Friday, July 13, 2007

Mariefred cruise 2002

Lake Mälaren cruise to Gripsholm castle
(July 24 - 31, 2002)

This cruise report does not really
belong on this site, because I did not have my Alacrity at that time
yet. Instead I was the co-owner of a 1964 wooden folkboat called
"Malin". I had just met my then wife-to-be and she had never ever been
on a sailboat before, except for a few quite unlucky shakedown cruises
with either too less wind or too much rain.

However she agreed to a one week's cruise our first summer together.
There are quite a few people who would say that if you can live
together one week on a moderately leaky and damp 26 foot wooden
sailboat, there should be no problem with living together as a married
couple afterwards. So far this has been true.

My idea with this first cruise was to sail into lake Mälaren which
has less traffic and weaker winds than the archipelago and the Baltic.
Additionally there are quite a few things to see. We would sail to the
nice little town of Mariefred with it's famous Gripsholm castle. On our
way there we would visit the island of Birka, where excavations have
revealed one of the biggest viking settlements ever found.

To my wife's annoyance I had decided that we should have one more crew
on the first leg of the cruise. At that time Malin had a berth on the
archipelago side of Stockholm, actually in the same club marina where
my Alacrity is today. Our cruise, however, would take us into the
sweetwater lake Mälaren west of the city. To get there we would
have to navigate an opening bridge and a lock. I was a bit worried as I
never had gone through a lock before and this was the main reason why I
liked one more crew to feel safe.

Here we are waiting for the bridge to be opened. The guy who is
standing aft is my friend Jesper who accompanied us the first day. We
had requested the bridge to be opened at 10 a.m. The weather was nice
and sunny, however the forecast spoke of rain later that day.

When we had passed through the bridge we sailed for about half an hour.
Then we decided to start the engine, a very old Evinrude 6hp outbord
which, however, worked nicely almost the whole time. We did this mainly
because of poweboat swell, something I would never do today as I since
have learned that motoring through swell is much more annoying than
sailing through it. Also, we soon would have to enter a canal to get to
the lock and we wanted to get there as quickly as we could.

Here we are in the canal. It is a very special feeling to sail (or
motor) right through the city. You can see the houses on the right
side. A bit further down there are actually buildings on both sides of
the canal.

We are through the lock, it's right there under the bridge. Now we are
floating in fresh water. I remember actually having a silly feeling of
what if the boat wouldn't float on the other side when going through
the lock. The passage itself was no problem at all and my wife was of
course right that we never would have needed the extra crew. Today I
would confidentially sail through single handed, but I did not know
this then! The lock itself is mainly there to regulate the water flow
from lake Mälaren into the Baltic and there is only few
inches of height difference.

After about one more hour's motoring we finally could set sail. Of
course it almost immediately began to rain.

In lake Mälaren there are almost no natural harbours or anchorages
at all. Instead local yacht clubs have docks on small islands where
guest boats are welcome for a moderate fee. Our first night we stopped
at one of these, called Jungfruöarna (The Virgin Islands). Before
we moored there, we dropped off Jesper att a dock on Ekerö island
from where he would take the bus home.

Jungfruöarna are two small islands connected by a tiny bridge.
There is a club house and a sauna belonging to the yacht club and very
nice docks. We rigged the boom tent (cheap tarp type) in case it would
rain more and relaxed before dinner.

The next morning we sailed on to Birka. Winds were light from the
Southwest so we were on a close reach most of the time and not moving
very fast. At one time we were followed by a swan family...

When we reached the somewhat more open waters of Björkfjärden
which we had to cross to get to Birka the wind died almost completely.
It was warm and sunny and most other boats were motoring or just
drifting along. However, after about half an hour the wind picked up
again and we could sail comfortably to Björkö and the viking
settlement of Birka.

This is the visitor's dock at Birka. It is quite open to the west, but
very sheltered from all other directions. When we arrived we checked
the weather forecast which was talking about somewhat stronger winds
from the west the next day, however the night should be quiet....

The viking village of Birka itself was a disappointment. We had
imagined some reconstructed viking buildings, longboats and people
demonstrating ancient craftmanship. The reality was a tourist
restaurant and a small museum. The rest was holes in the ground
(excavations) and sheep.

Now, two years later, there have been newspaper reports that there has
been some development since. Now they apparently have some real viking
stuff going on. Most people who visit Birka do this by ferry from
Stockholm, a nice day trip.

On the highes hill on Björkö there is a monument of Ansgar
who was the first christian in Scandinavia.

This is my wife at the monument. The view is really great. The picture
below shows the hill and the monument from the seaside.

Of course, the weather forecast was wrong. The west wind came already
in the middle of the night and with it quite a swell. In the early
hours I awoke and felt quite queasy. The boat next to us decided to
leave. We, however tried to get some more sleep with doubtable results.
Instead we went to the restaurant as soon as it opened for the day and
ate a early breakfast on firm and steaday ground. Then we left to sail
for Mariefred and Gripsholm castle.

Winds were perfect and after two days of light winds the boat and it's
crew took real delight in some real sailing. The last part of the
approach to Gripsholm cove was quite tricky with very few navigation
aids (and some out of date charts). All went well however.

