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Passing Through Las Palmas – Part II

In which the reader is introduced to Wylo, Rosa, and whole host of other old gaffers

Much as we enjoy gawping at the super-yachts and at the Big Stuff going about its daily business on the other side of the port, for us the best thing about Las Palmas is the other cruising folk. As I said at the outset of the previous article, hundreds of yachts pass through the port each year and amongst this little lot there are bound to be friends, old or new.

Usually it is the boats themselves which attract our attention, because – it has to be said – interesting people, with interesting and different philosophies of life, tend to be sailing something other than a plastic production sloop with a teak-faced plywood interior.

A New Old-Timer

Pedro Canoero - a Malaysian-built Colin Archer

Amongst the boats which caught our eye this year was Pedro Canoero – a beautiful, gaff-rigged Colin Archer which belongs to a charming Italian gentleman called Ugo.
Ugo’s boat was built for him in Malaysia, and her construction uses only one type of wood. Everything – the frames, the planks, the deck, the table, the other furniture, and even the masts – is all built from the same wonderfully oily hardwood. The hull is not caulked, her owner tells me: the planks simply butt together and they are so oily that they never dry out and never shrink. Ugo has never varnished the interior – the wood just doesn’t need any treatment at all – and he keeps the deck watertight by covering it in something that he calls “banana carpet”. Every weekend he chucks buckets of sea water over the carpet, and that does the trick.

The Yellow Steel Yacht Club

As often as not Mollymawk is the only yellow boat in the anchorage – wherever that anchorage may be – but this year we were wearing the in colour. Not only were there four other banana-coloured boats moored in Las Palmas at the same time as us, but two of the fleet were actually yellow steel boats.

MoeMoea - an elderly steel yacht

It’s always good to be able to share the water with Moe-Moea. Her owners, Veit and Sophie are a lovely couple, with an outlook on life which is much like our own, but quite apart from that we enjoy their company because their boat always makes our own one look trim and tidy.
Sitting in their cabin, with its furniture knocked-up from packing crates and its (perfectly adequate) make-shift lockers, I find that I can stop fussing about the fact that Molly’s cabin is still only half-built.
“We had a choice,” says Sophie. “We could either spend a year building a really nice cabin, or we could go sailing. So we went sailing.”
That makes sense.

Rusty James and His Band of Rogues

Rusty, a steel built sloop, beats out of Las Palmas

The other yellow steel boat that we met this winter was called Rusty, and she came sailing into the anchorage one night while we were partying. Anyone who sails into the harbour in the dark must be okay, so we invited the Rusties over unseen, as it were. They turned out to be a bunch of crazies – three young men, one woman, and a five year old, all jammed into one small sloop – and we had a lot of fun comparing notes on wine, Antigua, and the cruising life in general.

Rusty‘s Untrusty Tender

Rot, tender to Rusty

The Rusties – James, The-Other-James, Aidan, Charlotte, and her son Jake – had never met before they set out to cross the pond together, and yet they were all living as one big, very happy family. One of our principal entertainments, during this time, was watching them all pile into their Rusty-designed, Rusty-built two-part dory-type dinghy. Boarding this creation was like trying to get onto an unbroken pony – more than once we saw it throw the rider into the sea – and turns had to be conducted with the greatest of care or it would threaten to capsize.
With all five of the crew aboard, Tippy (also known as Rot, in expectation of her fate) was far more stable. But by now it only had about two inches of freeboard.
The men fishing for cod on the Grand Banks used to work from dories. Their flimsy-looking dinghies were superficially very similar to Rusty’s cranky little tender, and yet they were capable of surviving a rough ride in those dangerous waters. Clearly there is a big difference somewhere, and the moral is that a dory needs to be carefully designed.

Club Med, Eat Your Heart Out

Another gaff-rigged vessel which grabbed our attention this winter was Opal, a big black schooner flying the Finnish flag. As the story goes, this boat began its life many decades ago, as a motor-fishing vessel. It was acquired by a syndicate of young couples whose ambition, we are told, was to sail together around the world. They set about restoring the boat to her full health, and they rigged her; but boat-building, as we Mollymawks know only too well, is a process which gobbles up the years and wolfs down your life.

