The history of Eileen of Avoca

Oil Painting of Eileen of Avoca?

I first read of the Yarmouth23 in a yachting magazine in 1999. Two years later, while working in London (and inspired by a weekend at the London boat show), I paid a visit to the yard in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight where the little gaffers were originally built. I felt it was time to get a closer look at this diminutive classic cruiser.

It was love at first sight… Trite way of putting it, but true nonetheless, for it was at this point that I resolved to buy one. But it was not until I came across Eileen of Avoca in late 2007 that I had the means to do so.

While there were two other Y23s for sale at the time, the rather neglected Eileen curiously drew my attention. Like a mysteriously abandoned ship, the cluttered disarray inside gave me the impression of  a hurried yet temporarily departure. At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic, Eileen of Avoca seemed to be patiently waiting for her crew to return.

I was told that the owner (Bill Boyall) had died and that while his boat looked rather run down, it was  more or less only a cosmetic issue.  With a new injection of funds to spruce her up, Eileen was soon looking as good as new.

I am thrilled with number 9 and I can’t imagine anyone else with one of these boats being any less enthusiastic. Much to my friends and families distress it’s been where I’ve spent all of my free time. Dolly Parton’s song Joleen (just substitute Eileen) sums up how the significant others in my life have felt about my boat. lol

From what Bill’s granddaughter tells me, he was similarly bewitched by Eileen’s charms… With her permission (and while the PDF can also be downloaded from the Yarmouth23 Owners Association site), I am re-posting Bill’s journal of his adventures with Eileen of Avoca to ensure it remains online.

And for those of you who have always wondered about the vessel’s name and history, I feel it is best conveyed through Ellana’s ( Bill’s granddaughter’s) own words…

“Eileen of Avoca is named after my nan and the part of Ireland that she came from, Grandad bought the Y23 in 2001 and she was launched in 2002, my nan had died in 2000, they had been happily married for 50 years and the new boat gave him something to focus on.  My grandad loved sailing for as long as I can remember and Eileen was his 3rd boat, he previously built Ellana and Ellana II, the latter is a Lysander which is now owned by my brothers. Alas neither of these boats were actually named after myself nor my nan (and the name that her father called her when she was a child). She would not allow grandad to call the boats Eileen when she was alive!”

 “Grandad was very enthusiastic about the new boat and would often travel over to the Isle of Wight to see how production was going and once she was finished we had a little party onboard to celebrate on a cold Sunday in February. The rest of 2002 was spent with grandad taking many trips away getting to know Eileen, he was never at home!
He then planned his trip to Ireland, leaving from the old gaffers festival, the rest you know from his story. It was the December following his return from Ireland that we noticed that he wasn’t very well and was diagnosed in January 2004 with a brain tumour, he died in the June.”
When Eileen of Avoca returns from her odyssey (though this could be years from now), I believe that another trip to Ireland may be in order. I hope that Bill’s granddaughter Ellana will be able to accompany me for the return leg.

Eileen of Avoca reaches the Caribbean

It's Eileen of Avoca at sea!

Yes, I’m in the Caribbean…. Excuse enough for the increasingly spasmodic postings. But was my sourcing of these wonderful snapshots of Eileen of Avoca at sea not worth the wait?

For six days Thierry on his 41 foot Feeling (called Ti’nga) kept pace with Eileen on route to Tobago. Sometimes I thought it was just to irritate me, but I’m assured his reasons were wholeheartedly altruistic. Not that that prevented me from raving like a madman whenever he came too close… 😉

Madman rages on Eileen.

I think he took a perverse pleasure in literally sailing circles around Eileen in the light winds.

That just about sums up the voyage. Light winds…

I’d have set more sail (including the seldom used topsail), if only I didn’t have to worry about the numerous squalls between calms. One minute I’m motoring at a steady 4 knots (head-sails furled) and the next I’m running before a squall at 8kts adding another reef to the mainsail. Absurd!

Eileen runs from another squall.

I guess it’s all to be expected in a days (or six) sailing.