This is the steamboat "Mariefred". It was built in 1903 and has since
sailed on the Stockholm-Mariefred trade. It is one of very few coal
steam ships still in active service in Sweden and the only one on lake

When we berthed at Mariefred community dock the trusty Evinrude
suddenly died. Fortunately the boat was gliding fast enough for me to
get hold of a nearby mooring buoy. Afterwards we concluded that the
engine failure probably was caused by myself sitting on the fuel hose...

Here we would stay two days and rest. Time to open a bottle of red
wine. In the backgrund you can see one of the four towers of Gripsholm

Gripsholm castle was built by king
Gustav Vasa in 1537 as a part of a new national defense system. It was
restored in Gustav III's time including a little theatre inside the
castle. During the second world war the German writer Kurt Tucholsky
lived (and died) here. Maybe this is why so many German boats visit
lake Mälaren. Today the castle harbours a famous collection of
portraits which is really worth visiting.

Mariefred is a cozy little town. During the summer it is visited by
many tourists. There is an old narrow gauge steam railway connecting
the town with the national railway system at Läggesta. Round trips
by steamboat, steam train and back to Stockholm by ordinary train are
very popular.

The steam is from the train's engine, not coming out of my head...

The town viewed from the castle. The community dock is right in the
middle of the town.

After a relaxing day and a good night's sleep we sailed from Mariefred,
now homeward bound. Winds were light in the beginning, but picked up
somewhat later. This time we had a nice beam reach in perfect weather.

We sailed to another yacht club island, Slandö kalv. It was quite
crowded and amongst all the boats were two German folkboats who had
been participating in a race on lake Mälaren. They did not sail
here from Germany, though, but trailered instead.

The next morning there was no wind
whatsoever, so we decided to stay here another day. The island is quite
small so there is not too much to do. Instead we used the inflatable
dinghy to explore the surroundings and had a swim.

We had now only two days of our
cruise left. As we were still to far from home to get there on a single
day's comfortable sail, we decided to make a last stop at
Jungfruöarna, the same island as on our way out.

There we cooked a good last
dinner. The next day we sailed home and got through the lock one more

During this trip my wife really got hooked on sailing. Since, we have
bought our own little boat and now we are sailing in the more open
waters of the archipelago and the Baltic.

A short cruise midsummer 2004

June 26/27

Last week-end was Midsummer's holiday, Sweden's big national outing-and-getting-rained-on-week-end. Weather usually is bad, and this year was no exception. Two friends and I had planned a 4 day cruise, but due to bad weather, we shortened it a bit. Yesterday we went out in ovecast weather and a bit of a drizzle, moderate winds. Weather improved eventually and when we stopped for a very late lunch at 1700 near an interesting wreck of an old warship we actually saw a bit of the sun.

We then sailed on to the cove where we intended to spend the night and it was calm and nice. We had to anchor as there was no suitable rocky shoreline to moor to (no tides in this part of the Baltic), and take the inflatable to get ashore.

At first there was a powerboat with an elderly couple anchored as well, but they left after dinner, so we had the tiny cove for ourselves during the night. Just after sunset suddenly appeared a lot of bats! They flew low over the water, probably eating mosquitos. This was the first time I ever saw real life bats! And so many of them.

After a quiet night and a good breakfast we left in almost no winds, still under sail though. Eventually the breeze picked up and we had a nice sunny day and a very pleasant sail home. Now I have only to work for two more weeks until my real vacation starts!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alacrity history

I do not know very much about the boats' history yet. However I found some things on a few yacht brokers' homepages and in old books and magazines. (Many thanks to Craig Anderson of the Old Twin Keeler Newsletter and Simon Harrison from the UK who provided me with a lot of material).

I am still looking for more information though, so if you know something interesting, please tell me.

The Alacrity 19 was designed in 1960 by Peter Stephenson. It was an open plan, relatively beamy yacht and they were built by Hurley Marine for the
Essex based Hurley agent Russell Marine Ltd. They performed well but the accommodation and headroom was limited.
The Alacrity was marketed as a Hurley for one year - 1969. Hurley did not just mould the hulls for Russell Marine but completed the whole yacht ready to take to sea. Russell Marine built them alone after about 1972.
I don't know how many boats were built, but it is more than 1000.
The design was based on an original plywood design, although adapted to fiberglass later and made a bit longer (18'6'' instead of 17'3''). There is still a lot of wood in the interior of the boat.
Apparently the hull for the plywood version was made in the same factory and using the same processes as the Mosquito bomber of WW2 which was an all-wood aircraft.
There are several versions of the boat: The Mk1, MkII, and the weekender which seems to be an MkII with a slightly different cabin layout.
Additionally there is a model called Alacrity 670 (or Catalina 22 in the USA). This boat is not based on the same design.
There are also some similarities between the Alacrity and the Vivacity 20, drawn by Desmond Pollard. The Vivacity 20 basically is a somewhat longer and heavier version of the Alacrity.
The Alacrity 19 is sometimes also referred to as Alacrity 18.

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" - Part v

Part 5 ‘The last leg home’

I remember sending my brother a birthday card on the 3rd of October ’75 and thinking again how the autumn had come on so quickly. In the space of only 2 weeks or so, as we had made our way from the Med to the Bay of Biscay we had gone from balmy summer weather to cold short days with heavy forbidding clouds and rain.

