"Eliza Maude" Gaff Cutter Lying Essex
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In the spring of 1971, Cyril White, boatbuilder of Brightlingsea, completed the last of a long line of small cruising yachts - a cutter called Eliza-Maude. She was designed by John Leather and in essence is half bawley, half yacht. Clinker built, her gaff rig, long bowsprit and broad transom give her the air of a working craft but her modest size, 24ft LOA, allows for a lightness of gear and handiness under sail, making her a seaworthy cruising yacht.
Eliza-Maude was eleven years old and had already had four owners when we found her lying in Heybridge Basin at the top of the river Blackwater. An almost faultless survey and the chance to buy a very young and well built wooden boat persuaded us to stretch our budget and she became ours. I had never sailed a gaffer before and had a lot to learn and in the following seasons I fiddled with the rig, shifted the ballast and gradually got to know her ways. In the winters I was fortunate to be able to lay her up in the yard where she was built which is still a haven of expertise in the building and repairing of wooden craft.
She is essentially an East Coast boat with her 3ft 8 ins draft allowing us to poke our way to the top of most of the creeks of the Thames Estuary and there are few weekends between May and October when Eliza-Maude can be seen on her mooring at Wivenhoe. In the early days we were four on board and usually towed a sailing dinghy for the boys to explore in whenever we brought up, but inevitably the crew grew up and today we are two and the dinghy is rarely towed.
There are few concessions to modernity; we do have an engine but no winches and the only electronics on board are a transistor radio for the weather forecasts (and entertainment) and an echo sounder, although the lead line always hangs ready in the cockpit. Navigation is by compass and log and there is little to break down or fail. The accommodation is likewise simple but comfortable with, and here I have surrendered to convenience, a Force 10 gas heater to keep us warm and dry whenever we need it. It was not without a great deal of soul searching that we removed the old coal stove but the final straw was a night spent at anchor in a near gale when the stove roared out of control all night and we consumed a week's supply of fuel in a few hours and got very hot into the bargain !
Family and friends at the Yealm make the West Country an attractive destination for our summer cruise and so, only slightly deterred by the thought of a passage of 300 miles against the prevailing wind, we set out in July 1985 for our first trip down Channel. Alas, it was not to be. A succession of strong to gale westerlies left us stormbound in Dover until our time ran out and we had to return home. As we slipped back into the protective shelter of the Essex coast we wondered why we had bothered to go voyaging and vowed `never again'.
But of course we did try again and the next time the weather was kinder and now a West Country cruise has become an almost annual event. The funny thing is that as much as we have expected westerlies on the way down, so we have also had more than our share of easterlies when homeward bound ! But that of course is what it's all about.
Her Sabb Diesel is of an older type, slow revving, simple and very reliable. The variable pitch propeller is effective and the engine is economical to run. It has been maintained to the manufacturers specifications.
Eliza Maude is a very pretty boat and is much admired and photographed.
She has attended the first two Shotley Classic boat festivals, 1987 and 1990 East Coats Old Gaffers Association races and the Falmouth Classics in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
It is a difficult decision to sell her after twenty years but we now want a larger boat.
It give me great pleasure to be able to use the expression 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' again! Eliza Maude is absolutely lovely. Wherever you look she is obviously cared for, well thought out and lovingly maintained.
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