View Full Version : A Time Before Lulu

John R Smith
11-09-2000, 11:47 AM

Just a little something to amuse you and take your minds off this election business . . .

A Time Before Lulu

As I leaned on the wall near Worth's Quay, a chill wind was blowing up the river, with rain at its back. Out on the mud, the old clinker yacht with leeboards was on her mooring as usual, her cover lifting and flapping in the breeze. Down on Lighterage Quay a coaster was loading scrap-iron. Dusk was falling, and the last Enterprise boat of the day eased past me down channel, only a couple of passengers on deck. Leaves floated in her wake. It was end of season, and autumn was very close. Some folks were laying-up already.

Just twelve months before, we had no thought whatever of owning a boat. Kate had rowed a dinghy a few times as a teenager. For sure, I had grown up with the sea, estuaries, and messing about in boats. But those boats had always belonged to friends, and were never my own. For a while I earned my living working with big cruising boats in Devon, but for thirty years since I had placed them to the back of my mind. Never forgotten, always there, but reserved for one day, sometime, perhaps. Now we were proud owners of a twenty-three foot wooden sloop, with our own mooring, coming to the end of our first season cruising on the Fal. What had happened to cause this elemental sea-change in our lives?

It was a magazine that provided a catalyst, the spur. One evening in September Kate brought home a copy of "Watercraft". She had become interested in the idea of building a boat. I humoured this latest fancy, gently pointing out only the limited dimensions of our shed and the inhibiting smallness of its doors. While it might be feasible to build a boat in there, only by demolishing a wall would it ever be set free. Kate seemed undeterred and I settled back to the "Western Morning News". Next evening I picked up the magazine myself, and was amazed. Here were real wooden boats, just as I remembered them from long ago. Old ones, like "Dulcie" on the Fal, and new ones too - clinker, carvel, dinghies, punts and yachts. It was still possible, then, to fulfil a childhood dream - and I was hooked again.

From there it was but a short step to "perhaps we could buy a boat, then, rather than build one?" Well yes, I supposed, we could, apart from one rather deflating snag - we had no money. This feeble objection was quickly brushed aside - after all, it must surely be possible to buy a cheap boat? Next weekend saw us tramping the creeks and harbours of Cornwall, at the beginning of our quest.

The picture the magazine had painted proved to be deceptive. After so many years spent contemplating boats only in passing, to look at them again with ownership in mind was something of a shock. Where were all the lovely clinker and carvel boats of my youth? Serried rows of fibreglass yachts and motor cruisers filled the yards, but old, interesting and wooden boats had vanished with the years gone by. Where once a solid crabber with Kelvin or a Lister could be had for a few hundred pounds, now there were only things with plastic cuddys and an outboard slung behind. And none of these were cheap. Feeling somehow betrayed by the world which had changed behind my back, I almost abandoned the scheme still-born. As we walked the creeks and foreshore we found the wooden boats abandoned on the mud, rotting and forlorn.

So this is where they've all gone . . .

But then as often happens, I had a stroke of luck. Without even meaning to, I sold one of my guitars at a very good price. Now we had a little cash and our search became an obsession. We spent all our evenings reading boaty magazines, poring through the adverts, discussing niceties of size, rig and hull construction. We had to have a boat, right now. The question still remained, what sort of boat? And where could we keep it?

The "where" was solved by Kate. She had taken her Mother and Aunt for a stroll along the river on the Malpas Road, and there had seen boats moored up to the quay at Sunny Corner. This was, she assured me, the place for us - fifteen minutes drive away from home. Next day she called in at the Harbour Office and arranged it all. A fortnight later we had a mooring (Sunny Corner number 9) but still no boat. Suddenly, things fell into place. A local brokers sent us details of a little clinker sailing dinghy, we went to see it, fell in love and bought it.

One late October day our boat was delivered on a launching trolley to the back of our cottage. We circled it warily, dragging out the strange ropes, spars and sails which lay jumbled on the thwarts. The rest of the day was spent agonising over what went where and how it all might work - more used to oars, paddles or Kelvins, the mysteries of sail had hitherto eluded me. We managed to erect the mast, but were defeated by the shrouds and lanyards. Loosely tied on, it all swayed round a bit. Then there was the jib - which way was up, or back and front? And which was the boom, and which the gaff? How did the mainsail go? By teatime we had it mostly sorted out, but had still not grasped that some essential parts were missing, notably the sheets.


Over the next few weeks we had a lot of fun sailing on dry land in our garden. New sheets were purchased, as was a boat-hook, anchor, painter and essential stores. We marked the jib "front" and "back" in desperation. I painted everything there was to paint, Kate made up a nameboard for the transom, and "Two Sisters" gleamed in the Autumn sun. By now winter was setting in and we had not even dipped our toes in water, let alone the boat. Naive as we were, we had made a cardinal mistake - we had bought our boat at the wrong time of year and worse, without a trailer.

