How a Jaybird became a Lady

How a Jaybird became a Lady



This is the story of how and why we purchased a Sadler 34 as our first cruising boat, our research, our requirements and analysis of the different alternatives.  Once decided upon a Sadler 34, the story tells on how we came to find one inconveniently located in Burnham-on-Crouch and how we planned the delivery trip to our home waters of Dun Laoghaire.


Obtaining the Mandate

As everyone knows, the purchase of a yacht is rarely a single decision.  Most potential purchasers have a committee to deal with comprised chiefly of your partner/spouse/significant other.  In my case, my wife was suggesting either a villa in  Spain or Portugal beside a golf course or a chalet somewhere in the Alps so that we could take advantage of our other two pastimes – golfing and skiing.  Our other love was of course sailing so my first task was to move the sailing pastime to the top of the wishlist.

To this accomplishment I owe a great debt to Sunsail.  After a one week flotilla in the Ionian and two weeks inTurkeyaboard our little Dufour 30, we were both sold on the idea of owning our very own yacht.  We looked on it as our own mobile home on water where we could at least pursue own other love of golfing at various strategic ports.  Two pastimes in one – this was the business.  Now all we had to do was to buy a few magazines, read a few books, talk to some yacht brokers, find a yacht and buy it.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?


Research and Development

We read books such as Fastnet Force 10, the Sydney toHobartstory, books from Pete Goss and Tony Bullimore.  We bought the magazines and looked at the rearpages and finally we talked to a few yacht brokers.  If we weren’t confused before, we were now.  This wasn’t a case of putting in your requirements, pulling the lever and hey presto – “the ideal boat for you is ….”.  However, we were beginning to see a trend or at least some observations.  Light displacement boats seemed cheaper but not as safe in heavy weather as heavy displacement boats.  There seemed to be a trade-off between comfort down below and stability and safety above.  The standard which boats seemed to be compared to was a Contessa 32 designed by a guy called Martin Sadler.  This boat was a long keel, heavy displacement boat  and was reputed to have down a 360 degree roll in the 1979 Fastnet and came out with all its standing rigging intact.


Like all of these projects, luck plays a large part.  We found a Contessa 32 for sale just 1 mile from where we lived.  It was on the hard beside the road in Dublin Docklands beside the International Finance Centre where we both worked.  Driving home from work each day we admired its sleek lines and its long keel.  We arranged a visit one Saturday and went to the boat yard in anticipation.  It was from 1977 and was keenly priced as it needed “some work”.  After five minutes on board we were extremely saddened as we knew quite quickly that all the research on Contessas was in vain.  It was clear this was not the boat for us.  We were willing to compromise comfort for sailing performance but not to this extent.  The quarter berth or lack thereof rather) was really the deciding factor.  So back to the drawing board!


Our list of potential had now expanded to Nicholson 35, Sadler 32 or 34, Moody, Westerly, Vancouver or Victoria.  We researched on the internet and the boating magazines.  What we found was an abundance of information on Sadler.  This was particularly true from the Mike Lucas website and the Sadler owners website.  Having read most of the discussion forum on Sadler, we had as much information and knowledge on Sadlers as if we already owned or sailed one.  We found a number of Nicholson 35’s for sail but when we visited them we found ourselves comparing them to the Sadler 34.  And this was before we even set foot on a Sadler.  And then the breakthrough, a 1988 Sadler 34 for sale in Dublin, things were looking up.  We visited her, we had her lifted out, we sailed and now we knew what type of boat we going to get.  The one we were looking at was in good condition but not great condition and was pricing for excellent condition.  After 4 weeks of fruitless negotiations, we knew we had to start our search in John Bull!


Now we are denominated in Euro and looking in Sterling added a new dimension of exchange rate risk to our search.  We first tried Holland and Francebut to no avail.  At last, Yachting Monthly had the advertisement we were looking for all this time – 1989 Sadler 34, Stephen Jones Deep fin keel , immaculate condition.  We had read all the reports on the SJ keels and were willing to pay a premium.  A phone call and an e-mail later we had photos of Jaybird and her immaculate condition.  Now, could we negotiate a deal.  The boat was located in Burnham-on Crouch, which was probably the worst place for us both to sail from and to get there by land.  We had plenty of photos of the boat and because of the available information, we knew this was the boat for us.  We struck a deal over the phone without having set foot on the boat, subject to our inspection.  One sunny Sunday in early July, we took a Ryanair flight to Stansted and viewed Jaybird after which we signed the contract copied from the RYA book “Buying Your First Cruiser”.  Deposit paid and we were  now running the Sterling–Euro exchange rate risk.


