There are some yachts that just take your breath away. Regardless of whether you prefer motor, sail or paddle, a classic yacht with her elegant lines and woodwork glistening in the sun is something we all like to see. We're lucky enough to have a couple of such classics at Portland, one of which is the replica Bristol Pilot Cutter 'Polly Agatha'.
Based on the orginal Pilot Cutter 'Peggy', known for her speed and sea keeping capabilities, 'Polly Agatha' combines traditional craftsmanship with modern technology and materials resulting in a stunning fusion of maritime heritage and contemporary conveniences. The history of these classic working yachts is rich and kept alive by a handful of enthusiasts both in maintaining the traditional building techniques and those continuing to sail these beautiful yachts around the UK's coastline, both as privately owned vessels and for sail training and charter.
The original 'Peggy' was built in 1904 by Rowles of Pill near Bristol. She plied her trade up and down the Bristol Channel and out into the Western Approaches, sailing miles out into the Atlantic in a race to be the first alongside incoming merchant ships and secure the job for their pilot of safely escorting them up the treacherous waters to the important trading ports of Bristol and Swansea. She would have spent days, if not weeks, on end at sea in all weathers on stand-by for the next job. Built to withstand everything the Atlantic could throw at her, she was also designed to be fast, easily lie alongside a bigger ship whilst the pilot transferred aboard and be handled by a minimal crew, usually a Westernman and boy. Commisioned and owned by Richard Arthur Case, she was originally named 'Wave', becoming 'Peggy' following her retirement from pilot work in the early 1920's. The building of a replica suggests that 'Peggy' is no longer afloat, but happily she is still sailing today, with private owners who cruise and race her on the same waters she worked in her previous life.
With the advent of steam powered vessels, the sailing cutter's were overtaken in the early decades of the 20th Century and the last working sail powered cutter 'Cariad' hung up her sailing boots in 1922. 'Mischief' is probably the most famous of the Bristol Cutter's as she was the boat owned and sailed by Bill Tillman on his various expeditions, visiting Patagonia, Greenland and South Georgia, between 1954 and 1968. Of the hundreds of Bristol Pilot Cutters built, only 18 original vessels are believed to still be afloat and sailing.
Over 100 years after 'Peggy' was launched, 'Polly Agatha' took to the same waters of the Bristol Channel, brought to life by Dave Cockwell of Cockwells Modern and Classic Boatbulding in 2007 and realising a long-held dream of Dave's to recreate 'Peggy's' outstanding sailing abilities in a modern classic. Externally she's a faithful recreation of 'Peggy' but hidden beneath her timbers there's a wealth of modern conveniences. In recent years 'Polly Agatha' has operated out of Portland Marina and her current owner, Mark Boardman, offers sail training and charter sailing along the south west coast. With her shallow draft and fantastic sea keeping abilities, 'Polly Agatha' is a the perfect boat to jump aboard to explore the nooks and crannies of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall's coast or venture out to the Isles of Scilly. Annual regattas are held for Bristol, Falmouth and Scillonian Cutters (be careful not to mix them up, their owners get quite upset!) and a fleet of these beautiful vessels under full sail jostling for position is a spectacle not to be missed either from the shore or aboard as crew.
You can learn more about 'Polly Agatha', 'Peggy' and the Bristol Pilot Cutters here;