I have just returned from a week in Falmouth as chartterer crew on Agnes the Scilly islands pilot cutter, was a remarkable experience. Coming originally from the East coast of the UK and having spent many years now in Holland, Falmouth was a place I had long wanted to visit and Pilot cutters were boats I have a mild fascination with partly due to the reported relation in design that the Jolie Brise was partly the inspiration to Laurent Giles when he designed the Vertue class.
The week in question had three days of racing against other pilot boats in the 2018 Pilot Cutters Reveal, we got to race and actually beat the famous Jolie Brize, at the meet up on the river pontoon it was remarkable to see the differences between the Scilly island boats a design from around 1840 to the Bristol style boats mainly dating from the early 1900’s, the reality of the older boats was there wasn’t really much of the original left as pretty much every part had needed replacement at some time.
The two boats in the Scilly islands style were both built by Luke Powel who has built a respectable number of these types, currently there is a large 60ft boat called Pellew, a copy of the Vincent being built in their yard in Truro, I climbed all over it as a team of workers were busy sawing hammering etc. in a very traditional manner huge timbers in mainly oak, it seemed quite remarkable to see that going on in pretty much how it would happened hundred years ago, it is now easy to see the amount of thought and effort that goes into producing these most remarkable craft.
Agnes was a delight in as much as she was so beautifully put together, amazing attention to detail, with none of your immaculate polyurethane finishes, oil and tallow finished the bright work and spars, the cabins were lovely, masterpiece of cabinetry and very cosy although we were with nine people, Joanna catered for us with finesse in quite a compact galley, I was amazed at the lovely home cooking that appeared constantly with coffees and teas and plenty of beers.
The rig has a complexity that I have not appreciated previously, you have a huge gaff mainsail topsail, staysail flying jib and top flying jib and no winches to pull them in the sheets had a block on them but even still it was very hard to pull them in, the mainsail was something else I couldn’t pull it in without someone stronger helping, I learnt very quickly not to have my legs anywhere near the loose mainsheet when jibing!, the weight and force of that spar coming across the boat was quite intimidating, not to mention lethal!!
Having tacked her gently up the bay in Falmouth I was continually reminded by the similarity’s to how my boat handled and felt, yes she did kind of feel like a large Vertue, admittedly the hull form is not that similar she has a lovely deep forefoot and a full length straight keel, in light wind she takes a good amount of time to bring the nose through the wind, give her a good 10+ knots of wind and she a different experience altogether and charges a long at a very respectable speed for her waterline length and beamy jaunty form, remarkable steady on the helm, we did over the three days carry asmany sails as was possible, at one point there was some concern for the bend in the topmast as it was a little strong to be carrying still the topsail, and the flying jib attached to that spar, there are two sets of back stays which are being continually set up and removed to tack the boat, with all the different sheets etc. it is a very full on job sailing her in the races.
We sailed her form Truro through Falmouth out to sea and down to Helmond river for the first night, following morning we sailed back past Falmouth up the coast to Fowey where the other Pilot Cutters assembled to beginning the next day Friday with the passage race down to ST Mawes which we finished a respectable second after Jolie Brise, who is larger and faster than Agnes.
The following two days we raced mainly around the Falmouth bay rounding a number of different buoys, memorable was the first race on Saturday having sailed down the coast a little we had to round a buoy quite close to the beach, the wind was exceptionally light here and we attempted to tack clear of the area by doubling back along the shore line instead of facing the slight swell, it was tricky to get her nose through the wind but eventually she turned and we escaped that pocket of no wind and the rest of the fleet remained there unable to get away from the shore, we had a good steady breeze so won with an embarrassing lead.
With two firsts a second and a third we were the overall winner of the Reveal, and Luke the builder owner was delighted to finally win the trophy with her after ten years of trying.
All in all it was delightful experience and was very impressed by Falmouth area as a cruising ground, it is however not an area I can get my Vertue down too in a hurry but who knows maybe I’ll find a way to get there some day.
video made on Unity during the regatta : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjtOWKDkHCY
Documentry about building the Pilot Cutters: