Gosport to Dover: October 1966

Martin Goodrich, East Coast OGA member, reflects on his early cruising experiences, in 1966, whilst studying at Art College. He was recruited as sole crew-member on a passage from Gosport to Dover in a gaff cutter with no engine or radio. The skipper is caught out as the clocks change, but they arrive safely in Dover. Martin’s father became a member of the OGA in 1964, a year after its founding, and took part in the East Coast Race that year. He was keen to provide opportunties for his children to enjoy sailing.

In October 1966 my father rang, appealing to me to help out his great friend Hillary Behrens, ex Gordonstoun School classmate of Prince Phillip, a connected man, as crew to bring ‘Ianthe 2’ back around to the Thames from the south coast. I explained I was under pressure at the Royal College of Art’s Painting School and needed to focus on my work. He asked, ‘How’s it going?’, my reply was not so good. He jumped on this, ‘You need a break to get away from it all, so you can return refreshed and fighting fit.’ Funny how persuasive this advice was.

‘Ianthe 2’, a 7.08-ton, 35 ft gaff cutter, built 1901 in Tynemouth, was once owned by H. J. Hanson OBE (1908 to 1955), co-founder of the Cruising Association. I met Captain Rainer von Barsewisch on Waterloo Station. First mate, 1957, on the last commercial voyage of a four-mast barque, the German sailing training vessel ‘Passat’, ‘call me Ray’ was the skipper of ‘Ianthe 2’. Our destination was Gosport.

‘Where are the others?’, Ray enquired, as if I was responsible. Aware that the train was leaving soon, I replied I had no idea and explained how I was recruited. We got the train hoping to meet the rest in Gosport. In the event there were just the two of us. I explained that my sailing experience was very limited: a few days with my father on inshore waters; and that I had limited knowledge of sailing language; if he wanted me to respond quickly to an instruction it would be best in plain English. I explained that I was up to most tasks once instructed but that my knot skills left something to be desired. He reassured me that he would be patient and understanding.

We arrived, found the boat and her tender, rowed out, climbed aboard, got the feel of her and settled into the accommodation, which was very basic.

‘Light the stove and make some coffee’, an easy task if you could make it work. It was a struggle for both of us, but we got there in the end. Ray checked all the tackle, including the rigging, sails anchors etc. On finding that the engine was out of commission, there was no available battery power and no navigation lights or radio, Ray announced we were to proceed in daylight hours, sailing from port to port and working the tides, as in bygone days of sailing.

None of this fazed me: ignorance is bliss and he was responsible.

The next morning we were off, set the sails on the mooring, caught the breeze and away. I was relaxed without a care, but Ray was intense and focused, dealing with sailing through the busy channel to avoid collision. There were many calls for ready about and I rehearsed my role on the sheets: ‘Not too tight, let the sail fill,’ he shouted. He navigated us though the entrance and out into the Solent.

The weather was light winds from the SW and soon we were making good progress on a reach sailing out to sea, a first for me, passing Selsey Bill, to Littlehampton. Here we had a beer with local fishermen telling tales.

Next day the weather was much the same, but wind Force 3 SW. ‘Let’s see where we get to’, said the skipper. By late afternoon, we had a fast and beautiful sail past Worthing, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. We had reached Rye Bay. ‘Good going’, said the skipper when we were a mile off Rye entrance at low tide.

Ray did his tidal calculations and said in an hour there would be enough water to get over the bar. We anchored up for tea and grub.

Then, up with the anchor and we proceeded to enter the harbour. On the gentle swell ‘Ianthe’ bounced on the bar with a thud, then repeated thuds of increasing violence. We were aground, and in need of help as the swell lifted, and then dropped us alarmingly; we were in danger of doing substantive damage.

Fortunately a boat was motoring nearby and after hailing her we took a tow off the bar and into the harbour. ‘Bloody British summertime’, muttered the skipper.

We checked for water in the bilges, but with a big sigh of relief noted nothing unusual and moored up.

The river has a very deep tide, with 18ft or more drop, and we tied up with this in mind. Ray proposed to keep us upright and slightly leaning in, by attaching an adjustable slip rope to the mainstay. As we went down this would slip up the stay and tighten, pulling the boat over towards the mooring posts.

Fish and chips then the pub, and into our bunks for an early start with rising tide. At 3am there was a great crack as we lurched over towards the fairway; an immediate scramble from our bunks, listing at an alarming angle, to find that the slipping stay was stuck and in danger of breaking away.

Frantic efforts were made in our underpants, on a very cold night, to lash the vessel in every concievable way, so she was held back and stopped from leaning any further. There was little damage except to pride. I was told to bed down while Ray kept watch and wait for the tide to lift us upright.

We set sail early next morning along the coast on a broad reach towards Dungeness. Ray set a forward square sail and we ploughed through the water with great power. We rounded the point and ran towards Dover. With the wind dropping away progress was slow, but still with the tide Dover gradually came in sight at low water. We found ourselves very close to the walls of the harbour.

Fending off and pushing ourselves along, we reached the entrance, rounded the pier and made our way across the entrance, very slowly. A ferry arrived in the entrance giving us a great blast. The harbourmaster’s launch arrived to tow us out of harms way. Then there were conversations about our unannounced arrival without an engine. Finally the skipper calmed the officials down, and fog descended for several days, so we could not proceed to the Thames.

It was by now time for me to get back to my studies, and leave ‘Ianthe 2’, a beautiful gaff sailing boat, and a real privilege to have sailed on her. I wonder where she is now?