The arrangement with a local boat surveyor worked well and his comments (or lack thereof) were further confirmation of our decision.  The remaining task was to organise delivery.  We toyed with the idea of land transport to Holyhead but the old saying that boats get damaged on the land not on the water swayed us to arrange our own trip.  Burnham-on Crouch to Dun Laoghaireis approximately 600 nautical miles so at an average speed of 6 knots this slightly more than 4 days non stop so looks like we would have to take a few days off work!.  It was decided that someone needed to look after the cat at home so as I lost (or won depending which way you look at it!) the toss, I would skipper the boat home.  We searched around for a crew to assist and decided that in order to have a comfortable time of it we needed six.  With three watch leaders and three crew this meant 4 hours on and eight hours off.  Charts, almanacs, pilot books and Ryanair tickets were all purchased and we were set for Saturday 4th August 2001.


Glorious sunshine and a gentle force 3 started the day.  I had travelled out a couple of days earlier to stock up the boat with everything from food to liferaft flares and other safety equipment.  At last the day I had dreamed of for the last two months had arrived but first we needed some diesel.  The fuel pontoon was on the other side of the marine.  No problem, all I needed to do was to reverse from the berth, turn to starboard, down to the end of the pontoon and reverse up to the fuel berth.  Slip the lines and off we go.  Now I can’t recall if the problems with reversing a Sadler 34 is mentioned in any of the research we had done but I certainly had forgotten all about it.  This boat wouldn’t turn to starboard in Reverse and the propkick was very strong to port.  I could see the rest of my crew on the pontoon looking worried as their skipper seemed to have no clue how to control this vessel.  Eventually with absolutely zero style, I got her to react and fuelled up.  Then we were off.


Day 1 to Ramsgate

Our overall plan was simple – get home as quick as possible.  Our initial plan looked something like this


Day Departure Arrival Distance
Saturday Burnham-on-Crouch 1000 Ramsgate 1730 43nms
Sunday Ramsgate 0400 Salcombe 2330 (Monday) 227nm
Tuesday Salcombe 1000 Falmouth 2030 55nm
Wednesday Falmouth  0800 Dun Laoghaire0930   (Friday) 244



The day 1 trip to Ramsgate was just over 40 nm so this should prove a gentle run for everyone to get familiar with the boat and each other.  We departed at 1035 with a nice westerly breeze behind us of force 3.  Everything was very enjoyable, t-shirts and shorts and making 7 knots through the water.  As we picked our way through the Fisherman’s Gat and started to approach the North Foreland, the wind started to pick up and back to the south west just where we wanted to go.  (We were to get used to this.)  By late afternoon we had 25 knots of wind and a lumpy sea.  One crewmember was inspecting the leeward side of the dodgers and another was not looking as fresh faced as he had started out.  We berthed up in Ramsgate marina at 2000 and although a little late, we were pleased with our progress and planning.  We found a friendly restaurant in Ramsgate which served good steaks and not too bad Guinness.  With pints of stout all round, things were really looking up.


Day 2 to Salcombe

The Guinness took its toll and we left Ramsgate an hour later than planned at 0500.  It was a beautiful morning with a nice gentle Force 3 from the west and then South West.  The white cliffs ofDoverwere spectacular in the rising sun and we were making good speed.  We were all expecting a lot more traffic than we encountered and outsideDoverwe had to duck one ferry and that was it for traffic.  We down inside theGoodwin Sandswith no incident.  At this stage we had picked up the hour spent in bed in the morning.  Things were looking good, everyone was happy and fit.


