Not much turning!
I blame the holiday on Anglesey! There were SUPs, canoes, kayaks, yachts moored off the bay at Cemaes, and then that little inflatable that we bought just for fun. It all ignited an interest in me that had lain dormant for several years. It must have been in about 2015 that we sold our last boat, Otter.
Boating first started in our household when a fellow businessman from Chester, persuaded me to buy his old Mirror Dinghy, which was a little bit ropey, but which we worked on and spruced up before sailing her on Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake).
That was way back in the early 90s, when we regularly spent our Sunday afternoons down at the lake, pottering about on the water. Learning to sail was soon accomplished. The Mirror was simplicity itself to control and one of Sal’s favourite trips would be to beat down the lake, pushing hard against the wind, then tack and run the whole way back to Bala. The Mirror had two simple sails, a jib and a main. The jib would be swung out to starboard and the main to port, a process called gull-winging. Its beauty was that the boat would push along, matching the speed of the wind, so everything would go completely quiet and calm for an hour or so.
In those days we had a dog called Mot and he loved to sail. He would stand on the fore-deck and enjoy the wind in his face, jumping off to swim ashore when we got close to the beach that we used to sail from.
After the Mirror, there came a Fireball, which was a bit of a mistake. The Fireball was a racing dinghy, long and sleek and not the least bit comfortable. I enjoyed her for a while, but them some thieving so-and-so stole her off her dry-store park near the lake and we never saw her again. Regretfully, we don’t have any photos of her, but here’s what she looked like…
At that time a friend of Sal’s mentioned the “London Sailing Project” to me. That was a charity, based on the Solent, providing sailing holidays and sail-training for disadvantaged and disabled young people from within London. I managed to get a placement with them and for one one very eventful week we sailed “Rona” and “Donald Searle” down the Solent and around the Isle of Wight.
We had a break from boats for a while, then one day a Friend of ours floated the idea that four of us should join together to buy and run a classic old wooden bass-fishing boat called “Gwylan”.
Gwylan looked rather sad, she was shored-up at a car park in Barmouth and hadn’t been used for quite a few years. She had been built in Appledore, in Devon, as one of a few boats that they made specifically for Cardigan Bay. She was made of mahogany planks on oak frames, with a classic old Stuart Turner petrol engine on board. Over a period of several years we restored her a little at a time, sailing her up the Mawddach Estuary in the summer, but working on her in the winter.
In the early years her engine was very unreliable, so we would tow a little dinghy with us everywhere that we cruised, but things got better and we kept her for several years. Eventually the partnership broke down, we sold Gwylan and were boat-less again for a while.
It was in school where I worked that I was chatting to one of the students when a boat came to our notice, for sale on the north Wales Coast. It had been a 16ft GRP motor cruiser with a small cabin, but its owner had cut most of the cabin away to make it an open, fishing boat. As a major project in school, we built a plywood model (full scale) of what we wanted the boat to look like. When the plywood model was complete, we used it as a mold to lay fibreglass on, making ourselves a new cabin-top which we then joined to the hull of the boat. We called her “Pioden y Mor”, which is the Welsh name for an oystercatcher.
The boat was given a complete make-over, two bunks in the cabin and day-seats in the cockpit that converted into a further two bunks at night, with a huge cockpit cover over them. We sailed her on the Llangollen Canal and even took the school children away for short breaks, which proved extremely popular with both pupils and staff. As we were concentrating on using the canal, her name, as a seabird, seemed a little inappropriate, so we re-named her just “Pioden”, which means magpie.
We had some great times in Pioden and thoroughly enjoyed sailing her, but she was small, and ond day we spotted a 22-footer for sale, with standing headroom – what luxury! Needless to say, we bought her and did a complete re-fit, making her a very comfortable boat. She was called “Buggalugs”, which the kids in school thought was funny and we had lots more little mini-holidays on board her, but we don’t seem to have any photos of her, so here’s a stock-image to show what she looked like…
One day we were passing the British Waterways works at Ellesmere when we noticed a very dilapidated looking narrow boat. It appeared to have been abandoned and brambles had grown off the bank, right through the boat’s near-side windows and out through the windows on her off-side. We managed to find out who owned her, bought her, and set about yet another boat refit, but this was to be a major task which lasted a few years. She was called “Otter” and she was built by a firm called Piper, the Rolls Royce of narrowboat builders.
To us, Otter was the height of luxury. She had a shower and toilet cubicle, a permanent double bed, a galley with gas cooker, fridge and sink, plus a saloon with a multi-fuel stove and very comfy seats. There was running hot and cold water on tap and the saloon could also be converted into a second bedroom when needed. She was a bright looking boat and we sailed her far and wide for several years, before finally selling her to buy a motor-home and driving off to France, Belgium and the Nedderlands. Otter sold remarkably easily and we did rather well, but then, we had put a lot of work into her.
So, we’ve been boat-less for about seven years, but then up popped an advert for a 17ft sailing boat which is easy to launch and recover with her trailer, but guess what, her name was Otter, so I bought her (well, I had to, didn’t I ). She’s a 17ft trailer-sailer which could sleep two adults and two children, but we like our comfort these days, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever sleep on her.
This morning we got her mast erected, fitted the boom and ran the sails up. There’s a few little jobs to do before we sail her, but they’re very minor things and we hope to have her on Llyn Tegid very soon, with her new name of “Dyfrgi”, which is the Welsh word for Otter.