I first fell in love with the Longboat in the early '70's at the Boat Show. Alas
I could not afford the £2,000 they then cost and so had to content myself with
a brochure, which adorned the cabin bulkhead of the various ships I served in
for the next fifteen years or more. I first sailed a Longboat in 1988 in, of all
places, the Sultanate of Oman. They had a collection of them (and three
Dabbers) in the Navy marina and out on the trots.
"How do I get to sail one of those?" I asked the Chief.
"Oh, it's all ready to go. I'll take you out if you like."
It was a disastrous sail. In fact it wasn't a 'sail' at all, despite a nice little
breeze in the great harbour of Wudam Naval Base, we just went sideways.
"What on earth is wrong. I thought Drascombes were much better than this."
"I can't imagine." said the Chief. "she was fine when I last had her out."
"When was that?"
"About two months ago. No-one has much interest any more."
I soon found out what the problem was. Sitting for two months in the warm and murky waters of the harbour and not having been anti-fouled for a good six months ........
Next time was, well, good. No it wasn't. It was even better than that. She flew, she sparkled, she swan'd. She went anywhere I wanted her to go and back again; even in the ship-docking basin and tacking back up the narrow entrance lock. This was for me. I thought - hoped - resolved. Seeing no-one was using her and there were others available anyway, the Chief agreed to let me have the Longboat for my personal 'yacht'. I swapped all the best bits from the other boats and put a deck in. Ah! A deck?! Well, yes; you see I am a bit big to sleep in the space between the centreplate case and the side deck. So, using a single sheet of half inch ply with various bits cut out in the appropriate places, I had myself a sleeping deck and a dry stowage for my gear underneath. Easy really, and I could lift it out whenever I needed to. I suppose I must have spent every weekend and a myriad afternoons in that boat, which became a good, good friend. Together we explored the coast line from Sohar, down past Muscat to the inlets of Bandar Kairan. It was the best sailing you could wish for; clean seas, quiet islands, classic beaches and lagoons and splendid weather (except in summer when it really was too hot).
The Longboat is a splendid vessel for single handing. To self steer you need but lash the tiller and set the sails. Walk forward and you point further into the wind. Walk aft and you come off it (the wind). Step to starboard and you turn that way and vice versa. However, there is no need to preach to the already converted in these pages. You have all worked out these things for yourselves, so back to the story.
People became interested. Bernie was obviously having fun so there must be something in it. Soon there were other Longboats on the water. Then there were five. Then not enough to go round. The Training Centre instigated a course of 'survival' adventure training for their Officer Cadets. They were supposed to be in 'lifeboats' with only the limited gear they could salvage. After a day's sail they arrived at uninhabited land (a local island) where they fended for themselves for two days, making camp, completing various leadership tasks and transporting their Longboats over a hill before sailing back to Base.
There was huge value in this type of event and the young men made an
excellent job of it. Unfortunately it spelled the end of my private yacht idea,
as the boats were in constant demand.
"Chief, how come no-one uses the Dabbers?"
"Don't seem to be a call for them."
So I got one on the same terms, transferred my 'deck' and called her DABCHICK. The three most used Longboats (two were reserved for the Training Centre) were named TICHBOURNE, CHIDEOK and CARHAISE. These four, along with a growing plethora of other boats (as people followed the lead and scoured Oman for available craft) formed the nucleus of a fleet of small boats out most weekends from Wednesday night to Friday night (you work it out) exploring and camping on and by the local groups of islands; and a fun time was had by all. A fair bit of motor-sailing went on too, due to the flukey winds experienced, which engendered the song:
And it's westward~ho for CHIDEOK,
For TICHBOURNE and CARHAISE,
And come-about a hundred times a day.
Sailing to Suwaddi,
A-tacking through the haze
With a head-wind dead against you all the way!
So, all in all, the Drascs. of Oman experienced a huge upsurge of interest from then on.
Then came War!
When the Gulf War began, the only thing we knew for certain was that, if things started to get sticky, the airport would be closed immediately and we ex-pats. would be stuck there for good. Personally, I had no wish to make acquaintance with any Iraqis. So Steve and I carried on with our jobs, with $1,000 in one hip pocket, passport in the other and a stash of gear ready to pack into TICHBOURNE and CHIDEOK and a course worked out for Goa. That was the genuine appreciation that we had of these superb little boats, that we should contemplate a 1,200 mile voyage in them should we have to. And there were no what-ifs and ah- buts. It was a unanimous and confident decision. As it happened, there was never any requirement to effect this plan but the decision remains unalterable. We had faith.
When the world went back to normal, these boats took place in the first three Dubai-Muscat International Races, but only in the last leg as they were considered by the committee to be too risky for the Straits of Hormuz - but what do they know - Ha! In fact the Straits were pretty horrific on all occasions but nothing that a Longboat, properly sailed, could not handle. However the rules said 22ft minimum so they were not allowed to go. But in the second part of the race they consistently showed up good times, winning their class twice. The final appearance, before the organisers changed the format and allowed small boats only in the final Regatta, CARHAISE won by a convincing margin. This was achieved by fitting a much larger mizzen, a bowsprit, cutter rigging her and setting a flying mizzen staysail - and she flew. But that's racing and purely incidental.
What these rather elderly, sun-blasted boats did was to bring back the fun, the sheer pleasure of going there and getting back, of taking a lazy afternoon's meander, of going fishing in those bountiful of waters, of exploring and of giving some semblance of saneness to that most artificial of all worlds - that of the ex-pat. in the Middle East.
But, then again, Draskies are like that.