When it comes to cost, it all depends on the kind of sailing you do and your willingness to be self-sufficient, says Jonty Pearce

Aurial, our Southerly 105 ketch, had spent a year in the Mediterranean before we bought her a little over eight years ago. The sun is strong in the Med, and ultraviolet had wreaked havoc on anything left on deck. A plastic container used for the stern anchor fractured at my touch, and the sprayhood stitching had virtually given up the ghost; I hardly dared touch it in case another seam started to split.

The trouble was, we’d pretty well scraped the barrel dry when stretching ourselves to buy her. My accountant, a lugubrious soul, had told me that I could not afford a yacht. He was, of course, right, but the statement was red rag to a bull and the purchase was duly agreed on my 50th birthday: a classic midlife crisis. However, I think his accountancy vision of yachting was that of posing on a half-million 50′ world girding yacht moored against the quay in Cannes, replete with skimpily clad blondes (some of them male), while wearing smart deck shoes, blazers with brass buttons, white shorts and a peaked cap clearly labelled ‘Captain’. The Welsh equivalent in Neyland Yacht Haven fortunately does not demand this standard of attire, and those dressed in such a manner would be the focus of considerable interest. No, in Neyland anti-foul splattered shoes, torn and stained trousers, and unsavoury shirts that have survived accidental holding tank spillage are totally acceptable. Not that we can’t scrub up well when we need to; it’s just that smart clothing does not stay smart long when scrabbling around in the bilge after dropping ones mobile phone under the engine during its service. Contrary to my accountant’s vision of fully serviced yachting, mine is one of do it yourself, and I have proved my bean counter wrong by following the self-sufficiency mantra.

Which brings me back to the sprayhood. Remember the sprayhood? It was the rotten one. Rather than investing half a grand or more on a new one, I spent £100 on a tough sewing machine that not only coped with restitching every single sprayhood seam but also let me make instrument covers, a binnacle cover, an anchor windlass cover, and spray dodgers. Luckily the material and windows of the sprayhood had been sound, but the cloth itself has now reached the end of its life even though the stitching is still strong. It looks wrinkly (think Norah Batty), tatty, grey, mildew stained and unsavoury, so I know I have to blow the dust off my wallet and commission a new one.

At the Southampton Boat Show we wandered the aisles and interrogated the canvas makers for quotes and ideas. Our specifications were for a replacement sprayhood that extended into a combination bimini and cockpit tent, whilst not inhibiting deck access or preventing us using the genoa winches. Oh, and Carol didn’t want any holes drilled for new fasteners. And we did not want any bulky folded canvas and poles where we sit on the cockpit coaming. And Aurial is a ketch with the mizzen mast sitting right on the forward edge of the rear deck. Needless to say, we came away disillusioned. No existing designs really fitted, so we bought the excellent Habitent cockpit tent instead while we thought about things.

This winter I am determined to put my own ideas to test. The mizzen mast’s presence can be turned to advantage by using it to tension and support a cockpit tent/bimini. The spinnaker winches that perch on the coamings level with it are to become the bases for the rear cockpit stainless steel hoop. The forward end of the cockpit cover will zip to the lip of a new replacement sprayhood, and the sides and rear section will be detachable to provide shade or shelter when we don’t require a full tent. I’m not sure of the detail of the side doors or windows yet – but I’m sure all will become clear after I visit Aurial with a length of alkathene piping, some old sheets, and my trusty sewing machine to construct a template that our local canvas genius will be able follow at a fraction of the cost of a bespoke supplier.

I find yachting is at its most satisfying when self-sufficient inventiveness and skill an be merged into a satisfying solution at a minimal cost. Especially when it proves the accountant wrong.

Jonty Pearce

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