Spring 2017 – hunting U-boats, cruising with the family, procurement scandals in the US Navy, camping on Rockall….
G H P Mulhauser goes hunting U-boats in the ‘Q’ Ship ‘Result’
At the beginning of March 1917 we were sent out to make a tour round by the North Hinder Lightship, up past Smith’s Knoll and then to the Dogger Bank. The first three days out were quiet, but on the morning of the fourth day it began to breeze up, and in the early hours the flying jib had to be taken in. An hour later the outer jib was stowed, and the mizzen, main,and foresails reefed. At dark a heavy SE gale was blowing, and things were very uncomfortable. The CO decided to heave to, as the ship was then clear of minefields, and also clear of the SW Patch on the Dogger Bank.
Anthony Bailey takes his young family sailing in his thousand-dollar yacht:
After Margot and Liz returned from Church and Sunday school, decided today might as well be the day. Gathered gear and junk, all ready by noon, except for Liz, who had disappeared in the direction of the Holy Ghost parade, celebrating the feeding of the starving masses of Portugal by Queen Isabella. Found her at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Club, downing free Portuguese soup. Finally reached the dory, stowed gear, fed other members of the crew. Made sail at 1:30 pm. Clear blue sky, not too warm, light breeze.
David Smith bluffs his way aboard a 1970s trawler:
I went down to the Grimsby Fish Docks to see Barney, the Ross Trawlers’ radio technician. I told him that I didn’t have a ticket, but this did not seem to worry him. He gave me a lift back to my digs with the instruction that I was to meet him next morning on the North Wall of the fish docks where the trawlers berthed prior to sailing back to Iceland or the White Sea. When I arrived I was then told that I was about to sit my examination for the PMG General Certificate of Competence in Radiotelephony. Once we were in the radio room, the Inspector asked me to tune the Oceanspan and then asked me basic questions from the R/T section of the Handbook. Five minutes later I was a fully qualified radiotelephony operator.
Hammond Innes sails from Istanbul to Malta:
As the first grey luminosity of dawn touched the sky, we heard the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the dim-seen needle-points of minarets. We headed for the entrance to the Bosporus and soon the pattern of domes and minarets began to emerge, vague outlines dominating the long peninsula of the old town – St Sophia, Sultan Ahmet, Bayezit, Suleymaniye, all the mosques that stand above the Golden Horn. The domes were huge, the bulk of the buildings staggering, but it was the minarets I remember, tall pencilled shapes that seemed to prick the underbellies of the clouds; ethereal in the grey dampness of the dawn, they seemed to belong to an Arabian Nights world and not a part of the bustle of the great port. Stemming the current below the old Seraglio, now part of the rich Topkapi Museum, we entered the waterways that gave birth to Constantinople.
Crispin Ellison learns that there’s no such thing as a free passage across the Pacific:
Close inspection showed up a huge number of items in need of repair or renewal. Jobs included replacing a good amount of woodwork and decking, sealing most of the windows, scraping many months of barnacles from the hull at low tide, filling dents and holes in the concrete hull, and repainting and re-varnishing the whole vessel from the keel up. Oh, and mending the engine.
William Hargreaves opens a window on the world of a Southampton First Class Pilot:
One of the pleasures of being a Southampton pilot is that the port handles not just the largest container ships in the world but a variety of other ships: the largest passenger vessels, the largest ro-ro carriers, and tankers of up to 350,000 tonnes. Squeezing a Supramax bulk carrier into the old dry dock is not for the faint-hearted; and spinning an eighty-five metre ship bound for the scrap berth in a 100-metre turning circle requires just as much concentration as that required for a ship four times as long. Things just happen more quickly on the smaller ship.
Andrew Cockburn raises an eyebrow at a recent US Navy initiative:
The roster of terrible warship designs is long and freighted with disasters, but some stand out as short-odds contenders for Worst Ever. Favorites for the title include HMS Captain, a full-rigged three-master rendered top-heavy by metal gun turrets, which predictably capsized soon after launching in 1870, drowning 480; the Imperial Russian Navy’s perfectly circular (and completely unsteerable) ironclads of the same era; and Beatty’s under-armoured cruisers, which blew up rather too easily at Jutland. In more recent times we have had HMS Excalibur, based on a salvaged experimental U-Boat, pronounced ’75 percent safe’ by the Admiralty and dubbed HMS Excruciator by her crew. But of all the truly awful notions that ever crawled from the addled brains of a naval bureaucracy, few can compare with the ongoing catastrophe of the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, aka the LCS, or (as its crews prefer to call it) Little Crappy Ship.
Nicholas Gray interviews a sailor from the Golden Age of cruising:
Edward Allcard has spent virtually the whole of his adult life wandering the world’s oceans, usually alone. He has written several memorable books describing his adventures. He now lives in Andorra, high in the Pyrenees. When he first moved there, he was asked by an immigration officer concerned for his future happiness if he wouldn’t feel enclosed by the mountains after the ocean’s wide horizons. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Mountains are just waves standing still.’ He is the sole surviving member of that band of sailors who opened up the world’s oceans in the early days of small-boat voyaging.
James Grogono, pioneer of speed sailing, tells a tale of ever-increasing records:
The sport of speed sailing started in 1972, with the first Weymouth Speed Week. Until that time no speed claim had been accompanied by strict impartial measurement of time and distance – three years earlier, indeed, Bernard Hayman, then editor of ‘Yachting World’, had been incensed by a record claimed after ‘measurement’ from a moving car on the seafront at Southend. He formed an ad hoc Committee, chaired by the naturalist and painter Peter Scott. Rules were made, the organisation was handed to the RYA, and Speed Week came into being.
Rockall is a granite speck in the North Atlantic some 200 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. It is rarely visited and rarely scaled. Landing on its steep flanks, difficult at the best of times, is possible only when the weather is at its most benign – and by the time a boat has chugged out from Scotland, calm conditions can have deteriorated, making landing impossible.
One Sunday evening in late May I was sitting in a large armchair by a glowing fire when the telephone rang. It was Neil McGrigor. He had long been planning an attempt on Rockall. All systems, apparently, were now go. The operation began to function like a recently-cleaned Swiss watch.
The Editor of the MQ goes trailer sailing in Scotland:
For the last twenty years, the Corryvreckan Cruising Club has gone for a sail somewhere off the west coast of Scotland. There are four of us nowadays, and we sail singlehanded in small boats, meeting up at a specified anchorage of an evening for a bit of carousal, and helping each other out should we get into difficulties during the daily sail. The only rule of the club has been that we never, ever, under any circumstances go near the Corryvreckan. In the unlikely event that you have not heard of it, this is a deep gulf between the isles of Jura and Scarba, through which the tide pours at up to twelve knots. In the wrong wind conditions, this produces rips, overfalls, and the third biggest whirlpool in the world after the Maelstrom and the Old Sow off Eastport, Maine.
So as we moved the boats from their trailers to the water at Balvicar Boatyard on the island of Seil, we had no idea where we were going, but a pretty good idea of where we were not going.
Jon Tucker celebrates the world’s biggest Marine Protected Area:
I remember a hushed conversation in the wheelhouse of a ninety-foot Kiwi fishing boat in the early nineties. A promising new, unnamed, unregulated species had been discovered around the seamounts south of Easter Island. Get in before the bureaucrats start meddling, was the argument. It would be tough, but the profits would be enormous. That was the boom-and-bust mentality of the world-wide fishing fraternity. It bothered me. The announcement last October that the world’s largest Marine Protected Area is to be established in 1.55 million sq km of the Ross Sea – the size of France, Germany and Spain together – left me a lot happier. Once the euphoria has died back a little, though, it is interesting to look a little more closely at the conservation of the Last Ocean.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the thoughts of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Winter 2016 – Aegean cruising, boatbuilding in Lamu, tales from the radio room, the long, long history of coral and childcare on Clyde puffers
Jon Tucker takes his children on a little nature trip:
The Chatham Islands are a seldom-visited archipelago in the roaring forties about 450 nautical miles downwind of New Zealand’s South Island. Vessels bound for Cape Horn seldom bother to drop in. The islands are generally shrouded in cloud, and offer only one dubious all-weather anchorage. Scattered near Pitt Island (the smaller of the populated pair) are a number of small rocky islets, barely accessible by boat. Two of them, the Fort and the Castle, derive their names from their topography. The nearby Mangere Islet became famous overnight during the late 1980s with the discovery of three specimens of the Chatham Island black robin, a species assumed to have become extinct several decades earlier. One was an elderly female, which was named Old Blue. The other two birds were both males, one of which later turned out to be infertile.
From this tiny and precarious gene-pool, a remarkably successful breeding exercise developed… Soon after the inauguration of the breeding programme, a small group of Kiwi yacht-racing enthusiasts came up with the hitherto unheard-of idea of an ocean race from Napier to the Chatham Islands.
Robert Atkinson and friends go poaching in the Small Isles:
We cut off the creature’s head with Hugh’s penknife. This was not as difficult as it sounds, but took several minutes. We whispered still and continually glanced to the skyline; the horror of somebody appearing over it was not to be thought of – but we must have half-expected it since we looked up so frequently. We then cut off other parts which it is correct to take from a stag. The tide was low but flowing again. We had a long way to move the boat. We struck the tent, cleared the site and loaded everything into the boat.
Di Beach and her husband go boatbuilding in Lamu:
The woodcutters roughly squared off the chosen branches with their adzes to reduce the weight, then dragged them to the shoreline with coconut-fibre ropes. When the boat was loaded higher than seemed prudent, they sailed back to Lamu. Upon arrival at the boatbuilding site they dumped the timber in the shallows, where it remained submerged until needed – Lamu boats were always built of green timber. Many such trips were needed, and the process took several weeks.
Philip Temple spends Christmas at sea with Bill Tilman:
We had a book called ‘The Magic Pudding’ and Antony, Ed or Warwick tookto reading a verse from it before each heavy mound was cut up andserved. At the presentation of an early duff the Skipper told thistraditional tale: ‘The new cabin boy is always asked if he likes themiddle or ends of treacle duff. Middle! says the boy. Me and themate likes ends, says the Skipper, promptly cutting it in half.’ Andthen as Antony replied with some rude retort: ‘What I want from youMr Mate is silence — and not too much of that.’
Tales of hilarity and tragedy from the now vanished Radio Rooms of the Merchant Navy:
‘The Wireless Operator, a plain man equipped to do one thing extremely well, bears himself in extreme emergency with cool courage. He stands by his job, though at any moment the ship may sink under his feet. From the very nature of his job he is almost the last man to leave a sinking vessel – allowing precedence in devotion to the captain alone, and he continues to send distress calls and to direct rescuing vessels until some officer seizes the slack of his trousers and pitches him into the boat. Sometimes, and not infrequently, he goes down with his ship.’
Keith Read tells the story of a rather fraught tow:
It had been a good couple of days. It was the early seventies and the boat, the Royal Navy’s newest hunter-killer nuclear submarine, was heading back to the Clyde after a final set of post-build sea trials. Full-power steaming and a deep dive had all gone well. The boat had proved highly manoeuvrable and watertight at the deepest diving depth. True, the principal naval architect for the design had been seen to turn a little ashen on surfacing. This turned out to be because the seal in the main accommodation hatch had been found to be missing. But well-machined faces and sea pressure had rendered a seal redundant, so all was well that ended well, and the crew and assorted contractors, overseers and trials personnel were beginning to relax after a strenuous, cramped and tiring few days.
As the boat headed through the North Channel ten miles North West of Rathlin Island and the Irish coast, a North Atlantic gale blew in….
Anthony Bailey reflects on the joys and sorrows of winter boating in New England:
In my very small fleet of small boats, I found that my favourite craft, at least for lone winter use, had no sail. This was a Gloucester Gull Light Dory, designed by Phil Bolger of that town. The traditional New England dory was a simply built boat, carried to sea stacked one inside the other on the decks of Grand Banks schooners, and dropped overboard for their crews to use on the fishing grounds. Bolger’s variant was not only less burdensome but with lower freeboard, its lines refined for easy rowing. There was no need to carry masses of fishing gear or, on the way home, several quintals of cod. Initially tippy, it became more stable the further it heeled. Our dory had been painted with the usual-for-dories high-visibility orange paint but given no name, so we baptized it Lark, the slightly-out- of-birth-order acronym of our four daughters.
Hammond Innes sets out from Malta, bound for Byzantium:
For those who sail in the Mediterranean the problem of Turkey has to be faced sooner or later. I knew the difficulties – but having seen the Turkish coast from the Dodecanese two years before, I had to go, I had to see Troy and the ruins of the Ionian cities; above all, I wanted to sail my own boat through the Dardanelles and across the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul, to see the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.
Nigel Sharp tells the long, convoluted story of yacht handicapping:
It was probably the Royal Yacht Squadron (at that time the Royal Yacht Club) which introduced the first system of handicapping, at its 1827 regatta. Two of the three cups were awarded to the fastest boats below 75 tons and 45 tons respectively, while all vessels were eligible for the third. Two years later this was taken a stage further. The competing boats – still racing as a single fleet – were split into six groups according to their tonnage, all the boats in the bigger group giving the same time allowance to all the boats in the next smaller group, and so on.
Individual handicaps were issued for the first time in 1841, when eleven yachts between 31 and 393 tons raced each other, with an allowance of one second per mile for every ton of difference between the competing boats. The 6th boat home was declared the winner on corrected time, and the system was considered (at least by the Committee) to be a success.
More jinks high and low on the Vital Spark:
The last passenger steamer to sail that day from Ardrishaig was a trip from Rothesay. It was Glasgow Fair Saturday, and Ardrishaig Quay was black with people. There was a marvellously stimulating odour of dulse, herring, and shell-fish, for everybody carried away in a handkerchief a few samples of these marine products that are now the only seaside souvenirs not made in Germany. The Vital Spark, in ballast, Clydeward bound, lay inside the passenger steamer, ready to start when the latter had got under weigh, and Para Handy and his mate meanwhile sat on the fo’c’sle-head of “the smertest boat in the tred” watching the frantic efforts of lady excursionists to get their husbands on the steamer before it was too late, and the deliberate efforts of the said husbands to slink away up the village again just for one more drink.
Charles Payton introduces us to a whaling captain who lost his wits:
The life of a London south sea whaleman of the early 1800s was not easy. Crews of 30 to 35 men were confined in vessels seldom more than 90ft on deck, and sailed with the certainty that even if they survived they would not return within two years, and that they could be away for three to four. In four years they might touch land for stops totalling three months overall, and these only to take on water, vegetables and wood. Everything else they carried with them or made for themselves.
Given these conditions, it is surprising that there is not much evidence of mental illness on whale ships – and where it exists, it seldom presents in the common sailor. Masters and Mates, coopers and carpenters, were more susceptible.
Oscar Branson laments the decline of coral reefs, but points out that it has happened before and will happen again:
The demise of corals is a catastrophe at ecological, environmental, economic, cultural, philosophical and personal levels. It is a visible and appalling sign of the direct impact we can have on the planet. Surely this cataclysmic destruction of an entire, complex ecosystem must be unparalleled and unique?
Well, no. Coral reefs have been comprehensively wiped out on at least 6 separate occasions since the origin of life on Earth 3.8 billion years ago.
The Editor goes gardening:
The last northern gasp of the Gulf Stream carries the seafarer through a ferocious landscape. The Cuillins look as if they want to saw chunks out of the sky. The hills behind Torridon glow red-hot in the sunset. As the boat turns into the mouth of Loch Ewe, the only thing between her and Labrador is the grey pencil line of the Isle of Lewis, forty miles to the west. At the southern end of the loch is Poolewe, a scatter of houses trapped between the sea and the jumbled mountains inland. The peninsula on the left of the white hotel bears an Art Nouveau grove of pines. Traditionally, there are so few trees in these parts that even coffin boards are hard to get. What is going on?
The dinghy crunches on the shore. Drifts of seaweed cling to the boots. There is a steep, grassy bank. Then, suddenly, a walk with neat laurel hedges, brightened with bloody splashes of the climbing nasturtium tropaeolum speciosum, lined on one side by a neat two-acre terrace of flowers and vegetables, and on the other by a sub-tropical jungle.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the thoughts of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Autumn 2016 – Summer cruising in Antarctica, exploding derelicts, sunken forests and one of yachting’s great myths examined
Jon Tucker’s sons take him to the windiest place in the world:
Fifteen hundred miles south of Tasmania, nestled into the Antarctic promontory of Cape Denison, is a tiny boat harbour less than two fathoms deep and half a cable wide. For roughly four weeks after each summer solstice the fast-ice breaks out, leaving enough room for a single yacht, trussed on every quarter with shorelines stropped to boulders. It is a unique anchorage in a coastline dominated by thousands of miles of giant ice-cliffs. The Pilot shows that the only months of significant reprieve from incessant katabatics are December and January, when summer anticyclones reduce the chance of being hammered to one day in two.
This was the little meteorological lottery for which my son Ben had decided to take a ticket. He had recruited his youngest brother Matt as crew, and allowed me to tag along as cabin boy on a promise of good behaviour….
Morgan Robertson tells the story of a dream salvage that turns into a nightmare:
On a bright morning in November 1894, a curious-looking craft floated into the branch current which, skirting Cuba, flows westward through the Bahama Channel. A man standing on the highest of two points enclosing a small bay near Cape Maisi, after a critical examination through a telescope, disappeared from the rocks, and in a few moments a light boat emerged from the mouth of the bay, containing this man and another. In the boat besides was a coil of rope.
The boat soon passed the fringing reef and came in sight of the strange craft, which lay about a mile east and half a mile offshore. ‘You see,’ resumed the younger man, called Boston, ‘there’s a back-water inside Point Mulas, and if she gets into it she may come ashore right here.’
‘Where we can loot her. Nice business for a respectable practitioner and a man who calls himself a retired naval officer.’
David Lewis explores the mysteries of South Seas navigation:
In the 1960s academic controversies were rife concerning the navigational feasibility of prehistoric canoe voyages. A voyage between Tahiti, Rarotonga and New Zealand using book-learned Polynesian non-instrumental navigation (with a safety officer aboard) was therefore undertaken in the catamaran Reha Moana in 1965.A later (1969) project in [the ketch] Isbjorn stemmed from the realization that a scattered remnant of heirs to a 2,000-year-old navigation tradition still survived. The obvious step was to seek to become their pupils aboard ocean-going canoes, where these were still in commission, or alternatively to voyage under their command in an Isbjorn temporarily stripped of compass, sextant, patent log, clocks, radio and charts. The quality of the master navigators we encountered and the inherent accuracy of their art rendered a safety officer entirely redundant. The only time one would have been appreciated was when, after a month in the Carolines without instruments, my son Barry and I replaced the compass and set out for Truk, a mere 135 miles away. The noon sight next day appeared little more than a formality – until it revealed that we had been heading a good 25º off course. No Island navigator would have been more than 2º or 3º out; dismay and puzzlement reigned. Frantic searching brought the culprit to light – a knife tucked away unnoticed under the compass bracket. We would have been better off, we reflected ruefully, had we relied on the Tongan saying ‘the compass may go wrong, the stars never.’
Martyn Murray voyages to St Kilda:
I started the engine and hauled in the anchor, which had snared a large ball of kelp. I cleared the kelp ball and secured the anchor firmly on deck. This was easier said than done as Molio was being pushed by wind and tide; it meant rushing back and forth from anchor to engine controls so as to adjust her position in the tight confines of the harbour. Once ready, I hauled up the mainsail and steered Molio round the red buoy at the entrance from where I followed the Leverburgh Channel to the northwest. Passing through the outer channel that lies between the isles of Stromay and Ensay, I put her onto a more westerly course and let fly the yankee, keeping five turns furled. As we cleared the sheltering arm of Harris, the gusts grew stronger; there was no need to raise the mizzen as Molio had plenty of sail up. With the engine off she surged forward at over six knots, passing little gatherings of guillemots and razorbills. I looked westward across the lonely sea. Beyond this gateway, there were another forty-three nautical miles to go. With luck, I would be on a close reach all the way.
J P W Mallalieu’s convoy gathers:
Williams arrived at the ship from his three days’ leave simultaneously with Sub-Lieutenant Carr. ‘Had a good leave?’ said Carr.
‘Yes; but I’ve come back with a hell of an overdraft and a hangover.’
‘Any idea where we’re going?’
‘Iceland, I’m afraid.’
They arrived in their old fjord three days later. It seemed colder. White clouds always threatened to drop snow, and frequently did. They had leisure to notice some ominous signs. The anchorage had filled considerably. There were several more merchant ships flying the hammer and sickle, and one of these spent the morning practising with an Oerlikon gun which she had just fitted.
Adrian Morgan goes in search of the real ‘America’:
On March 28, 1942, an unusually heavy snowfall smothered the New England countryside. At the height of the blizzard, the roof of a nondescript shed on the waterfront at Trumpy’s Yard in Annapolis collapsed. The incident was scarcely newsworthy. America was at war and had other, far more pressing, matters on its mind. But to the historians of the America’s Cup it was a tragedy, for the shed was the final resting place of a low, black schooner whose legacy has inspired controversy ever since.
Sam Jefferson describes a hideous rounding of the Horn:
The Southern Ocean was in a fury. Three weeks of hurricane-force winds had been hurling spume along the surface of moving grey mountains whose peaks were lost in cloud. Lashed by this rage was the sailing ship British Isles, listing to port, boats gone, deck gear smashed. Aloft, tattered rags of canvas cracked in the gale. She had been hove-to for three weeks, and had drifted to within 66º 32′ S, perilously close to the icefields, a mere 105 miles from the Antarctic Circle. Her spars were frosted white, her steel hull, rubbed raw by brash ice, bleeding great welts of rust.
James Barker, her Captain, had doubled the Horn fifteen times. Yet even he must have harboured grave doubts as he watched his depleted crew grow weaker by the day. Three men were already dead, many more incapacitated in their bunks. The world was grey and stormy, as it had been for days. But at this moment Barker spotted something new. He roared, ‘STAND BY FOR YOUR LIVES!’
Hugh Aldersey-Williams explains how Galileo got it right about the planet, but wrong about the tides:
Galileo was not a Copernican when he left Pisa – he had not seen for himself any compelling evidence to support the idea that the earth rotates around the sun – but by the time he left Venice he was. What did he see there that made him change his mind? In the first place, his investigation of projectiles indicated to him that bodies could move under the influence of more than one force at a time – in this case the propulsive force of the explosion to launch a missile and the still unrecognized force of gravity pulling it off its path and back to earth. Second, there was the persistent impression of the journeys on the barges that supplied Venice with water. He had seen how their vital cargo lay still when the boat was proceeding at a steady speed but would slop about when the boat changed speed or direction. When a barge slowed as it came in to dock, for example, its load of water would rise up in the bow and fall in the stern.
Lisa Woollett wanders among drowned forests:
I go to the beach of Millendreath because I’ve heard about the trees. It is the third Monday in January — the most depressing day of the year according to the radio — but after months of wind and rain sweeping in relentlessly from the Atlantic, the sun is shining from cloudless blue. The trees were uncovered a week ago, when violent storm waves stripped the beach of much of its sand. It is low tide when I get there and several part-exposed trunks lie at the half-tide mark where the sand turns to mud, some drying in the faint warmth of the sun.
Claudia Myatt explains the techniques of sketching at sea:
Almost every harbour has at least one artist on the quayside on a summer’s day, and every village-hall art exhibition displays coastal scenes full of boats of varying degrees of seaworthiness.
So why, in an age of cameras, do we still do it? Perhaps John Ruskin had a point, when he wrote in 1857:
‘… I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing than my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.’
