Freedom In Frisia

Amrum Dries

Amrum Dries

Another magical trip to the North Sea and Never Never Land.  This time starting with Amrum and then to Helgoland again.  Depite whistful (sic) and fun memories, the trip ended on a sad note as my dear friend’s mother died while we were returning to harbour.  So perhaps just some photos:


Sighting Never Never Land Under The Mainsail


Patterns On The Water


Masts On The Patterns




Peter Pan’s View

Lady Daphne On Heir (Sic)

We were delighted with today’s BBC1 coverage of Lady Daphne in Heir Hunters, Series 9, Episode 5 (of 20), “Morris/Evans” (09:15, Friday, 27 February).  Not only did they have a great case to solve with Robert Evans, and made it interesting, but also included a lot of footage of sailing barge history:

“After the heir hunters race to find her, one heir visits the home of the relative she never knew. Surprisingly, it is just ten minutes down the road from her own house.

Whilst on another case, the heir hunters experience a strange sense of déjà vu. They find themselves tracing heirs to an estate of a lady whom they have met before, and their search uncovers the remarkable history of Thames bargemen.”

iPlayer link –

Lady Daphne in the dock

I do remember it was a cold and wet afternoon back in October 2013 when we did the filming – yes, nearly 18 months till airing.  It was great to meet Robert Evans, who seemed really pleased to learn about his family history.  Anyway, if you just want to watch Robert and “Mike”, the other star, with the grand old Lady, our section starts at 30:00/43:50.

By the way – Lady Daphne available for bookings from 1 April! –

The Disunited Kingdom Tour

The observant among you may have noticed that the Mainelli’s spent two weeks of August in Scotland, followed by Wales, and sailing in England.  We left in early August when polls for the Scottish Referendum predicted a 22 point “No” lead, and returned to England to hear about a predicted “Yes” lead.  Suspicious?  Go figure.

Mark Duff Globe 2

Of course, all I’ve learned about political diplomacy I’ve learned from Samuel Johnson, whose Scottish admirer and biographer, James Boswell, 9th Lord of Auchinleck, treasured and recorded such snippets as:

[Boswell:] “Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.”

[Johnson:] “That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”

[Johnson]: “In England we wouldn’t think of eating oats. We only feed them to Horses.”

[Boswell]: “Well, maybe that’s why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men.”

Feeling a bit sheepish about the fact that an entire nation seemed happy to never see our family again, I returned with my passport just before the referendum in order to save the nation.  Taking a wild chance I sailed the Clyde, along the way buying my dear friend, Eric Smith, a new red duster as a boat-warming gift for his Colvic Watson 28, Serendipity.  It also encouraged me.  Without a successful exertion on my part, the ensign might have had a mere few days of validity, so it’s good for me that the vote was for union, otherwise I would have been a bit sodium-chloride angry (salt-ire, or is that “sailor rage” or “sea rage”…) if it had been money/currency-union wasted.


And a nice view of Arran Isle too!

Piering Ahead

One of the joys of restoring a Thames Sailing Barge, our beloved S B Lady Daphne, is racing her.  Racing her?  Indeed.  Thames Sailing Barge racing is the oldest continuous boat racing in the world and, despite the size, slow turns, and wide tacking angles, possibly the hardest in the world.  There is a full set of races each year off the east coast of England masterminded by the Sailing Barge Association.  On Sunday, 24 August, we were racing off Southend-on-Sea, passing by its famous pier, sometimes quite closely!

Southend-on-Sea 065 - edit

I have written a bit about this racing in the past:

And a lot more is contained on the Lady Daphne news area.  This year we managed to win the second place trophy in our class, but the privilege of racing continues to astound us.  And for those of you who know Southend, you’ll have to admit that it’s a special group of boats that can make the town look this pretty!

Southend-on-Sea 043 - edit

[photo courtesy of Mark Duff]

Never Never Land

For over two decades my great sailing buddy Axel has gone on and on about Helgoland, sometimes rendered in English as Heligoland.  The wonderful sail, the interesting tides, the fantastic island, the duty free.  But for those two decades and more, the weather isn’t quite right, the tides don’t favour us, or Kieler Woche calls.  I long ago started calling it “Never Never Land”.  But J M Barrie might be proud of this shot finally approaching the island – “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”


Helgoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea. Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea. They are the only German islands not in the immediate vicinity of the mainland and are approximately three hours’ sailing time from Cuxhaven at the mouth of the River Elbe. In addition to German, the local population, who are ethnic Frisians, speak the Helgolandic dialect of the North Frisian language called Halunder. Helgoland was formerly called Heyligeland, or “holy land”, possibly due to the island’s long association with the god Forseti.

The long accretion of fortifications is well worth the visit alone – tunnels, submarine bases.  There is also extensive wildlife with seals so calm around humans that they just sit and stare at you.


