It was a week after the party that I managed to sail aboard Thalassa, joining her at her mooring at Hardway, Gosport, at the beginning of Richard’s early summer cruise to Brittany. Before that we should learn some of the history that makes her special.
    Thalassa was designed and built by Charles Sibbick in 1903 to 1906, but finished by J & G Fay at Southampton. Sibbick (CB30) – well known for his successful 1890s lightlybuilt fast Raters, and a designer and builder of some 300 yachts – was experiencing financial problems with a decline in orders, caused initially by changes to the rating rules in 1896. The International Rule of 1906/7, which led to more expensive yachts of greater displacement, was to further damage business and although he diversified into cruising yachts Thalassa was one of his last commissions. It is somewhat ironic that she is also one of his longest-lived designs and became one of the best campaigned racing yachts afloat.
    Nothing is known about who ordered her; her first registered owner, in 1908, Henry Wilford, kept her in Fishbourne, Isle of Wight. Her early racing career is also sketchy – in 1924 she went to Ireland where Lieut-Colonel Hawkes kept her at Crosshaven, Cork. Back in Lymington (1926) with JC and ER (the) Ponsonby (twins) she took part in the 1927 stormy Fastnet and came fourth in the 1929 Channel Race. After that, Alfred Rosling sailed her to fourth in the 1931 Maas Race before Guy Napier-Martin, with John Illingworth as his sailing master, owned her from 1934 to 1935, seeing success with a third in the Heligoland race of 1934.
    Over the years she had some rig changes – Beken photographs show an evolution with additions like a jackyard topsail – and she had a Parsons engine fitted in 1934. When she was bought by Alan Baker in 1936 she was re-rigged to bermudan yawl by Laurent Giles. Registered sailing from the Clyde (it was cheaper!) but in reality on the East Coast, she won the 1937 RORC Aralus Plate for the greatest number of points in ‘A’ Division and so began a legendary sailing story. Thalassa did not often win first place but was always sailed hard and so won points for her placings. She won the plate again in 1939 and 1947.
    After her war years in a mud berth at Brightlingsea she was one of the first yachts racing again in 1946 at the end of hostilities. She was then kept in the Quarters at West Mersea and Alan raced her offshore to places as far flung as Norway and Spain. But it was also the antics of her crew, so well recorded by Sandison, that won her admiration and notoriety. And to read the log of her 1939 Fastnet is like the diary of a booze cruise. Sandison became her cook (because he thought he was no good as a tactician) and would famously scurry up forward to her galley with a secret bottle of gin tucked under his arm. He made his meals sound more interesting by translating them into French – saucissons fricassée/ pommes de terre écrasée sounding so much better than bangers and mash. If it sounds like it was all about drinking and ribbing the owner (Thalassians vowed to race hard and have as much fun as possible) then it was widely appreciated: The Thalassa Cup (below) was given to Alan in the 1960s and is still awarded annually in the RORC’s Cervantes (Cowes–Le Havre) race. Richard was inaugurated into this world in 1956 when he first went sailing on Thalassa. He had met Vivian, the third of Alan’s daughters, a year earlier while sailing his Sprite at Blackwater SC. Rumour has it that any prospective husband (of Alan’s daughters) had to prove themselves aboard before they could be considered suitable. Richard and Vivian married in 1958, and in 1966, when Alan died, he took over Thalassa and took her to Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, for 10 years, doing some racing locally.