A bit about me: Sailing has been my main hobby for most of my life, starting with bouncing round in Optimists in Chichester Harbour, then exploring Poole Harbour and various Cornish estuaries in my family’s gunter-rigged 16ft Westray, but this weekend was my first time sailing with a gaff-rig. I got the offshore sailing bug when I went on a trip with OYT South on John Laing 10 years ago and I’m now a volunteer watchleader with them as they haven’t been able to get rid of me since! In between sailing I’m a research scientist and freelance science editor.
My first impressions when stepping on to Amelie Rose were great; she’s a gorgeous boat with a very spacious feeling deck and snug down below. Walking round the deck the general feel wasn’t too dissimilar to other yachts I’ve been on, but I did quickly notice that all the ropes are the same colour! As soon as we started rigging the jib, it became clear that everything being the same colour doesn’t matter because, unlike on modern Bermudan rigs, you can visually follow (and wiggle) the relevant rope to find out what it’s attached to – so much quicker and easier than trying to track ropes through a mast!
Getting the sails up I was easier than I expected; without winches I’d thought the loads would be heavier, so I was rather glad that wasn’t the case, especially with only 5 of us on board. On the Friday Nick put us through our paces learning how to tack and gybe Amelie Rose. It took us a little while to work out the timing for heaving in the jib in particular, as we quickly realised that getting this right made our lives so much easier! Our training certainly paid off during the race on the Saturday. Helming her was rather different to using a wheel; I certainly felt when the sails started loading up much more and found the tiller block and tackle essential for sailing off the wind! In contrast, the gaff rig was so much easier to balance going upwind than Bermudan rigs, with the result of a tiller so light that Amelie Rose could be steered with the odd nudge of a finger – luxury!
Being in the middle of the whole Gaffer fleet heading downwind and down-tide to the start line and feeling Amelie Rose power up was particularly memorable for me. I really enjoyed the whole race, though trying to catch up with Corncockle was frustrating at times…we’d gain ground on them on the off-wind legs and then lose it again as they could point higher than us upwind! Also, I found seeing how much variation there was in upwind performance across the fleet very interesting and overall better than I had thought for gaffers. Overall, I had a fantastic weekend and really enjoyed learning a bit about the quirks and advantages of the gaff rig, while understanding how I could transfer my skills gained from previous sailing. I would definitely love to do more sailing on Gaffers in the future.