Sheevra’s Summer Adventure

Sheevra at the Needles

Sheevra at the Needles

Sheevra was launched in Harwich in 1969, 40th hull out of the mould to a 1966 design by Olin Stephens. The first UK based boat named Casse Tete II was number 3 out of the mould and famously in 1967 was the only boat yet to win every race in her class at Cowes week.  Casse Tete was bought a few years later by the Tetley family and renamed Carte Blanche. See later.  When we heard that the European Swan regatta would be held in Cowes in 2009 we were sorely tempted by the chance to race other Swans of our vintage. When we realised Cowes week was just two weeks later Pip began planning.

Delivery trip June 24th -29th

Flights back from Southampton were booked for Monday evening and Pip, Hugo and I left Blyth on a grey Wednesday evening and beat down towards Whitby. After a brief spell of motoring between Whitby and Whitestone Point (Whitby High light) the wind freshened and freed to an easterly 4 and we passed Flamborough head at 10am just before the tide changed against us. Hugo, third son, had done most of the night watch alone fuelled up on some teenage brew called ‘Relentless’ The tides were approaching a big springs and the confused water off the headland was uncomfortable. He remained full of energy and still enjoys remarking on his Father’s fragile stomach. Shortly after that the tide changed and we slowed down, creeping past the gas rigs in the Wash. The sun was out but weak and it was 4pm when the tide was with us again and  we began to make serious progress. At about this time we were squeezing gingerly between two rig exclusion zones under the beady eye of one of the protection vessels when Hugo noted that all the mast chocks had fallen out. It took a good hour to hammer them back in some sort of order He then devised a ring of jammed tea-towels held up with duct tape which I am pleased to say kept the chocks in place for the rest of the season

The Wash goes on for ever. We finally sighted the Norfolk coast at about 8pm and arrived in a rising breeze and the last of the tide off Lowestoft at 2am, 32 hours after departure and 2 hours under engine.

Entering the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk YC marina I told the crew that I would do a quick turn by the fuel berth and come alongside the Westerly Fulmar at the bottom of the pontoon. Sheevra does not go backwards to order and about 20 minutes later and a 101 point turn we finally moored up only to find that the Westerly Fulmar was none other than  Mike Bradley’s Riding High from RNYC. Welcome sleep.

Plan A was to catch the south going tide at 8am to Harwich. Unfortunately the piers had disappeared at 8am to be replaced by thick wet fog. Plan B was coffee on board Riding High with Mike and his crew, that greenhorn Quentin! We luxuriated in the open saloon. Sheevra, though deep, is narrow, and her full length galley turns the cabin into a one way street. Fine in a sea but it not so good for a crowd in harbour. Moored on the inside of Riding High was Sea Breeze, a spacious Moody with Frazer and Dot on board; once of the Tay and proud ex Albin Express owners. Frazer and Dot turned up in Blyth later in the year. We went on board for tea and redefined what is meant by roomy accommodation!

Hugo headed for the railway station and after a pleasant day pottering about the boat Pip arranged an impromptu drinks party for our neighbours followed by dinner at the (very smart) club, à deux. Our original plan for Saturday was a train ride from Harwich to George’s graduation, but instead we hired a car from Lowestoft, dashing back with a friend of his to catch the evening tide. Unfortunately the fog was back! The bar of the RNSYC was a more attractive option.

By daybreak the mist was thinner. The tide was not due to turn until 11am so we left at 9am but took an inshore route through the sandbanks. They were not quite where the chart implied but we scraped through and visibility increased to a mile or so. We found that the tide was already favourable close inshore even by 0930 and also discovered a new use for AIS. All the ships anchored in the roads came up on Seapro® as little black triangles lying to the northerly tide. One by one they swung, closest inshore first and finally the furthest off. It was a perfect illustration of the tide turning early inshore with our own tidal diamonds.

The wind was a very light SE and we motor sailed at 6 knots down to the Sunk lightship ‘roundabout’  in the mouth of the Thames estuary where once again AIS came to our aid. A large tanker was charging down one ocean highway. By interrogating her  AIS transmission we knew her  destination and could predict the 90 degree swerve to starboard around the Sunk beacon that indeed happened,  and stay well clear. I am a signed up fan of AIS.

George in the Thames estuary

George in the Thames estuary

The tide was due to change soon so we motored down the Knock Channel towards Margate. To minimize the contrary tide we kept close inshore round the North Foreland and past Broadstairs. We were making good progress past Ramsgate when we hit a bank of thick wet fog and  slowed to a crawl in the shallows of Pegwell Bay with Pip, just visible, sitting on the foredeck hooting ‘Daa dit dit’ on our plastic foghorn. It was getting late and the fog showed no sign of lifting. Dover Straits was next. To go or not to go, that was the question.

