessels… building up a well-deserved reputation for producing good boats for modest budgets. He was a pioneer of and champions modern wood/composite construction (e.g. clinker ply, stitch and tape, “egg-box”, strip planking).
In addition to his real-world designs Paul runs a line in replicas and models for the film industry, which needs a steady flow of historic craft from galleons to U-boats. Not in any way to downplay the long hard work that Paul has put into his craft (in both meanings of the word) but one has to admire and envy a man who turned a lifelong hobby into a career – one in which he has excelled.
Sticky ends the Cold War
April’s speaker was Sticky Stapylton, a trainer and teacher certified to teach practically everything in the sailor’s repertoire up to Yachtmaster Instructor and Yachtmaster Ocean.
Sticky rather surprised us before the meal by leaping to his feet and saying a bloodthirsty Grace, calling for the sending of doves with sharp beaks to cut the throats of those who sell bad beer to sailors. (Visit this website if you’re curious - Ed.)
Whence the “Sticky” sobriquet, someone asked? At some point in his army career (as Sticky tells it) and at the height of the Cold War, he was responsible for stores. Found he had 385,000 bottles of Gloy glue in his charge, resulting from an annual standing order from the 20's that no one had remembered to cancel. Being a man of resourcefulness and imagination he persuaded the powers that be to experiment with making a weapon of it, by putting the stuff in shells. So successful was this at stopping tanks in trials at Larkhill that Gorbachev got wind of it. Glasnost and the collapse of the USSR followed shortly after, and Sticky got his name...
Sticky's theme was Man Overboard, a subject that is richer than one might think, and can be a matter of life or death. This could have been a bit dry (or wet? - Ed) but Sticky kept us on our toes, entertained, provoked and educated us. He brought a wealth of experience and spoke with the authority you would expect of a military man, and a man who’s covered a lot of sea miles. There are clever devices on the market that claim to help retrieve a MoB. Some help, many are expensive. Many makeshift devices can work fine, if you’re quick and know how to use them. A decent 6-part tackle is a good start. But to really address the risks there are more fundamental things to look to. Can you heave to? Have all the crew been properly briefed on the essentials of safety and boat handling? Have they, for example: tried their lifejackets on; know how and where to clip on; know where the flares are and how to fire them; where the first aid kit is and what’s in it; how to start the engine?
One anecdote recounted the couple who holed the boat, managed to deploy the life-raft, find the flares, and fire one – unfortunately into the life-raft, setting it alight. Had they not been towing a tender we might never have heard this tale. Sticky’s subject matter may have been narrow, but he was right to persuade us to go for it.
It is important stuff, well worth discussing in detail, and many of us were inwardly reviewing our own arrangements as we listened. One day any one of us could find ourselves indebted. (Sticky’s website is here – if you want a copy of the crew briefing checklist he offered mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org mentioning that you are a Chipping Norton Yacht Club member.)
Sailing the Bohuslän coast of Western Sweden
Vice Commodore Chris Adams took the floor for our May meeting, and gave us a lavishly illustrated talk on sailing the Bohuslän coast of Western Sweden. Chris is, would you believe, almost as enthusiastic about these waters as he is about his home waters of Scotland. He got close to suggesting that the seafood might even be better. (Perhaps I misheard that - Ed.)
Despite being only a week’s sailing from the Solent, British boats are a rarity in this part of the world, which offers large areas of sheltered water, good anchorages, and superb sailing around its 3000 islands and 5000 skerries. Water is deep, days (in summer) long, and breezes reliable. Navigation among the sparkling granite rocks needs care but is not intrinsically difficult, and there’s no shortage of pilot books and sailing directions. These are all in Swedish but Chris insisted it was a very easy language (! - Ed.)
Locals sail in a short and well-defined season, leaving the place fairly deserted at other times, with late August being the best time to visit, nicely (from our perspective) coinciding with the best weather. Locals also have a habit of mooring to rings set into the rock, to a stern anchor, leaving the bays largely empty for the few like Chris who prefer to anchor off. The place is very picturesque, with rows of cheerfully painted houses.
Access by air is easy (there are cheap flights from the UK to Gothenburg), and charter rates are well below those of the Med.
A lot of exploring (and seafood) can be fitted into a fortnight’s cruise, and wine is not at the inflated prices of neighbouring Norway.
At the heart of the area is Ellös, home to Hallberg-Rassy, renowned manufacturer of high quality yachts. Chris is the proud owner of one.
This is exactly the kind of thing we like to hear from Chipping Norton Yacht Club members - about places and experiences that could tempt us into expanding our own sailing horizons. Thanks Chris!
A visit to Waywood in Chadlington
In June Rear Commodore Barnaby Scott welcomed us to his design studio, furniture workshop and showroom in Chadlington, where, in a corner beside his Computer Numerical Control (CNC) routing machine, lies his 30 foot yacht in build.
