Friday, 4 May 2012

Cornish Shrimper

SO, by pure accident I managed to scramble over a couple of boats today which I had put on my list of ‘possible’ contenders yesterday. Both boats were Cornish Shrimpers. The first one was in a broker’s yard in St Briec, a small town in Brittany ten or fifteen miles from my home base in Plouer. It turns out that this particular broker is the sole Shrimper importer in France and, thanks to his efforts, there is a sizable fleet of these craft in the neighbourhood. (There's a link to the website at the foot of this page)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Shrimper, it is a 19ft replica of the sailing fishing boats used in Cornwall UK in the 19th century. As you can imagine it is a beautiful characterful boat with great appeal to the traditionalist. She has a long shallow keel, with a retractable fin, straight stem, bowsprit, wooden mast, gaff rigged as a cutter. Yet despite her looks, she has a reputation for a good turn of speed and a respectable performance to windward. I have never sailed one but I imagine she’ll be exciting.

The Shrimper comes with inboard or an outboard in a well. Most examples seem to have black or green hull with white or cream topsides. Despite the fact that she is built in GRP, there is plenty of wood trim to emphasise her lineage. 

Sitting in the cockpit, while she was on a road trailer (unfortunately), I was impressed by the idea of an outboard in a well. From a low cost cruising point of view it seemed to offer the best of both worlds. The prop is deep and protected like an inboard, but the entire engine can be lifted out for maintenance, repair or winter storage. Accommodation is within a cabin flush with the deck, this makes for a reasonable working space near the mast but very little room within. Essentially there are two berths, separated by the keel housing and a tiny forepeak, just about large enough for a single burner gas stove. Cabin height gives you  enough room to sit without banging your head but nothing more.  Many owners have addressed the lack of accommodation by fitting boom tents to enclose the cockpit when the vessel is at rest.  On that basis, at best you would have to describe her as a ‘weekender’ rather than a cruising boat and at 19ft, she’s a bit too small for my requirements. My main reason for knocking her off my list however, is her cost. Even an old second-hand example can take £10,000 out of your pocket, so nine out of ten of these vessels will be way beyond my price range.

Or so I thought. Later in the day, I visited Livret Marina on the river Rance close to Dinan. There I found the saddest most neglected Shrimper I have ever seen. According to the local boatmen, she belongs to an eighty year old Englishman who hasn’t sailed her for years. He’s had countless offers to buy her but steadfastly refuses on the grounds that his fate, and that of the boat, are somehow mysteriously linked. In effect he believes that selling the boat will seal his fate and bring on his own demise.

In an ideal world, someone would offer to maintain the boat for him, in return for permission to sail her now and again. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right boat for me – otherwise I’d follow up the idea.

Still, I should take heart – there are craft around, potentially at the right price, if you’re prepared to look. Here's one I found within my price range. It's an old French railway carriage on a raft with an antique outboard bolted on the back. Mmmm well after some consideration - no thanks.

Maybe I should take up Michael’s comment from a few weeks ago and think about making a visit to the USA where boats seem to be cheaper.