Sailing: Hurricane – dismasting – and the re-rigging of Laranda

Jacques Yves Cousteau, the legendary French underwater explorer, found Calypso – his famous vessel of subsequent voyages of exploration immortalized in his many television series of documentaries –  in the Maltese Islands,  – and I found Laranda there, too.  It wasn’t until many years later, however,  – when I was interviewing him in Paris for Swissiar’s Gazette  inflight magazine, that we made the connection.

This article was  published in a  number of sailing magazines worldwide, from 1989 – 1991.  I have left it as it was.  My  friends – Colonel Bloomer and Mike O’Donoghue – have slipped their  moorings and left us – and Laranda has had many experiences since.

The photos here will be replaced as soon as i have had the original transparencies scanned.

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Laranda – built by David Hillyard in Littlehampton in Sussex in 1934 – as she appeared when finally returned to her original Gaff Rig in 1990

I was in England, and I could hardly believe it when I was woken in the middle of the night by the ‘phone, and pieked it up to hear Colonel Bertie Bloomer’s voice telling me that Malta was being lashed by a storm reaching hurricane strength. Worse, that it looked as though Laranda – my old yacht – was in trouble. I didn’t sleep for the rest of that night in December 1988.

Even as he spoke to me, and at the height of the storm that made it all-but impossible for him to see my old yacht moored 25 metres offshore in Dockyard Creek, Grand Harbour, the damage was done. Something – we’ll never know what – must have struck Laranda’s bowsprit, smashing it at the stem-head. With her fore-stay gone, all hell let loose as everything began to break free and thrash about in the wind funnelling along the creek. Looking at the damage after the event, you’d swear that ‘something’ had also scythed into her solid pine mast, bringing it crashing down over her port side and dragging shrouds, stays, and debris into the maelstrom that Grand Harbour had become.

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The morning after the hurricane: Laranda’s broken mast and rigging floating astern on her port side – the smashed bowsprit was entangled in the floating debris

I got on the first available plane, but Bertie and my mate Karmenu had, by the time I arrived, cleared the mess, cut away what was necessary, and manhandled the mess ashore. Luckily, the mast had split, leaving about twelve shattered feet (3.7m) of it in the tabernacle. But my relatively new teak deck was intact! The mast had fallen to the side, carrying the boom overboard and – somehow – clear of the cabin-top. The boom crutch was found in the cockpit, and apart from a 4 foot (1.2m) section of the rubbing-strake on the port side, there was no damage to the topsides. The metal stanchions had ripped out of their sockets and had become entangled with the rest of the wreckage: mast, boom, shrouds, and remains of the bowsprit and bob-stay.

broekn bowsprit small-1The bowsprit – snapped off at the stem-head

I was lucky. There, in Grand Harbour, a supertanker had broken her moorings and gone aground, ripping a hole in her side. At the marina in Marsamxett harbour, many yachts sank or suffered severe damage. It was the same story in Kalkara Creek. Amongst the boats sunk on their moorings were two of the Harbour Cruisers. In St Paul’s Bay – further to the north – not a boat afloat survived, and the remains of a 55 foot (17m) fishing boat were left stranded about 100 yards (91m) ashore in a cabbage patch.

There was wreckage everywhere, but it didn’t console me. Laranda was insured, but that wasn’t my first consideration. I wanted to repair the damage as quickly as possible.

