My Boats

I bought Leihane in 1971. She was a pretty centreboard sloop designed by Westmacott on the Isle of Wight and a great first boat. My heart bled when I saw her the other day, unloved and rotting in the corner of a yard.

Leihane on the hard at Warsash 1971

I replaced her with Saari, a 32ft Colin Archer pilot cutter from Finland. Ros and I set off for Brazil in her in 1975. We lived on board her for five years and I couldn’t stand up below! She sailed out of our lives never to be seen again. I wonder where she is now?


Saari hauled out at ‘Frenchy’s slip’ in Grenada in 1975


Marishka, seen at one of the Douarnenez festivals

Marishka became part of our family for just a couple of years whilst I was teaching at the National Sailing Centre in Cowes, but she wasn’t big enough for my plan to follow the Viking route, so we looked around and found Hirta.


Hirta, a 35ton pilot cutter, was built in 1911. She stars in my book ‘Topsail and Battleaxe’ and was part of a major BBC1 television series.

Hirta on her sea trials in 1911

She was built for Pilot Morrice in Polruan at Slade’s Yard (now Tom’s) and was originally named Cornubia. After she left the pilot service, she went up to Scotland where the Earl of Bute used her to visit St Kilda and renamed her Hirta. She stayed up there for many years and passed to the Bergius family from whom I bought her. A very sea-kindly boat which carried us far and wide in safety, speed and comfort and looked after us well for the fifteen years we owned her. She has now been rebuilt and renamed Cornubia.


You’d be forgiven for thinking Westernman an old boat when you look at this photo

Hirta was replaced by Westernman, built in North America (1997) to a design drawn up by my friend Nigel Irens. Nigel is best known for his world-beating fast multihulls, but I remember him back in the late 1960s when he and I were impoverished sailors living aboard our old gaffers on the Hamble River, hoping the harbour master wouldn’t notice us and come looking for his dues.

Her name, by the way, comes from the term used for the paid hands aboard the 19th century pilot cutters from the Bristol Channel. Often known as ‘Westernmen’, they kept the sea while their pilots steamed up-Channel then down again on the ships that paid all their wages.

I sold her after 13 years of ownership and it took me a year of looking before I bought a new boat.  She’s a Mason 44, an American design. Al Mason was a student of the great John Alden and they both had an eye for a pretty boat.

Here’s a few photos of her. The first is taken under her US colours.  There’s a lot of clutter on deck which I’ve now ‘thrown over the side’ – the second is of her being craned off the ship in Southampton after her transatlantic ‘voyage’.

One of the first things I did was to put a wood-burning stove on board

Now, doesn’t that look enticing!

Next, we trucked her to TLC Boat Repairs in Conwy, North Wales where she spent three months having a brand-new deck

She’s easy to sail with her in-boom furler and her motion at sea is as good as the old pilot cutter’s. She’ll do us proud for a few years yet.