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Vintage GP14 Open at Dovey Yacht Club

by Oliver Shaw 30 Jul 2010 09:41 BST 24-25 July 2010
Vintage GP14s at Aberdovey © Oliver Shaw

A total of 5 vintage boats plus one modern one turned up and sailed, four of them with sail numbers under 100. We put out that the fifth one was no. 47 with just a few parts borrowed from 4250, like the hull! She has alternatively been described as 4250 in drag (because she was wearing 47's sails). Between helmsmen and crews and visitors we also had moderately strong representation from three clubs; Holloway SC (Stewart Elder and entourage, with one boat), Gresford SC (Gareth & Naomi Morris plus 2 other members, with two boats), and Liverpool SC (myself plus 3 other members, with two boats), plus Peter James from Stoke on Trent.

A pity only that Gareth and team weren’t able to bring his second and newly acquired vintage boat, “Hawk”, no. 23, in which I have a vicarious interest. She was the first GP that I ever met, at age 8 or 9, when she was brand new and belonged to holiday friends of ours whom we met each year on Anglesey, the Birkett-Evans family. For a few years now Gareth and I have jointly been trying to track down her whereabouts, in my case purely for old times’ sake, and we were each of us in intermittent touch with her late owner. It was immaterial to me which of us acquired her, if indeed either of us, so long as she was in safe hands and we saw her occasionally, so I was delighted when quite recently Gareth managed to acquire her for eventual restoration. Doubly delighted, in fact, because I have enough boats on my plate without taking on yet another, but for old times’ sake I wanted her kept going, restored if necessary, and very much still in action. My personal next step is to try to make contact with David Birkett-Evans to see whether he has any interest in resurrecting the contact, both with myself and with his parents’ onetime new and much loved boat.

There was until a fairly late stage a realistic expectation that we might also have the famed "Mizpah" (no. 19) with us, famed for her immaculate full restoration. There was also at one stage a sporting chance that we might get 47 down "as is"; we have just rebuilt the (wooden) mast, and the hull is currently drying out prior to starting restoration, but in the event we decided that it was not possible to bring her. I was also trying to get "Elizah Jane" (no. 43) to join us; a few years ago I was peripherally involved in her restoration, by way of email advice and also supplying one or two parts.

Better luck next year, perhaps, for all of these; and the good news is that this weekend is indeed now set to become an annual event.

We were greeted with glorious summer sunshine on the Friday, and immediately they arrived Stewart Elder and his crew Chris Weston launched "Aeolian" (no. 28) and went for a brief sail. I rather regretted that I had not done likewise, but I had left my crew pitching camp and brought Kevin's crew (John LeGuen) down with me just to help rig the boat, so John didn't have his sailing kit with him.

After they had come ashore, and I had liaised with the host club, we all met up for a very convivial meal in the Dovey Inn.

Then on the Saturday we were greeted by persistent mist and light rain. We had a short briefing first in order to plan the day, with input from the local knowledge of the host club, and it was a great pleasure to be introduced to Searson Thompson; his company - Bell Woodworking Company - built most (possibly all) of the first GPs, and also made kits available, and his son Paul then tested them at Aberdovey in everything that the sea could throw at them. At age 99 (and he doesn't look it!) he still takes a keen interest in both the club and the class, and he remains a Trustee of the club. He is probably the only person still alive who has been closely involved with the class since outset, and who had a leading role in the class in the early days.

It was also good to see Liz Hall (Vice-President of the Class Association) and Ivan Washington (my predecessor as Cruising Representative of the Association) turn up to watch and to support us.

Despite singularly unattractive weather we all then launched, and enjoyed a good sail almost out to the bar, and then returned to the club for lunch ashore. We deliberately decided not to venture over the bar, largely because conditions were marginally too lumpy and I was very conscious that we had a number of 60 year old boats, and also one six year old child aboard one of them. Having sailed out of the Taw-Torridge estuary for many years, with a bar almost as notorious as that of Salcombe ("It is here that a lifeboat was lost", to quote the laconic comment in one pilot book), I have the greatest of respect for estuary bars, so discretion was the better part of valour.

In the afternoon we went upriver as far as the depth of water permitted; the weekend was spring tides, and we were approaching Low Water, and the upper part of the estuary dries almost completely, but we still managed to get a reasonable distance before we ran out of water. Then a couple of boats had a third sail, out over the bar and back.

During the course of the day Gareth's wooden mast split up the glue line, and he had to hurriedly drop the main and accept a tow home from the safety boat. This was not actually no. 7's own mast, but was one from a donor boat which he had bought, and which was claimed to be in good condition, although earlier in the day I had noticed and commented on the glue line being very prominent; we now realise why. Fortunately he had a spare metal mast with him, so was able to get her back on the water in time to join us for all the remaining sailing.

This weekend was also the start of the host club’s Regatta Fortnight, and for the Saturday evening they had arranged a Barbecue and Barn Dance, so most of us met up for that, or at least for the Barbecue. During the course of this there was a continuous screening of one of Searson’s DVD’s, compiled from his amateur ciné film, of highlights from the history of the club, including of course the launch of the very first GP14.

I confess that the LSC contingent rather dipped out of the Barn Dance which followed it; having ascertained in advance that the club were expecting people to regard them as two separate functions and that many people would be turning up for either one alone, we rested assured that no offence would be caused by our not participating in both.

Sunday was free of rain, so I was able to set the 1958 cotton sails on "Snowgoose". First thing was a photocall, with the fleet sailing in company up to the club for the benefit of the photographers (and ultimately for the relevant GP14 and LSC websites).

Then four of us set off over the bar and along the coast to Tywyn, by prior arrangement leaving two boats remaining in the estuary. John Tildesley, with no. 2, possibly the oldest GP still in existence, was having serious leakage problems and did not want to trust his boat over the bar. And Kevin Foote had his six year old son Nat sailing with him, and felt that after a full day sailing on the Saturday the sail over to Tywyn would be too long a day for the lad, so they sailed in the estuary in the morning and then went to Barmouth for the afternoon.

"Snowgoose", choosing to sail on her 1958 cotton sails and with original rig (standard jib and no spinnaker) was of course the slowest boat in the fleet, but still gave a very good account of herself - and indeed on the homeward leg once we reached the bar she then led the vintage part of the fleet the rest of the way home. But that was partly because her skipper has had plenty of practice in crossing bars (admittedly in rachts rather than dinghies), and largely because on a dead run she then made extreme use of the shallows to cheat the full spring ebb; shades of the old lookout's cry "Birds walking ahead, sir!" We could see the bottom, and we were regularly using a paddle to test the depth; most of the way up the estuary we were in just sufficient depth to cover the blade, and only the blade.

Overall it was an excellent weekend, and there is great enthusiasm amongst both the visitors and the club to now make this an annual event, although we will try to find a weekend when the tides are more suitable and which also fits in with other commitments (which necessarily include my personal ones; on the previous weekend the tides would have been much better, but there was no way in which I could have then run it because of my examining commitments, and the weekend chosen was the very first one after that commitment was cleared).

For the future, while we are immensely keen to attract vintage boats we will also very warmly welcome more modern boats. Indeed we had one modern boat with us this time (Gareth’s yet again; like myself, and one or two others, he is collecting GP14s!), and we will welcome any others which turn up.

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