Jim Ring discusses ‘The Riddle of the Sands’:
No book published either before or since better captures the peculiar pains and pleasures of sailing and living in small boats. The flog of wet canvas, the tattoo of halyards on the mast, the relentless degradation of food, drink, comfort, convenience and personal hygiene, coupled with the uniquely rewarding challenge of bending wind, tide and weather to the service of your will. It is also a book that established the whole genre of the spy novel, of the individual pitted against the state, of David against Goliath.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the thoughts of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Summer 2016 – passage to Haiti, helicopter salvage, Jutland, Severn trows, and the world’s most incompetent smuggler
John Maclean and crew sail the 1979 Fastnet race:
The steady westerly swell of the sea had been temporarily flattened by the wind coming in from the south, and Fluter was training along superbly, her lee rail occasionally dipping under, the phosphorescence flying to leeward. This was exhilarating, but we all knew it was just part of the blow beginning to work itself up. By midnight we were down to the No. 1 jib and 7 rolls in the mainsail. At the change of watch we decided it was a good moment to put the storm jib. Shortly after this there was a gust with more than a hint of a Force 7 and the strop on the head of the storm jib broke, the halyard disappearing up the mast. We reset it using the spinnaker halyard, saying that in the morning someone would have to go up the mast to retrieve the other halyard, which was flying out horizontally in the near gale. Little did we know there would be no hope of this. When Simon took the weather at 0015, the forecaster announced a severe gale SW Force 9 was on its way.
Captain Edmund Eglinton begins a long career carrying cargo under sail:
Came the day when the Jane was loaded and ready to leave the River Axe for her first cargo to the Kingston walls. It was a very low spring tide, however, and the Jane, to save time, actually had to be sailed into the mud berth and ‘dumpted’ as Capt Smart termed it, and her anchors carried off after the tide had ebbed. Of course, my father took me with him, for I already had quite a lot of experience in mooring the various trows, and the heavy ‘anchor drill’ that went with it. I was conversant also with the hoisting and furling of the sails. But this was my first trip! The first time ever in a vessel under sail from one place to another! It was only a few miles but I was thrilled beyond measure.
Kenneth Michell fights Bolsheviks on the Dvina in 1919:
The Medical Department now recommended me to the Admiralty to receive an appointment to a ship in a warm climate and in order to have their little joke they appointed me in command of HM Monitor M33, which was fitting out at Chatham to relieve the garrison at Archangel and endeavour to make contact with, and rescue, Admiral Kolchak, which meant passing up through the Norwegian fjords, round the North Cape and through the ice to the White Sea and the River Dwina.
I found the M33 in a state of chaos, having returned after the war from bombarding the Belgian coast. I was warned that as they were such shallow draught ships they were very unmanageable in a seaway and to get ready for a passage of more than a thousand miles through the North Sea and Arctic Ocean, I prepared for the worst.
Nat Benjamin sails his schooner ‘Charlotte’ to Haiti:
A moderate night wind slid down the high volcanic slopes and across the water, wafting us through the Passage with sheets eased. Shortly after midnight we rounded Cap Dame Marie and set our course for Île-à-Vache, some 20 nautical miles to the ENE. Cooperatively, the breeze backed a few points to the north, allowing us to make our heading in one tack. At about 0300 we rounded up in the lee of an uninhabited cove and set our anchor in white sand under 20 feet of clear, moonlit water. When the sails were stowed and Charlotte finally at rest, all hands walked about the deck in quiet conversation. This was the natural world, unchanged by man, and for all of us a landfall like no other.
Graeme Stones hunts a ditched helicopter in the North Sea:
The helicopter we were looking for had gone down in the dark a week earlier, in a rising gale. We had been working on a Dive Support Vessel in the same field until the wind got up and late in the afternoon we had to let go the platform and steam into it. By 2200 it was blowing 7 gusting 8. The last flight of the day took off from the rig we’d been diving on with the two pilots and a solitary passenger. Soon afterwards there was one transmission, with only these words: ‘Mayday, we’re ditching.’
Nicholas Jellicoe remembers his grandfather’s part in the battle of Jutland:
In 1911, commanding the 2nd Battle Squadron from HMS Hercules, Jellicoe was able to successfully attack Sir George Callaghan’s rear by breaking with the rules and moving his squadron as an independent force. In the summer of 1913, Jellicoe again outmanoeuvred his commander-in-chief in a battle exercise where Jellicoe’s Red Fleet simulated a possible German invasion. Having lured his opponent south towards Flamborough Head, Jellicoe managed to land his 2,500-strong force either side of the Tyne. The exercise had been too successful. It was cut short lest it give the Germans ideas. It was this action that some say identified Jellicoe as the future war commander of the Grand Fleet.
David Higham sees the end of an era:
My time in submarines in the late Sixties and early Seventies coincided with the last hurrah of the art of the Gun Action Surface. I first served in Auriga in 1967, when she was part of the 7th Submarine Squadron based in Singapore during the Indonesian Confrontation of 1962-1966. The Royal Navy had refitted the boats in the squadron with the QF(Quick Firing) Mark viii 4in gun. While I was on board, first for training and then as Fifth Hand (the most junior officer), we practised Gun Action Surfaces as a welcome diversion from prolonged exercises playing loyal opposition to the surface ships of the Far East Fleet.
Francis Morland provides an object lesson in how not to smuggle hashish:
It was textbook, really. We drifted rather aimlessly for a day, then found the famous trade winds. For the rest of our journey an 8 to 10-knot wind blew steadily from astern. We poled out the main and foresail. A marvellous peace settled over the boat. Two dolphins joined us, skipping around us sometimes, sometimes just cruising astern, sometimes disappearing for an hour or so. We played them music to see what they liked best. Peaceful day after peaceful day went by. Then one dawn, when I was on watch, a blip appeared. During the day it turned slowly into Antigua: a perfect landfall, beginner’s luck. More ominously, our first radio contact included a speech from President Nixon, declaring war on drugs.
Suzy Annett-Brown goes fishing off Sardinia:
Head out for a mile and a half, he told us, line up the port light with the water tower to the west and the church tower of Calenzana with the beginning of the big cluster of maritime pines to the south, drop your anchor and go in reverse until it holds. Then pay out your palangrotte. The palangrotte was a length of thick nylon fishing line on to which several hooks had been bent at regular intervals, baited with pieces of squid. At the end of this line was a weighted sinker to hold it in place once it had reached the bottom. And what miraculous catch was this elaborate setup supposed to bring to the surface? ‘Ah!’ he said, rolling his eyes in ecstatic memory of a time gone by. ‘Le pageot royal!’
Matthew Engel takes the last ship to St Helena:
30 December (afternoon) Neither me nor the taxi-driver is clever enough to find either e Berth or Duncan Dock where boarding for the RMS St Helena takes place. This is because there are no signs. By a process of elimination, I eventually guess correctly, rush in breathlessly, terrified of being late for check-in, then discover I am the first to arrive. In a sense I am already in St Helena, where everyone knows the ropes. So I sit in this grim hall, watching a video screen which regularly flashes up an advert for Titanic artefacts, which seems rather tactless. Not merely have I never been to St Helena, I have never been to sea. Not properly. Cross-Channel ferries, yes, but never on an ocean. In my journalistic career I have reported from all seven continents, but I flew even to the South Pole.
Tristan Gooley reads glitter paths:
When light strikes water and then reaches the eye it must have followed one of three paths. It will either have been reflected off the bottom, or off particles in the water, or off the surface. The bottom, obviously, shows as a change of colour, and particles as a milkiness or opacity. The effect that interests us here is reflection from the surface, which produces the long line of shimmering reflections known as the ‘glitter path’. This is caused when the eye picks up thousands of tiny sun reflections on the sides of waves stretching into the distance. Its shape is a measure of the height of the sun and the roughness of the waves; the glitter path will get narrower as the sun gets lower, and broader as the waves get steeper.
Jonathon Green discovers a new sea author:
The primary myth of Simenon is the myth of Paris, with its weather, its omnipresent Seine, its cafés, its haute bourgeoisie, petits gens and criminalunderworld. Maigret is an assemblage of illustrative tics — the eternal pipe stuffed with army-strength tobacco, the rides on buses with open platforms, domestic life with Madame Maigret.
]Like most myths, these hide the truth. Simenon, so quintessentially ‘French’ was, like Agatha Christie’s ‘typical French detective’ Hercule Poirot, in fact Belgian. Maigret pursued as many cases beyond Paris’s city limits as ever he did within its twenty arrondissements. And while Simenon is at first glance culturally landlocked, the sea, and on a smaller scale France’s network of canals, plays a central role in his work.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the thoughts of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Spring 2016 – sailing in the ice, racing clippers, new short fiction, America’s cup foilers, circumnavigation and skulduggery
Roger Taylor explores the islands of the ice:
There are moments in every voyage that become indelibly etched into the memory. At twenty minutes past two on the morning of Tuesday the twenty-second of July, after we had been at sea for seventeen and a half days,. I stuck my head out of the hatch. Oh! The fog had gone. Ahead of us, brilliantly irradiated by the low-angled light of an Arctic early morning, the southern cliffs of Bjørnøya stood high and proud. Nothing more than a few narrow wisps of cloud, cutting horizontally across the rock and the greensward that topped it, marred the perfection of the scene. I could see the basic topography of the island: the tall southern cape; the higher peaks to the northeast, and between the two a protrusion of low whalebacks that marked the island’s sole anchorage, and the lowlands trailing off to the northwest.
Sam Jefferson tells the story of the last great tea clipper race:
The Pagoda Anchorage was a broad, glassy sheet of water off Foochow many miles up the treacherous Min River, hemmed in by towering hills trimmed with curls of mist and lush foliage. Here the clippers gathered as spring brought the fragrant tea harvest down from the interior. In 1869, there was a notable absentee – the Sir Lancelot. She was a clipper feared by all. Her skipper, Richard Robinson, a tough Cumbrian, had won the China race on three separate occasions – more times than anyone else. He had attained command of the clipper Fiery Cross in 1860. In 1866, perceiving that the Fiery Cross was being outclassed, he switched to the beautiful new Sir Lancelot and overhauled the entire China fleet to win the 1867 race. A close finish in 1868 had seen him narrowly beaten by the Spindrift. As 1869 came around he was hungry for revenge.
Jon Tucker participates in an international incident in Antarctica:
There is something very wrong aboard our ship this evening. The sensation is distinctly different from the rhythmic lift-halt-crunch of an icebreaker on a regular day. It is impossible to ignore the shuddering vibration of both labouring engines, or the unpredictable jolting motion. In the compact passenger lounge, nervous laughter and uneasy glances accompany each violent sideways lurch, and voices are raised to be heard over the screech of tortured steel. Not everyone knows it, but tonight Akademik Shokalskiyis fighting for her life.
Original short fiction from Graeme Stones:
Coming ashore’s not like you think. Weeks and weeks cooped up with a dozen other blokes, twelve hours on, twelve off, work and eat and sleep and work. Lie about for an hour when you come off shift, watching blue videos, all the same, same faces, same tricks, but we can have a few laughs watching, crack a few jokes. It gets tight as the days go by, like everything is shrinking. When you go on board, when the trip starts, you can feel how it is for the blokes already there, you have to tidy yourself down because you’re still blown out and soft and full of all the other things you could be. But soon the job takes over and does it for you, and then there isn’t anything else. I like that bit, the feeling you can give up thinking about who you are off the ship because you’ve got real worries instead….
Surgeon Rear Admiral John Muir sails with the Bristol Channel pilots:
For some years I had been deeply interested in Bristol Channel pilot boats and the possibility of their adaption for yachting purposes. By all accounts they were wonderful sea boats, cheap to build and maintain, and could be handled with only one man to crew. After donning my oldest yachting suit, I looked the complete ruffian when I purchased a third-class rail ticket for a little village on the Avon not far from Bristol. In the back of my mind was the hope that I might have the chance of getting inside information usually denied to the lordly yachtsman before I decided to spend several hundred pounds, which I hadn’t got but hoped I might be able to raise, in buying one of them. Above everything I wanted to make sure that they were really within the power of two men.
In due time and in pitch darkness I was deposited as the sole passenger at the village station.
Nigel Sharp tells the parallel stories of two races half a world apart:
America’s Cup boats have evolved from the vast gaff schooners and cutters of the late 19th century, through the majestic Js of the 1930s and the relatively small 12-Metres in the post-war years, to the competition’s own International America’s Cup Class, and then to the 72ft foiling wing-masted catamarans of 2013.
Falmouth Working Boats have developed less dramatically. Two of them had a brief flirtation with Bermudan rigs in the 1950s, but now they are all now gaff cutters again, as this is still considered the most efficient rig for oyster dredging.
Adrian Morgan relates a famous collision:
While all hands on deck watched every shiver of jib or topsail luff, Valkyrie’s steward was down below, busily squaring away his pantry. He paid no attention to an outbreak of shouting on deck. Then, suddenly, the hull planking in front of his eyes burst inwards, and amid a huge splintering of timber and a rush of cold water the monstrous black bow of Satanita appeared.
Eric Hiscock and his wife sail round the world:
Our plan to make a voyage round the world had been maturing for a good many years, and after making a trip out to the Azores and back in our 4-ton cutter Wanderer II, Susan (my wife) and I decided the time had come to put our plan into action and see a little of the world and its people before growing too old and fussy to enjoy the experience.
Lesley Jameson, retired ocean sailor, makes a voyage on a container ship:
The technology [on the bridge] is totally beyond me, with too many screens etc. I was never very good at finding my way at sea without buoys and charts. It was fun when my brother and I were children and given a penny or two for seeing the next buoy in the Thames estuary, perhaps in thick fog. My husband tried to teach me to use our sextant when we were sailing in the South Pacific, but I often ended up in tears! I would rather be helming. On the ships, usually an officer will know how to use a sextant, and that is reassuring
Sam Llewellyn describes the skulduggerous arrival of the telegraph on Scilly
Scilly had no telegraph, and nobody was very keen to make the enormous investment required to lay thirty-odd miles of undersea cable across the notoriously difficult waters separating Scilly from the mainland. In the late 1860s, however, attitudes underwent a mysterious change. Telegraph boosters began to stalk the streets of St Mary’s, talking cable.
Robert S Fairweather gives an expert’s account of sustainable fishing:
I had considered fishing, as far as I thought about it at all, a straightforward task. Sustainable fishing was simply a case of not taking too much, and its problems came from the fact that this aim was the polar opposite of the greed of industry. … I discovered that this was a simplistic view. Conservation of fisheries, it became apparent, involves a tangle of economic, cultural and personal stories.
Jim Ring reviews a new history of Britain’s submarine service:
With the exception of the sinking of the Belgrano in the course of the Falklands War more than thirty years ago, just what our submarines and submariners have done for us is hardly known. It is difficult to switch on Radio 4 without hearing General Lord Dannatt extolling the virtues of the Army in which he served; and no sooner had the House of Commons given the ‘chocks away’ to bombing Syria than we had raf Tornados all over the News at Ten and even the Sun. No such publicity is accorded to submarines. This is a pity, for the Flotilla’s service in the years since the end of the Second World War can justly be compared to that of Bomber and Fighter Command during Churchill’s ‘finest hour’.
Winter 2015 – cruising the Med and the North Atlantic, baiting the French Navy, racing from New York to Cowes, brewing megawatts from the tides….
Sam Jefferson tells the story of the first Transatlantic race:
As the evening wore on, the arguments became increasingly incoherent. At some point someone proposed a race across the Atlantic, to decide the matter once and for all. The stakes were almost as high as the owners’ blood alcohol. The entrance fee was to be $30,000 per yacht, winner takes all, making a final pot of $90,000 – about $15 million in today’s terms. If the stakes were rash, the start date, 11 December, was borderline crazy. Yet when the revellers awoke the following day they took their hangovers to the New York Yacht Club, of which they were all members, and formalised the race.
George Millar cruises from Malta to Falmouth:
We seethed past the wine port of Marsala before 2300. The naval authorities there (Marsala used to have strong connexions with our own Royal Navy, before gin ousted wine from the wardrooms) were annoyed or intrigued by our display of lights – we carried port, starboard, stern, and masthead lights, and when it came to gybing I would turn on the spreader lights too – and a searchlight poked out at us. There was a blue flash, and all the lights of Marsala fused, leaving only the lighthouse, which was most necessary for my cross bearings. Sweeping round Favignana, we beat gingerly up into the easternmost bay of the north coast.
David Keswick gives an account of a peculiar cutting-out expedition in Fernando Po:
Work went forward through the autumn of 1941, and with increasing urgency into the winter. SOE officers undertook the duties of Vice-Consul at Santa Isabel and at Bata in Rio Muni on the mainland of Spanish Guinea. Another SOE officer passed between these two as Consular Courier, making the forty-mile crossing from the mainland to the island once a week in a leaky and ancient launch, noting the shoals, currents and buoys of the harbour approaches. The Vice-Consul at Santa Isabel found himself on friendly terms with the Spanish pilot of the Governor’s private aircraft, and his joyrides over the harbour provided a series of admirably detailed photographs.
Captain Colin Darch remembers his ship’s captivity off Somalia:
The pirates attacked around 1600 on Friday 1 February 2008. We saw a white plastic skiff approaching fast. I changed from auto to manual steering control, increased engine speed and propeller pitch to maximum, pressed the secret button which would activate a tracking device, and put out a mayday call on the VHF (which nobody answered).
They approached fast on the starboard quarter, five dark men, heads swathed in white rags, armed with Kalashnikovs. As they came level with our stern I turned the port thruster control 90 degrees to give our stern a 3000hp lurch towards them. Just in time they veered away. On the next attempt they fired shots. We all ducked. I was relieved to note no broken glass. Then Ted shouted that only four pirates were in the boat. Had the other boarded us? No! The bowman with boarding ladder had fallen into the sea and was swimming back to his mates. I considered running back over him, but I was not yet mad enough to kill. They appeared to give up, and we lumbered away east. Then to our dismay we saw a second boat arrive with four gunmen.
Jon Tucker sailed to Moruroa with the New Zealand Peace Flotilla:
When Jacques Chirac announced in 1995 that France would resume underground nuclear testing at Moruroa, a roar of angry disbelief rose from Oceania and Australasia. I still vividly remember Greenpeace’s David McTaggart on NZ TV: ‘I hope that the Kiwis, who are the best sailors in the world, get together all the boats they can and just wander over to Moruroa. You don’t have to go inside the 12-mile zone, as even when you are outside the 12-mile limit they have to put a warship on to you and it bothers them. The more that can get there the better. Please come.’
‘Just wander over,’ he said. He was talking about a winter Southern Pacific voyage of some 3000 nautical miles, equivalent to a North Atlantic crossing.
The Kelvin auxiliary engine arrives in the New World:
On 29 November 1929 the engineless three-masted schooner Neptune II left St John’s, Newfoundland, on what was normally a twelve-hour hop over to Bonavista Bay.
They were almost in sight of Bonavista Bay when a terrific gale sprang up, with blinding snow. They had to run under bare poles for 220 miles. One huge wave washed away the wheelhouse, poop and lifeboats and wrecked the steering gear. For several days they wallowed, sometimes making westing, but mostly forced to the eastward by the weather. After more than three weeks at sea they decided enough was enough. Armed only with a compass, they attempted to set a course for the English Channel.
G S Hewett remembers a North Sea Crossing with his father at the turn of the last century:
When I was nine years old and my brother was eleven, we were pronounced ‘good hands’, and it was agreed that we should all go to Norway for a holiday. A telegram was duly sent asking for the boat to be launched, and in a few days a reply came, saying, ‘Your yacht is sitting on the waves’. All was then great excitement. Several days were spent in packing, as we had to take almost everything we wanted with us. With the help of a school friend we assembled a huge heap of sails, food and other necessaries. When the great day arrived our next job was to get all the gear to the railway station. In those days there were no taxis, but we solved the problem by making the gardener load up the heavier pieces on his wheelbarrow. When everybody was loaded to the full, there was still one parcel left – a side of bacon, which I was instructed to bring. It was too heavy for me to lift on to my shoulder, but I overcame the difficulty by tying a bit of rope to it and dragging it along the road to the station.
Richard Woodman tells the story of the cargo liners:
Real liners, you may say, were the great passenger ships. When the passenger liner disappeared, she was replaced by the airliner, whose parvenu operators nicked all the maritime terminology they could lay their hands on, because liners meant the Blue Riband, the luxury of the First Class dining room, gambling on the ship’s run: glamour. There was, however, another sort of liner, less glamorous, but the true progenitor of the modern container ship. I refer to that forgotten but supremely versatile ship, the cargo liner.
Trevor Robertson sails across the Atlantic, then sails back again:
An eastward crossing of the Atlantic in June or July should be easy for a well-found gaff cutter like Iron Bark. Wind and current are generally fair, gales few and the chances of a hurricane low. Early in July 2014, we (Iron Bark and I) were on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, provisioned and ready to sail for Scotland, when Hurricane Arthur’s imminent arrival was forecast. This was disconcerting, as I was not expecting a hurricane so far north this early in the season.
Douglas Lindsay was the sailing master of a trireme:
No direct archaeological evidence of triremes has survived – the boats were built of softwood, and deteriorated quickly – but there is a good written record, which was mined extensively for the boat’s design and operation. In classical times Athenian oarsmen were skilled freemen, not slaves. Each oarsman came with his own oar, and a sheepskin to sit on. The ancient record is also full of complaints by the Thalamians, down in the bottom, about the sweat, farts and disrespect raining down from above. Similar grumblings rose constantly from the modern Thalamians, who nonetheless took a spiky pride in their position – which was none too comfortable, as they had the smallest space in which to operate, hemmed in fore and aft by cross-beams. This meant that smallest rowers went in the bottom and the tallest rowed in the comparatively spacious Thranite layer.
Alastair Robertson takes a long, hard look at sea power technology:
A few years ago, the Dutch coastal engineers Hans Hulbergen and Rob Steijn were sitting in a café overlooking the windswept sands running out to the North Sea, studying a chart weighted down with ashtrays and coffee cups. Hulbergen asked for a cigar. Steijn pulled out a four-inch cheroot and laid it on the chart. As he reached across for it, Hulbergen was struck by the way it lay perfectly at right angles to the shoreline, jutting out into the sea like a breakwater. Suddenly he saw the cheroot not as a smoke but as an open-ended concrete dam extending far out into the sea, pierced through with dozens of underwater turbines. Dynamic Tide Power (dtp) had been conceived – and it is still in gestation, for to hold back the tides sufficiently to produce a significant out- put the breakwater would need to be an astronomically expensive eighteen miles long.
This process – epiphany followed by severe practical difficulty – is typical of a long line of ingenious schemes designed to harness the energy of the oceans.
David Burnett considers the Collins New Naturalists series:
People who go to sea are even more serious students of the weather than farmers – farmers depend on forecasts for their living, sailors for their lives. The study of weather is more than mere forecast- ing. The serious student must have an understanding of the past to help him understand what might lie ahead. Next time some- one pronounces it to be the wettest British summer or coldest winter since records began, hand them a copy of John Kington’s magisterial Climate and Weather. Few books wear their learning so lightly. Even fewer offer such a multitude of pleasures to the armchair reader.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the grim bletherings of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Autumn 2015 – trolling for tuna, racing multihulls round the world, getting on the wrong side of Bill Tilman, hanging out with the Albanian navy….
Albert Strange remembers his last cruise in in Cherub II:
When a man has owned and parted with a good many different boats, each one leaves in the memory its own particular stories which are never forgotten. No ship that I have ever owned has left more or happier memories than the little Humber yawl Cherub. She was a good, dependable creature, such a sea-boat for her inches and, if you did not want to walk about below, gave such comfort and ease when the toils of the day were over, that the affection she compelled has never been obliterated by her successors. I still wonder how I brought myself to part with her.
Jon Tucker trolls for tuna under sail:
‘Fish!’ yells Colin, as first one then three lines suddenly go bar-tight, zipping steeply downwards. The ensuing drill has become second nature. We hasten aft from the warmth of the wheelhouse, cautious on the heeling deck swept by knee-deep green water. Twenty vigorous minutes later, nine good-sized albacore tuna weighing from six to eight kilograms are sloshing among the melting ice in the slurry bin.
Rod Heikell sails from the Red Sea to Cochin:
We needed to keep clear of Socotra, the large island on the southern entrance to the Gulf of Aden, because it has long had a reputation for piracy. In 1995 at least fifteen ships and yachts had been seized by pirates operating out of Somalia over an eight month period. In 1996 the area was declared a no-go zone for shipping of any sort. Several yachts had been fired on and a few had been boarded by pirates. This was not the era where yachties were captured and held for ransom, but more ‘smash-and-grab’ piracy for money and valuables.
As it was we slipped past just 60 miles off the coast of Socotra and within the known zone for piracy, running no lights at night and keeping a good watch by day….