The good news is that I’ve made it to Tobago. It’s taken some 7000 nautical miles of sailing and almost one year (since leaving Yarmouth) living aboard a 23ft boat, but I’m now in the Caribbean. Reward enough!

Though a celebratory cold drink (who needs a fridge when everyone else has one) is still the order of the day.

A beer aboard Ti'nga in Tobago

Here’s to living the dream (and working those abdominals) on the other side of the pond…

Cheers readers!


Apparently I’m crazy…

Eileen of Avoca in Sailing Today

There is a six page feature in the current issue of Sailing Today of my trip across the Atlantic with Eileen of Avoca. According to their editor:

You don’t have to be nuts to sail the Atlantic in a Yarmouth 23 glass fibre gaffer – but it helps.

How about substituting the “be” with “have”…. 🙂

or better still…. “nuts” with “audacious”, “daring”, or “tenacious”

My regular blog followers will have read it all before, but for those that simply can’t get enough, the article can be downloaded here (from the Fisher Boat Company website) or by clicking the following link for a direct download… Eileen of Avoca, Sailing Today article. Better still, pick up a copy at your local news stand!

I’m off to exercise my latent Tourette’s syndrome with spontaneous exclamations of imaginative obscenities…. I hear it helps hone your sailing skills…

How to cross an ocean in a small boat…

Leaving São Vicente behind

I left Mindelo just as a dust storm from Africa reduced visibility in the Cape Verde islands to less than 5 miles. While Santo Antão was not visible it wasn’t especially difficult to avoid running into it. Three cheers for the hand-held GPS!

This was it… the long leg… 1400 nautical miles of open ocean before I get to see land (at Fernando de Noronha), and another 240 after that before I can set foot on mainland Brazil.

Was I nervous?

A little… Since childhood I have had a healthy respect for the sea, especially as it almost took my life on three occasions, two of which occurred on the same day while playing in the surf at my local beach.

I know the sea can get nasty, but I have done everything I can to play safe. Time to roll the dice now and hope for the best. Luck plays a large part in this sort of venture and I’m expecting my due for the crossing.

Sailing goosewinged in the Trade Winds

Not that I think it’s particularly dangerous to sail across the Atlantic, but if you happen to have a run of bad luck things can get messy. As an example, one yacht taking part in the Soleil Rally sank on route this year after hitting a semi-submerged obstacle, but then, some people get hit by lightening playing golf… others win the lottery! I just hope to sit happily between these too extremes of fortune.

I note that some armchair sailors are interested in the “how to” of crossing an ocean in a small yacht. I know this from perusing the statistics of my web site and to them I say…

It’s no different from shorter trips, you just take it day by day and before you know it weeks have passed and you find you have crossed an ocean.

I set my mainsail with two reefs in Mindelo, tied the boom to starboard, set a whisker pole on the stay-sail (to port) and left the jib unfurled. I sailed in this goose-winged configuration for 15 days. The only adjustment necessary was the occasional 5 degree course correction on the wind vane (accomplished by pulling a string leading back into the cabin). This kept Eileen nice and steady in the 15 to 25 knot trade winds where I averaged 75 miles a day just sitting around doing nothing.

In the middle of the Atlantic

The best run was 105 nautical miles and the worse 63 in a 24 hour period. I could have gone faster but every sail change is a potential risk and what’s the hurry anyway?

Until reaching the equator, the weather was fabulously consistent. Trade wind sailing at its best. Yes the waves can appear intimidating but it doesn’t take long to grow accustomed to them. Waves are fine no matter how large… unless they start to break!

Technically, my crossing was elementary. A Yarmouth 23 is a sturdy boat, and Eileen of Avoca handled the conditions admirably. The other long distance sailors I have met in my travels all agree that “size matters not” (except for some reason to insurance companies). Small can be exceptionally seaworthy, it’s just that you tend to be a little slower than the rest of the cruising set.

