A new boat

By Stephen Godber, Parker 235 'Exodus'

This article was published in 2 parts in the PSSA magazine.

Part 1

As a child I learned to sail on the River Trent - not very salubrious but it was all we had! Dad and I started in a Pandora dinghy, then moved up to an Enterprise. Aged 8 I went off to boarding school in Colwyn Bay, so spent 10 years living by the sea, sailing the school ‘barges’ until I bought my own first dinghy, a Fennec which was like a poor man’s 420. I then saw an advert for an elderly 505 and thus began an awareness of Parkers...

Roll on 30 years of life, marriage, kids, and business and hey presto, I am at last in the frame again for a boat. Having sold our business in Lincolnshire three years ago and taken a belated ‘gap’ year we have wound up living in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. And if you are a sailor and you don’t sail here then you need shooting!

Slight problem, which is very common, is that my wife Berenice is slightly less keen than I, despite some flotilla holidays in the Ionian and Antigua, so I knew I had to tread carefully. So last year we had a Warrior fast fishing boat, a 16 footer with a 75 HP Evinrude on the back with which to learn the local area and gain confidence.you know, that thing where the boat doesn’t tip to one side or the other. I expected this acclimatisation to take a few years, however by about August last year Berenice made the mistake of saying “Actually, I think I could do the sailing thing now” and our boat was Ebayed and away within 10 days! So now instead of paying £1.15 per litre for fuel (yes!) we had the option of using God’s free wind for power, and began to search for an appropriate boat.

I visited the Southampton Boat Show, and my experience was published in the letters pages of “Sailing Today” magazine (Feb 2007). In short, there was little to see. I considered but dismissed the Shrimper and Drascombe type boats, and the Hunter was expensive (over £4000 for the trailer!). There is no cranage here and I wanted the freedom to recover the boat to home each winter.

Whilst down south I looked at Parker 235 number 12 (“Sunflower”) which Michael and Jenny Mead were selling. They were very helpful and on my way back from Southampton I seriously considered it but eventually decided that with no income I’d rather invest the capital now and delay maintenance costs for as long as possible by buying new, so that was the decision.

We arranged to visit Bill and the team a few weeks later (19 October) having already put a deposit on hull number 51 and were delighted to see the hull being made during our visit. The advantage of buying new, as you will all know, is that one can specify exactly what is wanted, and we wanted a proper sea toilet and holding tank rather than a chemical job. We really liked the demonstrator red colour but eventually decided on dark (Navy) blue, which looks classy and is timeless and therefore safe. We had a Garmin GPS on our previous boat for which I still had £150 worth of West Coast chip so we ordered another Garmin 178 which combines plotter with depth sounder.

For those interested, we also specified spray hood, full nav lights, larger battery with solar panel and NASA monitor, keel lock down rod, Cobra VHF, and spinnaker fiitings, though no spinnaker as yet - there will be plenty to concentrate on for the first year!

Just before Christmas Bill Parker told us the boat was ready, so a perfect plan was hatched (read on!!) to do a 1500 mile round trip, returning daughter to Kent University, followed by a day at the London Boat Show followed by collection of our new boat on the way back. As we left Mull a friend warned of massive storms the following week..yeah, whatever!

The Boat Show was great, we were there on the Monday and it was deserted! Bad for stand holders, great as punters! We ordered a Honda aluminium floor inflatable as a tender and two Tohatsu 6HP outboards, one for the tender and a Sail-Drive for the Parker. The Show savings on these three items alone covered the cost of the whole trip. A £15 Travelodge at Thurrock completed the budget!

We were due to collect our new boat on Thursday 11th January. The Wednesday was glorious, and we spent it with our other daughter in Lincolnshire, in a favourite pub called the Five Bells in Bassingham..but I couldn’t now ignore the storm warnings, and knew we had left it a day too late! Sure enough, next morning dawned wild. Lorries on their sides, roads shut, A66 closed over Penrith, “don’t travel unless you need to” stuff. Well, we needed to, so off to Parkers we went! On arrival our 235 was parked up ready, with the mast up ready for a lowering demonstration. With a half eye on the billowing clouds and dodging the step ladder that kept blowing over we watched Bill and Tom de-rig our boat and prepare it for a 500 mile journey. I currently have a box of ropes and pins and things which I have no idea where to put - if I do Part 2 of this article it may amuse you!

