B25 - Christmas 2011

2011 leaves me in reflective mood – well I have just wrecked my back in spectacular style so am actually incapable of anything more physical or practical. But why do this job at all? I could have had a proper job, like a lawyer, using my rapier-sharp wit to good effect. For example:


Lawyer: "Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "Did you check for blood pressure?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "Did you check for breathing?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?"
Witness: "No."
Lawyer: "How can you be so sure, Doctor?"
Witness: "Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar."
Lawyer: "But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?"
Witness: "Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practising law somewhere."

Ah, but then you would never meet the people foolish enough to be interested in the same sort of things. Look for example at Pete Greenfield, editor and publisher of the magazine “Water Craft” who has won a Journalism Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Maritime Foundation Media Awards. The citation read:

“The award recognises the inspiring influence that has been given over a lifetime to furthering the skills and craftsmanship needed to build and use boats based upon classical designs. Through “Classic Boat”, the “Boatman” and now “Water Craft” this dedicated writer has reached out to subscribers across the world."

"He has encouraged the design of new hull forms for leisure use today, using wood, plywood, fibre glass and other materials, when applying new and traditional methods of boatbuilding. He has created from a dying industry new and thriving enterprises and he continues to inspire boat builders, designers, manufacturers, historians, journalists, photographers, event organisers and most of all boat owners and sailors”

Easy to take the piss out of this as some sort of journalistic love-in, but there is indeed something in what they say in inspiring/creating people and businesses. I well remember his articles in the early 80's in PBO and Yachting Monthly on things like the Falmouth Working boats. To a (then) youngster brought up on racing dinghies and yachts, who was going through his Eric Hiscock phase of why don't I just live on a boat and the hell with it, this was heady stuff – the articles pointed towards a world just a bit different from the ordinary, and were exciting just for that.

A few years later as a postgrad student in Edinburgh, I needed to dream up a subject for my dissertation in business studies. And there on the shelves of W H Smith was the first edition of Classic Boat. I wonder if I can sell the idea of a study of UK boatbuilders to my tutors? Well I did, and via the circuitous route of a few years in a proper job – you know, the kind with money and suits and stuff, but I had to pay my student loan back – ended up setting up a little chandlery dealing with the kind of boats Classic Boat was on about. Twenty years on, and I'm still doing it!

So it really is all his fault that I am lucky enough to be working with such a great bunch of customers and suppliers. Money? Pah, who needs it?

As for the current Classic Boat scene, I find myself unable to decide whether to view it with interest or distaste. The distaste arises from the idea that it does rather seem to be polarising into the superyacht end and the small boat end. Indeed in more ways than one, this decade in boating terms seems set to recall the 1930's – the decade after the go-go years, a few very rich people and their toys, with ordinary mortals having to scrimp and save. But remember too that the thirties were a time when yacht design moved ahead in leaps and bounds with advances in aerodynamics and new materials. I think the same is happening now with leading edge designs coming out which are really exciting. Of course some of the ideas won't stand the test of time but I was staggered to look through a 1980's book on yacht design and see how dated they seemed to be. And before dismissing it all as nasty fanciful modern stuff, remember that what we call classics now were at the bleeding edge of technology and design in their time.

What's with the snake Dan?

The subject of stopping seagulls – or other forms of avian life – leaving calling cards on ones boat is one which has developed a number of interesting avenues
The answer to the above question was that at least in theory when a gull sees a snake it will go elsewhere, as a number of readers pointed out correctly. However, one reader’s boat is clearly moored in a more exotic location than an East Coast river – he reckoned the snake would also serve to deter elephants. Or maybe this was a hangover from the 1960's fad for elephant jokes. Those of a certain age may remember such gems as:

“How do you get an elephant out of a tree? Wait until autumn, and it can come down on a leaf” or
“How do you know there's an elephant in the fridge? Footprints in the butter”
Or my favourite “How do you get two elephants in a Mini? One in the front, one in the back. But how do you get two whales in a Mini? “Down the M4 and across the Severn bridge”.

Before returning to the subject, you might care to peruse a quickly culled compendium of elephant jokes here.

Meanwhile back to the seagulls. Here is some of the input

“I tried this (snake thing) with two very realistic models completely without success. The only solution I have found is pigeon netting. Time consuming but effective. But now the boat is being visited by otters!! Don't know the answer to them”

“I'm sure the correct answer is that it's a seagull deterrent - I gather that seagulls hate snakes much as I hate GRP motorboats with planing hulls on Windermere. “

”Alternative suggestions: 1. "It's the new boom fang." 2. " Des Pawson told me I should use a constrictor."

“ Only works on inexperienced feather-bearers, usually just for a short while. Critters are more intelligent than we wish they were!”

“I sail a Daring class boat, which are kept on swinging moorings in Cowes roads. Unfortunately, the local seagull population seem to have decided that a Daring is not a nice day racing keelboat, but rather somewhere to stand around all day and leave deposits... of the very much unwanted variety.