While my boat was obviously in her element, it took me a little while longer to settle in. I spent the first two days feeling I had blocked sinuses or perhaps a head cold. This apparently is my version of getting sea sick of late. Luckily it does not impair my sailing in any way, I just need to get acclimatised.

It's the last doughnut.... 🙁

At noon each day (GMT -1 for my ships clock), I logged my position and the distance traveled, then set about killing time. No fishing this trip because I’d heard enough horror stories of people falling overboard paying too much attention to their catch, so in the tradition set on route to Cape Verde, I stared at my favourite water stains on the ceiling linings and daydreamed!

The passage of days were marked by numerous momentous events such as eating the last slice of fresh bread, pining over that final piece of cheddar cheese, boiling the last egg and snacking on my penultimate doughnut… Rather exciting don’t you think?

Such a happy chap!

More lengthy periods of time were denoted by the need to take a shower… something that I obviously enjoyed thoroughly (see photo). I had 10 liters of desalinated water reserved for this, the rest of my 100L supply was strictly for drinking. Not that I used very much, even upon reaching the equator the temperature remained under 30 degrees Celsius. I was expecting it to be far warmer.

By contacting the occasional passing ship I was able to keep tabs on the weather but this wasn’t strictly necessary. The winds are markedly consistent at this time of year (January), and the periodic squalls within the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (also called the doldrums), are not as severe as I had previously been led to believe. By day 17 Fernando de Noronha was within sight and my Atlantic crossing drew rapidly to a close.

Approaching Fernando de Noronha

After 17 days at sea I found myself reluctant to make landfall. How odd, I’d never have imagined feeling this way, but because Eileen felt so safe and cozy on route, I simply didn’t want the journey to end. I adored passing lazy days listening to the orchestra of sailing sounds. The creaking of ropes and leather, the trickle of water against the hull counterpointed by the slap of the mainsail or the growl of a passing wave. I felt completely safe and was loath to leave my floating cocoon.

While I now can boast of having completed a solo Atlantic crossing in a tiny boat, I’ll let you all in on a big secret…

Despite the cocoon analogy, crossing an ocean alone delivers no metamorphosis of the soul, or life altering catharsis. Not that I really expected it to, I’m not the spiritually receptive type, but “hope springs eternal” does it not? Well, no great surprise then that I didn’t “find myself” while at sea “a la Moitissier”. Perhaps the whole venture needs to be significantly more difficult, in which case, I’ll pass… 😉

Another squall approaches

I now understand how thousands of small yachts with retired crews and a high number of solo navigators, (some in boats smaller than mine), accomplish the same feat annually (though many choose not to advertise the fact). Yes, you can be unlucky and yes, help is a long way away if things go wrong, but it’s clear that by following the trade winds at the right time of year it’s possible to cross an ocean on just about anything that floats. Dare I say even a 10 year old could do it? Just equip the yacht with a Playstation and point it in the right direction!

I remain an ardent subscriber to “The hardest thing about sailing solo across an ocean is earning the money to buy your boat” school of thought, but I’ll happily accept accolades for the accomplishment regardless of whether or not it is truly merited.

I know that the real credit belongs to Eileen of Avoca….. My gallant fiery Irish belle!

5 things that I love about my Yarmouth 23

Hanging out with the fishermen in Cudillero, Spain

  • I have a fisherman friendly boat! While the usual array of pleasure yachts are frowned upon by local working boats, it seems everyone loves a Yarmouth23! I’m told that the boat just looks right. I often get the thumbs up (literally) from fishermen as I enter local harbours, so it must be true. More importantly, they never seem to mind if I’m anchored or pick up a buoy among them. From conversations with other yachtsmen, this is quite rare.
  • Small is not only beautiful, it’s inexpensive. Nothing puts a smile on your face like coming out of a marina office having paid six euro for the night while moderately sized boats (10m or so) have had to fork out four to five times my tariff. Their only option for reducing expenditure is to anchor out and frankly, while I’m all for it, you do tend to miss out on much of the yachting social life when you avoid marinas. Some marinas are inexpensive for larger yachts but more expensive for smaller ones, so I can never really trust the advice on costs provided by other yachtsmen.