Two hours later we were ready, and gingerly set off, and I was immediately impressed by the ease and stability of towing our new acquisition. We did our own move to Mull using an Ifor Williams 2.5 ton trailer, and it took us 11 journeys totalling 11000 miles so I sort of got used to it. We bought a Kia Sorento two years ago for the purpose, and it has been faultless (for the price of a 3 year old Discovery, which I have previously owned and just doesn’t compare). Nevertheless, the Parker was the longest and widest I had towed, and we were heading into 80mph winds!

The plan was to do one hour to Newark and if it was terrible bale out and stop at friends, but if it was okay we’d continue and do 5 hours up to Carlisle where another £15 Travelodge beckoned. All seemed okay at Newark, so we turned right and headed North, now with the Westerly wind from the side rather than on the nose. As we approached Scotch Corner the A66 re-opened and over the Pennines we went, reaching Carlisle by 8pm.

A wild night followed, I seriously thought the whole ensemble would blow over in the empty but exposed motorway services car-park, chosen for ease of parking. I also worried that some half life would nick my wheels / trailer-board / equipment and so slept little. The water was off too so not even a relaxing hot bath, though we did get a full refund of our £15!

Next morning we set off to Scotland, up the M6 and M74 through the borders to Glasgow, and then on to Stirling. There are two routes to Mull; either Oban which is quicker but the ferry is more expensive or through Glencoe and across the Morvern peninsula, using two smaller ferries which cost less. This is particularly relevant with a trailer, which is really penalised on the main route. However, as we got to the decision point at Crianlarich we phoned ahead to discover that the smaller ferries weren’t running - they had tried once with the school kids and the 15 minute crossing lasted 50 minutes!! We were left with no choice but Oban, and as it was still howling a gale and single track roads were not high on my desires list we decided to swallow the extra costs and get home.

Trailers are charged by Calmac at 5m and 8m and then become "commercial". Our 235 is 7.14m plus the trailer yoke putting it "very near" 8m; with the mast it is clearly over 8m. The trailer price for 8m is £38, but over that it would cost £140. You now see my concern! I reckoned if they were awkward I could shuffle the mast over the car roof just for the crossing... more later!

We got to Oban for 2pm, hoping to catch the 4pm ferry, albeit we were unbooked on this route and therefore on standby, a nail-biting position at the best of times. But at 3pm they cancelled the 4pm sailing. We were parked on the dock and the gusts hitting us were rocking us severely. The next ferry was 9.30pm, but by 5pm they cancelled this too. So whilst everyone else headed for hotels we stayed put. We had a total length of nearly 50’ and lots of equipment on board (boxes with new VHF, GPS and other equipment) and, by the way a Labrador who had now been in the boot for 30 hours. I offered Bernice a B & B but decided I’d stay with all our stuff, at the front of the queue, and sleep in the car. She decided to stay with me The next ferry was 8am, but they couldn’t guarantee us a place until the 10am, because of our length. By now a backlog had formed from the cancelled ferries, so we spent a very long cold January night on standby, sleeping in the car as the wind showed no sign of abating.

The next morning it was still rough but they decided to sail, and began loading. We waited and prayed (really) to get on this boat, as the thought of waiting for the 10am, which might yet then be cancelled, was just too much. Just when we had seen so many vehicles go on that we thought there couldn’t be any more room they beckoned us on - the very last place. As we descended the boarding ramp I saw our slot straight ahead, and realised with horror that they had accurately allowed for an 8m trailer! I nosed right up to a lorry in front, and stopped. As I got out I saw consternation at the back of our boat; the bow door was coming up and our mast was sticking out and..it stopped 6” from our masthead light! How embarrassing, I don’t know what we would have done had we stopped the door closing and the ferry sailing. I think we would have been lynched!

We put to sea for the 45 minute crossing, and got 10 minutes out before we turned back! Unbelievably there was a problem with the bow door which wouldn’t shut! We returned to Oban where after half an hour they fixed it, and off we set again. Had we had to disembark I think we would have cried. I half expected to see a metre of my mast hacksawed off when we went back down to the car deck!