After trying pretty much all possible solutions, we as a fleet have found that the only (semi) effective solution is a gullsweep: details can be seen on their website here: http://www.gullsweep.com/index.html
The fleet of Ajaxes on the Orwell use netting as suggested above – and it does look like a real faff to put up and take down. Nonetheless the boats end up a good deal more pristine than mine. All agree that strings of CD’s are more or less useless, and scarecrows not much better, so I’m going to try the gullsweep and the snakes to see what happens. I’ll report back. Meanwhile the first correct answer provider and the elephant man shall receive their just desserts.

What do sailors do off season?

Well if we were to believe the blandishments of the yachting press we either indulge in frostbite series (did it once, not sure I ever recovered), or eager preparation for next season. Well I reckon the majority haul their boats out and somewhat guiltily re-introduce themselves to their family just in time for Christmas. But there does seem to be a minority who move seamlessly from boatyard to garage, and sometimes not those you would expect.

Take for example Iain Oughtred who has rightly gained worldwide fame as the designer of many fine traditionally inspired craft and who is perhaps one of the gentlest and most modest souls you could meet. Until he gets the whiff of petrol. His unbelievably rusty VW pickup was replaced by an almost sensible van – so far so OK. He then decides that a large BMW motorbike would be a good plan, and on a favourite stretch of road in the quiet Isle of Skye does comparative time trials with both vehicles. This sets him thinking – and one day an email arrives with his latest toy.

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Thank goodness for that he has finally grown up and got a sensible car, a nice little VW Polo. Er no – a race-prepared 2 litre engine tweaked to the max with suspension so low it won't clear a cowpat. Even as a middle-aged person in a rural area insurance is vast and it drinks more fuel than my V12 Jaguar. Hasn’t even got a towbar for the boats!

We meanwhile work on shoehorning as a Friday job a modern BMW engine into a 1951 Bristol which will if it ever gets done become the repmobile to replace the Jag. An artists impression of the finished article shows the idea. When I was an apprentice in a blacksmith, a local garage owner had one of these Bristols, which I coveted. But he wouldn't budge below £180, and when I was earning £17 a week, that was as far away as the moon. So it never happened.

401 artist

But nothing can trump the customer who sent us this picture of his garage

photo 2s

That is a 1920's blown Bentley – and what makes the thing so deeply irritating is that next to it in the background is another, and in the foreground, a third. Now that's what I call a toybox. He is also working on a Merlin engined special – all 27 litres driving through a semi-automatic tractor gearbox!

New things

Enough car porn, what has Classic Marine been up to when not farting around with cars or seagull deterrents? Well apart from trying to organise the east coast raid see www.raidengland.org and things we have been working with Des Pawson (the famous red-hatted knot and rope person) to take over a part of his business. He has reached that stage of life when he wants to do a bit less, and so we will take over the rope and tools side of the business, adding those ranges to the Classic Marine offering, so leaving him to concentrate on ropework. It appeals for a number of reasons. Firstly it fits the slightly quirky range of things you get involved in when working with classic boats, secondly it is an opportunity to learn more and deepen our knowledge, and while there is some overlap, the move into a related but different customer base is always something to look forward to – as I said earlier our customers are good fun. This has been agreed in principal and actual transfer will happen toward the end of January 2012. To make room for all that we are having a cull of slow selling and end-of-line items which feature in the “Jumble” section of the website see this page for bargains!

In other areas we have been working with UK suppliers to develop new ranges, for example
We are trying to find a solution to the fact that making small wooden blocks – say below 3” or so – is prohibitively expensive. They are so fiddly that they cost more than large ones, as anyone who has tried to make them can attest (and you can count me in that number).

So what is the builder of boats which use smaller line and blocks to do? Well the dinghy market is well catered for with great products but somehow the modern type of block often doesn’t sit well with the style of boat. Then there are the replica Herreshof blocks which are gorgeous, but (justifiably) expensive. So we have worked with SeaSure in the UK to replicate two of their stainless range of blocks, but using bronze as the binding instead of stainless steel

Bronze Blocks

only 2 in the current range at the moment see here and we’ll develop more as we go. We might even do ball bearing ones!

We are also working with Spinlock to see if a bronze version of their rope clutches is tehnically or commercially viable

And all the while the cross feed between the work we do in the marine environment and what we do with various metals in architectural applications combines to mean that the more we do the better we get, and the better we get the more we do.

So it has been an interesting 2011, and 2012 shows no signs of calming down.

Here is a picture of the crew getting together for a strategy workshop in the summer – the usual mix of present and past employees (who always seem to know when we are off down the pub)


So thanks for all your custom, ideas and involvement over the past year and all the best to you and yours for 2012.

All suggestions for improvements, ideas for content, quips and bright ideas for this letter would be gratefully received at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . As mentioned before, if there is anyone you'd like to forward it to, please do so. The next edition will appear when it appears.