Are we a solitary breed?

We had one of those red letter days in July; one that all sailors know, but which come so seldom, writes Nick Watts.  A run down the Cleddau from Lawrenny, then a reach and beat from Neyland to Dale in a gusting northerly with an exhilarating final board across Dale Roads.  A brief leg stretch on the moored pontoon was followed by a dead run back to Stack Rocks Fort then a beat back up to Neyland, dodging an incoming gas tanker.

As I watched my boys on the jib sheets, I wondered idly why it seemed that the majority of dinghy cruisers seemed to be a solitary breed – when the pastime was manifestly such fun when shared with others.

Alan Glanville in Lowly Worm III

The thought stuck and I decided to do a bit of research through the pages of the Dinghy Cruising Association's quarterly newsletter, the Bulletin [now Dinghy Cruising].

I wrote in the last Join the Club notes about some misconceptions about the DCA; I now found that I had become prey to some of my own.  Setting aside the lively rally scene, it was evident that there were a large number of multiple person crews – including many families – making quietly adventurous voyages; some were even writing them up.  There were, of course, a fair few articles from lone sailors about their adventures, but it was evident that even many of them split their time between single handing and family sailing.

One such was Alan Glanville.  A relative late comer to dinghy cruising, he sailed a Ness Yawl that he built himself.  Lowly Worm III replaced the second of that name, an Essex Smack replica he had also built (as he had the first eponymous craft) and soon became well known as much for the adventurous voyages he made under sail and oar as for frequently turning up at rallies with one or more of his many grandchildren aboard.  Here is Alan at his adventurous best when on a long solo cruise around Mull in 2008:

Then followed several hours of arduous exertion.  The tide had not yet turned and a F4 wind was funnelling down the sound.  I was on the helm for 3 to 4 hours beating into wind and a choppy sea. I took in one reef half way through the passage.  As I grew more tired I had to force myself to concentrate.  At the northern end off Iona I took in a second reef and reached off fast into a cross sea until I was able to turn south into Loch na Lathaich. .....  [Several days later] It was another lovely day as I anchored to cook breakfast off Lismore, whose low cliffs were covered with a profusion of wild flowers. ... After an hour or so I began to row ... a school of porpoises came snuffling past, the second group I had seen on this trip.  I continued rowing in this way in the hot sunshine until the wind filled in gently just short of the islands at the top of Lismore so I sailed through the rocks off Port Ramsay ... the wind bent round the island with me and I continued to reach down the coast in the Lynn of Lorne ... I arrived off Eriska in good time, was picked up by the last of the flood and whisked through the lovely winding entrance and into the Loch [Creran]. 

Lowly Worm in the Hebrides – Article by Alan Glanville in DCA Bulletin 2008

Yet this great seaman, who had the ability to write about his pastime in almost lyrical terms:

The isolation of the anchorage [off New island, Walton Backwaters] was wonderful; the reason I had wanted to come. A huge black dome of a sky merged into the flat dark water and mud. The lights of Harwich and Felixstowe formed a very thin line of light to the north-east, a few other scattered lights punctured the darkness to the south and above many stars were visible. Not a single boat anywhere.

A Dream Cruise – Alan Glanville in DCA Bulletin 1998

was also the man who turned up at a DCA rally in Newtown Harbour on the Isle of Wight with a total of nine of his grandchildren and their friends aboard.  In a way, he was an exemplar of the middle way of dinghy cruising.

By no means a solitary man, his family was central to his life and he involved them in his sailing.  However, like many of us, he acknowledged that the more adventurous and often arduous aspects of dinghy cruising are not for all.  We must be prepared to sail alone (or with a sole like-minded companion as crew), accepting both the limitations and freedoms this entails.

(Alan Glanville – grandfather, economist and seaman – died earlier this year.  Lowly Worm III is now sailed by his son and grandchildren. Read a tribute to Alan Glanville by Liz Baker.)

First published in Watercraft Magazine's Join the Club series in 2010.

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