Article courtesy of Classic Boat magazine.

Sailing on Cohoe IV

Cohoe IV  has been in the Osborn family for more than 30 years, but she was commissioned by none other than Adlard Coles

Siblings Jack and Erin Osborn (aged 16 and 14, respectively) have spent almost all of their lives waiting to go sailing on their father James's boat. Jack did at least get to sail on her before she was laid up for 15 years, but he was too young to remember it. "I've only seen photos of this smiling ginger baby on board," he said. The boat in question is the Nicholson 36 Cohoe IV, which has been in the Osborn family since 1989, when she was bought by James's father Bob and his great friend Chris Morrow, but her first owner was Adlard Coles – the illustrious sailor, author and publisher – who commissioned her build in 1963.

Jack, James, and Erin aboard Cohoe IV
Above: Jack, James, and Erin aboard Cohoe IV ; Inset:  The young Jack

The first of Coles' four Cohoes was a modified Albatross (an extended Tumlare), designed by Knud Reimers and built by AH Moody and Son in 1946. She was already named Cohoe, which is an Indian name for a species of Canadian salmon and, as Coles later wrote, "is quite an appropriate name for a fast kind of yacht, although it took me some time to get used to it". Coles and his wife cruised and raced her extensively, as he would with all his Cohoes. In one season alone he made 16 Channel crossings, but her most famous voyage was the 1950 Transatlantic Race from Bermuda to Plymouth. Coles was under the impression that the 35 ft. minimum length requirement would be waived for the 32 ft. Cohoe, as it was for the 24 ft. waterline RNSA 24s; it was only when the boat was about to be shipped across the Atlantic for the start of the race that he discovered that it wouldn't be. However, Moodys worked miracles to extend Cohoe's bow in Birmabright alloy plating in just 24 hours, and she went on to win the race. "The 1950 event was an important pioneering race which had considerable bearing on things to come," Coles later wrote. "Among others it led to the recognition of the ocean-going ability of small sailing boats."

Cohoe IV sailing in front of Pendennis Castle
Above: Cohoe IV sailing in front of Pendennis Castle

NICHOLSON DESIGN

Cohoe II  was designed by Charles A. Nicholson (known as Young Charlie, to distinguish him from his more famous uncle, Charles E. Nicholson) and built as a bermudan yawl by WA Souter in Cowes in 1952. At 34 ft. 11 in. (10.6m), she was "a roomy boat of nearly double the size of Cohoe ", according to Coles. She was replaced in 1957 by Cohoe III, another Charles A. Nicholson yawl, this time built by RA Newman in Poole. She was slightly shorter than Cohoe II, but Coles liked her for her stiffness and heavy weather performance. She had particular success in the Fastnet, winning Class II in her first and coming fourth overall in the next two.

The Nicholson 36 was Camper & Nicholsons' first GRP production boat and was another Charles A. Nicholson design, but this time with a significant contribution from son Peter, at the start of his own yacht design career. "The concept was entirely mine," Peter told me recently. "I drew the whole profile, the sail plan and the general arrangement, and I roughed out the lines, which my father then finished." In total, 25 Nicholson 36s were built between 1961 and 1966: all the hulls were molded by Halmatic, while 14 of them were fitted out (with traditional timber decks) at C&N's Gosport yard, and the remainder at eight other boatbuilding yards throughout England. The first boat, Janessa, was built for Peter Nicholson himself, who sailed her to win 16 prizes in 19 starts in her first season.

Cohoe IV in 1966
Above: Cohoe IV  in 1966

"It was a dramatic decision for Campers to start building GRP boats, as we were a very conservative, traditional company. My father and his cousin were pretty unsure about it, but we experimented with the material to give us confidence." The Nicholson 36 paved the way for around 24 subsequent Nicholson production GRP models and, as Ian Dear wrote in the book Camper and Nicholsons — Two Centuries of Yacht Building, it "heralded a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Campers". As Peter confirmed, the Gosport yard had been losing money since the war, "but began to make a small profit when we built GRP boats".

Cohoe IV  was Nicholson 36 number three (and the second to be built by C&N), launched in 1963. As with his previous Cohoes, Coles took part in several RORC races during that season. In the Cowes to Dinard Race he won line honors and was second on corrected time in class, but his greatest success came in the Fastnet. Having deployed a "pioneering tactic", as he later wrote, by going inside the Portland race at night against a foul tide, Cohoe IV  was first in class and missed out on overall corrected time victory by just six minutes to Clarion of Wight. "This was the closest we ever came to winning the Fastnet outright," he wrote, "but I lost no sleep over it, as we were lucky to do so well as we did." There was some compensation, however, in winning the season's Class II Points Championship. At the end of the season, Coles and his wife crossed the Channel for some French cruising, then sold Cohoe IV, opting to keep the smaller Cohoe III, which he still owned. Cohoe IV 's new owner was Leslie Giles (thought to have been one of Coles' race crew), then the boat went through a couple more owners, one of whom cruised her as far afield as South America.

