Leathering the gaff jaws

Every season, when I renew the varnish on the mast, I notice that it is heavily worn where the gaff jaws sit. The stainless fitting has some covering in the form of plastic pipe sections, so the metal does not test directly against the wood.

It has been in my mind to leather the jaws, as this is the traditional remedy, but I was unsure how to accomplish this. The extended layoff ties spring has given me the time to research and the urge for some vicarious sailing. I have many ideas for the boat, but usually not the time to execute them.

So after some digging around, I found a supplier for the materials and had some guidance in the method from the Solent OGA supremo, so took the plunge. My first time effort is not perfect, but it was a satisfying job, and when I’ve had a chance to see how well it works with repeated use, I’ll probably repeat the job (and hopefully make a better job it!). I struggled to find explicit instructions on this task, so I am posting this in case anyone following finds this useful and so that I can remember how I did it when the leather needs repair or replacement!

Starting point, leather piece cut to size

The first step is to cut the leather to the correct size. The curve of the gaff jaws caught me out and, even though I cut it oversized and then trimmed to size, I cut it a little small. Next time, I will have a template to work from!

The leather piece prepared, before soaking

Having cut the basic shape, I marked even spaces for the stitch holes and then used a fine drill to pierce the leather (because I didn’t have a suitable awl, which would probably have been easier). I made the holes 1cm from the edge and at the same interval. The spacing was good, but ideally the stitches would look neater (and have been easier to lace) if they were several mm closer to the edge.

A lock stitch. From right to left, over, under, pick up the loop.
Working the free end back and forth pull the leather tight

Before lacing, I soaked the leather piece in cold water to make it flexible and then I stitched it using waxed polyester twine, following a lock-stitch pattern I found in a YouTube video ( The stitching was easy enough, but finishing off was tricky to get both neat and secure. Time will tell if I succeeded.

The finished article
trip logs

Bembridge in the Sun

The girls had an uncomfortable night in their tent and demanded to sleep aboard the boat the next night. This removed the need for a location where we could camp.

As the wind was from the western quadrant today, but was due to drop and swing S or SE the next day, the most sensible plan seemed to be to move back East. As it was a sunny day in prospect with an afternoon high tide, we made for Bembridge.

It was a lovely sail, varying between dead run and a beam reach, and made excellent time with the tide and wind both behind us. Andy helmed the whole way and we enjoyed the sun and watching the busyness of the Solent- ferries, hovercraft, cargo ships and the aerobatic Spitfire again. A couple of gybes were needed to avoid the ferries, then we skirted the edge of Ryde sands before reaching down towards the prominent lifeboat slip outside Bembridge.

Lots of other people had the same and there were many boats anchored in the Bay. We ended up close to the shore at Seaview (perhaps it should be called Landview when you’re anchored there).

There was then time for rowing, swimming and diving off the boat. As has become traditional, both Alice and I swam under the boat; the girls also swam ashore for a while. We then had a leisurely lunch in the sun, though I was disappointed not to be able to provide hot chocolate for the swimmers, as is usual on Aurora.

Shortly before HW, we motored into Bembridge and were allocated a convenient finger pontoon (I was glad we did not have to raft three deep, as has happened here on several previous occasions). We then had a lovely tea at the The Vine pub in St Helen’s, followed by a beautiful starry walk home across the sea marsh, which included a view of an impressive fireworks display in Ryde.

We fitted surprisingly well into the four berths, considering we all ranged between 5’8″ and 6’4″. It was a blissfully calm night, but at about 5am I was woken by the sound of one engine after another starting up. After a while, the penny dropped and I realised that many boats were leaving. I checked the tide, saw that HW was 0500 and calculated that if we did not leave by 0700, we could end up trapped in Bembridge all day. Nice though this harbour is, we all needed to get back home to the midlands that evening.

So I prepped the boat, woke Andy at 0630, apologised for the unexpected early start and we were away shortly after 0700. The girls stayed in bed and we motored out of the harbour channel; I had the centre plate line ready to pull up if we touched the sand, but that turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. The sea was glassy flat as we motored across to Gosport, but I opened each sail in turn, to dry it in readiness for de-rigging.