Then it occurred to me that I had always wanted to re-rig her and give her back her original cutter rig with which Sir Giles Rolls Loder, Baronet, had taken delivery of her from David Hillyard back in 1934. She’d cost Sir Giles £575, including sails and the Thornycroft Handy-Billy engine I replaced in 1986. In the Hillyard Owners Association summer newsletter of 1984, Sir Giles was quoted as saying, of Laranda: “I had a bowsprit, but the sail area was rather under-canvassed and she was very sluggish in light airs and pulled or hard-mouthed in strong ones. With the canoe stern she was a good sea boat.” I believe she is one of only two – or possibly three – ‘Cutlas’ Class yachts built by Hillyards: the other I know of being Carousa – ex Csrmencita. Her dimensions are: LOA is 30.1ft (9,17m): beam 9.2m  (2.8m): draught 4.6ft (1.37m) : gross tonnage 8.29: registered tonnage 5.25 tons,  She’s planked end-to-end on oak sawn frames every 3 feet (0.9m) and has never had to have any part of her original hull planking renewed. Two years ago, (1986), when I decided to replace her pine decks with teak, I did have her completely re-fastened, but as the Bermudan Sloop she had become sometime just prior to the Second World War, she didn’t look right. Her bowsprit had been cut short and her mast had been jacked-up about 6 feet )(1.8m) – mayhap to overcome the earlier under-canvassing. I’m almost certain that the mast she lost in the storm was not her first one: it had no shape to the foot or heel, and only fitted the tabernacle by the use of ill and odd-shaped wedges. No way would that have been Hillyard’s work. They tell me they remember Laranda with affection, but – unfortunately – her design plans, along with quite a number of other pre-1940 plans, were lost when the company moved premises.

Hillyards, however, are not alone in holding her in affection; last Christmas Laranda received a Christmas Card from two of her previous owners of some 20 years ago (C1968) – Graham Galilee and his wife – who now live in England. It was a addressed to: Laranda, Dockyard Creek, Grand Harbour, Malta, and it reached me care of Colonel Bloomer who was on the spot when it was delivered. Interestingly, I have a letter in Laranda’s file that was passed on to me when I bought her: it’s addressed to Graham Galilee, dated 23/10/69, and was written by Sir Giles Loder. (I hope both Sir Giles and Graham will excuse me for quoting it..)

Dear Mr Galilee

Thank you for you letter. Laranda was my first cabin boat, called after a yacht my grandfather had about the turn of the century.

Glad to hear she is in good order. Old Hillyard put some good pitch-pine in her, and her next owner (I only kept her tow seasons as I had a slightly larger boat built by Hillyard) kept her on the Chichester Harbour canal for some years and took her bowsprit off, too.

Sorry I can’t tell you more.
Yours truly, Giles Loder.

I talked to Bertie about my re-rigging ideas – he had famously owned and sailed Twilight – his lovely Falmouth Quay Punt for many years – and together we worked out a rigging-plan that looked pretty good on paper. Hillyard confirmed that a 35 foot (10.6m) mast would be about right for her proposed gaff rig.

My first problem, however, was to find a ‘tree’ on the barren island of Malta, and then a shipwright who’d agree to do the donkey-work for me. Bertie found the shipwright first – Gaetano Carabot – and he found the tree – or rather, a selection of them! They were Scandinavian pine logs imported for use as flag-poles. I didn’t like the look of most of them – full of knots and not very straight – but after Gaetano and I moved what seemed like an entire forest, we found what we were looking for: a straight with only a few knots, and just over the length we needed. Great! At that stage is was over to Gaetano, and he had the log delivered to his Nissan Hut.

Meantime, Bertie and I tackled the remains of the old mast, and figured we’d have more than enough in the undamaged top of it to make a new bowsprit. Before we cut it we laid out the shattered remains of the road in Senglea and made exact measurements of how things had been – just in case. What struck me then, was that the timber appeared to have shredded or flaked along its length, maybe even springing apart rather like an old broken leaf-spring of a car. Even the surveyor was surprised. We sketched the position of the hounds, cross-trees, and other fittings on a sheet of graph-paper and then I took a saw and cut 14 feet (4.3m) from that old piece of timber. And it was beautiful timber!

Without Bertie’s advice and help, I doubt I would have been prepared to tackle the re-rigging with much confidence. Even though his old yacht – Twilight – is no more (she was wrecked on an uncharted bar of silt at the entrance to the Bay of Portman on the southern coast of Spain in June 1988) his scale model of her is there in his house and every minute detail of standing and running rigging is meticulously exact. Twilight was just a couple of feet shorter than Laranda and the only radical difference to the proposed new rig was that Twilight had been a yawl. We were able to draw the old mast fittings to scale and have them made-up by a local engineering works.

Bertie took the making of the bowsprit out of my hands – he’d made a new one for Twilight just a few years before – and with a spoke-shave and hard work, he soon had it roughed-out. I’d taken the the fuel pump and injectors out of Laranda’s engine for servicing, so we had to warp her in to the slip to try the new bowsprit.

