Delusions of Competence
Phil Davies, Dave Phillips and I were lucky enough to be asked to crew on Mascotte this year. For those of you that haven’t heard of her, she is a 106 year old Pilot cutter. One of the biggest made and certainly one of the most beautiful. She is skippered by Richard Clapham, club member and all round nice guy. First mate is Rachel, Richards partner who despite being petite, pretty and an awesome cook is also one of the toughest and most competent sailors I’ve met. 2nd mate was Calum, or the ‘rope monkey’ as Richard called him. A very pleasant and amusing young Scot who had already achieved his Yachtmaster and was looking for work on large charter vessels.
Having crewed on Olga, another Pilot cutter I was full of delusions of competence which were wiped away within 5 minutes of starting to sail her on the Saturday. I’d forgotten how to ‘sweat’ ropes, no fancy winches on this craft. Rachel was quick to re-educate me. With a boom weighing over half a ton there is no room for hesitation.
Working the Gaff up took four of us, two on the throat and two on the peak. These boats were supposed to have been sailed by a Man and a boy? No way unless our ancestors had four arms each and the constitution of a Russian shot putter!
We eventually got all four sails up and she started to really move. We started behind the rest of the fleet but quickly made up ground. With some very deft navigation from Richard we eventually won the final race of the series. This was the first win for Mascotte under Richard’s command. LYC to the rescue!
Mascotte is currently moored in Scotland carrying out charter work around the western coast and islands and our next task was to sail her to Oban where she was picking up a crew taking part in the three Islands race.
We finally left Swansea on the Sunday morning and using back eddies to make headway in foul tides headed west and North.
Motor was used to aid us because of lack of wind to start with but we split into 3 watches headed by Richard, Calum and Rachel and soon made ground. I was assigned the 12 till 4 watch with Richard and Calum and Phil on 4 till 8 and Rachel and Dave on 8 till 12.
The first attraction was the Milford refinery followed by Jack sound which we sailed through. Quite an experience in a large vessel.
For me, time disappeared in a blur of watches and sleeping and eating the amazing dishes that Rachel prepared. (As well as doing a full watch). I remember seeing beautiful starry skies, the coast of Ireland, smelling Whale, seeing Dolphin and Seal and a huge variety of seabirds. Puffins flashing by like demented commuters, Cormorant diving into the sea from huge heights and disappearing and many other birds that Richard would have to remind me of.
There was another sound before we crossed the channel to Ireland I think where we managed a 360 in the swirls.
We crossed behind Rathlin Island off the North or Ireland seeing some of the most beautiful landscape in glorious sunshine. As we moved North the sky was barely dark before 12 and after 3am. We had a monumental crossing from Rathlin to the mouth or the Crinnon Canal where we anchored for the night. We shortened sail a couple of times and I was persuaded to leave the helming to Richard due to my inability to sail a straight course. I told him I should have had a drink first! Steering something the weight of Mascotte in a good swell with a 4 – 5 blowing is not easy. She tends to try and run away down wind and standing the ‘wrong’ side of the tiller with a lashing to release and tighten is a skill I haven’t learned properly yet.
All told and with some motoring during the final leg from Crinnon to Oban (Dunstaffnage to be precise) the journey took from Sunday to Wednesday lunch time. Amazingly quick. The sky stayed light all night up there and I could see why Richard and others rave about Scotland as a place to sail. It’s wonderful. Some of the most awe inspiring landscape I’ve ever seen. And great weather.
Thanks Richard and if you’ll have me again I’ll be there like a shot.