At midday we were south west of Dungness and we had caught the tide turn we had planned upon.  However we were to have Dungness in sight for a while.  As the wind came up to 20 knots from the south west we had a reef in the main and a few rolls on the genoa.  The wind stayed constant at 20 knots and the sea started to build.  The sea stayed lumpy and as our hardened crewmember passed his 10 hours at sea mark, he succumbed to the debilitation of sea sickness.  With one crewmember down, we rejiged the rota system and continued on.  In the afternoon, we had our first running repair.  Someone stood, leaned or whatever on the engine shutoff lever in the cockpit and it broke off.  We stripped down the cable and taped it to the inside of the port locker.  It worked but I feel its original position is a design fault.  (I replaced it in the same position but even since a wandering foot has bent it again although it hasn’t broken off – yet).  During the night, the wind died slightly and we motored sailed with 14 knots of wind.


Early on Tuesday morning, we found ourselves south of theIsle of Wight.  We were losing time and missing the tides we had wanted to catch.  We went about 30 mile south of IOW to avoid the worst of the stream.  The wind built up to 25 to 30 knots and still from the South West. Cowesweek was on this week and we could here all the action on the VHF.  Unfortunately all the action we were hearing was Mayday, Mayday , Mayday.  We were now getting regular and sustained gusts of 33 knots.  The sea was building all the time and getting more steep and lumpy.  I looked around the crew.  Our one sick crew member was still sick and had not eaten now for over 24 hours.  A second crew member was now beginning to feel ill and was becoming less and less responsive.  He was also one of the watch leaders.  The weather forecast confirming that this weather was not going to let up  and a team conference we decided we needed to head in.  We were just past the IOW about 20 miles out so a quick look at the charts and pilot books confirmed thatPoolewas the obvious choice.  All through this I was listening to the stresses on the rig and the boat as she was pounded by the steep wave and fell off some steep crests with an almighty shudder.  This boat was build strong and was built well.  It could stand up to this challenge and more.  I smiled to myself at our good purchase.  The boat coped better than the crew in the conditions but the strength and resilience of the boat gave the crew confidence and comfort.  One thing which they didn’t have to worry above was whether the boat would cope.  We arrived atPoolemarina at 2000 on the Monday.  We had logged 233 miles since leaving Ramsgate 40 hours earlier.  The seasickness remedy of sitting on the dock cured all ails.  Our sick prone crew packed his bags and took a train toLondonto catch a flight back toDublin.  He told me later that it took him 2 months to fully recover from his ordeal but the experience hasn’t put him off and he remains a member of the team which races and delivers the boat.


The Tuesday forecast had loads of 7’s and 8’s in it so the decision was easy to stay put for another day.  We were now seriously behind our schedule and looking in need of a break to make it back toDun Laoghairein time for everyone to be in work on Monday morning.  The amended plan was to sail toWeymouthwith the tide.  Sit out the tide inWeymouthand then leave to round Portland Bill on ontoFalmouth.  With a good wind fromFalmouthwe could leave forDun Laoghaireand make it on time.  It was tight, so we needed a break and we knew we deserved one soon.


Day 4 toWeymouth

We left to catch the tide from Poole at 1330 forWeymouthafter refuelling both water and diesel.  The wind was still blowing from exactly where we wanted to go – South West but had at least come down to just 26 knots!  The sea state was still lumpy but with the tide with us we madeWeymouthquayside by 1900 rafted up with five boats inside us beside aBavaria34.  As we came alongside, the people on theBavariaadvised us that we may not want to raft beside them as they were leaving to catch the tide at 0500 the next morning.  We thanked them for their consideration but as we were catching the tide in the opposite direction and would be leaving at 0100.


Weymouthis a pretty town with interesting and bustling nightlife along the quays.  We ate in a small pub restaurant and the Guinness was better thanPoolebut still not as good as Ramsgate.  Things were getting better.


Day 5 toFalmouth

We left as planned at 0100 in order to catch the right tide around the infamous tide around Portland Bill.  The wind veered slightly to come more westerly which with our luck should have been expected as we now wanted to go more westerly.  It was blowing a steady 20 knots of wind so we made good boat speed.  We now decided to change the number 2 for the number 2 blade genoa.  Now a lot has been written about Portland Bill and the tide effects but it really has to be experienced.  We had the tide with us but the wind was against us so we stayed what we thought was a good distance off the head.  Still the seas were quite large and we pitched rolled out.  Again our confidence in the boat gave us comfort.  Once we were out far enough and the sea had died down but we still had a element of tide with us, we tacked and went westerly.


