Sailing: early memories

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Sailing: early memories

My first memory of a trip in a sailing dinghy occurred when I was maybe 10 years old or little older. As far as I can remember it, my family was on a touring holiday with my grandparents. One day we passed a lake at which one could rent sailboats by the hour and the idea was broached that we should have a sail. The problem was that none of us knew how to sail, at least that’s what I thought. However, my grandfather, who had been in the Boer war in which he might have been a major - he certainly looked like one - said that certainly he knew how to sail, of course he did. So we rented a sailboat and all piled into it.

Things certainly went well at the start as we left the dock and sailed beautifully down the lake to the other end where there was a bank of reeds. There, we turned the rudder to proceed back to the dock but that’s when things started to go wrong. While sailing downwind is a no-brainer, sailing the other way requires knowledge and skill that my grandfather did not have, despite his assertion!

A motorboat was sent out from the dock and we were shamefacedly towed back to the dock while all the other sailors watched. That was my introduction to sailing.

Clacton Sailing Club

My family had a caravan (trailer) on the beach at St. Osyth, close to Clacton-on-sea in the Thames Estuary, where we spent weekends. Today, there are two sailing clubs in Clacton but at that time there was only Clacton Sailing Club. One day in the mid 1960’s, the club put an ad in the local paper. It was looking for new members and said that if anyone who was interested in sailing would visit the club that Sunday, they would get a free trip in a sailing dinghy to introduce them to the sport. My father thought it would be interesting to take them up on this offer and so we went.

When we arrived, it seemed that the left hand had not told the right hand what it was doing and no-one knew anything about the ad. However, a family was found that could provide me with a sailing trip and their daughter was elected to take me out. That was something: not only a sail but also alone in a boat with the daughter. However, the daughter didn’t seem interested in me but I enjoyed the sail and subsequently joined the club.

While I don’t remember ever sailing with the daughter again, I became friendly with her family and was asked to crew for her brother, Tony, who I think was about 14 years old at the time. Back home, I quickly went to the library and took out all the books I could find on sailing: how to sail and how to race. I studied the books and became quite an efficient crew. Tony was my helmsman and we did quite well together. On the right are some medals that we won in weekend races.

The popular sailboats at the club were the Mayfly (see here and here) and a catamaran called, I think, a Ti-cat. There were also one or two of several other designs such as the Enterprise which I remember as having a round bottom which made it roll a lot when running downwind.

Tony’s family had a Mayfly dinghy, which was a class-built dinghy 12 ft. 9 in. long. It was designed and marketed from Devon and was adopted in Clacton because it was a good, safe, ocean-sailing dinghy. On the sail it had a flying “M” as its class designation. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any photos or those sailing days although I do have a standard 8mm movie film that maybe I can digitize one day. The medals are all dated 1966 so I guess I stopped sailing after that although I don’t remember the reason. Perhaps Tony and his family moved or left the club.

My father had a clinker-built sailing dinghy which was a class design. It was a tough boat and suited to the stoney beaches at St. Osyth where it was used. It was a heavy boat, though, and we had to use inflatable rollers to get it into the water. Once launched, the rollers were strapped under the side benches as built-in buoyancy.


Later years

In later years, I didn’t do much sailing at all - just a rare sail when the opportunity presented itself, such as at a resort. However, in 1997, Jacquie and I moved to the South Shore of Nova Scotia which is very much a boating community. We would often be invited out for a sail on friends’ boats, both sail and power. On the left is a photo of me at the helm of a friend’s keelboat.

Since the ocean was just across the road from our house, I thought it would be useful to have a boat of my own. It would be good to have a small boat to use to potter around the bay and visit the many islands and their beaches.

That’s when the Goblin came into my life...


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