Sunday, 29 July 2012

Beneteau First 21

OK well it’s the end of the month – so check out Susan’s ‘View from the Galley’ page and get last month’s quiz answers (as well as new questions). 

Meanwhile, having watched the Tour Des Ports de la Manche yacht race last week, I wanted to find out more about a slippery little French boat known as the First 21 produced by Beneteau. From her looks, she wouldn’t be on my shopping list, too modern and stripped down for me – but her speed for such a small sailing boat was awesome. Well, so far I haven’t been able to step aboard one, but research in the yacht club bar provided the following information.

Beneteau is a large French yacht ‘manufacturer’. I use the word in place of boat ‘builder’, because their operation has more in common with that of a car manufacturer than a traditional boat workshop. Beneteau craft are mass produced in carefully controlled environments to very exacting standards. So, it seems that you get a high quality product at a reasonable price, but you also get a standard model – nothing here about charm and character - that was designed out at an early stage.
Despite this, there is a sense that the First 21 offers something new and special simply because tradition has been so firmly abandoned in order to obtain speed, convenience and a modern design.

So, if it’s a trailer sailor you want, here she is – with an added bonus – she’s unsinkable.

The LOA is 21 feet and she has a round bilge hull with a very broad transom. Unlike traditional craft, she doesn’t seem to taper towards the stern, if anything her beam is bigger there than further forward. Look carefully at her and you’ll realise you’re looking at a racing dinghy with a lid.  One benefit of this is that the hull volume is remarkably large for such a small boat.

For stability, she has an extremely high-aspect-ratio centerboard housed in an odd shaped moulding below the hull. Centreboat up, give you a draft of 2 feet, 3 inches. (63cms approx). She also has twin rudders canted outboard at 15 degrees because her beam at extreme angles of heal could quite easily lift a normal rudder clear of the water. There is a swim ladder and outboard bracket fitted between the rudders.

The interior is a one piece GRP moulding with small sink and one burner stove. There is a portable head is under the V-berth. The space is divided by a trunk that carries that top of the swing keel. A hinged leaf table is attached to this trunk. She has four adult sized berths.

Well, she’s not for me – although I can happily concede that she could be great fun to sail, for a short while. She might suit my friend Michael however, who hankers after speed and bemoans the fact that marina berths are expensive and he lives a good distance from the sea. This little craft could sit on your drive, then all you have to do is trailer her to your preferred cruising ground. The accommodation would be OK for two adults over a weekend or maybe a little longer and she’d certainly provide an adrenalin burn.
Boat Specifications
5’1″ – 2’4″
2,200 lbs.
770 lbs.
Sail Area
243 sq. ft.
5 hp outboard


Sunday, 22 July 2012

La Tour des Ports De La Manche

Each year the French organise a staged yacht race between the French Ports on the English Channel coast (La Manche (the Sleeve) to them)). St Helier (Jersey) is not a French Port but its close by and so it acts as host to one of the stages. Approximately 100 yachts in five different classes take part and although I have no interest in racing yachts (or any other kind of race) I have to admit it is quite a spectacular event.

This year because I am boatless a few guys took pity on me and offered me a place on the official States of Jersey observation boat, scheduled to go out into the bay to witness the start and then follow the fleet for a few miles. I accepted without hesitation.

So Thursday morning, I was on the quayside camera in hand. By ten thirty I was riding significant waves in a force five easterly chasing the ocean greyhounds and firing off snaps by the dozen, as part of the official Jersey Government spectator contingent.

Some of the smaller Frech vessels were very interesting in particular a type called 'First 21', must investigate!

Now, there are several cultural differences between French and Anglo Saxon approaches to many things - some are subtle, some are not. When it comes to yacht racing, unlike the English they start the smaller slower boats first. This can be frustrating for the fastest yachts who are held back for a later start because they have to weave their way through the various fleets of slower small craft to find open water. From a spectator's point of view however, it keeps all the vessels bunched up for much longer and therefore the spectacle is much more dramatic.

