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Pete Goss: a new mini

Aug 11, 2023Aug 11, 2023

Pete Goss has sailed more different yachts than most of us could imagine, but it's a home-built 32ft gaffer that is his chef-d’oeuvre, as Elaine Bunting finds out

They won't come into a marina very often, but when they do, Pete Goss and his wife, Tracey will be doing a lot of talking. They were in Mayflower Marina in Plymouth when I met them, taking on fuel and water, and a steady stream of people stopped as they walked by. All asking, ‘What is this boat? What is she for?’

The name says it all. Oddity. Spelt out in a groovy 1970s font. Turquoise with a bright yellow tender, a big squared off coachroof, a gaff rig and daggerboards. This curious boat absolutely screams ‘Story!’

Pete Goss has time for every passer-by. He answers all their questions and invites one man on board to look around. He listens to descriptions of their own boats and sailing history, but he doesn't counter with his own. Pete Goss is one of the humblest people you could ever meet, and you might never realise the full story: this boat is the creation of one of Britain's most heroic ocean racing sailors.

Oddity tells you so much about Pete and Tracey Goss. It is a very personal boat, a downsizer that they plan to take on a nomadic journey to all the nooks and crannies of Europe.

Pete Goss planned Oddity to be the perfect yacht for the kind of cruising he aims to do. Photo: Lloyd Images

A few years ago, this wasn't even on the horizon. In 2017 they launched Pearl, a Garcia 45 Exploration named to commemorate their 30th wedding anniversary, and set off across the Atlantic with the intention of sailing slowly round the world through the Tropics.

They were on the east coast of the US in March 2020 when the pandemic struck and the world closed down. They managed to get a flight home with little more than what they stood up in and returned to their UK home, a Mongolian yurt in a Cornish wood (more about that later…). By the time restrictions lifted, family life and commitments had changed. The window had closed.

They put Pearl on the market and were shocked when it sold six hours later, as lying, with their possessions still on board. They never got to return. "We left our tools, Tracey's sewing machine and a drawer full of my holey underpants," laughs Pete.

Although sad about this, they were also free to imagine what might come next. An idea had been brewing in Pete's mind. I remember him telling me some years ago that he wanted to build a small plywood epoxy cat-rigged boat. Oddity is not exactly that, but it definitely grew from those seeds, the vision of an uncomplicated, robust boat that could gently explore the coasts and canals peacefully overlooked in the scramble for ever bigger craft.

"We started with a very simple principle: we want to go to Odessa and the Black Sea through the canals and go through these beautiful old cities that show their soul," explains Pete. "One thing we learned from cruising is that the slower we went, the richer the experience was.

Twin daggerboards aid sailing performance for the internally-ballasted Oddity. Photo: Lloyd Images

"When you want to stay in places, then the whole game changes," he observes. "You go when the weather tells you and you have the time to really embed yourself in places like the upper reaches of rivers.

"The anchorages of my youth are full of commercial marinas and jetskis now."

He adds: "We loved cruising. The people we met were all bright-eyed and enthusiastic and had a fascinating backstory. We made more lifelong friends in a couple of years than we had in the 10 years before."

To design and build this new pocket explorer yacht, he turned to his old friend and longtime collaborator Chris Rees, a designer and master craftsman of the old school. They sat down together and sketched it out.

"We sat down with a glass of wine and drew the boat," says Pete. There was no CAD software or computer modelling involved; they simply pooled their joint knowledge and "hundreds of years of experience in different boats."

Then they built a 3D model and did some tank testing. "We built a model and looked at it and felt it, and we did an inversion test in the kitchen sink."

Oddity's gaff rig promotes easy handling, and can also be completely lowered to the deck by hand for canal cruising. Photo: Lloyd Images

The result is a 32ft gaff cutter, with 11ft beam, a long keel that draws 3ft, 6ft daggerboards, two lifting rudders and a mast that can be lowered by hand. It has a rounded, scow bow and a hard chine that runs right aft and is "designed to heel to about 12½° and stay there". Oddity will be able to sail perfectly well offshore, yet take the ground, go through canals, bump up against rough docks and be hauled up the beach.

