How author Martin O’Scannall removed the engine from his yacht and learned to listen to the sea

Tom Cunliffe introduces a pair of extracts from For the Love of Sauntress – a 40 year affair by Martin O’Scannall extolling the virtues of sailing without an engine.

Photo Oscar Companioni.
Photo Oscar Companioni.

For the Love of Sauntress – A Forty-year Affair published as recently as 2014 by the ever-creative Lodestar Books tells the story of Martin O’Scannall’s life with a notably beautiful gaff cutter, mainly on England’s East Anglian coast, writes Tom Cunliffe.

The book is exquisitely written, and one can only imagine Dick Wynne at Lodestar rubbing his hands in delight when it came his way.

In his own unique way, O’Scannall shows us how a man ready to listen to lessons taught in the classroom of the creeks and the open sea can learn as much about himself as he can the way of a sailing boat on salt water.

These two extracts reveal the dramatic personal results of the radical decision to scrap a perfectly good engine and let his old yacht live again. While entertaining delightfully, he quietly slips us some priceless hints about how to manoeuvre under sail in tight waters while sharing the secrets of discovering that self-reliance which is the ultimate hallmark of the sailor.

See also: Wolfound: marine artist Stephen Dews reveals his brand new schooner

 

 

(Extract 1): At long last comes that moment when you stop sawing, hoover out the shavings and start on the paint and the varnish. That final touch before the season starts.

And for those who say that varnish is too much trouble, or that paint is too much trouble, or that wooden boats are too much trouble, well each to his own. But you cannot help wondering just what else might be too much trouble, the things which not only beautify your boat but on which her safety relies.

Having applied the last lick of varnish, cleaned your brushes and tidied all away, you now have to get out of the impossible ditch that is Toosey Creek, at the top of the tide; and this, as the denizens of the yard know all too well, is the moment for some good clean fun.

For the ditch, sorry, creek, is unmarked. There are no buoys, no withies and you have absolutely no idea where the channel lies. True you can take a constitutional down the bank, jolly nice too, with the birds and the breeze, to spy out the lay of the land at low tide. And perhaps even take some bearings and draw a chart.

But come high water, it is just one brimming expanse of nothingness, flanked by sedge grass, with, as you know very well, glutinous mud lurking everywhere. Invisibly.

And high tide brings the usual knot of expectant faces, emerging from who knows where, in keen anticipation of someone else’s misfortune, than which, as everybody knows, there is nothing more entertaining.

And one day it was our turn.

If you have an engine, as Sauntress then did, the prudent thing is to motor gingerly out with a firm eye on the echo sounder and the scrap of paper which does duty for a chart. But no, for there was a commanding breeze, the sun shone, the water glittered, and the notion formed that it would be fun to sail out.

So it was, but not for Sauntress.

First hoist the main, head to wind, and let go the lines. Sauntress paid off, gathered way and charged the nearest mudbank. Round one to the onlookers. Jane in the yard launch, which is pretty used to these occasions, was thrown a warp and towed us off, backwards, than which there is little more ignominious.

But there was more to come. For Sauntress, mainsail now filling nicely, shot off down the creek, towing the yard launch backwards, Jane for some reason hanging on as the boatyard fast receded. Thus giving the onlookers an unexpected bonus as Jane’s frantic cries echoed across the water. But, you see I faced much the same dilemma as Gerard Hofnung’s bricklayer. If I let go the helm to let go Jane, we would run on the mud. But if I didn’t…?

So, like the bricklayer, I hung on. As did Jane. The cottages shot past, the sedge grass shot past, the breeze strengthened. We negotiated the first bend, Sauntress picked up speed. Jane picked up volume and the show gave every sign of going on.

But, and here was the icing on the cake, the mainsheet became entangled with the helm and Sauntress, completely out of control, settled matters by ploughing to an abrupt halt in the mud. Not so the yard launch. Which, in the way of Newton and the apple…

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