November / December 2020

The Big Green Bird Gets Her Wings

Building the Falmouth pilot cutter PELLEW

The recently launched PELLEW is the largest pilot cutter to be built in more than a century. Her conservative sail plan makes her manageable as a working boat. In addition to the lowers seen here, she also carries a jackyard topsail and jib topsail.

It was a blustery day on England’s Carrick Roads off Falmouth, Cornwall, and the skipper, Luke Powell, was up to his usual tricks. As we sailed into harbor under full sail, we came up to a modern trimaran and a Sparkman & Stephens ketch lying at anchor about 30' apart. Rather than sail around them, Luke decided to pass between them, much to the consternation of the crew of the trimaran, who stared in disbelief as our 22' bowsprit came charging toward them.

It was classic Luke Powell showmanship. In addition to acquiring a worldwide following for his range of beautifully crafted wooden pilot cutters, the ballsy Cornish boatbuilder has become famous for his daring close-quarters maneuvers at traditional boat festivals such as those at Brest and Douarnenez in France. Anyone who has watched him negotiating the confined waters of Douarnenez harbor and performing pirouettes in front of the crowds couldn’t fail to be impressed by these colorful displays of seamanship.

But that was sailing his own boat, the 46' AGNES, which is considerably smaller than the boat we were sailing into Falmouth that day, the 68' PELLEW. Not only that, but it was just the boat’s third outing since being launched in February 2020, and for a moment there was a real question about whether Luke had yet taken the measure of the new boat, as we seemed to drift inexorably toward the flimsy-looking trimaran.

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