The crew enjoyed the busy Portsmouth harbour entrance, as our arrival coincided with a cross channel ferry, an Isle of Wight ferry and a hovercraft in quick succession, as well as the usual foot ferry and pleasure traffic.

Our early start gave us plenty of time to de-rig Aurora and re-fit the galley, ready to haul out as soon as there was enough water on the slipway. With many hands to assist, it was a swift and simple task.

trip logs

Folly Inn

The Folly Inn is a lovely waterside pub on the river Medina, and is a popular destination for boaters, due to its large mid-river pontoon and efficient water taxi service, quite apart from the good food and drink.

Alice wanted to camp there with a friend, so we set off from POG four-up: myself, Alice, her friend Joely and Joely’s dad, Andy.

The weather was lovely and warm but the wind was light and right on the nose. Nevertheless we made efficient work of tacking up the Solent with the ebb, on all three sails and made good speed on the thankfully calm water.

Lots to see, as usual: hovercraft, ferries, cargo ships, sailing boats large and small, even a Spitfire giving us an aerobatic display overhead!

Motoring up the river in the evening sun, we were allocated a berth on the river pontoon and put the girls ashore with the camping gear. Andy and I got the shipshape and then rowed over to the folly in Aurelia. This was her first outing – a Walker Bay 8′ rowing boat. She rows really well with one aboard, but with two large adults, a lot of care is needed. I asked Andy to sit in the bows, and we nearly swamped her!

After a pleasant meal, good beer and a decision about the next day’s passage, we saw the girls to their peapod and returned to Aurora.

14.9nm, 4hrs


Mid-season maintenance

Varnishing seems to be an inherent part of boat ownership and I usually find myself varnishing either pre- or post-season. Since we’re not taking a long trip on Aurora this summer, she’s been in the pig shed for a few weeks and I thought some TLC was called for before she goes onto her mooring.

I’ve been indecisive about the exterior woodwork for several years. I don’t like varnish on the rubbing strakes, as they get knocked so often. I’ve tried proprietary products such as Deks Ojlie but I don’t like the look of them much. I ended up leaving the wood naked, having removed the aforementioned, but it just looked unloved. I noticed some of the wood degrading on the grab rails, so I decided to act.

In the end I’ve opted for varnish on the grab rails and Samson post, as these dong get badly knocked about. I took the chance to varnish a few other parts (I bodged the varnish on the tiller last winter, and the wash boards always benefit from a fresh coat).

I was given a tip by Nick Scroggs of Cape Cutter Marine, to use disposable foam brushes. They work really well- don’t drop hairs and don’t need cleaning. Finish looks good too.

I chose natural linseed for the strakes, applied 50:50 with turpentine. Easy to apply but did leave streaks on the hull which needed cleaning off after. Time will tell. Hopefully I can do a quick top-up with a cloth, a couple of times a season.

Anyway, Aurora looks spick and span, ready to go on her summer mooring in a week or two.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – epilogue

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 13.58.14.pngThe title of this year’s rally was four Essex rivers, and we did indeed sail on at least four rivers. The tides were not right for a trip higher up the Colne (though Tystie made it to Waldringfield) and it’s a challenge to move within the Blackwater, as all of the marinas are tidal. However in our six sailing days, the fleet sailed more than 130nm – a creditable total for a nineteen foot boat.

We had our share of minor mishaps, but that all adds to the challenge of the occasion and makes the trip even more memorable. The benefit of sailing in company is that we all keep an eye on each other and are available to lend a hand when needed. Some of these hiccups were immortalised by very perceptive caricatures drawn by Bob Steele during the course of the trip. I’ll let you guess the nature of the mishaps from the content of the cartoons…

The Class Association has a trophy which was kindly donated by Cape Cutter Marine, the builders of this wonderful boat. The trophy is awarded for the best seamanship, and this year was awarded to Katie and Alistair Bell, of Tystie. Over the week they consistently showed us all how to sail fast and took so much pleasure in sailing all the way, where others (myself included) would have fired up the outboard. In fact, suffering from engine trouble, Tystie’s crew made it look effortless to sail right up to the pontoon.

