semaine-golfe20In my statistics page, I have found sailing forums in Italy and Australia referring to my page on the Huntingford Helm Impeder. It is a simple home-made device for holding the helm of a boat when the skipper needs both hands free, albeit for a short time. For yachts, various devices are available, but the usual thing is self-steering either by an electronic device or a mechanical set-up based on a wind vane and a mini rudder. The latter piece of equipment will reliably steer the boat to the wind as set by the helmsman. The Huntingdon Helm Impeder is not a self-steering device. It simply fixes your helm wherever you want it, and it is released in an instant to take over the helm manually. Self-steering does not work well with dinghies, but this device does.

Before I found the idea, I used a piece of bungee cord across the boat, and did a loop around the end of the tiller. I works, but I was glad to have something a little more refined. I have to emphasise that it is not my invention, but that of John Huntingford who is a member of the Dinghy Cruising Association in England. It features in Roger Barnes‘ book The Dinghy Cruising CompanionTales and Advice from Sailing a Small Open Boat, published by Bloomsbury in 2014. This wonderful book is full of ideas and the fruit of this sailor of long experience. It doesn’t teach you how to sail – you can do that at any sailing school. It teaches you what sailing schools don’t teach! I would like to emphasise that I refuse any credit for other people’s ideas and inventions. That being said, I help to put out the delightful message of dinghy cruising as an alternative to competitive sailing or investing large sums of money in a “big white yacht”.

March has begun, and most years, I get at least one precocious outing on the sea or an inland waterway. It is still on the cold side – I do prefer a minimum of 10°C air temperature, which can be more pleasant if it is dry and sunny. As in the old song The Old Superb, we look to the Peter – which is a metaphor of the old Naval custom of flying the Peter to give the order to get under way:

We looked towards the Admiral, where high the Peter flew,
And all our hearts were dancing like the sea.

Winter is long, and it feels almost a great achievement to take the wintering tarpaulin off the boat. My new lazarette needs another coat of varnish, as – really – do my spars and oars. The time is coming, just for a daysail or two, and then there’s June to look forward to with my exploration of the Rade de Brest and that bucolic event on the River Aulne, the Route du Sable.

Some of us had a discussion on Facebook about the name for our activity as an alternative to Dinghy Cruising, Sail-Oar or Voile-Aviron in French. I had the idea of “Swallows and Amazons for Grown-Ups‘.

That gets the mind and imagination going! That being said, Windermere or Derwentwater are not lakes to be underestimated – any more than the sea.

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