Another, less subtle difference was highlighted just before the start of the race. Right in front of the Official boat a competitor dropped his wallet into the harbour and jumped in after it hoping to grab it before it sank. Fortunately he managed to get hold and was helped back into the cockpit by his crewmates none the worse for his experience - except of course he was soaked to the skin. He did the obvious thing (to him) and stripped off the wet garments as quickly as he could - in the cockpit in full view of the Jersey dignitaries - and then, perhaps encouraged by the cold water, feeling the call of nature he stood naked on the transom facing our vessel and took a long slow pee. Reaction from the French yachtcrews? Nothing. Reaction from the Jersey officials? - Giggles, blushes, and a general acceptance that this was probably the 'French' way of doing things!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

MacGregor Motorsailer


So at last we had a weekend with some sunshine between the rain showers. Off to see a MacGregor motor-sailer for sale close by. We’ve discussed motor sailers quite a bit on this blog and speculated on their appropriateness for my purpose. One advantage of a English motor-sailer is that they tend to be excellent sea boats coming from a traditional fishing boat lineage. Fans, tell you they offer the best of all worlds, heavy stable robust sailing boats with a get you home option of a big powerful engine just in case wind and tide are against you. Critics say that motor-sailers are poor sailboats and not much better as motor vessels.

But a MacGregor is a different kettle of fish, a MacGregor is a American design coming from a very different school of naval architecture. MacGregor have been building sailboats for 40 years and they claim to have sold more sailboats than any other manufacturer.

Their unique feature for their 26-footer is a water ballast system developed during the late 1980s. Essentially, it provides for a heavy or light vessel whenever you want. Despite their size, these boats are particularly easy to tow with water drained out of the ballast tank. Fill the ballast tank when you launch the boat to give it stability when heeled under sail, drain the ballast when you pull the boat back out on the launch ramp and it can be towed by an ordinary car. Under power, the latest MacGregor model is now also a fast powerboat.

Early MacGregor 26’s had swing keels and tillers with a small outboard. The later versions have steering wheels and big outboards. The styling has changed over the years too. The original models looked more like traditional sailboats whereas the 26M looks definitely “Euro-powerboat” in appearance. People seem to love or hate them.

I found  the MacGregor 26 to be quite roomy below with all the amenities I would need. She had:
  • A large aft berth and vee-berth forward
  • An enclosed head with porta-potty
  • A galley area with sink and stove
  • A removable table
  • 6 feet of headroom under the sliding hatch.

I found the mast-raising system particularly attractive because the ability to raise and lower the mast with ease is one of my very important requirements to get me through the French canals. The MacGregor I visited had her mast raised by the owner on his own in the parking lot beside the launch ramp.

Out in the bay the boat sailed well in a strong breeze under just the mainsail. Roller furling on the jib would have made it easy to extend canvass without leaving the cockpit but she felt incredibly tender. More tender than most sailboats I am used to – more like a dinghy than a cruiser. What is more, despite her surprising ability as a sail boat she actually looks like a powerboat with a mast. She gave me the impression that she might suit a powerboater with an interest in sailing or someone who wants to trailer to distant places, stay onboard a few nights, and be able to race back into port if the weather starts to deteriorate but she had none of the romance I seek.

As a powerboat she looked strange cutting through the water with such a tall mast. As a sailboat she was boxy, high sided skittish and prone to massive leeway. So, she is not for me. Not that I could have afforded her anyway, the asking price was twice as much as my planned budget.

Now this blog has taken on quite a fishing theme in the last week or so and I’m making every effort to get back to main purpose but here is a true story that I simply have to share with you. As you may know the Island of Jersey UK is one of a small archipelago of Islands some 90 miles south of the UK. Politically English but in many ways culturally closer to the French, the principal Islands of the group are Jersey, Guernsey, Herm, Alderney and Sark. Jersey and Guernsey each has its own independent government and there is fierce rivalry between the two. To the Guernseymen, Jersey people are ‘Crapauds’ (Toads), while to the Jerseymen Guernsey people are Donkeys. No citizen of either Island refers to the other Island by name. Instead their neighbouring Island is ‘the other place’. Here is a recent piece of news from ‘the other place’ (Guernsey), reported with glee in the Jersey media.

Guernsey had a fishing competition last week and the prize of £800 went to a local man who presented the judges with a monster Sea Bass freshly caught. Unfortunately another competitor thought he recognised the prizewinning fish and called for an investigation.

How did he recognise the fish? Could you recognise an individual sea bass? Well, maybe yes you could - if the fish in question had been on public view as a live specimen in the local town aquarium. Following his hunch, he visited the aquarium the following day and asked to see the tank in which the sea bass lived – on inspection – no sea bass! It had been stolen.

