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Sailing, Seamanship, and Yacht Construction
By Uffa Fox
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Length, overall 45 ft. o in.
Beam 12 ft. o in.
Displacement 15 tons
Owner and Skipper, WILLIAM W. NUTTING
Length, waterline35 ft. 0 in.
Draught6 ft. 0 in.
Sail area950 sq. ft.
Designer, WILLIAM ATKIN
SEAMEN are made up of deepwater men and coasters, and until I met Typhoon and her owner I was a coaster only, not having sailed off soundings; so Typhoon having given me perspective, which, like humour in life, gives a sense of proportion and balance, Typhoon shall have the honour of going in to bat first.
Bill Nutting and Billy Atkin were both on the staff of Motor Boat, a New York magazine, and if we remember this fact when looking at Typhoon's lines they do not appear so unbalanced. The easy hollow bow and the powerful stern are typical of motor boats, which tend to squat by the stern through the propeller kicking away the ground or rather the water from under their quarters. Typhoon's lines, every time I look at them, bring to my eyes a picture of two sailing men, lovers of sail, made through force of circumstances prisoners in the offices of a Motor Boat Journal, and while there, being unable to stifle their love of sail any longer, they break out with a sailing boat, which to appear in their paper must bear a strong resemblance to a motor boat. And the fact that when I met her she had already crossed from Nova Scotia to Cowes in 22 days and had sailed the ocean part from Cape Race to the Bishops in 15 days 9 hours, balanced the ends far more in my eyes than I then realised. Typhoon arrived in Cowes early in August 1920, and my troop of Cowes Sea Scouts badly wanted me to take them aboard to see her and her crew ; but I could not very well take fifteen or twenty youngsters over a stranger's vessel without some reasonable excuse, and it was not until the end of that month that one came. We heard that Typhoon needed two more to make up her crew for the homeward voyage via the trades to New York, so as I wished to be one, and Charles Hookey, one of my boys, who was 6 ft. 2 in. overall, wished to be the other, we took the troop aboard, hoping that the owner would look upon us favourably as candidates for his crew and upon the troop much as he would upon an engine in a steam launch, and not mind.
We found an owner who was kindness itself, and the only excuse we needed was that we were fond of sailing and the sea. Ever since, when feeling shy, I have remembered this and have just dived into rooms full of people, rather like diving into the sea for a swim, knowing that if I had to wade in slowly I should lose my breath and run out frightened, when there would really be no need for the sea and human nature are naturally kind. Both however are alike in the fact, that although naturally kind, liberties must not be taken with either, for then the serene brow becomes ruffled and trouble is found.
And so we visited Typhoon in our whaleboat, and I asked Bill Nutting if I could make up his third man, and if he needed another Charles Hookey would be that man. . . . All the troop would have liked to go, but we were the only two that could.
Then next morning I told my family I wished to sail back to America in Typhoon, and my father argued with me. Typhoon, he said, was an unbalanced boat with her hollow weak bow and her broad stern. I said that she had already crossed the Atlantic, and he was not impressed ; for, he said, if you threw a box overboard in North America it would cross the Atlantic and be unable to help itself coming to England; and he warmed up to September gales, and the storms of October and November, from which I gathered he was against my starting.
So I went aboard again that evening with the gang, and Nutting said better not come ; he wanted me to, I wanted to, my father did not want me to. So the only thing to do was to toss up. And it came tails, so I passed the penny to the youngest in the troop, and the next two came heads so all was settled. . . . Years afterwards Harry Partridge told me the other two calls came tails too ; hence we learn that the right thing to do is that which you want to do.
It was now late, so as all my gear was aboard the schooner Black Rose, in which I had been cruising, we started for Hamble to fetch it, and there being no wind this meant a fourteen mile row in the whaler, and we arrived back aboard Typhoon at 3.00 a.m. Then the skipper fed us with soup, and off we went home to bed at 6.00 a.m. or rather to collect the rest of the gear.
The last day of August found Typhoon ready for sea with her owner and Charles in one watch and myself and Jim Dorset in the other, the owner delighting me by giving me charge of that watch.
Those of the troop who could came down in our racing gig to say farewell, and we left Cowes at 1.00 p.m. for New York, under a 7½ horse power one-lung Diesel; and at 3.00 p.m. we were still without wind, roaring through Hurst with the engine peacefully quiet. Engines to me seem just like that; they behave perfectly well until really needed and then they drop peacefully to sleep, and here we were with every chance of being swept to the shingles by the fierce ebb without an engine. Auxiliary power in a sailing vessel does not receive the attention it should have, and the result is that it is often unreliable. However this case was soon remedied, for it was the stuffing box overheated through being set up too tightly, and easing it off and throwing water over it enabled us to restart the engine and stand over towards the Island shore and safety, with the ebb tide. On the flood the tide sweeps towards the Island, and vessels should keep near the shingles then.
