Saturday, 12 September 2009

El Corb Marí

El Corb in the foreground with Kuyunut behind

I was invited to the XXIII festival of lateen sail at Cadaqués to sail as crew on el Corb Marí, (the cormorant) by my friend Joan Sol who writes the fabulous Catalan blog, El Mar es el Camí (Joan has just posted an account of OB’s recent adventures).

El Corb’, as friends call the boat, is a lateen rigged rocket. Designed and built for racing in Mallorca in 1954, el Corb is 5 metres long weighs 800kg and flies 27.65 m2. A beautiful, fine-lined boat with a wine glass transom in lieu of the more typical sternpost, el Corb is light and agile for a traditional lateen boat of this size. What is more the boat had just undergone an extensive refit at the hands of Catalan master boat-builder and restorer Quico Despuig. El Corb went to the yard for a simple paint job but once stripped other problems revealed them selves. The boat needed to be re-caulked and the transom was in a sorry state. Owner Joan decided that the work should continue regardless and asked Quico to do whatever was necessary.

For Joan there was never any real choice in the matter, as he says on his blog, ‘I would hate myself if I let a boat like this fall into disrepair.’ The boat was re-caulked and a new transom fitted and finished bright. The work was beautifully executed and well worth it for Juan now has an exemplary craft.

So, when the festival organisers announced that a race would follow the copious breakfast of grilled sardines, pa amb tomaquet and wine I was eager to see what el Corb could do. The boat is fairly tender with its high aspect rig and long keel and we rounded up two more crew before the race. The fleet of lateen rigged craft were moored with an anchor off the stern and a line ashore, they tugged eagerly in the northerly Tramuntana that blew gustily near the beach.

During the distribution of picnics, water and wine, the shrill blast of a whistle called us to our duty and we hastened to the boats for an exciting ‘Le Mans’ style start to the race. This quickly led to carnage as turning boats set massive yards and sails. Joan managed to keep us to windward of the fray and el Corb accelerated off the mark as the mainsail was sheeted home. To leeward the dorna Tamariua emerged from the melee going like a train followed by a pack of others. For the moment the dorna had the heels of us but that was just as well as we weren’t too sure of the course. It later transpired that Suso on the dorna wasn’t too sure of the course either, in fact he wasn’t even sure if we were racing or not. But for all that he was driving his boat hard.

Joan helmed us ably as we wove through the moored craft in Cadaqués bay and it became apparent that the main job of the crew was to trim the boat. El Corb leant to the gusts and we shifted our weight from the centre of the boat to the rail. The boat was fast. If we could keep the hull flat on the water when the gusts came on el Corb flew, eliciting whoops and praise. My job was to adjust the ‘burdes’ (a mainstay that is always set to windward) when we changed tack.

El Corb and Cadaqués
Round the first mark and the dorna was still galloping ahead. But on the close reach up to a rocky isle we began to gain. Here the dorna miscalculated, tacking too early and soon having to tack again. El Corb, the crew working in well oiled unison, tacked smoothly and charged into the lead.

I’m no racer and I don’t consider myself competitive but my blood was up and my face set with granite resolve. Of course we sailed with a huge advantage being the only boat actually designed for regattas but that didn’t seem to lessen the sense of achievement and we rewarded ourselves with a pleasant half hour of back-patting and beer drinking.

The winning crew. Carles, Ben, Joan, Montse.

Sailing a recently restored Mediterranean jewel and the sight of all the beautiful lateen sails against the white tumbling town and the sun baked hills behind made me consider myself extremely fortunate to be have been involved.

All photos from el Mar és el Camí.