At the end of the 18th century, the English supported Helgoland smuggling when such activities harrassed Napoleon.  After England took proper possession in 1807, much of the population perished of starvation as the English stamped on smugglers.  In 1890, Helgoland was swapped with Germany for Zanzibar.  Then in 1945, the English took possession again, deporting all the islanders.  From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited Heligoland islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tonnes of explosives (“Big Bang” or “British Bang”), creating one of the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history.  The blow shook the main island several miles down to its base, changing its shape (the Mittelland was created).  Possibly due to this history, during my visit,I seem to have forgotten to mention I was visiting from London.  It was a magical island and the people were most hospitable, though not worth the wait.  We should have also gone twenty years ago.


This rhyme about their flag is well-known in Germany:

German Low German North Frisian English
Grün ist das Land,
rot ist die Kant,
weiß ist der Sand,
das sind die Farben von Helgoland.
Gröön is dat Land,
rood is de Kant,
witt is de Sand,
dat sünd de Farven van’t Helgoland.
Grön es det Lunn,
road es de Kant,
witt es de Sunn,
det sen de Farven van’t Hillige Lunn.
Green is the land,
Red is the cliff,
White is the sand,
These are the colours of Heligoland.
1 lit. “edge” or “coast” 

Banking About In Boats

Kathleen Tyson-Quah is a generous friend letting us bounce around the Regents Canal with her several times on her assortment of river craft.  Literally bouncing off the banks on a few occasions.  We had just had some fun at the 2014 Canalway Cavalcade London in Paddington Basin when Kathleen let David Shirreff take the wheel of her new possession, Diona. 

2014-05-05 18.09.46 edit

David knows a lot about banks as a former Economist writer.  His new book “Don’t Start from Here: We Need a Banking Revolution” comes out in September.  BTW – he means financial banks not river banks.  And no, despite the drink on view, not a single scratch!

Barging About In The Solent

[This article was published by Yachting World, on the official Cowes site ( – Monday 4 Aug 2003]

Barge matches date back to the late 1700s, even if their meetings were not known by that name then, but it took until 2000 for this particularly challenging form of sail racing to make an appearance within Skandia Cowes Week.



This year’s event became a match race between Daphne (built 1923) and Kitty (built 1895) because a number of engine and weather problems kept other potential contenders away.  But the pair still managed to show 870 other Cowes competitors a thing or two on Saturday by getting away on a very light breeze at 1000, three hours before the main classes commenced their starts.

Starting these vessels in tide without wind requires an extremely conservative approach to avoid being over the line.  Intent on reversing her fortunes this year after striking a yacht and retiring in 2002, Kitty quickly crossed the line within a minute or so of the gun and struck out on a tight reach for the first mark, Marsh, over on the eastern shore.  Lady Daphne followed about six lengths behind.  Both boats managed to keep their momentum despite the light breezes, no bad thing as you don’t restart over 80 tons of boat lightly.

Gordon Diffey used to be a trading bargeman in the 1960s and crewed on Lady Daphne on Saturday.  Despite his age, he was remarkable at showing the young, amateur crew what it really takes to sail these creatures.  With such light winds, there was time for a few tales, including the race Gordon had won when the skipper had taken to his bunk due to sickness.

Lady Daphne managed to keep nipping at Kitty, but Kitty kept her well covered.  Just before the first rounding, Lady Daphne attempted to overtake.  Kitty vigorously defended her position with an assertive luff, costing Lady Daphne a few lengths at the first rounding.  Lady Daphne sought shallower waters by the shore to cheat the tide while Kitty took the direct line to the next mark, Royal Southern.  As both boats came into the mark, neither strategy had paid off and Kitty held an almost identical lead.

Things got very interesting at the Royal Southern rounding.  Kitty misjudged a difficult tack in tide, hitting the mark.  Her skipper, Wayne Norris, took the rounding mark penalty and then struck out for the island shore, apparently counting on winds freshening rapidly.  Lady Daphne, skippered by James Kent, went north to Calshot to play with small tidal differences and gambling on the wind building slowly.  The strongly diverging strategies led to over three miles of separation at one point.  Both boats seemed to sail in and out of wind holes and pockets.

The result? Lady Daphne stormed down from the north with increasing wind and tide to emerge some 12 minutes in front and tacked ‘nimbly’ (two minutes on a Thames barge!) across the finish line.

The informal match chairman, Roger Marriott, hosted the prize-giving on Kitty, which he owns, returning the match cups to Lady Daphne.

There have been a number of improvements to the Thames Sailing Barge racing at Cowes over the last four years to ensure that port-starboard incidents with yachts are minimised.  The barge course is now separate from the smaller boats and the finish line has been moved away from the front of the Royal Yacht Squadron.  These two changes have been strongly supported by the barge skippers and are likely to lead to quite a number of vessels returning to Cowes for 2004.  There is also talk of introducing a handicap system that has been successful for a few years at the Thames Match.  See for more details.