Memoirs of a Racing Skipper
First published in 1950 this is a welcome reprint of a professional skipper’s experiences from the days of late Victorian and Edwardian sailing – days of the Big Class, through to the interwar period. In 1867 Tom Diaper was born into a family of yacht crew, occasional fishermen and one-time smugglers in the village of Itchen Ferry, across the river from Southampton. Tom records his father as being the first skipper to set a spinnaker, aboard the yacht Niobe in 1863; “one of the sailors said: ‘Now that is the sail to make her spin!’ A gentlemen aboard reversed it to spinmaker, eventually shortening it to spinnaker…”
Told as if he was speaking it and from the notes he made at the time this is a frank portrayal of how it was to be sailing yachts in the so-called golden era. Tom joins his father in the 113 ton Herreshoff cutter Navahoe and wins a cross Channel race against the Britannia, he goes to Germany to sail in company with the Kaiser and has a harrowing Atlantic crossing in Sir Thomas Lipton Shamrock 23-Metre.
Against this there is the backdrop of being home in Southampton when he can, his wife and their children and later grandchildren. It’s as much a social history as we learn of the money he earns, how he and other crew travel and what their meals were like. DH
Bloomsbury, 178pp hardback, £16.99