Tobermory Yacht Race – 1968

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they lifted this from the clyde cruising club

The Tobermory Race – The Story of the Film

by Louis Miller

A light breeze rippled across Kames Bay, dispelling the last of the night. The water sparkled in the early morning sunlight, reflecting the tall masts of a hundred motionless yachts, and the rhythmic tapping of a halliard carried clear across the water.

It was not yet six o’clock on the fair Saturday morning, but already there were stirrings of life throughout the assembled fleet. The splash of a bucket, the creak of a hatch, a shrill young voice, the ‘putt-putt’ of an outboard heading shorewards. With a big race ahead, there were many who wanted plenty of time to get organised.

Donald McIntyre’s launch came alongside Christina of Cascais and Dick Johnstone climbed gingerly aboard. He stood very still for a moment, his knuckles gleaming white as he gripped the shroud, his face expressionless. As we transferred his gear, cameras, lens boxes, magazine cases, stock boxes, etc., he took a long hard look at the narrow deck under his feet. I don’t know what his thoughts were, but I do know that it was the first time he had ever set foot on a racing yacht and the stark simplicity of an eight metre is not calculated to inspire a feeling of security! We left him to the tender mercies of the still sleeping Kenny Gall and his hung-over crew. Looking back we could see him knocking very tentatively on the coach roof.

The sun climbed higher in the sky as our launch threaded its way through the wakening fleet. Charles Tookey and Peter Powell were already filming the increasing activity around us, while Derek Anderson was busy recording the hundred and one sounds that make up the music of small boats. Winches clacked and rattled, anchor chains clattered and clanked, halliards creaked and groaned. Disembodied voices floated across from boat to boat, hearty laughter, half a sentence, a string of curses. The single-mindedness of preparing a yacht for a race.

Jib hanks clicked against forestays and big genoas filled and breathed deeply.

We came alongside St. Mary. Alex Pearce and Nigel Wake went aboard. I didn’t know it then, but Nigel had his pockets and his stomach stuffed with ‘Marzine’. He was taking no chances!

There was even more equipment to be transferred this time. In addition to Alex’s camera gear, there was Nigel’s recording apparatus which included a selection of microphones (gun mike, radio mike, personal mikes) the recorder, a walkie-talkie, and assorted cables. Ian Nicolson and his crew Donald and Sandra McSween, were already awake, and helping to stow the gear. We headed next for Silver Sula.

Jean and John Stenhouse welcomed us aboard with the best of all welcomes, the smell of frying bacon. The launch departed taking Peter and Derek across to the commodore’s yacht Arcturus to film the starting gun, and Charles and his sound recordist Lex McDonald set up their equipment on Silver Sula to film Magnus Magnusson, our commentator, describing the start of the class one boats.

The whole bay was now filled with boats under way, some making last minute tuning adjustments, some making trial runs at different ends of the starting line.

Minutes only to the starting gun, Silver Sula circled closely round the back of the class one yachts as they made their last run for the line. The seconds ticked away.

‘Reducing speed, there’s the marked dinghy about a hundred yards ahead.’ The leaders are closing with the line. A little more throttle, 75 yards, 60, – ‘run camera, mark it’, Tobermory Race, scene B 12, take 1’.

‘Cue Magnus’.

The race was on, and four cameras were eating up film at a frightening speed. So, with the eights leading class one into the east Kyle, Dick Johnstone, trying to find his sea-legs on Christina (and taking some of the finest sailing pictures I have ever seen), Magnus enthusing over the breath-taking beauty of the scene, and classes two and three preparing for their starting guns, I think this is an appropriate point to fill in some of the background to the filming of the 1968 Tobermory Race.

I suppose it’s only natural that the idea of filming the Tobermory should have been uppermost in my mind for so many years. Being in the film business, and a keen sailor, the two had to come together some time!

In the last ten years or so I have had a variety of boats including a Wayfarer dinghy, an ex-International Star, a 19/24, a beautiful little twenty-foot clinker job, a Silhouette, and one or two I would rather forget! It was in the year of the 19/24 that I first wrote up a proposal for filming the race. I intended to enter my own boat carrying a film crew, and I had some preliminary discussions with the Clyde Cruising Club secretary, Geoff Duncan in Alex Pearce’s house in Helensburgh.

