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A boat with no name, by Liesl King

I never thought I would fall in love with another boat. After all my sometimes lesson, sometimes racing Cape 31 provides the thrills (and spills) that my adventurous heart desires, while my rock steady Rolls Royce makes me want to shout with joy in a 30 knot breeze. So really there was no need to fall in love with another boat. I have admired many in the marina. There is a gorgeous little wooden yacht, beautifully restored, simply named She and then there is Northern Light, with her stunning deep blue aluminium hull, but they are strictly for admiring. So what happened you may ask?

A little holiday to Langebaan lagoon happened and a boat with no name happened.  Officially she is an 18’ Sentinel Explorer, but she is simply called “the cutter”. Somehow, that is what she has always been referred to (despite not actually being one) and hence nobody bothered to name her. You see she is strictly a holiday boat. She lives shrouded under a heavy cover on her trailer for most of the year. Then for a brief few months over the summer, she is manoeuvred down the thick sand of the slipway and into the lagoon.

There she lies at anchor, floating and settling on the sand as the tide rises and retreats. She is an open boat and after any rain, there is inevitably some bailing out to do, but other than that, she is always ready and willing. Be it a champagne sundowner sail, a quick run to Churchhaven, flying in the wind, or simply a leisurely sail at dawn to watch the sunrise. My first meeting with “the cutter” was not a good one. I had been dying to sail her as she just looked like so much fun, a different kind of fun, to my other two boats. So it was with great excitement that her trailer was attached to the car.

And there the trouble started. A flat tyre was discovered on the trailer. An hour later rusty nuts had finally been forced to relinquish their death grip, the tyre was fixed, and we were finally on our way to the slipway. There however, the tide had started to recede, forcing us to make use of planks and 4×4 tracks to try and get the trailer as close as possible to the water. Position the planks, inch backwards, desperately trying to keep the trailer’s wheels straight and on the planks, lift front planks, move them back and repeat. Did I mention she is not a light lady?

Eventually, after lots of blood, sweat and tears, literally, we finally had her off the trailer and in the water. Time to start putting all her bits and pieces together. It was at this point that it was discovered that her rudder was mysteriously missing. And even I know that one cannot sail a boat if you cannot steer it. Hence there was nothing to do, but get her out of the water again, back onto her trailer and tow her back to the house. One would think that after that introduction, I would have lost all interest in sailing her, but for some strange reason I didn’t. Something about this little boat with no name intrigued me. I simply had to sail her.

Another year, where she lay patiently waiting under her cover, passed.  Finally it was summer again. Her rudder had been found and returned, and it was time to have a second attempt at sailing “the cutter”. This time we were spared flat tyres and the tide was in. Getting her into the water was the easiest thing ever. I walked her out past a clump of rocks, dropped her anchor and hopped on.  Lesson time. For apparently, she had to be rigged first. Now I have learnt how to setup a Cape 31, but “the cutter” was a very different kettle of fish. No winches, no carbon sails, her jib sheet simply ran through a fairlead to a cleat and her mast lay in the boat. First, I learned about stepping her wooden mast. Her sails seemed to be made of red cloth.  To hoist the main, one hoists another spar attached to the main. Apparently, she had what is called a gunter rig. If you haven’t come across one yet, this is roughly how it works. There is a wooden spar that is attached to the main sail.  At its lower end, it has a wishbone which fits around the mast.  Using the main halyard, you hoist the spar, which then slides up the mast taking the sail with it. Her jib has a roller furler fitted, making life rather pleasant.  Of course I was convinced that the tiny piece of string I was told to let go to unfurl the jib, was going to snap at any moment, but somehow it didn’t, and I even managed to cleat it properly.

We were ready to go sailing. I took hold of her beautiful wooden tiller, no aluminium or tiller extensions here, just simplicity. The wind filled her sails, instructor pulled on the tiny piece of string, that is apparently the jib sheet and away we flew, direction Churchhaven. I was instantly and irrevocably in love. The little boat with no name was an absolute joy to sail.  She was solid and steady. She heeled over just enough to make life fun and she flew along with gay abandon. Her high sides meant that no water splashed in and even if the odd drop did, her wooden floorboards kept ones feet perfectly dry. At Churchhaven, she obediently tacked and soon we were flying back down the lagoon.

Langebaan Lagoon. Photo credit: Sail+Leisure

I could have sailed up and down all day long. Sadly the tide started going out, navigating sandbanks became a necessity and all too soon it was time to drop anchor and let her settle gently aground. There she would wait till the next rising tide, when we could once again fly out over the lagoon, aiming for nowhere in particular.  There was something magical about sailing that little boat with no name.  Perhaps it was the simplicity, perhaps it was her steadiness, or her ease of handling. Perhaps, a combination of all three. There was a simple joy in sailing and sometimes that is exactly what we need in this complicated life we live. Especially during these trying times.

A little boat with no name, wooden mast and red sails; a little boat that is sturdy and safe; a little boat that flies along with gay abandon. A little boat that reminded me why I fell in love with sailing in the first place.





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