Decisions, decisions… Time for a change?
Those who spend a lot of time with me know that Meander has become an integral part of my life over the last ten years, keeping me out of mischief and out of pocket. I like to think that she has looked after me as much as I have looked after her, and we have had some fine adventures, and misadventures, together.
You will also know that I am often talking about “the next boat”, so perhaps you deserve a bit of background at this stage.
My last boat, Mintaka, was very much a stepping stone to something better. As a shoal-draft yacht, designed for skipping about the creeks of the east coast of England, I felt she was not the boat to be cruising the deeper waters towards which I have long had ambitions to explore, nor for the often lively conditions of the west coast of Scotland. So in 2007 I sold her, and set about the search for a boat with longer legs, more suitable for what I wanted to do. I had been toying with the idea of building a boat myself, to the extent that I had identified a number of suitable designs, including a Laurent Giles stock design, and a steel boat called the Wylo II. However, this was just around the time that the financial crisis was kicking off, and I felt that to embark on such a project at that time would not be sensible.
I therefore started looking around for a project boat that might keep me busy for a while, and it turned out that the USA had a glut of cheap boats which needed work. My plan was to buy something around 35 feet for peanuts, which I could then ship home and work on for a few years. I flew out to New England for a week of driving around and looking at boats (I could equally have gone to Florida, but New England appealed, and I got together a shortlist of boats to view, all within driveable distance of each other and Boston airport. This took me from Rhode Island up as far as Penobscot Bay in Maine. I saw some dogs, and one appealing project (albeit with an unappealing name: “Happy”), and at the end of my shortist was a wildcard, Meander. She was a wildcard because she was in commission and far more expensive than I was looking for. She was the last boat I looked at, and the furthest afield, and I turned up on a foggy morning in Rockland, Maine, waiting for the boat to appear out of the murk to pick me up. Well, to cut a longish story short, I fell in love. I have long admired gaff rigged boats, and having had a test sail with the then owners (and her builders) Bob and Jean, I decided that she was the boat for me. I was pretty sure I would be able to find crew to help me sail her, feeling she was perhaps a bit of a handful for singlehanding. Before I flew home from the States I put in a provisional offer, and after some wheeling and dealing, mostly to cope with a plummeting pound versus the dollar, she was mine and the rest is history. In order to afford her, I took out a ten-year loan, and resolved that I would own her for ten years and pay off the loan, and then review the situation.
The day I first saw Meander was the 10th July 2008, and I finally took possession of her in the September of that year, so that 10 years is as good as up. In those 10 years I have learnt a huge amount and become a better sailor. In the two refits I have given her, I have learnt a lot of the skills needed to fit out a new boat and maintain an old one. Most of all, Meander and I have had a huge amount of fun. However, always in the back of my mind has been the “next boat”, which I hope will be my forever boat. It has been through many different iterations over the years, most being in the 40-45ft range and being gaff rigged.
During the past few years however I have found it more and more difficult to find crew, with experiences of crewing agencies generally having been negative, and friends annoyingly having lives and jobs of their own. I now find I am having to sail more and more singlehanded, with the occasional visit by friends for perhaps a week at a time. This is contrary to my original naive assumption that I would easily recruit crew from amongst friends new and old from the ships and elsewhere. Whilst I can sail Meander singlehandedly, it is hard work which detracts somewhat from the pleasure of sailing her. Conversely (or perversely), however, I have also grown to enjoy sailing on my own and not having to be responsible for anybody else. It has forced me to be more forward when in harbour, and actually pushing myself to say hello to other boat owners and I have made some fine acquaintances that way. That said, it is pleasant to have friends along on occasion, but thoroughly trying to have strangers as crew.
During this summer cruise, with my 10 year period coming to an end, I have been giving a lot of thought to the “next boat”. Last year I started drawing plans for a 40 foot junk-rigged schooner, which I thought might provide what I wanted, but have also kept looking around at other designs and having some discussions with their designers, throwing up some interesting points regarding what type of sailing I really intend to do, with what sort of crew, and at what cost. One of Meander’s other drawbacks is the cost of running her: at 45ft overall I am having to pay over the odds for a boat which, I have always joked, has the accommodation of a 30-footer. Thus having a boat which is smaller, and therefore cheaper to berth and store, is important. Now, jokingly though I might have said it, Meander’s accommodation is much smaller than you might expect of a 37 ft hull, with low freeboard, long overhangs and a long cockpit all making for a small accommodation section. In fact, all of her living accommodation is squeezed into a mere 18 feet of her total length – not a very efficient use of space! As it turns out there are some smaller designs out there which offer similar, or more, accommodation than Meander.
The rig is also important to me. A gaff ketch is enormous fun, with lots of seperate bits of canvas to play with, allowing lots of different combinations of sails depending on conditions and the point of sailing you are on. However, it is, even at Meander’s relatively small size, a lot of work, and reefing Meander’s main in particular I find quite trying, despite my efforts to simplify the process over the years. To tack her I have to put the helm down, tension the lazy backstay, let off the working one, allow the headsails to back and bring her round, but not so much that she drops right off the wind, then let draw and sheet home each headsail one at a time before bringing her back up hard on the wind. It’s a lot to do, and is the penalty one pays as a single hander for having such a pretty and versatile rig. The junk rig is almost the antithesis of this, being not so pretty (although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I now find myself able to compare a well set-up junk sail favourably with a gaff sail), but once you get used to it, disarmingly easy to reef (a matter of lowering the sail a panel at a time), easy to tack (just put the helm down) and a well set-up rig can all be handled from the cockpit, or even from standing or sitting in the main hatch. I have recently had a very ;