Westerly 25- Macavity (2012).
2012 was our first full season with Macavity and we were properly brimming over with enthusiasm. Sadly this level of enthusiasm wasn’t matched in any way by our ability, so we made a lot of mistakes over the year. I had expected this though, and we had a tough boat to deal with all the knocks.
It’s now January 2015 and summer 2012 is already a distant and misty eyed memory. There were quite a few important lessons learnt that season though, and a lot of them were learnt the hard way…. as usual. We were still based up at Instow in North Devon amongst some of the strongest tides in Europe and we still had very little in the way of equipment having spent all available funds on buying and patching up the old boat. It was a great season though. Macavity looked better than she had done for some considerable years and we now had a mould free cabin in which to spread out our military surplus sleeping equipment, plus a compass and some binoculars. I had got hold of a pair of ebay tufnol sheet winches over the winter which, together with a pair of deck organizers and some blocks at the mast foot, meant I now had halliards and topping lift led back to the cockpit. This made hoisting and lowering the sails possible without leaving the tiller or cockpit so long as things were organized properly in advance. The tufnol winches made up for the slightly increased friction that comes with this set up, so I could still get the sail luffs nice and tight. I could easily reach over the main hatch to set up the new boom kicker arrangement which was also a marked improvement.
It was with tentative baby steps then, that we embarked on our first few journeys of discovery. I can’t over stress how exciting these minor voyages up river were for us after all the choking, dusty, filthy renovation work of winter. It didn’t matter that we never once made it out over the infamous Bideford Bar until nearly August, we were having a great laugh finding little secluded places around the estuary to anchor and picnic for the night. Yes of course we dried out every time, but I’d got the hang of timing the tides well enough to (nearly always) get back to our mooring on the next high water. Sometimes if we only had a day free or the weather looked shocking for the Sunday, I would just sail against the tide deliberately so as to get a few valuable hours of practise in without getting too far from the mooring. Dull and pointless you say? Well how many people have gym memberships simply to go riding stationary bicycles or anchored rowing machines? It was simply practise that I was after at this stage not distance. Also I needed to work out how I could improve the rather inefficient rig I had inherited.
The Westerly 25 was originally sold, along with her smaller sister the W22, with a kind of Gunter lug rig as standard. I have no experience with this original set up but I have a suspicion that it might have worked a bit better than the bermudan rig that was fitted to my boat. The bermudan rig was offered on later Westerly 25 and 22s as an option and I believe this may only have been to meet a fashionable demand for the look at the time. Yes, she sails. But not as well as she could. Whilst restoring my W25 I discovered that the mast tabernacle had been moved aft, probably at manufacture, by some six inches. The original mounting holes were all in the deck moulding but had been glassed over. Presumably the extra bit of room at the foretriangle was required to squeeze in as much of the, now masthead rigged, foresail as possible. As the year progressed I became increasingly convinced that this had unbalanced the sail plan and she was lacking the necessary drive from her relatively small mainsail.
Progress to windward was shocking, but when reefing I could step down the sizes of foresail without having to touch the main and she would still stay fairly balanced. This had to be wrong I reasoned, and started looking about for a way to increase the size of the main. This I eventually managed to achieve to very good effect in spring 2014. It took me that long to work out how, and then to find a second hand boom and sail of the correct dimensions. I’ll cover this modification in more detail later on, but briefly; 12 inches more length in boom and sail foot + 12 inches longer sail luff + fuller belly shape + decent roach and battened = a whole world of difference. I also converted to slab reefing at the same time…. which is excellent.
We had a bit of a mishap on our first trip of the season as it happens. I recruited my old school friend, the ever willing Mr B, for a reconnaissance mission up the river Taw towards Barnstable with a view to enjoying a pleasant lunch in a pub on the way. At this early stage I didn’t yet have my charts of the area and didn’t see this as being a problem because, after all, we would have plenty of depth owing to the high spring tides we were planning to ride up and back. It was a very pleasant mornings sail upriver with the wind and tide behind us and the higher reaches were beautiful, quite without the usual river traffic we had gotten used to. We found our riverside pub, anchored, ate and drank.
Sadly we got far too comfortable and left it far too late before leaving and hadn’t noticed the increasing wind or the rapidly receding waters. We hoisted too much sail and hurtled out of control along the first sheltered stretch of river trying to make up for lost time. We narrowly missed disaster on rounding the first bend when, battered by the full force of the now considerable winds, Macavity pirouetted away from our chosen course and charged at a barely submerged rock and then a nearby concrete pier. Somehow we managed to drag down the sails and throw an anchor overboard before unsuccessfully attempting to motor against the wind along the narrow channel. We ran hard aground in the middle of the river a long, long way from the river bank, town, our car and all our belongings. It was also a Sunday and we were both supposed to be at work the next morning. I had no choice but to put out two anchors, abandon her to fate, walk back to town when the tide was fully out and return the following evening in a salvage attempt. I made damn sure I bought the charts the next weekend! (I recently sent a more detailed account of this weekend of misadventure to Practical Boat Owner magazine which they are planning to include in their May issue.)
So with our newly purchased charts and our growing confidence in our sturdy little craft we started thinking about venturing further. Mid summer had just passed, the days were sunny and long, we could perhaps dare to step… over the bar. Bideford bar is one of those all too common obstacles along the Bristol channel which is only passable during a short window of opportunity. This is one of the things that (rightly) worries folk about sailing these waters, take too long on a passage and miss your window and you’re stuffed. This was what concerned us most about our little venture. Not so much how to get to where we wanted to go, as the timing of our reaching the bar from our mooring was easy, but whether we could still get back to the bar in time the next morning considering our engines crap record of reliability. Anything could happen over 24 hours to delay us or make our relatively short passage home a rolling hell of puke and bad language.
As it turned out we had nothing to worry about. Our anxieties melted away as the sun warmed us through and made the early start to catch the tide out very worthwhile. We had just enough wind to keep us moving towards our cliffside destination (the distant white blob of Clovelly village) and a few dolphins even popped up to help make it a day of memorable firsts. We dropped anchor outside the drying harbour as the tide was out and we thought it would probably remain calm enough to sleep there with just the shelter of the massive cliffs.
What a fantastic first adventure out into the big bad sea. We couldn’t have had it better really. Beautiful conditions, beautiful scenery, Dolphins, fine ales, everything.