Pip came up with a simple answer. First she rang Hugo, back at home by now. He looked up the most recent Met office satellite pictures to find the south coast completely clear. He could not be sure about Dover so Pip was quickly onto the VHF and chatting up the coastguard at Dover. “Clear as gin” he said. Thank you very much, she said and we pressed on emerging into perfect visibility off Deal.

The tide turned with us again and, still under motor we romped past Dover at 10pm clearing the entrances with the harbour master. (a bit like crossing the A1M on foot). We were off Dungeness at midnight and Royal Sovereign as Dawn broke.

Dawn over Beachy Head

Dawn over Beachy Head

Early morning watch

Early morning watch

By 2pm, still motoring,  we were off No Man’s Land fort and entering the Eastern Solent in blazing hot sunshine but time was getting short. We tied up at 4pm in East Cowes marina. 32 hours in all and only 2 not under engine! We left the boat at 5pm and arrived, via the impressive Fast Cat (other boats seem to stand still), at Southampton at 6pm and were checked  in for our 8pm flight with 30 minutes to spare. Phew!

Part 2: Swan Europeans July 10th -16th

We drove down 2 weeks later and  lightened ship by transferring all the cruising gear into the Ford Galaxy (you should have seen the axles) and then fitting the new racing sails. The regatta was based in the Cowes Yacht Haven and we arrived to find 41 other Swans in total including two other 36’s, Cecille (see Classic Boat  May 2009) and Carte Blanche, the original Casse Tete II. In addition were two 37’s of similar vintage, White Heather and Alice IV. At the top of the fleet were three magnificent modern 53’s, three 56’s an old 65 (Desperado, sister of the first Whitbread winner Sayula) and a newer 65, King’s Legend.  Every flagstaff around the marina sported a large Nautor Swan flag and the general atmosphere was tremendous. Pip had decided against roughing it and we hired a small cottage for us and most of the crew. Tim Levett, an old Cowes hand from the 70’s was our tactician and his wife Di, a determined non racer to whom we own a huge debt of gratitude, did all the shore side catering. On foredeck were Andrew Price and Patrick Hussey, whilst in the cockpit were Elizabeth (13), Pip and myself. Hugo (17) was navigator. In addition we were bolstered from time to time by John Fowler, an old medical and sailing friend based in Southampton and his son Tim (‘young’ Tim).

Patrick and Andrew, foredeck crew for the Swans

Patrick and Andrew, foredeck crew for the Swans

Tim the tactician

Tim the Tactician

John and son Tim astern, Andrew and Tim Levett to port, and Pip, Lulu and me centre

John and son Tim astern, Andrew and Tim Levett to port, and Pip, Lulu and me centre

Sunday was practice and scrub the bottom in Osborne bay day. That evening the regatta opened with a champagne reception at the Royal Yacht Squadron. White ducks and reefers all round. John, never one to be too formal turned up in old shorts and tee shirt. Pip, aghast, had him stripped and redressed in a flash in Hugo’s blazer and trousers. Hugo went as a member of the lower deck.

The racing began on Monday in a fine drizzle. Each day had two races bar Thursday which had a later start and a longer race. The races are all a bit of a blur. In general Cecille was always a bit quicker and seemed to point higher. Carte Blanche also pointed higher but had similar boat speed. We had a great battle every day with CB and came out just on top but one place down on Cecille. Abiding memories will be of short tacking up the green past Egypt point and on to Gurnard Ledge against a torrent of tide and in a wind steady at 28 and gusting to 35 knots, of John standing on the back of the boom in a force 5 to rescue a wayward spinnaker halyard, and of long battles with Carte Blanche who could nevertheless always pip us by hoisting their RYS white ensign after the racing.

The final excitement was a postponed race on Friday when the forecast strong winds did not arrive… until we were on the penultimate leg of what we thought, together with our nearest rivals, was the course. We hoisted the spinnaker. The others did not. Pip and  ‘old’ Tim pointed out an ominous black squall approaching. We were screeching past Sway, a big 43 and the blood was up. Don’t worry I said. Then we tried to get it down. My swim in Osborne bay to release the guy from the rudder was really not that cold and the race officer was most understanding when Pip radioed in our retirement.

