OGA youth fund launched as a legacy initiative

Colourful scenes in harbour and the fine sight of traditional sailing boats racing characterised the Jubilee Festival of the Old Gaffers Association (OGA) .

Almost 200 traditionally rigged sailing boats gathered in Cowes, Isle of Wight from 15 to 18 August to celebrate 50 years of the association. 

Cowes Yacht Haven and Shepards Wharf Marina were filled with OGA sailors from all round the UK and from as far afield as Holland, Belgium and France.


The 141 boats registered to participate in Saturday’s big race in the Solent would have set a new record for gaff-rigged boats racing together, but on the day strong winds deterred some entrants.

A total of 94 boats started the race but many retired as the conditions worsened and the sea became rougher – 60 stalwart Old Gaffers soldiered on and finished the course.


68ft Pioneer was the oldest boat at the festival, originally built in 1864 and recently restored by the Pioneer Sailing Trust in Brightlingsea.

She once worked as a deep sea fishing smack off Terschelling but now Pioneer does a very different job: taking groups of up to 12 young people from all sorts of backgrounds out to sea for an experience of a lifetime.

This weekend she was crewed by a group of young carers – youngsters who have to act as carers for other members of their family or community.

Pioneer picked up more than one prize in the racing: she was first over the finish line, second in her class on handicap, and to top it all she was awarded the Youth Cup for the crew with the lowest average age.


Director of the trust Rupert Marks who skippered the boat brought all 12 of the youngsters up onto the stage to collect their trophies and explained what they had achieved in just a few days.

He said: ‘These youngsters joined the boat just a week ago and not one of them had ever sailed before. They first came aboard Pioneer when she was moored up in a flat calm but were all holding on tight because they felt unsteady.

‘They travelled to Cowes from the east coast in one long passage of 36 hours and almost all of them were seasick, yet they still managed to keep watch in turn through the night.

‘It was really rough out there and she’s a heavy boat to handle but today they have really pulled their hearts out!’


OGA President Mike Shaw said: ‘We have loved having these young people here. We want to ensure that the next generation continues our work of preserving and enjoying the gaff-rig so it is essential that we get youngsters involved.

‘As a legacy to celebrate our 50th Anniversary we have launched a Youth Fund to support Pioneer and others like her.’

Another youth organisation, the UK Youth Marine Training Academy played a vital part in the organisation of the festival: young trainees crewed three rigid inflatable boats and performed the important role of marshalls for the visiting boats.

They too took to the stage and about 1,000 old gaffer crew members raised the roof with an enormous cheers for their hard work.


Dutch visitors to the festival included eight boats which have participated in a three month circumnavigation of Britain.

In total 20 Old Gaffers sailed all the way round but the particular contribution of the Dutch was to challenge the different UK Areas to make a simple kit comprising a clog, a shaped wooden keel and a lump of lead for ballast into a racing machine.

After a race which was part of the Regatta Day on Friday in the marina the Dutch skippers presented a spectacular carved wooden tulip to the winning clog from the Solent Area of the OGA.

At 18ft, Chough, owned by David and Christine Hopkins, was the smallest boat to
finish the festival’s big race. Credit: Keith Allso

Gaffers racing in the Solent. Credit: Keith Allso

Old Gaffers at Cowes. Credit: Keith Allso

Pioneer on the finish line. Credit: OGA

Start of Clog race. Credit: Keith Allso