Bluefin Was The First Catamaran Ever Built.
Posted on October 20 2017
Simply an adventure I took when I was 21, beginning in Malta. Just a few years ago I found Tom while checking the Internet. I got in touch, and here is the letter he hand wrote to me! By the way, he found this happy snap! I was 21 years old and didn't know for the whole journey that my bathing suit was a wee bit transparent.
It was lovely and v interesting to hear from you out of the blue via Jeanette at Thornham Marina.
Before giving you my history and news I will go over my memories of the voyage at the time you were on board.
Thomas, my cousin and a medical student at that time, (he did not complete) was sailing back with me but we were running four weeks or so late due to problems with the mast and rigging and also the keel (centerboard). So he was nearing the end of his time available so when Patrick turned up with a present of a girl – cook to join the crew were v pleased.
I had forgotten about the all - important tin-opener. Lots of people saw us off and when we were out of sight of land and I took a sleep/rest on my bunk I felt something under my pillow – we had sheets and blankets and pillows with pillow-slips then. Sleeping bags were known about but more in connection with expeditions to the Arctic or the mountains etc. What I felt under my pillow was 3 bottles of Whisky left by Captain Robbie Alexander, my old boss. He slipped them there unnoticed during our farewells.
In the morning when we were off Sicily an Italian military, well, naval seaplane was flying around looking at all the boats and craft until he came to us. He circled twice and then made for his base. Clearly Robbie Alexander had laid the search on to make sure we got off his patch safely. I sent a telegram from Messina thanking him for that and the bottles. The Whisky was actually more than welcome because up the coast ALL the guests always asked for Whisky. I had Gin, Brandy and Whisky (3 bottles each) but had I known it would have been all Whisky.
At Messina we were invited to a beautiful villa at the crest of the ridge overlooking the Straits. It was magic as we took drinks with these top Italians as the dusk passed and all the little lights below were very beautiful.
Next day we sailed and you got stung.
(note.. by a Hornet that had been stuck under the floats until it found my poor little foot)
I had vowed not to run the engine except in harbour so it took a long time to get past Stromboli, puffing away and in sight for 24 hours but we got to Capri in the end, having seen a whale quite close. The engine had failed anyway and we had to paddle our way in.
Next day Thomas had to leave from Capri as his time was up. We had met some Italians who suggested that we sailed round to the opposite corner of the island where there was a pretty inlet. We got there to fine them and had a delicious lunch with them alongside their yacht.
When we set sail to go back (no engine) we had to push off from the cliffs and when we finally got out, against the wind, they all clapped. Then we sailed quite close to the cliffs directly under a cliff-top restaurant and were clapped again. You thought they were applauding you whilst I thought they were clapping the novel design of the boat.
That evening we went up the hill and all I remember was that you spied a blouse being displayed on the outside of this boutique in a wall-mounted glazed frame. You wanted it but the proprietor could not find the key so in the end with his fist he broke the glass and you got your blouse. I think it was turquoise.
Next day we sailed to Naples to look for the spare part for the engine (water pump) and you met firstly a rather unpleasant Italian who took you in his car and then you met a delightful Spaghetti Millionaire
(note by Kate.. Paolo Amato, now a Senator in Italy I believe)
(he made 5000 tons of pasta a week or a day !) He had a lovely villa again on the crest overlooking the bay.
Having got the engine going we sailed for Ischia, where I found a shady shallow bay to clean the bottom. I seem to remember you were no good at that. (note by Kate.. I remember having a terrible hangover from drinking too much Zambuco .)
In the evening we ended up in a largish room, everyone dancing. You got dancing with a young Italian and were so good that all the others stopped dancing and just watched you.
Actually I seem to recall Paolo of spagetti came on this leg of the voyage.
Next day we sailed for Anzio, entering harbour in the evening but in full daylight, you had on your bathing costume bottom quite modest until you spotted that half the vertical stripes were see-through. It had a terrible effect on the male Italians (and me, though I felt as Captain, in a way, partly responsible for not maintaining standards on board).
Anyway, we met these BBC people. 2 couples. We were looking for onward crew partly because you had no real competence and partly because you wanted to go back to your spaghetti millionaire. (kate notes “therein lies a tale..)