Opal - a gaff-rigged schooner

Twenty years down the road, the couples were middle-aged and – one supposes – had lost the desire to go globe-trotting. Either that, or they were simply too tied up with the responsibility of jobs and businesses or with elderly parents and/or teenage kids. So it is that the fruit of their labours is being reaped by another – to be exact, by the nineteen year old son of one of those couples, and also by his young friends. They seemed a cheerful bunch, and they looked as if they were having a whale of a time together. They had a couple of old windsurfers, which they were learning to sail, and an old wooden dinghy which – having seen Tidely-Idely tripping to and fro between the anchorage and the port – they tried to rig. Every morning they took a dip in the insalubrious waters of the port, leaping naked from the lofty bowsprit.

Managing a boat of this size and weight must be quite a responsibility for an inexperienced youngster – although I may say that I have noticed that we are (or, in my case, were) a lot more self-confident in our young days, ignorance often blinding us to the fact that we have taken on something “man-sized”.
Fortunately, the young captain can call on the assistance and advice of a sailing master who has perhaps twice as many years as he. But it must be odd, for that fellow, to be the only “wrinkly” amongst a boatload of lithe and nubile youngsters.

Rosa

Rosa - a Falmouth fishing boat converted to carry a gaff ketch rig

Las Palmas saw quite a few gaffers this winter. The next to rock up was Rosa, skippered and owned by Spike Davies. Or rather – skippered and co-owned, because he shares the boat with Charlotte, whom we had already met aboard Rusty.
Some people lead very complicated lives.

Rosa used to belong to Spike’s dad. According to Spike, it was in good nick when the old man acquired it. (Mind you, Spike’s idea of good nick is a tad different from other people’s. I’ve heard him say, of a Folkboat which he once bought – “She was in really super condition. Half of her planks needed replacing, but apart from that there was almost nothing wrong with her!”)
In any event, no one – not even Spike – could claim that Rosa was in good repair when he got her. She had spent the previous few years moored alongside the boat where his father lived, up at the head of Falmouth Harbour, and over the years she had just gradually rotted away.

A Wreck By Any Other Name

Spike Davies aboard Rosa

It was in celebration of his son’s 18th birthday that the old man gifted his dream-boat to Spike. It’s not every lad who would be thrilled to bits to be given the opportunity to spend years trying to make something worthwhile out of a pile of rotten planks; and Spike was not such a one. Not according to his tale, at any rate.

At this stage in the game Rosa didn’t even have a transom. Still, it also happened that at this stage in the game Spike didn’t have a home, and so he moved aboard. When winter arrived it became in his interests to plank up the gaping stern… and so began the five year restoration project.
As I say, young people are undaunted and – lacking foresight – can rise to challenges which their once-enthusiastic but now so very much older, wiser, and tired parents by-pass.

Roxanne pulls a pint aboard Rosa (Unfortunately it's only water!)

Comparatively little time or trouble was expended on the interior, and so it has the kind of rustic charm which is only to be found aboard a one-time working boat. There is no loo, but there are two cookers, one in the aft cabin and the other in the usual place, in the saloon. One of the finest features of the latter is a beer engine which Spike’s dad rescued from a skip. I’ve only ever seen one other yacht equipped with its own beer pump.

Whilst the accommodation took a back seat (as, of course, it should) Spike and Charlotte were expending a great deal of effort on getting the boat seaworthy. At one stage they had to replace some rotten planks on the waterline and so, lacking the funds to slip the boat, Spike just heeled her over in the water, onto her other side, and got on with the job.

At another juncture he needed to fit a keel – Rosa having been built as a motor-fishing-vessel – and so, having spotted a suitable one abandoned in the mud (following the demolition of some other wreck) he manoeuvred his boat over the top. As the tide went down fine adjustments were made to the boat’s position, and then, when the lump of metal was in more or less the appropriate place and the water had all gone away, Spike and Charlotte drilled down through the wooden keel, tapped the iron keel, lying immediately below, and then bolted the boat onto it.
Thus it was that Rosa floated away from the mud with her draught increased by 18″. She was also floating at a rather odd angle – very much down by the stern – because Spike’s calculations regarding the position of the keel were evidently slightly awry. However, that problem was soon resolved. They just took the boat back into the mud berth and hacked off the back end of the lump of iron.

Why Does the Mizzen Mast Lean For’ard, Spike?

