A Boat on the Side

Global Rescue

Here’s an item from Derek Brown in last week’s The Guardian Weekly – the only paper worth reading, in my opinion.

The crew of a 79-metre yacht, the Titanic, that was foundering in the Caribbean have been saved thanks to a mobile phone call to a DIY store in Aberystwyth 4,800 km away.

The doomed yacht was listing badly, had lost power, and was too far from land to use its VHF radio. Help was only summoned after one of the three crew, Mark Corbett dialed from memory the number of his friend Alex Evans, who happens to be a lifeboat volunteer. Even when he answered – to the wild excitement of the Titanic crew – he assumed his pal was pulling his leg.

When he twigged that the emergency was very real, Evans coolly co-ordinated the rescue from the store where he had been shopping with his mother. He noted the vessel’s grid references on a till receipt, and phoned them through to the coastguard station at Milford Haven. They passed the details to Falmouth, where international emergencies are dealt with. Within an hour, the Titanic was located by a French spotter plane. The US coastguard showed up and towed the yacht to safety.


Fanfare for the Commer Van

In early 1963 I bought an old Commer van. It was all I could afford and while it was ragged, it was basically sound. Later that year I saw an ad in a magazine for “Spitfire jet Igniters” a revolutionary new kind of American spark plug guaranteed to dramatically increase performance, give much better mileage, smoother running, easier starting and longer engine life. Too good to be true? Well yes, but naive young art students are easily swayed. I bought a set at around twice the price of Champions. To my lasting surprise they delivered – they transformed my old van – their powerful bursts of plasma really did the job – I was getting at least 10% better economy and I was almost burning rubber as I accelerated out of my parents’ driveway. Shuttling 16 comatose students home from a party? No problem – power to spare. After over 25,000 miles the engine was still smooth and reliable but the gearbox was falling apart and the papier-mâché repairs to the rusty bits weren’t fooling anyone – she had to go. My friend Andrew said “you’d better get those plugs out of there.” I replied “no I’ll just get a new set for my next bomb.” Having bought a “new” van I wrote to the makers for a new set of Igniters. No reply. I phoned them – disconnected. I rang the magazine that had run the ads – “no, sorry, no trace of them.” I gave up.

Fast forward forty years and Greenfire Jet Igniters are featured on the ABC New Inventors programme and a small article on another jet igniter “inventor” appeared in Nexus magazine. Both now missing in action. Last I heard Bosch had bought out at least one of them. Issues of corporate greed and criminal stupidity aside, would it not now be a cleaner, safer, saner world had every petrol engine on the planet since 1963 used 10% less fuel, ran smoother, quieter and lasted longer? The implications are staggering.

Last night I watched a DVD of “Who Killed the Electric Car” and I almost wept tears of impotent rage. How dare these selfish corporate murderers and callous, corrupted politicians ruin my home, my planet? Who can stand up to them?

Written 2007 – what’s new?

What can we do?

1. Watch “Capitalism A Love Story” and weep.
2. Dry your eyes and buy one of our Sienna electric boats.


The Ultimate Secret

- The Designer’s 20th Anniversary Legacy

Almost all of my 63 years I have worked with wood. I can vividly recall carving my first boat hull from balsa – I was about 9 or 10.

In the ensuing half century I have designed and built houses, cabinets, furniture and boats. I have learnt much and honed my skills to the point where I need to build the ultimate Secret – the designer’s cut, if you will – a Secret like no other. The boat will represent one of the pinnacles of my life’s work – I’d like her to be a little gem.

The hull will be as near to flawless as I can make her. The sails will be especially cut and sewed to optimise every breath of wind. The blocks polished hardwood and bronze, the decks first grade teak.

Mast and spars will be the closest grained Oregon and Spruce – light and strong, varnished to the colour of rich honey.

I’ll use the best hand-cut fiddleback bookended veneers for the fit-out and there’ll be polished Italian ports and nav lights too.

We’ll squeeze extra ballast into the keel and discreetly install lithium ion batteries to power the electrics.

I’ll go for the high quality German Torqeedo outboard installed in its own well or unplugged and stowed away in its own locker when under sail.

Cockpit and bunks will be upholstered with carefully chosen fabrics and contrasting piping over multi layered foam.

The ultimate Secret will breathe elegance from every inlaid panel. She will ooze allure from the polished silver star on the end of her bowsprit to the subtly carved nameplate on her rakish counter stern.

Of course she will also be the fastest Secret in the world – a fleet jewel in a turquoise sea.

Who will be the custodian of this heirloom yacht?

Call me on +61 07 5545 1015

Derek Ellard

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The Original Secret – More Background

Martin and his partner Rikki, internet persons of interest and sailors on the Scintilla yawl “Friendship,” have been extremely helpful in setting up this blog for me and their research has turned up interesting archival records of the original Secret’s launch – newspaper cuttings from 1932.

I remember sitting in the Hughes’ lounge sketching a “new” Secret which, of course, turned out to be decades in the making. My old friend Luke Hughes (son of Secret’s original owner) a gifted woodworker, worked at Shuttlewoods in the 70s and many of us would drive out to Paglesham to inspect an excellent pub there. The place was inspected many times before we could be sure all was well.

Of interest too is the fact that Shuttlewood's shed was partly built from timbers recycled from Darwin’s ship, The Beagle which was bought by a local farmer for the timber when she finished her working life.

Paglesham was renowned in the 18th and 19th century as a smuggling centre. The maze of creeks and coves in the Essex marshes being ideal for the trade.

As a cadet member of the Brandy Hole Yacht Club I went sailing on the nearby river Crouch and occasionally at Burnham (see “To Slip, Perchance to Scream.”) The region’s history goes back along way indeed – the Romans and Vikings swept through and the remains of a Roman fort can be found to the north at Bradwell. It is a place of melancholy desolation in the winter but teeming with wildlife in the summer months.

The Essex coast holds a storehouse of memories for me with our own Secrets continuing the story, albeit from afar. The Classic Boat test was at the mouth of the Blackwater and mentions Bradwell – the wheel of history completes another circle.

Some years back I wrote about the old chapel of St Peters at Bradwell – I’ll dig it up and post it.


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Captain’s Blog Spar Date April Fools Day 2010

A Boat on the Side

Seeing as I’ve never read a blog in my life I start this one with a clean sheet of foolscap paper with a Pentel 0.8 mm cushion ball tip pen which writes leaving a nice bold line. Yes, I do product placement. I like pens, I like pencils, I like paper too so anything I write will be by hand and later typed by Annette who is sometimes happy to do so on the basis that it’s occasionally worth a laugh.

I don’t do political correctness and technically I’m not a captain either so you can take it all with a pinch of sea salt!