Piers Rowlandson FRCP
A writer's blog


1st to 4th June.



“Ahoy Betty II!”

“Ahoy Carlotta!”

“Ahoy there Spinnaway X we are coming alongside!”  Gaffers love to raft up.   Ahoy Red Goose, Step Back in Time, East Breeze and Moon River, to name just a few old friends.  Old refers to the boats not the friends.


Ben has arrived in Betty II, a 1921 shallow draft East Coast design complete with centre board, very light and fast, clearly one to win prizes.  Barbara has sailed from Shoreham in Moon River a Yarmouth 23, singled handed and having to cope with the engine refusing to go astern!  Marion, also single handed has come from the Itchen in East Breeze, a Tamarisk 22.  My Carlotta is a Heard 28 built in 1993 so not strictly speaking an old gaffer, but the great thing about this Festival is that all are welcome.  Spinnaway X on the other hand was registered in 1889 as an open fishing boat using hooks on a long line, hence the term Plymouth Hooker.  Later she was decked in and cruised as a yacht.  Most of the fishing boats and oyster dredgers of 28 foot and less were originally open boats and it was only after the World War I that the fashion for adding a cabin became prevalent.  Maurice Griffiths of “The Magic of the Swatchways” fame was one of the people who promoted cruising in such boats and some of his designs are here.


I am busy “dressing overall” and putting out more flags at the cross trees: club burgees in order of seniority to starboard and pennants from previous festivals to port.  I take so long to get it all up that I miss out on the beer and unaccompanied male voice singing at Yarmouth Sailing Club across the road.  Ben did not encourage me to join him, probably he has found out that I am tone deaf and like to sing very loudly. 


My sausages for the BBQ are still in the freezer at home so I take Scampi and chips from “The Sign of the Blue Crab” to the Royal Solent Yacht Club, and meet up with a whole bunch of friends I have not seen since we left Douarnenez last summer.


The Gaffle Race is threatened by flat calm and we tie onto Polly Agatha who is already moored to a buoy in Bouldnor Bay.  Betty II ties onto us and if the wind had not got up this could have been a record long string of gaffers.  Great timing by the race committee meant we got away in a freshening breeze and the whole fleet went tacking up the Green against the tide: a fantastic spectacle.  After a close encounter with Old Harry’s Rock we made the pier and decided the time had come to explore the mainland shore.  We discovered Colton dead ahead and went for it.  There was just time to round Colton and head back towards Bouldnor and the Committee Boat.  We crossed the line one minute before the 14.00hrs deadline. Betty II was the winner.  


The entertainment on Friday evening was back at Yarmouth Sailing Club.  The food was excellent but the performance put on by JC and the Dance Preachers was out of this world.  I think the band is partly a family affair and I recognised the drummer from another Island band.   There was audience participating on triangle and ukulele, foot tapping and dancing.  Mark Hickman, boat builder and violin maker, entertained us with two sea chanties of his own while accompanying himself on guitar. 


The Gaffers race the next day was sailed in much more windy conditions, but we carried our topsail to the end.  Again, the race Committee did us proud.  It was a brilliant gaffer course with plenty of reaching and Look Back in Time (one of the smallest boats) was the winner.  We got back to the harbour in time for the jousting and log races.  It was very windy but three of the logs managed to sail the course and two teams completed the jousting to the amusement or bemusement of bystanders. 


After prize-giving some went off to pubs and restaurants but a large number of gaffers squeezed into the Royal Solent dining room for more excellent food and conversation. 


Sunday morning saw some preparing to race but as I was single handed I got ready to leave.  The helpful Yarmouth Harbour staff helped me turn Carlotta round and we motored out into the Solent, and with just the head sails set, we ran goose winged, heading for home and the Medina River.


Piers Rowlandson

8th June 2017


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Sea Chanty
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