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Ship Ahoy! A wind-powered cruise on the Blue Peter

Lesley DiFonzo

25th June, 2011

Whether you’re racing or cruising; as Lesley DiFonzo discovered, a short voyage on a classic sailing boat is the perfect way to kick back

The first sight of the Blue Peter is breathtaking: a perfect, storybook confection of rosy-brown wood and pristine white sails floating on cerulean blue water. Classic boats of this calibre are few and far between and the Blue Peter stands out. Not only for her beauty but because she is one of the few classic wooden yachts available for charter in the Mediterranean. I wasn’t really supposed to be on board but fate took a pleasant turn and I found myself part of the crew racing in the Imperial Regatta of Corsica. Without much help from me, she finished a very respectable 2nd behind Rowdy. This was the first time I’d tried my hand at sailboat racing and what a way to start. Until now I had been strictly cruising: ‘not another tack, why jibe now? Are we there yet?’ Now it all made complete sense.

Launched in 1930, the Alfred Mylne designed, British-built yacht was named the Blue Peter for luck, after the 'P' flag, which is used as the preparatory signal before starting a race. It worked; the Blue Peter won over 50 races in and around the south coast of England over the next 20 years, sailing out of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Burnham-on-Crouch. Mathew Barker restored her once again and now owns and runs her as a charter business in the Mediterranean. Alex is the stay on board crew and was easily able to do everything from hoisting and stowing to changing the burgee at the top of the mast, all at blistering speed.

Safe hands established, the week included thrilling pursuit race. I was surprised at how competitive I became and more so as the week progressed. We just had to catch Rowdy. It was not to be but the team put their all into it. The organisers had cleverly arranged finish lines at classy venues around Corsica, so after a day’s racing we could swim and go ashore for delicious local food, with Corsican delicacies in abundance. Onboard, we ate big French baguette sandwiches, fruit and bits  – ravenously consumed after racing  - and plenty of beer and superb Corsican Rose for apres sail.

The Corsican regatta is just one of many on the classic boat circuit and when we vacated, Mat and his crew were moving on to the next one, being held in Antibes, a little over than a week later. But before then and at the end of each day, whether late or early, the entire crew joined in with a cleaning fest. All the wood, fittings and fixtures- even winches- were hosed down and then dried of with shamies. Ropes were carefully furled and coiled and sails made ready for the next day’s adventure. Going ashore each evening brought its own set of delights, with a celebratory or commiserative quayside drink, some fine music, and then off into Ajaccio old town for a very pleasant evening with the team, all of whom were now good friends.

Looking back at the Blue Peter once ashore, I realised that keeping her beauty  and pristine look is a vital part. She is, after all, one of the most beautiful sights in the Mediterranean. This had been a truly life changing experience and I kept finding myself saying: ‘lets sell the house and buy a classic boat.’ Of course, it probably wouldn’t raise much more than the deposit but we can all dream.

The Blue Peter is based in Cannes and is available for charter. Contact Mat on 00 33 (0) 678 281 746 or see www.thebluepeter.com for more information.

Tall ships and canal boats: five great sailing trips

Narrow boating in Bedfordshire
Leighton Buzzard’s Wyvern Shipping Company offers a mixture of weekend and longer breaks aboard one of its gaily coloured fleet of wooden narrowboats on the picturesque Grand Union canal. All trips start in Leighton Buzzard before heading north through the lushly green Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside towards the pretty canalside village of Stoke Bruerne. Key stops along the way include the Three Locks pub in Stoke Hammond – brilliant for a refreshing pint once you’ve navigated the trio of water gates just outside it – and the Georgian Cosgrove Aquaduct.
Find out more: www.canalholidays.co.uk

Relax on a houseboat in Portugal
Located in the striking rocky hills of the eastern Alentejo region, the Great Alqueva Lake is a large manmade reservoir, created by the building of a hydroelectric dam in the Guadiana River. The lake is home to the pretty Amieira Marina, which is home seven houseboats, including one that sleeps up to 12 people. Onshore attractions include the picturesque Moorish town of Mourão, which is home to a wonderfully well-preserved 13th century castle, and Monsaraz, a medieval hilltop village with panoramic views of the lake and Guadiana River.
Find out more: www.amieiramarina.com

Solar powered canal boating in France
Plying the sleepy waters of the Canal du Midi between Carcassonne and Béziers is solar-powered barge, the Soleil d’Oc. Seven-day trips aboard the eco-friendly ship start at Carcassonne and take in the Narbonnais natural reserve, the wine making Minervois region and a visit to the port of Le Somail – one of the original stops on the 17th century canal. The solar-propelled cruise ends in the mediaeval city of Béziers, famously razed to the ground by Simon de Montford in the 13th century, but now restored to its former glory.
Find out more: www.naviratous2.com

Cruising on a wooden sailboat in Scotland
With over 1,000 miles of Atlantic coastline and abundant fauna, the Isle of Skye is one of the UK’s best wildlife-spotting locations, with the Golden Eagle, the Basking Shark and Red Deer among  inhabitants. Wilderness Scotland’s sailing trips aboard the wind-powered yacht Elinca take you within sight of the Black Cullin Mountain, around the former pirate haunts in the Sound of Raasay and into the dramatically beautiful Loch Scavaig. Other highlights include the lovely Trotternish Peninsula and a jaunt to the tiny Isle of Rona.
Find out more: www.wildernessscotland.com

Set sail on a tall ship in Italy
The 439-foot Royal Clipper is the largest fully rigged sailing ship in the world, and bears a distinct resemblance to the HMS Victory, although inside she’s more luxury hotel than cannons and grog. Setting off from Civitavecchia (port of Rome), her seven-day voyage takes in the verdant Amalfi Coast including stops at Sorrento, Amalfi, Taormina (Sicily) and Lipari (Aeolian islands).
Find out more: www.starclippers.com

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