Our decision to take the route through Brittany via the Villaine and Rance canal systems was wise, so far we had been lucky but I was only to aware of the difficulties of navigation pre GPS (and even pre RDF for us) in a small boat. When the weather is kind it can be okay, but as soon as thing start to deteriorate, in the unfamiliar tidal waters of North Biscay, it can become frightening and dangerous.

We motored up the Villaine and dropped the mast at the pretty town of La Roche St Bernard, these canals looked small and quaint after our experience of the big trunk route of the Lateral and Midi canals. The scenery was wonderful, and on a few occasions we would be motoring along a trail of mist as the moist air from the fields fell into the canal cut.

One unforeseen problem was that ‘les eclusiers’ (the lock keepers), take their annual holidays in October. Fortunately we had made it as far as the city of Rennes before we became trapped between two locks, so faced with the prospect of either spending ten days cooling our heels in the city or catching the train and ferry home for a ‘holiday’, we took the latter.

It felt so strange to be part of ‘normal’ society again, to be covering ground at more than walking pace, and being in crowds. We were so looking forward to seeing friends and family again, but I suspect that they soon tired of our adventure stories. My brother insisted on taking me for a ride on the back of his new Honda CB750, these bikes were the ultimate superbike back in those days, 5 miles down the rode we stopped at some traffic lights and I got off the machine, my knees were like rubber and told him I would walk home! Culture shock!

When the 10 days was up we returned to Rennes to resume our trip and found it was even colder, to be honest we had never really had any suitable gear, either for sailing or for sleeping, but during the warmer days it had not mattered. Now however we would freeze at night even in the canals and I was starting to worry what the passage from St Malo, at the end of the Rance Canal, back to England, would hold for us.

I think that as usual we just got lucky with the weather and after emerging through the big lock system adjoining the huge hydroelectric power station, we spent a night anchored off St Malo before heading north to Les Isles Chaussey. These islands are little more than a patch of rocks that appear and disappear as the tide, which can be more that 10 meters, comes and goes. There is a main island called Grand Chaussey with a few houses on it and little else, but the effect of the tide on this little archipelago is fantastic, the land simply comes and goes every six hours. Navigation entering from the south and leaving going north was entirely by following transit poles, believe me it is most certainly not a place to get lost in!

After Les Chausey Isles it was St Helier the main port in Jersey for a brief stop and then onwards to St Peter Port in Guernsey. These were nice easy steps of around 20 miles each day, and working the huge Channel Island tides nice easy distances to achieve in the Alacrity. We were really looking forward to being home. It now early November and it was cold on the boat. We were surprised how expensive it was to moor in St Peter Port, particularly after France where sailing is much more a sport for the people. Our funds were dwindling fast and all the tourists had gone home, Anne’s busking that had sustained us earlier in the year was now failing to fill the bread basket!

The first attempt we made to leave was at 22:00 on the 2nd November, however within an hour of so of departure we were becoming unsure of our position in the strong tides of the Little Russell Channel. After hitting some frightening overfalls we turned the boat around and with the outboard flat out returned to St Peter Port to re think our strategy. Plainly for us with our limited navigational facilities it was going to be much easier to extract ourselves from this dangerous area in daylight, so this we did.

In fact it turned out to be fairly uneventful crossing under grey skies but a gentle breeze on the beam, and as the light started to fade on November 5th 1975 we started to see the loom from the lighthouse on Portland Bill and, in those days, the light ship on the Shambles Bank

In the early hours of November 6th we motored up the river at Weymouth having been away for over 5 months. Hotfly had done everything and more than we had ever asked of her, and delivered us home somewhat weather beaten and considerably wiser as to the art of passage making in small boats!

I sold Hotfly soon after arriving home, to a man who became a firm friend and I still sail and drink with. He some times reminds me that when he questioned the headroom in the cabin, my reply was “Well I’ve just spent 5 months living on her, so I can’t see that you’ll have a problem on board for a weekend!”

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" - Part IV

Part 4 ‘Northbound again’

As we sailed back east to La Nouvell to re enter the canal system, we could feel that the season was imperceptibly changing, the holiday makers were less in evidence and the days were starting to draw in a little.

Our last days sail in the Mediterranean was under black and threatening skies, with the wind starting to blow from the North. The seas were flat and we made good time sailing along the coast about a mile offshore. Not another boat was out, until we saw a fast launch overhauling us, it turned out to be the local lifeboat, they were wondering if we were in trouble. Well of course we were just fine, but just a little sad at being at the point of our journey at which we would start to retrace our steps.

We arrived in La Nouvell in torrential rain with thunder and lightening, I had never had any proper wet weather gear, and was soaked through. As soon as we moored Anne was heating up hot brandy lemon and sugar and within minutes we were below in our tiny cabin snug as bugs; one of those memorable sailing moments!

We met up with an English couple on an Audacity 22, one of those hot moulded yachts by Fairey marine. Their boat was called Lucy Locket and they had a vague plan of sailing to Egypt! They had come by their boat via a somewhat dubious route and I think wanted to put plenty of mileage between themselves and home!

At the end of summer the water levels in the canals is low, and although we were okay with our 22inch draft, some yachts were experiencing problems on the shallow stretches.

