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Sailing Short Stories

The British Are Coming

I really like the Brits for lots of reasons. They have some of the best comedy on television for one thing and they know their sailboats for another. Back in the 80s when the exchange rate was really good between the dollar and the pound, we did some boat business with the Brits. The 80s were a great time for sailing and sailors and we had a sailing boom in those days. There were 7 sailboats dealers in Raleigh, NC and we were all selling boats. Our lakes and coastal rivers were full of white sails.

The British have been doing commercial trading throughout World forever. Trade takes place when the money is right and you can make or have something the World wants. When the pound was worth $1.35 or less, the money was right to sell English sailboats in the United States. It happed first in the 70s when the Brits sold the Alacrity on the East Coast. It was a twin keel 18-foot cruising sailboat. The Brits were selling these little boats all over the World and they were being built mostly in England, but also in Holland and South Africa. A builder can be any boat builder as long as a business owner has a design, tooling and the money for the raw materials.

My wife liked going to the Annapolis Boat Show. She had lunch one time with Bob Johnson from Island Packet and she was hoping to do it again. We were at the Show looking at new boats and we found this great looking multicolored brown 21-foot sailboat. We looked and walked away and came back and looked again. I really liked that boat. We talked to the salesman and found that the boat was English and he was looking for a dealer in the States. Thatís how we meet Desmond Pollard. He owned Jaguar Yachts and sold them all over the World. He told us the story about the Alacrity and how well it sold in the States back in the 70s. They sold about 300 boats in the northeast. We were hooked and we purchased that pretty brown Jaguar at the Show. We were going to be the Jaguar Dealer for the United States.

Desmond had a long business relationship with Frank Butler from Catalina Yachts. Frank sold the Catalina 22, 25 and 27 designs to Desmond so he could build the boats in Europe. Desmond named the boats he built Jaguars. The copyright laws in England are very rigid. A sewing machine company first used the name Jaguar back in the early days. We all know about the car company called Jaguar and then we have Desmond and his boats. Desmond spent some time in the British Courts talking about names. He found a flaw in their copyright so he now shares the name with the car company. They looked like the Catalinaís from America if you didnít look to close. The Jaguar 27 only came with a 4-foot fixed keel and that made the boat look better to my eye. Of course, Desmond wasnít allowed to sell these boats in America. After selling a bunch of the look alike in Europe, Desmond had the Jaguar Boats redesigned as the Jaguar 21 and 23. The 21 had almost the same specifications as the Catalina 22, but it also had a high tech hull, keel and sail plan. It was also designed with a dagger board keel so it could sit on its bottom in coastal England.

The British invented fiberglass construction and they do it well. The biggest difference between American and British fiberglass boats is the boatís core. The Brits donít believe in coring decks and cockpits like we do. Everyone else in the World like the Japanese and others follow the British tradition and they donít core their decks either. We used wood for a coring material back in the 70s and most of those boats have rotten wet decks. Our newer boats solved the problem with a better core. I really donít mind decks that move a little as you move around. You donít get as many stress cracks with flexible decks and you get use to that feeling under your feet. The British gel-coat is softer than ours and doesnít crack as much as ours, but it will abrade. A jib sheet rubbed across a hard point in the cockpit will put a grove in the gel-coat. The British also build more expensive interiors in their small boats. Quality teak wood and expensive fittings are standard equipment. I think one reason for spending more money on their interiors is that most Europeans only buy small sailboats. That situation may not be the case today from what I read in our sailing magazines. However, magazines have a vested interested in bigger is better. I have a 1950 Yachting magazine that featured the big boat for that day. It was a 23-foot sailboat on San Francisco Bay. A picture in that magazine also showed the bayís shoreline next to Fisherís Wharf. It was lined with 21-23 foot sailboats. Times have changed and so have our boats. The Jaguar 21 has a forward cockpit for anchoring and an outboard well for the motor. The Jaguar has to be an ocean capable boat because ocean waves donít let you put outboard motors on the transom.

