All posts by Gavin Atkin

John Simpson: the art of enjoying a refit

Our good friend John Simpson argues that the secret of the refit is to find ways to enjoy it. Many thanks John!

‘In the depths of a cold, dark winter when in the middle of refitting our old wooden boat, sometimes I used to question why we did it. Sure,we loved the boat and the pleasure we all got as a family sailing her, but was all this work my wife and I did really justified?

‘One winter, I met an old hand who showed me a much better way of fitting out.

‘The boat was afloat at her mooring close to the Town Quay in Lymington that winter. I’d spent most of the day boiling up pitch on the stove. Then pouring it between the lands of my clinker planks, so no fresh water would be trapped in certain areas but would run off into the bilge. This was an area, which I’d identified where Blauwe Slenk’s frames had gone soft before, and I wouldn’t let it happen again, while I was looking after her, on the principle that you don’t own an old wooden boat, but keep her in trust, for next person!

‘The old watering can of pitch took an age to boil, so I’d also been painting the inside of the forepeak grey, before replacing all the newly varnished mahogany planks of her interior lining.

‘Not surprisingly for a February day in the UK, the colour of the sky matched the colour of my paint: it was damp and bleak.

‘Occasionally with the boat well enclosed, I had to go on deck from time to time, just to breathe some cold fresh air. The combined vapours I was breathing weren’t quite Columbian gold, but they had their effects.

‘During one of these breaks, David Gay who had obviously spotted me in my cockpit rowed across and invited me for a cup of tea, on his own old boat. I didn’t know him well, but we had met one another when he was about to examine some of my YM candidates, and at the odd RYA YMI meeting.

‘“Come over in about half an hour John”he said, “When you’ve finished, the light will be gone soon anyway”!

‘It gave me fresh incentive, to try and finish some of my painting, before I couldn’t see the runs any more.

‘Then I duly sculled over to visit him on his boat Mutine. I knocked as I came aboard, and David greeted me covered in paint (including his hair) with his overalls on, explaining that he had been painting his deck head. He didn’t’t think it a good idea, to light his stove, but a ‘pinkers’ might be just the ticket.

‘Joining me in the cockpit David produced a couple of large paint-splattered half-pint mugs of pink gin. By the time he poured the second, the evening mist looked really good and the cold had gone. We had moved into discussing his days of running Royalist and sailing square-riggers.

‘“Always finish your days refit feeling good,”he said, “then you’ll be back for more.“ Certainly, as our refit wore on through the winter, occasionally we’d meet again. He mentioned, that he quite understood why I thought Mount Gay rum and fresh lime makes a reasonable drink to end the day, and I became educated in the importance of Angostura bitters with gin ‘as the Navy’drinks it.

‘Both our old yachts ended up, gleaming like new pins, with David’s different way of viewing a refit!’


Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin

Julie read Peter Willis’s book Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin (published by Lodestar) with great pleasure recently. She was clearly charmed by it, and I thought her comments were interesting – not least because they show how Peter’s book is as relevant to non-boating Ransome fans as it is for us boat nuts.

Here’s what she says:

‘I read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea when I was a child with no understanding or experience of sailing whatsoever and no knowledge of that part of our coast – but when I first read it I enjoyed it as an adventure in an unfamiliar and exciting world, but with the familiar characters I knew from the earlier books.

‘So it was really nostalgia that led me to read Good Little Ship. As a result of reading Peter Willis’s book I immediately re-read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea with a lot more understanding of the locations and what inspired Ransom’s story.

‘I’m not a great sailor or a regular reader of sailing books, but Good Little Ship kept me reading from the beginning. The story of the 28ft 6in Hillyard-built Nancy Blackett, is tightly written and nicely illustrated, and it’s like reading a family history, with all the different owners and their good and bad fortunes.

‘It’s also very clear that for Peter Willis finding, restoring and then sailing Ransome’s yacht in the same waters that Ransome had sailed had a lot in common with a love affair.’




The Steamship London and Foul Weather Call

The sad tale of the Steamship London, which is said to have sunk in a storm in the Bay of Biscay as a result of being overloaded. If you’ve ever wondered what disasters prompted the legal changes that brought in the Plimsoll Line, this is one of them.

Foul Weather Call can be thought of as a hornpipe or a reel, I think. Either way it comes from a 19th collection of tunes owned by the Welch family, who lived in the little Sussex port of Bosham.