The light north-easterly breeze continued during my watch until midnight, and Juanita sailed on through the darkness, her jib shimmering with the phosphorescence of the lee bow wave, and little Punch, the 8’ dinghy following in our glistening wake, with a ghostly light parting at his stem.
The Magic of the Swatchways. Maurice Griffiths.
Chuckling, he might have written.
There is something about a clinker dinghy. Perhaps it is the Swallows and Amazons we all have in us. Childhood memories. Our first boat. Our first sailing boat. Catching a crab. Sculling.
So simple somehow.
How long did she take to build? Never mind. There comes, at last, the day of the launch. Open the front door, and out on her side, she goes. Varnish gleaming in the sunlight. Down to the slip. Looking perhaps a little too perfect. But time will see to that. The colours will soften. The bumps and scrapes. Inevitable. Scars of war. To be healed with paint and varnish.
The sweeps are long. Too long, complains Luis. But long sweeps mean long strokes, long deliberate strokes, and yes, she chuckles. Entranced, you take her on her first outing. A picnic on the beach round the headland. You could walk of course, but that is not the point. Load aboard the wicker hamper, a rug, the fishing gear, the bailer, and put your back into it. Not too much, nor do you need to, for she carries her way.
Steal up on Martlet. Take them by surprise.
Because yes, it is Ribeiro time.
She lies docile, astern.
And she becomes, in a sense, everybody’s property. ‘May I…’
Yes of course you may. For she is not only fun. She is practical. A load carrier. Safe in a chop. Big party to get aboard. Use the dinghy. Luis morning fishing. Stand in the dinghy. Need to bring a spar ashore. Use the dinghy.
Off to Ferrol. Tow the dinghy. Because there is that anchorage. And ashore, in Mugardos, pulpo, again. But keeps him quiet does a plate of pulpo. A wooden platter. Olive oil. A sprinkling of pimentón, bread to mop up the last of the olive oil. And that is lunch.
Later we will add a rig. But not yet.
We acquire, from where, I cannot remember, a pair of coir fenders. Which look the part. Indeed, are the part. For unlike plastic they do not squeak when the dinghy is alongside. And whilst Sauntress cannot speak (but of course she does, all the time, for each and every sound is familiar, tap, tap, tap, ‘you have forgotten to frap the halyards’, grating sound on the bobstay, ‘you have forgotten to loop the chain over the fairlead’), she is happy. Dinghy alongside, she preens herself. Look at us, she says.
Aren’t we just a picture?
And yes. They are.
It also got something out of the system. A yen to build a boat. To restore, or properly, to refit, a boat is one thing. To build a boat, from scratch, another. Month after month she lay, wrong side up, at the bottom of the stairs, reproving. ‘When are you going to steam the next plank?’ ‘Soon, promise.’ For you remember the garboard strake. The first strake to fit and by far the most difficult. Twice you made it. Twice you split it. And once split, then for all the work, you must start again. As we did.
You turn her over at last. Start on the ribs at last. And then one day, bless me. We have finished.
And to have an eight-foot clinker dinghy as tender to your yacht puts you immediately in a different class. Up there with the smacks, the Bawleys and the Thames Barges. Joining the aristocracy. A working aristocracy admittedly and all the better for that. So, Pete built a dinghy as well. Same design. Same reason. And same, for I know it, that same sense of pride. As in doing something worthwhile. Which with luck will outlive you.
She has all the accoutrements. Anchor, bailer, sponge, rings in the stem and stern-post, painter forward, painter aft, lash the sweeps to the thwarts, and when towing her, a trick. Where it came from I don’t know. But the voice said, watch it in a following sea. Because your docile little dinghy will convert in a flash into a fiend. Roaring down the face of a wave to brain herself on the counter. Ah yes. Secure a warp to the aft ring and bring that aboard on the counter. With that you can tame her.
You forget to secure that warp on the transom, a light lashing would have done it. You are reaching for home, sheets started, lee rail under, the dinghy, nose in air, astern. Feeling smug. In an instant the yacht goes from alive to dead. Glance astern and there is the reason. The warp has slipped over.
And you are damn nearly stopped.
So that is what is meant by trailing warps, that Heavy Weather Sailing technique. Amazing. We cannot get it in. Both trying. Another lesson learned.
You row home under a gibbous moon.
Softly, on dark waters.
From Sailing with the Admiral by Martin O’Scannall