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Uffa Fox Notes

18ft Jollyboat       

Extract from Sailing Boats by Uffa Fox

Length overall: 18ft (5.48m) Length Waterline: 17ft 6in (5.33m)

Beam: 5ft 0in (1.52m) Draught: 9in (.22m) or 4ft 6in (1.37m)

Displacement: 850lb. (385 kilos) Sail Area 150sq ft (13.93sq m)

Designer: Uffa Fox Builder: Fairey Marine

I had gone to the Lakes of Atholone to watch the National Firefly Championships of Ireland. We were almost in the centre of this lovely land when suddenly in the midst of all my enjoyment, Billy Mooney’s son was called back to Dublin urgently, and he asked me to sail his Firefly the day he was away. The day came in with a gale of wind from the south-west and the squalls swept across the lake with the suddenness of a blast from a shotgun. The committee postponed the race for two hours, hoping that some of the force would go out of the wind, but it increased if anything, during the two hours, and so off we set for the starting line. A number of dinghies capsized on their way out to the start. The ten minute gun went off, the class flag was broken out, the Blue Peter with the five minute gun, and when the starting gun went these flags were pleased to be hauled down to rest. Meantime, I had leapt clear of the starting line and the rest of the fleet, as it was difficult enough to keep the Firefly on her feet. This was going to be a race, not only of speed, but of survival! During the 5 min gun several more boats capsized through suddenly having to avoid a boat with right of way.

During the five minutes before the start there is no proper course because each boat is sailing to and fro, manoeuvring and turning, endeavouring to be in a good place on the line with full way on when the starting gun is fired. Yet from the five-minute gun all boats are under starter’s orders and will be disqualified for any infringements of the Rules. Suddenly you find a boat coming close to you with right of way, and you have to keep clear. You must alter course, perhaps 90 degrees during a heavy squall and your boat turns over, and you find yourself in the water and out of the running.

I did not make a very good start, but away we went avoiding masts and boats that had capsized. Quite soon a major calamity happened because the braces on my oilskin trousers carried away and on the next tack the braces of my trousers carried away so here was I with a difficult task on my hands, having four things to do in a lot of wind every time we tacked. As I put the boat through the wind, I not only had the tiller and the mainsheet to control, but I first of all had to pull up my trousers, then the old skiing trousers outside, and get myself over the weather gunwale, all of which made racing more difficult and exciting! Fortunately I had a jolly good crew and we finished fourth without any further mishap.

On the Isle of Wight, we have a little jingle which goes:

“When to the age of forty we come

The men go the belly and the women go to bum”

Down in Cornwall they describe people round the fifties as going a bit thick aft; it’s quite normal. Being past fifty I was a long way around the equator and this make it difficult to move swiftly in a little 12ft dinghy; so during the race as well as the difficulties in tacking, I also realised that 12ft and 14ft dinghies were no longer “my cup of tea” and what I needed was a more sedate boat, and while racing in all this wind I designed the 18ft jollyboat. I could see in my minds’ eye just the sort of boat I wanted. It was a boat with all the fun and excitement of a Firefly, but half as long again, because I reasoned that if a 12ft dinghy took twelve seconds to go from one tack to the other, an 18ft boat would take eighteen seconds and I would therefore have 50% more time in which to get across on the other gunwale. Beside this, the 18ft boat would have a crew of three, so I should be relieved of the main sheet and only have the tiller to contend with in tacking and all manoeuvring. I thought that if we put a great deal of beam into this 18 footer we should defeat the object, because the boat, instead of being lively and fun would get sluggish. I still wanted to sail a fast boat but one that would take longer in tacking and give me more time to settle from one tack to the other. So after the race was over and I had changed, I sketched out the 18ft Jollyboat.

I realised while doing so that as well as being fun to sail, she would also make a good picnic boat as there would be room to put in a net for prawning, buckets and spades, and picnicking, and her length would give room for four or five people to go off for a days picnic. So she would be a dual-purpose boat.

The first Jollyboat was built be Fairey Marine through the winter. Then came May and the first of the Island Sailing Club’s evening races and with Geoff Bidden, a schoolmaster from Havant and Geoff Revel , a Firefly owner from Shanklin as Crew we lowered her from the davits on my quay only fifty yards from the Island Sailing Club’s starting line.

