JOHN BURMAN HOLTOM (1924 – 2019)
The late John Holtom was a founder member of Draycote and my first sail on Draycote was in his Lark at a time when the reservoir was being filled and there was more island than water. John farmed at Chesterton and as well as dinghies he had extensive experience of sailing in the English Channel and owned a part share in a wooden sloop.
In the early 1970’s he sold his farm to fund his ambition of entering the 1972 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race. For the first time both the yacht and its crew had to complete a 500 mile qualifying cruise two months before the start and John achieved this by the skin of his teeth. Just two days after he took delivery of La Bamba of Mersea (a Northney 34 sloop designed by Holman and Pye, built by Nicholson and Marshall at Hayling Island and the silver boat winner of the 1967 Boat Show) he set out from Plymouth and sailed to the middle of the Bay of Biscay and back in winds which never dropped below force 6. A test of both boat and helm and just 2 months to sort out and provision the boat ready for the race.
John was never going to win the race with serious competition from multi-hulls, such as Alain Colas’s trimaran, Pen Duick IV, and the monster schooner, Vendredi 13, designed specifically for the event.
It transpired that he was the competitor to take the most northern route – a brave choice bearing in mind the number of icebergs drifting south into the Atlantic that year and the increased danger of fog.
It paid off as although his crossing took 36 days, 3 hours and 30 minutes (Alain Colas took overall honours in 20 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes) John came 4th on handicap. Not bad for an amateur in a comparatively small sloop which he had only sailed once single-handed before the event.
In 1943-47 John served in the South East Asia theatre with an RAF Special Duties Squadron based in India, flying Liberators across the Himalayas into Burma, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and China. Navigation skills learned in the RAF were later to prove useful as this was before the days of GPS. Nor were there cell phones and reports to Lloyds from passing ships was the best chance of receiving news of the location of competitors. In fact, the only sighting of La Bamba was by a Nimrod Aircraft of RAF Strike Command while she was in full sail in mid-Atlantic.
He was not only interested in sailing but in a number of country pursuits and was a former Team Captain of the English Fly Fishing Association. In later years he visited Draycote for the trout fishing and he celebrated his 90th Birthday, with his son, travelling the rivers on the East coast of Canada, in a campervan, fishing for Salmon.
John’s wife, Jeanne, predeceased him but he is survived by his daughter, Jane and son, Jason.
I was fortunate enough to join John and his son in sailing La Bamba back after the race from the States to Lymington. Jason went on to sail on the subsequent British challenger for the America’s Cup.
It is a pity that, with failing health, John was unable to attend the Club’s 50th Birthday Party on 6th April. He passed away peacefully 6 days later.