Getting ready for 'the Big One'

of Old Gaffers will be descending on the Isle of Wight next week ready for a record-setting
Jubilee festival.

15 to 18 August, Cowes will be awash with revellers, celebrating the finale of
the Old Gaffers Association’s (OGA) 50th anniversary year.

125 boats signed up to take part the OGA Jubilee Festival’s main race on
Saturday 17 August, organisers are hoping to set a new
world record for the biggest ever fleet of racing gaffers.

Here’s the latest report from
OGA secretary Sue Lewis, who says ‘the pleasures have outweighed the hardships’ for the round-Britain challengers:

Several Old Gaffers at the OGA Jubilee Festival at Cowes,
perhaps as many as 20, will have come here as part of a circumnavigation of
Britain to celebrate our 50th Anniversary.

A significant Dutch
contingent have delighted all with their company and their enthusiasm for gaff
sailing – you’ll see this in action with the Inter-Area Dutch Clog Racing on
the Friday of this Festival.

During their Round Britain odyssey participants have endured
everything that you would expect to have thrown at you when sailing the British
coastline: fog in Lyme Bay, storms in Devon, northerlies in the Irish Sea,
southerlies on the east coast, fishing lines round the propeller, fouled
anchors, blocked loos, arduous trips home for work, enforced long passages,
night passages, shortage of crew -
and yet more blocked loos.

Plus a few things you wouldn’t expect (like runaway
Land Rovers!).

However the pleasures have been far greater than the
hardships. The welcome extended to the fleet by the areas of the OGA has been
magnificent. Starting on the east coast in April the first two of the
circumnavigating boats were given a fine send-off.

In the Hamble the RBC fleet
had grown, and together with locals from the Solent Area enjoyed a fine dinner
and dance party. They were greeted by Royalty and returned the compliment at
Southampton before zooming off to Plymouth where, again, an excellent party
with music was laid on.

Weather delays

They were kept
in Plymouth for days by the weather – well done South West area for
keeping them entertained!

A few hardy vessels made it to the Isles of Scilly but then
had to stay there for a few days (weather of course) while others enjoyed a
cracking Welsh knees-up in Dale hosted by the Bristol Channel Area.

Many of
these had to stay in Milford Haven longer than intended (weather again). By
this point what should have been a leisurely cruise from beauty spot to beauty spot seemed to
have become a series of long stays with mad dashes in between to catch up.

Holyhead was the next scheduled stop and 11 boats made it
here, to be met by a welcome truly above and beyond the call. Nowhere else were
torches flashed and lines taken by local members until 3 o’clock in the morning
– and the bar still open at that!

After a couple of days of North Wales Area
partying the fleet was begging for mercy, but Dublin offered no respite.

Non-stop festivities

Dublin Bay Area hosted a series of jolly musical evenings at Poolbeg Marina as
well as running some historically important races which you have no doubt
already read about.

NI OGA then rose to the challenge in some style, laying on
excellent and varied entertainment on no less than three interesting boats in
Belfast, including the First Class passenger tender to the Titanic.

Meanwhile Scottish OGA boats headed north from Campbeltown
to Stornaway to enjoy a weekend of traditional boating and to collect a
commemorative Harris tweed burgee, before heading on to Lerwick in the

With the Scottish OGA off ‘round the top’, some East Coast members
stepped into the breach and organised a party at Loch Melfort on the west

Funds were raised for the RNLI with fun and games in a beautiful
loch-side setting, while local musicians played and all enjoyed a superb
barbeque. Next treat for most: the Caledonian Canal.

Heading south

As I write this report all the boats are on their way south
again, the Scottish boats returning home through the canal, the RBC fleet now
on the east coast at various locations: some have partied at Anstruther and
Eyemouth, and most expect to join in the festivities at Newcastle.

They can
look forward to racing and parading in the Humber after that and then a week-long
tour of some highlights of the East Coast Area, and a weekend festival at
Ramsgate. By the time you see them at Cowes they will have more tales to tell
of their adventures.

I have taken part on Bonify and I believe I speak for all
the participants when I say it has been a fantastic adventure.

We didn’t all
get to every event, but we loved the ones we went to, and, although you could
be forgiven for thinking it, this has not just been a summer of parties.

A few
of the participating boats have made a sort of pilgrimage to a place of
significance for the boat, while other skippers have set themselves individual
challenges and have learned about their own capacities and those of their

Everyone has managed to make of this cruise something
special and memorable, and we all come to Cowes the richer for it – and ready
for just one more celebration: the Big One!

Pictures: 65+ old gaffers in Ipswic; and the Old Gaffers Rubber Flubber football in
Ipswich dock. Credit: Old Gaffers Association