Busy day in the Solent

Busy day in the Solent: GBR 6844R is a Swan 43

Downwind on the last day off S Ryde Middle

Downwind on the last day off S Ryde Middle

Evening entertainment included the owner’s dinner at the RYS which Pip and I enjoyed, Di’s barbeque in a torrential rainstorm and drinks with Tim at his club, the Royal Corinthian. Andrew’s wife Sarah and son William, also on holiday, joined us each evening and the week passed in a blur of salty eyelashes, sun and booze. Pippa and I were delighted to be invited on board Carte Blanche by Jem Tetley who pours the sort of Scotch that Pip’s father enjoyed (i.e. huge) .

Part 3: Cowes Week August 1st -8th.

Two weeks later on a Thursday evening we headed South again, staying overnight in Chichester and queuing for the Southampton to Cowes car ferry at 10am on Friday. I was slightly anxious to see that Sheevra was well (we have no automatic bilge pump) however it transpired that we had not inadvertently left the Baby Blake seacock open and the bilges were as always empty. She was snug in her berth but the warm river water flowing up and down twice a day had left it’s mark. The coppercoat was slimy but with no weed or barnacles. At the top of the pontoon were a series of advertising boards for various marine services. One was for MMC diving services who promised to polish my bottom. I was immediately hooked and made a quick phone call.

We had hired a small house close to the marina where we dumped the luggage and headed for West Cowes in bright sunshine. Passing the famous Lallow’s Yard, builder of many older S&S classics we saw another Swan 36 Shaytana that they were renovating which they kindly let us peer at. The yard was quite old fashioned and full of on-going projects. We felt a natural affinity with the owners and their cheque books. We then ambled down the High Street to register at the marina office and retired to the ‘Sail for Gold’  bar on the waterfront to read the sailing instructions and to rummage in the goody bag (one box of ‘lifeboat’ tea bags and 3 boxes of Prince Charles’s organic Dorset Muesli) over a pint of beer. At the bar I was served by an attractive young brunette. I asked, disarmingly I thought, whether she was a resident of West or East Cowes. ‘Non’ she said, ‘I am from Paris, and I come here every year, I would not miss it for ze world’. ‘Oui, moi aussi’ I quickly replied in nonchalant fashion. If only I was young again! At five am the next morning I headed down to the boat and ‘MMC Diving’ arrived. Two attractive blondes dressed in black rubber wetsuits (and a very pleasant fellow, but we need not linger on him) arrived in a high powered black RIB. For half an hour the sea bubbled quietly around the hull until they emerged triumphant. I returned to the house for a large fry up with a shiny bottom.

The crew had arrived the previous evening, first up were Doug, Caroline, Olivia and Cameron  staying under canvas at Waverley Holiday Park which has the top views of Cowes Roads,  then Patrick Hussey, wife Susanna, and daughters Annalisa and  Ellianne staying in West Cowes and finally Clive Griffiths on foot after a mammoth 12 hour journey, including flammable double decker bus on the M3 (see CNN news). Pip erected a gazebo and laid on a welcome supper. Caroline supplied enough Pimms to float Sheevra in, and the week had begun.

The crew gathered at 9am the following morning. At first there did not seem to be many boats on the river but as we motored downstream the water gradually became more and more crowded. On the right we noted Whispa with Peter, Jill and Bill on board, and on the left Jump, Ian Dewhirst’s new J133. Emerging into the Solent we headed for the outer squadron line which was to be our start for the first 4 days. We were  9th in the ratings out of 38 listed entries in IRC class 6.

Our first leg was on a port reach from the line towards Raymarine off the Beaulieu River on the North shore of the Solent. We had a reasonable start in the middle of the line and were third to the mark behind an astonishing boat called Mikado (built 1906 to a William Fife design). Unfortunately our initial success vanished as we beat across the tide to Elephant off Thorness and soon we found our rightful position in the middle of the fleet.

13th was creditable and we returned to harbour happy enough. Pippa and I headed for the West Cowes night life that evening and did not take long to find Doug and Olivia in the Sail for Gold bar together with Claire Richardson, one time resident of Cowes but also wife and crew on Polar Bear (due to arrive shortly,) and ex clothing supremo in Storrar’s.

I can recall nothing of the race on Sunday except that we slipped down the field to 17th. That evening Pippa laid on an excellent barbeque for everyone and we were pleased to be joined by Nick and Ben Spur, though we could not persuade them to jump ship from the sexy J 133 of Ian Dewhirst.


Doug watching Tonnerre de Breskens overtaking us at a lick with a man on the bowsprit

Monday to Thursday saw Sheevra consistently mid fleet. We might have been first at the windward mark on the light air day, but sailed into a massive hole and watched the rest of the fleet catching up with us on the tide.

