Looking beyond… Then seeing it through…
For the first two trips of 2010 our partners Cremyll Sailing have welcomed aboard Tectona young people sponsored by charities from South Wales. March in the English Channel! Rain, swell and strong winds but also some glorious days of blue skies and a solid sailing breeze. Following the usual briefing from Skipper Rob the new trainees (most of whom hadn't sailed before) stow their belongings and don their wet weather gear.
Skipper Rob; Mate Emma; Bosun Jim, all aged under 26
Even in the Sound the conditions are decidedly lumpy but for most people any initial feelings of seasickness were soon overcome by the physical activity of making sail and handling the gear. "I'll never learn which rope is which," people thought, not realising that all this would be second nature in 2 or 3 days' time.
Soon the ship was under way in the blustery wind under reefed mainsail, jib and mizzen. As the afternoon wore on, progress was getting slow against both wind and tide, and now without the distraction of working on deck the newcomers began to feel decidedly queasy in the rough seas. So Skipper Rob put about and by evening Tectona was in the sheltered waters of Cawsand Bay. In the calm conditions everyone felt better and there was still plenty to do, from preparing a meal and washing up to learning about knots and keeping anchor watch.
Dawn brought cleared skies and the wind had veered round to the north-north-west, giving a perfect slant for Fowey. After an early breakfast full working sail was set and Tectona sailed her anchor out. As she rounded Rame Head and brought the wind onto the beam, she picked up her heels and was soon thundering along among choppy seas with the occasional whitecap dancing over the weather rail onto the deck.
All too soon the week was over, and one trainee's comment sums it up:
"I really enjoyed myself on the boat and although I'm only 15 I wish I could have the chance to work on the boat soon and carry on in sailing."
Tectona's somewhat chequered first summer back in Sail Training has continued with a peak and a trough within days of each other.
On Sunday 27th September, a group of 10 clients from the Phoenix Alpha therapeutic community near Southampton joined Tectona for a 5-day charter.
They were led by Stuart Plant, himself a convinced advocate for the benefits of sailing for people struggling to rebuild their lives.
Putting to sea on the Sunday evening, a problem with an engine cooling pump soon caused us to change our plans and to spend the evening beating slowly but steadily back into Plymouth Sound under sail in light conditions. The next morning, thanks to unstinting help from Gavin and Mervyn at Mount Batten Boathouse, the French-built pump was soon repaired and at 1600 on the following day we again set off for the Channel Islands.
After a night passage challenged only by staying awake for your watch and the devilish behaviour of commercial vessels in the shipping lanes, we were soon off Les Hanois rocks at the top-left corner of Guernsey. By 1300 on Monday we were sounding our way into Sark's Dixcart Bay where we dropped anchor in the lea of the island, see photo. Trips ashore and a hilarious rowing competition which caught out even some "experts" filled a day at anchor along with normal ship's tasks such as cooking, cleaning below and washing down on deck. By now everyone was getting on well together, there had been no seasickness at all (perhaps due to the kind provision of Scopolamine patches by Phoenix's GP) and serious repartee was setting in.
The navigational challenge of the Alderney Race lay before us as we weighed anchor (verdict = extremely heavy) early the following afternoon, and as dusk fell we found ourselves shooting along at over 10 knots over the ground. This was through water which was calm thanks to the WNW 2-3 wind but still contained ominous slicks of upwelling water, and the occasional need for a lot of helm to keep her straight. The huge Cap de la Hague lighthouse was soon astern as we were sluiced out into the Channel once again.
A night spent sailing through Channel shipping is always a challenge, but by now each of the three watch teams were comfortable and getting skilful at the task. At times all your concentration was needed to keep steering close to the course, or to identify the lights of ships and their direction of travel. Radar was invaluable and soon mastered by those who had not come across it before.