It was blowing hard eastily, pulling through from Bembridge which made fairly smooth water on the starting line, but on the outer marks there was quite a sea running. We made a good start and soon led the fleet of Stars, Dragons and various other boats, and rounded Old Castle Point first. Even on this first beat to windward, two of the Stars packed up because it was blowing so hard that they were getting out of control although the water was quite smooth. Now we chased away on a wild run to the south Bramble Bouy . A Dragon was next. Astern of us and they started to set a spinnaker in an attempt to over-take us but they were in so much trouble that they quickly had to lower it. Meantime, seeing this trouble and being excited and delighted at the pace we were travelling, we decided not to set our spinnaker. I was quite pleased at this decision when the time came for us to gybe round the South Bramble buoy for, once round, we brought the wind a little more abeam and then really started to travel. To leeward was the Southampton and Isle of Wight Steamer on a converging course to us. It was important for us to cross her bow as I thought that her waves coming in from the lee side would make conditions so difficult that we might capsize. I waved to the steamer skipper, a pal of mine and asked him to slow down and indicated that we were going to cross out ahead of his weather bow. This we did, going along at a frightening speed, and now we rounded the mark off the green in smooth water and tacked along and through the line on the second round. After we had rounded Old Castle Point buoy I sailed back towards the Island Sailing Club, and said to my crew, “We are not going out round South bramble buoy again unless the Dragon is still coming on”. We had opened up far from all the fleet, and the searching seas and heavy squalls had so sorted out our competitors that there was only the Dragon and our Jollyboat Jollity left. I was sure that not many would notice a drop keel boat knocked over by a squall in the midst of the white breaking sea in the evening light. But all was well. The Dragon continued on bravely, making her way to windward to Old Castle buoy, while we gybed over and reached off out to the South Bramble. This brought the wind just abaft of beam so we had an eaier ride out to the Soth Bramble and after the ybe the same exhilarating ride over the top of the water. With a short beat to windward we crossed the finishing line first, so winning our first race. I was naturally very happy and contented because of the ability of the jollyboat in blowing weather.

During my next crossing to England in the steamer, I was on the bridge yarning to the Captain, and he pulled my leg about signalling him to slow down; he said that he was only doing 10½knots and we were doing 16, crossing his bows easily, so that he did not even slow down or alter course for us. This shows how the surge and swish of waves, and the excitement of sailing a boat, exaggerates the pictures of what you and other boats are doing, for I was quite certain in my own mind that he had slowed down for us.

I have a framework over my car made of light steel tubing, like goal posts, running up from the bumper bars each end, and these are joined fore and aft to side steel tubes, with two wooden beams fitted over the roof where it curves in all directions at each end. On to this we put the Jollity and tied the mast and boom to the fore and aft rails, starboard side. If you lash it on the port side, when you are overtaking men on push bikes you poke them in the ear with the mast, which irritates them somewhat. Off we went for a fortnight’s racing down in the West Country. We enjoyed the regattase of Tor Bay and after the Tuesday’s races we hauled our Jollyboat up the slipway, lifted her on top of the car and drove her up to the hotel ready to leave early the next morning. Away we went over the top of Dartmoor and arrived at Fowey, laid the car alongside one of the slipways in the town, lifted the boat off, rigged and launched her, and started our sail down the river to the open sea.

It was blowing gale force from the north and the squalls had rocked the car as we were on the high land over Dartmoor, so we knew we were to have all the wind we wanted. The sial out to sea with the wind funnelling down the gulley off the high land was quite exciting. I was relieved when we arrived out on the starting line intact and in good time for our race.

It was a broad reach to the first mark one mile away. We fairly smoked along. We were going so fast that the spray from the stem flew straight back into my eyes, and I had difficulty in keeping them open, and the boat on her straight course. As both my crew were leaning out, I had to lean in slightly to get a clear view ahead. At the buoy there was a flurry of other boats that had started ahead of us. And we overtook them at practically double their speed. There was no possibility of my gibing between all these boats, so we left them under our lee and continued to reach past the buoy, gybed and away we went on another scorching reach which took us right through the fllet. Now, we had a mile beat dead to windward back to the start. Because there was no tide and plenty of wind, I planned to do this with only one tack. Because every time you tack a boat or gybe it in heavy wind you stand a chance of coming to grief through something going wrong. The boat also loses her way so quickly when going through the wind, as she is so light, that once the drive is taken out of the mainsail, the wind in the mast, the hull and the flapping sails almost bring her to a standstill. A boat with no way on, caught by a sudden squall, is easily hove down, as she is lifeless, and the helmsman cannot ease her with the rudder or play her along be easing the mainsheet. The second round was a repeat of the first with the jollyboat swishing along at some 15knots off the wind, and with the three of us hung out over the weather side driving her as hard as we could in our struggle to windward. We were not only the first boat home by a long way, but also saved our time and put up an all-time record for the course. Due to the fact that the wind was off-shore. We had smooth water and perfect conditions for high speed sailing, and as we came to windward there was no sea to check or stop us every few seconds. It would be impossible to find more perfect conditions for establishing a record. Had the wind been any more fierce, we would have had to reef, and the wind in the bare mast above the sail would have slowed us down. Had the wind been any lighter we would, of course, have gone slower. We made the remarkable average of 10 knots right round the course including a true beat to windward on one leg of the equilateral three mile triangle each round.