The winner of the competition was in court on Wednesday charged with stealing a sea bass and fraudulently obtaining £800 in prize money. He was convicted after a the aggrieved angler and aquarium staff identified the sea bass’s head from among a line of other sea bass heads in an identity parade! – Well they say truth is stranger than fiction. You couldn’t make it up!


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Hooked on Fishing

My nose before the piercing
Friday, was another sea fishing trip out of Jersey with my favourite charter skipper Tony Heart. This was the second or third attempt to make the trip this year, most of the previous ones thwarted by unseasonal weather. Fortunately while the rest of the UK was on flood alert with forecasts of a month’s worth of rain falling within a twenty four hour window, the western coast of France and the Channel Islands were spared. 

We had no sunshine to speak of but the winds were light and the visibility was excellent. It was cold, there was an uneasy swell left over from the previous high winds and the tide was wrong – but what the hell, there was a chance so we took it.

The catch wasn’t so bad, given the conditions, about 40 mackerel to share between us, a bream, a gurnard and a sand eel. There were dogfish too but the jury is out as to whether Mario caught three different ones or the same one three times. 

The high spot of the trip was when I managed to hook myself with a mackerel hook through the nose. Fortunately there was a pair of pliers on board and as the hook went clean through the nostril, it was relatively easy to cut the hook and pull it through the hole created by the barb. It’s a technique worth remembering because there is no way you’d manage to pull the hook out against the barb. In truth the main problem was that the boat was rolling like an old tub at the time so it was difficult for the skipper with the pliers to get an accurate grasp of the hook. One interesting thing however, was that throughout the whole incident I was in no pain – even when I was tugging away at the hook trying to yank it out against the barb.  So, does a fish feel pain when it’s hooked?  I don’t think so. I didn’t. And anyway, if it did it wouldn’t fight so hard.
Dogfish 3 or Dogfish 1 for the third time?
So what has gone wrong with our weather this year? Well according to the BBC, the high level 60mph winds referred to as the Jetstream which usually settle into a pattern to the north of the UK in summer, have settled much further south. As a result they are picking up a great deal of energy and humidity from the Atlantic and the warmer climes in the South of France and that energy is being dissipated as wind, thunder, lightning and torrential rain to the north (over the UK). The problem is that weather systems can settle into a pattern and can be difficult to dislodge. The current weather therefore may be as good as it is going to get this summer. Meanwhile America swelters.

So onto another more optimistic point, a reader emailed me recently with what could have been a solution to my search for an ideal boat. It seems a 16 ft fishing boat has sunk in relatively shallow seas and the US coastguard has deemed it to be a navigation hazard. The owner therefore has to refloat or move it and the estimated cost of hiring the kit and expertise is likely to be in excess of $2,500. A sum, either he has not got or is reluctant to pay. He therefore has announced that he is prepared to sign over ownership to anyone who can salvage her.

In effect, providing I am prepared to fly to Florida, and raise this hulk from the seabed, I can have the boat (and contents estimated to be worth $800) for free. All I then have to do is return the vessel to my beloved France, repair, restore and re-register her there and all my boat search problems will be over. Mmm – maybe not – but a good suggestion in any case – keep ‘em coming folks, good ideas are indiscriminate and they don’t care where they land (a bit like fish hooks really). Out there, somewhere, there is the germ of a good idea.


Thursday, 5 July 2012


Thinking about the happy time when I have a boat commissioned and ready to sail.

Thinking also about my friend Alain who is busy putting together plans to run a sailing experience opportunity for holidaymakers on board his newly acquired wooden lugger.

Thinking too about how both of us in our ways will have to inspire confidence in our crews and passengers.

Most of us will have volunteered to act as crew for someone at some time or another and on occasion we may have regretted making the offer. The skipper who needs an extra hand may have seemed like a friendly regular sort of guy propping up the bar in the boat club but once on the water in command of his own vessel he could turn out to be a regular tyrant – Captain Bligh with attitude, or even worse, it could be that despite all his clubhouse yarns, he really doesn’t have a clue about seamanship. Yes, we’ve all been there and seen every kind of fault from close quarters so we know what makes a poor skipper but what about the good ones? Here is my checklist – see if you agree.


