The Unforgettable Sea – Sailing on Leader in 1999

The Unforgettable Sea – Sailing on Leader in 1999

The Trinity Sailing office team were sent a lovely memoir over the festive break, written by an 81-year-old Nottingham-based lady who sailed on board Leader back in 1999. She rediscovered the vessel, over Christmas, while doing some research online. We wanted to share her article with you as her experience will be very similar to yours, for those who have joined us on board over the years.

Viv Apple writes:

“In 1999, at the age of 63, I took the first of four sailing holidays I would never forget, on Leader, a Brixham sailing trawler built in 1892 as part of the West Country’s long-gone fishing fleet. Thirty metres long and Ketch rigged to enable her to be handled by a small crew, Leader was fishing in UK waters until 1907, when she was sold to Swedish owners, and after some years as a sail training vessel and then hired for charter, she was brought home to South Devon in 1996 and underwent a full programme of restoration.

“As a result the hold, where in the past huge catches of fish were stored, is now a roomy saloon with a large table where crew and visitors enjoy meals and plan the following day’s sailing. In addition, Leader was fitted with seventeen bunks, two showers, two ‘heads’ (toilets) and a small galley where the cook produces amazing food no matter how rough the seas outside.

“Brixham has also changed, from a fishing port filled with trawlers and the work of hand-processing fish on the quay to a holiday resort, with all that this implies. But it still has the most delicious fresh fish I’ve ever tasted, in a small restaurant which my friend Sheila and I discovered the night before our first trip on Leader.

“The next day, on that first morning, we were literally ‘shown the ropes’ by the crew.  After the surprise of learning the origins of this old saying, it was good to learn how to cheese a rope, keep the decks tidy, and wash up after the evening meal. Somehow, as we pulled away from the quayside and out towards the open sea, I knew I’d love every minute of it.

“The weather affects conditions constantly and therefore affects everything that happens on board a boat. I experienced some interesting extremes of weather over the four holidays, which eventually took me around the Devon and Cornwall coast, to the Scilly Isles, to Scotland, to Jersey and Guernsey and to Brittany. On a fine day with a moderate breeze, once the sails were set we could sunbathe on deck, or stand forward of the mast and lean over the gunwales (not too far over), watching and listening to the bow wave breaking against the hull.  Later, I was allowed to take the helm for a while. To feel the power of the wind pushing that thirty metre sailing vessel forward while I held the wheel and kept an eye on the compass beside me was nothing less than awesome. Ewan, who was keeping an eye on me, allowed a shift of only two or three degrees either way, which added another dimension to the task.

“The air above the sea is cooler than that on land, especially in a fresh breeze, so unless there happens to be a heatwave it is necessary to wear several layers of clothing on deck. This was fine until we had to visit the heads (loos), especially as we happen to be female, so the result was a lesson in self-control. The best example of this happened while we were crossing the English Channel on our way to the Brittany coast. With a wind Force 5 or 6 the sea was medium to rough, so Sheila and I were sitting on deck with our security lines clipped on, wearing the necessary waterproofs and six layers of clothing. We enjoyed watching the waves breaking over the bows and sometimes breaking over us, which was fun for the first two or three hours, but then we realised that ‘nature’ was calling. Could we be bothered to unclip our safety lines, edge our way along the deck to the cabin entrance, climb down the gangway steps to our bunks, then take off all our protective layers? The unspoken answer was clearly ‘NO’.  About an hour later, Leader was at last approaching the French coast and we had to smile: we were happily bedraggled but we had crossed the Channel intact, and best of all we could now safely have a mug of hot coffee!

“When a charter boat is fully booked, she has to get back to her home port ready for the next group on time, no matter what the weather. Thus, in another year, we found ourselves having to set sail from the Channel Islands with an overnight crossing ahead and a forecast of fog.  Like other charter boats, Leader is fitted with an auxiliary engine for emergencies and for when there is insufficient wind for the sails alone. That night we set off early and, knowing we might face a difficult crossing, the skipper assigned  each of the four crew and twelve guests a half-hour shift on watch throughout the night. I think my watch was about 1.30 – 2.00am, but it hardly mattered because it was such a new experience that we were awake for longer than that anyway. I put on the usual six (or seven) layers and stood on deck peering through the fog at more fog. We were given a small battery-driven foghorn which we had to sound every two minutes (or it may have been 90 seconds). No sails of course, but just the steady thrum of the engine echoing eerily around us. Suddenly, there was a shout from someone on the far side of the deck, Quick! – Come and look at this!”  I went quickly across and we peered down into the water where Dave was pointing. Three more people emerged from below decks and we all stared into the sea to where thousands (or maybe millions) of tiny florescent creatures were moving rapidly in all directions, like a night-time city as seen from an aeroplane.  “What are they?” someone asked. Nobody knew, but we were all aware that we had just seen something amazing we would not have seen but for the fog that night. Afterwards, we talked of the dangers of pollution and of our ongoing relationship with the oceans, which made us feel extremely small.

“Despite being both incredibly beautiful and highly dangerous, there is no doubt that the sea is a wonderful place; it nurtures countless creatures from microscopic plankton to the 180 ton blue whale.  I was lucky to experience even a small part of it, and despite the discomforts of getting soaked or climbing into and out of a small bunk, I would do it all again.”

Picture supplied by Viv Apple.