A better boat to windward


This Saturday I shipped aboard my old boat Almita on a short coastal hop from Levington on Suffolk’s River Orwell to Lawling Creek on the River Blackwater, the guest of her new skipper David Smith.

When I had her she was bermudan cutter rigged and was a shocker off or across the wind: we passed boats with 15ft longer waterline lengths on a regular basis. In fact boats a mile ahead which I could see I was creeping up on would suddenly shoot off into the distance again. Later at common moorings they would deny they had turned their engines on but we always knew they had.

She has always been a magic boat. Designed by FB Howden and built in 1906 by Gann & Palmer at Teignmouth, Devon, she is 26ft LOA with a centre-plate which drops down through a ballast keel which only draws 2ft 6ins when raised.

But her one weakness was on the wind in anything Force 4 or over. Then her tall mast was too much top hamper for her low freeboard and narrow-beamed bow. We would always have to run back in a blow.

Not anymore. Now she has been put back to her original gaff rig she has incredible power close-hauled as we found out with one reef tied down she tacked from Clacton to Lawling Creek as other boats around us motored. We even saved our tide into Maylandsea.

The moral of the story is: always look at the original sail plan. It’s unlikely you can improve upon it.