We took a trip to Brightlingsea to sail a Secret 20 while ours was in transit...

We probably should have undertaken a sea trial on a Secret 20 before we ordered the kit from 12,000 miles away – but, as it happened, the earliest we could arrange to go sailing in one was in September. All we could do, as our kit wended its way across the world’s oceans, was to hope that the boat would be worth the long build process…

And so, we headed to Brightlingsea on a beautiful Indian-summer’s day to take Whisper for a sail. Her owner, Max Campbell, was (for a time before the global financial crash) the UK importer of the Scruffie range of kits, and built Whisper as the first Secret 20 to launch in the UK. As such, he’s sailed her for eight years and knows her well.

Her profile was unmistakable as Max motored up to the town pontoon: plumb stem, nice, sweeping sheer and long counter – not to mention the long bowsprit. She felt bigger than her 6.7m (20ft) as we stepped aboard and headed out into the River Colne for our first sail. We were beating down the river towards the sea against a strong incoming flood tide in around 5-6 knots, so Max hoisted full sail and we switched off the outboard in its well.


Although I grew up sailing lugsail dinghies, sailing a gaffer was a new experience for me; but David and Max were old hands, and we soon had Whisper trundling along nicely. She made good ground to windward, despite the strong adverse tide, and left behind a few similarly-sized cruising boats.

After beating up to the end of the channel we headed for the Mersea Stone beach on Mersea Island, and dropped David off so he could get a few pictures from the shore (and from his new drone). After he’d tiptoed precariously along the skinny bowsprit and half-fallen, half-jumped from the end, we re-hoisted the sails. Now the wind began to build, and soon we were having a cracking sail. The helm had been very light, even neutral, when beating in the lighter winds – but in what was now up to 10 knots, the boat and the tiller came alive and she began to cream along, gaining height and pace upwind, the water hissing along her topsides. Off the wind she really flew, and while we didn’t have the gennaker on board, she made excellent progress under mainsail, staysail and flying jib.

Sadly we had no chance to try out the optional trapeze either (Max says he’s only needed it when reaching with the gennaker in lots of wind), but we look forward to trying it out when the time comes. All too soon, it was time to head back to Brightlingsea, but our short sail gave us a taste of the boat. I think it’s fair to say that we’re itching to get on with the build of our own Secret to experience more of the design’s fun and bewitching sailing characteristics.


Down below, there’s a double berth for a friendly couple, but the more-than-6ft-long cockpit gives a better night’s sleep for those who prefer a bit more space – especially under the custom cockpit tent that Max had made for the boat. Cockpit cushions in waterproof covers made sailing the boat very comfortable. The engine well proved effective, although manoeuvring proved tricky in reverse: that’s a long keel and offset prop for you!

All in all, it was a successful trip, and we can’t wait to carry on with our build in the coming weeks, when the boat should really start to take shape – and to start looking like a boat at last!

1. Sharing our Secret!

After approximately 11,232NM at sea, our new project boat was craned off a container ship and transferred to a freight-forwarding…