Laranda’s mooring is in 8 fathoms (15m) and there’s plenty of depth of water at the slip, but Grand Harbour iw a working commercial port seven days a a week and tugs and pilot boats move in and out almost constantly. Their washes often create awkward and difficult conditions against the harbour wall, so I didn’t want to bring Laranda alongside. We waited for a relatively quiet day, then warped her in to the slip. The bowsprit wouldn’t quite go through the gammon-iron on the stem-head, so whilst Bertie stayed aboard, I armed myself with the spoke-shave and with any amount of advice from the locals who had gathered around to watch – and by trial and error – whittled it down to size, Once it was in place I jumped onto the harbour wall and moved back to where I could see the result of our work. It looked terrific! The old girl’s sheer carried through in a beautiful line, and I knew we’d make the right decision.

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The new bowsprit looked perfect

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…and a year later – looking even better

When I bought Laranda she had two Bermudan mains’ls in excellent condition. I was still waiting to hear from my my insurers, and although I hadn’t said much to Bertie, he knew that I must have been concerned about the cost of the work: and so he came up with a suggestion. Why not adapt one of the sails for use with the new rig? All the mast fittings and rigging we proposed were for gaff rig, but – over a few beers – we arrived at an answer. Above the cross-trees the Bermudan sail could be set on a spar in the same way as a sliding Gunter rig. Then when I came to the full gaff rig, it would only mean changing sails. We didn’t anticipate any difficulties. I had already decided to do away with the roller-reefing gear – which, no matter what I tried – had always allowed the boom to sag ever further – and to have a loose-footed main. We couldn’t see any reason why the Bermudan sail, set as a Gunter, wouldn’t be perfectly OK like that.

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At Meganisi in the Ionian Islands of Greece – here with the Gunter Lug Rig sail-plan re-rigging after the hurricane damage: new mast – bowsprit made for the top of the broken mast, stays’l set on a boom and Wykeham-Martin roller-reefing jib.  It all worked extremely well. 

Work took me back to the UK for a few weeks, but when I returned to Malta, Bertie took me to his backyard. And there was the boom, stripped and re-varnished, with the new ‘B’ blocks made and fitted. Bertie had salvaged the boom fitting from Twilight, and it married with Laranda’s boom as if it were made for it.

A couple of days later, Bertie and his wife – Olive – invited me to dinner to meet Mike O’Donoghue, a sailing friend of many years. Mike keeps his yacht in the Seiont River near his home at Caernavon on the Menai Strait in Wales, and he also has a home on Malta. Over dinner, Bertie mentioned that I was trying to find some Wykeham-Martin jib-furling gear for Laranda’s new sail plan. Mike looked up and said “Look no further I’ve got exactly what you want, and – if I recall correctly – the jib to go with it.” When I eventually picked up the gear in Wales measured the luff of the sail and it was 25 feet (7.6m). Just about right!

Amongst Laranda’s gear is a 30 year old ‘working jib’ and, without question, I’ve found it one of her most useful sails. It’s discoloured, but there’s nothing else wrong with it. Even the luffff wire shows no signs of rust. I toyed with the idea of using it as a stays’l set on a boom, but instead of being set to the end of the old bowsprit – truncated as it was, anyway – on the then fore-stay of a Bermudan, I planned to use it on the fore-stay to the stem-head and not to the new bowsprit stay. That meant that the luff and foot were just too long, But… we’re lucky to have Eddie Zammit on Malta and he’s an excellent sail-maker. A few years before I’d taken him my newest Genoa for some advice: it used to drive me made with its fluttering – and Eddie had me leave it with him. It was back within the week:problem solved. So Eddie was the guy who re-cut that working-jib to be the new stays’l.

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Laranda with the Genoa that had driven me mad with fluttering – now setting perfectly – stays’l set on a boom – and with the Gunter lug mains’l rig.  Here she is in Marmaris harbour southern Turkey – during   the first trip after the re-rigging. 

