Tag Archives: topmast

Hanging onto a topmast, aboard the Jolie Brise

That wonderful chap John Simpson has sent us another of his great stories, this time about two famous old sailing yachts (check the links below for some great background).

Do keep the stories coming when you can John!

(He’s just completed a voyage with a friend from the Hamble to Arisaig via the East Coast and the Caledonian Canal, by the way… )

‘Sailing old gaff rigged boats can be a bit different, particularly if you have a topmast to deal with…

‘Once we did a night passage with a young crew on Jolie Brisea fine old French pilot cutter with a lot of history.

‘We left from Scalasaig, Colonsay just before sunset then rounded the west coast of Mull finishing in Tobermory. The wind had been blowing quite hard SW F6/7 most of the day while we’d visited the island. According to the forecast the wind was due to moderate to SW F4/5 that night.

‘After we’d cleared the northern end of the island we felt the full force of wind and swell left over from the day’s blow. Thankfully the meteorological gods had judged it right, and had given us fast reach along our course in 15-18 knots of breeze.

‘Jolie Brise would easily have carried much more than all plain sail (consisting of mainsail, large jib and staysail) but the crew were all teenagers, and for that crew hoisting and setting even these sails took a lot of sweat, effort and time.

‘With a different sort of crew, we might have had the topsail and maybe even her enormous yankee with its 95ft luff hanked on at the end of her 19ft bowsprit, but we were slipping along well at seven or eight knots I judged that was enough. There was no need to have young folks on deck (or out on the sprit) coping with more heavy gear at night.

‘After clearing the SW corner of Mull and Iona and bearing away the wind suddenly died. The sea and swell left over from the earlier blow began rattling her huge gaff, boom and sail around frighteningly. Her heavy mainsail with all its ropes, blocks, gaff and boom plus associated iron work started making horrible noises and threatened to tear the rig apart.

‘Though her topmast was supported by a long forestay plus one running backstay. The young mate and I had a bad feeling. We might easily break or spring (split or crack) the 30 ft. spar if we didn’t do something rapidly to stop it waggling around. I should add that Jolie Brise’s topmast was a new one, but had already been broken in the Channel Isles earlier that season, though not by me. (I did see one break on the Fife schooner Belle Adventure in the Caribbean once, though… )

‘The pilot cutter was sporting a brand new bowsprit too – when a topmast breaks on the foremast of an old vessel very often the bowsprit also snaps because there is no forestay to stop it flexing downwards.

‘We started the engine, turned and ran gently with the swell behind us. This headed us NE towards quite a mess of rocks and islands, but the nasty sound of iron and wood crashing around stopped and the topmast stopped flexing!

‘Our minor crisis was over… but Murphy’s Law decreed that the wind would return just as suddenly half an hour later. We resumed our course north and all enjoyed a lovely broad reach until arriving at the northern part of Mull.

‘As we turned east dawn was already breaking giving a veiled glimpse of Ardnamurchan Point in the north.

‘The SW’ly breeze died away completely as we came under the lee of the island having to motor the last few miles into Tobermory. After mooring to the spare ferry buoy, we asked the crew if they’d enjoyed their first night passage offshore it was a resounding, yes. Despite heavy and persistent rain which seemed to have set in for the day, they still wanted to explore ashore.

‘Leaving them in the capable hands of my three older crewmembers. I decided to stay aboard and have a glance at the next leg of our trip.

‘Poking my head out the hatch for a break, another old white wooden yacht caught my eye. Her crew were looking for a mooring in a very crowded harbour, and I realised it was Temptress, Edward Allcard’s 1910 34ft yawl, which by this time was owned by friends who kept her in Falmouth.

‘I hailed them and suggested to my friends Vicki and Mark that they came alongside Jolie Brise. Both were very damp and looked quite relieved having being unable to find a vacant berth.

‘After they’d dried off, I invited them aboard for a brew. Mark began to speculate if these two old craft had ever been alongside each other somewhere, probably it would have been after George Martin converted Jolie Brise into a yacht in 1924, and would have happened well before we’d all been born… ‘