From the beginning, the boat was known as Oddity – a humblebrag of course, and a nod to its licence to be the most practical, utilitarian little boat possible. It is, says Pete Goss proudly, "a farmer's boat, a loveable scruff."

Oddity is large enough to live on, but handy for two to sail and small enough to go through the French canals. Pete had never owned a gaff rigged yacht before, but this sail plan allows all the spars to be lowered by hand and fit within its overall length.

The hull's rounded bow gives it plenty of volume below and, along with its slight reverse sheer, a contemporary vibe. "She's a mixture of modern and traditional," Pete notes. Oddity was built over seven months in plywood epoxy glassfibre, a simple building method – the marine ply was cut with a jigsaw – and because, he explains, "we wanted a tough little bugger."

The build started as Goss did a deal on 1.4 tonnes of lead from the breaking of a local boat. Oddity's ballast is all internal. The joy of that is that it can be moved fore and aft to get just the right trim, and easily altered. The current displacement is about 6 tonnes, but Pete says: "We are playing around with the ballast and we might add a half tonne over the winter. We want to see what that will be like."

Pete Goss onboard Oddity. Photo: Lloyd Images

The hull sides are protected by a big rubber rubbing strake of the kind you see on ferries and pilot boats. A 10mm wide steel shoe runs along the bottom, a bash plate, and there is a steel lug on the waterline at the bow so Oddity may be hauled out of the water by a pick-up or tractor. "We can drag her along the road making sparks," says Pete. "Or we could dry out on rocks. The daggerboards will act as legs."

The bowsprit, stanchions, pushpit, pulpit and arch at the stern are all made of galvanised steel. Pete boasts that there is no stainless steel on board at all. The stanchions are high and the feet are structural "so we can put blocks on them."

Practical galley is also very colourful. Photo: Lloyd Images

The high pulpit has two purposes. It sweeps down to a deck hinge just in front of the tabernacle and becomes an A-frame for lowering or raising the mast with a block and tackle.

At the stern a galvanised steel arch provides a structure to support a Superwind 350 generator and 150W of solar panels (the boat has 260Ah of batteries), a saddle to support the mast when lowered and also houses, lifts and launches Oddity's bright yellow tender, the aptly named Qwerky.

The little boat rows beautifully, according to Pete, and has a lug rig for sailing. It was built from a local mould. "One of the old fishermen said it came from the best of the boats that went out from Cawsand and Kingsand to the old [trading] luggers," he says.

The rear part of the arch hinges back and swings the tender out and down to the water on a block and tackle, so that this too can be done by hand.

A board closes off the transom between the two lifting rudders and hinges down to become a boarding platform, or can be dropped into the water to act as a ladder. Like so many details on Oddity it is simple, inexpensive, clever and totally foolproof.

The cockpit is deep and secure – perhaps too deep, Pete thinks. "I think we got that wrong. The floor is too low but I will fix that this winter."

To go down into the saloon, you enter through a keyhole shaped door (reminiscent of the David Sadler-designed Contessa 26, for yacht history fans). Beneath the steps sits the boat's 43hp Beta engine. As the couple expect to be doing a lot of motoring they wanted a big engine, "without electronics, one that is designed to be reliable." It drives an 18-inch Brunton Autoprop feathering propeller.

After a bad experience with a fuel tank that split, Pete and Tracey had plastic tanks custom built by Tek Tanks. They have 426lt of water and 344lt of fuel that's divided between two tanks in case of contaminated fuel.

The boat is fully insulated and has a Webasto heater so they can be comfortable in cold weather.

