Tom Cunliffe has published a video of a daysail aboard Jolie Brise, that most famous and dashing of Bristol Channel cutters. She's owned by Dauntsey's School in England, and has been skippered for the last 26 years by Toby Marris. In the 1980s, though, Cunliffe ran her, and he has splendid memories to share in the video.
The main lessons that come out of Cunliffe's presentation, and especially his discussion with Marris, have to do with seamanship, and here the back and forth is a balm to the soul. It's about knowing the heft and abilities and propensities of the boat, knowing the current, knowing the breeze, and most of all thinking ahead. That's seamanship, or part of it, anyway.
Seamanship, as a state of mind, is too often undermined by technology. It's not old-fashioned to say, for example, that modern, light-displacement plastic boats with wide beams, shallow bilges, fin-and-bulb keels, and conveniences like bow-thrusters are fine things that can take shorthanded modern crews across big bodies of water, usually without muss or fuss, and that when push comes to shove offshore, a vessel like Jolie Brise, progeny of experience and seamanship across generations, will preserve you when your own skills are overstretched.
Any aspiring offshore sailor should watch this video. And any coastwise sailor who relies on mechanical forces to replace finesse, or electronic things to replace brains, should watch it, too. Consider, not with a screen, but in your mind's eye, matters of displacement, hull form, sail area, and sail plan. Consider the natural forces acting on the boat. Consider the gear you have available to do your bidding. Know when and how to co-opt the forces of nature, the forces of sail, and the mass and tendencies of the vessel.
Here's Cunliffe with a line looped around the tiller so he can steer from the weather rail. There are deep grooves etched in the tiller from helmsmen over the decades: "The great thing with these boats is always to make it easy on yourself," he says. "Don't fight it, because it'll beat you every time. What you've got to do is work with the boat and work with the wind. You haven't got a great big winch like a dustbin that's going to make everything easy for you. Instead, you've got your own sense of timing, and that's worth a dozen winches sometimes."
For some basic background, read Pilot Cutters: A Lasting Appeal.