H A leF Hurt tells the melancholy tale of the loss of the ‘Sappho’:
The last of the cargo had been hoisted on shore, the hatches were all covered and secured, and the chief officer gave a sigh of relief as he left the deck and hurried into the welcome warmth of the saloon. It was terribly cold outside. Winter had come unusually early, and with quite unlooked-for severity. For the last fortnight the thermometer had not stood above zero, and had often been 20˚ below, and now in the first week of December 1915 the river at Arkhangel was covered with two feet of ice.
‘Thank God that’s over at last,’ he exclaimed.
The British Naval Attaché in Rome pays a visit to the Albanian Navy:
Formally dressed in ice cream suit and aiguillettes and accompanied by an Albanian minder, we set off in a battered staff car. Three fraught hours later (Albanians drive very fast and competitively, pulling out without looking, and their roads are littered with potholes and stray animals) we arrived at the Officer Naval Training College just north of Vlorë. Here we were greeted by a smart honour guard and invited to tour the establishment. There was not a lot to see. Staff and cadets were enthusiastic, but queries relating to equipment and study programmes elicited a Balkan shrug. It appeared that the obstacle course of ropes and chasm, a few tattered notebooks and a beached whaler were the extent of their training capability. Of boat-work, practical instruction and engineering there was no evidence.
Nigel Sharp recounts the tooth-jarring history of the Jules Verne Trophy:
Before 1993 no fully-crewed multihull had ever raced non-stop around the world. The idea of the Jules Verne Trophy – named after the author of Around the World in Eighty Days – was conceived by some of the sailors who took part in the 1989-90 Vendée Globe, including the winner, Titouan Lamazou, who set a new round-the-world non-stop record of 109-and-a-bit days. The trophy was to be awarded to the first boat to sail from an imaginary starting line between the Lizard and Ushant, leave the three great capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) to port and return to the same line in under eighty days, and to any boats which subsequently beat the first winner’s record.
In January 1993, three large multihulls set off to try to win the trophy. Robin Knox-Johnston, co-skipper of Enza New Zealand, one of the competitors, wrote: ‘Impossible and unrealistic, said many… those of us who thought it could be done at that time with a large enough multihull were classified as dreamers.’ Commodore Explorer, the only one of the three to make it round, won the trophy, crossing the finishing line with just eighteen hours to spare. Among the many people who were surprised that the goal was achieved so soon was the American artist who was making the trophy, but hadn’t yet finished it.
Captain Richard Woodman remembers his friend Lady Rozelle Raynes:
The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the daily trip through the grounds of [Lady Rozelle’s] father’s estate passed through an Army encampment. The spectacle of young men training for war had its effect upon her; she prayed that the war would not end before she could sign up. Her prayers were answered, and in 1943 she joined the wrns, finding herself not – to use Nicholas Monsarrat’s phrase – a ‘commissioned lovely’ on the staff of an admiral, but a Stoker Second Class, manning one of the many small tugs carrying men and signals round the anchorages of the growing invasion fleet assembling in the Solent.
Colonel Rémy of the Résistance is smuggled out of occupied France with his family:
We had set the radio up in the hotel room, and contacted London. In a short message we told them that we were ready to start Operation Marie-Louise, and London confirmed that the boat would be at the rendezvous at the agreed hour. Alex suggested that we dine at the Moulin de Rosmadec. I arranged a horse-drawn carriole,the only available transport, and we left the children in the care of the hotel’s patronne, and asked the young peasant at the reins to pick us up early the next morning to deliver us to the coast at Pont-Aven.
Janet Verasanso, one of the pioneers of Mediterranean cruising, explains her deeply fraught relationship with the legendary Harold ‘Bill’ Tilman:
In early May 1951 the British people were either looking forward eagerly to the Festival of Britain or wondering whether (despite the draconian currency restrictions) it might not be a good moment to take a holiday abroad. My husband, Ernle Bradford, and I belonged to the latter category. In anticipation of the crowds and incessant media reportage, we sold our possessions and bought a small 10-ton ex-racing Dutch boeier named Mother Goose, which we hoped would take us through the French canals to the quieter delights of the Mediterranean. To be able to cruise this sea, visiting the Renaissance cities of Tuscany and the ancient sites of Greece, had been my dream since childhood. To do so in one’s own boat, especially after the privations of the war and immediate post-war period, seemed almost unbelievable.
Douglas Lindsay describes his early days in the coasting trade:
A ship was working north along the Buchan coast in dense fog, with a man on the foc’sle chucking small lumps of coal ahead. So long as they splashed, it was safe to go on. The lookout was rather surprised when a policeman suddenly appeared over the foc’sle rails, and the captain fell on his knees and vowed to sign the pledge. The explanation was not, however, supernatural. The ship had gone aground on a slowly shelving sandy beach without realising it, and the policeman, pedalling by on his bicycle, had been unimpressed to have a lump of coal chucked at him out of the murk. Following the bellows of the ship’s whistle, he had waded out to the ship’s bow with a ladder, and climbed aboard to find out what on earth was going on. Badly shaken, the captain renounced the pledge and sought refuge in the bottle, where the policeman joined him.
I have heard people swear this is true.
The distinguished surgeon Martin Thomas describes the diseases of seamen:
In the age of sail, Jack Tar risked injury and death from foundering, wreck, fire and explosion, as well as the cannon, musket and cutlass of the enemy. But a greater risk by far – greater than all these horrors put together – came from disease and the treatments for disease, some of which were useless but did no harm, and others which were worse than the condition itself. It has been estimated that in the Napoleonic Wars eighty-one per cent of deaths were caused by disease or accident, twelve per cent by loss of the ship, and only six per cent by enemy action.
Glenn Storhaug explores the seamanlike nature of the poet T S Eliot:
In 1910, Tom [Eliot] boarded a steamer for a short stay in London and a long stay at the Sorbonne in Paris….This was the start of his transformation into T S Eliot, future Nobel Laureate, impeccably-dressed publisher and man of letters. But his early sailing experiences provided his poetry with a source of imagery that never lost its significance. Memories of such fogbound expeditions as his rounding of Mount Desert Rock intensified rather than faded…
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Summer 2015 – cruising Brittany, dodging ice, chasing Zeppelins, the origins of fishing boats, Highways to Hell, Missions to Seafarers…
George Millar takes advantage of local knowledge:
When we had cleared the southern entry we saw most of the other craft turn to port for the harbours of Brest, while we continued south across the great bay called l’Iroise, making for a second race, the Raz de Sein. The Jean Jaurès had reduced speed, idling, we assumed, because the tide was setting through the Raz against us. My friend the drunk cooked on a charcoal deck stove. While the fishermen ate they passed from hand to hand pearly binoculars resembling grossly-swollen opera glasses. With the aid of that impressive device they made a close study of Isabel and Serica. We kept some distance astern of them, for we wondered what the captain would do at the entry to the Raz.
What he did was to veer to port into the cliff-hung Baie des Trépassés (which contains many submerged rocks). The race roared past at eight knots, carrying a brutal sea with it, and pushing a swell at an angle into the bay. The Jean Jaurès pottered about in zigzags. Isabel pushed Serica up close to them and, hanging on by our shrouds against the rolling, I asked them what they intended.
‘We’ll go through in an hour,’ the captain answered.
David Cowper transits the North West passage – several times:
What a night! The Gressingham duck breasts were rejected as being unsuitable for the conditions – (just as I had seasoned and scored them, and made an apple sauce). The ice pack was on the move with a strong southeasterly wind. To start with there was not even the ghost of a breeze, but gradually the open area of water took on a ruffled appearance, and before long the wavelets gave way to bigger seas. When I re-emerged after a couple of hours’ sleep, it was like a scene from Dante’s inferno – there was a full gale blowing on the beam, and the entire frozen sea appeared to be on the march, with great rafts of pack ice proceeding with remorseless power on their individual trajectories – some in full sail like huge, delicate lotus flowers, others looking like stacked-up railway sleepers; and then there were fantasies of the funfair – giant gondolas, and rocking ducks, floats from carnival days and even a double pedalo with a circular viewing hole through the centre, for all the world like an old fashioned plate camera – Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the Land of Oz all intertwined; Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth creations, and every conceivable resemblance to something or other imaginable.
Flight-Lieutenant Culley hunts a Zeppelin:
At about 0830, Culley suddenly saw the Zeppelin in the sky at a great height – estimated then to be about 10,000 ft. After that things moved very quickly but with absolute precision under the calm direction of Colonel Samson in the lighter and Commander Holt in hms Redoubt. Soon the lighter was approaching full speed, and with Culley already in the cockpit, the extremely tricky operation of starting the [Sopwith Camel’s] engine by means of swinging the propeller by hand was undertaken. The airman who had been appointed for this work was a magnificent type, tall and powerful and absolutely calm. He was fitted with a special belt around his waist, which was anchored to the deck at a point that just permitted him to reach the propeller. He performed this operation with a 30 knot wind in his back as though nothing exceptional at all, and as soon as the engine started he carefully pulled himself back by the anchor cord, unclipped the hook and disappeared below deck. Now only Colonel Samson was visible, with his head just showing, to give the pilot the all-clear signal when he was completely satisfied that the aircraft could take off.
Culley then pulled the release fitted in the cockpit of the Camel and after a run forward of less than 5ft the Camel literally leaped into the air and was safely launched.
Charles Style takes command of HMS ‘Illustrious’:
I am driven past sandy French colonial fortifications to the harbour. It is already hot. On the pallet-littered quay, two dockyard workers in grey shorts and t-shirts sit motionless in front of their hut. I head for the big British tanker/stores ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, where all is cleanliness and smart white uniforms. Generators hum, and air blows lightly from the punkah louvres. We go to sea around midday and head south across an idly rolling tropical ocean, flying fish bursting outwards from the bow wave.
On the third morning I wake to the sight of hms Illustrious at three miles on the port bow. Her 686ft of length and high flight deck give a sense of solidity, and her grey paintwork looks dark against a cloudless sky. She is in 8º42’n, twenty-five miles off the Sierra Leonian coast,and I can just see aircraft being moved on deck.
A new short story by Julia Jones:
So there was Joe and Eli, that bitter cold day in December 1981, dredging somewhere between Ray Creek and Colne Point. The wind was easterly, so they should have had a bit of a lee, but still the wind came whipping round, and there had been a few flurries of wet snow chucked in their faces, and the shoals were white-topped and churning, and the short afternoon was beginning to fade.
They was both tough boys, and they knew that moving around the deck at work keeps you warmer than hunched over the tiller in the cockpit of a yacht. But there weren’t no shelter on the Igraine, none of your deck houses or spray hoods, just the forward hatch with the sliding cover that would lead you down into her cabin with the Primus ready to fire up, you hoped, and the aft hatch to the fish hold…
Mike Smylie teases out the origins of fishing vessels:
In a harbour on the western fringes of Ireland there is a boat I know. She was built by James Noble of Fraserburgh in 1926, registered as cn196 and named Fairy Queen. She is undoubtedly a Loch Fyne skiff, one of the last of the line; I can be certain, because I have owned one of her sister ships. Yet over the years I have seen her referred to as a fifie yawl and a Thames bawley. This highlights a problem we seem to have in identifying particular types of fishing boat. In order to get around this difficulty, I thought I would try to tease out the various areas of influence which during the past thousand years or so have contributed to fishing boat design in Britain and the near Continent.
Jonathon Green takes us sailing on the moral sewer that was the Ratcliffe Highway:
The Ratcliffe Highway, nineteenth-century London’s sailor central, has gone. Like a house that has borne witness to a killing of more than usual foulness, it has been razed, the site buried under concrete and tarmac… Not a vestige remains. The almshouses, the schools, the merchants’ houses and the warehouses, have gone. So have the avenue of elms that once lined the street, and the minatory gallows erected on a hill in neighbouring Limehouse in 1440 for the hanging in chains of water-thieves (known as ark ruffians), their rotting corpses visible, London’s Elizabethan chronicler John Stow tells us, ‘farre into the riuer Thames’.
This was once the site of the William, the Bear, the Gunboat, the Angel & Crown, the Sailor’s Saloon, the Hole in the Wall, the Mahogany Bar and a host of other sailors’ pubs, lodging-houses and semi-brothels that gave the place its nineteenth-century notoriety.
Horatio Clare meets the good people who founded and continued the work of the Missions to Seafarers:
[At a] meeting in Salthouse Lane, Hull… ‘a few friends’ resolved to fit out a ship for missions to seafarers. Among the scheme’s subscribers was the great William Wilberforce. The ship chosen was ‘a bluff old craft with no figurehead but a splendidly-carved stern on which remained the name Valiant.’ Twenty-seven years later, by which time Valiant was known as ‘the floating chapel’, John Hall Oliver began work aboard her in Hull Docks.
Mike Peyton remembers the good old days:
When you are ninety-three, as I am, you have a tendency to think of the old days as the good old days. This is partly untrue, of course – I had friends drowned then who could be alive now if they had had a mobile phone. Nevertheless, you had to put more into sailing then, and I am sure you got more back. Yachts were often engineless. There were very few marinas, and anchoring off was normal – I still remember the satisfaction I got when I first anchored off, admittedly with some apprehension, by the Wallet Spitway one night, waiting for water. When I turned out later I found a working barge had joined me, which confirmed that I had done the right thing.
Annie Hill discusses the joys of living on a small boat:
Living on a boat, large or small, means that you are close to the natural world, attuned to small changes in the weather and aware of the fact that your surroundings are shared with a myriad of animals and plants. I live on a small boat called Fantail, and am rarely more than a yard or so away from the Great Outdoors.
Oscar Branson leads a plunge into a California kelp forest:
We descend, swimming down a steep wall of rock that drops away into the blue. Sharp shafts of sunlight dance over the rock, lighting up foot-wide pale pink sea fans hanging from the face, and glinting off the eyes of Pacific lobsters hiding in the cracks. The world is full of breathing and bubbling, and a constant background crackling hiss. It tastes of salt and neoprene. As you get closer the hiss becomes the urgent crackle and pop of snapping shrimp, with their special, enlarged claw that they can slam shut to cause an astonishing shockwave, making cavitation bubbles – one of the loudest noises in the ocean.
Closer still, and the bare rock comes alive.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Spring 2015 – sloops of war, inshore fisheries, cruising tropical Japan and Captain Nemo’s library
JoJo Pickering tells the story of her father’s relationship with a famous boat:
Racundra was built for Arthur Ransome of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ fame in Riga in 1922, and is immortalised in his wonderful Racundra’s First Cruise. Adlard Coles bought her, renamed her Annette II, and wrote about her in his book Close-Hauled. She was renamed Racundra after Adlard Coles sold her, passed through various different hands and fell into obscurity. My father was her fourteenth – and last – owner.
Tom Whitfield tells the story of a childhood fishing in a Devon beach boat:
A lobster pot was worth about £5 when one added up the cost of the withies and the day’s labour – about a week’s wages then. The highlight always was when a blue flash was seen in the bottom of the pot as it surfaced, and a frantic flap flap of the lobster’s tail as the dripping pot was lifted and rolled in over the gunwale. The boat would threaten to dip its gunwale as the weight of the pot freed itself from the water and the weight of Bert (not that I ever called him anything but Mr Hillman, out of respect for his age) and myself eagerly watching for signs of life.
Henry Plummer has a near-fatal brush with Cape Fear:
There are many inlets to run to in fair weather for a boat of 4ft draft, but I fancy it usually happens that a man stays outside until the sea picks up and makes running inlet bars dangerous. The bars off the mouths of the inlets, they tell me, trend to southward and the gutter runs behind them up the beach. The open beach is fairly bold and if I was put to it, I think I would crowd on the rags, tie myself in the cockpit and send her up into the meadow. Make no mistake about that, a good, bold, sandy beach is much better to walk home on than 10ft of tide-swept water inside a sunken sandspit.
Douglas Lindsay retrieves the ‘Sunset’ from Amazon pirates:
Time passed – so much time, indeed, that the skipper’s patience ran out, and he sailed for Brazil. The bank was upset by this. The Sunset reached Nazaré some time in September 1996, and was greeted with open arms by the fishing company which had invited her to come. There was, however, no sign of a fishing permit, or indeed any obvious prospect of the boat starting work. By this time the bank was getting seriously upset, and demanded that the skipper return to the uk with his boat, failing which they would take action against him. The local fishing company’s response to the bank’s threat was to remove the boat from the company’s pier and hide it in a creek up the Amazon. At this point the bank decided it was time to reach for the repo experts.
Jeremy Roch cruises from Plymouth to London and back in 1677:
Havingsome occasion that called me to London, as had three or four sparks of the Town the like, I proposed going by water to save charges, which they agreed to. According[ly] I fitted my boat with all necessaries for such a voyage and, when all was ready, I gave them notice to come away. But it seems their hearts failed them, for they put it off with frivolous excuses, which vexed me a little. However, since I had put myself to so much cost and trouble, I was resolved to proceed, though alone. But as I was going off, a young lad that had never been on the salt water desired me to give him passage and I, thinking he might be of some service to me, took him in.
Ian Mclaughlan traces the development of the sloop of war from its 17th century origins:
With their slender hulls and shallow draught, [the first sloops] bore a strong resemblance to enormous, elegant rowing boats. The largest were 65ft to 70ft on deck, with a beam of 13ft and a draught of 5ft. They had weather decks, so they could to a certain extent keep the sea in rough conditions (though these decks were no guarantee of safety; during their brief, hardworking careers, which lasted from 1673–83, several foundered or were wrecked.) Their mainmast was amidships and set a square course and topsail or a very tall, thin ‘buss’ sail, as used by the herring busses. The foremast carried either one square course or, depending on the rig of the mainmast, a course and topsail. Although they were armed, they were not really fighting ships. They carried 2 or 3-pounder carriage guns and possibly some half-pound swivel guns, often referred to as ‘murderers’, mounted on stanchions at chest height. These were often charged with metal bric-a-brac and used against the opposing crew as a form of naval blunderbuss.
Neil Calder goes dinghy cruising in Okinawa:
I live in a house by the sea on the beautiful subtropical island of Okinawa. Okinawa lies some 400 miles south of the Japanese mainland and is the largest of a chain of islands named the Ryukyus. From my deck I watch the lagoon, turquoise, never more than three metres deep, spread out to the reef about sixty metres offshore. After the reef there is deep blue East China Sea. This sea aches to be sailed on.
In meetings at work I disassociate myself from my body and drift off. I dream of hot passages, lost beaches, diving in warm, gin-clear sea, turtles, flying fish and the heeling of the boat as the wind comes off the land. I have to get a boat.
I obtain an American 14.6 sailboat and I call her Dileas, ‘faithful one’ in Gaelic, a name normally reserved for sheepdogs. She is heavy, stable, and broad in the beam, like all the best companions.
Nigel Sharp tells an oddly topical story of unpreparedness remedied by lateral thinking:
When war broke out in September 1939, the Admiralty thought it was well prepared: the Royal Navy was, after all, the largest in the world by some margin. It was only after hostilities began that the Admiralty realised that the war would not be won by its huge fleet of heavily-armed aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers and battleships alone, and started to place orders for smaller craft, mostly with the seven hundred-odd British companies whose pre-war business had been the building of boats for leisure purposes. At the beginning of the war, the Navy’s small-boat forces amounted to about two dozen small coastal motorboats. By the end of the hostilities, these firms would have produced vast numbers of military vessels: 1500 for the Coastal Forces alone, as well as Air Sea Rescue boats, raf pinnaces, water ambulances, motor fishing vessels, minesweepers, landing craft and a myriad of other craft for specialised roles.
Daniel Cotton jumps ship and faces the consequences:
Being young and full of romantic notions, I fancied I could better my position by staying on shore. So I agreed with some negroes to pull me on shore after dark for the sum of 6/6d. After landing on the wharf I made straight for the country and slept my first night in a sugar mill where I was half eaten alive by mosquitoes, starting next morning to walk to the opposite side of the island, leaving the main road as being too public, I crossed the fields. . . .
Janie Hampton takes us steaming on Lake Malawi:
The Rev Chauncy Maples went to Oxford University to study law, but was inspired by Dr David Livingstone to renounce a career as a lawyer and join the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (umca). In 1876, aged twenty-one, he sailed for East Africa, where he set up clinics and schools for escaped slaves, and founded an Anglican Mission in Nyasaland (now Malawi).
Missionaries in Africa were usually killed by malaria, lions, warriors or lightning within a couple of years. Maples, however, was a survivor. After twenty years promoting Christianity and fighting slavery, Maples was consecrated Bishop of Nyasaland. But on his journey back across Lake Malawi, his sailing boat capsized in a storm. His cassock dragged him down and he drowned.*
Lake Malawi is part of the Rift Valley. It is 365 miles long and fifty-two miles wide, and is surrounded by Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. In 1895 the umca commissioned Henry Brunel, son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and John Wolfe Barry, the architect of Tower Bridge, to design a steamship for the lake. The ship would be called after Chauncy Maples.
Arthur Lane gives notes on his career as one of the more unconventional lighthouse keepers:
I went up to Scotland, to John o’ Groats. Nearby is Duncansby Head and the lighthouse, open to visitors. The keeper showed me round and I asked him what he had to do. ‘Nothing,’ he said morosely. I had already taken in the cold, impersonal magnificence of the sea, the vastness of the sky, the absence of people, the drama of the coastline, the landscapes discouraging to vendors of household comprehensive insurance, and the remoteness from Birmingham. Probably it was at that moment that I decided, ‘This is for me.’ I returned the 450 miles from Drumnadrochit to Birmingham in one ride of twenty-one hours on my underpowered motorcycle, falling asleep in the saddle towards the end and waking up in unexpected parts of the road. Then I wrote off to Trinity House, London, offering my services as a lighthouse keeper.
Adrian Morgan tells the story of a significant night in the life of ‘Bods’ Bodsworth:
Torpedoman Cyril ‘Bods’ Bodsworth, RN, sank a royal yacht. Under orders, you understand; a King’s orders, though he had no idea that was where they came from. But come they did, on a July night in 1936, detailing him to make up the four charges which would send Edward VIII’s yacht Britannia, inherited from his father, to the bottom of a deep trench south of the Isle of Wight.
William Firebrace discusses the literature of subaqueous habitation:
My interest in reading and writing about the sea comes from a book I have just completed, titled Memo for Nemo, about the habitation of the sea both in reality and fiction, from the time of Jules Verne’s fictional submarine Nautilus up until today. The 12,000-volume library of the submarine is the first travelling library of the sea, a vast personal collection assembled before Nemo, the submarine’s captain, bid farewell to the land.
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics – all edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Winter 2014 – smacks on mudbanks, tsunamis, trawlers, triremes, fish talk and merpersonsFrancis Cooke tries to eat Christmas dinner at sea:
We called her a yacht, but I am now rather inclined to think that the title was something of a courtesy, for she was in fact an old smack built in the early days of the last century. However, she had been bought with hard-earned money, and if it was our pleasure to call her a yacht it concerned nobody but ourselves. The Five Sisters, of Faversham, had laboured for upwards of eighty years over the oyster beds at Whitstable, and her owner accepted our offer of £35 with a haste that might almost be described as unseemly. But she would float and had her full complement of gear, and thirty shillings a ton can hardly be considered an extravagant price to pay for a yacht.
Captain Makoto Kusanagi finds himself and his ship in an unenviable position:
On 11 March 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9 on the Richter scale struck Japan, followed by a 10m tsunami. The impact moved Japan’s main island of Honshu 2.4m to the west. Sendai was the closest port to the earthquake and the city most devastated by the following tsunami.
‘On the day of the earthquake I was serving as Master on the 280,000 dwt vlcc Nichihiko. We had berthed at the Sendai crude jetty on 10 March, and were still discharging crude oil into the refinery on the day of the earthquake. Conditions were fine and clear, with a crisp wind blowing across the scenic Matsushima Bay.’
The young Henry Hughes risks it all for fish:
My father’s truck was full of scrap metal, so we loaded our twelve-foot johnboat in the back of the family station wagon. It was May and I was keen to jig for mackerel, which entered Long Island Sound in vast numbers, biting anything danced before their pointed mouths. We drove the winding road around Mount Sinai Harbor and pulled into the parking lot facing the sound at Cedar Beach. A nor’wester was pushing swells and whitecaps. ‘We’re not getting out there today,’ my father said.
‘It’s not that bad,’ I said.