As the eastern sky began to lighten up the number of vessels diminished to a handful and we had a couple of hours of good windward sailing as we tacked toward the Needles Channel, entering with a favourable tide at breakfast time. By late morning we were alongside East Cowes marina and ready for a run ashore. Clearing up and meetings occupied the rest of the day and everyone turned in for some sleep before an early start on the final morning which saw us berthing in Gosport by 11 o'clock.
This was our first Rehab trip, and from the crew's point of view it went really well. Hearing that rehab trips are to be part of Tectona's work, people usually react like "That's going to be hard work" or "Rather you than me!" But for humour, learning the seamanship seriously and shear good company this group from Phoenix Alpha would be hard to beat. So a hearty Thank You to Eddie, Billie, Lee, Paul, Paul, Paul, Alex, Nathan, Wayne and Simon.
The following day a new crew came on board for the ASTO sail training race in the Solent on the Saturday, and later Tectona sailed uneventfully to Cowes to join other competitors including some well known vessels such as Jolie Brise, Queen Galadriel, Pegasus and Duet; all with youngsters on board.
The race start was at 0900 off the illustrious Royal Yacht Squadron and the conditions were brisk with the west wind expected to reach force 6 or more. Tectona made a good start in somewhat crowded waters where nifty handling was at a premium. The start was to windward so some hard close hauled work was the first challenge for all the craft.
Unfortunately after only a few minutes Tectona's jib blew out, and her power and manoeuvrability were suddenly compromised. Ray, her very experienced and fit Mate, immediately went out on the bowsprit to tame the flogging canvas but shortly afterwards the 35ft Moody Lady Shona was bearing down on Tectona and being unable to clear her stern, the yacht's bow struck Tectona's rudder at full speed.
The impact split Tectona's rudder stock, a 9 by 7 inch baulk of teak. The rudder was still just about operative, but steering was dramatically limited. Being unable to turn to windward, Tectona briefly went aground off Egypt Point but Dominic soon got her off under her own power and undamaged, once the sails were down. The RNLI were kind enough to stand by in their Atlantic 85 RIB, and when no assistance was needed they kindly escorted Tectona back into the harbour and helped her with berthing.
Right now (mid-October) Tectona is blocked off ashore at Endeavour Quay, Gosport, and the rudder is being rebuilt at Mashfords under the watchful eye of Martin Porter (in blue overall). We hope to get her back in commission by the end of the month when at least one of the disappointed crews can have a trip back to Devon. In November she will be laid up for the winter, and we can all have a bit of a breather!
We fully appreciate the disappointment felt by groups of youngsters who can't come sailing if the boat is out of action, but we're heartened by some excellent feedback when it does come off. Hopefully next year any remaining teething problems will have been ironed out.
From Stuart about the Phoenix Alpha trip: "The trip was excellent and I received nothing but positive feedback from all the guys. Tectona is the perfect vessel for these trips and it was a real privilege to be a part of this process."
In line with our agreement Cremyll Sailing are using Tectona exclusively for "their" sail training activities this year. This got off to a good start following our shake down trip to Brixham at the end of May, with a successful voyage from Plymouth to Cardiff at the beginning of several weeks' charter work with disadvantaged youngsters from South Wales.
Teething troubles were of course expected and we had our fair share of relatively minor glitches which were variously coped with by calling in the CORGI men and other types of dogged persistence. Until the last week of July when one day off the Mumbles drive from the engine was suddenly lost. Skipper Peter Morris tacked away from danger, but the conditions of wind and tide put Tectona in a difficult (though not dangerous) position and fleetingly it looked like "next stop Ireland…" Luckily the RNLI Mumbles lifeboat was exercising nearby and offered to tow Tectona up-wind and up-tide to a nearby mooring. Investigation showed that the shaft coupling had failed, and to cut a long story short, Tectona was then out of action in Swansea for 2 weeks while repairs were made. We all felt very bad that a dozen or so young people had lost the chance to sail on board this year because of this.
Since getting back in action everything seems back to normal now, with mainly the British summer to contend with. Peter reports that since entering the Bristol Channel the topsail has not been hoisted once - it's never been less than force 5!