Rosa at anchor, with Wylo II in the background

All throughout this endeavour Spike’s intention was to rig Rosa as a gaff schooner, and so he cut the holes in the deck in the appropriate places and he fitted the partners (which are the pieces which strengthen the deck in the vicinity of the mast-hole, enabling it to take the strains engendered by a sail filled with wind and a boat heeled hard over).

Then he decided to rig the boat as a ketch.
That’s why Rosa‘s mizzen leans forwards. It was done in an effort to move the centre of effort of the smaller-than-planned sail to the place where it would be if the mast had been set in the appropriate place two feet further for’ard.

Okay, so it looks a bit odd – but it works; the boat balances well, both on and off the wind, and in relatively flat water she even tacks without recourse to the use of a sweep or the iron stays’l. (And that’s more than can be said for some of the old gaffers that I knew in my earlier days).

Rosa bears down on Mollymawk with all sail set

Spike handles the old girl with great panache and alarming courage, and on the occasion when he came thundering towards Mollymawk under full sail – with the purpose of taking off the crew for a trip round the bay – only very minimal damage was inflicted (and most of it to Rosa). We’ve had worse knocks from plastic tubs being brought alongside under engine.

A Rosa Future

The old gaffer, Rosa, beating up through the port of Las Palmas

In the summer of 2010 Spike, Charlotte, and 5 year old Jake sailed Rosa down the harbour from Penrhyn, out of the Fal estuary, and away from England. They took her to a certain top-secret location which is the rendezvous of various old salts and younger salts who seek to avoid marinas, mooring fees, motoring their boats, and everything else which is entailed in the tupperware-caravan scene. I would tell you where it is, but you never know who else might be reading this.

From here – wherever it may be – Rosa sailed across to Las Palmas, and from Las Palmas she set sail for the West Indies. Eventually. After her departure had been delayed for two weeks due to unforeseen partying.

Roxanne graffitis Rosa's sail

What lies ahead no one knows, least of all Spike.
Will Charlotte and little Jake join the ship again, and will the threesome sail merrily off into the sunset?
Maybe… but, myself, I reckon that Rosa‘s future probably lies in Cornwall, for Spike seems to me to be a builder, first and foremost, with sailing as a very secondary pastime and blue-water cruising probably not his longterm scene.
Whatever they all decide to do we wish them well, and we hope that Rosa looks after them as well as they are taking care of her.

Why Wylo?

Gaffers do tend to grab my attention. Well, Spike and Rosa would grab anyone’s attention, as did the the big black gaff schooner, Opal, but not everybody sat up straight or went rushing for their cameras when a very much smaller, steel-built gaff-rigged cutter came sailing into the anchorage one morning. I did, because I recognised it as Nick Skeates’ Wylo II.

Wylo II comes sailing into the anchorage

Nick Skeates began cruising as a teenager, his first command being a Wayfarer and his first stomping ground the Solent (in Southern England). Eventually, many years down the road, he bought himself a lovely bermudan sloop – a wooden one – and, together with his wife, he set off to circumnavigate the world. Half way around, while they were in the Fijian islands, the yacht sailed up onto a reef.
Well… it happens.

As Skeates saw it he had two options: he could either get a job and earn the money to buy a new boat, or else he could design and build his own one. Being young and (therefore) enthusiastic, he chose the latter option, and the result was Wylo II.
“Why Wylo II?” I asked.
“Because the first boat was called Wylo?”
“I see… And why was the first boat called Wylo?”
“I dunno.” Skeates points to a faded print nailed to the cabinside. It shows a square-rigged sailing ship. “That’s the original Wylo, but why my first boat was named after her I couldn’t tell you.”

Once Upon a Time…

We first encountered Wylo II almost fifteen years ago in Cowes. We were sailing aboard Lona, the beautiful little Edwardian cutter which belonged, at that time, to Richard Meynell.
Mark Taylor was there too. In those days he was a fairly green, would-be cruising man who had revealed nothing of his desire to chase after storm-force winds or to go rushing around the Southern Ocean as captain of an out-and-out racing machine. He was sailing a slow, shallow draught gaffer called Chance.

Besides these two friends (who also happen to be Caesar’s godfathers, by the way) there were numerous other sailors with their oldish and newish gaffers assembled there, in the mouth of the Medina, for this particular day was the occasion of the annual Solent Old Gaffers race.
We quickly spotted the famous cruising man, with his famous boat, but he seemed to be a bit preoccupied. Indeed, as I recall it he was half-way up his mast.

