Day aboard a Parade of Sail classic

As the nation prepares for the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant, YM’s Dick Durham went for a training sail aboard Mariquita, one of the classic yachts which will salute Her Majesty’s 60 year reign in the Parade of Sail.

Just getting the gaff up on this classic racing machine takes at least eight men and women and her skipper Jim Thom lead with a sea shanty to help with the rhythm.

I felt like one of those windmilling gnomes you see on the roof of a garden shed when the blades turn the man, as the fit young crew hauled in on the halyard too fast for me to add my mini-muscled pennyworth.

‘Let’s have you spooning,’ yelled the mate, as I clambered up the weather deck bashing into the canvas-covered upturned skiff, glossily-varnised skylights, and tripping over python-sized falls of running rigging.

I was not quite sure what spooning was, but I was damned if I was going to let on. Suddenly everyone lay down on deck: like a line of grapeshot-riddled infantry. I was the last man standing and soon realised my fellow trainees were ‘spooning’. So I collapsed with them.

This my aching limbs, bruised knees and violated respiratory system approved of: lying down on the job.

But Jim had other ideas.

In his quiet but authoritative voice he said: ‘Ok we will do a soft headsail, hard headsail routine, then take a spinnaker run to the next buoy, once we are round that we’ll come back on the wind practice tacking for several legs, then have a sandwich.’

All I had to do was clamber from my spooning position on the lee deck to my new spooning position on the weather deck, which might sound a doddle but there were 12 crew to keep clear of. The fact that they were exquisitely polite did not help my feeling of humble uselessness.

But at last we were off the wind I could stand up for a time, eat a sandwich and simply marvel at the beautiful creature I was being carried over the Solent upon.

Later Jim told me that in her heyday Mariquita faced ‘bloodthirsty’ competition with boats putting others aground, deliberately bouncing off one another and pushing the opposition against the Solent forts: one such racing machine hit the foundations of Spitbank Fort but was going so fast her way carried her straight over it. Weeks later as a deck hand was painting the bilge his brush touched a keel-bolt head which spun round: the bolt had sheared from the impact.     

The Mariquita, ladybird in Spanish, was built by William Fife in 1911 and after an illustrious racing career became the last 19-Metre in existence and was rescued in 1991 from a mud berth at Pin Mill on Suffolk’s River Orwell where she was used as a houseboat.

Fairlie Restorations rescued Mariquita, and towed her round to the Hamble in a Thames lighter.
After a £4 million restoration she was re-launched in the summer of 2004 and took part in many Mediterranean regattas, but is now back on the Solent where it is hoped she will remain.

We should be thankful there are folks prepared to stump up the cash to rescue such craft: just to see them glide by is to have a living tapestry hung momentarily in front of you.

Photo: Bob Aylott