‘You wanna drown for a mackerel? Don’t be silly.’
Lesley Walker ships on a whaler
There is no better whaling port than New Bedford, Massachusetts. Here I found myself stranded between ships, pockets empty. A tall fellow stopped me in the street. Before I knew it, I had signed a paper. Next thing, I was frogmarched to my lodgings to collect my traps, my debts paid and rowed out to a ship. When I saw the slab sides and the boxy shape of the bow I realised I had shipped on a whaler, and it was too late to try swimming ashore. That was years ago.
Now it is no business of mine whether you be down on your luck, or maybe some woman is looking for you, or there is someone somewhere with a knife in him. Adventure, is it? The day you see Block Island again you’ll be the happiest man alive.
Roger Taylor has an odd dinner:
I once dined with Crusoe. It was forty years ago, and as convivial evenings go it could have been better.
I was sailing north up the Great Barrier Reef in my little engineless sloop Roc. It was challenging navigation in restricted, island-strewn waters, where tides can sluice through at ferocious speeds. After several days of non-stop sailing I brought Roc to anchor in the lee of Middle Percy Island, in an idyllic bay that would warm any sailor’s heart: waters of limpid blue, blinding white sand, and a fringe of scattered palm trees. Behind the trees, wood-covered hills rose to an azure sky. It was the perfect spot to rest up and plan the next leg of my voyage. The island looked uninhabited, but as I scanned the beach with my binoculars I noticed a rough three-sided shelter, low-built and open to the sea.
Robb Robinson sails on a pre-WW1 steam trawler:
Viola and her sisters usually shot their fishing gear around midday and then towed for around five or six hours, at a general speed of 2.5 knots. About five in the evening the signal to haul would come from the admiral’s vessel, the engines were eased to ‘dead slow’, crew hurried up from below and, amidst a cacophony of clanging from the wheezing steam winch, the warps were gradually hauled from the depths until the net reappeared, and the men on deck grappled with the heavy sodden gear in the gathering gloom, dragging and tugging it aboard. Finally, the bulk of the cod end was reached and swung over the ship’s side, its knot unleashed and a silvery mass of fish slipped and splashed into the pounds on the open deck.
Derek and Francine have an unpleasant holiday cruise:
There was a black trawler lying a little astern. It was a big, scaly thing, and she carried no number Derek could see. He could smell that Francine had started breakfast, bacon sarnies that they would eat under way according to their custom. Derek turned the key, felt the vibration of the Yanmar through his deck-shoe soles, padded forward to the pulpit and looked back at the trawler. Its wheelhouse windows were made of some kind of black glass, impenetrable to the eye. Derek frowned at them. Then he looked down at the anchor chain.
It should have curved elegantly into the black water. Instead, it stood straight up and down. He put a foot on it. It was tight as an iron bar. His heart was thumping angrily. That trawler had anchored slap bang on top of him. ‘Hey!’ he shouted. ‘Hey!’
His voice echoed round the anchorage and faded into the thick silence.
A R Gleadow flies for the Royal Navy
Once airborne, the Buccaneer Mk1 flew beautifully. The aircraft was supposedly limited to Mach 0.95, but would happily exceed Mach 1 in a dive. I used to do it regularly during test flights until the late Bobbie Burns, then Blackburn’s chief test pilot, told me it was inadvisable because the tail might come off.
John R Hale investigates an ancient lethal weapon:
In the autumn of 480 bc, an outnumbered fleet of Greek ships fought against the immense Persian armada of King Xerxes in the Salamis strait near Athens. The day-long collision of fleets in those narrow waters stands as one of the most crucial of all naval battles. Lord Byron, caught up in the Greek struggle for freedom from the Ottoman Empire in the early nineteenth century, celebrated the unexpected victory of the Greeks:
A king sat on the rocky brow
Which looks o’er sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
And men in nations; – all were his!
He counted them at break of day –
And when the sun set, where were they?
Oscar Branson recounts the long, long history of the world ocean:
The first water to condense out of early Earth’s atmosphere would have been fresh. As soon as it came into contact with the surface of the young Earth, it would have started to react with it, dissolve it and absorb its chemicals, including salt. The saltiness of the modern ocean stays relatively stable because as well as these additions of salt, there are ways to remove it – deposition of salt crystals in sediments on the seafloor, for instance, and seafloor volcanic activity. The balance of salt inputs and outputs sets the salinity of the sea.
Sophia Kingshill discusses the evolution of mermaids:
It is rare for any creature, real or fabulous, to be defined primarily as female. A few mythic beasts or beings are uni-gendered – there’s no such thing as a male harpy, for instance – but sea-dwellers are a special case. Although mermen have appeared just as long as their she-counterparts in legend and art, they are decidedly the second sex of the species. When we talk about sea-people, we’re far more likely to call them ‘mermaids’ than ‘merfolk’, and feminine allure is central to most merstories.
There is of course a paradox in the attribution of any kind of sexuality to a fishtailed creature. Without human genitalia, the mermaid is an unsatisfactory femme fatale. Psychoanalysis might suggest that’s the point, the ultimate passion being one that can’t be consummated. Folklore and fairy tale propose the solution that a mermaid has a tail only when she’s in water; on land she has legs, and everything in between. The evolution of the mermaid is, in short, a complex matter.
Jonathon Green the slang king thinks fish:
Slang casts its net in all directions. Anthropomorphism serves it particularly well: the dog, for instance, offers nearly two hundred uses, the cat around a hundred and fifty. But slang’s borrowings from the natural world are not restricted to the domestic pet. The sea yields its own plenitude. Fish, crustacea and the occasional monster all feed slang’s appetite.
Naturally, we must commence with the fish itself. There are a variety of links to sexuality, but we live in brutish times, so while lexicographical truth demands their mention, we shall sidestep those connections. Fish can serve as a synonym for money and monetary tokens – gambling chips, dollars, and sterling. It also makes itself useful in the wider world. There is the fish, a sailor (who is scaly, which implies rough but honest) and a non-specific individual who is usually garlanded by a characterising adjective and can be big, little, cool, poor, odd, queer or even loose, which refers to a woman (note German’s haifisch, a youthful trollop, and whaling jargon loose fish, a whale that is fair game for anybody who can catch it).
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics – all edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Autumn 2014: racing in the southern hemisphere, stories from the wild world of superyachts, shoe smuggling in the Baltic, painters, explorers and adventurers.
Geoff Heriot tells the story of Australia’s first ocean race:
It was extreme summer, one of those periods when seawater seemed to plop on the beach with the viscosity of petroleum, as Shamrock left behind the lights of the small bayside city of Geelong and passed Point Henry to starboard, bound for the fishing village of Queenscliff. The boat had no engine. While the land-dwellers sweated fitfully in their beds, she close-hauled along the Bellarine Peninsula, her big Yankee drawing well as the breeze puffed and lulled. It was Christmas Day of 1907, and she was one of four yachts mustering for Australia’s first organised ocean yacht race, the Rudder Cup. The boats converging on Queenscliff from Melbourne reported unstable wind conditions through the night. By 0900 on Christmas Day the wind had died, and barometric pressure was falling….
Ian Fraser Grigor takes us fishing for herring off the west coast of Scotland in winter:
First day of the week, last week of the fishing year, they cleared the harbour and put to sea – without hope, for the last few weeks had been blank, as if the herring forever had gone from the ocean. On first watch, the Old Timer loafed in the wheelhouse. The boy cook in his galley (mince, Gold Leaf and a new war comic) was making the tea; down aft, the Big Fella and the Skipper were in their curtained bunks, studying the newspapers of the previous week.
That night they got nothing. They saw no marks till dusk the following day, close in to an island, with a slash of wind screaming over its cliffs and shrouds of spindrift blasting into the growing night. They had a tow and tore the net. Later, in a sheltered bay, they hauled the net forward and mended it. It began to snow. By the time they had finished the snow had stopped, though it was colder than ever. When they went to sea again it was blowing harder than ever too.
Rosie Thomas sails to South Georgia for recreational purposes:
In May 1916, three scarecrows stumbled off an unmapped glacier in South Georgia and into the safety of a whaling station. To the astonished commander of the station their leader murmured, ‘My name is Shackleton’. The journey the trio had just completed remains one of the greatest feats of survival from the heroic age of exploration.
This is the journey we plan to recreate. From the benign shelter of our Terra Nova tents and padded parkas, with our latest ski-mountaineering kit, our pulks (sledges) laden with food, our gps and Gore-Tex and avalanche bleeps, and our crevasse self-rescue gear merrily clinking on our harnesses, we shall probably take five days to do it.
What the hell. It’s supposed to be a holiday.
Anthony Dew’s ship crosses the Baltic in winter:
The Jet was on a regular round trip of around ten days, from the uk across the North Sea, through the Kiel Canal, along the southern Baltic to Gdynia, and back. We took mostly raw materials – steel, hides, chemicals and so on – to Poland, and brought back finished manufactured goods – machinery and tools, household goods and shoes. The Jet was a handsome ship and smart, if old, and we often carried passengers, so the food was excellent. I enjoyed working on a proper cargo ship, but I’d always been a warm-water sailor. During the bitter winter of ’78-9 even the Southern Baltic froze.
The Editor approaches the Frisian Islands in the smack yacht ‘Gloria’:
One minute the world was shades of grey like a photographic print. The next the eastern horizon became a lemon-coloured streak that grew a fiery bulge and the sun bounced pop into the sky, and suddenly all that one-colour world was blue and green and yellow, with a string of Eider duck trailing across the bow, and round the rim of the sea the grey-green line of Germany.
The tide was turning, the breeze scarce enough to blow away the smoke from the galley stovepipe. Gloria lumbered across the greasy blue water in a tangle of grey fumes. Helgoland had been washed away by the tide of light. Ahead was our new mark: a long, low hump of dun-coloured sand crowned with white birds: Alte Mellum.
Richard Clifford pauses in his circumnavigation:
Makemo atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago is about 37nm long and 9nm wide. There are only two deepwater entrances, so the flood and ebb through these passages are ferocious. I was en route from the Marquesas to Tahiti single-handed in my yacht Shamaal, a Warrior 35. Makemo was my first Pacific atoll, and we had arrived while the 8-knot ebb was streaming out of the northern entrance. I did not have the luxury of either tide tables or weather forecasts. After a couple of hours hove-to I let draw and slowly made progress against the end of the ebb; even so, standing waves jumped into the cockpit and gave us a bucking-bronco ride. Once we were through the entrance we motored over to the anchorage off the village.
Adrian Morgan explores Viking boatbuilding:
For years I have been building boats to what could loosely be called a Viking pattern – pointed at both ends and clinker built. A Viking who found himself transported through time and into my shed would recognise the methods, if not the means. I use sawn planks instead of riven logs, electric planers instead of axe and adze, and copper nails and round roves instead of iron nails and square roves. Between the overlapping planks I pipe a thin bead of mastic instead of laying in moss or tarred rope.
Most of this I have learned as I went along. When I started, I knew very little about Viking boatbuilding. But then the same went for the Vikings when they started.
Nigel Sharp compares two refits on the Fal:
It is seven o’clock on a still Saturday evening in October. The 300’ mast lies horizontally on substantial trestles. It has been there for the past eighteen months. Tonight, five cranes and fifty people standpoised and ready. The 1000-tonne main crane has arrived on site on Monday, along with fourteen trucks carrying its component parts. The floodlights pick out the scene in heavy chiaroscuro. The mast belongs to Mirabella5, the world’s biggest sloop – 255’ long, 740 tonnes displacement– which has crawled out of Pendennis Shipyard’s drydock in the early hours of Wednesday morning after an almighty refit, and been towed round to Queen’s Wharf.
At the top of Mylor Creek, exactly two miles away as the crow flies, the 25’ ‘Tryphena’ lies quietly in a dark shed at Gaffers and Luggers yard, owned and run by Sam Heard, the third generation of the Heard family. In spring Sam will step ‘Tryphena’s’ mast. In doing so he has no concerns about wind speed or cranes. The yard is in a beautifully sheltered location, surrounded by rising land and expanses of trees.
Emma Spence seeks glamour in the crew quarters of a superyacht:
Victoria grabs a pile of freshly laundered guest clothes with one hand and a cleaning caddy with the other. She makes her way out of the crew mess, through the galley, and down into the lower guest cabins. It’s her first season in yachting. She was so excited to land her first job. To celebrate, she spent her last €30 on three bottles of rosé in the Irish pub in Antibes. She clings to the memory of that day, and reassures herself that she’s happy to be here. It is just that she imagined from the stories told her by yachties she met back home in Cape Town that there’d be more time on the beach, and less time spent cleaning heads with cotton buds.
Peter Davey investigates Matthew Flinders’s battle with magnetic variation and deviation:
The earliest users of the compass seem to have been the Chinese, who in the eleventh century used a magnetised needle to find north. The earliest European records date from the thirteenth century, when it was thought that the needle was influenced by masses of magnetic rocks in the Polar regions. This did not, however, account for variation, the difference between true north and magnetic north.
Rod Heikell, author of many pilot books, gives an insight into his calling:
I had no real training for surveying harbours. I taught myself the basics of triangulation, and surveyed in the old fashioned way – with a hand-bearing compass and transits on known objects. This was before GPS, hand-held depth sounders, laser distance measurers, and cad drawing programmes on your laptop or in the publishers’ drawing department.
As my surveys became more confident, I found myself lost in admiration for my predecessors. In the 1830s, Captain Graves and his able Lieutenant Spratt surveyed much of the eastern Mediterranean. As a consequence of being shipwrecked at age fifteen due to a faulty chart and in peril of starvation, Francis Beaufort – who later invented the eponymous Scale – became obsessed with the importance of education and the development of accurate charts for those risking their lives at sea.
Ella Westland explores Turner’s relationship with the sea:
‘Soapsuds and whitewash’ was one verdict on J M W Turner’s swirling oil painting of a steamboat in a snowstorm when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842. The Ariel was ‘making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead’ off Harwich harbour, according to Turner’s very specific entry in the exhibition catalogue, which also stated that the artist himself had experienced the storm. ‘Soapsuds and whitewash’, he kept muttering that evening, sitting in an armchair by the fire after dinner. ‘What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea’s like? I wish they’d been in it!’ He later claimed in conversation that sailors had lashed him to the mast for four hours to observe the scene: ‘I did not expect to escape; but I felt bound to record it if I did.’
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics – all edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Here comes the Summer 2014 issue, with tales of mighty cruises, early Mediterranean holidays, mythical destinations, very bad language, the joys of seagoing simplicity and a lot more besides.
Richard Hopton describes the 1933-4 voyage from Hong Kong to Falmouth of the ‘Tai-Mo-Shan’:
On 20 June, after twelve days at sea, Tai-Mo-Shan arrived at Yokohama. The crew were armed with a splendid letter of introduction in Japanese with an English translation, signed by the Emperor’s Foreign Minister. In spite of this, they were treated with suspicion by the local officials. The language barrier made it hard to get across the fact that the voyage was for pleasure. Cultural differences did not help. As Ryder remarked years later, ‘We had no women on board and nothing to drink.’ To the Japanese, spying seemed the only possible purpose of the journey.
Nigel Sharp penetrates the mysteries of oyster dredging – and racing – under sail:
The Carrick Roads lies between the River Fal and the town of Falmouth, and is the body of water formed by the drowned valley of the lower Fal. It is a meandering channel, over 30m deep in places, bordered by large areas of considerably shallower water from which oysters have been harvested since the middle of the nineteenth century. In order to preserve the stocks and protect the beds from overfishing, a bye-law prevents oyster fishermen from using engines while dredging.
During the last century and a half, well over two hundred different vessels – Falmouth Working Boats, as they have come to be known – have dredged for oysters under sail in the Carrick Roads.
Rudyard Kipling goes fishing on the Grand Banks:
To the end of his days, Harvey will never forget that sight. The sun was just clear of the horizon they had not seen for nearly a week, and his low red light struck into the riding-sails of three fleets of anchored schooners – one to the north, one to the westward, and one to the south. There must have been nearly a hundred of them, of every possible make and build, all bowing and curtseying one to the other. From every boat dories were dropping away like bees from a crowded hive; and the clamour of voices, the rattling of ropes and blocks, and the splash of the oars carried for miles across the heaving water. The sails turned all colours, black, pearly-gray, and white, as the sun mounted; and more boats swung up through the mists to the southward.
The dories gathered in clusters, separated, reformed, and broke again, all heading one way; while men hailed and whistled and cat-called and sang and the water was speckled with rubbish thrown overboard.
‘It’s a town,’ said Harvey. ‘Disko was right. It’s a town!’
The Editor crosses the Pacific on a container ship:
Somewhere about a thousand miles southwest of Hawaii the MV Micronesian Pride hits another wave. She hits it hard. She is seven thousand tons of steel and tinned pineapple, the containers stacked four deep in the hold and three high on the deck. In her accommodation are eighteen Filipino mates, engineers and hands, a Lancastrian chief engineer, and a Liverpudlian captain. There is also a passenger. Me.
The wave is a big one. It has come down eight thousand miles of wind. It smashes the anchors back in their hawses and stops the ship with a shuddering crash. The passenger jumps out of a dream of machine guns. A bloodshot dawn is crawling out of the sea beyond the bridge windows. The heartbeat subsides. The waves roll under. The containers truck on across the Pacific.
Philip Marsden debates Marine Conservation Zones with Britain’s biggest trawler owner:
On a sunny afternoon in midsummer, Newlyn makes a striking contrast with the holiday bustle of most of Cornwall’s coastline. Long after the early morning fish market, a pair of lone refrigerated artics break up the empty acres of concrete wharf. Six or seven trawlers lie tied up along the quay, the lazy arcs of their stern lines almost touching their own reflections in the unruffled water. In the harbourside chandlers are none of the high-tag salopettes and docksiders of more yachty ports, but heavy-duty rubberised gloves, Guy Cotten bibs-and-braces, netting needles and bunt bobbins. In the public lavatories a sign is fixed above a postbox slit: DO NOT FLUSH needles down the toilet. Please use the needle chute provided.
Newlyn is one of the busiest fishing ports in the uk. It is also home to one of Britain’s largest private trawler fleets – the fourteen boats owned by W Stevenson & Sons. In the Stevensons’ office above the chandlers, the walls are jammed frame-to-frame with a hundred or so photographs of high-stemmed beamers, covered deckers, busy netters from the last century, as a theatrical agency might display the portraits of their stars.
Roger Barnes writes a paean to the joys of small-boat cruising:
Out of the shelter the waves powered in from the quarter, sweeping us high on their forward slopes. Breaking crests came crashing over the cockpit coamings, swamping the well and running away down the drains. The lurching cabin became a grim, wet misery.
Night fell. Ian and I stood alternate four-hour watches. Dawn came up grey and joyless. Soon low sunlight was gilding the waves. I left Harriet at the helm, and went below to put on a brew. When I came back up the companionway and looked around the horizon I was horrified to see the bows of an enormous ship bearing down on our port beam.
‘Ready about!’ I cried, leaping for the tiller. But the ship was keeping a good lookout. She took a sudden heel to port as she put on starboard helm to give way to us. She rushed past a couple of cables astern, very handsome in the dawn sunlight with her long black hull and white upperworks, unmistakeably the QE2.
Douglas Lindsay brings an antique across the Atlantic:
I had brought the brig Maria Assumpta into St Malo for Bastille Day when a bloke came on board asking if anyone wanted a job on a different sailing ship. He was one of the owners of the replica galleon Golden Hinde, at that time still operating on the east coast of the USA, and he was looked for skilled delivery crew to bring the ship back across the Atlantic. Three of us signed up there and then, and we subsequently recruited some of our square-rigger colleagues for the trip.
This particular Golden Hinde had been built at Hinks’s yard at Appledore in 1973, financed by a group from San Francisco who wanted to bring her to the West Coast to celebrate Drake’s (slightly doubtful) call there. The design of the replica was good except for one detail: the naval architect had been unable to believe that Elizabethan ships 90’-100’ long could have had a beam of 30’. He had therefore produced one with a beam of 20’. The bare wooden hull flopped over on its side when launched.
Rod Heikell investigates the early history of yachting:
Northern Europeans like to think that yachting began with the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660. Certainly the word yacht, from the Dutch jaghte, meaning a small, fast ship, was introduced in this period to describe the pleasure boats of Charles II and his cronies. But yachting had properly begun millennia before this, in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
The earliest known royal pleasure craft belonged to the Pharaoh Cheops in the twenty-sixth century bc. It was about 44m over all; the Pharaoh used it on the Nile and liked it so much that he had it buried with him in the Great Pyramid.
Sophia Kingshill navigates in the general direction of mythical islands:
For over five hundred years, maps and charts marked an island in the North Atlantic southwest of Ireland. Its name was Brasil, or O’Brazil, or Uí Bhreasail, or Debrasil, or several other variants. It eventually became fixed in the popular imagination (which, indeed, is where it rightly belongs, as it does not exist, and never did) as Hy Brasil. This did not prevent sailors from searching for it, speculators from claiming it as their property, and romancers describing it in detail. It made its final appearance on the map, as Brasil Rock, in 1853.
Jonathon Green goes looking for linguistic lowlife and discovers America:
Reading Tristan Jones’ World War II memoirs, Heart of Oak, with its tales of his training aboard the stone frigate HMS Ganges, all inedible food and crushers chasing hapless boy sailors over the Devil’s Elbow at the gogger’s end, is very pleasing. But there is another fleet, sailing for another country and in another century, which took that language and gave it twists and additions all its own: the nineteenth century American merchant marine.
Oscar Branson takes us deep under some very cold water:
Walk out of the shadows of the coconut trees down the white beach into the clear turquoise water. Pull down your mask, launch yourself forward and drift into one of the great marvels of the natural world: bright colours, fantastic structures, clouds of fish of all shapes and sizes. A place full of the energy and excitement of life. A coral reef.
Now transport yourself northwards, to a spot fifty or so kilometres west of Norway, at around 64°N, 8°E. The water is very cold. Lie forward in it. Sink. After one metre, half the light has gone. After ten metres it has faded by three-quarters. After a hundred, only 0.5% remains, invisible to the human eye. The world is pitch black. Do not let this put you off. Keep sinking. At around three hundred metres there is no light at all. It is an ice-cold world, and it feels stone dead.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity, and even the odd poem – all edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
Here comes the Spring 2014 issue, with (among much else) ice, the Caribbean, Hammond Innes, and the return of yachts to the water and salmon to the world’s rivers.
Emma Beynon sails to Svalbard in an ancient pilot cutter:
Our aim is to circumnavigate the archipelago if the ice allows. Failing that, we intend to sail as far north as we can before we meet the pack ice. Our route was last charted in 1934, with soundings taken more than four miles apart. We really will be nosing into the unknown. The skipper, Roger Capps, has nailed a copper skirt to Dolphin’s larch-on-oak hull. This gives her a jaunty air, but we all know that any old growler could make a nasty hole. Moored up against the cruise ships and steel-hulled yachts in the harbour, Dolphin looks almost too much of a veteran to withstand this harsh environment. A significant number of locals are amazed at her diminutive size and basic facilities. We talk of Tilman and plum duff.
Yesterday in the bright polar night the harbourmaster saw a polar bear climb into the cockpit of a neighbouring yacht, before wandering off up the dark and dusty mountain behind the town.
Fraser Fraser-Harris and John Clegg navigate the early days of chartering in the West Indies:
To be financially viable, yachts had to be bought cheaply, so almost all were classic pre-war vessels with magnificent old slow-turning engines for which spare parts were nowhere available. Their electrics were primitive and minimal, of strange voltages, and with junction boxes full of electrocuted cockroaches. The lead-covered cable often carried as many volts in the insulation as there were in the batteries. Most boats had plough-steel rigging, wormed, parcelled and served, tensioned by galvanised bottlescrews packed in white lead and tallow, sewn in canvas and painted. Some even had lignum vitae deadeyes with four-stranded Italian tarred hemp lanyards started with a double Matthew Walker and finished with a cow hitch, the tail slipped back on itself with frapping turns to make all secure. One did not tune the rigging very often.
John Simpson takes us sailing in the 1950s:
Dauntless, our family’s first boat, was a 12-ton Lowestoft fishing smack of uncertain vintage. It took my father three years of his spare time to convert her into a pleasure yacht, working on her in a mud berth on the salting at Brandy Hole on the upper reaches of the River Crouch in Essex.