It is a good time to thank the numerous people who have helped and supported the project so far. The list is long, but the ones who stand out are the people who somehow see the boat or the project as intrinsically worth supporting, not for commercial gain, often not even for the going rate. Bill Muirhead (Tectona prize for best cadet in 1972) has been there on board through the depths of the winter. Personally painting most of the bulwarks and the interior, Bill is a tower of strength in terms of support, making us feel it's worth it when spirits are low (which they could be on a freezing January morning with ice on the deckhead). Jim Whiteford for being simply indefatigable both as the one who burnt off the old varnish and paint around the deck, painted most of the deckhead down below, and personally fitted all the ratlines, both main & mizzen. But also as a "natural" on deck whether rigging, setting sail, or just knowing the right thing to do, he is always spot on. Now sadly seduced by GRP…
The Trustees come in next, and Tim, Chris and Charles have been a massive support quite apart from the professional expertise they have individually brought to the project. Quite apart from their official role as Trustees, their insight and ability to understand how we can move forward are above price. Professional help has also been greatly valued from David Cox (MCA Surveyor). Numerous people who we rather flippantly refer to as 'Old Tectonites' have also had a huge contribution: Pete Brown was alongside in his launch almost before we'd stowed the sails on arriving in Plymouth. Pete was the Bosun on Tectona from 1967 to 1974, and his knowledge of the vessel has been invaluable. Hot on his heels was Paul Wright from Plymouth University. Then there are the people who stand out because of excellent service and reasonable charges: Simon Winter (Insurance) and Chris Rees (Boatbuilder, seen watching the mast go in) , Graham Butler (Joiner), Jon Altman (Rigger, seen splicing wire rope).
An advantage of Tectona being out there doing it again is that we now have feedback from some of the young people who have been on board:
What do you think of the boat?
"Beautiful / Nice sailing a bigger boat / Brilliant / Very spacious / A lot of work…"
How about what they did?
"We all learned something new / Good chance to get to know each other more / Boring being on watch…"
"The skipper was like a mother / Cool skipper / A great laugh / Tough going on deck / Bossed me around / Legends…"
So no surprises there then. It is great that, despite gearboxes and Calor Gas cookers, Tectona is really liked and the trips appreciated by the most important people - the trainees. This is thanks to the hard work and skill of Dominic and the others at Cremyll Sailing. Over the next weeks we are developing our plans and programmes to begin to involve people with mental health & rehab problems starting next season.
Tectona is due back in Plymouth towards the end of week beginning 7th September 2009, when she will once again be on the mooring off Mashfords in between trips.
Of course we didn't officially win because we're not a trawler, but we did cross the finishing line some 40 minutes before Vigilance, our nearest (and only) rival, confirming what we already knew; that Tectona is in a class of her own.
The weekend was Tectona's first proper outing since the refit, and her first serious sail since we arrived in Plymouth last May. Looking around, there is very little on board which is unchanged since then. The new deck and overhauled rig give the vessel a different and much more seamanlike feel. At last everything (or nearly everything) works as it should and the months driven by no more than a hunch that she would come good, are proving 100% worthwhile.
As a sailing weekend, we could not have asked for anything better. Great shipmates, blue skies, conveniently fair tides, a brilliant fish supper at Brixham Yacht Club. And of course crossing the finish line first! Our only grouse was a slight lack of wind.
Although for technical reasons Tectona took part at Brixham as a private yacht, the all-important MCA coding certificate had arrived the day before we set off from Plymouth. This was really worth celebrating because without it her future returning to sail training would have been a non-starter.
This rather boring piece of paper and a green licence which looks almost identical to a carvery ticket at the Edgcumbe Arms belie the significance of Tectona being coded for commercial use. Every aspect of the vessel's construction, hull condition, stability, systems and equipment has been examined and recommendations made. Not surprisingly the last few weeks have been mainly devoted to jobs on the coding list, from painting the name on the life-rings to fitting a new gas alarm and replacing the fuel pipes (which were perfectly serviceable) with ones with the correct ISO marking. The thin line between sensible safety measures and bureaucratic meddling often seemed close at hand.