On Wednesday our depth sounder packed up. This was installed inside the hull in a bath of oil. As we motored downstream we were puzzled by the lack of a reading. A quick investigation revealed that the oil had leaked out. Unfortunately efforts to lighten ship had included removing the virgin first pressing olive oil (normally an everyday sailing necessity). We happened to be passing Whispa and a hurried phone call from Pip rapidly deprived Bill Etherington of his planned breakfast fry up and landed us a bottle of Asda’s finest sunflower oil. It worked a treat. Moral of the story is make sure you remove every last scrap of paint from the hull surface before epoxying the tube for the depth sounder on. After two years the oil has softened a residue of paint and a slow puncture had formed.

Solent racing is quite a challenge with strong tides and eddies. We figured out who were the most experienced Solent helms in our fleet and tried to mirror their tactics where possible. On one occasion we were following Slinky (Hunter ‘Link’) skippered by Peter Nicholson (yacht designer and old Solent hand) inside Gurnard ledge. Not only did she take the short cut at mid tide but wove a curving route close to the shore around rocks and obstacles which were not charted,  at a distinct advantage to our more cautious route. Clearly we needed to be braver. (J notes that oddly the risk of grounding seemed to disturb Pippa less than the risk of broaching in open water. Even she acknowledges that this is illogical on costs and damage grounds!).

We had an excellent race on the Friday, coming in 10th but it wasn’t good enough to catch  A Day at the Races, a lovely red wooden boat, 1966, Nicholson designed ex Yeoman, with whom we had been jousting all week.

ex-Admiral Cup

Day at the Races, ex-Admiral cupper from the 60’s


Mikado Class 6 winner and oldest boat in the fleet by some years

The class was won by Mikado, the most beautiful boat in any of the IRC classes.  It was a well deserved victory and we all enjoyed the moments when she was sailing close by, usually on the first leg only! We finished 14th overall and skip was more than happy.

Saturday was a scorcher. Clive and Patrick (and family) had both left for home and instead Caroline, Olivia and Cameron Sharp joined us for the last race with hot sun, no wind and spring tides to boot. While we waited for an end to the postponement we took a mini cruise to Osborne Bay and had lunch and a swim. As Doug clambered back on board a message came over the radio announcing the end of the postponement and that starts would be at 5 minute intervals rather than the usual 10. Panic stations. We arrived at the line to find the tide running strongly. In the light winds we could barely stem it to stay the right side. Doug warned the skipper of the danger but by the time he fully realised it was too late to put the donker back on.

Container ship

Some of our class calling Starboard on a container ship turning off Cowes

Waiting for the wind

Clive, Patrick, Annalisa, Hugo, Lulu and Doug waiting for the wind to fill in

We knew someone was over the line and suspected it was us. Rather than spend 15 minutes crawling back over the line we decided to take our chances. The race was our best yet.  Olivia and Lulu pushing the boom out, both in bright pink ‘Cowes week 2009’ Tee-shirts, attracted a good deal of attention from the Cowes TV RIB. Cameron and Caroline on the poop deck had a great view of the racing, beating with the tide down the outside of Gurnard ledge, and then running up inside as close to the shore as we dared (we were ahead of Slinky for a change) to stay out of the tide. Back down the outside of the ledge again and then back up the inside for a finish off the Squadron. The final run, creeping up the shore, asymmetric boats weaving in and out of the conventional spinnakers, all in bright sunshine, was nail biting. William executed the foredeck to perfection and Hugo took us to all the right places. Doug, Pippa and Jonathan handled the cockpit and Olivia and Lulu were on the rail or the boom. We were given a time and would have been  “6th” but we were, as suspected, OCS. We all enjoyed the race hugely and were back in time for the Sharps to catch their ferry with 33 minutes in hand.
Après sail included the BBQ chez nous, RNLI fundraiser barn dance; Indian meal at the Purple Mango (very odd service); delicious meal chez Hussey; Fireworks from East Cowes Promenade after cocktail hour at the Sharp’s tent.

Part 4 : Weymouth cruise and Royal Solent Regatta August 8th-16th.

On Sunday morning Pip left in the car to take William to Southampton railway station via the Cowes ferry. Sheevra, under diminished command, motored across the Solent to pick up Pip from Swanwick Marina on the Hamble where we left the car. We refuelled and swapped the racing sails for the cruising wardrobe. We motored down channel admiring two other Swan 36’s on the way.  Icon, very smart in the Mercury marina and Finola who was in the slings at Warsash. This made a total of 5 vintage Swan 36’s sighted in all.

