Sailing a yacht taken as a Second World War prize in the Solent
There is no doubt that Overlord certainly has the ‘row away’ wow factor. I think the beauty of our sport comes as much from the craft we use as from the interaction between wind and water that we enjoy.
I certainly felt this beauty while helming the 58ft Overlord close hauled in a southwesterly Force 2-3 under No1 jib and full main.
Feeling the gentle pressure on the tiller as each gust encouraged the 20-tonne yacht to pick up the pace was magical. The tiller felt rock solid if a little dead, with no vibration or feedback until you needed a slight course change to get back on track. A little body weight was required to encourage the rudder to accelerate the flow across it and the whole structure came alive as the yacht bore away, the sails taking their optimum shape before leaning into the swell. As the gorgeous overhangs touched the bow wave, a gentle acceleration could be perceived. It wasn’t an adrenaline rush; it was more satisfying and longer lasting.
A day earlier we had left Universal Marina on the River Hamble, where Overlord is berthed.
She was built by the German shipyard Abeking and Rasmussen, based near Bremen, as a training vessel for the Luftwaffe in 1936 and was one of a number of yachts ‘claimed’ by the Allied forces after the Second World War, allocated to the British and Commonwealth forces. All of these so-called ‘Windfall Yachts’ are now in private hands. Overlord is owned and run by the Offshore Cruising Club (OCC), whose vice commodore, Luiz Provin, had kindly invited me for the weekend Solent cruise.
It was a crew of nine who listened to the thorough safety briefing that followed the arrival of skipper John Porter, a former OCC commodore who has been sailing Overlord for 35 years. I made a mental note that safety briefings on my own boat should be a little more comprehensive.
The skipper said he wanted to leave before 0930 and we slipped lines 10 minutes
early. This was a theme that endured throughout the weekend: when the skipper said something should be done, it was done.
Overlord was pointing upstream on the Hamble and as the tide had begun to ebb, the bows were allowed to pay off before the hardworking Yanmar eased her into the stream. The engine controls sit too low in the cockpit to be much use to the helmsman, so concise instructions are required to the mate at the controls: ‘Half ahead five seconds’ was the command as we approached a gap in the open moorings. ‘Burst astern, then neutral’, came the second order as the helm went hard over. Overlord followed her instructions slowly and I noticed the large roving fender ready to be deployed at the bows. The turn continued in a wide arc but at a serene pace. Just as I thought the fender was going to be pressed into service, a command of ‘Burst ahead’ encouraged the bows to sweep majestically past the exposed rump of a new Beneteau.
Now in the main channel, we joined the armada of Saturday morning cruisers heading for Southampton Water. West of Calshot, we were tacking towards Yarmouth and I soon picked up the extra dimension of swapping the running backstays at each tack. While Overlord isn’t known for her upwind performance, taking almost 90° to complete each tack, we soon picked up a decent pace towards The Needles. By 1300, the forecast Force 4 hadn’t materialised and we handed the jib to replace it with a genoa. This rewarded us with a welcome extra knot of boat speed.
Approaching Yarmouth, it was clear that although mid-october, a lot of other boating folk had the same idea and there was limited space, something which Overlord doesn’t enjoy. We resigned ourselves to a night on a buoy, with home-cooked Thai chilli and plenty of wine to console us. But an hour later, a space opened up alongside the harbour wall and the ever-helpful Yarmouth harbourmaster was on hand to ensure that we berthed without incident.
Sunday dawned misty, with a southwesterly Force 2-3 and we weren’t making much easting against the ebb, even with genoa and full main, so I was delighted when the skipper ordered the spinnaker on deck. Even with her old training spinnaker, Overlord put her nose down and accelerated to 6 knots, just a knot and a half less than apparent. This was indeed champagne sailing – flat water, a light breeze and the gratifying pull of the spinnaker in the colours of the Union flag.
By 1600, we were safely berthed back at Universal Marina and an hour was spent making Overlord sparkle for her next crew the following weekend.
Although she is not known for her upwind performance, Overlord can still thrill in the right conditions Overlord sails a varied schedule with regular trips in UK and European waters
Ian Taylor, 56, co-owns a Dawn Class 39, Stroma ofFindhorn. He cruises and races in the Solent and is a member of London Corinthian Sailing Club
Overlord was originally called Pelikan before being appropriated by the British military from the Germans
Overlord’s crew enjoy some downtime
There is always something to learn or practise aboard
A well fed crew is a happy crew
Overlord has been owned by the Offshore Cruising Club since the 1960s