Friday, July 18, 2008


Painting - Jack Coggins

This is a yawl with a bone in her teeth. The yacht is one that has been built from a particular yacht design. I am going to take a punt as to the identity of that design.

I see from the flag that is flying off the leech of the mizzen that she is from the United States. By looking at the point at the bottom of the stern I can see that she is of hard chine hull form. Comparing the size of the crew with the size of the boat I would estimate that the yacht is about 34 feet in overall length excluding the bowsprit. The other features of the yacht that are worthy of note are the combination bowsprit and boomkin and the cabin form without a doghouse.

So what yacht is this? Well what gives her identity away is really the overall look of the boat. Its not really a hard bit of detective work at all and many sailors who know their boats would pick her for what she is. So what is she? - well I think that she is an example of the V-bottom Sea Bird design, a type developed by Captain Thomas Fleming Day and yacht designers on the staff of the Rudder Magazine. The reason for using the V-bottom type was that it is easier for the amateur builder to lay down and construct this type of hull form.

A smaller edition of this yacht (26 feet) was sailed across the Atlantic in the very early 1900s by Fleming Day. It was one of the great early transatlantic crossings.

But a more famous voyage was completed by the bigger 34 foot edition pictured above by the legendary Harry Pidgeon who completed a single handed circumnavigation in the 1920s in his yacht Islander. He wrote a classic book about his exploits called "Around The World Single - Handed". It was at the beginning of the golden age of small boat circumnavigations - an age marked by the spirit of courage and the robustness of simplicity.

These were far off and much simpler days when a small yacht could come and go throughout the Pacific Islands and many other areas of the world without the red tape and bureaucracy of today. These adventures were uncommon and the sailors of this era were treated as heroes.

They were heroes. These were the days before GPS, SSB radios, VHF, EPIRPs and air searches. You left harbour and your return depended solely on your seamanship, the seaworthiness of your little ship with a little bit of luck for good measure.

Many of this type of yacht were built by amateurs all over the world. My Uncle built this larger version here in New Zealand in the late 1940s and called her Joy. He started the ill fated 1951 Wellington to Lyttleton yacht race in her that saw four yachts perish. He left Wellington but returned because of storm force winds and huge waves in Cook Strait - but shipmates that's another story.

Harry Pidgeon and Islander - I salute you, and all circumnavigators old and new - such a voyage is a huge accomplishment indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Photo - Alden Smith

NIGHT PASSAGE - Poem by Denis Glover

Plotted sure for set, eye to weather,
The revs eased down
I nosed happily along
The dark coast where I belong.

"Now look at dawning froth
Beating at hills held by rock teeth.
If you like it's like a frilly petticoat
White - beaten against the reef."

"Aye," grunted Mick, wise in the ways
Of the swirl and flick
Of women and wave. "Aye, purty - purty,
But a sea petticoat can be dirty."

At least in the east light seen
The hills' breasts rose clean.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Painting by Jack Coggins


Clear and sweet in the crystal weather
The sail and the shroud
Are walking and talking together.

Wind tumbles from the sail, the blocks
Clattering, and the hull dies.

To drift at the cliff's foot
Is to feel the south. The swell
Heaves wide and free like a mature woman,
And the rocks,
Bannered with weed among the gulp
And tumour of the tide
Accept with patience each long kiss.

The far brown hills swelling triumphant
From the plain of blue to the blue sky
Bosom the easy cloud,
Serene and self-possessed rising
Amid illimitable seas endlessly sad.

Wind whispers in: the yacht again
Asserts direction on the trackless tide.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Painting by Jack Coggins

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face
and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way
where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.

Poem by John Masefield


The Cutty Sark, Greenwich London - Photograph - Alden Smith

Any sailor worth his sea boots and his medicinal purposes only hip flask of rum, knows that when she starts taking it green over the bows and the spindrift starts flying, you turn your pipe upside down and suck harder. This keeps the tobacco in and the embers alight! Its really just a question of common sense and basic physics. Sailors are full of common sense and Triston Jones was a sailor with a good understanding of the physics and agelessness of wind propulsion. This is what he said about the world and its reliance on oil.

"I can't wait for the oil wells to run dry, for the last gob of black, sticky muck to come oozing out of some remote well. Then the glory of sail will return." - Triston Jones

You know as well as I do shipmates that this desire flies as high as a warm wind filled spinnaker in the hearts of those who love sail. When peoples faces appear gloomy at the words 'Peak Oil' we smile a smile as broad as the Mississippi in full flood. Aye, its an ill wind that blows no one any good and what's blowing a cold blast around the smelly empty tanks of noisy petrol heads is blowing a warm trade wind song around the poetic hearts of sailors. The beauty and strength of this lyrical wind shipmates is that it is free, just as its always been.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Photo - Sutton Estate
This photo is a record of part of the family legacy that I salute when I give thanks for a love of little ships and the sea. This is my grandfather Burt Sutton after the launching in the early 1960s of his modified John Hanna designed 'Tahiti Ketch". She was built outside in Bamford Street, Woolston, Christchurch, New Zealand. Those that know the area will recognise the Port Hills and Castle Rock in the background.
She was modified by taking the cabin sides out to sides of the hull. She is technically called a 'raised deck' version of the Tahiti Ketch. The advantages of doing this are that it adds considerably to roominess inside and a great feeling of spaciousness. The down side is that you loose side decks to walk forward on and you are unable to sit comfortably on the cabin top with your feet on the deck. I personally wouldn't have built her with this modification. In 99% of cases it is always better to stick to the architect's plans.

Once she was complete she was levered across the road on greased skids at the back of my grandparents property and launched in the Heathcote river. She sat in the river for a time until the masts were completed, then taken down to the Heathcote bridge and the masts installed from the top of the bridge. She was then taken through the Christchurch estuary and across the Sumner bar to Lyttleton. For some time she was on pile moorings at Diamond harbour and finally on piles outside the Banks Peninsula Yacht Club in Lyttleton.

My grandfather always said in relation to any misgivings about the construction, materials etc that "she will see Me out" but sadly it wasn't to be. She was lost on the rocks on Quail Island in a summer gale and was a total loss. Undaunted my grandfather started to build yet another boat, a large flat bottomed boat of sharpie, dory type form.

When the boat was lost, it was found that some parts of the hull were already rotten, and in some ways the ship wreck could have thwarted an even bigger tragedy from happening as the hull was obviously not seaworthy at all. There is a lesson to learnt in all of this. Build your little ship of the best materials money will buy and don't build outside in the rain, build her under cover in a good shed. Freshwater is the enemy of timber, especially if the timber is untreated.

Despite the loss, I still have have happy memories of sailing with my grandfather on Lyttleton harbour in his dream ship. His example of hard work and perseverance has been an inspiration to me.