Carried away by our enthusiasm, we had spent too much already. Now we needed a road trailer with lights and a tow-hitch for the car, costing 500 all told. It was Christmas before we could throw caution to the winds, risk our last pennies and became trailer-sailors at last. On New Year's Day we hitched up, drove to Sunny Corner, and launched from the slip on the first day of the new millenium. The weather was cold and still with a mist upon the river, but as we pulled away from the shore the sun broke through. The magic of being out there on the water made all our trials worthwhile, and though we rowed up and down the channel only half-a-mile or so it was a voyage made in heaven. Water sparkled as it dripped from the tips of the oars and the clinker at the bow made chuckling sounds, while the cathedral was lit like a fairy-tale castle at the head of the river. We bumped into buoys, tried out our leadline, and dropped our grapnel anchor for a warming cup of tea.


The next time we went out was just as good, but reality was beginning to intrude. Kate has a long-term back problem, I have arthritis and rowing about was doing neither of us any good. When the weather was fine, there was never any wind and so the sails had seen no use. Worse still, we could not bear to leave our gleaming dinghy on her mooring - she seemed too pretty, too delicate to abandon on the mud and stones. So each time we voyaged we had to haul her on and off our trailer on the steep slip, which wrecked our backs still more. Instead of looking forward to our trips, we found excuses not to go.

Glumly, we contemplated our future prospect as cripples of the Fal. One day out, two days to recover was the norm so far. We could not go on like this. We loved our dinghy, but - maybe what we really needed was a bigger boat. One rugged enough to leave on our mooring, so we could just climb aboard and go. A safe boat, a friendly boat with inboard engine, cabin, portholes and a cooker (perhaps one whose name began with "L"). And the rest you know.


Ed Harrow
11-09-2000, 12:24 PM
The usual warm story from John, with all the observant details we've come to expect. Nice tender, more details, what's become of it?

Thanks, John

Oh. I almost forgot, may I borrow that magazine... http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/wink.gif

[This message has been edited by Ed Harrow (edited 11-09-2000).]

Don Bailey
11-09-2000, 12:35 PM
Great story and such a beautiful dinghie.
You tell stories so well perhaps you missed your calling to be a writer. Perhaps some day I will tell stories of the skiff I am building.
Love your Lulu adventures too,

11-09-2000, 12:50 PM
Another great story, John. Thank you. The moral of the story is however that Pete Greenfield is a dangerous man. He's cost me over $20,000 and it aint over yet.

"I love my boat and she loves me but, I think it's only for my money."

http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif Norm

Phil Young
11-09-2000, 10:35 PM
That must have been a fine guitar. What a talented couple you two are, music, writing and painting, what else is in store?

John B
11-09-2000, 11:10 PM
well I reckon it must be T.V. or film next. Whaddaya reckon Guys and Gals ? Its either that or his own column in WB.
Now what could it be called,.... Hmmmmm......

John R Smith
11-10-2000, 05:55 AM
Yes, she was a lovely little dinghy. She was 12 feet long, built to an Andrew Wolstenhome design (the Mallard) of yellow pine on oak with mahogany thwarts and sheerstrake, all copper-fastened. Spars were douglas fir. Only 4 years old, too. We didn't realise how heavy she would be, though, must have been over 300 lbs, plus the trailer of course. Our slip is L-shaped, so you can't get the car down to the boat but have to haul it up to the car. I would love to have kept it, but we could not afford to keep the dinghy and Lulu, so she was sold.


11-10-2000, 06:21 AM
Now, let's be very clear about something. Not only does Kate paint those superb watercolours, it was she who wanted to build a boat? It was she who did the leg work to find Lulu and the mooring? What a jewel!

John Gearing
11-27-2000, 10:38 AM
Another fine tale ably told! Keep'em coming!

Dave R
11-27-2000, 11:02 AM
Oh boy! Another installment. Thank you, John. It really makes my day when I get to read your musings first thing. Thank you, Thank you.

12-18-2003, 07:00 PM
All I'm getting is the dreaded little red xs where pics should be.

Jim H
12-18-2003, 07:07 PM
If you switch to the "People and Places" page and click on the "Lulu's Saga" thread you will find that some of those stories still have pictures of Lulu & crew.

[ 12-18-2003, 07:14 PM: Message edited by: Jim Hillman ]

12-18-2003, 07:10 PM
The pictures that are missing from old threads, such as this one, are victims of the demise of PhotoPoint. Pray for the good health of ImageStation.

Dave Williams
12-18-2003, 08:38 PM
Thanks John!