By 4.00 p.m. we had cleared the Island, and outside the Needles we found a westerly wind making, which by 6.00 was enough to enable us to set sail and steer S.W. by W. ; but by dark the wind had fallen away, and we kept the engine going all through the night until 4.00 a.m. the next morning, September 1, when there was enough wind for sailing. However this faded away for two hours from 8.00 till 10.00 a.m., when it came in again quite strongly, and at 4.00 in the afternoon we had all we could stagger under with full sail. At 5.00 p.m. we put two reefs in the mainsail, and three hours later we stowed it entirely, as by now it was really blowing hard. Myself, Jim and Charles were all seasick, so as the skipper was on watch we stretched out in bunks feeling rather small.
At 4.00 a.m. I turned out and discovered everyone turned in, and Typhoon steering herself under her headsail only, while away on the port bow was the glow from two lighthouses, which later we found were on a small island to the east of Ile de Batz (the Sept Iles). And so sitting steering Typhoon, with the French coast in sight, there was time to think quietly over everything. Here we were, four of us crossing the Atlantic, three of us very young and seasick, and a kind-hearted skipper who, rather than disturb our slumbers, had taken the mizen off Typhoon, hung a riding light in the rigging, and turned in with us when he felt tired (so the log read between the lines) with the English Channel full of shipping.
It took but a few seconds to realise that when it came to weather our vessel could stand far more than we could, that we three youngsters were the weak links in the chain, and that our too indulgent skipper would let us sleep when we were under the weather, all of which was very humiliating. So three hours later, while the owner cooked the breakfast, I explained my thoughts and feelings, and he agreed that it was far better for his crew to feel dreadfully seasick than humiliated. . . . And that never more, if it were humanly possible, would Typhoon be left alone with the night.
At 10.30 a.m. we reset the mizen and steered S.W. along the French coast, which gradually gained on us, as with the wind ahead we could not weather the point ahead, Ile de Batz. After trying to fight our way to windward in vain for three hours against a strong wind and steep sea, we decided to go in, and away we went between two lighthouses on rocks and ran aground on some mud—it seemed to be the only piece of mud amongst masses of rocks.
The log read 172 from the Needles, and we thought and hoped that the town we saw across the masses of rocks was Roscoff, for having only a small scale chart we were not sure of our position ; and as long as no harm comes of it (as it easily can) there is more fun in cruising on a strange coast with a very small scale chart, as then one feels something of the doubts and fears that beset the earliest explorers.
The young flood was making, and there would be no difficulty in kedging off ; so the dinghy was launched and I was detailed off to buy food. Not speaking French I took a paper plate and a pencil to draw sketches of the food we wished to have, and as drawing is the oldest and most natural form of language I returned triumphant, if stony broke.
The town was Roscoff, and there was a fine little harbour in front which dried out at low water. So we cooked and enjoyed an excellent dinner, and afterwards sailed into the harbour in the twilight and moored alongside the stone quay. We walked through the unlighted streets and then to bed with the feeling that we had an interesting town to wander over the next day. And so ended the night of September 2, 1920.
We spent four days alongside the stone quay. We had our halyards ashore to a ring bolt to prevent Typhoon falling outward, but they were never used, it being a far better plan to shift the anchors across the deck and place them amidships on the side nearest the wall, thus giving Typhoon an inward list. If we had depended upon the halyards they would have needed tending with the rise and fall of the tide.
These four days were pleasantly spent, visiting the town and its church, and all the while a strong westerly wind made the beat to Ushant uninviting. But at noon on September 6 we put to sea with full jib and mizen, but a two-reefed mainsail, as although the wind was easing there still seemed plenty. Having studied the approaches to Roscoff at low water we sailed out without hitting any of the many rocks.
The wind held strong and ahead till midnight and we tacked along the rocky coast towards Ushant, quite happily catching mackerel, which made our fish course for dinner that night, but after midnight the wind started to fade away and by 2.00 a.m. we were slatting about in a glassy swell with the sails sheeted flat to try and prevent their slamming too hard.
Hell is supposed to be paved with good intentions, but according to Bill Nutting it is paved with glassy ground swells, and this being a new idea of hell's pavement to me, I was first of all tickled and afterwards much taken with the picture, for surely there can be nothing more damnable than slatting about in a heavy swell, which throws the boat about in all directions without rhyme or reason.
