Fifie Ocean Pearl has won the Round the Island Race gaffer class

Ocean Pearl raced in the Round the Island Race gaffer class – and won

Emsworth-based boatbuilder and reader Nick Gates has written into report that his fifie Ocean Pearl has won the gaffer division 1 class in the Round the Island Race this year. (I call Ocean Peal a fifie, but her upright stem and somewhat raked stern Nick has other names for her, including half-zulu. It’s a topic that has been aired here at intheboatshed in the past – click here and here.)

Anyway, here’s the story for this grand old lady’s tremendous victory:

‘Hi Gavin – I’m not really one to blow my own trumpet but the old tub Ocean Pearl put on a hell of a show on the Round The Island Race last Saturday. As you have probably read there were plenty of boats entered and plenty of wind. Our start was at 0610, which meant I had about two hours sleep before hand-a combination of too much rum and waking up early listening to the wind.

‘We set of to windward with one reef in the fore (main) and just the small stays’l. Down the Solent we regulary crossed tacks with the pilot cutter Polly Agatha. We had eight crew in total, and they soon had the tacks fine tuned into a neat manoeuvre, although the odd one was a three point turn!

‘At Hurst Castle and the Needles the seas built up and we broke out the genoa to power her through the swells. She was a bit overcanvassed really. The bowsprit was going under, we had water in the scuppers, and the crew on the foredeck were getting vertigo as we dropped into the 15 ft swells of the Shingle Bank. With a reef in the mast puts in a curious bend, and the hard eyes in the 12mm rigging had become stretched…..

‘As we turned the Needles the sheets were eased and we had a sleigh ride to St Catherines Point. Luggers aren’t great on a run and Polly Agatha slowly passed us, her long boom catching all the wind. She was about a mile ahead when we
finally lowered the fore, shook out the reef and set of in pursuit. We were maintaining about 7 knots, but on the big swells we were surfing, with the GPS showing 10.7knots!

‘Across Sandown Bay we kept in closer than most, with a small genoa poled out on the port side, leg-o-mutton style. By Bembridge Ledge we had closed the gap on Polly Agatha, and now it was a beat to the finish.

The majority at this point hug the cost of the Isle of Wight, keeping out of the tide and hoping for a lift as the wind comes off the island, but we did the opposite, staying on one tack over to Lee on Solent, through the flooding tide, and on towards the top of Southampton Water.

A final tack put us back across to Castle Point, and the finish line. Polly Agatha was closing fast, but we pipped her at the post by 5 minutes.

It was a long and exhausting day but what a result! Ocean Pearl was first with an elapsed time 10.36 hours, corrected 11.13 hours; with Polly Agatha second with an elapsed time 10.41 hours and 12.08 hours and Maybird third with  11.32 and 12.22 hours. The pilot cutters Merlin and Morwenna came fourth and fifth, and the pilot cutters Amelie Rose and Westernman,  (pilot cutters) and plank on edge gaff cutter Aeolus retired. Not bad for an old motor boat!

I’m impressed! I get breathless just reading this story – and it’s amazing that no sleep and a generous helping of rum can be so helpful in a race. Full results are of course at

Ocean Pearl – zulu, fifie or baldie? Scots fishing boat expert Jay Cresswell explains

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Regular visitors will remember I recently put up a photo of Nick Gates’ boat Ocean Pearl, which he believed to be a zulu skiff because of her vertical stem and raked stern. I must say that I thought the same – and was very pleased to be able to publish a photo of her.

Nick acquired her as a motor-powered fishing boat some years ago, brought her back to a condition where she could again put to sea, and added a sailing rig. The result is that she’s a handsome vessel, as the earlier photo shows.

However, the ex-trawler skipper and authority on marine history Jay Cresswell, who has for many years lived near Aberdeen, recently saw the photos and got in touch to put the matter right.

It seems that Ocean Pearl’s stern is not sufficiently raked and that she was built too late to allow her to be called a zulu. In support of his point, Jay sent us a fistful of photos of zulus shot while he was trawling in the ’70s and ’80s.

I’ll let him explain.

‘If Ocean Pearl was berthed up here in the North-East of Scotland, there is little or no doubt that she would be regarded as a fifie and, to confuse the issue further, a yawl too.

‘The boat below is a case in point – a fifie called Poppy on the Caledonian Canal, and one with the same rake to her sternpost, give or take a degree.

Fifie in the Caledonian Canal

Fifie Poppy on the Caledonian Canal
Continue reading “Ocean Pearl – zulu, fifie or baldie? Scots fishing boat expert Jay Cresswell explains”

A second look at the small zulu Ocean Pearl restored by Nick Gates

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The small zulu Ocean Pearl restored by Nick Gates

We’ve received this informative email from Nick Gates, the guy who restored the small zulu we featured in an earlier post.

‘Just been sent the link to your site by a friend. Very enjoyable! Glad to see our boat Ocean Pearl featured. The jury is out as to her correct type. Mike Smylie is unsure….thinks she may be a hybrid of a half zulu and a Danish seiner. Half zulu, because she is half-size, and built for fishing under power, not sail.

‘But sail she does! A few weeks ago we maintained a steady 8 knots through the water between Ryde and Chichester harbour, peaking at 8 ¼ knots. This was without the mizzen on a close reach in 18 to 20 knots of wind. She has proved to be quite handy in confined spaces, short tacks well, and will point as high as a good gaffer.

‘I plan to increase the rig this winter, with a longer bowsprit and larger headsails to improve her light weather performance. Saying that, she will pass any modern 37’Jeauneau/Bavaria/Rassy with ease.

‘I have done a couple of vids on YouTube:

‘Great site,

Come for a sail next year!

Nick Gates’

Well – that’s an invitation you don’t get every day! I’ll definitely take that one up if I get half a chance thanks Nick!

Nick’s videos are well worth looking at, the first for its glimpses of Ocean Pearl’s restoration, and the second because it conveys a sense of the heavy work involved in raising a big yard and how well the boat looks and sails.

See Nick’s website at

Is Ocean Pearl a zulu, fifie or a baldie? Click here.