Oddity's saloon is colourful, surprisingly large, and very bright. "After Pearl, we could never go to sea without a large pilothouse that shares the beauty of an anchorage as we potter below," Pete comments. There are windows all the way round and across the forward end of the coachroof.

In profile, the forward sloping windows at the front give Oddity the shape of a frowning forehead. There is a practical reason. The angle cuts the glare of reflections from the water – which is why similar profiles are used on the bridges of trawlers and ships.

Large double cabin sits well forward. Photo: Lloyd Images

There is a big double cabin for the couple right forward, a heads and shower starboard aft, and a double cabin that extends under the cockpit on the port side. There is no navigation station; the saloon table will be used instead.

The interior is multicoloured and cheerful as a children's playroom. The locker doors are an assortment of orange, yellow and blue; the saloon table is a patterned red colour. They are made of laminate from Italian company ABET Laminati bonded to marine ply.

"The challenge was to create something simple and functional," says Pete. "Oddity is to be our home from home, a centre of gravity about which the family and grandchildren can orbit. We wanted this to be a fun refuge.

Pete and Tracey Goss have created a light and airy main saloon with space to entertain the family. Photo: Lloyd Images

"All my boats have had totally different concepts and had a clear purpose. When people come to me for advice I always say: what do you want to do and how do you want to live? Why wouldn't you want ice in your G&T, why wouldn't you want a boat to be light and comfortable and have a proper kitchen? Why wouldn't you want all-round views?"

After Oddity was launched this spring, Pete and Tracey did a shakedown cruise by sailing west from Plymouth. On the way out to the Isles of Scilly they met their first test. "We had 22-25 knots on the nose and big bumpy seas but we were motoring through it at 1,600rpm while sitting below drinking tea," Pete smiles.

Tall, galvanised pulpit creates security at the bow. Photo: Lloyd Images

There are some modifications to make this winter, such as adding ballast and changing the height of the cockpit floor, and then Oddity will be ready to venture forth. In the meantime, however, Pete and Tracey Goss have another project on the go: they recently got planning permission to build a house in the woods where they have been living off-grid. It's a hands-on project, and the same principles of simplicity and practicality will apply.

It could hardly be less like the pressured, high-cost, high-tech, high-profile world of yacht racing where Pete Goss made his name. But he insists he doesn't miss any of that.

"I’ve done all the races I wanted to do. When I think of the Vendée Globe, [a campaign] is four to five years in the grind of the sponsorship and the business. The sailing didn't quite offset that price for me, partly because I have such a diverse life. You are gifted such a small amount of life, just 11 hours per day to invest in something. I have already scratched that itch."

Yet when I ask if he could be tempted back on the race course, he admits: "I would love to do the Mini Transat. Would I like to jump on a big boat and do a round the world race? Yes. But I don't want to set up a company and make the millions. And I’ve never repeated things. The joy is doing different things. I have got enough. I’m happy."

ender Qwerky is suspended from a galvanised steel gantry. Note transom board that's also a bathing platform… and a ladder. Photo: Lloyd Images

In its way, the eccentric-looking Oddity is the expression of sufficiency, yet it manages to be one of the boldest little yachts you’re likely to come across. Who else could it be for other than a pair of unconventional free-thinkers?

If you peep into the forecabin, you may see what could be a manifesto for this boat, and indeed for life. It's a quote from Dr Seuss, printed on a cushion on the double bed. ‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.’

There are clues to Pete Goss's racing history in the details of Oddity. The twin rudders and daggerboards are reminiscent of his Open 50 Aqua Quorum, which he raced round the world in the 1996/97 Vendée Globe.

The bowsprit and flying Code O make one think of the little Seacart catamaran he and Paul Larsen raced round Britain and Ireland in 2006. The hull chine has the vibe of the Class 40 he sailed in the Route du Rhum in 2010. Its long keel and traditional look are very much part of the history too, because Chris Rees designed and built Spirit of Mystery, a 37ft replica of a Mounts Bay lugger, for Pete and a crew to sail from Cornwall to Australia in 2008.

