Page published 1 March 2021
Originally posted on what used to be "The Blog" on 15 March 2012, this page tells how I get involved in getting Hugh's boat Angela home for a pre-season clean up.
A week or two back I got a call from SeaHawk owner John Southey. Would I have time to help him assist Hugh, another SeaHawk owner, slip his boat out of the water? It's rare for me to refuse a request for help from a SeaHawk owner, and how could I this time? Hugh and John had been helms on the two other boats that formed the Swoop of SeaHawks that, until I hear of a better claim, has been the largest gathering of SeaHawks cruising in company yet recorded.
Hugh was already working on Angela when I arrived, getting ready various lengths of rope.
Saying yes was one thing. Arranging a date was another. First the weather got in the way. Then we needed a mid-week date when John was available that also fitted in with Hugh's wife's visits to hospital. Eventually today was fixed as the date, and it turned out to be both sunny and warm for the time of year.
It was agreed that I would turn up at the Parish moorings in Hickling, where Angela is berthed, at around two o'clock. I was late and arrived to find Hugh already hard at work sorting out lengths of rope and generally making ready. John, I was told, was around but currently walking Charlie, his little terrier.
Inevitably, we ended up chatting, starting with the local goings on in Hickling since we had last met and moving on to a variety of topics covering both boating in general and SeaHawks in particular. I expressed surprise to see that he already had taken the mast down. It's a job I always feel is better suited to being done ashore.
The Parish slipway seems to have a magic attraction. People always gather offering an extra hand or two to help.
The Parish slipway at Hickling is one that I have used myself on a number of occasions. There's even a page on the SeaHawk Site which covers my own use of it in November 2008. The most awkward thing about it is that it is not quite at right angles to the bank. That, you might think, would be no bad thing. The slipway is on a relatively narrow strip of land between two dykes, so having it aligned a little better with the roadway running down the middle would be a good idea. It would make hooking up car and trailer and using the car to haul boat and trailer out of the water easier. However, that is not necessary as there is an excellent hand operated winch available for that purpose. No, the trouble is that it means that the wheel on one side of your trailer, drops off the end of the ramp before the other does. And the end ramp is, of course, under water so you can't tell where that vital point is. Twice now, I have managed to bend vital bits of the trailer when wheels went where they shouldn't go!
A sign is now conveniently placed so you are likely to trip over it warning you about the end of the ramp.
John came with his Torqeedo electric outboard. Once we had that ready, it took only a few moments to take Hugh's boat round to the slipway. Hugh stayed ashore. He needed to get his trailer to the slipway. I was delegated to hang onto the tiller and command operations, while John was took charge of the engine. I had only realised recently how very much more shallow the Whispering Reeds and Parish dykes are. John is more familiar with the situation, as his mooring is close to Hugh's, and I now understood his concern about grounding and doing damage to his propeller.
There's a strange thing about the Parish slipway. It seems to be a people magnet. The pictures on the SeaHawk site show how, back in 2008 we, we attracted Harry, who could be called the Parish Harbour Master, and Jeff, another local boat owner as soon as Ian and I had appeared for the slipping of Imagination, as she was then called. This time, no sooner than we we got there, just after 15:00, then so was local, Alan Tansley. These days he owns a small plastic cruiser, but he is also a sailor, so not such a bad chap! Without needing to be asked, Alan hung on to a rope and generally gave us all a hand.
With a set of ropes secured to bow and stern, Angela is swung into position ready to be hauled onto the trailer.
Hugh and the trailer arrived after another ten minutes or so, then and perhaps more understandably, so did Angela, Hugh's wife. (No prizes for guessing who the boat is named after!) Manoeuvring then took place. Hugh brought his trailer into position and Angela, the boat that is, was pulled and pushed ready to be drawn onto the trailer.
The water level was low, probably a foot lower than the time I used the slipway in 2008. I doubt that I would have been able to get Just 17 onto my trailer at all, but Hugh has a trailer of more typical height. I reckon his boat sits some 11" lower than mine.
The boat is ashore, the winch line slackened but Hugh's safety ropes are still held at the ready in case of emergency.
Hugh surprised me when he asked that I remove the strap from the ground winch that I had looped round the winch arm on the trailer. Hugh wanted me to secure it much further back, level with the axle. His explanation was that this makes it much easier to control the direction of the trailer. He pointed out that with the weight held at the axle, nearer the centre of gravity, you can easily turn the trailer by pushing tow bar left or right. That may be true, but my own experience is that the line is long enough so that, even under the tension caused by the weight of boat and trailer on the slope of the slipway, it is not difficult to move the tow bar a foot or two each way sideways.
Hugh then attached a second line to the boat. This time to the winch strap. This was to be his safety line, only there in case the steel line on the ground winch gave way. Perhaps Hugh knew more than I about the winch and its condition. It's true, I had been told that in spite of being held in place with a lot of concrete, someone had succeeded in pulling it out of the ground in a recent boat recovery operation. However, I felt it was unlikely to happen without warning and, if necessary, one could remove the tension on the line by returning the boat quickly to the water.
The other likely risk I considered was a catastrophic and sudden failure of the steel line. However, I figured such an event was likely to cause unpredictable whiplash and, I felt, someone hanging on to the secondary line was as likely to be injured by that as the man turning the winch handle. To me having a second line, held slack, just left you with an increased risk of tripping, something which was every bit as likely to cause the boat to move in unwanted ways. However, this was no place for a debate and it was Hugh's boat and I was happy enough to try his methods.
Hugh goes to back his car up and hitch the trailer. The winch line is, once more, under tension holding the boat.
Whatever the wisdom of having a second reserve line in place, there was no doubt that Hugh's slow and methodical approach to the job, did bring his boat out of the water without drama. It was after 15:30 before Angela was standing clear of the water and 15:50 before she was standing on level ground and disconnected from winch and safety line, ready for Hugh to back his car up to the trailer. If this seems slow, then it's fair to say that the speed of much of this operation was determined by the high gearing rate of the winch. You couldn't have done it much faster.
With Angela standing on horizontal ground and all lines now removed, we can all relax.
With the boat safe on the trailer and on level ground, the crew could relax. I took the opportunity to tease Hugh a little about the tailgate on his estate car. It was the first one I had seen where one just touches a button and watch it slowly close and lock itself. It all seemed a little "pansy" to me, uncultured fellow that I am. I'm only used to grabbing a tailgate and slamming it.
The boat is hitched and ready to be towed the few hundred yards to reach Hugh's home.
Next Angela was hitched to the trailer. Then the party broke up. I set off at a brisk pace for Hugh's bungalow while Hugh stowed his ropes and other gear then towed Angela home. It's only a couple of hundred yards to his bungalow and John and I arrived ahead of the boat. It was a simple matter to unhitch the trailer and for John Hugh and I to push it back onto the drive way.
Angela is ready to be unhitched and pushed the few yards onto the drive way. The job is done.
It was just after 16:00 by the time boat and trailer were home and ready for the start of John's rather delayed winter maintenance schedule. I was mighty glad we had picked such a splendid day. It also made me be thankful, once again, that I don't have to launch and recover my boat every time I want a sail.