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

2013 Finesse meet scheduled for Stangate Creek, 24th May

Ivy May, a gaff rigged Finesse 21 - Swale 2012 - Nick Ardley Mariette, a gaff rigged Finesse 24 in Benfleet Creek - Nick Ardley.

The mate tickles Whimbrel's bottom... Nick's Finesse 24 on the hard. Nick's Whimbrel heeling well, sailing near Southend Pier - picture, Ian Kemp

Author and Thames Estuary sailor Nick Ardley tells me that Finesse yacht owners are planning a gathering for all sizes of the timber-built craft in the Medway area during the late May Bank Holiday weekend.

Finesse builder Alan Platt also built a few one-offs, and these are also welcome too.

The plan is to gather at Stangate Creek on the Friday, and then head up river on the Saturday morning to berth at Chatham Marina, where the events pontoon and marquee have been booked. An evening BBQ is planned.

Sunday is to be a dock day, with dispersal on the Monday 27th May. For details, contact
Nick using the email form at his website:

Tides for the River Medway are a little after noon on the Friday, and the hope is that this will give East Coast boats an opportunity to attend – there is currently a growing fleet of Finesses in the Leigh and Canvey Island area, and another around the Swale and Medway’s creeks.

Some 12-13 owners are already expected, and one South Coast-based Finesse 21 owner has also indicated his intention to sail up and use the meet as an opportunity to explore the swatchways of the Thames Estuary.

Nick’s latest book Jottings of a Thames estuary Ditch-crawler contains a chapter about the Finesse yachts based on an interview with Alan Platt, that includes the story of Platt got his business started in a yard in Hadleigh Woods, by the side of the Thames Estuary.

I gather from Nick that the original Finesse 21 hull was designed by Laurie Harbottell, with a deck structure and fit out by Platt. The F21s were either gaff or bermuda rigged, sloops and cutters. All had centre plates and a shallow long keel.

The F24 was stretched out from the F21, and that there were no official drawings – it was all done by eye, Nick says the design works well.  [There’s a boat designer’s saying that almost all existing hull designs can be improved by simply making them 10 per cent longer, so this seems to make sense – Ed.]

The F24s were also gaff-rigged, but most were Bermudan sloops and cutters. They have a fairly deep long keel that makes them great ditch-crawlers, and many also had centre plates that take their draft to around 7ft when right down; however, some had plates and bilge keels or no plate and bilge keels…

Platt then built a F27, the Tugela. She was a one-off: following further demand for the larger boat, Alan asked another well designer, Maurice Griffiths, to re-design his F27 – and she came out as the F28. All of these were long keeled with no centre plate.

Nick tells me he’s had Whimbrel, F24 number 64, from her build in 1983/4 (she was launched in April 84) and has enjoyed her ever since – he believes his boat is the longest in same ownership, though there is apparently an F21 that has been in the same hands for even longer.

Many of the boats have been owned for lengthy periods: for example F24 number 1 has been in the same family since her build in 1969, and passed from father to son some years ago.

For more information about Finesses, see the Google Finesse forum and the brand new Finesse Owners Association website.

Fabulous new publications from Lodestar Books include classic yachting authors Conor O’Brien, H Alker Tripp, H Lewis Jones and WE Sinclair

Inshore of the Goodwins sample

Shoalwater and Fairway - H Alker Tripp - Christmas gifts from Lodestar Books Swin, Swale and Swatchway  - H Lewis Jones - Christmas gifts from Lodestar Books On Going to Sea in Yachts - Conor O'Brien - Christmas gifts from Lodestar Books Cruises of the Joan - W E Sinclair - Christmas gifts from Lodestar Books

I have good news as we come up to the Christmas season – Dick Wynne’s wonderful Lodestar Books is republishing four more sailing classics that will make great gifts for the sailing man or woman:

  • Shoalwater and Fairway – The casual explorations of a sailing main in the shoal seas and tidal waters of Essex and Kent by H Alker Tripp, illustrated by the author. Click on a the image at the top of this post for a sample chapter
  • Swin, Swale and Swatchway by H Lewis Jones – Jones pre-dates both Maurice Griffiths and Francis B Cooke, and gives us the the Thames Estuary and the boats and characters inhabiting it in late Victorian times. His charming adventures and human encounters have an engaging immediacy, and are enhanced by the author’s many photographs, which provide a priceless glimpse of a time long gone
  • Cruises of the Joan by WE Sinclair – the cruises of an engineless, 22-ft Falmouth quay punt in the 1920s, first around Britain, then to Madeira and to the Baltic, and finally across the North Atlantic to Iceland and Greenland. Sinclair’s dry, phlegmatic humour and observation makes his accounts highly entertaining account – and one we might not have today if luck had not played its part
  • On Going to Sea in YachtsConor O’Brien’s distilled experience in selecting, equipping and handling sailing craft from the smallest beach cruiser to the ocean-going yacht. The author’s choice of topics and anecdotes, all related in a characteristically down-to-earth manner, makes valuable and engaging reading. His many clear drawings leave us in no doubt as to the practical details, which are born of his own experience over many years and many thousands of sea miles

If these aren’t quite what’s needed, don’t forget Lodestar’s previous publications, Francis B Cooke’s classic Cruising Hints – The Traditional Yachtsman’s Compendium and the outstanding Holmes of the Humber collection of material by and about legendary canoe yawl sailor, boat designer, artist  Humber Estuary figure, George Holmes. Get your great boating reading here!