Here is a summary of the trips logged by Aurora:

Friday 24th May – Return trip from Fambridge to Burnham-on-Crouch – 13.4nm

Saturday 25th May – Return trio from Fambridge to Brandy Hole – 4.3nm

Sunday 26th May – Fambridge – Roach (Potton Creek) – Burnham-on-Crouch – 24.4nm

Monday 27th May – Burnham-on-Crouch to Tollesbury – 22.7nm

Tuesday 28th May – Tollesbury to Brightlingsea to Heybridge – 24.4nm

Wednesday 29th May – Heybridge to Maldon to Pyefleet – 19.0nm

Thursday 30th May – Pyefleet Channel to Brightlingsea – 1.9nm

Friday 31st May – Brightlingsea to North Fambridge – 28nm

Total 138.1nm

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 6

Friday morning was the day for our return to the Crouch from Brightlingsea. The original plan had been to make the trip on Thursday, but the weather had other ideas. Whereas there was a brisk Southerly on Thursday, the forecast for Friday was for moderate Southwesterlies.

We wanted to cross the Ray Sand around three hours before high water, so we would still have the rising tide helping us by the time we reached the mouth of the Crouch. Thus, a 7am departure from Brightlingsea was called for. Unfortunately, when I got up at 6am, the incoming tide was only just dribbling over the marina cill – clearly we would not be away by 7am!

The tide rises surprisingly fast and by 7.15, Tystie was the guinea pig and successfully crossed the bar. She was soon followed by the rest of the fleet. We initially made slow progress against the flood on the Colne, but as the got into the head of the Blackwater, the wind freshened and we picked up speed on reefed main, staysail and “intermittent” foresail. The south-westerly gave us a reach and we increased speed even more out of the tide, off the Dengie Flats.

The fleet stayed close together and reached the Rays Sand North buoy (confusingly called Ron Pipe) by 9.15, and we passed over the shallows with more water beneath us than on the northward journey.

Once into the channel into the Crouch, our course became a beat and we were glad of a little assistance from the last of the flood (we still had a little over an hour before HW). The fleet tacked between the shores of the river (some of us with a little help from the engine); the final tack was into the Roach and then back into the Crouch. This leg of the passage meant that we had passed into all four rivers in one day – Colne, Blackwater, Crouch and Roach.

At this point, the curve of the river was enough to be able to sail past Burnham without beating. In the shelter of the river, the breeze was very modest and it was an interesting challenge to sail in the restricted waters, against the now ebbing tide. Wadudu led the fleet and Tystie was having a lot of fun with their Genoa. Meanwhile in Aurora, I decided to shake out the reef in the mainsail, unfortunately a manoeuvre which cost me a lot of ground. This was followed by a sequence of tacks across the river gaining only a few feet in each crossing, but eventually, rounding the corner we were able to make good progress up the river. After eight hours and 28nm (quite a few tacks!), we reached Fambridge Yacht Haven and took the sails down for the last time on the 2019 rally.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 5

We awoke to a much brighter, though very breezy morning. Paul had discovered that his tender had gone AWOL, but fortunately had not gone far before sticking to the leeward bank of the channel. He borrowed Aurelia to retrieve it.

My crew were due at the Suffolk Show today, so we pulled the anchor from the grey sticky mud (really good holding!) and made for Brightlingsea under engine and genoa. We had been offered spots in the marina, rather than the pontoons and the entrance was tricky with strong tidal flow and onshore wind. Aurora made it to the berth and, with the help of the harbour launch, was turned about. She was quickly followed by Sapphire and her brace of tenders and somewhat later by Tystie, who had sailed up the Colne past the tidal barrage at Wivenhoe.