Sailing or motoring? Both!

  • I am a gaff rig convert! I didn’t know anything about gaffers until I bought Eileen of Avoca, but now that I have sailed her for several years I really appreciate what the sail configuration can offer. A sloop or Marconi rig will win hands down beating, but my shorter mast and longer boom have advantages, even when not sailing downwind. I have plenty of room in the push-pit because the boom reaches all the way to the stern (no ropes to get in the way), and if my mast were any longer, I’d probably have had trouble lowering it and carrying it on deck while motoring through the canals of France.
  • Aries vane gear

    My Aries Vane Gear is a true wonder and works flawlessly on my Yarmouth 23. Attaching one is a breeze (you’d think that it was specifically designed to accommodate one), and I strongly encourage anyone with long distance ambitions to install one on their boat.

  • A Yarmouth23 is an excellent motor-sailor! The boat is by the same designers as the Fisher Series of boats, so I guess it’s in her pedigree. It amuses me no end to motor-sail past larger boats in light airs. I often see them unfurl extra sail to take advantage of the same sudden increase in wind that I’m apparently using. If I’m feeling especially cheeky, I pull out an oar and justify my burst of speed by paddling past…

Eileen of Avoca’s refit

Yarmouth Marine Services on the Isle of Wight

Yarmouth Marine Services is currently working on making Eileen of Avoca ready for her Atlantic crossing. The to-do list is ambitious, but I’ve the know-how of the people who originally built Eileen on hand, so I am confident the work will be of the highest standard. I guess I’m betting my life on it… hmmm… looking it it that way, I vow to haunt anyone responsible for cutting corners or shoddy workmanship if it leads to my untimely demise… 😉

How’s that for an incentive?

The job list goes something like this:

  • Fit new 13.5HP Beta engine and ancillary equipment.
  • New rigging
  • Deck and mast fittings acid dipped and re-galvanised
  • Stanchions removed and re-mounted to prevent leaks
  • Mast and teak areas varnished / painted to handle tropical heat
  • Inner linings waterproofed
  • Companionway washboards strengthened
  • Hatch locking mechanism reworked
  • Companionway step reinforced
  • Pushpit lockers waterproofed
  • Fiberglass stress points reinforced
  • Seacocks and cockpit drainage pipes replaced where necessary
  • Second (internal) bilge pump fitted
  • Second VHF aerial added
  • VHF radio tested and repaired
  • Solar panel mounted
  • AIS receiver fitted
  • Life raft serviced
  • Tillerpilot to vane gear fitting in addition to the existing mount.
  • Anodes replaced
  • 3 coats of antifoul
  • Dodgers made
  • Foresails serviced
  • Non slip decking material re-painted
  • Jackstays replaced
  • and more…

If I have any money left over I’ll buy a new EPRIB and some extra anchor rode / chain… ha! big if…
This list will be updated as it changes, and as soon as I get back to the boat I’ll take photos to show everyone how the work is progressing.


Yarmouth 23s at YOGAFF

For two fabulous days Eileen of Avoca rafted up with three other Yarmouth23s and a couple of ring-ins to enjoy YOGAFF. (The annual Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival). Despite looking a little weather beaten, dressed in her flags, Eileen still made a pretty picture especially with her smartly dressed siblings tied nearby.

My swimming instructor 😛

Helen and Miranda were closest on Hecate, which became the de-facto gathering place (despite the characteristic Y23 push-pit flooding) for evening drinks. Then there was Geoff and Jaye on Tarka, and finally Peter on Jabiru at the opposite end of our six boat raft.

I was delighted to be offered a tour of Eileen’s sisters and was truly fascinated by the many small differences that (besides colour) made each Yarmouth23 unique.

All bronze fittings (Eileen uses galvanised steel) and bilge keels on Jabiru, mast hoops (vs. laced sails) or angled winches on Tarka, and additional reefing lines led through jammers (for easy reefing) on Hecate.