The sail up the river to our slipway was as exciting as the run down. The various squalls knocked us flat and the sheets had to be rattled off with a run, for the wind was still coming down off the hills, which meant that the more we heeled the more pressure on our sails. In the open sea where the wind is flowing level, you slip the wind out of the top of your sails as you heel, but with the wind driving down , the more you heel the more squarely the wind strikes your sails.

We soon had the boat unrigged and on top of our car, and settled down to a well earned meal before driving over Dartmoor back to Torquay for the rest of Torquay week.

Racing and sailing in Devon and Cornwall is wonderful fun. You have the open sea and the sky above you with great clouds marching in from the Atlantic. Ashore there are the green hills with a deeper and darker green of the trees for contrast; and enough buildings to make the coast a cosy and pleasant land to look upon. So it ws with rigret that at the end of the Torquay-Torbay fortnight we put Jollity on top of the car and started driving towards the Isle of Wight. There was one last bit of fun before we returned home and that was Lyme Regis Regatta. We had a southwester blowing so strongly that the regatta was postponed form eleven in the morning until two in the afternoon. That forenoon, I was fortunate enough to crown the Regatta and Carnival Queen and to meet the Mayor and his Councillors. In all towns, these are men good and true with interest of their town at heart. They are men who gave up a great deal of time to the wise ruling and governing of their town and to the solving of its various problems. Though the regatta was postponed, the shore sports were not, so we had a joyful time before our midday meal and then tumbled into Jollity to race round the course. The wind did not abate and the course was a close reach out to sea to the first mark. Away we went all streamed at the startinggun. Failrly close hauled on the starboard tack, laying the outher mark comfortably in spite of thegreat sea coming in. Some boats were reefed. Some had full sail. As we had in Jollity and soon we were out in the lead and gibing round the first mark on a dead run steerd for Golden Cap, That lovely golden hill hs cheered so many of us on our passage across West Bay. There was too much wind to set a spinnaker, and we sere well content to run with our hib and mainsail only, throing our white water on either side. Our speed through the water was something in the nature of 12 knots , but on the crest of the waves. Sufing down their faces, this speed doubled, so the run was wildly exciting. The Jollyboat was under perfect control, so we pulled up the drop keel. I always leave an area down. Approximately equal to the rudder area, so then we have a fin on which to steer and on which the rudder can act. On we flew before this strong southwester. As we approached the shore the seas grew higher and steeper and on one wave some 250yards from the lee buoy we started to surf at ever increasing speed. We went so fast that we were faster than the wind itself, and the main boom came in amidships. There was no bite to the rudder at all as we rushed along in this boiling surf and I prayed that Jollity would continue to fly straight and not broach to and capsize. But all was well and soon she was stearable again. When we were on shore we had estimated that the wind speed was 24 miles an hour, gusting to30. I was greatly relieved to know that as we approached the cliff, the wind would be lifting over the land and perhaps only blowing 20 miles an hour, so going down this wave we would be surfing at some 20knots. I was pleased when we slowed down as we levelled out in the hollow of the seas, and the wind once more took hold of the mainsail, and ther was bit in the rudder. This happened once or twice afterwards and every time I was happy when it stopped. We were well away from the fleet when we rounded this lee mark with over half a mile lead, so we flattened in our sheets an pointed high on the wind. Then we discovered that what we had thought to be a beat to windward was, to us, a close reach, so with our sheets hard in we made the weather mark, having to ease away a point for the last twenty-five yards. We tacked round the weather mark, stood out to sea, repeated the run and the close reach home saved our time and won this most exciting regatta.

Although we had sailed fast round the course we had no tacking to do. We had not been going at the breakneck speed that we had at Fowey, but even so our average speed round this course was 11knots. Even greater than at Fowey – another course record. The one thing that please me about this race was that although we could fetch the weather mark in one board, all the rest of the fleet had to make several tacks for it.

That night we had a good dinner and dance ashore after loading Jollity on top of the car. The next day, we motored to the ferry at Lymington and crossed to Yarmouth with the wonderful view of the Needles, Alum Bay, and all the loveliness in the hills of the Isle of Wight. Then into the quaint little harbour of Yarmouth, with it’s castle built by Henry VIII and the old church with the stature of Louis XIV of France: A statue I never tire of looking at, and so on arrival we went to see this. The statue is of Louis XIV of France in armour. A French ship was captured by Robert Holmes…..

Gosh……there is more than this…..I seem to have just run out of steam…..It was a lot of typing!!
I will try and get around to typing the rest shortly.

Thanks to Mike Dixon for giving us permission to use this chapter, from Uffa’s book……it’s a great book.