The countryside was stunningly beautiful, the trees full of fruit and the fields replete with crops. We stopped again in Toulouse where the Midi joins the Lateral system, as we tied up we were approached by a young guy who had seen our British flag. He was working in Toulouse on the BAe Jaguar aircraft project and was feeling a bit lonely so was delighted to sit around and chat in English. He took us out that evening and the next morning smuggled us out a big bag of croissants from the nearby hotel he was staying in, nice guy indeed!

The faithful Selva outboard served us well and eventually we disgorged back into the Gironde River that we had left so many months before. This time however it was different, instead of the fat full river we had left, it was now skinny and fast flowing. On some of the bridges there were stationed men in dories directing traffic to pass only between certain arches due to the lack of water.

We had to plan well ahead, the river ran so hard that even on full throttle we could make no progress against it, I would guess that our speed over ground was around 10kts as we headed down stream.

We stopped again at Bordeaux and re stepped our mast, but moved quickly on down stream. Instead of making our last stop in the river at Royan, the port that we had stopped at on the way up, we moored at Port Bloc on the southern side. We wanted to check her antifouling, and the last time we had beached Hotfly was in Puerto Polliensa in Mallorca, on the small tides in the Med.

Here we met up with a bunch of young French kids who were clearing out their boat at the end of their holidays. We had a great party with Anne singing and playing her guitar and our new friends dumped all their end of season supplies onto us. This was great as it included all sorts of little luxuries.

The next day we left for the open sea, sailing up the western side of the Ile d’Oleron, we stopped for the night at Collieur and I remember Anne cooking apple crumble whilst we awaited sufficient rise of tide to get us into the harbour. The next day we pressed on to La Rochelle and whilst walking around the inner marina Anne noticed a big racing yacht registered at Mystic Delaware in the US, just down the road from where she grew up. Typically for Anne, she had in no time made some new friends and we are invited round for dinner. It turns out that this boat belongs to Earl Rothschild and the crew are doing the racing circuit, Earl just flies out for the odd race or two! I remember the skippers name was ‘Knight’ a big ‘Yankee’ and really nice guy. The next day he came around to take a look at our little boat and we felt just a little bit humble, he however said “ Hell man, you’re cruisin’, that what really matters”, I’ll always remember that!

From there we sailed to St Martin d’Re on the Il d’Re and found ourselves moored along side a young medical student named Pascal; Pascal had a big problem with his wooden boat of about 25ft, in that the keel had dropped off! However her knew more or less where it was and planned to recover it with the help of some diver friends. Pascal let us sleep on board his boat for a night or two as we had been repainting the inside of our hull and invited us over for dinner to his grandmother’s house for dinner, we had a lovely meal and drank wine laid down years earlier by her late husband.

One thing that was so obvious to me as we sailed these European waters was that that having someone as friendly and confident on board as Anne, made a huge difference to our social life, it seemed that we as a couple were hugely more acceptable, than two big ugly men travelling together!

Our next stop was Les Sables d’Olonne, now the starting and finishing point for the Vendee Globe Races. I was there only a few weeks back at the start of a delivery trip down to the Canary Islands, and although it has improved and grown hugely, it is still a dreary place. Back then at the beginning of October 1975 we were storm bound for a week with the wind shrieking in the rigging and leaden skies, we felt we would never escape. In that time though we made the decision that we would not try to sail back around the dangerous Brittany coast but use a canal that turns inland just north of St Nazaire and cuts through the city of Rennes and emerges at Dinan close to the Rance power station.

This proved to be a very wise decision as the weather was deteriorating as the year wore on. We had one terrifying sail from the Ile d’Yeu were we had moored overnight after finally having escaped from Les Sables d’Olonne. The weather had been bad or very bad and we were taking risks that we would not generally have taken. The passage plan was for Le Croisic on the mainland. We had set sail early, but within an hour were totally lost, the winds were strong and from the North West, the big seas were limiting our visibility and I suspected were making a huge amount of leeway. Suddenly we saw a huge cardinal marker where no marker should have been, so I panicked and turned the boat around, made a huge allowance for the leeway and set a reciprocal course, said a few prayers and headed back to the Ile d’Yeu. To my amazement we made a prefect landfall back at the Island right on the harbour entrance. I think we learned a lesson that day, navigation in rough seas on a 18foot boat is more or less impossible, and there is no dishonour in running away!

We spent a few more days on the Island before getting away and making our next arrival at the entrance to the River Vilain. This river becomes the canal that would take us via Rennes through to the English Channel, the days were by now very short and the nights were cold but the scenery was splendid. It was Autumn and time to be home.

--o-- Part 4 end. --o--

In the final part we have to take an unexpected ‘holiday’. We visit Les Isles Chausses and the Channel Islands, and finally cross back the England on the 5th November 1975.

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" - Part III

Part 3 ‘In the Mediterranean’

Part 2 ended with us dipping our toes into the Mediterranean for the first time. Yes it had been hot throughout our transit of the Lateral and Midi canals, but the Med was bliss!
We turned west and made our first stop Canet, I made a note that it was very nice although it cost 15 francs (about 3€). You can tell what a tight budget we were on, even by 1975 prices that was not exactly a lot of money! The next day we beat along the coast and moored at Port Vendres where we had arranged a ‘Post Restant’, however there being no mail and after being asked for 20Ff (about 4€ !) for a single nights mooring we pressed on to a delightful little harbour called Collieur. I just recently heard that Patrick O’Brien, the acclaimed naval author used to live there.