Desmond graduated from the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He did a tour of duty in India before leaving the service for the business world. Since we were importing boats from England, Desmond used our boats to import some of the foods that he couldnít buy while he was here. He had to have his English tea and he really liked curry from India. The boats smelled like curry when they arrived and they may still smell that way today. We sold 15 Jaguar 21s and one Jaguar 23 while the exchange rate was good.

The boats were built in Essex and loaded on a freighter in Liverpool. The ship made 12 trips per year between Liverpool and Jacksonville, FL and would take 30 days for a round trip. The ship could handle 2 Jaguars at the same time as deck cargo. We arrived early one time and saw that the ship carried our boats on the fantail. We wondered about salt spray during the winter storms in the Atlantic, but we didnít find any spray or transportation damage. We moved one boat at a time from Jacksonville to Richlands, NC. The people at the port loaded the boats on our flat bed trailer with a forklift. The English are great innovators. They constructed their own boat cradles out of fiberglass using the hull mold. The glass was about 3/4 inch thick and had 2X6s glassed in the bottom as runners. I still have some of those cradles, but my local bugs liked the wood runners and they are gone. I use the cradle glass today when I need a thick glass interior backing plate for a boat.

I consider the Jaguar 21 a contemporary boat and they balanced our traditional Com-Pac line of boats. Some people like the go fast look of a contemporary boat and other people like the older look of a traditional boat. I donít think the wind and water can tell the difference between the two. We as humans know what type of boat we like best and some of us like both types about the same. A better gage of how a sailboat will perform is how well it performs in its home waters. If a boat is built in large numbers, more than just one or two, the design is popular. If a design is popular and the location where it is built is similar to your area, you should have a performance winner. That one fact should answers lots of questions for people considering a new boat. The Jaguar is an English boat that sails in coastal waters and winds in that country. English coastal and North Carolina coastal is about the same and the boat did sail well here. All of the Jaguar specifications are similar to the Catalina 22. The Catalina 22 is a lake boat and the Jaguar 21 is a coastal boat. That would appear to be a problem that would make the boat unpopular in England and coastal North Carolina. The Brits added internal ballast to the Jaguars that made them ocean and coastal capable. I didnít know about the internal ballast when I purchased my first boat, so I used the performance rule above when I purchased that boat.

My first sail in a Jaguar was impressive. It didnít point higher and it wasnít faster than other boats of the same size, but it was very stable. Maybe it did point a little higher and maybe it was a little faster, but not by much. The boat is 8 Ĺ feet wide and the weight of the keel and internal ballast made it feel good. It felt like a boat that you could take almost anywhere. Desmond told me that several boats had made Atlantic crossings. We did have a trailer problem. English trailer laws donít match our laws so we had to make a custom trailer for the Jaguars. The Com-Pac 19 trailer was a little too small and the Com-Pac 23 trailer cost too much. We compromised by using the smaller trailer and keeping our highway speed low. Most customers were putting them in slips anyway and they didnít need a trailer. We used a 23 trailer for the long haul from the port of Jacksonville to our yard. One of our first customers dropped his mast over the side while tuning his mast. English boats have closed turnbuckles and running out of treads is easy to do. Getting a new mast from England wasnít going to be easy. The bottom of the mast had a set of ganged blocks in a casting for the halyards. The broken casting could be welded and put back in service. The mast area above the casting was bent and couldnít be repaired. We cut the bent part off and secured the shorter mast to the casting. Adjusting the turnbuckles took up the slack in the shrouds and everything worked just fine. That was a close call. About a year later, the same boat had its rudder stolen. The Jaguar dagger board rudder is a gorgeous piece of mahogany thatís about 6 feet long. It sticks up in the air when the boat is in a slip. A replacement came by air from England and the owner decided to keep his new rudder inside his cabin when he wasnít using the boat. Smart move on his part.

