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East Coast featured boat: ‘Dirty Girty’

Our featured boat for March is another boat designed and built by East Coast Gaffer Bob Berk, ‘Dirty Girty’.

Bob always wanted a light, small, cruiser racer and he had some ideas around the Broads boats, but specifically wanted a free space inside so the centreboard box ‘had to go’. Bob was very interested in Phil Bolger’s designs and after some discussions the concept of a punt-like narrow thin hull came about. Built on the River Stour by Bob ‘Dirty Girty’ was launched in 1986 from the Barn in Bradfield Bay.

‘Girty’ as she became affectionately known has a bottom ‘print’ of 24’ long by 4’ wide which is exactly 3 sheets of Brunzeel top quality ply laid next to each other! Her bow and stern sections taper in each of the the two end sheets rapidly ending in a vertical stem and stern. There is quite a rise to give the flat bottom a lift at each end which leaves her with about a 16’ waterline when on an even keel. The centreboard has been ousted by a pair of asymmetric boards with about a 5/8” hollow aerofoil section, each one fitting just inside the hull so being nearly 4’ apart each acting like a a hydro-wing in the water to give rise to a phenomenal amount of lift to windward. She carries about 60 kilos of lead as under-sole-ballast right down the centreline to improve her righting moment and gives her a good ballast ratio. Her beam above the waterline is increased to 6’ by way of sponsons which give a seating area for the crew and Bob was very proud to state that this was an easy way of ‘old men sitting out’! Moreover it allowed somewhere to fit the cleats and gear to get the sails to actually set! The sails and rig are revolutionary as she sports a spritsail schooner rig with a boomed main which is tenon jointed into the mast so that revolves through 180 degrees. The main is un-stayed and the fore does have stay that is changed over at each tack like a backstay on a smack. The fore-main or zero as it is called is a traditional loose footed sail and the jib is again traditional, on a roller. Her masts and spars are all hollow and made of that traditional stuff called wood although wherever she goes, as they are painted black, everyone assumes they’re carbon.

I first came across ‘Girty’ at a Gaffers Shotley Classics where she made her debut. I remember the conversation between another Gaffer and Bob: ‘I thought you were a buoy out there near the Medusa, but when you tacked I realised it was a boat’! At a distance, ’Girty’, with her black flat topped sails, clearly looks like a sea mark. In 2012 Bob lent us the boat to help promote the East Coast OGA youth. Young Ed Roberts was sailing on our Itchen Ferry ‘Reverie’ and well-known to Bob so we were deemed ‘Suitable custodians’ of his creation. Later, Ed asked me if I could add a bowsprit to her so he could fly an assymmetric spinnaker. She now sports an 18” bowsprit in stainless steel and you can imagine how pleased we were to be able to improve and modify such a pedigree racing machine.

She continues to surprise and amaze everyone (including the crew) having been to Holland where the Dutch were adamant that she must be made of carbon and certainly wasn’t built in 1986. She’s raced in Falmouth and the Solent as well as on the East Coast. ‘Dirty Girty’ is a force to be reckoned with and we need more ‘crazy crew’ to help us sail her and promote gaff rig wherever she goes.

Words: Pete ‘the knife’ Elliston
Photos: Beverley Yates