We arrived safely on Mull at 9.30am, and got home for11am, 48 hours after setting off to Parkers. We were very grateful to be home, where a lightning strike had blown up our phones but the power had remained on and thus our freezers were full of edible food rather than wet mush. I reversed the boat down our steep curving drive and parked up (perhaps forever).

We have named her “Exodus” - biblical, it means ‘The Great Escape to Freedom’. If we ever get all the bits together and launch her I may write Part 2, although I can’t imagine it will be as eventful as Part 1!!

Part 2

Following my previous article documenting the collection of our new Parker 235 last January I thought I should follow up my threat to bore you all with a second and concluding piece! I feel the need to do this given that the last article only got as far as describing a traumatic 48 hour road trip back to the Isle of Mull during which the only sea passage our boat had undertaken was aboard a Calmac ferry!

The grand finale of our epic trip home from the factory was a tricky reversal down our extremely steep and curving gravel drive, from which I was never sure that we would recover the boat without additional towing help! As the car came down the steepest bit I braked gently and all four wheels simply slid as the 235 pulled us down.but we didn’t care, we were home! I reversed one side of the trailer up onto a pre-positioned timber ramp so that the boat and trailer sat level on a drive that slopes away to one side - I figured that if it was to be parked here for three months it should have all its loads bearing down in the right direction. I also wanted to know that the boat was as secure as possible for those times that I would wake in the night during our frequent winter storms when winds regularly hit 80mph.

The next fine day I actually got to inspect what we had bought! Fully rested and with a mug of coffee in hand I clambered up the ladder and onto “Exodus”. So much to see, so many instructions to read, and fortunately a few months in which to do so! We lifted the mast off and stored it next to the boat on tressles, and I opened all the seacocks, taps and anything that would provide some through ventilation - even removing the log blanking plug. I had opted for the fixed ventlights in both the galley and heads - whilst the opening options provide better ventilation when open, they provide none whatsoever when closed, whilst the Ventlights are always venting yet remain waterproof. As it happened, condensation was never a problem throughout winter storage.

Snow covered on drive
Snow covered on drive

Over the course of the next couple of months I tinkered with all the bits and pieces, whenever the weather allowed. When it rained, climb in and suss out the GPS and VHF, when it was fine identify all the halyards and fittings on the mast, and when fine AND warm apply the boat name in pre-cut vinyl.

I read through the Parker handbook cover to cover as well as those instruction manuals specific to equipment I had chosen. For those even remotely interested I had a combined Garmin colour plotter and depth sounder / log installed, linked to a Cobra DSC VHF. We also had a proper sea-toilet installed with holding tank, plus many of the other ‘usual’ accessories: full nav lights, larger battery and solar panel, large bow locker cleat, etc. We had chosen an all-white hull and decks with dark Navy Blue trim which included the Sprayhood, Stackpack and padded lifeline covers.

After a couple of weeks my engines arrived - I had ordered two at the London Boatshow, one for my tender and one for the 235. Both engines were 6hp Tohatsu’s on the basis that a fault with either would mean I had a spare, although of course the one for the 235 is the Saildrive version with an alternator. Whilst fitting I had to use a hacksaw to reduce the sliding rail length which was fouling the engine throttle arm but that apart it went in fine and I wired it up so that it would charge the battery - the solar panel also charges the battery, and an excellent NASA battery monitor tells me what is happening at all times.

Suddenly Spring was here! We had remarkable weather in March (in fact, I have been renovating our house and was working outside in T-shirt and shorts as early as February!) and having checked tides and weather we decided to launch on Friday 30th March. I was also aware that the anti-fouling had been on for nearly three months and needed immersing to activate it. Given the length of the car / boat combination plus the overhang of the mast when hinged at its’ base prior to raising I had worked out I needed 10 car park spaces in Tobermory at the top of the slipway! Knowing this was unlikely, I left home at 7am, not only to ‘bag’ some empty slots but also to avoid meeting any traffic on single track and badly pot-holed roads. On arrival in Tobermory a lone motorhome was in the middle of an otherwise empty row of parking spaces, its occupants asleep, and so I had to loiter with intent, blocking the other spaces until the campers awoke, cooked, did whatever else needed doing, wiped away several gallons of condensation and eventually moved off! Once they’d gone however I parked up, got my ladders out and set to work sorting out the mast and rigging - it’s funny, however much you’ve prepared and read the instructions, you forget under pressure! The pressure came from the constant stream of friends passing by who stopped to chat and look and compliment the boat. I was really glad I’d taken the trouble to label all the different ropes and wires- I know it must become second nature but remember I had never seen the mast being raised, although I had heard a horror story of a 235 mast twisting and falling during installation, and I didn‘t want to risk that happening!

