Since I learned to sail with my father on the Clyde and progressed to my own boats on the Scottish West Coast, most of my sailing has not surprisingly been done in Scottish waters, with my most significant excursions furth of these so far (July 2007) being Fly’s 2003 trip to Belfast Lough and the 2000 Cowes–St Malo Race aboard Alan Wardrop’s HOD 35 Comedy of Errors. But I’ve naturally enjoyed taking the chance to grab a sail (even a short sail) elsewhere, and one of my favourite places to do so has been Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats (where the compact dimensions of Lake Union tend to keep sails short!) when I’ve been visiting my brother Angus.
While I regard my modern cruiser racer as a true classic of its kind, my sense of history (no doubt bolstered by years of sailing my father’s Shetland double-enders Hildasay and Fivla and influenced by his tastes) has also brought me appreciation of the great designers, builders and fine yachts of the past and interest in the yachtsmen who sailed them. So my first visit to Seattle in October 1999 saw me very happily take out the Center’s San Francisco Bay Mercury (a delightful little keelboat) on a pleasant sailing day with Angus and return to glassy calm with a remarkably philosophical Ivonne (who asked to go sailing, not drifting!) a few days later. But my most memorable sail on Lake Union (despite another day somewhat lacking in wind) has to be the July 2006 outing which Angus arranged with David Kennedy on the R-Class yacht Pirate.
Now, while everyone’s heard of the great J-Class yachts associated with 1920s and 30s America’s Cup racing, perhaps fewer are aware that the J-Class is simply one of the largest (as well as the most famous) of many sizes built to the Universal Rule. So the R-Class (rating 20 ft but typically 40 ft LOA) might be smaller than the Js (whose rating of 76 ft typically produced yachts of 120–130 ft LOA), but the boats it produced were just as good and Pirate (designed by Ted Geary for a Californian owner and built at Seattle) was one of the finest of all. But that’s enough background for now because the story of her design, building, heydey as a racing yacht and painstaking restoration can all be found [edit: or could once] on her website (maintained by David, who was one of the prime movers in this restoration). Which just leaves me to introduce some photographs (taken by Angus and me) with the observations that she has been immaculately restored (surely a source of enormous satisfaction for David and the other volunteers involved!) and I found her to be a true thoroughbred, perfectly balanced and (even with too little breeze to require the use of running backstays until late in our sail) an absolute delight to helm. Why this page finds itself in my Articles directory (originally intended for previously published work like my Drascombe pieces) is another matter, but it seems like a good enough place for anything ‘sailing’ that doesn’t belong with the Impala stuff or Race Reports...
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