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Old Gaffers Round Britain- Witch and her nemesis lobster pot

by Alistair Randall/Sail-World Cruising on 2 Jul 2013
Witch under tow SW

To celebrate their 50th year anniversary, some Old Gaffers are making their stately way around Britain, but don't be under the impression that it's all easy going. One of the boats, Witch, a 1898 Gaff Cutter, originally a ferry boat for the Isle of Gigha, has proved victim to one of the cruising sailor's most dreaded minor nightmares - the lobster pot.

Witch, whose home port is Walton on the Naze started from Maldon on 20 April. But it was July 1st before their first glitch occurred, sailing on the eastern coast of Scotland. Read their story:

We left Whitehills at 1400 when there was enough tide to get out of the harbour. We sailed for a short while but the wind dropped and went on the nose so we motored. As we approached Fraserburgh I suddenly noticed a lobster buoy right on the bow. It was quite a large buoy and with no time to do anything I hoped that it would bump down the side but I had reckoned without the 25 foot pickup line with small buoys on it that was hidden in the waves and partly dragged under by the tide which wrapped itself firmly round the propellor and stopped the engine.

We got the sail down as the wind was pushing us around and then assessed the situation. We appeared to be dragging towards the shore, although that turned out to be us just taking up the slack. Cutting the rope was not an option as it was deep down and in any case we would then have been at the mercy of the tide. I called the Coastguard to advise them of our situation and before long they informed us that they had called out the Lifeboat from Fraserburgh.



The Lifeboat appeared in very short order and soon had the rope cut and us under tow back to Fraserburgh. They got us moored against one of the fishing quays and the coxswain was volunteering to put on his dry suit to dive on the propellor when they noticed some commercial divers just finishing up on the quay.

The next thing we knew a man in a space suit with umbilicals was being lifted into the water in a cage by a giant crane. He freed the prop and then spent a lot longer under water, as it turned out inspecting the hull. His manager appeared and presented us with a DVD as one of the umbilicals was a camera feed. There was no charge but we gave a generous donation to their beer fund. We went to the RNLI station and chatted with the crew who were a great bunch.


The survey showed that the tip of one of the propellor blades was slightly bent and we had already found that the variable pitch prop was stuck in forward. We left Fraserburgh at 0400 to catch the tide and had a brisk sail round to Peterhead where Howard from Bonify was waiting on the pontoon to help us stop (no reverse gear means no brakes).

We tried to find somewhere to dry out to dismantle the prop but the tide was wrong and it couldn't be done. We had a social day with visits from old friends from Aberdeen and then had a social in the early evening with Bonify, Windflower and Silver Bear.

Tomorrow we will try to get off the pontoon (Howard has volunteered to tow us off) and then intend to do a long hop to Eyemouth, where we know we can dry out.

The Climax of the Celebrations will be the OGA http://oga50.org/#/oga-jubilee-festival/4545879440!Jubilee_Festival at Cowes 15th - 18th August.

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