Barnaby has carefully thought through and defined the kind of boat he needs (insofar as any of us need a boat!), which led him outside the range of production craft. As well as meeting practical requirements he also wanted a vessel of elegance and beauty, and found the design of what he wanted in a Haiku, a 30 foot sharpie from Iain Oughtred’s drawing board. Iain is one of the most respected small wooden boat designers; “sharpies” were developed on the East coast of America in the 1800s and are flat-bottomed, shallow-water craft. They are simple in every respect, including the building, yet remarkably capable. Many consider the acme of the genre to be the 'Egret' built by 'Commodore' Ralph Munroe in the 1880s. This boat was the inspiration for the Haiku.
A yacht build is a big project. The hull is nigh on complete, and rather unusually (and made possible by full computer modelling) this boat is being built from the inside outwards, rather than infilling a hull. So although still upside down, it already has most of the interior structures, including the centreboard boxes. With lead keel already in place, righting the boat is the next challenge. This process is fully designed, and the turning equipment built. Some of us hope to be invited back to help (unless it is fully automated, in which case we’d like to watch, and raise another glass!). Keep an eye on his blog.
Barnaby had recently given a talk to another club, the Bromsgrove Boaters, and he galloped through the presentation he’d given to them, giving us tantalising glimpses of the Solway where he sails, of historic boats that inspired the design of the boat he is building, of other boats he might have gone for, and of the build itself. Barnaby’s Haiku is named Luely, in honour of the lusted-after lass of a ribald Scottish poem.
Equally fascinating was Barnaby's furniture gallery Waywood, where we saw, admired, puzzled-over, stroked, and sat on the works of art to which applying the word “furniture” seems slightly insulting. There are sweeping curves, engineering precision, woods and grains coaxed and glued into beautiful pieces.
We were chased out after an hour or so as dinner had been booked at The Tite Inn in Chadlington, our exit slowed by the gathering of admirers around one Club member’s vintage Bentley, which sounds as good as it looks. (The turning circle reminded me of some boats I’ve conned - Ed.)
Weather was unusually wet in Northern Europe where many of us sail, so more of us were around this summer. The summer BBQ, generously hosted by Hugh and Annie Woodsend, drew in an unexpectedly large crowd. It took an enormous amount of organising and preparatory work, so on the night it was relaxed and convivial. Thanks Hugh, Annie and all the other members whose efforts contributed to making this such a good evening.
Pilotage on the Thames
Phil Shayler opened our 2015/2016 dinner and talk programme with Pilotage on the Thames. Phil is a working pilot, a pilot trainer and examiner, and a port controller, and knows his stuff. He’s been a pilot for 24 years and the enthusiasm he still has for the work shone brightly through. Taking control of navigation (not as he explained “command of the vessel”) for enormous, unwieldy craft in the confined, busy, shallow and tidal waters of the Thames and its estuary has plenty of excitement to offer, even for someone as experienced as Phil. With bow and possibly stern thrusters, a few tugs, high-precision GPS (they carry their own kit to supplement whatever the ship may have) big ships are nudged into and out of tight berths in all weathers. The job is 24/7 - dashes in taxis, perhaps an hour or so in a Pilot “cutter” (£1m’s worth of boat itself) precede the actual duty, typically. The regulations preclude climbing ladders longer than 9 metres, but in the UK (unlike say in NL) the regulations also preclude single-engined helicopters so climbing ladders is what they do. If the weather is so bad that leaving a departing vessel is too dangerous - above a Force 7 say - the pilot will stay on board and be flown home later… this perhaps explaining why it is a traditionally male-dominated profession, as the work is a poor fit with home life.
Training is long and multi-staged, and a budding pilot works his way up from “little” 125 metre vessels (Class 4), to 320 metre (Class 1) and “unrestricted”. The bridge simulator looked quite fun. Perhaps we could persuade Phil to give us go, sometime?
The images that really grabbed our attention were those of the prangs. All this close quarters manoeuvring is not without incident - many of us have suffered or caused the odd bump and know something of the emotional effects. So there were a few gasps. Not from Phil, though.
All in all a fascinating insight into a marine profession that not only keeps us sailors and our seaways safe, but also keeps the ports working efficiently to support the vast amount of modern ship-borne trade without which us islanders would be eking a pretty meagre existence. So it is for more than a talk that we should be thanking Phil. Thanks!
Extreme Yacht Racing
With Mike Golding, whom we welcomed to our October meeting, we continue to attract some of the biggest names in yachting. Mike is one of the world’s most successful offshore racing sailors, with 250,000 racing miles under his belt. He’s crossed the Equator 25 times and rounded Cape Horn six times. He’s the first person to have sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in both east and west-about directions (1993/4 and 2000/1), and holds many sailing records.