The other half of the fleet arrived somewhat later, having left Heybridge on the high tide. The entry was not without drama, but soon all six boats were moored.

We had a sunny afternoon to stroll round Brightlingsea, ready for an early departure back to the Crouch first thing tomorrow.

Brightlingsea has existed before the Domesday Book and long depended on fishing (especially oysters) and shipbuilding for its trade. At one point in the nineteenth century, it was the largest shipbuilding town on the East Coast for fishing smacks and also leisure craft. It is also the only town outside of Kent and Sussex to be part of the Cinque Ports, a now ceremonial connection which the town still takes seriously.

Although these industries have long faded, the sea still permeates the town (sometimes literally) and there lots of signs of its former trades. It retains the eccentricity often seen in these coastal towns and has also kept a largely unspoiled high street with a number of independent shops meeting most needs, with only a token chain supermarket.

A rather discordant note is struck by the marina development which disrupts the “old world” charm of the waterfront. However, it is active and bringing trade to the town. Last time I was here it was unfinished, unoccupied and inactive. Now lots of apartments are occupied and the marina is pretty much full.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 4

We awoke to another sunny morning at Heybridge Basin, knowing we had to leave before 9am. Three boats quickly elected to remain in the basin, have a lay day ashore and rejoin the fleet at Brightlingsea the following day.

So it was that only three boats – Aurora, Sapphire and Tystie – locked out of the basin, about an hour before high tide. This gave us another hour of flood to travel upstream to Maldon. It’s a short trip, but well worth making. Maldon sits on a low hill next to the river, with a sturdy Norman church and a number of traditional buildings, all surrounded by green fields and marshes. The waterfront has a number of traditional barges moored, adding to the historical atmosphere of the town.

We motored up, admiring this vista; Tystie and Aurora rafted onto the quay at the Hythe, for a brief walk ashore. Aurelia the tender was inflated, for Alice to recline in whilst we made our way back downstream. She has always enjoyed this, but now there is rather less space in the tender than in the past!

The upper reaches of the river are called the Chelmer and just around Heybridge Basin, it becomes the Blackwater. We ran down this widening channel, once again with both wind and tide beneath us.

We passed a couple of barges making their way upstream, and they certainly make an impressive sight under sail. These are river boats adapted for carrying heavy loads in shallow water, though these large ones are very seaworthy boats. They have distinctive lee boards instead of a keel, to help them sail upwind. Although they look very similar to gaff rigged craft, the large sails are loose footed and the peak is held aloft by a diagonal sprit rather than a gaff. These large craft, although carrying a lot of canvas, were designed to be sailed by just two crew. These HGVs of old are still often seen on the East Coast rivers.

We made excellent time and it was a lively sail out near the mouth, as we made for Brightlingsea. Gybing into the Colne, we surfed past the town, heading for the Pyefleet channel. This sheltered stretch of water lies between Mersea Island and the marshes of Fingringhoe.

The three boats drew up in the shallows, and dropped our anchors into only a couple of feet of water (and a couple more of mud!). The holding is excellent here and the anchors dug in tight.

Alice and Niki tried for a swim, but the water was too shallow and just resulted in mud nearly up to the knees!

The weather was not entirely clement, with frequent showers and a brisk wind which had swung to the south. We enjoyed a well-earned rest in the afternoon. In the evening, we entertained Paul on board Aurora with a welcome bowl of pasta and pesto with broccoli, washed down with a lovely bottle of red wine (a kind gift from Nick Scroggs, following our sail from Burnham-on-Crouch last Friday). After this we settled down, with the bird calls, wind in the rigging and water lapping on the hull to lull us to sleep.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 3

We awoke to bright sun and a fresh westerly breeze. Our objective today was Heybridge Lock, almost at the head of the Blackwater, just downstream from Maldon. We would not be able to get in there before 7.30pm on the afternoon tide, but to get there, we needed to leave Tollesbury on the morning high tide.

We bid goodbye to Meisje, who were returning to Bradwell Marina and haul out, for their return to Yorkshire.