It looked as though all aspects of the sailplan had been sorted and it was up to me whether I wanted to go ahead and have a new gaff mains’l cut immediately, or wait and see how I got on with the bastardized sliding Gunter lug rig. Before making a decision I decided to see how the money eked out.

When Gaetano delivered the new mast to the waterfront in Senglea, it was manhandled off the lorry and put on trestles by the harbour wall. He’d done a marvellous job. All that was left for us to do was varnish it and get all fittings in place. What really pleased me was that the heart of the timber was so well centred.

A few days later, Gaetano appeared again; this time humping a bundle of sail. It turned out to be one of Twilight’s sails that Bertie had salvaged from her wreck, and which he had given to Gaetano some time before. That sail was Gaetano’s present to Laranda!

Between coats of varnish we sorted standing and running rigging and much of the former we were able to adapt. Not so with the running rigging, of course. Over the years I had collected a number of good old wooden blocks, and – needless to say – we found use for them all. Eventually we warped Laranda in once more and four of us – two ashore and two on board – lifted the mast aboard over the stern. We had a few anxious moments as one of the Pilot boars charged at high speed down the creek – her wash slapping into the wall and then rebounding again, sending Laranda rolling and pitching while the mast was precariously balanced between the wall and the stern. But none of us fell in, and – more importantly – the mast went aboard safely. Only after I’d warped her back to her mooring did we splice the mainbrace to celebrate.

By that time, apart from making the top of the old mast into the new bowsprit and stays’l boom, other parts of it had become cleats and the new pinrails for the shrouds; and what was left of the old cross-trees had been mad into stout belaying pins.

We took the shrouds, stays and most of the blocks and running rigging aboard on the mooring , and rigged the mast as it lay along the cabin-top. It had been all very well humping the mast about without the rigging , but once that was on the weight, of course, increased enormously.

Finally, to step the mast I rook Laranda to the head of Dockyard Creek and berthed her alongside, just beyond the Macina, the bastion below Fort St Michael which was part of the major ancient defences of Senglea, and which was used by the British Navy for stepping and rigging the masts of all manner of ships during the 19th and early 20th centuries.. Even before that it had been used for the same purpose by the Knights of St John when fitting-out their galleys and galleots. It’s interesting that some of the centuries old iron fittings are still in place in the masonry, and we made good use of them. With the tackle rigged, we hauled away – not that it was easy – and the mast came up, Bertie carefully positioning the wedge as the heel fitted and locked into place in the tabernacle. From then on it was just a matter of tidying up and sorting the running rigging.

alongside at MacinasmallcopyrightAlongside at The Macina – ready – at last – to step the new mast

It really was time to celebrate. Laranda looked fine! And then – suddenly – Bertie put the cat amongst the pigeons by wondering – aloud – whether the bowsprit could have been even longer still!!

Joking aside; in my mind’s eye I may have had a fair idea of how Laranda should look, and Gaetano was responsible for making a fine mast; but the credit for the work is all Bertie Bloomer’s. I dare not contemplate how many hours he must have put into thinking it through; nor how much time and effort of his own went into the physical side of it. And on top of all that there are the hours of sleepless nights during which he admits to worrying about it! Neither Laranda nor I will ever gbe able to thank him adequately, nor in any way repay his kindness, friendship, and enthusiasm. He is a very demanding man – both of himself and of others – and Laranda and I have been exceptionally fortunate.

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Laranda lying to her mooring in Dockyard Creek, and Adix – the magnificent three-masted schooner – alongside the quay in the background

At the last it had all come together surprisingly quickly, and I still hadn’t even thought about hauling her out to have her bottom scraped. Eddie ass still waiting to hear from me about the new loose-footed gaff main when Laranda put to sea with her old Bermudan sail – but now loose-footed – laced to the old and largest spinnaker pole to make the spar for the Gunter lug set-up. How easily it all worked!

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Evening in the Aegean Sea , as we left San Torini for Cape Malea: a very rough night ahead!

All going well, her next trip is to Sicily again, and then on – as in years past – to the Ionian Islands of Greece before voyaging east to Turkey, – and then south to Egypt.

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Laranda sailing off Astypalaia, in the Aegean Sea – 1989