Tectona the vessel is only one aspect, albeit the central one, of what the Trust is about. This summer she will be used by Cremyll Sailing for voyages and cruises with disadvantaged young people. Numerous small changes and refinements will mean that she is ever better adapted to her role.
During the summer we will develop the programme we plan to offer to our own future clients with specialised needs. We will build links with local organisations and, now quite pressingly, launch a new fundraising strategy for this important work.
For now a big thank-you to Tectona; to all who sailed to Brixham with such ability and good humour, to Barbara at Cremyll for organising everything and especially Dominic our skipper for achieving far more that we could have hoped for.
A year to the day since we sailed into Plymouth from Marseille, Tectona once again punched the short chop off the breakwater on Monday 5th May 2009.
This was our very first sailing trial since the refit, and any slight apprehension was soon forgotten as we made sail off Mashfords.
What a difference! The hours Jim and Fi spent over the winter reconditioning blocks; the new bowsprit Chris has made; the slightly simplified rig (no main runners and no mizzen topmast) thanks to Roger Motte's excellent recollections of how he configured it in the 1960s, along with Dominic's enthusiasm and expertise as her new Skipper. New cordage and Dom's modifications to the halyards all combined to reveal the sheer quality of this 80 year old ketch hidden from us in her run-down condition during the sail from the Mediterranean last year.
In the moderate breeze she slipped along with gratifying speed and steadiness needing little helm, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves; though I suspect massive later consumption of Ibuprofen and Ralgex. We even tried out the anchor winch, a real double-hernia special, and it worked well for anchoring at least.
The priority is now to finish off the multitude of jobs still to be done, mostly now to do with comfort rather than safety or "coding." For example, the new aft heads still hasn't a working washbasin, foam to complete the new bunks has yet to arrive, the wiring is still not quite finished to the new accommodation areas aft, and so on.
We are looking forward to her first real outing, the Brixham Heritage Festival on 23rd of May. But Monday proved that the old lady really can sail, and in a way the massive amount of work everyone has done suddenly became worthwhile. Tectona is coming good!
A cold wintry dawn greeted us as Linds, Chris and Jim climbed up the long wooden yard ladder to board Tectona at 0500 today to join me for the launch from Mashfords slip. It had blown the best part of a gale overnight but I felt snug and secure on board as the wind howled in the rigging and waves could be heard breaking on the shore. Sleep had been intermittent… True to predictions, it had blown itself out overnight, and apart from the cold the W-NW force 4 was ideal conditions for us.
Less than ideal, and something Mashfords have to live with, was the cross current affecting access to and from the slip. This is especially challenging for a vessel with our deep draft and long bowsprit! The plan was for the yard launch to tow Tectona stern-first out into deep water, but in the event the set required a solid blast astern with the Baudouin to get the bowsprit clear. Very gratifying. A quick check on our new and overhauled skin fittings and we were off. There's something specially liberated about a boat that's just been re-launched from a slip or dry dock. Maybe it's just having a clean bottom. But Tec was off with a vengeance, snappily negotiating the moored craft to steam onto her mooring where Jim's flare for dinghy work was once again put to good use.
Despite the early start, Lindsey Jim and I put in a solid day's work, including: Capping rail scraping & sanding completed; ratlines nearly done on stbd side of mainmast; plumbing of new heads aft tested & fine-tuned; gas bottles secured on deck; radar cable re-positioning half done; engineroom fuel piping replacement continuing (the regs state this has to be ISO marked); design of emergency fuel and water shut-offs completed, and several cups of tea cooked on the newly re-commissioned (and certificated!) galley stove.
