Petestack Blog

8 April 2020

A Brief History of Fly

Filed under: Sailing — admin @ 4:25 pm

So I was looking forward so much to getting Fly in the water this spring after 13 full seasons ashore followed by that late, late, post-refit launch last year. But now we all know this year’s just not like other years, who knows what’s happening? Since she may or may not get to enjoy her 40th birthday afloat but I still have things to share, here’s what I know of her story so far…

[Update, December 2020: in August 2020 I had an email from John Dyson explaining that he was Fly’s first owner. He’d trailed her from Hunter’s yard near Foulness, through central London and on to Chippenham where he’d fitted her out. She was first launched at Bristol Floating Harbour, then sailed around Land’s End to Plymouth, where she was moored for four years just below the Tamar Bridge. I emailed back hoping to clarify some puzzling details of her early history as previously told to me and set out below, but haven’t heard from him since.]

She was, like many or most Impalas, home-completed as a kit boat. I was told when I bought her in late 1998 that she’s a 1980 boat, and her hull (116) and sail (9596) numbers square with that when I believe the bulk of the 155 built from 1977 to 1984 to have been towards the start of that period. Of her first owner, I know nothing except that he was an airline pilot and curiously didn’t name her, but I can piece together her history from 1986, when she was bought by Geoff McBroom. How?

I knew she’d belonged to Geoff because Ian (John) McCallum, from whom I bought her, told me about both the airline pilot and Geoff’s hang-gliding past (he turns out to have been a significant pioneer, but I just remembered the hot air balloon drop!). Perhaps I’d mentally conflated Geoff and the pilot, but some later email correspondence cleared that up!

I first heard from Geoff in 2002 after he’d discovered my exploits with Fly on the Internet. He told me the airline pilot had never sailed her or even given her a name, which I long assumed to mean it was Geoff who’d completed and first launched her, but I’ll come back to that because I was mistaken there. He also told me she was named for her speed (I think Ian McCallum had said for the flying connection), ‘not the buzzing household pest’, to which I replied that I knew but still found it the obvious image to use. Whatever, Fly must be one of a handful of Impalas to have kept one name throughout their life, and I like this one for both its associations with her history and its brevity. It’s also a name kept by Geoff for his subsequent boats, a Hustler SJ36 and an Ohlson 38, which I’ve seen in photos with the same stylised name graphic on the topsides. (Some of this information comes from further correspondence with Geoff in 2004 and 2006.)

This January I heard from Bob Fidler, who’d sailed on Fly with Geoff and also found me through the Internet. Since Bob told me he still had a copy of Geoff’s account of their 1987 cruise from the Bristol Channel to Brittany, I asked if he could possibly send me a copy, and he kindly scanned it for me. From this I learned that this Brittany cruise appears to have been their first trip in Fly since it refers to only just getting launched in time ‘to find the toilet left solidly blocked by the previous owner.’ (Note: if the airline pilot hadn’t sailed her, what had he done? Just motored around, or sat on a mooring? He must have completed and launched the boat anyway.) It’s strange seeing photos of my boat looking so familiar years before my ownership with many distinctive fittings (e.g. companionway grab handles, twin compasses and portlights) as they are today, but predating others (the No.3 genoa tracks). She’s sailing with the original Hood sails including a spinnaker I sometimes still use for cruising, and the topsides are adorned with the first incarnation of stripes and stylised Fly (no leaping Impalas) since modified in both subsequent ownerships. There’s an interior shot with the familiar original cushion covers and lining material, one of her dried out alongside at Padstow (I’d never dare on that fin keel, but see little need up here!), and two maps showing her outward/return tracks between Portishead and Land’s End/the Isles of Scilly and around the Brittany coast. And, while I clearly can’t just go uploading all this material here because it’s not mine (NB I’ll quite happily show people I know, but not redistribute), I’d think a couple of reduced-res boat shots to show her 1987 styling probably OK:

While Geoff clearly loved Fly, he really needed a bigger boat and didn’t actually keep her that long, selling her to Ian McCallum and George Sproul in early 1989. So she moved from Portishead on the Bristol Channel to Port Edgar on the Forth, which is where I found her now owned solely by Ian. I don’t know when George sold his share to Ian, but do know that her then first-choice Sobstad sails came through George’s weel-kent son Kevin, who must have had two spells at Sobstad since Google tells me he’s been with Hyde, Sobstad and Ultimate (in that order) since I bought Fly. My 1998 photos show the Fly name, stripes and leaping impalas as they came to me, along with hatch garage (now gone, but sometimes missed when crew block out the bulkhead-mounted instruments!) and Mk I rudder (replaced by the Mk II in 2002). The No.3 tracks are there if not obvious in either shot, but you can see Ian (facing camera) and my dad in the one from Port Edgar:

So what since then? From what you can see here, new topsides styling (I redid the stripes and graphics to balance things up with bigger impalas and fewer, bolder stripes), rudder and inboard engine. From what you can’t, new just about everything including multiple (Owen) sails. Trips to the Hebrides, Belfast Lough and the Clyde, with some moderately successful racing including that cherished 2003 Scottish Two-Handed Race victory. Nearly 14 years ashore, a neglected boat finally reborn through two years’ relentless effort, a token 2019 mini-season with great plans for the future and now, well… 2020. Which is, let’s just say, neither what anyone expected nor the end of this tale!

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