The Fastnet race started behind us as we motor sailed to the Needles where the open 60’s found us. We ducked and weaved around Hugo Boss and Artemis in very light airs.

Hugo Boss

We watched Hugo Boss go inshore and lose out badly


Approaching Portland, the Bill on the left, Weymouth just out of the picture to the right

A favourable tide saw us enjoying Fish and chips in  Weymouth harbour by 8pm. Good showers at the harbour office on the quayside and a quiet night on board despite being rafted four up.

Jonathan then took us on a trip down memory lane to all his childhood haunts, “this is where we swam, this is where we bought ice creams,  here is our old house …” you get the drift. His Dorset accent is long gone but he was wistful for the balmy warm climate of his childhood home. In the afternoon Hugo skippered the boat into the shiny new Portland marina. WOW! It is truly 5 star with polished Portland stone floors, free internet access etc. That afternoon we took a walk to Portland Bill and admired the tidal race from the safety of a cream tea in the café. The race looked truly ferocious. A mere force 4-5  So’westerly was blowing but the tide was a strong west going Spring. The water was chaotic and violent as far as the eye could see with crests breaking in every direction (a reminder to believe the pilots if ever you needed one). The inner passage was passable but VERY narrow right under the lighthouse: not for the fainthearted.

In the morning the Sun had returned and we flew the asymmetric down to Lulworth Cove where we spent 3 relaxing hours at anchor but in a slight swell.

Jonathan, Lulu and Hugo went for a swim and Pippa, left alone on deck in her swimsuit, was spotted by a very well spoken gentleman in a small motorboat who came over for a chat. He had been born and bred in Lulworth and was most charming, complimenting Sheevra. He recommended an anchorage around the corner as being more comfortable and taking his advice we motored around to Worbarrow bay and anchored behind Mupe Rocks where the swell was less noticeable. We were in company with 6 other yachts, all sporting anchor balls …so we did too.

Portland Race

Portland race on a quiet day with a fishing boat coming through the inner passage

Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove


Anchor ball hoisted. Nick Spur’s paint job showing up well!

Chalk cliffs

The chalk cliff scenery was dramatic. Sheevra is second from the right.



Poole Bay

The Girls in charge across Poole Bay


J had a quick dip from the beach the following morning before we set off on a run around St Aldem’s Head to Poole. As we entered the Poole fairway the famous yachtBloodhound, once sailed by HRH Prince Phillip, sailed out.

At Poole Yacht Club that evening we were joined by Philippa and Xerxes, who are old friends and live nearby and a boozy and pleasant evening was spent on board.

The next day was hot and light winds took us back to the Solent. We enjoyed lunch moored up in Newtown River which never fails to be charming (The National Trust Boatman potters along to collect a contribution). Hugo sailed us off the mooring with excellent seamanship and perfect pilotage!

George joined us back at Swanwick late on Thursday, and after a cruise up the Beaulieu with George at the helm we set off for Yarmouth for two more days of racing at the Royal Solent Regatta. We were in the Classic Swan Class.

The weekend kicked off with a Tattinger champagne reception, followed by Dinner at the Club. The Clubhouse is a delightful building overlooking the Western Solent. Yarmouth is picture book pretty too.  Our racing results were not great but we didn’t quite come last. We had brisk breezes of 14 gusting 22 knots both days. Beating out of the Solent against the tide past Hurst Castle was particularly memorable as was the moment when the Skipper muddled up port and starboard at one of the marks correcting the mistake with some inefficient tacking at the last moment! George and Hugo were valiant on the primary winches and Pippa was regularly drenched packing the spinnaker. Elizabeth now is master of the pole guy and downhaul  and when time allowed fed us all chocolate biscuits. After the last race we did not have time (or the necessity) to go in for the prizegiving but waved farewell and at 2pm were scorching down the Solent with 22 knots of wind and 3 knots of tide. At times our SOG topped 11 knots. Elizabeth helmed quite a bit of this exciting last sail of our holiday. By 6pm we were ready for the road with Sheevra moored in Swanwick and ready for her lift out. We arrived home at 1am and Sheevra arrived at Amble 2 days later on the back of Beverley Bros’s low loader.

Thanks to all our crew from Pip and the Skip:: George’s friend Ross; Tim and Di Levett; The Price family; The Hussey family; The Sharp family; Clive Griffiths, John and Tim Fowler; Swanwick Marina; Peter Stenner for the cooking oil; Beverley Bros for safe passage home, and Nick et al at Amble Boat Company for her go fast stripes! Finally thanks to our long suffering offspring George, William, Hugo and Lulu whose inheritance we have spent!