However, it was not to be. We were committed to the limit in the film unit that year, and the camera crews were just not available.

Some years and some boats later I met Ian Nicolson. We met under very appropriate circumstances, although in a sense we were on opposite sides of the fence. Ian had been asked to do a survey on a boat I was selling (that beautiful little clinker job), and in a hopeless attempt to distract his attention from minor things like wood-rot, nail-sickness, and deck-leaks (which he seemed to be obsessed with) I chatted away to him about my ideas on filming the Tobermory Race. He waxed eloquent with enthusiasm.

‘It would make a marvellous film,’ he said, lifting a nail out with his finger and thumb. ‘All these lovely boats crowding through the Narrows, spinnakers billowing, superb scenery.’

He waved the nail about in the air, his eyes glittering behind his spectacles. ‘The Kyles, Loch Fyne, the Dhorus Mhor, there isn’t another race like it in the whole world.’

‘The Tobermory is unique!’

I was delighted to find such an enthusiastic supporter even although his survey report knocked a hundred pounds off the price of my beautiful little clinker job.

But my colleagues in the film unit were much less enthusiastic.

‘Yachting isn’t a spectator sport, people would get bored.’

‘You cannot possibly hold the average viewer’s interest in a lot of boats sailing for half an hour.’

‘It takes more than pretty pictures to make a film.’ And so on and on and on. There was much sense in what they said.

It would be only too easy to make a film which would delight yachtsmen, but this film would be seen by people who had no special interest in boats, and somehow it would have to be made both interesting and entertaining to the layman.

So I started to work on a script.

It may seem odd to start writing a script for something as unpredictable as a yacht race, but it is this uncertainty which makes a working outline all the more essential. A strong framework must be laid down first which will ensure the final shape of the film, a framework which is still sufficiently flexible to accommodate the unexpected, because very often it is the unexpected that makes the real story.

The basic outline was fairly straightforward.

The first leg of the race would be treated in the style of an outside broadcast, with the commentator describing the progress of the race rather like a sports commentator, but for the second leg, he would go aboard one of the competing yachts, and in a sense become part of the race himself. Thinking of the non-sailing viewer, who would only be confused by the handicapping system, I decided to set up a private contest between two evenly matched boats so that regardless of their eventual placings, the viewer could follow the progress of these two boats within the overall race.

In contrast, it would be essential to have a camera on one of the fastest boats, preferably an eight metre that was determined to win.

Ian Nicolson had already agreed to take a film unit on St. Mary, so the first problem was to find a suitable ‘opponent’ for him.

I arranged a meeting with the C.C.C. committee, and we got together to thrash out some of the many practical problems which had to be solved. I am indebted to the committee for their invaluable assistance. I must especially mention Cdr. Mowatt, Ralph Dundas, Ian Young, Geoff Duncan and Robin Taylor. Their many helpful suggestions went a long way towards the ultimate success of the film.

When I asked for a possible candidate to race against Ian Nicolson, several suggestions were made and rejected for one reason or another, and then someone said, ‘What about David Rombach? He’s got a fine bearded face, easily recognised, and a good contrast to Ian, and his ketch Lola will be about the same handicap.’

I don’t know who first thought of David, but I am convinced a casting director couldn’t have done better!

Getting a camera on board an eight metre was going to be more difficult, but Robin Taylor said: ‘Leave it with me. I’ll see what I can do.’

I also wanted a very large motor cruiser to make a steady platform for another camera unit and our commentator during the first leg of the race. Again Robin said: ‘Leave it with me.’

Within a few days he was on the phone: ‘Hugh Stenhouse will take your crew on his cruiser Beambrook and Kenny Gall is agreeable to taking one cameraman on his eight metre Christina. Hugh Morrison is going all the way to Tobermory in his launch Jinji and will make himself available should you need a very fast boat.

The phone rang again: ‘This is John Stenhouse. Hugh tells me you are filming on Beambrook. You would be better on my boat Silver Sula. She has a deeper bite in the water and is less inclined to roll.’

I tried to persuade Kenny Gall to take a sound recordist as well as a cameraman, but he remained firm.

‘Christina will be one of the fastest boats in the race. She will be competing with identical, equally fast eights and even one extra bod on board is going to be a handicap. In any case there just won’t be room.’ As I was just as keen as he was that Christina should be first boat into Tobermory, I had to concede that he had a point!