We decided to run on the ebb to Brightlingsea, to have some lunch and in my case to collect more crew. It was a lovely three-sail reach over the shallow water off West Mersea, and we were soon all rafted on the pontoon at Brightlingsea. I met Niki and Alice here, and after they had loaded their gear, we went ashore for lunch.

The forecast was for rain to pass through in the morning and for the wind to swing round to the East. Other than a brief shower, the former merely threatened, whilst the latter fortunately did take place.

We set off from Brightlingsea at 3pm, with the wind and tide behind us, but we could see rain all around and it was not long before the visibility shrank to a few hundred yards, the wind dropped and for about half an hour the rain hammered down. We ran on engine to keep the boat moving (we had a restaurant booking to keep!), but left the sails up.

The rain soon passed and the skies cleared, leaving us to sail up the river in golden late afternoon sun and we wound our way upstream. I’ll draw a veil over the couple of brief groundings as the channel narrowed and the depth fell but we all arrived safely at the moorings outside Heybridge Lock.

This is an impressive structure connecting the Chelmer and Blackwater canal to the tidal waters. It’s operated by Grant, the (very friendly) British Waterways lock keeper and accessible only an hour either side of HW. In our case even less, as we were on neap tides.

The lock easily fitted all six boats and we were soon raised a few feet up to the basin and moored in a line (like ducklings, Grant described it), with one other visitor and a mixture of local yachts and canal craft.

The tide was later than forecast and it was 8pm before we tied up and we rapidly repaired to the Jolly Sailor, who had fortunately kept their kitchens open to accommodate us.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 2

Our objective today was to cross from the river Crouch to the Blackwater. There are only seven miles of coast between them, but they are separated by sand banks extending far from the river mouth. Most boats must make a fifteen mile loop out to sea for this journey, but shallow draught craft, like the Cape Cutter, can avoid this by crossing a deeper area of the sand bank called the Ray Sand (Rays’n) channel.

We were reassured that the local advice matched our passage plan and so we set off at 6am, an hour before high water at Burnham. The westerly gave us a quiet run out of the estuary, the wind gradually freshening as we passed out of the river.

The local instructions had been to sail past the Ray Sand buoy before turning north. Sure enough, after about a third of a mile, we could see the middle buoy and turned cross the banks.

The run became a much faster reach and we made good time across the sand. The depth fell and fell, the lowest reading on my sounder was 0.1m (beneath the keel). I was ready to lift the plate, but that wasn’t necessary.

We had agreed to stay close together, and the fleet made a fine sight, strung out line astern across the sea.

We had to maintain a good two miles offshore to keep enough depth, across the Dengie Flat and a large sand spit called St Peter’s Flat (maybe it’s called that because the sea is so shallow so far offshore that one might seem to walk in water!), the latter of which prevents turning into the Blackwater straight away.

Finally we turned into our third Essex river and our reach became a beat. At this point, the fleet divided into two groups – those who chose to tack across the whole river and those, including me, who made short tacks in the shallower water near the shore. Although the former strategy maintains boat speed, I prefer the latter as not only does it avoid the foul tide, but there’s more to see on the shore.

Once the tide had turned, I made one tack across the whole width of the river and the return leg brought me to the mouth of the creek to reach our target, Tollesbury marina. It was only a couple of hours after low water, so there was very little water in the channel. With wind on the nose, we dropped sails and crept up the channel under motor. After winding up the creek, we eventually reached the waiting area and picked up buoys. We had several hours to pass before there would be enough water to enter the marina, which proved to be a restful wait.

Tollesbury has over 100 boats in mud berths, but the marina has a cill. As soon as there was enough water, we passed in over the cill and were guided to our berths by Finn, the very helpful harbour master.

Tollesbury has narrow pontoons, quite low on the water, undulating between mostly smaller boats. This and the rather unique surroundings, gives the marina a most charming character.

The day was rounded off with a meal at the marina bistro, which boasts a good fish menu. It did not disappoint!