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Pete, you're a bloody good storyteller, mate!
The Foxcub 18 was designed by Uffa Fox, ex choirboy and all round
iconoclast who designed and launched boats from a decomissioned ferry
in the River Medina, Cowes, Isle of Man, which is sailing central in
Britain. He was a terrific racer, who knew the heavily tidal waters
of the Solent well. He found inshore eddies, and dipping into these,
hurling through arse-puckeringly shallow water won him many a race,
to the chagrin of his competitors, Until one noticed how he judged
it: his wife was seen up to her knees in water, acting as a human
tide gauge and racing mark, watching her husband hurtle by.
Competitor, let it be known that he knew Fox's secret and come the
next race, Fox was toast. Sure enough, Mrs F was there, up to her
knees in water, so the smart competitor went for the shallow inshore
eddy. And went aground in a welter of falling rigging, oaths,
ridicule and ignominy. Then Mrs Fox got up off her knees in the ankle
deep water while Uffa, with his usual 6 inches below his keels ailed
Mine, Jeru, is named after the name Miles Davis gave to baritone
saxophonist Gerry Mulligan after the Birth of the Cool recordings.
Growing up during the 70s, brains turned to mush by glam rock, I
remember coming across an LP of four American guys outcooling the
French in Paris, 1954puttng it on the family's mono record player and
thinking, 'Now this is music.' So when I bought the Foxcub, Jeru it
had to be.
Whitby, on the north east coast of England is a frustrating place to
sail, a great place to live. The mobile date of Easter was decided
here, as was the vexed question of priest's haircuts at the Synod of
Whitby in 644. It gave the world James Cook: yes that James Cook,
the one who finished his life being eaten in the Sandwich Islands,
and after his death it was said there were no terra incognita - no
undiscovered lands. He learned his sailing here. So did I, in the
rough, tidal, murky waters of the North Sea, and off Tate Hill pier I
moored Jeru,bursting with pride and joy.
You see, Tate Hill Pier is where, in the book, Dracula landed.
Forget Hollywood, Van Helsing, James Woods Vampires. Dracula came
into Whitby harbour on the Varna, helmedthrough the storm by a dead,
cross clutching man lashed to the helm. Dracula, in the form a black
dog leaped into Tate Hill Pier before embarking on his career of
neck-munching. Jeru's was a floating mooring, so I had to row out
to her in a small tender ('Walkin' Shoes', my fave Mulligan track),
so small that when I got in her she had about 4 inches of freeboard,
and my 400 yard row used to regularly bring the harbourside footpaths
to a standstill, so precarious seemed my progress.
One evening, one sunset, force three evening I rowed down the harbour
for a snatched dusk sail on Jeru. The harbour was dead calm, the sky
was that deep blue shading into gold that you can't describe, far
less paint. I was dazed with the beauty of it all, looking forward
to my hour reaching up the coast as the sun set oner the Yorkshire
Moors Then a cigarette-roughened voice bellowed across the harbour:
'Where yer goin?' A - er - lady, 40's, stout, red faced with a pair
of aged parents.
Me, rowing on, reverie shattered: 'I'm going for a sail.'
Lady: 'Tek us with yer!" (Us means 'me' in this context)
Me: 'Sorry, no room.
Lady: 'I'll show yer me tits if yer do!'
Me: 'Sorry, still no room.'
She pulled up her jumper and showed me anyway. Grizzly.
Anyway, Jeru is a good little sailor. I sometimes sail for a living:
skippering 50 - 80 foot youth sail training ketches with peak and
throat halyards, twitchers, topsails hoist and trimmed by entire
fishing nets, four jibs requiring travellers, bead blocks,
preventers, whole bloody snakes honeymoons of ropes. Lovely under
sail, but o my god how complicated.
Jeru has one kicker, two sails, three sheets, two winches and one
toppling lift. I can sail her on my own sometimes and give badly
trimmed 26 footers a fright (thanks Uffa). And, when the wind
ain't bad, I can sail her off her mooring, usually with an audience
of tourists standing on Dracula's pier. And as I prepare to slip,
back the jib and drop away from the pier before sailing into the
offing that Cook saw, I just think, well, look at the header of this
blog: 'There is nothing, nothing finer...'