Sussex Yacht Club from the river
By William Mills
The buildings of Sussex Yacht Club nestle on the bank of the River Adur just off the centre of modern Shoreham by Sea. Once a medieval Sussex port of some importance it now bustles with activity giving a timeless feel of the old blending with the new in effortless ease.
The big advantage of being a member of a yacht club, the joining of which is surprisingly easily, is it enables one to meet like minded people. Hardly had the ink dried on my postcard on the club notice board advertising myself as crew than I received a call.
A new boat owner, who like so many had done some dinghy sailing earlier in life, had finally realised his ambition of getting afloat again. Also he had decided, what with his experience being a little rusty to enlist my help on his inaugural voyage.
This turned out to be from the Yacht Club’s concrete launching slipway to a pontoon mooring a hundred yards or so down the river. Yet a great deal was to be learned in a very short space of time by both of us.
The boat was a 20ft bilge keeled sailing yacht, its single mast sloop rigged. It had an outboard motor housed on an external bracket bolted to the stern.
The tide had just lifted her by the time I arrived. Getting on board uncovered the first problem. One of us standing on the bow caused the stern to lift the engine’s propeller clean out of the water. But with both of weights at the back it half submerged the poor thing.
I always remember the X99 national champion Borg Leif explaining that crew weight is good weight in that is the easiest and swiftest to move. Compared with redistributing cabin ballast by moving water tanks or the anchor and chain from one end to the other I can see why. I recall a prototype yacht with an inboard engine on rails so it could be slide along to alter the boat’s trim, although that particular idea didn’t catch on.
It felt like being on a dinghy again with forward and back movement aiding the propeller depth and very soon both of us were doing it instinctively.
For our very first sea trial I’d hoped to tie us to the pontoon and check we had sufficient forward and reverse prop wash to give us manoeuvrability to control the boat out in the river where the tide was in full flood.
However in the event we simply cast off like the owl and the pussycat into the wide blue yonder. As we came away for the safety of the Club the current caught spinning the boat around and sending us towards the huge new bridge whose concrete structure would be sure to snare our frail mast and tip us into the water and a dark watery grave.
A powerful burst to half throttle soon put paid to those fears. The prop dug into the water with an authoritive whirl. The engine clearly meant business.
Instantly the boat was under control and we were away upon our adventure. Steaming clear of all obstacles we found a quiet patch where we could practice speeding up and slowing down, changing from forward to reverse, and honing our skills for our ultimate test of seaman ship skills- getting onto the new mooring without ignobly scratching next door’s paintwork.
We motored past once. Then twice. Out in the river it was like the peace and tranquillity of a condemned man’s last cigarette. Oh well, no point in delaying the inevitable I thought. Unfortunately we had to go in with the current. This increases the possibility of a hard stop by hitting the pontoon then bouncing back out before being whipped sideways on by the pitiless current and crushed back across the sterns of the adjacent boats.
I felt like a wounded WWII bomber must have done being forced into landing at its first approach, the danger of an unseen enemy prowler forcing it to forgoing its customary preliminary circuit.
To me the rushing river sounded as ominously sinister . My brave owner moved to the bow just as I flicked the engine into reverse. Nothing happened! The prop was out of the water and it felt like the canon shells from a long ago Hun night fighter were suddenly ripping into our stern.
“We’re going down!” I cried. Albeit to myself. I aimed away to the left of the huge, solid, immovable mooring post and towards the pontoon agonisingly awaiting the sounds of tearing wood and ripping metal.
“Brace! Brace! Brace!” Were my last words before my brave companion reached out and stopped the boat with one hand whilst nimbly hopping over the pulpit with the aid of his other.
“Well done!” he cried. “All’s fast.”
Turning towards the stern to quickly stop the outboard by pulling its kill cord I hoped he could not see my inward shudder. Evidently a boat of this size was as easy to stop as a dinghy.
“Saved again and home safely.” I smiled quietly to myself.