Greg aboard "Matchmaker"

Page published 23 December 2008

In 1970 my friend Tony Herbert visited the London Boat Show and ordered a small yacht, a Sharkie, from a boat builder based in Poole Harbour. She was about 16ft overall, with a sail area of around 90sq ft. The boat was delivered to Birdham in Chichester Harbour in May 1970. "Matchmaker", as she was later to be called, was to be kept on a swinging mooring in Bosham Channel. A colleague from the bank at Bognor where Tony worked, and a couple of girls, helped him to move it there. One of the girls on that first trip was the daughter of another banking colleague and the other a friend of hers who Tony had not met before. That friend was Annette whom he later married. As a result the boat was later named "Matchmaker". I couldn't recall ever knowing the name, but was told that I should have known it when we met up years later at my brother's daughter's wedding. To me it had always been simply "Tony's Boat".

It was not a deep water mooring at Bosham. The boat was only afloat for five hours on each tide. This meant that sailing opportunities were relatively rare, as both tide and weather forecasts needed to favourable before you got a call to say, an outing was planned the following weekend. Tony lived in Bognor. I lived in Crawley and Graham another of my circle was in Horsham. Both of us were about as far as you could get in the county from the coast.

Graham unpacks the Hillman Imp

Graham unloads the gear needed for the day from his Hillman Imp

Having got a call from Tony to say the tide prediction and weather forecast were good and he planned a day aboard, Graham would alert me. Graham and Tony had been at college together at Chichester. Both went on to work at the same bank. I worked in the same branch as Graham, which was how I had come to meet Tony.

The first task on arriving at the coast was to inflate Tony's "toy" dingy. It really did seem to be the kind of thing that the unwise parent buys for a five year old to play with on the beach. It then had to be rowed a hundred yards or so to the mooring and so bring Matchmaker to the quayside. There she would be loaded with the provisions for the day, or sometimes longer. As Graham's car was equipped with roof bars, he usually got the job of bringing the oars.

Tony Herbert and his "Matchmaker"

Tony beside "Matchmaker" as she settles on the falling tide at East Head

Annette, Tony's match, appears to be absent from the trip which these photographs illustrate, although her sister, Elaine, who was later to marry Graham, was with us. It was a typical day out, chosen for glorious sunshine, a reasonable summer coastal breeze and tides at the right time of day to allow a return to the mooring as late in the day as practical.

It was a five and a half mile cruise down to the entrance of Chichester Harbour. Just inside the harbour entrance to the north of a spit of land on the eastern side is a superb sheltered and shallow bay, a favourite for craft to spend a tide dried out. Skippers regularly use it for the opportunity it provides for some below the waterline maintenance.

The Sharkie beached at East Head

Beached, a Sharkie stays upright on its long wide keel, supported by the bilge plates

The Sharkie was a boat for which this would have really worked. Its long, wide, flat bottomed keel allowed it to stay bolt upright. Indeed, Graham, Tony and I once spent a few days aboard cruising around Chichester Harbour. The three of us slept aboard the boat, one in each of the V-berths and one on the floor of the cabin. There is no drop keel or centreboard on a Sharkie, so nothing fills that space in the cabin. When aground, even with the three of us moving about, there was not the faintest tilt - and that included the time we moored on the slightly more sloping beach at Dell Quay, after a long evening at the pub.

I remember little more of the internal design. For example, I could not recall there being the typical central post in the cabin to support the mast or any other special reinforcement to the cabin roof at that point. Tony was later to confirm this was the case. I recall that the fore hatch, on the cabin roof, was secured by a length of 2"x1" wood pivoted at its centre point. You simply turned the wood through 90 to brace it under the longer sides of the hatch opening. I believe that Tony had attached a line to this, otherwise, loose hatch, to prevent it being lost overboard. Just inside the cabin door there were small shelves to each side of the boat with open lockers under each. The photographs seem to show an outlet to starboard, and Tony confirms that this was the sink drain. When I told him that I couldn't remember what toilet facilities were, he responded that they were none.

Tony, Graham and Elaine

Tony, Graham and Elaine take a well earned tea break

Our little gang's other escapades included regular camping trips taken at any time from Easter to August, but especially, the bank holidays. For those, we had an impressive mountain of equipment to make life comfortable when out and about in the New Forest or further west as far as Devon or Cornwall. This included a two burner gas stove and large butane cylinder which also became part of the standard equipment used on board Matchmaker.

Approaching the distinctive church at Bosham

Approaching Tony's mooring, a Flying Dutchman crosses our path in Bosham Channel,
the distinctive tower of Bosham Church in the background

Apart from the overnight cruises, at the end of the day we would have to make our way back up Bosham Channel, passing the beached Thames sailing barge that was owned by West Sussex County Council.

It was from there that the county's Youth Service ran sailing schools during the summer holidays. Mike, my brother, and I had been on a fortnight's course there in the last week of July and first week in August in 1966, learning to sail on Enterprise and 420 dinghies.

Back at Bosham we'd have to clear the boat of everything before Tony would take the little dinghy in tow and motor over to his mooring, whilst the rest of us crew would pack the cars.

Tidying the boat at the end of the day

With the main sail wrapped round the boom, Graham tightens a halyard

If learning to sail in Bosham Channel was one of my most abiding memories of the area, for Tony, it was the end of one particular cruise to East Head. He tells of setting off to the loos (about a forty minute return walk) on a falling tide. When he returned no one had kept boat afloat so they had to wait until well into evening to refloat. There being no navigation light or torch aboard the journey back to Bosham was in rapidly failing light.  Graham had to be dispatched to the bow with a small camping Gaz burner as our navigation system as they travelled back by outboard in the dark occasionally grounding but by then with the comfort of a rising tide.

Stowing the gear at the end of the day

With all the gear ashore Tony prepares to take the boat out to its swinging mooring

I was always jealous of Tony's boat. It surprised me to learn that my time aboard could only have been in the summers of 1970 and 1971. I went to college in Leicester in 1971 and in January 1972 Tony begun work on the Isle of Wight. She stayed in Chichester Harbour until she was shipped to the island by trailer on a ferry. Tony suspects this was in 1973. He recalls that it was not used very much at Chichester Harbour in 1972 as much of that year was taken up in buying a house preparations for his wedding. He sold the boat in either 1973 or 1974 to a Wootton boatyard. "It was too much of a luxury for a young married couple with, by now, other priorities. I last saw it in Bembridge Harbour in 1976/77" he recently wrote to me.

Looking back at Matchmaker he tells me "It was a pig to sail close to wind especially into the prevailing south westerlies which made reaching East Head a bit lengthy. I remember your disdain at suggestions of starting the outboard to get there quicker! The only problem with boat was bottom of the keel was not very strong and it had to be reinforced as it suffered damage and leakage caused by the weight of boat cracking it when it settled on the shingle at the mooring."

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