We did have one boat sink. The owner was keeping his boat at a mooring in South Carolina. He would check his boat from time to time by sighting it from his car. He drove by one day and his boat was gone. He looked up and down the coastal area where he kept his boat and he found nothing. He reported that his boat had been stolen to the authorities. Several days later while he was still looking for his boat, he realized the float that his mooring line was attached to was also gone. It was odd that they would steal the boat and the float. He said to himself, maybe the float and the boat are on the bottom? He sent a driver out and found the boat setting on the bottom with the float still attached. The bottom of the Jaguar is designed to set on a river bottom when the water under the boat goes dry. The owner tied a line to the trailer eye and pulled his Jaguar to the beach with a truck. The only damage was to the rub rail and that needed to be replaced anyway. The reason this boat sank was the owner moored his boat with the dagger board up. He wanted to keep it clean. A big wind caused the bow to hook under the mooring line tripping the boat on her side. The weight of the keel that was high inside boat put the deck under water and she sank. I have always said that ballast is the most important feature on any sailboat.

We raced the Jaguar and did well in most races. We came in second one time in a big boat race off Oriental, NC. I still have the trophy. The wind was modest and we did one thing that we shouldnít have done. On the downwind leg, we raised the dagger board half way up or maybe a little more. Our wetted surface and the associated drag were reduced to a point where we passed everyone like they were standing still. You should have seen the look on their faces. I think they knew something odd was going on, but they didnít know what it was. The wind changed direction by a few degrees and we had to drop our keel fast before we started sailing or swimming on our side. We only did that one time.

The lifting keel made our Jaguars great boats for exploring the shoals coastal areas of North Carolina. We took a boat to Beaufort and launched it in Taylor Creek. Taylor Creek is Beaufort's local waterfront and both ends lead to other waterways. Our plan was to go to Cape Lookout by the back door and then come back to Beaufort by the front door. We had never gone the back door with a 4 foot draft boat before and we didn't know if it could be done. With the Jaguar, if you go aground getting off the bottom would be easy. We headed for the north end of Taylor Creek and slipped through the cut between Taylor Creek and the North River. The cut is small, but we must have had 4 feet of water because we didn't hit the bottom. After turning north in the River, we proceeded about a mile to another cut that connects the North River with Back Sound. These cuts are only about 20 feet wide and they really look small from the cockpit. Both cuts must have had 4 feet of water because we didn't go aground. Back Bay is the waterfront for Harker's Island. That's the island where the old timers speak with an English accent. The Bay is about 5 miles long and the Bay uses single marks at each end that's both red and green. At the north end of the Bay, we entered the back door inlet for Cape Lookout. We followed the markers in the inlet and ended up at the Cape without going aground. From this time forward, we knew we could motor or sail the back door to Cape Lookout with a Com-Pac 27/35 drawing 4 feet of water. After sailing around the Cape and having lunch, we left the Cape by the front door inlet. We saw a large freighter waiting to go into Beaufort. We sailed out and circled the freighter to see what we could see. It was a Russian ship and looked like it was in good shape. We continued sailing with good wind and speed and entered Beaufort Inlet and Taylor Creek in time to find a slip at the City Dock. We had a great Saturday and one great round robin of Cape Lookout. It may not get any better than this.

I had to move a Jaguar from the New Bern to Jacksonville, NC and we didnít have a trailer for the boat. The best way to get there when you donít have a trailer is down the Neuse River, Adams Creek and then the ICW to Beaufort, NC. This boat had an outboard motor mounted on the transom that worked well on rivers, lakes and creeks, but not that well in the ocean. After arriving at Beaufort, the next leg of the trip would be out the inlet and down Onslow Bay to the New River Inlet. Onslow Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are known for big waves and long swells and an outboard on the transom wonít work. This boat had been using the outboard well as a storage area for an ice chest. I moved the outboard motor from the transom bracket to the motor well before leaving Beaufort. You count water towers going south to the New River inlet. The count goes up as you pass Swansboro with more towns along the way. There is a sea marker in that area that I remember being #4. I donít know if there are more numbered markers in the ocean or where they might be located. That marker is off the coast at some distance and it is on the chart. As long as the weather is good, a trip down the coast is boring. As you get close to the inlet, I needed to make a right angle turn at the inlet. This maneuver avoids a Marine live firing range off Onslow Beach. The motor ran well and I didnít have any wind to speak of all day long. The boat did surf a little going through the inlet at New River. Waves coming across the Atlantic build up as they approach the shallow waters of Onslow Bay. Going in or out of small inlets with lots of wind can be difficult. Back in the Civil War, a Yankee Frigate laid off New River inlet for a long time waiting to go up the New River and take Jacksonville from the Confederates. The Frigate waited off shore for the right wind to sail through the inlet. They tried, failed and the bones of that ship are still visible on the north side of the inlet at low tide. I think I saw them one time back when, but didnít know what they were at the time.

