Libby Purves June 2016 podcast

Years ago when we were young, we went to a few yacht club meets in our Contessa 26, Barnacle Goose. All the other boats were much bigger and grander, with full ovens and showers and sprawling cabins. But when the owners of the grand 40-footers, older than us, clambered over our rail for a drink, they would look around with fond, dewily nostalgic eyes. ‘Aaah…yes… those were the good times!’ This baffled us a bit, as we craned across them to reach the drinks locker, perched on the temporary plank seat linking the chart table and galley, and hoped they wouldn’t want to use the somewhat exposed heads. But they were sincere in their emotion.   “Honest simpicity combined with elegant, swift-lined seaworthiness” It wasn’t just remembering being young and newly-wed and able to hop in and out of forehatches without grunting: it was the boat itself. Its simplicity, the honest straightforwardness combined with the elegant, swift-lined seaworthiness and long steady keel. Many of them had had Folkboats – the nearest relative to David Sadler’s brilliant Contessa 26, and they remembered those qualities. So they mourned their past: the sorriest were those who had succumbed to a fat-beamed, lightweight fin-keeled Continental suntrap style boat, because the family reasonably demanded more and wider berths and standing headroom. The best small boats, after all, obey the golden rule that if you imagine them ten times the size, their shape still looks good. But even among the owners of elegantly traditional long-keelers ten or 20 feet longer, there were sighs. Because a smaller boat is simpler. Fewer seacocks, less wiring, not so many things to go wrong. You’re more likely to have a nice manual galley-pump than an electric one, which buzzes and fails. Your water tank is smaller, so more frequently flushed through. All your handholds and grabrails are always within reach, not five feet away across an expanse of unnecessary upholstery. Below decks, you carry fewer clothes and oddments because there isn’t much space, so everything in sight is seamanlike and practical: you never feel you have dragged the preoccupations of home away with you. You feel neat and purposeful because the boat is. As for the lack of standing headroom, the Contessa had what you might call trouser-putting-on headroom. In big seas, we quite often hove to at change of watch to keep things comfortable. It was easy. Smaller sails are easy. For not only are you still young and strong in your Contessa or Folkboat days, but everything is lighter. Changing a jib is quick. When coming alongside, the crew can step blithely onto the pontoon, which is almost level with the topsides, and if necessary hold the boat in by the shrouds while the lines are sorted. All those memories we could sense in the fond looks of the older, grander, visitors as they returned to their smart ships. The first time I realised the full glory of the class was a year before we got one of … Continue reading Libby Purves June 2016 podcast