Collieur was great and full of attractive young holidaymakers, it now being the height of the tourist season, the weather was glorious, we did not even bother to pump up the dinghy but swam ashore.

It now seems odd, but looking back through the log I read a rather anti French attitude in the pages again, this had cropped up from time to time, but I had filtered it out as I did not want to appear anti French, especially as I now love there country. I rather suspect that the French saw us as what we were; a pair of penniless British yachtsmen, and treated us accordingly. The log records that we crossed into Spain and despite being rather surprised to see the General Franco’s Guardia Civil armed like front line troops, we noted that it was really friendly and supplies were half the price of those back over the boarder. A note in the log states that ‘fags were 10p and Gin 60p , its easy to see what our priorities were!

We kept on westwards, sailing during the day and anchoring at night. At a place called Llansa we met an English couple with an Alacrity which they had trailed down from the UK, they were amazed that we had sailed that far, and we, as always were delighted to talk to ‘Brits’, back in the ‘70s , sailing as we were, one really felt that one was a long way from home.

Really this was just holiday sailing and very unlike the serious passages we had undertaken in the tidal waters of the Channel and the Atlantic coast of France, but we were starting to plan ahead for our big crossing from the mainland of Spain to the Balearic Islands. The jump off point was to be from Barcelona, and if I remember correctly, it was a distance of about 150Nm. We did not plan an arrival point, but just so long as we ended up at either Minorca Majorca or Ibiza we really didn’t care that much. However I’m getting ahead of myself, there were stormy waters ahead in the crewing department!
We had arrived in Barcelona and took up a mooring just off the old Club Nautica, the Club was really friendly even to a pair of scruffy individuals with little or no money to spend in their smart facilities. Somehow there always appeared to be someone in the bar to buy us a drink, and we were virtually camped out at the side of the Club swimming pool.

One day whilst washing the old alcohol stove I managed to drop it over the side of the boat, several hours of dredging with various hooks and so on I had to go and buy a new gas driven stove from a local hardware shop; what an improvement! Personally I would certainly rather take the risk of being blown into a low orbit and have properly cooked food to eat!

One day Roger asked if we could take the boat along to Sitges, a tourist resort 20 miles or so down the coast as his girlfriend was there on holiday. “No problem” say I, not suspecting that this was going to be a pivotal point in the trip. We moored in Sitges Marina (see picture below of me looking very slim) and spent a few days in the bars of Sitges allowing Sarah (Roger’s friend) to buy us ice cold Gin and tonics. The ‘bombshell’ arrived after a day or so when Roger, who had looked more and more unhappy, announced that he was going home!


This was a disaster for me, as although handling the boat at sea on my own was not a problem, getting back through the canal system would be very tricky. Coupled with this, as soon as Roger departed I was struck down with a terrible stomach bug, and remained in the baking hot cabin on the boat for two or three days unable to move! Eventually I recovered and feeling very weak sailed back to Barcelona. I hadn’t eaten for days and was looking and feeling very sorry for myself.

The first boat I saw as I re-entered Barcelona was sailed by some new friends we had made, and they fed me up and listened to my problems. I got back onto my comfy pontoon berth outside the Club Nautica again and set about phoning home to try to fix up a new crew.

My first call home went something like this,

“Hi Mum, howsitgoing”

“Oh very well dear, are you in Majorca?”

“No Mum I’m in Barcelona and Roger is coming home”

“Oh, so when will you be in Majorca then dear?”

“I dunno, I probably won’t be going as I can’t do the crossing on my own”

“Oh so how is Anne going to find you then”

By this time I was getting fairly confused, but it transpired that Anne had decided that she would come down and find me, Europe being a small place compared with Canada!

The conversation continued along the lines of,

“Mum, please tell me she hasn’t left yet!!”

“Ok dear, I’ll see if I can stop her”

And so she did!

Anyway in the end it turned out that she was leaving from Luton and flying to Mahon on the Island of Menorca, that evening. As she could not change her tickets at that late stage, she continued to Mahon caught a taxi straight down to the ferry port and only a matter of hours after my ‘phone conversation with my mother, stepped off the ferry in Barcelona!

My attractive, resourceful, charming and guitar playing new crew had arrived! I hardly need to say that things started to look considerably better! Anne Dewey’s first experience of yachting was to be a 150Nm open sea passage on an 18ft 6inch boat from Barcelona to Majorca, and I have to say that she did wonderfully.


Our first long passage in the Med was a fairly undramatic affair, with the usual mix of Mediterranean winds from all directions and from flat calm to 20kts. We made fair progress and used the faithful Selva outboard during the calm patches to keep up our speed. Having never made a landfall on a mountainous island before we were amazed to see Majorca from a distance of 60Nm or more! It was great to have something to aim for but with light winds it took us nearly 20 hours to get to an anchorage. We didn’t care though, the weather was great and we swam and fished. Fishing whilst a sea had become a major supplement to our diet, and we ended up cooking and eating all sorts of fish that found their way on to our hooks!