The original plan of filming a close race between Lola and St. Mary was knocked abruptly on the head when St. Mary hit a brick in the Kyles. And then again on that dark Monday morning at Crinan, as though determined to prove that the first grounding was no mere fluke, St. Mary well and truly planted herself on that long, shallow spine that projects from the Black Rock. However, the double misfortune made Ian Nicolson all the more determined to push St. Mary to the limit.

The race looked slightly different now from the point of view of our three competitors, so a slight adjustment had to be made to the shape of the film. The emphasis was now on one boat out in front (Christina), fighting hard to stay in front, another boat away astern of the fleet (St. Mary), striving to get back into the race, and somewhere in the middle our third boat Lola with that relaxed philosopher David Rombach thoroughly enjoying his cruise, and incidentally, passing on to Magnus something of the magic of sailing.

The weather throughout the race was almost too kind to us. Not a drop of rain from start to finish, hazy warm sunshine, ideal for colour filming, making our job much easier than it might have been. But I must confess that I was slightly disappointed by the weather conditions! I would have welcomed a bit of variation during the race. A little more wind, perhaps the tide a bit nearer springs, some rain (not much, just a little). In short, conditions a little more typical of the West Coast, the varying conditions that make the West Coast what it is. Having said that, I have a feeling that if I ever film a yacht race again I will regret that I said that!

(From Clyde Cruising Club Journal, 1969)

This is about Dylan Winter's Blog, Sailing around Britain. Tags:

13 Responses to “Tobermory Yacht Race – 1968”

  1. 5 January, 2014 at 2:58 pmjoost says:

    Dylan , we want more of this please.

  2. 5 January, 2014 at 6:35 pmDrew says:

    That has quite made my day
    Is that the same If you filmed on the east coast
    Thanks for sharing

  3. 5 January, 2014 at 9:10 pmdylan winter says:

    made mine too when it came across my desk

  4. 5 January, 2014 at 10:45 pmoldfatgit says:

    Simply outstanding. Thank you very much.

  5. 5 January, 2014 at 11:19 pmalan williamson says:

    Hi Dylan. That film brought back many happy memories of, West Highland Week, The Scottish Series and cruising in that neck of the woods over the past 10 years – there’s few finer places to sail. I think with your propensity to explore every nook and cranny of the coast – and your present rate of knots – when you finally “turn left” at Cape Wrath you’ll need at least a decade to reach England’s shores again. It will not be time wasted and I’m sure you’ll develop a wonderful “whisky nose” in the process. Enjoy!

  6. 5 January, 2014 at 11:35 pmdylan winter says:

    Jill and I spent two summers up there in the Eboat back in the 80’s. It really is a truly fine sailing area. I am really looking forward to it. If it takes a few years… then so be it. Gotta get the over the top centaur first though.

  7. 6 January, 2014 at 1:17 amjon sutton says:

    I say!! How frightfully entertaining!!

  8. 6 January, 2014 at 7:45 pmPeggy Bawn says:

    A decade for Scotland’s west coast?… A lifetime more likely! And then there’s Ireland.

  9. 6 January, 2014 at 8:46 pmPeggy Bawn says:

    When I interviewed one of the human players, the redoubtable yacht designer and surveyor – and serial author of yachting books – Ian Nicolson, he remembered the BBC team placing fourteen individual pieces of technical equipment, a cameraman and a sound recordist aboard his 35ft ketch, St. Mary, before the race. It would be fascinating to hear the comparison, almost half a century on, with the equipment you use, Dylan…

  10. 6 January, 2014 at 8:49 pmPeggy Bawn says:

    PS Thanks for your nice comment about the Peggy Bawn Press blog!

  11. 8 January, 2014 at 3:05 pmSean says:

    Good stuff. Thanks very much!

  12. 16 January, 2014 at 1:38 pmpotter says:

    Happy days, much has happened in the world since then – and not much of it good!

  13. 16 January, 2014 at 2:18 pmdylan winter says:

    loads of great things since 1969 – got married, had children, immortal boats, GPS, cheap wine, the internet, cheap good cameras, cars much better, laptops, google earth, free music. Boats are uglier though

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