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Two very different outings

Two days bring two different sailing experiences for Sam Fortescue.

My own boat is in the water, but the boom still lies on the saloon sole, the sails in their bags, and she hasn’t left the mooring since the spring. There are good reasons for this state of unreadiness, but the result has forced me to look elsewhere for my sailing this year.

Two very different outings within the space of a week serve to illustrate what I enjoy about sailing. They were both boat tests for the magazine I edit, Sailing Today. But there the similarities end. The first was a test of a sumptuous Wauquiez Centurion 57 out of Port Grimaud, just opposite St Tropez.

I had no idea what to expect, but it turns out that this 1960s village on the sea was built on marshes as a kind of French Venice – all sloping terracotta roofs and twee quays. The canals are wider than the streets, and every house here has its own berth attached. To my surprise, I found it rather attractive.

The boat was tucked improbably into the head of one of the canals and, at 57ft LOA, required every artifice of bow-thruster, warp and engine to extricate safely. A swarthy Frenchman by the name of Loic did the honours. Soon we were coasting along under fat-head main and jib in the Golfe de St Tropez, chasing down a few more knots of sea breeze to supplement our meagre Force 2-3.

It wasn’t Champagne sailing, it was Pastis and rose sailing; olive-nibbling and idle swimming-type sailing. The boat never heeled more than 5 degrees (when Loic lurched to the leeward rail unexpectedly), though she made a stately 6 knots at times. The vast cockpit, with its table-cum-sunbed, provided a sociable base for the day’s sailing and the whole thing felt very much like going to the beach, without the sand or the boredom.

That was the Thursday. The following Tuesday, I found myself standing under lowering skies in an East Coast marina, wondering whether the wind would top out at 20 knots, or keep rising. There was the promise of rain in the air, which was streaming resolutely down from Sweden, and smelt of icebergs.

I was there to test two of Oyster’s latest offerings – the 475 (the smallest in their range) and the 545. Clambering down the marina gangway, which the low tide had pitched at about 45-degrees, I shivered as the wind whipped through my feeble layers of clothing and the mud bubbled fragrantly.

With the sails up and set, we turned our bows down the River Orwell towards Harwich. Under the bridge at Ipswich, then weaving between the trots of moored boats, we found ourselves using the engine in reverse as a brake to keep the two boats in line.

The 545 was champing at the bit, desperate to be off. Downwind she made 7kt, 8kt – wanted to do more. On the lower reach of the river towards Felixstowe, I let her off the leash and she grazed 10kt, feeling 22kt of wind across the deck. Oyster MD David Tydeman gave me a reproachful look as a bucket of water over the leeward gunwale nearly soaked him to the knee.

This is sailing; the deck canted over, the rigging humming and the wheel alive in your hands. Chilled to the bone by the end of the afternoon, I was nonetheless warmed by the experience of sailing two cracking boats in a beautiful East Coast river on a sporty day.

And to me, these two extremes illustrate much of what I love about sailing: the warm blue water of the Med and the lively grey of the British coast; sun burn and plenty of layers; lazy exploration and exhilarating tidal conditions. It’s the privilege of a sailing editor to experience both in such close proximity.

Sam Fortescue, Editor Sailing Today

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