A good skipper knows his boat and how to handle her. He can navigate with and without electronic aids, he understands and uses boating terms without being pretentious, he knows the right knot or bend for the job, he can read the weather and he knows something of first aid. He has an ability to translate theoretical knowledge to practical action and his knowledge base is broad enough to enable him to find alternative solutions if required.

Much of this knowledge comes from experience of course. Knowledge and experience gives the skipper an air of measured confidence and unruffled coolness. These are the attributes that instil confidence among the crew. The problem of course is that these qualities take time to acquire and there is no substitute, unless of course the skipper is a good actor. Time on the water improves skill and few of us manage to get enough time out there, so to some extent it could be argued that all the best skippers are good actors, appearing cool and confident even when they aren’t.


A good skipper is always prepared for the trip and he makes sure his boat and crew are prepared also. It used to be said that you can spot a seaman by the way he lays his ropes, and the knots he chooses. You can also spot a potentially good skipper by the way he cares for his boat. The boat will be well provisioned, flares will be within date, the course will be marked out on paper charts and they, along with the log book will be on the chart-table ready for use. There will be a place for everything and everything will be in its place ready for action.

Not only will the boat be well prepared but a good skipper also makes sure his crew is well prepared. He briefs his crew carefully before departure and explains the route he is taking, he describes how the tide will help and or hinder them along the way, gives an estimate of the length of the voyage and he updates them on the latest weather forecast and its implications for the trip. For those who haven’t sailed with him before, he shows them round the boat highlighting the locations of the first aid kit, liferaft, flares, and lifejackets.

People Skills

Above all things the Skipper must have well developed people skills; he needs to take time to get to know them as individuals, their strengths, weaknesses, interests and the sources of their motivation, and he has to accept that some will be more experienced than others and allocate tasks accordingly. He needs to understand that people volunteering as crew are placing a great deal of confidence in him and he must accept this responsibility not only for their well being but also for their feeling of well being. They may have come along to gain more experience and he has a duty to them in this respect. Above all they want to work the boat and share in the feeling of achievement which comes with a successful voyage. He has a duty of care for their physical and psychological well being – every crew member needs periods of work and time for rest and leisure. They need to be well fed - a skipper who ignores this doesn’t keep a crew for long. 


The key difference between skipper and crew is that he is the leader and decision taker. There is only room for one skipper on any boat and this fact needs to be clear to all who ship aboard. A good skipper doesn’t need to explain this. Along with the ‘privilege’ of power however, there is a responsibility to act with sound judgment. A good skipper doesn’t avoid this or try to run his ship as a committee. He will take the decisions he feels he needs to take regardless of their popularity. Decisions of whether to sail or postpone a trip because of adverse weather forecasts are his to make as are mid-voyage decisions concerning whether to press on or run for shelter. He may choose to consult with his crew in order to ascertain their strength or motivation to complete the trip but the decision is his and his alone.

Sense of humour

Finally, a good skipper needs to have a good sense of humour and be relaxed in his role. He maintains a sense of discipline when it is required but he must also plan for crew relaxation. So, he shouldn’t push too hard. He should take account of the strength of his crew, accept that their appetite for long voyages may be less than his, make it clear that their safety is his prime concern, share his love of the sea and the boating life with them, be prepared to teach new skills and allocate tasks fairly, but also leave some time for fishing, picnics, and exploring new harbours and anchorages. Boating is supposed to be fun after all.  Have I missed anything out?


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tie a Bowline

A month or so ago I suggested that there are only about eight knots that a boating person needs to know. Here is one of the vital eight. It's one of the most useful knots you’ll come across and it is the quickest and most useful way to put a fixed loop in the end of a rope. It is simple and strong, it won’t slip and it never jams. Use it to tie to a bollard. Use two to join two lengths of rope. Tie it around your waist if ever you have to go over the side to clear a fouled prop.

I have a friend a retired Thames tugboat captain who used to tie it behind his back as a party-piece when he’d had a few rums. You don’t have to be so clever, just so long as you can tie it when you need to - without looking for instructions.

Begin by making a loop in the end of a line 

Then take the end of the line and pass it up through the loop and round the back of the standing part of the line.


 Now bring it back over the standing part 

and back though the loop

Now pull tight and the job is done 

 It’s an indispensable knot, but if you want to keep sailing credibility it’s not enough to be able to tie it, you’ll need to be able to pronounce it correctly as well. Remember Bowline should rhyme with ‘Stolen’.