We made our landfall at Calla San Vicente, we had spotted a hotel on the shoreline in this little bay near the north eastern point of the island, and as we closed with land I aimed for the hotel lights in the increasing darkness until I could see the sandy bottom with my torch and anchored. We turned in for the night feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. The next morning however we awoke to see a large reef just awash about 20meters away dead in line between us and the hotel!

We stayed a couple of days before pushing on around point Formentera and picking anchorages where the we felt like it, life was good and I wish I was doing it all again!

Our final stop on Majorca was Puerta Polliensa, and we beached Hotfly for the first time in months. I wanted to check her bottom as we had noticed that barnacles and weed grew on the inflatable dinghy almost overnight in the warm Meddy water. It says a lot for the antifouling qualities of the now banned TBT that the boat was as clean as the day we left, and remained so for the entire trip.

For some reason that I cannot recall I had decided to do the crossing to Menorca at night, it may have been that the winds were steadier, and certainly that night it was a good strong breeze. It sticks in my mind that our navigation lights were powerful enough to ensure that we could be clearly seen by an alert lookout with 20/20 vision at a range of about 10 meters, so we had a policy of avoiding anything we saw at night. This particular night we got rather to close to a big inter-island ferry which rather shook us up, and then some time later in the night, (and it was pitch black, no moon) we missed a huge fishing pot buoy with long spar sticking out of the top by no more than a meter. I remember that we were flying along and it was quite rough with the occasional breaking sea, when this object appeared to rush past us, I nearly died of fright! Actually what I thought was that it was another blacked out yacht, it was only when it was astern of us that I could make out what it was.

By daybreak we were nearly at Menorca, and finally dropped our hook in a little inlet called Calla en Porta. Here we made lots of new friends and Anne started dropping by at some of the bars with her guitar to do some pickin’ ‘n’ singin’. She was fantastic with a endless repertoire of songs, every one loved her. I loved it as it brought a new and unexpected source of income! Additionally we started to get the sort of invites onto other yachts with had previously been closed to a crew of two scruffy young men!

We sailed from Calla en Porta, and slowly made our way around to Mahon and finally to Ciudadela, taking it easy and enjoying life. But time was rolling on and we knew we had to be back in UK waters by October at the latest, although it was difficult to imagine grey waters and shorts days whilst enjoying a Mediterranean summer.


We made plans to depart from Ciudadela and make landfall back at Barcelona, although as usual our passage planning was pretty open ended. The passage started with a fantastic southerly breeze and we were sailing as fast as some other yachts considerably larger than we were, we were in high hopes of a quick passage back to the mainland. I remember that we were surprised to be able to see Majorca as we sailed away to the north, the air was so clear, (we later heard that this was a bad omen for the weather). I handed over to Anne to helm, whilst I got some sleep as it was by now late evening and we were still roaring along and making great time.

Some hours later I was awoken by Anne calling down the hatchway that she thought I had better get up on deck! I remember two things, one that it was full moon and that the clouds were scudding across it at great rate, and secondly that the wind had really got up. Because we were on a broad reach Anne had not really noticed how things were developing until it all started to get somewhat out of hand! We got the main rolled down on the crude reefing system and chucked a few items of clothing into the ‘roll’ to pull the aft end of the boom up a bit and I crawled forward to get the jib off and set the storm jib, the first time I had ever used it.

The night became wild and the wind backed to the north east, when dawn broke it revealed big breaking seas under clear blue sky. We steered the best and most comfortable course we could but it was exhausting work, and by the evening I was starting to hallucinate due to exhaustion, it was imposable to eat or rest and I just am thankful that it was warm and the sun kept shining. The gale blew for about 24 hours and started to abate towards nightfall, about 36 hours after our departure from Ciudadella. By this time we also starting to come under the lee of the mainland, but by now we no idea where we were. I do however remember eating sardines out of the can with my fingers.

Amazingly we still had our faithful Metzella inflatable dinghy, on open sea passages we would tow this behind us as a bit of an insurance policy, but it had spent most of the day flying out on the end of its painter, spinning first one way then the other. The paddles of course were long gone.

We were too tired to find a safe harbour but could make out in the moonlight a wide beach ahead. In the now rapidly calming seas we shone the torch over the side until we could see the bottom and dropped the anchor over the side. The boat was so full of water that the floorboards were floating and all our provisions were in the bilges, the coffee had broken and added to the picture of disaster. We were so tired we collapsed onto our waterlogged sleeping bags and slept. The next morning when were awoken by the sound of voices outside the boat. It turned out that we had anchored off a popular swimming beach and we were now the centre of attraction to every kid that had an inflatable beach boat! All very surreal!

Somehow we had survived what we later found out was a Tremontana, this is a wind that blows much like the better know Mistral, when we finally made it to a port, the harbour master could not believe that our little boat had sailed through this weather, I remember him saying that even the fishing boats had stayed in port and that at one point it had reached Force 9.

In the next part we refuse a rescue from a French lifeboat in a gathering storm, and head back north through the canals to grey autumnal Atlantic seas.

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" - Part II

Part 2 ‘Through the canals’

The last part ended with Hotfly struggling 60 miles up the Gironde from Royan at the seaward end, to Bordeaux against a fierce current. Here we lowered the mast and gathered up old car tyres to use as fenders.