I didn’t get to do any real sailing (too busy window shopping about town), but I did meet with Graham from Yarmouth Marine Services to discuss Eileen’s impending refit over a deliciously cool beer at the yacht club.

Old Gaffers racing in Yarmouth for the festival

Winning the great race was left up to Peter, who BTW was nowhere to be found when I motored out to take photos of the competition. I’m still curious as to how he fared and regret not having taken part.

If looks could kill...

All too soon it was time to return to Belgium and leave Eileen of Avoca behind. Any last minute excuses to stay longer were mercilessly countered by my diminutive but highly temperamental guest and I’d already seen that insisting on having things my way invariably lead to unfortunate accidents, such as a fully clothed swim in the harbor.

So, for health an safety reasons, expressions of dissent on my part were strictly limited to sub-vocal grumblings and growls.

Mind you, if looks could kill, there might have been a massacre at this years YOGAFF. 🙂

Yarmouth23 Owners Association

Bill Boyall Trophy

Greetings to all the members of the Yarmouth23 Owners Association!

My temporary escape from the deluge in Spain to attend the Yarmouth23 Owners Association meeting at Gins Farm (on the Beaulieu River) was a real treat, and the ‘icing on the cake’ was being awarded the Bill Boyall trophy. Eileen of Avoca; being Bill Boyall’s old boat, made it rather fitting, as it’s really the boat that’s done all the hard work. I just sit there and enjoy the view.

For those interested in the history of the trophy, visit the Yarmouth23 Owners Association site at:

To have such an active group of sailing enthusiasts to compare notes with is a true asset and had I not been ‘dragged out’…., I mean…., ‘gently reminded’….., about my schedule, I would have happily stayed to chat ad infinitum.

Looking forward to seeing you all again at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival in June!

Eva, sister, and sundry have been busy reserving their place on Eileen so it should be a fun, if somewhat cozy festival, to say the least.

Now I just have to travel the 1700+ miles (coastal hopping against the prevailing winds) to get there on time!

Wintering in Almerimar, Spain

Well I didn’t expect to get stuck in the south of Spain for the winter, but there is no point pursuing a planned itinerary when the weather is so disagreeable. I’ll just have to be fatalistic (quid erit, erit …) and accept that I wont be moving until Poseidon wills it.

My plans must change. Fortunately I have no time limit and few commitments, so it’s easily done.
Crossing the Atlantic will now wait until the 2010-11 season. The new plan has me sailing along the Atlantic coast back to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight where Eileen was built before heading south for the usual jump-off points.

This opens plenty of new possibilities for interesting cruising in Portugal and the west coast of France. I’ll be able to catch up with other Yarmouth23 owners and finally have some quality work carried out on Eileen of Avoca before heading further afield. I’ve not had the greatest success with yards in Italy, Greece or Spain.

For the moment I’ll play the wintering in Spain game and catch up on what boat maintenance I can carry out while afloat. Yay! 🙂

A last hop to Kos

By 11pm I’d rested enough to brave the next leg. In light variable winds Eileen left Chalkis’ pretty little bay and we made our way NW toward Tylos. Rounding Chalkis’ eastern coast, a brisk westerly breeze had Eileen of Avoca zipping along at 4 to 4.5 kts. Four knots is a good speed for a Yarmouth23 and unless I want to play around with the topsail (something I never do at night) I don’t expect much more speed from her without motor sailing.

Less pleasant conditions arrived with the dawn. A one knot north setting current between Tylos and Nisyros made for a wet ride against the NW winds but it did not last. By the time I’d changed course to the NE (toward the eastern tip of Kos) the wind had eased.

Later that morning, several other boats appeared from the west and it did not take long to realize that Eileen was now part of the impromptu race for a berth at Kos marina. Time to hoist the iron topsail… (i.e. start the engine) and get that extra knot or two. A Yarmouth23 motor sailing in light winds can do over 6 knots so they didn’t catch me… nah nah, na nahh nahhh… (said with infantile gusto). Must also have been the sleep deprivation 😉