EPSON scanner Image
EPSON scanner Image
John Simpson has kindly sent us his reminiscences of sailing on the East Coast during the 1960s – and bloody marvellous they are.
Thanks John ! Not too many parents have the aptitude and inclination to take their families sailing and boating like this, and of course not all youngsters would enjoy it anyway… so you were clearly very lucky, and I’m envious!
Were the 1960’s the last great age of wooden boats? An Essex boy remembers…
I began sailing with my Dad in the early 50’s aged three. Dauntless, our family’s first boat, was a 12-ton Lowestoft fishing smack, of uncertain vintage.
Most boats were wooden and many of the boatyards that built yachts also maintained them on and off the water.
Sailing then was considered ‘a rich man’s game’ [Sadly, for many, it still is impossibly expensive, or seems to be – Ed]. Money was very tight formany people during this period of austerity just after the war. To keep costs down many dedicated amateur sailors did their own refitting.
During his spare time it took my father three years to convert this smack into a pleasure yacht. The work took place at Brandy Hole on the upper reaches of the River Crouch in Essex, where she was kept semi-afloat in a mud berth on the salting.
When I was ten my father sold the old 12 ton smack and moved further down the Crouch from Brandy Hole. My parents bought (a younger) 1906 30ft Falmouth yawl called Patience with a lovely canoe stern, and kept her on Tucker-Brown’s mooring at Burnham.
Mum, my sister Pat and I used to cycle over from Leigh-on-sea on Friday evening for the weekend’s sailing – the three of us would pedal six or seven miles down to Canewdon, and then catch a small passenger ferry over to Burnham. Meanwhile, Dad often came later after work on his 500cc Norton motor-bike, which he was lucky enough to win in his firm’s Christmas raffle!
During those early days being a typical Essex boy, I was always looking to make a few bob – for example by using my father’s dinghy to row folks over the river. If they’d walked east from Canewdon until opposite the moorings at Burnham they would wave for a lift across.
King’s had part of their boatyard with a small slip there, and it was a hard row across the tide with a couple of grownups aboard. So I used to make ’em pay…
Bob and Sonny Cole ran Tucker-Brown’s and were building traditional yachts. Many were Ocean Racing types for various wealthy sailors of three big clubs’ on the Crouch; Royal Corinthian, Royal Burnham and Crouch Yacht Club.
Prior’s and King’s were competing boatyards at Burnham during this period.
My father joined the Crouch Yacht Club, and my sister and I became junior members.
The partnership between to two Cole brothers at Tucker-Brown worked extremely well. Bob who was lame (Polio as a kid!) ran the boat building and mooring part of the business, whilst Sonny did the selling, and very often skippering some of their new racing boats.
They employed as many as twenty ship-wrights along with other hands. Many of these men built beautiful models of Thames barges and sailed them in their spare time. Bob’s passion was to go and watch athletics, particularly if it was an Olympic year!
They ran a very busy yard. To this day I remember watching their master ship-wright making a new stem for a big yacht, out of a single huge lump of grown oak. I was amused that he had on little half-glasses to read the drawings.
He cut away using his adze just like a surgeon whilst talking away to me. He asked me how I thought measurement in three dimensions could be done – he didn’t have a clue, and did it mostly by eye. It was magical to watch a great craftsman at work!
One night when we were all asleep on the mooring in Patience there was a terrific bang. My father shot up into the companionway to see what had happened. Sonny Cole was towing a honeymoon couple back in his launch after they had run out of wind. Being rather distracted with each other they had allowed the tide to carry them sideways and had broken our bowsprit.
My mother was frantically tugging at my father. He never wore pyjama bottoms and was exchanging some choice words with the young people after his fright!
Once into my teens during the summer I would have preferred not to go down to Burnham sailing with my parents, having a large group of school friends home at Leigh where we raced GP14 dinghies. We had Sally Setford who was then the current National Champion helping us to improve.
But at my tender age I wasn’t given any choice!
We had wonderful family cruising holidays on Patience visiting Holland, Belgium and France. Dad won the Crouch Yacht club’s ‘Bamber Cup’ for the best cruising log three years in a row! A few years later I got to know Sonny Cole much better. He’d seen us Leigh lads racing our dinghies during Burnham Week and living on Dad’s boat, and apparently he’d become very worried about us when he’d spotted four of our GP 14’s coming down south into the Crouch. We’d had a very doggy sail through the Ray Sand Channel in a hat full of wind while dinghy cruising!
He was out working up a one of the then new Whirlwind racing yachts – it was one of several that Kim Holman had designed for a Mr Wilkinson of razor blades fame. Sonny stood the new boat off and on at the entrance to the river fearing for our lives!
He never mentioned it to me, but told my father!
Sonny loved Holman’s designs much preferring them to Buchannan’s boats. He always thought that although they were fast, Alan’s designs were too tender: one big ketch called Starfire of Kent he nicknamed Starshite of… Essex men were never to keen on folks from Kent, anyways!
They’d just raced the boat in the North Sea Race. ‘She put all her deck including coachroof in the water going upwind, in just a moderate breeze, John’. She had to be re-designed adding another ton of ballast.
To be fair to Mr Buchanan, yacht design wasn’t an exact science back then!
After successfully campaigning Holman’s first Twister. Sonny decided that the 26ft smaller clinker Stella design might bring plenty of new boat orders for the yard. It did, particularly as by this time the yard had run out of most of their seasoned teak (which had been put down before the war); and had started to use Iroko for planking.
My first job teaching sailing was on a new Stella. Sonny asked me to help out a much older couple on their boat. They’d run into trouble during their first North Sea race. The lady was some form of London psychologist and being only 14 or 15 I worried she might be trying to analyse me.
Other little days of teaching jobs followed. One of many highlights was helping out racing on one of the Royal Corinthian One Design day boats with a young couple…
After fifteen I was allowed to stay at Leigh over the weekends, racing dinghies against my friends. This was more fun. But just a couple of years later I discovered that racing bigger boats offshore was also very challenging. I was lucky to be able to combine both.
Looking back I realise how brilliant that period was in helping me later becoming a sailing coach, but at the time it all felt normal for any keen East Coast sailing lad.