On the 28 June 1975 we started the Selva and motored up stream to a town called Cadillac where we stopped at a jetty to await the turning of the current. By this time we were getting only about 2 hours current with us and the remaining 10 hours running hard against us, things became a bit of a battle, I note that at one point to make use of the flood tide we tried to motor at night, but returned after getting lost! At Cadillac we spent an afternoon in the town’s swimming pool, the temperature had increased by a good 10 degrees C since we left the coast. Whilst at Cadillac we also discovered that the upper reaches of the Gironde has a tidal bore similar to the one found on the river Severn. We were sitting on the boat and heard this sound of roaring water; looked up to see this half meter high wall of water the entire width of the river approaching us at I would guess 10kts! It hits us with a crash and carried on leaving us both shaken, stirred but fortunately not damaged!

The next day we reached the start of the Lateral Canal at Castets. These canals are big by our UK standards, and are still in commercial use by large barges called ‘Peniche’ at a guess I would say these are 100ft long by maybe 20ft and if they pass you whilst one is moored the effect is dramatic, they ‘suck’ the water away as they pass leaving you sitting on the bottom of the canal. Needless to say these big machines are to be treated with caution, additionally these skippers are out doing a days work and although not hostile they don’t want to find a little pleasure boat blocking their way!

The good news was that the locks were almost all electric: As one approached the lock there would be a pole hanging from a cable strung across the canal. The idea is to twist the pole and that we set the lock and open the gates.. brilliant.

The transit from Atlantic side to the Mediterranean is approx 200 miles with 100 locks. Approximately half the journey is on the Lateral Canal which takes one as far as Toulouse and the second half is in the much older Midi Canal. At this time most of these locks (on the Midi) were manually operated.

What with the cost of fuel our limited funds where running low, but we were in rural France now and every lock keeper had fresh produce for sale outside his house, plus we would find fruit growing wild. I’m a little ashamed to say that a duck that strayed a bit close to the boat became dinner one night!

As I mentioned in the first part I was new to travelling abroad, I was struck by just how unspoilt and rural France was. We however managed to transit the 200 miles of canal in 7days, this was far to much of a rush and I now wish that we had spent more time, but we had a ‘mission’ and that was to get to the Med!
We did have a few engine problems, nothing serious but we had to be careful about picking up debris in the cooling system. This was not a big problem on an outboard as we could lift the leg but people with inboards would really need to have decent ‘over heat’ monitor systems. Additionally we had the usual 2stroke problems with spark plugs. We found that we would run for a day and then the performance would drop right off until we fitted a new set. This was starting to get expensive until we found that we could get by with resting the plugs for a day in the sun! I assume it must have been something to do with drying out the insulators; anyway it worked and that was good enough for me!

We passed though wonderful medieval towns such as Carcasonne and over the aqueduct at Agen. In many ways this was the best part of the trip and in those days there was very little tourist traffic, just us few yachtsmen and the commercial chaps.

In Carcasonne we were going through a big ‘staircase of locks’ when two interesting events took place, Roger was chatting to some people on the lock side and allowed the boat to drift forward. (going downhill we would not bother the tie up but just hold the mooring warps) Anyway the mast which was sticking out about a meter or so from the bow caught over the arm controlling the lock gate. Of course the water was dropping in the lock fast and in no time the boat is at and angle of 20 degrees or more! Total panic with everybody opening paddles and closing paddles, situation was rescued but we learnt a lesson as we had become rather blasé about the process! Next thing was that there was the most incredible downpour, given that we hadn’t really had a good wash for a week and it was 30c heat we stripped off at the lock side and had the original shower ‘au natural’!! Never did feeling clean feel so good!

I see from the log that we took a little short cut near the end of the Midi Canal and instead of continuing to Sete, as had been our original intention, we found that there was a little cut though to La Nouvell, a port on the Gulf of Lyon. La Nouvelle was 20 miles or so to the west of where we had expected to emerge and was just a couple of day sails from the wonderful rocky coast of the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava.

So ended what we considered to be the second stage of our journey. We had made it this far with little or no information or backup, just good luck and a total disregard for personal comfort!

In the next part we sail the Med. We cruise west as far as Barcelona. Roger goes home leaving me ‘up the creek’. Anne flies out from the UK with her guitar, and we sail to the Balierc Islands. Life is good!

The famous voyage of Alacrity "Hotfly" from the UK to the Med and back

By Nick Entract

The Dream.

It was 1975, and as a young man, only just 21, life was good..

I had enjoyed a good job with plenty of responsibility for 4 years or so, and was living
with my parents and elder brother in Woking, to the south of London.

I had always been crazy for boats, and my family had a long history in the Royal Navy.
My Dad had bought a little Gremlin dinghy when I was 7 years old and
we had been messing about in boats ever since. I had enjoyed some
reasonable success in school and club racing in our family GP14 and
my own Merlin Rocket and firmly believed (with the confidence of
youth) that there was really very little more to learn!

It must have been just after my 21st birthday in March ‘75 that the
contract with the management company I had enjoyed for 4 years or so
started to dry up. The Directors of the company were all ex British
Army officers and were wonderful guys and had helped me and my young
colleagues through a number of young guys’ crisis, how different to
the “management” we have these days! Anyway when I discussed the
idea of buying a small boat and going cruising for the summer, my
boss, Colin Howard gave me loads of encouragement, offered boat and
trailer storage at his house, and the use of his car for towing.

