The blog will now be devoted not to boat building but to my 82-year-old Vertue, Sally II, now undergoing a well needed refit at Johnson & Loftus in Ullapool (and gliding...)

Friday, 17 May 2013

A New Topmast

When Lobie II, a Laurent Giles 43, lost the top of her mast off Lowestoft, most skippers would have decided to abort the circumnavigation of Britain. Not Neil and Maddy Scobie. Rigging a jury, they continued by France and Ireland, arriving back in Ullapool with the jagged stump and a cut-down sail plan. Intrepid stuff.

This is what I wrote at the time:

Copyright Charlotte Watters

John Ridgway – a near neighbour to us, as it happens – may have been the first to row the Atlantic, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes is about to trek to the pole in winter, but no-one to my knowledge has until now sailed around the British Isles with a broken mast, surely an achievement that ranks with the best of them, and more laudable for the fact that it went largely unrecorded, save for a brief note in the (Royal) Loch Broom blog**

This is the stuff of legend; the kind of stiff upper lip in the face of adversity we associate with our great country. What made an empire and won the war. Many a yachtsman with full and detailed preparation has circumnavigated our shores, some of them in astonishing times, others in a variety of craft both suitable and frankly ludicrous. There has probably been a fellow who did it in a bath tub, or  in a Citroen 2cv fitted with sails. Neil and Maddy Scobie with little on no preparation, save a trip to Costcutters for provisions, did it in a classic 43ft yacht designed by the Jack Giles called Lobie II. And for much of the voyage they were lacking a vital part of her, namely the top 10ft of her mast.

It was off Lowestoft that it all came crashing (literally) to the deck. One minute hard on the wind in a lumpy sea; the next a sharp report, more like the cracking of splintered spruce, and a chunk of it landed at Maddy’s feet, narrowly missing her head.

That was when the phone call came. “Hi, it’s Maddy. We’ve broken our mast,” rose a disembodied voice out of the North Sea. “What do you suggest?”

Well, I thought quickly, best get into a safe haven as fast as you can, call the local boatyard, have the rig pulled and Lobie transported home on a trailer. With barely a quarter of the round trip completed there was not much of a case to be made for continuing.

And that is where I left them: joggling about in the North Sea with the top of their mast on deck, no doubt swathed in a welter of sailcoth and stainless steel rigging.

A few days later their daughter called. “How they getting on? Have they pulled the mast yet? How are they planning to get her back home?” The answer was surprising, but typical of the spirit of adventure you would expect from a couple steeped in the old ways of doing things. Typical of a man who wears shorts in mid-winter and once worked with Ridgway. To borrow Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey’s remark to Wellington at Waterloo when a shot took off his leg: “We seem to have lost our mast,” says Neil.

“My goodness,” says Maddy. “So we have...” And soldier (sailor) on.

It was fully in keeping with  Blondie Hasler’s view, who famously suggested that those who sailed alone and got into trouble should be prepared to drown like gentlemen. In this case drowning was not a serious prospect; more like a huge repair bill and a low-loader up the M1.

“Oh they never mentioned the mast,” says the daughter.  “They’ve have found a tree surgeon.They’re in France now up some river having a great time. Apparently I’m to send out a smaller jib. And some Oxford marmalade.”

Next thing, Lobie was back on her mooring with the jagged stump above her top spreaders an unlikely perch for a herring gull. Maddy and Neil were rowing ashore. They had enjoyed a storming sail up the Irish Sea, too fast to stop, they said. And the mast? They had kept the pieces and reckoned it could all be glued back again.

Of course the mast would need pulling, but they would do that alongside the pier and Neil would strap it to an old Massey Ferguson, with no brakes, tax or insurance, and drag it 10 miles up the glen to their lodge in the hills. After all, if you’ve just sailed round Britain without an important section of what drives you then getting the rest of it, all 60ft mind you, up a potholed, single track, unmade road in the Highlands is really no big deal.

**, for those curious to read the full story.

And here is what's been going on in a barn, 10 miles up the glen over the last few days:

Two lumps of flawless Douglas Fir, 10ft x 6in x 7.5in and a hell of a lot of planing later and the new topmast is ready to be epoxied to the stump.

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