We were becalmed for 36 hours, and then a faint breeze came out of the north-east and by 2.00 p.m., Wednesday, September 8, we were sailing with a fair wind at 2 to 3 knots. As it was foggy we decided to go outside Ushant, for although the fog was very patchy it might not be clear when we wanted it to be, and with strong tides the passage inside the island is difficult in fog.
At 6.45 we saw a wondrous sight, several rocky islands appeared as though in the sky, and then with startling suddenness two bright flashes appeared in the sky immediately overhead, for we had nearly run into the bottom of Ushant Light in the fog. So we cleared Ushant for the run across the Bay with no need for cross bearings at all, a good departure, if a startling one; and ever since, when thinking of Ushant or hearing it spoken of, the picture of those two bright flashes in the sky above comes to my mind's eye very vividly.
With the wind astern we lashed the mizen to its weather shrouds and ran wing and wing for the corner of Spain, 300 miles across the Bay, which was very delightful. A small boat hammering her way against a strong wind is wet and uncomfortable, but when chasing away before it she is a different vessel, sailing upright and dry and lessening the force of wind and sea by giving way to them, whereas close hauled she increases the power of wind and sea, to the discomfort of those aboard. September weather with its easterly winds made the Bay of Biscay a pleasant place.
One night the wind was very strong though fair, and to ease up Typhoon we stowed her mizen after putting two reefs in the mainsail, and even with her jib and a double reefed mainsail she was driving along as fast as she could go, and seas were sweeping over her continually, the largest in my watch coming clean over the mizen boom, which was stowed in the crutch. These were not the steep unstable waves of the North Sea, but huge Atlantic seas that gave a small boat every chance to rise to them because of their size. But that hard easterly wind only lasted the one night, and by 10.00 a.m. next morning we shook out the reefs in the mainsail and set the mizen, as the wind was taking off, and by 4.00 in the afternoon we were becalmed only 10 miles off the coast of Spain. We had been steering for Cape Ortegall, but through haze this was invisible. All through the night we were becalmed and fog persisted in hiding the land, and it was not until next morning that the breeze came fitfully and settled down to a light wind from the west, enabling us to steer south close hauled on the starboard tack.
At 9.10 a.m. as I had the deck and was steering, there suddenly appeared the lacework of breakers at the base of rocky cliffs, so I yelled delightedly "Land on the starboard bow," and as we were less than 400 yards off we stood on to about 300 yards off, and came about. As we only had small scale charts we could not see anything to tell us our position, and so the morning was spent very pleasantly tacking along westward close to the mountains, with the heavy swell breaking on rocks or yellow beaches at their base, and a fog that hid the tops of the mountains and only revealed half their beauty—a fine game and very fascinating trying to decide where we were after several days out of sight of land. Round a headland 1,000 feet high at least and still onward we tacked, and then round a cape with a lighthouse. We decided it was Cape Prior as the lighthouse was about 300 feet in the air. All day we had seen little fishing boats popping, it seemed, out of the very face of the cliffs, but on going closer there appeared a little bay, and at 5.00 p.m. as the night was coming on and the weather was thick, we sailed into a tiny bight and anchored for the night. It was a delightful anchorage ; the Spanish fishermen boarded us with presents of their red vino, lobsters, and some snake-like shellfish, which grow on rocks and on ships' bottoms, these last dreadful looking things to eat, but they shouted instructions as to how we should cook them, which we never understood, and after many mistakes and corrections we managed it in the end. They were very rubbery to chew, though tasting good.
Then we gave them whisky, and not being used to such powerful stuff they dropped off to sleep, and we only put them into their own boats at midnight by main strength. Those fishermen had had what I've since heard described as a good party. They slept all night in the open, for their boats were rather like our sea scouts' whaler, open and double ended with a large dipping lug ; and there is no doubt that sleep and fresh air was what they needed.
Next morning at 8.30 a.m. we set sail and continued our beat to windward to Ferrol, whither we were bound, and although we gathered both from the fishermen and the direction of the coast line that we had not yet passed it, we could not tell how far away it was.
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Table of ContentsDEDICATION
PART I CRUISING
4. IDEAL PROPORTIONS OF CRUISING YACHTS
21. VALHALLA'S WHALEBOAT
23. MASTING AND RIGGING
26. NORTH ATLANTIC
PART II RACING
5. TWELVE METRES
6. EIGHT METRES
7. SIX METRES
8. TWENTY-TWO SQUARE METRES
9. INTERNATIONAL FOURTEEN-FOOTERS
10. FROSTBITE DINGHIES
11. WINNING THE CANOE CHAMPIONSHIP OF AMERICA
12. RACING MANŒUVRES
Epilogue : HEART'S DESIRE
INDEX TO PHOTOGRAPHS