Back in the good old days when the dollar and pound were in our favor, the British came to the Annapolis Boat Show in force. All the British manufactures brought boats and we had a special area at the show that was all British. The Sailboat Company was going to take a Jaguar to the show and we were going to be honorary Brits for the show. Of course we met and talked to all the British builders and I was impressed again. You may not remember a popular yacht from way back when called Dockrell. They were built for years as large inexpensive sailboats. Bolton Dockrell was at the show representing his brand and we had a ball. Bolton was 94 years old then and he was doing what he wanted to do and he was enjoying every minute. He had a great sense of humor and lots of very interesting stories. The show lasted a week and we enjoyed his company every day. The English work the World, not just England. The Brits seem to enjoy life maybe a little more than we do. While I was in the service, the Brits always wanted to have a party or feed me a meal. At the end of the show, the Brits hosted a party for all the show personnel. Being an honorary Brit, I had been working on my accent for a week. Blending with the crowd should be easy. Buck Thomas from Com-Pac knew about the Brits and their parties and he let me invite him to the party. I think his accent is southern and he wasnít going to fool anyone. The Brits brought their own beer to the party and it was strong. I could drink 2 and no more before I had to designate a non-drinking driver. The food was great and I wish I had consumed my 2 beers more slowly. Breaking down and getting out of the show in the little streets of Annapolis was interesting. My Jaguar was on a Com-Pac 19 trailer and we had to leave the show area by pushing and pulling our boat by hand. All the brochures, advertising, chairs and steps went into the boatís cockpit. Using a hand dolly, we navigated the empty show spaces until we reached the street. When we connected the trailer to the car, the boat was tail heavy and I was worried that it might unhitch in the middle of downtown Annapolis. With me standing on the trailer tongue, we proceeded slowly pass the Naval Academy and through the narrow streets of Annapolis. We were doing pretty well until a policeman decided that we were doing something unsafe. The policeman stopped traffic while we unloaded the cockpit to the car trunk and I found a seat inside the car. I think he was right about being unsafe, but we were driving slowly.

We purchased one Jaguar 23 and sold it soon after it arrived in NC. The new owner traded in his Jaguar 21 and maybe thatís the one I ferried to the New River. Anyway, the 23 had standing headroom, a private head, looked great, sailed well, was ocean capable and would fit on a trailer. If you think about it, what more could a couple of people ask for in a recreational sailboat. We installed a VHF radio in the 23 and it only worked when the sun was out. We reworked the solar panel wiring and the radio worked as advertised. Recently, the original owner was interested in buying this boat again. I think finding his old 23 is impossible and getting a new one from England would cost too much money today.

We continued to sell Jaguars until the exchange rate went the wrong way and stayed that way for some time. Desmond had a house in FL and he was buying stuff in this country and selling it in Europe or wherever. He would come by for a visit now and then and he was doing well when we saw him last. The British have been trading the World forever and they do it well. The Jaguars are sailing today in different parts of the World and the boats we sold are sailing somewhere in this country. They have a club site on the Internet and it looks like they are doing well. We also tried selling the Cornish Shrimper, but that boat had too many hands in the pot to make it a worthwhile proposition. We did like the boat, but we only sold 2. The last Jaguar 21 we sold is in the picture below. They were all blue except the first boat.