Given my parents’ personal circumstances – two young kids and living in a rented flat – this was an optimistic decision; but they were both only thirty at the time, and having survived the war they wanted some quality of life.
Bob Harris rows a 50-ton lighter downriver to the Port of London in its heyday:
We started away from the wharf with the wind about south. My mate was very green. I was busily engaged in looking after him as the oar was unmanageable in his hands, I taking the pair with him hanging on to instruct him in the rhythm of swinging out and pulling steadily; he was really more trouble to me than the barge. I was sorry for him, as he had rowed up with the skiff and blisters were now forming on both hands. We allowed her to blow over to leeward, I explained that usually we had to row across the river to the Pimlico shore to get in a favourable working position to shoot Vauxhall. As the river bends towards Vauxhall the wind leads from aft, and it was a fair wind to Waterloo on this day…
Sailing the 1945 Cowes to Dinard race with Nigel Sharp:
It is perhaps surprising that as many as eight boats made it to the start line, and a great many logistical difficulties had to be overcome to run the race at all. Every boat had its own problems with victualling as well as fitting out, and special arrangements had to be made to overcome difficulties with passports, Customs officials and currency. Admiralty permission had to be sought on both sides of the Channel (the request was greeted with such enthusiasm by the Commander-in-Chiefs in Portsmouth and Plymouth that they provided the destroyer HMS Inconstant to accompany the fleet). Last but not least, the course would involve a considerable diversion around a specially laid mark-boat off Brixham to avoid an extensive minefield in the Channel.
Rear-Admiral John Lang introduces his late friend Hammond Innes:
[Innes’s] working technique was to explore the wilder parts of the world in the hope that an idea for a story would emerge from his experience. His first journey was to the Persian Gulf at the invitation of my father, who was commanding the Bahrain-based Black Swan class frigate HMS Flamingo. He spent some three weeks embarked in Flamingo, and was to write later that the Gulf was like ‘a shallow pot of salt water simmering everlastingly in the sun’s fire.’ Anyone travelling to the Gulf today might find some of his observations about the pre-oil-boom era interesting. He noted, for instance, that the bar across the entrance to the creek at Dubai, which nowadays has two mighty ports, was so silted up that dhows had difficulty getting in.
Hammond Innes begins the story of the Wreck of the ‘Mary Deare’:
Mike’s cheerful, freckled face appeared abruptly out of the night, hanging disembodied in the light from the binnacle. He handed me a mug. ‘Nice and fresh up here after the galley,’ he said. Then the smile was wiped from his face. ‘What the hell’s that?’ He was staring past my left shoulder, at something astern of us on the port quarter. ‘Can’t be the moon, can it?’
I swung round. A cold green translucence showed at the edge of visibility. The light grew steadily brighter, phosphorescent and unearthly – a ghastly brilliance, like a bloated glow-worm. Then suddenly it condensed and hardened into a green pinpoint, and I yelled at Mike: ‘The Aldis – quick!’ It was the starboard navigation light of a big steamer, and it was bearing straight down on us.
Christopher Schuler traces the development of the instruments of navigation:
The first written record of navigation by the stars occurs in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus, leaving Calypso’s island, charts his course by the Great Bear which, ‘the beautiful goddess had bidden him to keep on the left hand as he sailed over the sea.’ Factual accounts of actual journeys by ancient Greeks survive in the form of periploi – ‘circumnavigations’ – listing the ports and coastal landmarks, with intermediate distances, that the captain of a vessel would find along a shore.
Mike Smylie, aka the Kipperman, writes of the habits, catching and smoking of herrings:
The Great Yarmouth fish salesman John Wm De Caux tells us that the herring is to man the most valuable and, therefore, the most important fish in northern waters. Loch Fyne and the surrounding area was of course long renowned for the quality and abundance of its herring, swimming in shoals many miles long and two across: ‘from Kenmore south to Saddell Bay the blind shoals wander in the sea/I ply my spade and watch them play – God, what is it but mockery?’
Loch Fyne was where the ring net was born. In the early 1830s some Tarbert fishermen experimented with a seine net sent out from the shore with a single small skiff and set around a shoal. Soon two skiffs were being sent out with a net between them to encircle the shoal. The results were spectacular – so spectacular, indeed, that legislation forced through by the traditional drift-net fishers from up-loch banned the method. The ring-net fishermen were forced to work at night, under cover of darkness. It was a tough business. The hard-pressed fishers had to avoid being detected by patrols of soldiers; and the soldiers were not the only reason for watchfulness. The essence of success was to spot the ‘natural appearances’ that betrayed the presence of the shoals – the diving Solan goose, the porpoise, known to nibble at the edges of the shoals, the oil on the water, the ‘fire in the water’ brought on by the sea’s own phosphorescence and the fishes’ movement.
Amanda Martin tells the story of the pioneering marine photographers of Scilly:
For as long as photography has existed, magazines, travel documentaries, ethnographic studies and popular fiction have been pummelling us with images of island communities around the world. The Isles of Scilly are no exception to this fascination, and indeed can claim an unusually complete pictorial record from the mid nineteenth century onwards. Scilly’s first intrepid photographers were consumed by their urge to log (and occasionally embellish) the life and events of the archipelago in all its weathers and sea states. Many excellent examples of 19th and early 20th century photography are still in the islands; but the remaining collections are vulnerable to the imperial ambitions of mainland institutions, as was demonstrated by the recent Sotheby’s sale of the Gibson shipwreck archive to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
Dr Martin Llewellyn follows an Atlantic salmon into its little-understood world in the North Atlantic gyre:
Spring is arriving in the northern hemisphere. The snows are retreating to their mountainous summer refuges. Icicles sparkle prettily, and the drip of the meltwater becomes a roaring flood. In the headwaters of rivers that flow into the North Atlantic, among shallow rapids and tumbled stones, hundreds of thousands of small, dark-speckled fish are undergoing a radical transformation. Longer, warmer days are triggering cascades of corticosteroids in their forefinger-long bodies. A kind of accelerated adolescence ensues; in a few weeks they will be big-eyed silver smolt, recognisable as juvenile salmon, streaking downstream at twenty-five kilometres a day, tiny but enthusiastic teleosts ploughing forwards and out into the open sea…
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship and eccentricity, edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.
The Winter 2013 issue is here, with tales from Greenland, Bermuda, cruising boats’ galleys and the wilder shores of Renaissance charts…
Trevor Robertson winters in Greenland:
The next day I went on to the small port of Qeqertarsuaq. The harbourmaster was welcoming but blessedly uninterested in formalities. A minke whale, one of the local quota of four, was being butchered on the foreshore and I was given a chunk. After buying fuel I continued northwards. A gale warning broadcast as we crossed the Vaigat sent me scuttling for shelter. The Vaigat separates Disko Island from the mainland and always has hundreds of bergs, now hidden by fog. It is no place to be in a gale. I sheltered for two days in an anchorage called Nuussuaq where there is a stone ruin called Bjørnefælde, ‘the bear trap’, supposedly a thirteenth-century Norse chapel. It looks like a bear trap.
Mike and Colin McMullen decide to make landings on the southernmost and northernmost points of the British Isles:
Contrary to popular belief, [the southernmost point] is neither the Lizard nor Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is Le Faucheur, a rock eleven feet above high water springs, in the notorious Plateau des Minquiers. The tidal range at springs is 36’, and the current roars between the rocks at up to 6 knots. In any weather this complex presents a terrifying lee shore, and has accounted for hundreds of ships over the centuries.
To achieve a landing on Le Faucheur we would need some rather unusual conditions. First, the weather – good visibility and little wind, so the sea surface would be unruffled, allowing rock-spotting from the vessel. Second, the tide must be at neaps. Finally, we needed the right crew assembled on the right boat at the right time.
Gavin Maxwell chooses a boat and an associate for his basking shark fishery:
When at last the Dove arrived from Stornoway in February, it became clear that we were still at the very beginning of our troubles. From the moment I set eyes on her I knew, and at the same time tried to conceal from myself, that I had made a really gigantic blunder. She was in roughly the condition one might expect of Noah’s Ark were it thrown up now by some subterranean upheaval, nor would the engines have made one marvel at Noah’s mechanical genius. With her arrival I engaged the very first employee of the shark fishery, Tex Geddes.
Graham Faiella tells the story of a whale that turned on its pursuers:
In August 1851, around the same time that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published, a sperm whale attacked and sank the Yankee whaling ship Ann Alexander in the Pacific on the same whaling grounds where a sperm whale had sunk the whaler Essex almost thirty years before (the incident that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick). Upon hearing about the Ann Alexander, Melville remarked to a friend, ‘It is really and truly a surprising coincidence…I have no doubt it is Moby Dick. Ye Gods, what a commentator is this Ann Alexander whale…I wonder if my evil art has raised the monster.’
James Adair and Ben Stenning set out to row across the Indian Ocean:
We had no previous sailing, rowing or sea experience of any note. There were further reasons for staying in a comfortable armchair somewhere deep in the Home Counties. Foremost among these was the high rate of failure for ocean rowers on the Indian Ocean. Many boats have successfully crossed the Atlantic on the well-known Canaries-to-Caribbean route; but only a handful of people have made it across the Indian. By the time we set off, only two pairs had ever made it – both in 2009, with a support yacht following in case of emergencies. Six pairs had made the attempt starting in Australia, but all had had to be rescued at some point.
Hannah Cunliffe explores a childhood spent at sea:
My first memory is of a blue deck. When a curious friend asked for more details, I was unable to give any. I simply knew that at a very early stage in my life I had spent some considerable time looking at a pale blue canvas deck. Puzzled, I turned to my parents for enlightenment. They looked surprised and slightly shamefaced. Then they admitted that when I had been very small they had tied me to the mast of our 27’ gaff cutter Marishka to keep me out of trouble while they were busy working on board.
Annie Hill explains the joy of sea cooking:
Much prose, poetry and song has been devoted to the sailor’s love affair with grog. But apart from references to weevilly ships’ biscuit and ‘salt horse’, consisting more of gristle and bone than flesh, precious little attention has been given to sailors’ food.
Virginia Crowell Jones remembers the highs and lows of the yawl ‘Zorra’
Back in the late ’80s and the early ’90s I was working at Gannon and Benjamin’s Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. This boatyard had the somewhat dubious distinction of owning the 72’ yawl Zorra, built in the ’60s in Italy to a design by Renato ‘Sonny’ Levi. The boatyard partners had bought Zorra at a Federal Marshals’ Auction. As far as we could determine, she had never been a drug-smuggling boat, but in those days there was a lot of illegal import activity of certain types of plant materials. She seemed to have been used to launder money for a purchaser who perhaps intended to use her for future projects. Unfortunately for him, not only did he get arrested, but while the boat was tied to the dock in Virginia, she had caught fire.
Philip Marsden explores Joseph Conrad’s relationship with the sea:
In 1874 Joseph Conrad arrived in Marseilles from Poland, a dreamy orphan, his head full of the literature of adventure and exploration. ‘The principal thing was to get away,’ he wrote – and he had long ago decided that the way to do it was on ships. His elders considered it ‘a stupid obstinacy or a fantastic caprice’. But Marseilles did exactly what Conrad hoped it would. It allowed him to shake off the landlocked constraints of his upbringing, and offered a route out into the wide world. It gave him the sea.
Chet van Duzer finds strange creatures in the watery margins of ancient charts:
When I opened the manuscript [of Ptolemy’s Geography] and turned to the maps, I saw that the seas were painted a curious yellow-brown, with wavy lines indicating the motion of the water. I also saw that the seas were heavily populated with sea monsters.
The variety of monsters was remarkable. There were (among others) several types of sirens, an aquatic pig, an aquatic lion, an aquatic rabbit, and a dolphin with a human face. I immediately decided that I needed to write something about those monsters.
Mike Peyton reveals navigational arts that predate GPS:
Three of us were sailing up the Kentish shore. It was foggy and visibility was nil. We slipped along on the tide, relying on the log but not entirely sure of our position, until out of the fog was wafted to us the unmistakable aroma of fish and chips. At this point we all realised we were definitely off Whitstable.
Charles Frederick Holder tells a fishy story:
One morning I sailed out into the vermilion-tinted sea, just at dawn. Patience sat at the helm, and expectation crowned the prow, such is the usual custom among anglers; yet we had hardly cast off before the tunas charged into the little bay, and we began to dodge flying fishes, which were in the air, while the tunas were boiling around the boat.
And of course there are books, the musings of the reprehensible Captain Ray Doggett, and (among many other things) a sideways look at pirate fishing and the disastrous decline of UK shipbuilding.
The Equinox is here, and with it the Autumn 2013 issue, with storms, disasters, and extreme oddities of language…
Colin and Morrice McMullen attempt an October Channel crossing in sailing dinghies
We had already decided that the soundest plan for re-crossing the Channel was to sail across the Baie de la Seine to the Cherbourg Peninsula, thereby reducing the final crossing distance. Accordingly we did not delay in Le Havre, but put straight to sea bound for Barfleur. It was fine, fair sailing until just before dark, when we were about halfway across the Baie. A fishing boat approached. When we told him that we were bound for Barfleur, he shouted words to the effect that ‘Barfleur Non Bon!’ and pointed out that the barometer ‘tombait…. tombait….’
So we headed south.
Rockwell Kent enjoys some fantasies – unfulfilled, alas – as he closes the coast of Greenland
Putting a cluster of islands with beacons on them to port we entered sheltered waters. Here was less wind; and the surface of the bay, save for the little ripples of the breeze, was as smooth as a freshwater pond. How sweet it was to sail so evenly, so quietly, and hear again those liquid gurglings on our sides! And see the land again so near! To feel the friendliness of that majestic wilderness, its peacefulness – immense, secure! But a few hours more and we’d go sailing into Godthåb, and drop anchor! And the people would crowd the shores to greet us! How wonderful you are, they’d say! They’d come aboard to see the ship and marvel at it. How small, how strong, how clean and neat and beautiful! How brave you are! And the men – even the hardy Danes – would admire and envy us; and the girls – sweet, gentle, blue-eyed Danish girls – they’d love us!
Harry Browne takes a long, hard look at the insanity of EU fisheries policy
In the big courthouse off the main street of Tralee, Co Kerry, in front of just one spectator, José Francisco Santamaría and his trawler, the Monte San Roque, are getting bailed out.
A few days ago the ship was boarded and inspected by the Irish Navy nearly 200 miles off Ireland’s southwest coast. It was catching monkfish, hake and prawns. The Navy watchers believed its actual fishing locations over the previous several days did not correspond with the entries in its logbook, and they took the vessel into port at Fenit, Co Kerry.
Santamaría, an olive-skinned man in early middle age, is wearing a checked shirt and sports a Groucho Marx moustache-and-glasses combination. As everyone awaits the judge, he is chatting to the heavily pregnant translator. A Garda and a fisheries inspector are here too. The prosecuting solicitor, a local man, is engaged in an elaborate welcome-to-Kerry parley with the defence man, who has been sent up from Cork by the Spanish conglomerate that owns the Monte San Roque.When sufficient niceties have been observed, the prosecutor mutters that, you know, the bail amount is about €175,000, based on a formula derived from the value of the catch.
‘I think €174,768,’ the defence solicitor replies. ‘And it should be in the account within the next half-hour, if it’s not there already.’
Ewen Southby-Tailyour goes in search of John Paul Jones’s ship
The Bonhomme Richard was cut adrift at 2230 that night. Though she was in a sinking condition, her First Lieutenant remained on board in an endeavour to sail her to the safety of Texel. His attempts, though valiant and strenuous, were in vain. At 1100 on 25 September, after a fight with the elements nearly as fierce as that with the Serapis, Jones watched with ‘inexpressible grief… the last glimpse of (my) flagship’, as she slid, bows first, beneath the North Sea.
Shortly before the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Flamborough Head, the American author Clive Cussler recruited a team to carry out academic studies in preparation for a practical search for the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard. I was appointed navigational adviser.
Captain Douglas Lindsay takes a hammering in the Pentland Firth
We left Workington bound for Oxelösund and worked our way up through the Western Isles to round Cape Wrath in the afternoon of 17 March 1969. It was filthy weather – blowing force 9 to 10 from east-southeast, and raining hard. Once round Cape Wrath our little engine could only push us along at about 4 knots, and late in the afternoon Dick Edwards decided to heave-to on the west side of the Pentland Firth and wait for the moderation forecast for the next day.
The Master of the ‘Albion’ tells the hitherto unpublished tale of the loss of his ship and much of his crew in 1810
On the morning of 6th, we hove-to under close reefed main-topsail, the wind at ENE. The pump was sucked out at 8 am and we went to breakfast. The carpenter examined the lee dark light, which as the ship dipped aft, was observed to make a little water. He left the cabin, and had scarcely done so, ere he returned & informed me that the ship had sprung a leak, and was filling with water; & that the chests in the half deck were afloat. Terror appeared in every countenance at the report, which was increased by the water then shewing itself at the foot of the cabin ladder. Lord have mercy on us! Issued from every mouth, & for a moment all was confusion. I instantly quitted the cabin, ran on deck, & found the ship going down forward. I ordered the main mast to be cut away, to keep the ship before the wind, and endeavour to free her with both pumps, but she would not wear. Finding the ship going down very fast, cut the lee rigging, but before three inches in depth was cut in the main mast she was completely on her side.
Captain Graham Torrible faces some unusual navigational problems on the Yangtze in the 1930s
When the river is high, the scene as one approaches the town of Kweifu from up-river resembles a wide lake, with the famous Windbox Gorge and its hidden entrance acting as a majestic backdrop.
A different picture emerges during low level when a great shingle bank is exposed. This is covered by family groups of salt-boilers, who boil brine, brought up through bamboo pipes from wells many generations old, in great cauldrons. The scene, with smoke and steam rising from a hundred fires and cauldrons, never ceases to surprise newcomers, especially when they come upon it unexpectedly, as in an up-bound steamer clearing the Windbox Gorge.
During the high-water season the rapid current, checked by the entrance to the narrow gorge below, spreads out and thereby loses some of its momentum. This causes heavy precipitation from the huge amount of silt held in suspension. The silt build-up on the riverbed offers no hindrance to shipping while the river rides high above the sha-shui, or quicksands. When the river falls to a lower level, the current will scour out a channel which the practiced eye of the pilot will have no difficulty in locating. But there is a day or two when there is no channel, and the sha-shui is too close to the surface to allow a steamer to pass safely across. Approaching it, the pilot is for once nonplussed. The whole area presents the same picture – a mass of curling water like a huge sheepskin rug. His ability to read the water is useless; there is nothing to read.
Peter Willis investigates the exact extent of Arthur Ransome’s seafaring
Two of Arthur Ransome’s twelve Swallows and Amazons books hit significant birthdays last November (publishing dates were always fixed to catch the Christmas trade). Peter Duck came out eighty years ago, and We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea seventy-five. What they have in common, apart from blue dust jackets, is that these are the only two of the series into which Ransome distilled in significant quantities his own passion for seafaring. What is interesting is to see the very different ways in which each relates to his own sailing experience, and his much earlier, autobiographical account of his first ‘proper’ boat, Racundra’s First Cruise.
Nigel Sharp examines the behaviour of the yachting press during the Second World War
Paper was officially rationed from the very beginning of the war. All the magazines were affected by this. Yachting World and Motor Boat and Yachting had always been published weekly but became monthly in the latter part of 1939; while The Yachtsman went from monthly to bi-monthly to quarterly during the course of the hostilities. In the 1914-18 war, Yachting Monthly had also been the official journal of the rnvr, and in the May 1940 issue the wartime Editor announced ‘with a certain amount of modest pride’ that it would again assume the role. Consequently it was less affected by paper rationing and so was able to maintain its frequency – just as well, given its title.
Jonathon Green explains the lexicographer’s relationship with sea slang on a tour that takes in plenty of low life
Sea slang was first acknowledged in the eighteenth century – its origins must be older – and known as altumal, from Latin’s altum mare, the deep sea. Its abundance is daunting, and poses an important question: where does jargon, the local naming of parts, end, and where does the slang that seagoing has introduced in the non-seagoing language begin? Partridge, my lexicographical predecessor, offers Jimmy-the-One for a First Lieutenant, and Jimmy Ducks for the (early to mid-nineteenth century) rating in charge of the ships’ poultry. I have chosen to omit both, and many more representing what I see as limited usage. I have, on the other hand, included Jimmy Round, a Frenchman (from je me rends, I surrender, and attributed to the Napoleonic Wars).
And of course there are book reviews, the musings of the reprehensible Captain Ray Doggett, and even a scholarly breakthrough in the history of trawling, proving that it was recognized as a threat to marine ecosystems as early as the 14th century.
Welcome to the Summer 2013 issue – warm water sailing, with a dash of disaster, Americana, U-boats and octopus hunting
Mr and Mrs Ken Duxbury cruise the Greek islands in their Drascombe lugger:
It was not more than ten minutes later that we both got a severe shock. In a blast of silver spray a whacking swordfish – its spike all of three feet in length – burst clear of the water, took a quick look at us, and disappeared with a crack like a pistol shot. It was so sudden that only gradually did the full possibilities sink into our minds. For a full hour B sat in our thick galvanised washbowl as a precaution. Meanwhile, we drifted.
Don Street jr rounds up a scratch crew for a passage to Bermuda:
I had three crew arriving from the States. I was happy to take on other crew as apprentices, food, booze and bedding found, as long as they were willing to learn, work and pay for the privilege. With this in mind, I signed on a guy whose name was Hunter S Thompson. We called him Swagger Stick, because he carried one, claiming that it was a habit left over from his service as a Marine lieutenant. I figured that as an ex-Marine he would have been through boot camp, and would therefore be tough, able to learn fast and pull his weight. This was an error. He was no more a Marine than I was. His girlfriend did not know too much, but she was a good sport, pitched in, and learned fast. There was a third member of the group, who had managed to sail a small open boat from Puerto Rico to St Thomas, though he knew so little about sailing that nobody could figure out how he had done it.
David Masiel lives though a nightmare off Alaska:
The tug laboured up the face of a wave. Only the short bulwark separated him from a thousand feet of dark water. He saw the wire stretching downward, disappearing into the catenary – the long bow-shaped arc of the heavy tow wire, submerged for most of its half mile, then rising to the thick chain of the tow bridle and, at last, black against the deepening grey water of dusk, the blunt bow of Early Warning, a remote, distant slab of responsibility.
Tom Cunliffe tells the story of pilots under sail:
It has often been said that a boat which looks right on a mooring will be fine at sea, and few sailors would argue with this proposition. In the case of pilot boats, however, it rather puts the cart before the horse. Pilots were usually hard-bitten businessmen as well as thoroughgoing seamen. Their prime motivation was to serve their calling and earn a good living, so the way a boat functioned was a lot higher up their list of priorities than whether she was admired for a smart sheerline. With a few notable exceptions, no yacht designer with an artist’s flair laid pen on paper to create a sailing pilot cutter. They were built in the vernacular by men who left school early, if they went at all, and served long apprenticeships. The fact that many of the boats achieved an enduring loveliness says more than words ever could about a race of men who, without the benefits of formal education, were taught by time and experience to work successfully with nature.
A short story by Alfred F Loomis:
I met Tommy Wiley for the first time on the French coast, off the shifting entrance to Trouville. The tide was at the top of the flood, all but turned, the wind was slight, and I didn’t want to be locked out of the wet basin, so I was entering under power. Ahead of me I saw a lovely cutter – slender, low of hull, tall of rig, gracefully proportioned for speed. She was finished bright, and in the warm sunlight her pine deck and mahogany sides lent a creamy glow to the rippling whiteness of her sails. Coming to the western edge of the narrow channel she tacked and slowly gathered way on the other board.
Nat Benjamin builds a schooner for his family:
When Ross Gannon and I started our boatyard in 1980 on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, we hoped that we would not have too much spare time (otherwise known as unemployment). We needed to feed our families. A couple of quiet months each winter might of course be acceptable. We could deliver a boat to the Caribbean, go skiing, fix the house (note the order of priority) and, of course, build our own boats.