First launch
First launch

I was all ready by about 3pm. Mast up, (having remembered to attach the wind vane and VHF aerial!) rudder hung, warps and fenders fixed, and everything double checked. High tide was 5pm, however there was a strongish on-shore wind blowing, and with a new boat, an unused engine, a keel I had never lowered and a rock bank a few feet downwind of the slipway I was wary. The slipway here has a nasty 70 degree bend in it so as you back down you can see nothing - so the higher the tide the safer it is. I had pretty much decided to leave it until next morning, but our harbour-master Jim was full of confidence and so we went for it. We ran a long line from the slip to the pontoon to act as an upwind grabrail, and a friend John went on board and held this as I reversed the boat in, off and afloat! No time for champagne; there was a keel and a rudder to lower, a car and trailer to recover, four sea-cocks and a log housing to check for leaks and a 235 to deliver to her mooring! The harbour master towed us with his RIB and with this and the windward line we didn’t even use the engine, although I fired it up just in case.

So “Exodus” was afloat at last! It was now 7pm, my wife had missed the whole thing due to very bad back and so I checked all was secure and made my way home...12 hours to launch a boat! (Sorry!)

Exodus on mooring
Exodus on mooring

Since then we have clocked up about 50 miles under sail, and have generally sorted out both ourselves and “Exodus”. We started with a ‘harbour cruise’ to run in the engine, then out came the jib, then the main. Next came a ‘longer trip’ over to the mainland, then our first anchoring for lunch, then our first trip with friends. It still feels very new and I think we will only begin to explore its’ potential this year - but then hopefully we’ve bought it for many years to come and so we don’t want to peak too early!
I am very pleased with the way it sails (I hadn’t ever sailed a 235) and it responds really well. My wife Berenice was nervous of sailing, despite an RYA dinghy course and some flotilla holidays, but the greatest joy of all (really!) is that she has taken to it like the proverbial ‘duck to water’ and I have hardly helmed - it’s a bit like buying a new motorbike and riding pillion all the time! But I’m delighted about this, and her growing confidence will pay dividends in future adventures.

The Happy Couple!
The Happy Couple!

So has it been trouble free? Well, pretty much, and I have no regrets whatsoever with our choice of boat. There have been some teething problems as you’d expect: I had to re-wire the GPS link to the VHF to read Lat and Long, and Parkers have replaced both the spray hood and the guard wires, both of which had manufacturing faults - I assume these are out-sourced so not directly Parkers fault. I’ve also had to buy new jib sheets because the originals were identical to the keel uphaul rope, and being sited adjacent to one another it was an accident waiting to happen: “just bearing away, dear... just release the jib... Whooosh, THUNK!.oh look, our keel has left the boat”. The jib sheets are now a solid blue colour and stand out from all the other flecked ropes on the coach roof! We also need to stock up and carry about a years’ supply of tinned food to act as ballast in the starboard locker to redress the balance (literally) of all the weight being on the port side - fuel, cockpit locker, chart table, battery, toilet and holding tank.”Exodus” sits port-side low but is at least easily identified from the harbour wall because hers is the mast that isn’t vertical!!

Parkers have been great throughout, and Bill and his team have sorted any queries. The Association Forum has been absolutely brilliant and has saved many phone calls to the factory, everyone has been willing to help and it is a great source of information. From mast rake and rig tension to mooring advice and modifications, it’s all on the Forum! I strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t dipped into the Forum to do so - it has been an integral part of the experience. The boat has attracted much favourable comment, and is un-arguably good looking. We are looking forward to a long summer (and as I write in May it is still light at midnight and light again by 3.30am!)and we intend sailing through into November, by which time I will have a lovely long list of winter jobs, modifications and fettling requirements to keep me busy!

Just got to work out how to get it back down our drive whilst maintaining control of the car...!!