PC 231 Ropes Warps and Sheets

Over the centuries those who sail have come to name every conceivable part of a boat, ship or yacht so that, in times of crisis, the exact name, particularly of a sail or rope, can be used. ‘Slacken off the main sheet’ cried the mate and a crewman jumped to do it. These scribbles are not designed to educate you to become an experienced sailor but simply to describe a couple of occasions when ropes, whether lifts or warps, made a difference.

I should declare my love of ropes and warps and sheets and halyards and guys and hawsers ……. will whip any lose end and splice ropes to make lanyards etc. I even made a Star Knot but my five 60cm lengths soon disappeared and I never had a tail, the knot that is!  

Star Knot on the left and my sailing knife with spliced lanyard

When I arrived at the British Kiel Yacht Club on the western shore of the  Kieler Fjord in northern Germany in 1969, all the club’s training yachts were ‘Danboats’; GRP, about 30ft long, sleeping 6 and without an engine, they were ideal for teaching the rudiments of sailing.

The BKYC Pontoon with Danboats on both sides

Rather like flying, taking off is easier than landing and when the yachts came back to the jetty they had to carry out a complicated manoeuvre to tie up.  Diagrams are the best way to illustrate this.

This is how the yachts are moored, bow to piles and stern to jetty

To get there you had to come alongside the piles, with both mooring lines having Bowlines (Note 1) made into their ends. You had no brakes so it was a real judgement about when to let the sails down. The starboard (green and right) warp was brought around the yacht’s stern to the port (red and left) side.

When you could you placed both bowlines over the cleats on the wooden piles and checked the forward motion a little.

When the stern was clear of the second pile, you turned the yacht through 90° by pulling on the starboard line first; squared up into the berth and pulled backwards, ensuring two crew were at the stern with mooring lines.  

The previous year my regiment spent three weeks in the Dhekelia Sovereign Base area in south eastern Cyprus, near Larnaca, undergoing ‘Adventurous Training’ and skills assessments. I was a second lieutenant and you don’t get lower on the officer ladder than that (Note 2). My troop commander, a Captain James Scarlett, loved sailing so he chartered a 44ft RAF yacht based at RAF Akrotiri, near Limassol, called Highlight.

On the first day of the charter we set sail for Dhekelia. Cyprus in August is hot and 1968 was no exception; generally the nights were calm with little breeze but by 1100 there was a strong onshore wind that got up from the south.

We arrived well after dawn off the sandy beach. We anchored and James Scarlett suggested we all went ashore for breakfast, Scarlett and me to the Officers’ Mess, two sergeants to the Sergeants’ Mess and the three soldiers to the mess hall – all very hierarchical!! In retrospect he was showing too much bravado and not much common sense as he left no one on board; sand is often a poor holding ground. By 1030, just finishing scrambled eggs and grilled bacon a mess orderly appeared and whispered in Captain Scarlett’s ear: “Sir! Thought you ought to know that your boat seems to be too close to the beach.”

Never seen James blush so quickly and we legged it out the door and down to the beach to find Highlight bouncing up and down in the surf, her keel firmly on the sand. We managed to bring her around, head to wind, but by then she had created a little trench in the sand with the constant up and down action of her keel; I stood with water up to my thighs next to her and her draft was 6 feet!

A still from some cine film. The chap on the left of Highlight is standing!

There was much scratching of heads and eventually a local Royal Engineer offered to bring over a tug – essentially a large metal assault boat filled with engines. A hawser was attached to the Samson Post up in Highlight’s bow and paid out to the tug. The first hawser, a rope, parted as soon as tension was increased; the second, a wire one, started to lift the Samson Post out of the rather rotten wooden deck. Back to square one!

By now it was late afternoon and the wind had died down a little. To break the suction of the sand trench, we needed to be imaginative. Our solution was to take the topping lift and attach it to a large kedge anchor and put that in the sand some 25m off to the starboard side. We then winched in the topping lift; gradually the yacht heeled over and when it was about 40° the tug, sitting at an oblique angle, began to pull.

There was a great sucking sound and Highlight came free. We later tied up to a buoy in a nearby bay and inspected the keel. There was a slight dent in the keel plate but otherwise no damage. We were extremely lucky!

Lessons are always learned when sailing and I was reminded of Cyprus and near disaster when anchored off Lamlash on the Isle of Aran in Scotland, in the midst of sailing St Barbara IV from Liverpool to Oban.

The little village of Lamlash top left; Holy Island on the right

It was 1983 and the Royal Artillery Yacht Club was celebrating its 50th birthday by sailing St B IV around Great Britain.  I set an anchor watch as we turned in, for we were a bit exposed. At 0310 Chris woke me, worried about the rising wind and possibility of dragging the anchor. We started the engine, hauled the anchor in and motored three miles or so into the lee of Holy Isle. Anchor firm, engine off, back to my bunk. Job done!

Richard 21st May 2021


Note 1The Bowline – an essential knot which can be undone very easily

Note 2 It had its advantages, being the lowest of the low, as towards the end of the three weeks the Commanding officer took me aside and asked me to be in charge of the 4 man Rear Party – another 10 days to make sure all the Regimental freight left as planned. An onerous task which took all of one day!

One thought on “PC 231 Ropes Warps and Sheets

  1. crikey, quite a drama! The mooring tutorial is still baffling but the illustrations are first class. Eddie 


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