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UK Sailing, Sail Cruising
and Yachting Guide

Different Ships - no.1

by Bilbo

He spun the wheel and as the French-built sail-cruiser swung to starboard through the wind; he checked her momentarily to let the older guy snatch in the genoa. As she steadied and filled away again on port tack, the middle-aged helmsman glanced at the slant of the breeze, the trim of the sails, her heel and the rising boat speed, then his gaze took in the dozen other sailboats tacking west down the Swinge from Braye Harbour on a building fair tide and a steady 'Three' from the west - some well ahead, a couple motor-sailing and well clear, and another couple well off to starboard, but soon to tack back….

He gave a sigh of contentment. "Full and by," he thought, "A perfect day, and The Owner somewhere below."

Almost a mile away, right ahead in the bright sunlight, sat the low island of Burhou, where he had twice lain overnight in a still anchorage surrounded by reefs, seabirds, and stars. Further away, on the port bow, was Ortac, plastered white with guano, while further off still was the sharp-peaked outline of The Casquets rock, its powerful light blinking through the summer haze. "Flashing 5 every 30," he intoned, smiling to himself. "How many times down the years have I been glad to see that…..?"

Corbett Rock was well clear now on his port quarter, there were 30 metres plus under the keel, the tidestream would likely push him westward 5 cables or more by the time he next tacked away on the southern side, and by then he'd be thinking of Pierre au Vraic…. The radio speaker by his right knee barked suddenly "Come left 5 degrees!" Startled, the helmsman looked down, noting the display no longer read '16', but now showed a large 'IC'. "Better make that 10 degrees to port!", again came the amplified voice of The Owner. Perplexed, the helmsman eased the wheel, letting her head come up, then 'meeting her' on the new heading. He recalled that the VHF had an 'intercom' position at the chart table, and that The Owner was probably sat there studying his array of instruments.

He noted the change of heel and the slight drop in speed, and he mused whether to tweak the genoa sheet in an inch or two. Resuming again his scan of the sea to windward, he noted the expressionless gaze of the other, older guy in the corner of the cockpit. "I'm saying nothing," it seemed to say. Between the pair of them, they had over 50 years' and well over 50,000 miles' sea experience – ocean crossings, storms, Arctic to Tropics, sailboats of every rig and shape from larch-on-oak lugger to all-carbon trimaran – and all the bits of paper, too. He kept his face expressionless, and continued his scan of the sails, and the sea around them….

The radio/intercom barked again. "Come 40 degrees to port. You've fallen off the wind!" The helmsman looked down at the speaker, then lifted the hand-mike to his face. "Not right now," he quietly replied to the assertive young owner. There was a pause, then the intercom barked again, louder. "You're well off the wind! I want you to come up 40 degrees to port! Now!" "…..Not just at this moment," replied the helmsman into the hand-mike.

There was an audible click, then The Owner burst up the companionway. His angry glare was interrupted by the older fellow in the corner, who was nearest, 'eye-pointing' The Owner's gaze away forward under the genoa on their starboard bow. All three of them watched as a French topsail schooner and a sleek Swedish Najad, both under sail and both on starboard tack, slid gracefully across their bows 60 metres away, their helmsmen each raising an arm in acknowledgement.

The Owner turned on his heel and disappeared below to his instruments.

The older fellow in the corner of the cockpit caught the eye of the helmsman, commenting with a wry smile and a twinkle the old adage – "Different ships, different long-splices…"

Go to Different Ships 2Different Ships 3
Bilbo,   © 2008