Pippin – a 1997 Francis 34 Pilothouse

I have never properly introduced Pippin, a pretty lady of mature years who replaced the zingy little A-Jay (Sadler 290) that served me so well for 9 years and thousands of miles.

Pippin is a Frances 34 Pilot House, based on the hull of the popular and much more numerous Victoria 34 – only 6 or so were ever made.   She is about 34′ 6″ feet long (excluding bowsprit) with a longish lead keel and skeg hung rudder.   Relatively narrow in the beam at 10′ 6″, she draws just under 5 feet and weighs in – officially – at about 6 tons.   As far as I can tell, none actually weighed that for she is built like a tank and Pippin weighed nearer 8 tons on the weighbridge.   Not at her best astern, she is assisted by a buzzy bow thruster, which I thought were for motorboaters and wimps.   Several near ramming incidents later, I have changed.


Pippin off Sark (Derrible Bay)

Anyway, I met her whilst sheltering from a storm in Arklow, where Pippin was also taking her ease from the elements.  You could have knocked me down with a feather when I discovered her Master and First Mate to be Pete and Tracey Goss.  Well, we enjoyed a soggy sojourn in Arklow for a few days before bidding farewell and heading our separate ways.

Pete’s last words in Arklow were:

Pippin’s got your name on her John“.  “Yer right” thought I, but the funny things was she did and she now is mine – or rather ours, for daughter Sarah has a financial stake and my wife Angie is First Mate.

Pippin had been well set up for ocean sailing by her previous owner.  Important things like hefty new rigging, heavy duty sails, ocean life raft, bronze sea cocks and a Hydrovane – the sort of kit you need whilst frolicking in the Southern Ocean with albatross for company.

Happy to inherit this, though with plans and skills of a distinctly lower order, I continued with the upgrade of Pippin to bring her wiggly amps and gizzards into the 21st century. But first, a gimballed tea mug holder installed above the chart table and second, a pilot’s chair high enough for this little skipper to see out. I could almost manage these projects myself, despite the DIY skills of a bear but not quite without assistance from my mate Roger. The results were fit to bring on smugness I thought, as I sipped a mug of chai.

A very understanding wife and a little financial dexterity were necessary for phase 2, the installation of state of the art Raymarine electronics to replace 20 year old stuff, which was full of things like transistors and valves, with untidy black box things dangling inelegantly beneath the dash.

For reasons I won’t express here for they are bound to attract criticism, I plumped for radar rather than AIS, though the latter can easily be added to the new system.  This one is quite different from the hefty megatron unit that swayed 20 feet up on the mast of my previous boat.  No megatron now and the Quantum, for that’s what he’s called, has a neat perch on the stern quarter atop a lovely Scanstrut.  It talks – or do Raymarines CHIRP? – to the brains of the outfit by WIFI and thus far has done so come rain, shine or leaves on the line. It is half the weight of its predecessor, has no brain frying megatron, demands a meagre electric diet and is far cleverer than me.


To receive the radar’s CHIRP, a C95 9” Multi Function Device (MFD, or chart plotter to the likes of me) was installed just ahead of the dash on a custom stainless steel bracket and this displays the radar’s output as nice pink smudges on the MFD.

The wind speed, depth and boat speed instrument was replaced by a shiny new i60 dash mounted control head, which sits next to the stone-age Garmin 120 GPS, which I am keeping as backup mainly for nostalgic reasons.  An i70S colour multi-function thingy replaced the depth and speed head on the binnacle and now allows me to get any data produced by the system.   I have selected wind speed/direction, boat speed and depth.


The ancient autopilot, my somewhat unreliable friend Hastings, was replaced with Raymarine P70S colour control heads, one on the binnacle mount the other on the dashboard.

An ACU 200, the brains of the outfit, is now comfortably ensconced below the port saloon offset seat.  Alongside it is a clever little unit, an ITC-5 apparently, that allows the new electronics to talk to older stuff, such as the existing transducers.

The EVO1, a clever little guy that senses movement from 9 different directions without getting dizzy and can somehow learn which way is north, south or whatever resides happily beneath the port saloon seat. Mr Raymarine, a self-confessed perfectionist, was concerned of the possible effects on EVO1 from my Fray Bentos and baked bean tins residing in the scoff locker just above its head. So far, they seem to get on just fine.

Space is at a premium beneath the cockpit, as anyone who owns a Victoria 34 or Frances 34 Pilothouse will know, but somehow someone had got in and mounted a rudder indicator some years back.  Fortunately it was happy to play with the new electronics, which is fortunate as it is the only means to see where the rudder is, when using the interior helm.

Whilst talking of that space, I’ll add that I spent a few hours there helping Mr Raymarine persuade the new cable down from the binnacle, not an easy task.  Fortunately a mouse string was in place and it was just possible to run the new cable down and into this space, once old redundant cabling had been pulled through.  Cable ties and the existing under wheelhouse floor cable conduits were used for the new cable, and it was pleasing to find that a spare power cable had originally been installed to the binnacle, sufficient to feed the little Dragonfly, more of which later.

Getting cables down from the interior helm proved even harder, but eventually success was achieved and Mr Raymarine happily burrowed under the wheelhouse floor to tidy things up. Amazingly, he reduced the dashboard cabling by about 1/3, as lots seemed to be doing nothing.

I can’t see the MFD clearly from the cockpit helm and having lost a paper chart in the wind on a recent trip, I decided I needed a chart plotter out there and chose a cute stand-alone Raymarine Dragonfly 5 incher on a ROK mount, which now clings like a limpet to the binnacle. It and the Garmin 120 are on a completely separate circuit from the other electronics, thus increasing redundancy.


Sure I could buy a shiny new motorbike for the cost of bringing Pippin into the 21st century, but I feel I am her caretaker rather than owner, whose elected duty is to maintain this fine example of British boat building.   Foolishly I thought that would be it, but not so and the work goes on, thanks in part to the patient and loyal support of the First Mate.   Still she is worth it – Pippin that is, though the First Mate is too – and is ready to take on more at sea than I can cope with as our voyages have already proved.