It was impossible to sail from West Mersea, as I did starting in 1947, without being aware of Thalassa and her distinguished, if rather elderly crew. (At the age of 21 anyone over 30 is positively ancient.) These stalwarts seemed to be continuing their enthusiasm for Ocean Racing from the 1930’s, which had been temporarily interrupted by the war.

    Later I and others of my age group, who spent a certain amount of time hanging around the bar in the Yacht Club, noticed that Thalassa’s crew sometimes included a number of extremely pretty girls, daughters of the owner, Alan Baker. We felt that their attractions were rather wasted on the regular crew and thus the chance of a berth in Thalassa became a very desirable goal.

    It was after a North Sea Race to Rotterdam that, at the invitation of Jennifer, Alan’s second daughter, I jumped ship from Jocasta, a 54 foot newly built ocean racer where I was one of the regular crew, and joined Thalassa for the first time, for the return trip to Mersea. Thus it was directly through the boat that we met and subsequently married in 1954. Thalassa has therefore played a fundamental role in my life and that of my family.

    The Hook Race was an exciting start to the season but of more basic importance was the West Mersea to Ostend Race, for at Ostend Alan stocked up with the Duty Free stores of gin, whisky, tobacco and cigarettes, brought on board with great official formality to be locked and sealed in cavities behind the saloon berths. The arrival in Ostend was usually closely followed by a visit to Chez Richard’s Restaurant where Alan and his crew were welcomed as old friends with steaming tureens of moules.

    Meals ashore were always important and greatly enjoyed, except perhaps by certain restaurant proprietors. I recall one such feast in Kristiansand after the race from Dover; all other diners having left hours before we eventually got to the stage when the bill was called for. This involved certain rituals, that of checking the details for fraud, misrepresentation or false accounting, the careful and detailed division of the total plus tip between the number of crew present, and finally the presentation to the proprietor of a plate piled high with a miscellaneous collection of coins and notes in a mixture of currencies – kroner, guilders, various francs and sterling. It was at the start of this race in Dover Harbour, that an approaching ferry, whose enormous bows loomed over the masthead, was pointed out to Alan who remarked “That’s alright, don’t worry, he will get out of our way, we’re racing”.

    This was the time before the installation of the new diesel engine when the old petrol motor was notoriously temperamental and unreliable and led to another of ABB’s famous sayings. “Je n’ai pas de revers” shouted to the keeper of a huge lifting bridge in St. Malo, towards which Thalassa was slowing drifting. The eccentricities of this engine were understood and nursed by Mike Pelly. He usually had the spark plugs heating up in the oven as we approached a foreign landfall or when the duty cook for the day wanted to try his skills on a roast or curry. Alan considered that good living in general and food in particular played an important part in the well being of his crew. We all had to try our skills in this department, but Sandy Sandison and Denis Burk-Collis were exceptionally skilled cooks, each able to produce from the cramped and heaving discomfort of the galley excellent and complicated meals at times of maximum stress. Denis also specialised in afternoon tea, producing wafer thin cucumber sandwiches and small iced cakes.

    I suppose that my main memory of sailing with Alan and his friends is of the relaxed and noisy fun which was combined with hard, and when the occasion demanded serious, racing. When pushed to the limit, the boat was famously wet and uncomfortable and the gear heavy and difficult to manage especially in half a gale, pouring rain and a pitch dark night on turning out to Alan’s command “All hands on deck”. All this would be forgotten on arrival at a foreign port when Beryl, who often preceded us to our destination, would occupy a hotel bedroom and have the key to the bathroom, (en suite facilities the exception in those days) available for a succession of unwashed crew members, to the mystification and suspicion of Madam la patronne.

    Relaxation was taken seriously after a race. The fug created in the saloon is unforgettable. Laughter and conversation, a mixture of tobacco smoke, tarry fumes from the damp wood burning in the stove, the smoke from whose chimney was often blown back through the sky-light, and a heady aroma of red wine, gin and whisky. If conversation was stilled there was the click of dominoes on the table, the only sound to disturb the mental concentration required for endless games of matador. There was one time when Nick Greville and I had found a seedy night club in a cellar in Ostend, we ran out of money during the course of the night and our escape was barred by bouncers. I was retained as hostage while Nick returned to the boat to raise funds. They were still playing matador and were not at all pleased to be disturbed during a game and Alan indicated that it served us right, we would have to wait until the end of the game and they ought to leave me there. Eventually the cash was borrowed and I was released; my main fear was that the girls with whom we had been dancing would accept my invitation, thrown out earlier in the evening, to come aboard for breakfast.

    I only took part in one Fastnet Race, that of 1953 I think which was distinguished by light and contrary winds, taking us about a week to get round, which caused some concern about the adequacy of the fresh water supply. Later a rumour went about that we had boiled the potatoes in gin. Quite untrue of course, the entire Atlantic Ocean was on tap beneath the pump over Thalassa’s galley sink. We did however find that salad washed in that useful spirit was both reviving and flavoursome. It was after this race that we decided to update the galley crockery, and ease the chore of washing up, by presenting Thalassa and her owner with a set of the latest domestic kit, namely stainless steel plates and a dish, which we had inscribed “To remember a Party of Seven”.

    It’s all a long time ago and no doubt nostalgia adds a little colour to the memories of the excitement and opportunities of the immediate post war years in which for me, Alan and Thalassa played a major part.
Michael Gordon-Jones

"Captain art thou sleeping there below?"
"I do find some crews so very tiring!"