Twenty-three years later, the dream of building our own boats in idle hours remained as elusive as it was persistent. Then in October 2003 the Gannon and Benjamin boatbuilding shed stood empty for the first time. I had about a month before the space would be taken over by our next commission. I unrolled the plans for the fifty-foot schooner whose design I’d been working on over years of spare time.
Tom Jago serves on HMS Zephyr:
When I joined in Chatham she had just finished being converted for tropical service. There were fans above all berths and awnings ready to be rigged; the steam pipes that heated the open bridge (a bit) had been ripped out. Officers and crew had been issued with tropical whites, and there was much speculation about the role we would play in the continuing Pacific war. So the captain was not really surprised when he got his orders. We were to go to Londonderry, collect a German submarine and tow it to Latvia, where it would be given to the USSR as part of the Potsdam agreement.
Richard Hopton follows Richard Ryder to Antarctica:
Robert Ryder won the Victoria Cross commanding the naval forces that took part in the celebrated raid on St Nazaire in March 1942. It is less well known that he had enjoyed an unorthodox naval career before the outbreak of war in 1939. In 1933-34, Ryder and four young fellow naval officers had sailed a 54’ ketch-rigged yacht, Tai-Mo-Shan, from Hong Kong to England. With Ryder as skipper, Tai-Mo-Shan sailed from Hong Kong to Japan, past the Aleutian Islands, down the west coast of Canada and the United States, through the Panama Canal and home across the Atlantic, a voyage of more than 16,000 miles. It was a remarkable achievement considering the youth of the crew – Ryder was only twenty-five when they set off – and the fact that, as Tai-Mo-Shan had no engine, she was entirely at the mercy of wind and tide.
Claudia Myatt turns an artist’s eye on the pierhead painters:
From the seventeenth century onwards there was a strong tradition of ship portrait painters, particularly around the Mediterranean ports. But a social and cultural gulf lay between trained marine artists – with access to the official art scene and perhaps a chance of royal patronage – and the humble ‘pierhead painter’ producing commercially driven, unsophisticated ship portraits. Down at the dockside, art was being produced cheaply and quickly, ranging in quality from the awful to the sublime. Pierhead paintings never found their way into galleries or private collections. They were bought by sailors, not art collectors. They were mostly small, for they were to be hung in cottages and cabins, not galleries and great houses. When they found their way into auction rooms as part of house clearances, they were usually lumped in with the furniture rather than contaminate the ‘art’ sales.
Alastair Robertson takes a sideways look at the past and present of fish farming:
As the supermarket chill counters filled up with sides of vacuum-packed Scottish smoked salmon in the run-up to Christmas 2012, few outside the world of aquaculture noticed the arrival of yet another salmon farming company on the west coast of Scotland. This is an outfit called FishFrom – its name makes a handy prefix for any town or country you care to name – and it may well herald the end of salmon farming in Scotland as we have come to love or hate it.
FishFrom will produce 800,000 fish a year in enclosed tanks of recirculated water in a Tesco-sized warehouse on the Mull of Kintyre. The initial operation will cost £15 million. If successful, the company will roll out similar operations on sites across Europe picked for their proximity to transport hubs. The nearest a salmon of the future may ever get to the sea is the picture on the outside of the packet inside which its fillets repose.
Ben Crawshaw sets off in pursuit of the wily octopus:
In the summer months, wetsuits are unnecessary. So are flippers and the weights. If you can swim and hold your breath you can, with a little practice, get down to octopus territory. You can substitute a trident for the speargun – or do without altogether, as the tools make diving more difficult. The only things you really need are the mask and snorkel, and maybe a pair of washing-up gloves, though even these can be a hindrance when full of water. Another unnecessary thing is squeamishness. If you can handle and gut fish, you shouldn’t have a problem. If you can’t, a reluctance to shove your hand into a hole and grapple with a slimy creature with eight arms and 1600 suction cups will hamper your success.
In my local patch of Mediterranean the place to look for octopuses is an area of rock and weed 6-8m below the surface, 400m offshore. Swim out taking care not to bump into the ubiquitous rhizostoma jellyfish, the ones with pale domes and lilac frills that are always described as lampshades. Peer down through the blue and scan the gaps around rocks and boulders for a midden – a scattering of shells and stones that accumulates by the entrance to an octopus’s cave, sometimes carefully arranged.
…and of course there are book reviews, the musings of Captain Ray Doggett, poems, scuttlebutt, and even a new translation of a very short sea story by Franz Kafka.
Here comes the Spring 2013 issue – Perils of the Sea, but music, boatbuilding and the odd corners of the world where humans meet seals
Julian van Hasselt sails in the 1974 Round Britain Race
In June 1974 I boarded the train to Inverness. I had shoulder-length hair and wore purple flared needlecord trousers. My foul-weather gear consisted of a pair of bright orange fisherman’s trousers with a horribly overtight elastic waistband, and a pair of dubious plimsolls which I also used for the occasional game of squash.
We got to work loading provisions on board. Our seagoing preparations went well until Jock hoisted me in the bosun’s chair to the main masthead to check whatever it was that needed checking up there. At the top, everything seemed to be in order, and I shouted down to tell him so. He began to lower away. As he did so the wind lifted my billowing locks, and they became jammed in the halyard sheave. ‘UP!’ I yelled frantically. The hair wound inexorably round the sheave, drawing my scalp remorselessly into the masthead. Soon I could neither go up nor down, my head anchored to the mast. When Jock had stopped laughing he hoisted a pair of scissors up on the burgee halyard and I managed to cut myself loose.
Tom Cunliffe tells the story of Brixham and its trawlers:
Of all the fishing craft from the days of ‘wooden ships and iron men’, the trawler was probably the most charismatic. The other big boats were the lug-rigged drifters, silent ghosts sliding over the night-black seas to cheat the silver herring into mile long nets; but these were light-footed gypsies compared with the macho powerhouse that was a sailing trawler.
Large British sailing trawlers reached the peak of their development in two main areas: the east coast stations of Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft, and the Devon ports of Brixham and Plymouth. Few would argue with the proposition that the Devon boats were sweeter-lined, and the Brixham boats became a legend for their grace and seakeeping ability.
Webb Chiles has a spot of bother while attempting a transPacific voyage in a Drascombe Lugger:
I left the Royal Suva Yacht Club dock at 1100 on Wednesday 7 May 1980. The packing and plastic bagging and stowing had taken longer than usual; but by 1030 everything was in place.
I still had a dollar of Fijian small change, so I walked to the yacht club bar and ordered a pitcher of Chapman’s, a soft-drink mix of ginger ale and bitters. But I was eager to be off, and left the half-full pitcher on the table. Within a week I would be dreaming of it: bubbles rising through amber liquid, ice cubes tinkling, beads of condensation forming along the rim.
For three days we sailed west before twenty-five to thirty-knot winds and ten to fifteen-foot waves. On Saturday, the wind and waves eased to eighteen knots and four to six feet. That night I fell asleep at 0830 in the belief that I would have my first real rest since leaving Suva. Just before 1030 Chidiock slid down a wave and pitchpoled.
Captain Richard Woodman sails on a weather ship:
I joined the owsWeather Monitor in early December. She lay alongside the James Watt Dock in Greenock – an ungainly object, with a dull grey hull and hideous orange upperworks designed for conspicuity at sea. She had been built as hms Pevensey Castle in January 1944 and still had her Squid mortar and Bofors aa armament, all of it now cocooned. Her four-inch gun had been replaced by a deckhouse containing deep-sea sounding equipment. Her after deck was dominated by a hangar for the balloons we flew at regular six-hour intervals, and the accumulators that produced the hydrogen to provide their lift. Each balloon carried a radiosonde for transmitting air pressure and temperature. Above the bridge loomed an elderly but powerful air search radar, which tracked the balloons, giving us upper wind speed and direction until they burst.
Richard Sadler makes a worrying analysis of British sea trade in the twenty-first century:
I have always been fascinated by an assertion that merchant shipping is the biggest poker game in the world. I increasingly believe that it resembles not so much poker as roulette.
Roulette allows players to bet on a single number, a range of numbers, red or black, odd or even, or zero. In their casino, shipowners regularly bet on deploying a single dry fleet, a mixed wet and dry fleet, big ships, small ships, new efficient ships or cheaper secondhand ships. The choices are similar to those in roulette, not least in the uncertainty of their outcomes; and the potential return is as varied.
E B White meditates on owning sailing boats:
I have noticed that most men, when they enter a barber shop and must wait their turn, drop into a chair and pick up a magazine. I simply sit down and pick up the thread of my sea wandering, which began more than fifty years ago and is not quite ended. There is hardly a waiting room in the East that has not served as my cockpit, whether I was waiting to board a train or to see a dentist. And I am usually still trimming sheets when the train starts or the drill begins to whine.
Adrian Morgan builds a clinker boat:
First, you will need a tree. Well, one and a half trees: Scottish larch for the planking, and a bit of English oak for the steam-bent frames known as timbers. Catching the right larch is not as easy as it sounds. In former times estate woodsmen would brash off branches as they grew. This meant that when the tree was felled eighty or more years later, the heartwood would be largely free of what the Vikings called drowning knots – the loose ones that pop out like little bungs in the middle of the North Sea. Nowadays woodsmen are less active, and much of the larch will be too knotty to be useful.
A good tree will have been bred in open country. It will probably be an Edwardian or Victorian tree, planted and tended expressly for building clinker boats: a tree straight of limb and narrow of growth rings; slow grown, resinous, but without too many resin pockets; and of a fine shade of light reddish-brown that will darken with age.
Martin Thomas tells the story of curvy and its treatment:
A midshipman, Frederick Hoffman, wrote in 1794: ‘Twenty men who looked like bloated monsters were removed on shore and we buried them up to their chins. Some boys were sent with the sufferers to keep flies from their faces. After two hours they were dug out and four days later had recovered.’ Oddly enough, the burial method was the only one that stood any chance of working – for the simple reason that if sailors were to be buried up to their chins, they had to be on land, where they would be likely to be fed the fresh fruit and vegetables that were the disease’s cure.
Steffan Meyric Hughes winds his way among the eels of London:
Under the city-light reflections on the river’s inky surface, solitary creatures slide out of the wrecks and the mud. They are probably the only things in London that have been around longer than the river itself. They can survive in almost any sort of water: fresh, salt, still or flowing. When there is no water they will travel over land, absorbing oxygen through their skin and eating worms and, according to legend, mice and baby rabbits.
They have come all the way across the Atlantic, via Mucking and Dagenham, from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea. A community of these ancient monsters will live for decades in the fashionable waters off Chelsea. One night a few autumns on, they will catch another tide, an ebb this time, back into the North Sea
David Thomson travels in the strange regions where humans and seals overlap:
I remember her arms. They only came down a little below where the elbows should be and they were supposed to be flattish, but you never really saw them because she wore big sleeves, and I think they were sewn up at the ends. But they looked flattish, like flippers, and she held them against her sides or across her chest and she moved them rather awkwardly. But you could never see her legs. We always wanted to. We wanted to see her in her bath and of course we couldn’t, and it was terrible, I remember, never being able to know, and we couldn’t get proper answers from anyone. And, you see, she was always in the same kind of dress – a long, long grey shiny dress, silk I think, that fastened at the neck with a close collar and came right down to the ground and hid everything.
Anthony Powers explores the seagoing compositions of a landbound composer:
Ralph Vaughan Williams was not a seafarer. Indeed, as a youngish man he nearly drowned swimming alone off the Yorkshire coast. He was a native of Gloucestershire and a resident of Surrey and his beloved London. Until extreme old age and the encouragement of a much younger second wife, he was not even a particularly enthusiastic traveller beyond Britain’s shores. Yet two of his works – the famous choral and orchestral A Sea Symphony, and the almost unknown but remarkable opera Riders to the Sea – are vividly briny. His music is further proof, if any were needed, that in any recipe for art imagination is the defining ingredient and experience merely a useful addition to the mix.
Here comes the Winter 2012 issue – writing to freeze your blood, warming reports from the Tropics, shipjacking, old boats and the Coastguard.
Trevor Robertson gives full (but hardly consoling) instructions on how to sail round Cape Horn:
The weather in the westerlies is boisterous but predictable. Nothing except the tip of South America interrupts the eastward sweep of the low-pressure systems that are the dominant feature of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties. The wind and barometer follow a near-textbook pattern. A week or ten days separates the passage of one low from the next, and there is barely a gap between depressions. Any ocean can be windy; what distinguishes the Southern Ocean from all others is the size of the waves. Those great breaking seas, the greybeards of sailing legend, are not just a sailor’s tale to impress the girls ashore. They have a majesty and weight that I have not seen anywhere else, including, from my limited experience, the North Atlantic in winter.
James Hamilton-Paterson goes fishing in the Philippines:
Danding and Bokbok cut the engines and in silence we abruptly lose way. We have arrived at the place where the seabed is strewn with huge boulders which over the millennia have been shed from the invisible cliff above. It is a good place to start, for the boulders are usually a dormitory for lapu-lapu. Then the current can carry us back towards the strait over some of the richer corals. If we are still in the water when it changes we can even work our way partially across the strait to the deepest point of the channel. In this manner we will not have to waste energy swimming against the current, for although it is not as strong far underwater as it is at the surface it still counts, particularly when towing a full catch-line. The polythene hoses are checked by torchlight and roughly straightened into two coils fore and aft. I will take one and Arman the other.
James Long writes from the Cook Islands about the reintroduction of sail power to cargo ships in the Pacific:
The crowd on the quay next to the ferry Lady Naomi was seething with discontent. I was watching idly when a hand clapped me on the shoulder and my friend from Rakahanga said, ‘Come and meet someone.’ He led me to a man in a brightly-patterned shirt sprawled in a low chair under a makeshift awning. ‘This is the Prime Minister,’ he said.
The PM looked up at me from under the brim of his sun hat. ‘England,’ he said meditatively. ‘You come from England. So did Captain Cook. He came here, you know. He gave us our name.’
We were on the island of Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands, nineteen hundred miles northeast of New Zealand and four thousand seven hundred miles southwest of Los Angeles. It seemed impolite to remind the PM that Cook never came near the place.
Douglas Lindsay tells the sorry tale of the recovery of the ‘Dubai Valour’ from far up a steamy river in Nigeria:
After about a year, a deal was done to release the ship. She sailed, much to the relief of her crew, all of whom were still on board. But at Koko, only twenty miles downstream, she was boarded by the Nigerian military and ordered to return to Sapele. Her master, Captain Shulgin, gave a graphic description of drugged-up soldiers running amok on the ship, firing machine guns in the air and threatening everyone in sight. What caused this change of heart is unclear. The result, however, was that the ship was returned to her buoys at Sapele, her crew in the depths of despair.
Arthur Travers spends a morning with Dover Coastguard:
A building sunk into the cliff top behind Dover castle. In the building a big eight-sided room, four of the windows glazed, looking south over the hazy glitter of the Straits, where the pencil-shaded shapes of ships hang on the sea. Down to the right a ferry is making a three-point turn inside the breakwater of Dover harbour. The light from the windows flickers to the rotation of the radar antenna. There are desks arranged round three parts of a square, each with screens showing the little ais triangles of ships. A huge pair of binoculars hangs from the ceiling. Nobody is using them; all eyes are on the screens.
Keith Dovkants describes a ferocious but little-known campaign of the First World War at sea:
Two ships of war are locked in a duel to the death. One swiftly tacks. Her guns come to bear. Her broadside hurls hot metal into her adversary’s hull…
A scene from the era of fighting sail? Indeed, but not as long ago as you might think. This action took place on the cusp of living memory, in 1917. The sailing ship was Fresh Hope, a wooden three-masted schooner commanded by Lieutenant J Martin, an officer in the Royal Navy’s Special Service. Fresh Hope was a Q-ship, a merchant marine vessel secretly armed with guns and sent out to lure the Kaiser’s marauding U-boats into a trap.
A friend of Basil Lubbock’s makes an astonishing discovery:
‘Strolling leisurely one day along the waterfront at New Orleans, I noticed standing prominently out behind an old shed the tall tapering spars of a sailing ship. This class of cargo carrier being more the exception than the rule at the wharves of the Crescent City, and taking as I do a keen interest in the doings of old clippers, my curiosity tempted me to investigate, so retracing my steps I made the best of my way through a timber yard and eventually emerged upon the old and dilapidated wharf at which she lay. The day of clipper ships was past and gone long ere I commenced my apprenticeship in a modern Clyde four-poster, but I needed no telling that this was one of the old timers.’
Maldwin Drummond describes the difficulties of conserving the ‘Cutty Sark’:
The challenge faced by the Cutty Sark Trust is experienced in the case of almost every conserved vessel sitting on its keel – that is, that with the passing of time the vessel tends to slump, and the lines become obscured. This was the principal problem faced by the architects, who with the Trust devised the scheme. The ship had been there for over fifty years, sitting on a concrete block. A detailed examination showed that she would not last another fifty years if the same solution was adopted.
Annie Hill celebrates pilotage:
I am one of the world’s laziest sailors, but finding my way using electronic devices dramatically reduces my pleasure in the whole business. I do not deny that when approaching a rock-bound and relatively featureless coast in thick visibility, the boat shoved here and there by erratic currents and without having had a reliable fix for several hours, a gps is an unmitigated blessing. Before gps, one might well have stood off and on until the fog lifted. If the coast in question happened to be that of Maine or one of the Maritime provinces of Canada, this could well have meant dallying around for several days. Using the gps, echo sounder, eyes and ears, then dropping the hook in a safe haven and relaxing with a hot grog, certainly beats lying offshore and worrying. Most of the time, though, sailing in fair weather with good visibility, I practise the art of pilotage in the knowledge that I will be as certain of my position as if I had been using the gps.
Adrian Morgan explains the use of taste buds to determine the condition of an old wooden boat:
Old boat owners… need stronger stomachs than those who buy new Bavarias. I myself have tried bilge water many times, and have even developed a taste for it. ‘Ah, Castrol 10W20, with a touch of spilled baked bean and a note of, hmm, Old Holborn? A hint of salt, but mostly rainwater. Not bad, not bad at all.’
Para Handy and the crew of the Vital Spark discuss the inexplicable habits of the herring:
‘If ye ask me, I think whit spoiled the herrin’ fishin in Loch Fyne was the way they gaed on writin’ aboot it in the papers,’ said Macphail. ‘It was enough to scunner ony self‑respectin’ fish. Wan day a chap would write that it was the trawlers that were daein’ a’ the damage; next day anither chap would say he was a liar, and that trawlin’was a thing the herrin’ thrived on. Then a chap would write that there should be a close time so as to gie the herrin’ time to draw their breaths for anither breenge into the nets; and anither chap would write from Campbeltown and say a close time would be takin’the bread oot o’ the mooths o’ his wife and weans. A scientific man said herrin’ came on cycles ‑’
‘ He’s a liar, anyway,’said the Captain, with conviction. ‘They were in Loch Fyne afore the cycle was invented.’
Here comes the Autumn issue, with gales, North Sea Oil, literature, vandalism and the northeast monsoon.
Adrian Morgan, wooden boatbuilder, tells the story of an epoch-making yacht race.
In September 1893, two great yachts came smoking out of the gathering blackness of an autumn night. They caught the weary observers on the Royal Yacht Squadron steamer, moored in the lee of the Needles, completely by surprise. They were the King’s Britannia, topmast housed, under spitfire jib, staysail and a single reefed mainsail; and the American boat Navahoe. They were heading for the finish line after perhaps the most ferocious Channel crossing in the history of yacht racing.
Luke Powell, builder of Scilly pilot cutters, tells the story of an Atlantic crossing
In late August 2005 I gathered a crew together. There was Big Nick, the ever faithful rope puller, young Jim Bob our enthusiastic sailing carpenter, and my son Dylan, who at fourteen was strong and in need of adventure. As we flew over the North Atlantic I pressed my face to the porthole and peered down at the vast empty sea. It looked cold and uninviting.
Trevor Robertson explains the making of sketch charts, with examples drawn from life
A voyage from New Zealand to Chile and a winter exploring Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Chile promised to combine all I like most – a challenging 5000 miles, through the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean to a wild coast with a multitude of channels and bays to explore. I cleared from New Zealand for Chile in November 2009, and arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile, after a rough passage of fifty-four days. Annie Hill, my frequent sailing companion, joined me in Puerto Montt and we pottered around the Gulfs of Reloncaví and Ancud and as far south as Ventisquero San Rafael, the lowest-latitude tidewater glacier in the world, pushing down to the sea through heavily-forested hills alive with kingfishers, woodpeckers and hummingbirds.
After Annie left to fly back to New Zealand in early May I set off for the canales, the wild glaciated channels that stretch 1800 miles south and east to Cape Horn.
Tristan Jones, teller of tall tales, tells one of his tallest
As Barbara sailed away from the coast the fetch of the sea increased, and with it our movement, so that by midnight we were wallowing violently. The sky was clear, with no moon, but Venus was setting in the west, twice the size she appears in normal ocean skies. Millions of bright stars gleamed overhead. It was all very beautiful, but we would have preferred overcast and even rain, for we were most anxious to avoid being seen by Arab craft, whether military or civilian. The Israelis had warned us in no uncertain terms what would happen to us if we were to encounter an Egyptian naval vessel.
Anthony Dalton, Jones’s biographer, goes looking for the man, and finds mostly myths
The late Tristan Jones, a self-professed lifelong bachelor and sailor, wrote sixteen nautical books between 1975 and 1995. Two were admitted fiction, Aka – a poignant story of a singlehanded sailor and a tribe of dolphins; and Dutch Treat – a well-crafted novel of World War II. One was a treatise on sailing skills, much of it cribbed from other books. The other thirteen, Tristan claimed, were autobiographical.
The Tristan of the autobiographical works was a Welshman descended from a long line of seafarers, born on his father’s tramp steamer in the South Atlantic in May 1924. At the tender age of thirteen he joined the crew of Second Apprentice, a boomie ketch barge working the south and east coasts of England with occasional voyages across the Channel. In May 1940, with the war in Europe one year old, he joined the Royal Navy, serving his apprenticeship at hms Ganges, the notorious shore-based training facility at Shotley in Suffolk, before being assigned to sea duty early in 1941. In Heart of Oak (1984) he recorded his harrowing years of extreme danger on the high seas, having three ships sunk under him before he reached the age of eighteen.
Somewhere in between he found time to convert an old lifeboat to sail and romped off to a litany of adventures from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, none of them, oddly, authenticated then or since.
Ian Tew, tugmaster and descendant of pirates, describes a monsoon tow
My tug Salvaliant was alongside the Foochow off Triton Shoal, Singapore, preparing to tow the Foochow to Hong Kong. We were having a quiet beer on the bridge when I was called on our internal radio and told that my departure was delayed. I was to tow another ship to Hong Kong as well. This was not exactly good news, because the Salvaliant only had a single-drum tow winch, the northeast monsoon was blowing hard in the South China Sea, and I had not towed tandem before.
Anton Bowring gives an object lesson in expedition ship acquisition
In 1979, our small, ice-strengthened ship mv Benjamin Bowring cast off her shore lines and boldly set off down the Thames from Greenwich. It was the start of a three-year voyage. Our Patron, Prince Charles, was on board. So was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, our leader, and fourteen volunteer crew members, including me. A fleet of small craft followed us. Whistles blasted and fire tugs sprayed water jets into the air. I and my mates waved and cheered at every opportunity.
And we had plenty to cheer about. The Benjamin Bowring was bound for Antarctica, not so much following in the wake of the great explorers Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Mawson, as planning to outdo them. Only Sir Vivian Fuchs with Edmund Hillary had properly crossed Antarctica before. They had made the journey in 1956, using big tracked vehicles towing cabooses – accommodation modules – on sledges. Our expedition was lightweight. We planned to use small snow scooters to cover the 2000 miles from coast to coast.
Antarctica was just the start of it. Two years later Ran and his colleague Charlie Burton would also cross the Arctic Ocean, becoming the first people ever to complete a longitudinal circumnavigation of the world via both North and South Poles.
The Benjamin Bowring had the vital job of carrying the expedition team, with all its stores and equipment, across the seas and oceans along the route. The first such waterway was the English Channel. It was our intention to deliver the expedition team to Dieppe, where they would set off in Land Rovers through France and Spain, heading towards Africa. But there was a problem.