Nick Skeates aboard Wylo II, the boat which he designed and built

Well, we all headed out to the start and played about on the line, in the usual way, charging to and fro and jostling for a good position. Then the gun went off, and away went Wylo, like a bullet out of a gun. Well… like a bloomin’ Beneteau, at any rate.
So high did she point, compared to the rest of the fleet, and so fast did she sail, that Wylo might have been in a different fleet. The rest of us never saw her again that day.

Afterwards someone said that it was because she was so lightly built that the boat went so well – 2mm steel plate, I was told – but this, as I now know, is complete balderdash and bollards. Wylo is just as strongly and heavily built as any other gaffer of her size. She just happens to be very well designed.

Voluntary Simplicity

Nick Skeates in the cabin of Wylo II

Being a thrifty, shoe-string sailor – which is the proper sort – Nick Skeates now finds that he can get by on the earnings accrued by building other, replica Wylo IIs and by selling plans to DIY enthusiasts. His lifestyle is as basic and simple as his cabin, which (like ours) is built mostly from recycled wood. My favourite feature is the cutlery drawers, which came from a treadle-operated Singer sewing machine. As you may have gathered by now, I like a cabin to resemble a peasant cottage, whereas most production-boat interiors look more like the lounge bar of a designer-revamped pub.

As likeable, laid-back sailors go, Nick Skeates just about takes the biscuit being one of the most friendly and easy-going people that I have ever met. He is also very self-effacing – that astonishing win in Cowes, all those years ago, he attributes to the skill of a friend who was entrusted with the helm on that day – and he simply doesn’t react at all when people say, “Gaffers are hard work” or “They don’t point.” You only have to watch him entering harbour undersail, and threading his way through the anchorage, to see that Wylo, at any rate, is as easy to manage as a dinghy.

Three wise old men sniff the wind
Newly-acquainted single-handers aboard the ocean-going cruising yacht, Little Ben

Skeates and the Mollymawks have been almost bumping into each other for years now – often seeming to miss each other by days, and having many mutual cruising friends – so it was good to finally get to know the man. We only hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years to meet up with him again. By then he’ll be in his eighties, but I bet he won’t have swallowed the anchor.

Likewise, we hope that we will soon run into some of our other cruising friends – but if we don’t, then we’ll just make some new ones.
That’s cruising for you: a mobile community of eccentrics criss-crossing the globe according to their own individual whims; meeting each other, moving on, and leaving only bubbles, happy memories, and one or two newly-inspired converts in their wake.

5 Comments

  1. El Oso de Peru!

    Hi Jill,

    I wonder if that Spike originally came from Old Mill Creek – Dartmouth?

    I knew a Spike when he was about 4 years old. His dad was restoring a classic Gaffer in the mud there.
    I will always remember the first time my Spike came to visit the “Golden Vanity Open Day”, the 40ft Gaffer I was part of a team restoring as part of a 2 year Community Project.

    Ahh I thought, a little kid interested how nice! “Hi there – what do you think” I said.
    “Shes OK i guess, Bit beamy, but how are you going to fit the false keel on while she’s sitting so close to the concrete?”
    “Errr I dont know?” I really had no idea……… How could he think of that, as his opening question?
    Turned out it was a big headache of course, causing the loss of blood as well as sweat and tears, So Spike knew considerable more than we did – aged 4!!!!!!

    Sounds just like the Spike I knew then……….. I wonder???????

    Bear

    1. Yes, that’s him. Weaned on bilge water, cut his first teeth on a belaying pin, and probably knew how to caulk a seam before he could talk.

  2. Hi, This is a great site, it was good to hear what old friends are up to. Moontide is on the hard at Exeter Quay having a facelift. She is heading south again next year.
    Chris.

  3. Lovely article about Nick Skeates and Wylo11. Have known Nick since ’81. Everyone talks of his great sailing ability etc. More should be written of his intertainment/ music abilities , with his traditional Marquesian Island stringed instrument, together with his connoisseurship of notso fine rums. (rocket fuel) . A legend

  4. Jill,

    Loved your article. I’ve got a Wylo II ‘Satori Dolphin’ (23y old) in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been out of touch with Nick Skeates for >15 years, so it was great to read your review of him and Wylo II. Sister ship Tai Taki was on the RYCV slipway with Satori Dolphin last week – just coincidence.

    Regards,
    Alan Page

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