If all this progress wasn't enough, we had a great morale booster when we put the ship's sails on board from the Sailmaker, neatly folded into dense packages in the way that only sailmakers can. We plan to get these bent on after Easter (when work will continue only a little abated) with sea trials beginning soon after.
Refitting TECTONA in her berth alongside in Port St Louis had been a massive joint effort. Nigel, Dave and Don had all spent time on the delivery refit which ended with the usual last minute rush to get away on 13th April 2008.
Andy, not just good at splicing, was our cook for the 3 week voyage and although the deal was quite rightly "no watches or deck work", he was there at all hours of the day or night whenever he was needed. A real star!
Joe was the master of cellphone communications while Chris and Emily (seen here as we left Port St Louis) were both troubled with seasickness long after everyone else was free of this curse. It says a huge amount about their courage and dogged persistence that they both took all their watches and refused any offers of having an easy time, truly amazing.
Barbara and Dave entertaining each other at the helm, or are they camera shy? This was taken as we passed from the Med into the Atlantic, with Richard quietly sorting something out on deck, the sign of a true seaman.
Jim's multicoloured outfit was shed surprisingly quickly once we got beyond the bad weather in the Golfe de Lyon, and as well as acquiring the best sun-tan, he proved himself able to master any task despite being relatively new to sailing. The days wore on, the horizon never changing
Roger & Barbara.
That's Morocco in the background…
The group photo taken by Caro just before we cast off our lines at Port St Louis shows us to be quietly confident, but we all expected some challenges with this trip. It really was 0625.
Top left, his face obscured by a rope, is Martin Wenger. Martin had been our friend and mentor throughout the refit. He knew Tectona like the back of his hand, having been her skipper when she was first bought by Verein Plus twenty years previously, and then their project manager responsible for recruiting and supporting a succession of future skippers until she was laid up in 2004. He was then her caretaker but with virtually no budget!
Without Martin as skipper we could never have done this trip, and his expertise and strength came to our rescue more than once. Most memorably was when, some 15 hours after we set out from PSL, the Golfe de Lyon ran true to form and threw up an un-forecast gale at 0200. This caused steep and unpleasant seas, veritable pyramids of water, which combined with 35 knots of wind tested not so much Tectona (though we hadn't yet learned about her superb sea-keeping qualities) as her tired and incompletely overhauled rig.
As we struggled to reef the main, the downhaul block disintegrated. Martin went aloft to sort it out, and so violent was the motion that he later said that the strength in his hands was on the limit, and he had to place total reliance on his harness, something he had never had to do before. "Don't let her jibe," he shouted to the helm. But a sea caught her on the quarter and we on the helm, inexperienced with her responses, failed to catch her. She jibed. Martin must have been swearing inwardly, but never blamed anyone for this near-disaster. A couple of hours later order was restored on deck, the conditions had settled into merely rough, and Tectona was surging ahead under reduced canvas and truly in her element.
On 5th May 2008 we sailed into Plymouth for Tectona to re-start a new life where she had once been a loved and visible part of the maritime scene.
In addition to the superb contributions of her delivery crew, the project had already been hugely supported by:
John Merrett the Surveyor, whose professionalism and talent as a communicator probably enabled us to buy her in the first place.
Peter Gregson Yacht Broker, whose ability to understand our aims and remarkable coolness in negotiation were a vital element in finalising the deal.
Tommi Nielsen who gave up time and resources to help us estimate the work needed once she arrived back in the UK, despite not finally getting the contract!
Simon Winter the insurance broker whose expertise and plain speaking had smoothed the otherwise rocky ride to gain insurance cover.
Pete Brown, former Bosun and the first person on board when we arrived in Plymouth, whose unstinting support has been invaluable.
Dominic Bridgman whose positive support and vision for the project have been unstinting, and without whose experience and wisdom Tectona would never have returned to sail training.
Bill Muirhead who has loved Tectona ever since the 1970s when he received the Best Cadet award during his time with the School of Navigation. Bill's moral support has been without price.