Bob Osborn, father of the current owner, had done a fair amount of catamaran sailing as a teenager, friend Chris Morrow had competed in some adventurous offshore races, and the two of them had chartered boats together. When, in September 1989, they saw an ad for Cohoe IV, they knew it was time to buy their own boat. The original Coventry Victor petrol engine had been replaced with a Sabb 16hp diesel, and all brightwork had been painted white to protect it from the hot Caribbean sun. Restoring the varnish was a top priority before their first Brittany cruise, soon after which they took Cohoe IV  back to her builders in Gosport for various jobs.

"Every summer for four or five years, we would cruise across to France for a week or two with dad, Chris, Chris's son James and stepson Ben," said James. "I just loved it and I learned so much. One summer, when I was about 20, I had just finished my exams and dad asked me what I was doing. 'Nothing,' I said, so he threw me the boat keys and said 'piss off to France!' So I rang a couple of mates and off we went." During that time, Cohoe IV  won the "best presented yacht" prize in the 'large Bermudan' category at the 1991 Yachting Monthly Classic Yacht Rally and, at the 1994 Yachting Monthly Triangle Race, came 29th out of 56, despite a retirement on the last leg. By then, however, Bob had been diagnosed with cancer and died the following year.

At that time, James had just left university and was working on oil rigs in Africa. He and his siblings inherited half of Cohoe IV, and the "danger money" he was earning allowed him to buy Chris's half. "He had little interest in sailing the boat without his best friend," said James.

Returning from Africa, James spent eight or nine years cruising Cohoe IV  from Poole and Beaulieu to the West Country, Channel Islands and France with friends, "learning a lot about seamanship and getting in some hot water". Then he met his wife-to-be, Denise, a non-sailor who sailed with him to France and "loved it for the sake of loving it". After marriage and two children, they realized "that kind of fun had to stop".

James inherited Cohoe  in "relatively good nick after dad and Chris's efforts", but his maintenance regime was pretty basic and by the time the kids came along – Jack in 2003 and Erin in 2005 – the boat was in a sorry state. Thirteen years later, James had "managed to do nothing". By then, the kids were keen dinghy sailors and James knew it really was time to get Cohoe back sailing. "I wanted them to have the sort of experiences I had with dad and Chris," he said. Those experiences began with helping James do the work – seemingly with remarkable enthusiasm – starting by taking the cover off and giving the boat a good clean. "There was mildew everywhere," said James. "It was grim. Jack nearly came down with a respiratory disease with all the fungi he inhaled."

RESTORING

The initial work was done at home in Godalming, the rest at Bucklers Hard Boat Builders. BHBB stripped and dried out the hull, epoxied the bottom and painted the topsides in Awlgrip ("a very professional job"), sheathed and rehung the rudder, and checked the bronze keelbolts ("near-perfect after nearly 60 years"). Meanwhile, the Osborns stripped and revarnished the brightwork, rebedded all the deck fittings ("and finally made her watertight for the first time in 25 years"), made a new boarding ladder using mahogany from an old wardrobe, and new cockpit lockers ("he took hours on them," said Erin).

Original Sheetmaster winch made by Gibb
Above: Original sheetmaster winch made by Gibb

Below decks, the bilges were thoroughly cleaned and painted, a new Beta 30hp diesel replaced the Sabb, and virtually all the other systems were replaced, along with the installation of a hot-water tank and electric pressure pump "to try to entice Denise back on board".

New engine box and modified galley
Above: Cohoe IV 's interior now includes James's new engine box and modified galley (below)
Cohoe IV's modified galley

Before this, James (a management consultant) had little interest in woodwork, once making a computer table at home "that recently fell apart" – but lack of finances forced him to do all the new woodwork on Cohoe  himself. Since making the new cockpit locker lids, engine box, modifying the galley and so on, he has set up "a professional woodworking shop with proper tools" and enjoys maintaining Cohoe as much as sailing her.

Cohoe IV specifications

Cohoe  was finally relaunched, after 15 years ashore, in April 2019, and Erin had her first sail on her, from Southampton to her new berth at Wicor Marine in Portsmouth Harbor. "I had heard so many stories about her and it was so nice to be sailing her at last." I had a sail with James, Jack and Erin in St Mawes, after she sailed there from the Solent on her shakedown passage. It was clear that the three of them were greatly enjoying sailing Cohoe. As for Denise, the new hot water system has enticed her aboard "a little bit", said James. "I'm trying to persuade her to come to the Scillies now."

Erin on the helm off St Mawes
Above: Erin on the helm off St Mawes

James had previously considered trading Cohoe  for a modern yacht, but now "wouldn't change her for the world. And as I've replaced almost everything in her, if anything goes wrong I'll know exactly how to fix it." ■



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