John Morrison of Burnham on Crouch describes his first trip on a Varne 850.

When I arrived at Fairey Marina on the Hamble on Tuesday 27th September, the engineers were completing a job on the fuel system. We took advantage of the delay to load our gear aboard, and to familiarise ourselves with the boat. The Varne 850 seemed to be a sturdy craft, the fittings looked substantial and the layout sensible.

The previous weekend, John Selby telephoned me and asked if I would deliver the boat, which had been to the Southampton Boat Show, where she had aroused considerable interest. She was to go to Woolverstone Marina on the River Orwell on the East Coast. At the time the weather was fairly well settled from the South force 2 — 3. I thought “This will he a slow but sedate delivery”, little did I know then what was in store.

The 17.55 forecast on Tuesday evening was pretty grim. Thames, Dover, White and Portland Westerly force 5 — 6, locally 7 — 8. I thought I would wait until the morning forecast before setting off, as I had a crew of two whom I was not familiar with. I need not have worried about them, as it turned out they were excellent crew. (Pom and Zita, a Dutch couple from Maldon, who live aboard and sail the barge Venture).

All night the wind whistled and shrieked in the rigging. The 06.30 forecast was the same as the 00.30— S.W. force 5 — 6, locally 7 — 8 later. I waited until noon and decided then to give it a try. It was 12.45 on Wednesday.

As soon as we left the Hamble, it was obvious we were in for a hard ride. We took three turns round the boom and set the number one jib. I thought to myself that it would not be long before I found out if my crew, boat and gear were up to the weather ahead.

My getout clause was a quick dive into Chichester or Shoreham should things be too much, but, by the time we reached the Owers Lanby, the boat’s handling down—wind had shown itself to be delightful. Her helm was light and responsive, she ro1led a bit, but not nearly as much as I had expected. It was possible to go below and cook dinner in comparative comfort, although the wind was a good W force 6 plus a bit in the gusts.

Both Pom and I ate a hearty meal of sausage and mash, but Zita was feeling queasy by then and declined hers, but had some biscuits instead.

The 17 55 forecast was again W force 5 — 6, locally 7 at times. Decision time again. Into Shoreham, or go for Beachy Head and home? By that tine my confidence in the boat was such that I decided to go on.

What glorious sailing! We were absolutely tearing through the night. With the same three turns in the main and number one jib, the little ship behaved beautifully. She surfed down the waves at break—neck speed and in a smother of foam. She took each wave in her stride and never once felt as though she would broach. It was a wild and glorious night, the moon was so bright you could have read a newspaper in the cockpit. Crests were breaking all round us, but not once did even a bit of foam come over the stern.

The snow white cliffs of Beachy Head were flying past us. At 01.00 hours we had Beachy Head Lighthouse abeam. We altered course then for Dungeness. The wind was still blowing W force 6, occasionally gusting 7. By then the tide was against us and it would remain so for the next ten hours. This is due to the peculiar tidal area in which we were sailing.

Naturally the waves increased in height as the tide turned, they were closer together and broke more frequently. “Here it comes”, I said to myself — the moment of truth, but I need not have worried. With one more turn in the main to slow her down a bit, she rode the seas like a bouyant little bottle, rising to each one saying, “You’re not coming over my stern, you might wet the skipper’s radio and packet of biscuits”.

09.00 hours found us rounding Dungeness, this was the first time that I felt concerned. The wind was shrieking in the rigging and was then a steady 7 with the occasional gust 8. I sheeted the jib hard in to bring her head back in case she broached. Once or twice when surfing down a wave she started to do this, but she quickly answered her helm and came back on course.

The next hour or so required concentration, the seas were huge and confused, but around about 11.00 hours the wind dropped back down to a steady force 6 again. By 13.15 hours we were off Dover harbour, the wind coming off the land reduced the seas to a moderate swell, so we put the dinner in the little gimballed oven to bake, some potatoes and peas on the top and tucked into a hefty meal before we rounded the North Foreland into a S.W. blow straight on the nose.

By the time we reached the Longnose Bouy, we were close hauled on the port tack and just able to set our course through the Margate sands. We were going like a tram, spray flying, the boat cutting through the water like a class one ocean racer. Harwich by morning, I thought, but this was not to be. Just as we got to the last Margate sand bouy, the 17.55 hours forecast said Thames S.W. — W. force 6 — 8 rain later. I decided a night in the Swale would be a good idea, I did not fancy the Swin Channel in a gale 8 wind against tide with the visibility reduced by rain, also the additional hazard of crossing over the busy shipping lanes,

At the Whitstable Street bouy, I started the engine for the first time on the trip and motored into the Swale. By the time we had picked up a mooring off Harty Ferry, the wind had increased to force 7 — 8. This meant we could not row ashore for a pint, since it would have been impossible to row back to the boat in a rubber dinghy against that wind. However, as luck would have it, there was a four—pint can left on board from the previous delivery trip to the Solent, so we were forced to sit below with the wind howling, drinking beer, snug in the comfortable cabin.

The 06.30 hours forecast was the same as the night before, but apparently going round to the N.W. We all went back to sleep until 9 o’clock after breakfasting on bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and toast. As the wind was a constant W. force 6 with the occasional gusts, I decided we would delay our departure until noon.  This would enable us to get across to the bottom of the Swin at high water and take  the ebb with the wind up to Harwich. I thought this would give us a more comfortable trip than going early and having a wind against tide situation up the Swin.

This turned out to be a very good decision, a close fetch across the estuary on a port tack, going like a bomb, spray everywhere, dodging behind the occasional container ship, we bore away up the Swin and ran up to the Spitways at an average of 71/2 knots. We arrived off the end of Walton pier at 18.00 hours. By this time, I had put five rolls in the main, the wind had increased to force 7 — gusting 8. The entrance into Harwich was very impressive with the wind constantly gusting force 8 and pouring with rain. Each drop seemed to sting like a lead pellet, the boat was smoking into the Orwell in the pitch dark. There was the entrance bouy! Bear away, ease the sheets, what a sail!

We had to motor the last two miles to Woolverstone Marina and tied up at 20.15 hours. Eight hours after dropping the mooring at Harty Ferry, 48 miles and an average of 6 knots, the last two hours of which were against the tide.

A very impressive performance by a 28 ft. boat. Her seakeeping qualities are nothing less than superb. I would take her anywhere.

John Morrison
Burnham on Crouch
October 1977