A former career fire fighter, Mike turned to professional sailing following his win in the BT Global Challenge - a crewed, round the world race - in 1996/7. In 2006 he made international headlines by giving up his own prospects of winning the Vendee Globe (a solo around the world race in which he has competed 3 times) to rescue fellow sailor Alex Thomson whose yacht was sinking in the Southern Ocean. Mike was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for bravery.
Mike’s started his talk with a promotional movie designed to wow potential sponsors. It certainly wowed us. The kind of racing he does is a very high tech and big budget activity, and getting the necessary sponsorship is almost as challenging, one suspects, as battling round the Horn. There was a time (in say Slocum’s, or Moitessier’s day) when single handed round the world yachting was a solitary, lonely, activity. Now, as Mike made clear, it is the opposite - the networking, team building, and project management before the races and the communications during it make it more suited to extroverts. For everyone involved (including sponsors) it is an unforgettable experience.
The 60 foot (plus 6 foot bowsprit) Vendée Globe boats are not of fixed design. Mike’s boat, the Gamesa, displaces a mere 8 tonnes, of which 3 is the lead bulb in the hydraulically controlled, 45 degree canting, keel. To achieve this low hull and rigging weight, it is constructed almost exclusively of carbon fibre - and the attention to detail in weight management is so strict that food (nutritious though unappetising!) is carried dehydrated. A memorable picture showed a mess tin containing baked beans (real ones, from a tin), some scrambled egg (not real, made from powdered egg) and a piece of toast made from 74 day old bread. This represented a celebratory meal to mark a milestone. It put in mind the recently released film “the Martian” in which the hero also puts aside a few “real” meals, to consume when there’s something very special to celebrate. Long distance solo sailing has its parallels with astronautics.
Are Vendée Globe boats fast? Exciting? 30 knots is not uncommon, 34 can be achieved at times. 400 miles is a normal day’s run, Mike’s record is 474. Around 26,000 miles is covered at an average speed of 10 to 14 knots. There is an unrelenting grind of hard work, against a background of noise and discomfort. Sleep is grabbed in very short bursts. Mike has a car alarm on a timer to get him up, but he does of course wake before it goes off. Not for many, this.
The Vendée Globe is run every four years and is hugely popular in France. Some 3 million people visit the start before each race to admire and stroke the boats, and (if men) twang the rigging appreciatively. It was nice to hear about the involvement of primary school children - both in France and the UK - where a class visit the boat and are given an opportunity to participate - by for example, following the race online and preparing gifts to be unwrapped at key moments. They seemed to be mostly cards and hats - there are strict limits of course on weight!
Charting the Wild West
Bob Bradfield has been a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation for 35 years and made his first chart in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.
After retirement Bob headed out to the Antarctic and to the Arctic, getting to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and in 2008 he sailed round the UK. He became interested in charts, and learnt through experience how inaccurate and out-of-date so many charts are. Six years ago he founded Antares Charts and has since surveyed and completed more than 300 charts covering some of Scotland’s best (and trickiest) anchorages.
As he explained, there are paper charts, of course, as well now as electronic ones - raster or vector - but despite the fine presentation and technology it is amazing how limited and old the underlying survey data usually is. If one adopts the test of “fit for purpose” many waters are effectively uncharted. He showed us examples of charts from the 1860s that were more accurate and detailed than modern Admiralty charts, or their derivatives. He showed charts with such massive errors that they at best useless and, at worst, worse than useless. Scale is often inappropriate for anything other than passages; many lack positional accuracy; many misrepresent features - e.g. existence and location of rocks and wrecks!
Bob’s charting process is akin to cutting grass - to-ing and fro-ing in the dinghy to a tight pattern - but with GPS and echo sounder instead of mower. Then soundings are “reduced” to chart datum on basis of tidal state, and background from Ordnance Survey added. He has a side-scan sonar that gives an image of what is on the bottom, for further detail.
A fascinating tale of a lack in the market, the addressing of which turned into a hobby, that later became a full production activity. It was fascinating to hear how modern technology, coupled with skill and diligence, can make it possible for an individual to do things to high standards that even a few years ago could only be done with huge resources and big budgets.
Chris, our Vice Commodore, enthuses about Bob’s jewel-like charts that combine pinpoint accuracy with exquisite design, each a work of art. Best run on a helm-mounted iPad, they make some of the world’s most stunning anchorages accessible to mere mortals and are now featured in the updated Imray/Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions.
We gathered in the new Terrace Room at the Cotswold Club - a good space, nicely decorated for the event - for our celebratory meal. Hugh Woodsend showed and talked us though a summary of the 2015 talks and events, reminding us of how interesting and diverse these were, and we saw the entries for the annual photo competition, and the winning picture of course. There was a vaguely nautically themed quiz won by the usual swots who do, in the case of this club, actually get out more. A very relaxed and convivial evening.