A hero's welcome for Goss after his Southern Ocean rescue of a fellow Vendée Globe skipper. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

Pete and Tracey Goss were always jointly committed to these exploits. They first met as youngsters at Torpoint Mosquito Sailing Club near Plymouth, when Pete needed a crew for his Mirror dinghy. After school, Pete worked on a salvage tug, then joined the Royal Marines. On a bus one night he bumped into Tracey again. She was about to turn 21, and when Pete discovered she had no special plans to celebrate, he invited her out. The couple have been married for over 35 years, and have two adult sons, a daughter, and now a toddler granddaughter.

Pete stayed in the Marines for nine years. "I never thought of it as a career," he says. "I ended up as an instructor in the sailing centre just when it became a profession. But when I left the Marines with no qualifications it was a job. I had to make a living."

He wanted to be an ocean race skipper, and Tracey was up for that. "We had to sell our house and we both threw everything into it," he says.

Lugger Spirit of Mystery was sailed to Australia. Photo: Silverport Pictures/Alamy

In 1988, Pete raced a 26ft catamaran, Cornish Meadow, in the Carlsberg Single-Handed Transatlantic Race. In 1990 he was taken on by Chay Blyth as a training skipper for the British Steel Challenge, a hugely ambitious westabout round the world race for amateurs. Pete raced as skipper of Hofbräu Lager, finishing 3rd.

Since then his projects have been on both a huge scale and also very small. He is still, rightly, most famous (and revered in France) for his Vendée Globe in the 50ft Aqua Quorum, when he battled upwind in the Southern Ocean to rescue fellow competitor Raphael Dinelli from his upturned hull. Goss returned to a hero's welcome and was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur medal.

This led on to a much bigger and even more daring sailing project, but one that did not end well. In 2000 he built Team Philips, a giant 120ft catamaran, on the banks of the River Dart in Devon for a new non-stop round the world race, The Race. Its wave-piercing hulls and twin rotating rigs were to be revolutionary, and in many ways it was ahead of its time, but the venture ended catastrophically.

Team Philips was a daring and ultimately unsuccessful project. Photo: Brenton West/Alamy

The boat suffered a severe structural failure during a training sail in the Atlantic and the crew had to be rescued. The various subsidiary companies bearing the Goss name were wound up.

It is something he doesn't dwell on. "The Race was irresistible. You have a choice of taking an idea and doing it bigger or coming up with your own idea and doing something different. It was the coalface of technology and innovation. Yes, it's a tough old one. You could say it was a great white elephant, but that does it a disservice. The tech is out there now."

There have been numerous other adventures since, but never with quite the same profile. Perhaps, having been burned by failure, that was intentional. In 2006, he raced the bantamweight Seacart 30 catamaran in the Round Britain and Ireland Race, in 2008 he sailed the lugger Spirit of Mystery to Australia, in 2010 he raced a Class 40 in the solo Route du Rhum transatlantic race, and in 2012 he downsized yet further by paddling and sailing a sea kayak round Tasmania.

Goss kayaked around Tasmania

In between, Goss has done all kinds of work: fencing and building, renovating a farmhouse, leading expeditions to the North Pole. He is also still a speaker, a business coach and a lecturer at Said Business School of Oxford University.

He and Tracey, "blessed with restless spirits" as he puts it, seem spectacularly unafraid of change. Fed up with British winters, they sold their farmhouse some years ago to buy a ‘bach’ or beach shack in New Zealand and a Mongolian yurt (complete with horsehair guy ropes) to live off-grid in a Cornish wood bought from Pete's parents. Now they’ve sold both, they have Oddity and are building a new home in the woods.

Pete Goss has sailed more different yachts than most of us could imagine, but it's a home-built 32ft gaffer that is his chef-d’oeuvre, as Elaine Bunting finds out