As the ship passed through the Woolwich Barrier on the ebb, only the crew and expedition members knew that once we had disembarked our dignitaries and journalists at Tilbury, we would have to unload the Land Rovers promptly. Then we would have to head back upriver to our berth in Milwall Dock, while Fiennes and his team caught the six o’clock ferry from Dover to Calais.
Alastair Robertson explains the history of North Sea oil
Ever since 1848, when James ‘Paraffin’ Young produced oil from shale mined in central Scotland, it had been known that there was oil to be had on the fringes of the North Sea. In Germany, oil was found near Hanover in 1859. Gas was found by mistake in a water well near Hamburg in 1910. bp discovered gas in reservoirs in the Lake District at Eskdale in 1938, and in 1939 struck commercial oil at Eakring in Nottinghamshire. But for many years the North Sea itself was considered an unlikely source of oil – until in 1959 a huge gas field was discovered at Groningen in the Netherlands, and exploration moved offshore.
Some time after 1965 harbour offices up and down the east coast of Britain were recording the arrival and departure of a breed of vessel never before seen in the North Sea. The lines of the newcomers were brutish, blunt and utilitarian. The bridge was stacked over the crew quarters and the whole superstructure was squashed forward over the bows. The rest of the vessel consisted entirely of a long, low-freeboard deck.
This ungainly fleet presaged a major change in Britain’s economic fortunes.
Julian Harrap explains where the ‘Cutty Sark ‘project went wrong
The Cutty Sark is a truly remarkable survival. Having been built for a working life of some twenty-five years, she in fact sailed through a period on the tea trade, the wool trade, and later, under the Portuguese flag, as a general cargo vessel working the traditional routes of the north and south Atlantic. Whether or not she was the fastest clipper ever built is immaterial. Her importance lies in the fact that she represents the ultimate development of a type of sailing vessel built at Aberdeen and Glasgow, derived from American prototypes. Her encasement in a concrete dry-dock in Greenwich in 1956, however imaginative, secured a further term of survival. And then came the present restoration.
The hull sits above the black glass skirt concealing her underbody, so any visitor approaching by water, or closer at hand on the foreshore at Greenwich, could be forgiven for thinking he was looking at the biggest wind-driven hovercraft ever seen.
Jonathon Green leads us through the lingo of the ship’s larder
Rations come down to two words: biscuits and beef, which encompassed any meat that could be salted, e.g. pork, or in extreme cases penguins. The first were of tooth-snapping solidity, and the second was not to be confused with what modern America terms ‘corned’ (after the particles of salt found in its pink deliciousness) beef. The pair were known as hard tack and salt junk. The hard was self-evident; tack comes either from another piece of self description, standard English tack, a quality of binding or solidity; or from the pleasingly nautical tackle, which in this context is generic for food. Bread, which would be brown, was sometimes soft tack, sometimes tommy or soft tommy (soft, that is, in comparison to the biscuits), which was a poor pun on Tommy Brown.
Richard Woodman lays bare the mysteries of tonnage
Let us start at the beginning; which, in terms of a vessel’s tonnage, was somewhere around 1300ad, when the kings of England were also feudal lords of vast swathes of France, particularly the wine-producing regions of the southwest. The import of wine from Bordeaux became a thriving business, capable of supplying some handy duties to the Royal treasury. Naturally such a levy had to be based upon the quantity of wine brought into the country. Since this was generally carried in large barrels known as tuns, the tun became the basic unit.
A tun was the equivalent of two pipes, or four hogsheads. It contained two hundred and fifty-two ‘old gallons’ and came to be the way of measuring the capacity of a vessel, then known as her ‘burthen.’
Mike Bender proposes a Marine Quarterly Library
Soon after Rupert Hart-Davis left Jonathan Cape to set up his own publishing house, he asked Arthur Ransome, a Cape author, to create a library of sailing texts. Between 1948 and 1963, sixty-three titles were published as the Mariner’s Library. When the list was bought by Adlard Coles, they added a sixty-fourth, Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race. Well, 1963 is nearly fifty years ago, and a lot of books have been written since then. So what additions should be made to an updated version of the ml, which I propose to call, for the sake of convenience and for no other reason, the Marine Quarterly Library?
Here comes the Summer 2012 issue, with gales, the Jubilee fleet on the Thames, and the Olympics.
Alastair Robertson casts an eye on the North Sea fishery
Humberside now makes a living processing imported Icelandic cod, while the Icelanders reap the benefits of climate change in the shape of huge shoals of mackerel turning up in their waters when once there were none – to the chagrin of the Scottish pelagic fleet, which has had its quotas cut. Is it going to happen all over again?
Janie Hampton, Olympic historian, takes us back to a kinder world
Sailing was first included in the Athens Olympic programme in 1896, though as it turned out the weather was so bad that the event was cancelled. In 1900, the regatta was omitted from Olympic results because the winners were given cash prizes. Motor boats appeared on the Olympic scene for the first (and last) time in the Solent in 1908. The Under Sixty Foot class had only two entries, one of which, Mr and Mrs Gorham, nearly sank, leaving the other, Thomas Thorneycroft, to win gold because his crew of two bailed so assiduously.
Dag Pike navigated the ‘Atlantic Challenger’ on her Blue Riband voyage
There were six of us at the press conference before we set off for the record attempt. There were Chay Blyth and Steve Ridgway, legendary tough guys with a penchant for crossing oceans. There was Eckie Rastig, the engineer, who would be nursing the pair of 2000hp MTU diesels that would power Virgin Atlantic Challenger II across the ocean. There was Peter McCann, who would film the event for posterity. Of course there was Richard Branson, grinning and gung-ho, telling the reporters what they wanted to hear, which was that we were all keen and ready to get out there and make another attempt on the Atlantic record. And there was me, contracted to act as navigator and weatherman. We all looked pretty confident.
Appearances can be deceptive.
B. Heckstall-Smith recalls a toughish Cowes Week in Kaiser Wilhelm’s ‘Meteor’
As the squall struck the Meteor sheheeledover on her beam ends. The huge lug foresail full of wind pressed her head down and her rudder came half out of the water. The vessel being a yacht of great tonnage had four skylights amidships arranged at the corners of a square. Two of the leemost skylights were completely under water and the sea was pouring into the cabins. The heftyGermans on the wheel put the helm hard down, but this was of no avail. The Meteor, rolling on her side, with tons of water in her bulwarks and her main boom trailing inthe sea, would not answer her helm and bore away, staggering and shaking like a great galleon before the force of the gale, a wallowing mass of sail and spindrift, with forty German sailors clinging to her weather rail.
Amanda Martin tells the story of the Scilly pilot gig…
Boats everywhere have been refined through centuries of use as man adapts them to the specific requirements of particular tasks and places. Pilot gigs represent a fusion of experience and necessity based on the criteria of seaworthiness, strength, cost, and above all, speed.
while Alasdair Moore gives an insight into the view from the rowing thwart
You are three hundred metres from the finish line, your hands can no longer feel the oar, your arms have tightened into a constant ache, your lungs are trying to burst out of your chest in a desperate search for more oxygen, your tongue has been transformed into a leather flip-flop, a burning mix of sea and sweat is running into your eyes. If there was a second to stop, everything would be all right; you might even have time to be sick or jump overboard. But there is no time. There is nothing, except the relentless stroke of the oars…
Ewen Southby-Tailyour warns of possible futures in the Falklands
Mrs Kirchner knows that Argentina is an economic disaster area in which inflation is running at twenty-five per cent. Nothing can unite her subjects better than xenophobic comments centred around Las Malvinas. She has no doubt studied the way in which, before the last invasion, General Leopoldo Galtieri decided that he needed to appease his naval chief of staff, and incidentally shift Argentine thoughts away from the ‘dirty war’ he was waging on his people, with a swift amphibious operation.
Kirchner may not have a ‘dirty war’ to mask, but she does have her problems. Both Britain and Argentina have ‘agreed’ that only peaceful solutions are the way ahead. Indeed, neither country has the means to do otherwise.
Except, of course, through unconventional warfare.
Christopher Lee remembers his rise from deckie to mate
It started forty and more years ago. I’d been expelled from school, something about setting light to the cricket pavilion. Ducking the oily thumb that would have tugged me by the ear to my grandfather’s factory, I ran away to sea and signed on as a deck apprentice aboard the Saint Gregory. She was a tramp built for the duration, an old coal burner converted in Hamburg to oil, with a mostly Chinese crew on deck. That January midnight she was lightship alongside in Rotterdam, bound for Port Sudan and a cargo of salt for Kunsan. MacCobb was the Mate.
We swung the compass off Ushant in an unforgiving swell, and by a force eight in Biscay MacCobb had me crouched in oilies leeward of Number Three hatch winch, lashed tight with a bucket of cold stew between my knees and a shaky grip on an empty galvanized pail. My orders were to eat from one and fill the other with what I couldn’t hold down.
Roger Taylor finds a bit of breeze near the Arctic Circle
By eleven I was forced to lower a panel of the mainsail to keep Mingming balanced, in a breeze that already hinted at what was to come – not so much by its strength but by its steady, lugubrious moaning. I had met moaners before, off the Dogger Bank and Iceland and the Faroes – winds that by dint of their absolute regularity of air flow set up a low, grief-stricken vibration. The moaning rings in the rigging and in the hull and in your head, and it presages nothing good.
Jonathon Green introduces John Taylor, sponsorship pioneer
The self-styled Water Poet epitomised himself in the illustration to Taylors Motto (1621). The author is standing on a rock in the middle of a stormy sea; he has an oar in one hand, an empty purse in the other, and stands astride a book. But if the purse was empty on that occasion, it was by no means always so.
Geoff Holder relates the unnatural history of sea serpents
In Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900), for example,John Gregorson Campbell describes the sea serpent known as the Cirein Crôin, the largest of all creatures in the sea:
Seven herrings are a Salmon’s fill,
Seven Salmon are a Seal’s fill,
Seven Seals are a Whale’s fill,
Seven Whales are the fill of a Cirein Crôin
And seven Cirein Crôin are the fill of the
Big Devil himself.
Guy Venables meditates on the psyche of the lobster
Find a gorse or holly bush about the size of a Labrador retriever. Weave it thickly with wool, both around and through, until it resembles the type of sculpture often seen at an art school end-of-year show. Bait the middle with a holed box or plastic container full of old mackerel heads or other offal. Weight it with anything heavy, bend on a line and buoy, and drop it near where you think there may be lobsters.
and many others meditate on books, life, fisheries, storms, calm, and the things that happen above and below the waves on this and the other side of the horizon.
The Spring 2012 issue is here, with battle, square rig, skulduggery and oysters.
Jonathon Green and a new kind of alphabet
There is an ancient tradition of sailor’s alphabets – songs learned by new hands as mnemonics for the unfamiliar vocabulary of sailing ships. There is to date no equivalent for the sailor attempting to find his way round the treacherous labyrinths of the shore. We are therefore pleased to bring you extracts from the first Lubber’s Alphabet, designed to keep honest seafarers out of the hands of crimps and shanghai artists, or at least free from embarrassment in complex shoreside social situations.
Roger Taylor sails west
We struggled slowly towards the Lizard through a mix of light airs and calms, within plain sight of idle ships spread loosely at anchor off the Helford River. A stubby on-edge carpenter’s pencil of a ship passed close by, heading east. Two guillemots dived and chattered almost alongside, their pied markings turned orange by a fiery sunset. I set the light-weather jib. Towards midnight on our second day, in the faintest of breaths from the north, helped by the ebb tide and my own efforts at the steering lines, we finally left the Lizard’s sweeping light astern.
Tony Ditcham hunts the ‘Scharnhorst’ in the Arctic night
About noon, when we had our brief twilight, I was standing facing aft and steadying my back against the compass binnacle, ready to give the helmsman a note of caution if a big wave looked likely to cause him a problem. Suddenly, a bigger than normal wave reared up astern. I turned and bent down to the wheelhouse voicepipe,
‘Big one coming up astern, Quartermaster.’
‘Aye, aye, Sir.’
As the wave overtook us our stern started to lift until I swear it was higher than the bridge. At this point the screws and the rudder were in the crest of the wave which was like boiling water, giving nothing for screws and rudder to act against. I saw the stern start to swing to port, with the bows, obviously, going to starboard. I spoke again.
‘Watch your helm, Quartermaster.’ As I spoke I saw the helm indicator was already hard-a-port.
Captain Richard Woodman summarises the lives and duties of tea clipper masters:
It was customary for a clipper to load a general cargo on her outward passage: manufactures, woven cotton goods, luxuries, even on occasion a bulk cargo of coal – for ‘freight was the mother of wages’, and without a cargo even a sailing ship, with her free motive power, ran at a loss. This was anathema not only to her owners but also to her master. Even if he did not have a financial stake in his ship, his future depended upon the good opinion of his employers.
The outward cargo might be consigned to a destination far from the tea-loading ports of Foochow, Amoy or Shanghai. Depending on the time of year a clipper arrived on the coast, and the likely delivery time of the freshly-picked crop of tea, a shrewd commander might put in several coasting voyages, often with rice from Hong Kong to Singapore, Bangkok or Yokohama. Such cargoes were arranged either through his owner’s agents or on his own initiative, and were often of considerable personal benefit to the master himself.
It begins to emerge that in addition to his expertise in seamanship, navigation and business, a tea clipper master needed considerable energy, self-discipline and single-mindedness, as well as qualities of leadership that could encourage a similar devotion to the common task among his officers and ship’s company.
Ernest Gann tries not to wrap up in San Francisco Bay:
To gain experience in a square rig of any size you must either be a foreign cadet (Japanese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Chilean, Portuguese, or German), or serve in the US Coast Guard’s Eagle. So I had to depend heavily on Holcomb, who caressed his dolphin‑striker jaw and allowed as how there were enough menaces to navigation in the bay without turning me loose in a rig which at least looked complicated. To serve as crew I had assembled a heterogeneous group of people who believed that as I had managed to captain the Albatross all the way from Rotterdam without calamity, certainly an afternoon in the Bay should be a lark. I did not bother telling them how little I knew during a sort of rehearsal just before leaving the dock. It was easier demonstrating what I did know. I lectured slowly and with manyrepetitions, since I was aware that as soon as my supply of book learning was exhausted we would be obliged to sail.
Trevor Robertson gives useful advice on spending the winter in Antarctica:
On arrival in Antarctica, finding a winter site is urgent. The ideal cove has an entrance only a little deeper than the vessel’s draft (to keep out the bigger bits of drift ice), is small enough to run lines to shore in all directions, and is surrounded by rocks to hold the winter ice in place. It must be deep enough not to freeze to the bottom, and big enough to moor clear of the tide crack close to the shore, which becomes a powerful shear zone as the ice thickens. If possible the cove should also have interesting wildlife and scenery and a northern outlook.
Alastair Robertson tells a tale of Cold War skulduggery:
Focussing his binoculars on the strange vessel pitching fitfully on the grey swell of Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, Captain Jim Cheater of the FV Fairtry got the surprise of his long seafaring career. Caught in his 7×50 lenses that July morning was a replica of his own vessel: ‘She was the Fairtry exactly. Only the name was different. She was called the Pushkin.’ The Pushkin was the first indication that the Soviet Union had somehow ‘acquired’ the plans for the revolutionary Fairtry, the world’s first purpose-built factory stern trawler.
James Long investigates an attempt at regicide by shipwreck:
On 3 May 1682, at the mouth of the Thames, [the Duke of York, the future James II] went aboard the Gloucester, commanded by the vastly experienced Sir John Berry and accompanied by five other frigates and three of the royal yachts. In James’s entourage of more than eighty courtiers was another man for whom this was the first step in a possible rehabilitation. A loyal servant of James’s from the time when the Duke had run the Admiralty, this man had been imprisoned in the Tower on a trumped-up charge of treason, accused of selling naval secrets to France, and had only escaped execution thanks to his brilliant defence. He had been targeted by the Duke of Buckingham because of a close relationship with James. Both the King and his brother knew his value as a skilful administrator, and this was their first gesture of thanks after his ordeal. He was Samuel Pepys.
Andrew Cockburn explains how Vineyard Haven remains a working harbour:
Only a day before, Hurricane Irene had threatened Martha’s Vineyard. The waterfront had battened down, with nothing moving but the blue surge thundering on the beach. Now, crisis past, the entire lagoon, framed and sheltered by the low green headlands of the Chops, was bursting with life. A big schooner with raking masts and a sleek clipper bow crept back to her inshore moorings; another, the dazzling white of her wooden hull matching her sails, was tying up at the jetty in front of us. The water behind the protective breakwater was a moving forest of masts as day-sailors ventured out into a gentle breeze. Hulking mainland ferries hooted their way to and from the terminal, a tanker laden with overpriced gasoline headed for the tank farm a few hundred yards away, and a tugboat with a gravel barge in tow rumbled shorewards.
Michael Bender raises an eyebrow at yacht club histories:
They arean odd bunch, these histories. No two are alike. Some show signs that the Commodore took pity on a widowed ancient moping around the clubhouse and gave him access to the committee minutes, which he then flatly summarised. Others, like that of the Royal Burnham, have chapters written by different members, including, for no apparent reason, two by an anonymous ‘Special Correspondent’. There is no blueprint. Some, like Aldeburgh YC have been using photographs since the Club’s founding in 1897. Some relay committee minutes. Others are like West Mersea YC, which rather oddly maintains that ‘it would be invidious to comment, and recount the action of members still alive’ – a scruple that rather truncates the narrative.
Emily Painter prises open the private life of the Oyster:
Away they go, those eggs, dancing motes in the summer plankton. The next half moon but one they are larvae, baby oysters but shell-less, still drifting. Then a sort of solemnity comes upon them, and they sink, settle, and anchor themselves thick as thieves on the gritty culch. Now they have become spat, and they will grow.
Keith Jacobsen explores the relationship between Benjamin Britten and the sea:
In March 1942 Benjamin Britten, with his partner in life and music, Peter Pears, sailed from America in a small Swedish cargo ship after a self-imposed exile of nearly three years. It must have been a dreadful voyage. Crossing the Atlantic at that stage of the war was particularly hazardous. A passage which would normally have taken only twelve days took five weeks. Britten passed the voyage in a tiny cabin next to the refrigerating plant. It was enough to put anyone off the sea for life.
The Winter 2011-12 issue is home to some winter reading about lighthouses, some summer thoughts about tortoises, and just about everything in between
Ewen Southby-Tailyour celebrates his sixtieth birthday with a cruise:
As soon as we had transited a narrow passage through which there is no return in an onshore gale, the wind backed and rose to Force 9, blowing dead onshore. We were forced to tow warps. Our precious sea room was swallowed up. We were preparing for the worst when a last-minute veer saved the day, allowing us to crash south-eastwards with horrible discomfort in a frantic attempt to clear the coast. Then, blast it, a southerly Force 10/11 took charge.
‘Sea anchor?’ muttered the climber, face down in Adlard Coles’s Heavy Weather Sailing.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘but we haven’t got one.’
Dave let me understand that he considered this to be like climbing without ropes.
‘We’ll make one out of the trysail,’ I said.
He remained unimpressed, but once we had heaved the contraption over the bow, he conceded that it was good enough for the bush.
The cone of danger northwards subtended an angle of fifty degrees either side of the track down which we were now drifting. We could only deviate by a few of those degrees, for the odds on our being rolled were shortening by the minute. The next few hours would not be funny, and I thought it proper to say so, ending with the observation that there are no atheists in a Force 10 or on a battlefield. Dave then pointed out, with Australian embellishments, that if nature doesn’t kill you it toughens you.
What I did not add, not wishing to strike a gloomy note, was that if a depression passing north through the Denmark Strait butts into an equally resolute Arctic high, a southerly gale hereabouts can last ten days.
Roger Taylor muses on drowning:
I was twelve when it happened next. Every Sunday I crossed the sands of Dee from West Kirby to Hilbre Island, for the birds and the wildness and the delicious distance from the mainland. On this day I set off a little late, in thick fog. I did not have a compass, but I had the fresh tracks of three other birdwatchers to follow. Just beyond the Little Eye I came to the first gulley. This is a slight depression in the sand which fills first on the rising tide. I followed the tracks into the gulley, expecting, at this stage of the tide, a stretch of water just a few inches deep and twenty yards or so wide. I knew that once through this shallow water I would come to the rocks that led safely to Hilbre. I waded on. Suddenly the water got deeper, filling my Wellington boots. Suddenly it was up to my thighs. I stopped and looked around me. There was nothing to see. A silver sea merged into a silver fog. The water was rising quickly. I lost all sense of which way I was supposed to go. This time I did have a life to lose, and some awareness of it. I knew what was going to happen. People drowned out here almost every year, and this year I would be one of them. When the fog cleared I would be found face-down at the tide edge, blue and bloated. There was just one chance. I yelled as loud as I could.
Captain Richard Woodman discusses the lighthouse builders of the southwest:
The builders found a lodgement of some dozen square metres capable of being dressed to accept the first course of interlocking stones. Work began all over again, overseen as before by Nicholas Douglass, now accompanied by his son James, who lived with the workforce on Rosevear, sharing their diet of limpets and puffins’ eggs and joining in their evening concerts, to which he contributed flute solos. James later superseded his father as the overseeing engineer. By 1858 the new tower was completed at a cost of £34,560. The light was first exhibited – ‘put-in’ in lighthouse parlance – on 1 September, and successfully withstood the winter gales.
An extract from ‘Lighthouse’, by Tony Parker:
Right, well we start here then, outside on what we call the set‑off. Can you hear me with this racket going on, the sea battering away round the foot of the tower just below us? I’m not staying outside long, not in a Force 8 and all this bloody water shooting up at us all the time. My God, you are going to be difficult aren’t you? Why is it called the set‑off? I haven’t the faintest idea why it’s called the set‑off. Because it’s a bleeding great circle of concrete base, going down into the sea with the tower set off in the middle of it I suppose. Anyway here we’ve got this kind of circular concrete catwalk, about three feet wide and thirty feet up above the water. This is what you landed on when you came up out of the boat. A rope goes from the top of the tower down to the boat, and it has another rope attached to it from a winch on here. The winch lifts you up and pulls you in towards the set‑off. The winch hasn’t got any brakes on, you have to rely on the strength in the arms of the two men turning the handles. If they were to slip or let you fall, you’d have had it. All right, can we go up now? Thank you, after you.
Sally Kettle, who has done it twice, gives full instructions on how to row an ocean:
Ocean rowing is one of those rare sports where it is possible to compete at an international level without any prior experience, or even proof of the basic skills required to succeed. The only prerequisite for entry in an ocean rowing race seems to be a tinge of madness perched on an excess of bottle. This may explain why Britain, my own motherland, ranks among the great ocean rowing countries. If there is a bloody stupid adventure in prospect, Brits tend to be the first to embark on it. Ocean rowing started with John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth’s famous Atlantic crossing in 1966. The current biennial races, from La Gomera in the Canary Isles to Antigua in the Caribbean, have become an institution. There are of course more comfortable ways of getting to the West Indies. Yet there always seem to be a few crazy Englishmen and women willing to leap aboard a rowboat and set off into the great unknown – many with absolutely no seagoing experience at all. In case you are one of them, this is how it is done.
James Wharram and Hanneke Boon describe their reintroduction of catamarans to the South Seas: In 1840 the London Missionary society, concerned over the ‘nakedness and sex habits’ of the people of the Pacific, went there to ‘convert the natives to Godly ways’. They found the canoe culture of the Polynesians was at the centre of the ‘ungodly ways’. To destroy the root of the immoral society, they had to talk down and destroy their boats. This attitude to the seaworthiness of the Pacific canoe-form craft was still being maintained a hundred years later by Andrew Sharp, a retired New Zealand civil servant, who in the mid 1950s wrote the book Ancient voyages in the Pacific. In this book he wrote that Pacific canoe craft was not capable of sailing to windward. Waves would wash over the decks, he claimed, and the craft would break up in storm conditions. He also denied that there was any evidence they could navigate over long distances.
But his narrative style was as provocative as his theories were misguided. In 1979 Ben Finney in his book Hokule’a, the Way to Tahiti describes how in the late 1950s Andrew Sharp’s theories spurred him to try and prove Sharp wrong. What Finney either did not realise or failed to mention is that Sharp’s theories in relation to sea-going canoe craft had been refuted before Sharp had even written them down.