I think his name was Paul. Well both the BBC men were delightful and so was one of the girls. The trouble was the BBC chap who wanted to join was with the girl who gave me the creeps. I felt like saying “no girls on board”, but there you were. I could not see how I could get out of it (apart from saying – “That girl gives me the CREEPS”) when suddenly I came out with “can you swim?” (she was without flesh). She said “No”. I said “what a pity. It is a golden rule – no non-swimmers!” Narrow Escape.
So next day we sailed. The basic idea was to sail that distance you could do I one day as without Thomas I could not do night-sailing.
That afternoon, heading for Giglio, we were intercepted by the Italian Navy. We had ventured into their Gunnery Range and had to shoo off. What had happened was I had put the radio close to the compass. This had made the needle move some 20 degrees. So we were steering miles off course.
Anyway we got to Giglio that evening and then it came to blow. Meanwhile we had met over dinner ashore a delightful P and O couple and they said they would love to sail with me to the South of France. So that night we had terrible winds and a real seamanship job of maintaining our berth. All was well so next morning you took the Ferry to go back to Naples and your millionaire. The only trouble was the WIND did not subside. It blew for 3 days solid so my P and O friends had to leave as their time was going to be up.
So next day, when they had gone and the wind had, in the end, dropped, I sailed.
I thought I would go along the coast, one day’s sail at a time. I had never intended to do single-handed but that was the way the cookie crumbled.
When you took the Ferry I HAD a crew so you did not desert me or let me down. It was the weather that intervened.
So out at sea I assessed and concluded that by far the trickiest bit was entering and leaving harbour.
SO I decided to cut across the Gulf of Genoa and sail in one to Monaco.
The first night found me in the lee of Elba. As I left the big headland at the Western end I ran into a great wind and so turned back to shelter in the lee again. In the morning when I got going again I could see visually that the strong wind was very local and was off the land and all you had to do was sail through it and you were clear. I sailed through the day till in the evening I was off Cap. Corse, the Northern tip of Corsica. I sailed through the night and in the morning with a good wind I was off the S coast of France.
I used to get the boat balanced and sailing and catch a nap. It seldom lasted more than 50 minutes but it was enough. Lots of little sleeps. I was always tied to the mast with a line round my waist. That is all I had on. If I went forward to change a sail, say, I had to come back the same way as otherwise you did not get back like a little dog with a lamp post.
I always sat down to a proper meal cooked by myself. Sat down with a knife and fork, down below. But I never took a nap down below. Always on deck so that I could sense if the wind increased or whatever.
I got to Monaco and secured alongside a Belgian Yacht. They said “Message for Bluefin – your mother is in St Trop.” I said “no, it must be the mother of Claud who left the message.” The Belgian took me in his fast rubber boat to St Remo to check. We found Claud and he said it WAS my mother staying in his house.
I found my mother when I got to St Trop. So she had a three week holiday sailing most days. I always thought she went too close to the shore but did not want to criticize till the CRASH – we went aground and bust a rudder coming off. So I was stuck. I had decided I wanted to move the centerboard so we hauled her up the beach at Camoubeir (?) 2 miles to the East. So sailed back next year.
By the time I entered the Bay of Biscay via the Canal du Midi I had had 4 offers to build Bluefins in France but stupid chauvinist me told them “No it was going to be built in England”. I did not even take their names. AND I had 6 potential orders in my pocket. I was sure with 4 offers in France I would get many more in England. But NO. Only one offer to build and THAT with 5000 Pounds input from me (none in France). So it was a stillborn project so nearly successful
Through my boat I found myself with access to 4 circles in St Trop. Some V. rich indeed. Also a lovely Dutch girl. When the moment came I hesitated and another big mistake to chalk up.
So Bluefin is all but 50 years old. Bits of her (some of her frames are 50 already). She is the oldest fiberglass multihull in the world and probably of any construction – that is, off-shore boats with cabins.
I looked up your beads. They look v. good but I am not sure how big they are. If there was a measure or a dollar note at the side to give scale it would be easier. Perhaps it is me on the computer.
I hope this finds you.
Sad note. After many years I decided to find Bluefin and came up with the article about where she rests and contacted Tom. The letter above was hand written and I treasure it. Here she is in dry dock. Precious memories.