The people of Looe know how to throw a party. Every two years, they host the Looe Lugger Regatta, welcoming two dozen old luggers including most of the handful of boats which were built in Looe in the glory days of Cornish fishing, such as Guiding Star, and still survive a hundred years on.
This year was even more special: thirty years since the tradition of the regatta was revived in 1989. Looe Sailing Club laid on two buffets the length of the fish market, and on Saturday night, crews and town folk danced to local ska band The Mighty Offbeats until the concrete floor was wet with beer.
The winds were light and fickle but enough for two races on Saturday and one on Sunday. In the first race, we tried our gennaker, a cross between a big jib and a spinnaker which Guiding Star inherited from another boat. It can’t cope close to the wind because it’s set flying, but with the wind on the beam and Celia helming, the boat hit six knots at times. By the second race, the wind was getting up so we swapped to our usual jib; I helmed and struggled to tack the boat because I forgot to ease the mizzen so we ended up near the back of the fleet.
On Sunday, the sun beat down on a glassy sea and we sat at anchor till early afternoon before Brian on the committee boat spotted signs of an incoming sea breeze. We did well on a couple of agonisingly slow downwind legs but were then caught by a bewildering 180-degree wind shift.
We finished the regatta half way down the fleet but did win a trophy for sportsmanship. I hit a mark right in front of the committee boat (Brian’s trawler) in the third race and thought I should fess up rather than be disqualified, so radioed to ask what was the penalty.
There was a puzzled silence until someone said, “You get to go round another mark.” Naively, I persisted until the voice said firmly, “Well, we didn’t see anything.”
We pressed on, and I was very touched that evening to find that my honesty was worth a trophy. (Everyone had to hand their trophies back immediately because, well, one from two years ago went missing, but we have the photographs).
The driving force behind reviving the tradition of the Regatta has been Paul Greenwood, who went to sea aged sixteen in the early 1960s on one of the five wooden luggers then still fishing, I.R.I.S.. She used her three engines, not sails, but the conditions on board were as punishing as in the nineteenth century: a skipper and five crew hauling a mile and a half of nets over the rail by hand, sleeping crammed into a tiny, fetid cabin in the stern. Paul’s two books, Once Aboard a Cornish Lugger and More Tales from a Cornish Lugger are vivid, funny and sobering.
Richard had to leave us in Looe to go back to work on Monday morning but Celia, Thomas and I had a perfect, warm day’s sail back to Plymouth, during which we saw a grey seal with its head out of the water sunning itself.
The committee said on their Facebook page afterwards that they were “all getting on in age now and creak more than some of the boats in a gale” but “everyone has decided to go for one more in 2021”, which is great news.
Thank you to Paul, Mike (“make those lines bar tight and you’ll be all right!”), Brian, the wonderful cooks of the Looe Sailing Club and everyone else who gave the fleet an unforgettable event.
Many thanks to Richard Lockhart for the photos of Guiding Star, and to Thomas for the photos of the fleet on the glassy Sunday.