WHEN THE PUBS OF GLANDORE STRUCK UP THEIR SIREN CALL TO THE BELEAGUERED CREW OF CLASSIC YACHT IOLAIRE, THE FASTNET RACE WAS PUT ON HOLD
This month’s Great Seamanship features two sailors I have known for many years. The account is taken from Charles J Doane’s book entitled The Sea is Not Full. My chum Charlie is one of the best sea writers of our time, leavening his tales of mishap and misadventure with carefully balanced philosophical observations. This chapter is taken from the section on shipmates, where I was delighted to find insight into the legendary Donald M Street Junior – Don to his friends. I first met Don in the West Indies in 1984 and we have crossed tacks many times since, but have never sailed together. Reading this perfectly weighted story of a uniquely polite mutiny puts us aboard Don’s engineless Iolaire, veteran of many a Fastnet Race and too many Atlantic crossings to count. It also introduces us to a remarkable crew, hand-picked for a disparity of contributions. Best of all, it takes us to sea with the old storm warrior himself, a privilege not given to many. Having worked with Don Street a number of times, I wasn’t too surprised when he called me in the summer of 2005 and asked if I wanted to go sailing with him.
“Iolaire will be 100 this year!” he announced. “I’m turning 75. I’m going to celebrate by doing the Fastnet Race again! You want to come along?”
The story of Don and Iolaire is a classic example of his ability to get up and go again after suffering a setback. He acquired the boat in 1957 from H R ‘Bobby’ Somerset, a founding member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), but after just one year in the charter trade she was wrecked on a beach in St Thomas when her anchor shackle broke in a mean onshore swell. Her insurers declared her a total loss, paid off the claim, and Don immediately bought back the wreck for just $100. He then gutted the old girl right there on the beach, somehow got her patched up and floated her off. Within 14 weeks she was out on charter again – with many new planks, several new frames, a new rudder, and a whole new interior. This in an age when there were no real yard facilities for yachts anywhere in the West Indies.
I was struck by how dishevelled the boat seemed, a trait she shared with her owner. Her hull seemed firm and fair, her decks well laid, but all the gear was old and tarnished, eccentrically mismatched, and in some cases entirely dysfunctional. Wandering her decks was like perusing the aisles of a marine salvage jumble. Likewise Don’s wardrobe – a torn pair of corduroy trousers, the frayed remains of an Oxford dress shirt, and an old Navy pea-coat that was missing two buttons – appeared to have been pilfered from a Salvation Army dumpster.
I soon learned that as dissolute as they appeared, both Don and his boat were highly organised, with detailed instructions on every aspect: when to eat, when to sleep, how to change watch, who would serve what food when, how to wash pots and pans, how to use the head, where to stow your gear and boots, and so forth, ad infinitum.
Most important of all were the directions on sail and line handling, which were illustrated with detailed diagrams of all the officially sanctioned knots to be used. The most important of these was the towboat hitch, used to tie off the headsail sheets on the antique primary winches which had no regular fixed cleats beside them.
Though superficially Don and Iolaire seemed decrepit, they were both in fact inherently robust. As Don observed: “My doctor tells me everything I do is unhealthy. But I’m in perfect health, so he says I shouldn’t change a thing.”
Because of his reputation, the RORC had decided to allow Don to race Iolaire in a special ‘demonstration class’. She had previously raced in the Fastnet under Don’s command in 1975 and 1995, and once under Bobby Somerset in 1953, but could no longer meet the modern, more stringent race qualifications. So the club instead was allowing her to sail as an unofficial entrant, starting alone ten minutes before the rest of the fleet.
Though we were not rated and could not possibly win anything, Don was nonetheless taking the race quite seriously. As soon as he finished stuffing us full of food, he
Iolaire start of the 2005 Fastnet Race Don Street at the helm of in the Solent soon after the