A PILGRIM AMONG THE SWATCHWAYS: Chasing the Ghost of Maurice Griffiths


The name Maurice Griffiths is not particularly well known in the United States, but in England he is most certainly an iconic figure. A dapper fellow with a goatee beard, he was born into modest circumstances at the turn of the 20th century, the second son of a traveling glove and underwear salesman who had an eye for ladies and racehorses and consequently died bankrupt. At age 19, in the year 1921, not long before his father passed away, Maurice and a friend sold a much-loved model railroad set, invested the proceeds in a 50-year-old semi-derelict cutter named Undine, and the rest--as they say--is history.

Over the course of the next six decades, Griffiths bought, sold, and cruised innumerable small yachts, and wrote 15 books on sailing, one of which, The Magic of the Swatchways, is now a classic of British sailing literature. Griffiths also trained himself as a naval architect and became a successful yacht designer, drawing several pioneering designs for simple shoal-draft cruising boats. Most important, perhaps, he was one of the first on either side of the Atlantic to publicly champion the concept of sailing as a sport for the common man. During his 40-year tenure as editor-in-chief at Yachting Monthly magazine, he transformed what had become an elitist yachting social journal into a practical, but very literate bible for middle-class sailors who dreamed of getting afloat aboard boats of their own.

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VIKINGS ON THE LOOSE: Largest Longship Built in Modern Times Has Set Out Across the Atlantic

Harald under sail

Hide the family jewels! The Vikings are coming! The 115-foot Norse longship Draken Hårald Harfagre has just set out from Norway and is bound to North America via Iceland and Greenland. Ultimately Hårald and her crew plan to roam as far inland as the Great Lakes before raiding the Big Apple and Mystic Seaport in September and October.

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COLLISION AVOIDANCE: Ratting Out an Errant Freighter

Ship too close

I’ve had some correspondence recently from an old sailing buddy of mine, Patrick Childress, who got a bee in his bonnet a while back after he almost got run down by a freighter while cruising Indonesia with his wife Rebecca aboard their Valiant 40 Brick House. It was a pretty typical situation: an alert cruiser aboard a small sailboat has to take last-minute evasive action after a large commercial vessel on a collision course, apparently with no one on watch, fails to respond to repeated radio calls. In these days of AIS this happens less often than it used to, but in this case the perpetrator wasn’t broadcasting an AIS signal.

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SAILBOAT PROPELLERS: Damned If They're There; Damned If They're Not

Boat hauled

Though they seem like very simple devices, propellers are in fact quite complicated. More often than you’d expect, problems with a boat’s performance under power can be traced to poor propeller selection. To drive a boat well a prop must be properly matched to whatever engine and transmission is turning it, and numerous variables--the engine’s horsepower, its operating and maximum potential rpm and shaft speed, the boat’s speed potential, and the dimensions and specifications of the prop itself--must be balanced against each other to achieve good performance over the broadest range of circumstances.

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BOREAL 44/47: A Bulletproof Aluminum Centerboard Cruiser for High and Low Latitudes

Boreal sailing

It says something of the nature of these boats that my initial correspondence with Jean-François Eeman (see photo up top), managing director of Boréal Yachts, regarding a visit to their yard, was interrupted for a month while he and his family took off on a cruise to Antarctica. On a Boréal, of course. Indeed, Eeman’s boat was the first Boréal 44 ever built, the ultimate product of a chance encounter on a dock in Ushuaia, Argentina, between Eeman and another Jean-François, surname Delvoye, a designer and builder with many bluewater miles under his belt who had long been nursing an idea for an ideal cruising vessel.

The basic concept here is not at all unusual. Aluminum bluewater centerboard boats, though not often found in North America, have long been a staple of the French cruising scene. Major French builders Garcia and Alubat have focused primarily on boats like this for decades, and several smaller builders have followed in their wake. Boréal, barely ten years old, is the rising star on the scene, thanks to a focus on build quality that rivals that of the early Garcias and also to some unique design features that take the concept to a new level.

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TALES OF JOHANNE REGINA: In Andorra With Tom Cunliffe and Clare and Edward Allcard

Johanne under sail

Sorry the blog’s been dark so long! But I do have an excuse. I’m in France right now, having come by way of Ireland (where I was visiting family for Easter) and Barcelona and then Andorra, where I stopped in for a few days to visit Clare and Edward Allcard, the well-known liveaboard cruiser-authors who wandered far wide for many years on an old 90-ton Baltic ketch named Johanne Regina (see Clare’s books A Gypsy Life and The Intricate Art of Living Afloat). Johanne has since been adopted by a Catalonian non-profit group, has been rechristened Ciutat Badalona (after the Catalonian municipality of the same name), and is now flawlessly maintained (see photo up top).

But it wasn’t always so. If you’ve ever read A Gypsy Life, you’ll recall that the Allcards’ two decades of ownership of Johanne was an unrelenting maintenance nightmare and the boat was never really ever close to being “finished.” Coincidentally, during my visit they were also visited by British sailing author and TV personality (and erstwhile SAIL contributor) Tom Cunliffe, his wife Ros, and his old mate John Lovell, who had come to share some even grimmer tales of Johanne’s pre-Allcard days.

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MAINE CAT 41: A Fast But Sensible Open-Bridgedeck Cruising Cat

MC 41

This mid-size cruising catamaran inhabits the middle ground between truly high-performance open-bridgedeck cats with very limited accommodations and little or no on-deck shelter and bulkier, more unwieldy cats with enclosed bridgedeck saloons and palatial accommodations. Its most distinctive feature is a permanently mounted hardtop roof supported by aluminum posts that shelters all of the otherwise open bridgedeck area abaft the mast. If desired the bridgedeck can be fully enclosed by deploying flexible transparent acrylic side-curtains.

This concept was first introduced by designer/builder Dick Vermeulen when he launched his first boat, the smaller Maine Cat 30, back in 1996. The 30-footer has proven quite successful, but is a bit too small and cramped for extended cruising. The 41, first introduced in 2004, redresses this deficiency and has also been successful.

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Enthalpy ketch

This, thank God, is a solo MOB tale with a totally happy ending. David Thompson, a retired engineer, was swept off his 49-foot ketch Enthalpy II (see photo up top) by a wave while sailing solo down the north coast of Puerto Rico this past Sunday. He was attached to the boat with a lifejacket/harness, but a second wave stripped him out of his harness, and out of his pants, and he was left to drift half-naked as his boat sailed away from him. After seven hours in the water he managed to swim ashore at Isabela, about 15 miles west of Camuy where he went over the side, and is now recovering in a hospital. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, managed to recover Enthalpy II in the Mona Passage, some 80 miles west of Camuy, thanks to her AIS transponder.

David, without doubt, is a very lucky man. He gets to keep living, and he gets his boat back! His tale also vividly illustrates some points we discussed recently regarding the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a harness and tether while sailing.

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  • Boats & Gear

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