Thalassa memories

BY BOBBY TEAGUE

    I am the fourth of five daughters [of Alan Baker] and my earliest memory in the 1940s is being taken out to Thalassa on her mooring in West Mersea for tea. We helped to clean the brass – there was lots of it, including winches, the compass and the chimney below.
    There were two suits of sails: white racing ones and the old ones which had been tanned to preserve them. Sometimes we’d be asked to help put the genoa in stops, a laborious task which meant gathering it all together in a long sausage and tying it up with stopping cotton (thread). Having been hoisted like that, it could be broken out on the start line.
    My father delighted in telling people the post-war mizzen staysail, known as the tart’s pyjamas, was made out of the new fabric nylon, which he obtained from wartime parachutes. That is why the mizzen staysail and spinnaker were green.
    Wet-weather gear was heavy black oilskin and John Illingworth says in his book Offshore that he will never forget the stench of wet oilskins in the heads of Thalassa in the 1934 Fastnet.
    The first time I went on foreign land the crew included (Ralph) Hammond Innes, who regaled us with stories after dinner. There were no numbers on the compass. I recall the course, which I was often asked to steer out of West Mersea, was “East by South a half East”
    Alan regarded Thalassa as a sort of “finishing school” for us five daughters. He only took us on an ocean race one by one when we were old enough. We had to settle into the humour and habits of an all-male, mostly middle-aged crew and did our stint in the galley and poured out pink gins. There were always lots of guys on other boats to take us out in port after a race, so we were quite happy. There is a myth that any prospective son-inlaw was taken on a Fastnet to see if he passed the test before marrying the daughter in question. Certainly, we all met our husbands through Thalassa and they all sailed.