Category Archives: Sailing boat

Torbay J class yachts

These photographs of the Torbay J Class 2 yachts Dolphin (ex Sonnet) and Suzette were sent in by owner Ingo Werner, who lives on the island of Usedom in the North-East of Germany, and has got in touch after meeting Fowey boatbuilder Marcus Lewis. Thanks Marcus!

Two years ago he bought Torbay J Suzette, which was built by Louis Gale of Paignton in 1920. I think they look like very pleasant and wholesome cruising and racing boats – and I must say I’m curious about how they sail.

Here’s what he says about them:

‘About 20 Torbay Js were built, the most of them by Louis Gale.

Suzette was converted to a yawl in the 1950s.

‘Last year I had the chance to acquire another Torbay J. Her name when I bought her was Dolphin, but her original name was Sonnet, and she was built in 1936.

When I saw her in January she was in a shed, and had not been in the water for two or more years.

In February I trailered her to my workshop in Germany. Unfortunately her condition was worse then expected, but happily the rot mainly in the deck, which is easier to repair. The planking and the bent frames are in good shape, and I plan to put her back in the water the next season.

‘Next week I will replace some frames on Suzette with the help of a professional boat builder, who might also help replacing the deck on Dolphin.

‘To cut a long story short: next year Suzette and Dolphin will race against each other.

‘I have already had two really nice sailing seasons with Suzette, taking part in the Classic Week 2014 at Flensburg, Sonderborgh, Kiel, Eckernförde, and Kappeln this year.

‘I feel a bit guilty about kidnapping two of these fine small boats from UK to Germany, but both were standing two or more years in a shed or in a container, so I also felt that I had take care of them because there seemed no one else!

‘But I have an idea. It might be unrealistic but why not give it a try…

‘I’d like to revive the Torbay J Class 2. There is another boat in UK that I know of called Nautilus that was restored by Joh Iley a few years ago. Maybe it would be possible to get in contact with John Iley with the help of your weblog?

‘I also was told that there is another Torbay J around that was converted to a launch.

‘How brilliant would it be to build up a small fleet of new Js in Germany and another one in Devon and Cornwall and race against each other! One year in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, the next year in Germany and so on. Maybe it would be possible to organise a big revival regatta starting of Paignton in a few years.

Dolphin came with some historical material about the class, together with some old photos.

‘The silver model of Dolphin (photographed) was cast in 1960, and may be around somewhere – if it could be found it could be the challenge cup of the regatta!

‘It would be so great to get in contact with people who like the idea or maybe know something more about other boats.’


‘PS: I have read the book Catalan Castaway a few weeks ago. Brilliant book!’

Contact me at, and I will forward your messages and emails to Ingo.

PPS – Bill Serjeant has written to tell me about his time of owning a J4. His boat was Phillida, pictured below, and he has put up several posts about the boat and his adventures with her, including a trip to Alderney at his popular weblog, Bill’s Log. Oh – and he answer’s my question about the boat’s performance…

Bill Serjeant's Torbay j4 Phillida

The Dinghy Cruising Companion

The Dinghy Cruising Companion

Some how-to books are bad, some good, and just a few become classic texts on their topic that will be read and occasionally argued over for decades – and I think this volume from Dinghy Cruising Association president Roger Barnes is one of the last group.

It’s frankly stunning to look at, hugely informative and interesting.

It is also persuasive, with many descriptions of sailing trips and superb photography. Dinghy cruising has had some good books and good authors in the past, but The Dinghy Cruising Companion outlines the dinghy cruising formula better than any I’ve seen.

Both on the Internet, in my observation, and in print, Roger is a man of firm views backed up by powerfully made arguments, and in the area of cruising in dinghies his opinions are supported by a wealth of experience.

The topics he covers include everything you’d expect: choosing a boat, fitting out for day-sailing, boat handling, mooring and anchoring, preparing for open water, coping with the tides, currents and overfalls, the chop of the open sea, coastal navigation, and how to be as comfortable and safe as possible. This is all within limits of what can be achieved in a small boat, of course.

He does it superbly. The Dinghy Cruising Companion explains aspects of small boat sailing I have never found elsewhere, or had explained to me by other sailors.

Opening the pages pretty well at random, I learn that bars form across rivers because at the point the river’s rapid movement stops on meeting the sea, it then drops its silt and sand. It seems obvious once it’s been explained, but most sailing books don’t mention it. Over the page, Roger explains that the white water of a storm is dangerous to a small boat because it loses density, which robs a small boat of its usual buoyancy, which in turn means it will crash through the water rather than rising over it. A couple of pages later he reminds us that when in danger of broaching when sailing before the wind, sheet in to spill wind rather than out, as you would in other points of sailing.

The whole book is like this – packed with useful instructions and advice, much of it as relevant to those of us who sail small yachts as it is to dinghy sailors.

To be frank, most of the rest of us are unlikely to assemble such experience for ourselves. While dinghy cruising has its undoubted charms and dinghy day sailing remains a popular and pleasant activity, for many of us it remains a romantic and appealing idea that is unlikely ever to be fulfilled, partly because of the discomfort and danger, and partly because while we’re mostly social animals, most of the time dinghy cruisers sail alone. It’s not an activity for a young family, for example, and by the law of averages an individual who enjoys dinghy cruising will be very lucky to find a life partner or even a friend who shares their enthusiasm to go sailing with.

But as I say, much of what The Dinghy Cruising Companion has to say is relevant to all cruising sailors. My concern is that I’m unlikely to remember it all when I need it, but at least I’ve read it in Roger’s rather awesome book… And in the runup to Christmas, it’s available from all good online bookshops!