Equipped with almost no knowledge of cruising or cruising boats, we scoured the pages of
the sailing magazines and Exchange and Mart. After a several abortive
viewings I drove one weekend up to Lemington Spa in the Midlands to
look at an Alacrity Weekender. Complete with 4 wheeled breakback
trailer and launching dolly she was perfect!

The owner agreed to trail her down to Woking for me and the deal was struck..

Now it is interesting to do a relative comparison of cost here. I was driving a
5 year old Triumph Spitfire with I had paid £390 for in early
1975. I paid £900 for the Alacrity, as I said with a good
trailer, but only a very old Seagull Outboard and almost no cruising
equipment what so ever. I recon that an equivalent small sports car 4
or 5 years old, say an MX5 or MGF would cost around £4000. Well
you can do the maths yourself, boats were very expensive in those

2 The Launch

Using my boss’s car we trailed the boat down to Weymouth and despite our lack of preparation
managed to find a temporary mooring in the “Fleet” a stretch of
water tucked behind the Chessel bank at the end of Portland Harbour.

I had been very lucky to buy a brand new Selva 9.9hp 4 stroke outboard motor still in it crate
for about half price. And we spent that first day pottering about
getting used to the feel of the boat we had christened “Hotfly”.

Over the next few weeks with various friends and the guy who was to become my crew, we
sailed around Weymouth Bay as far east as Swanage and back and forth
around the notorious Portland Bill, often spending the night in
Lulworth Cove. We would go out in almost any weather, in fact it
makes my blood run cold to think of it now!

In May ’75, with Roger, an out of work Biology teacher, was now signed up as my crew,
and we set off with a chart that covered the English Channel from the
Isle of Wight to Lands End and both the Channel Islands and Brittany.
My Dad who had been a navigator on Lancasters during the War had
bought me a decent compass, but that was it! No RDF and certainly no

On the first night whilst crossing Lyme Bay we ran into some sort of Naval manoeuvres,
we sat in our little cockpit listening to big engines roaring around
in the darkness, watching star shells go off and praying that these
guys could see us on their radar!

We survived that night and over the next few days picked our way westward. Bantham
Polperro, Dartmouth and finally Falmouth were our over night stops.
In Falmouth we bought a copy of Adlard Cole’s North Brittany pilot,
said our farewells to Blighty and headed south.

Landfall was planned to be the La Vierge Lighthouse near to L’Aberwrach. 36 hours later in
visibility of less than 1km we were well and truly lost, however
resorting to that very British navigational fall back I hailed a
French fishing boat “ Ou somme nos , M’seur”. By some
navigational fluke the Light house was about 2 miles away just
obscured by the mist. We had almost made it!

I had never been abroad, and although I was well travelled in the UK, nothing could
have prepared me for the wonderful feeling of destination when we
stepped ashore in L’Aberwrach. The advent of cheap mass tourism has
removed that thrill from kids these days, my children have been
travelling since they were a few months old. Too much too early!

3 Down the
Atlantic Coast of France.

Looking through my log book I see that we rested up for a few days before continuing
south through the Raz de Seine to Le Conquet. Here we discovered that
the brass bolts holding the lower rudder pintle had de- zinced to
such an extent that it was only hanging on through habit.

Ever onwards, Audierne and Concarneau, then the Atlantic Islands of Isle de Groix
and then Houat. I note that there is an entry that we drank the last
of our bottle of Scotch!

Perhaps I should mention that our budget for the trip was £450 to last 6 months. I left
the UK weighing in at 13 stone and when we returned I was a slim 11
stone 7lbs!

Next stop was the Isle de Yeu which we made a landfall in the dark, I notice from the
log that earlier in the day we had had some problems as the
transistor radio had been moved to the shelf in the cabin behind the
compass, not a good idea!

I see my next entry is also rather self congratulatory. I wrote that we once again we
made a good landfall after 60nm and 20hours out of sight of land.
Additionally I noted that we caught 24 fish weighing 50lbs. We ate a
lot of them, turned some into fish cakes and tried to sell the rest
to a fish shop on the quay side, after all Prime Minister Ted Heath
had just sold us out to the Common Market!

Navigation was a permanent worry, its easy today to forget just how difficult it was
to navigate by dead reckoning alone, on a small boat with only very
large scale charts.

Next was La Rochelle which I see I described as an easy 15mile sail to a pleasant though
busy harbour, then came La Cottiniere on the Isle de Oleron, here we
spent one night before heading off for Royan at the mouth of the
Gironde Estuary. There is a log entry here that tells that we were
hailed by a French fishing boat who called us “Camerade” and gave
us 24 small Plaice which we cooked for supper. I noted that he was
the first friendly French fisherman we had met.

The Gironde Estuary is not an easy place for a small boat and if I recall the Ebb runs
hard and fast for about 8hrs out of 12 and is a mass of shallows “
over which there is breaking water”.

I remember that we had to empty the boat out at Royan and scrub the bilges as we had
lost a pint of milk which had gone off, the entire boat stank!

It was a struggle the 60 or so miles up to Bordeaux against the prevailing current but
we made it, the wonderful Selva outboard was about to come into its
own as we were about to lower the mast and start the transit of the
Lateral and Midi Canal system. The first part of our voyage was
nearly over.