Oscar Branson exposes the private life of the plankton:
Dawn. Waves catch the first of the morning light and scatter it down through the dark, clear water. Overnight the phytoplankton have been lying dormant, using up the energy reserves they accumulated the previous day. This new light is like a breath of fresh air, and the basic process behind almost all life sputters into action: photosynthesis, turning sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen.
Diatoms with glassy opal shells hang in the water, glittering in the sun – a variety of diamonds, cylinders, and chains. Minute ciliates zip around in the water, propelled by ranks of frantically pulsating hairs. Coccolithophores, round cells covered with intricate calcium carbonate plates, rise slowly to the surface. Peculiarly shaped dinoflagellates progress sedately, powered by two long, thin tail-like flagella. Cyanobacteria rise serenely to the surface, inflating their buoyancy-control gas bubbles… And all this is taking place in a single millilitre.
Ella Westland discusses the sea’s influence on a novelist:
When Charles Dickens published The Tuggses at Ramsgate in a monthly periodical in April 1836, he was an ambitious and unknown writer of twenty-four, unaware that a new character named Mr Pickwick was about to propel him into a dizzying leap forward. Even at this early stage, it was predictable that Dickens would twist a thick nautical strand into the rope of his promising career, since his personal background as well as his publishing apprenticeship pointed from the very start in the direction of the sea.
Graham Faiella gives the facts about an ordinary mutiny:
The sequence of events leading up to news about the mutiny and murders on board the full-rigged ship Lennie was documented in a series of reports from the ‘Casualties’ columns of the daily shipping newspaper, Lloyd’s List. These started from its edition of 12November 1875 and concerned the discovery of a message in a bottle:
Bottle Picked Up Nantes, 11th Nov.- A bottle was picked up, 8th Nov., on the coast of France, containing a paper on which was written in English – ‘Send assistance and police, the crew having killed the master, mate, and boatswain. We left Antwerp for New York on the 23rd Oct., and the mutiny occurred on the 31st. Name of vessel LENNIE, of Yarmouth, Captain Hatfield.’
For steam hands, Nick Walker tells the story of his Puffer:
In around 1880, someone put a steam engine and a boiler in a sailing gabbart, found it difficult to see over the boiler whilst steering from a tiller at the stern, and created a structure on top of the boiler to steer from. Later they put a canvas dodger around the helmsman, and finally built a proper wheel house. It was at this point that the true Puffer was born. VIC 32 was built by Dunston’s of Thorne, Yorkshire, launched on 3 July and delivered to the Admiralty in November 1943.
Neil Munro reports on a confrontation between another great Puffer captain and a lucky beast:
Para Handy, with his arms plunged elbow‑deep inside the waistband of his trousers, and his back against a stanchion, conveniently for scratching, touched the animal misgivingly with the toe of his boot, and expressed an opinion that any kind of pet was unnecessary on the Vital Spark so long as they had Macphail. ‘Forbye,’ said he, ‘you would have to pay a licence for the beast, and the thing’s no’ worth it.’
‘Your aunty!’ retorted Sunny Jim, lifting the hedgehog in his cap; ‘it’s no’ a dug. Ye divna need a licence for a hedgehog ony mair nor for a mangle. There’s no’ a better thing for killin’ clocks; a’ the foreign‑goin’ boats hae hedgehogs. Forbye, they’re lucky.’
But the Captain still looked with disapproval on the animal which Sunny Jim had picked up in a ditch along the shore that morning and brought aboard in a handkerchief.
Short extracts from the Autumn 2011 issue of the Marine Quarterly The nights are drawing in. The equinox is here, with huge tides, gales, rain and other seasonal accompaniments, and the herring are beginning to shoal. That is why this issue spends some time talking about inshore fisheries.
Jonathon Green writes about slang: Slush on land is melted snow and/or ice. It seems to come from sludge or slutch, both of which can be mud, liquid mire or indeed slush. Slush at sea is something else. It was used in the Royal Navy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the waste fat from boiled meat (less euphemistically described in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1756 as ‘the rancid fat of pork’ and presumably the by-product of salt horse, the on-board staple of salted pork, beef, and in extremis, penguins). It sounds repellent and almost certainly was, but it gave the sea-cook his nickname: the slushy (otherwise known as the slush, slusher or slushyfists), and selling it on was one of his perks.
Jim Ring relishes the skulduggery of the recently-surfaced ‘Perseus’ mystery: This is a story that starts with a mystery and ends with a surmise. The only incontrovertible facts are that His Majesty’s Parthian class submarine Perseus was lost on patrol in the Ionian on or around 6December 1941, and that John Hawtrey Capes survived. The story surrounding the boat’s loss makes one of the most intriguing mysteries of the Royal Naval Submarine Flotilla’s record during the Second World War. HMS/M Perseus (Lieutenant Commander Edward Nicolay DSO, RN) was attached to the British Mediterranean Fleet based in Alexandria since the entry of Italy to the war in June 1940. As part of the 1st Submarine Flotilla, Perseus’s duties included ferrying supplies from Alexandria to besieged Malta and attacking the Axis supply convoys to Rommel’s forces in North Africa. On 26 November 1941, Perseus left Malta for a patrol in the Ioniany.At about 23:00 on 6 December, the boat was patrolling on the surface in the busy sea lanes between the Italian-occupied islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia. It was a wet and windy night. There she hit a mine or, perhaps, was attacked by Royal Italian Navy surface vessels. She plunged one hundred and fifty feet to the sea bed, settling on the bottom upright with an eighteen-degree list to starboard…
Roger Taylor and his tiny boat ‘Mingming’ find themselves at the centre of an enormous crowd of whales: Squads of whales, each group close packed and synchronised in its undulating pattern of breathe and dive, were homing in on us from a wide arc across the north-eastern horizon. Their goal was unmistakable; they were heading straight for Mingming. The lines of bulbous, leaping heads spread across nearly a mile of sea were converging on a single point as accurately and as purposefully as if directed by some well organised mission control. Perhaps they were. I had never, ever, seen anything like it…
Tom Cunliffe gives the last word on East Coast smacks, workboats built with the sweet lines of yachts:
One early example of yacht building in oyster-dredging country took place at Wivenhoe, a village well up the Colne, in 1820. After taking stock on his return from the Battle of Waterloo, the Marquis of Anglesey decided he wanted a yacht of one hundred and thirty tons. The Marquis was a phlegmatic character, as can be deduced from the tale of his ‘dismasting’ in the great engagement. It appears he was astride his charger beside the Duke of Wellington when a French cannon ball took off his leg. Without flinching, he turned to his general and remarked, ‘By God, I’ve lost my leg!’ Wellington, no doubt with other matters on his mind, is said to have glanced his way and responded, ‘By God, Sir, so you have!’ Quite why this old warrior came to the Colne for his yacht rather than Cowes or the Clyde is not told, but he clearly had inside knowledge because on arrival he promptly demanded an interview with one Philip Sainty, the leading builder of the town. Despite his name, Sainty was well known locally for the stimulating criminal combination of smuggling and polygamy. When his patron arrived he was doing time in Springfield Jail. The Marquis secured his release in return for a considerable sum, but Sainty refused to be ‘sprung’ until his brother and brother-in-law, likewise detained at King George’s pleasure, were also set free. The result of this infamous manipulation was the Pearl, described by a reliable commentator as ‘one of the finest vessels of its kind in the kingdom.’
Mike Smylie suggests a new age of zero-carbon fishing: Stephen Perham of Clovelly has been using a small punt to drift-net for herring for many years, following in the footsteps of his father before him, and other fishermen from the ancient North Devon harbour have been following his example. But it was not until the owners of the village, the Clovelly Estate Company, purchased the new picarooner Little Lilythat interest in zero-carbon fishing methods began to attract commercial attention outside this small, cliff-perched community.
Henry Rinker goes to sea with the lobstermen of Maine:The evening I arrived I walked to the pier and told the man in the office that I wanted to go and haul lobster traps. He looked at me from under the bill of his baseball cap as if he was wondering whether I was sane or not. Finally he said that if I was sure I should come at six the next morning and the guys would be here and maybe one of them would take me. So at six o’clock the next morning along I went. It was still dark, and somewhat foggy, and cold enough to fill me with an intense nostalgia for the Ace Motel. I pushed open the office door. A man was kicking a coffee machine, producing a steady, violent crashing. Four other men were sitting in burst armchairs drinking coffee out of paper cups. A sign on the wall said NO SMOKING. The man sitting under the sign said ‘Yeah?’ without taking his cigarette out of his mouth. I said, ‘I’d like to go out on a lobster boat.’ Ten eyes rested on me, not very interested. ‘He could try Rodney,’ said one of the men. They all laughed. ‘Who’s Rodney?’ I said. ‘He’s on his boat,’ said the smoker. I thought he was changing the subject. It was only later that I realised that this was the answer.
Fiction by Sam Llewellyn tells of a deadly rivalry among the shrinking shoals of the North Sea: Alexander Rourke was born in a place with no name close to Stiffkey in the county of Norfolk. The baby had a full set of teeth. Those who knew him later laid his nature at the door of his first meals having been of blood and milk mingled. It is remembered that Alexander Rourke when six would sit on the wooden shedding of the creek, fishing. David Jordan from the cottage next door would be there too, running around catching gilly crabs on bits of mussel so he could put them in a bucket to watch them fight. Alexander (he suffered no abbreviation, no dear little Sandys or good old Alexes, not even then) was different. Alexander had scrounged himself a hook and a line and some rabbit guts, and what he was catching were the fat eels that lived in the holes under the pilings. These he would put in a bucket of his own and sell to the man on the fish cart. As time went by, David made himself a rod and went after the sea trout that streaked into the river in the black of the night. Rod fishing was too slow and stupid for Alexander. Alexander got himself an old herring net, studied its construction, mended it carefully, and cut it down to six foot deep and fifty yards long. This net he used to seine up the sea trout, thirty and forty fish in a night. David complained that Alexander had caught all the fish, leaving none for him. Alexander broke his nose for him. He knew that this was a stupid explanation, depending on imagination, not logic. Alexander knew that there were infinite numbers of fish in the sea. It was just that by the time lazy David got to the river the shoals had moved on.
A reminder of the great Leo Walmsley, and an excerpt from ‘Three Fevers’:
Within a space of less than ten minutes the entire aspect of the seaward horizon had changed. From the extremity of Low Batts, as far as eye could reach to the south‑east, it was as though that inert mass of low-lying cloud was being rolled up from the line of the sea in dark, horizontal, moving folds, from which drooped folds of paler colour, trailing like an immense opaque curtain over a sea that was dark furrowed and flecked white by the advancing wind…
A true story of terror and affection from Craig Brown: On the night of 25 August that year, U-176 encountered convoy ON-122 midway across the north Atlantic. Dierksen’s crew fired two torpedoes at the 7,457-ton cargo steamer Empire Breeze, en route from Manchester to Baltimore, carrying ballast and a crew of forty-nine. Both torpedoes struck the vessel amidships, killing one man and pitching the ship into a severe list as the engine room, stokehold and number one hold filled with water. My father, Joseph Brown, was First Radio Officer on board. He immediately began sending Morse distress messages from the wireless room.
Claudia Myatt points out that women went to sea well before Ellen Macarthur: Lady Rozelle Raines, an ex Wren, was well known on the East Coast for many years in her folkboat Martha McGilda. She sailed singlehanded, or with her female friend Winkle, in that time after the war when ladies still didn’t do that kind of thing. In her book The Sea Bird she describes an early passage in her first boat, a motor cruiser called Imp. Running into difficulty with a broken rudder in the Dover Straits, she did what any normal girl would do and made a temporary lashing with her suspender belt.
We hope this will be enough to keep you happy by the stove while the rain clatters and the gales moan in the shrouds. If not, there is always the Clovelly Herring Festival on 20 November. Or, of course, the herring themselves, making the corks bob as you lie to your nets in a black northwesterly. Unpowered boats don’t need licences. See you out there.
Short extracts from articles in the Summer 2011 edition of The Marine Quarterly Ewen Southby-Tailyour charts the FalklandsFor reasons I have yet to understand my four unarmed and unescorted landing craft were launched southwest of Lively Island, a seven-and-a-half-hour open sea passage off what was still presumed to be an enemy-held coast. For similarly incomprehensible reasons I was not, despite repeated requests, given the task force recognition signals for that night. ‘If you see any other ships, they will be enemy,’ said someone consolingly. As a bonus I was not given the precise position of our start point; the landing craft were not fitted with echo sounders; my lead craft had a faulty radar; the compass had an unknown deviation, having earlier been swung for a cargo of light tanks; and we were entering an area of fast-deteriorating weather.
Tom Cunliffe explains the life, times, gear and manoeuvres of the Thames sailing bargeCargoes were usually loaded and offloaded at a staithe or wharf. But it was by no means unusual to lay the barge onto a smooth beach, let the tide leave her, and unload by wagons drawn down to her across the dried-out sand. The town of Margate was greatly expanded by bricks brought in using this method. It sounds perilous, but in fact there were few really serious accidents. So robust was a barge that she would sometimes be lying on a beach with spray breaking over her cross-trees on a lee shore, yet still work off as she floated. One old-timer noted that ‘they couldn’t sink, but they used to bounce.’
Sam Llewellyn tells the story of the modern successors of the sailing barge…Tim Lowry is the Chief Executive of Armac Marine,based on the Medway in Kent. Armac’s ten ships range in size between 1180 and 2300 tons. They are excellent carriers of project cargoes too big to go by road – wind farm bits, transformers, tidal generators, fibre-optic cable from the Rhine ports and Ireland to Britain – and high volume materials like gravel and bulk waste, grain and fertilisers. In the winter, the wise men and women of the local council ‘truck their road salt from Cheshire all the way down to Kent,’ said Lowry, round spectacles glistening with indignation and scorn at this ludicrous waste of truck miles. ‘96% of British trade involves a leg of water. Why we don’t recognize the fact that we’re an island nation is beyond me.’
… and Will Llewellyn explores a possible future Fuel prices will rocket, engines will stop, freight rates will soar and hub-and-spoke logistics chains will grind to a halt. Booze cruising and daily Dutch flowers will become a distant memory. Supermarket shelves will empty. ‘Bring back Gustav Erikson and his clippers!’ people will cry. ‘Wind is free, and the world spent a long time learning to use it!’ But Gustav Erikson is dead, and his ships are museums, and the deep skills of sail are something that have been forgotten by most of the world. But not all. Divider Roger Barnes cruises his dinghy to the Ile de SeinOn the northern side of the bay was a little cove bounded by high crags where a handful of local fishing boats lay to improvised buoys. I anchored clear of the moorings. All night long my boat swayed and tugged at her anchor as the Atlantic swell snored on the cliffs around me. I woke early, sodden with dew. It was a bright, clear morning with a light wind off the land. Hoisting sail, I set a hopeful course towards the distant island.
Kate Rew explains how to swim the ChannelThe first thing you need to swim the English Channel is less sensitivity to boredom than a whelk. Making your way across the English Channel is an exercise in extended repetition – the twenty-two-mile journey generally takes between ten and twenty hours of uninterrupted swimming – but this is nothing compared to the training involved before you actually start.
Hilaire Belloc gives advice to the simple sailorIf your boat is a home and a companion, and at the same time a genius that takes you from place to place and, what is much more, a comforter and an introducer to the Infinite Verities – and my boat is all these things – then you must put away from yourself altogether the idea of racing. The cruiser, the strong little, deep little boat, is all I have called it. It is a complete satisfaction for man; but if you let in racing you are letting in the serpent.
… and Dermod MacCarthy goes sailing with the great manThe morning after our arrival at Poole we set sail for a passage westward, to Weymouth, but we were never to reach that port owing to an incident at Anvil Point near St Alban’s Head off the Dorset coast. That evening, in fact, a rueful Mr Belloc and his crew would be back in Poole Harbour. It was an exciting incident in which disaster to the ship, danger to Mr Belloc and ourselves, even drowning, stared us in the face for a few minutes.
Chris Stewart becomes an amateur professional fishermanI climbed onto the boat and offered the skipper my credentials. These consisted of some fanciful adolescent claptrap that ran something like this: I was the harvester of the land on account of working as under assistant pigman on the Major’s farm, and he was the harvester of the sea. We harvesters should stick together; ours was a noble calling in a world otherwise peopled by bent accountants, hucksters and time-servers. By sharing a day, we would all be the richer for the experience. I must have been bonkers.
Nick Walker, Captain of the last puffer on the west coast of Scotland, continues his marine alphabetC is for CAUL. This is the skinny membrane that covers the head of some babies and other animals when they are born. Unless it is removed quickly, the baby will not be able to breathe and will suffer accordingly. There is an ancient tradition that if you are born with a caul, you will not drown. I was born with a caul. The midwife took mine away to London’s Docklands, to sell to a seaman who had not been fortunate enough to be born with one of his own. My mother says this is nonsense.
Short extracts from articles in the Spring 2011 edition of The Marine Quarterly
Roger Taylor on passage to the Azores in his 21ft Corribee Mingming
By Wednesday the fourth of June, our fifth day at sea, we were bucking along close-hauled under one panel in a half-gale. With this first proper blow came a mess of cross-seas and a good dose of chilliness, but this after all was Biscay, whose two syllables evoke a library-load of heavy weather legend. In truth it was a half-hearted affair that fell far short of what might reasonably be expected hereabouts. For a day or so it kept us pinned down as we fore-reached grumpily south in a colourless world relieved only by the passing of a bright red tanker, the BW Fjord, that heaved by close on the starboard beam. For another night we bashed on. Then suddenly, out of the frigid pallor of an Atlantic dawn, there it was. A northerly! And not just any old northerly, but a wonderful, fresh, Force 5 northerly that scattered all cloud to the far horizons and left the scene clear for a flood of unadulterated sunshine. With two panels set we raced downwind, skirts up in a field of blue, skipping and gambolling, pushed on by the gentle hills rolling underfoot, delirious at this sudden change of fortune.
A Victorian childhood on Scilly, as lived by Charlotte ‘Babs’ Dorrien Smith and her four sisters
We children had then a toy fleet, the Royal Illiswillgig Navy. The scale was nine inches to a hundred feet. We made everything in the workshop, turning brass guns and making torpedo nets of brass wire. Guns in the turrets could fire. There were two cruisers, a gunboat, two destroyers and a battleship launched by the Duchess of Wellington with hock in a shearwater’s egg. When Edward VII came just before the Coronation we had the fleet afloat on the pond with three batteries. We filled the guns with black powder and with the help of bamboo sticks and fuses managed a Royal Salute. The King was much amused. In earlier years his brother Henry came while our father was away and had lunch with us five. He enjoyed sailing and fishing in his schooner so much he forgot time till a telegram arrived from Queen Victoria ordering him to return at once. The Prince looked at us and said, ‘Is there any wind, children?’ ‘No!’ we chorused. And he stayed.
Alex Ramsay decides to sail to Greenland
Smell, it is said, is the strongest stimulant to memory of all the senses. For some it may be the smell of perfume, for others the scent of a flower. My own most significant smell will always be the cloying odour of meths, evoking not the memory of a seriously misspent youth, but the recollection of many hours spent urging an old primus stove into life in the galley of Bill Tilman’s pilot cutter Baroque. In 1974 I was working as a photographic printer in a sleazy lab in an even sleazier part of South London. I was hard at work enlarging the usual batch of unpleasantly personal snaps of the customers’ partners in their more intimate moments when the telephone rang. It was a friend, John Shipton, and there was urgency in his voice. He said, ‘Can you come and cook on a three months’ voyage to the Arctic? We sail in two days’ time.’ The destination was to be Ellesmere Island, 76º north, in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Canada. I had never set foot on a small boat in my life, which seemed as good a reason as any to accept.
Tristan Gooley explains the compassless navigational systems of Micronesian islanders
All celestial objects – the sun, moon, stars and planets – will rise and set at an angle relative to your horizon. This angle is known as your ‘colatitude’, which is 90 degrees minus your latitude. This angle does not change if your latitude does not change. The closer you are to the equator the steeper this angle will be. At the equator itself all celestial objects will rise and set vertically. (This is the reason why the sun and stars at the North and South Poles do not appear to rise or set at all, but wheel around parallel to the horizon – 90º minus 90º equals zero). This steep rising and setting angle gave the Pacific navigators a huge advantage when using the stars to find their way. Once they had identified a rising star in the east, they could steer by this same star for hours, and its bearing would remain almost constant. The same exercise further from the equator does not work nearly as well; at the latitude of the UK, if a star is on the right bearing at a given time it will have moved off that bearing twenty minutes later. This dependability led to a system that we have come to think of as a ‘star compass’.
Tom Cunliffe writes a brief history of tugboats
In the days before radio communications, striking a bargain was left to ships’ captains and tug masters. Little quarter was asked or given. Tug skippers would often make unreasonable demands, expecting them to be turned down while knowing full well that the tables might shortly turn in their favour. A typical example took place when a sailing-ship master refused a £50 offer to tow thirty miles or so into harbour. The tug went on her way. That evening, now in a stiff onshore wind, she found the same ship hanging off the rocks by two anchors and fervent prayer. ‘£150, Captain!’ demanded the tug skipper with a straight face ‘Robber!’ bawled the captain. ‘I’m further in than I was before.’ ‘In more ways than one,’ responded the tugman, perched up on the paddle box above his pitching deck and looking pointedly into the rapidly rising wind. ‘I’ll hang on here for a while till it blows up a bit. When you start dragging, the price goes up to three hundred.’ He got the job.
Excerpts from an Alphabet compiled by Nick Walker, Captain of the last steam Puffer on the West Coast of Scotland
C is for COAL. ‘Why don’t you convert to diesel?’ is the question most commonly asked of a coal-fired steamboat mariner. I was taught the answer years ago by Bob Adam: ‘Because it doesn’t stay on the shovel, mate’. We used to buy our coal from a blind coal broker. His speciality was Coventry coal from Daw Mill. It would arrive in a 23-ton lorry. The driver would say, ‘Sign here, mate’, and would then tip the whole load onto the quay. Just before a French adventure in 1977 I had ordered just such a load, as I had heard that French coal was expensive and awful. It was dumped on the path beside some very posh offices in St. Katharine’s Dock, and the janitor was getting overexcited. We had previously manoeuvred the boat across the dock from our normal berth and had been preparing for the great journey across the Channel. I suddenly remembered that we had not received a survey report from Frank Bandy. We had been expecting this to show to our insurance company, and without it we would not be going to France. I rang Frank up, and he apologised profusely, saying he had forgotten to post it. As there was now no time to receive the report by post, he volunteered to leave it in his garage, and I could help myself to it any time that day, as he was going out. I duly set off by car, (Citroen DS 19), leaving Rachel to load the 23 tons of coal into the boat.
James Long on Truant
Amongst my favourite books is one that has three heroes. Two of them, George and Isabel Millar, are dead now, and I wish I had known them. The third is ninety-one years old, and to my complete delight I met her this year. She is the Millars’ auxiliary ketch Truant, currently lying alongside Redcliffe Wharf in the centre of Bristol. As I write these words I am sitting in her wheelhouse, staring at the wheel with which the newly-married couple steered her across the Channel in 1946, through the canals and rivers of France, to Mediterranean ports torn apart by explosives and littered with wrecks. They groped their way past Italy and on to Greece through waters where the minefields were still being cleared, stopping in harbours where thieves abounded and supplies commanded black-market prices. They were maritime novices, learning as they went. Isabel Millar was petite with a cloud of frizzy hair. George Millar described himself as ‘a weedy young man of slightly effeminate aspect.’ That effeminate aspect fooled many people, and some of them had died as a result. Millar was already a war hero as a Desert Rat before he was captured in North Africa, escaped from a train near Munich and made it home to England.
Lewis Page asks, ‘Who needs a Navy?’
Britain is an island nation, sitting next to one of the world’s great sea lanes, with extensive offshore resources, its economy dependent on foreign trade, and its financial centres still dominant in worldwide shipping. Britain is also the world’s third or fourth highest-spending military power, and possesses the only true form of nuclear deterrent – assured second strike by unstoppable ballistic missiles fired from constantly patrolling submarines impossible to locate. Evidently Britain needs control of the sea. Surely, then, it needs a navy? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it looks.