During the day, the wind came up to 25 knots and kept veering northerly.  As we were south of the Eddystone lighthouse the wind was now north-westerly which was right whereFalmouth, our next port of call, lay.  It looked like we were never going to see how this boat performed other than to windward.  It was a beautiful clear night we had great light from a gorgeous moon with all the stars in their splendour.  This was  one of the most memorable nights sail I have ever had.  We slogged on closer and closer toFalmouth.  It was very early in the morning by the time we got toFalmouthand we couldn’t raise any of the marina on the VHF.  The marina furthest up the river had the best directions in the pilot book so we headed for that  It was nearly low tide and we barely sneaked in with our draft.  We had one nervous moment which resolved itself when the uncharted red port light turned out to be a traffic light on the land.  At 0300 we tied up in the visitors berth and turned in for the night.


Day 6Falmouth

The following Friday morning we woke up to a weather forecast which was still blowing 6’s and 7’s.  We couldn’t leave and the realisation set in that we wouldn’t make it toDun Laoghairein the time planned.  People had to be home on Monday morning for work, family etc.  Friday was spent going aroundFalmouthsearching for crew but there was an event taking place and every last hand was on the water.  The rest of Friday was spent on the phone arranging flights toDublin.  The nearest (and cheapest) flights were fromBristoland left early in the morning.  I hired a car a set off at 0500 on Saturday morning with the crew to drop them to their plane.  On the way back toFalmouthI caught in what I think is the biggest traffic jam I had ever seen.  It was like all ofEnglandwas heading south and they all had caravans!  I was staying with the boat and I would think of something!


Day 7Falmouth

On Saturday morning I went through my phone list of every person I had ever sailed with and sure enough I had a new crew of three lads ready to fly out to Bristoland be collected.  We studied the weather charts and could see that a high was coming it with slack winds.  If we left Monday night  or Tuesday morning, we would be fine.  I arranged the flights for the new crew on Monday night and we would leave soon after.  This was Saturday the 12th August and our 2nd wedding anniversary.  I was on my own inFalmouth marina waiting for new crew and my wife was at home inDublin organising our homecoming.  This trip was not only costing a fortune in money terms – I would have a lot of making up to do.


Day 10FalmouthtoDun Laoghaire

I picked up the new crew on the Monday night, we had a last meal ashore and slipped our lines at 0200 to catch the right tide aroundLand’s End.  We had a south westerly blowing a gentle 10 knots and motor sailed.  By 0900 we were roundingLand’s End.  We could see a fleet of racers from the Fastnet race.  They were flying spinnakers and making good way.  At 1100 we had Lands End on our stern and were heading for Tuskar Rock.  We took down the British courtesy flag and smiled, we were finally heading for home.  We motorsailed the whole way through flat calm seas and a gentle southerly breeze of 6 knots.  At 0300 on the Wednesday, we were heading up theIrish seawhen we hit some fog.  It lasted about an hour or two and with the engine on we had to put one person at the bow to act as lookout.  Perched up here at 0330 we met a small school of porpoises or dolphins who surfed our bow wave with us for about 45 minutes.


As we had roundedLand’s Endone of the new crew stood bolt upright and puked straight over the side.  I put my head in my hands and thought “not another one, where can I let him off, if only I cam make it to Kilmore Quay”  However, he simply wiped his mouth and muttered “ ah that’s better” and that was the last we heard of it.  I don’t know if it was my cooking or not but I just left well enough alone.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.  The wind picked up for a while and we could turn off the engine but otherwise we chugged along.  We knew we were nearly home when our mobile phones were picking up the Irish mobile phone companies and are calls were not international anymore.  At 1815 after 257 nm and 40 hours we berthed in our new berth in the newDun Laoghairemarina.  Celebrations and excitement followed.  The boat renamed ceremony took place soon after and Jaybird after 11 days and 746 nm became Lady Rowena.