Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Greetings to the Class from Adam Bergius

Butterflies, captured by Iain Gilchrist
I always thought of Islanders as thoroughly wholesome boats capable of much more than day round the buoy racing. However by the time my mother bought Jura in 1934 to teach her family in the ways of racing that was the well-established role of the Class and a keen racing class it was. Jura did a few cruises before the War but my brothers Walter and Cecil and sister Margie were all keen racers and I was content to be the lucky lad asked to go when there was likely to be a bit of pumping to be done. She was sailed with great success during this period.

When I returned from the Far East in late September 1946 it was to find a letter saying that Jura was mine and there she was lying at her mooring at the foot of Fountain Brae between Kirn and Hunters Quay as if nothing had happened and all ready to go. My father told me to get some friends, take her away for three weeks and join the firm on 6 November.

That was the Sabbatical to mark the end of the War and what a Sabbatical it was. Calm days and frosty nights. Snow on the hills with spectacular colours below. It was bliss and we were all very happy and comfortable with a brisk Primus stove central in the cabin with a copper toaster on top to keep the boat dry and warm inside. We got to Loch Torridon and back, climbing a good many hills on the way.

Next season and from then on after the Saturday race Jura would be off down the Firth with her crew and out of this came the islander’s annual race to Colintraive, with first prize an oil painting of the winner by the accomplished painter James Buchanan of Sanda. Second prize was a 40oz decanter of whisky to be returned empty! I still cherish James’ painting of Jura bowling down the Holy Loch on an evening race with straining spinnaker and crew in their red sock caps. These were jolly occasions when most competitors slept in Colin Rae’s hotel but the Juras had to slum it aboard.

I never felt that the extra weight carried by Jura really affected her performance. In spite of my limited accomplishment as a racing helmsman she had her fair share of prizes and won the Clyde Fortnight Points Cup in 1947. She would have also had a resounding win in the CCC Tobermory Race of, I think, 1950, but she was disqualified for going over the Sgeir nan Gobhar in the Sound of Mull to get the benefit of the strong flood over the shoals. This was considered reckless navigation. My argument that as the rocks were not shown as a mark of the course in the instructions I was quite entitled to pass them on either hand and local knowledge was all that was needed to ensure a safe passage. I was still disqualified! The next year in the same race an elderly friend and distinguished member sailed his fine big cutter under spinnaker between the twin peaks of the Bogha Nuadh and Bogha Ghair just as both were breaking in the heavy groundswell. Spectacular!! Also quite safe and I was delighted in spite of a number of censorious voices around that he was not disqualified. Later on in the Mishnish Hotel he smilingly admitted that with the old low-cut spinnakers you could never see where you were going!

The Royal Highland Regattas were also very much part of Jura’s life so it was little wonder that by I think 1951 I was rather anxious to get rid of the evil ever-leaking coachroof, form a couple of quarter berths and as I was now married have a double berth up forward. Also for the rough sailors have way with the mast leaks by stepping it on deck and at the same time end the halyards on deck.

Freddie Mylne drew up the plans for the conversion and estimated that it would not add to the overall weight of the boat. He also suggested shortening the boom and redesigning the jib. All of these modifications were accepted by the Class with the exception of the jib. All this was done against the background of falling entries for races, rising age of the owners and the advent of the Cruiser Eights. Could the Islanders have a rebirth as the poor man’s Cruiser Eight? They could have given a lot of fun in a wider field and visited Dublin Carrickfergus and of course West Highland regattas.

Unfortunately it was not to happen and if Jura’s conversion led to the demise of the Class it was a pity. However with the ever-growing strength of the Dragons and Loch Longs and the future arrival of Pipers, Solings and Etchells I think it was inevitable that the Islanders in their original form would go out of fashion. Now the passage of time has rendered them venerable and I am sure the right decision had been taken to restore them to their original design and good luck to everyone who takes this on. If the new owners are as cheery a bunch as the former ones they will have good fun afloat and ashore.

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